Cheestrings and Meltdowns

I am, by nature, a high-stress person. Some might call me high-strung, even (oh, that’s a pun).

Right now I don’t actually have that much long-term stress. Our wedding is looming, yes, but I’ve managed to break down all the stuff left to do into manageable chunks (ask me again if I’m stressed about the wedding in another seven weeks or so). We are doing well, financially, at the moment. Matt and I have been having lots of talks about the future and what it holds and I feel pretty secure with that.

It’s the little every day things that brutalize me. When the cats are constantly fighting, or the fridge is cluttered, or my laundry pile seems to be reproducing on its own.

Last week I had a mini-meltdown after an email I was supposed to send at 3:30 p.m. was still bouncing back to me at 5 p.m. thanks to insufficient data capabilities. It was a production day, too, and we were short staffed. I had to deal with FTP errors, and lots of running around. When I went downstairs to leave my co-worker pointed out I was covered in hives.

So — stress hives, yay! Matt tried to fix things by taking me out for dinner. Two appletinis helped, but when we got home everything fell apart again shortly thereafter and I ended up in that awful crying-for-the-sake-of-crying state at midnight, in bed. Once I was capable of breathing through my nose again he went downstairs to try and get some things together to help me out.

He brought up Tylenol, for my headache, a Gravol for my stomach (and, honestly, probably to knock me out, too), some tissue for my nose, and a glass of water.

… and a cheestring.

Something about the way he proudly presented it with, “and a cheestring!” made me stop crying (momentarily) and let out a giggle. His reasoning that I should eat something with the meds made sense, of course, but… it was a cheesestring. Such a goofy snack. And I actually had to sit there and string it because I’m philosophically opposed to people who just eat them whole, so it distracted me from my meltdown.

I’m probably going to get stressed out again in the future. I’m probably going to cry myself to sleep on more than one occasion. But there will always be Matt, and there will always be cheestrings.

Side note: I just learned these are called cheestrings and not cheesestrings.

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Travelling South for a Funeral

Throughout the days before we travelled south for my grandmother’s funeral, we were preparing — both in terms of getting things like a house & cat sitter lined up and in an emotional way, too. By the time we were actually renting a car to set out down to the Ottawa Valley, I had decided to look on the bright side as much as possible. Yes, we were looking at a 4000-kilometre round trip to pay our last respects to my grandmother, but in that time, we would be able to celebrate her long life, and spend time with family.

Hanging onto that optimism became a bit difficult the longer I drove south. We hit terrible construction in Thunder Bay, due to flooding repairs, and after that it rained clear through to the next day. Superior Park was foggy, sometimes to the point that I could barely see twenty feet ahead.

Some of my favourite views were obscured by the rain, but it wasn’t all terrible. We stopped in Schreiber for a quick bite, and after that, Matt tried to catch a bit of sleep knowing he was due to take the wheel once I couldn’t drive any more. My night blindness kicked in as we exited the park, helped along by rain refracting on our tiny windshield. After I drove for about 12 hours, Matt took over at Pancake Bay (right near where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank!).

It was dark. Reaaaaally dark. I stayed awake as we pulled into Sault Ste. Marie,  but downing my fourth caffeinated beverage of the day was a terrible idea and I immediately felt sick. I decided to get some sleep in hopes I would be refreshed and feeling better enough to drive once the day broke again.

I think I got about a half hour to an hour of fitful sleep, then woke up for good as we were driving through the Sudbury overpass. The rental came with Sirius radio and Matt had it turned to some ridiculous talk radio show about who in Hollywood has the most stupid face. It was enough to keep me entertained until North Bay, where, after hunting for an open gas station for a half hour, I took over the wheel again.

I probably should not have been driving. Turning on the steep curve to Highway 17 made me dizzy. But we were only three hours from my dad’s house and I wanted to get there for my Grandma’s visitation. Luckily the rain almost completely dissipated as the sun came up, and traffic was light, so I pushed through. I was so happy to pull up in that driveway!

We were up a few hours later, getting ready to go to the funeral home. The next few days were bittersweet — we got to spend a ton of time with family, especially our niece Ophelia and my sister and brother-in-law who we rarely see, but in the middle of it we had to say goodbye to my Grandma. And, while it was heartbreaking to let her go, it was lovely to see the life and vitality that has sprung up and coursed through the veins of our family tree.

My mom drove down for a few hours, which was greatly appreciated. I was able to catch up with my cousin and good friend Andrea, and reconnected with many people I haven’t seen in ages. Matt became a rockstar in the eyes of my younger cousins when he taught them how to make stink bombs and told them all about hitchhiking out to BC when he was younger. We shared a lot of remembrances, ate a ton of food… and I relished the opportunity to be surrounded by so. many. babies. SO MANY BABIES.

We also made a stop over at my Grandma’s house, a place that will be forever special to me.

But, as always, we had to get on the road again. Being south already, it only made sense to stop into Peterborough to visit with Matt’s family (although we wish we could have stayed much longer). Matt took the scenic route, up through Wilno and Bancroft, then followed the canal into the city to get a view of his own favourite places. I love seeing our niece Lily, especially having just seen Opie — Lily is so outgoing compared to her! She gleefully picked us flowers and took Matt on a jaunt through the backyard. Matt’s mom did us a huge favour and found Matt’s old tent in her house for us to take back with us, something that would certainly come in handy later in the trip.

After another sad goodbye, we started on our way out of town — and then Matt requested a small side trip to the mall. As if I’d turn down going to a mall. The clothing and sunglasses purchases were expected, but I was surprised when we went into a jewelry store on a whim and walked out with our wedding rings.

Matt decided to take us through Bobcaygeon on the way out, because I’d never been. He is trying really hard to leave me with a good impression of Peterborough and the Kawarthas (because I’m pretty neutral thus far, aside from believing the roads around Lindsay smell like gym socks after dark). The easiest way to make me have a good impression of a place? Feed me.

Matt has been waxing rhapsodic about Empire cheese curds since I met him. Imagine his glee when he finally managed to snag two bags, still fresh, at a random flower-covered gas station.

Bobcaygeon was beautiful! The main goal of our side trip was to get to the Kawartha Dairy. That ice cream cone up there? Butter tart ice cream. Seriously. It had pieces of butter tart crust in it and the ice cream itself was that caramel-y butter tart flavour. Mmm. On the way out of town we picked up two Kawarthas real estate magazines, so I could fully realize I will never live in a place with Muskoka chairs and a three-level waterfront deck unless I somehow manage to drum up a few million dollars.

We decided we’d keep heading north as far as Sudbury, though we initially intended to go all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. It was rainy and we were pretty tired after several emotional days. I put my feet up and turned on the radio while Matt navigated through cottage country — we learned that of all the Sirius stations, 90’s grunge/alt rock is the most crowd-pleasing. Unfortunately, when we got to Sudbury, our historic horrible luck with hotels kicked in. A clerk at the very first hotel we tried informed Matt that there were only THREE vacant hotel rooms in all of Sudbury, and we had best get moving to the Days Inn if we wanted to secure one of them.

Lucky for us, we made it. I was really happy to see that glorious king sized bed, even if I ruined my slippers in the parking lot. I wanted to go to the M.I.C. Eatery and Whiskey Pub but as soon as I actually got into the cool, dark hotel room, I was exhausted enough to instruct Matt to call the hotel restaurant and find out if they were still open. Usually I think hotel restaurants are a bad idea — don’t you want to get out and see more of the city? — but this one actually turned out to be a brilliant choice.

Hardrock 42 is a surprisingly good gastropub with a serious beer list. I had Blanche de Chambly, and a Barking Squirrel/cherry brandy mix, along with a goat cheese stuffed burger. Matt went the cider and wings route, with Magners, Thornbury, and dill pickle and garlic/Parmesan wings. We ended up eating in the same place for breakfast, too.

The next day, I woke up early and sick. In fact, I couldn’t fall back asleep even though I was tired, because my throat hurt so much. My dad had been sick the day before, from stress, being in the hospital to visit my grandmother, and being in contact with so many people, and I figured if it felled him it would come for me next. I was right.

The goal of the day, then, was to get out of Sudbury and get as far as at least Marathon. But first, we had to stop at the Big Nickel.

The good part about driving back through the Superior Park? Bathroom breaks can be incredibly scenic. We drove through a few rain pockets, but it was mostly clear and gorgeous. I wiled away the boring parts of the drive reading about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, thanks to mobile Wikipedia.

I have always wanted to stop at Katherine Cove, a pretty little sandy spot on Lake Superior. The bathrooms are certainly rustic but it gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch. Matt even waded into the lake a bit (he’s crazy — it was FREEZING).

This part is kind of cheesy, but bear with me. My Uncle Stan, my dad’s brother, passed away when I was in high school. I couldn’t attend the funeral because it was on the same day as my prom, but my dad has told me the story of preparing to write his brother’s eulogy. He wasn’t sure what to say, and was trying to find the right words, when he realized he was suddenly surrounded by yellow butterflies. That became the basis for his speech, and ever since then, I’ve sort of taken butterflies as a sign from the heavens.

So I stepped out onto the beach, just me, as Matt was still back at the car. Out of nowhere, two perfect yellow butterflies started dancing through the air, swirling all around me. They came so close, and only near me, no matter where I walked or how fast I moved.

Once we got to Wawa we knew we’d be spending the night in Marathon. It was getting dark, and Matt was doing all the driving. We stopped for Tim Horton’s and another tourist photo at the Wawa goose. We also spent a few minutes tracking down a pocket knife for Matt, because after firmly deciding to camp in Marathon, we checked the tent and realized there were no pegs, meaning Matt would have to carve some because all of the stores that might sell tent pegs were closed for the night.

We’ve camped in Marathon before so we knew to go straight to Penn Lake Park. This time around we had daylight to work with, and our choice of every single tent site in the park. It was only a bit chilly, and Matt had the pegs carved and tent set up in the time that it took me to walk to the bathroom and back. It took him a bit longer to inflate the foot-pump air mattress that was the exact size of the interior of the tent, with only a few feet of headroom to contend with.

Recognize that bathroom? I took the same photo on our bike trip.

In the meantime, I drove into town hoping to find something we could cook. My brain wasn’t really working after so many days out of my norm, so when there were no hot dogs at the only convenience store that was still open, I panicked and bought:

  • one bag of marshmallows
  • one can of chili
  • one can of beans that required a can opener (which we did not have)
  • eight sets of plastic cutlery
  • 100 paper plates

And then, when I got back and set up the bedding, I realized I was super sick and super tired, more so than I had realized before. Matt got a fire going… but I crashed and fell asleep. Our next major camping gear investment is sleeping bags, because the tent was awesome and waterproof but the bedding wasn’t terribly insulating. We both had pretty fitful sleeps.

The next day, our last big stop was Nipigon. We had our final cheese curd treats (I had fromage-a-trois poutine with curd, feta and cheddar, while Matt had smoky poutine with bacon and onions) and admired the scenery. The rest of the drive was pretty straightforward; the same drive we’ve done plenty of times. We avoided huge construction delays in Thunder Bay, and didn’t see a single moose on the road from Ignace despite being warned. Matt picked up a turtle to help it across the road and it tried to pee on him as a defense mechanism. You know, the usual.

And now, we’re home. We’re both tired, still, and Matt is starting to get sick. The rental is due back tomorrow, and half of the bags are unpacked. We had a good time, albeit a sometimes sad time, but I’m happy to be back home and off the road.

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Blogging for Weddingbee

I’ve been keeping in some exciting news since Family Day (February 20 for you non-Ontarians out there)! Everything is in place now, so I can freely share. I’m Miss Dragon on Weddingbee!

Some of you (most of you) are probably now scratching your heads and wondering what the eff I’m talking about. Allow me to explain.

Back in September I started a separate wedding blog, mainly to keep my ramblings about flowers and dresses and invitations from taking over everything else on this blog. In January, I sent in an application to Weddingbee, which hosts a multitude of bloggers from all over the world who write specifically about planning their weddings, followed by recaps of the wedding itself.

I didn’t tell anyone I applied because I didn’t think I’d get accepted — most of the bloggers are American or European, though there are a few Canadians (but even at that, the Canucks are generally from major centres like Ottawa, Toronto, and Calgary). I did not in a million years think our little backyard shenanigans coming from our middle-of-nowhere town would make the cut!

It took just over four weeks for them to respond and about three weeks in I gave in and told Matt I had applied to be a wedding blogger, namely because the wait was killing me and I had to tell someone. On Family Day we were lazing around in bed and I had just finished explaining a bit more about the site to him when my phone buzzed with the email letting me know I was in! Between then and now they’ve been working on my alias icon (Miss Dragon!) and I’ve been getting my old blog posts updated and properly sourced (I didn’t realize how terrible of an image sourcer I was prior to this!). If you go to the front page of the site my introduction is live, and my actual posts under my name should start up soon.

I’m really excited that my blogging is going to be shown to such a huge audience. I’m also kind of terrified but I’ve been trying to remind myself to just keep doing what I was doing when it was only a handful of people reading my posts.

That being said, if you’re curious and want to read about our wedding, feel free to check it out! The posts going up now will look familiar to anyone who followed along on my old wedding blog but new content will start going up as soon as the archives are finished.

Remembrances of Gramma Mary

anyone can do anything and everyone can be someone

This past summer, Matt and I drove out to Thunder Bay to look at motorcycles. On our way back out of town we went through the drive-through at a Mexican restaurant, where Matt told the teenage girl running the intercom that he did not want tomatoes on his food, no less than three times. We committed the cardinal sin of driving away from the restaurant without looking at our food, and surprise surprise, as soon as Matt bit into his burrito he spit it out in disgust– it was chock full of tomatoes. He grumbled and kept driving, as we were already halfway out of congested traffic. I, on the other hand, insisted he turn around, go in the restaurant, and demand new food. When he came out with new, tomato-free burritos and the old burritos, I felt strangely proud. We were halfway out of traffic again when the light bulb went off over my head. I laughed, turned to Matt, and told him, “I think I just had a Grandma Mary moment.”

My favourite story to tell about my grandmother is the time she ordered fish and chips delivered to the house. The hapless employees at the shop forgot to put tartar sauce in with the food, something Grandma discovered after the driver had left. She not only called to complain, she demanded the driver come back across town and deliver her tartar sauce– all two tiny packets of it. And he did.

From her, I learned the trick of turning on the oven timer after you order pizza so you can accurately tell the delivery driver they took 30 minutes and twenty seconds and your pizza is now free.

I’ve realized, over the years, that I’ve inherited my Grandma’s sense of justice. When the TV network cancelled Lamb Chops in favour of Barney when I was five and I asked my mom if I could write a letter to the TV people to complain? That was a Grandma Mary moment. In sixth grade, when I decided it was wrong that kids were getting extra time for our province-wide standardized tests, just to make our school’s rankings better? Grandma Mary moment. It hasn’t faded with age, either. Last year, when I wrote an email CC’d to the mayor and every council member in our town because I had to deal with a lazy town employee who refused to waive my hydro deposit, even though I had an acceptable reference letter? Grandma Mary moment. When I threatened to take our former landlords to the Landlord Tenant Board if they tried to charge us a damage deposit? I think she would have been proud.

But Grandma didn’t just teach me how to be stubborn. She also taught me to pay attention to the little people and the little things that others might not notice. She had this way of digging deeper than the surface to dredge out how you were really feeling. I still remember her taking me to Dairy Queen, which she said was our little secret, because I was upset that my sister and my older cousin got to go to the movies with boys and I didn’t. It’s not that I wanted to go to the movies, but I was feeling left out and lonely, and Grandma not only noticed but took me under her wing for the day and took my mind off of everything.

I buy a big bottle of good rye every year on Matt’s birthday. We drink it slowly over the months, toasting to celebrations and sadness alike. It has become part of our relationship, taking on the roles of both the cherry on top of a fantastic thing, and as the only thing we have in common in a dark moment. The usual rule is that it has to be taken as a shot and both of us have to be there, but Matt gave me his blessing to bend the rules today, on the first anniversary of Grandma Mary’s death.

I’ve mixed myself a nice rye and ginger, just like she liked, and with it, I’m wishing for no more funerals, no more emergency flights home, no more shopping for black clothes. I’m wishing for health and strength and longevity for everyone I love. Most of all, I’m lifting my glass, in remembrance and honour of the lady who taught me that anyone can do anything, and everyone can be someone.

Reflections on a Repatriation: Remembrance Day

I spent two years of my life in Belleville, Ontario, during college. Belleville is not far from Trenton, home to a major Royal Canadian Air Force base. CFB Trenton is the hub for Canadian military air travel, and it’s where the repatriation of Canadian soldiers killed in the line of duty takes place.

During school, a friend and classmate was eager to go to a repatriation. They’re usually heavily attended and as photojournalism students it seemed like an important opportunity. We got there to find out that the repat had been rescheduled, so we had to leave and come back again. The second time around it was obvious what was taking place. Hundreds of people lined the chain-link fence between the highway and the base, with Canadian flags stuck in the links and held in people’s hands.

I started paying attention to the people around me. There was a boyscout troop, women and men of all ages, a couple from out of town who made a special trip out to Trenton, and, right before the plane landed, a huge crew of bikers pulled up.

I remember the day in bits and pieces. I remember the female RCAF officer who said she was always happy to see so many people turn out to repatriations. I remember the plane landing so quietly I didn’t even realize it had touched the tarmac. I remember watching the soldier’s family and trying to fathom what it could possibly feel like to be in that situation. I remember consciously choosing to not press my shutter down anymore, to not break the silence of what felt like a sacred moment.

I didn’t go to another repatriation after that. For me, it felt too personal, like I was intruding. I would have rather been there just as Shayla, not as Shayla-with-a-camera. I guess that’s one of my journalistic failings.

Today, Matt and I drove out to the small town near us, which has been amalgamated into our town. They had a small, simple Remembrance Day ceremony, honouring their twelve soldiers who lost their lives due to war. The oldest veteran in town, age 92, was in attendance, along with the small handful of other vets still keeping the cenotaph clean and in repair and keeping the Legion running.

After, we sat down for lunch, graciously invited by the community. We shared the company of wonderful people who provided us with their hospitality. To me, the camaraderie shared by that small town is the best reminder of what Remembrance Day is all about. Because so many people fought for our country, for our freedom, we’re now able to sit, side by side, and enjoy fellowship in peace.