Tag Archives: Memories

The Most Important Moments of my Life You’ll Never See on Social Media

I take a lot of photographs. I do. I always have. It started I way back when my Mom bought me a Disc Camera for my birthday. Do you remember those? I loved that camera.

It comes honestly though. One of the stories that is always told in my family ~ one that I clearly remember ~ is when we travelled across Canada and my Mom took like 6 photographs of the same Mountain in the Rockies. That doesn’t seem excessive today ~ but in the age of film I remember us all thinking it was.

So taking photographs is just a part of me. I take them of our travels and of our family and friends. I have cultivated beautiful galleries of them on my walls at home. Choosing my favourites ~ sometimes for memory and sometimes for composition. Often for both. They serve as a touchstone of who we are, where we have been, and how we define ourselves as a family and as individuals.

In our home we are surrounded by memories of the life we have created.

It is a conscious decision and one that fills me with joy.

But as I sit here looking at these walls, I realize hardly any of them ~ actually almost none of them ~ of my most prized and favourite ~ have ever been posted on social media.

I also sit here and realize that even with my passion for photography, so many ~ so very very many ~ of the most special moments of my life never even have a photograph to show for them.

For instance there was Monday night. My Mom and Dad came over for supper and stayed and talked and talked on the veranda on a perfect clear summer evening. Not a photo was taken.

As a matter of fact if you looked at my social media feed you would think these moments never happen ~ time with my parents. But they happen all of the time. They are one of the most significant parts of my life. We see each other all the time. We take adventures together and are a huge part of each other’s lives.

But they don’t like social media at all ~ like really really at all ~ so even the innumerable photographs I do have of them rarely get posted. I try to be ridiculously respectful of this with people. This is changing a little as they dip their toe into Facebook ~ but still I let them take the lead. Maybe you will see more of them if their comfort level changes. Maybe you never will. But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t two of the most important people in my life.

The same is with Craig’s parents. To a tee. While they don’t disdain social media they simply choose not to be on any social media at all. So I post a rare moment here or there with them, but my social media feed isn’t close to indicative of who they are on our lives, how many moments we spend with them or how incredibly special they are to us.

Some of my favourite moments are getting together to celebrate birthdays and holidays with them all. Everyone comes and our evenings are so special around the table eating together, sharing stories, having drinks and opening presents. This happens atleast ten times a year. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at my feed.

But I post none of those photos. None.

This past Tuesday ~ a beautiful and leisurely evening with three of my favourite friends. The longest evening and the best of talks. Not one post.

The same goes with times when it’s just the four of us as a family. Some of our most important times together are at Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving.

I never post one family photograph of us on the actual holidays. Maybe before or after every once in awhile ~ but never ever on the actual day we are sharing together.

We have been going to PEI as a family for 20 years now. It has always been our sanctuary for one week of the summer. Always just the four of us.

Hundreds of photographs and hundreds more memories. Literally. Not one posted.

So what’s the difference between what I post and what I do? What’s the reasoning for not posting so many of my most favourite and most memorable moments?

Two things I think.

The first is one is balance. Balance because there are a lot of things I do enjoy sharing. I do enjoy memories popping up on Facebook of fun times I had, trips I took, things I did, places I’ve been and things I saw. Good times with friends as we share our times together and comment on this or that and it makes me smile and laugh as we do. I adore that and it’s such fun. There is so much I do enjoy posting. The back and forth with friends and acquaintances has made me laugh out loud and truly does enhance some really great times.

And photographs I take of scenery or places

I’ve been that I think are compositionally a good photograph. I’m sharing those more and more. I enjoy that.

That is one side of the scale.

But the other side ~ the side that is more private, the moments that truly mean something, the ones that are close to my heart, well somehow ~ even if I have a photograph of them ~ it would actually make it LESS special for me to share them.

I know we don’t really live in a world like that anymore. But for me it’s true.

If you look at my social media feed you will see lots of photos representing true and real and wonderful experiences of my life. Each one a beautiful memory and often representing such a fun and fulsome life.

But it’s the moments you don’t see that truly make up who I am. It’s the people you don’t see who are often the most important in my life. Because these times, these memories, these moments are our own to be treasured. Sharing those doesn’t make them better.

I’ll leave you with this:

My favourite photograph in the entire world ~ the photograph that I captured by chance, that has perfect composition and that represents somehow my whole world in one single moment, will never ever be seen by the public. It sits on my mantle at home. I see it every day. It fills me up. It is for me. No one else.

And that is enough.

That is everything.

What is this Feeling?

It’s the first few moments of morning. Those moments where your eyes are still closed, your body is perfectly still and you are just becoming aware of your surroundings.

Simultaneously I experience three senses at once. Touch, sound and smell.

That normally isn’t so when I wake up in the morning, but it is when I’m here.

I feel the breeze on my skin coming through the open window right next to my bed. I always sleep with the window open here.

In the same moment I hear the waves. God do I love waking up to the waves literally outside my window.

And then there’s the smell. The salt air that fills your senses when you wake up only a hundred yards from the beach.

My eyes aren’t even open. My body hasn’t even moved an inch. I’m in that state of mind between awake and asleep. But I know exactly where I am.

I am camping.

As I roll over (quietly so Ginger won’t hear me) I’m aware of my kiddos sleeping in the bunk beds at the back of the trailer.

 
The four of us have been doing this for so long together ~ for seventeen years to be exact ~ and for all the things that we do … the travel and the sports games and the music concerts and the board games and card games … it’s been this that has in so many ways defined who we are as a family.

So here I am. Waking up once again in our trailer like so many mornings. I’m waking up and I’m trying to identify this feeling. It’s so easy to say it’s happiness. And I am. Happy that is. But it’s something more. We over use that word, happy. So I close my eyes again, breathe in that air, exhale slowly, and it’s then I realize without a doubt what the feeling is. It’s contentment.

I’m never more content then when I am camping.

It doesn’t matter where we are – at our beloved Rissers Beach, or Keji. Fundy or The Islands. Thomas Radall or Murray Beach. 

It’s where we take hundreds of walks on the beach together, hike and bike endless trails, laugh over campfires, egg each other on over washer toss tournaments and bocci ball, play intense games of crib and queens. It’s where the smell of campfires become the most beloved smell in the world and where dusk can’t come quick enough for all of us to gather around one every night.

It’s where my kids learned to ride their bikes and then took off on afternoon adventures to lakes and brooks and playgrounds, coming back with their friends having had contests of who could get the muddiest on the trails.

It’s where parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren all enjoy each other’s company equally. It’s where the four of us sit in our camp chairs, put our feet up and are completely silent … each reading our own books … where not a word is spoken sometimes but my heart swells because we are all engrossed in our own novels – but outside and together.

It’s where the best games of football and kite flying have happened. Where catching a wave on the boogie boards was the most important thing for a few summers and searching for sandollars becomes a sport.

It’s where we huddle, in our camper in the rain – a time that is my favourite – listening to that incomparable sound on the trailer roof and playing Skip Bo and drinking hot chocolate together.

 
And as always, Craig is beside me.

The two of us have been doing this together for 25 years now.

  
We started in a two man tent. Packing all we needed in the trunk of his little red Acura or my Z24. Cooking over the open fire, waking up to dampness and sleeping on air mattresses that deflate. And good heavens don’t touch the side of that tent!!

We then graduated to a four man tent. (Oh the life!) And then Megan arrived and along came the used tent trailer, then the used hybrid (man we loved that one. That lasted us 10 years). And then another hybrid and finally this Ultralight which now has a real bed for Craig and I.

Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Haha. Tents and trailers with no fridges and beds that fold up. Well you know what? It was. It was amazing. Our family has been doing this since Megan was seven months old. We consciously chose to raise campers. And I know that sounds funny – but we did. Somewhere along the way we consciously chose to raise our children to be campers. (Or maybe actually it was unconsciously because it’s so much a part of who we are).

Either way it doesn’t matter. Because now it just is. For all of us. And here we are so many years later. Still camping. All together.

So yes – as I roll over – I always know exactly where I am and what I’m feeling. And I know I will open my eyes and see my husband lying beside me. And soon we will get up and he will make me percolated coffee in my favourite stainless steel camping mug. We will go outside and take Ginger for a quick walk and sit together in our favourite chairs listening to the waves and watching them roll in over the sand. And soon the kids will get up and we will have another morning and another afternoon and another evening here together in whatever campground we happen to be in at the time.

And the memories – while we are here in this campground – the memories, well they will somehow, so clearly and effortlessly, simply make themselves.
  

Our Passion and Priority

I’m writing this on the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, having just spent an eighteen day vacation with my family.

Soon I will return home and I will post an album (or two or three) on Facebook sharing our adventures. These photographs will be incredible memories of our time together – they will be filled with breathtaking scenery, smiling faces and new adventures. They will be many and they will be irreplaceable. Our family’s history, I often say, will not be written – it will be viewed.

But these photographs will not depict any of the “reasons” I purposefully choose to travel with my family as much as I do.  

In fact I can’t think of one of these photographs, from any of our 17 trips (wow!) that will show you why Craig and I work so hard to put travel near the top of our family’s priority list.

The following is a list of 15 reasons we are so dedicated to travelling both near and far with these human beings we happen to share some chromosomes with:

(1) So they can feel what it’s like to be a minority – even if it’s just for the shortest of moments.

Whether it’s a visible minority, a language minority, a cultural minority, or other examples, they each have had opportunities to experience both – if not for long periods of time, at least in situations in which they would not have had the chance to experience at home.

(2) For them to learn and practice compassion and confidence.

I remember being in Montreal when a gentleman with a probable mental health illness approached Mark and started talking to him. Often when we travel they are also learning how to confidently and compassionately interact with everyone in life.

(3) To understand how blessed they are.

Whether it’s travelling the villages in Cuba or the outskirts of Los Angeles, they have seen, walked through, and learned how lucky they are. No lectures or words needed.

(4) To learn new skills and foster strategic thinking.

While in New York City, after a few days, we made them each find our way back to our hotel by themselves – once with a map and once without, just learning how the city is laid out, learning to navigate, learning to think in a spatial manner. Learning to not rely on lazy digital fixes.

(5) To sit in the uncomfortable for awhile … and finally, maybe, become a little more comfortable there.

Period.

(6) To see, touch, and stand in history. 

They will learn so much from books as they go through school. But nothing can replace being there – digging for dinosaur fossils in Drumheller, standing where the Beothuk stood in Newfoundland, touring the many museums of the Smithsonian, sitting in the House of Commons while in session and watching the Prime Minister and opposition leaders debate. These experiences trump the written word for them.

(7) To make the world seem both small, and big, at the same time.

I want both for them. Equally. For the world to be grandiose but at the same time for them to feel its accessibility. 

(8) To experience wonder.  

“Wonder” is a funny thing. It’s not joy or happiness. It’s different for everyone, but you know it when you feel it. For me it’s that feeling when I stand at the peak of a mountain top and see the clouds below me. For my kids it will be something different. But chances are they have/or will come across it in their journeys.

(9) To build their relationship as siblings.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which they bond when they travel. The way they interact and count on each other when they’re together 24 hours a day, 18 days in a row, with no one else their age around. You would think they would fight. A lot. They don’t. It’s so much the opposite.  

(10) To spend true uninhibited time as a family.

There is nothing, NOTHING, for me, that compares to the conversations, experiences and laughter we share while on the road for an extended period of time. It is magical. It was part of the reason we upped the ante on the number of trips we make a priority to take.

(11) To laugh. 

The laughter that comes from their cottage bedroom. Because they always have to share a bedroom. The things they find hilarious. The things we all experience and then laugh for days about until they become “part of the trip”. That is the soundtrack to my life I love most.

(12) To create memories. New unforgettable memories.

Life is short. You are always guaranteed one thing when you choose to make travel a priority for your family – the memories will last forever.

(13) Trial runs for life.

Someday they will spread their wings and be off on their own. Hopefully these adventures will take them far and wide. Learning to read a subway map, or getting yourself from the airport doors through the logistical hoops until you board a plane, or managing the security at a sporting event in the largest arena in North America … all of these are trial runs for when they are doing these things on their own in the world.

(14) Nurturing passion.

There is a theory that ‘desire’ is goal orientated and controlled, while passion is wild at heart and free. Travel as a passion is a gift – one I want to nurture as their mother.

(15) To open their minds, and their hearts, just a little bit more.

Their lives can be so narrow as teenagers – the next soccer practice, the next performance, the next party, the next test. Travel shows them there is more in this life than the over scheduled days in a week. There is much more. And it can be never-ending. Near or far. As long as its a priority.

Sometimes I look at the money we spend on these adventures (as hard as we work to keep them reasonable) and I think – wow – we could have had the house paid off by now. Or that brand name wardrobe. Or that cottage. But no. Instead this is our family’s priority. And I’ve never regretted one moment of it. Nor do I think do they.

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

Every Year I Forget

Every year I forget. I forget that this place has a tangible feel to it. I forget that that feeling begins at the curve in the road, about ten minutes from our destination, and that it grows from there … when I see Crescent, and then the general store and finally the sign. And even then I forget how tangible it really is until I step out of the truck and breathe in that air. That sometimes-foggy, often-cool, but always-salty sea air. Yes. I always forget. But at that moment, as I take a deep breath in, every single moment and memory seems to come rushing back to me all at once. And I remember.

I think we all have a place like this. A place that is not home, because home is of course unparalleled; but also because home brings with it laundry, and calendars, and dirty dishes, and broken porch steps, and to do lists, and responsibility.  

I think we all have a place where we breathe a little easier and become less burdened from the very moment we arrive. A place that seems to be waiting for us; and when we arrive seems to say ‘I’m so glad you are back. I’ve missed you.’

I’m lucky to have two such places. Today I’m spending the weekend at one of them.

This place has a memory to it. It has seen so many versions of myself, and they all come flooding back the moment I step on that white sand.

There’s North Rissers where Melinda and I thought we had the world by the tail as 12 year old girls, giggling and exploring while tenting with my parents. There were the beach days with Sean, my head-over-heels first love (could have that time been any more “beginning of Grease? Haha!) There’s my first girlfriend road trip in my 1980 Thunderbird with Julie, Tonya and Jennifer, setting up tents … thinking that summers would always be this easy and fun. There were summer cottages with my parents as I got older, where the door was always open; and as we came and went we always returned with seemingly half the beach on our flip flops and towels.

There was camping with Michelle and Dave in Site 28 during that time as young couples in our 20s when we only had to be responsible for ourselves. And of course there’s the place on the boardwalk where Craig pulled out the diamond I still wear on my left hand and proposed to me at sunset. 

And then came the kids, and this place became so much more. The memories of them toddling along the beach, making sandcastles until my knees hurt, grandparents around the campfire, the endless hunts for sandollars, the ice creams at the canteen and the countless friends they’ve brought with them in the trailer.  They are making their own memories now, and camping here each year has become as important to them as it has been for me. 

Yes, the minute I step on the beach all of it comes flooding back. And I realize how grateful I am to have such a place that holds so many of my memories year after year, consistently and gently. A place that wants nothing from me. No pressures or expectations. No appointments or commitments. A place I can get away to, where my head empties and my soul fills up. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and it astounds me how I’ve never become complacent about its beauty, nor its ability to calm my senses.

Every year I forget. But then, in an instant, with that rush of air and sand on my feet, I remember. And silently with a barefooted step, I close my eyes and whisper my gratitude, for this place … this place that we always make time for, without fail, each year … this place that will forever be a part of me. 

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

A Broken Christmas

It’s the end of November and I’m unpacking my Christmas totes, asking myself how another year could have come and gone so quickly.  Wasn’t I just doing this? I’m pretty sure I was.  No really. I was standing in this same spot just yesterday.  Sigh.  What is it with time as we get older?

As the kids and I unwrap decorations from crumpled newspaper, Megan comes across a set of white ceramic angels.  As she unwraps them she laughs and says “Oh Mom – the angels got broken again this year.”  I look at her and smile.  Sure enough, once again the girl angel’s wings are hanging on by a thread and the end of the boys’ has come completely off.  She sets them down with care and I remind her how long we have had them, smiling.

It’s then that I look around at our Christmas decorations and realize how many of these things have been broken over the years.

There’s the Rudolph Snow Globe.  Mark loved this snow globe so much when he was younger.  It’s musical and plays – obviously – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  This was his favourite song, bar none when he was a little boy.  I remember when he was three I showed it to him for the first time.  He was enamoured by the falling snow and the song playing in the background.  He asked me if he could pick it up himself.  “Of course you can honey.  Just be careful.”

On the inside of two minutes it went crashing to the ground.  The glass shattered and water and fake snow were everywhere.  He cried and cried.  But I told him it didn’t matter. Rudolph still sang and was still intact. And we could watch the snow fall outside as it played.

I also unpack four ceramic letters that spell the word snow.  We have always put them in our hallway, and promptly each year our dog Ginger rushes to the door to greet a holiday guest, wags her very large tail, and knocks over one, or two, or on a good day even three of those letters.  And every year we glue them back together, and laugh at her enthusiasm.

And there’s the wine glass.  My best friend has always been one of my very favourite people to shop for. I adore seeking out a perfect gift for her.  Nine years ago when I moved away from her and came back to Nova Scotia I found this stunningly decorated Christmas wine glass. I bought one for her and one for me. I sent it to her with a note to open before Christmas, saying that I had bought the exact same one and we could think of each other doing Christmassy things while drinking out of the same glass and we wouldn’t seem so far away from each other.    Off went hers safely to be opened.  While mine fell off a kitchen window sill and broke its stem completely in half.  Sigh.  But I didn’t part with it – instead I put in a small glass container and use it as a candle holder.  It really is beautiful.

Then there’s the hand-painted mug we bought when the kids were born for Santa to drink his milk out of.  It matches a cookie plate.  I looked high and low for this set and adore it.  Sadly the mug got put in the dishwasher by a well meaning guest one year and now says “Mil or anta”.  We keep saying we are going to paint the other letters back on. It never happens.  But we laugh when we open it and put it in its place of honour in the kitchen none the less.

There’s also the broken red star on top of the green ceramic Christmas tree that sits in my living room. The one my Mom gave me 10 years ago, which is the same one I grew up with in my own home when I was younger. How I loved that tree when I was a kid. Putting the lights in it each year.  And how I love having it in my living room now with my own kids as they put lights in it – broken star and all.

And of course there’s the giraffe ornament that’s missing his legs because one of the kids little trees they keep in their room fell over; the Disney ornaments that came unglued; the eye that has fallen off a Christmas stuffed animal; and the VHS tape that went hurling down the stairs with our favourite Christmas movie on it.

And finally there’s those angels. Those white ceramic angels.  We’ve had those with us the longest.  Before the kids.  Even back before we got married, when we were living together.  They were the one thing that always followed us from back then. No matter where we moved – what house or three Provinces we were living in, those angels followed us around and made their appearance from dusty boxes each year.

I remember thinking they are “us”. Me and Craig.  They are leaning over getting ready to kiss each other. I remember when they were brand new and perfect and so white.  I remember when they got their first mark on them. It was black and wouldn’t come off. At first I was devastated but then I thought “they are like us … just a little worn”.

Then one of their wings broke, and I thought that’s okay. We are still together even though we don’t look like we used to.  And then another wing broke off.  And each year we would get the angels out and each year Craig would glue them back together.  And each year I would think how they resembled us more and more – a marriage of many years with its hard knocks and ups and downs.

How naive we were. Little did we know what hard knocks were back then.  The years went by and I remember one of those years Craig forgot to fix them. And although I could have done it myself I just didn’t have the energy to.  But then another year passed and back they got glued together.

I remember even one year her head fell off.  I’m laughing hysterically as I write this but it’s true. If you look at her closely you will see where her head was glued back on.  Honestly. This makes me belly laugh with such irony and somehow such joy!  We thought we knew what rough times were. We didn’t have a clue. But we do now. Do we ever.

I look at them now and once again they need repair. They need a little TLC and time and effort. But they always have.  And most of the time … not all of the time …. but most of the time, we make sure they are taken care of.  Maybe not like they should be – maybe not like if we took them to a repair shop – but in the best way we can, and could, during the times we were dealt.

So yes – it’s another year. And we will fix those angels up again and give them the care they need. Someday we may take the time to superglue them and put more care into what they look like and clean them up a bit more. But for now, we will to put them up on the shelf and be so thankful that they are still hanging out together, roughly in piece, to remind how far we have come.  To remind us of our perseverance, fortitude and love.

I am so thankful for all the parts of my broken Christmas.  Each one holds a strong memory and teaches the four of us that things don’t have to be perfect to be treasured.  I love that we don’t surround ourselves with pretty Christmas things that can’t be touched.  I love that we still put all of these broken things out, and in my less than perfect home they fit right in.  I think they are all my most prized Christmas possessions …  and I’ll stack my broken Christmas up against someone’s pristinely decorated perfect Christmas any day of the week.

And Then I Met Two Girls

Once Upon a Time.  We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life.  They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales.  Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.

But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.

You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.

For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”.  It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.

When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada.  My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom.  We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us.  It was the best gift I ever received from them.  I will carry it with me forever.  I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.

The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself.  After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.

I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one.  As in nobody.  I was 18 years old.  I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.

And then I met two girls. And that was that.  I wasn’t alone anymore.

Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world.  They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.

We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally.  I mean come on.  We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup.  We had the world by the tail.  And we knew it.  We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.

There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations.  There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.

But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.

Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.

Because there I was.

This past weekend.

Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.

And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.

But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much.  Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’.  Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.

Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.

Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it.  What a gift that was.  How rare it is now I realize.  There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years.  I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.

Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.

And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.

Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.

And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.

They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do.  But this past weekend we didn’t go back.  We went to Amherst Shore.  And it was such a gift.

Seaglass and Sandollars … Finding Our “Family Signature”

For as long as I can remember I have been conscious of the fact that creating a great family was not something that just happens.

I think most things in life fall on a spectrum – often dependent upon how much priority, time, effort and perseverance we put into them. We all have a ranging ability to create something great along that spectrum and I think family is no different.

It’s nice and easy to “sit back” and think that “love is enough” and is “what really matters”. Well … for me … as I’ve said before, it’s not enough. Particularly not the “sitting back” part. You see, love is a verb. And verbs require action.

The thing about actions and verbs are this – they don’t always have to be with a Capital A or V. Now I’ll be the first to admit that often times they are in my life. I’m guilty of being a “Go Big or Go Home” kind of girl … but truth be told it’s not the “big” that matters most in that sentence … it’s the “go”.

And it’s funny how we “go” about an activity on a regular basis, never really giving it much conscious thought, until one day, after literally years and years (in my case more than a decade) you sit back and you realize that you have cultivated a number of activities – of traditions – of events – that have shaped who your family is, how you interact together, and what sense of pride you have in each other as a whole.

Approximately a dozen years ago my family began, what I call, engaging in our Family Signature. I know that sounds like some dorky made up thing … and well … since I just made it up, and I AM kind of a dork, I guess that would be a fair assessment. But I don’t think it makes it any less true.

A Family Signature is I believe something that identifies you as a “whole”, and gives your family a sense of pride in being together. It is identifying in the same way a signature is, but you are identifying your entire family rather than one person.
Finding your Family’s Signature is not a difficult thing to do. Looking back I realized ours was there for years and years before I even consciously identified it as such.

For 13 years now we have gained such joy in doing something very simple – beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars. It is something we have done on a regular basis for literally as long as my children have been alive. We have photos of them growing up doing these activities; and our time together can be measured over the years by both of these things – little feet in the sand, growing bigger and bigger until their imprints are nearly as large as mine; years of searching for the elusive colors, the thickest piece, the perfect curve. I can mark our time together by little hands reaching down for that sand dollar – when they were so little that we used to “plant” them for them – until they got so big they became better at finding them than we are.

These activities are certainly not uniquely ours, but they are the two things that have followed us through the years – the things we have been very purposeful about making happen every single year since they were born, and I believe every year to come.
For those of you who may be still searching for a Family Signature here are a few tips and tricks to help find yours. Family Signatures often:

(1) Are A Purposeful Activity

– I don’t mean purposeful in the way of “Hey kids, we are going off to do our Family Signature activity now … get your shoes on …”. Please. My family have no idea I think of it in this way and would have no idea I coined this phrase. What they know is this: for as long as they have memory, we have been searching for Sandollars and Seaglass. They identify with it as something “we do as a family”. We do it purposefully, and it doesn’t “just happen”. We “make” it happen. They see us value it and we see them value it. Together. Consciously.

(2) Requires Little Skill; or the Skill Level of each Family Member is Equal
– Our family has a number of things we enjoy doing together … but I think the thing that makes a Family Signature different is that everyone enjoys it, and in turn has the ability to do it, equally. For instance, biking has always been a favourite family activity of ours. But my son both enjoys it much more than my daughter does, and is also more skilled at it physically than she is. We certainly don’t drag her along per se, but we all enjoy beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars with the same fervour and skill equally (provided I have my prescription contacts in)

(3) Allow for Anticipation and Joy
– You can never underestimate the importance of anticipation. It helps to lengthen the joy brought to the activity and therefore allows that activity to become much more than the time spent actually doing it. It becomes about the conversation and anticipation before it even happens. “I wonder what we will find at this beach? Will someone find a ring top again? Who will find the first piece? Who will find the smallest sandollar? Will there be as many as last time?” When we all know we are going beachcombing we are all waiting with baited breath to find the next treasure and love talking about it with each other.

(4) You Participate All Together & Support Each Other
– Looking for Seaglass and Sandollars is something we never do individually. We always … and I mean always … do it as a family. Some of my favourite moments together have been on those beaches when someone finds something unique and we are all genuinely excited for them. When we find a new piece we are excited to share it with each other – a new color or shape – a unique size or texture – and we rush over to show everyone.

(5) Encourages conversation
– One of the reasons I love this so much is that we are able to talk. We are walking together – and although we may not always be right next to each other there is nothing that impedes a natural conversation that happens between us. No electronic devices, no noise, no friends, no commercialism. Just us and the ocean. Our family of four. And nothing to do but walk and talk and seek.

(6) Does Not Cost Anything, or Very Little
– If I were to take a vote many people would say that our Family’s Signature would be travelling – and a big part of that is true. But I’m very conscious that travelling – even locally – is dependent upon monetary circumstances. I want our family signature to be something we can do no matter what our circumstances may be in the future, or have been in the past. Regardless if we lose our jobs or life throws us a curve ball. I never want to say “we can’t”.

(7) Is Timeless
– Our family is going to change and grow – be it physically, emotionally or literally. What if we move? What if, what if, what if? Your family’s signature should be able to change with you.

(8) Have a sense of Simple-ness and at the same time Special-ness
– It’s the “doing”, not the “size” of the doing. And it shouldn’t be something we do everyday – otherwise it becomes routine and loses that sense of being special and unique. I know our family is not the only family to go hunting for Seaglass and Sandollars. We love talking to others on the beaches who are doing the same thing that we meet over the years and sharing our finds. At the same time when my kiddos go to other peoples homes it’s not something they see around “everywhere” they go, and it’s not something “everyone” has been doing since they were born. We feel a sense of specialness about it, and I think that’s important.

(9) Offers Something Tangible
– I don’t think this is necessary. Come on … let’s be real … none of this is necessary. It’s all me talking! But I will admit I love that our family has Seaglass or Sandollars in seven different rooms in our home. I love that we all look at them throughout the year and are reminded of the times we spent together, the years we spent together. I love that we pick up pieces and say “remember when”. I love that we are taking the time to display them differently and I love that we take special care not to break them and treat them as if they matter. I think even pictures can provide this – taking photos of your family’s signature and framing them around the house. Anything that can provide a sense of memory and pride about what your family chooses to do together – just you. Which leads me to my last tip.

(10) Are Selfish
– Although we have certainly been with others beachcombing – friends and family – most of the time we are in a position that we are just the four of us. We rarely call up a friend and say “let’s go hunting for seaglass” … it is something we hold special just for us.
– Secondly, although I self identify camping or playing cards & board games as a Family Signature for us as well, the fact is that we are so very often camping or playing games “with others” – with hoards of family or friends – not just the four of us. This has gotten more so as the years have gone on. And in order for me to feel that sense of pride and that sense of belonging, I need it to be something where the four of us … and just the four of us … carve out special time together – with no other influences. Where we can engage each other in a meaningful way. Our world is so full of other people … this … this time … needs to be just us.

I can think of many families that have their own Family Signature but may not recognize it as such. I see families who travel around to all the fireworks shows in the area (I LOVE this!), families who hike to waterfalls together, families who take in local sports games together, who go fishing together in their boat and who go to their cottage together. Families who collect rocks together, or who create all kinds of art together, or who run together. I know one family who chooses a different charity each year and “give back” together throughout the year with different activities they organize.

These families may not all identify these things as their Family Signature, but I would be willing to bet if asked, they are activities that their families take pride in and are purposeful about. They are activities that have grown with their families over the years, and are activities that they “make” happen.

And I know so many of you are sitting reading this going “Karrie-Ann. For crying out loud. I barely have time to brush my own hair in the morning let alone give any thought to something called a Family Signature. Enough already.”

And I get it. I get that feeling. I live that feeling so many days. But when you break it down, this post isn’t about its title, or its tips and tricks. It’s about being conscious about making time for your family – real time. And doing so in an active way with something your family can take pride in doing together – just the core of you. It’s about not allowing ourselves to get 100% caught up in running around in different directions with sports and activities or social media or all of the other people in your world. It’s about taking a little bit of time to be purposeful with the people who matter most in your life.

So I’ll leave you with this.

What is your Family Signature? What has followed your family over the years? What can mark your family’s time together? Do you have one? I’m willing to bet you do.

And if you don’t … it’s never too late to find … no scratch that … to “make” … one happen.