Friends of a Lifetime

This is a story about three girls who still think they’re twenty years old.  But in fact, these girls are all turning forty, and these girls are headed to Mexico late next week to celebrate the milestone.

These girls are me and my two oldest friends, Sarah and Shannon, both of whom I’ve written about many times, sans permission.  This is another one of those ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission posts, so I’m going to take some creative liberties to share our history with you, and they’ll likely read this post on their Tuesday morning commutes and shake their heads at my antics.  That’s our usual pattern.  (I’ll load my words up with hyperlinks, so that you can read more about the backstories, if you’re so inclined.)

I’ve known Sarah the longest, since we were twelve years old and became attached at the hip in grade seven.  We met Shannon in our first year at the University of Calgary, and we quickly became an inseparable trio.  Using our first initials in a brash acronym, we established the ASS Tour, and made sure the three of us went on a short annual getaway.  Back then, our getaways meant road trips and small towns and hostel rooms and Missy Elliot mix tapes.  We would take a weekend in Red Deer here or an overnight in Edmonton there, and once drove West for a week in Kelowna and Vancouver, through forest fire smoke and rock slides on the Coquihalla highway.

In 2002, I moved to Toronto, and in early 2003, Sarah moved to Washington, DC.  Shannon stayed in Calgary, and I’m not sure if we ever spoke about it in depth, but in the back of my mind I always thought we’d all move back.  However, life happens, careers grow, marriages take place, babies are had, and somehow we all found ourselves living wonderful lives 3500km apart.  We still make the effort to see each other regularly, usually every second Christmas in Alberta, and the odd time we’ll uncover bonus visits like work trips or concert weekends.  We managed a few days in NYC in 2011, the week after my miscarriage, at a time when I desperately needed them to help me heal, and our last big trip was in 2014, when we went to Vegas to see Britney Spears and relive our Uni days.

My memories of those adventures, and my memories of the three of us in general, are overwhelmed with laughter.  The kind of laughter that makes you gasp for breath and squeeze your sides and wipe your tears.  The kind of laughter that annoys your husbands and wakes your children and makes everyone else roll their eyes.  We’re gone for four days, and with some creative scheduling at Burlington Sports & Spine, that’s only meant one shift off for me during our busy Winter season.  It’s a short trip due to the realities of busy lives, but those four days will give us time to reflect and reminisce, and most importantly, to laugh; and the Mexican sunshine, the sandy beach, the tacos and tequila, well, those won’t hurt either.

This year’s ASS Tour is going to mark our milestone birthdays (although, ahem, I’m the youngest and my birthday is still nine months away), but more importantly, it’s going to mark decades of friendship, support, love, and connection.

They are the friends of a lifetime.

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“Homeless, please help.”

Let me tell you a story that I hope will make you smile and inspire you to do the same.  It’s a random-act-of-kindness story, and I haven’t stopped thinking about how it all played out, more than three weeks ago…..

My family and I had been out running errands on foot, while getting in a nice long dog walk and chilly fresh air on a Saturday afternoon.  We had mailed some Christmas packages, stopped at a bakery for a treat, and zipped into the pet store for some dog supplies.  As we walked past our local grocery store, we noticed a man perched on his knees, bundled in blankets, holding a cardboard sign that read “Homeless, please help.”  A dirty, worn coffee cup sat in front of him, revealing a small amount of change, and a plastic shopping bag sat behind him, well-worn and stuffed with belongings.

When we spotted him, my kids asked for money to give, and walked over to place it into his cup.  We walked on, and talked about his situation further.  The day was cold, but the plaza was busy, and we stood further down the sidewalk and watched as dozens of people walked past without a glance.

It broke our collective hearts.

“I’m going to get him a gift card at Tim Horton’s,” my husband said, and he and my daughter headed down the street.  My son and I went into the dollar store to see what we could find.  We found warm socks and hand warmers, and bought lots of them.  We assembled our care package of sorts, and walked back towards the shivering figure.  My husband knelt down and offered him the bag full of items, “I hope this will help you to keep warm,” he said.  The man smiled, and reached a cold glove out of his blanket pile to shake my husband’s hand.

The four of us walked away in silence, and I began to cry.  I looked to my husband, who also had a tear in his eye, and to my children, who always cry when I cry.  We were quite the sight, the four of us crying and walking, the dog trailing close behind.

I was crying about the handshake.

I was crying about the fact that he just wanted someone to see him for what he was; someone down on their luck who needed a helping hand.  I was crying about the pride he would’ve had to swallow to ask for money in the first place.  I was crying about the people who walked by, not even acknowledging his presence.  I was crying about the generosity of my children.  I was crying about this tough lesson taught.  I was crying for him.

That day opened up the floodgates for our Christmas giving;  it has inspired us to give more than ever before, and we’ve found some wonderful local organizations to put our dollars behind.  We made a difference in that man’s life, if only for that one day, and it proved to us that random-acts-of-kindness help those on both sides of the transaction.

Give.  Spread the word.  Repeat.

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91, each with a story.

My family got our Christmas tree on the weekend.  It’s a bit earlier than we usually do, as December is not yet upon us, but the kids were asking and we had a free weekend afternoon with mild weather, so we took full advantage.  We get a real tree, and we do as city-people do, and trek to one of the local rural Christmas tree farms for the full urban Instagram experience.  Gone are the days of my Albertan prairie childhood, when we would drive country roads and walk through waist-deep snow in search of “the one.”  The opening scene of Chevy Chase’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ comes to mind.  These days, my husband and I do our best to give our kids a new version of that experience, and it’s definitely a Christmas tradition that we all look forward to.

We borrowed my father-in-law’s saw, again part of the tradition, as my husband remembers his childhood Christmas trees being cut down with that particular saw.  I marvel at the changes in our children each year, and remember the early years of babies in carriers and blankets, sneaking in tree-cutting between naps and feeds, worried about the cold and the little legs that couldn’t hike very far.  Now our kids are involved in the whole process, from cutting to carrying, unloading to decorating.  My daughter’s choice of tree got the nod this year, a point of pride for her, and my son placed the star on top.  In fact, once we got it home and in the tree stand, the kids decorated the whole tree by themselves while my husband and I sat on the couch, acutely aware of the fact that we’re in the midst of a wonderful stage of parenting, sandwiched between the emotions of toddlers and the moods of teenagers.

We carefully unwrapped the ornaments from their newspaper homes and laid them on the coffee table one by one.  And as the table filled, we counted: 91, each with a story.

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Each year, I get a family photo made into an ornament.

Many come from my parents, as they give both of my children an ornament based upon their current interests- we’ve got everything from Thomas the Train to Elsa, Captain Phasma to Dora, Harry Potter to the Toronto BlueJays.  When my kids move out, they’ll take their ornaments with them and have a head start on filling a tree of their own.  Many come from my husband’s childhood, the most precious being a tiny stocking from the year he was born.  Some come from gifts from friends, some from Winter weddings, some from school crafts.  But consistently, year after year, the most magical part for me is not the ornaments themselves, but the stories they tell.

We’ve got 91 stories on display;  91 feelings of nostalgia, 91 tokens of gratitude, 91 memories of happiness, 91 reasons to give thanks.

Merry Christmas.

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