Getting there

Getting there

Monday, June 27, 2011

Realizing the Dream

Dear friends, in just over a week I will embark on a journey of both body and mind. You see, this is all about a book I read many years ago. It's not a work of fiction, but rather a book that captured my mind and imagination, and a book that spawned a dream. It is this book:

Like so many people I am a person of varied interests. Many people are surprised to discover that I am an avid fan of paleontology, and of certain eras in particular. The eras that go way back - to the very beginning of life, the Cambrian and pre-Cambrian - are the ones that have fired my imagination since I was very, very young. Some children love dinosaurs and the like, but not I. I was always fascinated with the trilobite and his kind, small creatures that foreshadowed those that followed.

I probably read "Wonderful Life" just after it was published in 1989. I had read some other books by noted evolutionary theorist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, and they were always amazingly good reads as he had ideas that were quite novel and ways of presenting them that truly provoked thought. I'm sad to say he is gone now but his legacy lives on his books which deserve to be read again and again (and I do).

"Wonderful Life" is about a very specific era in time, just after the Cambrian explosion of life. The creatures that existed at this time are unlike any the world had ever seen before, and unlike any we have seen since. It seems a time when evolution and life went to the far edge of experimentation, and when the creatures seem a bit wonky to us. The point is that was it not for an extinction event these creatures could have been the ones to continue to evolve, and our world could look like a very different place today. It's the sort of thing that tends to do my head in a bit (like thinking about the consequences of time travel) and yet it's something I can't stop thinking about, either. It's a question that teases and taunts me, and that has haunted my thoughts ever since reading the book.

One of the most incredible things about the topic of the book is that the creatures were found at the Burgess Shale, in Canada's very own Rocky Mountains. The mountain containing the shale is located in an area called Yoho National Park, and for many years you have been able to do climbs to the Shale to see this amazing place where life so different from today once existed.

For years I dreamed of visiting the Shale. In the 90's it was something I simply couldn't afford to do, and then in later years it became clear it was physically impossible for me to do so. You see, dear friends, I spent many years in very poor physical shape, carrying around an extra 60 pounds or so, and there was no possible way I could endure a 10-hour, 20 km mountain trek even if I desperately wished to do so. Two years ago, though, my life changed, and as I embraced my life again I shed that excess baggage weighing me down. Suddenly, the Shale seemed possible. It had beckoned me for twenty years - would I answer the call?

On July 5th, dear friends, my husband, myself, and a small group of friends (almost all scientists and/or geologists, and all with a love for the Shale) will be accompanied by a guide to the Burgess Shale. We will visit the site that inspired the book that inspired me. I will see the place where these creatures lived and swam and reproduced...and died. I will see where life took some bizarre evolutionary turns, and where it could have changed the entire face of the world but for a twist of fate. I expect there will be some challenges along the way as it is not an easy hike, and it is a long one. With the company of my beloved husband, who has long wished for me to achieve this goal, and my good friends, I know I can make it, and I can stand where I have long dreamed of standing. That night we have planned a lavish dinner at a local lodge/resort where we can all celebrate a good day's hike, an accomplishment, and, in some cases, a dream realized. 

I expect I will cry when I reach the Shale. I plan to carry a small paperback copy of "Wonderful Life" with me in my pack, and to read a passage or two from it when I reach my goal. You see, I believe it is important to celebrate and memorialize these events in your life, and the realization of a dream first dreamed twenty years ago seems worthy of such celebration. Dear friends, I will write one day about the climb, and about the Shale, and about the feeling of being there. Today, however, I continue to simply revel in the dream, and to think about the possibilities this life holds for us when we allow ourselves to simply dream.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Heroes and Angels

Dear friends,  I wrote yesterday about momentary lapses in judgement and how they can change the trajectory of your life. Since the riots in Vancouver this is something I've been thinking about a great deal. I imagine most of us watched the riots unfold with some degree of horror, disbelief, and anger. As time has gone on, though, other stories have come to the forefront - stories of those with courage to stand up against a mob. I'd like to share one of those stories.

I think all my readers know I have a wee problem with shoes. I'm a shoe junkie, and one of my very favourite shoe designers and retailers happens to be John Fluevog. In March when I visited Vancouver I was lucky enough to visit the store location on Granville, and during the riots I must admit I worried about what was happening to my beloved Fluevog store. As it turns out my fears were well placed as rioters did indeed smash windows, and were about to begin looting the store. One rioter was even trying to start a fire inside the store. What saved the store? This man.

His name is Andrew. I don't know if Andrew is a Fluevog fan, or if he just happened to be walking by the store when the rioters attacked. It doesn't really matter as what Andrew did is heroic regardless. He stationed himself outside the store and prevented looters from entering. He stopped someone from tossing a flaming bag into the store. He couldn't save all of downtown Vancouver, but he saved one small store that I hold dear to my heart. Dear friends, people like Andrew renew my faith in humanity. When all seems lost, and when the world seems to be going mad, people like Andrew appear and they stand up for what they believe. They risk themselves. Others might call that foolish, and perhaps it is - but it's also beyond brave. It makes me feel that just maybe there is hope for us all.

I had my daughter read the story I wrote yesterday about the young rioter who made such a poor decision. Today I will have her read about Andrew to see that all is not lost, and that even during times of great turmoil there are people who stand firm and stare down those who threaten us. There are heroes and angels among us, dear friends. One happens to be a man in Vancouver named Andrew.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Momentary Lapse

You've probably seen the photo above. It was taken during the riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost game seven. I'm not going to name the young man as it's been reported all over the web, and I'm still not sure how I feel about this young man's name being released despite him being a juvenile offender. I am sure of one thing, though. When I read the story I was horrified, and I immediately sat my daughter down to read it because it is a cautionary tale of youth, bad decisions, and consequences.

If you've read the story after the young man was identified then you know it's not one of poverty and lack of advantages. The young man is considered an elite athlete, and one who was about to embark on an academic career courtesy of a scholarship awarded due to his sport ability. He was raised in a home with professionals, and lived in a posh Vancouver-area neighbourhood. From all accounts he was a good student, and was about to graduate from high school.

When I saw the story what struck me is how a bad decision - a momentary lapse in judgement - can affect one's entire future. This young man now faces criminal charges. He faces losing the scholarship, perhaps, and has been suspended from his athletic team. He has already faced the censure of his friends, his family, and of the world. He has profoundly disappointed his parents. His entire future, and his relationship with others, is in jeopardy. Even more he can never erase these photos and videos from our internet world - they will be there forever, when he's twenty, and thirty, and seventy. He can never undo what he has done.

When I made my daughter read the story she was very quiet. I explained to her that I wanted her to read it because she has so many advantages, too. As a single child she has the entire focus of her parents' attention and love. She is academically successful, and generally successful in her other pursuits as well. She comes from a home with parents who are financially secure and able to provide her with many material things. What I wanted her to understand was that these advantages can be lost in a heartbeat by simply making a poor decision that "seemed like a good idea at the time". I doubt the young man in the photo above has a long criminal record, or that he is generally speaking a "bad kid". I suspect he's just a kid who made a really lousy decision.

 I also explained to my daughter that those advantages don't mean one can act with impunity, either. The young man above will face the consequences of his actions, and they may be harsh ones to accept - but accept them he must. I look at the young man in this photo and think of how this one act may have changed the trajectory of his life. That's an astonishing thought, really, that one thing we choose to do can change our lives forever. I guess that's why I insisted my daughter read the story. I want her to always think very carefully about her decisions - because, dear friends, she may well be making the one that could change her life and not even realize it. I hope the decisions she makes are ones that change it forever for the better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Return of the Weasels

When I was a young woman I left my parents' home and moved away to another city to seek my future. I suppose we all do that eventually, and while I had a very difficult time leaving my parents what I must admit I missed terribly was my cat. I had grown up with pet cats, and being a young adult without a pet seemed wrong. My husband had grown up with dogs, and thus he felt the same way. We were two young adults, married, without children, and our home seemed empty. We knew we weren't ready for a dog, and a cat was out of the question due to my husband's allergies - so, what to do? Well, dear friends, enter the ferrets(or, as we playfully called them, "the weasels").

Ferrets are not your usual pet, perhaps, but then my husband and I have never really been usual people, either. When we first encountered a pet ferret we were enchanted, and it wasn't long before we decided we needed one. They seemed the ideal pet - small, kept easily in a cage when we were working, and yet also playful and engaging.

We found him in a pet store. A tiny little sable ferret kit, he seemed friendly and curious. He was all that and more, dear friends. He became the first pet we'd ever owned on our own, and he was perhaps the most wonderful animal I've ever known. Affectionate, intelligent, playful, mischievous - he was everything we could hope for, and we quickly became attached to him.

It wasn't long before another ferret entered our lives. This one came from a very different source, though. She was found at the side of a road and brought into a vet clinic. She had been attacked by something, and as a result was missing one ear and blind in one eye. My husband heard about her from the clinic and they asked if we wanted her. How could we say no? We knew ferrets, we knew our resident ferret would not mind - and so she came home to us, this little red-eyed albino ferret. She was perhaps the most affectionate of all our ferrets, and she loved to gently groom my eyebrows and eyelashes, tugging gently at them as she made soft clucking noises of love. She and our little sable ferret became attached to each other very quickly, and would sleep in a little ferret pile. Frankly, it might seem anthropomorphic but any fool could see this handsome sable and this little albino were in love.

A year or so after that yet another ferret joined the family. A man came into the vet clinic where I was working and asked if we would put his ferret to sleep. I asked for details and it emerged that he wanted us to euthanize an 8-week old ferret because it was biting. I told him that kittens, puppies, and small children bite and that we didn't put them to sleep, but he was unmoved in his determination. I then told him to hand me the ferret, get out, and never darken the door of my clinic again. He did as he was told (I suspect he knew the look on my face meant he wasn't getting out the clinic door without giving me the ferret, and that the ferret wasn't the only biting creature he was currently dealing with). My husband was home sick that day and I recall going home, putting the pet carrier on the bed, and saying "we have a new one!". And so the largest, goofiest, most playful, and least inhibited of our ferrets entered our lives. Our original sable male welcomed him, but the little albino female saw him as an interloper and while she tolerated him her occasional screams indicated what she really thought of his antics. The new arrival had to be caged separately as the little albino had no intention of sharing anything with him.

These three were our pets for many years, dear friends. Because of them I appeared on CBC radio twice (once to discuss ferrets as pets and once on Morningside to hold a ferret race, which was quite the spectacle - shame it was radio!). Because of them I began writing for a small local pet newspaper (which was the first time I was paid to write). Over the years they moved with us to new apartments, and eventually to a new city. In the new city things quickly changed, though, as their age became apparent.

The little albino female, the one who was so very attached to me, developed liver cancer. I nursed her through months of illness, and she lasted far longer (and in far better shape) than the vet treating her predicted. I hand fed her for weeks, and one day, when the cancer overwhelmed her, she died in my arms. It was the first time something I had loved so much, and cared for so deeply, died. It was a devastating moment.

The little sable male, our original ferret, followed soon after. He too had some health issues, and after the death of his little albino friend he seemed to lose ground quickly. He was euthanized when it became clear he would not recover, and the loss of them both in such short order was very difficult to accept.

The last little ferret, the one who came into our home last, was also the last to leave it. He developed a common form of cancer in ferrets, lymphosarcoma, and while I nursed him as best I could eventually he succumbed to a disease for which there is no cure. He too had to be euthanized, and thus the last ferret was gone.

We went on in future years to own a dog, and then to have a child. The original dog developed cancer and we said good-bye to another beloved creature, and over time we acquired another dog. As my daughter grew older she began to agitate for a pet of her own - again, we couldn't have a cat, but what about a ferret, she asked.

What about a ferret indeed? We told her that if she showed diligence in caring for our dog that we would consider a pet ferret for her twelfth birthday. She has not yet turned twelve, but sometimes fate has made other plans for us. Last week the man who owns the local boarding kennel (where we often board our dog) called. One of his employees had a ferret, about a year old, that wasn't getting enough attention. She was thinking about rehoming it, but the only person she would ever consider giving it to was someone who had owned ferrets and knew them. Dear friends, she was offering it to me. There were quiet discussions between my husband and I, not wanting to get our daughter's hopes up. In the end, though, I think we all knew what the end result would be. This is my daughter's new pet ferret, Abu. He is a little sable male, much like the original little guy that we bought from a pet store over 20 years ago. Dear friends, a weasel has returned to our house - and with him comes memories of those other weasels and how dearly I loved them all. I hadn't realized how deeply I missed them, but when Abu hops out of his cage to play I remember days gone by. I think about how your life just seems fuller when something you didn't even know was missing comes back into it.


Sunday, June 19, 2011


Well, dear friends, as Father's Day approached this week I found my thoughts turning to my relationship with my father. He has been gone for over five years now, but I find I still think of him often and I imagine I always will. I often contrast my relationship with him with the relationship between my husband and our daughter. My sisters describe my husband as a "modern dad", very involved and likely as close to our daughter as I am. I must admit that my father and I had a more distant and traditional relationship, and that as a result I was closer to my mother. Despite this, though, the relationship I had with my father was probably the more complicated, and in some ways likely the most formative relationship I've ever had with anyone...and this is why.

My father had been brought up during the Depression years on the prairies, tough years to be alive let alone to be a child. He was raised by very traditional German parents, and though he didn't speak of it often I suspect his childhood had a brutal edge to it as his father drank heavily and believed in physical discipline. I always thought it remarkable then that my dad was such a gentle man. He was the sort of man loved by children and animals, which speaks volumes about character, I think. Children and animals can sense those who will treat them well, and they gravitated to my father. These vulnerable creatures know to whom to look for protection and love, and my father was that kind of man.

As a small child I don't remember much about my dad, to be honest. I remember most his musical talent, which I've written about before. As I grew older, though, he and I began to talk to each other and that's when my true memories of my dad begin. He may have not received much formal education but he was intelligent and remarkably astute. He had some ideas that seemed antiquated, but he was a very different generation from me (he was about 41 when I was born) so that seems to be expected. He also grew up in a rural setting while I grew up in the city, where we had moved when I was six, so we had very different perspectives on the world as we grew.

My dad, being the older and traditional sort, kind of had trouble saying the words "I love you". I never doubted his love, though. Why? Because he found ways to show it instead of saying it.

One of my dad's great loves was chocolate. When I was a child he and my mother would go grocery shopping and he would always buy two chocolate bars, one for him and one for me. Into the fridge they would go, and I would always know to look there when I needed a little chocolate (and fatherly) love. When I was in my late teen and early adult years I went through some difficult times, and on those weeks two chocolate bars meant for me would appear in the fridge. He didn't need to say any words - he knew when it was a two-chocolate bar kind of week for me.

He would often arrive home late after work with gifts for me. They were always unexpected things, like a new bike I didn't know I needed, or a cassette player. He would buy me things he knew I'd like, and while some may think this was some form of "buying my love" it was anything but. It was his way of saying that he knew me.

We didn't always get along, dear friends. We fought, as parents and children do, especially when I was a teenager. There were things he simply didn't understand, like the pink hair, the punk music, and the boys I chose to bring home (each designed to be more shocking than the last). He thought I was an unusual creature, no doubt, this youngest child of his who had more advantages than my sisters had ever had, and certainly far more than he had ever had.

When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer the bottom fell out of my world. I couldn't comprehend that this man could die - he had always been there, and I'd assumed he always would be. That assumption died a hard death, just as he did a few years later. I wish I could say death is a gentle and peaceful process but in my experience it is anything but that. It is painful. It is brutal. It is, whether expected or not, the end of something special, including hopes and dreams. I still cry when I think of my father in a palliative care bed. I likely always will.

When I met my the man who became my husband I never realized how much like my dad he is. He is intelligent and astute. He is gentle and loved by animals and children. He is musically talented. He spoils me with gifts and presents, too. Unlike my dad, though, he is free with words of love. The thing that strikes me most is that I married a man so much like my dad that it astonishes me. This is why I suspect that the relationship with my dad was the most formative of my life - it is the relationship that defined my future. It led me to my marriage, and then to my daughter as well. I look at my daughter and I imagine she will one day choose a man like her dad, and thus also like her grandfather. She couldn't be more lucky to find a man like these two men, dear friends. They are, despite their differences in their ability to express it, what all good fathers should be - ones who love their children completely, hopelessly, and forever.

One of my dad's favourites..

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Legacy

When my father died five years ago it was a difficult time. He had been sick for a couple of years so his death was expected, but it was still very hard to accept. He went from being a very lively, talkative, healthy and opinionated man to a skeletal figure in a palliative care bed. Lung cancer does that, dear friends - it robs you of your quality of life, and then it just ends it.

After my father died I knew I would inherit some things. I inherited one-fifth of the farm he and my mother owned. They had actually farmed this land and lived there in the 1950's, with the four little girls who are my sisters. By the time I came along the farming days were behind them, but his attachment to the farm was profound and thus instead of selling it he preferred to will it to the five of us girls and let us do with it as we please. I am proud to say that five years later we still own the farm, and we administer it together (with two sisters taking on the primary roles, but with each sister having an equal voice in decisions). That is one inheritance of which I am especially proud as it is a continuance of a family legacy, and I know it would delight my father to know we have kept it.

The other thing I knew I would inherit is money. It seems so awful to come into money in such a way, dear friends. When the inheritance cheque arrived it took me a few days to cash it as even looking at it made me feel slightly ill. It just seemed wrong that my father's death came with money attached to it. Maybe there are those who look forward to such an inheritance, but I am not one of them. It almost hurt to deposit the cheque, but what made it slightly more palatable was knowing that some of the money was going to help continue another family legacy.

My father, along with being a farmer, a carpenter, an electrician, and many other things, was a musician. He had been playing instruments ever since he was a very young man. He'd never had the benefit of lessons, as his youth had been a hard-scrabble one lived during the Depression years on the prairies. He taught himself to play most of the instruments, and probably had other musicians teach him the rest. He could not read music, and played by ear, which is all the more astonishing to me. He could play the guitar and banjo, the organ and accordian, and, when I was a child, he taught himself to play the saxophone (I remember long hours of what appeared to be the sound of screaming cats emanating from the basement). Eventually he mastered that instrument, too.

During his young adult years he even played in a polka band. His band was apparently in hot demand for weddings and the like, and I still have photos of him onstage. It's remarkable to see him so young and handsome. As he grew older music continued to give him great pleasure, and he played often when his brothers and sisters and their families would come to visit us after we moved into the "big city". I recall so many nights in the family basement. The rye would flow and so too would the music, with them playing until they were utterly exhausted and unable to go on. Eventually they would tumble into bed only to pick up the instruments again the next day and start all over again. When I was a teenager I used to think it was interminable and awful. Now how I wish I could be back there again, sitting down in that basement and wondering if they would ever stop. I wish it could have gone on forever, even if it meant listening to "You Are My Sunshine" another million times.

So, when the inheritance cheque arrived I knew one thing I wanted to do with it. I wanted to buy an instrument. I wanted to buy a piano. This was not because I can play piano, as I can't. In fact, I can't play a single instrument, I sing only when alone and then entirely off-key, and I am quite profoundly tone-deaf. No, the piano was not for me. It was for my daughter.

We found a beautiful piano, a lovely upright grand of the highest quality. We had it delivered to our home, and I found a piano teacher for my daughter. I hoped she would enjoy it, but what I hadn't expected was that she would, in fact, be musical. Now, my husband is also musically inclined, so I suppose I should have considered the possibility, but when she showed an aptitude for reading music and playing I was amazed.

She took to the piano quickly. She went gradually over the years from 1/2 hour lessons weekly to one hour long lessons. She did recitals and Royal Conservatory exams, but this past year I was saddened when it seemed her interest was diminishing. I feared the legacy I had so desired might be dying. I wanted this gift from her grandfather to her to be one she cherished, and I was heartbroken.

After some talking, though, I learned that what she was objecting to were the recitals and the exams. She enjoyed learning music, and learning to play - but she wanted to play simply for pleasure, not for grades or accolades. I spoke to her piano teacher, and, as of next year, she will no longer do exams or even recitals. I never wanted or expected her to be a concert pianist. I always simply wanted her to be able to walk into a room, spy a piano, and sit down and play a favourite piece. The funny thing is that this is exactly what she wants, too - and it is exactly what my father did. He would often play when no one else was around to hear, not for applause but rather because he loved music. It seems that legacy is not only alive and well but runs deeper than I thought.

Last night my daughter was restless and unable to sleep. She came into our room to chat a bit, and as it was quite late we sent her back to her room to try again. Before she went to her room, however, I heard the scrape of the piano bench, and then she began to play one of her favourite pieces. My husband sighed a bit but I looked at him and said "You know, even if she wanted to play at 2 AM it would be okay with me". And it would be, dear friends, because it is the legacy I desired and hoped for coming to life. Her grandfather would be so very proud. I know I am.

New Beginnings 2007

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Irish Vs. Canadian

Lough Corrib, Cong, County Mayo, Ireland

Harbourfront, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

When I was in Vancouver two months ago I was having dinner with a large group. The group consisted of my sisters, my aunt, a nephew who lives in Vancouver, and a gentleman friend of mine who also lives in Vancouver. My friend was kindly serving as the tour guide for our group that evening. My sisters were commenting on what a lovely city Vancouver is, and my gentleman friend (who grew up in South Africa and has travelled all over the world) told them that he believes it is the best city on the planet. I, in my typical argumentative way, begged to differ and said that I would argue for some other cities, including places like Cork in Ireland. My friend is the sort who loves a good "wind up", as the English say, so I knew his next statement would be interesting. He looked at me and stated that the problem with Cork is that it's full of the Irish as opposed to Vancouver which is full of Canadians, and really, who would I rather be with, Irish or Canadians?

One of my sisters looked at my friend with shock. She told my friend that she couldn't believe he'd just said that - didn't he know that I believed I AM Irish? He snorted and replied that this was exactly why he'd said it, and he challenged me to write about whether I'd prefer to live in a city full of Canadians or full of the Irish. It's taken me a couple of months and some thinking, but here's my reply : it doesn't matter, because aside from geography and accent the Irish and Canadians are practically the same.

Why do I believe this? I've had the good fortune in my life to meet people from all over the world. I've noted that some are very different from Canada in many respects, and some differ in almost every respect. The thing that I suspect made me feel so at home in Ireland is that the Irish are so very similar to Canadians in so many ways.

The Irish don't take themselves too seriously, and neither do Canadians. Both nations have a ferocious sense of pride and nationality, but it's of the quiet sort. We are both quite able to take jokes aimed at us and about us, and often tell the best ones about ourselves. We both feel a bit misunderstood by the rest of the world, and marvel at how little our neighbouring countries truly know about us. We both know we have something special in our countries, and we know that other countries haven't quite figured that out yet - and we also think that's quite okay, too.

We don't take our politicians too seriously, either. We don't expect they will work miracles, walk on water, or otherwise rescue us single-handedly from our own appetite for destruction. We don't believe in the mythical "Superman" politician who will supposedly solve everything (only to disappoint as no one person, or even one government, can solve everything). We aren't even particularly concerned with our politicians' private lives. There have been rumours floating around Canada for months that our prime minister is separated from his wife, but no one really seems to care. Can you imagine a similar rumour about President Obama? The media would be frothing at the mouth over that, as would many citizens. No, as long as our politicians manage to keep their names out of the local court briefs for criminal charges we don't much care what they are up to (and even if they do appear in the court briefs we tend to be remarkably forgiving and tolerant as we all have foibles, right?).

We also don't really take our celebrities all that seriously. One of the most charming stories I heard in Ireland was about Bono of U2 fame. Bono has a house (okay, mansion) in Dublin, but still frequents a small local pub. Apparently the other pub patrons, including the local postmaster, have taken it upon themselves to insure Bono doesn't get too big an ego and whenever he turns up they give him a bit of a hard time for being such a "big star" (accompanied by snorts of derision and laughs). It's not that they don't like him, as they do - it's that to them he's a local boy who made some money, found some fame, and needs to be reminded that he's just as Irish as the rest of them. Charming, really.

We are both nations that roll with the punches. When I was in Ireland it was just as news of their financial crisis was reaching a fever pitch, and quite honestly they seemed rather unconcerned. Oh, it was a bit of a bother, but really it was nothing new, and nothing they hadn't seen before. It would all work out in the end, and why get all worked up about it? I was actually mildly astonished by this attitude, but it's quite Canadian, too. We aren't really the sort to get all worked up over much, and thus we don't really have much in the way of violent protests or rallies about, well, anything. We might be concerned, and we might get upset, but massive protests of violent action? Not really our style. Now, one thing the Irish might get worked up about is football matches, but us Canadians have a similar weakness in the form of the NHL, so we share that passionate nature, too.

The Irish and Canadian sense of humour is so similar, too. With jokes often based on puns and word play we are both playful nations who enjoy a rousing discussion and love nothing more than a good verbal joust. This is even more prevalent in a pub (or a bar as we Canucks prefer to call them) when the beer has been flowing. Which of course brings up another similarity - both nations love a good beer, and preferably a real beer, not that watered-down version popular in some other nations that shall remain nameless.

I could go on, I suppose. I could talk about the similarities in how both nations view life in general, and how we interact with each other. There are differences too, of course, but they are of the infinitesimal variety and not worth mentioning. Hey, they even have Tim Horton's coffee in Ireland - when I saw that I knew the similarities to Canada were no mere coincidence and were, in fact, deep to the core. My true point is that for this Canadian Ireland felt like a second home. I was speaking to someone recently about my trip and they said to me "You really should consider moving there considering how you feel about it", and the truth is that some day I may do exactly that. It's not because I'd want to leave Canada, as I love Canada and am so proud of this nation. It's simply because if I ever wanted to live in another country I now know exactly which one it is. It's because I know that living in a city surrounded by the Irish would feel very much like living in a Canadian city and being surrounded by Canadians. So, there you have my response at last, dear friends. Which would be better, a city full of the Irish or a city full of Canadians? Both, dear friends, would be quite lovely, and both would very quickly feel like home.

Dublin Tim Horton's

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Face Sucking Zombies Don't Like To Be Licked (And Other Marital Advice)

There are days, dear friends, when I realize I have a very unusual little family. There are only three of us, my husband, my daughter, and I, and we are extremely close. We share many things, such as a love of travel and knowledge, an interest in science and exploration, and, well, an unusual sense of humour.

One night we were just sitting around watching television, and an ad about a zombie movie came on. The ad was both disturbing and funny, as anything zombie-related tends to be, although it had the best music I've ever heard for a zombie-movie commercial ("Mad World" - listen to the lyrics!). Suddenly my daughter turned to us and for no particular reason said "face sucking zombies don't like to be licked, you know". Now, in any other family perhaps this would be considered an unusual statement, but in mine it's pretty much close to the usual conversational fare.

Very quickly my husband and daughter began riffing off that line and off each other, finally settling on the title that heads this post. They decided that I should write a blog posting about this title, although I'm a little bewildered as to what other kind of marital advice one would include in this category. Perhaps "neck biting vampires hate turtlenecks" and "mouth-frothing werewolves find collars and leashes inhibiting"?

What I love about our little trio is how we can get into some conversations that make us laugh until we all cry. We have had discussions that have left us all sore from excessive laughter. We can start with a very small statement and end up in a place where we are all red-faced, entirely speechless, and incapable of further interaction as anything anyone says starts it all over again. I'm not saying any of us would make it as a professional comedian, but we can make each other laugh, which is an incredible thing for people who spend every day of every month of every year together.

So, dear friends, my marital advice today? Don't lick any face sucking zombies. And if you figure out what that means then perhaps you can explain it to me, because honestly I still have no idea!

Gary Jules - "Mad World"

Monday, June 6, 2011


As I wrote last week I celebrated my 45th birthday on Thursday. It was a birthday celebration I'll never forget as it was an incredibly busy weekend, and perhaps the best part of it was the opportunity to meet someone whose work I have long admired. Not only did I get to meet him but I discovered we share a lot of common ground, too, which made it even better.

A few weeks ago I saw on Twitter that Canadian performer (actor, comedian) Shaun Majumder was coming to my city to do a couple of shows. Not only was he coming to the city he was also auctioning off a dinner with himself and his lovely fiance´ Shelby (the dinner was a fundraiser for Shaun's new business initiative in Burlington, Newfoundland). Not only that but the dinner was scheduled for June 2nd - my birthday. I mentioned it to my husband, and then I pretty much left it alone (although I admit I did check the ebay auction listing a couple of times). I was delighted when on Wednesday evening my husband and daughter informed me that we had indeed won the auction, and we would be meeting Shaun and Shelby on Thursday evening at a local restaurant. It was a wonderful birthday gift, as I have lots of "material" things and have moved into a phase in my life where experiences are worth more than a new pair of shoes (shocking, I know).

Now, when you meet people who have achieved some fame or notoriety you never know what they will be like. I've met a few in my life (like Gordon Ramsay) and have always been absolutely thrilled to discover that they are, generally speaking, just like the rest of us. This was certainly true of Shaun and Shelby, and while initially the dinner was a bit awkward (after all, they didn't know what to expect any more than we did) it quickly became like a dinner with old friends.

We talked about a lot of things. We discussed our families, our backgrounds, and our jobs. Shaun and I talked about creativity - his performing, and my writing. We talked about the city I live in, and about LA, where they live. It became a wide-ranging, engaging conversation, and occasionally we remembered to actually eat something, too. By the end of evening we were quite comfortable with each other, I think, and it had turned into a wonderful birthday celebration.

What especially delighted me was how Shaun and Shelby spoke to my 11-year old daughter. So many adults, particularly those without kids, speak to kids in a condescending way. Not so with Shaun and Shelby - they spoke to my daughter as an equal, and encouraged her to share her thoughts and ideas (and trust me, dear friends, she has many). I think parents are always pleased when someone is kind to their children, and I am no different. I was touched, though, when Shaun took time at the end of the evening to speak to my daughter about performing (a career in which she has expressed interest) and about how if she is passionate about it that she shouldn't give up or let others discourage her. That is true of almost every path in life, dear friends, and I think Shaun and Shelby are people who truly understand that.

We saw Shaun and Shelby again over the weekend as Shaun also kindly gave us tickets to his show (he is absolutely hilarious, dear friends, and his intelligence and creativity shines brightly). We also did a short filmed chat with him for the television show he is now filming for the W Network (it is called "Majumder Manor" and focuses on his project to build an inn in his hometown in Newfoundland).

Dear friends, I am not a celebrity stalker or even much of a watcher. I don't read the tabloids or visit the celebrity-obsessed websites. I do enjoy meeting those celebrities who have done things I enjoy, however, and I am always intrigued to discover what they are truly like as people and not just as people who are "famous". Once again I came away from such a meeting feeling like in general they are people just like the rest of us, with passions and fears, insecurities and strengths, and all the rest that makes us human. What I've also noted, though, is that these individuals typically have a drive and a vision that has allowed them to achieve their goals. That is a quality that I try to emulate, and one which I certainly want my daughter to see. In Shaun she saw someone who came from a very small town in rural Newfoundland and followed his dreams to become a funny-as-hell, intelligent, talented, accomplished, and beloved comedian and actor. In Shelby she saw someone who is an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, brilliant, well-spoken, successful role model for young women (showing her that a woman can be all those things without needing to sacrifice one for the other).

It was an incredible opportunity, dear friends, and I walked away feeling like we had made a connection with some other human beings who, while they lead a very different life from mine, aren't all that different from me. Aren't those connections what life is all about, really?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Hmm. The number that titles this post doesn't seem like a bad number, really. It seems quite innocuous, in fact. That number has been troubling me for some time however, dear friends. Why? Because today is my birthday - and it just so happens that today I turn 45.

It's funny that this birthday has been bothering me. I passed my other "milestone" birthdays with nary a second thought. My 30th never troubled me at all, and in fact seemed far more bothersome to a friend of my sister's who has known me since I was about ten. He met my sister and I for brunch on my 30th birthday and when I told him my age I could see him visibly blanch at the sudden realization of how old that made him (and now, dear friends, I realize that I am older than he was that day). My 40th birthday was equally unworrisome. Just a number and all that, right?

So, why my problem with this number? I'm not sure, really. I suppose it's because so much has changed in the 5 years since my last milestone birthday. I've lost both my parents now, and I've also lost some baggage I'd carried for years (about 60 pounds of excess baggage, in fact). I've changed in some ways, and in some ways rediscovered parts of myself that had long gone missing. I've been on a journey of discovery these past five years, and suddenly my age seemed to matter when it never had before.

It had gotten so bad, dear friends, that I was considering Botox for some annoying little facial lines that appeared after my mother's death and the subsequent very dark days that followed (when my face was in a perpetual frown, thus ingraining those little lines forever, it seems). I was wavering on the edge of that decision when my husband pointed out that he didn't think it was necessary, and that he thought I was as beautiful as I was some 25 years ago when we met. That declaration made me decide against Botox (well, that and a fear of needles, too).

I've come to some realizations, dear friends. I have opened myself up more to life, and perhaps that is why this number was bothering me. I began to see how brief life is, and how easy it is to be consumed by life and yet forget to truly "live". I began to try to embrace life more fully, with more enthusiasm and more passion. I discovered there is risk in living that way - there have been times I have opened my heart when it should have remained closed (and times when I suspect the same is true of my mouth, too). I don't regret those times, though, as I learned something from them. There are a few things I regret, like the party in February where I drank so much I called three people by the wrong name, introduced myself to two people I already know, and had a 3-day hangover so brutal I couldn't function. That was a learning experience, too (mainly about not trusting Kiwi bartenders who feed you, and themselves, repeated shots at the end of the night).

Along with all the things I have gained these past five years there are the things I have kept. I have a sweet husband who loves me far more than he should, and probably more than I would if I were him (this may come as a surprise, but I am not always an easy person to love). I have a daughter who loves me, and whom I adore completely (frankly, I think she will set the world on fire, as she has already done to mine). I have friends I can trust and who trust me, and who support and encourage me. Even more than that they laugh with me and keep me sane (and some partake in my shenanigans, which is even better). I have my sisters and their families, and I feel closer to them than I ever have before. We drew even closer together after my mother's death, and they were there when I needed them most.

My birthday this year is spectacular, dear friends. I am having supper tonight with a Canadian celebrity, a birthday gift arranged by my husband (and one about which I will certainly write!). Tomorrow night I am meeting local friends for a night at the Irish pub in town. I cannot wait as this will be a birthday to remember, I am sure. This follows hard on the heels of a holiday I'll never forget, and five years of growth and change.

In the past couple of days the number 45 has stopped bothering me. I suppose I've started to think that perhaps the best is just yet to come. I have enjoyed 45 years on this planet, some difficult but most absolutely amazing, and the last few perhaps the most amazing of all. This morning I went to the gym and on the elliptical when it asked for my weight and age I punched in the number "45" - and you know what, dear friends? It felt just fine. In fact, it felt pretty damn good.

(Click below link to see a lovely video!)

Cat Stevens "Oh Very Young"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


For the past fifteen years I have lived in parts of Canada where wildlife is a very real presence. Prior to the northern Alberta city where I now reside I lived in northwestern Ontario. It was a very small and isolated town, and while we had a great deal of wildlife the most visible and most worrisome were black bears. I grew up in Saskatoon and had spent most of my twenties in Toronto, so my experience with bears was limited to stories of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington. The first time I was confronted (in my back yard) with a living, breathing, snorting bear I was pretty much terrified. Bears are big. Bears smell bad. Bears like to eat your garbage and leave the remnants all over your yard.

After living there for several years, though, I started to see bears as part of the landscape, and not terribly worrisome. They came out every spring, emerging hungry from their dens. They would disappear for the summer when berries were plentiful, and return in fall to fatten up for hibernation (and how better to fatten up than tasty garbage?). I became rather used to the bears. I would go out the back door, see one was in the back yard, and turn around and use the front door instead. The presence of bears didn't deter me from living my life.

When we moved to northern Alberta I knew we would likely continue to encounter bears. We had purchased a home on the edge of the boreal forest that surrounds our city, and as such I knew we would find wildlife there. This seemed especially certain when I discovered that the forest near us was also considered a wildlife corridor and that local animals used it as a way to travel through the city.  I welcomed the prospect, and was delighted when we would find a herd of deer in our yard eating from our bird feeders, or a red fox prowling around. One day last spring, though, we had a close encounter of the bear kind.

It was a beautiful hot spring day, and my daughter had been complaining about the heat inside the house. I was headed upstairs to do some chores and she informed me that she was going to sit out on our front porch to cool off as it was shady there. I was upstairs when I heard the screaming. There is a certain note in a child's voice that every parent recognizes. It's a tone of sheer panic, and it's enough to strike fear in the heart of every single parent. All I heard was the door slamming and a tiny voice shrieking:


I whipped down the stairs to find my daughter huddled by the front door, beginning to cry and almost unable to speak.

Finally she choked out the words "There.Is.A.Bear.Outside.". I peeked out the window, and yes, indeed, there was a bear. The bear was, in fact, about twelve feet from where she had just stepped out the front door. He was quite busy eating peanuts from the bird feeder in the tree in the front yard. I suspect he never even noticed my daughter when she stepped outside, but she certainly noticed him.

I opened our front door a crack and took several photos. While bears can move quickly I also knew that his first priority was food, and I felt comfortable snapping some pics. I noticed several of our neighbours doing the same thing. My daughter and I admired his glossy black fur and his little brown snout. She decided she would name him "Peanut", due to the adorable little nose and his apparent fondness for that nut. After about 10 minutes I decided it was time for Peanut to leave, and I grabbed my car keys and set off my car alarm. He was indeed startled and trundled off into the forest. Once I knew he was gone I went out and took down all my bird feeders. While I didn't mind attracting the occasional deer and loved the birds I knew that habituating the bear to the feeders was a very bad idea for the bear. He came back a couple more times that day, and we eventually called the local fish and wildlife officers so they knew he was in the area. They said he would likely move on in a few days, and as we didn't see him again I guess he did.

We moved to a different area a few months ago. It's one where we aren't likely to find bears in our yard as it's a bit further away from the forest. While some people might find that comforting I'm a bit sad. Those wildlife encounters provided a way to teach my daughter about respecting our animal neighbours. It showed her that while we may live here that they were here first, and that they will likely be here long after we have departed. And, to be honest, all lessons aside I just enjoyed those occasional brushes with these wonderful creatures. It was just a bit of magic in the midst of everyday life. It was a glimpse of another facet of this great big world that made me realize that we are surrounded by nature every day, no matter where we are. It might not be as large or as visible as a bear in our front yard - but it's there, dear friends. Just look around you.