Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

An unexpected surprise December 30, 2011

My gifts finally arrived in Ireland, with a little less fanfare than my grand plan for them to be sneaked under the tree for Christmas morning. I could gripe about the post, but I am overjoyed they actually arrived. I know I got plenty to be happy with from them, and this was but a small token.

In return, I made my way to the Post Office, knowing that 3 cards were on their way to me. Instead I collected a package and multiple cards. The cards were special cards, not the box set I had sent out at the end of November. I had a beautiful red one from a special little Redhead and her Mummy, one for a Special Cousin from a very special friend, and one from a very special friend Across The Miles. There is a  beautiful green handmade crepe card, and another one from my Mum, Dad and Sister. I list them to remind myself; I was that overwhelmed by each one and the thought that went into them.

And the package: a surprise as I ripped it open and could not believe who it was from: some people you work with are colleagues; others become fast friends forever. Tayto crisps, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Tea Bags though I am unsure if they are Lyons’ or Barry’s, a copy of Ireland’s Own with our wonderful Donegal star Daniel O’ Donnell on the cover, santa earrings and a skiing reindeer and as much love as I could ever need. Given it was these individuals who landed me 1000s of miles from home in the first place with their advice, sometimes gentle and whispered, sometimes loud and glaring, I guess it was the least they could do to send me some home comforts. I can see them in their office, making the list, packing it up, laughing and conspiring. Even their card was special, a simple rural scene, but on the back I see it is produced to raise money for Buncrana Concerned About Suicide Community Group and I love them for supporting local, supporting those we have all cared for, who work to make the world better by working in the community with those who need it most. The most touching part  of the package was a Christmas poem by Patrick Kavanagh. I still remember studying that poem for my Leaving Certificate, and even in the summer, feeling Christmas in its verses. Each item was a massive gift in itself.

Opening all these envelopes, I felt like a kid at, well, Christmas. I have thankyou notes to write now, a special thought as those cards deserve a few extra words for the New Year ahead.



Food glorious food December 26, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — wakingupincanada @ 8:38 pm
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I do love food, and Christmas is full of it. We came home from work and sat to eat another big meal, with dessert, this time lovingly reheated in the microwave. Afterwards our bellies pushed outwards and, following 48 hours of go-go-go, I lie on my bed to relax, quieten, have my quiet time. I do this while savouring some peacandoodles, a chocolate I’d never heard of before Christmas and I am now a devotee.

Food, cooked with love and care is always a pleasure. My long standing memories of my mother as a child is the smell of dinner cooking as I came in from school. When my university friends and I get together it begins with a meal around the table. When it comes to Christmas, the food is where it is all at, and it was no different with my other family this year. It begins with making sure everyone has something they want on there: their meat or their potato or their vegetable. It moves onto the team effort of preparing it. Then, we sit and eat. Afterwards, there is the clean-up. It is like a book well written, with the foundation, the drama and struggle, tears and laughter, the climax as we savour and share and talk and then, the resolution, tidying it all away.

Even with my nearest and dearest, there will be tensions. Why are we making that when only A likes it? Why is B still lying in bed while we are rushing to serve? Why is C hogging the ovens and why did D use the last roasting tray when E needs it more? Yet, when it is plated up, and everyone has more than enough of all that they love, we are happy and content. Yesterday, we all jumped to help with the tidy-up: 9 people, 4 sinks, 2 bins and 2 fridges nicely packed with left-overs.

We will be eating left-overs until Wednesday I think, which is the added bonus: Lovely food for 3 days without cooking.

Christmas, a festive feast.


And peace to all people, all people on earth December 25, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — wakingupincanada @ 1:53 pm
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The child is born and hope wins over darkness, joy triumphs over despair and across the world for even just one day, we believe in something better, for ourselves, for our world.

I have spoken to my family to the point they have nothing left to say to me. I sit with my housemates and our adopted brother and parents, my Christmas pyjamas on at 2 in the afternoon. I will dress for dinner.

There is no denying the hard moments haunting many hearts in the past 24 hours in Banff. Perhaps those most homesick were those who didn’t expect it and there it was, as Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day, that sinking feeling that they were far from where their soul felt they should be.

What is heart-warming as well as a little heart-breaking is the strong realisation  that it is not about place, but people. When people tell about their Christmas customs, there is no mention of the size of the fire place or the view of the beach. Nobody has discussed the quality or quantity of gifts. They talk about who makes breakfast and who they spend lunch with. They talk sadly about estranged family and excitedly about the kids. They recall their parents, their grandparents, their cousins, second cousins, cousins who are not actually related. They talk about the food they eat and how their mother cooks it best.

This is what Christmas boils down to, whether or not you go to church or not. The decoration is just like that on the Christmas Cake, it looks good but lies at the side of the plate as we savour the rich fruit cake. We stop. We enjoy. Together.

Happy Christmas folks.



I ran out of room on the Christmas Card… December 15, 2011

Filed under: Christmas — wakingupincanada @ 6:00 pm
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Dear Everyone at Home and Coming Home on Christmas Eve

Thank you very much for the Christmas Cards and the Packages. I am hiding the packages in my Housemate’s room until Christmas morning, just like you asked, and the cards I am opening, “with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye”.

I promise you all, I am keeping warm, thank you for the many reminders. Genuinely, there is no need. It is always cold enough that if I were to step outside without the proper attire, I will immediately run back inside.-17 will do that. You often ask what I actually wear. Well, for skiing, it is warm sports leggings, ski socks, thermal long sleeved t-shirt and a ski jacket and trousers with hat and gloves. I will invest in a face warmer shortly. Walking about, to work say, I wear thermal leggings or tights usually and either my thermal t-shirt and long grey jacket or my utterly fantastic ski jacket that has a warmth of 15,000 somethings. Most are only 10,000 somethings. Add in a pair of black boots or hiking boots and the usual hat/scarf/gloves combo and I am all set.

I still eat porridge for breakfast or eggs on particularly hungry mornings. Dinner is usually pasta, I don’t really cook here, I’m not sure why, and lunch is soup and bread or salad.

For Christmas Day, a hardy but dedicated team will be helping me cook a traditional Christmas. We will have turkey and stuffing but our carrots are to be coated in butter and our broccoli in cheese. Also, there are to be 4 different types of potato. They say it is because I am Irish, but it is because we all want our own kind: candied yams (sweet potato grilled with brown sugar and butter), mashed potato (my choice), roast potatoes and potatoes that are to be cooked in cream.  There has been no request for Brussel Sprouts and that is fine by me.

My housemate and I, and whoever else wants to, are going to Christmas Eve Mass at 7pm. It is a little early as the store closes at 6.30, but we will just walk straight there and see them getting set up and see who is doing what. The choir there are usually very good, and get this people, the congregation sings along, even I give it a go! I always sit behind an older couple, he is very tall, she is shorter than I am, and now they seem to nod in familiarity at me when it comes to shaking hands. Shaking hands is very big here, they love it, no fear of catching germs whatever the weather. Sometimes people hold hands during the Our Father, which I find quite touching, pardon the pun.

I really appreciate your letters and pictures from my nieces and photos of my nephews and the Christmas Tree and e-mails from Santa. It is not selfish to talk about yourself in letters. That’s what letters are about. So keep them coming, I do like the knowledge/ insight into the little details of your life, just like when we sit around eating breakfast on Sunday mornings.

Yes, Mum, I am still in love with Banff. It is like living in Ards Forest Park and you know how I loved it there. Well this place has snow too, and deers everywhere and you know, a village inside it. I promise though, I do love you more, and I will come home.

Who knows what the future will bring: I never imagined last Christmas that I would be e-mailing you all from staff accommodation in a winter wonderland thousands of miles away.

We’ve had a good year folks, remember to thank God for that. Just like we used to wash and dress all our dolls for Santa to see how well we cared for our gifts, we should take out all the gifts we were Blessed with this year and say thank you to God for them. 3 graduations, starting school, learning to walk, learning to say my name, growing and thriving, finding jobs, travelling and planning to travel, losing weight, working, praying, making it onto BBC, going back to work, staying healthy and happy…..

I hear it will be Christmas Eve when those away will arrive home. No doubt the fire will be roaring in the range and dinner will be ready and Mum and Dad will be delighted to see you all. I hope the usual O Holy Night is sung at Mass, and no doubt the usual drinks will be had after. I will Skype you all on Christmas morning, your time. My lovely nephew will have you all awake early.

In the wise words of my sister, even if there are tears in your eyes, let there be smiles on your faces. We are all well, we are all happy, and despite the miles, we are all together.

Love, now and always



16 days to go December 9, 2011

Filed under: Christmas,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 8:22 am
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You know how I love Christmas and you know how I love getting mail? Well, yesterday, the two crossed paths. TWO, not just one, package notifications were in my mailbox, and I walked home with 2 boxes. I texted my mother, just in case one could be opened right away, only to get a reply at 5am her time, telling me no, they both had to wait until December 25th.

I walked home about 5 inches taller, which at 5’2 is a big leap upwards. I left them under my housemate’s bed: out of sight, out of mind. I feel my mother has unfairly prepared me for this. Growing up, 99.9% of our gifts were only delivered on Christmas Morning. Since becoming adults and having to help Santa with delivering his gifts, our gifts were left sitting under the tree without a name on them. No, we never forgot to give a gift or who one was for, well at least not by the time the turkey was served. So, for the first time ever, I have been given my gifts, with my name on them, 16 days before Christmas.

My mother is annoyed that the post worked so fast: currently mail is getting across the Atlantic faster than any time since I got here. I do applaud the postal service for their diligence, however, I have to look at my gifts for more than 2 weeks, unopened! The anticipation is overwhelming. Given the time difference, I wonder can I open my gifts along with my family, through the power of the Internet which would mean I’d be opening them around midnight, which is, of course, still December 25th. I think that would be fair.

Christmas Day is still a work in progress. We need to work out what we are eating: traditional or contemporary, the time we are eating, and who will be here. We know that there will be a Christmas Eve Service, Baileys, either in coffee or hot chocolate, and to my surprise, it will be hot chocolate for me: hot chocolate has raised in my estimation in Canada, largely due to a little place in Montreal called Juliette et Chocolat. There will be a few Skype dates. It is almost certain there will be a Christmas Film playing, and it is time the negotiations for that began. Apparently, a Banff tradition is tobogganing. They use proper toboggans too, I hear. I’ve seen them on sale. That’s a few steps up from us using fertiliser bags in the back field, and I’m not sure they’ll be any better to tell you the truth.

It is now the second week of Advent, and in the preparation so far, I feel just like I would if I were at home. Perhaps having a big family that keep in close contact means that I feel part of all their celebrations. Yet, it is more than that. To me, Christmas is about hope, love and joy, and that permeates all, whether it is my family I am sharing it with or my new friends. I see it in the customers in the store and the people on the street. It is about seeing the best and not focusing on the worst. It is about knowing where exactly your gifts are but loving the giver and the day enough to know that it will be so much more special to leave them unopened until Christmas Day.



Preparing for Christmas November 25, 2011

Filed under: Christmas,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 8:31 am
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There is a beautiful ad in Ireland for An Post, the postal service: “The moment you send a card, it’s Christmas”.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. There is a slowing of pace and warming of spirit. Perhaps its the collective spirit of preparing for one big event, a feeling of togetherness. I love the mulled wine, the long days Christmas shopping to find the right gift, walking around toy shops just to see, to remember, to believe. I love the ads; the Coca-Cola ad, the Guinness ad, the Cornflakes ad, the Budweiser ad, the Penney’s ad, and the afore-mentioned, An Post ad, with the tune “Walking in the Air”. I was born, raised and still a practicing Catholic, and to me, it is the spirit of hope and love that shouts louder than the commercialism. Christmas Eve, just after Christmas Eve Mass, just before falling asleep, those moments are pure golden. In that small amount of time, magic is real, hope is strong and love cloaks a land. With the candles lit on our window sills, I fall asleep ever year, believing in more than just what we humans offer.

I am a strict Decemberist, or rather was, and ignore the trappings until December 1st. Christmas in Canada changes that. All our Christmas messages must be in the post by the 29th November.  So, a week early, I sat yesterday morning, with my ski-aches, my pen and my Christmas cards. It looked like Christmas outside, the snow, the cold, the trees along Banff Avenue. A week early, I embraced the holiday spirit.

There is so much I wanted to put in there; I wanted to send a hug to my best friend and the Christmas Cake I always make her. I wanted to put my hand on my Mother’s shoulder as she read my card to her and whisper that it is ok, I am happy, I will be home soon. I wanted to pour a glass of Baileys for my aunt and enjoy our usual festive beverage in front of her open fire in her sitting room. I wanted to show my nieces and nephews the snowmen I built outside, and the carrot- noses the deer ate overnight. I wanted to build one with them, and I wondered if their Christmas would be white. I wanted to sit with my brother and my sisters and remember Christmas past, of sleepless Christmas Eves and the best gifts, of the love of our parents and how lucky we were. The BMX and the roller blades, the doll’s house our nieces now play with, the monster munch and the first walkman, remember washing our dolls and dressing them in their best so that Santa knew we cared for our toys.

So often Christmas cards are hastily written, another thing that has to be done. Yet, a Christmas card offers an opportunity. It gave me the chance to say thank you, to say I miss you, to renew old friendships and mark new ones. In writing a card, I was gifted the opportunity to look at who is in my life and how they have helped me, supported me, stood by me this year, this long, fantastic, scary, different year. Those absent are missed and I send a silent card to Heaven. I hope when they are opened, the receiver stops, remembers the memories shared and feels the spirit in which it was written. To you, with all my love. I’m glad you are here, with me.

The cards are sent; it is Christmas here in Canada.