Archive | November 2012

The Stars Aligned

A friend is a present you give yourself.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Earlier I had said that I would write about the friends in Montreal that have made my life fuller.  I digressed.  I steered off course, but stories are like that, aren’t they?  You start down one path and the story takes you to another, eventually leading you in a completely different direction and then you sit there and ask, “What was I saying? Oh yeah……”

When you live in the city of Montreal, and gauge the distance and time by which metro line to take, it seems like a huge ordeal when a car is required to get to any other part of the island, and even a bigger deal when you have to coordinate a ride with someone else.  Add winter conditions and these are the makings of some serious excuses to not venture out!  Going to a Christmas party that required some planning, knowledge that the house would be filled with kids (not really my forte), falling snow and putting my trust in a young Venezuelan driver (his first Canadian winter) made the meeting of my friend France a real miracle.  The stars aligned that night.

I’m a shy person if I’m in a room full of people I don’t know.  I’m not a mingler, I don’t work the room. I kind of stand close to Juan and ease drop on his conversation or I’m in the kitchen trying to help out the hostess.  This is my coping mechanism, you know, so I don’t feel too much like a wallflower. This particular night’s conversation was boring.  The party was taking place at one of Juan’s professor’s house and the topic had something to do with Wireless Networking. If you’re a geek, it probably would have been stimulating, but computer speak, mixed in with the latest technologies and lingo, plus engineering was more than enough to put me into a coma.  No matter how much I try (which, to be honest, I don’t) this kind of stuff just doesn’t hold my interest.  It’s like a really complicated math class being taught in Mandarin.  Needless to say, I left the room yawning, searching for a drink.

Drink in hand, I found a dimly lit room that called my name.  No screaming children in sight, I entered the sacred space. France was escaping too.  She looked up and said something along the lines of, “I’m not really into this tonight.”  I love this kind of honesty. I think we read each other’s plight, boredom.  We quickly discovered we had a lot in common: age, interests, traveling, etc.  Her husband was one of the “geeks”, another of Juan’s professors and a fellow Latino.  Once you say the words “I have a Latino husband/boyfriend”, the unspoken “uh-huhs” and “I totally know what you mean” and “his family” are written all over your faces, there is an underlying universal acknowledgment of understanding and bonding.  Strange, isn’t?

Our friendship was slow to grow, like ice thawing in the spring.  The winter was definitely a factor in this, plus she and her husband live in the burbs.  Again, it was about logistics. Take a bus, a metro and then a train.  Instead of calling it laziness, I like to think that I economize my energy in winter.  Anyway, we didn’t meet again until early summer.  And after a few BBQs  I knew that we’d be friends for a long time.

France is easy to talk to, we share the same sense of pragmatism, we’re both honest people that don’t put up with a lot of shit, we despise winter, we had very parallel lives in terms of marriage and divorce, plus we both LOVE chocolate.  But I identified with her in a way that I didn’t expect. To be honest, I had never given it any real thought prior to knowing her.  As funny as this is going to sound, it really means something to me.  She’s Canadian.  Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” but there’s something comforting in talking about T.V shows, food, cartoons, music, and all things Canadian with someone who truly get’s it.

Besides all of these things, France is a friend’s friend.  If she knows I’m down, there’s always a comforting word. She really listens, she’s compassionate, sympathetic, and as my mother would say, “She’s the kind of person that would give you the shirt of her back”. She’s fun to be around, she has a great laugh and is just as quick witted as I am.  She plays a mean game of crib and totally gloats if she wins, which, sadly, is most of the time.

Someone once told me that we see ourselves in the people we surround ourselves with.  I see myself reflected in her.  France is sensitive, but more importantly she tries to do all that she can with the best of intentions. And if what Robert Louis Stevenson is true, then I gave myself a very precious gift.  I will miss her.

My “Canadian” friend, France.

The Distant Cousin?

Winter is nature’s way of saying, “Up yours.” ~ Robert Byrne

I think I may have mentioned before that I’m not a patient person.  I hate waiting around for people or things like time to pass.  With less than 2 weeks before the departure date, I’m becoming a little squirrely. I’m slowly starting to check out.  I’m ready to leave.  I think I mentally said goodbye to Montreal a long time ago.  It’s a great city (in the summer), but I was never at home here.  I was like the distant cousin who overstayed my visit.  And like extended family, Montreal and I tolerated each other.  I’ll be gone soon enough and I’m sure I’ll look back with fond memories saying to Juan, “Do you remember the time in Montreal when…..?”

You know that thing that happens when you HAVE overstayed your visit and you tell your relatives that you’re leaving?  It’s like they go from being resentful to being a nice again. I kind of feel that way about the weather right now.  November has been awesome!  It’s been “warm” with no rain.  It feels like I am getting away with something, not having to endure the first brunt of the season.  It’s like it’s holding off until I leave, you know as a kind gesture.  I understand that personifying the weather seems a little strange, but in my defense  it can be quite bitchy, nasty really.  (I really had to restrain myself from using gender there.) Anyone who has endured a harsh Canadian winter knows what I’m talking about. I should mention that it was     – 27 degrees when I visited my parents in Calgary last weekend, so, unfortunately I didn’t completely escape.

I just checked the weather forecast for the next two weeks.  I don’t want to jinx anything. Here’s another little truth about me, I like to know what’s going on with the weather, down to the hour. I think it’s a Canadian “thing”.  Some might call this obsessive; I just don’t want to be caught unaware. I like to be prepared; you know, wearing the appropriate clothing.  In saying that, I really dislike wearing winter boots (coat, mitts and a hat).  Maybe it’s the weight of them or the style, but as a pedestrian, as opposed to those who drive cars in the winter (they have different attire), I’ve learned that it’s far more practical to be warm than fashionable.

Soon enough, I’ll be trading my winter gear for a bathing suit!  Until then, I will bundle up and count my lucky stars that it hasn’t snowed, yet.

Early winter in Calgary.

Can You Keep a Secret?

The duty of happiness becomes clearer when we see how it affects others. It is the merry heart that makes the cheerful countenance, and it is the cheerful countenance that spreads cheer to make other hearts merry.   Hugh Black

Can you keep a secret?  Can you keep a secret that is also a surprise?

I know most people would answer “Yes, of course, I can!”, but could you really be trusted with it?

Someone once told me something so obvious that it seemed absurd at that time.  They said if you really want to keep a secret “secret” don’t tell anyone. It’s sage advice. I admit that when I’m the one who is imparting it I really weigh my options.  I mean, who can you trust?  There are risks and they can be high.  It might just “slip out” and then you’re screwed. Your secret is exposed and, in my case, the surprised is spoiled; then who are you angry or disappointed with, yourself or the betrayer?

This past week I had a dilemma and had to weigh a lot of options.  You see, I have a secret that is a surprise.  My secret is that I’m heading to Calgary to visit my parents before moving to South America.  Now my Dad knows because I need a lift back from the airport and I had to ensure that he wouldn’t be working.  The surprise is for my Mom. I haven’t seen my parents for about 3.5 years and when I phoned home lamenting that I wouldn’t be able to visit due to work contracts and flight prices she kept telling me that I was going on a great adventure and that I had nothing to be sad about. I felt that she was being brave; you know, trying to hide her disappointment.  An opportunity arose, and with the tiniest push from my boyfriend, friends and my boss, I decided to seize the moment.  I have no idea the next time I will visit, so to say that I’m excited to see them and her reaction is truly a gross understatement.

So what’s the dilemma?  Well I have three sisters and nine nieces and nephews and I really wanted them to share and be part of my excitement, but telling one might have lead  them telling one of their kids and their kids talk to my parents almost daily.  I couldn’t risk it.  What to do, what to do?  I told all of my students and friends who have absolutely no connection with my family whatsoever!!  I couldn’t help myself.  I needed to tell someone before I burst and then, after a fierce internal struggle, I relented and thought it was only fair to tell the sister who lives close to my parents (she would have needed time to arrange her work schedule, too).  I made her swear 1000 times not to say anything.  I somehow felt like that wasn’t enough; I needed something more, so I resorted to blackmail.  No, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I consider it my insurance.  This is sisterly love.

When you have sisters it’s difficult to tell a secret to one and not feel guilty about not telling the others.  Ah, guilt is powerful.  Damn. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so while waiting forever at the airport (my flight was delayed an hour and half due to snow in Calgary, *sigh*) I texted my sister in Northern Ontario and went through the whole secret screening process, again.  Sadly, I have nothing that I can use as blackmail.  I had to risk it; I had to trust.  I made the right decision. Her reaction was more than I could have hoped for.  Pure, unadulterated joy radiated through the characters of her text.  It was infectious.  I got an extra boost of “Yipee!!!”  Man, I love surprises.

I will have to text my sister living in Europe once I land.  And yes, I will still go through the whole process.  What can I say, I’m paranoid.  That cat hasn’t been let out of the bag and I’d like to keep it that way.  I’m sure that she’ll be just as ecstatic.  For the time being I’ll just revel in the fact that I’ve pulled it off.  As for my mom, well, I’ll let you know how my feels about all of this.

Update: My reunion with my Dad at the airport was incredible.  I practically ran down the escalator when the automatic doors revealed he was standing in front.  I was greeted with a huge grin and a  large bear hug.  We got in the car, each of us acknowledging that we were co-conspirators in a grand scheme.  He had it all planned out, all the way down to the excuse as to why he was late coming home.

We had a half hour drive planning my entrance.  He’d pull up into the driveway and I’d go in first and surprise her.  That went without a hitch.  Now let me first say that people react differently to surprise; in my head my mom and I would embrace and cry and laugh.  It hadn’t occurred to me that anything different would happen.  I opened the door and danced, yes danced, my way over to my Mom and she stood like a statue.  She was in shock, she literally stayed in the middle of the living room looking from me back to my Dad.  I was an apparition.  It wasn’t until a half an hour later that she said, “This is the best surprise of my life.”

Welcome home.

My Dad and Mom


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”                    ~ C.S Lewis

The dictionary definition of serendipity is this: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.  That is exactly how I would describe my friendship with Hayley.

Hayley and I were in the same French beginner night class.  This class is usually reserved for newly arrived immigrants in Quebec.  Although I wasn’t an immigrant, I needed to speak French in order to work.  Through the basics of French, I quickly discovered that even though Hayley originally hailed from Australia she wasn’t an immigrant either.  She’s been married to a Canadian for over 10 years.

I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame.  So cliché, I know, but she had an energy that I cannot describe.  I’d like to say that it was innocent, but that wouldn’t capture the essence of it. She radiated light from the inside out.  She had an ease about her, a sureness. I knew I wanted to know more about her, but how? Believe it or not, I can be shy especially if it’s with people I don’t know.  I needed to figure out a way to talk to her after class. I eventually found my “in”.  Her husband is Latino!!  I knew we’d have something in common. I mean how couldn’t we?  Latino families, like most, come with a set of unwritten rules.  I knew that we’d have similar stories to share about sailing those uncharted waters.

Our friendship was effortless.  It was based on our love and respect of Nature (she is currently living in Banff doing every imaginable outdoorsy thing with her beautiful family), yoga (which she still practices and I rarely do), chocolate, which we both consume on quite a regular basis, language (both Spanish and French) and the love of travel.

Hayley has a tremendous a gift for sharing and encouraging people to be their best, whatever that may be.  It was her that planted the seed of me becoming an ESL teacher.  It was her insight and constant advocacy.  She saw it, the spark I have when I teach and it all happened by accident.

I think we were in our second level of French and we had the most uninterested teacher.  She was there only to collect a pay check at the end of the month.  She was disengaged.  She showed up and handed out the relevant worksheets; that was it.  One night I was so frustrated by her lack of teaching that I left the class and vowed that I’d learn it on my own.  I went home, figured it out, drew a diagram so I could remember it and returned the following night just so I could explain it to Hayley.  I figured that if I could understand it then anyone could.  I ended up teaching the concept to the entire class, albeit in English, but teaching nonetheless.  I was able to change a difficult language concept into something simpler, something tangible, something people understood. It was then that Hayley said that this is what I should pursue.

After months of debating, she convinced me.  I completed my teaching certificate and got a job teaching and another volunteering.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Hayley inadvertently gave me a wonderful gift, joy.  It is because of her persistence that I get to experience that every day I teach.  I am indebted her.

Hayley -the giver of joy- on the far left and me on the top right.

Little Reminders

My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.  ~ Dave Berry

While celebrating our very belated anniversary, Cécile was kind enough to remind me that I have a responsibility to those who read my blog to update regularly. I think Cécile’s bored and just wants to be a stalker, but that’s a different story.  I must say that I do feel a twinge of guilt but, in saying that, I am preparing to move to another country.  Ok, I know, this is what the blog is about, so that excuse doesn’t really count.

Here’s the truth of it; I consider what I write.  I don’t want this to be like some people’s facebook statuses where they’re updating every 10 minutes.  I’m a thinker.  I think a lot and I’m sure my boyfriend would attest that when it comes to certain things I think too much.  That’s ok, it means I care.

So here’s my pledge to you: I will complete part two of my previous post this weekend.  I will finish what I started with a little companion by my side, chocolate!

One of the best food combinations ever: chocolate and raspberry. My crepe from Cacao 70.