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.

A toast to a happy couple

It’s hard not to think about weddings right now. For the past year I’ve received invitations to a number of weddings, including my brother’s and, just recently, that of a very dear friend. Hers is the second I’ve been invited to since my brother’s nuptials in April and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last I’ll get before the year is out. And although she is a fairly recent addition to my circle of friends she has – quite quickly – found a permanent place in the innermost circle of confidants.

Unfortunately, because of time and distance and logistics, I won’t be able to make it to this wedding. I know a lot of people would be aghast to hear I won’t be present at the wedding of a person I consider one of my dearest friends, but I think the fact that she understands my predicaments is a testament in and of itself to how amazing she really is.  And while I won’t be present to make a speech when they get married in October, I’m still able to share what this particular set of nuptials means to me as a friend of the happy couple.

The invitation arrived today in the mail, though I didn’t get it out of the box until this evening as I was coming back up from loading something into another best friend’s trunk. The “something” in question is the Ex-Box I wrote about some months ago – the Indiana Jones Crate of my last relationship. Although I didn’t open the Ex-Box before handing it off to said best friend, I still know exactly what’s inside it…and I was thinking about all of those things when I saw that I’d received my friend’s wedding invitation.

I wish I had something dramatic to share with you about my reaction to the invitation. After all, I’d just mentally spent several minutes going over the contents of the Ex-Box – and almost against my will, because memories like that have a strange way of making you helpless and hapless in their presence. And I probably would have had every excuse and reason to fly off the handle upon receiving this invitation tonight, for she is marrying the younger brother of the Ex whose Box I sent to my friend’s house this evening.

But the truth is, I didn’t react in a way that would be worthy of Greek Choruses, and I don’t think I ever will about this particular wedding. I don’t see it as the day my ex-boyfriend’s younger brother marries one of my closest friends. I see it as the day two wonderful people will be starting a life together – a life they have worked so hard on and for which they have built with strong, solid foundations through every shared experience.

When I, the single half of this friendship, look at my friend and her fiancé, I don’t feel that deep twinge of envy that other young women might feel when they look at their engaged friends. I look at them and I see two people who are complete on their own and bring two whole people into one love. I see a young modern woman who is intelligent, independent, and strong – yet still feminine and gentle enough to bring out the best qualities in her hardworking, devoted, and golden-hearted young man. I see a couple that is on the same page and in each other’s hearts right next to God. I see two people who can do anything on their own, but when they’re together are truly unstoppable.

This is a relationship that’s been years in the making, and they’ve come through so much together over those years. I have only been a part of their lives for a short while, but I am so privileged and blessed to know their story, and to know them on my own terms.

If anything, being included on their guest list has reminded me that I am my own person – that my presence in somebody’s life is not contingent on me still being with the person who brought me into that life in the first place. It’s reminded me that the opinions some people might have of me aren’t the opinions of others, and that the people I cherish the most in the world will always welcome me and relate to me on their own terms. It’s reminded me that I as an individual am more than any relationship I was in before or ever will be a part of in the future – that my individuality, not my relationships, is what makes me worthy of the friendship and love of remarkable people.

Concerning my own, and still-theoretical, wedding day there are three non-negotiable elements for me. The first: that I sincerely hope that at least one person making a speech will open with the words, “Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us together today.” The second: that I will be wearing a white pair of Chucks with satin bows as laces, but they won’t be bedazzled. The third: that I will be walking myself down the aisle, because in my adult life what makes me happiest is being entirely self-made – being my own darn self.

And that’s the most important part, I think: being my own damn self and bringing the very best of what that is into my Happily Ever After, if and when it finally happens.

The 15-minute book club, #1: The Icewind Dale Trilogy by RA Salvatore

The Icewind Dale Trilogy by RA Salvatore 

  • The Crystal Shard
  • Streams of Silver
  • The Halfling’s Gem 

One of my brothers brought it home from the public library one day, and less than a week later it was in my hands:  a huge paperback omnibus edition containing an entire trilogy of novels.

Its grey cover, bent and creased by previous borrowers as all popular library books are, depicted four characters on a snow-covered outcropping of rocks.  There was a redheaded woman in a green dress standing next to a long-haired and youthful warrior in a horned helmet holding a giant hammer, and on the ledge below them a dark-skinned elf held an onyx figurine of a cat as a black panther materialized on the snow in front of him.  They were but four of the adventuring party with who my brothers and I would soon become obsessed over the next few years of our young lives:  the Companions of the Hall, a motley band of heroes hailing from the land called Icewind Dale in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.

The first book of the trilogy, and thus the omnibus, opened with a poem that I read over several times before I even thought to turn the page:

Come gather ‘round, hardy men of the steppe
And listen to my tale
Of heroes bold and friendships fast
And the tyrant of Icewind Dale

Of a band of friends, by trick or by deed
Bred legends for the bard
The baneful pride of one poor wretch
And the horror of the Crystal Shard

I remember how that simple poem sparked my curiosity and how, by the third time I read it, that spark had become a small but steadily-growing fire that brought a new life to my imagination.  My brothers could not stop talking about these books, and I wanted to know why — and after reading that opening poem, I knew that this would be something I could share with them that would transcend a mere infantile desire to mimic my older siblings in the hopes they might see me more as a peer and less as a pest.

Our shared love of the fantasy genre had been born in Middle-Earth and Narnia, and now our literary adventures led us to stir up the dust of legends in Faerûn.  I sped through The Icewind Dale Trilogy at lightning speed, enamored with this brave new northern world and entangled happily in the enchanted web RA Salvatore wove in the harsh and forbidding setting.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy came into my life soon after one of my first best friends exited – only a few days after a schoolyard incident had shattered that friendship beyond repair.  A picture of the two of us at my birthday party had been found in a puddle by the long-jump pit, and when I told the boy who found it that it I had given it to the “blonde girl in the picture” he told me, “She’s my class, and when I brought it to her she told me that she didn’t want it anymore.”

My birthday is in August, and during my elementary and high school years that meant hardly anyone would ever be in town to celebrate it.  The picture in question had been taken during the year when that blonde girl had been the only friend from school who hadn’t gone off on vacation or to camp the week of my birthday, and in my juvenile mind the fact that she’d been the only friend at my party meant that she was my best friend.  You can imagine, then, how awful I felt when I heard through the schoolyard grapevine that my apparent best friend in another classroom had denounced our friendship in front of most of our grade.

This was emotional background to my first encounter with RA Salvatore’s beloved character Drizzt Do’Urden and his diverse band of adventurer-warrior friends, and it set the scene perfectly for me to develop a deep attachment to their tale.  Their unfailing loyalty and support for one another, as well as their acceptance of each other despite such stark and obvious differences in their backgrounds, were all things I yearned to find in my peers but had yet to discover.

I longed to be able to slip through some rift in the earth and fall into Icewind Dale – and all the lands the Companions of the Hall subsequently travelled –  so that I could meet this band of heroes and earn my place among them.  I daydreamed of doing so by committing some gigantic act of bravery in the heat of battle following the sudden discovery of some special talent or ability that lay stifled by Earth’s magic-less atmosphere, or perhaps by bringing knowledge from Earth into some dire situation whose impossibility had exhausted all of Faerûn’s own possible solutions.  Though having my own share of their legendary fame was appealing, it was the idea of belonging to a group like that – a group of truly best friends – that committed my heart to the entire Legend of Drizzt saga.

In time, I came to realize that I did have hidden qualities and talents that could be used and shown in fine form in my earthly existence.  It’s true that I fell in love with literature while sitting at the feet of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, but it was RA Salvatore who inspired me to make a first real commitment to writing a world of my own. Most important of these cached treasures was my love for writing, which became apparent when I started committing my daydreams to paper.  This secret phase of writing fan-fiction made me realize that if I could insert myself into the existing canon of Forgotten Realms legends, then maybe I could make my own world where all my wildest dreams would find life.

It’s been a long while since I last visited my childhood friends in the Forgotten Realms, but I’ve recently returned.  And I’m glad I came back, for upon reading the opening lines I felt a feeling not unlike the kind I get whenever I am reunited with my brothers and sisters under one roof, or whenever I see a friend whose company I have not shared in a long while:  that wonderfully strange feeling that my heart has somehow arrived home…as if taking it up was like knocking on Drizzt’s door, and reading it was like being admitted to cross his threshold and sit by the fire beside him, Guenhwyvar the astral panther at our feet and the rest of the Companions – Wulfgar, Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis – expected to join us at any minute.