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Archive for October, 2011

Lives Lived

October 27, 2011 7 comments

There were many stories to choose from, so writing a 500 word story about John was difficult. Yet when you have known someone like him, and he is taken too soon from his life’s course, you want to tell everyone you pass in the street about this incredibly dynamic person. As if the loss will start to make sense, the more you speak about it.

So the Lives Lived section in the Globe and Mail was a natural target, and today they published my little story about John. For the link to that story, click here.

I had to virtually sum up his career of teaching kids with a short sentence – hardly doing it justice, knowing that he was a positive influence on countless students. I barely mentioned his close relationship with his wife and children. But that’s national newspapers for you.

At his funeral, his past running coach told me the story about how he ran a 5 minute mile in his hungover state one day. His coach was clearly impressed at John’s abilities, (perhaps less impressed, but still slightly amused, by his priorities). So many athletes wouldn’t have turned up for that practice at all; his youthful bravado and competitive spirit shine through this story – a story long since forgotten by John, but remembered by his coach.

Golfing with John was a treat for anyone, so that story had to make the cut. He took fewer swings than most golfers, so I think he came up with the idea of being the sharpest ball hunter that ever walked the links to challenge himself while the rest of his foursome duffed it out. He proudly told anyone who would listen how he had never in his life bought a golf ball, since he had buckets full of them from his jaunts through the rough. He would stuff handfuls of balls into my bag before we teed off. I blame him for my enduring inability to read a putt, since I would arrive on the green and he would hold his putter where I needed to aim, either to the right or left of the hole. He was always right.

Waiting for knee surgery didn't stop him from being Ella's running pal for a 2 mile race

There were so many stories that couldn’t fit. Like the time when travelers were stranded in Halifax during 911, and John ended up bringing two men home, making space for them until they were cleared to fly again. Countless stories about the times he coached Peter or Julia, about trips he and Debbie had taken, and many, many about his antics that were uniquely John. There was truly never a dull moment when he was in a room.

His large personality paved the way for thousands of funny situations. Let’s say he was no shrinking violet. But for the complete picture, he was also smart, generous, warm and caring.

For some people, the word “brother” conjures someone who they rarely speak with and can barely tolerate. The relationship means different things for people. But I was madly in love with my brother, and I know the rest of my family was, too. He was a rare and unique gift. We are missing him, but he is lodged somewhere between our hearts and our minds.

With every breath, I feel his presence.

The Allure of the Eiffel Tower

October 25, 2011 3 comments

We took our children to Paris this past summer. It was a highly anticipated event, to put it mildly. Topping their list of expectations was Disneyland Paris, but after we firmly crossed that off their list, the next item was, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

I would like to report they were most charmed by the second hand book peddlars that lined the Seine, the incredible food, or a work of art in the Louvre (preferably something other than the Mona Lisa). But if you ask them what the highlight of their Paris trip was, you will hear three voices in unison proclaim the Eiffel Tower. This is the only thing I have ever heard them proclaim in unison, incidentally.

At their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, they were speechless – it was fulfilling to see them react this way about something besides Justin Bieber. As we neared the iconic structure, we saw a virtual carnival of life happening around its base.

There were people lounging everywhere. Some were having a picnic, others were playing soccer, musicians were strumming guitars, models were posing, and peddlars were selling everything under its grey skies, including umbrellas once they opened up. It was a world unto its own arrondisement.

Like crashing a birthday party, the people watching opportunities were vast and the party games varied. But it was my turn to be aghast when it was time for the birthday cake: hour long line-ups awaited us at each of the entrances for the trip up to the top of the tower. We seriously considered taking the stairs until we realized we could only walk up to the first platform.

Patience isn’t in my DNA, and so I had to be strong-armed by my children to join one such line. But I was glad I did; being in the line was simply another opportunity to watch the carnival and meet people from all over the world who had converged on Paris that day.

Besides the incredible vistas and thousands of tourists, there was an exhibition about the history of the Eiffel Tower on the first platform. We loved seeing the pictures of the tower under construction, when it loomed curiously half-built above Paris. You could understand the scorn city dwellers felt for this structure, widely thought to be an eyesore before its debut at the World Fair of 1889. It was a great teaching moment, talking about Gustav Eiffel’s perseverance in the face of this controversy.

I’d stupidly allotted an hour in our day for this visit, thinking we’d quickly check it off before lunching in a cafe and then hitting the Louvre. In fact we were there almost all day, which I now realize was the right thing to do.

I’ve talked to people who have been disappointed by their trips to the City of Lights; it simply didn’t live up to its hefty billing. Incredibly, there is an illness called Paris Syndrome, as is described in this month’s issue of Atlantic magazine. Some tourists are experiencing hallucinations, nausea and dizziness when their high expectations of Paris fall short. I know, it sounds more ludicrous than the thought of me joining the chorus line in the Moulin Rouge, but this is an actual documented illness.

Far from these poor afflicted tourists, my children could only stand awestruck at this world famous landmark, oblivious to the long lines with which I was obsessed. Whereas I saw chaos, they saw magic. (My reaction of impatience and frustration did fall short of hallucinations, I hasten to add.)

Oh, to see the world through the eyes of children.

A Nauseatingly Warm and Fuzzy Story About my Kid

October 21, 2011 10 comments

Sometimes, in fact almost all of the time, the magic of motherhood can be lost somewhere between packing the lunches and shuttling to soccer. There is a fair amount of work required in rearing children, and by work I mean constant nagging. Make your bed, stop texting, feed your fish, stop texting, eat something green, stop... Honestly, I can hardly stand myself by the end of the day. I don’t know how they put up with me.

But occasionally, something sweet and tender happens that is absolutely divine, and I want to freeze time. Generally, I feel these cute-kid stories are overdone, and therefore I shy away from them (but you can’t say I didn’t warn you with the title).

My husband returned from a business trip yesterday. On the way to gymnastics the kids were musing about what little gift he would bring them. Yes, I wonder what he’s bringing me, I joked. My oldest daughter immediately picked up her phone to text him a warning that I was hoping for a present. I laughed, and told them I was kidding, I didn’t really want a present. My youngest daughter said solemnly, I’m going to make you a present anyway, Mummy. I told her a hug from her was all I wanted (my originality is not at its peak that time of the day).

While I was making dinner, she was conspicuously absent, whereas usually she is underfoot. She finally emerged from her room with a piece of paper, laden with her writing.

Why I love my mom - the front

...the back

Here it is, transcribed with her creative spelling:

from Ella

Why I love my mom

1. She bys stuf for me

2. She loves me

3. She takes kare of me

4. She comeforts me

5. She buys me food

6. She gets me toys even when she dose not want to

7. She touks me in at niuht

8. She sins me up for camp and attivitey

9. She helps me whith math

10. She helps me sleep

11. She buys some stuf for crismess and a bunch of other stuf

12. She gives me money

13. She gave me a houes

14. She gets me brthday

15. She payes alot of mouney

16. She gets me stoueys (stories)

I flipped the paper over, and on the back she wrote a poem.

every night I sing a song

about How I love my mom. And

How she gives me vegtbaball

whith out her Id be so fat!

I love her whith all

my mite and I love you

so mouch that Id clim a ben soukc (which she told me was bean sprout)

(and then she drew a picture of her and the bean sprout.)

At the wise age of seven, she was perceptive enough to see through my rather pathetic ploy for recognition. Her gift made me speechless, which perhaps was the real goal – to dissuade me from nagging for an evening.

Stop growing, stay little, I whisper to her when she’s asleep.

So Banal It’s Profound

October 14, 2011 8 comments

I’ve read the Facts and Arguments page in the Globe and Mail steadfastly for years. Truthfully, some days it’s the only page I read; I thumb past the political hoopla more quickly than I should and head straight to the back of the Life section. (The Saturday Arts section is also divine and renders me weak in the knees, but on weekdays I have to satisfy myself with the essay.)

On the Facts page they showcase an essay submitted by random Canadians, and run a clever illustration alongside. Often they are lighthearted musings, occasionally poignant, and sometimes delightfully funny. There’s enough space for the writer to delve into the heart of the matter, and dissect it accordingly.

In retrospect, I should have given more thought about my topic, which unfortunately is my love/hate relationship with the mall, but I’m seeking solace in the fact that Adam Gopnik‘s topic for the upcoming Massey Lectures is simply winter. And he’s speaking for a whole week on that one.

When someone asked Gopnik “why winter?”,  he replied he was waiting for a bus on a cold day in NYC when he received the offer to give the lectures, and he decided then and there to talk about winter. Right then and there! Shouldn’t he have perhaps consulted Margaret Atwood or Douglas Coupland? Or at the very least Googled “top ten interesting topics for scholarly discussion”? Past topics of Massey Lectures have included The Unconscious Civilization and Globalism and the Nation State. Winter is so simple it’s profound, perhaps.

(In any case, it works for me: winter holds more appeal for my simple mind, I refer you to my  aversion to politics.)

Not to draw similarities between myself and Gopnik, because surely there are none besides sharing a few letters in our names and a country of birth, but I stumbled across my topic in a similar fashion. My daughter had asked me for the umpteenth time that week to take her to the mall, when I felt the bile rising in the back of my throat at the thought entering its revolving doors. Instead of taking this frustration out on her I very maturely picked up my laptop and wrote about them. Then for some god-forsaken reason I emailed it to the Globe, and the rest, as they say, is in today’s broadsheet.

Click here to link to the article, and keep in mind I was using the mall as a metaphor for suburbia itself, of course.

It Only Took Me Twenty Years

October 13, 2011 18 comments

To be totally upfront, as writing careers go mine has been far from stellar.

One month after graduating from university with a degree in Journalism, my father, a local journalist and my inspiration, died; and so did my aspirations for a writing career. I wrote about this here, in my inaugural post for this blog, in case anyone besides Mom cares to read it.

Instead I got a job that delivered decent money if not bylines, and the rest is yesterday’s news.

But since everyone loves it when old dogs learn new tricks, I have a modicum of success to report. It is really little – like a freckle on Diana Swain‘s face. But it’s the most success I’ve had since putting the perfect ratio of peanut butter to jam on my sandwich last week, or ever, so I’m rather excited.

As the rain fell and the wind blew one day, I submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail. Granted, my topic was pretty lame; it’s far from Nietzsche in scope and as always short of Austen in form. It’s about the mall.

Yet incredibly, today they replied they were using it (slow essay month, I guess). They would be publishing it this Friday, October 14th.

It took me a minute before I realized that just happens to be my dear father’s birthday, of all days. So happy birthday to my father, who was more profound and witty than I will ever be, and who never lost his enthusiasm for life.


Bring On Culture Days

October 5, 2011 3 comments

Culture Days kicked off last Friday here in British Columbia. I’ve never heard of Culture Days before, but the CBC hosted a big street event to kick it off. It included a panel discussion on social media and how it’s affecting journalism, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi.

Frankly, it didn’t matter what the panel was talking about, they had me at Jian.

That's him!

For the benefit of my American reader, Jian Ghomeshi is the Canadian male equivalent to Barbara Walters before the plastic surgery. He hosts the best radio show ever aired, Q, where he interviews authors, musicians, and anyone else who might be more interesting than your average Agnes. Usually his guests possess more talent in their pinky finger than I have in my entire body; and I am always inspired (as well as green with jealousy).

It airs weekdays mornings, so Jian’s smooth voice fills my kitchen while I’m scrubbing pots and cleaning the oven and doing all of those other glamorous jobs that earn me the big bucks. Jian squeezes blood out of a rocks during some interviews, and with others is sweetly star-struck and deferential. I’ve acquired a long list of books and albums I want to buy as a result of his show. So much for free entertainment.

Jian brings me up when I’m feeling down, and brings poignant moments to my day – and thus my life. So I feel like I know him, and should he know me I’m certain we would get along like my old volleyball teammates between games. It was worth a trip downtown to see my old friend in person, since he resides in Toronto and my chances of bumping into him at the mall are slim to none.

Culture Days did not disappoint. The CBC had gone all out with tents and sets and stages; there were almost as many red-shirted CBC workers as senior citizens and teenagers milling about. There was more energy in this city block than there had been since the Stanley Cup riots, and I was very happy that I had forwent grocery shopping in order to be there.

George Stroumboulopoulos was hanging around the event – just hanging around! Only in Canada would a network star be able to do this. I only stalked him for a half hour to get my picture taken with him. Of course, I panicked when he asked me my name, and butchered its pronunciation. He asked me to repeat it, as if it mattered to him – so sweet. When saying goodbye he actually bowed. Amazing to encounter a television personality completely unaffected by his popularity.

Stalking Strombo - and then acting like an idiot - was so worth it considering I will have this photo forever

If you think I’m name dropping, that’s because I am. Since my life is very rarely exciting, I’m okay with it. If things pick up in the future, and I’m meeting cool people every weekend, I promise I won’t put them on my blog. Maybe on Facebook, but not on my blog.

CBC capped off the day with a free concert featuring the Stars, Midway State and the New Pornographers, hosted once again by Jian, who only slightly overshadowed the musicians (and I’m a fan of New Pornographers, just to give you an idea of his charisma.)

New Pornographers

I’m not sure what other events Culture Days had on its roster – the fact that this was the kick off implied there was more to them than this action packed day in front of the CBC building – but this would be hard to compete with. And my entire weekend entails attending soccer games.  This would be both the beginning and end of my Culture Days.

But I am a freakishly proud Canadian, riots and all, and so I say long live Canada, and long live the CBC, without an ounce of sarcasm.

Out of the Mouths of Tweens

October 4, 2011 5 comments

The good things about kids is they tell me when I have pancake batter on my behind, or food stuck in my teeth.

The bad thing is they tend to tell me these things at inopportune moments, like when I’m talking to someone famous or one of those annoyingly perfect mothers. Okay, so I rarely meet famous people, but I do talk to other vitally important people from time to time who make me nervous, such as our mail woman and the school principal.

The other bad news, for me, is the list of things that they need to point out is growing exponentially longer by the day.

It used to be all diaper/bottle related stuff, then for a time embarrassing clothing gaffe’s like wearing my pants backwards and my shirts inside out. But lately it’s become more sliding-into-old-age related, like grey roots and wrinkles.

In the beginning of motherhood, in those blissful days before they could talk, they pointed out my shortfalls by pointing and laughing. Now it has progressed to eye rolls and comments like these:

“Mom, did you spill white paint in your hair?” means it’s time to buy one of those hair dying kits that promises to cover even the stubbornest of greys.

“Look at all of those wrinkles on your face – you look so old!” means it’s time… Well, there is nothing I can do about this since I’m averse to needles generally, so it just means I’m getting older (but wiser, I hasten to add.)

“Can you please not talk to me in public when you’re wearing that!” means it might be time to lose the tie-dye, and so on.

(Just when I was becoming confident in my own skin, and those voices, inner and otherwise, calling me a loser or dweeb have finally faded, along come come my own children to knock me down a notch or ten. Funny that.)

I’m not very observant, so it is helpful in a way. In fact, it’s making me step up my game, especially to spare myself the embarrassment when they point out my flaws in public, as they clearly enjoy doing.

Now I’m scrutinizing myself a bit more carefully each morning, in an effort to beat them at this perverse game. But I’m horrified and a bit perplexed by the things I’m finding.

For example this morning, when I tried to brush a wayward eyelash off my chin, I found it was actually attached, and therefore a chin lash. Others might refer to it as a whisker. After my shock, I found I had new sympathy for the way those little pigs taunt the big bad wolf. Apparently, I’m growing a beard on my chinny chin chin.

The bright side of this situation (as unbelievable as it is that there is a bright side) is that I discovered this myself, in the privacy of my own rear view mirror, before they alerted the neighbourhood.

Whether to pluck it or bleach it is up in the air, but one thing is for sure: I will deal with it before they get home from school.