December 31, 2009

Go Big or Go Home

When my husband and I were first married we moved to Panorama Resort for the summer. My husband was hired to lead groups of tourists down the whitewater rapids in a rubber raft. He acquired a company t-shirt that said, "Go Big or Go Home" and I think, for him, that typifies his approach to life in general. Whatever he does, he gives it his all, whether that is working, playing soccer, cycling, or pestering his children into submission.

A few weeks ago, he and our two girls went out to get a Christmas tree. Several years ago we started going to the Christmas tree farm of some acquaintances, Fred and Betty, who also ran a beautiful bed and breakfast they had built. Fred was dedicated to his trees and we could always find a beautifully trimmed six or seven foot fir, enjoy free hot chocolate and a visit with their two friendly and enthusiastic English Setters. Two years ago, Fred and Betty retired and sold their place. The trees have been pretty much left to fend for themselves, but my husband still goes out there every December to tramp through the once orderly cultured woods and find a tree. I swear - every year our tree gets bigger, and this year was no exception. Our living room ceiling remains only eight feet high, so I'm not quite sure why the trees my husband brings home keep getting bigger. This year he and the girls found a beauty - a 15 foot tall fir, matching its girth with its height. After cutting the top seven feet off of it, they shoved it in the back of our van and brought it home. Of course the girls could not wait to tell me about it the minute they jumped out of the van. "Mom! Just wait till you see the size of our tree. It's HUGE!" Once apon a time I would have reacted in surprise and alarm at the size of the thing, but I have just accepted, over time, that somehow my husband will make the tree fit and it will be a thing of beauty. This year's tree, with it's top half gone and its sides pruned, had lost its con-ical appearance and gained a com-ical one. It was immediately christened 'The Christmas Bush', to the delight of all my children's friends who came to see it. I have to admit, it did look quite wonderful when decorated and showcased our twenty year collection of ornaments like no other tree we have ever had. Unfortunately, several days ago the trunk's cut sealed itself and the tree stopped taking in water. Its bushiness is drooping and its evergreen is fading. I'm afraid it will have to come down on New Year's Day - before it becomes a fire hazard.
The other part of Christmas my husband is equally passionate about is The Food. Every year he manages to make his signature nanaimo bars and coconut slice, but the rest is up to me (and my daughter, if she feels baker-ish) since he is so busy with the Christmas rush at the hotel where he works. Around the end of November, my husband looks at me with hope in his eyes and asks, "Are you making your Christmas cake this year?" My cake is an Australian version made with pounds of tropical nuts and fruit and literally drowned in rum. He also gets excited about the turkey basted with butter and white wine and loves to tell everyone the story about picking up the first turkey we ever ordered: meant to be 9 pounds but ended up being 9 kilograms - to be consumed by only he and I and our two very little boys.

So, in keeping with today's theme of celebrating the Season to its fullest, I will leave this year with my version of The Twelve Days of Christmas:

On the first day of Christmas my true love ate with me, a turkey with extra gravy.
On the second day of Christmas my true love ate with me, two mashed starches....
On the third day of Christmas my true love ate with me, three Aussie fruitcakes...
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love ate with me, four pounds of chocolate...
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love ate with me, five golden tarts....

And on and on it goes;
Where it stops?
Lent, I suppose!
Bring on those New Year's resolutions!
Happy New Year to all my family and friends, and to you in blogland.

December 24, 2009

A Poem for Christmas Eve

I have been inspired by The Dotterel of 'Bringing up Charlie', who yesterday posted some beautiful Seasonal writings by British poet Laurie Lee, to post a favourite Christmas Eve poem by Thomas Hardy. I've heard several people say they are just 'not that into Christmas' this year. I truly hope that somehow, at the eleventh hour something happens to change their minds and bring that particular comfort and joy into their hearts that is Christmas' gift to us all.

The Oxen
CHRISTMAS EVE, the twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might so.
(Now back to the baking, laundry, and gift wrapping. )

December 17, 2009

A Child's Christmas in the Kootenays

Until I was sixteen my family did not own a car (Believe me, in this part of the world, that is a rare thing). In my hometown we could walk everywhere, and when that was out of the question, we could take the bus. My mother took a taxi home every Friday afternoon with the weekly grocery shopping. I know my parents were quite happy to do without the costs of maintaining a vehicle; Mom once told me the choice had been between giving her children music and dance lessons, soccer fees and good shoes, and having a car. For her and Dad, the choice was simple: no car.

Our house was two streets up the hill from downtown. There was a series of staircases which we climbed from downtown to our street. We counted the stairs once, but I can't remember the number. In summer we would run up and down those stairs at least once a day, and in winter, unless someone shoveled them, the stairs would fill with snow and with use, become a treacherous, icy slide. One would have to hold on tightly to the railing and just let the feet go.

I was not particularly athletic, but I was very fit. I remember in grade six and seven I was one of three people in my school to win the excellence award for the Canada Fitness Program. Everyone I knew was suprised, especially me. Looking back now, I can understand how I was so fit. Just north of our house was an extremely steep road called Cedar Street. Occasionally in winter the city would close Cedar Street, and everyone in the neighbourhood would gather to toboggan down it. If we wanted to we could slide all the way down to the main street, two long blocks down, but of course, we would have to hike all the way back up. In summer, my parents would take us hiking up to Pulpit Rock on Elephant Mountain, or up behind the university to pick huckleberries in the heat. I walked to piano lessons, ballet lessons, to school and back, to friends' houses, to church, downtown, to the park, the swimming pool, to babysitting jobs and back home in the dark, in the middle of the road to avoid the shadows and the skunks.

One Christmas when I was just old enough to be included in such an adventure, my mom took all six of us for a walk after supper. With Crazy Carpets in tow, we were heading for the junior high school to go sledding. The snow had fallen all day long and everything was covered in ten inches of soft, muffling powder. The Christmas lights on the houses winked and glowed through the snow and everything was quiet and still. My brothers and sisters and I talked and laughed and sang carols, and sometimes we were just quiet, taking in the beauty surrounding us in its fluffy white blanket; it seemed like we were the only people in the world. Something not very happy had happened earlier at home, maybe an argument, but it didn't matter anymore out in the snow. I don't remember what I got for Christmas that year, but I do know what a gift it was to have a big noisy family to love and to able to share that night with them, out in the deep, deep snow.

When I had our first son, Ian, my mom advised me to go for a walk with him every day, no matter what. Outside the four walls of our apartment, Ian and I would sail along the sidewalks, breathing in the fresh air, and we would both be happier. When I had our second son, Galen, we moved to a small ski town in the East Kootenays of B.C. I would pull the boys in a little sled in winter up the long path to the building where we met with other moms and kids to play and talk. The other moms thought I was a bit crazy, but I loved trudging in the snow up the hill between the skeletons of trees. I always arrived revived and clear headed, and I shed baby pounds in the bargain.

Walking is built into me. It is a compulsion and I cannot go without it for long. I now live in a small town in the flats of the Fraser Valley where I can go for long rambles down farm roads with sweeping views leading the eye across huge fields and up the craggy steel blue faces of the coastal ranges, but my waistline and I sure miss those Kootenay hills.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you find some time for walking in your respective wonderland during the Holly-days, and for reading (or listening to) Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales; for no one puts it better than he.


P.S. The photo is really of my hometown in winter and is from GothPhil on Flickr.

December 12, 2009

Waiting in (Joyful) Hope

When I was 28 with three little children I wrote a novel. No, it was not the act of a supermom; I actually had the time. The non-profit group that had transferred my husband to Vancouver Island to open a new office had experienced a severe cut to their funding and so, the new office was the first to go and my husband's job with it. He was working from our home, a roomy four bedroom old place with a wraparound veranda (which, sadly we only lived in for one year), spending part of the day on a contract for BC Ferries, and part of the day job-hunting. Every day he would take a two hour lunch with the children and me, and that is how the writing got done.

The idea for the book came from a little painting I had done in the summer between my two years at UBC. The plot and characters had been simmering away on the backburner of my mind for several years and so the first draft seemed to spill effortlessly from my pen (I had no computer at my disposal) and was finished by the time my husband had found a new job with a much shorter lunch hour.

While we lived at the lodge on the North Island I worked away at my manuscript, editing and rewriting after the kids were in bed. When I felt I could do nothing more without an editor, and with the encouragement of a few knowledgeable friends and family members who had read my manuscript I began to consider sending my book to publishers. The first couple of rejections were a massive blow and it would take several months to recover from one enough to try again. Over the years I have received several different kinds of rejections: the impersonal photocopied list of reasons why or why not said publishing house would publish one's book, the signed form letter, and personally written letters from editors who said while the concept was interesting and the plot promising they believed it was not the right sort of book for their publishing house - strangely enough I found those ones rather encouraging.

The manuscript presently sits in a file box by the computer desk. Every once in a while I take it out, dust it off and read a few chapters, especially when I'm wondering if I really am a writer. Recently, I began retyping it in order to save it in a new format because my computer refuses to read the old floppy disc. I am realistic about my novel now. It reads somewhat awkwardly, some of the sentences gangly like a foal trying to find its legs, but I still love it. The characters still live for me, vividly like old friends, and the setting is the stuff of my dreams. Although it remains unpublished and is likely to remain so, my novel acts as the cornerstone of my writing life. As I try to do a quality job of raising my four rapidly growing children, support an overworked husband, work part-time at seasonal jobs to help pay the bills, I plug away at my writing, for now only having the time and brainspace enough to work at this blog.
My dad says it is not the writing that is difficult, but the waiting for the writing. As I struggle through the Advent of my writing life, my novel serves a particularly comforting purpose: it reminds me that I once had it in me to write seventeen chapters in the third person, and gives me hope that some day down the road, I just might be able to do it again.

December 7, 2009

My Own Private Copenhagen

After World War II Dutch people began immigrating to Canada in droves. Like so many European nations ravaged by war, Holland's economy could not support its population and young people sought new lives abroad. Many Dutch immigrants came from farming families and so moved here to this area of British Columbia where the weather is mild and the soil very rich.

Dutch people are still immigrating here. I have a winter job working for a Dutch couple who came in the 1990's and set up an ornamental plant business. Three mornings a week, after I get my kids off to school I head over to the barn, about two kilometers from my house, where I pack rare and unusual roots and tubers with names like Giganteus (a type of bamboo) and Miscanthus (a beautiful ornamental grass), in peatmoss. The crates of roots are overwintered in a climate controlled room until February when they are shipped to or picked up by nursuries which plant them in containers and let them sprout into pretty little plants in greenhouses. They are then sold to garden centers or landscape designers in spring, ready for transplanting. Some of the roots and tubers are so unusual looking I once made a comment that I half expected them to start screaming like Professor Sprout's potted mandrakes in Harry Potter.

Early last week we had a couple of mild days so I rode my bike over to the barn. Halfway through the morning I looked out the window to check the weather, and to my dismay, the wind had picked up and the rain was falling in a slant. I hoped it would die down in time for me to cycle home at noon. Unfortunately, by twelve p.m. the rain and wind was still very much an issue so after my boss, Jake returned from feeding his daughters' horses, and at the insistence of his wife and business partner, Carola, I asked if I could get a ride home with my bike in their truck. They are extremely kind people and Jake almost immediately said, "Yaw, shoor". I say almost immediately because just for a moment I detected something of disapproval in his eyes. Sure enough, when we got in the truck and pulled onto the highway he said, "Obviously, you didn't grow up in Holland. This is nice weather for cycling in Holland!" He then went on to tell me about the high school kids in Holland who regularly cycle 25-30 kms. to school and back, and how when he and Carola first moved to Canada they thought all the high schools were hospitals because of the parking lots full of cars. Apparently, there are no parking lots at the schools in Holland, not even for the teachers. Feeling rather small I listened, awed at the environmental superiority of the Dutch, and thought of my German friend Ralf, who calls Canada 'The Drive-Thru Country".

I have noticed that many of the older Dutch residents of our area ride their bikes around town. It is easy here on the flats of the valley, at least when it isn't too windy. Last Friday, the morning was clear and blue-skied with no wind, so I donned my gore-tex pants and jacket, scarf, gloves, skullcap and then bike helmet and rode over to the barn. When Jake came in he said, "So, I see you brought your bike today. That's good!" I laughed and joked that I wouldn't have dared showing up in a car on such a fine day. I was also able to tell him that I'd grown up in the mountains with parents who refused to own a car until they inherited my grandmother's Chevy Belair after she died, and that I'd daily made my way to school and back in every kind of weather, as do my children. At noon, I bravely rode home in the warm sunshine without even the gore-tex pants, and felt content with myself.

This morning it was -5 degrees Celcius with an icy wind funnelling down the valley. I had the van, so I left the bike at home and drove to work. There are limits, even when one's Canadian pride is at stake. Jake refrained from comment. Besides, it rarely freezes in Holland.

December 2, 2009

Floundering in the Face of Fame

The movie Roxanne (a modern twist on Cyrano deBergerac) was on tv the other night and a couple of us watched the last hour of it. I've seen this movie several times. I saw a lot of it filmed, too.
Steve Martin chose to film Roxanne in my pretty hometown in the mountains and that was quite a big thrill. I was sixteen when the crews rolled in during the summer of 1986. I was working at Triathlete World, (mainly selling kids' bikes and running shoes) which was downtown where most of the action took place. It seemed the sun shone all the time that summer. Most outdoor scenes were shot with a big crowd of onlookers watching; most of us had never witnessed a movie being made. It was truly fascinating.

Our town was inundated with camera crews, lighting experts, stunt doubles, makeup artists and of course, actors. Many of the movie people came into the store that summer. Most of them just wanted to buy running shoes - mainly red Reebok hightops - and rent mountain bikes. Steve Martin's stunt double came in to rent Steve a mountain bike, and the actor who played Darryl Hannah's less than brilliant love interest came in a few times and bugged me about ('aboot') my Canadian accent. He was really friendly, as most of them were. Another actor who I recognized as the janitor in The Breakfast Club, came in and I told him my friends and I often rented The Breakfast Club. He was appreciative and jovial - a nice guy! As the weeks wore on neither Steve Martin nor Darryl Hannah had made an appearance in our store. People said when he wasn't filming, Steve was hiding out in a rented house out on the lake. I never heard where Darryl Hannah was hiding.

One day when my boss, a coworker and I were taking a break at the back of the store I heard someone come in. I was seated around a corner by the shoes (I think I was eating) when I looked up to see Darryl Hannah herself looking at us. Did I exchange friendly banter with her? Did I tell her I thought she was great as a mermaid in Splash ? Did I say, "Welcome to our store, how can I help you?" No! I looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Hi Darryl Hannah!" Ugh. She was extremely quiet (and extremely skinny), gave me a disgusted look and said she wanted to rent a mountain bike. My boss thought it would be a thrill for me to show her how to use the gears so he sent me out with her and two bikes. I'd recovered my composure and started explaining the 18 speeds and how they worked. She gave me another look of disgust and said, "I think I can figure it out." Nice.

Of course reliving that Roxanne summer led to other memories of meeting famous people. When 'Le Chateau' was a great store full of funky clothing and quirky shoes (instead of the collection of cheap looking cocktail dresses and rhinestone encrusted stillettos it sells now) in Vancouver I did some shopping there on a trip with a friend. I was trying on clothes when I ran into the cute actor from a show I liked a lot at the time called Danger Bay, which was about two spunky kids whose dad was a crime-fighting marine biologist. The cute actor was wearing a pastel coloured Miami Vice suit and after I recognized him I said "Aren't you the guy from Danger Bay?" He said 'yes' looking awfully pleased with himself, so to teach him a lesson I retreated into the change room saying only "Oh" in a snotty voice. I guess I paid for my meanness when I met Darryl Hannah a year later.
Ah, Karma.

Note: if you do watch the movie Roxanne look for me as an extra in the crowd scene where the barn catches fire and Steve Martin's firecrew have to rescue the cow. I'm the one behind all the smoke. If you pause the DVD and look really hard...

November 26, 2009

Sweet Thirteen

I woke up at 3:11 a.m. this morning. As I listened to the rain play a wild percussion on the roof I thought about this exact moment thirteen years ago when I went into labour with my daughter Emma. Somehow my mind chose to wake me up in time to recall her entry into this world and I immediately decided to write about her, which I did, in my head until about 5:11 a.m. When I got up Emma was in the kitchen and I asked her if I could write about her on my blog. She said I might be granted this rare permission, seeing as it is her birthday.
Emma was born in Comox on the East coast of Vancouver Island. When she was one, her dad was offered a job as Program Director for an outdoor education center farther north on the Island. On December 30 we packed up kids and furniture and moved into a drafty log cabin at the lodge, which is situated on a beautiful, rocky lakeshore a 45 minute drive up a windy two lane highway from the nearest town.
Emma's formative years were spent at the lodge, making her first friends with the children of the handful of families that lived and worked there, hiking up to the lookouts, learning to swim to the dock in the cool clear water, climbing trees, playing on the rope swings, learning to ride a bike on the basketball court (the one paved area of the lodge), and visiting her dad in the office. It was the ideal life for a small child. We left the lodge when Emma was six and a half. We visit every second summer or so, and she cries every time we have to leave.
From about the time Emma was three or four she began to notice horses. Her parents, being what a friend calls 'horse muggles' thought it was just a phase. It wasn't. We have since learned that girls who start loving horses at a young age seem to keep on loving horses as they grow up. When my husband was offered a job at a resort here in the Fraser Valley, Emma patiently, but determinedly started asking about horseback riding lessons. After insisting we put it off until she was ten and physically stronger, we found out about an organically run stable not ten minutes drive from our house and tentatively began the process of inquiry with the owner. As it turned out, Emma was very welcome to come and take lessons there as well as work on Saturdays in exchange for a horse to ride after the work was done. She now spends a good portion of her time there taking lessons in 'natural horsemanship' and earns spending money by tacking up horses for her instructor's younger students and feeding the horses. Emma doesn't mind working in the rain and the cold, she thrives on it. She has become so strong and her allergies, which used to plague her, seem to have all but disappeared. It is all very natural for her, but I still marvel at this beautiful slim girl who bosses huge animals around, shovels manure, slings haybales, and collects horse books and figurines.
One of the benefits of having children and supporting them in their interests and passions is the education I have received by being led down paths of discovery and wonder that otherwise would have remained unknown to me.
So Happy Birthday Emma. If it weren't for you I would still be too scared of horses to let them take an apple core from my hand, and I wouldn't for the life of me know what a 'lunge line' was.

November 18, 2009

Come for the jokes, stay for the yoga

Just thought I'd share a joke my yoga instructor told us last night:

Yogi to the hotdog vendor: Make me 'one with everything'.

Hotdog vendor hands Yogi a hotdog with everything on it: That'll be $3.50

Yogi hands vendor a $20 bill. Vendor starts helping next customer.

Yogi: Hey, where's my change?

Vendor: Change comes from within.

November 12, 2009

Season's Readings

I've been feeling under the weather for a few days now, even to the point of spending most of a period of 24 hours in bed. With all the sickness in our house over the past few weeks I am not surprised to have come down with a cold/flu/intense fatigue. Oh well, it's an excuse to read and watch movies and ask for things from my family like glasses of water, kleenexes, and QUIET.

The other day I found myself killing time in the grocery store waiting for Vern to come back from the other side of the city where my son's orchestra practise was. This particular grocery store has a book section, so I can always find something to occupy my time with while I wait with my full cart. The bargain book bin is right by the dairy cases and, being a very cool (and by that I mean 'cold') area in the store, is not the most ideal place to stand and read. I found a book that looked interesting and started reading a bit of it. I think I must have stood there for 20 minutes reading before I realized how chilled I actually was. The book that had my attention so riveted was one I'd never seen before by an author I know well: Tomie DePaola. The book, Christmas Remembered, is his first book for readers of all ages (he has written and/or illustrated around 200 children's books). From the first words I was swept up by the simplicity, the humour, and the solidity of his writing. I also liked the illustrations, which reflected the writing perfectly. Needless to say, I bought the book for $7.99 and when I found I needed to get my chilled self into a hot bath later that night I took the book with me and it continued to be my companion for the next couple of days. Oh, I know, it's a bit early for Christmas reading (particulary since I broke my own rule not to exibit any external Christmasness until after Remembrance Day), but it was the perfect book to read when sick. The stories are short, no more than a couple of pages, and they are filled with cozy scenes of domestic and spiritual tranquility - comfort reading.

It didn't take long to finish Christmas Remembered and so I moved on to another collection of Christmas stories: Favourite Christmas Stories from Fireside Al. Fireside Al (Alan Maitland) was a well-loved CBC Radio personality who read many of the stories in the collection on the air. (The program As it Happens still broadcasts his reading of the wonderful story 'The Shepherd' every Christmas Eve; listening to it has become a tradition in our house.) I figured I might as well continue on with the Christmas stories because I have several collections of them and I don't generally feel like reading them after the first week in January. Maybe this year I'll read them all! Last night I read a really interesting story called 'Christmas Phantoms' attributed to the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. It wasn't cozy reading, but very interesting nonetheless. Besides, I was starting to feel a bit better. Anyway, the story is about a writer who has just completed his annual Christmas story and is going to bed on a stormy night. In his dreams he is visited by several phantoms - characters from previous stories, all of whom he had made to freeze to death on Christmas Eve, 'Little Matchgirl' style. His intention was to stir up compassion for the poor in the hearts of men, but the phantoms basically hold a large, mocking, protest rally in his bedroom. A voice says to the writer: "Do you really think that you can move the heart of a human being by telling him about a frozen child? The sea of misery breaks against the dam of heartlessness, it rages and surges against it, and you want to appease it by throwing a few peas into it!" The writer then wakes up, reads over the story he wrote the night before and promptly tears the manuscript into pieces. I don't know Gorky's writing other than this story; it left me wondering if the writer he speaks of is himself.

I'm looking forward to making my way through these collections of Christmas stories. I'm getting introduced to new and interesting writers (or old and interesting ones). I may not be well into my Christmas shopping, but I'm certainly getting a jump on my Seasonal reading! I just need to make sure that when I do discover new stories and new authors I'm in a warm place. It's not too early for hot toddies, is it?

November 5, 2009

"I had a farm in Africa..."

Well, I didn't have a farm in Africa, but one of my oldest friends does - or rather, her family does.

My friend's ancestors emigrated from Britain and settled on a farm in Zambia some time in the 1800's and my friend's mother and her brother grew up there, with some time away for boarding school. My friend's mom met her husband and they had four daughters, the youngest, my friend Toni. When Toni (short for Antonia) was four years old she emigrated to Canada with her family, leaving farm and family behind, and two years later we met at St. Joseph's Elementary school in Nelson.

Toni lived one street below mine in a rose coloured house with a sloping lawn and a view of the lake. Many of us in uphill Nelson had sloping lawns and a view of the lake; it was hard not to in that town built on a mountainside. Going to Toni's house was like entering a different time and place, which widened my little view of the world considerably. I have always been keenly aware of the details that mark someone's home as their own. At Toni's there were framed cameo portraits of relatives, wooden furniture kept spotlessly polished, and over the years, additions of floral upholstery fabric bought on a trip through London to visit relatives, two hundred year old dishes inherited from the farm among other antiques, a rhino foot with a wooden lid, woolen blankets with patterns of African animals, and even deep red carpeting in the hall to mimic the brick red tile of the farm house that, I believe, was so much missed by Toni's mother.

Everything at Toni's house was so fascinating to me. The furthest from home I had ever travelled was to Vancouver to visit grandparents. We weren't really a travelling family. We didn't go camping either, at least not in my memory. My mom always said she loved to go for a good long hike (which we did often) and then come home to a hot meal, a bath, and her own bed. My parents certainly weren't Disneyland sort of people either, so I, unlike so many of my school friends, never went there or any place like it. My parents did most of their travelling in an armchair with a book. ( My sisters and I talk about taking my mom to Europe. She would make the best tour guide because she is a historian and knows so much about everything.) The town I grew up in was not in the least multicultural when I was growing up. The Kootenay First Nations people had been driven down into the States long before. Unlike many of the big cities in Canada we had no concentrations of Caribbean, Asian or Latino cultures to educate us and bring different colours to our lives. I don't think I even noticed, as a young child, the variance in skin colour of the few Asian-Canadian and First Nation classmates I had. Someone would have had to point out the differences to me. It's almost funny now to look back on how exotic I thought Toni's family were.

It was not merely the foreign objects that made Toni's house different than those in my limited experience. I developed my taste for real butter at Toni's house, butter scraped off the cold brick in thick slices like cheese and placed on a piece of cold, dry toast taken one at a time from the toast rack. At my house we grabbed the toast the minute it popped and spread the margarine so it would melt into the warm toast, and I liked that too, so I didn't think I would like cold butter on cold toast - but I did. Toni's mom left the table bare until it was time to eat, then we would spread the pretty red, orange and rose plaid tablecloth and set the table with matching dishes and bone handled Sheffield silverware. One day at dinner, Toni's dad stopped me in my tracks. "Rebecca, it is time you learned to eat properly with a knife and fork. I've put up with watching you shovel in your food for long enough!" He could be quite fierce, despite his khaki bermuda shorts and long, cream coloured socks imported from England (or maybe because of them). I was then tutored in the elegant partnership of the fork, the knife, and the soup spoon that you "push away from you through the soup, not toward you like a shovel." I'm still grateful to Toni's dad when I eat in a classy restaurant, although I honestly have never made a habit of using the spoon in that way - too much effort.

At twelve I was invited to go to Zambia with Toni and her mom. I was told I only had to cover the cost of the the plane fare - $2500.00, even in 1981. Of course I could not go. The price of the ticket was just too steep for me, the youngest of six children, and my parents. I had to remain content with travelling to the farm in Africa in my imagination through visits to Toni's house, and through the souvenirs (a wonderful woven comb and an elephant hair bracelet) she brought back for me. I still have the comb.

Toni, like me, has recently turned forty. Our friendship is still strong and I still value the connection I have with her family very much. Her eldest sister, who moved back to Zambia and married a farmer, and I chat on Facebook. Her other sisters live nearer and I even see them ocasionally. Toni's mom and my mom are still very good friends, as they always were. Some day I hope to see the farm for myself, but even if I never do I will always appreciate the window to a new and beautiful world opened for me at such a tender, impressionable age by Toni's family. In the meantime, I can always watch 'Out of Africa' one more time...

November 1, 2009

Good Happens

It was an interesting week, filled with more excitement than I am used to in my generally quiet and fairly ordered life.

A couple of weeks ago Vern's environmental program at the Resort was being audited. The auditor, from Montana, announced she was going to be back in Canada for the U2 concert in Vancouver on October 28. Vern asked her how she had managed to get tickets to the long sold-out show, and she told him she had a friend who had several tickets she couldn't use...and that she still had five for sale, if he was interested. Vern immediately called me to ask if we should go for it. I said YES! ABSOLUTELY! How much are they? Vern emailed the seller and she wanted only the price listed on the tickets. YAY! The seller said she would put them in the mail the next day, registered, and we would get them in five business days. Of course, it took longer. We finally got the tickets the day before the concert.

It was at the dinner table where we told the kids. Ian, who is your usual self-contained sixteen year old, FREAKED. Galen said WOW! and the girls said they didn't want to go. We decided to invite a family friend who is a big U2 fan. The next day a friend of mine offered her sixteen year old daughter as company for our girls for the night we'd be away. Everything was falling into place. Then the flu hit. Galen came down with it on the weekend before the concert. Fever and cough, suppressed appetite, fatigue, etc. - all the symptoms listed in the first level of H1N1 as described in the government pamphlet that arrived in the mail that day. However, after rest and lots of home remedies Galen was greatly improved by Tuesday and it looked like he would be okay to go to the concert on Wednesday night if he stayed home from school, which he did. He had a nap Wednesday afternoon and woke up ready to go. I wouldn't have let him if we had standing area tickets. Those people stand in line for hours and then, after grabbing a spot as close to the stage as possible, stand for hours more, sandwiched in with thousands of other rabid fans.

My eldest son wished he had a standing area ticket, but he would not have had the view that we enjoyed from our seats in the nosebleed level. We were closer to the ceiling than the floor and technically behind the stage, but with the stage a full circle just below us and screens broadcasting the show as well as amazing, beautiful technicolour images, we had an eagle's view of the 60,000 seat stadium. Ian would have liked to be closer to the musicians, particularly The Edge (the guitarist), and maybe next time, he will be. Beggars can't be choosers, and Ian agreed we were all just lucky to be there.

The warm up band, the Blackeyed Peas, came on at 7:15. I'd heard of them, even heard them, but I've never really been much of a fan. The sold out seats weren't even full for their performance, but they worked hard for their money and Fergie sang her heart out. At the end of their almost one hour set they talked to the audience about how they respected U2 for being together for so long and hoped they would be like them, playing music together for years to come. The audience clapped and cheered politely but you could definitely sense a feeling of "Now for the real show" in the air.

It took forty-five minutes for the crew to reset the stage - enough time for everyone to use the facilities, buy t-shirts and posters if they hadn't already, and get that last alcoholic beverage before they closed the 'bar' (Mike's Hard Lemonade and $7.50/glass beer kiosks). As the minutes ticked by the mood in the stadium elevated. We watched the seats fill like in time-lapsed photography and the black stage transform from one crowded with techno gear to a simple arrangement of a drum set on an elevated platform, guitar pedals in a strip, and a few amplifiers. Guitar and drum techs came out to test the equipment and tease the eager crowd with a few riffs. The electricity in the crowd was palpable now as we all killed time by doing several rounds of 'the wave'.

Suddenly the lights lowered a bit and over the sound system David Bowie's voice sang 'Ground control to Major Tom' (interestingly enough, the first big concert I ever attended was David Bowie) and we were off...the band came on stage to huge roars of applause. From the first song we were taken far, far away from our daily lives of work and play to a place somewhere between land and space. The light show was a work of art. The band played a well thought out mix of old and new material and every song was played for every person in that huge beehive of a stadium. Most of us were on our feet the entire time, singing along, dancing, cheering, moving our eyes from the screen and lights to the real artists on the stage and back again. At one point we even sang 'Happy Birthday' to Bill Gates, who was there with his wife. Two and a half hours, and two encores later, it was over.

I haven't been to that many big concerts: David Bowie, as I mentioned, during his strange Glass Spider Tour; Bob Dylan in the early 90's when his songs were disappointingly unrecognizable to me who had grown up on his music; Joan Baez and Sarah Mclaughlin for free at a local park as part of 'Music 91'. Last Wednesday's U2 concert was far and away the best show I've ever been to, partly because I have been a fan since 1984 - heck, I even know all the names of the band members - and partly because I got to share the experience with my husband and two sons.

I don't usually make deals with God, but I admit to several prayers just before the concert that went something like this: Dear God, if we can only make it to the concert, my boys, especially, who want to go so badly, I don't care what happens the day after. Just pleeeease let those tickets get here and let no one else get sick until after. God took me literally - my older daughter came down with 'the flu' the day after the concert and my little one developed a bad cough. After more home remedies and lots of rest, both of them are recovering nicely. I don't think it hurt that their nurse' feet were still not quite on the ground. Still aren't.

October 22, 2009

Lambs in Wolves' Clothing

I love clothes. I can't afford to act on that love very often with my budget, so I have become more of an observer of the latest fashion trends - which is why I was flipping through a Vogue magazine when waiting in the checkout line the other day. I came across a Dolce and Gabbanna ad, and I swear the scantily clad models draped provocatively across each other were no more than fourteen - at the most. I know what fourteen year old girls look like. They still have that childish roundness to their cheeks, underdeveloped breasts, and skin as smooth as the baby's bottom they still have. Auchhh! I growled disgustedly as I flipped through the magazine. I saw more little girls modeling rich women's clothing and couldn't help myself - I said out loud, "So this is what all the fourteen year olds will be wearing this season. Lovely." The woman in front of me turned around and smiled, shrugging like there was nothing to be done about it.

I guess I am feeling sensitive. My eldest daughter is turning thirteen soon. Fortunately for her dad and I, she cares more about horses than boys at present, but what she wears is starting to matter quite a lot to her - she is my daughter after all. She's also growing tall and slim and looks good in skinny jeans, but that's no reason why she and girls not much older than she should be modeling grown-ups' clothing. Honestly, it's cute when five year olds play dressup in their mother's shoes, lingerie, and jewellery, but it ceases to be funny when fourteen year olds do it. Sure, they might look technically better in our clothes than we do - I'm willing to admit that, and I'd lend my daughter my sweaters if I they fit her - but somehow they just don't look...right.

I think clothes should honour the person wearing them. Gaping necklines and see-through silk don't honour a fourteen year old girl who is just barely beginning to be aware of what it means to be a woman. When I see those ads I want to grab those models and pull a t-shirt with a cute slogan and a picture of an owl over their heads, rip off the stillettos (or whatever), and shove some electric blue hightops on their feet instead. (Hopefully, that's what they do wear when they aren't modelling.) I'm at the age now where I honour my shape by draping it in 'structured' jackets and A-line skirts, because that is what I feel dignified in. There was a time when I could wear pretty much anything - and I did, but I just don't have that body anymore. It took me just as long as any other vain woman to realize it, but that's where I'm at. If I dressed like a fourteen year old, I would just look silly.

This body has produced four children. It has been stretched, pushed , prodded, poked, hooked up, sucked on, and wrung out - four times over. On a good day, especially after a good session of yoga or a long run, I think I look pretty good for what I've been through. Fortunately, there are plenty of clothing stores that market to women of a certain age and stage(mine), and their models reflect that. I could make a pretty long list of these retailers if I wanted to, but what I am criticizing are the big-name fashion designers, like the ones who advertise in Vogue - they are the ones using children as coat-hangers. They are the ones who set the tone for the world of fashion. Mid-pubescent gangly girls with dewy skin and doey eyes sell clothes I guess, but they aren't even close to representing the women who will actually buy them - and that's a disservice to real women, and young girls, everywhere.

October 19, 2009

The Dancer who Rattled the Boards

A couple of weeks ago an Irish band called 'Rattlin' the Boards' was playing at the Harrison Memorial Hall. I like Irish music in general, anything from traditional fiddle tunes to The Waterboys and The Pogues - and as anyone who knows me will tell you I love to dance - so Vern and I decided to go. The hall was packed, and extra seats had to be placed at the back. Concerts at this hall are rather special: it holds only about 200 people and the organizers set up large round tables, covered in rose coloured tablecloths that warmly glow with the fragmented light of candles set in stout vases of wavy glass. Each table seats eight people and at a sold-out concert, especially, the atmosphere is festive and cozy.

Vern and I, as volunteer ticket takers and part of the clean-up crew, sat at the very back for the show. I had dressed warmly because it can be a fairly cold job standing in a doorway taking tickets and handing out programs on a windy fall evening by the lake. After we could fit no more people than the fire department allows in the hall, we closed the doors. The music started and it didn't take long before people were up and dancing in the area in front of the stage. I spotted my friend, Marilee, who I can usually count on to dance with me (Vern likes to dance, but Celtic music isn't really his thing) and went up to join her. Marilee even knows the proper steps; I just sort of fake it and let my Celtic roots see me through. Among the several dancers, I noticed a teenage boy enjoying himself immensely. I recognized in him the features of Downs Syndrome, and for some reason it made me really happy to see him hopping up and down with great abandon. After I, in my light sweater and woven silk scarf, became entirely too hot to keep on dancing I went back to my seat. The boy, however, stayed up on his feet, and I think, danced every dance, no matter the tempo. The band announced a five-minute break, which they said would be twenty minutes in Ireland, and we volunteers took the opportunity to bus the tables and get ourselves a drink.

The lights flickered indicating the break was over. The band started again and we die-hard dancers rose, including the teenage boy. The band announced a series of reels and each song was progressively faster than the one before. Before long I had to sit down again, dripping with sweat in my long sleeves, and one by one everyone else left the dance floor - except for the boy. He jumped around, he twirled, he raised his hands in the air like a highland dancer in plaid shirt and jeans, and as the floor cleared, he expanded his routine to fill the space. I stayed at the back but stood so I could see him better. The dancers up front stayed to the side and also stood, watching the boy. The music rose with him and carried him away. He was flying. He was joy. He was - a true dancer. The tears were running down my face and I'm sure I was not the only emotional one in the crowd. The reels finally came to an end and the crowd, many on their feet, cheered and whistled in appreciation. "A free CD to the best dancer in the house!" cried the band's fiddler into the mike as he rose to shake hands with the boy. More cheers. The boy smiled with all his might and took a bow.

The band played on and the dance floor filled once more. We all danced again, including the boy and my husband. Rattlin' the Boards played one of the longest encores I've ever experienced, the tempo rising a notch with each new tune, but all the dancers stayed with it until the very end. We were all flying by then.

October 9, 2009

I Agree With Charlie Brown

The other night in Pricesmart, in the forefront of the Halloween candy display, I noticed a full shelf of imported cookies in tins and boxes. They weren't decorated in a Christmas theme, but it was pretty clear the store had brought them in as a first hint of the looming, (did I say 'looming'? I meant 'coming') Season. Beside the shelf of cookies was a cardboard stand full of Christmas cards, which I thought was fine for October 9, if someone needed to mail cards to relatives in some far off place like an undiscovered village deep in the Amazon Rainforest or the International Space Station. Last weekend, in the ever-shameless Superstore, we were greeted with a sign declaring: HALLOWEEN COSTUMES 25% OFF, while over in the seasonal display area, the Halloween stuff was already being pushed rudely aside in preparation for the piles of the more lucrative Christmas paraphenalia. I suppose that means the Thanksgiving things were out in July, but I must have wilfully ignored them. (I have also recently observed that the traditional holiday decorations are cross-pollenating: one can now buy Easter tree decorations and Thanksgiving crackers - the kind that go 'bang' when pulled, not the kind you eat). Don't they know that we parents are just trying to deal with one holiday at a time?

I'll admit I felt differently as a child. When I was little the Sears Wish Book would arrive in early fall and my brother, Stephen and I would pore over the pages, make fun of the ultra-serious male models in turtlenecks and satin smoking jackets, and mark all the toys and games we liked. We'd lie in bed at night asking each other what we wanted for Christmas and dream of air hockey, Easy-bake ovens, and velveteen skirt and jacket sets with lace collared blouses (at least in my case). I'm pretty sure it was mid-November when I would break out the 'Radar the Happy Reindeer' record. I'd sit in my dad's big green chair with heater and massage feature, listening on earphones to the story and music (the earphones were considered a great peace-keeping invention in our house.) After all, looking forward to Christmas is half the fun of it, but really, there are limits!

Is it truly necessary for the malls and shops to break out the Christmas decorations before Remembrance Day? It never hurts to be organized with one's shopping and preparations, but can't we do it on the sly instead of being so damned obvious about it?; ie. if I see something I think would make a great gift I will probably buy it and store it away in my hidden cache, but I don't need to be surrounded by tinsel and animated plastic Santas to do it. I mean, by the time Christmas is over I'm sick to death of hearing Elvis' 'Blue Christmas' while I shop for bread, milk and toilet paper. I would be the first to vote for a law against PDC's (Public Displays of Christmas) until December first.

My family and I spent this Thanksgiving with some very good friends at their farm. Since the day promised to be fine, we opted for a mid-day meal followed by a walk in the fields. It was wonderful to spend the morning cooking and the afternoon, after a huge turkey dinner followed by dessert and coffee, out in the fall sunshine. We first walked to the salmon spawning channel where the last of the coho struggled and splashed, next we walked to the second furthest field and spotted a big black bear enjoying the furthest field's grass. We watched the bear for a few minutes until it seemed to notice us, then headed south towards the house. We admired the row of sugar maples, all yellow and glowing against the deep blue of the mountains, we hunted for and dissected owl pellets in the cedar grove, and picked all the pumpkins in the farm's patch and loaded them onto the wagon. Back at the house we did the dishes while the children nibbled on pie and leftover potatoes, and then home we went, our bellies too full for anything resembling supper. And the best part? We didn't think about Christmas even once.

October 5, 2009

Thoughts on Turning Forty

While I had several ideas for this post, one glaring and obvious subject kept popping into my head: I turned forty last week. Before last week, when I was still in my thirties, no one could tease me about getting older like they can, and do, now. For the first time on any birthday, I received cards and messages to do with aging, and friends already in their forties welcomed me into their decade with great enthusiasm, as if to say, "Ha! Now you are one of us!" It all feels a bit strange, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.
Entering middle age is an interesting subject to ponder. It is possible that I have now lived half my life and it feels as if something is kicking me gently from behind and whispering into my ear that I'd better get serious about whatever it is I want to accomplish. No more messing around and making excuses. On the other hand, it doesn't do to get all ambitious when my circumstances haven't changed overnight like my age has. I still have a family of growing children to look after, a hard working husband to encourage, and everyday work to do. As my oldest friend says, we can only take the opportunites that present themselves. I'm not about to go and sign up for a bunch of self-help seminars or anything. I prefer to take life as it comes, not force it. That being said, I do think it is time to watch less t.v. and read more, to write more regularly, to cook and eat better, to make more of an effort in the house and garden, to be in more frequent contact with family members and old friends, to give more, but to rest when needed, and become less distracted - in short, to do more of what genuinely matters to me and much less of what doesn't. I have noticed a rising calm in my soul over the past year as I prepared to live in my new decade, and I feel ready for these 'improvements'. I have looked at my life and seen so much good in it, and I feel extremely blessed. It would be wrong not to want to simply build on that for this next phase. My daughter's piano teacher has a little tiny pillow on her sofa that says, "Life is good." That about sums it up and I'm too tired from celebrating to expand on that thought any further. Until next time...

September 25, 2009

Walls and Windows

Last week I was rifling through my CD collection, looking for something different, when I found Paul Simon's Graceland album. I put it on and was struck by the poetry of the lyrics. Each song painted a different picture and every day, when I listened to the album I heard more and more in it - a far cry from my response in 1986 when the album first came out. Back then I was carried away by the African rhythms and the words were, to me, more of a prop than anything. The fourth song on the album, called 'Gumboots' has a particularly fantastic line. I even posted the line on my Facebook page: "Believing I had supernatural powers I slammed into a brick wall." I believe the song is about love but the line stands alone for me like a mantra. A few Facebook friends, one now in Toronto, one in Salt Lake City, one in Vancouver recognized the lyric and responded like the album really meant something to them too. I love when that happens - when a little community comes together for a moment over a joke or a shared passion for something. I guess that's the beauty of these 'social networking' things.

Anyway, last week, after I had found the album I put it on and started cooking dinner. (My kids, who had never heard the album, asked if it was some of my 80's music and then scattered.) That line about slamming into a brick wall jumped out at me and I've been thinking about it ever since. Now I think I know why. When I was younger, a lot younger, I didn't exactly put bath towel capes over my shoulders and leap off the shed roof, but I did want, like many kids, to be, to do, so many things. In many ways I wished I had been born a boy, because I believed they had much more fun than girls. My closest sibling in age was a boy, two years older than me, and he and I played together most of the time. I always got along well with boys because I found them less complicated than girls. When I was eleven and twelve I used to wear cut off jeans and baseball shirts and kept my hair short. I remember going into Woolworth's to use the bathroom, and when I asked for the key, the woman at the counter said, "Um...would that be girl's bathroom?" She really wasn't sure. Not too long after that, when I was walking with my friend, Toni, who was extremely pretty, some boys called out, "Toni's got a boyfriend!" That was my first 'brick wall'. I knew that even I could not be both a girl and a boy, and since I was 'at that age' I was pretty sure I preferred to be recognized as a girl. When my mom took me shopping for grade eight clothes I let her buy me a flowered blouse. Even so, my young life continued to include a series of attempts to be something I was not destined to be. Granted, I had many successes, but I would invariably take on too many extracurricular activities, and then crash hard when I could not handle my superhuman efforts.

After my high school graduation I took a trip by train to visit my sisters in Winnipeg. Travelling alone was so unnerving that I stayed in the one car the entire time, even though I knew one could move around most of the train - so I did what came easily. I introduced myself to the only person my age on the car and he and I stayed up almost all night talking. During my third year of post-secondary education I decided that I should go to Europe. After all, everyone else was doing it, my friends were all well travelled, and it seemed like a rite of passage for college students. My sister, Clare and her friend had recently come back from four months in New Zealand and Australia and I wanted to be able to do what she had done. I began saving money and looking around for someone to travel with. When none of my friends proved to be available, I began to think about going alone. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn't do it. Every fibre of my being told me it was a bad idea. The travelling given up for now I decided to try treeplanting - my brother was making loads of money and I had UBC to save up for now. One day on a slashburnt slope - seven hours of pure torture - was all I managed. I came home after the first day with badly stretched achilles tendons and could barely walk for a week. Oh, the humiliation! And yet another brick wall. A few days later, my mother's friend offered me a job working for her at the Kootenay Lake Summer School of the Arts as an administrative assistant. She had told my mom that if she had known I was going to try treeplanting, she would have talked me out of it. She had once owned a treeplanting company and knew it would not be the right kind of work for 'someone like me'. I was choked when I heard that, but relieved about the admin. position, a job I loved and held for three summers.

Last week my 19 year old neice, Hailey took a train trip to Toronto with a friend. Her friend stayed in Toronto and Hailey flew to Prague. She was going to travel around Eastern Europe and even had some family connections to visit in Croatia and Italy. I had just seen her in August and knew she was very nervous about her upcoming trip. I even laughed and reassured her that if she wasn't nervous about travelling by herself in a foreign country there would be something wrong. After landing in Prague, Hailey discovered she was unable to use her credit card anywhere, and Prague was packed with visitors in preparation for a Papal visit. She must have found an internet cafe because she updated her status on Facebook with "What the heck am I doing here?" Having not slept in days she called relatives for help. Another aunt came to her rescue, and offered her own credit card number so Hailey could fly back to Canada. This morning I read Hailey's newest facebook status update: "defeated...but in an odd way, relieved." Do I know that feeling! 'Brick walls' are hard on us but in the end, can prove to be our greatest friends. There is that old saying after all: "When a door is closed, somewhere a window opens," usually a window into our own natures and our limits, with a better view of the path we are meant to be on.
Thank you Paul Simon.

September 21, 2009

Musings on amusement parks

The third weekend in September is what is locally referred to, with varying degrees of enthusiasm in our house, as 'Fall Fair Weekend'. In the six and a half years we have lived in Agassiz we have learned one should not plan birthday parties for that weekend unless they do not want any kids to come, to avoid driving the shortcut to Harrison Hot Springs because it goes right by the fair (which causes worse traffic than an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge), and to feed the kids before you go the Fair otherwise you will end up buying four dollar hot dogs, five dollar snow cones, and small, six dollar bags of warm, greasy, cinnamon-y mini doughnuts in addition to the typically exhorbitant cost of the rides. My youngest daughter describes the experience aptly as 'a fun ripoff ', mind you, there is much more to the Fair than the amusement park. Adults can enjoy live (generally country) music in the beer garden while they visit with old friends. There's a tractor pull, a parade, a goat milking competition between local dignitaries which usually includes the mayor and a school principal, 4H competitions, an Elvis impersonator, and the annual crowning of the Corn King or Queen - not a beauty competition, but actually to award the grower of the best corn. The Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival is a huge highlight for the local farmers, many of whom have lived here long enough to have roads named after their families. The Fair is a meeting place, a celebration of the harvest, and a chance to relax after the rigours of summer...

But back to the amusement park thing...I've never been one for amusement parks and carnivals. Once a year in Nelson, where I grew up, a travelling amusement park would come to town. Lots of kids would go every year, but for me, one ride on the Salt and Pepper Shaker was enough to last a life time. When I was in grade seven, I went with my dad to Vancouver to visit relatives. My Grandad treated us to a day at the PNE and invited my uncle's step-daughter, Denny, to come with us. Grandad bought us what seemed like five foot long strips of tickets and let us loose on the park. Not being an experienced rider of rollercoasters, I sought the more benign rides like the octopus, the train, etc. and was quite happy with these until my more experienced step-cousin's patience wore out and she coaxed me onto the old wooden rollercoaster. After lining up for enough time to get really scared, it was our turn to climb into one of the little cars. After all the cars were full, we started to climb slowly up, up, up the first slope. "This is no big deal," I thought. We reached the top and my stomach lurched - we were so very high! The coaster paused at the summit before plunging with great force straight down. Gravity lifted me right off the seat with only the metal bar to hold onto - no seat belt, no five-point harness like on modern roller coasters. I literally believed I was going to die. I think I screamed, but perhaps I was too terrified to scream. The rest of the ride was a blur and when we finally came to a stop and Denny hopped out, I found I could not move. My body would not get itself out of the car. I couldn't even speak, and the operator had to come over and help me out. Denny ran off to another lineup, most likely for the Salt and Pepper Shaker, but I staggered off the platform and sat down on a bench to get my bearings. It took seven carousel rides to calm myself down, and after the seventh I was relieved to have used up all my tickets.

When I met up with my Dad and Granddad again, my dad asked me to go on the Ferris Wheel with him. I had recovered from the roller coaster and agreed to go on the Ferris Wheel. Besides, I had been on one before, and after the experience I had just had the Ferris Wheel would be nothing. When the wheel started turning and my Dad was telling me about his childhood memories of Ferris Wheels, he put his hand on mine. "You don't have to hold my hand, Dad, I'm not scared," I said. He smiled and said, "Oh, but I might be." On the way back to my Grandparents' place in Whiterock, Denny and I sat in the back of Grandad's big brown Cadillac, feeling every rise and fall of the road in our stomachs.

My family's participation in the Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival varies from person to person. My oldest likes to go with all his friends on the Friday night when the carnival is alight in the dark and all the kids from miles around have come to scream their heads off. My second son, much like my husband, can't be bothered with the amusement park part of the Fair at all. He doesn't like rides and gets disgusted with the unfairness of the games. My girls and I enter baking, crafts and artwork into the agricultural exhibition and this year was no different. The prizes are modest amounts of money which the girls, in previous years have put towards the cost of their wrist bands for unlimited admission on the rides. This year, the girls didn't want to spend their money on rides, but my little one expressed a desire, on Saturday night, to go on the Ferris Wheel, so I treated her to a ride with me. Dusk was just starting to descend on the day and the lights of the Fair glowed like old fashioned Christmas decorations. The carny buckled us into our bench and as the wheel began to turn I put my hand on Katie's. "It's okay, mom, I'm not scared," she said. As our bench rose to the top of the wheel I felt my stomach fall and I had to look straight ahead. As the wheel turned I told my daughter about the time I went on the Ferris Wheel with my dad and what he said to me. I felt exactly the same way as he must have all those years ago, and I realized that just because I'd once ridden the famous wooden roller coaster at the PNE, it didn't mean I wouldn't be still unnerved by the height of the wheel. After a few turns I could relax and enjoy the view - and it was beautiful - but I kept on holding Katie's hand. Just in case.

September 14, 2009

Twelve o'clock low

I read a quote from a writing instructor once that said, "Write about what keeps you up at night." Today I am. I had a hard time going to sleep last night after I found out my uncle Wayne, my dad's younger brother had died on the weekend. It's not that we were particularly close - I hadn't even seen him in about 25 years, but I have, fairly recently, gotten reaquainted with my cousin, his son. I was filled with sadness, particularly this morning when I went to count Sunday's collection at the church office where I sometimes fill in as secretary, and there was a funeral going on, with very few people present. I wondered if my uncle would have a funeral, or a memorial, or something. He had been in rough shape for a long time and so I truly hope he will finally rest in peace.
Years ago when I was on the early side of my teen years I remember Wayne coming to visit my family as he used to do every so often. The well loved Canadian folk singer, Stan Rogers had recently died and Wayne had brought my parents a record that had been sold posthumously, I believe. My mom put the record on, and as the familiar baritone filled the room, Wayne put his arm around my mom's shoulder. She put her arm around his and they rocked back and forth, singing along with tears in their eyes. At the time I had mixed feelings about this display. I thought they were a bit crazy, but I knew my mom was empathizing with Wayne. And I loved her for it.
Wayne's death will not have come as a surprise for his son, who had visited him frequently over the past couple of years and witnessed his demise in person. It must be hard for him all the same, but I hope he is finding comfort in the fact that he was recently with most of our family at our happy reunion in August, representing Wayne's section of the family, a role he will continue to fill even more so now.

September 9, 2009

Food, glorious food!

I swear I spend fifty percent of my time thinking about food. Add a couple of percents to that fifty now that school is in session. Summer time is fairly easy when it comes to feeding the family. I just make a big protein-rich salad every morning and stick it in the fridge to cool for supper. Other than that everyone just forages...and forages.
Now that school is in I have to think about 'litterless lunches'. I have to make sure there is bread thawed for breakfast or get up early to make pancakes or porridge. I have to make sure they have something filling like loaves or muffins for an after school snack (my Kitchen Aid mixer is my trusty sidekick during the school year) otherwise the kids will come home and eat all the bread I'm saving for breakfast and lunches; when I'm working and too busy to bake I have to make sure there are ingredients for something they can make themselves. I make a big pot of soup/chili/stew every week, which becomes, on the second night, the dinner waiting warm on the stove, ready at any time for the family going in five different directions at different times. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I realized long ago that if I wanted to have a great amount of control over what my children eat, I'd have to spend the time, the money and the energy required to satisfy my own standards. My teenagers spend their own money on junk food and going out for lunch, but when they eat at home I insist they eat well. My daughter said only this morning that she will remember this line of mine all her life: "Do you have any protein in that lunch?" I told her that I first heard it from my own mom.
"Real food" was a term I heard repeatedly from the time I was a small child. According to family lore, it was all packaged soup and Velveeta in our house before my mom became enlightened by some university students boarding at our house who started teaching her how to make granola. One Christmas my mom requested the book Recipes for a Small Planet. I remember being secretly so happy to discover that I could afford the book, and so I bought it for her. I learned to regret it when she presented us with bowls of what my brother and I called 'vulgar wheat'. When she introduced us to tofu, she served it raw, and I thought if I poured enough soy sauce on it it would eventually taste okay. Needless to say I ended up with a quarter of a bottle of soy sauce on my plate, and was no further ahead with the cubes of cold soy protein.
It wasn't all 'weeds and seeds' (as my dear departed Nana used to call it) and experimental forays into 'health food', however. My mom is a fabulous baker, and we regularly enjoyed homemade bread, cinnamon buns, cake, and lemon meringue pie. We devoured roast beef and mashed potatoes on many Sundays, spaghetti and meatballs, and what mom called 'egg pie', which was plain quiche and very good.
Nevertheless, as a child, I was always hungry. My mom used to think there was something wrong with me because I ate so much. My childhood friends like to tell embarrassing stories about me - about how I used to open their cupboards and say, "What have you got to eat?" Back then I probably spent about fifty percent of my time thinking about food. Nothing really changes, does it?

September 4, 2009

The new t-shirt

Note to self: (I apologize for beginning this post as if I were Bridget Jones - I do love that scene in the book/movie when she, not a cook, decides to host her own birthday party and decides on an elaborate menu of Thai dishes that, pretty much, turn out to be "Blue Soup, Omelette, and Marmalade.")
Back to the subject at hand. Note to self: turn a blind eye to the slogan on eldest son's new t-shirt, which reads in large black letters, "SHAKESPEARE HATES YOUR EMO POEMS." When he showed it to me I had a sudden vision of him being knifed on a bus by an offended emo person, and told my son how I felt about it. Number two son, in his usual way said quickly, "Don't worry Mom, the emos will be too busy slitting their own wrists to worry about Ian and his t-shirt." Ack! Where did these horribly insensitive children come from? Granted, they are sixteen and fifteen and 'at that age,' so my friends tell me.
My mother, on a recent visit shocked me by telling me I was like my eldest as a teenager. I'll feign a Miss Piggy voice now and say, "What, moi?" Originally scoffing at the idea that I could have been as snide, as critical, as aloof, as impenetrable as my eldest son presently acts, I could not avoid the truth of Mom's claim for long. As time's sheer curtains were parted in my memory and long forgotten scenes played like silent films in my brain, it slowly dawned on me that I had been like my eldest in many ways - and I continued to be so until the effects of first love and the subsequent heartbreak served to knock off my edges with the harshness and precision of a stone sculptor's chisel.
I suppose the next time my boys go for society's jugular I will be able to comfort myself with two facts:
1) The t-shirt is, I would assume, available at CD Plus stores everywhere. Soon my son won't be the only one wearing it, and its shock value will diminish.
2) One day my sons will fall in love.

September 3, 2009

Welcome to my brand new blog!

I think it is only fair to tell/warn you of what this blog is going to be about, so here goes...

I am a mother, so it will be about motherhood.
I am a wife, so it may include occasional musings on marriage and family.
I am a reader so it will be about books.
I love music so it will be about music and musicians.
I write so it will be about writing.
I am a part-time extrovert so it will be about social situations I've been in and how they sometimes go awry.
I am a runner so it will contain some thoughts on my progress or lack thereof.
I am a daughter so it will be about the truths my parents told me.
I am a Catholic so it will, no doubt, contain musings on that subject as well as expletives such as "Holy Mother of God!!!!"
Most of all, however, I am a storyteller who loves to laugh at life and its inconsistencies so it may at times be funny...God willing.