The Canadian Phenomenon known as Tryouts

25 Jan

Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments about the last post; I felt pounds lighter once I hit “publish”, although sadly, I didn’t look any different.  It’s time for another hockey post, as this year’s season is a horse of a different colour indeed.  After the sorry fiasco of last year’s tryouts, with the boys unable to do pretty much anything more complicated than skate in a straight line in a forwards direction, they were all geared up for this season’s weekend of intense torture.  Benjamin was staying in Atom as a second-year, while Christopher was moving to Peewee as a first year.  Two whole weekends written off, just like that.  There was a last-ditch attempt at “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to playing soccer?” but ’twas all to no avail.  The ice is in their blood now.

Benjamin kicked off first, and Michael brought him out to the Friday night practice of drills.  The following morning was my turn to suffer, so I stood in the viewing area and watched the drills proper.  They were exactly the same as last year; it was almost hypnotic watching him weave the same patterns on the ice.  Comforting, also, to see that he could actually do them this time, and do them well.  Christopher stood beside me, filleting every swish of the blade with forensic precision. “He should have done x here, y there”.  The afternoon was the scrimmage session; they donned their allocated jerseys and faced off against each other, determined to impress the coaches lining the rink.  There were lots of solo runs and fancy footwork.  The rink was packed with anxious parents; no parents allowed rink-side (too many batshit crazy ones) and no shouting at your kid, whether in encouragement or criticism.  The balcony was strangely silent; we stood and willed them on.  The two rinks were packed all day; the Atom kids were divided into three groups, each group following the other at hour and a half intervals.  I watched everyone watching the ice, and had a quick probe at my stress levels.  Alarmingly, I realised that yes, I was a bit stressed.  He so badly wanted to be in Tier 2 this year, and I so badly wanted him to get what he wanted.  “Great”, I thought morosely.  “I’m turning into a parent that cares what Tier their kid gets into.  It’s all downhill from here.”  Benjamin came off the ice and we headed home.  “Hey Mom, guess what?” said Christopher.  “When we were walking into the rink this morning, two of the coaches stopped us and said they remembered us from last year! Isn’t that awesome, eh?” “Well, that depends if your definition of awesome is remembering you both as the kids that spent most of tryouts sitting on their arses on the ice, eh?” Sunday kicked off with the final scrimmage, the last chance to shine.  He survived without making any huge blunders, and we went home to wait.  Teams are picked on the Thursday evening, and players generally hear on the Friday where they’ve been placed.

I woke up the next morning to an email from the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.  Benjamin had been put into a “bubble game” on Tuesday evening.  A Tier 1/Tier 2 bubble game.  A phone call to one of our hockey friends explained it all.  The kids who were neither a definite Tier 3 or a definite Tier 1 get to hit the ice again – because Benjamin was in the Tier 1/2 game, that meant he was definitely not going to be in Tier 3.  So yes, there was rejoicing.  And relief, because we couldn’t bear to listen to him otherwise.  The Tuesday night game came and went.

I discovered Modern Family while staying with my sisters in July.  I watched the first episode in fits of laughter, and started to binge-watch it with Michael when we got back.  Binge-watching is possibly the greatest invention ever.  Ever.  We’d watch one episode after another, cursing when we realised that it was after midnight.  The episodes are addictively short; sure it’s only another twenty minutes, let’s have a last one.  We were chortling away in bed on the Thursday night, stuck to the laptop, when the phone rang.  “Who is that at this hour of the night??” said Michael (accident, death, something tragic).  I picked it up tentatively, and said a cautious hello.  “Hi there!”, boomed a definite Canadian voice.  “Nobody’s dead”, I mouthed at Michael.  Well, nobody in Ireland, anyway. “This is Benjamin’s new coach, Jason!  He’ll be on the Renegade Lightning team!”  “Oh…em, great?” I said, wondering whether I was supposed to deduce something from the name.  “That’s a Tier 1 team”, he moved on, “and I’m delighted to have him on board”.  I started pointing one finger at Michael, who was looking increasingly confused.  “Tier 1!” I hissed at him.  Jaw dropped.  “So, is it true that your boys only played hockey for the first time last year?” he asked.  “Yes, yes”, I said, dying to go in and jump all over Benjamin in the bed.  “AWESOME!” he bellowed.  “See you at the parents’ meeting next week.  I’ll email you!”  I hung up, gently, and sat on the side of the bed.  “Tier 1”, said Michael, astonished.  “I know.  Do you think we’re ready to be Tier 1 parents?”  We absorbed the heavy responsibility of that thought for a moment.  And then woke Benjamin.  Who shrieked and then couldn’t sleep all night.  All. Night.  Christopher woke up to the news in the morning, and instantly descended into a swither of stress.  Tryouts starting that day and his little brother in Tier 1.  The pressure was on.

Benjamin 3 on 3 medal

Winner’s medal

Benjamin 3 on 3


The fact that both of them woke up with sore throats that morning didn’t help matters much.  Isabel and Nicholas headed off to school, while the rest of us sat through the hell of the walk-in clinic’s waiting room.  Eventually we made it to the inner sanctum, to discover that they both had viral infections.  “He has tryouts this evening”, I said, pointing at a wan-looking Christopher. “No problem!” beamed the doctor (young, male, sporty-looking).  “He’ll be fine.  Good luck, eh?” Fist-bump on the way out the door and we were good to go.  Peewee has completely different drills to Atom, so Friday night was spent practicing those, and then the real thing was evaluated the next morning.

Christopher faded fast as the day went on, until eventually the afternoon scrimmages were over, and he came off the ice, sweating and wheezy.  “I don’t like the look of you”, I declared, and carted him back to the walk-in clinic.  I started preparing him for the fact that he wouldn’t be going to try-outs the next day.  “But I have to!” he howled. “If you don’t go to tryouts, you’re automatically in Tier 3!”  “I know, sweetie-pie, and that’s just terrible, but look at you!”  We were called in eventually, to be met by one of the nicest doctors in this clinic.  However, he’s a former Olympian athlete, so the conversation didn’t quite go to plan.  He examined my wretched-looking son, and gave his verdict.  Chest infection – in need of antibiotics, liquid steroids and an inhaler.  I was horrified. “So, he has tryouts tomorrow; do I just need to contact the coaches and let them know that he can’t make it? Do I need a note from you?”  “No, no, not at all, he’ll be able to do the session.”  SERIOUSLY? Is there actually a doctor alive in Canada that would advise skipping a hockey tryout?  Or does that only happen if your legs have fallen off?  Christopher wheezed his way back out to the car, the Tier 2 dream still alive (Peewee has two tiers, 3 and 2, and then a whole separate league called Citywide, for the top kids in the city).  I rang one of the coaches to fill him in and ask him to keep an eye on him on the bench.  He struggled through the session, admitting defeat about 15 minutes from the end, and went home full of the woes of a bad tryout.  This whole hockey thing was getting way too stressful for me and Michael, and we still had four days to go before the teams were picked.

Monday morning brought news of a Tier 2/3 bubble game, and so he hauled his coughing and spluttering ass onto the ice again, while I stood on the bloody balcony and mentally recited the Rosary.  Some of the lads on the ice were huge, towering over me in their skates as they lined up waiting to get onto the rink.  An hour and a half later, we were done, and the only thing left to do was wait.  Or, in Christopher’s case, over-analyse every wrong move and failed attempt at goal and then descend further into miserable anticipation.  On Thursday evening, we were all settled into the sitting room in front of the television, when the call came.  Tier 2, thank God, and staggering relief all around.  How do parents do this every year?  It was definitely easier the first time around, when we had no idea what tryouts involved and even less of an idea about how seriously they’re taken.

Parents’ meeting were next.  Last year, this was a casual, 10-minute affair in the dressing room before a practice.  This year, not so much. Benjamin’s meeting kicked off with introductions all round, and then descended into a technical conversation that left me clueless at my end of the room.  “So, Coach, what’s your three-minute policy?”  “What about the penalty kill line?” “The power play?” There was talk of out-of-town tournaments, teams fees, 7am skates on Tuesday mornings, 9am skating outdoors on Sunday mornings.  I left the room with very little idea of what had happened and what the upcoming season entailed.  “We are definitely not ready to be Tier 1 parents”, I announced to Michael when we got home.  “What’s a penalty kill line?”  Blank look from him, and eye-rolls from the boys, who started complicated explanations of various rules until Michael and I tuned them out.

Sunday morning practice

Sunday morning practice

Christopher’s parents’ meeting ran along much the same lines.  It began, however, with the announcement from the coach that he doesn’t “do crazy parents”.  A wise way to start, I think, given some of the stories I’ve heard about how insane some parents allow themselves to get.  There was more talk of tournaments, fees, 7am skates etc., and the realisation on my part that I was going to need a Mom calendar with gigantic spaces for each day.  And so it transpired. My calendar for Fall looked like someone vomited on it in multi-coloured ink.  Two completely different hockey schedules for Christopher and Benjamin.  Early mornings and late evenings on the ice. Swimming lessons for Nicholas and Rebecca.  Trampolining classes for Isabel and Nicholas.  Science Saturdays at the University for Nicholas.  Junior Zumba for Rebecca and Girl Guides for Isabel.  Oh, and school.  Michael arrived home for lunch every day to be issued his instructions for the evening.  He would go in one direction with x amount of children, and I would drive around the ice rinks with the other pair.  Or vice versa.  The fact that neither Christopher nor Benjamin could remember all of their gear all of the time added to the lunacy, with repeated return trips across the city bearing jerseys, gloves, helmets etc.  and a clip around the ear for the forgetful eejit. We had the occasional evening off, where we hid in the house and prayed that we wouldn’t get a last-minute email gleefully announcing the procurement of extra ice.  Ice-time is a rare and precious commodity here; not enough rinks and a constant scramble to pounce on any sessions that might become available outside of the assigned schedule.

Sunday scrimmage

Sunday scrimmage

Rebecca moved from being a Salamander to a Crocodile to a Whale in swimming lessons, and Nicholas swam his way to Level 5; there are so many levels of swimming proficiency in Canada that I’m destined to spend an evening a week at the pool for all eternity.  Spring sports beckon, with Isabel and Nicholas still dithering over the myriad options available, and Christopher and Benjamin signed up to be goaltenders in lacrosse (another mysterious sport that we know nothing about).  Lacrosse is rumoured to be even rougher than hockey, with the goalies being in the most vulnerable position, so it should be an interesting couple of months.  Rebecca has opted for soccer, so we shall be back to swarm-of-bees mode, with lots of little ones frantically chasing the ball en masse.  Spring is coming, no matter what the weather outside thinks.

Snowy recess

Snowy recess

Skating at recess

Skating at recess at the school rink

Snowy school

St Angela School in the snow

A Cautious Unpacking of Memories

25 Jan

As 2014 slipped away, carrying the memories of a thousand small things and lots of bigger events, I found that the year split into a Before and After in my mind.  July pulsed quietly among the spool of months, and once I had written about our flights across the Atlantic, I shied away from putting any more memories to print.  I often lay awake in the small hours of the morning, letting the July days roll past me like a movie reel, writing it all down in my head, and then woke to daylight and a reluctance to think about it all.  I had a satisfyingly lengthy conversation with one of my most treasured friends this week, and she asked me whether I had stopped adding blog posts because it was too hard to write about our time in Ireland.  We landed at Dublin Airport, and it all came to a halt; I suppose there was so much to say and so many pitfalls.  The cliches of the emigrant, the trite observations about homecomings and leave-takings and reunions.  It’s the same at so many levels for any of us returning after an absence, and yet every story is different, and everyone setting foot on Irish soil again will have their own experiences and realisations.  I was anxious about many things; driving on the left-hand-side of the road again, seeing our house, clearing out some of our things, how the children were going to find being home, meeting up with friends and family and whether the old connections would still be there.  I let the thought of the inevitable leave-taking overshadow the days sometimes; there was an inexorable countdown always present in the back of my mind, the knowledge that all this would pass and we would be standing back at the airport again.

I’ll start with a cliche – I had forgotten how green it is in Ireland.  We live right beside the park in Saskatoon; trees line our parking lot and the South Saskatchewan river divides the city, with rolling parkland on either side.  Lots of green.  But not the green of home.  The lushness of the countryside – patchworked fields in every shade of green and abundant trees.  It’s odd, the things you forget.  Travelling from the airport to my mother’s house on the left-hand side of the road again and holding my breath at every intersection.  We arrived in Rathfarnham and I sat on my mother’s couch, as I have thousands of times before, and found it difficult to believe that it had been two years since that same sitting-room had been full of suitcases waiting to depart into the unknown.  It was disconcerting, that feeling that the previous two years had never happened.  Two years of building a new life from the foundations up, and it only took five minutes in my childhood home to make Saskatoon seem light-years away in distance and time.  Our body clocks were shot, and I couldn’t get the hang of the time difference at all.  “So, it’s 3 o’clock here, and therefore in Saskatoon, it’s …..3pm minus 7…no…. 3pm is 15:00, so 15 minus 7 is 8….8am…shit, missed Michael before he left for work….again”.  From a mathematical point of view, it’s easier to be in Saskatoon and add the 7 hours.  The kids were buzzing with excitement, while my mother and I were disintegrating slowly with jet-lag.  My sisters scooped them off to play with their cousins, while I collapsed gratefully into bed and oblivion. I woke to the same weird feeling of detachment; everything was as it used to be and Canada seemed like a dream.  Michael rang and asked me how it was all going.  “It’s just….odd..” was all I could say. “Everything is odd.  It’s so strange that you’re in the middle of the Canadian Prairies and I’m sitting in my mother’s kitchen.”

We spent some days in Dublin and then headed down the coast to Wicklow, where my sister Liz has a mobile home.  The weather was astonishingly, consistently good; I grumbled about all the room that I’d taken up in our suitcases by packing for the normal Irish weather.  I think it might have rained three times for the whole month that we were there.  As soon as we left, August brought the usual deluge.  When it is sunny in Ireland, there’s nowhere on earth quite like it.  We spent hours on the beach, and fished for crabs in Wicklow Town.

Wicklow Harbour


The children leapt off the pier into the harbour and swam to the floating platform in the middle, huddling with the other kids against the cold of the sea and taking turns in pushing each other off.  The little ones dipped the rasher-filled net bags off the pier, hauling up crabs of every shape, size and mood, squealing with horrified delight every time one of them scuttled towards bare toes.  The holiday site had tennis courts, soccer pitches, pool tables and a shop that sold ice-creams and candy; what more could any child want?  I used to stand on the deck of the mobile home, with the Irish Sea stretched out before me, sparkling in the sunshine, and watch the kids gallop and roll down the hill in front of us, humming the theme tune to “Little House on the Prairie” in my mind.

 Rebecca running down the hill in Brittas

I wallowed in the age-old ritual of swimming in the sea; the inching in, gasping as every wave hit, until eventually I stood on tiptoes, trying to avoid the waves rising up my midriff.  “Just dive in!” – the only way to get it over with and the last thing you want to do.  With a shriek I dived through an oncoming wave, and the kids rose to the challenge behind me, swept in by the lure of catching up, of being brave, of ducking and splashing and short, choppy races – “Swim PARALLEL to the shore, NOT OUT TO SEA!”.  I bobbed in the waves, trying to imprint it all indelibly on my mind.  Remember this. Their slicked-back hair and spiky eyelashes; the debris of buckets, spades, body boards lining the edge of the waves; the colourful swimsuits and the cliffs rising above us; Christopher’s glee when he tore past us in the race.  The feel of the sand shifting underneath my feet, the long slog back to the mobile home.  The chaos of whirling the nine children through the two showers, with little hills of sand accumulating on the shower floors and piles of scratchy, wet towels and togs waiting on the deck to be shaken out and washed.  That tiredness that comes with sea-swimming, the way your skin feels all glowy and scrubbed clean.

Arch on the beach Rebecca and Jennifer on the beach

We travelled down the N11 to Bree, and it was this part that held the feeling of coming home.  The familiar landmarks flashed by, and the children started to notice everything as we came into Enniscorthy.  The car filled up with memories as they pointed out their childhoods to each other – “there’s the swimming-pool, the bridge, the geese, our supermarket, that green house, the ruined mill”.  Rebecca strove desperately to keep up, insisting she remembered it all, inventing her own memories.  I ached listening to her, realising that her three-year-old self couldn’t muster up much common ground with her siblings.  We arrived at my brother’s house, bringing our kid total back to nine, and settled in for warm and fun-filled days of catching up and re-forging bonds.   My sister brought me into Wexford Town to collect a rental car; I was almost catatonic with terror by the time I got to drive it.  The woman in the hire company was full of the joys of the newness of the vehicle.  “It’s pristine!”, she assured me cheerfully.  “Only 5000km on it – it’s practically brand-new!”.  “Oh God”, I thought, horrified “I just want an old banger with plenty of dints and scrapes, not something that I can wreck while re-learning how to drive on Irish country roads”. I took the keys, and walked out to the car, doom in every step.  I sat in, looked at all the controls, turned on the ignition, and found that I couldn’t take the handbrake off.  I struggled with it for a few minutes, using one hand, both hands, different angles, but to no avail.  I rested my head gently on the steering wheel, and wondered whether this was a sign.  Out I climbed, and went back into the shop, clearing my throat and smiling apologetically at the woman.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I can’t get the handbrake off”, feeling like the stupidest returning emigrant ever.  She bustled out with me, folding herself behind the wheel and starting up the engine.  I prayed silently that it wasn’t going to be something embarrassingly simple.  God is good.  She wrestled with it for a  while, and eventually managed to loosen it, red-faced and breathing hard.  “Hmmmm, that’s an awkward one”, she agreed, and I slid back behind the wheel, pride restored.  I drove gingerly out the gate, and realised that every junction was going to pose the terror of stalling while trying to pull out into traffic.  I sat at the gate for an interminable length, waiting for the road to be clear in both directions, and praying that the woman wouldn’t come out to see if there was another problem.  A break appeared eventually, and I steered out, chanting under my breath.  “Stay left, stay left, go into fourth gear, that’s grand, what about fifth? no, too scary, stay left, Jesus these roads are so f%^$ing narrow!  stay left on this corner”  I think I aged about ten years on that trip back into Bree.  I couldn’t believe how narrow the roads were; roads that I used to fling my car around without hesitation.  The newness of the damn car sat like lead in my stomach, and every junction caused a momentary panic as I tried to work which side of the road I was supposed to end up on when I turned.  I had anticipated that driving a gear-shift car would be the biggest problem, but it was like riding a bicycle, easy as pie.  I drove through the village, and stopped outside our house, wanting to have a moment alone without dealing with the kids’ reactions to it.  I don’t know how I expected to feel, but I found myself rooted to the seat, unable to get out and walk up the stony driveway.  I felt like I could put my hands through the stone walls and melt back into our lives here.  I could be back in my big kitchen, with the forest behind and the forest in front, the children playing in the field and the crunch of the car on gravel as Michael arrived home from work. The trampoline and climbing frame were gone, and the house showed signs of a different inhabitant, but seeing it all up close was a task for the following day.

Michael and I had made a list in Canada of what was left in our sheds and what he wanted to do with it all.  I’m sure distance and rose-coloured spectacles helped to conjure up the image I had of a neat and tidy space, with labels on anything mysterious and absolutely no spiders whatsoever.  I arrived over at the house at 10am, and was joined by Michael’s two brothers, my sister-in-law and my uncle and aunt.  I unlocked all the padlocks and re-entered Michael’s home from home, his infamous shed, where my granny used to think he had a woman stashed because of the amount of time he spent in it. “Ring me when you get there”, he had urged me the previous evening.  “But it’ll be the middle of the night for you!”, I protested.  “Doesn’t matter, just ring me”.  The men started pulling out the contents of the shed and spreading them out on the grass.  Motorbikes, strimmers, ladders, boxes and boxes of tools, paint-cans and dust-sheets, mysterious boxes and random items that were destined to be forever homeless.  My vision of a simple clear-out vanished instantly, and so I rang the perpetrator.  “Morning!” he bellowed, “how’s it all going?” (distance = increased volume)  “I’m divorcing you”, I announced sweetly.  “Have you any accurate memories of this f&%ing shed??”  “Ah, it can’t be that bad”, he said cheerfully, “sure I know everything that’s in it”.  And so we spent the next hour passing the phone from brother to brother to uncle, as they passed into that unintelligible world of tools and implements.  “Have you found the long-nosed carburetor something-or-other?”  “Yes, it’s in the Michael pile”  We had numerous piles.  For Michael, for storage, for any of the men present that could use the item, for my sister’s partner who had bravely expressed an interest in tools for the home and who ended up having everything thrown at him.  “Anyone want a router? Ah sure, give it to Keith, he can take up woodworking”.  My sister-in-law, who had arrived in white trousers and therefore had an immediate excuse for not entering the manky, spidery shed, corralled all the paint supplies, much to my brother-in-law’s horror.  More rooms to be repainted.  I left the men to it, and let myself into the house.  There were some paintings that I wanted to store in my mother’s house, and a particular mirror that we had bought at the lighthouse in Hook Head that I loved.  I walked from room to room, my footsteps and memories echoing, and felt like I had stepped outside myself.  Our tenant looks after the place very well, thank God, and all was as it should be, but it was odd to see other furnishings, other belongings, different furniture arrangements.  It was home, but not home.  I stood at the door of the children’s bedrooms, and remembered the nights where I would move from bed to bed, checking and tucking and feeling grateful for the sleeping peace of our household.  I unhooked the paintings and the mirror, trying to focus on the practicalities, and stepped back outside to the tool-strewn sunshine, where Michael was demonstrating the veracity of his statement that he knew exactly what was in his shed.  Vans were being filled and order restored, until the only thing left was our ride-on lawnmower, which sat fatly in the shed, with flat tires and a forlorn air of disuse.  It will sitting here for all eternity, I think.Loading the Sheds

Our next stop as house guests was with Nuala and her family, who welcomed us with open arms and pretended that an invasion of six was no bother whatsoever. Our friends soon enlightened me, however, and I heard of panic-stricken phone calls about bedding and inflatable mattresses, of punctured offerings and a dearth of pumps.  We had a gathering of friends in their kitchen that evening, and the threads that had woven us together in the first place re-tightened and shone golden.  I felt very lucky as I sat at that table, among the debris of food and drink, looking at them all in turn.  Those ageless, openhearted women, who move through all of life’s joys and hardships with grace and love and humour.  I made the best friends of my life while I lived in Bree; perhaps it was the age and stage of our lives that brought us all together.  We were women, wives, mothers of small children – nothing was too minor to be discussed and laughed about and we supported each other through the bigger heartaches and problems.  It was wonderful to see them all again, and hear of new adventures and changes.  My friend Angela had managed to keep the news of her pregnancy secret from me, and so there was a joyful unveiling of the bump. Her fourth, who appeared just before Christmas; a beautiful son, and a little brother to three delighted big sisters. We made a day trip to Johnstown Castle – gangs of children haring around while we sat on picnic rugs and dispensed food, napkins, drinks and admonishments.  Our eldest children, on the cusp of puberty, had all changed so much in two years; they weaved in and out of familiarity and self-consciousness, Christopher covertly eyeing up the heights of the boys and finding himself falling short.  “It’s because you’re a nightmare to feed”, I said smugly, having weathered many dinnertime battles and waited many years to finally say that sentence.

The children wanted to go and see our house; I dithered and fretted and finally decided that it would be unfair not to bring them over to revisit the place.  They were so full of the magic of being among friends and family again; there were tears about the fact that we had left and pleas to come back home.  Visiting the house was only going to add to that, and still they needed to see it again and re-earth their memories.  We crunched in the driveway, and stood for a few minutes looking up the hill, and across the road at the forest.  “Let’s go inside!” demanded Rebecca, and in we went, the children oddly nervous and me trying to damp it all down and keep it together, unsure of what their reactions might be.  We moved from room to room, remembering and remembering and remembering.  I thought I might drown in what they remembered, in their tears and their immediate re-connection to the house.  We went outside, and they all ran up the hill as they had a thousand times before.  Benjamin lagged behind, cross and miserable.  “Why can’t we come home? Why not?” He trailed up after them, his words flaming the air, and I felt myself panic about the enormity of it all, about the fact that we lived so far away now, in such a different country and culture.  We’ll come home, I thought wildly.  I’ll fly back and pack up and we’ll come back to our hill and our house and our bloody sheds.  Running up our hillThe kids tumbled down the hill, shrieking, and the rational part of my mind stood to the side, waiting for the knowledge of nothing to come home to yet to be allowed creep back in and push the emotional waves back.  We huddled together in the driveway, disarrayed and discombobulated, before getting back into the car and heading back to the busy comfort of Nuala’s house.  There were goodbyes with friends to be got through and another journey south to my sister Louise’s house.  We had tickets to a hurling match in Wexford town that we were looking forward to, and more crab-fishing in Rosslare Harbour.

The match in Wexford was something that I think the boys will remember for the rest of their lives.  We sat in the stands and roared with the crowd, willing on the men in the purple and gold, as the boys clutched their hurls and waited to take to the field at half-time.  The whistle blew and down they spilled, armies of children wielding the ash and dreaming of all-Ireland glory.  The second half began, and scores tied at full-time, the match moved into extra time.  I couldn’t hear a thing at this stage; my ears were ringing and my sides were bruised from the kids banging into me every time they jumped to their feet, yelling with delight or groaning with horror. It was end-to-end stuff, but Wexford triumphed in the end, beating Clare 2-25 to 2-22.  The spectators streamed uproariously onto the pitch, the kids clamoring for autographs.  “Sure that was the best value for a fiver ever”, said my brother, nodding at our five sons tapping the ball around in the middle of the pitch.  The match tickets are still upstairs in their bedroom, tucked away in their boxes of keepsakes.

hurling 2

We divided the rest of our time between Dublin and Wicklow, visiting aunts and uncles, and spending a day with Michael’s family on the other side of Dublin city.  It was so good to see them all again, to watch the cousins re-connect and sit in a sunny garden, eating gorgeous food and swopping stories.  A friend of Michael’s brother, Denny, drove us home in his taxi, chatting kindly about our time in Ireland while discreetly ignoring the sobs issuing from the children and the fact that I kept bursting into tears every five minutes.  “Ah sure, yiz’ll be grand”, he said reassuringly.  Halfway home, there was a squawk of horror from the seat beside me.  “I left my retainer in the kitchen”, said Benjamin, knowing that misplacing his retainer came under the heading of Worst Crime Ever.  I swore, and dialed Denny’s mobile.  “It’s here”, he announced, “we’ll get it to you some way tomorrow”.  I was looking out the front window the following day when an Army truck pulled up, and out jumped a soldier, much to my mother’s bewilderment.  She was out in the garden, watching him stride up the path, when I noticed the red retainer case in his hand.  “It’s Denny, Mam!”, I called out, mentally awarding him the award for Best-Brother-in-Law-in-the-Known-Universe.  More hugs, more tears, before he sped back to work, duty done.  I super-glued the retainer into Benjamin’s mouth.

We spent our final weekend in Brittas Bay, eight adults and thirteen children in the Tardis-like mobile home.  The older kids vanished into the wilds of the park, while the little ones played in a paddling pool on the deck and the adults talked relentlessly through the pressure of encroaching goodbyes.  We lit the outdoor fire and toasted marshmallows; played music and laughed at the kids murdering the latest chart hits.  We shooed them eventually into bed, tops and tails and tucked onto sofas.  They snuggled in, all thirteen, and the messing and talking dwindled away until the mobile was silent and the adults sat outside the sliding doors, playing cards and picking songs until the Night before the Last Night had to end and we crept in amongst the kids, re-tucking and re-positioning and finally falling asleep ourselves, bracing ourselves for an early start with them all.

Granny and grandkids at Brittas

Sunday dawned, and reality crushed the kids.  “Tomorrow?! We’re leaving tomorrow??”, as if time shouldn’t be allowed its inexorable march, as if July should have stretched out ad infinitum.  I think they hated me at that moment.  We said our goodbyes to my brother, his wife, the four kids.  Mel got into his car, stoical amid his sobbing kids, while Suzanne and I held on and cried, and the rest of them methodically packed, cleared up, cleaned and succumbed to the knowledge of the last 24 hours ticking away.  My head was already bound up in the practicalities; the packing, the weighing, the journey to the airport, the anxiety of the short layover in Toronto, the management of five children on my own.  We drove back to Dublin and time speeded up, spiralling away until I was standing in the check-in line with my mother, two trolleys of suitcases balanced precariously in front of us. “You’ll be paying a lot for extra baggage with that lot”, said the man behind us, nodding sagely and smiling.  “I have a child per suitcase”, I admitted, as they reluctantly left their cousins to come and be identified by their passports.  He looked at me with pity, and made sure to be sitting at the opposite end of the plane.  Denny and June and their children came out to the airport as well, and we sat around over coffee and cakes, making desultory conversation and watching the clock slow down to a crawl.  “It’s time”, I announced eventually, desperate now to get it all over with, for the worst to happen and then be dealt with.

We assembled them all and started the long trek to the Departure Gates, wondering how this could be worse than the first time around.  And oh God, but it was.  I don’t think I will forget holding my mother until the day I die.  The children were crying uncontrollably, as I moved from person to person and choked out meaningless platitudes and gripped on tightly.  I rounded them up and we moved through the barrier, weaving through the endless steel lines to the gate itself until we got to the last corner.  We turned and waved at them all standing against the glass, crying and holding their hands against the glass, and stepped left.  The children were completely hysterical at this stage, and a security guard came over to help us.  I stood there, holding onto them all and hushing and hushing.  “It’s ok, it’s fine, we need to calm down, it’s ok, it’s ok…..”.  “Come on now, love”, said the guard, and start shepherding us along to where an apprehensive-looking couple of staff waited for us.  I pushed them through the metal detector, one by one, and the guard at the other end cajoled them and patted them repeatedly.  “Ah sure now, you’ll be grand, you’ll be grand”, he murmured, while another woman handed them back their jumpers and tried to establish some normality.  “And where are ye headed then?” she asked me.  “Back to Canada”, I said, eyes throbbing and my throat sore from crying.  “Were ye back for long?” “A month”, I said, and all the kids burst into tears again.  It was all getting completely out of hand.  I swept them all to one side, and switched into firm-and-calm mode.  “Ok, that’s enough now, everyone.  We need to get some snacks, find our boarding gate and get it together”. The sobbing gradually dissipated, with the odd dramatic shriek thrown in by Rebecca for good measure.  On we marched, into a shop to buy treats and ignore the sidelong glances of the other customers.  The kids’ faces were all red and blotchy, and I was fairly sure that I looked like I’d been hit by a baseball bat.  But, we were departure-side now, and practicalities held sway.

We boarded late and settled into our seats, three behind three.  I rented them an iPad each, and tried not to think about the fact that I was going to be airborne shortly.  The safety routine started, and I found myself completely mesmerised by it.  I stuck my head under the seat to check for life-jackets and then leaned over Nicholas and Rebecca to get the French version in the other aisle.  Our month home had been filled with air incidents, some of them tragic beyond belief, and others involving drama but no crashes. I was the best pupil on the plane that day, firmly avoiding the fact that if the plane went down, the safety talk would be of no help whatsoever.  Rebecca had discovered the laminated safety sheet in her seat pocket, and was completely entranced by it.  “Mom!”, she hissed, pointing at the sheet.  “We need to take off our high heels if we’re going down the slide!” I promised that we would make that our priority in the event of a sea landing.  We took off, late, and started back towards our other life, which was becoming more immediate all the time.  Upcoming camps, dental appointments, hockey try-outs.  Announcements were made about impending missed connections, alternative flights, new arrangements.  We landed and I was instantly overwhelmed by it all.  We moved along in the crowd, with no idea of what came next – security? baggage? Immigration?  I still can’t remember the order in which it all happened.  We stopped again and again, fishing out all our passports, Permanent Residence cards, customs declaration forms.  We made it eventually to the vast cavern of the Baggage Hall, and stood with the other passengers, getting increasingly desperate as the luggage and the hands of the clock rolled by.  Three out of six appeared and were hauled onto trolleys.  I rang Michael to tell we were back on Canadian soil. “Will you make the connection?” he asked.  “I don’t think so.  But I have to.  I can’t stay here for hours and I can’t take all this luggage to a hotel for the night.  I. Just. Can’t“.  All my resolutions to accept whatever happened regarding the next flight went out the window.  The crowd started to dwindle and the kids started to get antsy. Rebecca was tired and cranky, insisting on trying to pull the luggage off the carousel herself.  It didn’t matter that it was twice the size of her and twice as heavy.  I sat her on top of the cases and stationed the kids at strategic intervals, ready to pounce.  A new batch rolled out, and their eyes were peeled; our cases were gratefully seized and flung onto the trolleys.

“Let’s go!” I howled, and we set off at a run, me pushing three cases and a Rebecca, and one of the boys careening through the crowd with the other.  We queued for Connections, impatiently jigging the trolleys; finally the next carousel appeared and we cast the suitcases on, trusting their fate to the Airport Gods.  On we sprinted, corridor after corridor, getting directions from everyone in a uniform, until we skidded to a halt at the end of a gigantic snake of people.  A massive electronic board announced that it was a 15 minute wait from where we were to the Security Gates.  We hadn’t a hope.  We inched forward, doom-laden, and an angel of light appeared in front of us.  He was small and portly, sporting the Air Canada logo and a busy air.  “5pm to Vancouver? Any passengers for the 5pm flight to Vancouver?”  I leapt in front of him, gazelle-like, and squeaked out our destination. “We’re on the 5.10pm to Saskatoon!” He eyed me thoughtfully, swept a glance over the kids, and glanced back at his clipboard. “Welll…..”, he said, tapping his pen.  I held my breath. The kids adopted their best Oliver expressions.  “I suppose you better come with me”, he said, still reluctant.  He twirled and headed back to Security, a Pied Piper dispensing hope in his wake.  We scurried along after him, ignoring the glowering looks from those less fortunate, and arrived at the gates.  “How many of you are there?” called out the guy at the lower gate doubtfully. “Six”, I called back, batting my eyelashes.  Resigned, he beckoned us on.  I whirled the jumpers off the kids’ waists, threw on my handbag and backpack and shoved them through the detector.  I hurried over to collect it all, and saw the backpack stashed to one side.  For f$&*s sake, what now????  “Excuse me, Ma’am, but do you have a bottle of water in your bag?” asked the official.  Officiously.  “We’re going to miss our plane!”, said Nicholas crossly.  “Yes, yes, sorry, keep it…” I gabbled, as the kids grabbed their jumpers and we started to run again.  Next obstacle, the moving escalators; I gave up hope.  Miles and miles they stretched ahead of us.  “Stay on the left and MOVE IT!”, I commanded,  and they took off, Usain Bolt-like.  I was counting out the gate numbers, hauling Rebecca along by the hand, when I realised that we were only two gates away.  “Stop!” I shrieked at the sprinters ahead.  We veered off the moving hell, and landed at our gate, sweating, dishevelled, hungry, triumphant.  “We will start boarding now”, announced the woman calmly.  “Can anyone with small children come forward now please?”  I appeared before her in .01 of a second, grinning manically and lining the kids up as proof of my entitlement.  “Oh!” she said, taken aback.  I handed over all the passports for 6,694th time since we’d left Saskatoon at the end of June, and strolled on board, texting Michael the news that we would be landing as planned.  I tucked them all into their seats, switched on their screens, ordered snacks and breathed again.  The flight was smooth, uneventful, quiet.  Rebecca descended into oblivion halfway through.  We started our descent into Saskatoon, and I watched the Prairies pass beneath me.  I hadn’t noticed the first time around how incredible they look from the air.  The fields set out in uniform grids, the die-straight roads and tiny trucks.  The sloughs winking in the sun and the approaching outskirts of the city, appearing randomly in the vast expanse of prairie. We came in low over the North End of the city, and the red roof of the children’s school blinked by.  We left the plane last, Rebecca still asleep in my arms, and walked down the corridor and stairs to Arrivals.  None of the mayhem of Toronto Airport here.  No need to stop at all, until we walked through the sliding doors and I deposited Rebecca into the waiting arms of her Daddy.  The luggage trundled out and we walked out into the balmy heat of a July evening in Saskatoon.  Home? Not really, but the nearest thing right now,

Brittas Bay beach Brittas Bay

Re-Crossing the Atlantic

25 Aug

Flying cartoon
I woke at 4.30am, with a funny feeling in my tummy and my mind racing a mile a minute.  After a hectic couple of months and some serious packing, today was the start of our trip home, and I was consumed by the practicalities of it all.  First flight at 11am from Saskatoon, seven-hour layover in Toronto, next flight at 11pm,  land at 10.40am in Ireland.  The biggest obstacle would be the seven-hour layover; a perusal of the airport in Toronto didn’t reveal any amazing kid-friendly entertainment, and the flight to Dublin wasn’t leaving till 11pm, leaving plenty of scope for cranky, tired kids and even crankier mother and grandmother.  My mother had arrived in Saskatoon at the beginning of May, and we were flying back together. She had arrived with two suitcases, and was leaving with four, so we had seven lined up, weighed and ready to go.  Elaine arrived at 9am to help ferry us all to the airport; she took one look at me and passed over a packet of Rescue Remedy pastilles.  “It’ll all be FINE!”, she said reassuringly, “you’ll have a fabulous month!”.  “I know!”, I squeaked, mentally running checklists through my head.  We bundled ourselves and the luggage into the cars, and set off for the airport.

Saskatoon airport is small and cosy.  Lots of helpful staff and no long queues.  I was practically catatonic at this stage.  We wheeled our trolleys to the desk and watched them trundle off into the bowels of the airport.  “Hand luggage?” asked the man.  I produced my backpack and handbag.  He looked at me doubtfully.  “Is that all? For all six of you?”.  “Oh, yes”, I said firmly, with memories of our last transatlantic trip burning brightly in my mind.  Kids and hand-luggage.  Disaster.  Boarding passes in hand, we headed to Tim Horton’s for the obligatory waiting-to-leave snack, and then joined the line at the security gates.  The children and my mother all said their goodbyes to Michael, who was starting to eye the exits as he saw me becoming more wild-eyed by the minute.  “Okaaaaayyyy!”, he said cheerfully.  “See you in a month, call me when you get there!”  He took a step back.  I took a step forward, clutching onto him.  “It’ll be FINE!”, he said quietly.  Dear God, the next person to say that…..   He left, trying to restrain his glee at having the house to himself for a month.  I gave him ten days before the novelty wore off.

We boarded and settled into our seats.  My mother heroically sacrificed her seat beside us to a woman whose child would have been on her own for the flight, and I settled the five children in.  Seatbelts.  Snacks.  Television screens on and earphones ready.  We took off, with them all glued to the Lego Movie, and a frenetic “Everything is awesome!” soundtrack humming through my brain.  I hate flying.  All of it.  Take-off. Landing. The bit in the middle.  Michael tried to explain how it worked to me once.  “I know how the f&*&ing thing works!”, I spat at him.  “It still doesn’t make any sense!”  I plugged in my earphones and decided to watch Gravity; I thought it would help with the “it could be much, much worse” mantra.  I only got halfway through the film.  Snacks, toilet breaks, arguments etc. – they all consume quite a lot of time when you’re stuck in a metal box thousands of feet up in thin air.  The first half was beyond crummy.  George Clooney floated off into space and Sandra Bullock did an astonishing amount of crying, gasping and grunting.  There she was, all alone in space, with a banjaxed shuttle and only herself to talk to.  I was losing the will to live.  Twenty minutes before we landed, I was reduced to picture only, as I got all the kids resettled before hitting the runway.  I had one eye on the screen and one on a semi-hysterical Nicholas, who was wailing about his ears popping, when George Clooney reappeared in the shuttle.  WHAT??!!?? He found her in the vast blackness of space????  No f*^%ing way.  The screen went blank as the plane landed, and I resolved to contact June, who’d seen the movie and said it was rubbish, and find out what had happened.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

We trooped off the plane, collecting my mother en route up the aisle, and exited into the massive terminal at Toronto, where I was supposed to be meeting my beloved friend Elfriede, with her two sons, Devin and Sebastian.  Elfriede, Fergal and the two kids lived beside us in Bree six years ago, and we hadn’t seen each other since they returned to Canada.  I couldn’t wait.  We were to meet at the Swiss Chalet, which naturally, we couldn’t find.  After some aimless circling with whining kids, I stopped into a shop to ask for directions.  “Well honey, you’re still behind security”, beamed the assistant.  “You need to exit security and go upstairs!”.  I hate the way things like this are so simple for everyone else.  As soon I walk into an airport I turn into a complete idiot.  We found our way out of the maze eventually, and rang Elfriede.  “Where are you?” she said excitedly.  “Upstairs, outside the Swiss Chalet”, I said, turning in circles and searching the crowds.  “Oh, I’m downstairs waiting for you outside Arrivals!”.  “Well, shit, I have no idea where that is!  Can you come upstairs?”  “I don’t know, am I allowed?”  I looked around again; surely these people were all just part of the general public? As opposed to actual travellers?  I walked over to two security guards nearby, babbling about our predicament; they assured me that we had managed to exit security and were safely among the great unwashed.  “You can definitely come up. Stairs are right beside us”, I told Elfriede, as I took up a position with a clear view of the escalator.  People came and went.  No sign of her.  I whirled around a couple of times in case she was planning a ninja attack. Nada. On the third whirlaround, I spot her, clad in an Irish flag and wearing a huge green leprechaun hat, with her two beautiful sons trailing beside her, suitably mortified. “Barbara!” she shrieked, and started to run.  “Elfriede!”, I yelled, and set off towards her.  The entire airport transformed itself into a slow-motion movie.  We leapt, gazelle-like, towards each other, shrieking at a pitch that only dogs could hear, and collapsed, weeping, into each other’s arms.  Our kids stood by, astounded and horrified in equal measure.  We did that whole sobbing, squealing, patting thing for a couple of minutes, and then disentangled ourselves to re-introduce the kids to each other.  They mumbled awkward hellos, looking at the ground.  “Benjamin, Devin, don’t you remember each other?” I asked, remembering when they had been thick as thieves.  “Not really”, they confessed.  Six years is a long time for a child, I suppose.  Thankfully, the usual herd mentality of children kicked in, and within two minutes they were sprinting gleefully into the Swiss Chalet for food, perusing the menu and debating the merits of various flavours of pop.  Even root beer.  Which tastes exactly like cough medicine.  Vile stuff.  Our fabulous waiter arrived, completely undaunted by the prospect of seven kids and three adults, and we sat, ate, chatted and laughed.  Six years disappeared in the blink of an eye.  We’re knit from the same cloth, Elfriede and I, and those few hours with her and the boys at the airport were such a gift.  DSCN0176

We sat around the terminal for a while, with the kids playing catch with the insides of the Kinder eggs they got for dessert, and their mothers trying to cram all the essential stories into our compressed time together.  As the minutes moved by, the prospect of saying goodbye for another few years began to creep into the edges of the conversation.  Toronto is so far from Saskatoon; it’s not like we can drop in for a cup of tea and a chat.  I might as well be in Ireland as Saskatchewan.  The children reluctantly finished their game, and we walked to the parking lot exit; the children were crying and Elfriede and I were trying to console them while struggling with our goodbyes.  “You’re just going to cry for the whole month in Ireland”, she said, smiling through the tears.  “I know,” I said, “this is just the start of it”.  And so she went.  Please God it won’t be six years till we see each other again.  We need to do a road trip and meet halfway.  That’s only about a thousand miles each.

A Toronto Reunion

A Toronto Reunion

With another four hours of boredom stretching out in front of us, we managed to find a deserted play area for smaller children, and off they went, hurdling big foam cushions and playing tag, while my mother and I sat on hard chairs, deflated and willing 11pm to roll around.  With about two hours to go, we set off for the boarding gates and managed to miss them completely.  On and on we trudged, looking for the Air Canada desks, when finally, like a beacon in the night, the red maple leaf appeared before us, and we entered through the sliding doors.  It was all blocked off.  A security guard waved us over, and redirected us all the way back as far the play area.  The kids were united in sullen mutiny at this stage, and my mother was fit to drop with tiredness.  Back we went, gritting our teeth, and finally entered the security area, where lines of people were waiting for their turn to go through.  We made to the top eventually, to be met by a ridiculously tall security guard, who beamed at us from a great height. “Well now”, he boomed, “Look at all of you!  Five children…. and you must be the littlest”, bending down to Rebecca.  She simpered.  “And the cutest”, he chuckled. “I was much cuter in my passport photo”, she confided.  “Mom! Show him!”.  I looked down at her and realised that this was not a battle that I would win at this juncture of the trip.  “Mom!”  I fumbled with the six passports and managed to extricate hers.  “See?”, said the world’s Most Precocious Child.  The guard looked at it solemnly, then back at her.  “You’re right.  You were even cuter then!”  More simpering.  Eye-rolling from her siblings.  We moved on through, shepherding the kids through the metal detector and finally collapsing into seats at the boarding gate.   There were trips to the washroom and more snacks and drinks consumed.  Eventually, the tannoy bing-bonged, and the infuriatingly chirpy woman at the desk invited us all to board.  We shuffled tiredly into the endless queue.  “I need to POO!” announced Rebecca, temporarily misplacing her volume control button.  Smiles from the people around us.  I groaned.  All the way back to the washroom, backpack, handbag, blah blah blah….. “Ok”, I said wearily, and turned to go.  “Oh wait!”, she said, with a look of fierce concentration on her face.  “It’s ok, it was only a fart!”  The other passengers muffled their snorts of laughter and pretended not to be listening.  We climbed on board, found our seats and arranged ourselves.  “Now, everyone is to sleep!” I said, with Nicholas and Rebecca on either side of me and Christopher, Isabel and Benjamin in the row in front.  My mother was sitting behind me, wrecked.  We sat on the runway for an hour, without any explanation, and finally took off at midnight.  Rebecca and Nicholas fell asleep on top of me, pinning me to my seat.  Nobody else slept.  I shuffled out from under starfish bodies and rearranged myself into the aisle seat. The trolleys trundled endlessly up and down the aisles, with me and my mother constantly having to shuffle the children’s heads/feets/hands out of the way.  Dinner arrived.  I pulled down my minuscule tray and dealt with all the meals in turn, peeling off the plastic and passing the trays around.  The kids picked their way through the bits they wanted, passing the rejected food groups back to me.  I had a teetering stack of apple and celery salads and all the plastic knives.  There was a meal, a snack, endless drinks, garbage runs, toilet trips, constant consolation of frustrated, exhausted children and a complete inability to switch off and get some sleep.  I had no idea what time it was anymore and how much of the flight was left.  “I’m never doing a night flight again!” howled Benjamin, as he tried to make himself comfortable for the 168th time.  “Me neither”, I agreed, pushing his head back in from hanging over the aisle.

All things pass, however, even interminable flights, and we staggered off the plane in Dublin, to see a huge queue stretching in front of us.  My mother stepped niftily to the side, smiling at the man holding open the barrier.  “Where on earth is she going?”, I wondered foggily, clutching Rebecca’s hand while my mother beckoned us over.  “You have Irish passports!”, she said, and just like that, the world became a better place.  We sidled through the barrier, and walked past the five thousand other non-Irish people that we had shared the flight with.  “This rocks!” said Christopher gleefully, as we arrived up to an exceptionally cheery security guard.  “How’re yis?” he said, grinning.  “Have ye brought a whole soccer team with ye?”  Oh God, he was the most blissfully Irish Irishman I’d seen in a long time.  I flung the passports at him, and grinned inanely as he called out the names like a roll-call.  The kids skipped through on cue, and my phone started exploding with messages.  “Where are you? have you landed yet? We’re right outside Arrivals!!”  “Baggage”, I texted back.  “Seven cases. 1 down. 6 to go”.  “OMG!”  “2 down.  No, 3.” “Hurry up!” “5 down, just 2 left”  “JUST LEAVE THEM!”  Eh, no.  The kids hauled them off one by one, all memories of the flight wiped out by the excitement of seeing the Other Side.  We piled them up and set off, watching those double doors glide open for us, and seeing rows of expectant faces scanning the people emerging.  There they were, Liz, Louise, Keith and baby George, who had been only 1 when we left and was now going to turn 3 the following week.  More tears, more hugs, more squeals.  We were home, and a whole month of reunions lay ahead of us.

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.

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….

Image     Image

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.  


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.

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.

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.

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.







Jeff Christopher 6


Jeff Christopher 5


Jeff Christopher 4


Jeff Christopher 3


Jeff Christopher 2


Jeff Isabel on the ice


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


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.