Monday, 8 October 2012

Good-bye, God bless, and Thanks for reading

After 27 hours on a train, 3 hours spent in train stations running to connecting trains, and an hour car ride I am finally home. The word and the concept seem too strange to me. I am home. On the train about half way between Kingston and Toronto and I was looking out the window and I didn’t see the ocean and I felt sick to my stomach. I suddenly wanted to run back to the Island as fast I could, but that thought made me even more sick to my stomach. What am I thinking? I am home! I am so excited to be here, to be on the mainland, to firmly plant my feet on ground that is as familiar to me as my own heart beat.

The train ride home was long, at some points uncomfortable, but beautiful and filled with angels. The train ride from Moncton to Montreal was the longest, it was an over night 16 hour journey through beautiful New Brunswick and Quebec. I boarded the Ocean Line Via Rail Train just before dinner and found two empty seats by the window, I plunked down and made myself comfortable. When the ticket master came around to check my ticket she asked how I was and I excitedly told her that this was my first train ride. She was thrilled to have such a novice rail way traveler and hoped I was comfortable and assured me that if there was anything I needed she would see to it that I got it. Lucky for them I am pretty content to just stare out the window and look at the landscape roll by.

It was a beautiful train ride home. The autumn foliage was well under way on the mainland and the sunlight ignited the trees making them burst in flaming radiance. As we rhythmically rolled deeper into the land I saw small ponds, beaver damns, vast meadows, a wealth of forests and plenty of fields ready for harvest to make me crave a good old fashioned pumpkin pie with cinnamon whipped cream. My favourite sites along the ride were the little streams and rivers that hugged the banks of the tracks. Along their edges they were home to dozens of dandelions and when the train whooshed by it sent the dandelion fluffs into the wind and they swirled and danced past my window like fairies.

When the last call for dinner was announced I decided to go for a stroll and see what the dinning car was all about. I wanted to have the full experience of the train and that included eating train food. As I slowly walked into the dinning car I wasn’t quite sure where to sit, I caught the attention of a spunky gentleman waiter and with a twinkle in his eye he made up some story that the available seats were reserved. He then sat me down at a table for two where a young man, about my age, was sitting. It was clear that the gentleman was trying to set the young man and myself up, and I just smiled to myself. I sat across from the young man who had already ordered himself a glass of wine and dinner and introduced myself. I found out his name was Justin, that he was a student at Dalhousie University studying business, he was in his last year, and has plans to go to law school in his hometown of Montreal after graduation. Conversation between us was easy and fun, we chatted about regular life things relevant to our age like coffee, the need for more local food buying, and a desire for a more tangible and attentive government. We made comparisons and contrasts between life on the east coast and life on the mainland and found we had a lot in common on our views and what we would miss on the east and what we looked forward to at home. Now I know what ya’ll are thinking, that my life is a movie and I have fallen in love with Mr. Dalhousie and that our romance started on a train set up by a spunky waiter. I hate to disappoint but our “romance” didn’t blossom any further than our combined love and appreciation for delicious coffee and dessert. Having great company though is always a pleasure and it’s fun to make new friends even if I only know them for 16 hours. The dinning car menu promised divine meals like chowder, fish, chicken and steak dinners, the works. But a train only has so much food for so many passengers and I was one of the last ones to partake so I was brought chowder, a chicken salad sandwich, and a piping hot white roll. The meal was simple and delicious and I enjoyed all of it, for dessert the waitor brought us cheesecake and coffee. It was a wonderful dinning experience.

After dinner, Mr. Dalhousie returned to his laptop where he typed furiously away at homework. I curled up in my make shift nest and read a book until my eye lids closed and I succumbed to sleep. The concept of sleep, however, was fleeting. I was very uncomfortable and caught an hour here or there before I finally decided to abandon my seat and curl up on the floor where there was more room for me to sprawl. With my ear pressed to the floor, my coat draped over me like a blanket and my sweater rolled up in a make shift pillow I finally accomplished three successful continuous hours of sleep.

At the crack of dawn I was awake. Careful not to rudely awake the other passengers by accidently bumping into them as the train swayed, I made my way to the dinning car for breakfast. I chose a seat facing east and watched a red sky rise. You know what they say, “Red at night, sailors delete, red at morning, sailors warning.” No less then an hour later the train chugged through sweeping rain clouds. For breakfast I indulged in black forest French toast. Four pieces of French toast, dusted with cinnamon, sprinkled with roasted almond slices and chocolate shavings, a generous scooping of cherry coulis and topped with two whipped cream rosettes. It was the perfect way to wake up.

A few hours later we pulled into the Montreal train station. I was terrified that I would get lost but as I made my way up the stairs I turned left and saw a sign for train 57 to Toronto. That was easy. They weren’t ready to board yet, so I waited patiently in line with the other travelers. Once aboard the Toronto bound train I chose a seat at the back of the train so I could recline my seat as far back as it could go without running into a the passenger behind me. I was about to doze off when two talkative and friendly Jewish ladies from Vancouver sat across from me. We introduced ourselves and fell into conversation right away talking about anything. The two women soon found out they knew each other through mutual friends and were as thick as thieves by the time we made out first stop. This gave me a much needed hour to doze off. When I woke up I still had 4 more hours of railway left before Toronto and then it was another 3 until I was finally in Kitchener. Oh Lord Jesus, give me patience. I tried to burry my nose in a book but that didn’t stop me from looking at the watch pendant on my necklace every three pages. I heard the words ‘Lake Ontario’ in the conversation passing between the two ladies seated in front of me and I looked up. There in beautiful blue, glittering nautical light was Lake Ontario, oh delicious fresh water. I smiled widely and sighed sadly, the great lakes are the closest things I will have to an ocean from now on.

When the train groaned to a stop in Toronto Union station I set about finding my luggage and my next and last train home. My luggage took a bit longer than was expected and by the time I had it all strapped together I only had a half hour before it was time to board my next train. I asked where the gate was but no one that worked there seemed to know where it was, I found that odd, and unsettling so my emotions became frantic rather quickly. I decided to haul my luggage all the way up to the main floor and find a ticket agent who might know.

Allow me to paint you a picture of just how ridiculous this venture to find my next train became. First of all, because of forgetful packing I had no choice but to wear my green sun hat between train rides so I looked like Anne of Green Gables severely out of place and century. Secondly, I had two suitcases and a small duffle bag strapped to each other in one big awkward looking luggage concoction and they together weighed as much as another person. My purse was slung over one shoulder and my laptop was slung over the other and with one hand I dragged my luggage and with the other I carried my guitar. The only available limbs I had were my legs, thank goodness for those. As I trudged through the station trying to look as nonchalant as possible I kept thinking to myself, ‘Thank goodness I am built like a mule or this would be difficult.’ Despite my stubbornness to valiantly succeed in my train adventure a kind Australian took pity on me and stole my luggage out of my hand. “Where are you headed, love?” He asked. I insisted that he didn’t need to take my luggage, he was weighed down with a back pack and several other bags as well he didn’t need to take on my burden on top of his, but he wouldn’t listen to my protests. “I am looking for train 87 to Kitchener.” He glanced around the station and saw a ticket agent free of customers. He asked where the train was and the ticket agent directed me to the Go-Train at gate three. We thanked the man and the kind Australian hauled my luggage to the gate for me. He gave me a smile and I thanked him continually. He assured me it was his pleasure to help, he turned and was on his merry way. He was most definitely an angel.

I stood there on the platform looking at the train and something didn’t feel right and it turned my stomach, ‘This isn’t the right train,’ I thought. This train was compact and filled with business people and students, there was no room for my luggage, no room for anything really. I asked a passenger waiting if this was the train to Kitchener, she said it was but gave my luggage a sideways look of disapproval and regarded my green hat with a strange look. I felt so embarrassed and out of place. ‘I wasn’t meant to come this way,’ I thought. I decided to walk back into the central part of the station luggage and all and continue the search for my train. I found a very bored looking employee reading a magazine, when I asked his attention he lazily looked up from his reading and gave me a silly, glazed over looking grin, I was not impressed, but being the lady that I am politely asked him where Via rail train 87 was. He pointed me to gate 19 and I took off running, well I wouldn’t call it running, it was more like fast walking, don’t forget I am hauling my body weight in luggage. As I came down the ramp I saw a sign for gate 19 and a long line of passengers ready to board. “Is this train 87 to Kitchener?” I asked a young man my age, he replied with a quick, “Yup.” I replied breathlessly, “Oh, sweet Jesus, I made it! Thank you.” The young man chuckled and turned his attention back to his cell phone. The line behind us grew longer and more and more passengers inquired if this was the train to Kitchener and with each affirmation my heart grew more and more excited with the promise that this train would take me home.

As we began to board the train an elderly gentleman behind me said, “Excuse me ma’am you have quite a load there, can I help you?” I fumbled with my bags trying to look like I could manage but before I could reply he grabbed my bags and wouldn’t let go of them. I was afraid that he was going to break a hip! But he proved to be chivalrous and strong at that, he carried my bags all the way to the train and I couldn’t thank his kind heart enough. He was most definitely an angel. I got on the train and took a seat at the back. I put my entire luggage together in the bottom compartment and positioned it so it wouldn’t fall into the isles and cause anymore trouble than it already had. I plunk down in the isle seat and realized that home was just on the other side of this train ride. Excitement welled up inside of me and I began to cry happy tears. I leaned my seat back and closed my eyes half wanting to shut my tears off and half wanting to get some rest.

The train was full and a lovely lady asked to sit in the empty seat by the window beside me. I more than willing offered her the seat and the two of us fell into conversation very easily. I learned that as well as being a chiropractor she also loved food, that’s my kind of gal. It was a wonderful conversation where we shared our passions for food and life and other tid bits of fun and healthy living.

When the conductor announced the stop in Kitchener would arrive in 5 minutes I jumped out my seat and got my bags together in a hazardous clump. The train groaned to a stop, the doors breathed open and I stepped out carefully. The weight of my bags were too heavy and precarious to walk out of the train frontwards so I fumbled with them and walked backwards off the steps. The porter insisted that my exit strategy was too dangerous, I was ready to snap at her when a familiar caramel sounding voice asked, “May I help you with those?” I could hear the smile in his voice and I spun around to see the handsome bearded face of my dear friend Caleb. I squealed, and threw my arms around him. I walked away from the luggage and looked around to see so many familiar faces welcoming me home. My friends Emi and Ben were holding a ‘Welcome home Joelle’ sign. My mother had grabbed my guitar and was beaming at me, I flung my arms around her and kissed her soft cheek, but she urged me to greet the others gathered. Out of no where Dylan ran up to me and enclosed his arms around me. Alison and Rebekah giggled and hugged me close to them. My eyes filled with tears but I was smiling too much to let them fall. My arms ached to hold every person there and I ran to Andrew, Josh, Ellery, Ben, and Emi and gave them each the kind of hug that said, ‘I have truly missed you, I never want to be apart from your embrace again.’

But the best hug that night was from my father. He had stayed out of the way of all the celebration, watching it unfold, smiling as he looked on. When he folded his strong arms around me I held him a little longer than all the other hugs. My dads hug sealed the deal that I was actually home. Home.

After more laughter and the gathering of my bags we climbed into various vehicles and went to my favourite restaurant in Waterloo, Symposium. They have the best long island ice teas and the best cakes, even though the cakes aren’t in house made they are still delicious. We ate, and talked, and ate, and talked some more. I couldn’t believe it, I was home and everyone was here to greet me. I felt so loved, so nurtured, so cared for, and quite affirmed that this is where I was meant to be.

When the plates were licked clean of cake, the drinks were empty, and the hour was late it was time to go home. The drive home wasn’t as long as I thought it would be mostly because I couldn’t stop talking about my train ride adventures. Like good parents, mom and dad just nodded and smiled and let me ramble on. As we pulled into the driveway I held my breath in disbelief. This is really real. Stepping out of the car I inhaled a deep, much needed breath of Ritsema Homestead air. It was thick and saturated with the aroma of dying autumn leaves, corn ready for harvest, rich soil, and the faint waft of the wood furnace. The night air was chilly and a lace of frost tickled my nose and shocked my lungs. I instinctively closed my eyes and allowed the scent to wrap its arms around the core of my body in a delicious hug. As I walked into the house I was greeted the smell of cinnamon candles, the mustiness of well loved furniture, and the lingering aroma of coffee. Everything was how I had left it 13 months ago. It still smelled the same, looked the same, and felt the same. It felt like home.

Before tucking myself into bed that first night back home I went down to the wood furnace and opened the door to reveal the crackling fire with in. It spat and cracked with warmth, flames licked two maple logs that lay within the fiery hands and the blazing heat rushed out the open door and lured me closer. It warmed the very blood within my veins and smiled upon my face. I have missed the wood furnace the most. Feeling warm and satisfied I happily climbed into bed and slept a full night’s sleep.

There is no rest for the weary traveler, however, and on Friday morning I paid a visit to my sister, Yolanda, to have breakfast with her and my niece and nephew. Once I arrived, my niece, Kenzie, was already awake and crawling curiously around the house, babbling and smiling to herself. When I walked in she regarded me curiously at first as if to say, “Should I know you?” But when I picked her up and gave her a bounce she giggled and smiled freely at me. My nephew was still asleep so I waited patiently for him to wake up. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes when I heard his slow foot steps descend the stairs. Yolanda greeted him at the stairs and said, “Guess who’s here?” I could feel Landon’s curiousity grow and hear him walk around the house looking for the visitor. To give him a hint I began a little game we play. I stomped through the house and rumbled, “Fee, fi, fo, fum! I smell the blood of-” I didn’t have to finish my sentence because at the sound of the familiar game Landon came whipping around the corner. His freshly awakened eyes studied me for a moment and clicked with recognition, “Aunt Joelle!” He squealed and ran towards me, leaping into my arms he wrapped his little arms and legs around me like a boa constrictor and we spun around. “I have missed you so much!” I said as I squeezed him. His little hands patted me on the back signaling I was hugging too hard and he needed air. Yolanda and Landon treated me to a breakfast of French toast with blueberries, raspberries, and whipped cream. I had brought a box of Tim Bits for breakfast as well and as we feasted on an especially delicious breakfast we had equally tasty conversation.

What better weekend to come home than thanksgiving weekend? Mom had planned to host Neiman, that’s her side of the family, Thanksgiving. It was a perfect idea and it double as a welcome home party for me. Knowing that I would have hungry relatives on my back for pastries I made a Mars bar cheesecake with fresh caramel sauce for dessert, it went over extremely well and I thoroughly enjoyed the new concoction as well and tucked the recipe into my books. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving with loads of family, food, and laughter. I can’t get over how blessed I am to have such a wonderful, caring, and boisterous family. It was wonderful to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother once again and to assure them that I was home for good.

Mom, dad, and I took a little adventure on Thanksgiving Monday and drove all through the Niagara Escarpment in search for several breathtaking waterfalls. As we drove through the vast country side I was reminded how beautiful my homeland is. There are acres of forests aflame with autumn colours, hundreds of farms with corn, cows, and horses, and as we drove closer to Georgian Bay the scenery became almost mountainous. The waterfall adventure was dazzling. At every waterfall there were plenty of rocks and cliff faces for mom, dad and I to nimbly climb and explore. I wanted to climb every rock I saw and scale every cliff but mom and dad kept us moving with the promise of another more spectacular waterfall just down the road. At the end of the journey we went to a well known fish ladder and watched as two and half foot long rainbow trout that weighed a suspected ten to twelve pounds furiously swim against the current up stream. It was spectacular! I love where I live.

Now I have come to the end of my blog for tonight and the end of my blog for good. It is true, I am no longer in Prince Edward Island, my year long adventure there has ended, my time has come, I am home, and this chapter must come to a close. I know I am planting disappointment in the hearts of my readers and I apologize for breaking your literary souls. But be encouraged that there are equally and better blogs out there with plenty of adventures to read about and to be inspired by. Mine is just of one girls journey through a significant year in her life. Perhaps my ramblings have inspired you to share your own thoughts and passions and you feel the need to crack out the author cap and write your own blog, story, novel, or song. I strongly encourage you to do so and know that you have Mama Jo’s blessing.

In closing I would like to bless you with this truth that has been the one thing that truly held me and reassured me throughout my entire year, “‘For I know the plans I have you,’ says the Lord, ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land.’” – Jeremiah 29:11-14

May you be blessed. May God smile down upon you with His vibrant and diverse expressions of love. May you have clear skies, fair winds, and calm seas. May you find the treasure that is closest to your heart and know that you are a treasure. May you eat well, laugh lots, and love more. And may you always have room for cheesecake.

Blessings and love,
- Mama Jo

Double rainbow over the Ritsema Homestead after a much needed fall rain.

McGowan falls

Pretty house

Hoggs Falls

The trail to Walters Falls

Walters Falls

Dad pretending to turn the pump to release all the water over the falls. 
Silly daddy. 

Inglis Falss

View from the top of Inglis Falls

At the bottom of the gorge of Inglis falls. 

I am home. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Step One: Breathe

So here I am.

Shaking nervously and excitedly, breathing deeply, checking my lists for the 6th time today, making sure I didn't forget to pack the important things. I have packed everything I need to take home with me successfully into 2 suitcases, 1 carry on, a guitar and faithful Superbowl. Whatever else I need but would be too much of a hassle to take on the train I have bonded in Duct tape and shipped home via Canada Post. Here’s a little packing tip, shipping by Canada post is actually pretty cheap and the people are so friendly! As I packed I realized I wouldn't need my coat hangers, pillows, or towels, rumor has it they have such fancy things in Ontario, so I have left them behind. I have left so much behind, I am shedding off layers of things I depended on and taking this move home to burst through new soil and start afresh all over again. I am returning home to my old stomping grounds but I am not the same person that I was when I left them. Like any true epic story the Island has been my reverse Neverland. I left Ontario and came to a magical Holy Spirit saturated land and grew up. My heart is stronger, my peace is deeper, and myself on the whole is richer. But don’t be discouraged that all this change will make me unrecognizable, my smile hasn't changed.

This is it. In a littler over 14 hours I will say good bye to my beloved Prince Edward Island and return to my beautiful Ritsema Homestead in faithful Ontario and begin my adventure as a certified Pastry Chef and the next phase of my life as an adult woman. The Lord has gone before me, guided me, provided for me and held my hand through out this past year and I can’t imagine He would steer me wrong now. I am afraid of what is to come with stepping foot on the mainland for good. What next, God? Why do you hide your plans for me? Can’t you show me just a little window of it so I can chase away these nerves? But that isn't the way of God, and that isn't His way with me, so I need to hold tight and keep walking.

I am sad and truly heart broken that I will be leaving the Island and all the people I have come to love here. I will miss the smell of the ocean, that deep, romantic aroma, so beguiling and magical. I will miss the taste of those deep waters, salty enough to pucker your lips to eternity but sweet enough to cast you into thirst for them again and again. I will miss the cruel north east wind in the dead of winter as it wraps around you like a drenched wool coat. I will miss the rolling green land, and the red ribbon of sand that ties around the Island in one big nurturing hug. I will miss the spicy smell of the red soil, the gentle curve of the pace of life on the Island and the sassy spirit that bubbles underneath it. But most importantly I will miss the friends and church family I have come to love and cherish whose embraces and kisses I couldn't get enough of these past few weeks.

But I am excited to. Excited to once again indulge my ears in the impossibly loud bay of the neighbours donkey in the middle of the night. I will saturate my senses in the crackle and hum of the word furnace. I will wrap my arms around the family and friends that I have been away from for so long. I can’t wait to see them again, to laugh with them, to talk, and to have new adventures and shenanigans with them. But most importantly I am looking forward to 5:00 am wake up calls during goose season as my cousin snipes off those wretched Canada geese! The perfect combination of shot gun fire, panicked geese and the sudden splash as their bodies plummet into the pond is like the symphony to me. And the most exciting thing of all is that I don't know what the Lord has in store for me. Looking back over this past year as I grew and came to life on the Island I can see how God has prepared me for this adventure. I have seen countless signs of Gods handy work as He went before me preparing me for this new chapter in my life. I know that as long as I continue to hold the Lords hand, white knuckled and terrified, that I will be just fine.  

After I finished packing today I took time out on the couch and watched the last half of the last Lord of the Rings: Return of the King movie. After the battle for Middle Earth had been fought and good had prevailed everyone returned to their homes and life began to rotate normally again, but the hero Frodo was called to go on one more adventure. Frodo was taken to the harbour where a ship was waiting for him to carry him into the west. As I watched that scene I compared it with my own departure. I too am going across the sea, well the Northumberland Strait but same thing, into the west, to the undying lands of my fore fathers. I, like Frodo, have had an epic adventure, I have fought many battles on this Island. Spiritual, emotional, physical, and the odd butter battle, some I have won and others I have lost. Sadly, the ones I have lost left casualties of sugarless cupcakes in their wake, but on the whole the war was won and I stand a victor in the presence of my delightful God. I am going into the west, home to the west, to familiar lands, to familiar smells, sites, and sounds. With all the familiarity awaiting me there is a greater expanse of the unfamiliar waiting for me as well. But I am ready for it and all the adventures it holds for me, and it is my experience that the unfamiliar can be quite friendly and not that scary at all.

I am ready, even though the mourning of my heart and my shaking hands tells me otherwise. I am ready to come home. I need to come home. I have been gone for an entire year and in my absence who has fed Ontario!? Fear not, Mama Jo is returning and she has very capable cheesecake hands.

I fill my lungs with one more sinfully delicious breath of ocean air and breathe. Just breathe.

Farewell family photo with Lindsay, myself, Nathan, and Angus. 

Packed up and ready to go. Look out train ride home, we are going to have some fun!