Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Visit With Amy

In August of 1984, I was at the River Bourgeois community hall with my mother, watching the festival princess pageant. During the intermission, a man asked my age, and I replied that I was five years old. He said he had a little girl who was also five, and that she would be in my class when school started the next week. He brought her over to say hello, and that was that.

That man was Arthur Doary, a man who’s house I would spend countless hours and days at over the next decade. And that little girl was his daughter Amy, the girl who would be my very best childhood friend.

Amy and I were pretty much inseparable all through elementary school. We were in every class together, sat beside each other, and played outside every recess. On weekends, our rendezvous point was usually church; either I had already spent the day at her house and went home after Mass with my grandparents, or I arrived at the church with Grandma & Grandpa but left with Amy since I was spending the night.
We spent so many afternoons and evenings eating her mother’s cooking, I’m getting fat just thinking about it.

Henrietta’s specialties weren’t just special , they were something I looked forward to and, later, something I missed. She’d make us vanilla sundaes with homemade chocolate sauce and brownies you’d be wise to trade your pancreas for. Make no mistake, for a skinny gal, that Amy could put away a fistful of peanut butter cups that would scare you to death.

One of the best parts of being friends with Amy all those years ago was the fun we’d make. We were girly-girls, but not your run-of-the-mill ones exactly. Instead of playing Barbies, we’d make up our own secret language, or maybe write acceptance speeches for awards we planned to win when we grew up, or even start a dance group.

Yeah, that’s right – the Amy I speak of was none other than one-third of the community-renowned Awesome Threesome, a travelling dance trio we founded when we were 11 years old. I can’t tell you how many hours we spent in her basement planning dance routines, lip-syncing to Bananarama, and memorizing Janet Jackson videos. We were going to be stars. Skinny, kind of awkward-looking ones with unfortunate taste in performance costumes, but stars nonetheless.

It was hard to imagine, back in the day, that Amy and I would ever be anything less than the very best of friends. We never had a falling out of any kind, but, as isn’t unusual, we started running with different crowds once high school started. We both made good marks, participated in lots of extra-curricular activities, and were even on the student council together, but we just weren’t in the same clique. I suppose it’s normal for people to drift apart somewhat as they get older.

It wasn’t a clean break, to be sure. As I grew up, I thought of Amy often and always wondered what she was doing, sending her good thoughts in the process. She was the friend that, even though I had gone away to school and trampled through the house with a million friends since, my grandparents would ask about on a regular basis, and who I would always be happy to hear news of through the grapevine.

It’s been over 25 years since I first met Amy, and I’m happy to say, I just got home from a nice visit at her house.

The best thing about Facebook is how I’ve gotten back in touch with old friends, her specifically. It’s so easy to get lost in the chaos of life, and good intentions of staying in touch can be lost to the changes in your own world. Yet here it is almost 2010, and earlier today I was greeted at one of my favorite houses by a blonde-haired 30-year-old wearing a chic Argentinian shawl, smiling that same smile, serving me some of those same peanut butter cups, and chatting with me as though we were back in 1987.

We’ve made it a habit to get together for one of those chats every time she comes to Cape Breton on vacation from her fancy-schmancy job in Toronto. We talk about careers, marriage, kids, old friends, and we laugh – a lot.

I’m so glad we’re still capable of that after all these years, and I can assure you that, Facebook or no Facebook, I’ll make it a point to stay in touch with Amy. Many have come and gone over the years, but this one’s a keeper.

See you next Christmas, friend.

We Always Pull it Off

When Christmas rolls around (as it tends to every year without fail, regardless of opposition), the spotlight falls not only on carols and presents, but also on the outstanding ability of heads of household (most often women) to plan and prepare.

I should probably mention right off the bat that neither I nor my husband are the subjects of each example I'll cite. He's a wonderful, generous, considerate kind of guy who puts thought into the many gifts he buys, almost all the time. (Almost. He is a man, after all.) At the same time, I’m no June Cleaver; I forget stuff and get somewhat disorganized, too.

For us coordinators, pretty often, Christmas starts November 1st, if not earlier. It's partially the fault of stores, since they start stocking the shelves with Christmas loot before the Halloween decorations are even put away. Not only that, but planning for an event as big and complex as the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year, is not to be taken lightly or left until the last minute.

By the time early November marks the calendar, only a handful of paycheques remain before the big day. A sensible person will remember, even through the chaos, that Christmas is merely one day, and that bills still roll in the week after; parents normally dismiss this well-known fact and spend money as though this year is the last Christmas ever. In history. A wise man once said, “Christmas is the season when you buy this year’s presents with next year’s money.” I try not to do that, honestly, but it gets away from me the same way as it does from others.

In any event, women seem to be more mindful of the looming free-for-all than men. We start making up lists (if only in our head) of people to buy for, items to get, menus, even itineraries. Some will attempt a short brainstorming session (“honey, do you have any idea what we should get the kids for Christmas this year?), which is usually met with a lot of, “Have you lost your mind? Do you realize it’s not for another two months?”

Persistent buggers though we are, husbands are usually better at the abstract ideas (“no more remote control anything and nothing with a bunch of parts”) than at concrete gift ideas. We may have hinted about a beautiful snowflake pendant or DVD box set, but hints aren’t something these guys are on the lookout for. Women, on the other hand, will latch onto his most casual mention of a desired item and search every store in the province and beyond. We actually enjoy it, the satisfaction of finding that perfect gift and the anticipation of watching the reaction to it.
Only when that reaction is an unenthusiastic, “cool, thanks,” does anything hit the royal fan.

We’ve got this whole holiday under control, don’t we, ladies? From making budgets, to Web-store delivery deadlines, to hot items that’ll need to be scooped up before the masses get to them. We remember to buy small tokens for the teachers and have them ready for the last day of school before vacation. We make it our business to know that the nieces are no longer fans of Hanna Montana and have moved on to Wizards of Waverly Place. We’ve already been briefed on which Edward Cullen swag to avoid and whether so-and-so has a Wii or an xBox.

We schedule appointments well in advance for kids’ pictures, to make sure there’s ample time to include them in our Christmas cards, which have to be mailed in time for people to send one back. We make sure each kid has a nice outfit in the closet for the concert at school, and each adult has appropriate attire for the party at work.

We know when turkeys will be on sale, and not to buy that radio at one store for $50 when it’s only $32.99 down the street. When company starts showing up around the 20th, we’ve already made sure to whip up some shortbread cookies and pick up a box of chocolates for our guests. Not to mention the kids have received written replies from Santa, since we helped them write their letters weeks ago.

Even the little things we can manage to remember. We buy lots of batteries for the toys, extra garbage bags for the Christmas morning mess, and even a few double-doubles for the one day of the year you can’t run out and get them. Every base is covered, with few exceptions.

Give yourselves a hand, planners; your work really is impressive.

I hope you all have a wonderful, safe, and well-coordinated holiday.

The Usual Suspects

You either sing or you don't, and nothing separates the men from the mice, so to speak, like a good night of karaoke (singing along to an instrumental track, for those not in the know).

Participation is key, and it's not that only good singers should take part, or that terrible singers should stay away; quite the contrary, actually. Sometimes the superstars bomb and the most tone-deaf bring down the house. I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle, which is probably why I enjoy the karaoke experience so much. I'm neither facing the pressure of being the best nor worried about being the worst.

Just like every classroom, family, and movie has a cast of characters, so does the karaoke club scene have it's own set of recognizable personalities.

For those of you who have never partaken in an evening of this sort (and for the regulars who might get a chuckle), I'll briefly introduce these characters.

The Teacher's Pet - It won't take long to spot this person during a night of karaoke. They're often first up to sing, strutting onto the stage with a cool confidence only found in someone who has either already signed to a seven-figure, major-label recording contract, or who has graced that same stage countless times before. Often, the KJ (karaoke jockey) doesn't even have to ask which song to put on for them. He or she will adjust the microphone with ease and sing with incredible volume (however incredible their skill). Likely song choice: something by Melissa Etheridge. Count on a low- to mid- tempo power ballad, and count on it to be sung relatively well.

The Bait & Switch-er (otherwise known as "The Susan Boyle") - This is perhaps the most entertaining person at karaoke night. A quiet, unassuming girl, sitting with a few friends, not looking for any attention. You're almost feeling sorry for her as she takes the stage and awkwardly holds the mike with both hands, and you prepare to hear something from the Hannah Montana soundtrack. Instead, the speakers thump, Hannah flashes some sort of gang sign and yells, "Yo VIP, let's kick it!" Say what? SAY WHAT?! The crowd is astounded, but by the time she gets to, "Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it, " the audience is singing along as though "Ice, Ice Baby" was the national anthem. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what karaoke is all about. Song choice: something seemingly antithetical; think "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera for a hefty, 40-something guy.

The Diva - Not to be confused with the Teacher's Pet, who is usually a competent singer (though sometimes they are one in the same), this regular must have been propped up by a generous but insincere compliment at some point in the past and now spends Friday nights waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a rep from Jive Records. The Diva will almost always be overdressed, sing a top-10 hit by an incomparable female artist, and make ridiculous arm/hand movements for effect. During high notes he/she (unsuccessfully) attempts to hit, it's common for he/she to raise an index finger to the sky, almost as though that finger's directional rise will help that note reach a level it is just never going to reach. Song choice: "Vision of Love" by Mariah Carey.

The Shocker - There's always one, whether it be a regular or a guest who's only in town for the night. This character is always drunk. Not just "had a few drinks" drunk, I'm talking "just functioning" drunk. Who knows what possessed this individual to think singing in public would be a good idea in that state, but there they stand on the stage, swaying unintentionally, eyes droopy, lazy smile, looking helplessly at the monitor. The first verse comes and goes with only a few mumbled words being spoken into the mike, and the crowd has already lost interest. And then, out of nowhere, like a sudden jolt of sobriety, the chorus comes on and The Shocker leaps enthusiastically into action, forcefully belting out the familiar words and mumbling only those pesky pronouns. And sometimes the conjunctions. Who are we kidding, only the main words are intelligible, but darn it if it's not an enthusiastic delivery. Once the chorus is over the stammering starts all over again, and at the end of the song, the Shocker might get tangled in the microphone cord and trip over a straw. Song choice: Sweet Home Alabama.

I'll be in the finals of a karaoke competition here in Port Hawkesbury on December 18th, and I hope everyone comes out for some great entertainment. Perhaps not courtesy of MY voice, but certainly from someone's.


I'm a little late to the Twilight party. When everyone else was gushing and non-stop-chattering about the movies and books, I stuck my nose in the air and sniffed at the whole idea. (Sometimes I'll do that - ignore a fad based not on it's actual worthiness or lack thereof, but just out of spite and resistance to conformity. Lame, I know. But, I was totally justified with snubs of Lou Bega/Mambo #5, Star Wars Ep. 1-3, and that Heroes show.)

Anyway, one night months ago we put Twilight on the DVD player since there was nothing on television and, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it. I didn't salivate or palpitate or any of those typical reactions, but it was more entertaining than watching repeats of King of Queens. I still had no interest in reading the books, which, since I'm an avid reader, annoyed quite a few of my Twi-Hard friends.

Two weeks ago I found myself with nothing to read, and I started looking pretty hard at the Twilight book sitting on my son's bureau. "No, you won't read that. 'Cause then you'll have to read the whole series and you might like them and that would not be in keeping with your whole resistance movement," I told myself.

It's a fantasy novel, not my style. I won't even read Anne Rice, the undisputed queen of the undead, let alone some street-cred-less author who pulled an entire series of books out of the clear blue sky. It's about vampires, for crying out loud! I knew I wouldn't like it.

But what's a girl to do? How many times per year can I read the same John Grisham novels, or the Nicholas Sparks tear-jerkers, or the entire chronicles of Sherlock Holmes? It's only a book, it's not like I'd be taken in like everyone else. Robert Pattinson looks unshowered and doesn't do anything for me, anyway.

If you could have seen me, in a trance, walking around my house, ignoring everything, with a 4lb book permanently perched inches from my nose, you other Twilight-resistors would have been so disappointed. I was completely immersed.

Since I have a million Christmas projects and commitments, besides being a wife and mother of two, I couldn't very well drop everything and start on a Twilight catch-up mission. It took me a few days, not hours, to re-read the 498-page book, re-watch the original movie, and see New Moon - twice. Only after these tasks were finished could I start on New Moon the novel (which is a Christmas present for my son and will contain no dog-ears, thanks to the Edward Cullen bookmark I bought last week. Shhhh.). I'm about 300 pages in.

Now, because I'm me, of course I'm critical of the movies and books in some respects. As is the case with most adapted screenplays, the Twilight movie was nothing - NOTHING - compared to the book. In fact, watching the movie was almost like reading the Amazon summary, in hindsight.

As much as I hate to say it, since it undoubtedly comes off as jealous, lucky-witch hating, the girl who plays Bella in the movies has about as much acting range as a throw pillow. She's staggeringly beautiful, though, and it's a good thing - at least she has that to distract from her complete lack of facial expression, monotone voice, and inability to smile (even in the face of Edward Cullen! Imagine!).

The flip side is that Stephenie Meyer did a brilliant job on this series (I'll assume the last two are similar in quality to the first two). Though the adjective-heavy prose is ripe for ridicule (Edward's eyes are butterscotch. Topaz. Golden. Amber. WE GET IT, they're yellowish), and the female lead character is very obviously autobiographical, the story she spins is so consuming and forbidden that it draws you in. Somehow, you can feel the electricity between Bella and her blood-drinking soul mate, almost as though you had fallen in love with a vampire in grade eleven biology class, too.

I'm not enjoying New Moon as much as Twilight, partly because of the addition of the werewolf characters; it's just not interesting to me. I will finish it (because I started it), but I will need some assurances before I ever pick up a copy of Eclipse. Assurances of the Edward variety. You see, Robert Pattinson, once an unkept, overrated, awkward Londoner in my eyes, is now a brooding, sensitive heartthrob who secretly watches me sleep. (Probably.) (Yeah, he does.) Team Edward for life!

That's how good it is.

If you're a book lover who hasn't read the Twilight series yet, pick it up, even if only for the first installment. You'll be pleasantly surprised.