“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.

***   ***   ***

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.

***   ***   ***

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.

***   ***   ***

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!

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #3: Games, Sightseeing, and Home Cooking

With it being the holidays, as well as first Christmas I’ve spent with more than two other members of my family under one roof, I’ve had a lot to be happy about this past week – but I haven’t had much time to write about any of it, because…well, it’s our first family Christmas since 2009!

While this week’s edition of In Pursuit of Happiness will be short but sweet (like everyone in my family, with the exception of my six-footer brother-in-law whose extra height just means more space for total awesomeness), the rest of the good things that I’ve experienced during this holiday will provide more than enough material for the next few posts I’m working on.

Have a great and happy week!

***   ***   ***

Playing games with my family: All of the adults are over twenty-five and the child among us is eleven-almost-twelve-but-really-going-on-forty, but in this family age has never been an acceptable reason to stop playing. My nephew taught my oldest sister and me how to play Ticket to Ride this afternoon, and as I’m writing this he’s reading through the instructions for Risk in preparation for a family showdown. My brother, nephew, and I have been packing Nerf heat all around the house to defend ourselves against ambushes from one another.

As an adult, I think play is a refreshing and integral part of my vacation routine – especially when my version of a vacation is hauling off to the middle of “flyover country” to spend time in suburban Ohio with my nephew, middle sister, and brother-in-law. Good, clean, wholesome family fun that makes memories for when we’re old and grey is always an excellent way to pass the time on vacation, especially if it’s been raining buckets all day.

City tours with my brother-in-law: Ever since our first family trip to Montréal in 2001, my brother-in-law’s skills as a tour guide have been indispensable to our family fun time on any trip we’ve taken.   This guy is an excellent tour guide, and even during today’s bout of rain he managed to make a car-bound tour of downtown Cincinnati and Hyde Park pretty interesting. What makes his tours so special is that he knows exactly what to say about the city that will interest the passengers in his car, which means nobody has a chance to doze off to some long litany of census information.

Home-cooking, sister style: My favourite second sister is a complete and utter magical genius fairy in the kitchen. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram will be well aware of this fact by now, but I can’t resist tipping my hat off to her here.

Eating while on vacation is something that tends to affect most people by causing either complete abandon or paralyzing fear, especially when it comes to going on holiday to the United States. But whenever I come to Cincy to see my sister and her family I know that, with the exception of literally only a couple of restaurant options, the food I’m going to be eating under her roof will be wholesome, homemade, and perfectly aligned with my diet. I never have to worry about sacrificing exceptional food for the sake of my food plan, and I never have to worry if my annoying food photographs will turn out, either.

This, our hymn of grateful praise.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, which entails most of what’s involved in American Thanksgiving, minus the crazed, murderous shopping spree that follows once the nation awakens from its food coma. There’s a long weekend during which we all flock to one nest or another to eat our way through mountains of food, raft down rapids of drink, and enjoy the bounty of our first-world lives.

Because my favourite first brother’s birthday is always around Canadian Thanksgiving, we never really celebrated the holiday proper until our family found itself scattered across the continent. (Alas, my favourite second sister and her family had to reprogram themselves to call this weekend “Columbus Day” and wait until late November to gorge upon the cornucopia.) We’ve never really been a family for turkey on this particular holiday, preferring to leave that magnificent fowl for Christmas and indulge upon other game instead in October. This year we’re roasting up two brace of Cornish game hens (we always take care to e-nun-ci-ate the name of this particular bird).

As for dessert during this autumn feast – well, we’ve never been a family for pumpkin pie, either; I myself am in adamant opposition to the craze of pumpkin spice. Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean the entire culinary world has to undergo a mass apocolocyntosis. But I digress – we are perfectly content with the other common fruit of fall, the humble apple.  Good thing we enjoy them immensely, too, for here in Quebec we’re blessed with a countryside bursting with a variety of the pomme, and we’re equally blessed to have the chance to pick them ourselves. Orchards in all directions off the Island open their weathered gates to eager harvesters every year – and this year, we walked among them.

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A beautiful view at Vergers et Cidrerie Denis Charbonneau (Mont-St-Gregoire, Quebec)

Having recently proven my own ability to host a “company meal” entirely on my own without setting anything on fire or making anyone sick, I was tasked with this year’s Thanksgiving dessert. This was probably also due to the fact that going apple picking was my idea, but in any case I spent my evening carefully prepping for a deep-dish apple pie for tomorrow’s lunch.  Yes, taste-testing was involved at several stages along the way.

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From peeling and coring these babies by hand to making the pastry from scratch, you can bet your bottom dollar that the apple pie will be freakin’ worth it!

Whilst preparing pie crust from scratch this evening, I was also watching a BBC documentary series wherein two British media personalities explore culinary history by eating historically-accurate dishes while living and dressing to period standards. It’s absolutely hilarious and brilliant, and it’s made me rather thankful to be living in this day and age.  But my gratitude goes beyond the fact that I’ve been spared from Baroque France’s aspic-and-vegetable recreations of architectural landmarks or Tudor England’s sheep and calves served a pedibus usque ad caput (warning: do not Google translate if you are weak of stomach, as this was literally how they consumed these animals).

I am much more grateful for more than just the fact that I live in a time when my diet can be balanced, varied, and wholesome.  More specifically —

“For the joy of human love:  
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild —
Lord of all, to You we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.”

          — Pierpoint, “For the Beauty of the Earth”

— for indeed, of all the things for which I am grateful, my family and my friends top my list, followed closely by my health, gainful employment, four walls and a roof over my head, clothes and shoes in my closet, and (because Canada is a week away from a federal election) the fact that I am a citizen of a country that allows all its age-of-majority citizens to vote.

I am thankful for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, as well as the opportunities I am given every day to develop them in my own life. I am thankful for the talents I have been given as well as having many ways by which I might share them with others. In turn, I am equally thankful for the talents of others, and the ways they choose to share those talents with me.

I am thankful for everyone I have met who has taught me something and I am thankful for everyone who has stood by me through thick and thin, supporting me through the worst to celebrate with me during the best.

As the nights grow longer, as the temperature gets colder, and as the pumpkin spice craze continues to sweep the nation, I raise a freshly picked apple (Cortland? Liberty? Sparta? I can’t remember what’s what in my giant bag anymore) to you all and toast everyone around the table:  may your hands, working and toiling in the lives of your loved ones, be blessed by the Hands that put us all here in the first place.

Watering my mustard seeds

The other day, a very old and very dear friend of mine shared a humour post on Facebook – “30 Ways to Win a Catholic Girl’s Heart.”  It actually was pretty funny and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who can relate to several of the points on this list — though I really do think that you do have to have some working/practicing knowledge of the system to really understand why I had a giggle fit over “Become a Swiss Guard.”

Humour aside, though, the whole thing did get me thinking about this whole “being a single practicing Catholic” thing I’ve got going on.

I turned twenty-five a couple of months ago, passing that particular milestone with the experience of a few long-term relationships and various short-lived ventures into dating. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert because I so totally am not one, but I’ve loved enough and lost enough by now to have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win over this particular Catholic heart.

Some people I know think that the most fulfilling relationship I could possibly have would be one with a practicing Catholic guy. However after my last turn around the LTR block with one, I can tell you that being of the same religious background and having a reasonably comparable level of faith formation is no guarantee to everlasting marital-worthy happiness. Sure, it makes things easier sometimes, and I definitely have peers whose young marriages are working out rather nicely due to shared faith, but castles in the air of any kind are simply that until they’re grounded in your reality.

My reality contains within it a highly secularized demographic of peers who, while perhaps not being so ardent in their natal religions as I am, are still wonderful, decent, and amazing people. And I’m not about to whittle away all my options down to a small handful of churchgoing, God-fearing guys (who I know by appearance alone because the only time I see them is during Sunday Mass) simply because I’m Catholic.

I can stand on my own two feet in my faith.  My mustard tree, though small yet and still sometimes desperately thirsty for grace, is sturdy enough that there’s no danger of me uprooting it from that nourishing soil to please somebody else.  If I am meant to share my life with another person, then I know that I will be able to freely and happily share everything about myself with them – including my faith and all the experiences that I have had because of it. But I will never beat somebody over the head with my old Baltimore Catechism, make full conversion or RCIA a dealbreaker, or drag somebody by the scruff to Mass. That’s no way to win a non-Catholic heart, and that’s also kind of hypocritical (you know, that whole “Free Will” deal and all).

I’ve come to realize that what makes things easier for me is mutual respect, honesty, and openness. If a guy can respect that I have my faith and my beliefs, and doesn’t ridicule me, put me down, or insult me because I am a practicing Catholic, then I can return to him a sizeable measure of respect. If a guy can be honest with me about why he’s lapsed, doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t understand the whole religion thing, then I am happy to share the little I know to help bring further clarity. And if a guy can be open with me about what’s in his own heart and what his intentions are, then I can find it in my heart to return the gesture.

I’d much rather be alone and happy than be trapped in a relationship of religious convenience.  I would rather be loved, cherished, and respected for everything that I am, not just wanted because of the religion into which I was baptized and which I practice willingly as an adult.  And that’s what would warm and win this particular Catholic heart, because the end of the day, being able to share my faith with my partner on any level would be a precious blessing and I would treasure it…and I honestly believe there are many ways to share faith – many ways to grow together in faith, hope, and love, even as a “mixed” couple. If that’s what’s in store for me, then I gladly welcome it and will eagerly walk that path alongside whatever upright, just, and decent man God sends along that same way.