Brittle joy

I’m feeling philosophical this rainy evening. My giant, smelly dog is snuggled next to me on the couch. I’m drinking black tea with milk (a habit I picked up from dad) and pondering a pretty big concept: happiness.

I think I have a wellbeing spectrum. I can be mopey one week, incandescently happy the next. Some things (JF, Odie, family, friends) boost me up the scale, others (bills, illness, work stress) shove me down.

I’m fortunate to have spent more time in joy than in sadness. I think it’s because my mom trained me to find pleasure in little things like watching old movies, picking blackberries, and reading good books.

I work at seeing and recognizing those happiness-boosters every day, because they tip the balance in joy’s favour. And sometimes it is work – important work that prevents the bad stuff from swallowing me up. Joy can be brittle.

Today, I don’t have to work at anything. I’m feeling glad and grateful for so many reasons. Here are my top 10:

  • New stained glass window: For two years, we’ve lived with a broken windowpane over our front door. Now, thanks to local artist Renee Havers, our hallway is lit by a beautiful, coloured work of art.
  • Visits with good friends: I have a lot of kind, funny and smart people in my life. Lately, I’ve spent time with many of them over food or tea.
Mireille and I watched the Jays' game and coloured. It was pretty great.

Mireille and I (intently) watched the Jays’ game and coloured. It was pretty great.

  • Fall walks with Odie: I adore fall. And the colours this autumn have been spectacular, so I’ve been sporting my blundstones and sweaters on local trails, with my giant pup.
This is the route we take most mornings. It's been really beautiful lately

This is the route we take most mornings. It’s been really beautiful lately

  • Magic Mike and Mary: Turns out we needed a handywoman, not a handyman! Mary has already connected the two back decks. And Mike, a family friend, came by to install a back porch light. Thank you both.
Tada! Bigger and better back deck! (ignore the leaves, we need to rake)

Tada! Bigger and better back deck! (ignore the leaves, we need to rake)

  • My wedding dress is in: I’m trying so hard to be practical about this whole wedding business, but I was pretty excited to pick up my dress – a generous gift from my mom.
  • Lists of love: Some of my most prized possessions are handwritten lists of reasons I’m loved. I keep them in my wallet for those days when I’m feeling glum. Two friends recently created new lists that were truly soul-nurturing.
Toot toot!

Toot toot! Thanks Lainers.

  • New bras: Wearing these, I feel like a new woman. If you haven’t gone for a fitting, I highly recommend Secrets from Your Sister. They cost a pretty penny, but bras that fit are like shoes that fit – they just makes sense. 
  • Time with avo: My grandma makes me laugh and offers me valuable pieces of wisdom. I’ve really enjoyed seeing lots of her lately. She also made me these awesome, elven slippers. Thanks, avo!
Slippers knit by my grandma = awesome

Slippers knit by my grandma = awesome

  • Thanksgiving: A holiday for food and family – two of my favourite things. This past long weekend, I saw many beloved cousins and my old roomie Steph. I also checked out the Elmvale Fall Fair and ate until I had to undo my pants.
  • A clean home: We spent a full day giving the house a good clean, and it felt great. For those hard-to-reach nooks, we found a local cleaning lady who charges $25 an hour (cue Enya).

But as lucky as I’ve been lately, I’ll never take joy for granted. Because sometimes life can be tough as pushups after months of slothfulness, or as harsh as hail in May.

 

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Família

An older woman sits on a deck

My grandma. Her name is Micaela and I was named after her.

Ask my Portuguese grandma how she’s doing and her response (delivered with a thick
accent) will almost always be one of the following:

  • Still alive,
  • Above ground, or
  • Fine.

Hardly cheerful, but certainly honest. I wish I had the license for brutal truth telling she currently carries in her giant, practical black purse.

When she was visiting her hometown of Algarvia a few years ago, she ran into an acquaintance on the way to church. He was bent over with old age and barely able to walk. She said to him: “You’re still alive? If I had your health I’d rather be dead.” He passed away later that week.

That kind of earnestness can be tough – especially when directed at me – but I wouldn’t trade my avò in for a hundred ladies of Fatima.

Until I was about 14, I’d go to her house in Perkinsfield every day after school with my sisters. She’d serve us bean soup, giblet stew, bacalhau or shake n’ bake – always with a side of homemade bread and practical advice, washed down with coca-cola.

Avò, my sister Alicia, and my cousins Priscilla and Nathanael. Oh, and a baby bathtub full of dough.

Avò, my sister Alicia, and my cousins Priscilla and Nathanael. Oh, and a baby bathtub full of dough.

After eating twice our weight in her immaculate kitchen we’d watch Sailor Moon from her floral couches and play backgammon with our uncle John (a.k.a. João). Then she’d bundle us up, kiss us on the head, and send us across the yard to our house so we could get ready for bed.

Avò always says that family is the most important thing. When I think about how much she’s done for me, it’s clear she lives by that affirmation.

Spending time with my grandma today reminds me of the deep tunnels my family has dug into my heart. Some memories are etched onto my brain forever, squished tight against some kind of giant, pulsing affection node.

Love like that can never hold a stain or wrinkle – kind of like her table linens. So even though I no longer eat giblet stew, I’m grateful to be able to drive 15 minutes to her place for a cup of tea and a story about the old country.

Me and my grandma, outside her house

I think we look alike, don’t you?