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.