The people, the music, the potato skins.

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Two smiling faces greeted us next to baggage claim, and we soon found ourselves pulled into hugs, talking about time spent apart, how the days between when we'd seen each other last and then had been. It was late, and the day of travelling had been long and fraught with delays, miscommunications, and turbulence, but it felt good to be back home. Back in Victoria.

No, you didn't read that wrong. I said Victoria, and I meant Victoria. Victoria is where home is.

Our friends, Pete and Kim, picked us up from the airport very late at night when Brad and I arrived home from our trip to Halifax for the holidays. It was so wonderful to see friendly faces after an absolutely bananas day of travelling, and comforting to be back in our city. The four of us talked of our Christmas holidays as they drove us to our home, and while some of the tales were bittersweet (my last Christmas in the house that I grew up in, Brad's grandparents not doing so fantastically health wise) it felt so good to be home.

Since I moved to Victoria two years ago, I've still thought of Halifax as home. That's where I was born and raised, that's where the majority of my family and a lot of my friends are, that's where I had a life for twenty-eight years. But after this particular trip to Halifax, I realized that it's not really my home anymore. Yes, it's still a wonderful place, yes, it's I was born and grew up, made a lot of memories with a lot of people that I care about, but it's not home.

While I was in Halifax, I missed Victoria a lot. I missed my friends here, I missed my home and bed, I missed the places that I go, I missed my life. Two weeks is a long time to basically put your life on hold. And while we were happy to do it, and happy to see friends and family and spend the holidays with them, something was nagging on me the entire time.

Brad and I didn't have a whole lot of time to ourselves. Most of our time was spent with family and a few outings with friends. And though we didn't run ourselves stupid like we did last year, we managed only one day where we went into Halifax proper to check out some of our old stomping grounds. During that time, I realized that I didn't really miss Halifax all that much. There were a lot of things about being there that bothered me - the state of the downtown core, the transit, the fact that so many of my friends are struggling to find work, or struggling in the work that they currently do. Quite frankly, being in Halifax for the holidays broke my heart a little. Had it always been like this and I'd just never realized? Had I become one of those people who went away and came back only to scoff at how different it all is? I think it's far to say, it's probably a bit of both. I never wanted to be one of those people who left and changed their attitude on the place that they grew up, but there's a reason that it happens. It would be foolish to assume that living somewhere else for a little bit wouldn't change someone's perspective. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it just shifts the way you think about your hometown - you look at it through different eyes. Sometimes you need to.

That's not to say that we didn't have fun the two weeks that we were in Halifax. My goodness, we had a blast! We spent a lot of time with our families, something that we didn't do much of last year because we were running around trying to see everyone. We took a more relaxed approach this year, and it paid off. We had nights out with some of our best friends, we went to a hockey game, we got to watch the nephew open gifts only to be more enthralled with the tissue paper, got to see some snow, and relaxed a lot. It was a wonderful holiday, and everything that I could've wanted.

Halifax had served its purpose in my life. And while I'll never say never, I don't see myself living there again anytime soon. I used to entertain the idea of it, but now I really can't see it happening. Aside from friends and family, there's not much there for me anymore. And there will soon be even less, with my parents and sister moving to PEI this coming summer.

I've felt ever since I moved to Victoria, that I fit in better here. Though I definitely feel like an East Coast girl most of the time (especially when West Coasters make fun of how I pronounce "bar"), I feel like right now in my life, Victoria is where I belong. Any place ends up being what you make of it, and almost despite myself, I've made Victoria home these past two years.

I miss the people, the music, and the potato skins, but I don't necessarily miss Halifax. I didn't cry at the airport when saying goodbye to my parents as we got in line for security. Though I chalk most of this up to the fact that I was far too stressed to be sad (the airport was an absolutely gong show that morning and we spent an hour in a line to confirm our booking after it had been changed that morning). I haven't had a massive bout of homesickness like I did this time last year, where I fell into a depressive episode and struggled to feel like myself again. I don't suspect that I will this year. The novelty of Halifax has worn off for me. And though I still miss my family and friends deeply, I am so excited for the life that I have in my new home.

I always worried that anywhere I lived other than Halifax would never quite feel right, or feel like home. But now I realize that any place is what you make of it, and I've made Victoria my home, so that's how it feels. It feels right here. It feels like home.

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Simply having a wonderful Christmastime!

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Just a quick post to wish you all a Merry Christmas! Brad and I are currently back in our hometown, and have been for about a week already, celebrating the holidays with family and friends that we've not seen for a year. It's been a very hectic and very wonderful time down on the East Coast! We've been relying on public transit, and as a result, one of my resolutions for 2015 is to get my licence, so that we can rent a car when we're in town next year. But I wouldn't change our time here at all - I've felt so incredibly loved by everyone I know since we arrived. We've had to turn down some plans, simply because there isn't enough time. We really need to come and visit for a month next year just so we can get so much more visiting in!

I am not at all ashamed to admit that I cried when I finally got to hug my Mum and Dad for the first time since January. There are a lot of things that don't really bother me about being on the other side of the country, but not getting to spend time with my parents and my sister is one of the things that just really guts me sometimes. My family and I are really close, and sometimes there is nothing that I want more than a hug from my Mum or Dad. And my first Christmas without Carmen has been especially difficult. I've broken down a few times. Even though I knew she wouldn't be here, experiencing it has been something else entirely.

Anyway, this wasn't meant to be a sappy post, that will possibly come later when I get around to updating once we're home after the holidays!

I hope that you're having the most wonderful of times, regardless of what you celebrate, spent with family, friends, and those close to you! Merry Christmas!

Carmen.

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As most of you probably know, I'm a lover of animals, especially dogs. To the point where if I see a dog while I'm out walking and see a dog, I will say "Dog!" or "Puppy!" I'm like a small child in this regard. Not even sorry. Dogs are awesome. If the dog is close enough, sometimes I'll go make friends. Few things give me greater joy than being in the presence of dogs.

There is no dog that I've loved more than our family dog, Carmen. A collie-husky mix who possessed the greatest personality that an animal - even a person - ever could.

Writing in the past tense is still difficult, new, and strange for me. Two weeks ago, my family made the difficult decision to ensure that Carmen didn't suffer any more than she already had after a terminal cancer diagnosis, and had her put to sleep. In the weeks previous to her diagnosis, she began to have difficulty getting up the stairs, but my parents attributed this to age - she would've been thirteen in August. But the week before her appointment with the vet she wasn't eating her food, and when she did, she would throw it up a little while later. My mum made an appointment for her to see the vet on Friday, and after some tests were done, the diagnosis was cancer in both her spleen and pancreas. The spleen could be removed, but not the pancreas. She had a couple of months at the most, and those months would begin to get very painful for her, with a very strong risk of the tumor rupturing. Though the most difficult decision, my parents made the right one, not wanting her to suffer, or being in any pain.

It was made all the more difficult for me, being on the opposite side of the country, with no way to truly say goodbye to her. I asked my parents to give her all kinds of hugs and kisses from me, to feed her some toast crusts (it was one of the few people foods I gave her), and let her know that I loved her.

Our goodbye was tearful enough when I left my parents' house before going to the airport at the end of January. I nuzzled the top of her head, and she licked my face. I told her to be a good girl, and that I would see her in couple of months. There was no way of knowing then what we found out this week, but had I known, I would've taken a bit more time with her. Although, looking back on it now, there was a small part of me that almost knew that I would never see her again - she was getting old. But had I known, really truly known, I would've spent as much time with her as I could before leaving and boarding that plane.

I've done a lot of crying since that Friday when my folks called me. Carmen was my fluffy baby girl. I'll be fine one moment, and just burst into tears. I find when I tell funny stories about her, or things she did that made me happy, I feel a lot better. So, I'm going to do that now.

We got her when she was just a three month old puppy from the local SPCA. She and her sister had been left in a cardboard box on the side of the road. Our family had been discussing getting a dog for a couple of months - we'd had to put our first dog, Blizzard, to sleep, early in the summer. We had a list of names that we were considering for a new puppy - Carmen and Sasha were on the top of the list. One day, upon arriving at the shelter, we caught sight of Carmen and her sister. The name on Carmen's cage was the sign that she was going to be ours - "Carmen." But really, we didn't choose her, she chose us. She wriggled her way into our laps, and our hearts. There was no scenario in which she wasn't coming home with us.

Carmen, as a puppy, was a rambunctious little shit who liked to get into things that she wasn't supposed to, and had a tendency to run off when she realized she wasn't on a leash. On her second day with us she almost got run over by a dump truck because she darted out into the street, and seemed to not at all realize the danger she was in, despite the truck backing up, and us screaming for her to come back. We realized then that she wasn't the kind of dog you could just leave unattended in the yard, she needed to be tied up or left on the back deck, where we ended up installing a baby gate. She never really destroyed anything, but she liked to drag things that didn't belong to her into the living room and mouth on them - particularly shoes and my little sister's stuffed animals. She eventually grew out of those habits, thankfully! We tried putting her in the kitchen and putting a table across the doorway, but she jumped over it! Carmen was very crafty, and often figured out ways to get out of places where we were trying to keep her, or into things and places we were trying to keep her away from. Crating her when we went out didn't work, because she either escaped or panicked and drooled all over the place. Poor thing!

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Even as she got older, she had a tendency to get up to no good. She frequently got into the garbage - but never really ate anything, merely tracked it all over the house. Even in her later years she seemed to continue to do this once in a while, more as an act of defiance, punishment for my parents for leaving her alone while they went out shopping or something. I thought it was funny, and smacked of "Fuck all ya'll." Mind you, I didn't have to clean it up. She also once ate an entire loaf of banana bread, plastic wrap and all. And there was the Muffin Incident, when she climbed onto a table while we were out, and ate an abundance of oatmeal muffins. Problem was, she then couldn't get down from the table. We came from wherever we were, to find her standing on the table, standing almost completely still. I'm sure she was afraid, but it was pretty funny from our perspective. I think there's a video of it somewhere. We felt badly though because we didn't know how long she'd been up on that table - since right after we left or shortly before we got home? It remains a mystery!

But Carmen was so much more than a dog who got into things that she shouldn't. She was very affectionate, wanting to practically be in your pocket if she could. She would often cuddle with me on the couch (even if she wasn't supposed to be on the furniture). Any time I stayed over at my parents', she slept with me in my bed, and when I still lived at home, she often hung out with me in my room if that's where I was. I was one of the few people who let her up on furniture, you see, and she seemed to really like it. What dog doesn't? She would know when I was sick, and come and rest her head on my lap if nothing else. She knew that I liked being comforted. Funnily enough, she was the first member of my family I told that I was moving to Victoria. I went to my parents house to do laundry, to find them gone. Carmen was there, though. I burst into tears and began petting her. She sat down on the floor and I sat beside her. She leaned against me and rested her head on my chest, and just let me pet her and kiss her as I bawled my eyes out. Carmen was the absolute best at comforting me when I was feeling down.

She was so smart, and easy to train. She proved the saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks was wrong, picking up new tricks in the last few years of her life. Carmen also trained us in a lot ways, thinking up ways to get treats. She did this thing where she would spin around in circles and bark, and when she did that you needed to give her a treat. It started off as trying to teach her something, and she was quite good at it! But if you were standing, not really do anything, she would just start spinning and barking, basically saying "Look! I'm doing the thing! Give me a treat!" Most of the time, we would. And any time you'd start getting ready to take her for a walk, once you put her leash on, she would pick it up and walk herself around the house, tailing wagging non-stop.

When I moved out of my parents' house, I would often come home on Sundays - save for if I was away, or some other sort of circumstance. Carmen used to wait for me, yet only on Sundays. She knew that was the day I came home. She would start "waiting" about an hour before I usually arrived, going to the window and looking out it, laying down on top of the stairs, looking at the door. And every single day she would bark and run down the stairs as I opened the door, wagging her tail so fast that it looked like it send her into orbit, and then start doing laps around the house, until I sat down on the floor with her and petted her to her satisfaction.

I miss her so deeply, it feels like a part of my heart is gone now that she is no longer here. I've missed her so much since I moved out to Victoria, and have had my father send my lots of pictures of her. The last one was from that Friday night, after my parents brought her home. She looks comfortable, relaxed, content, enjoying being spoiled by those that she loved, and who loved her. Exactly how I want to remember her. I don't at all want to think about the actual process - but my father did tell me that it was peaceful, that she just closed her eyes and went to sleep. That's the best I could've asked for - not in any pain, with those she loved and who loved her with her, telling her how good she was, how loved she was.

I could write a novel on Carmen and how wonderful, sweet, and intelligent she was. She enriched my life by being in it, for however short a time. I know that I'll love other dogs, but there will never be another like Carmen. I wouldn't want there to be. She was one in a million, and I'm so glad that she was mine, and that I was hers.

carmen3Carmen Sasha August 4, 2001 - June 21, 2014