Running between the Raindrops

21 Apr

Good Friday dawned reluctantly; a soggy mess of rain and hail, intermittently turning to snow and accompanied throughout by a cutting wind.  It looked like it would be dark and gloomy all day, but our plan was to visit the Draggins Car Show in Prairieland Park (indoor, warm, dry). We sloshed through the streets of Saskatoon, feeling very disgruntled about the fact that it looked exactly like a dismal November day in Ireland.  We arrived to a packed car park, and after eventually squeezing our way into a space, ran shrieking to the entrance, trying to hop over gigantic puddles (unsuccessfully) and avoid some of the bigger slush piles (marginally easier).  We arrived breathless and damp, and plunged into a world of immaculately restored and maintained custom vehicles.  

http://draggins.radishnetworks.com/?page=annual-car-show

The colours, the chrome, the general shininess and sparkle of them all; we oohed and aahed and tried to decide which one we liked the best for the ballot form.  There was a gigantic purple Mack truck, and a pink glittery motorbike.  There was one display of very old and rare motorbikes, which swallowed Michael up for while, and a number of child-sized racing cars that involved entering and exiting through the roof.  “Can I do motor-racing this year”, asked an over-excited Benjamin.  “No”.  “PLEASE? Instead of ball hockey?” “No”.  Ad infinitum….

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The University of Saskatchewan had a race car attached to a large screen, and this was the biggest hit of the day.  Rebecca couldn’t even reach the pedals, but grim determination won out, and she steered her way around the course while standing on them.  Nicholas could barely see over the steering wheel, and the boys all crashed and walloped their way around in their eagerness to be the fastest.  Isabel, on the other hand, sailed serenely around at 100km per hour, never even nudging one of the circuit walls.  “Slow and steady”, grinned the University student, as the queue lengthened and the boys willed her to crash so that they could have another go.  

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Every stand had a basket of small chocolate eggs or lollipops, so sugar levels were rising steadily. Rebecca was systematically working her way around the hall, eating one, pocketing one, eating one, pocketing one….  Every so often a particularly shiny car would catch her eye, and she’d admire it for a split second before looking for the requisite basket of goodies.  We got some food and sat down to eat and be entertained by the band for a while before heading off to the next Hall of exhibits.  “Where’s Christopher?” I asked, counting four out of five and scanning the hall for a glimpse of his blue jacket.  Naturally, nobody had the faintest idea.  “I’ll find him and follow you over”, said Michael, and so the rest of us trailed over to the other side of the centre, visiting a police car and motorbike on the way.  He rang about thirty minutes later to report a blank.  “Did you try the washroom?”, I asked, trying to stop Rebecca from throwing a chocolate egg under a car.  “I’ll check on the way through”, he said, and we continued our way around the exhibits, eventually arriving back at the police car.  Michael appeared about twenty minutes later, flustered and Christopher-less.  “I’ll have a look”, I said, abandoning him to the getting-Rebecca-off-the-police-bike tussle and set off into the hall again.  

Up and down the aisles I went, eventually arriving at the washrooms at the very back.  Wondering whether Michael had noticed them, I lingered at a respectable distance for a few minutes, hoping that Christopher would appear.  No joy.  Two young men arrived out, chatting, and I accosted them with a big smile on my face. “Hi!”, I said brightly. “I’ve mislaid one of my sons, and I wonder would you just go back in and call his name for me? It’s Christopher.”  They looked at me blankly, so I said it again, a bit slower and clearer this time.  One of them turned back in, while I stood there awkwardly with the other guy.  Out he arrived.  “Yep, he’s there.  In the last stall”.  “Oh, great!”, I said, surprised.  They headed off, and I hung around for another few minutes to no avail.  “Christopher?”, I called, standing right at the door.  “Are you ok?  Christopher? CHRISTOPHER?!”  Silence.  I lost patience, and stalked in.  The washroom was much bigger than I thought, and so I marched the length of the stalls, still calling his name and only getting a resounding silence in response.  I arrived eventually at the last cubicle, the only one with a closed door, and was just opening my mouth to bellow at the occupier, when I spotted his feet under the door.  Definitely not Christopher.  I froze, realising that the ubiquitous gap around Canadian toilet doors was creating a rather embarrassing situation.  I whirled around and started for the exit, only to meet another man on his way in. He stopped, alarmed.  “Don’t worry, you’re in the right washroom”, I snarled at him, and kept going, my temper deteriorating rapidly.  I sensed him following me out and craning his neck anxiously to see the sign outside.  I muttered my way around the rest of the aisles, wondering what the hell the two lads in the washroom had been smoking.  No sign of him.  

Back to the exit, where Rebecca was still trying to persuade the policeman to start up the bike and the other three were weary and complaining.  We were all tired and grumpy, and so I collared the nearest official and asked him where we could get an announcement made.  “For a lost child?” he said, steering me through the crowd.  “Yes”, I said, and then tempered that with “Well, not a child, exactly.  He’s eleven.  And we haven’t seen him for over an hour now.”  He brought me over to an officals’ table, where two elderly men were instantly on the case.  One pulled out a form and pen, and the interrogation began.   Name. Address. Date of Birth. Last seen.  Description.  “Well, he’s wearing a bright blue jacket”, I said confidently.  It was sweltering in the Hall though. “And a grey stripey top underneath”, I continued. “Pants?”, said the man, pen poised. “Of course!”, I said indignantly.  “Oh, sorry, pants, yes – he’s wearing black tracksuit bottoms”.  Blank looks all round.  I racked my brain.  “Sweat pants!” I said in a moment of inspiration.  “Anything else?”, he said hopefully.  “A blue hat”, I declared.  “A blue hat that he’s very unlikely to take off, as he has hockey hair, and it would need to be combed endlessly in front of a mirror before he’d appear in public with it”.  “Hockey hair?”, mused the man.  “As long as yours?” I considered this. “No, a bit shorter, I think”.  We got to the end of the page, and he checked back over the details.  

A flash of blue wandered by in my peripheral vision.  I swung around, and spotted Christopher wandering by the entrance into the Hall.  “THERE HE IS!”, I shrieked and dived towards him, followed by one of the men.  “CHRISTOPHER!” we both yelled, as heads swivelled towards us and Christopher looked alarmed.  I grabbed his arm and frogmarched him over to the table.  The men contemplated him carefully.  “Great description”, said one of them admiringly.  I preened.  “Show us the hockey hair”, said the other, and I whipped off the hat.  They nodded appreciatively, Christopher was scarlet and speechless.  “Well, wasn’t that great service?”, said the first man.  “We’d only finished filling in the form and there he was!”.  “Amazing”, I agreed solemnly, and we all laughed.  Except Christopher.  I hauled him off, whispering grim nothings in his ear, and rejoined the rest of the family, who had all descended into silent exhaustion.  The car was So Far Away.  We gritted out teeth and plunged out into the whirling snow, arriving drenched and freezing at the car.  By the time we got home, the city was dressed in white again, and our lovely yellow-attempting-to-turn-green lawn had disappeared.  There are just no words anymore for this attempted arrival of Spring.  Fran just announced on Facebook that “April showers bring May flowers”, and so I’m heading across our parking lot/lake now to deal with her.  It won’t be pretty.

“Are we there yet? Are we? Are we nearly there?……..”

14 Apr

“Today, the temperatures are set to rise to plus 16 degrees Celsius.  I am determined that this shall be Spring.  It may be earlier than last year, and I’ve lost count of the number of Canadians that have visibly winced when I’ve made my proclamation, but I am declaring it to be so.  The temperatures rose above zero a couple of weeks ago, and our grass began to emerge triumphantly from under the snowpile.  The excitement was immense.  “Mammy, LOOK!  It’s GRASS!” shrieked Rebecca, charging around on the battered, yellow patches and discarding most of her snow gear as she ran.  The sun shone.  The paths started to clear.  If I kept my gaze firmly on the road ahead while driving, I could block out the melting mountains of snow that line the paths, and pretend that it was all gone.  This euphoria was rudely halted by a weekend of lazily falling snow, and we awoke again to a white landscape and some very very bad language.  “How do you do this every year?”, I whinged to one of my hardy Saskatchewanian friends.  “These winters. Every year.  It’s relentless.  And the hope, oh God, the hope….”  Then today, I woke up and realised why.  It’s warm outside.  The sun is shining – and in fairness, that’s pretty much an everyday thing.  I can’t remember the last time it rained here.  The parks are starting to turn green, and I find that Prairie winters are actually a bit like childbirth.  It’s hell while it’s happening, and then you forget about it enough to do it all over again.”  I wrote this last week, and then watched in appalled horror as the temperatures plummeted and snow began to fall in earnest.  It’s now minus 10, with a couple more cold days to come before the weather gods laugh and raise our hopes again with a plus fourteen weekend.  Crazy, crazy weather.  I give up.

Last month was our first Big Trip out of Saskatoon, and it was planned like a military campaign.  We had settled on Edmonton as the best place to go with the children, mainly because the West Edmonton Mall is there.  It’s the biggest Mall in North America, with over 800 shops, its own hotel, a massive waterpark, the largest indoor amusement park in the world, an ice rink and aquarium, and lots more. We planned to spend two days there and another day in the Telus World of Science.  Our nephew, Keith, is at the University in Edmonton, and so we arranged to meet up with him, and also with two friends of ours that moved to Edmonton from Saskatoon last year, Piotr and Magda.  I told everyone I met in Saskatoon where we were going and got the same reaction every single time. “Edmonton, eh?  Great trip, divided highway all the way.  Only about 5 hours or so”.  They made it all sound so easy.  So easy, in fact, that the reality of over five hours on the road was nicely sugarcoated in our minds, and we succumbed to the Canadian mindset of thinking nothing of driving for days to Arizona, or just hopping over to British Columbia.

Two days before we went, I was sitting with Michelle at Beavers while Nicholas and the rest of the troop were engrossed in the night’s activities.  This hour and a quarter is usually spent sitting on the benches in the gym, catching up on the events of the week, and as Michelle used to live in Edmonton, I settled in to pick her brain.  “Great drive, divided highway all the way”, she said, backing up the opinion of every other Canadian ever.  “Just set your GPS for the Mall and you’ll be fine”.  “We don’t have a GPS”, I remarked casually.  “Do I need one?”.  “Oh!  Well, do you have a map of Edmonton?”.  A map? A GPS?  “Eh, no, not a map either.  Is Edmonton very big?” I asked, starting to feel a bit anxious.  Michelle regarded me thoughtfully.  “I think you’ll need a GPS”, she decided.  “Louis can lend you his.  It’ll be fine”.  It arrived the following evening, and I fiddled around with it, setting it for Edmonton.  The directions were very straightforward. Leave our house, turn left, right and right again, then drive for 500km in a straight line on the Trans-Canada Highway.  Easy peasy.

I packed.  Ice skates and helmets for the rink.  Swim gear for the pool. Winter jackets for the journey (in case we broke down on the highway and became a tragic headline.  Sage advice from my beloved neighbour Fran, the fount of most wisdom).  Clothes, pyjamas, lots of food for the journey, and 14 DVDs to keep the kids entertained on the way.  I got up at 6.30am on the morning of departure, and still didn’t manage to leave the house until almost 11am.  Off we sailed, DVD playing, picnic bag of supplies at my feet, GPS fired up and ready to go.  We got onto the highway to Edmonton about ten minutes after leaving the house.  “Are we there yet?”, asked Rebecca.  Seriously?  “No, not yet.  Not even remotely yet.  Don’t ask me again for another four hours”.  The highway unfurled before us, cutting a swathe through snow-blanketed Prairies, dotted with grain mills and Dutch barns.  It was almost hypnotic.  “I’m hungry”, from the back seats. I passed around the first course.  On and on we went, the kids absorbed in the film, Michael and I chatting in the front seats.  Ah, the innocent bliss of those first 100+ kilometres of open road.  We arrived in North Battleford, and decided that stopping for food would be a good idea.  “There’s the highway to Lloydminster”, I said, waving at the road on our left.  We continued on to the ubiquitous McDonalds, fed the kids, did the obligatory trips to the washroom, and set off again.  Five minutes into the trip, I was starting to doubt our directions.  “This isn’t right”, I said to Michael.  “We’ve missed our turn somewhere”.  “Are you sure?”, he said, continuing to drive.  Navigator narks set in.  “Yes, I’m sure!  Pull over, there’s no point in driving on in the wrong direction!”  He sailed on, looking for somewhere to turn around.  I scanned the road ahead, looking for a break in the highway.  Were we going to having to travel halfway back to Saskatoon before finding a bloody turnaround?  The kids sat silently in the back, attuned to the We-Are-Lost-Forever drama that was unfolding.  A break appeared.  We swung around and headed back.  The road to Lloydminster appeared on our left, with a big queue of cars waiting to turn, and a train gliding by, cutting the town in half.  Trains in Canada are really really long.  200 carriages long.  We joined the queue, drama over, route regained.  “I can’t believe we got lost in North Battleford. Michelle never said that was even possible”, I remarked, composing an indignant text.  Two replies arrived.  A splutter of hysterical laughter from Michelle, and an astounded “Lost? in North Battleford? WITH A GPS????” from Louis.  They’re off my Christmas card list.

Onward we went, new DVD playing, all full, sun shining.  “I need to pee”, announced Nicholas.  We stopped again. “Are we there yet?” from Rebecca.  “Not yet, darling”, I said sweetly, trying to work out how many kilometres it was to Lloydminster.  Another 138 km.  Seriously? I sighed.  Conversation in the front seats was becoming desultory, and the kids were fighting over which DVD to watch next.  “I want Dora!”, whinged Rebecca.  There was a concerted howl of anguished protest from the other four.  “What about Hercules?”, I asked placatingly, shoving it into the player and ignoring the bickering.  “But when are we going to be there?”, complained Nicholas. “Not for a while yet”, I said though gritted teeth.  We finally reached Lloydminster, the border town between Saskatchewan and Alberta.  “I need to pee”, from Nicholas. “So do I”, from all the rest of them.  We pulled in, and Michael trooped in with the boys.  I took my turn with the girls.  Off we went again, watching for the sign for the border.  “Welcome to Alberta”, I said cheerfully, as we crossed the intersection.  “So are we there now”.  “No. Not yet. I’ll tell you when we’re nearly there”.

I took over the driving, and Michael settled into the passenger seat.  Two minutes later, he was snoring his head off, while I drove along, seething at the injustice of how some people can sleep anywhere and at the drop of a hat.  There was lots of rustlings and rumblings coming from the back seats.  I watched the highway unspool in front of me, opening the window from time to time to stop myself from feeling dozy.  “Are we there soon?”.  “Not yet!  I’ll tell you when we’re near!”, I snarled, looking at my mileage clock.  Thank God, only about 40km left.  I can do this.  Five minutes later, I pass a road sign.  Edmonton 140 km.  WTF? Where did that extra f&*%ing 100 km come from?  I glanced over at Michael, needing someone to either share my pain (which was immense) or tell me that the road sign was clearly wrong, and that I hadn’t miscalculated by a whole 100 kms.  He snored on.  I started to feel a bit homicidal.  “I need to pee!”  Michael opened an eye.  “Just let him pee into the coffee cup”, I hissed.  Both eyes snapped open.  “NO!, he said, horrified.  “Why not? It’s almost empty. Just fire the coffee out the window and pass him back the cup”. “He’ll pee all over the seat and miss the cup completely”, he pointed out.  I thought about that for a minute.  True enough.  I pulled over.

We finally got to Edmonton.  Tired, cranky, hungry.  And that was just Michael and I.  The kids were beyond all reason.  “Look at the city!”, I said brightly, trying to stop the whine-fest in its tracks.  We all looked at the Edmonton skyline.  “We’re there!”  I decided it was the wrong time to tell them that we still had to get all the way to the other side and then out another 20km.  Let them sit in ignorant bliss for a while.  The traffic was mental.  Four lane highway, loads of huge trucks, lots of white-knuckle driving.  The landscape was really industrial-looking and there was lots of construction going on.  “I need to pee”.  “Just. Hold. it”.  “Are we at the hotel yet?”.  “NO”.  “Are we there yet?”.  “Not. F&^%ing. Yet”.  And breathe.

We arrived at the hotel.  It shone like the Holy Grail in front of us.  We staggered in, pulling our luggage and looking like we’d crossed the Sahara on foot.  “So how was your trip?”, asked the infuriatingly chirpy receptionist.  “AWFUL!” came the chorus behind me.  If she even says the words “divided highway”, I’m going to go postal, I thought.  She had a lucky escape.  We hauled ourselves up to our lovely interconnecting rooms, and sagged.  “I can’t do this again on Tuesday”, I said assertively.  “I need you to drive the car home, and me and the kids will fly”.  Michael just laughed.  I googled Divorce Lawyers in Saskatoon.

The next day was earmarked for the Waterpark in the West Edmonton Mall.  We programmed the GPS and blithely set off, all cheery, fed, watered, washroomed and ready for the day.  The GPS started doing its thing.  All went well, until it told us to turn down a road that didn’t exist.  “Did it mean that road?!”, I gestured, starting to panic. “Haven’t a clue”, said my navigator, peering at the screen and waiting for the next direction.  “I think it did!”, I said, and turned right at the next intersection to get back on track.  There was a mad yell from the seat beside me.  “Pull over! PULL OVER! NOW!!!!”  What the hell?  I pulled over into a bank of shops on my right, and looked at Michael, who was practically foaming at the mouth. “What’s wrong?” I asked, completely baffled.  “You’re driving up a one-way street”, he said.  I looked over.  Into four lanes of oncoming traffic.  “Oh”, I said faintly.  We all sat in silence for a moment.  I rallied.  “Stupid GPS”, I said, and made my way gingerly back into the traffic.  In the right direction this time.  “It wasn’t the GPS”, said Michael eventually.  “Ssshhhh.  I know”.  It all went from bad to worse.  It was like one of those hideous computer games where you can see your destination but you can never quite get there.  Eventually, after many wrong turns, some seriously narky exchanges and a brief meander through a random housing estate, we made it to a parking lot beside Target.  We regrouped, grabbed our swim bags, and hit the Mall.  The gigantic, awesome, endless Mall.

The plan was to deposit all our swim gear into a locker at the Waterpark, have a look around, meet Piotr and Magda for lunch and then spend the rest of the day/evening in the pool.  We set off eagerly, oohing and aahing at the various sights, and eventually arriving at the ice rink, where a judo championship was underway.  The kids were engrossed in that for a while, until we dragged them onwards and found ourselves at the sea-lion show, which was brilliant.

WEM sealion

The Waterpark was beside us, so we paid our admission fees (ouch!) and went to find a locker.  Find a locker.  Sounds so simple.  I assumed we were going to sling our stuff in, lock the door and depart again.  It was way more high-tech than that.  First, we had to find seven dollars in change, and then queue up at the touchpad screens to be allocated a locker.  I put in the money, picked “New Locker”, chose a six-digit PIN and watched the banks of lockers to see which one swung open.  We pounced on it, shoved in half the bags, and realised we were going to need another.  I sent Michael to the change machine for more dollars, queued again, watched another locker pop open, stashed the gear and headed off to the Food Court.  At the back of my mind, I was visualising doing the whole locker process while cold and wet, with shivering, cranky, hungry children.  In a busy changing room.  It was going to be fun.

We arrived at the Food Court to find a bewildering array of choices, and went with the path of least resistance.  I doled out cash to the kids and sent them off to pick whatever they wanted, bagged two adjoining tables and settled in to fuel up before our marathon swim session.  Magda and Piotr arrived, and we caught up on the events of the last six months; they were enjoying life in a bigger city, and had settled in well.  The kids ate, spent all my change in a games arcade beside the Food Court, and eventually got impatient to get going on the water slides.  The water park is gigantic.  Tons of huge slides, a whole area for smaller children, a massive wave pool, a zip-line that crosses the whole park, food concessions, tube rental, seating areas etc.  We got changed, headed out, and immediately lost the three older children.  Michael and Nicholas went on the slides for his height, and Rebecca and I visited the areas for the little ones.  Some of the slides looked absolutely terrifying, which didn’t deter Christopher, Isabel or Benjamin, and the wave pool was nothing like the one in the pool beside us here.  Half of the swimmers were sitting in round tubes, and the waves were massive.  People were zip-lining over our heads, shrieking from one side of the waterpark to the other, and there were two slides at the back of the wave pool that used tubes or three-person inflatable rafts – we shot down them in giggling trios and then marched all the way back to the top to go again.  Five hours of water-play later, we were starving, wrinkly and exhausted.  We stood under hot showers and then braved the lockers.  Chaos reigned for a while, but eventually we were all dry, dressed and ready for food.  We sat in semi-silence at the tables, watching the kids flagging before our eyes.  By the time Michael and I had finished, they were lolling around, heads on tables, feet on the seats.  “We’re parked miles from here”, I whispered.  Michael nodded sorrowfully.  We dragged ourselves to our feet, slung the swim bags over our shoulders, and set off on the March of Death to Target.  On and on we slogged, kids trailing behind, whining and complaining.  My legs felt like lead.  Where the hell was Target, anyway?  I had a moment of utter terror when the thought crossed my mind that we had turned in the wrong direction, but thankfully the red circle appeared before us at last.  We weaved our way through the aisles to the car park exit, and collapsed thankfully into the car.  Oh, the bliss of tucking them all into bed and crawling into our gigantic king-size one.  Lights out in an instant.

http://www.wem.ca/play/attractions-at-wem/world-waterpark

Round Two of the buffet breakfast the next morning, and the novelty of endless Fruit Loops clearly hadn’t worn off yet.  Bowl after bowl of the brightly-coloured (and forbidden at home) cereal was chomped, while Michael enjoyed the pastries and I braved the slightly odd-looking omelette-y things in the warmers.  Once the supply of Fruit Loops had dried up, our locusts had a try of everything else on offer, and I allowed myself to hope that we might get through a few hours without the usual sudden onset of acute hunger pains and malnutrition – Nicholas, in particular, turns into Mr T the very second he realises that he might be hungry.   We packed up some snacks and headed off to the Telus World of Science to meet our nephew Keith.  We hadn’t seen him for almost three years, and it was great to catch up; Nicholas was thrilled to find out that Keith is a real scientist, and we spent six hours at the centre.  There was so much to do there; experiments, puzzles, a whole section of forensic science, where the kids had to follow all the clues and then decide on the culprit, a dome theatre where we lay back in swivel chairs and watched a feature on space, an area dedicated to space, where we lifted heavy meteorites and checked to see if we were prone to motion sickness.

Telus Christopher as an astronaut

Christopher and Chris

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telus Nicholas as an astronaut

Astronaut Nicholas

We stopped for food (all those Fruit Loops being a dim and distant memory for the children), and continued following our map of the centre.  When we had finally seen and done it all, Keith suffered a temporary moment of madness and invited us back to his house for dinner with himself and his girlfriend, Beth.  We drove to where she works as a pharmacist, gathered some grocery supplies, and followed them across the city to Belgravia, a beautiful area near the river.  Beth was gorgeous, and handled the sudden arrival of seven complete strangers with aplomb.  A huge pot of pasta was thrown on, and we had a lovely evening of catching up and swopping stories of life in Canada.  The GPS brought us safely back to the hotel, and dreamless sleep ensued.  “This is the most exhausting holiday ever”, was my last (and only) thought before succumbing to blissful sleep.

Monday dawned with the promise of a return trip to the Mall; ice-skating and a trip to Galaxyland were on the menu.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, and the first person we came across as we entered the Mall was an extremely enthusiastic Leprechaun, all decked out in green and gold and waving a large gold hat at us.  “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”, he roared, only to practically implode with excitement when we answered with Irish accents.  “Pick an envelope”, he urged us, as we delved into the hat and pulled out gift vouchers for the coffee and cookies place beside him.  The luck of the Irish, eh?  I felt a bit bad that we weren’t dressed in green and covered in shamrocks.  The ice-rink was open for skating again after a weekend of judo, and so the kids donned their skates and glided off.  “It’s like they’re back in their natural environment”, I remarked, looking at Christopher and Benjamin chasing each other around the ice.  The outdoor rinks have melted, and they hadn’t had their ice fix for a couple of weeks.  A group of figure skaters arrived as we were leaving, and we spent some time watching them; the kids were mesmerised by the swooping, lifting, twirling, swinging around by the ankles etc.  The rink is in the middle of the Mall, and the skaters garnered a large audience; when we walked by later on, there was a hockey game underway, so it certainly gets a lot of use.

http://www.wem.ca/play/attractions-at-wem/ice-palace

Next stop was Galaxyland, the largest indoor amusement park in the world, with loads of rides and a big soft-play climbing frame area for smaller children.  Michael headed off into the terror with four of the children, while Rebecca and I investigated the tamer rides.  I’m hopeless in amusement parks; a complete wuss when it comes to anything remotely scary.  There’s one mental rollercoaster in Galaxyland, and I had a pain in my chest even watching the people go around on it.  Thankfully the kids were too young for it (much to their disgust), but Michael had a go and survived.  Rebecca went on motorbikes, airplanes, trains and hot air balloons, while the others tried out all the bigger rides and returned to me occasionally, windswept and exhilarated.  Isabel had hysterics the first time she went on the Orbiter, but then decided she loved it anyway, and went on it another gazillion times before closing time.  Rebecca spotted a rollercoaster that she wanted to go on, and the other four piled on ahead of her.  “You’re not tall enough”, I said firmly, standing her in front of the height chart.  Meltdown.  The kids set off, and I watched with my heart in my mouth as they were flung around bends and up and down hills.  Rebecca was a screaming puddle at  my feet at this stage.  The ride finished, and the kids clambered off and tore back around to do it again.  I tried reasoning with Rebecca, who was escalating rapidly, but to no avail.  Over arrived the attendant.  “She’s not tall enough”, I explained, thanking God for that fact.  “Let me see”, he said to her kindly, and she stood in front of the height chart, all tear-stained and hiccuping.  “It’ll be fine”, he said to her, smiling.  “Just as long as your mother goes with you”.  She beamed.  I nearly fainted.  “Em…” I stuttered, looking around desperately for Michael.  “YES!”, said Rebecca, towing me towards the carriages.  There was a man sitting on the benches beside us, in kinks of laughter at the look on my face.  I incinerated him with a look, and climbed in.  “This ride has a rapid start and stop”, announced the automated voice, and off we shot like a bullet from a gun.  10 seconds in, I was fairly confident that I would be the first person to die on this ride.  The kids were waving their arms and whooping, and I was clinging onto Rebecca and praying.  Hard.  Finally, after an interminable period of pure terror, we skidded to a halt, and the bars lifted.  “Let’s do it again!”, howled Rebecca gleefully.  Not on your nelly.  Michael appeared, and I thrust her into his arms, staggering over to the bench on jelly-legs.  Off they all went again, and I realised that all of the kids inherited Michael’s rollercoaster gene.  I’m the only wuss in the family.  We were the last to leave the park, and Nicholas refused to take off his wristband for two weeks.  They loved it.

 http://www.wem.ca/play/attractions-at-wem/galaxyland

WEM Rebecca in the bumper cars

Bumper Car Bliss

WEM Rebecca on the hot air balloon

On the hot air balloon

The next day was spent driving home.  The entire day.  I think I’ll need therapy before we attempt the drive to Calgary and the Rockies.  We arrived home just in time for Michael, Christopher and Benjamin to head off with Louis to their last hockey game of the season, while Isabel, Nicholas and Rebecca went to the church with me for Nicholas’ First Communion and Confirmation class.  We were tired, scruffy and suffering from the anti-climax of coming home, and so we snuggled into seats at the back and tried to focus on the class.  We had a prayer service for the last twenty minutes, and as we were all moving into the rows of seats, I was asked to do one of the readings.  “Oh NO!”, I thought, panicking, “I look like a bag lady”.  My clothes were covered in all the food and drink that I had spent the journey passing around, my hair was wild, and the kids weren’t much better.  I wondered would it be ok to start with an “I just drove back from Edmonton with five kids” disclaimer, but then I realised that everyone would just nod sagely and mutter “Great drive.  Divided highway all the way”.  Murder in the Cathedral.

We shall go back to Edmonton again though, once the trauma of the drive is a dim and distant memory.  It’s a fantastic place for a holiday; we could have quite happily spent another three days in the Mall.  I don’t think I’d like to live there, particularly; it’s much bigger than Saskatoon, and it’s quite industrial, with much heavier traffic and a much busier atmosphere.  It made us realise how much we like living in Saskatoon.  Our next road trip will be Drumheller (dinosaur country) and Calgary; a longer journey, but a chance to see the Rockies.

Map of Alberta and Saskatchewan

Slip-sliding away….

5 Feb

I spent Saturday at a hockey tournament in a small town called Radisson, west of Saskatoon.  I whispered into the boys’ ears at 7am, and we snuck downstairs to grab breakfast and get on the road.  The hockey bags were loaded into the boot, and we took the highway towards North Battleford, a completely unfamiliar road up till now.  The skies lightened as the car ate up the kilometres, and we caught glimpses of the shadowy expanses of snow-covered prairies on either side of us.  The boys and I listened to the radio and watched the signs tick by for the myriad small towns dotted along the highway.  We reached Radisson at about 8.20am, and I relaxed a bit, thankful not to have missed my turn-off, and that we had plenty of time to spare before the puck dropped at 9.15am.  Finding the rink proved to be our undoing, however.  I wandered up and down various sleepy streets for a few minutes, until we eventually came across a sign for the rink, which we duly followed.  The big building on our left as we went straight through the crossroads should have been a clue, but we adhered to the direction indicated and sailed on up the road, where a large red people-carrier was doing a u-turn a couple of hundred yards ahead of us.  As it came past us, we realised that it was Dennis, the team manager, who had spotted the rink on our left and adjusted direction accordingly.  I drove on, and swung into a u-turn at the same place; the car slid gracefully off the road and refused to budge any further in any direction.  I tried reversing and winced at the ensuing crunching noise.  I put the car into a low gear and strained forward, only for the crunching to become a grinding.  We all got out, with me wondering what the hell to do next, and the boys whingeing about missing their game.  “Don’t be ridiculous!”, I snapped, “there’s the ice-rink across that field!  We just have to get out of this first….”.  I rang Janice, one of the hockey moms, and one of my favourite people in Saskatoon.  She’s funny, sarcastic, warm and kind, and watching games with her is a great way to spend an hour.  She answered. I wailed.  “I’m stuck in a ditch.  I need a number for one of the guys!”.  Janice swung into action, while I listened to her stream of consciousness at my end of the line.  “Ok, ok….Dennis’ number….why is this writing so small?…let me see…Don’t let the boys out of the car in case they get run over…are you warm enough?..are the boys in the car?…do you have a shovel?…where is this number?  Oh, here it is…” she rattled off a number, that I scratched into a scrap of paper with a frozen pen.  “Oh no, that’s not it, I read it backwards….here it is…”  I scratched out the new number, cut Janice off in mid-admonition and rang Dennis.  He answered immediately, sounding faintly puzzled. “Barbara?  You were right behind me, what happened?”  “I’m in the ditch”, I confessed lamely.  “But”, I said, rallying myself, “it’s actually your fault, because I followed you into that u-turn.”  He laughed, hung up and the cavalry arrived about 3 minutes later.  The coach’s black truck spun up the road, out piled four of the hockey dads, and we were back on the road, lickety-split.  I never heard the end of it for the rest of the day. “What happens if the next game is a tie, Dennis?”  “I don’t know, I didn’t get time to read the tournament rules this morning.  I was too busy pulling Barbara and the boys out of the ditch”.  Funny guy, Dennis.  Janice and her husband Conrad arrived in time for the second game; the boys were hammered by the opposition, and Benjamin was banished to the penalty box for tripping.  They redeemed themselves in the third game, and went home triumphant and exhausted.  I was numb with the cold and looking forward to a night on the couch.

Jeff, the photographer from the Star Phoenix, had come over to take some shots of the boys on the rink in the park the previous day.  They called some of their friends to come along, and we all stood and froze our asses off while the hockey game raged on the ice.  Jeff took loads of photos, Nicholas retired to the car, whining about the cold, Rebecca and Isabel skated around (and fell over a lot) and Janice and I kept calling out five-minute warnings which were completely ignored.  We persuaded them off the ice eventually, largely through bribery (chocolate cookies) and shivered all the way home.  Wind chill is a bitch.  The photos were great though; the lads were delighted to see themselves in action, and Jeff even managed to get one glimpse of Nicholas just before he threw in the towel and fled to the warmth of the car.

Benjamin

Benjamin

Benjamin

Benjamin

Benjamin

Benjamin

Jeff Christopher 6

Christopher

Jeff Christopher 5

Christopher

Jeff Christopher 4

Christopher

Jeff Christopher 3

Christopher

Jeff Christopher 2

Christopher

Jeff Isabel on the ice

Isabel

Jeff Isabel and Rebecca on the ice

Isabel coming to the rescue

Jeff Rebecca and Isabel on the bench

Girls on the Bench

Jeff Rebecca starfish on the ice

Starfish

Jeff Rebecca on the ice

and skating…..finally….

Me and Janice

Me and Janice

Nicholas on strike

Nicholas on strike

As part of the recent Expat Blogs contest, I submitted a piece about the 10 essential facts everyone should know about Saskatchewan.  This is it:

10 Essential Facts about Living in Saskatoon/Saskatchewan

By: Barbara Reidy

Winters are cold in Saskatchewan

Icicles on eyelashes cold. Our first clue as to what a Prairie winter is like should have been when our friend in Toronto didn’t manage to muffle her horrified shriek quickly enough. “Is it that bad?”, I asked, surprised (oh, the innocence of the past). When you’re sitting in Ireland, complaining about it being a bit chilly at 4 degrees, it’s hard to fathom what waking up to minus forty might feel like. A Prairie winter is a communal event. We all dig out our cars, shovel our paths and sidewalks, discard our snow boots in the entrance of every home and business. Our cars are plugged in overnight. Bizarrely, no-one ever comes along with a couple of drinks in them, and thinks that unplugging them all would be the most hilarious thing ever. Getting the children ready for school is a achievement. “Where’s your jacket/hat/gloves/scarf/snow pants/snow boots?” “Lost/wet/in school/he took them/I don’t want to wear them/it’s not cold outside”. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said, through gritted teeth – “This is WINTER. In CANADA!”. I’m not sure whether they just don’t feel the cold as adults do, or whether they just enjoy seeing me channelling that kid in The Exorcist as they leave the house. Winter lasted for six full months last year. By the time April rolled around, I was insane. A slight thaw showed me an inch of grass on the front lawn, but a snowfall that night obliterated all hope for another few weeks. I found myself sobbing on the phone to an Irish friend living a few blocks away. “Do you think”, she said gently, “that you might be over-reacting to the weather forecast for more snow this week?” “Do you realise,” I countered, “that we’ll have winter again this year? In another six months, we’ll have winter, and we haven’t even seen green grass yet!” We are now experiencing that second-winter-in-a-year, and thankfully, so far, it’s not as bad. We have snow and ice, and temperatures today of minus 42 with the windchill, but next week will bring us back up to the minus teens, which is almost tropical. Acclimatisation officially occurs when the temperatures reach minus 15 and you don’t bother with your jacket because it’s so warm outside.

It’s essential to know how to skate

Canadians are born with skates on their feet. They glide and swoop around the rinks and skilfully dodge all those non-Canadians who are repeatedly falling over, emitting squeals of terror and clutching at thin air. Some of the rinks provide Zimmerman-like devices to help propel beginners around the ice; this involves abandoning any iota of dignity and self-respect that you might have possessed, and joining the two-year-old Canadians as they gain their ice-legs. It’s important not to assume that hours spent at the roller-disco in your misspent youth will stand you in any stead whatsover. Skates are laced up with numb, cold fingers, while keeping one eye on your revoltingly adaptable children, and another on the 102 year-old couple that’s swanning around like Torvill and Dean. I tried staggering around an outdoor rink last Christmas, holding on to two of my sons, and breathlessly repeating “Don’t let me fall!” over and over again. After 15 minutes, I was exhausted, and they had disowned me. I tried again at an indoor rink last week, in a fit of misguided optimism. I managed one circuit, clinging onto the side and swearing at my husband when he offered suggestions. It’s time to accept that skating is not one of my talents.

Ice hockey is terribly important

When Bill Shanley made his comment that football was not just a matter of life and death; that it’s more important than that, he clearly hadn’t experienced ice-hockey. Hockey is deeply embedded into the Canadian DNA. Two of my sons decided that this was their sport of choice this year, and so we bravely took up the mantle of hockey-mom/dad and sallied forth to kit them out and get them started. I think that their hurling days had made us complacent; we used to arrive at a muddy field five minutes before the game started, slap on their helmets, hand them their hurls, and off they went. It didn’t take us long to discover that if the puck drops at 6pm, Operation Get Ready needs to begin by 4.30pm at the very latest. The boys need to put on the under-armour, the chest armour, the boxers with the built-up cup (“make sure it’s all tucked in!”), the shin guards, the socks, the elbow pads and the suspenders. They need to pack their enormous bags, haul them up the basement stairs, put them into the car, throw in their hockey sticks, fill up their water beakers and get on the road (after unplugging, defrosting and clearing the snow off the car). When we get to the rink, we have to find parking among all the other clinically-insane moms and dads, haul the bags and sticks into the appropriate dressing-room, and start Operation At The Rink. This involves donning the neck-guard, mouth-guard and helmet, and being laced into their skates. Finally, the puck drops, and it’s time to cheer them on, all the time knowing that the whole process has to happen in reverse in an hour’s time. Would Velcro skates be too much to ask for?

There is endless sunshine in Saskatoon

It didn’t take us long to get used to never-ending blue skies, wall-to-wall sunshine and mind-blowing sunsets. It rained twice during the day last winter. We could plan days out without packing for every season. Our bodies were overloaded with Vitamin D, and we started every conversation with Canadians with a remark about what a lovely day it was. Cue puzzled looks. “Well, what other kind of a day is there?”, we could almost hear them thinking. It’s a luxury that everyone should experience. Even winter, with its ridiculous temperatures and longevity, is sunglasses weather.

Mosquitoes live here

The beautiful Saskatoon summers have one tiny, but multitudinous, drawback. We bathe in bug spray before we leave the house, and then spend the day thinking “what’s that horrible smell? Oh, me”. We had a rude awakening on our first morning in Saskatoon, as we traipsed around the park at 5am (jet lag) and wondered why there were clouds of “black things” rising from the grass. Lots of savaged arms and legs later, we realised that mosquitoes live in Saskatoon and they’re no fun.

Roads are different in Saskatoon

They drive on the opposite side of the road. It took some time for us to get the hang of waiting for the bus on the correct side, and not getting run over when crossing the road. Once we started driving, there was a white-knuckle period of transition. There were lots of “Other SIDE!” moments and some scary car-park encounters. Saskatoon is also home to the three-way and four-way stop phenomenon. This involves arriving at a junction, and taking your turn to go. Imagine the chaos that would result in other countries. “I was here first!”. “You were in your a***!” Three-ways aren’t too bad. Four-ways can cause some anxiety in anyone with short-term memory challenges. “Ok, the red car was first, then the truck, then me, because that Dodge Ram arrived last. No, wait, did it pull up before me? Oh God, the truck has gone through, is it me or the Dodge? ME OR THE DODGE?” Another thing to watch out for is the disappearance of all road markings during the winter months. They are either obliterated by snow, or scraped off the roads by the snow ploughs.

There are over 100,000 lakes in Saskatchewan

This is an important fact, as knowing it will prevent you from making a complete fool of yourself in conversation. Everyone in Saskatoon goes to The Lake during the summer. As we met more Canadians, and heard about their cabins, boats and weekends at The Lake, it assumed gigantic proportions on our mental map of Saskatchewan. It took a while, and some near-misses on the revealing-our-stupidity front, but it gradually dawned on us that people were going to different lakes. There are thousands of them, some only accessible by plane.

Saskatchewan is enormous

This province is 651,000 square km. Ireland can boast of 84,000 square km. A long-standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can watch your dog running away for three days, but the prairies are only part of the story. Saskatchewan moves from rolling sand-dunes in the south, through the prairies, and into the forests, lakes and mountains of the north. It is incredibly diverse and astonishingly beautiful. Saskatchewan people think nothing of driving long distances, at any time of the year. They set off to neighbouring provinces or the United States at the drop of a hat. “It’s only six/fifteen/thirty-seven hours”, they say reassuringly, and we have become accustomed to the fact that nobody gauges distance in miles or kilometres. It all spoken of as hours taken to get there. So I know it takes about two and half hours to get to Regina, the capital, but I’ve no idea how many miles away it is. You’d need to ask Google for that, rather than a Canadian.

A shared language can be a barrier to communication

What’s a bunnyhug? Is it a. A type of rabbit? b. An expression of affection? c. A hoodie? d. None of the above? c. It’s the uniquely Saskatchewan term for a hoodie. A hat is a toque, pronounced tooook. We shop at grocery stores and load our bags into the trunk. We fill our cars with gas, and try to remember to say 2.30pm instead of half-two. We have moments in supermarkets where we ask for something like “chutney”, and it becomes a group think-in, as we stand around with all the store assistants describing what it is and then trying to think of a Canadian equivalent. We visit the washroom and try to avoid confusing Customer Service people by asking for change for the trolley, instead of a loonie for the shopping cart. A loonie? A loonie is a one-dollar coin, and a toonie is a two-dollar coin.

Animals can kill you in Saskatchewan

They have bears here. And coyotes. Snakes, moose and gophers. Chipmunks and white-tailed deer. It’s quite disconcerting to go for a walk through nearby grasslands, and encounter a sign advising the public to make plenty of noise to deter cougars from attack. Of course, the people in Saskatchewan are well able to reciprocate on the whole killing front. Hunting and fishing are huge here. My son’s teacher sent us home some freshly-slaughtered moose (which was delicious) and coils of white-tailed deer sausage (which the kids adored). He butchered the moose in his garage, which filled me full of admiration for his wife.

Saskatonians are incredibly friendly and welcoming

My husband and I have lived in Saskatoon for over a year now, and we are still bowled over by how friendly and open the people are here. This city is unbelievably family-friendly, with infinite activities and sports for children and adults alike, and various events on every weekend. We’ve spent impromptu evenings toasting marshmallows in backyards, days at a nearby lake, weekends at outdoor ice rinks and nights at open-air cinemas in the park. There is an old-fashioned, community feel to Saskatoon, and a constant willingness to help out, share stories and issue supper invitations. People are interesting, and interested in you; one hockey-dad summed it up when he said “We’re all immigrants here”. Saskatchewan is a young province still, and it’s fascinating to live in such a melting-pot of races and cultures. The positive energy and hope here is contagious.

The Mystery of the Slain Smurf

29 Jan

It’s almost the end of January, and the month has flown by.  I don’t know why this is so, as January usually crawls along bleakly, but a lengthening of daylight hours and a busy schedule seem to have conspired to lessen the dull drag of the month.  Hockey is still in full swing, Beavers and Girl Guides are chuntering along, and Rebecca started gymnastics in Can-Am Gym beside us here a couple of weeks ago.  She leapt out of bed with alacrity on the first day, and it was a challenge to get her to the 1pm class without her spontaneously combusting first.  It’s a gorgeous place, all bright colours and foam pits, and she was thrilled to spend an hour on beams, bars and trampolines.  I attended a Kindergarten meeting at the school last night, and apologised in advance to her teacher for what she may have to endure.  I visited the classroom, and chatted with other prospective parents, and found myself ridiculously close to tears on occasion.  I can’t quite believe that my baby will be starting school; she’s counting down the days already.  Erin, the learning support teacher, and a great source of dry wit and sharp observations, has promised to have a box of tissues and a bottle of brandy on standby in her room on that fateful September morning.  I’m fairly confident that I’ll be making an utter disgrace of myself.

at the gym

at the gym

Nicholas has resumed his Science Saturdays at the University, and arrived home with a complicated looking contraption last week.  There were syringes full of gloopy green liquid, pieces of wood and lengths of twine – the name escapes me, but it involved levers.  Whatever it was, he’s embracing the geeky side of his nature enthusiastically, and loves going to Beavers on Wednesday evenings as well.  Last week was their Beach Party, which involved me scrambling around under beds an hour beforehand, pulling out black sacks of summer clothes and combing through them for shorts and  t-shirt to fit him.  He sauntered in with baseball cap and sunglasses in place, and they had a great night.  Patti and Wanda, the Beavers leaders, are fabulous – full of energy and enthusiasm, and well able to deal with groups of small boys and all their small dramas.  Isabel is going camping next weekend with Guides, to wooden cabins out at Pike Lake, and I’m cold just thinking about it.  She’ll need a suitcase by the time we fit in all her snow gear.  She’s full of the joys of going, and is clearly shaping up to be a hardy Saskatchewanian, unlike her wimpy parents.

The weather has been a bit nutty this month – highs of 3 degrees and lows of minus forty, with massive temperature changes within the one day on occasion.  The Wintershines Festival is running at the moment, and we spent some time there on Saturday evening.  The children spent most of the time hurling themselves down the ice slide, while Michael climbed the ice wall and we all watched the ice bonfire blaze away.

Ice Bonfire

Ice Bonfire

 We had an afternoon at St. George rink with the Saskatoon Blades on one memorable Sunday; the team played a quick game of shinny and then all the children were allowed onto the ice to play with them.  The team mascot, Pokechek, was skating around and posing for photos, and there was hot chocolate, music, and glorious sunshine.  Christopher is the player in the bright blue jacket, battling with one of the Blade for the puck.

Skating with the Blades Isabel and Pokechek Skating with the Blades group photo

My transformation to Less Haggy Mammy is continuing apace, and my railway tracks were consigned to the bin yesterday.  Oh, the joy of being able to eat properly again ….  even if it is mainly lettuce :-).  I was assessed for laser eye surgery, and deemed unsuitable, which was almost a relief.  After the contact lens fiasco, the thought of surgery was a bit daunting, especially when Carmella began explaining how the laser cuts the cornea.  I felt like throwing up on her.  Having laser eye surgery means having to wear reading glasses afterwards, so one of the options is to have one eye corrected for distance, and leave the other for reading.  Mono-vision, it’s called, and Carmella tried it out on me with a pair of adjusted lenses.  I gazed at the board, with lenses correcting my right eye, and my other eye left as normal, and realised that life in mono-vision is not for me.  Such a weird, uncomfortable feeling, and I couldn’t seem to see anything properly, up close or far away.  Apparently it doesn’t suit some people, and I’m one of them – something to do with my depth perception.  So, no laser surgery for me – I’m going to choose a funky pair of frames for progressive lenses instead, with the help of Kim, who has an unerring instinct for what suits and what doesn’t.  The last photo-shoot was at the opticians, and there was lots of posing in sunglasses and feeling very movie-star-ish.  Rebecca and Isabel came along with me, as they were both sick, and Rebecca took my dire warnings very seriously.  They were so well-behaved that I almost forgot they were there.  Here’s Rebecca in Exemplary Behaviour Mode:

SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).

We went to the studio at the Star Phoenix for the full-length photos, and while I was changing, Jeff took some great photos of the girls messing around in front of the camera. Rebecca calls him her big brother, and I feel I’m looking quite well for having a son in his fifties.  She has him tormented taking photos of her, which have to be shown to her the instant the camera clicks.  It was quite alarming to see her progression from smiling four year old to pouting would-me model.

SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix). SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).

I was changing back into my Cinderella rags in the women’s locker room, when my chain and cross slid off the arm of the leather sofa, and disappeared down between the cushion and the arm.  I wiggled my fingers down to grab it, and ….nothing.  Huh?  I pried the cushion away from the arm, and peered down into the abyss.  Not a sign of it.  Sure that’s ridiculous, I thought, and started to rummage in earnest.  I couldn’t even find the gap it had disappeared into.  What kind of a bloody couch is this? I swore, and marched back into the studio to rudely interrupt Jeff and my couple of posers.  “What’s up?” he asked, seeing my verging-on-frantic face. “I’m having a crisis!” I hissed, not thinking that he was probably recoiling with horror at the thoughts of what a changing-room crisis might entail.  Please God, not a Spanx problem……  I explained what had happened, which sounded fairly nonsensical, and we all repaired to the locker-room, where we gravely contemplated the blue leather sofa.  We upended it to no avail.  “Get a knife”, I said decisively.  He returned with a nifty blade, and I made some strategic cuts in the fabric base.  I rummaged around for a few minutes, slicing my finger in the process, and still couldn’t come across anything remotely resembling a piece of jewellery.  I was getting more and more flustered, and Jeff was having to repeatedly explain his male presence to a constant procession of women.  “I’ll call Dan”, he decided.  Dan is the maintenance guy, and he arrived a few minutes later.  He’s a man of few words.  He knelt down in front of the couch, while I gabbled my increasingly incredible tale, and peered at my surgical handiwork.  “You’re sure it went into the couch?” he asked, eyeing me with disbelief. “Oh, yes”, I assured him earnestly. “It just disappeared completely“.  He grunted, and resumed his contemplation of the crime scene.  “I think you might be out of luck”, he announced.  I stood there, all made-up and intricately coiffed, and knew that there was about to be a gigantic Mascara Mishap.  Jeff hastily intervened. “Maybe we could take off the arm of the couch?” he suggested hopefully.  Dan grunted, and headed off to get a drill.  Rebecca decided that her nose was bleeding, and insisting on trailing sheets of toilet-paper out of it.  I think she was out in sympathy with my bleeding finger, which was stubbornly refusing to clot.  We waited for Dan to return, while I prayed to St Anthony and St Jude, and made quiet plans involving 3am break-ins to the Star Phoenix building and a lump-hammer.  Dan arrived back, power tool in hand and scepticism firmly in place, and started drilling off the arm of the sofa.  He pried it apart and peered inside.  “Have you got a torch?” I asked helpfully.  Both men turned to look at me with suspicion.  “A torch??” said Jeff.  “What do you need a torch for?”  I looked at them, confused.  “What do you mean, what do I need it for?” I asked, wondering had they all gone a bit soft in the head.  “To look into the couch!”  “With a TORCH?” asked Jeff, amazed.  Isabel dragged her eyes off her DS and calmly intervened.  “Mammy means a flashlight”, she pointed out, and returned to her game.  “Oh, a flashlight!” Cue relief from the men, and cranky confusion from me.  “I thought you meant a torch.  You know, fire? To burn the couch with?” said Jeff.  Dan grunted.  I realised how well I was doing Crazy right now.  A mad Irishwoman, insisting that her cross and chain had disappeared into a non-existent gap in a leather couch, sending a man off to get a drill and then suggesting burning the damn thing.  Dan lifted the couch, and miracle of miracles, there was the tinkle of metal hitting the floor, and there lay the cross.  I felt …..validated.  “See, it is in there!” I said excitedly.  “I’ll get a prybar”, said Dan, and off he trundled, thinking God knows what.  I lunged at the couch before the prybar made its return, and lifted it up for Jeff to look under.  “There it is”, he said, and carefully pulled the chain out from the dark recesses of the mangled sofa.  Dan returned, wielding his prybar, and got to screw the couch back together again instead.  Jeff and the girls vanished back to the studio, while I stood over Dan and gabbled my thanks.  “So, what did you learn today?”, he asked me sternly.  I floundered.  “Em, to always have a man who can do everything nearby?” I offered, weakly.  He grunted.  I fled.

SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).

In other January events, Niamh and John (parents of Luke, Rebecca’s current husband-to-be), had joined us at the Wintershines Festival on Saturday evening.  John loves ice-sculptures and all things related to being creative with ice, and had made some gorgeous colourful ice spheres and a bouquet of ice flowers over the course of the weekend.  His ultimate plan was to build an igloo, and he had set aside Monday for this mission.  He had the plan, the tools, the ice and the enthusiasm.  Sure, what could go wrong?  I caught up with Niamh yesterday, dying to hear how the project had gone.  She felt that it would be wiser to read John’s account of his Man Vs Ice day.  John has kindly allowed me to share the story of his adventure, in the hope that any foolhardy ice-challengers out there might learn from his ordeal.  You have been warned.

Foiled again. My latest attempt to conquer the igloo has ended in failure, and the imagined sneers of the Inuit community are ringing in my ears. Months of research, thousands of pounds worth of tools and equipment, and all for nought.  Conditions were against me in fairness. Temperatures only dropped yesterday, ( to -30•), after staying above zero for most of my week off. The snow is muck. A 3 inch crust of refrozen melt over about 8 inches of what they call “sugar snow” in these here parts. Sugar snow is loose and granular, basically ice crystals, with no moisture of any kind to bind it together. It’s been blowing around the country for half the winter and all of the snow flakes (with their hooks and spikes) have been smashed to bits. This means that they will neither bind, nor compress well. “Screw the snow!” I decided. Technology would overcome, and so, armed with thirty gallons of water, a bunch of food colouring, a shovel, and a big clear plastic box I set off into the desolate wilderness of Diefenbaker Park, a couple of hundred yards from the house. I picked a nice scenic spot, (no crappy neighbourhood would do for my technicolor party Igloo), and set to work. I shovelled off the crust, and filled the box with sugar snow. Then I broke out the dye and poured about two gallons of bright red water over the top. It was supposed to sink through the snow and freeze the whole thing into a crimson cuboid, to be sawn into 3 or 4 perfect building blocks. It did not. Instead it coloured about half of the snow and completely missed the rest. I tipped the box over, hoping the pooled liquid at the bottom would flow back through and pick up the slack, but it had already frozen to the bottom of the box (-30), and the whole thing just crumbled when I lifted the box off. Now the stupidity of starting with red became apparent. The place looked like a crime scene. I had visions of cops with sniffer dogs looking for body parts in the snow. Shit. Can’t stop now. Blue block. 3 gallons. Same result. It was obvious that I’d need a minimum of 150 gallons to get the job done. That’s five trips to a third floor apartment with my six buckets. Bollocks to it. Time to pull the pin. I packed up my stuff, dumped my 25 gallons of water and got the hell out of Dodge before I got arrested for killing a Smurf. This ain’t over, Eskimos.

On a more positive note, here’s John’s ice bouquet :-)

Ice bouquet

And, to finish, who can tell me what a Pokechek is in hockey? Answers on a postcard please.

A Second Christmas….

16 Dec

in Saskatoon is approaching with alarming speed, and while I haven’t spent quite as many hours in easy tears as last December, this is the hardest time of the year to be away from home, family and friends.  I managed to bake a Christmas cake this year, which was too much effort last year, and have spent less time looking mournfully at my Christmas tree and remembering the decorations I had left behind.  That feeling of familiarity that carried us through Halloween has wrapped itself around Christmas too, and that helps to smooth the sharp edges of a Christmas away from home.  There are inflatable Santas that are taller than the houses, massive light displays set to music, and huge red bows studding all the trees along a section of Spadina Crescent.  We will be experiencing another very, very white Christmas, unsurprisingly, and ice-skating will probably figure large during the holiday season.  Some of the Irish contingent are heading home for Christmas; a Facebook photo of Jay’s arrival at Dublin Airport this morning caused a severe pang of longing for me, and others are making the long journey this week (praying that they don’t have Jay’s bad luck with cancelled flights).  We spent an evening watching the Late Late Toy Show, which was brilliant, even though Ryan Tubridy nearly sent me over the edge when he welcomed all those watching from abroad.  Toys were decided on, and then, in the worst “writing letters to Santa Claus” episode yet, two of the children did a complete u-turn, sending Michael and I into a tailspin of panic.  One matter has yet to be resolved, but tomorrow should tell a tale there.  Children are just so bloody fickle.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders won the Grey Cup, by the way; the province partied and Rebecca donned her Riders bling.

Santa at the MallRebecca Roughriders

Winter swept in, guns blazing, last week, and the temperatures plummeted to the minus forties.  I’d forgotten how miserable it is to go outside in that kind of wind chill. We made a run from the car park into the Mall last week, noses crackling inside and chasing each breath; I sent Benjamin off then to get a trolley to dump all our snow gear into before we melted in the heat of the shopping centre.  I had to wear gloves driving home because the steering-wheel was too painfully cold to touch, and all the doors kept freezing shut on the car.  Ice formed on the inside of the windows in the house, and the kids were corralled in school all day, with all outdoor recesses cancelled.  It snowed for a few days towards the end of the week, and the temperature today rose to a sweltering minus 1.  Benjamin decided that snow pants were superfluous to requirements this morning, which resulted in his teacher tracking me down in the pre-school earlier to tell me that Benjamin had “wet himself” and needed dry tracksuit bottoms.  I was momentarily gobsmacked, until he clarified that Benjamin had been playing “snow soccer” at recess, and was sitting around in a very soggy tracksuit.  I marched him home with me at 11.30am to get changed, and issued the usual weary lecture re Canadian winters, blah blah blah.

Ice hockey practices, games and tournaments have featured large over the last few weeks, with Christopher winning two “Hustler of the Game” awards (free pennants and pizza!) and hours spent on the outdoor rinks in the park beside us.  A couple of the lads on the team have ice-rinks in their back yards, so now that’s the next item on the boys’ wish list.  One of the hockey dads suggested that we could flood our basement, and I’m not quite sure whether he was joking or not.  It would be worth mentioning to the landlord, though, just to see his face.  Ballet, swimming, Beaver and Science have finished up until January, and Isabel is bowling with the Girl Guides tomorrow night for their Christmas party.  Michael has a whole two days off this Christmas, after working St. Stephen’s Day last year; none of that “work in the morning” dread on Christmas night, thank God.

Pre-Game Focus

Pre-Game Focus

Ready for the Game

Ready for the Game

Nicholas finished all his Sacrament of Reconciliation classes in the church, and made his First Confession a couple of weeks ago.  Father Lawrence sat on a chair on the altar, with another chair beside him, and a queue of penitent and not-so-penitent sinners formed a line of delicious terror.  Nicholas was all gung-ho, laughing and chatting with the girls beside him, and then was rendered mute as soon as he sat down on the altar.  Michael and I watched his head drooping ever lower, with Father Lawrence murmuring beside him, and thought “Just PICK A SIN! any sin will do!”  He eventually managed to dredge up some misdemeanor or other, and galloped down off the altar with glee, while we sighed with relief that he hadn’t made a disgrace of himself (or us).

My journey as the tenth Beautiful You continues apace; I’m now 35lbs lighter and a redhead with long, thick eyelashes.  I have a mouth full of metal braces and I haven’t been able to frown since my Botox injections last week.  It’s an utterly bizarre feeling to attempt to frown and watch your forehead remain unyieldingly smooth.  I asked Sharon, one of the nurses at the clinic, how long it took her to get used to the feeling.  She’s in her sixties, incredibly beautiful and unfailingly warm and chatty.  “My dear Barb”, she cooed, “I haven’t frowned since 1989″.  I love her.  I’ve had three photo shoots recently – I shoehorned myself into spanx (torture), a short LBD, and hooker heels for one of them, with full-on glamour make-up and an up-do.  I barely recognised myself.  The second shoot was for shoes, and so I posed in gold snakeskin boots, heroically managing not to fall off them and break a limb.  Merle Norman Cosmetics was the scene of the third shoot, and so I donned another gorgeous outfit, sucked in my tummy, and kept smiling/grimacing for the camera. SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix). Jeff, the photographer, sends me photos after each shoot; there’s usually one decent photo among four dreadful ones, as he managed to catch me at every inopportune moment possible.  Rebecca has developed a serious crush on him (helped along nicely by the fact that she gets to pose endlessly for him and then see herself on the Star Phoenix website).  She came along to a manicure recently, and while Renea worked her magic, Bailey provided Rebecca with a brush, sponge and some loose foundation powder.  She embraced her new role as make-up artist with intense enthusiasm, and painted my face in haphazard layers.  Paulette eyed me doubtfully at the end of it all.  “Are you going to your next appointment like that?”  “Of course!” I said.  “I’m going to tell all the girls at Belle Sante that this is your new look for Spring.”

http://www.thestarphoenix.com/features/beautifulyou/index.html

http://blogs.thestarphoenix.com/author/beautifulyouvi/

SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--

Matching Hair and Teeth

Matching Hair and Teeth

Rebecca in Merle Norman

The Expats Blog website is hosting its annual contest, with the topic centering on Lists; I submitted the 10 Essential Facts about Saskatoon/Saskatchewan, and would love it if some of you could read and comment on the entry.  The link is below; thanks in advance :-)

http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/754/10-essential-facts-about-living-in-saskatoon-saskatchewan

SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--SASKATOON, SK--/November/29/2013--(Jeff Lyons/Star Phoenix).SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--

Saskatchewan is Bleeding Green

22 Nov

We went ice-skating last Sunday at one of the indoor rinks, and once the post-skate ritual of hot chocolate and cookies was over, we went shopping.  The store was fairly busy, and every so often one of the staff would make an announcement regarding the current score in the football game.  I wasn’t really paying any heed to it, since what I know about Canadian Football could be written on the back of a stamp, and so it wasn’t until we got home that we realised that the game had been a huge deal.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders had beaten the Calgary Stampeders and secured themselves a spot in the final of the 101st Grey Cup.  This takes place on Sunday in Mosaic Stadium in Regina, so the excitement of reaching the final has been magnified a thousandfold by the face that it is being hosted in Saskatchewan.

Our neighbours and friends were all a-flutter, planning their Grey Cup parties and hastily rescheduling any conflicting events.  A woman in Ottawa resigned from her job and began driving the thousands of miles west to see the game.  Government business was diverted by the passionate speeches given by the MPs of Saskatchewan and Ontario regarding the desired outcome of the game.  The Saskatchewan Premier declared today to be Green Day, and lamented the fact that it was outside his remit to grant a public holiday.  The mayors of Regina and Hamilton have a bet on the the result of the game; the loser will have to sport the jersey of the winning team to a City Council meeting and fly the winning team’s flag at City Hall.  The losing mayor will also have to donate the combined weight of both mayors to the winning team’s local Foodbank.

The Grey Cup has been won by the Saskatchewan Roughriders three times in their 100 year history, and the fact that they are both hosting and playing in the Final is a dream scenario. Brad Wall, the Premier of Saskatchewan, had started poking fun at other teams in the Canadian Football League earlier in the year, when he posted this banjo-playing video as a jibe against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9BtK4o5GzY

This week, he’s been a running a competition for best-decorated office.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4Sj0HWOLJs

The news websites and television channels have been dominated by Grey Cup fever all week.  Yesterday was Green Day in school, as the children have today off for parent-teacher meetings.  I arrived in to help out in the pre-school yesterday morning, after crunching through snow and temperatures in the minus thirties, to find children dressed in green, with green wigs and face-paint, decked out in Roughriders jerseys.  The teachers had mostly followed suit, and the principal, Tony Bairos, was stalking the corridors in a green Roughriders cape.  I stripped Rebecca out of her layers of snow gear, struggled out of mine, and morning prayer began.

We prayed that the Roughriders would win.  We prayed for all the members of the team.  We gave a passing nod to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (but only in an obligatory Christian way).  There were prayers for the fans; we prayed that it wouldn’t be too cold for them during the game and that they would all have safe journeys.  There was a rousing rendition of the Roughriders anthem, followed by the usual belting-out of “O, Canada”.  The final flourish was the declaration that “Remember, GOD WEARS GREEN! GO RIDERS!”.  It was the most memorable morning prayers ever.  I bumped into Tony later on last night, when we were at the school for parent-teacher meetings.  “You do realise,” I said sweetly, “that the reason God wears green is not because He’s a Riders fan, but because he’s Irish?”

So we have about 48 hours to go.  I can’t imagine what will happen if we win, but I’m fairly sure it will be reminiscent of when Ireland beat Romania on penalties in the World Cup.  We have no idea of the rules or anything else about the game, but we’ve been told that it’s about three hours long, and so I’m sure we’ll cast an eye on some of it on Sunday evening.  In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the various quirky news stories, the anxious weather forecasts and the political banter that seems to go hand-in-hand with the Grey Cup.  You gotta love Saskatchewan.

In other political news of the week, I just have to give a shout-out to Rob Ford, the embattled Mayor of Toronto, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, (“probably in one of my drunken stupors”), smoking marijuana, and various other eye-popping misdemeanors.  His eight-second pause when asked directly if he had purchased illegal substances is comedy gold.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls_BUdHaSvQ

However, he has denied sexual harassment, albeit it in the most spectacularly jaw-dropping fashion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GcEWxWZXWo

I’m sure his wife was just thrilled.  The ongoing saga is providing endless fuel for late-night chat shows, with Jay Leno thanking Canada for the rich source of fodder – “God bless Canada, what a gift the Canadians have given us” – and Jimmy Kimmel comparing him to a drunken uncle that your parents don’t like – “Rob Ford is like your drunk uncle that is fun, but you’re just getting old enough to realize why your parents don’t let him take you anywhere by himself”.  Jon Stewart skewered him in a six-minute commentary on the Daily Show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wif4dFOPtiE

Given Mayor Ford’s refusal to resign, there’s plenty of mileage left in this saga.  My beloved friend, Elfriede, a Torontonian to her shoelaces, is squirming with horror at every revelation, as are most of the city’s inhabitants, while the rest of Canada watches in awed disbelief.

And finally, I can confirm that winter has arrived in Saskatchewan.  We have snow.  We have ice and frost.  We have watched the temperatures hit the minus thirties.  Our winter tyres are on the cars; the snow gear is in constant use; the daily litany of lost hats/gloves/scarves is in full swing and the hall is full of winter boots.  Our only hope is that it will only last until March this time around :-)

Rebecca in the snow

In Remembrance

10 Nov

November has arrived in Saskatoon, bringing the first snowfall, and the dark mornings and evenings of Winter. There’s a miasma of sorrow that coats this month; it’s the month of All Souls, the month that remembers those who have died in the service of their country, and it’s the month that holds the anniversary of the death of my father.  He died sixteen years ago today, fracturing our lives into the Before and After of bereavement, and while the old adage that time heals holds true at many levels, he is missed today as much as during the years that have gone before this.  My father, Sean, was only fifty-four when he died.  The passing of time brought colour back to the monotone that characterized the early days of grief, and now, as a wife and mother, I grieve more for what he lost than for what I lost.  He never met his sons- and daughter-in-law.  He never attended our weddings, and rejoiced in the birth of our children.  The fact that he never knew what it was like to be a grandfather is a hard pill to swallow.  He should have had years more; years of being part of our families, of enthralling and terrifying our children in equal measure, of teaching them all that he learnt throughout his life.  Years of trips to the beach, hammering in windbreaks, swearing at the sand in the food, playing soccer at the edge of the sea.  Years of arguing with us, laughing with us, pissing us off, driving the neighbours mad with the music blasting from his car as he arrived home.  There were so many good and bad times left to come; so much love and laughter, trials and tears that he missed out on, and I resent his passing at so many levels.

We always thought of him as invincible, even as his health worsened.  He was the most stubborn, impossible man to have ever walked the earth, and would argue that black was white until the cows came home.  He never wanted to go the the hospital, and would fight with us the whole way through a cardiac event.  “Ring Liz!” would be his final shot. Liz, the nurse, the Medical Oracle.  “Hi, Liz.  Dad is having a heart attack, doesn’t want us to call an ambulance. Whaddya think?”  “Ah sure, tell him to take some paracetemol, he’ll be grand”.  “Dad, Liz said to take paracetemol, you’ll be grand”.  “Oh, okay then, call the ambulance”.  Black humour permeated all those years.  Conversations that began with “When I die…” and descended into hilarity.  He was a terrible patient.  We always knew when he was getting better, as the nurses started to tear their hair out and he became more grumpy and outrageous by the minute.  He was always champing at the bit to get home to his out-of-hospital dinner of steak and chips.  He lived and breathed soccer, was a voracious reader, loved working with his hands.  The day before he died, he went to the pub with my brother and a gang of the lads, and watched his beloved Liverpool thrash Manchester United.  They all arrived home that evening, noisily euphoric, bonded with the glue of a common enemy.  It was a perfect day; the kind of day that made the news of his death so utterly shocking to everyone the next day.  To go from life to death so suddenly seems impossible.  I always remember the open book at the side of his bed, his newly-acquired reading glasses beside it, the heart-rending realisation that life could stop in the middle of a page.

Being so far away from family today is strange.  I woke up to memories and musings on our family Facebook page, and cried while the others had moved on to their afternoon outing to the woods and the beach.  They’ll draw the curtains on the end of this day, while I will still quietly slip between the present and the past.   I don’t know what he would have thought about our move to Canada.  Whether he would have visited us and insisted on trying out hunting, fishing and ice hockey.   I’d love to know what the people of Saskatoon would have made of him; a big man with a beard and a hat, larger-than-life and interested in everything, with the Dublin sense of humour running through his veins.  He loved the Dubliners, the Wolfe Tones, the Fureys; we could sit in the kitchen and hear the car coming from the end of the road, with him bellowing along with Luke Kelly about Dublin in the Rare Oul Times.  My sister Louise posted this in his memory today, from one of his favourite singers:

His funeral was a frequent topic of conversation.  He wanted the hymn Amazing Grace to be part of the ceremony; he said he liked thinking of himself as the “wretch”, although I suspect it was because someone had told him years ago that it’s a Protestant hymn.  A last rebellion.  He wanted us to knock on the coffin before we left him, to make sure that he didn’t knock back.  We laughed about that every time, but standing beside his coffin that day and knocking as he had asked was crucifying.  “It’s not funny now, is it?!”, I wanted to shriek, furious with him for not being invincible, for joking with us for so long about something that lost any humour when the unimaginable happened.  The most important request was for “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the Liverpool anthem, and a song that still buries me with both hope and grief every time I hear it.  He was carried out of the church to the sounds of the choir singing it (school children from my sister’s school, gleeful at the chance to sing outside of the repertoire of hymns, blissfully, thankfully untouched by the grief of the day).  We would have preferred 95,000 Liverpool fans, but that might have been seen as pandering too much to his whims :

When you walk through a storm

hold your head up high

and don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

and the sweet silver song of the lark.

Walk on, through the wind

Walk on, through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart

and you’ll never walk alone.

You’ll never walk alone.

Sean Fitzpatrick 1943 – 1997

Thanks for the memories

All my love, always

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