Thursday, July 9, 2015

When I weep (and I bet you do, too!), and it's not bad...

The other night I was reading a bedtime story to my daughter, and I got to that place, the same place in this particular story that GETS me every time! We were reading, "Going West", which is a boiled-down story book in a series that condenses the Laura Ingalls-Wilder "Little House" books. If you have not taken time in your life to read the entire Little House series - stop what you are doing right now, and READ THEM ALL. I don't care what age you are, they are a thrilling, educational, heart-warming read. And when you're done with the Little House books, read the "Little Britches" book series, by Ralph Moody - reminiscent of the Ingalls-Wilder books, but from a boy's point-of-view. A bit more coarsely written, but every bit as fascinating!

But I digress, I was reading "Going West" to Hoxie, and I got to the part that always makes me cry. Up to that point, the story tells of the young Ingalls family, and how they love their little home in the woods, but they decide to go west because there is too much encroachment from other settlers. So they either pack up or sell off all their possessions, and in the dark of an early morning, they bundle up in their wool and fur clothes and load up in the wagon. But before they leave, they hear the jingling of bells and see the glow of lanterns coming through the woods - the big send-off from all of their family. And then...
My best "teacher hold". I used to sit on Mrs. Knecht's chair in kindergarten and pretend to read picture books to imaginary students.
Why does this touch me so deeply? In the space of a couple short pages in a children's book, I am reduced to tears. I think it's because I identify with the sentiment. I, myself, am far away from home. I have been the centerpiece of many family send-offs, in both my family and my husband's family. I bet you have, too. Think back to when you left for college for the first time - or for the last time. Or when you left your childhood home before moving into your own place. Or when you went on a mission trip. Or whatever your own version is. In my family, much like Laura's, whoever's home at the time usually helps carry out the suitcases and load up the laundry bags. Hugs are passed around. And then after one last wave, they call out endless warnings and directives: watch for deer... do you have enough gas? Pull around to the tank and Dad will fill you up... if you stop at a rest stop, make sure you park at the far end closer to the exit, so that you aren't at the front where other tired drivers might come in groggy and hit you... call us when you get there so we don't worry! And then they all just stand there and watch as you back up, turn around, and pull away with a perky beep and a sigh as you wipe away a tear.

But I'll tell you why this kind of crying is NOT a bad thing. Even though it can be hard, it's living proof that you are part of a family, a place, a time, where you feel loved. And though you may be far away, that love doesn't end or stop. Especially these days, the world is a small place. When Laura's family packed up and headed west, they weren't for sure where they were going or if they would ever see their loved ones again. We can FaceTime with cousins who are in their living room from our own living room in another country. Isn't that grand?


When I see something "great". I don't mean neat or good or fun or enjoyable. I mean great, like an act of greatness. Something of highest quality, something to aspire to, something few others would ever be able to do. Think, Kerri Strug. If you're a fan of the Magnificent 7 (and who isn't?), by all means, watch and enjoy. If you're in a hurry, start at about 37:30 into the video.

Or if you REALLY wanna turn on the water-works, add an animal into the mix. Watch this video of bridleless freestyle reining (complete with lead changes, spins, and sliding stops) by Stacy Westfall.

Memories of the "good old days". A while back, one of my high schoolmates posted videos of our school's marching band on youtube. I was in band (yeah, I'm THAT cool), and we considered ourselves pretty intense. Not only did we accompany our school's football team every Friday night for a LONG season (our team was state champions or runners-up EVERY year that I was in high school - when your sousaphone players start decorating their instruments with Christmas wreaths you know it's gotten ridiculous), but we also competed in one or sometimes two marching band competitions every Saturday during the fall. But before that we rehearsed all summer long - a week at Indian Hills for Band Camp - rehearsals for 3 to 6 hours a day during parts of the summer - then 3 hours three nights a week once school started. Sweltering heat and sunburns. Mosquitos under the stadium lights during late-night rehearsals. Hearing "run it back" for the 2,000th time. Competing for coveted rankings and solos. Memorizing music and drills. Marching (and trying not to slip and fall) in the rain and mud. Jazz running! Shivering in blistering cold and trying not to freeze your lips to your metal mouthpiece (I was a trumpet player - but other instrumentalists had different concerns - let me just say, "clarinet condoms"). Trying not to let the reverb of performing in a large stadium (or even the RCA dome, then home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts) mess with your timing and synchronization. The nerves that come with performing in a stadium full of fans and critics, and praying that you don't frack, squeak, or run out of chops. And shall we mention the elephant in the room? Trying to create GOOD music while running around on a field! What made us DO it?

Your memories may not include band specifically, but I bet you were into your own thing... sports, mock trial, drama productions, you name it. We were just a bunch of crazy, pixie-stix-shooting teenagers. Working together. Taking ourselves and our tasks seriously. But having fun and sporting some AWESOME fashion and hairstyles while doing it - don't you miss the '90s? That commitment, the idea that we were all fully bought-in. For a bunch of bratty teenagers, it's really touching how we all threw ourselves into the hard work, the long hours, the pressure. When I look back at the videos and remember, for some reason it take my breath away.

If you look closely you'll be able to see/hear a quaking-in-terror little freshman trumpet player in the center of a quintet on the 50 yardline at about 2:38 into the video. That's me!

Of course, crying is just an outward expression of emotions we have on the inside. Sometimes crying indicates distress or sadness. But sometimes it just happens when your heart overflows.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How well do you really know your neighbor?

As most of my family and friends are actually Americans (I'm from Ohio, and Eric is Nebraskan), I thought maybe it was a good time to talk about my current country of residence. Many of you may not actually realize... today is Canada Day! Here are some interesting (or at least interesting to me) things you may or may not know about the Great White North, along with some things I've observed since moving here in 2010. Note: I'm not including any references - some is personal experience and some is from the interweb, and we all know everything you read there is true.

It's sparse. Canada is the second largest country in the world, behind Russia. It is bigger than the USA, but it has about 1/10th of the population - just 35 million people. If it weren't for immigration, Canada's population would probably be shrinking. It is the 8th LEAST dense country in the world. There is a LOT of area here where there is no one around. NO ONE.

Canada became its own country in 1867. Well, wait, I'm not really sure. I've also read 1931. And also 1982. And actually, I think it's STILL sorta considered part of the British commonwealth. The queen is on our money. And did you know - our money is colorful? Wait - colOURful. 5s are blue, 10s are purple, 20s are green, and I don't know anything higher than that because I never have them myself.

When we first moved here, I rented a 13-dvd set from our local library about the history of Canada, and I remember the scene where Canada first gained its independence from England. They sent three of their leaders to the queen and ASKED if they could be their own country. Now, think back to how the USA got its independence - it was called the Revolutionary War. People fighting and dying. Terrible bloodshed and unrest. And all Canada did was ASK. Now, I know there was MUCH more to it than that, but my point is, Canadians really ARE nice!

Where we live in Alberta, we commonly experience drastic changes in temperature, due to Chinook winds, which I've heard are part of the larger Santa Anna winds from California. They bring warm air up and over the Rockies and melt our snow away. "Chinook" is the native word for "snow eater". The biggest temp swing record was in Pincher Creek, AB, when it went from -2ºF to 72ºF in one hour! I've never experienced anything THAT dramatic, but we often see the Chinook arch in the sky - it's a pinkish colored sky, where the clouds are in an arch shape - and some people get killer Chinook headaches.

Right now the Canadian dollar is weak. It takes about $1.25 Canadian to equal $1 USD. It cyclically fluctuates.

(Pause) Stepped onto the back deck to watch the C-Day fireworks. At this moment it is 10:52pm, and there's still quite a bit of light left in the sky, but it's just now dark enough to see the fireworks.

There are two official languages in Canada - English and French. I don't know a lot of people who solely speak French. It's not common as far west as we are. That's more in Quebec. Still, most of our road signs are in both languages. And many of our towns offer "french immersion" schools - public schools where the teachers and students all speak french the whole time. These are regular kids (we have several friends with kids in french immersion) learning regular subject matter - history, math, geography, etc. - but learning it while speaking french. Another thing that blew my mind was that Catholic schools are considered public school - and are free.

Speaking of school, did you know that Canadian school children are actually required to learn American social studies? They learn our states and capitols, our important dates, and our political and economic systems. I THINK I might have learned the national capitol of Canada - of course, I'm talking about Toronto. Gotcha! I was testing you! It's Vancouver. Okay, SEE how little I learned about Canada? And Canadians know all kinds of stuff about the USA. (And many of them really resent having been required to learn it... not that I really blame them.)

Every month has at least one holiday. There are some months where it's a given - like Canada Day or Thanksgiving. But for any month that doesn't already have a holiday, they just take off the first Monday of the month. So, like, in May, we observe May Long Weekend. And August Long.

Much like various parts of the USA, there are regional terms and dialects here that sometimes cause me confusion.
• "College" is strictly used for 2-year, trade-type post-secondary education - think junior college.
• "University" is the 4-year experience where you change your major six times and go on study abroad - like what I did. They literally say stuff like, "Cayden's going off to University next year."
• Dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls are called "buns".
• You "have" a shower - you don't "take" it.
• A "hoser" is a thrown out term for a bum, a bozo, a joker, a turkey.
• The plastic thing they put your groceries in is a "bag" - never a "sack".
• "Smarties" are chocolates with a candy-coating - like a larger M&M, and smarties (sweet tarts) are called "rockets".
• "Poutine" is fries with cheese curds, drowned in brown gravy - and often lots of other things. It's Quebec slang for "a mess". It's wonderful.
• What I call mac & cheese is strictly called "Kraft Dinner". Mom, can we have KD tonight?

We have nothing bad to say about the socialized health care system in Alberta. Eric broke a wrist, and I broke a nose. Eric got kicked in the head by a horse and knocked unconscious, taken by ambulance to the ER. I've had two babies here. We've had the run-of-the-mill winter sickness and infections, and of course the expected crud that kids get from time to time. But we are young and basically healthy. We've never had to wait in much of a line or been denied for anything. And we've never paid a dime out of pocket. And believe or not, on the whole our taxes are lower here than they were when we were living in Iowa (do you like how I can read your next thought?)! Oh, and also - we get $200 a month just for having kids, it's called a "child benefit". And we can claim some of their education and physical study expenses on our taxes (think, piano lessons, gymnastics, etc.).

My daughters, Hoxie (2.5 yrs) and Cordelia (1) were both born here and are both Canadian AND American citizens.

Canadians ARE really polite - they DO apologize for everything, even if it's not their fault. And they ARE really funny. Some notable Canadian comics: Dan Aykroyd, Will Arnett, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Tommy Chong, Michael J. Fox, Tom Green, Phil Hartman, Eugene Levy, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, Lorne Michaels, Rick Moranis, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielson, Catherine O'Hara, Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogan, William Shatner, Martin Short, and more!

One of the funniest people I love now but had never heard of before coming north is Rick Mercer. Search youtube for "Rick Mercer - Talking With Americans" - hilarious!

About 39% of Canadians are Roman Catholic. About 28% protestant.

We have most of the same TV channels you have in the USA, plus some specifically Canadian ones.

Yes, we have same-sex marriage (since 2005).
No, I've not yet met Justin Bieber.
Yes, we have Walmart and MacDonalds.
No, we don't have JoAnn Fabrics - I KNOW you were wondering.
Yes, hockey really is LIFE.

Honestly, for the most part, you wouldn't really even realize you're in a different country. We are much more ALIKE than we are different. And isn't that really the way it is the world-over?