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I will not claim to be the biggest Hip fan in Canada, or even in Ottawa. I never saw the band in concert. I knew them. I knew their songs, but I didn’t own all their albums. Only a few. But I loved their songs. You could hear it on the radio and instantly recognize it. The power behind it and the lyrics. Those lyrics.

That’s what Gord taught me. That when you write, if you’re writing with passion it will make sense even if it doesn’t make sense. That thoughts come together to express what it is you’re trying to say, no matter how you go about saying it.

That’s what speaks to me most about Canadian music, of which The Tragically Hip are the ultimate example. The fact that Canadian artists fit so many words and thoughts into such small places.

True to form, it’s the words that get me.

Stare in the morning shroud and then the day began
I tilted your cloud, you tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time and rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life

I saw my first musical in 1989.

My mother took my sister and me on a rare trip with just the three of us. Three days in Toronto, and on the first night Phantom of the Opera. We sat in the third row and when that chandelier came down it was right above our heads before zipping onto the stage to play its assigned role. (In the book I believe it kills Raoul’s brother, but in the play Raoul saves Christine’s life by pushing her out of the way, though my memory may be fuzzy).

Later that summer my mother would take us to two more shows back at home at the Nationals Arts Centre – Les Miserables and Cats. Les Mis would become a favourite, Cats is stupid.

I don’t know what it is about these shows that I love so much, but love them I do. Some of them captivate me when I see them, some of them before I ever get the chance.

I was living in a small town in Northern Ontario when I first watch the Tonys and saw a performance of Defying Gravity. I knew I had to see Wicked the minute I listened to that song, and eventually I would take myself to Toronto to do just that. I went there and back in a day and it was totally worth it.

The minute I heard Waving Through A Window on the Sirius XM Broadway channel I knew I needed to see Dear Evan Hansen.

The full soundtrack wasn’t even out yet, the show hadn’t officially premiered, but that song told me all I needed to know, and I listened to it on repeat for days.

Last year Joe and I were planning a trip to New York City. We had tickets for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, before it won the Tony for Best Musical. But the election came and went and things started to feel very uncomfortable, and then I was out of work for a bit and our budget was also feeling uncomfortable. I sold the tickets and went back to only being able to think about a trip.

But then the last little bit of inheritance from my father came in. We had talked about what to do with it, and the possibility that I could use it to take a trip, either by myself or with the kid. My father loved to travel, and I’ve seen a lot of Canada but very little of anything else. My father also loved Broadway and the West End in London. He took me to see Mamma Mia one Christmas as my gift. I thought it so funny that he didn’t live to see a musical about Gander’s support of those waylaid there by 9/11 gain such success. He spent years studying Gander. He would have either loved it or picked it apart, or both.

So, in a way, I am going to New York for me and for my father. I am going to New York City by myself and I am seeing three amazing musicals while I am there and I might cry every night out of sheer joy. I am going to see Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen before the end of Ben Platt’s run, and the one and only Bette Midler staring in Hello Dolly.

I don’t know if there is a movie musical that I have watched more times than Hello Dolly.

I’m a bit scared, but also not. I’m excited. I don’t have to answer to anyone but me and I don’t have to be anywhere at any specific time, except when the curtain goes up. I can spend a whole day just walking around, being amazed by all the things I recognize.

And when I get home I will listen to the same soundtracks with a new and better understanding and it will be glorious.

Like most people, I was confused when I first started using Twitter. It seemed ridiculous, communicating in short bursts like that. I didn’t even really text at the time.

Very quickly I figured out that Twitter was a place I needed to be as someone who was working monitoring the media. The Parliamentary Press Gallery was all over Twitter, and many of them were posting their stories there before I ever would have seen them otherwise. Being on Twitter became a place I had to be.

And even when I went on mat leave, I kept using Twitter. I credit it with helping me through post-partum, because even on days when I couldn’t get myself together to get out of the house, I could still connect with people online and have conversations. Not just conversations, but understanding.

Slowly but surely the people that I met on Twitter became friends. I met many of them in person, I’ve worked with some of them, volunteered for others, and had playdates with many. I even went to blogger conferences to meet and talk to these wonderful women in person. I have had the chance to see some of them change their lives.

One of these friends once told me that she wished she could be confident like me. I thought no, you’re thinking of online Amy. Online Amy expresses herself much better than in-person Amy. But, in fact, who I can be online has changed the person that I am day to day. That person, I think, is who I have always been when I’m alone.

She’s still more articulate though. The ability to edit does that.

I still love Twitter, though many people have moved on. I love interacting with the news there, I rant there, I still have great conversations there, and I get to hear voices that I don’t necessarily hear anywhere else. But.

But Twitter is often a hateful, awful place. There are people there that spew racist, sexist, homophobic trash day in and day out. There are people who threaten to hurt, maim or kill other people. There are women who can’t look at their mentions because they are filled with angry, idiotic men who are threatening to rape and murder them and their families. Because she said something they didn’t like. Because she had an opinion at all. Sometimes just because she existed.

Honestly, if Twitter has taught me anything recently is that there are people who will hate you no matter what you do or don’t do, and Twitter has become their arena to speak hate and display their total idiocy without fear of reprisal. I mean, there is one obvious example.

And something else that has become clear is that Twitter really doesn’t care about the abuse being hurled at members of their community. Well, that’s not true. Sometimes they do act and sometimes they ignore, and it seems that often when they do act it is against someone whose actions pale in comparison to what others are doing.

Now, this is not just a Twitter problem, lord knows Facebook is filled with racism and misogyny and hate, but this one step, boycotting Twitter today, is just the first step.

If we don’t call them out on this, then we’ve done nothing, and I can’t do nothing any more.

A friend of mine posted a link to an article the other day on Facebook. The article itself is about a book and a new trend – the new form of decluttering – called Swedish Death Cleaning. This is the art of slowing riding yourself of things as years go by so that when you die there is not much junk left, just things that matter. And the people who matter understand why the things matter.

I am a purger. I get rid of things that are no longer of use, taking up too much space, things that don’t fit, things that aren’t ‘me’ anymore. I don’t hold on to much. I am not sentimental about most things. I believe that the things in my home that are important are understood by my husband and daughter – the dining room table that my grandfather built for my parents, that my father kept in their house until his death, a beautiful, sturdy table with memories all over it.

I have been a purger for most of my adult life, but I am perhaps more focused now after experiencing my own father’s death.

My father left behind a three-storey three bedroom house with an attic office completely and totally full of stuff. Not only was it full of stuff, that stuff was almost completely unorganized. His filing system consisted of throwing papers into a box until it was full and then starting a new box.

It was a running joke in the family – how messy my dad was – but I don’t know that any of us ever anticipated that he was also completely unprepared for death.

My father had five children and he had mentioned his will to all of us on some occasion or another. I knew that my brother – the oldest and only boy – would be the executor. What we didn’t realize was that the will was the only preparation he had made for his eventual demise.

The man was in his 80s.

The five of us were faced with a house full of stuff, a will that dated back to 1996, and no indication whatsoever of what of all that stuff was important.

We found a pair of candlesticks that none of us had seen before. We assumed they were a recent purchase. Our cousins from Denmark showed up and informed us that those were family heirlooms that had been in their mother’s possession before she died.

It took the five of us more than two weeks to clear out that house, even with occasional help from our partners. There were piles of trash, we rented a truck for all the donations, and we each took something that meant something to us. And I asked to please have the table.

I have no idea whether that table was just another piece of furniture to my dad, but to me it was something built by my grandfather as a gift to my parents, that we ate family meals at for years to come, and I wanted it in my home.

What is even better about this idea of death cleaning is that it forces you to talk to your family members about what you want.

Now, Joe and I have talked with each other about our wishes, and family members know what happens with the kid if we both meet our ends. My mother has her cremation planned and paid for, as does my grandfather. My father, on the other hand, left us no indication whatsoever. He mentioned his will repeatedly (despite failing to update it), but he never told a single one of us whether he wanted to be buried and where, whether he wanted a funeral and what kind.

We were flying by the seat of our pants, and so we decided to make it less about him and more about what we needed. What his partner of 15 years needed. If I could speak to him again I’d probably say something like “Dad, come one, you were 82.”

It’s been more than two years and I’m still in utter disbelief about how unprepared my father was for his sudden passing. I plan to be as prepared as possible for mine.

 

 

 

When I was a kid I didn’t hate going to the dentist. It was usually just fine. Until I had to get a retainer.

Actually, even then I didn’t really mind because I always wanted to be like my older sister. But I grew to hate my retainer, and when they told me they wanted to put braces on me as well as the retainer I said no.

I’m not sure if that’s when I stopped seeing that dentist, but that time did come. For a time I just stopped going, until I was 18 and I had a big, painful cavity that I could not ignore any more. That is when I went to an emergency dentist near my house who used her entire body weight to pull what turned out to be a baby tooth that had never fallen out. It was a horrible experience. She lectured me. It was painful. I’ve never forgotten.

And then my mother told me that she had found a new dentist. A woman she quite liked, and I should try her out too.

I like that dentist. I went to visit her regularly until I moved away for school, and when I came back she had retired and handed her practice over to a man who froze my jaw to fill a cavity and then walked away and left me sitting there for more than 30 minutes.

Seriously. I sat there staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out if I could just storm out, and whether I would be able to enunciate enough to explain the problem. I never wanted to go back to him, but I also ran out of insurance so I couldn’t go back either way.

When I was pregnant – and employed with dental coverage – I realized it was really time to go back. I waited until after birth, since I was scared that I would need treatment and would then have to weigh my options. I asked Facebook and Twitter for recommendations and made an appointment.

It’s been 7 years, 9 fillings, 5 root canals, 3 wisdom teeth removed and 2 crowns, and I love my dentist. She is kind, funny, gentle. She’s from Cape Breton for God’s sake. She is matter-of-fact about the treatments I need and very cautious when it comes to pain management.

She is such a good dentist that even my sister, who hates dentists more than I do, sees her on a regular basis and likes her. And now my kid gets to see her too, and likes her. My kid doesn’t stress about going to the dentist at all.

And a funny thing has happened since I started seeing a dentist I like. I have listened to her advice, I have gone for my regular cleanings and check-ups. I have started flossing like I have been told to for decades. The result of all of this? Clean check-ups. I had no cavities 6 months ago, no cavities today.

It’s almost as though the experts were right all along.

And with that, I share this classic. Gets me every time.

My husband went out on Friday night and the kid was feeling restless. I wanted to just lie down and read my book, but she wanted to do this or that. Finally at around 6:30 pm I started googling and I decided we would go on an adventure, the kid and me. I picked out some warmer clothes for her and didn’t tell her anything, just to bring her iPad and headphones.

There are almost always things going on in Ottawa. We are the capital of the country, after all, and this year the 150th has brought a whole bunch of celebrations to our sleepy little city. I considered Mosaicanada, which closes on October 15, but we didn’t have time to get there before it shut down for the day. I considered Mìwàte, the illumination at Chaudiere Falls, which just started this weekend, but I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t get lost trying to find a parking spot.

And then one of the lists of things to do I subscribe to reminded me of Pumpkinferno at Upper Canada Village.

Pumpkinferno is a glorious display of carved pumpkins, lit up in all colours. I knew it would be beautiful, and I hoped the kid would think it was magical.

Unfortunately, our adventure turned into a bit of a debacle, and I will now offer advice to anyone going to Pumpkinferno at Upper Canada Village:
1) Buy your tickets online in advance (there were two lines and the one for ticket holders was much, much faster)

2) Get there early. It took us about 30 minutes 2 km down Upper Canada Rd. And then we had to find parking, walk to the front, find the end of the ticket line and wait again. I think if we had gotten there before the 7 pm start it all would have been much smoother.

3)Bring provisions. I would have brought more water and snacks if I had realized just how long we would be out.

4) Bring entertainment for the kids. If she hadn’t had her iPad during that crawl to the finish line things would have gotten ugly.

Overall, Pumpkinferno was very cool and Joe said the kid was 80 per cent positive when she told him all about it the next morning. But seeing a Chinese dragon carved our of I don’t know how many pumpkins, walking through a pumpkin forest, seeing the classics and looking into space, was pretty freaking magical.

Still, the debacle – which is a great word, by the way – made me hungry to experience a little more hometown tourism. I have heard so many things about Mosaicanada that I didn’t want to miss it, but I also hadn’t taken the opportunity to just go at any point during the summer. We were going to be downtown adjacent this weekend, so I decided that’s what we would do Monday morning, since we celebrate Thanksgiving on Sunday.

And then we woke up and it was raining. But I said screw it, we won’t get another chance, let’s get dressed appropriately, get down there and see what the weather is like.

The weather, it turned out, was very wet. But when what you’re looking at is a bunch of floral art, wet is pretty much okay.

Both of these little day trips were a little bit about Canada, a little bit about Indigenous peoples, a little bit about art and celebration. Two very different mediums used to make magical things.

I get the feeling we should not miss some more can’t miss things in this great little city of ours.

As a kid, I used to devour Time Life books about the supernatural and unsolved mysteries. I re-read Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark over and over again. For most of my life I have been fascinated by the Zodiac and Jack the Ripper.

I spent weekday evenings with Robert Stack.

And I thought I was weird and that this fascination was shameful until the internet came along and I discovered that I am just one of a population of people with a curiosity about the strange, the unexplainable, the depraved.

If I had my way, when you die you get to find out the truth about all the mysteries and conspiracies – who killed JFK, who was Jack the Ripper. And the whys. Why did this serial killer or that mass murderer do what they did. What was wrong with Aunt Diane? What happened to those three kids in West Memphis (those three kids being Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Chris Byers, the actual murder victims – Surprise, the Paradise Lost documentaries are biased towards the accused). Who killed JonBenet? Where was Asha Degree going? Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee?

Is the theory that OJ was covering for his son true?

The fact is that barring deathbed confessions, we will probably never know the answers to these mysteries, and that’s part of the reason it’s so fascinating to delve into them and try to work it all out. It’s a giant puzzle.

If I could talk to 15 years ago me, she would be astounded.

Poor little 21-year-old me thought she knew exactly the way her life was going to go. She was doing really well in school and had her path planned out – become one of the best sports journalists in the country, travel, write a book.

She’s going to have her dreams crushed a few times before she re-jigs. And once she re-jigs, this dude is going to walk right in and change her whole life.

That instead of being a spinster, working, writing and travelling, she will be a married suburban mother with a Masters degree. And a schnauzer. Her heart will be full.

In fifteen years she will have graduated with a diploma and two degrees, she will have met a man, moved in with him, bought a dog, gotten married, had a baby and bought a house. She will have been a close-up witness to history while working on Parliament Hill. She will have major disappointments in her early 20s and recover from them all by her 30s.

And while she thinks she understands herself at 21, she’ll only begin to have a grasp after her 30th birthday, when she suddenly has all the things she had convinced herself she never wanted. And she will be at peace with all the things she has let go.

I would also tell her to change for the reception, she’ll be more comfortable.

 

There are many reasons that working from home works for me, but the gift of time is my favourite.

I get to read the news, put my daughter on the bus and then hang out with my dog while I type away on my computer.

He’s an old dog, and I get to be here with him, patting him, walking him, cuddling him or just leaving him alone to sleep. I know it will come to an end, sooner than I would like, so I’ll take what I can get. He’s my buddy.

We’ve had times like this before. I was a student when he came to live with us, so I had more time at home, including two weeks of Christmas break when he was brand new and teeny. That very first night he cried the whole time and none of us got any sleep, but then after Joe left for work the puppy and I napped together for the first time. It was lovely.

I took mat leave early, expecting the baby to come around her actual due date, and he and I took naps and walks and had a nice little baby moon before his spot on my lap was overtaken by a small, screaming thing that he didn’t understand. He’s gotten quite used to the routine. We walk the kid to the bus, take a stroll around the block, and when we get back he runs upstairs and into the office, settling in his dog bed while I get seated at my computer. If I have to go into the bedroom to get something or, as last week, I work from there because I have to work lying down, resting my back, he’ll cuddle right up to me. Sometimes being rather forceful about receiving head pats.

Puppy being subtle

He really appreciates when I take the time to work on the deck – which I’m doing whenever the weather suits, while I can. I set up my laptop and he roams around, sniffing out all the new smells, lying in the sun, or sometimes just standing back and letting the wind blow in his ears.

He’s a very good dog. He chose us that first day that we met him, and I’ve loved him dearly ever since. Even when he ran out the front door on my wedding day and I had to chase him down while wearing my dress. Jerk. But chase him down I did. Because he’s the puppy.

Now he’s in the twilight of his life and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do without him. So I’ll try to make the most of whatever time he has left. We’ve already had two close calls, times when I thought we were going to have to say goodbye. The first was seven years ago and he still suffers from it – one leg is partially paralyzed and he’s having more and more trouble with the stairs. Two bladder surgeries, seizures, a heart murmur and a bad thyroid. Thousands of dollars at the emergency vet.

But he’s my buddy, and I’d do it all again.

There are people who say they don’t like to talk about politics. People who complain that athletes or actors should stay out of politics. People who don’t want to get political. These people fascinate me, because as far as I’m concerned life is political.

Movies and TV shows are political, sports is political. The weather is political. How you choose to spend your time is political. The fights you choose to stay out of or ignore, how you choose to spend your time – those are political decisions you’re making.

I don’t believe that a person exist who does not have opinions on something. Who does not have beliefs about right and wrong.

I do believe that by ‘not being political’ you are doing just that. Staying silent is the choice you’ve made. When I stay silent it is to listen to the voices of those who know better than I do. When I stay silent I’m not actually silent, I’m trying to amplify the voices that need to be heard.

Some days that’s all I can do. Some days I spend educating myself. Some days I protest.

Some days I lie in bed wondering what the hell is going on. But never do I stop caring. I am unable.

In fact, I am so unable that I can’t fathom those people who seem to walk around in ignorant bliss. Is it really easier to ignore it all?

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