We went to the local pub this weekend and picked a Christmas tree (as you do in London) and Joe hoisted it up onto his shoulder and walked it home and now the house smells of spruce and dried orange slices and I dare say, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas over here. It’s not a full tree yet, you know, like the one in your mom’s living room brimming with Christmas cheer, filled with a lifetime’s worth of family ornaments. No. Ours isn’t that tree yet. That kind of tree takes years to dress. Ours is… minimalist. White fairy lights, pinecones collected on random hikes, felt acorns that I made years ago, dried orange slices and a couple of baubles bought over the years. At the top of the tree is a ball of bunched-up fairy lights because the strand was too long and I couldn’t just leave it hanging there. Forget the tree-top star, ours is an entire galaxy.
I used to love Christmas when I was a kid. I remember one year all of us going for a walk in the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree, like something out of a Chevy Chase movie. But generally, it was dad’s job to get the tree in mid-December (it took us years to convince mom to buy a tree earlier than the week before Christmas) and when he got home, mom would put the Christmas music on and get the boxes of ornaments out of the closet. I loved going through those boxes. We each had our favourite ornaments that we liked to hang. There was the wooden bell that I painted in second grade, with messy green paint spilling far outside the lines, the bauble that looked like a crystal from Narnia, the fabric bird that mom sewed with sequins for eyes, ornaments from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, where it’s Christmas 361 days a year. And, of course, the braided wreath, an 80’s staple.
I’m not going to lie to you, Christmas lost of a bit of its charm when I first moved to England. The Christmases here are never white and I was a million miles from home, from family. But now that I have a little family of my own, I’m keen to create special holiday traditions for Wren. Starting with The Night Before Christmas, the book mom used to read to us every single Christmas eve without fail and still does if we happen to be gathered, which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
Wren loves books. She loves flap books and touchy-feely books, board books, picture books, books with stars and ladybirds and dogs, books with lullabies, books that make noise, books that don’t. Books, books, books. But she also has a limited attention span so I don’t think we’d get much further than visions of sugar plums dancing in kid’s heads before another book caught her attention. Or she’d get fixated on the reindeer, calling them dogs over and over again. Or she’d keep calling old St-Nic dada… over and over again.
I think next year will be the year to introduce her to my childhood Christmas book. But until then, I’ve found the perfect festive tale to read to her on the lead-up to her second Christmas. It’s called Elmo’s Christmas Tail, written by my dear friend Tammy Johnston.
It’s a heartwarming story with enchanting illustrations about the true magic of Christmas kindness. It had a bit of a dark twist to it, reminiscent of the fairy tales of yore, but the ultimate message is that it hopefully teaches children to look after one another — an important Christmas, and 365-day-a-year, message. Wren LOVES it. Tammy designed the cover, drew the illustrations and wrote it herself. It’s a proper homemade book, inspired by her English garden and the farm she grew up on in Dorset, surrounded by woodland and animals.
It’s a wonderful Christmas fairytale and would make a great Crimbo present for big and small. If you would like a sneak peak, here is a short video of the book, narrated by none other than Laurence Fox and produced by Mike Barrett, with an original music score by Lorne Balfe! And if you want the real deal, you can purchase a copy on Amazon.
Tammy also has a few book readings/signings in London if you would like to meet her. She, herself, is like a Christmas elf. The sweetest, kindest, childlike soul I’ve ever met. She’s like a bright star that you can’t help but be drawn to. You can find her at Maggie & Rose on the 15th of December, 10.30 at the Chiswick Branch and 3.00 at the Kensington branch.
Hope you’re all feeling festive and cozy this month. Hope the lights in your home are twinkling and that everything smells like Christmas cookies and that your hearts are filled with gratitude for the love of family and good friends.
Well, I did it! I managed to write 26 out of November’s 30 days. That’s a score of 87%, which is an A grade. I can live with that. I’m not going to lie to you, this was the hardest Nablopomo I’ve ever done. It just happened to be one of those months when I had a thousand balls up in the air and some came crashing down and others are still floating up there. I’m not a very good juggler. Don’t ever let me join the circus.
There just wasn’t any oomph this year. No pizzaz. No get-up-and-go. The little gusto that I started with began to peter out somewhere around day two. I sometimes think I peaked, creatively speaking, in my early 30s. The last time I felt proud of something I’d written or photographed was after our honeymoon. Since then, there’s been a slow, but perceptible, decline. There’s probably some bell curve or historiometric data out there to prove my theory. But then again, they say some authors find their greatest inspiration in middle age. Who knows, maybe after raising children and going through menopause, I’ll come out the other side enlightened, brimming with ideas. Maybe I haven’t peaked. Maybe I’m just dormant at the moment, waiting for the right conditions to bloom.
Thanks so much to everyone who read and commented and cheered me on from the sidelines this past month. I’ve crossed the finish line. Hurray! Someone hand me one of those silver blankets and a sports drink. I’m going to go stretch and recover. I’ll see you all next week.
P.S. I just realised that it’s the first of December today, which means that I didn’t even have to write this post. Screw the sports drink, pass the bottle of wine!
The Universe works in mysterious ways.
The story begins in the Mile End, on the last Saturday of July, with my friend Sylvia, who had recently rented an apartment in the area and claimed that it was the best quartier in the city.
And so it is that I found myself on the corner of Park Avenue and Fairmount on that particular day, at that specific time, searching for a place of my own. I remember saying, as I got out of the car, “Listen, Universe, if you want to help me find the perfect apartment today… geez, that sure would be great” (yes, that’s how I talk to the Universe). Syl reminded me, in the kindest possible way, that the search for an apartment could be quite arduous, a long and painful process. It had taken her a month to find a spot that wasn’t either totally crotté (disgusting), infested with rats, overpriced or the size of a closet.
Five minutes later, I opened a brown gate that led to a court-yard that led to a building that I was drawn to, for no particular reason other than it had a certain Wes Anderson feel to it; a whimsical, salmon-coloured apartment complex. I checked every window for an À Louer (for rent) sign. No luck. But as I turned to walk away, a woman opened her door and asked if I was looking for a place to rent. YES! Yes, I am!
She (Fabie) was heading up North to teach in Natashquan and was looking for someone to sublet her gorgeous flat for a year. The place came completely furnished, with all utilities included. It was perfect. The price, however, was way beyond my means and so I left with a heavy heart and her email address in my pocket and while I looked at a couple of other crotté places, I became découragée. Despite Sylvia’s warning, I had expected, somewhat naively, to just snap my fingers and find a pad on the spot.
I went back to my cousin’s flat, took a pity nap and then took matters into my own hands. I drew up a budget, emailed the lovely lady with the lovely apartment, told her about my situation and asked if it was at all possible to knock $100 off the rent. She said she would think about it and in the meantime, I asked to see the place again with my cousin.
The next morning, Amy and I visited the apartment. It was just as perfect as I remembered and became even more enticing once I saw the phenomenal rooftop terrace.
Me: Wow! It’s beautiful, but I have to think about it.
Amy: Jeanine, seriously, what is there to think about? This place is unbelievable.
Fabie: Écoutes… if you tell me that I don’t have to worry about cleaning the apartment before leaving, I’ll knock $100 off your rent because I like you and I trust you and some things in this life are worth a hell of a lot more than money.
Call it serendipity, happenstance, coincidence… Fabie called it les atomes crochus (hooked atoms) bringing us together –- the pull of energies, everything lining up just for that moment. Being in the city when I should have been in the countryside for the weekend, Sylvia getting lost on her way to picking me up, the parking spot we found… everything led up to me being at that exact spot at the exact moment when she happened to peer out of her window. Only later, as I signed the lease and had a beer with her, did I find out that Fabie’s partner had broken up with her in March, hence why she was escaping as far north as she possibly could for a year. Her and I were in the same boat. Les atomes crochus.
I spent that year sipping a lot of coffee at the café across the street. And drinking wine on my rooftop, watching the sun set behind mosques and church steeples, and then the moon rise over Mount Royal. I lived on a street lined with fruiteries and boulangeries, terraces filled with happy people enjoying happy hour, the YMCA and library a few blocks away.
In the fall, K dropped off some of my boxes. We had a moment of weakness; loneliness can make you do regrettable things. But the thing is, I thought it would be this amazing thing. I thought maybe it would be the end of the end and the start of something new, but it wasn’t. Turns out, I was over him.The idea of him all those months had been far more appealing than the real thing. And I knew it from the second he arrived on my doorstep, but I followed through anyways. And then I found out that he had a girlfriend back home. Let’s just say what’s on everyone’s mind, shall we? What a douche move, eh? Some things never change. Any shadow of a doubt that might have remained had now officially vanished.
After saying good-bye to that last glimmer of hope that I had held onto for so long, I finally felt free. And to celebrate my newfound freedom, I booked tickets to Europe. I took six weeks off work to backpack across England, Spain and Italy. It was scary as hell but also the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. That decision and those six weeks would change the course of my entire life.
I unleashed a whole lotta Jeanine on that trip. And I kept unleashing when I got home. I was like a high school kid jacked up on hormones. I went out. I had FUN. I wasn’t a harlot but I made up for some serious lost time. Montreal was my playground. Good old Universe sure did come through for me in the end. I couldn’t have asked for a better spot or a better city to help me through that chapter of my life.
Casgrain Avenue, Montreal, Quebec
July 2009 – June 2011
Soundtrack: Future Islands – Tin Man; The Walkmen – In the New Year; Arcade Fire – The Suburbs; TV On The Radio – Love Dog; Calvin Harris – Disco Heat
Fabie came home and I was, once again, on the lookout for an apartment. I found my flat on Casgrain through a friend of a friend of a friend. The place needed some serious work. Every single wall was painted blood-red (even inside the cupboards) or dark turquoise. It felt oppressive. Like maybe someone had sacrificed chickens in there. But the location was fantastic and the rent was reasonable and my postal code sounded like something out of Star Wars (H2T 1X2) and it was right by the tracks (I do love a good train track) and there was nothing a bit of paint couldn’t fix. It took weeks, a ton of help, quite a few cases of beer and many yard sales and garbage finds to get that place in tip-top shape but I got there in the end.
I loved my apartment on Casgrain. It was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere that was my own. Not me and a roommate/friend/boyfriend. It was all me. Which is why it’s strange that I hardly have any photos of the place, either before or after. The only ones I managed to find were taken with my friend’s fisheye lens when she came to visit one December evening and we drank waayyyyy too much wine (see drunk eyes above, yikes) and maybe even had an impromptu dance party.
Life on Casgrain was good. I took writing courses at Concordia University, had my first ever article published, went to Squam, bought a film camera, spent a lot of time on Skype with my main squeeze, saw my favourite band play a surprise free concert in a parking lot outside of Montreal, snuck up on countless rooftops, went to Osheaga and the Jazz Festival and a hundred gigs in between, and cycled everywhere on my beat-up bike with the milk crate on it.
And I developed a friendship with a coworker that made my time in Montreal the special time that it was. Roma was a bit of a stray cat, mistrusting of other humans. Ours was a long and slow road to what is now a life-long friendship. When I think of Montreal, I think of Roma and I on rooftops, drinking Jameson’s, listening to music; or wading ass-deep in alligators at work and stopping at our favourite dive bar La Petite Idée Fixe after a day of wading ass-deep in alligators; popcorn and weird g-chats and too many cigarettes. I can’t imagine Montreal without her in it and that’s why even if I went back, it would never be the same.
And I wouldn’t be who I am today without those two years on Casgrain. They were two of the best years of my life. It took a while, but in the end, I found my way back to myself. And I liked that girl. But I was also madly in love with a man who lived across the pond, 5,218km away. Dilemma.
In April, I made a decision. In May, I quit my job. In June, I sold most of my belongings. On June 21st, I waved good-bye to Roma from a taxi cab, took a massive leap of faith across an entire ocean and moved to London for the next crazy chapter of my life.
If you want to read about other places I’ve lived, check it here.
Rue Fullum, Montreal, Quebec
February 2008 – July 2008
Soundtrack: Sia – Some People Have Real Problems (entire album)
I left Nova Scotia on Valentine’s Day with a broken heart and a suitcase. It was a battered brown suitcase, the same one my mom gave to me when I left home a decade earlier, the suitcase she most likely traveled with when she landed in Canada in 1975. The rest of my meagre belongings were packed in boxes and stored in the house K and I had bought and renovated together. Our first and last house.
I had been a serial monogamist for most of my life. Four years with my high school boyfriend and then only a brief hiatus before diving into the next relationship that would take me through my twenties and into my thirties. Twelve years, K and I were together. When I boarded the plane that Valentine’s Day (in hindsight the departure date was probably a massive subconscious “fuck you” to the man who broke my heart), I didn’t have a clue who I was without him. I was like one of those dogs that’s tethered for so long that even when you unclip the chain, he stays close to the peg. The peg had become, over the years, something that made me feel safe and the idea of venturing out, past the threshold, was daunting. Untethered, I didn’t quite know what to do or where to go.
I landed at my friend Kat’s place, a sanctuary from the storm. She fed me wholesome food, she looked after me, she helped me get back on my feet. I wanted to stay with her forever but I couldn’t delay the inevitable. I hopped on a train to Montreal. My cousin Amy picked me up at the station in her beat-up car. I think she had to hold the car door shut while she drove because it kept opening. It made me laugh. She made me laugh. Everything was going to be OK. Then not OK. Then OK again. Over and over for months to come.
I moved in with Amy, who’s boyfriend was training for the Beijing Olympics and was away for most days of most months. She had a spare room. I set my bags down. I didn’t cry but I wanted to. I reckon she opened a bottle of wine. It may have been before noon.
Within a month of moving back, I found a temp job at PwC. It was the first time in a loooooong time that I got paid a decent wage. I got my head down. I worked hard.
Once in a while I’d call K from a phone booth at the corner of our street. There were affairs to settle, mostly house stuff, but I think it was habit that kept me calling. He said he missed me and I told him that he didn’t have the right to say such things (even though I missed him too).
I don’t know what I would have done without my cousin Amy’s constant support, sense of humour and unwavering enthusiasm. When I emailed her with the news of our breakup, she promised to try to make me smile. And she did, everyday. We joined a yoga studio together, we went climbing, she introduced me to her friends, she took me out dancing, we got completely hooked on Lost and watched the Montreal Canadians play all the way through to the Stanley Cup semifinals until they lost to Philadelphia. We ate a lot of hummus. Drank a lot of wine. My family took me in whenever Steph was in town. Friends took me out all the time. There was so much goodness and kindness and generosity.
Still, it was a tough winter. Never have I been so happy to see crocuses poking through the snow. A thawing. A new life. I turned 33 in that apartment on Fullum. I treated myself to my dream DSLR. I started to take photos. I started this blog. Photography and writing got me through the tough days.
August rolled around. The Olympics were about to start, soon Steph would be home for good. It was time for me to flap my fledgling wings, jump from the nest and fly into singlehood proper.
The search for an apartment triggered all the feelings that I’d managed to keep at bay for those first five months. It made the end of my relationship feel more final than the day I had left. Perhaps I had fooled myself into believing that my stay at Amy’s was a layover on my long flight back home. After all, I had no strings tying me here – a temp job and no place to call my own.
But with the offer of a permanent position and the search for a one-bedroom apartment, my stay no longer felt temporary. It felt very real, very permanent and no matter how much I tried to sugar coat it with images of freshly painted walls and vintage Pyrex dishes… it was still me sitting on my couch, me eating leftovers, me watching a movie, me lying in my single bed, me sipping a glass of wine, me alone. There was no us in this reality and that was a tough pill to swallow.
Note: Going down memory lane is making my brain hurt, you guys. So I’m gonna have to leave part two for tomorrow.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I sat down to write your 16-month letter. Where has the time gone and where have I been and how have you changed so much in the past 30 days? You’re certainly not the same little girl you were last month, or even last week, or even yesterday for that matter. It’s all so fleeting and I wish I had a giant pause button some days.
Your new addiction this month: hats. Your milliner uncle would be proud. You point at every single hat you see — whether it be a flat cap or Fedora or bike helmet; on people, in books, on billboards and hooks — and then tap the top of your head to let me know that there is a hat over there mama, a HAT, isn’t it the most exciting thing you’ve ever seen? You do the same with the moon and the stars. You spot stars in every card and magazine and shop front, no matter how small, and trust me, with Christmas right around the corner, there are stars everywhere. You open and close your hands to make the gesture of a twinkling star, keen for me to sing the song again for the 15th time that day. I tell you, when you get hooked on something, you ride it to an inch of its life.
You finally, finally, say mama in its proper context. You pointed at me the other day and said mama so enthusiastically that I nearly burst into tears. This does come with its drawbacks however. Case in point, whenever daddy toots you now say mamaaaa disapprovingly, much to your father’s amusement. He says this is undeniable proof that I’m the farter in the family. I’m not sure that’s a title I wish to hold.
I don’t think you have any favourite foods this month, as in, nothing much satisfies you. You did, however, taste your very first PB&J in the car on the way to grand-dad’s last weekend and you devoured it. I grew up on PB&J so you’d think I’d have an aversion to the stuff but every time I eat one, which is once in a blue moon, it feels like I’m taking a bite out of a hot summer’s day. It’s the sandwich of holidays and road trips and days at the beach.
The month of November is the month of fireworks here in the UK. They start way before Guy Fawke’s night and continue well after it, weeks after it. Night after night after night of feeling like I’m in a war zone… or a gigantic popcorn machine. I like fireworks, I really do. I just like to go to them, not have them come to me when I least expect it, from every which way for hours on end. Still, I wasn’t about to be a Guy Fawkes Scrooge and stop you from enjoying these little colourful explosions in the sky. And so one night, I rushed you to the window and pointed them out to you and you, my dear, did NOT appreciate the gesture. They completely petrified you. I had to step away from the window, far away from the window, and for the next 30 minutes you wrapped your legs tight, like a vice grip, around my waist and kept one watchful eye on that window and said byebye that repeatedly until you were satisfied that your mantra had worked and that the pow-pow-pow had stopped.
You haven’t evolved much on the language front. It’s all dish and dash. But you love to make sounds. You make monkey sounds oooh-ooh-ahhh-ahhh when we call you a monkey, which happens a lot. And you do the same with owls – Hooo Hooo. Although the words aren’t quite there yet, you understand pretty much everything in both languages. Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, chin (your own, mine, daddy’s, friends and I’m sure strangers if I’d let you), dog, cat, lady bird, pig, hen, owl, star, shoes, cheese, pretty much anything in the house and in your books and from here to the park.
You love to lay all of your bunnies on the floor like they’re sleeping and then I sing the bunny song and we make all the bunnies hop — hop little bunnies, hop hop hop — and then you lie them down again and again and again. As you may have noticed from this letter, everything these days is done over and over again.
You imitate EVERYTHING, but my very favourite is the way you go around the house, tapping your nose, saying hmmmmm inquisitively when you’re trying to find something or solve a problem, as if in deep thought. It’s insanely adorable. I also love the way you hand over your lovey, Monsieur Lapin, when you have a difficult task at hand. A chair to climb, stairs to descend, a snack to eat. Here, hold this, mama. So bossy.
I’m sure I’m missing stuff. Seems like so much has happened this month. Stomach bugs, interviews, the death and funeral of a dear friend, and now, a lovely sleep rebellion to kick off this new month. A regression that has you fighting your naps and suddenly not being able to fall asleep unless we are in the room with you and all of us awake from 11pm to 1am when you decide that it’s time for a wide-eyed Wren rave. It’s not cool, kid. But I get it. You have a lot of stuff going on up there. So we’re doing our best to help you transition, to give you the tools and the cuddles you need.
So much of the happiness that I have in this world is thanks to you, you crazy-haired crumpet. The joy you bring to us is immeasurable, unquestionable. It makes up for the worry, the exhaustion, the dinners left untouched, the tantrums. I’m going back to work in two weeks and I hate the thought of no longer being able to spend my days with you. It kills me to know that I’m going to miss so many precious moments. So until then, I’m going to soak up every single second of you, kiddo.
Happy Thanksgiving America! I hope your bellies and hearts are full this weekend. I was meant to post these five things on Friday but I may or may not have been watching the new Ghostbusters instead.
Five songs on repeat
- Bon Iver – Heavenly Father
- Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
- Wild Beasts – Wanderlust
- Nick Mulvey – Fever to the Form
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (the toddler is obsessed; I sing this song at least 17 times a day)
Five things I’m loving right now
- This campfire candle
- Homemade chicken soup
- Kateandpine traveling the world with her toddler in tow
- Crisp autumn apples
- Nablopomo ends in five days
Five things I’m up to
- Accepting a job offer (yay! more on that in another post)
- Reviewing a tenancy agreement
- Making my way through this list
NavigatingBattling another sleep rebellionregression
- Hopping on the Gilmore Girls bandwagon (I’m only at Season 1 so I have a squillion episodes to go until I get to see what all this revival fuss is about)
Five things I’m grateful for
- My husband and daughter and their wicked sense of humour, which sees this family through the tough times.
- My health. My family’s health. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
- Coffee. For keeping my eyelids open and my blood flowing.
- Words. Photography. Music. The arts, in general.
- Saturday morning family breakfast at our local café.
Five (ok, ten) of my favourite film photos