Always remembering

by , on
November 11, 2017

After we cleaned out my father’s house I became the de facto keeper of papers. Mainly because I have them, and room to store them. I also volunteered to scan all the pictures that we found around the house – hundreds of family pictures, slides. We found, in a bag, the things my father had kept after cleaning out his mother’s house. In that bag was a scrapbook that my Granny (born in 1899) made as a teenager. This scrapbook has photos she took and captions she wrote between 1914 and 1918.

As she grows older and the years change more and more boys in uniform show up in her album, and on one caption she writes the names of the four boys and “all are soldiers now.”

I can’t imagine how many friends she must have lost.

I have more of an idea of how many comrades my grandfather lost – he and his younger brother were the only ones in their regiment to survive World War I. I took my daughter to the War Museum and we saw a wall of lights, with each representing a man lost on Vimy Ridge. My grandfather and his brother both survived that fight, and the war. Against the odds.

My Gramps, one of the grandparents I actually got to grow up knowing, spent World War II on ships.

I went out whale watching in the Atlantic, off Newfoundland once. There was a point at which we could no longer see land, it was just ocean all around us. I cannot imagine spending five years that way. I cannot imagine spending five years that way knowing that your two younger brothers are out there in the fight too.

I took my daughter to the War Museum because I want her to begin to understand. I want her to know what her ancestors did, what Canadian soldiers are still fighting for, as hard as it can be to understand. It’s not easy to explain, it shouldn’t be.

The Political and The Self

by , on
October 31, 2017

I read a snippet of a column this morning written by a well-known, and apparently still widely read, Globe and Mail columnist. This snippet was from a column about public perception of Jason Kenney, former federal minister and newly elected leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta.

The UCP. Reminiscent of the CRAP. (The Conservative Reform Alliance Party).

In this snippet – as I will say again, I have not read the whole column, nor will I click to – the columnist states that people don’t like Jason Kenney because – and I quote from the snippet:

“Mostly it’s because he is a middle-aged, slightly pudgy white man who is also a devout (Catholic) Christian with deeply held personal beliefs. In other words, he belongs to the most reviled demographic in Canada. Many people simply don’t accept that he can keep his personal beliefs out of politics.”

Now, there are, in fact, middle-aged slightly pudgy white men that I am quite fond of, and I know devout Catholics who are able to be quite lovable, but it’s the last part of this statement that I find the most confusing.

Why would you want to elect a politician who would keep their personal beliefs out of their politics?

We build our politics based on our personal beliefs. The people who can separate the two are the ones who freak me out a little. Even believing that your beliefs shouldn’t be laws that everyone has to follow is a personal belief.

For example, I am of the belief that information is power and that children in Alberta should receive sex education that gives them usable facts. I am of the belief that a parent has the right to know that their child is gay, bi, trans or whatever if an only if that child feels safe giving them that information – because it is their information to bestow.

I believe that being what Kenney and his ilk call politically correct means treating people with respect they deserve and avoiding racist, sexist and homophobic language.

You know, treat people like human beings with feelings.

And I believe that teaching actual Canadian history – including the bad stuff – instead of sanitizing it is the right way to go, because not repeating history etcetera etcetera.

But just because I disagree with some of Kenney’s beliefs doesn’t mean I want him to try to separate himself from them when he governs. Not only do I not think that’s possible, I think it’s the opposite of what government should be. I want politicians who are driven by their beliefs, and I want Jason Kenney to not govern at all.

Moi, j’aime bien sur lire

by , on
October 24, 2017

The kid is in immersion, just like I was at her age. She started with a bit of French in kindergarten and now she spends half her days immersed in an entirely new language.

We weren’t at all worried about this, since she loves learning and she’s still young enough to catch on quickly. In fact, she did. She’s picked it all up very quickly and now she’s reading in French but we need to find something more challenging.

This week on her visit to the school library she picked out a book that’s a bit too young for her, as far as I’m concerned. We talked about it and she told me she’s not ready to read chapter books in French yet. I think she’d intimidated, even though she’s been reading chapter books in English for a few years now.

So I emailed her teacher and asked if there is an in-between where we can stick for now so she can get her reading done and gain the confidence she needs to move up to longer, more complex books.

And Madame wrote me back and she said ‘Of course!’ and said they would help the kid find a book from the J’aime Lire series next library day.

And I instantly flashed back to my own elementary school library. The red covers. The pencil-faced mascot. J’aime Lire. They were what I always chose.

Et maintenant j’ai la possibilité de partager mes souvenirs avec ma petite fille.

It also reminds me of how much time I spent in my elementary school library. I wasn’t just a patron, I was a volunteer for the wonderful librarian, Mrs. Pauls. It was, perhaps, one of the first major responsibilities I took on and one I dedicated myself to – arriving at school early, giving up morning recess for re-shelving books, tidying, getting the library ready for the day. And I got to use one of those cool date stamps, which made my office supply loving heart sing.

Part of the reason I did it was because my older sister did, and part of it was to be there, just hanging out with the books.

I still love being surrounded by books. I’m usually reading more than one at a time. Though I couldn’t say the last time I read a book in French – what is supposed to be my second language. It’s something I used to be quite capable of, perhaps it’s time to dive in and show my daughter what’s what.

Passion and Poetry, and Grace Too

by , on
October 18, 2017

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

Taking An Opportunity

by , on
October 10, 2017

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.

In Quebec City With the Sea Mammals

by , on
September 27, 2017

At the very end of the summer I took a few days of vacation, too advantage of Via Rail’s summer deal allowing kids to ride the train for a mere $15, and took a page from my bucket list, and off to Quebec City we went, just me and the kid.

I booked the train and the hotel and nothing else for us. We knew we wanted to visit the aquarium, and I wanted to visit the old city that Quebec is so well known for, maybe get out to the historic Plains of Abraham. I asked friends if they had any suggestions and suggestions they had.

Not one, not two, but three fellow parents told me the Museum of Civilization was a must.

We had a good time on the train, the two of us, and lots of space, but the cab ride to our hotel was something else. After being inside the train for six hours we had wind on our faces and beauty all around us. Steep hills and shining water.

As we settled into the hotel (after we went for a swim) I tried to plan our two days there. We had one full day, and most of a second as our train back didn’t leave until 3 pm. The aquarium was walking distance from out hotel, but the old city was decidedly not.

The kid wanted to do the aquarium first and foremost, above all else, but I made a deal with her and we agreed that our full day would be spent on a hop-on, hop-off tour bus. One that stopped at this kid-friendly musée. We hopped off there, and at the Plains of Abraham (where we had ice cream, because what else do you do at such a historic location?)

The star of day one, though, was nothing that we saw on the bus tour. Quebec City during the summer has, right at the base of a statue of Jacques Cartier that apparently doesn’t actually have his face, buskers performing every 30 minutes to crowds of tourists. And we happened to arrive back from our tour, too early for our shuttle back to the hotel, right as two acrobats began their performance. My kid, the gymnast, was enthralled. She didn’t want to leave – until I told her the next shuttle would be a two-hour wait.

And then finally on day three we walked down to the aquarium.

While we saw fish, stingrays, all kinds of seals and polar bears, the stars of our visit were the walruses.

When she was younger, my kid would do cartwheels anywhere, anytime, all the time. She did cartwheels so much of the time that I started taking pictures in different locations and posting them to a cartwheel album on Facebook, and I promised my friends that we would get plenty of Quebec City cartwheels.

When the walruses started coming up to the glass to check out the people checking them out, I saw an opportunity. I stood back, got my camera ready and told the kid to wait until she saw the walrus back at the glass and then do her cartwheel. So she did, and I snapped.

And then it became apparent that walruses are fascinated by cartwheels.

All this to say: We made new friends.

Leaders

by , on
July 25, 2017

Two things came together in my various timelines today that made me think back.

The first was a reminder, on Facebook, that on this day six years ago Jack Layton held his final press conference. It is a day I remember vividly, as I had been planning to take it off, but I got a phone call from my boss telling me that she really needed me to be there. When I arrived, another boss came into my office and gave me my task for the morning – to watch carefully for leaks to the media before the press conference started. Memories are faulty, but I’m fairly certain that at that point I hadn’t been told what would leak if we had one, but since that was my job – to be at my desk, watching the news, watching Twitter, watching websites – it meant I was not in the big room where they gathered staff to tell them all at once that our dear leader had cancer again, and would be taking a break from leading the party.

The second was on my Pinterest, a simple message someone saved about leadership. When I talk to leaders I get the feeling that I am important. And I remember. When Jack was my boss more than once he called a meeting with the staff of the whole leader’s office, usually at the end of a sitting, and he asked us what we thought. He legitimately asked us what we thought of how the session had gone and how the party was doing, and then he sat there and listened. He made you feel like he was listening to you and that he cared what you had to say.

I say he made you feel that way, I know a lot of things in politics are fake, but I still believe that he did care. That’s why I loved working for him, and I think that’s why when people ask who I worked for and I tell them they usually put a hand over their heart and say “ah.”

I know that other people feel that way about our current Prime Minister. I have met him a few times and he has that same aura about him. When he’s shaking your hand or taking a picture, it feels as though he’s right there, listening to you.

In the event that I ever become a boss or a mentor, I hope that this is the type of leadership I can provide. It has meant so much to me.

The Great Canadian Novel

by , on
July 5, 2017

So, Canada celebrated 150 since since confederation last weekend. Living in the capital, this is something we’ve been talking about for YEARS and I had gotten a little tired of it all. (Especially since, in my opinion, if your going to celebrate 150 years for a whole year, at least start on July 1 and end on July 1).

I love this country, I am proud and glad to have been born here. I believe in this country, and I also know that she has many failings and has made outrageous mistakes. I am of the mind that I can celebrate the good and criticize the bad without giving up one iota of my patriotism.

And it occurred to me today, after watching the pros and cons of Canada being debated all weekend, after watching Indigenous peoples stand up and say that this country is NOT okay, that they have NOT been treated fairly, that they and their children are suffering the consequences of these 150 years, that the best way for me to quietly celebrate my Canada is to lift up those voices, and other Canadian voices. To listen.

And one of my favourite ways to listen is through the written word. So here I will share books that I have read, and books that I know I should read – and will read, hopefully by the end of this year.

Great Books I have read, so see these as recommendations:

  • Fall On Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald (when I started reading, I was unprepared for the story and the beauty of it)
  • An Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King (Humour surrounding a history lesson and a serious issue)
  • Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood (One of the first Atwood’s that I read, and my lasting favourite)
  • The Underpainter, Jane Urquhart (I read this years ago, and sometimes still think about it)
  • The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill (Just a harrowing journey)
  • Birdie, Tracey Lindberg
  • Essex County, Jeff Lemire
  • The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier
  • The Promise of Canada, Charlotte Gray
  • The Game, Ken Dryden
  • The Birth House, or virtually anything else by Ami McKay, even books she hasn’t written yet

Books for Young Canadians, which Canada does so well

  • The Macdonald Hall series by Gordon Korman (I have already bought the full set for my daughter)
  • The Anne series by LM Montgomery (Rilla of Ingleside being my personal favourite, with Anne of the Island a close second)
  • Any and all things Munsch
  • The Beaver, Moose and Bear books by Nicholas Oldland
  • The Hockey Sweater, Roch Carrier (but really the NFB short)
  • Spork, Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
  • Different Dragons and Mine for Keeps by Jean Little (I read both multiple times. Jean Little has a way of making you feel less alone)
  • All Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella books, but particularly When Stella was Very, Very Small
  • Red is Best, Kathy Stinson

Great Canadian Books I Must Read

  • The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
  • The Diviners, Margaret Laurence
  • Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese
  • The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
  • The Break, Katherena Vermette
  • Two Solitudes, Hugh McLennan, and also probably Barometre Rising
  • The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan

If you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to add to my list. More fiction, history, biographies, I’ll read it all.

Everybody can succeed, all you need is to believe

by , on
May 15, 2017

It used to be that I would get home from school, get myself a snack and switch on the TV. In elementary school, especially after my sister started high school and we no longer got home at the same time, the TV was mine and I could choose what I wanted. And what I usually wanted was Degrassi reruns.

Last weekend was Ottawa Comic Con, my annual Mothers’ Day present to myself, and the cast of Degrassi was there. Specifically Joey Jeremiah, Caitlyn, Snake and Tessa, who do all have real names but that doesn’t really matter, because I grew up with Joey, Caitlyn, Snake and Tessa, etc.

(Though Snake always seemed like a really nice guy, and Spike was awesome, Lucy was always my favourite).

Degrassi covered all the topics a show for young people should in those days – pregnancy, abortion, teen suicide, HIV/AIDS, drug use, sexual assault, even small things that every teenager thinks that they’re dealing with all alone.

One of the things that has always struck me, thinking back on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High is that the actors looked like real kids, and the stories were stories no one else seemed to want to tell. The actors on the panel this weekend talked about the fact that grown ups would sometimes question the stories they were telling, but always let them tell those stories.

I cannot say how important that was to those of us growing up with the kids from Degrassi.

And yes, my generation’s Degrassi continues to be the best.

Thanks to Jack, Dad and Gord

by , on
August 22, 2016

Five years since Jack Layton died, a year since we buried my father, a few days after watching Gord Downie perform his last concert in his hometown, some lessons that I’ve learned from these men:

  1. Always wear sunscreen. By the end of his life, my father had nine separate moles removed because of skin cancer. He wore big hats, long sleeves, slathered on sunscreen and asked whether we were wearing it.
  2. Choose your words carefully. When I proudly showed my father my first ever printed byline he pointed out the word unique in my lede.
  3. Following on that point: Have the arguments to back up your opinions. Debating with my father was always infuriating. He would ask you to defend your point of view again and again and again. As a kid I hated it. As an adult, I understand what he was trying to teach me. I have strongly held believes, and I can defend them.
  4. Love, hope and optimism can change the world. I’m not particularly good at any of these things, but Jack taught me to strive for them.
  5. Isn’t is amazing what we can accomplish? Every day I look at my daughter and this rings true.
  6. Don’t stop until the job is done.
  7. Canada is a great country. The more people we welcome here the better we are. The ideals we have, we have to defend and build upon.
  8. No dress rehearsals, this is our life. There are no guarantees. Each of these men had less time than any of us would have thought.

We’re all in this together.

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