Monday, December 6, 2010

Call me Crazy

Crazy.  Call me crazy... I'm crazy to be doing what I'm doing now, or so I've been told ... going back to school at my advanced old age isn't the smartest thing to do.  Apparently.  I should just sit back and relax, take it easy, don't do anything radical.  And yet when I am asked about my current career, people are also amazed that I've been there as long as I've been.  I don't hear anyone wondering why a physician is still a physician, or why a teacher is still teaching; why a researcher is still researching.  Apparently my current career, based as it is in the lowly bowels of administration and academic advising at the University, is not worth keeping for as long as I've kept it.

These comments don't take into account how many times the position has advanced, grown, how many different things I've learned or done, it's plain weird to have been there as long I have (25 years).  I had the opportunity to get a Master's degree, to teach University courses, to bring our Faculty into the forefront of new information system that was introduced at the University, to have 3 children, to take different times off for either family or personal reasons, while I was also able to construct a meaningful career in academic advising.  And advising is finally receiving some of its due -- advisors are now seen to be important elements in retaining students, rentention being the new mantra in postsecondary education.  Over the years students have told me that I've made a difference in their lives.  Now it's time to start something new, a program in education, and it will take a few years to achieve.   

The year away did something to me and for me:  It gave me time to think and be more creative with myself.  It may have been as basic as cooking a wonderful meal, or just being there for my family, but it was different, it was a break from the "normal" existence we'd had for a few years, and it was refreshing to do it in a different place.  Then we came back, and it was more of the same.  The same town, the same work place, not bad in its entirety, but sameness.  The transition or return was harder than I'd thought it would be.  I didn't actually think about it, I just did it.

Now that it's almost one year, I am boggled at the quickness of time moving by.  Last night I had a vivid dream about the neighbourhood we lived in last year.  When I awoke, I was shocked to realize I wasn't in the old neighbourhood. But a lot has happened, and there is much moving forward with plans and lives.

I have finished two courses in the B.Ed. program at the University.  My fellow students are now in their teaching practica, but I will wait for that until next year.  You need 5 weeks off in order to do the practicum, and that wasn't viable this year.  The academic portion was frightening enough -- I haven't written an exam or tests in 17 years.  They're mostly still written in long hand, by the way.  It's weird to do that for several hours as most of my writing is now done in an electronic format.  The brain didn't appear to kick in as quickly.  Funny.  Transitioning to writing directly into an electronic format was hard when I moved from writing onto paper... now it's the reverse.  In one course we had the opportunity to write our tests online, which was a new experience.

Each course explored some fundamental issues of education -- one was sociological, related to the structural aspects of the education system, and the other had its roots in psychology, always more of a struggle for me.  I seem to resonate with the systems approach that underpins sociology.  Somehow it fits my brain.  And I love the politics of it all, why decisions are made, where policies fit in, how the historical patterns relate to current trends.  At first it was frightening, but the cohort model, which is the basis of the education programs at the U of M, seems to work.  You do develop relationships with others in the group, and it is an excellent model that creates momentum within itself.  Of course, there are hazards, but that's part of the learning experience.  Because I'm not part of the practicum placement this year, I won't be able to share in the experiences, other than vicariously.  But hopefully it will lessen some of the fear that will accompany that new experience next year.

Last Friday night I accompanied Tom to the keynote speaker presentation of a Learning in the Arts conference he attended.  Sir Ken Robinson spoke with humour and passion about the way teaching and learning intersect in creating conditions that allow talents to reveal themselves.  I am keen to be part of an approach that prepares our children for this century, not the 19th or the 20th, which were the forerunners of the current education system.  The relationship at the heart of education is between the teacher and the learner.  That is why I want to learn what I'm learning now.

Life is not linear, it is organic (K. Robinson).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Summer of Stieg Larsson

It just took a few moments and everything is back to the normal of school, school supplies, entry into the system.  We are all trying to figure out our places  --  in the new school (Kai and Gabe in their late French immersion program), in a new program (Nicole in the flex program), in a new mindset (me, as I add a few University courses to my life so I can try to decide what I want to be when I grow up), and a rebuild of the kiln (Tom, as he finally relaxed after 1 1/2 years of teaching without a "real" break). 

This week the Manitoba government announced that report cards will soon be standardized across the province -- the hows, whats, details, are yet to be decided.  The best way for a parent or student to find out how they're doing is to talk with the teacher -- I've always found that you get the best information up front, and the best communication is at that level.  That's my biggest fear as I enter the academic part of the teaching world -- the parents out there.  I think I'll need some time and training to help with that! The real news, for me, is that the government plans to standardize in-service dates across the province.  That's huge.  However, it's one year too late for us.  Everything has always been one year too late -- the change to one year of maternity/parenting leave happened after we had three kids in two years.  I got some leave, but not enough to eliminate massive worrying and headaches about child care.  The intrepid couple who took on Revenue Canada to obtain two parental leaves for their twins have also created a new perspective.  When I appealed the fact that we could not claim child care expenses after we had the twins, we were rejected. I didn't use a lawyer... And we were doing what we should do legally -- ask the child care provider to claim their payment from us.  So it worked against us and against her because we were honest.  Oh well... others will benefit. And once in-service dates are the same from school to school to division, the challenge of finding child care could become more sensible.

The summer always seems to speed up as you hit August -- much of the book talk with our friends, and other folks at the lake, centered around the Stieg Larsson books.  Tom blazed through all three in a row, forced to buy the third book as a hard cover edition to fuel his addiction.  I got them once he was done, but I interspersed my reading with a few other amazing books.  Incredible books.  The Larsson books are certainly a phenomenon, but I found the second book too much of a gap filler.  Books one and three were certainly written to keep you going nonstop, or as nonstop as you could.

Debra Adelaide's The Household Guide to Dying is a smart and sensitive take on an Australian woman's story as she faces the realization that the cancer she's fought three previous times isn't disappearing this time.  Delia, the main character, is a columnist and writer and she continues to dispense some acerbic advice as she continues her writing with a useful guide to dying.  Read it.  It's great!

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004) is an astounding ride, six individual tales within the book, taking you from the 1850s into a future civilization with cloned people, followed by survivors of the fall of the civilized world, ending in the Pacific Ocean, where the book began.  Each story is linked by artifacts, a lure that kept me looking for a connection. I loved that book, so when I saw he has a new one, I put it on hold.  My summer reading included Mitchell's Black Swan Green, a fictionalized memoir in a year of a 13 year old boy's life in small-town England.  It's sweet, and it's sad, and the character is more than observant as he encounters real life in the early 1980s.  I've got his latest on hold in the library, but it's still 30 or so readers away from me.  That's fine.  I'll be busy for the next 8 weeks being a student, a parent, and an employee...

An encounter with Cree storytellers in early August was another amazing night -- Louis Bird, Duncan Mercredi, and Joseph Boyden talked and read and captivated a packed room at Aqua Books in downtown Winnipeg.  Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce are Boyden's well known novels, and on that evening his first book, Born with a Tooth, was suggested as another great story.  Louis Bird spent a substantial amount of time in the 1960s listening to, talking to/with, and recording, when given permission, the storytellers of the Hudson and James Bay lowlands in northern Manitoba and Ontario.  An amazing source of knowledge is the web site Our Voices, partly the result of his work at that time, and a record of his work as an aboriginal storyteller.  His story about a couple who hook a thunderbird when they are off on a fishing trip is trap from start to finish -- it's basically a fart joke, but wrapped in a long and entertaining story.  Mercredi grew up near Grand Rapids in Manitoba, straddling the world of pre- and post-electricity, after the power dam was built.  His grandmother singled him out to learn from the travelling snow walkers and storytellers, who linked the communities of their day with knowledge, news, and entertainment. Inspiring.  Hopeful.  A way to erase some of the imagery created by the stories of abuse that were raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Finally, before this gets too long and boring, Tom's niece Lauren introduced me to Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees.  Set in 1964,  it is almost unbearable at first, but creates hope and love as 14 year old Lily runs away from her abusive and racist father, escaping with the family's black maid, Rosaleen, whose decision to register herself to vote sets the story in motion.  The ensuing events send Lily and Rosaleen to another town in South Carolina, where they are taken in by a family of sisters, named for the summer months, headed by August, a beekeeper. 

I reminder a day, about 25 years ago, when I worried about running out of good books to read.  Ha!!  It is personal pleasure to watch my entire family immerse themselves in books.  I know we'll never run out.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Life with a Dog

I never thought I'd see the day when I might agree with a student telling me "the dog ate my homework".  It's here, it's upon us, we are living proof that dogs can eat many things.  Some appear indigestible and some appear to flawlessly go through the digestive system without creating a perfect storm of you-know-what.  I am now a fervent believer.

Started with stealing a few bits from the bbq when she was only 3 1/2 month sold.  Ah, so cute.  So Tom flipped her a little piece of something and put it in her dish.  Now there is endless sniffing when the bbq is doing its bit.  The long snout faces up, and the sniffing starts. 

Then she ate the debris Tom cleaned from the bbq and "hid" in the garden -- charcoal bits loaded with grease.  Dogs do have 3 million olfactory nerve endings compared to our 300 (that's not an accurate number, but it gives the idea of the difference).  That did create a biggish issue with diarrhea, following on the tail of me not blending the new dog food with the old... the puppy's tummy couldn't handle the new digestive indignity on top of just settling down after the dog food change.  Then it all "dried up", so we watched anxiously for several days, only to have nothing appear.  Hmmm... I thought she probably now had an intestinal blockage and it would be an expensive visit to the vet's.  The vet has been helpful, to say the least.  The recommended diet when a dog's stomach gets upset is to make rice and boil some beef mince and voila -- a digestible food that doesn't traumatize the intestines.  So now we've created a huge interest in rice, and whenever we make rice, more sniffing.  If she doesn't want to eat her food (a nice brand of puppy food, believe me... high in protein, natural products, etc., etc.), I add a spoonful of rice when I have some made.  Bingo.

The tummy settled down, but we realize she's a garbage hound with the disposition of a delicately bred princess.  Kind of like the girl who couldn't sleep because of the tiny pea stuffed under many layers of mattresses.

This interest in food that isn't in her dish has led to stealing baggies of items from counters (bagels, bread, kids' candies from birthday parties, romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, a bunch of grapes), culminating in a plasticine figure one of the boys brought home from a school project.  That was abandoned as unappetizing, but not until she'd gnawed off a leg and arm via the baggy.  One of the Barbies has a hand injury and a little frog is now legless...and baggies are now seen to be containers of delicacies.  She's getting taller so we have to move all food items up to higher levels.  

In June I bought a treat of five gummy snakes.  They were life size (garter snake size), weighed a fair bit, and I was keeping them around for a little Friday treat for the gang.  I was busy on the computer in the basement, helping Tom with something, when there was a thump upstairs.  Tom went up to discover Kallista with the 5th snake remnant dangling from her mouth.  Burp... actually for the next day or so, I could smell the wonderful jelly snake smell on her breath (compared to the usual dog breath we experience when she "kisses' us).  So no snakes for the humans, as the garbage hound struck again.  Needless to say, the lolly lovers in the house were disappointed.

The dog has a great interest in non-food items as well -- a pair of Teva sandals (Tom's) were wrecked by the removal of a key plastic "hook" holding the straps in place.  Nicole's shoes and flip flops have been chewed up -- we now know to put new shoes or sandals up on a higher shelf.  One morning my lunch was delicately removed from my work bag -- I heard the screen door slam as the dog hightailed it for the back yard... she now knows to give it up when I say "GIVE" in a firm voice.  Poor Kallista... so much great stuff to smell and chew, and so many 2 legged members of her pack trying to keep her from the treats.  So far a mouth guard has been the most expensive item that has been destroyed... Tom suggested I keep track, but other than documenting a few of the most intriguing items (and I don't really want to go into the gory details about the chewed-up underwear and socks), I think I'll just chalk it up my life with a dog. 

To see her racing along a sand bar near our cottage is heavenly -- she scared off a group of pelicans one day, as they were sitting in the early evening, taking their rest.  She didn't get near, but they heard or sensed her in the underbrush and they slowly cruised off in the water, six dignified pelicans leaving their sandbar.  She is happy to run in and out of the water along the beach, loves trying to chew the fish skeletons which I immediately try to get away from her, and is more than happy to find other unmentionable weird chewy objects on the beach.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Take on the 1868 Australian Aboriginal Cricket Team

In Australia we became aware of the game of cricket.  Go figure... cricket was part of the school sports days, the local teachers who were former exchangees made sure we learned some of the basics, and we all tried a few runs and hits of the ball.  Complicated enough to keep me asking questions.   Friends from the state of Queensland, Penny and Ted (often referred to as Ped and Tenny by me), are quite cricket mad (in a good way...!).  Penny took her time to acquaint me with some of the esoteric (or so it seemed to me) aspects of the game, and answered my naive questions.  Their son participated in Cricket Australia's Indigenous XI tour last year.  He and several friends went on a journey of discovery as they tried to piece together what it must have been like for those first sporting tourists one hundred and forty years earlier, and have produced several films and slide shows that they have posted on YouTube.

I'm having moments of discovery this summer, even though I'm supposedly trapped in my home city and not far from work any given week.   Much of my discovery circles around the experiences of Canada's indigenous population in the last 100 years, residential schools, reconciliation, oral stories.  To see the young men of this century tracing the journey of a group of indigenous players is another moment of transcendence -- current technology provides the eyes through which to journey into the past.

The game is still complicated to me.  It's not complicated to someone who has been part of the sport since they could walk, who continue to strive for excellence no matter the century.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Jim Wagner

Many many moons ago, Tom and I drove to New Mexico for a summer holiday.  Little red truck.  Through South Dakota, west to Wyoming.  Stayed in a motel worthy of the Bates motel in Psycho.  Scared ourselves by walking around a tall, abandoned old school building, marveling at how blank its windows appeared in the dusk of the old coal mining town in Wyoming.  And then how frightening it appeared.  Hustled back to the comforts of the motel, and an old bed that sagged down in the middle.  Onwards to Colorado and down to New Mexico where we discovered the beauty of Taos and Santa Fe.  One of the better moments in Taos came with a visit to the Parks Gallery, where we discovered the wonderful and quirky work of Jim Wagner.

At the time, I treated myself to a Jim Wagner silver pin -- a pregnant angel.  Tom, for his 50th, received a print of Jim's depiction of an old adobe church.  Jim Wagner continues to impress me with his works... a new show is being exhibited at the Parks Gallery

Crop Duster

Cliffside Kiva

Our journey continued back through Colorado -- over Independence Pass, on to Snow Mass and the gorgeously expensive town of Aspen, back up to South and North Dakota, and then our amazement at how green Manitoba looked after the dry western states.  We'd like to repeat the journey some day ... for now we have to content ourselves by lusting after Jim's gorgeous works!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Strawberry fields forever

A hot summer day in Manitoba.  Blue sky, reaching from horizon to horizon.  The flattest part of the prairies.  The Assiniboine River bends slowly, enfolding farms and homes.  Get off the Trans Canada Highway and head south to the strawberry farms.  We decided to head out to a strawberry farm to pick a few berries.  Remembering the days of my youth, I filled the ears of the 3 younger of our crew with stories of picking on Steve Schmidt's homemade picker, shaped like an old-fashioned airplane, chugging along in the straw filled ruts of the strawberry patch along Four Mile Creek.  We friends and cousins slogged away in the humid heat of Southern Ontario's late June days -- we got a bonus if we worked on what was then known as Dominion Day.  I cannot for the life of me remember the amount we were paid -- it was definitely per flat of berries, but no clue on the total amount per flat.

We hoped to visit Our Farm, a family-run farm, where the strawberry fields are run by the kids in the family. Unfortunately they had some winter kill and what the winter didn't kill, the torrential rains of spring eliminated.  So no strawberries there.  Then we headed to a bigger unit, the Connery strawberry fields, aptly called Riverbend Farm.  Apparently the main crops are carrots, green onions, and asparagus.

It was summertime and the picking was easy.  We ended up with 14 4-litre baskets... way too many to handle easily on the weekend.  A day of cooking jam later... some mashed strawberries mixed with mango and lime juices will form the base of a party slushy drink... frozen whole and sliced berries... two fruit pies, including a Saskatoon berry pie, which is one of Tom's faves.  No wonder I was tired this morning.  The pies were good.  The jam is great.  We'll be more than happy to taste some red gold sunshine in the middle of winter.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tom is off the hook...

When we returned from Aus., and were settling into our house and life in Winnipeg, we came out to the back yard one morning to find the license plates stolen from the van.  Welcome to the 'hood!!  That was actually the second time the plates had been stolen from the van.  Maybe the assumption is that a "mothership" is a smart vehicle to boost as no one will suspect the family van of being suspicious.  The cops told me that the plates are often used for a 'gas and dash' ... put the stolen plates on the stolen vehicle, fill up with fuel, and take off.

So we reported it, coughed up $50 for a new set of plates (thanks a lot) and off we went.  Fortunately I remembered to change the plate number with our parking services, or there might have been a ticket in the work parking lot.

In early June, Tom received a subpoena to attend court on July 13, which he resisted mightily as it's his birthday and he didn't want to stand around all day waiting for the case to move forward.  It took a few days to find out why he was being asked to attend -- the name on the subpoena wasn't anyone we knew and the charge was a weapons charge.  We had no clue.  After a few days of waiting (messages are NOT returned quickly) we discovered it has to do with the plates and his name is on the registration of the vehicle.  Phew... it wasn't someone from his past claiming who knows what... the mind can run riot!

Just today we got a call that a guilty plea has been entered and Tom is free to have a happy birthday without having to stand around the Law Courts.  You go!! 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On the eve of my birthday

Thanks Judy Horacek ... for a way to approach another momentous day.

Family Portraits

On "give away" day... in front of the house.  The beautiful old couch, found at the MCC Furniture Store, was given away to make room for a slightly newer one from a friend.  Some neighbours scooped it up.  Other neighbours were jealous.  A win/win situation!

At the cottage last weekend... everyone piled into the tiny bedroom and jumped on the bed, dog included.  Normally the dog is discouraged from being on the bed.  The geese were hanging out at the duck pond (goose pond) at St. Vital Park.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Sequel to Victoria Beach

It's actually a prequel, but for the purposes of this online storytelling, it's a sequel...

In the 1930s, my Voth grandfather, Johannes Voth, went to Victoria Beach to work on the cottage of the DeFehr family, a connection made via the Springstein teacher, Mr. Fast, who married one of the DeFehrs.    Grandpa Voth would have travelled by train, and worked on the site with his nephew (by marriage), Cornie (Cornelius) Bergen.  Grandpa's wife, my grandmother, was Katherine Bergen, and Cornie was her nephew.  Cornie and his sister, were orphaned:  Siberia, disease, starvation claimed quite a few lives in the Ukraine of the 1920s.  They came to Canada in the mid 1920s and lived in Springstein with their Voth relatives. 

A few years ago, walking with my mom Susanna at Vic Beach, we were strolling along Sunset Blvd., by the lake shore, and mom recounted the story of her father going off to work at a place called Victoria Beach.  It was the first time I'd heard the story.  We grew up in Southern Ontario with stories about Manitoba, Springstein, Winnipeg, and life on the prairies.  Mom made sure we knew the history that came from her childhood and teenage years on the prairies, and Manitoba was always a great emotional destination for us.  My father, Peter Wiebe, died when our kids were just little, and some time after that mom moved to Winnipeg.  It was a real homecoming for her, and she certainly continued to explore the past and present with us.  I've taken the kids to the old farmstead in Springstein, and they can see where their grandmother grew up.  But Vic Beach was another piece of the puzzle, which was news to me.  Mom concluded her thoughts by telling me she never thought she would be familiar with the place her father would visit, that her daughter's place there was a completion of a circle that came from her childhood.

Last weekend I sat around the dining room table on Baltimore Road with some of my Voth cousins -- Murray, Arlene, Val, their partners, and my daughter.  Tom and boys were canoeing on Shoal Lake.  We had more Voth stories to share.  Murray is tracking an uncle of our uncle who moved to the U.S. before the 1920s, so I am eager to hear more when he has a change to write.   It would be another prequel, I guess... to the Voth migration to the wild west.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

All Hail Victoria

Thank you Queen Victoria for being so long-lived that everyone wanted to celebrate your amazing life. Loyal British subjects gave her name to the long weekend in May. Was it her birthday in May? I don’t remember. We have a gorgeous little holiday camp, place, home, cottage, cabin in a place called Victoria Beach on the eastern edge of southern Lake Winnipeg. Vic Beach. It is chance that led us to the cottage.

Tom had taken toddler Nicole for a walk in her stroller, around a little bay called Scott Drive, when we spent a month in the summer of 1999 at his friend Rick's home at Victoria Beach. The boys were 7 months old and I felt very amazingly tied down to these 3 young lives. I did manage to get out of the cottage every day – no more than once or twice. Two babies and Nicole, who didn’t walk until after that summer ended. My sister came for a visit, and would take Nicole to the beach where she (Nicole) crawled around naked. My sister went skinny dipping further down the Pelican Point road, when the morning light woke her too early and I was still struggling to get a few more minutes of sleep.

"There’s a place for sale at the end of the street", he came up the steps into the house. "I want to go and see it." One of Tom’s favourite activities is looking at real estate, houses, property, dreaming. (Soft core real estate...) Sometimes it’s just dreaming, I know that now. Sometimes it’s serious, as it was that day. A real dream, not a pipe dream. Something he’d wanted for years. Years ago, when that area opened up, Rick had tried to talk him into buying a lot, but as a single guy, he didn’t think it was a fit for him. Those lots went for 4 or 6 – thousand. Now there are lots selling in the 40s and 60s… thousands. And more if you want one on the lake. It was a real dream, not like the soft core house ads and pics he likes to cruise for more dreams and thoughts. Called the agent who was selling the place. Went to see it. Made an offer. Accepted. Bang, like that. By September everything was done. I did not walk into the cottage until after it was ours.& Did it matter?

At first we thought it was a money pit – had to level out the cottage. Fortunately the guy who quoted us a price on the process didn’t realize something, or it would have cost more. Had to install a gray water pit. The guy who built the place hadn’t quite finished the little bits, and he was just a guy who built a cottage, not an official cottage building company. The deck at the back had no railings – Nicole sailed off the edge early on. The area under the cottage hadn’t been filled, so Tom spent 2 summers shoveling gravel – 10 yards at a time (that’s a lot of gravel) – to the edge of the cottage, then crawling under with a rake and pushing it in. We added a screened porch, which received its finishing touches over the last 2 summers – Tom insulated and dry walled the porch. Last summer, when we were on the other side of the planet, Mike finished the ceiling. It’s now a gorgeous room. And we keep dreaming... another bedroom. An outdoor shower. Tom built a little shed a few summers ago, so I know he's handy!

There are only 2 bedrooms, so the sleeping quarters are a bit crowded. And now we’ve added a dog, who has to sleep between the two bedrooms in her kennel – kept the night yipping and howling down to nothing. I only had to say ssshhhhh twice, and things were a lot calmer than when we first took her out. Over-excited the first few times. Just like the kids when we first took them there. Run on the beach. Run on the gravel roads. Now it’s bike on the gravel roads.

The place looks a lot smaller than before we left. Is that my own weird perspective, or is it real? Since we bought the place, most of the empty lots on the little bay have filled in, and not with little cabins, but with huge, architecturally designed and crafted, company-built, second homes. Perhaps bigger than the first homes, located somewhere in the city. Pelican Point Road has filled up, and several indignities now glare at you when you walk or ride by. A gigantic two storey gray plastic sided monstrosity, replicated in a smaller version of itself in a bunk house, perched at the front. This particular individual tried to block the path to the lake beside his “land” – the lake front is public, but he thought that if he blocked the path no one would notice. Guess what buddy? Then there’s another gigantic item at the end of the curve of the road – the hundreds of thousands they must have spent to build up the lot with fill boggles the mind. It has a garage on the front, imagine that. A garage with a door opener -- the first thing you see is that garage. Not the bush, not the lake, not the marsh, to the east of the road. Pelican Point is a sand bar, which curves to a small channel separating Vic Beach from Hillside Beach. Some years, like the year I met Richard Gere strolling down the beach, when the lake is very low, you can easily cross the channel, and walk on a lot of undisturbed beach to the south of the channel. That’s when the power boats get stuck in the sand …

Who is letting all this development happen? The RM, I guess. More money, more taxes, more development. You can definitely see the difference – there are fewer pelicans hanging around that beach and the channel area. The number of song birds that used to flit through the bush and nest near our cottage has gone down. Every other year or so, when lake levels are high, the huge expensive buildings along that road are threatened, not only by the NW winds piling water up on that shoreline (it’s 40 km to the other side), but by the marsh rising up to the east. And wonder of wonders, it’s the old garbage dump for the area, so walks along that shore line still produce a lot of unearthed treasure – old blue Noxema jars which now make great candle holders, a small metal car, lost by some kid on the beach years ago, bits of old tires, carpet, junk. Old medicine bottles. Shards of pottery, dishes from the lives of the people who were there. We have quite the collection of bits of pottery and are quite adept at seeing the blue, the violet, the light sea green that hides amongst the chunks of regular brown (beer bottles), clear (jam jars), or dark green (wine bottles). The cool colours come home with us. I tried a craft project with the kids a few years ago, making mosaic plates. We put them out in front of the cottage. After several freezing cold Manitoba winters, some of the glass has fallen off again. Back to ground.

The main indignity, this last Victoria Day weekend, as we rounded the corner heading to Pelican Point, was a vision of survey stakes. So the RM is still happy to sell pristine bush and marsh land for more money, and someone else’s dream of a lake front cottage will be fulfilled at untold hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What people from another climate don’t realize is the seasonal aspect of these holiday homes. Granted, the big new ones are all insulated, have wells sunk into the aquifer, or have huge water tanks sunk under their cottage, which they then heat throughout the winter so the pipes don’t freeze and burst. We turn off the water at the season’s end (usually Thanksgiving weekend), put a bit of antifreeze in the S bend of the plumbing pipes, and shut things down. No running water in the winter months. We’ve started going out more often in the winter, and will do it more this coming winter, now that there are a few baseboard heaters installed in the cottage. We have to bring the water we need with us. Until a few years ago, there was a freely running pipe of gushing artesian well water just a few kilometers away, but an unwise user slipped on the ice one winter and sued the owner – now it’s capped.

So it’s changing, yes it is. It feels smaller, which could be due to the many thousands of kilometers of Australian outback we saw last year. Or it could be because those babies of ours are now 11 and 12, taller and faster, able to traverse the roads on their own bikes. No cars in the summer, that’s one of Vic Beach’s many pleasures. Cars are banned to a parking lot, where they wait. It's a wonderful relic of the days when people first went to Victoria Beach in the early 1900s... first there was just a track for the local farmers and fishers to move their products to Winnipeg, then a train track was built, and until the 40s some time there wasn't a road. People use their legs to get around the gravel roads of Victoria Beach.

It’s my happy place, said a friend who dropped by on Sunday. She doesn’t complain about house work, about keeping the place up. She promised she wouldn't complain if she ever got a cottage here. It’s a dream for many. This is what it is. It's good to us, it makes us happy, it means we're out on our bikes, or walking, or running, or watching the wildlife. An eagle has been soaring over the cottage, and it is silent and graceful. Maybe the ospreys will return this year. Ospreys built their nests on hydro and telephone poles around the area and return to their early nesting grounds.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Mother. Mum. Mom. Mommy.  Mama.  Variations on a theme.  I'm still amazed that I'm a mother.  I know it's real, but I'm still amazed.  It's definitely more work than I ever dreamed, and there's no training other than "on-the-job", but it's worth every minute.  And once a year people decide to honour their mothers.  It's a complex event, requiring bookings in restaurants, gifts, and many different ways to say "I love you". 

When we were kids, the church leaders thought it would be nice to have everyone wear flowers for their mothers -- there was even a song which went "Flowers for mother we bring today, Flowers to brighten her busy way..." and right now the rest is lost somewhere in my memory.  It'll be back, I'm sure.  The kids with moms got red flowers, the kids whose mothers had died got white, and those with stepmothers wore pink.  Now I find that shocking, but at the time I didn't think much of it other than there were a few kids with white flowers, and I know my heart went out to them.  How did they feel, I wonder.  I'm sure it was dreadful.

We put so much emotion into one day -- what my mom often said, and what I say to my crew, is that I want our relationships to be year-round, not just focused on one day a year.  But what a day, or weekend, I guess.  Somehow the stars configured that the guys were out on Friday night -- drove to the lake with Tom and some furniture we're taking to the cottage.  They stayed overnight with the dog.  Now that doggy is cute as, but there's kid #4, if I ever saw one.  When things are quiet, as in no footsteps bouncing around, you know she's up to something -- loves to chew on a variety of items.  And come to think of it, her daily gift is her pink, licking tongue, doggy kisses.  Nicole had Friday off, so she spent the night with my mom -- grandmother to Nicole.  Amazing.  An empty quiet house.  After a while, it was too empty and too quiet.  The elusive dilemma -- wanting some time to just do what I want, then having it and not really liking it, missing the noise and bustle.  But I managed to fill the space with two movies:  Amreeka (partially shot in Winnipeg, it turns out) and Julie and Julia.  And I'd booked a little beauty appointment for Saturday morning without considering it would fall right before the big day.  So the spa was packed solid with a variety of women having treatments.

Three giggly, breathy young women in their 20s were relaxing for a while with snacks and coffee before they headed off to the pool.  One was going away for a week.  The other talked about moving back home --  with baby and fiancee, to save a bit of money before the wedding.  And the 3rd was also planning to be at home for a while.  When #1 offered to let her stay in her home, #3 blithely stated that "Mom cooks for me; you don't".  "Just like the old days", said #2.  Siblings.   I couldn't resist:  "Happy mother's day!"   More loud laughing -- "And the dog", said #2.   I smiled.  Fortunately the siren call of the pool was strong, and off they trotted, clad in white bathrobes, yapping all the way.

Lucky mom indeed.  We are lucky.  We have the ups and downs, the hard days and the hilarious.  I love the chatting, the humour, the ideas, the back talk, the personalities emerging and growing.  That's what I wanted, and that's what I got.  Three independent, strong, assertive human beings.  What a treasure.  When I found out I was pregnant with the twins, I remember crying on the phone to my mother:  "How am I ever going to love them all as much as the first one?"  Naive, I know.  But mom told me that a mother's love is the kind that expands to love all who come her way.  Yes, now I know that to be true.

And that gang coughed up the gifts, not that I was asking for them.  Flowers yesterday.  A gorgeous bunch of irises (a real favourite) and some feathery mums, which complement the tulips I'd brought home the other day.  This morning resulted in CDs:   K.D. Lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel; Van Morrison's Greatest Hits; and Lyle Lovett in one of his earlier works.  Earrings.  A book marker.  A bracelet.  Home made cards.  Hand drawn wrapping paper.  Overwhelming with their generosity and interest in finding something for me.  Then we hit Sals for a breakfast out!  Lots of fun, and I indulged in one of my faves, eggs benny.

There's a mother thousands of kilometres away who is waiting for her 16 year old to return home -- Jessica Watson, the teenager who is almost finished her solo sailing trip around the world, is due back in Sydney on the 15th.  I've been following this smart and strong young Aussie woman via her blog as she has documented her solo journey around the globe.  Alone other than her satellite phone and email for company.  She's looking forward to getting her drivers' license, go figure.  And I'll bet a lot of money her mum is looking forward to having her home.  At least for a little while.  The bravery and and letting go on the part of her mother is impressive.  And Jessica is planning more adventures... 

Happy mother's day!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The First of May

Tom participated in the Studio Sale yesterday at Clifton Studios.  We dropped in and out, chatting with a variety of friends and relatives.  It was great to see people we hadn't seen in a while, and get to know some of the new members of Clifton Studios.  The kids flogged raffle tickets and managed to stay away from the snack table for reasonable periods of time, but certain items were just too tempting -- the Girl Guide cookies, the pineapple square, which had its fair share of fans!  Kai is struggling with new braces, so he was amazed to find he could manage a few less crunchy items.  Tom's made a lot of work since we got back from Australia, but now he has to fire it.  So that's the next deadline on his artistic agenda.  We're having a spate of rainy weather, but nothing smells better than the backyard poplar tree in the rain.  And the new leaves on trees are so shiny and green, banishing the gray and grit of winter's residue.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tom and Pottery

Tom is happy to be selling his work and joining in the fun at the annual spring sale at Clifton Studios.   And you'll be subjected to raffle ticket sales by Nicole, Kai and Gabe!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pelicans, Pollen and the Poplar Tree

Spring has obviously sprung in Winnipeg... and much earlier than other years.  Last year was wicked, apparently, with serious flooding, extended periods of snow and ice, and no real spring or summer other than a few nice days.  The good weather came in autumn.  So this year we're experiencing a delightful start to the non-winter time in Manitoba.  The river is clear of ice, but still high.  The geese are honking loudly every morning as I arrive near my work building -- there are a few pairs nesting on bulding roofs (good luck to the babies), and they make their presence known.  There are green shoots everywhere. The city is efficiently removing the winter dust and grit, so things aren't quite as dusty as a week ago.  I saw some daffodils blooming yesterday when Kallista, Nicole and I went walking in the evening.  And we've been hearing the woodpeckers announcing their presence with their search for food.

Last week, driving kids home from either rhythmic gymnastics (Nicole) or Honour Choir (Kai and Gabe), we saw a large flock of pelicans heading north along the Red River.  There are some pelicans that hang out near our cottage in a little marshy area near a place we call Pelican Point, and they're great to watch.  The flocks swoop  as a group when they fly, and they can be quite high as they ride the wind currents on their way to open water.  Once the rivers are open, the birds appear on their migration north.  New friends told us that they also see bald eagles along the river, so we'll experience some new bird life here in our new neighbourhood in Winnipeg.

The pollen count is high, so anyone with allergies is reacting.  The big poplar tree on the south end of our yard is dropping buds and pollen everywhere -- when you stand quietly outside, especially when our little four-legged friend is being urged to have a last bathroom break before bed time -- you can hear them dropping like rain drops or ice pellets.  And in the morning I have to brush the yellow dust off the van windows... those winter ice/snow brushes are handy!  The poplar tree is tall and strong.  Its smell takes me back to my teenage years because we had a row of them along the side of our house.  So we make another transition into the new season, and meeting new neighbours, getting to know our new area.  We only lived here for 4 months before we left, so now is the time to make new friends and figure out the ways of the new 'hood.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring folly... Easter weekend

With thoughts of a gorgeous walk along Lake Winnipeg we set off on the morning of Good Friday to drive north to Victoria Beach.  We wanted to have an outdoor fire, roast a few wieners or smokies, enjoy the fresh air of the bush, introduce the dog to the wonders of VB, and generally "warm" up the cottage, which we haven't been in since the fall of 2008.  It's still standing, we knew that.  Glenda and Mike kept it in shipshape order, with some more repairs and renovations, including finishing off the inside of the porch.  This is at the end of a week of sunny, warm weather, with temperatures up in the high teens.

Just in time for the long weekend, a Colorado low swept into the province, bringing high winds (up to 90 kph), driving rain full of sleet and hail, and much cooler temperatures.  We sure had our day at the "beach", but had to go in to the fire to warm up.  No sun to be seen.  Pelting sleet on the beach.  There were a few hardy seagulls flying around, and there was lots of open water at the shore, which was quite amazing considering 2 years ago the shoreline was ice and snow until late May.  Turns out the wind pushed all the ice to the western shore, piling up to 10 metres high at Winnipeg Beach.

It was great to get back to the fire in the cottage, and a bit disappointing to have to leave. But there's no running water until mid May, due to the possibility of pipes freezing, so it's just not set up for a longer stay. Although we plan to do it next winter, once a few more baseboard heaters are installed. Then you can melt a few buckets of snow/ice and use that for dishes, toilet flushing, and whatever else you need to get by for a few days.

The dog was quite exhausted by the fun of walking along the beach -- a lot to sniff and chew. She needed a rest. We played another round of Blokus and headed back to the city, listening to an amazing story on audio CD -- Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. This one is set in an old graveyard in an English city, and a small boy is being raised by the inhabitants after his parents and sister are murdered. Great history and great adventures.

Monday, March 22, 2010

River Ice

The Red River is flowing again. It's an earlier spring than "usual", whatever that is. When it melts, the ice jams up along the bends and under bridges, and makes a gorgeous sound when it starts to move.  It was solid enough to skate on just a month ago.  I love the carnage of the breaking ice, and occasionally a tree, or a piece of someone's dock, or other debris gets caught.

The crest of the river is on its way north -- this river is odd in that it flows north, away from the melt.  It would be safer if it flowed south and the later melting season in the north would mean less flooding.  But a quirk of glacial re-arrangement means the Red flows north, and the melting waters from the south get caught up with ice that hasn't yet transformed into water.  The crest is expected in Winnipeg on April 6, but the expectation is that it won't be as high as other years, including 2009.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Meet the new member of our household! I think she's grown at least 1/3 more than when we met her and brought her home.  Lots of eating, and lots of... running, playing, getting to know us.  We are a bit overwhelmed at times, but we all have our skills.  Kai is a master of grooming... the dog lies down and takes it, instead of biting the hand and brush, as she does to me.  Nicole likes to pick her up -- must be good for that upper body strength as the dog grows.  Gabe is up early in the morning and takes her out for her first pee of the day (the outside one, that is!!!).  

I am basically the individual she imprinted on for some reason, so she follows me around like a slavish little fan... a bit annoying, but entertaining.  Doglike devotion.  Undying love.  I hope I deserve it.  Today she discovered the wonders of the good barbecue smells, when Tom fired up the barbie for the first time back here.  Warm day, gusty winds, time to fire up the barbie to celebrate the onset of spring.  And the real sounds of spring showed up last night when I was out with the dog before we went to bed... two honking geese flying overhead.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Bottom of the Birdcage...

Winnipeg in spring is like the bottom of the birdcage -- grit and sh*t. The sand that has beend dumped on streets and sidewalks for months to decrease the effects of winter is left behind when the ice and snow melt.  And we're having an earlier start to spring than usual.  With a few days to go before the official start of spring, it's almost all melted in the city.  Temperatures have been above zero for days now, so the snow piles are disappearing.  The other debris left behind, other than all the trash which people dump, is doggy doo doo.  Thus the effect of being at the bottom of the birdcage.

The City is starting  its spring clean up earlier this year, so hopefully we won't have as much dust blowing around as could be possible.  The rivers are starting to break up... some spots on the Red near my work place are now open water.  But the big ice chunks still will be moving by, which is always a spectacular sound and sight.  Other spots are slush and rotten ice, with water filling the gaps of ski and skating trails.  You know it's almost over when the buds start swelling on the trees, and bits of green show up beside south-facing walls.  And dandelions will be here soon to cheer us on our way.  Fargo (400 km to the south) is dealing with its flood surge this week.  Here's a blog to check out:  Fargo Flooding

To add to our fun, we have introduced a new member to our household.  Kallista the dog, named after a little town near Ferny Creek.  We wanted to remember Australia in some way with the name of the pooch -- names like Adelaide, Alice (for Alice Springs) were tossed around, but Kallista fits.  She is 3 1/2 months old, an apricot-coloured standard poodle.  Bouncy as... still working on the toilet training, but our goal is to pick up the debris, not to leave it to melt all over the city.  The kids are coping remarkably well -- I'm the one who is a bit stressed out about it all, but that's probably because I'm  not sleeping very well right now.  Too much to think about? Or worry about?  Don't know which one it is, but the effects are not fun.  Oh well -- it's happened before and will abate again.  Could even be the dreaded hormones, which always have a way of rearing their effects.

Regardless, we are hearing more birds starting to think about their own expanding households.  And daylight savings time has intruded on our morning light, so we'll have to wait another month before we get the morning light again.  But standing out in the yard with Kallista in the early mornings is gorgeous -- crisp, frosty, fresh.  And the evening walks are fun instead of being wickedly cold. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Skates

How thrilling to have a new pair of skates. I have always loved ice skating, and treated myself to a new pair of skates this year -- combined birthday and Christmas money, which was waiting for me when we got back -- thanks mom!  Last Sunday Gabe, Kai and I took the new skates (and their slightly used ones) out on the Red River Skating Trail for a spin.  In  our absence, Winnipeg re-invented the river trail, and set up a massive competition last year with the Rideau Trail in Ottawa, to handily win the title of longest river trail in Canada.

The groomed trail winds 8.54 km from the Hugo Dock (Osborne area) on the Assiniboine, flows east toward its junction with the Red, and continues south and east along the Red River to the bottom of Hay St., the street that crosses Baltimore -- the Churchill Dock, at the foot of Churchill High School (Nicole's new school). The Forks Corporation is responsible for much of the maintenance and promotion, down to using a vegetable oil powered Zamboni to make sure the trail is as smooth as can be given its outdoor setting.   A lot of fun -- beats skating round and round in an arena, although that has an allure of its own.  I remember going back to the Hans Brinker story, thinking about skating on the Dutch canals, and wishing for the same. Childhood memories of skating on the local creek, my cousin's pond, and the lagoon by the Lake at Firelane 1.   Best of all, Nicole, who has had a challenge balancing on skates, recently received the gift of a pusher designed especially for her by the Rehabilition Centre for Children in Winnipeg.  It's a hot red colour, and lets her feel confident with her ability to move around on two thin little blades.  Cheers to the Rehab Centre.

 Vegetable Oil Powered Zamboni

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moving Between Lives

Have you seen Avatar?  I held off, basically pooh-poohed the idea, but Tom thought it might be a fun outing for the five of us.  Some of the crew find themselves disoriented when at an IMAX cinema, dealing with the 3D -- it was not an issue at all. Others (me) worry about the violence in the movie, because that's what they show on the trailers to try to sell it to the younger males, and so much of movie violence can be gratuitous.  Others are always up for a movie because they LOVE popcorn, and there's always something to drink in the noxious drinks department as well!   And we feel as if we missed a few movie outings last year, mostly because of the cost.  I managed to get a lot of movies with my wonderful library card, but we did miss some of the latest and greatest.

Well, I'm a fan.  The technology is impressive.  Put on the wacky glasses and the little jelly-like life force creatures appear to be floating around the audience. The sparks from the burning tree are all around, as are the glowing plants that make up the night life of the Na'vi people. The flora is a gigantic rain forest, and brings back so many beautiful visions. The story line is basic -- good vs. evil, technology vs. nature, the blossoming of love in the midst of learning about oneself, the triumph of those who live honestly with their world.  And all in the framework of the amazing 3D technology.

The ability to move between lives is an intriguing concept.  If you haven't seen the movie, stop reading.  Several of the main characters use a new bio-technology (it's 2154!) to do this in the movie.  One does it under the pretext of bring information back to the military industrial corporation that has moved its operations to this far-flung planet to bring back a rare and precious metal.  The military contractors are there to ensure that business will proceed as required to feed the corporate requirements back on earth.  He ultimately finds the life on fictional Pandora much more desirable, especially when he truly learns about communicating with all of nature, using his braid as a conduit.  He also finds love.

The opportunity to move back and forth, between the life I had last year, and the life I have here has an allure.  I can see why the rich and famous move and fly around as they do.  It keeps things fresh, keeps them connected.  We had so many beautiful connections and learned so much last year.  Yet we were still "us".  We are who we are.  But it's hard work ("yakka") to keep all the connections alive.  I've been thinking about Thomas Wolfe's book You Can't Go Home Again where the main character left, came back to outrage (because of a book he'd written), left again only to gain fresh insights into his identity.  The scientists in the movie move back and forth using bio-technology to gain insights into the lives of the people of the planet Pandora.  Ultimately one returns to the new life, to his new identity.  I will continue to think my way back to my world here... given the changes of last year, I anticipate more movement.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Returning to Winter

Return to normal, whatever that is. Winter. Blue blue skies. Bright sun, getting hotter every day. When the temperature rises above -10C, snow at the south facing back of the house starts to melt. Today there was a steady dripping sound of something leaking from the eaves troughs. That's another story -- we haven't lived in this house through a winter, so now we are discovering some of its winter character traits!

There wasn't a week that went by in Australia where we didn't receive a genuine question about winter -- how cold does it get? How does it feel when it's that cold? How much snow do you have? How much shoveling? Ice? Skating? How do you drive on snow and ice? There was a real interest in the event of winter, which is far from the weather reality of Australia with its tropical north, changeable south and dry interior.

And Manitoba gets a winter that you notice. This season started later than normal -- it was early December before they got some decent snow. There have been a few serious lows, but in general, it's bearable and gorgeous during the day. It's already mid-February, we've had some freezing rain, two reasonable snow storms, and little extreme cold.

I felt very testy about the cold when we got home. It's much much easier to step outdoors when you don't have to put on the extras -- boots, mitts, hat or ear band, scarf, zip up the winter parka or coat, grit your teeth and go. We were immersed in the changeable weather of Melbourne, for sure, but nothing colder than a hard frost and one morning of slushy sleet on the ground for a few hours. I did wear gloves twice, but by the time I'd made it half way up One Tree Hill Road I was warm enough to unzip the fleecy and remove the gloves. I've been trying to change my attitude about the cold, really. Embrace the chill. Enjoy the gorgeous pure blue of the sky and plants that are not green and lush. Life in another format. The sun's heat is already noticeable during the day, so again it will move to a warmer season. It's just more obvious here than it was in the Dandenongs, as we progress through the winter to the return of the northern hemisphere to heat.

There's been a lot to sort out. Returning to work for both Tom and myself. He's back in one small room, versus the big classrooms he used at Beaconhills. Getting used to something that once was completely familiar. I do feel as if I've outgrown some aspects of my working life, but that's something that will be sorted out with time. Feeling our way back into the lives of our friends. Figuring out who we (and they) have become. Everything changes, even though it feels somewhat the same. The winter is the stable factor -- it feels similar, it looks similar. Crusty ruts of snow on the roads. Slipping through a turn. Not stomping on the brakes as you come up to a stop. The kids are sorting out their feelings about being in new schools, once again. They truly found a home at Ferny Creek Primary School, made friends, had life-altering experiences. Now they're slipping around a bit, figuring out where they fit.

I'm asking a few genuine questions of myself -- more than filling a list (the bucket list email was making its round again a few weeks ago), or ticking off items. We were certainly privileged to spend a year in a place that let us explore ourselves, new ways of being, growing up and changing. The questions are real, and I'm looking for responses that are real. Preteen aged kids have different questions than the three who hopped a plane with us in late 2008. Tom's approach to his artistic expression will change now that he has a studio again. I'm growing out of something, as I stated. My intellect needs a different challenge. I'm really trying to figure out what that will be.

Friday, January 22, 2010

One more kick at the ... PM

I can't resist... the esteemed Bob Rae responding to our PM's need to prorogue whenever it isn't going his way, and to our PM's singing with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra a few months back.