A life well lived

My avô (grandpa) died a few weeks ago. I loved him very much, so I’m still quite sad.

This is my grandpa, Dinis Rebelo. Isn't he handsome?

This is my grandpa, Dinis Rebelo. Wasn’t he handsome?

The end of his life was hard. He spent five years in a dementia ward. I still can’t bring myself to say his death was a blessing, but I’m glad he’s free of that place.

When he first got there, he walked around confused, running his hand against the wall and staring at all the blank people. With time, he became one of them. He lost the ability to walk, forgot our names, and stopped feeding himself. I cried the first time I watched him read the Toronto Star upside down.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. It robs people of dignity, history and identity – three things that were vitally important to avô.

I prefer to remember him as he was most of his life: proud, handsome and sharp as the tools in his garage. He was a farmer, winemaker, Maple Leafs fan, devout catholic, carpenter, volunteer and family man. You can read more about him, if you’d like.

For over ten years, avô was our neighbour. He helped my grandma care for us after school. In my gangly years, he drove me to basketball and picked me up after piano. He was at my recitals, tournaments and graduations. In many ways, he was another parent.

I was going to write a post about all of the happy things that have happened lately. There have been many! But somehow, that just didn’t feel right. My grandpa lived life well. I needed to acknowledge that – and him – first.

If you have potent red wine or beer on hand, fill a tumbler to the brim and toast Dinis Rebelo. He was a good man.

Serving alcohol - as he always did when there were guests

Here is my grandpa serving alcohol – as he always did when there were guests.

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A decade in review

I’ve already written about JF – the world’s handsomest franco-ontarian engineer. He’s my favourite human on this earth. And about a week ago, we reached our 10-year dating anniversary.

Here we are, aren't we adorable?

Here we are, aren’t we adorable?

To many grown ups, a decade of togetherness is practically nothing. My avo said « 10 years? That’s as long as I’ve had these pants.» But to us, it’s a third of our lives.

My mémère – a wise woman – used to cut out little phrases and stuff them into her address book, bible, and planner. When she died, I gathered those scraps of paper like precious gems. One said « love is a project.»

JF is kind, smart, handsome and funny. In our early love, days apart felt like months. But here’s something I think is true : even the shiniest silver loses its shimmer if you don’t give it a buff once in awhile.

At this stage in our relationship, we’re expert buffers. Our bi-weekly date nights are mini relationship tuneups. They remind us that we like spending time together. That in fact, we always have and (if we keep working at it) always will.

A retrospective

10 years ago I was at York University. JF was a the University of Waterloo. We started hanging out between summer work hours.

Nine years ago we started spending most weekends together, despite the distance.

Eight years ago, we both graduated. JF moved to Toronto and started work. I decided to do a post-graduate certificate in public relations.

Seven years ago…

Six years ago…

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Five years ago we moved into our place at Yonge and Lawrence.

Four years ago…

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Three years ago…

Two years we moved back to Simcoe County, bought a house, and I started this blog.

Here we are now! We have a dog and we’re getting married.

As I get older, the days go by faster. I’m so glad I have someone awesome to spend them with.

Ring-ing in the new year

Well, it happened. Nine and a half years after our first date at Festival du Loup, JF asked me to marry him. We’re excited and happy. And slightly terrified at the prospect of planning a big, boozy, Lafontaine-style party.

This is us, right after he asked me.

This is us, right after he asked me.

A lot of people are surprised at this news. I was too! For years I hoped – but didn’t expect – to officially commit to the world’s handsomest Franco-Ontarian engineer.

Before you ask, yes I thought of proposing to him. But I wanted him to want to get married, and uncertainty meant waiting. Which, when you’re with the world’s handsomest Franco-Ontarian engineer, isn’t so bad, really.

Just look at how handsome he is. xo

Just look at how handsome he is. xo

In any case, he timed his proposal beautifully. We were in the lush gardens of a Portuguese castle, by a waterfall. The sun was setting. We’d spent a lovely week in Lisbon together. We were relaxed and full of delicious custard tarts.

The proposal, however, was a bit more authentic. He was wearing his ugliest toque. We were walking up a big hill, so I was sweating and wheezing. I had to pee. As we swung by the waterfall, JF grabbed my hand and said: “so pickle, wanna get married?” I was confused, so he added (for clarity): “wanna get married soon?”

Ring. Check!

Ring. Check!

I laughed, then hugged him and cried. Then – in true JF fashion – he gave me a spreadsheet of ring options. We settled on a simple and pretty pearl, or, as I’ve come to think about it, shiny clam poop.

When I told my avo we were getting married, she said: “that’s nice – and it’s good for the one up there” (she pointed to heaven) and then continued to discuss her arthritis.

That about sums it up. It won’t change much, but it is nice. And it’ll be lovely to have people —friends, family, government, and sure, God—recognize that we’re pleasantly stuck together for life.

Another one of us in Portugal, just for kicks.

Another one of us in Portugal, just for kicks.

You had me at hello

There are romantics, and then there’s my dad.

My dad, performing at a pub in Midland last year.

My dad, performing at a pub in Midland last year.

On father’s day, most people buy their dads fishing rods, barbecue sauce, beer and power tools. My dad, a musician and poet, always insists he only wants hugs. We get him candles, notebooks, rom-coms, and treble-clef-covered tchotchkes.

I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be more sappy. But about a year ago, while on vacation in England, his gushy idealism reached a whole new level.

Before settling into a train ride to Edinburg, my dad – single for the last 15 years – placed his suitcase on the seat next to him. A few minutes later a woman asked him if he would kindly move it so she could take her spot. He acquiesced, and they chatted through the whole trip.

About a week after that, Nora met him at the airport to say goodbye. They went out for hamburgers and vowed to keep in touch. Over the following weeks, they talked every day – using FaceTime to bridge the enormous distance between Midland, Ontario and London, England. He was head over heels.

Dad went to London for Christmas 2013, and when he got back, they were engaged. I had never seen him so happy. By March, he had moved there.

 

Things got a little dicey with immigration over the summer. And I have to admit to wondering whether the whole thing might be an elaborate scam. But I can now safely say that my sisters and I will be donning our best togs and toasting their marriage on December 28 – in jolly old Britain.

This is a beautiful story for about a billion reasons. They were both lonely. They didn’t let a single obstacle get in their way. They will live happily ever after. But most of all, it’s beautiful because it’s proof that anyone – even the most romantic of romantics – can find true love.

And I must be my father’s daughter because the whole saga makes me believe in pixies and pots of gold.

Félicitations, Pa! xo

Félicitations, Pa! xo

Scrumptious summer

I’ve come to accept – almost enjoy – my hectic pace of life. I work hard, visit with many beautiful people, volunteer a lot, keep a cleanish house, maintain a decentish garden and try (rather unsuccessfully) to squeeze in time for JF, writing, exercise, reading and music in between.

Still, there’s something about summer that forces even the busiest of bees to slow down. I swear every time I hear the hum of a cicada or the whirring of a lawnmower, my shoulder muscles relax subtly. Here are some highlights from the last few warm and wonderful weeks.

Festival du Loup

After months of hard work, the Festival du Loup committee (of which I am a lucky member) enjoyed a successful few days of great Franco-Ontarian music, local food, and cool artisans.

More cheap stuff

In my latest garage sale haul, I picked up an original piece by local painter Ila Kellerman as well as an ancient croquignole board.

Garage sale treasures

Garage sale treasures

A little romance

When my calendar is filling up, the first item on the chopping block is usually date night with JF. But lately, I’ve been making and enjoying a lot more time for us. Here’s a shot from our visit to Penetang’s “World Famous” Dock Lunch.

Me, stuffing my face as I always do on date night

Me, stuffing my face as I always do on date night

Omazing Ontario

We’ve also hung out on Tiny’s Beaches, visited Awenda Park with our dear friend Pascal, and eaten a lot of fresh local produce. My avo’s garden is dripping with beans and it makes me such a happy camper.

La belle famille

But my favourite event was Thursday, when dear friends and family surprised me with a patio party to celebrate my “new” job. I was so touched, and so delighted to see everyone. Thanks guys!

Some of my favourite people

Some of my favourite people

My house may be a little dirtier, but at this moment I’m feeling refreshed and relaxed. And for that reason, I say long live summer.

Summer of sibs

If my life was a movie, my sister Geneviève would be the kind supporting character played by Ingrid Bergman. My sister Alicia would be the comic relief played by Sandra Bullock. And I would be the slightly eccentric (but smart and assertive!) heroine played by a young Judi Dench. Because this is my blog and I say so.

With that cast, it would be among the most bizarre, most quirky movies Hollywood has ever made. But think about it — you’d want to see it.

That happy disjointedness is perfectly representative of my relationship with my siblings. It may seem like we don’t go together, but we do. We have little in common, but somehow it works. In fact, our differences make us interesting.

Until April, my sisters and I hadn’t spent two weeks in the same town in nearly a decade. So it’s been wonderful and strange to have them both so near.

We’ve enjoyed impromptu weeknight sushi dinners and leisurely weekend breakfasts. Last week, we toasted Alicia (a.k.a. Leash, Leashy-babe, or Monkey) as she celebrated the beginning of her 27th year on this earth.

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As the eldest, it pains and delights me to see how adult and graceful(ish) they’ve become. Especially since they were both little hooligans, once. Geneviève was an early nudist whose favourite hobby was hanging her dolls’ laundry in the back garden. Alicia spent her summers happily digging deep, muddy holes with her Tonka trucks.

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Us, in our early awesomeness.

I’m so proud of their grown up selves and regularly find myself choking down advice. At 26 and 19, they hardly need it.

In a few months, Geneviève (a.k.a. Gen, Miève, or Mièvy-boo) will be back to guzzling Starbucks with the rest of Guelph U’s student population. Until then, I’m going to soak in as much double-barreled sib time as I can. Bring on the obscure board games (Ninjato! King of Tokyo! Pandemic!) and Lord of the Rings marathons.

Bog love

JF is enjoying summer solstice (i.e. drinking beer) in the beautiful Yukon this weekend and I’m sappy enough to admit I miss him terribly. So I thought I’d devote some cyberspace to a place we both love: Tiny Marsh.

We’ve been together nine years and marsh-goers for about six. It’s our favourite place for phone-free, brains-off time together. When we lived in Toronto, we’d often stop there to catch our breaths before wading into cottage-country traffic. These days, we visit it every two weeks or so.

Us at the marsh in 2009

Us at the marsh in 2009

Why do we love this patch of bog so much? Lots of reasons:

  1. Groomed trails
  2. No entry fee
  3. Minutes from home
  4. Fresh air – except in spring, when it reeks of hydrogen sulfide
  5. Many birds live there, some rare
  6. It’s beautiful

Though items one to four are handy, five and six are essential to any JF and Mik-friendly space.

You see, JF is a birder.  Not a birdwatcher, a birder. Because apparently, there’s a difference. For years, he’s trudged through forest, field and swamp to hear or see as wide a variety of species as he can – like a real-life Ash from Pokémon.

Personally, I think the whole thing is sweet and nerdy, just like him.  There are only two challenges with his hobby:

  • He doesn’t like to hike where he can’t add new birds to his annual “gotta see or hear ‘em all” list.
  • I find crouching over spotting scopes, peering through binoculars, and flipping through Sibley’s about as exciting as scrubbing my baseboards

Much as I aspire to JF’s level of nerddom, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m more like these two: 

Which is why the marsh’s prettiness is important. It’s filled with lovely things for me to admire and take photos of. There are shady woods, sunny fields and big wide vistas. We’re still finding new nooks and crannies.

Through the years, we’ve shared our love of Tiny Marsh with friends and family. Here are a few photos of people who have explored it with me.

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When JF gets back, I think I’ll request a boggy picnic. In the meantime, I might take a sentimental stroll down the dikes by myself.