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. 

A weekend at “home”

Early on Saturday morning, my travelling companion and I boarded a train at Stockholm Central that was heading for the town of Falun.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who fly Stockholm, especially for the first time, don’t necessarily plan on taking two days out of their trip to Sweden’s capital to go see a town two hours out into the countryside, but we did — because a very old, very dear, and very special friend of mine lives there.

I’ve known him for more than half my life, yet this weekend was the first time we ever actually met face-to-face. But from the first hello and long-expected hug to the last good-bye and one last hug to last us until next time, I felt like I had gone home for the weekend.

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Not actually outside his place, but rather by the entrance of an adorable little bed-and-breakfast in the former miners’ district near the Falun Mine. Half of them were torn down in the 1960s or thereabouts, and the half that survived are now cosy, but rather pricey, homes for Falun families.  The horse figure here is actually known as the Dala Häst, or Dalarna Horse, and is a prevalent souvenir option for sale in Swedish gift shops.

Not only is there a lovely old soul in this town, but the town itself is also a lovely old soul.  We three spent most of our waking hours talking and walking through Falun on impromptu tours from his apartment to the Falu Gruva (the Falun Mine) or through church graveyards (the “Old Church” couldn’t contain the town’s population at one point, so sometime in the early half of the 1600s construction began on the “New Church”).  All along the way, we were walking in the middle of the town’s streets flanked on either side by quiet houses, many of which were painted in failuröd – a distinct reddish-brown shade of paint made from the run-off of the Mines that’s composed of iron ochre, flour, and oil.

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“We haven’t really seen many people…so…what are all the Swedish people doing on a Sunday?” — “Mostly…minding their own business.”

After the hectic day-and-a-half journey from Montreal to Stockholm and a long amble through Gamla Stan, our weekend in Falun really was a lovely escape that brought us right into the tranquil, beautiful heart of Sweden and her people.  But the best part of all was finally having the chance to spend time with two of the best, most wonderful friends anyone could ever ask for, including one whose heart of gold was the reason why I insisted we trek out to this small town whose heart beats thanks to copper.

It’s strange how a place so far from where you live can feel familiar even though it’s entirely new to you.  Part of the reason was that as we were walking through Falun he was telling us the town’s story, and how intimately he knows and how deeply he loves his home came through in the narrative he gave of its old, long life.  There’s something truly transformative and magical about having a tour guide with personal connections to you as well as to the town, instead of one who’s just paid to do it as a job.  The other part of it was that, having known and talked to him for more than half my life, any conversation to be had over the weekend was merely a face-t0-face continuation of a stream of chatter that’s continuously flowed since some time in 2002.

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Maybe not everyone is as lucky as I am to be able to “go home for the weekend” while on vacation abroad, but certainly if you’ve got a long haul in Sweden it’s worth it to take a train into Falun and take in the many little marvels (as well as the one grand marvel that is the Falu Gruva) it has to show you.  I’m highly aware of how fortunate I am to have many reasons to go back to Falun on my next journey into Sweden, and how one of them can give me a hug when I set foot back in this beautiful town again.  I’ve found a big piece of myself on its quiet streets and in its unbroken, dramatic sky, and I’m sure there’s more to find down the road.

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

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These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

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A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

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Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

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.

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.

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

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.

With mirth and laughter, let me continue being surprised by joy

When I look back on my life between 2003 and sometime in mid-2015, I realize that I lived through and survived through a hell of a lot as a teenager and young adult – and that while those experiences made me grow up, they made me grow up rather too quickly and also grow a shell that’s perhaps a little too hard and rigid.  I can’t say I didn’t have a happy childhood because in the grander scheme of things I really did, but somewhere along the way between then and now I lost the child-like ability to love easily, trust unquestioningly, and live joyfully.

Towards the end of 2015 I wrote a post about how one particular friendship I have in my life has been teaching me how to open myself up and be vulnerable again directly in front of a person in real time. Since I came to full realization of this dynamic in that one friendship (which in real time was a little while before I wrote and published the post in question), I’ve tentatively explored inklings of that same dynamic in my other best friendships. Being somebody who proudly proclaims that she has a small handful of best friends, as opposed to many acquaintances and only a few good friends, I felt that the only way I could really make these relationships live up to that status was to figure out how I could truly open up to be myself and truly give the best of me to the people I love best.

One of the things I’ve learned since then is that being completely open and honest with my best friends isn’t just about being able to talk (and sometimes cry) about the Tough Stuff. It’s also about melting in warmth of their camaraderie and learning to laugh again, and by doing so finally experience some of the joy I missed out on when I grew up too fast for my own good.

I’d be remiss talking about best friends without mentioning Gacia, my partner in crime for eating sushi, folding laundry, and outlet shopping (and yes, sometimes we manage to do all three on the same day). We’ve gone through a lot together but no matter how tough things have gotten we’ve always been able to laugh together at the end of a long day. She’s the magician behind this moment:

 

Then there was that one time in Ottawa when Elizabeth, Sam, and I spent the better part of an evening trying to balance a bag of gourds on Elizabeth’s dining room table in between asking Google what the difference between gourds and squashes were, if you can eat gourds, and why you can’t eat gourds.

 

There’s also any time that Louis lets me play my music when I’m riding shotgun –and doesn’t make me stop when I rock out on air instruments and headbang along to the very best of 80s cheese…even on a two-hour roadtrip up North in the middle of winter, during which I serenaded a Timbit. And let’s not forget any time we watch old episodes of Mythbusters over some quality take-out and still manage to discover something new about the beloved show that brought us together and cemented our friendship. Yes, we still laugh out loud when Adam Savage asks if he’s missing an eyebrow and yes, we still groan-chuckle over all the jokes and puns in the blueprint voiceovers.

There’s another friend who brings out my inner child through various means – most recently through a fantastic bottle of blended red but mainly by somehow getting me to open up about past failed relationships through the scope of frank, wry humor.  He is also rather adept at capturing my silly side when food is involved.

 

Marianne and I will fangirl over our favourite movie and comic book villains in between stories of “do you remember when –” with Mario and Amanda at our favourite pub downtown. And then the jokes will carry over onto Facebook, where we share and tag each other in videos, photos, and gifs that remind us of one another.

My closest friend from Job1 has also really brought a lot of laugher into my life.  Her documentation of her kitten in a onesie is a youthful foil to my constant jokes about my cat’s obesity issue, but she’s also got a heart of gold that has embraced a lot of my pain and treated it with frank wisdom and loving humour.  There were some days in 2015 when the only thing that could make me smile was something she said, and when I learned how to laugh again her jokes were among the first that I tried it out on.

And even though I don’t get to see this friend very often, he’s one of my favourite people living inside my phone because he makes me literally laugh out loud a lot more than I think he actually realizes. Sometimes it’s because we troll each other half to death in good fun, and sometimes it’s because he says things that I’m pretty sure he means quite seriously but end up coming off as hilarious. And sometimes it’s because he’s one of those friends who gets me and supports me rather fiercely, regardless of how ridiculous I can be around him – case in point:

 

These are the people I love the best in the world outside of my blood relations, and these are the people who teach me a little more about myself every day. My best jokes and my best laughs are credited to them and the joy their friendships bring to my life, and the best parts of me reflect what I love so much in each of them.  When I became an adult I did forget how to feel child-like exuberance in life’s little joys, but I am blessed with friends who can teach me how to feel them once more.