A letter to my niece

Dear Holly,

Sixteen years ago today, you came into this world.

We were standing at MacIsaac (no, not us) Funeral Home at your grandfather’s wake when your dad called with the news.

“It’s a girl!”

It would be another couple of months before we met face to face. You were a bundled blanket of balled-up fists and furrowed brow and you cried when the strangers — me and my then boyfriend — spent the night in your apartment.

We were travellers, embarking upon my journey out west. Indeed, it’s a year of 16th anniversaries. Yesterday, the day of my dad’s passing and in March, the day I left Eastern Canada for my life in the west.

I’ve missed out on a lot of your own journey over the last 16 years and I wish I could have been closer. At times, I’ve considered being closer but I hope everyone understands why that’s just not possible.

We met again five years later at your uncle’s wedding. You were a vivacious, precocious little girl and your personality brought smiles to everyone’s faces.

Do you remember how hilarious you found it to flex your muscles in front of Shane’s Firebird and see the distortion of your body in the sleek black curves?

Do you remember when we taught you how Ross Gellar had his own signal for flipping off his sister Monica? You gave my mother heart palpitations when you started doing it to people at the wedding reception.

And the rest of us laughed.

I cherish every moment of the time I spent with you (and your sister … hi, Emily)  in 2008 when I was home for my high school reunion. It reminds me that I have to promise to come home again soon.

Every moment with you lets me know you’re destined to be great. You will carve your own path and be a leader among your peers. You will command presence and attention and you will brighten every room with that dazzling smile.

Just as the news of your birth brightened a room 16 years ago. Your new presence in the world was a shining star on a dark January night.

And as you mark your journey into your womanhood, I know your star will bring a lot of light to a lot of people.

Happy sweet sixteen, kidyoung woman. And I love you … even if you are slightly embarrassed by this. Because you’re 16. And that’s what 16-year-olds do.

Oh … and if you ever need to know what your grandfather looked like, just look at your dad. It’s kind of creepy.


No chowdown

I’m sporting #sadface.

It isn’t because today I got my second PFO letter (please eff off, for the uninitiated) in two days.

It isn’t because I’ve had only one call for an interview for the 15 or so resumes I sent out last week.

It isn’t even because it’s a full week more before I get to see My American for the Christmas holidays.

It’s because I can’t find a damn jar of chow anywhere in Calgary.

Chow, you see, is a Maritime pantry staple. It’s a mash of green tomatoes, onions, pickling spice and some other stuff. And it is, quite simply, delicious.

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about chow — some call it chow chow — a lot lately. It could be I’ve been seeing a lot of ex-pat Maritimers lately and we like to talk about the things we remember from home.

It could be that we’re brushing up on Christmas and I’m thinking a bit about family and tradition.

Wanted: Chow

Dad was a meat-and-potatoes guy. He was a man with simple tastes and Mom obliged with home cooking to suit him.

We’d have home-baked beans on Saturday nights and eggs and bacon on Sunday mornings.

Otherwise, we’d feast on Corn Flakes, generic brand puffed wheat, wieners and beans, wieners and sauerkraut, wieners and rice and, of course, Kraft Dinner. Sometimes with wieners.

It’s a pretty good guess I don’t eat wieners much anymore. Corn Flakes, either.

And we had the most amazing homemade preserves. Mom made best-in-the-world jams with berries we picked as a family in the woods behind our house. (Sorry, Hamish, your jams are a good close second.)

Oh and the pickles … bread-and-butter pickles, dill pickles, mustard pickles, pickled beets …

The pantry shelves in the basement next to the freezer were stocked full of bottled jam and pickles.

And chow. Jars and jars and jars of chow, made with green tomatoes grown in our own backyard.

We’d dump it on our plates, right next to the potatoes. Nothing went better with a good old-fashioned Maritime boiled dinner.

Mmmm … boiled dinner

So, I wanted to satiate my desires.

I went to the London Town Square in Calgary’s NE, thinking Sobeys, the grocery giant based out of Stellarton, N.S., would be the one place — if any — that kept chow on the shelves for ex-pat Maritimers.

My eyes darted around the pickle shelves but fell on nothing I wanted. A little jar of yellow mush claimed to be chow chow but … well … just no.

“Can I help you find something?”

I explained my plight to the gentleman. His shoulders sagged and his face took on an expression that said ‘oh God, not another one.’

It seems I’m not the only one hungry for some pickled green tomatoes. My kindly helper, however, hails from B.C. He has sampled the tasty fare and hated it.

Hated it? Good grief.

In any case, there’s no chow to be found in Western Canada, he says. The only company that supplies Graves Green Tomato Chow outside of homeland territory is embroiled in some kind of legal battle with its western distributor.

Somebody owes somebody more money than the other way around or something.

And so, Atlantic Grocery Distributors refuses to send any chow beyond its Atlantic Canada borders.

Can’t we all get along?

Ah, no. Keep checking back, my new Sobeys friend says. Maybe they’ll start shipping out west again in the new year.



In the meantime, I have four options:

  • Wait out the legal issues
  • Send my mother a sorrowful email and ask her to mail me some chow
  • Find some green tomatoes and get cooking
  • Replace this craving with another one
Hellooooooooo, ice cream.

Father’s Day

15 years gone and I still miss him as a constant in my life.