Tag Archiv: Canada

Whether, wherever, the weather

This is me, casually sharing my insights with interested parties.

Me sharing my insights with interested parties.

I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture  has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.

 

Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.

Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.

Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.

That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.

Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?

 

Dear friends from afar,

Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.

Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.

Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid.  The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.

You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts.  The points that matter are:

1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)

2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)

3. It’s snowing.

The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.

Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.

 

Caring about Countries

 

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We’re just coming off of Canada Day – if you’re Canadian, please consider signing a petition on behalf of some of your fellow citizens whose treatment is deeply grieving. An article here outlines the frustrations of a community that has been on a boil water advisory now for 17 years.

Canadians can sign the petition here  http://community.sumofus.org/p/freedomroad. (It takes about ten seconds.)

If you’re not Canadian (happy July 4th to many of you) please consider speaking up for some of your own forgotten citizens as a way of honoring your country.

 

Retreat time

2015 winter spring 206

I am on a writing retreat this weekend. Originally it was a retreat with a friend, but it turned out to be a retreat for just me. (I wish her a good weekend of peace and love tinged with a small amount of appropriate sadness that she is not here.) With only one retreatant to consider, plans have evolved to high levels of flexibility. The place I am staying  became available sooner at the last minute, so I started my retreat twelve hours early.

Besides full kitchen and private bath, my quarters come with access to a state of the art kayak and nearby river, accessible bike paths and a slew of bikes to choose from. Anything I could wish for is in walking distance. My picturesque room overlooks a neighbor’s black paper roof in reasonably good condition. Couches in my sitting room are clean and comfortable. I am expected to take out the paper recycling on garbage day and give a one time drink of 1/4 cup of water to a very unpromising bit of green sticks who claim to be an ailing orchid. Presumably I am to do my own dishes, although that wasn’t mentioned. Besides that, I am tasked to sit quietly, write, rest, and eat.

My inaugural retreat meal last night was red pepper humus, cherry tomatoes, extra old cheddar cheese, a fat slice of homemade bread, and some red wine. Preparation: one minute. Clean up: approximately 15 seconds. Perhaps the wine was slowing me down. First deep consideration: How can no one in my family like hummus?  First deep conclusion: There should really be more meals like this.

In keeping with good retreat etiquette, I’ll be out of commission and away from the blog until Wednesday, July 1. By that point, half of you will be celebrating Canada Day, which incidentally is much more retreat like than the bombastic chest thumping of the American 4th of July. So here’s to the written word, beauty, truth, the yearning need to create, mental health, rest, re-charging, and Canada. With a nod to them all, I am on retreat. :)

Victoria Day

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Canadian etiquette requires that Victoria Day weekend be spent in outdoor pursuits: camping, cottaging, gardening – anything outside. This somehow brings honor to Queen Victoria, who passed from this life in 1901. I wasn’t raised with Kings and Queens. Twenty plus years into this Canadian experiment, I’m warming up to them quite nicely. The holiday Monday that the monarchy extends to me each May is always well received. I don’t mind doing my part to hail to the Queen.

This year in Victoria’s honor, my husband got a new fence up and we moved some manure piles and spread them on the fields using our handy, dandy pitchforks. Boy two graduated to tractor driver so Boy one and I could throw brown treasure off the wagon. Extended family offered help, so the wood splitter got some action and a kitchen garden went in for me! Girl one began her lawn mowing career. Steering is an issue. Girl two put herself to bed at the end of the day but woke up to ask when work days were going to be over, because they were really, really long days.

I’m sure the Queen appreciated all that, although I don’t know which Queen. I’m guessing that Queen Elizabeth appreciates it in Victoria’s place, on account of the 1901 departure. but it might be that a whole group of them sits down  around 3:00 to feel grateful to Canada. (*This just in: the holiday now includes celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday.)

So in tribute to Victoria, with birthday wishes to HRH Queen Elizabeth, the best (and most daunting) part of the day was Lily, herself of royal blood, who finally had her lambs. The best part of the gift was the timing. Right smack in the middle of the morning in broad daylight. Kids got to see lambs born. (That tiny little sentence really doesn’t do the experience justice. It might deserve it’s own post on miracles, only I can’t write it yet due to the daunting.) The daunting part, was that Lily kept going past three lambs, right on to five. So far, they are all alive. The next few weeks involve a lot of frequent bottle feedings with lambs at different stages. Although fewer lambs would mean less work, for some reason the instinct for life is stronger in all of us than practicalities. My heart sinks every time I think one of them has died, and soars if they wiggle up and start stumbling around again. It will be unusual if they all make it, but since you never know which ones will make it, you knock yourself out for everybody, say a prayer, hold your breath, and wait.

One things is certain. Each of the five will receive a royal name. Since we name all the girls we keep by flower names, we must certainly dub someone from the group, Queen Anne’s Lace.

 

Identity Crisis

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spelling is complicated. When I was growing up, I spelled like an American because I was one. And because Americans owned the red pens and the stickers for my spelling tests.

How, I wondered when I first came to Canada, could the people seem so cultured and yet spell so poorly? Then I got a job. I deliberated with myself about the merits of intentionally learning to spell things incorrectly, but I have always been highly motivated by red pens and stickers. At first, the new favourite spelling system was a chore. I would stop half way through a word and sigh before going through with the desecration.

By the time I clamoured to the designated centre to get myself labelled a real Canadian, it was second nature. Far from humouring those for whom I laboured, it had become a matter of honour to spell things as any good Canadian would. I took my own high calibre red pen to work on my students’ papers . . . thirty kilometres south this would be fine, I noted –  here, it’s a misspelled word.

Enter the blog. What now? I say to myself. Most of the time I write in Word, then cut and paste to the blog. My computer, obviously Canadian, spells as I have told it to. When I go back and do my edits, the program that runs the blog, grabs its own red pen and yells, “We own the internet. Spell like an American.”

Dialogue ensues.

Me: Stop telling me what to do. I’m Canadian flavoured now. If you want to get snippy, I’m still American enough to fight about it.

Other Me: There are more Americans than Canadians. Maybe you should spell like an American. If you ever sell something, they’ll be the ones to write the checks.

Me: Blog readers are split half and half and that doesn’t count the people in Europe. When the cheques arrive, I’ll take it under advisement.

Other Me: What about the Mexicans? Or the Koreans? What kind of spelling do they like?

Me: I have no idea. We don’t make our decisions based on what other people think, remember? We don’t colour our hair if we don’t feel like it, even if everyone else thinks it’s just marvellous.

Other Me: Maybe you should spell American. Everybody else you mentioned at least knows that there are various ways to spell things. Americans might have the hardest time coping with something foreign to them. Consider it a meager attempt to be neighborly.

Me: Forget it. This is gruelling. It’ll be half Canadian, half American. Even in the same document. A little of this and a little of that. No rhyme. No reason.

Other Me: This explains why if a group of any ten of your friends were asked what your last name is, three different answers would be forthcoming.

Me: Let’s not over analyse. I’m beginning to feel like an axe.

 

Trying to Remember

When my daughter told me to write about Ivan, my son added without looking up, “Write about Remembrance Day.”

Remembrance Day brings out my split personality. It’s the day I came to Canada. It’s boy two’s birthday. Maybe if I lived in the States and called it Veterans Day I would always remember that it isn’t about me. Coming to Canada was a big deal for my then twenty year old self. I remember it like an Israelite remembers leaving Egypt. Scary at first like you wouldn’t believe in the desert. Wanting to go back. Then wandering in circles for a few years while the promised land waited patiently for lights to dawn on marble head.

Mid gratitude reflecting on what the day has meant for me, I inevitably pass a veteran and am filled with shame. NOTE TO SELF: This day is about THEM! My brain believes in gratitude and remembrance but knowing what to do about that seems hard, so I let it get lost in the details.  Besides, it’s boy two’s birthday. There’s celebrating to be done.

Boy two does not mind sharing his birthday. He thinks it’s special to be born on Remembrance Day, the same way he thinks it’s special to be short and bow legged. (He claims this puts his legs at a better angle for tree climbing.) He was not impressed that I did not take him out of school to go to a Remembrance Day service.

Writing a letter two days after the day doesn’t fix it. Mine is an imperfect attempt to do what I tell my kids: you can’t undo the wrong thing, but you try to make it right.

Dear Veterans,

I am not wearing a poppy because they always fall off and poke me. Seeing you overwhelms me with the size of what you did. I have read many more books on events during WWII than I am years old. For some reason I just listened to six hours of an American History Channel WWII series while driving. I don’t see an old man, or whatever age you are, when I walk by you, I see some mother’s son risking his life for other people. I imagine shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, saying thank you. Instead, I fumble in my purse for change and send the kids to buy a poppy sticker for themselves. I nod at you. Say something inane to the kids about staying with me in the parking lot and move on.

I don’t like the way I do it either. I have no idea how to properly say thank you for the United States that I grew up in or for the Canada where I found home. I promise to let the kids skip school next year to stand in front of the flag with you even if it is cold and raining. Everything I get to remember on November 11, says thanks to you.

Sincere admiration and thanks,

From a woman who ought to have said something sooner