Fifty years in the making

On September 4th, 2015, my mom and dad celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Doug and Jane wedding photo
September 4, 1965

To mark the occasion, we had a small garden party in their backyard. It was a day full of memories and laughter, summer flowers and colourful decorations, videos and old photographs, a pretty cake and special toasts, and a board of fancy tea sandwiches.
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Here is the clan. We were short two to be our full group, but everyone that could be was there.
photoI was “nominated” by my siblings to welcome people and make a toast on behalf of the immediate family. I had practiced all week and I knew what I wanted to say, but when the time came, what emerged was more nerves and emotion than the toast I had planned.
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If I was to try again and give words to what my parents’ 50 years means to me, here is what I would share:

Having been around for many of those 50 years, I have come to understand that 50 years of anything is a really long time. Yet, when you get to that point and look back, you can’t imagine that so much time has passed so quickly.

Planning the party, I realized I didn’t know as much about my parents’ wedding day as I would have liked. Between my mom, and her friend Dorothy, I learned a few things along the way.

The wedding was a fun day. My mom and her friend Dorothy, the maid of honour, made their dresses and their hats. With my mom’s nod, Dorothy also credits herself with setting up the first date, convincing my dad to ask my mom to house party when they were 16. In Dorothy’s words, “they were an item ever since,” and that was 56 years ago, four children and nine grandchildren later.

This journey started when they were young (younger really than they wanted to tell us when we were that age). From it was built a family (four kids) in the space of 10 years, along with life in a small Ottawa-valley town, an African village, at the cottage on the lake, and later in a city we learned to call home.

With many happy, fun-filled days also came those days that test you to the core. With the party guests in mind, it occurred to me that many other couples and families could tell a similar story.

Yet, from this life experience, I have come to know and admire this group’s sense of wisdom and their appreciation of friendship and being there for one another. Hearing the jokes and the “remember when” stories, I hoped that the party memories created for my own children that day, and for my nieces and nephews, involved a glimpse into the full life of their grandparents and a sense of the value of lasting relationships with family and friends.
Bells-72I hope the photos give you an idea of the celebration of the day:
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Happy anniversary mom and dad! We wish you good health, much happiness and many more years to come!

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Italy, the highlights

The Sharmas took to the skies this summer and together we spent 11 days touring Tuscany and Rome. We fell in love with Italy, and, of course, have dreams of returning. The best part of the whole trip, and what I hope is captured in these photos, is how relaxing and revitalizing it was to take time away and spend it together, drinking coffee, sipping wine and (usually) laughing at the day’s adventures.

Each day is remembered by where we ate gelato, the kinds we each had, and who scored the best pasta of the day. A few days in, everyone’s favourites became clear: for Vikas I think it was driving the switchbacks of Tuscan roads; Sarah loved the regional wines and finding great restaurants each place we visited; Kevin, surrounded by his crew, ate more pasta than he could have ever imagined; and Scott was thrilled to ride a bike all over the grounds at La Campagna and win the Yaniv card tournament (beating his sister by one game) we played each night. Although my cappuccinos were near the top of the list, my very favourite moments came wherever we happened to be, and I could hear my children and husband laughing out loud at whatever seemed to be funny.

Waiting for the restaurant to open one evening, we sat in this quiet nook, looking down on a Tuscan valley, listening to Vikas contemplate the local traffic, as the Italian nonnas came out to cool down and have an evening visit.

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Spectacular scenery aside, Kevin is happiest when he has his crew.IMG_0432

A bench setting seems to makes us smile. Didn’t think of it until now, but somehow it supports the family trend.IMG_0448

Same place, different bench showing off three pretty grown-up children we are lucky to call our own.IMG_0424

After many nights of a beautiful day’s end, I wondered if the locals ever tire of the view. Somehow, I think not.IMG_0451

Thanks Hither and Thither for your recommendation to visit Osteri il Grattaciello in Siena. Probably our most authentic Italian meal, Sarah knew it was the perfect place to enjoy a local lunch.IMG_0355

With the sparkle in his eye, I think that Vikas learned that every vacation should include wine at lunch!IMG_0353

Rome will be remembered for its beautiful fountains and photo settings, enjoyed by us as backdrops for photographs and to refill our water bottles (and the occasional splashing at the less busy spots); exactly what was needed in the 39 degree heat.IMG_0842

In my mind, Italy should be filled with colourful geraniums, and it lived up to my expectations.IMG_0245

The historical Rome became known fondly as the “Mr. Russell trip,” Scott’s history teacher who inspired in him a love of learning about days long past. Caught here is Scott’s pure joy as he experiences the Pantheon for the first time.

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To say that I loved the the wrought iron window covers and balconies is a bit of an understatement.IMG_0242Hot chocolate here as a change of pace from the days of having your very first grown-up cappuccinos.IMG_0741

We had to ask. Tourists seem to love it: the granita or Italian equivalent of whipped cream for breakfast, I mean iced coffee.IMG_0825

Sibling love, day after day, I’m not sure I could ever get enough of it, here…IMG_0237

and here…IMG_0819

and here!IMG_0881

Thanks Italy!

A Laughing Party

Last Thursday Kevin turned 18…a milestone.

Kevin anticipates his birthday like no one else I know. He blows out pretend candles for an entire week before the day, wakes up several hours earlier for many days ahead, plays the birthday song on his iPad in case we might forget, and hauls out every photo he can find to check out who he will see.

Maybe it is the fatigue from the hype and the preparations that set in, but for me there is usually  a “what if”part of the day. It can catch me off guard because I don’t tend to think in “what if” terms about Kevin, but on his birthday I wonder. What if Kevin could talk, could read, could write? If he had gone away to school this fall like many other kids his age, where would he go, what would he study, how would he act?  Would he play hockey or basketball or ride the horses that he loves so much?

Eighteen brings about a whole new category of wondering and thinking about how to plan for the future, so much so that I felt like Kevin turning 18 would mean many mixed emotions for me.

The lead up to the big day started with a celebration at the cottage. Kevin entertained us all with his belly laugh as he was surrounded by his favorites: grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins; horse magazines, chips and dip, tomato sauce and pasta; good food and cake with lots of candles that you blow out four or five times.

The New York celebration began at a school with a classroom party with cupcakes baked at school from Cafe Rebecca. The weekend party had us all scavenging through Carl Schurz Park counting the park benches, visiting Peter Pan, and finding the jogger who would kindly pose for a photograph so we could check that last box on the list. More cake and more candles were blown out with the help of friends and family.

Attending the Autism-friendly performance of the Lion King on Sunday was a perfect end to the weekend. Kevin loved the rhino, elephants and birds as they walked down the aisles. I loved that he could share the occasion of a theatre production with his brother, cousins and Grandma.

Thomas, a friend of Kevin’s, often remarks in the middle of a gathering that we are having a LAUGHING PARTY. It has become a favorite expression because it tells me that not all parties are laughing ones and they should be. From such simple words, I am reminded to enjoy the simple pleasures of a laughing party.

Kevin’s month-long birthday was a laughing party beginning to end. I wondered about none of the things I expected. Instead, I thought of where we’d be without Kevin’s goofy sense of humor and his love-of-life laugh. I felt thankful for the support we count on from family and friends and his team that challenges him at school. As it often does, what crossed my mind is when I came to realize that from this world of disabilities emerges a group of people with amazing spirit, determination, perseverance and ability. With many more actions than words, Kevin draws us all in because there are many more very important laughing parties to plan.

Happy Birthday Kevin!

Out the Back Door

The odd red maple tree branch peeking out of the trees at the cottage tells me that summer is almost over. Today is the last day. Despite a last summer project that involved painting the Canadian flag on the floating dock, there is no denying the fact that today is clean-up day. Our summer this year has been full of cottage time, New York parks and adventures, visitors and family, and making the most of having Sarah and Matt with us for three months that came and went so quickly.

At the cottage, one of the constant sounds is the endless slap, slap, SLAP of the screen door as each of us go in and out at least 50 times a day. When we lived in Manor Park, the in-and-out pattern was no different. Now that we live in an apartment in New York, I realize popping out the back door is a way of life for us and probably for most Canadians.
Besides summer’s end, this post marks the end of our first year living in New York City. If I was to think back on some of my observations about it, I would comment that certain ways of life for New Yorkers hit me out of the blue. As I try to take in this unique way of living, there are certain “I get in now” moments.

Working at home for the past year, I often get up from my desk to stretch and look out one of the windows of our apartment. What I usually see on our block is doormen hailing cabs, and people walking their dogs, taking kids to the park, carrying takeout to eat lunch at the park, with chairs, towels and books. It all looks completely effortless, so much so that I finally realized that the ease of this activity comes with it being a way of life. For New Yorkers, going to the park is our equivalent of popping out the back door. Because most New Yorkers, including us, live in apartments, all the beautiful parks around the city become everyone’s back yard. These parks are enjoyed by millions in a way I wouldn’t have understood before living there.

With Sarah and Matt, Kevin and Scott, we spent our fair share of time in the park this summer. Nobody logs more hours in our “own” backyard, Carl Schurz park, as Kevin. Besides loving to see the tug boats, the kids and dogs playing, this summer he enjoyed arts and crafts and music programs. While we missed the outdoor movie (one of my defining New York scenes from a movie), I liked hearing the big band and our friends commented on the hearing the jazz ensemble as they headed out one day.

Our Central Park memories include walking through the park and around the reservoir, talking a break on the Great Lawn while watching a random baseball game and Sarah and Matt in running races. Around us sat a group of teens hanging out and what seemed like thousands of people throwing balls and frisbees and having picnics. A blast from the past one day included a stop at an ad-hoc roller derby rink on a very hot day, where some of the moves were impressive and others were just part of the fun.

Another nice memory came on the day we all walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and then relaxed in the park on the other side. After the mandatory lounge on the soft green grass under the bridge, Kevin and Scott had a ride on the carousel and we all loved the ferry back to Manhattan.

As we trek back to NYC tomorrow after we drop Sarah off in Kingston, the happy summer 2012 memories  and photos will have to last us until next time. It’s a Sharmed life…!

True North Strong and Free

Having spent most of July in the Big Apple, it was a welcome escape this week to get to the cottage deep in the forest of the Ottawa Valley. For my family growing up and for my husband and kids, the cottage is a biggest part of what defines summer.

As we pack our bags to head back to New York, I am smiling at the thought of some favorite “only at the cottage moments.” This week’s reminders took place early in the morning when the thick mist lifted from the lake, late at night as I was falling asleep and could hear the raindrops on the tin roof, in the all-about-life chatter first thing in the morning that stops abruptly when people turn to their books to finish a chapter, as the wind meandered through the trees while I was sitting on the swing and with the buzz of the hummingbirds as they drop by the feeders.
I’m not sure whether everyone realizes it yet, but the days of NO TV at the COTTAGE are long gone. This week, among 18 of us, there are 3 iPads, 5 iPods and 4 laptop computers. There were more Olympics watched here this year than ever before. Peak usage came when the Canada vs. US Women’s soccer game was streamed on three different devices. Funniest thing was that none of the streams were at the same point in the game, so the cheering and yelling was a little off. All of the cousins were surprised how clearly we could see and hear Sarah from India. It was almost as clear as the 100-metre final that all 25 of us gathered and missed as we were watching TSN instead of CTV. Not to worry though, we heard the results after they were posted to someone’s Facebook and we watched the replay 30 seconds later.
The dogs got into the action too. With a cottage full of young new dogs this year, there was the odd tussle to determine the top dog, but the two-year-old little girl, Brynn, was the most dominant as she persuaded the dogs to go down the playground slide.
The major project this year paid homage to the swings. Three now instead of two, the swings sport a new wood frame and they are flanked by a spiffy stone patio. The prominence of this renovated area was shown when the ritual cigar-smoking was held there to replace the usual around-the-fire life-as-we-know-it event.
All in all, here’s how it went…with Sarah not here, Julie has the best tan and I am well on the way to winning the cribbage tournament. Kate waterskied for the first time, Matthew and Teddy learned to play Euchre, and Scott, Adam, Gabe and Vikas learned how to play LOUD Monopoly. Mom read the most books and played enough games of UNO for all of us. Heather learned the most from reading “informative” magazines.  Brynn was the dancing pink princess in the middle of a room with an audience of many.
Karen watched and read enough articles about the Olympics for all of us and she and Scott kept us up to date. Dad after all these years has earned the right to be the last out of bed, never too late to feed the dogs though. Matthew, Connor, Scott, Adam and Gabe tubed for hours on end around and around, always with someone different winning the day. Kevin went tubing too and even fell in, but he is still the best boat spotter there is. Vikas and Julie were the adults that went wakeboarding, proving that the adults can do anything that the kids can do.
Steven and Julie led the hikes in the woods, and I climbed up the steepest hill of my life! Gabe led the pack for eating sugary cereal and the year’s quota was more than consumed. We learned this morning that Brynn can ALMOST pour her own milk and Gabe finds this hilarious. Steven and Todd were the barbequers supreme with Todd cooking the beef for the PIG ROAST (a long story) and Steven taking on the day-to-day meals for 20.
One of the highlights of the week was our lunch at Taste Funatic in Calabogie, an event that reminded us to savour the deliciousness of basic ingredients in food, in life and with family. It is A Sharmed Life!

Occupy Upper East Side!

Every day I meet Scott (our 9-year old) at his school and we walk home together. In that 15-to-20 minute walk, I hear about his day, what homework he has, marks from any tests, what he had for lunch…the usual all-in-a-day stuff. Thursday, when I picked him up though, Scott was bubbling over.

Thursday is swimming day at Scott’s school. All the grade four students pile onto the bus and head off to Asphalt Green, the community recreation centre, where they take swimming lessons as part of their gym program. No surprise that Thursday after school often begins with, “How was swimming today?” Expecting Scott to answer “good” or “fine,” it took me by surprise when it launched an all-the-way home discussion.

After telling me that swimming had been cancelled, Scott couldn’t talk fast enough to tell me why! He had happened to hear one of his teacher’s say that it was cancelled because of the protest at Asphalt Green. He assured me that it was a silent protest (he meant peaceful) and no one was yelling and getting hauled off into police cars.

Asphalt Green (and our apartment building) is located  next to the East River. The City of New York has proposed to set up a garbage depot near Asphalt Green. Trucks would bring garbage to the depot near Asphalt Green, where it wold be loaded onto the barges and then transported to a landfill. Tonnes of garbage would float up and down the East River, the sight of which would be admired by the many who enjoy Carl Shurz Park (the park outside our front door). The garbage trucks would be housed at the depot near the recreation complex. It would be “A FUTURE OF MISERY,” said Scott.

Scott was very worked up to tell me about the issues associated with such insanity (as opposed to Lin-sanity that is gripping New York)! Our neighbourhood would smell badly and the kids playing on the soccer field at Asphalt Green would have to worry about rats and flies. (Given New York’s rat problem, I nodded my head.) The garbage that would fall from the flat-bed barges would pollute the river. Big garbage trucks would be a constant feature in the neighbourhood.

When there was a moment to speak, I asked Scott how he knew about the garbage proposal. As it turns out, one of Scott’s teachers lives right across the street from Asphalt Green. (She was the teacher for whom Scott made a Valentine card in class while telling her he was making it for me). According to Scott, she had written a letter (the most powerful piece of persuasive writing he had ever read) describing the pitfalls of the garbage proposal.

As I was appreciating the link between an issue and Scott’s education, not to mention trying not to laugh all the way home, I realized that moments like this one had to be one of the ways people become protesters (activists as Vikas prefers to call them). In the fall, as we were learning about the city and what it had to offer, I often wondered about the world of protesters as I watched Occupy Wall Street unravel. It was widely reported that at its core, Occupy Wall Street was formed by a group of “professional” protesters.

Until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that learning about issues through the eyes of protesting would be a part of Scott’s unique New York experience, but there it was. I feel like his outrage for the idea of a floating garbage parade is partly because he is nine-years old, but also to do with being in a particular time and place at a time.

Funny enough, I was at Asphalt Green today as the protesters were gathering. Contrary to the unruly protesting crowd that Scott pictured, the protesters were mostly seniors, community people, it seemed, who had probably lived in the neighbourhood for years. They came with their friends, their husbands and wives and most of them brought their umbrellas (instead of the bats Scott imagined). No one was yelling or standing on a podium talking into a microphone. There were no banners and the television camera that was there, was filming from across the street. It was a peaceful gathering with a purpose.

The “Sharmed Life” part is the reminder that even though Scott proudly teaches his friends and teachers about Canada and Ottawa and what it means to be from there, the New York seeds have been planted and they are germinating!

P.S., Scott checks online for any updates to the protest every morning. Fingers crossed that the garbage project will not happen.

A Right of Passage…Floods of 2012

We live in a pre-war apartment. I’ve come to know that to mean nice wood floors, spacious rooms, large foyers, high ceilings, thick sculpted mouldings, and last, and no longer least…old pipes. The pipes in our building are of the 1928 variety. They are old pipes…and until last week, they had stood up.

Taking it all in at the Sharmas means going with the flow as different events unfold around us, as they do. It should have come as no surprise that the day after Vikas installed the chandelier (as Scott calls it), also fondly known as the light above the dining room table, the floods of 2012 were upon us.

I was in the middle of something at work, when I heard water pouring. No big deal, the water had been off all morning and it sounded like the tub tap was running. I took a couple of minutes, finished up what I was doing and then went to turn the tap off. There was water pouring out of the ceiling light (chandelier) in Kevin’s room….buckets and buckets of water.

In hindsight, I did think that if I was a serious blogger, I would have grabbed my camera and snapped a quick photo, but I’m not there yet. Instead, I threw a bin under the water (be thankful Vikas that we have one or two empty bins around in case of an emergency), and ran downstairs to tell the doorman that we had a serious water situation going on in our apartment. I ran back upstairs (i.e., hop in the elevator, wait for the doorman to push the button and ride to the sixth floor), walk into the apartment and for whatever reason, head to my bedroom, where, wow, there was hot water pouring from the closet and soaking every piece of clothing we own. I threw a blanket over our duvet and started pulling all the clothes out of our closet. The water poured out of the ceiling much longer than it took to yank all the clothes out of the closet. As I was furiously trashing my room, don’t think it didn’t occur to me that I could count the number of weeks since the last box had been unpacked and things were put away.

Stuff, life stuff, just seems to happen to us. For the most part, we look to find the humor in a situation. Given a little time to reframe, these occasions become famous family stories that help define our journey. People will smile and perhaps even laugh to think of the sod story, the moving-day chicken pox story, the barfing plane ride from Caracas to Ottawa story, and others. I promise you, the Sharmas go to New York sequel won’t be dull.

If I’m honest, I could see the humor in the flood right after it happened more than I do now. Being mid repair with workers in and out all day as they bring in yet another machine to dry out the walls, is a bit of an exercise in patience on my part. When I feel a little meltdown coming on, I remind myself that I hate mould and mildew more than anything, and then the moment passes.

Oh yah, did I tell you that I’ve wanted to live in a brand new house for a long time? But it’s always the “sharm” of the older ones that seems to get me.

Every single New York day so far, I learn something new. Today it was all about plaster. Yes, it’s a Sharmed Life!