Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

Sentimental dedication November 9, 2012

Filed under: family — wakingupincanada @ 7:23 am
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I have this little sister; well actually I have 3 younger and one older, all fabulous; but this one in particular, who is the heart of the family. Somehow she keeps us all together. Quietly, she acts like the centre of the web, with all the threads cast out from her, holding onto us, keeping us attached. We all have threads weaving between us, in all directions and at odd angles, but it is her’s you can always count on to reach us all and to hold tight in the wind.

Before our other sister went to Thailand, she posted her some “Bats”, Thai money. Including postage it cost less that £20, but the thought and the time were priceless. She forced me to book hostels in advance of travelling around Canada, and to write these all down for her so she could keep track in case I went missing. It was her map that guided my boyfriend and I this summer on a 7,000 km road trip from Southern Alberta to Mount Rushmore to Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan and home. The waste company send her the text to remind my parents to put out the recycling, even though she lives in a different country. She Skypes, Facetimes, phones, texts, e-mails; she remembers little things like a long run, or her nephew’s first day at playschool, or what her niece dressed up as 2 Halloweens ago.

For some reason, she inherited more of our mother’s features than any of us and I always believed that is why my father loves her more. She has a kindness I have neither the ability, energy nor fullness of heart to imitate. She is working on her Masters while helping out at Brownies, training for a half marathon, and wonders if she is giving enough. When we say, “we should do that sometime”, she comes back with a time, date and place.

She also manages to eat small portions of food and to thoroughly enjoy every (little) bite. This, for me, is like a superpower, and I often just watch her and wonder how. I also take the opportunity to grab a fork and eat her food.

I’m sure growing up we fought though the only memory I have of her ever upsetting me is biting my bum when she was 1. She was just old enough to stand, and somehow walked up behind me, aged 6, and bit. The shock still gets me, 24 years later. For her first week of primary school, aged just 4, she cried her heart out, and I was allowed to have her sit beside me in my classroom. Then one morning, Miss. Ferry lifted her from me. I cried until I could check on her during our 11 o’ clock break. She had survived, and from then on she went to her own class.

On her first day of secondary school, my friend advised me that my worrying was pointless; the fears I had for her may come true, but I was unable to protect her, and she would deal with them as the rite of passage we all must endure.

So, instead I watched as she grew up confident and capable, kind and caring. She has kept the goodness and grew it to wisdom. She ran a 10km with me and then a half marathon. I say with, but she was out in front, leading me on. She introduced me to the wonderful world of Harry Potter and it was apt that our goodbye before my travels was a midnight viewing of his final movie. I sometimes make a stand based on principle; she rolls her eyes and advises with sense.

I told her I was struggling with writing and she challenged me to give her a story reminiscing. So here I am Lou, reminiscing about you.

See you at Christmas, we’ll read Harry Potter again.


A Saturday evening in Ireland January 28, 2012

Filed under: family — wakingupincanada @ 11:26 am
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It’s not my place to advertise Apple products, or any other products, they all have a big enough budget. It must be stated, for us travellers, Facetime on the Ipod or Iphone is simply amazing.

My sister arrived in Australia this week, bang on time for Australia Day, and I have already seen her hostel twice, discussed travelling, our 4 year old niece and contact lenses. She will usually be a day ahead of me, but then, she always was.

This morning, I spoke to my mother for over an hour as she cooked dinner, and spoke to my Dad as he flitted in and out, complaining about dinner not yet been ready.As she did the laundry, we talked about men being late, babies being born and what the neighbours were up to. I was left alone for 2 minutes, listening to the Grandfather clock that sits on the shelf above the cooker, the slow tick tock that I have listened to for 22 years. If I closed my eyes, I could have been lying on the sofa on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the same routine, the usual stories and complaints, the way it is.  I asked him how long his family have been on our farm: we got as far as my great great grandparents and before that, probably a few generations more.

When I was leaving home, I worried about my nieces and nephews growing up and not remembering me when I came back in a year. I worried about people moving on and me being left behind. I worried relationships that meant the world to me would dissolve when I was half way around the planet.

Sitting with my mother in my kitchen on a Saturday evening in Ireland, it felt as if some things would be the same forever.


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



Halloween Hangover November 1, 2011

Filed under: Travel,Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 8:09 am
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Australians dominate my work, my home and probably Banff itself. Just as they revelled in the novelty of Thanksgiving, so too have they embraced Halloween. Talk began in September about costumes and from the moment we all moved into our accommodation, October 31st was earmarked as Party Night.

I was raised with Halloween. November 1st was All Saints Day and November 2nd All Souls Day and so October 31st was the night that the lost souls who needed our prayers rose from the dead and went wandering. In Irish, it is called Samhaín, or translated literally, summer’s end, a time to be grateful for the harvest and to prepare for the winter ahead.  In my home, it meant food, games and dressing-up.

Early on the day, my mother pulled the table close to the kitchen work top and supervised her team of daughters in making apple tarts. Usually the dough was left to her, or the more responsible, the peeling, chopping and placing of the apples left to us minor minions. At some point, someone would forget to add the half cup of sugar. My mother would complain about the juices running out of the tarts and ruining the oven. Last year, her eldest Granchild joined the Assembly Line, an historic moment. After dark the fun began. Our costumes were home made, from old clothes fossilising in the attic., our faces painted with children’s paints and bathroom toiletries. Our games were simple, and looking back, probably unhygienic. We tried to bite an apple swinging on a string from the ceiling with our hands behind our backs. We took it in turns to get money out of the basin with our mouths. It didn’t take long for the nut remnants and bits of apple from our mouths to float on the water.  Nuts, fruits and sweets galore. When I was very young I watched with envy my older sister dressing up and going out “mummering”, singing and reciting in return for a coins and a few lucky notes. A few years later, she and her friend taught us the songs and we took over, and so on, until now it is my nieces and nephews who are dressing up and heading out to scare the neighbours. Our evening usually ended with Blind Man’s Buff.

Here, where I am surrounded by fellow travellers, it was us doing the dressing up. We ranged from forest nymphs to Lady Gaga  and frightening Mummies to sexy vampires. There was also a nudist on strike. We had little cooking but plenty of candy. I haven’t seen one Apple Tart, and somehow, knowing I couldn’t make it as well as my Mum has put me off even trying.   We had candy for the passing children who are rewarded for a simple “Trick or Treat”, and I think on my niece who at just 4 can belt out a song for her treats. I learned that nobody can drink as well as the Irish, what a POM is and what it stands for and that sometimes just getting into the thick of things is the best policy.

Most of all though the night was about people far from home enjoying time in each other’s company, a night to play and laugh and be something different to the usual. For that I am grateful. At the times when I most miss home, it is nice to see, and help to bring, a little home here.


Footprints October 29, 2011

Filed under: Run — wakingupincanada @ 8:24 am
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Earlier in the summer, my sister and I ran along the beach closest to our home. It is the most beautiful place in the world. The waves crash in on the quiet sands. Running along, you have an island in front of you, a mountain behind you and headlands on either side. There is rarely other people, and it always feels like my family’s own private beach.

This particular day, the sand on the far side was soft, and just getting my feet out of it was difficult, like doing high kick ups with weights attached. My sister had gone before me, and so I decided to run in her footsteps. The sand was now compressed and I didn’t have to wait for my feet to sink before I could jump out again.

It was easier to get my legs out, but much more difficult to run straight. To get from one step to another, I had to twist my own body in an unnatural way. I wondered how she ran like this and realised right away, probably quite naturally. We each have our own footprints that are unique to us, our own way of crossing the beach.

It is very difficult to run in someone else’s tracks. Even when we have the same destination in mind, we each take a different route. Sometimes it is about wanting a different view or being more interested in different challenges. We may have an uphill where others have a downhill and still others are on a permanent flat course. Some people like to sprint, others prefer a marathon.

Yet it is often in our instinct to tread the path well walked. We see the people who went before us and try and be like them. We see the way things should be done rather than the best way for us to get there. We don’t always appreciate the work the person ahead of us did to set those footprints, the challenges they met, but clumsily follow in afterward because we can see them in the  far off distance and they seem to be smiling. We forget the only race we will ever have is inside ourselves and when we look back, we will see, we should have slowed down.

As I ran toward my sister that day, I was proud of her for setting her own course, for being firm in her footsteps. She has 4 sisters gone before her, and she is determined to blaze her own path. She does it very well. She will graduate in Ireland next month and then travels to the opposite side of the world. I wonder when I will hug my baby sister again.  Her older sister is just looking on from the distance, smiling proudly, cheering her on.