Day 312 – The Weeping Willow

I can’t remember how old I was when I saw a documentary (or was it a PSA?) on the importance of trees to the earth…removing carbon dioxide from the air blahblahblah.  The point is, what I remembered most from the program was that trees enrich our landscape and our lives.  So, in my tiny childlike mind, I decided that because we had lots of trees on our property, that made us “rich.”  I told my mom so.  She thought it was a pretty adorable statement, and I remember that moment to this day.

Fast forward over two decades, and I’m at my parents’ place over Easter weekend.  I was packing up the car tonight to take my little ladies home.  They’re running around outside, in rubber boots and already in their PJs ready for bed when we get home.

I noticed the weeping willow on the property.  When you see things too often, you stop really *seeing* them.  But with my 3 year old running past it, I noticed how absolutely ginormous and gorgeous that tree really is.  My Dad wasn’t sure of the timeline, but it’s been around at least since his childhood.  Might have even been planted by my grandmother over 50 years ago.  Pretty amazing.

It’s in rough shape.  Some branches are falling off.  Some large limbs have had to be removed.  But it survived an ice storm.  And it’ll probably survive through much worse.

The Weeping Willow… makes me rich!

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Day 311 – New Little Sis

One night not too long ago, at a pub with friends, I met a very special young woman.  I found out she was in Ottawa on exchange… studying law… she looked young enough to still be figuring out her major and yet here she was all by her lonesome… far away from her family and friends back home in Australia.  Strong, shy, beautiful, fiesty.

We discovered we’re both dancers… her more than me… she’s still young and fit enough!

We discovered a shared love of theatre… particularly musical theatre.

We discovered that we can talk about just about anything… without censorship…without judgement.

And I discovered her exchange was to end this month.  In two days, she’s off on a trip around the USA to visit family, friends and Mickey Mouse.

We only got a chance to hang out twice, but I’m sad to see her go.

Today we visited the Arboretum.  Neither one of us had been.  Both strangers to the space.  Looking out at the canal like for the first time.   Totally peaceful.

Safe journey home Little Sis.  Everyone here who had the chance to meet you is a better person for it.

Day 310 – Caz (or how I gained a sibling)

For the first 18 years of my life, I was an only child and I was ok with that.

Sorry, that’s a lie.  There’s a lot about being an only child that I hated.  Lonely hours playing in my room with no one but Barbies and stuffed animals to keep me company…  Feeling like I didn’t have having anyone to talk to… Not having a sibbling to “have my back” at school.  Though, being an only child certainly had its perks.   Having my parents undivided attention… being spoiled… Paving my way without an older sibling screwing things up for me.

I’m not sure how old I was when I thought snooping in my Mom’s chest of drawers was a good idea.  I found a bunch of papers I couldn’t understand.  I mean, I could read (duh!) but there was stuff on there that just didn’t make sense.  Who was “Tina Joy Robillard”?  Robillard is my mother’s maiden name, but we didn’t have a Tina in the family.   I was confused… and kind of scared.  Scared enough that I actually told my Mom that I was snooping, because I desperately felt the need for her to explain to me what this was all about.

Long story short: My mother got pregnant while she was engaged  and very young.  The relationship didn’t pan out and they decided together that the best course of action was to give up the child for adoption.  Tina Joy was that baby.

So somewhere out there, I had a half-sister.  Part of me thought that was totally cool, but part of me felt incredibly sad… I could see the wave of emotions mom fought to control every year on my half-sister’s birthday.

Fast forward many years.  I’m 18 (or soon to be 18… the exact timeline is a blur.) Somehow, through the help of the Children’s Aid Society, my half-sister successfully got in touch with my mother and they decided to meet face to face.  The entire family experienced a mixed bag of emotions.  I mean, she could have been a freaking psycho, wanting to meet mom for the sole purpose of bitching her out and blaming her for ruining her life.   Or, she could be the ideal daughter, the one mom had been dreaming of for years, and I would all of a sudden get pushed aside.  (I know that seems ridiculous… but these are the crazy thoughts that go through your mind.)

So, while my mom met my sister (named Carolyn by her adoptive parents), my Dad took me stereo shopping as a distraction.  I was super happy to get a stereo, but the distraction part didn’t work.  We got a call from Mom saying that everything was ok, to come to my Grandmother’s house and meet Carolyn.  Honestly, it’s hard for me to describe the exact moment of meeting her.  I was nervous, scared, pissed, annoyed, envious… and kind of in love.  She looked sooooo much like mom.  And after a few minutes of talking, we discovered all three of us went to the same leadership camp in high school, that her and mom have the *exact same* handwriting, that all of us love to dance… the similarities went on and on.

So I had a half-sister… I mean, really.  I had a half-sister.  Wow… fucked up!

Months went by and we slowly started getting to know each other.    I learned about her love of travel (she’s got photos of herself doing handstands in front-or on- important monuments on every continent).  I learned that though she loved and adored her adoptive family, she felt the need to know more about where she came from.   So in early summer of my first (or was it second) year of university, only a year or two after meeting me, my half-sister asked me to move in with her.  Now you have got to understand, this was HUGE.  Carolyn lived in TORONTO!  To me, even though I’m relatively well-traveled, moving to Toronto even for a summer seemed amazing.

So with my parents’ blessing, I moved to Toronto for a couple of months.  Carolyn got me a job as a hostess at a restaurant on the corner of King and John in the theatre district.  I was in heaven.  We would work mostly nights, me hosting and chatting up theatregoers, her serving/managing a restaurant like a pro (which essentially she was!)  Within a few weeks, Carolyn got me serving a few lunch shifts and not long afterwards, she  and I would be taking care of 50 tables on the rooftop patio overlooking the CN tower… working together like we’d been doing it for years.

After our shift were done, we’d often go dancing.  I didn’t do much clubbing in Ottawa, so this was all new to me, but this was especially new to me because of the types of clubs we were going to.   My favorite was Babaluu, a latin joint that seemed positively magical to me.  Couples dancing everywhere!!!  I mean, people were dancing… together!  And switching partners!  And socializing with everyone!  I didn’t know a single salsa step when I first got there, but my half-sister started teaching me.  That didn’t last long.  You can’t be a relatively cute NOOB in a latin club without having a dozen guys wanting to “teach” you, and as Carolyn knew a lot of the people there, I learned how to  salsa, merengue and bachata with anyone in no time.  Still, my favorite partner was Carolyn.  She was so confident, so sexy, so talented… I felt cool when I was near her.

We lived in the same one bedroom apartment…

Slept in the same bed for weeks…

Got drunk together…

Yelled at Toronto pervs together…

Ate hot dogs late a night while walking home…

Biked to the beach and sunbathed…

And we talked and talked and talked.

Before I knew it, I didn’t have a half-sister.  I had a sister.  Full stop.

Carolyn (who goes by Caz now… a nickname I think she got from an Australian while on her travels) is one of my best friends.  She’s an amazing mom and an incredible woman.  She came into my life just at a time when I needed a strong role model.  Someone gutsy, intelligent, kind, generous, fearless, gentle and all around awesome.

So there you go.  Some of you wanted to hear it, and I never tire of telling it.

Caz… beauty and joy personified.

 

Caz and I posing in front of a picture of Mom at Upper Canada Playhouse

 

 

Day 309 – Memories, Short and Sweet

My parents took me and the girls to la “Cabane à sucre des Pins Verts” on Sunday.  If you try to google it, you’ll find many references *about* it, but not much on how to actually find the place.  It’s a fairly small family business owned by the Lavignes.   I’ve known these people since I was a kid as Richard Lavigne is one of my Dad’s longest (and bestest!) clients.

Being able to go to their sugar bush was beauty on so many levels.  My daughter AJ got to see how all the machines extracted the sap, watched how it went through the tubes into the adjacent building, saw it bubbling away in the large hot vats and finally come out as golden maple syrup.  (Ok, maybe I was a bit more excited than she was.  She became obsessed with the tricycles Richard took out within five minutes of getting there.)

While all the other customers were crowded in the larger dinning room, we were chilling out in the smaller room in the back with Richard, his two sons and his wife… laughing… reminiscing… joking… and ultimately fighting with Richard over him not letting us pay for anything.  The food was amazing, the company was fantastic… it felt like I was reconnecting with family again.

 

Richard and a young me - Circa 1986

Richard and mini-me AJ circa 2011

 

 

Day 308 – Tiny Dancer PART TWO (or What do you mean I’m fat?)

The High School Years:

My high school years were a particularly special brand of awkward and awesome.  I went to l’École secondaire de Plantagenet, the high school that looks like a large A&W off “la 17”.  I was never part of the “cool” crowd at school, but that didn’t stop me from being very involved in clubs (yearbook, “la patrouille”, student council… to name a few.)  By this point, I was taking step dancing lessons once or twice a week, and by the age of 16 I was also teaching intro to dance once a week to the cutest 4 year olds.  If I wasn’t taking/teaching lessons, I was rehearsing with Glen Productions, a Cornwall community theatre company that did two “cabaret” style shows and one musical a year.

The majority of my social life as a teenager was linked to dance and theatre.  I remember hearing my high school friends complain about how I was never free to hang out.  I wasn’t really interested in hanging out when it involved getting drunk or bicycling around the same small town streets over and over again.  Many of the people I met through the MacCulloch Dancers and the shows with the Glen are still my very good friends to this day.  And that’s not to say that I’m not in touch with my high school friends, or that I didn’t care about them. It’s just that, at that age, dance = freedom.  As long as my homework was done, getting good grades, and generally behaving, my parents let me do things other kids my age dreamed of.  Missing the occasional morning of school because I was up late for a dress rehearsal.  Drinking the odd coffee mixed with hot chocolate during choreography rehearsals.  Having your sweet 16 birthday party at the local pub… the same pub that would present me with my “usual” pint of coke when they saw me come in late at night post-rehearsal without my having to ask.  This same freedom took me to perform at Disney World when I was 16 and to Spain. (This link is a PDF of the late Mrs. Rae MacCulloch’s retelling of our trip.  You can find a pic of me looking like a geeky-teenager, and a pic of me dancing in a line on a gorgeous stage, on page 4.)  Going to Disney at 16, without my parents (gasp!) was such a blast, but Spain was amazingly memorable.  My mom couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come, though I was glad she came. I still remember her coming back to the hotel and finding me sitting at the bar drinking a screwdriver (because “vodka y naranja” was one of the few drinks I could say in spanish).  She didn’t bat an eyelash, knowing that I would be perfectly fine to perform the next day, which I was.

Dancing also gave me the opportunity to break out of my shy exterior and really connect with people.  It was never weird for me to two-step with my Dad in front of a large crowd during a ceilidh or jive with my grandma at a community centre.  It felt special, actually, because there was a whole other world I was a part of that wouldn’t feel comfortable with being this open.  That seemed sad to me, because some of the best moments of my life involve being in the arms of someone I love… dancing.

Near the end of high school, I performed in Sweet Charity and Crazy For You.  For your viewing pleasure, here are two of my favorite numbers from those shows. (Yes… I wore one of those pink tutus.  And I can’t tap nearly as well as the ladies in the video, but don’t underestimate my ability to sell it!)

I found out not too long after doing Crazy for You that my Dad used to sit in the audience and cry when he would watch me.  I guess I made him proud.

As fun as Crazy for You was, it was also a turning point for me.  I had applied to universities for entry into various arts-related departments (mostly English), but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I got the guts to ask the musical’s director (and professional that my community theatre troupe had hired, who shall remain nameless) if he thought I could make it as a dancer.  He said he thought I had talent, but that I’d have to lose at least 15 pounds if I wanted to truly be successful.  One one hand, I couldn’t disagree with him.  I was (and still am… duh) only 5’2″ and was around 125 pounds at the time.  I didn’t have height on my side, so I’d have to certainly be a proper “petite” to really make it.  On the other hand, my fragile teenage ego wanted to punch him in the junk.  How dare he burst my freaking bubble like that?

So I never went to dance school.  I never became a dancer.  But…

The University Years:

In my first term of university, I went from being an English major, to be being an English Major with a Theatre Minor to being a Theatre Major with an English Minor.  My parents were not impressed.  I owe much of this change to the amazing Claire Faubert. She was my first year intro to theatre teacher that, after seeing me direct a small scene from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, offered me the opportunity to do the choreography for the final number of her Comédie des deux rives show La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets.  Just a few months before, someone said they wouldn’t give me a chance because of 15 pounds, and this person put the final moments of her show in my hands on sheer faith.  I never forgot that gesture… and never, ever will.

I eventually graduated from U of O with my Honours in Theatre, Concentration and English and went on to be one of first two graduates from the MFA in Directing for the theatre program.   Though my focus has changed to directing, movement is intrinsically linked to everything I do directorially.  I’ve been taught by Daniel Mroz and Peter Ryan.   I’ve watched as much theatre and dance as I can.  Two major influences are Fosse (if you haven’t been able to tell already!) and Pina Bausch.

The dance obsession that came latest in life for me was through my half-sister… but I’m tempted to leave that sweet story for its own blog post.

So that’s it.  Dance is freedom.  Dance is love.  Dance is touching, feeling and making connections.  Dance is saying everything you can’t say with words.  These days, the most I dance is with my toddlers in the kitchen.  But every once and a while I put on a movie, like the one below, and start mapping out the choreo… thinking “One day I will perform this.”

One day.