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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Christmas 2014: A French Polar Fox in Canada

The Christmas holiday has always been an exciting time for my family. It is one of the few times throughout the year when my large, extended family is able to make the time to come together. As is to be expected, our holidays are usually full of food, family, and fun. This year was very special, not only because we added a little to our Christmas traditions, but because Juliette, my girlfriend, was able to visit from France!

The Reunion

Interesting enough, it was my parents' idea to invite Juliette over. It wasn't that I wasn't thinking about it, exactly, but I didn't think it was at all possible. Once suggested, I tried finding ways to bring the price down and my finances up. After a couple of weeks of fruitless effort, I was beginning to give up. Still, I am an optimist, and I had Juliette prepare her passport just in case. About a week before Christmas, I was supremely surprised when my cousin and my sister announced that they wanted, and were able, to help me. We found an exceptionally inexpensive and convenient set of flights and everything was all set!

I don't think I was able to acknowledge it at first. Inside, I was excited, but on the surface, everything was neutral for some time. If you know me, you'll know this is kind of normal; I subdue my feelings until a time when I think them more appropriate. I was excited, I was talking about it all the time and thinking of little else, but I wasn't jumping up and down.

Juliette was set to arrive a few days after Christmas, and she wasn't the only one. My sister had to work a few extra holiday shifts, so my family decided to postpone Christmas until they arrived. December 24th came and went, uneventfully, and on December 25th, my Mom, Dad, and I went to a friend's house for dinner, which was very nice and quite unorthodox of us. One of our traditions has always been to host a big Christmas party. My parents often invite so many people that it is just easier for us to just have one event rather than going to several. We have been very thankful that people have come from far and wide to our home, and we do our best to make the process as inviting and hospitable as possible, cooking a big feast for everyone.

The big day finally arrived. We picked up my sister in Ottawa in a fit of hugs and smiles. We caught up and shared in the delight of being together again. Christmas was finally arriving!

Reuniting with Juliette was a beautiful moment. It seemed like I somehow had simultaneously forgotten and remembered so much about her. It was weird that she was there, that we were able to communicate in real-time, not over text, and hold each other's hands. It was additionally exciting because it was Juliette's first time in Canada!

I introduced her to my Mom, sister, and Dad, and everyone was happy and excited for the holiday season together. The next day was our official Christmas Eve! For as long as I can remember, we have had our big dinner on Christmas Eve; we clean the house top to bottom, Mom decorates the tree, hangs the stockings, and we all help with the dinner. Juliette quickly ingratiated herself to my family by being a wonderful help and by adding her cheerful presence to the day.


The dinner came and went without pictures, but with a lot of people, a lot of food, and a lot of fun. There were around 20 people there for dinner, and Juliette was treated to many new foods. A lot of people couldn't make it to the event, but I'm thankful for those who did, and those who tried/wanted to. The dinner was full of great conversation, laughs, and I made it a point to thank everyone for everything they had done to make the dinner so special. Once again, I ate a roughly 5 lbs, 2.27 kg meal consisting of mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, corn, peas, stuffing, ham, turkey, and gravy! Juliette obviously liked it because she went back for a second helping!

Three years ago, my family started a new tradition. My Mom and Dad had bought an Xbox and a Kinect and we started the tradition of playing after Christmas dinner. We have sports games, dancing games, adventure and driving games, and it is really fun to sit back and watch your friends and family jump around wildly. We bowled, boxed, played volleyball, darts, and danced the night away. Everyone got involved and conversation brewed between whoops of laughter.

The next day was Christmas! (Our Christmas, anyway) My grandparents spent the night and we all woke up slowly, but cheerfully, with coffee, juice, bacon pinwheels and croissants. I wasn't sure Juliette would like typical North American coffee, but my Mom had some Cuban coffee which was brewed in the European style, which Juliette quite enjoyed!
My cute sister being all cute and festive!

There's a story behind this stocking. When I was 10, my Mom asked if I wanted to make my own stocking, since we were getting new ones. I was excited, but had 0 skill. I sewed my name, poorly as you can see, and I made a patch, the soccer ball seen above. Then, when I was 11 years old, I tried to make another one. That odd, green figure is supposed to be Slimer, the ghost from Ghostbusters. See, I thought I was being clever because the ghost logo in the second movie is making the peace sign, and I thought it looked like the number 11, so there you go. This year, to commemorate the amazing year I had at the ISU, I added the school patch!

We opened stockings and were delighted that Santa had provided for us all. We stopped doing gifts as a family some time ago, but a few odds and ends usually slip through. The stockings are always fun to empty. This year, I received some toiletries (travel toothbrush/paste, etc.), the girls received some products from Mary Kay, we received magazines to read (Popular Science for me, National Geographic for my sister), and scratch lottery tickets.

The lottery tickets were a lot of fun this year. Everyone was sitting around, relaxing, chatting, and I was showing Juliette, and my Mom's mom (my Nannie) how to play.

Tinker, our dog, looked a little upset, missing out on the holiday fun...

...but she perked right up when we opened her stocking revealing all sorts of chew toys for her to play with!

Keeping spirits high, my sister ran around the table getting pictures with family. As you can see below, we are very photogenic.
My Mom and sister, rolling their tongues
My Dad and my sister, making silly faces
My Nannie and my sister, making more silly faces
And once more, with a smile.
I feel that I must point out here, for my Nannie's sake, that she was not happy with her hair that day. The curler was too high, and her hair is so white that it disappeared in the Sun's brightness in that photo. Still, I think everyone looks cute in these pictures.

My Grandma and my sister
One of the best photos of my sister that I have ever seen, and that's saying a lot.
Once we had finished making faces and eating breakfast, after a few small-prize lottery wins, we moved downstairs to the basement. It was quite a cozy scene. We had a fire going in the woodstove, Christmas music was playing on the TV (although we were all getting a little tired of it, seeing as though this was the 29th of December), and gifts under the tree. While we had stopped gifts as an immediate family, a few slipped through, as I said. And, my Nannie ended up getting a lot of gifts this year.

We were so busy sharing in each other's good fortune and company that these two photos were the only ones taken from the event.

Every year, I hand out the presents
As always, it is never about the gifts, but we got some pretty cool ones so I'll tell you about some of them. My Nannie got an incredibly soft and warm bath-set (slippers, robe), Juliette, Danielle, and I got pajamas chocolate, and Juliette gave my family some wine, some Alsatian Christmas ornaments, and a book featuring 1001 things to see in France. More scratch tickets and money were given in many beautiful Christmas cards as well. These were all very cool presents.

I finally was able to give Juliette her demi-anniversary presents. I take anniversaries pretty seriously, whatever the reason behind them. While I normally wouldn't make any effort for celebrating dating someone for 6 months, Juliette and I have kept our relationship going after being separated, physically, not once but twice now (Houston internship, and home after graduation), and I thought it a good idea to get her something to show how much I appreciated her and our relationship. The gifts were all made here at home, with help from my Mom, and I think not only did Juliette love them, but some may help her stay motivated as she continues working toward her Masters in teaching art in France. She gave me some awesome gifts as well, which I of course love.

The next couple of days were fun, but uneventful. If we can, my family likes to watch movies together during the holiday season and we spent a few days just relaxing and lamenting the fact that there was no snow outside. The night we found out Juliette was able to come to Canada, it snowed about 14 inches, 36 cm, and my Mom "blamed" Juliette. While the trees were frozen and the ground was covered for some time, it all melted two days before she arrived. It wasn't a white Christmas, and our plans for walking through the forest and tobogganing were delayed somewhat.

New Year's Eve

New year's eve was my sister's birthday! This year, we decided to have a "Redneck New Year's party" at a friend's house. The term redneck, if you didn't know, is a slang term describing an economically lower-class person. Many people in my region of Canada could well be described with this term so we have sort of embraced the simple togetherness the term implies.

We had chili, hot dogs, cookies, crackers, and our friend made a delicious chocolate-banana cake for my sister. We played music outside, and sang and talked around the firepit. We were all wrapped up in our warmest clothes, and counting down to the new year. It was different, but not an unexpected way for my family to spend the holidays. Juliette enjoyed the experience very much, and I was glad that she was so comfortable in such new situations and environments.
My sister and me, I love this photo.
My sister, me, and Juliette, I love this photo too.
New Year's Day

The next day, we went into Ottawa to see the nation's capitol and the Parliament buildings. Many of the photos were taken from the car, so they are blurry. It was a cold day, but quiet, and perfect for sightseeing.

It was also nice to see these buildings again, and to hear my Dad talk about them. Before my adventures in France, I had lived in Toronto for several years. As a result, I had forgotten much of what I knew about Ottawa. My Dad not only grew up in this city, he had worked on several of the buildings, including these, upgrading and installing much of the modern electrical work.

Sparks Street

One of the best photos of the day
The Peace Tower, featuring my Dad, sister, and Mom, all bundled up in hoods
It would not be a parliament building without an animal, preferably a lion, protecting it.
And a crazy unicorn
The East block
Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's 1st Prime Minister (1867-1873 and 1878–1891)

Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie (served between 1873-1878)
A beautiful shot of the Ottawa River, behind Parliament Hill

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier, right beside the Parliament buildings.
The National War Memorial of Canada 
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This had been the site of a series of shootings back in late October. Many of the details can be found here, but suffice it to say, I was honoured by the sacrifices made by proud Canadians in the line of duty.
Danielle tried to surreptitiously take our picture; the result was a little blurry
The Nutcrackers guarding Sparks Street

The Canadian Werewolf with the French Polar Fox
Juliette especially liked the snowflakes

This one makes me laugh every time!
After Parliament Hill, we went out for dinner, and then to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Dinner was excellent, and the movie was really great! I love that genre and I was satisfied with the aesthetic, the framing, the adherence to the book, and the exceptional quality of the work put into the film as Peter Jackson's crew has provided so many times before.

Snow and Snowshoeing

While it had been a green Christmas, the snow finally arrived two days before Juliette was set to leave. My Mom, sister, Juliette, and I snow-suited up, grabbed some snowshoes, our dog Tinker, and went for a walk in our forest.

My family's home features quite a lot of land attached to the house, as well as over 100 acres of government land attached to that. I had been wanting to show Juliette the property for some time now and was excited that we would get the chance to do so, on a beautiful morning with freshly falling snow all around.

Unfortunately, the snow made a lot of these pictures blurry, but my memories are very unlikely to ever fade.

One of the best photos of us
I have now worn this cloak in Russia, France, and Canada. I had noticed that the cloak was a little too long and asked my Mom to fix it. We quickly realized the reason for the discrepancy between the dressmaker model and myself; the mannequin was actually a wo-mannequin meaning it had breasts, and since I don't, the fabric hung lower on me than on the model, haha. Anyway, with this adjustment, it perfectly skimmed along the ground, and I was perfectly dry and warm beneath it.

We found a cool little rock formation and my Mom was nice enough to take some photos.

After this, we asked Danielle and Tinker to join us!

I don't know what they were looking at, but I like this photo

I was a little worried about something else being in this rock cleft, but it was okay.

As my Mom circled around to get a better shot, she took some extra ones while we weren't looking.

Looks like I made her laugh
Climbing around

Okay, Tinker and I will join you!

The rock looks like a giant, grumpy turtle

Action shot!

Look at how much snow and ice was stuck to the back of Juliette's coat!

Our pond, frozen over
These last few shots are really beautiful.

After crossing the pond, we took Juliette up to the party spot. There, we showed her the clearing in which we pitched tents in the summertime, the fire pit where we cooked our food, and told her stories of the parties we've had there. At one point, Tinker came running over and sat at Mom's feet, crying. Turns out she had had wandered too close to a porcupine and had some quills stuck in her. Danielle rushed back to the house with the dog. My Dad removed the quills easily enough and after a long nap, Tinker was running around happy and healthy and excited again once more.

While this was happening, Juliette and I put on some snowshoes and took a longer walk back to the house. My Mom came along and we talked about some random adventures on our property, like the time we met the Easter bunny, and my Mom and I were impressed at Juliette's skill with the snowshoes; we've known many people who've fallen the first time they wore them, but Juliette never fell.

The end of the holiday

After a very fun and intense week, it was time for Juliette to go back to France. No one wanted her to go, we all had a really great week. Juliette fit very well into my family, laughing with us, loving our traditions, and getting along nicely with everyone she met. I wasn't worried about this, but it is always nice when people you like get along. This holiday season gave me many reasons to be thankful.

I am thankful for those who made the effort to be in our lives, to keep us in our lives. To those who came around, gave presents, shared and offered meals, played games, and shared in our adventures. I am thankful to my friends and family who helped make this an extra special year, especially when times are tough for everyone right now. I am very thankful to have had the time to catch up with my sister, who I miss a lot, and know that things are going very well for her at school, with her friends, her job, and her extra activities. And, of course, I am very thankful that Juliette was able to visit us in Canada. She had a marvelous time, enjoying her first trips to Walmart and Tim Hortons (she bought 20 Timbits to try!), as well as meeting and spending time with me and my family. So far, she and I have been dating for over 7 months, but sadly have only been physically together for 2. As you can see in an earlier post, I am trying very hard to get back to Europe to begin my career, and to reunite with her. I hope it happens soon as I'm excited to see more of Europe, to begin my career, and of course to spend more time with her. 

Thank you very much for reading and sharing in our adventures. I hope your holiday season was fun, safe, happy, and full of great times. It may have been stressful, but hopefully, it was worth it. For me and my family, it always is.

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