Words for Nana

My Nana passed away last week. My cool, awesome, adorable, totally rad nana. My mom called last Monday night to tell me. We knew things weren’t good, but I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did. It sucks.

My mom also asked me to write something to read aloud at the funeral, she said she trusted me to find the right words. Nana used to love reading my blog, she was so proud of me for writing. It wasn’t easy, but I would never refuse my Nana anything. I thought about it constantly in the days leading up to the funeral. Planning, writing, re-writing, editing, revising, reading, reading aloud. It had to be perfect, nothing less would do. Writing this piece helped me work through my grief, it helped me find closure and say goodbye. I’m so glad I got a chance to honour her memory in such a personal way; a way that I know she would have loved.

And so, here it is.

For Nana

There was this project I had to do in the tenth grade, for one of my English classes, an interview with a grandparent. The point was to learn how to conduct and transcribe an interview, but also to connect and learn about someone else’s life, to gain some perspective. I chose Nana to interview because I thought it would be fun. And it was. It was always fun spending time with her. But it was also a very meaningful experience because of how candidly she spoke about her life. We talked about everything… her siblings, her marriages, her kids, her homes, her travels and how she felt about all of it. Her stories were full of ups and downs, laughter and sadness. She told all of it to me like it was, she didn’t gloss over any of the tougher details and none of it was romanticized either. She was very matter of fact about it all.

It certainly wasn’t an easy life from the start, there were a lot of painful memories early on. We talked in-depth about what it was like for her to lose her mom at such a young age and to have to quit school to help raise her siblings. That tragedy set the tone for her life; after such a significant loss she had to grow up fast. She became first and foremost a caregiver and a nurturer. Someone who helped, guided, supported, and cared for everyone else. She always put the needs of everyone else first, and she sacrificed a lot doing that. Never once did I get a sense that she was complaining about it or feeling sorry for herself because that’s just what she had to do. That’s a core fundamental of who she was as a person, you always did whatever you could for family, without hesitation. That was very important to her.

She went through a lot, her entire life she was constantly having to rise to the challenges set before her. Helping her bereft father run the household and raise her siblings. Starting a family of her own and then having to go through the process of divorce before it became common to everyday life. Marrying again, having more children, seeing them grown and start lives of their own, then being widowed. She went through so much, and she did it all with a lightness in her heart that is just unimaginable to me. But again it comes back to her learning at a young age that such is life. You just have to keep going and you find it within yourself to keep giving as much of yourself as you can to the people who need it.

A recurring theme throughout all of the stories she told me was that even though times may have been tough, there was always something to be thankful for. They didn’t have much growing up, but they had each other. There was still so much love and fun all around her, wherever she went. She brought that fun-loving energy with her to everything she did. A coin has two-sides though, and I learned that despite her easygoing demeanour she was a very strong person. She had a quiet kind of strength though, it ran deeply, worked behind the scenes. She could find it when she needed it and use it to keep moving forward. But she didn’t make any scenes about it, or ask for any special attention, she just did it. Having to be so strong and shoulder everyone else’s worries throughout the many varied phases of her life didn’t define her. She didn’t let any of the hardships change her attitude or outlook. Tragedy would strike, and she would keep moving, she’d get through it, she knew how.

Later on, she married again, to Poppa Al, and the second half of her life she could finally begin putting herself and her dreams first. They travelled together, a lot when they first got married and that made her so happy. She saw the world. She rode around on Poppa’s motorcycle. She walked on the Great Wall of China! I remember how thrilling it was for her, telling her grandkids all about Beijing, bringing us back beautiful treasures she knew we’d love. She was finally getting to have her own adventures and do things she never thought she’d get a chance to. She loved being a mother and grandmother. A great-grandmother too! Her kids and all of their kids were her proudest accomplishment, she said that to me. But finally getting to travel and experience more of life made her feel young.

And that’s what I remember the most about her, her youthfulness. Never, not once did I ever think of her as an old lady. She was way too hip and stylish to be an old lady.

She had a beautiful, charming laugh that matched the knowing twinkle in her eye. She was funny and sassy, quick with her wit. She had a keen sense of humour and knew how to use it; we all laughed a lot with Nana. And she was a social butterfly, she loved meeting people, making friends. She forged lasting, meaningful connections with everyone she met because she was genuinely interested in and cared about others. When she hugged you, you felt it right down in your soul. Because she loved you unconditionally and you could feel it.

She was an incredible person. She was encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. Which is why this loss feels so unbearable to all of us, she was the heart and soul of our family. It’s hard to know what to feel and what to do from here. But we’re not alone, we’ve always got each other and Nana would want us to be strong together. Do lots of hugging, find ways to laugh. She’d want us to take care of each other, same as she always took care of us when we needed it.

I’m so grateful that I got to spend the time with her that I did. Every moment in her company was a joy. And I know there isn’t a person here who doesn’t feel the same.

Thank you, Nana. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, for helping me with my project all those years ago. And thank you for being such a remarkable role model, you’ve had more of an impact on the lives around you than you might have realized. You showed us how it’s done, with dignity and class. You are so loved, and you will be missed, deeply.

Nana

The Strongest Man in the Whole Wide World

I’ve always known that my dad is strong. All dads are. Every dad is the strongest man in the world to their kids when they’re young. He can lift you right up over his head and everything! It makes you laugh, it makes you squeal, and you feel light as a feather, swooping through the air in his powerful grasp. It’s a wonderful, but fleeting feeling. You’ve got to come down eventually, he can’t hold you up forever. But he is still the strongest man in the whole wide world. Until one day when he isn’t…

Eventually, you get older and you realize that it’s just your own silly little misbelief. But that’s okay. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t literally the strongest man in the whole wide world, he’s your dad and he’s still plenty strong for you. He might not be able to lift you right up over his head anymore, you’re too old for that now anyways, but you’ll always cherish those days when he could.

Dad and I, back when I was at the perfect weight to be hoisted up over his head

Dad and I, back when I was at the perfect weight to be hoisted up over his head

I got to watch my dad compete in a power-lifting competition this weekend, and I felt an overwhelming pang of nostalgia for those days when I was young and my dad was undoubtedly the strongest man in the whole wide world. Where did all of that time go? How did it slip away so quickly? Somehow, during that frantic dash to adulthood, I’d forgotten all about what it was like to believe in Dad. But thankfully for me, he’s constantly fanning the flames of belief in my heart, even when I’m out playing “adulthood” and am too caught up in myself to notice.

My dad has always been into weight training, he started doing it back in the ’70’s when he was only sixteen years old and it became a lifelong passion of his. You wouldn’t know it to look at his average height and build, but he’s a very powerful man. He’s totally unassuming in that regard. And he loves pouncing on an opportunity to show someone what he can really do with a set of weights. He’s used to being grossly underestimated by those that so wrongly assume that only “built” or “big” men can lift anything remotely impressive. When I tell people that my dad is a power-lifter they immediately ask me how big he is or they’ll remark that he must be HUGE. But power doesn’t come from having stupidly gigantic muscles. It comes from an unyielding will to conquer the impossible and a relentless pursuit of ever greater challenges.

a very old photo of my dad on his journey to greatness

a very old photo of my dad while on his journey to greatness

Although power-lifting has been a great passion of his for many years, he only recently started competing. He’s been competing for a few years now, but I’d never had the opportunity to go and see him in competition until now. And though I’m quite familiar with what my dad can do–I’ve seen him lift mind-boggling amounts of weight while growing up–he totally floored me. At 57 years old he was the oldest man in the competition by a mile. All of the other competitors were anywhere from 20 to 30 years younger than him. But that didn’t faze him one bit, it never does.

My dad, showing off the deadlift tattoo that I drew for him over ten years ago

My dad, suited up and showing off the deadlift tattoo that I drew for him over ten years ago

Dad gets out there and pushes all of the bullshit preconceived notions about his age and his build completely out of his mind. His only thought is about the lift. I watched as he stepped up to the bar, all determination and focus. I watched with unbearable pride as he shattered every expectation with every successful lift. And just like that, I believed again. I never stopped believing, I just forgot that you have to keep doing it if you want to keep the magic alive.

A power-lifting competition comprises three different lifts: the squat, the bench, and the deadlift. Each competitor will get three attempts at each lift, with the weight increasing progressively for each lift. My dad’s favourite lift is the deadlift. The announcer at the competition stated that it was her favourite too, because “it’s an act of defiance”. Defying odds and defying gravity. For his final lift of the day, my dad did a deadlift of an astounding 402 pounds. I know that’s not a record and it’s not the most that anyone will ever lift. But in that final moment when he dug into every last reserve of strength and snapped the weight into position, my dad was the strongest man in the whole wide world again.

My dad is a remarkable man and I admire him. He’s inspiring and he’s brave and he’s amazing. And I get to have all of the joy in telling people that he’s MY dad. I’m going to hold on to my silly little misbelief awhile longer yet and cherish it. He’s earned it.

My dad is the strongest man in the whole wide world. Everything is exactly as it should be.

Harvey’s Birthday

Harvey is my special little guy. Coming home to him is always the best part of my day. I get home and no matter what time it is, he races to the door to greet me. He weaves his chubby little body impatiently between my legs, oftentimes tripping me inadvertently as I try to get through the front door and kick off my shoes, because he just can’t wait one damn second for my loving attention. He demands that I crouch down and lower my face to his so he can “kiss” me hello by rubbing his nose up against mine. It’s our routine, it happens every night without fail.

D graciously lets Harv have the first round of kisses and affection every night when I get home. He knows how much I cherish those fleeting lovey dovey Harvey moments, because they don’t last long. Soon after he’s gotten his nightly greeting, he’s all rambunctious and hyper, practically bouncing off the walls. And once he switches to play mode you can’t get anywhere near him without being swatted in the face. Harv gives love on his own terms, and you take what you can get without any ifs or buts about it. So D steps aside, selflessly, and lets Harv get what he wants of my affection first. He’s amazing like that.

It’s been like this for three wonderful years now. Today is Harvey’s third birthday. I can’t even believe how fast the time goes. It feels like it was only yesterday that we brought him into our home and opened our hearts to him. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done, adopting him. Pets bring a special kind of happiness into our lives, a happiness that I can’t live without. The first year that D and I lived together we had no pet. It was sad, for me. I didn’t really realize what was missing at first, but I knew that something was wrong with our situation. Something was off, I felt sad often but nothing was really the matter with me.

Sometimes, we’d be sitting there at night, just watching T.V., and I’d suddenly feel an overwhelming ache. A gaping hole in my heart and the pain of it, so suddenly unbearable, I couldn’t make sense of. And then one day it dawned on me. I needed a pet. I needed something furry to love. There was always a cat or two roaming around in the house I grew up in. Fuzzy friends to play with and adore. I missed that. I missed the soft sound of kibbles being crunched in the next room over. I missed that pins and needles feeling felt in my legs while reading and cuddling a cat in my lap for hours on end. I even missed the constant assault of fur upon my clothing. I’d gladly spend a fortune on lint rollers for the love of a good pet.

So we made my universe right again when we adopted Harv. Because he means so much to me, and because I might be a touch mental, I spoiled Harv a bit for his birthday this year. He’s my special little guy and I dote on him so.

First up on the kitty birthday docket, a bath. We plunked him into the tub and scrubbed him up real good. He smells like a goddamned springtime bouquet now.

Next, an extravagance. A brand new kitty palace for my darling prince.

new kitty palace

harv's new digs

new toy fun

D thought I was being excessive. Harv already has a carpeted platform that he loves to play on and sleep in. But it’s not enough. Nothing will ever be enough for my precious Harvey. So more carpeted cat palaces it is! I’ll fill the whole frigging apartment with them if I have to, just to make Harv happy.

Then, we bought him a fancy can of wet food for dinner. The vet says that he’s a tad too fat so he’s been eating diet food for the past eight months, but we figured it being his birthday and all he was entitled to a diet cheat. We purposefully tried to buy the most expensive can we could find. $2.69 is as high-end as it gets for cats, I guess, because that was the priciest tin we could find. Harv lapped up every bite with the greedy enthusiasm you’d expect from someone who is cheating on their diet. Money well spent.

So maybe I spoiled him for his birthday this year. And maybe that seems crazy to you, but I don’t give a shit. Really, it’s the least I can do. Harvey totally changed our lives. He filled a hole in my heart, and he made us into a family.

our family

little harv and i

I owe him a hell of a lot more than $2.69.

Holiday Review

Well, there’s another Christmas come and gone. And a new year will dawn in a couple of days. I hope you kissed someone special under the mistletoe, ate entirely too much, and maybe even made an ass of yourself at a large family gathering. That’s what the holidays are there for, after all.

My holidays were fun, even though they veered off course a time or two.

The holidays started with the launching of a new tradition. My sister arranged a “Cousin’s Cocktail Christmas Party” and it was a great success. We got together with our cousins and their spouses/partners for some drinks, snacks, and general merriment. We then went to a comedy club to yuk it up. It was fun. Some of my best memories of Christmases past are of playing with my cousins. Our parents would get us all done up in fancy little outfits and try to impress upon us the importance of “behaving ourselves” at the dinner.

cousins at christmas

And obviously we’ve all grown up a whole lot since those days, but one thing that hasn’t changed is how much fun I still have with my cousins.

cousins christmas

Overnight we were harassed by an ice storm of disastrous proportions. We woke up to a world that had been completely consumed by ice.

ice storm

ice storm 2

ice storm 3

The storm took down countless trees and power lines. Over 250,000 homes in the city were without power for anywhere from 24 hours to a week. My cousin Ryan slept over at my sister’s place after the Christmas party, and awoke the next morning to find a tree had fallen onto his girlfriend’s car.

tree on car

The storm wreaked absolute havoc on the city, and I was glad to head north and out of the icy mess for a few days. But the fun just didn’t stop coming. On Christmas Eve I got sick. Really sick. Feverish, coughing, totally congested. I felt like a bag of assholes. My dad cooked up a feast and I barely even nibbled at it. My appetite was nowhere to be found. We then went to my mom’s for drinks and board games, which I normally really enjoy. But instead of having a bunch of Christmas fun with my family, I sat on the sidelines bundled in blankets, sweating buckets while a perpetual coughing fit racked my body. I was one pathetic sight.

On Christmas day, I was supposed to accompany D to his family get together. But I felt so goddamned shitty I couldn’t even get up off the couch without draining the last vestiges of my strength completely. I had to choose my battles wisely. D went on without me, and I stayed home. I laid on the couch and watched the entire 6 hours of The Stand miniseries on DVD. I had just finished the book, and my mom had the DVDs of the miniseries, so she let me borrow them. And they came in handy, that’s for damn sure.

The following day I felt well enough to go to lunch with D and his dad. At least I could be a part of some of his family celebrations, for his sake. But we didn’t do a lick of Boxing Day shopping. I usually love getting out there with all the other crazies, ripping shirts off of shelves like a maniac and bitching about getting cut off in the parking lot by some asshole who isn’t even looking. Jesus, he isn’t even looking! What is he, BLIND OR SOMETHING?

But even though I wasn’t in peak physical condition for enjoying the food, the shopping, or the gatherings, I was still plenty good at enjoying presents. And you know Smash loves presents. Just a recap for anyone who may not be familiar with this facet of my personality: I FUCKING LOVE OPENING PRESENTS. I can’t stand unopened presents. They make me insane. My fingers positively itch with the desire to rip and tear if they get within five feet of something that’s been wrapped up. It’s a compulsion.

I opened a lot of great gifts this year.

presents

Some of the gift highlights:

Star Wars Salt n Pepper Shakers!

star wars salt and pepper

Enormous Batman Mug!

batman mug

New Hobo Mittens!

mittens

Bitchin’ New Watch!

watch

A Big Bottle of Booze!

booze

His and Hers Robot Pillowcases! (My friend The Magpie embroidered these for me and they are absolutely stunning, I fucking love them to bits.)

pillowcases

And A Shitload of Chocolate!

chocolate

And I got tons of other great stuff too. I’m lucky. I have a lots of people in my life who love me and want to give me things that I love for christmas. Things that make me squeal with delight like a little kid. I’m probably the easiest person on the planet to buy gifts for. I’m easily pleased and I’m not picky. If I can have a thrilling time shredding a gift of its wrapping, I’m set. And as much as I love tearing into a pile of presents, I love giving great presents too. I know that everything I picked out for my loved ones this year was well received and will be cherished forevermore.

Even though the weather was truly frightful and my immune system totally flaked out on me, I managed to find some enjoyment in the holidays this year. Got some fantastic gifts, started a fabulous new tradition, and I took some time to plan my next big moves for the upcoming year. I’m really looking forward to the new year. I’ve got big plans brewing for 2014. It’s going to be my year. I’ve got a list of goals a mile long and I am going to be dogged in my pursuit of every single one.

Peace out 2013, it’s been a slice.

A Fugly Cake

My mom is crazy. Just, like, totally nuts.

I don’t know if she’s always been crazy, or if I’m just noticing it more now. It’s possible that she was just as crazy as she is now when I was younger but I was too self-involved to notice. Either way, she’s fucking crazy, you can trust me when I say that. And she reads this blog, so please know that I mean that in the best possible way, Ma.

It’s always something. Every time we head back home for a family thing or a holiday there’s some new strain of craziness that’s making its way around. It’s usually harmless though. Just some run-of-the-mill everyday insanity that we can all have a good chuckle about. Like the time she thought her eyesight had drastically worsened overnight, but then realized that the dog had just chewed the lenses out of her glasses. Or the time she thought that “bobody” was a word. That time she punched the neighbour’s lights out, with an admittedly precise uppercut. And who could forget the slew of wildly inappropriate jokes she’s always got handy for the telling. Seriously, a couple of weeks ago she told me this joke about a woman who masturbated with a Chiquita banana and insisted that it was just a “cute little joke”.

It’s just part of the deal I guess. You go back home, you have some craziness, and then you have to leave so all the crazy can start regenerating again for your next visit.

We went home for a belated Thanksgiving dinner last weekend and the craziness was in full force, let me tell you. There was that mothering intensity over my fracture, mom wanting to dope me up with all kinds of old pills she had leftover from her accident a few years ago. Which is sweet, that she’s so concerned. But really, I’m not just going to start taking a bunch of dusty old pills because a) who the hell knows what will happen to me if I do and b) I’m not insane. Then she pulled out some weird plastic contraption, from who the hell knows where, that supposedly helps you make your own ribbons and bows. It’s a technological revolution, I tells ya! Inevitably, the insistence that she needed help figuring out how it works followed. But that turned out to be a reasonable enough request once I opened the instruction manual and immediately noticed no less than ten typos. Again, where did this ridiculous thing even come from? Doesn’t matter anyway does it? You know the end result will be the same. We did our best with it, but damn did that plastic piece of shit ever cause a world of unnecessary frustration. Then there was also the bartering of her crocheting skills in return for a 50 lb bag of potatoes from a relative. And there was family and neighbourhood gossip peppered in for good measure, because let’s be real here, everyone is crazy and it wouldn’t be the holidays if we didn’t make time to swap all of our respective stories on the continual craziness that colours our collective lives.

And then, of course, there was the Thanksgiving dessert.

Normal families would just have pumpkin or apple pie and call it a day. But not us, oh no. Mom decided to be creative this year and try something different…

fugly cake

It’s different alright.

I took one look at that lump of frosting and wondered if maybe my mom had started dropping acid on her days off. Probably not, but a cake like that does bring up a lot of questions.

It’s two pumpkin cakes that were made in bundt pans and then stacked and iced to look like a pumpkin. For decorative flair there’s also a black liquorice stump and some candied leaves on his head, and a delightfully retarded little face. But that’s not all! Inside the pumpkin cake awaited another strange surprise…

back of fugly cake's head

Might be a little tough to see, but the fugly pumpkin cake’s head was filled with little pumpkin candies. So when we sliced it open it felt like we were all working together to perform a risky and delicate brain surgery. Or, you know, committing a really fucked up murder.

The cake itself was actually really good. Moist, light, and sweet. Covered all the bases in terms of what you’d want from a cake. We always used to love helping my mom with her baking when we were little. It was fun. She made a lot of carrot cakes, which I always loved. But they’d usually just have a nice light dusting of icing sugar on top. And banana bread. Oh hells yes, my ma could make the best banana bread you ever had the pleasure of eating. But the homemade baked goods of my youth were much more modest in appearance than my mom’s current day creations.

I’m not sure which I prefer.

On the one hand, I see a cake like that fugly little pumpkin one and I worry that a couple more of mom’s screws have tumbled loose. On the other hand, I kind of enjoy the zany, if not slightly affected, manner her cakes have recently adopted. Not a lot of people can say that they got to eat a cake that had a lazy eye.

fugly cake too

And I suppose that’s kind of special. Like my Ma.

She’s crazy, most assuredly crazy, but in a very special way. It’s okay though. I dig it, Ma. After a bit of consideration I think you should keep the weird little cakes coming. They’re fun, and they’re offbeat. Just like you.

Chunky Monkey

Poor Harvey. We took him to the vet this weekend for a couple of shots, but that wasn’t the worst of his problems…

The doctor said that he’s too chubby and has to go on a diet. Being of the curvier variety myself, I feel for the poor little guy.

This was our first meeting with the new vet and we loved her. Her face lit up when she first saw Harvey, she remarked on how handsome he is numerous times, and she gave him lots of affectionate pets throughout his examination. So clearly she’s very caring and really does love animals, which is important to us. We liked his previous vet in Richmond Hill too, more specifically we liked one of the two doctors working at that practice. The doctor we actually did like was nice, but her bedside manner was much more reserved than the one we just visited. The other doctor at the old vet was a total dick. D hated him almost instantly upon meeting him. He was unfriendly and unkind, not giving a single fuck about anything. He handled Harvey too roughly and barely gave us the time of day when we had questions about Harv’s overall health. Not the kind of person that I want to rely on for my cat’s care. One visit to him was more than enough. Whenever we made appointments for Harv after that one horrendous visit with Doctor Doom, we’d make sure that he would be seeing the doctor we actually liked. It was quite the hassle given their varied work schedules. Needless to say, I was quite selective in picking out Harvey’s new doctor in Toronto. We didn’t want to find ourselves in the same situation.

We were very pleasantly surprised. Like I said, the new doctor was outgoing, friendly, and showed extraordinary care to an animal she was only just meeting for the first time. A total slam dunk.  However, there is that whole diet thing to consider… Poor Harvey. He was called “chunky monkey” no less than 15 times during his visit. I know he’s got a small frame that has filled out generously since we first brought him home. But I didn’t think we’d have to resort to a diet!

The kibble he likes to eat is labelled “weight control”, and he doesn’t eat a single scrap of people food. But he is a bit of a pig for wet food. And as the vet said, the fancy feast he hungers for is equivalent to feeding him pizza for dinner every night. Like a really cheesy, deep-dish, grease ball of a pizza. Oh man, that sounds so fucking awesome. I can’t take that away from him, can I? I love my little Harv as is and I don’t want to deprive him of anything he may want. I mean, it’s not like he’s obese. He just has some extra chub to love, right?

Maybe we need a second opinion. What do you think, reader?

Figure 1: lounging on the bed last Sunday

Getting some evening sun last week

Figure 2: getting some evening sun last week

Figure 3: watching some T.V.

Figure 3: watching some T.V.

Figure 4: hanging out with his friend

Figure 4: hanging out with his best friend

Figure 5: napping alongside me while I read

Figure 5: napping alongside me while I read

Figure 6: joining us for dinner

Figure 6: joining us for dinner (but just for company, not for eating any of our food)

Figure 7: snuggling with D

Figure 7: snuggling with D

Figure 8: greeting me when I get home

Figure 8: greeting me when I get home

Is my darling Harvey a chunky monkey or just a naturally curvy cutie? As long as he’s healthy, I don’t really care how big he is. D and I will love him no matter what. Either way, we can all agree that he’s got a very happy life. And he clearly doesn’t give a damn how he looks. He’d probably be just as happy at ten pounds as he would be at thirty. But that’s because he doesn’t understand the negative impacts a life of excess can have. Which is where I come in…

Perfectly happy as is

Perfectly happy as is

His health and well-being are totally on me. And I don’t want to fuck this up. I want him to keep having a happy life, so I guess that means doing whatever it takes to keep him healthy. If feeding him junky wet food for dinner puts my standard of care in a similar class as that of the douche-bag vet in Richmond Hill, then I need to change that. Because I am nothing like that jerk when it comes to caring for the pets I love. Our new vet is right. She has a great big caring heart, and she’s right. She fell in love with Harv as soon as she laid eyes on him, so I know she wouldn’t steer us wrong.

I’m going to go ahead with the diet because I trust and respect her opinion. And because I want this wacky little kitty to stick around for a very long time.

All Wrapped Up

It’s no secret that I love opening presents. I’ve mentioned it before. A few seconds spent feverishly shredding the paper off of a neatly wrapped gift is a divine high that I’ve treasured for as long as I can remember. It’s especially good if I’m opening a gift earlier than I’m supposed to!

I know that I’m a maniac when it comes to presents. But I’m not a total monster. I thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of gift giving as well. So it’s okay if I lose my head every now and then because every gift given in return absolves me of this egregious misdeed.

I’m good at putting thought into my gifts. Finding something that just fits the recipient so well, something worthy of genuine gratitude. I bought The Magpie a purse for Christmas last year, which doesn’t sound remarkable, I know. But everything about it was so on point for what she would like. The pattern, the size, and the style all perfectly complimented her unique personality while catering to her purse needs. And that made me truly happy. Choosing the gifts isn’t an issue, it’s the wrapping that can be a real bitch.

I’ve stumbled at wrapping on many occasions. If something doesn’t come in a nice square package, I’m fucked. And I won’t go out of my way to buy boxes for things to fit into. I just can’t bring myself to do that. It’d be like paying for a soda at the movies. Why should I have to do that when anything I could ever want to drink can be purchased at a reasonable price elsewhere and then smuggled in with ease? Plus, I don’t want to miss out on the fun of smuggling! There are so few opportunities in life for a good harmless smuggle. You know I’m taking every one I get.

So if a seemingly decent box isn’t lying around for me to use, then I’ll just try my luck at wrapping whatever it is freestyle. I’m capable, right? I can figure this shit out. It’s not like we’re trying to crack the Da Vinci Code. We’re just trying to get some paper taped nicely around some weirdly shaped thing. All jutting angles and strange bends disguised to my satisfaction. Try though I might, the mental blueprint I’m following isn’t always translated so well.

A couple of the more noteworthy examples would be wedding gifts. Wedding gifts cause the most grief because the registry is usually a plethora of oddly shaped housewares. And sometimes that shit doesn’t come in a box, sometimes it’s just there, loose on the shelves. Loose housewares, the bane of gift wrapping. Another part of the problem is that I’m a very arrogant eye-baller. I always tackle the challenge thinking that my superior skills of eye-balling out the amount of paper needed will get me through this. Only to realize afterwards that I probably should have tried at measuring. A handle, an arm, a surface area, anything actually measured might have helped. But by the time I’ve rounded up the gifts, the wrapping paper, the scissors, and the tape, I’ve no energy left to search for some measly implement of measuring!

These are the gifts I wrapped for the last two weddings I went to:

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A badass new frying pan for The Magpie

Cheese knives for my beloved sister

Cheese knives for my beloved sister

Damn you metal flap!

Damn you metal flap!

It’s total garbage. And I don’t even have kids to blame it on! I can’t be like, “Oh, little blah blah really wanted to do the wrapping so we let it.”

All the bits wind up getting covered up eventually. But unfortunately for me, you can’t cover up shame. The only thing you can do now is attack the open bar with a vengeance and hope that people go easy on you; blaming your constantly drunk and disorderly behaviour for that shitty looking wrap job instead.

My cousin’s wedding is coming up soon and there’s a bridal shower for her this weekend, which means more attempts at wedding gift wrapping for me. Looking back over past transgressions though, I realize that I shouldn’t just do the same half-assed job I always do. She deserves better. Everyone deserves better than this, but unfortunately I’m only coming to this realization now. I apologize profusely to any gift recipients I’ve wronged in the past. You deserved better too. I was just too cocky to think about it from your perspective, and I know that was wrong.

This time around, I actually paid for it. I bought the gifts online and then worked up the humility to put a tick in that little box for “gift wrapping”. I paid for someone else to do something for me. It felt dirty and wrong, going against every one of my gift giving instincts that way. But when I went to pick up the gifts and saw how they looked, I was actually glad that I did. For once in my life I’m going to roll into a wedding like a goddamned champion because I’ve got a thoroughbred gift in tow.

Much better!

Much better!

Look at that gorgeous mofo. Hells yeah bitches, that gift is with me! All of the weirdly shaped items I bought have been neatly packaged into boxes that fit and have been covered in wrapping paper so hearty it can withstand a nuclear blast.

And it’s big! It’s a honking huge gift. I also love rolling into a wedding with the largest possible gift I could get. When I look over a registry, I always look for the biggest items. Because then people are more excited about opening them. It’s not some boring little doodad. All other gifts on the table orbit around my gift because it’s so large it’s got gravitational pull. It’s a fucking planet. Congratulations on your nuptials, I bought you guys a planet of your very own!

I love giving gifts, and I love tackling challenges with gusto. But I’ve been to this rodeo enough times now to know that sometimes I need help. I’ve done enough atrocious wrapping jobs to know when I’ve been bested. And nobody should have to suffer my misguided intentions on their wedding day. They already have to foot my bar bill, and trust me, that’s painful enough.

My Cool Nana

I’ve got a cool Nana.

One of the things that makes her so cool is her youthfulness. She’s got that joie de vivre in spades.

She gets her hair did regularly, and always has perfectly polished toes. She wears stylish outfits because she’s in the know. She’s got a beautiful, charming laugh that matches that knowing twinkle in her eye. When she hugs you, you’ll feel better, even if there isn’t anything bothering you. Because she loves you unconditionally and that’s all that’s ever really mattered. She’s funny and sassy, quick-witted and astute. She’s got a keen sense of humour and knows how to use it, much to everyone’s delight. Nana’s so with it, she even reads my blog! Encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. I could just keep saying adjectives all day… But simply put, she’s a cool fucking Nana; she’s the best.

my cool Nana

my cool Nana

When I was a puny little girl I always looked forward to the days when we’d all pile into the car and head over to Nana’s house. Going for the day was great, but a sleepover was even better. She had a big house out in the sticks, and a great big backyard with a rickety old swing set that we loved. Squeaky and rusting from the years of gleeful appreciation. And there was a sweet sandbox that housed all of our most inventive sand creations. We didn’t build castles, we built legends. If it was rainy, we’d spend the day inside. There was a pool table in the finished basement that we ran tag based games around. It was also a superb foundation for blanket forts! And there were trunks upon trunks of glorious toys down in the basement. The arsenal of toys within the many trunks had been amassed over the decades and were kept on hand for when her rambunctious grandkids came to visit. It was perfect.

Whenever I’m told to picture my happy place I picture myself, eight years old, on a visit to Nana’s house…

Top priority for Nana was keeping us fed the whole time we were there. And that suited me just fine. Nana loved to feed people, and I loved to eat! The time spent at her house, whether it was a couple of hours in the afternoon or a whole weekend sleepover, was an eating marathon. You’d get there, give Nana a hug, then tell her you were STARVING. At least, that was the first play I’d always run. And she’d happily agree that you were a skinny little thing and had better get some cookies into you quick.

There was a perpetually full jar of cookies on the kitchen counter, just waiting there for you. In the cupboards you would find a surplus of chips, crackers, candies, fruit snacks, and other such sundries that would have fed us through a nuclear crisis. The big old freezer in the garage was loaded with ice cream and popsicles. There would be trays of sandwiches made up for lunch. Tuna salad, egg salad, salmon salad, chicken salad. Anything that could be mashed into salad form for sandwiches was there. And an array of deli meats too. Bologna, turkey, ham, salami, etc. The whole gang was there! The sandwiches would be cut into fours, diagonally of course. To this day, I still eat my sandwiches that way. They must be cut into fours, diagonally, like Nana would do.

We’d eat, then play. That was what you did at Nana’s house. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Then eat some more!

Nana was funny. She played with us, and goofed around a little herself. She’d clean us up when our adventures got messy. Then she’d encourage us to go have another one. She’d feed us whether or not our tummies rumbled. She taught us lots of jokes and games. And we learned lots of endearing colloquialisms from her too. Saying kitschy things like “Jesus H. Murphy”, “piss ‘n’ vinegar”, and “shakes of a lamb’s tail” she was a regular old poet to us. There wasn’t a problem in sight that Nana couldn’t solve. Nothing too big or too sticky that she couldn’t handle.

…what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and have one more childhood visit at Nana’s house.

I’d long ago forgotten one of my most cherished of Nana’s culinary delights, though. It just slipped through the cracks of my mind, evading recollection for many years. It pains me to have forgotten this at all, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes, when you’re growing up. You’re always pushing and being pushed forward. Forsaking the childishness of your past for pursuits more befitting your current age. But I still felt bad about forgetting.

My sister and I were talking, I’m not sure how it came up, but she mentioned Nana’s Pizza Sandwich. I was a little puzzled at first, brows furrowed, straining to grasp onto the memory. Then it hit me. It was if someone had reached into my head, grabbed the two halves of my brain, wrenched them apart, and blew all of the cobwebs out with a formidable gust of wind. Nana’s Pizza Sandwich.

OF COURSE I REMEMBER IT! I LOVE THAT SANDWICH!!!

We were picky eaters. Not Mar so much, she was more open. But Erika and I were, without a doubt, picky little bastards. I spent most of my childhood turning my nose up at the shit on my plate that I didn’t understand. It’s gotten better over time, it usually does. But there are some things that shall never grace my plate again. Things like broccoli, Kraft Singles or Cheez Whiz, lasagna, and scalloped potatoes. Shit like that, you know, things reasonably deserving of my ire. Because of our picky eating habits, Nana invented this slam-dunk sandwich. Sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. She knew that we were fiends for pizza, so this would be an easy victory.

And it was. We wolfed our pizza sandwiches down like mongrels. Then asked for seconds!

She used a sandwich maker. An old, electric sandwich maker. You could hear a faint buzz when it was plugged in, starting to heat up. The most minute humming as it awakened. It filled the kitchen with a strangely delicious aroma. The smell of sandwiches past. Once it was nice and hot, the sandwiches would be popped into place, and the lid would close. You could hear them sizzling immediately, the blackened cooking plates pressing their magic into the bread.

Oh yeah, I remembered it all so clearly now.

A couple of weeks after we’d had that conversation I got an email from Mar, with an online coupon for a similar type of sandwich maker. I immediately printed it, and headed over to the Kitchen Stuff Plus store in my hood after work. With my coupon, I only paid 10 bucks! Even if my sandwiches turned out to be the biggest pieces of shit ever, it was worth it. For 10 bucks? You got yourself a deal!

I rushed home, beyond excited to test this bad boy out.

worth every penny

worth every penny

Basically, you’re just making a standard grilled cheese sandwich with a couple of slight variations. On the inside of the bread, I swipe some pizza sauce, add the slices of cheese, and then some pepperoni.

Nana's Pizza Sandwich in the making

Nana’s Pizza Sandwich in the making

Then you put it in the sandwich maker and let the magic happen. There’s no temperature setting. Just a red light and a green light. You put it in there and wait. Check occasionally to make sure you’re on track, and then take it out when you feel that it has been cooked through to your liking. I like mine just a little bit golden. Crispy, but not burnt.

The wait was agonizing. I was anticipating greatness, trying to recreate something so beloved from my childhood. And I was happy with the end result when I saw it sitting there on the plate, ready to eat.

hot off the $10 grill

hot off the $10 grill

gooey middle

gooey middle

But I was a little nervous, taking that first bite. I bit down gingerly, exploratory. For all intents and purposes the texture was exactly the same. It tasted good. But it wasn’t quite the same as the ones Nana used to make. It was delicious, albeit empty.

Probably because I was hoping too hard. Hoping for a taste of yesterday. Hoping to resuscitate a feeling, long since dead.

Am I crazy? What did I think was going to happen? That I’d take a bite of this sandwich and somehow travel through space and time back to Nana’s house? Back to eight years old? Come on Smash, you didn’t really think…?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’d been thinking. In a secret corner of my dorky little brain, right before I sunk my teeth in, I’d entertained those thoughts. But I guess there’s a little more to time travel than a $10 sandwich grill and some pepperoni. For 10 bucks though, it was worth a shot.

At least I’ve still got my cool Nana, and our memories. I know she remembers those days gone by, just as fondly as I do.

Something Different

D and I both come from suburban backgrounds. Quaint places.

The kind of places where people leave their doors unlocked. Where modest homes with lovingly manicured lawns line the streets. Where the two and three kid families reign supreme. Where hot dogs, birthday cake, chicken pox, bicycles, inflatable pools filled with icy cold water in the summertime, swing sets in the backyard, friendly neighbours, and sidewalk chalk are absolute certainties in your life.

Our meals were square. At least, that’s what the parents always said. “Mmm, now that’s a good square meal,” they’d say as they plopped an overflowing plate in front of you. It was always heaping. A heaping plate of pot roast with mashed potatoes, and carrots/peas/green beans/corn/broccoli/brussel sprouts/cauliflower. That was how it worked. You got a meat, some sort of potato side, and a vegetable side. Usually some bread ‘n’ butter too. Gotta make sure you’ve got the four food groups all present and accounted for. Then maybe you’d have dessert. Something mom had baked that day, possibly.

It’s the classic suburban formula for a good square meal.

Our parents didn’t deviate from it often. If they did, a pizza was delivered. Or if you wanted something really different, you’d order Chinese food. Sushi was something that wealthy weirdoes in movies ate. Nobody had ever heard of tapas before. There was no differentiation between Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese. That stuff fell under the all-encompasing “Chinese” umbrella. Mexican consisted of Old El Paso taco kits. And Indian? What are you even talking about?

2% milk, red meat, white bread, and potatoes. Those were the staples in every suburban grocery cart. Terms like “organic”, “gluten free”, “locally sourced”, and “free range” weren’t part of the vocabulary back then. We weren’t so aware of our food or conscious of our consumption. We just ate. And we ate what we knew.

In my school days eating was hedonistic. The four food groups had been reduced to a mere two: pizza and beer. We were 18, we didn’t care. We thought we were invincible. Immune to the pitfalls of a predominately carb based diet. The summer sojourn at home eating my ma’s square meals was like a stint in rehab. Shocking myself back to health with proteins and vegetables.

When it came time to grow up, move out, and start cooking for ourselves we were awakened unto a world of possibilities beyond pot roast and mashed potatoes. It was daunting at first. The landscape had changed. Suddenly, there was a lot more choice at the grocery store. We didn’t have to stick to the square meal blueprint of our childhood. And we wouldn’t program the number for the local pizza joint into the speed dial. We were gonna have to learn to feed ourselves. Honest to goodness adult meals.

D does most of the cooking. He’s good at it, and he likes it. I like dreaming up cool things for us to eat. But when it comes to the kitchen I’d much rather draft the plans and watch someone else bring my ideas to fruition. And then of course, savour the success.

Some of our recent successes include:

Butter Chicken

Indian is the shit. Straight up, I dare you to eat some butter chicken and not fall madly in love. A creamy, dreamy tomato based sauce and some spicy basmati rice. We’ll usually make some samosas to go with as well. It’s a killer combination, and it’s easy to make. Or so D says. Sweet + Heat = Greatness. Indian food is very fragrant though. Not only in taste, but in ambience. Your apartment will have a distinctly Indian smell for the remainder of the night. Of spices and curry galore!

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Pierogi & Calabrese Salami

Credit for this meal goes directly to my girl Joce-Force. We feasted like kings on these one night at her place, and I’ve been hooked ever since. You see, most people serve them with bacon. But Joce had a stroke of pure brilliance when she paired them with the Calabrese salami. The pierogies have a nice crisp outside and a tender potato center. That Calabrese gets so crispy. Just a few minutes in the frying pan and it is perfection. It’s got some kick to it though. Again, it’s that magical combination of subtlety and heat. And if you really want get nuts with flavour all up in your tastebuds, dip a bite of it in tzatziki. I insist, you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried it!

Pierogi!

Pierogi!

Asian Five Spice Stir Fry

This is something we’ve had to experiment with a lot. I’m very picky when it comes to rice. Unless it has that exact right flavour I’m looking for, then I don’t feel compelled to eat a lot of it. But, after many trials and tribulations, I think D has nailed it. I don’t know what goes into it, but I sure as hell dig it. The only thing I know for certain is that D started putting Worcestershire sauce into the rice. And it seems to have been the crucial ingredient when it comes to pleasing my palate. We’ll also cheat a bit and make some frozen spring rolls, for the crunch. But I decree frozen spring rolls perfectly acceptable in my kitchen. Also, please note that my portion is entirely devoid of broccoli. That’s very important. No Broccoli, you shall not pass!

Stir Fridays

Stir Fridays

I have one specialty in our kitchen. One thing that I can make that will knock D’s socks off. But we don’t eat it very often. That’s because it is a major indulgence. When you just want to carb the fuck out, come see me. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.

Smash’s Gut-Busting Calzones & Cheesy Breadsticks

You can’t even get through the title of that dish without clutching your stomach can you? Well, just wait ’til you see the pictures!

Calzone, Smash's way

Calzone, Smash’s way

Carb overloading

Carb overloading

And, I’ll even share my secrets with you lucky readers. One time only!

I get some dough, and let it rise. Then I roll it out to an acceptable thickness for pizza. I generously sauce one side of the dough, and then load it up. With pepperonis and cheeeeeeese! And usually some mushrooms and green peppers for D. We use turkey pepperonis, and they are delicious. They’re nice and thin, so they warm through quickly in the oven. Once it’s been stuffed, you fold over the other side of the dough and pinch it shut with your fingertips. Pinch, pinch, pinch! You’ve gotta pinch it firmly shut so it doesn’t bust and gush all over the tray when it’s baking.

Right before they go in the oven, I brush them with garlic butter. The butter is heated to a fluid consistency. It absorbs nicely into the dough and spreads easier that way. Set the oven to 400 and bake for as longs you like. If you like them crispy, keep them in for a solid 20-25 minutes. If you like them a little more soft like we do, 10-15 minutes should suffice.

And while the calzones are baking, I take the leftover dough and twist it into breadsticks. I twist out the dough, then douse the pieces lovingly in the leftover garlic butter. Shredded cheese is then sprinkled on top. These bad boys only take about 5 minutes or so. And they are worth it.

Better than crazy bread

Better than crazy bread

Cheesy heaven

Cheesy heaven

And the trick is, to save some of the sauce you used inside the calzones. Dipping these breadsticks in the savoury tomato sauce is a rare delight.

I’ve successfully weened myself off of pizza pops, but when I’m feeling just a touch nostalgic I’ll make my grown-up version of them instead. My supernova-sized, overstuffed calzones. That hits the fucking spot, man.

We’ve come a long way from our little sheltered homes in the suburbs. Grown up some. From square meals and ramen noodles in the dorm to delectable dinners crafted by our very own hands. There’s no Pot Roast Tuesdays at our place. Our meal planning hinges on my many whims and our passion for experimentation. Not to disparage our backgrounds, or our respective parents’ cooking. I do still love me some meat and potatoes with a tall glass of 2% milk. But more often than not, I’m seduced by variety. Enchanted by change. That’s always the way isn’t it? After much monotony people like to get them some strange. Do something different.

And trust me, strange has never tasted so good.

Harv’s Greatest Hits

I got the crazy cat gene from my dad’s family. They’re all nuts about cats. So, you’ve been sufficiently warned. I am a bit of a crazy cat lady. This post reflects my indulgence of the gene.

Happy 2nd Birthday Harvey!

My darling little Harv turns two years old today. And based on the astute calculations of a cat age calculator that I found online, he’s now the equivalent of a 25-year-old human. Right on buddy!

We got Harvey in June 2011, he was just a couple of months old. Looking back, its unreal how tiny he was! D and I had been together for a while and something was missing. I’ve always had pets in my house growing up. When I moved out, striking out on my own for the first real time since university, our family cat Chubby Cody had to stay behind with my mom. He wasn’t my cat to move. And my apartment hadn’t come with any free pets, so I had to go without for a little while. It felt weird not having a furry little buddy around the house. After a while, once we’d settled in, I started to feel that it was time. Time for a new little buddy to love. I told D that I needed a pet and we started our search.

It wasn’t long before we found him. Adopting Harvey is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I picked him up for the first time and he snuggled his tiny little kitten head into my shoulder I knew we were meant to be. Instantaneous love.

Since the internet is strictly fuelled by cute cat pictures these days, I thought I would celebrate Harvey’s spectacular life thus far by counting down his greatest hits in napping. It’s just my way of giving back. You’re welcome internet.

Hold onto your donuts people, it’s about to get crazy cute up in this bitch!

HARVEY’S GREATEST HITS: NAPPING EDITION

10) Cat on a sill

Our old apartment had wide window sills, perfect for cat naps! A young Harv, getting his beauty rest on. You’ve gotta hand it to him, he’s got great potential.

window ledge

9) The Fancy Man

Sometimes Harv likes to put airs on. The airs of a sophisticated and refined house cat. He’ll sit with his paw draped leisurely across his manly chest. It is an optimal napping position to showcase his little cat boobies. Exquisite!

fancy cat

8) Classic Couch Surfing

Here again we see a young Harvey demonstrating his remarkable napping prowess. This was before his aforementioned boobies came in.

harvey nap

7) Nest of Blankets

Harv loves to burrow himself deep within the blankets on our bed. This is a particularly desirable napping space when the bed is being made. As the sheets are lifted, being positioned on the bed mid-air, Harv likes to dive under them. Making himself look as cute as possible, ingratiating himself in your heart, to ensure that he isn’t ousted from what is sure to be a supremely comfortable nap.

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6) Cruisin’ in the Catmobile

Best purchase ever. It paid itself off hand-over-fist in cat joy within hours of bringing it home. Harv loves to nap in what has come to be known as The Catmobile. It’s his own private penthouse of cat nap heaven!

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5) Soaking up the Sun

Surely you’ve all realized by now that cats are solar-powered? They need to soak up as much sunlight as possible during the day so that they are adequately prepared for their nighttime adventures. You know, like howling at the front door until it feels like your ear buds are bleeding. Or unceremoniously knocking those sanctimonious houseplants off their pedestals when they least expect it.

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4) Table Dancing

Harvey is not allowed on the coffee table or the dinner table. That was a difficult battle though. Many vigorous and discouraging spurts of the water bottle helped us secure our ground. We fought long and hard to win that one. Sadly, our victory cost us the side table.

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3) Lovin’ D

Harv loves to sleep with D. His favourite thing is to curl up around D’s head and briefly lick his hair before retiring to kitty sleepland for the night. He’s been doing this ever since we brought him home. He’s incorrigible! And precious.

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2) Straight-laced

We have a nice couch, but we’ve kept my old futon from my university days too. For the occasional use when someone sleeps over. Harvey, however, sees the futon in another light. It’s his and it serves him tirelessly. Its been enlisted to serve a higher purpose now. Higher than even drunken sleepovers. Its calling now is to provide Harvey with a superlative place for napping at all times. And it hasn’t failed him yet.

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1) Bliss Catsonified!

Well I couldn’t very well say personified now could I? So Catsonified it is. Ah, wait. Let’s try this again… Purrsonified! Nailed it. This is my most favourite picture of Harvey to date. And as such, it has reigned supreme as the desktop wallpaper ever since it was snapped. He truly is the happiest little kitten in the world in this picture. The very epitome of bliss. That is one nap that’s been done some serious justice!

best nap

Once again, you’re very welcome internet. This should provide you with sufficient sustenance for this week. And I think it’s earned me a week without any of those frustrating mac rainbow wheels, yes? Come on, hook a girl up.

Happy Birthday to the cutest little snuggle munch that ever lived. You’re totally rad Harv, I dig your style.