A Second Christmas….

16 Dec

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

Santa at the MallRebecca Roughriders

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

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

Pre-Game Focus

Pre-Game Focus

Ready for the Game

Ready for the Game

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

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



SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--

Matching Hair and Teeth

Matching Hair and Teeth

Rebecca in Merle Norman

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


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

Saskatchewan is Bleeding Green

22 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca in the snow

In Remembrance

10 Nov

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

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

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

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

When you walk through a storm

hold your head up high

and don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

and the sweet silver song of the lark.

Walk on, through the wind

Walk on, through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart

and you’ll never walk alone.

You’ll never walk alone.

Sean Fitzpatrick 1943 – 1997

Thanks for the memories

All my love, always

The geese are flying south….

11 Oct

Well, most of them are.  The one hundred and five that were shot by a friend of ours earlier on this week are not, sadly.  Instead they’ll be making their way into the pot.  I was standing in the changing room of the ice-rink on Tuesday evening, hauling the boys out of their gear, when one of the other dads passed on this fact while we were chatting about the previous weekend.  I was a bit ….flabbergasted, I suppose. He’s so nice, and great fun to swop stories with while we’re freezing our asses off at hockey practice.  I never expect people I know to spend their weekends shooting things.  “You shot 105 birds?”, I repeated blankly. “Like, geese?” “Oh yep, geese, ducks – gonna make them into sausage now”.  I think he misinterpreted the look on my face as “wow, that’s sounds great!”, and the next part of the conversation moved into an enthusiastic “Hey, I’ll take the boys shooting with me next time! What do you think, lads? Will we go hunting?”  Well.  There’s not really any right answer here, is there?  “NO, you bloodthirsty, homicidal maniac!”?  “Sounds great! Bring on Bambi!”? “I’d rather go club a seal, thanks”?  I still find the whole hunting thing kind of alarming.  A casual “so how was your weekend?” can invite blow-by-blow details of butchering a moose in the garage.  It’s such a normal part of life here, and everyone uses the meat in various ways (and they are very generous in doling it out to friends and neighbours).  Maybe I need to just get me a gun.

Rebecca spent Wednesday with Elaine, who arrived over from Ireland at the start of the summer, and who kindly offered to have the ears talked off her for the day while I was doing another photo-shoot for the Star Phoenix.  When I got back (in full war-paint), we were sitting chatting at the kitchen table for a while.  Some of the stories that people have about their experience in Canada are so funny.  A child in her daughter’s class wanted a playdate, so Elaine rang her mother and arranged it.  When pick-up arrived, the mother appeared at the door, eyeing Elaine with some trepidation.  “Hi, I’m Elaine!”, said Elaine brightly, shaking her hand.  “So….do you speak English?” asked the mother doubtfully.  Elaine regarded her thoughtfully.  Wasn’t she speaking in English now? and during the phone call earlier?  “I’m from Ireland”, she said helpfully.  “English is our first language”.  The mother didn’t seem reassured by this.  Maybe it’s the Irish accent?

In other (posh) news of the week, we got two new cars to replace the elderly and faintly decrepit vehicles that have stood us in such good stead since we arrived.  We purchased two Nissan Quests, courtesy of the bank manager, and I’m still trying to work out what half of the controls do,  It’s pronounced Nee-san over here, by the way.  They’re 2004 and 2007; one is fairly standard and the other is fully loaded.  Leather interior, heated seats, glass roof panels, sunroof, DVD player, power doors and boot.  “Which one do you want?” asked Michael. HA! As if he was going to be the one swanning to work in the bells-and-whistles one.  I drove through the city the other night with all of the kids watching Harry Potter and listening with their earphones,  Blissful, blissful silence.  Just the radio playing for me, and the occasional group sigh or laughter from the back.  I love it.

This week has been consumed by ice-hockey practice, Girl Guides, Beavers, ballet, a trip to the Blades game at the Credit Union Centre, and a ton of appointments for the Beautiful You program.  The photo-shoot on Wednesday took place in the gym, so once I was suitably coiffed and made-up, I headed over to Fitness for 10 on Eighth Street to change into my gorgeous outfit and funky red boots.  I felt utterly ridiculous in the changing rooms; shimmying into tight leggings and flowy top, putting on a jacket and colourful scarf, checking my make-up in the mirror.  I was sure that the other women getting changed were thinking “who on earth is yer wan? All dolled up for a workout?!”  “Where did you get those boots?” asked one of the women.  “They’re fabulous!” “Oh, Durands”, I said casually, as if I shopped there all the time.  “What brand are they?” another asked.  Shit.  I had to go and root out the box, which kind of spoiled the effect.  “Are you Barb?” said the first woman.  “I’ve heard all about you!” Well, at least it explained my get-up I suppose.  I went outside to pose and smile, and then it was time to pose on the machines.  “Where are your runners?” asked Amanda (my personal trainer 🙂 love saying that).  I hadn’t brought any with me, so she gave me her colourful, funky pair.  I can’t take any credit for how good my feet looked in them.  Greater love hath no personal trainer….

Jeff leapt around with the camera, issuing instructions and making sure he got some photos that would make me cringe when I saw them.  He has the worst fake Irish accent ever, that he apparently picked up from the Lucky Charms commercial.  I did have to clarify that Hobbits are not Irish, as he seemed to labouring under some strange delusions regarding Irish folklore.  He’s a bundle of kinetic energy, terrible jokes and funny stories.  I’m starting to get used to being photographed all the time, though a lot of the photos I’ve seen will never ever see the light of day if I can help it.  It’s finally dawned on me that I can’t scowl, frown, or glare at Jeff without being caught on camera.  I spent Thursday morning at the opticians with Kim and Jeff, trying out contact lenses for the first time.  Epic fail.  I just couldn’t do it.  I’m really squeamish about eyes, and the whole process of lifting the top lid, pulling down the bottom lid and sticking the lens in just defeated me.  I kept trying, failing, cursing, trying, thinking it was in, looking down and seeing it on the counter, cursing again…..Kim had endless patience.  Even Jeff stopped taking the piss and started some positive reinforcement – “Ooh, you nearly had it that time!  So close!”.  Kim decided to show me how she does hers.  She reached into one eye, kind of grabbed the lens and folded it up and then put it back in again, rolling her eye to get it into place.  Oh God.  I felt sick and my legs felt funny.  We abandoned it after about 20 minutes, and decided to try again another day.  This is me at the almost-giving-up point.

SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--

I took Nicholas and Rebecca to the Open Night at the Diefenbaker Fire Hall on Wednesday night as part of a Beavers trip.  Lots of hunky fireman and shiny red engines.  There were people dispensing chili, hot dogs and hot chocolate, and another table giving out fire helmets, stickers and tattoos.  They had a mini-house up on a trailer, showing a kitchen.  A small fire was started in the kitchen (a chip-pan, I think?) and eventually the whole lot went up in flames.  Cue the arrival of the firefights, all decked out in their breathing apparatus and gear, and the fire was extinguished.  The kids were thrilled.  I’m not sure which was more exciting; the fire or the power hoses, but it certainly got the attention of everyone.  Nothing like a good Burning Down the House on a cold evening.  Nicholas also started Science Saturdays at the University of Saskatchewan at the weekend.  We sat in a lecture theatre with all of the other kids, and listened to the rules of Sci-Fi Saturdays.  The most important one seemed to be the ban on playing with the hot glue guns or soldering irons; apparently this will lead to an instant sending-home.

Rebecca has acquired a boyfriend.  His name is Luke, and he’s five.  His mother Niamh arrived in Saskatoon at the beginning of the summer, and an instant attraction was born.  They both have extraordinarily vivid imaginations, a bossy nature, and the ability to talk until your ears bleed, so it seems to be a match made in Heaven so far.  Rebecca shared her treat with Luke last week, announcing that this was because “me and Luke are lovebirds”.  Michael is prepping the shotgun.  Niamh heroically offered to look after Rebecca on Thursday while I wrestled with the contact lenses, and the love affair showed no signs of abating.  They “helped” Niamh to make a chocolate cake, visited the playground hand-in-hand, and said mournful goodbyes when we left.  We’re fairly confident that the next visit will involve some fighting, sulking and “never speaking” to each other again moments.

The latest article and blog in the Star Phoenix appeared this week, so here are the links for anyone who might be interested in how unrecognisable I’m becoming:



These are some of the (unedited) photos from Wednesday:

giving it socks

giving it socks

SASKATOON, SK--/April30/2013--

does my bum look big like this?

I’m faking that first face.  Honest.  And Amanda wasn’t really going to punch me.

It’s Thanksgiving on Monday, and so far we’re are completely unprepared and have no plans.  I was determined that we would make an occasion of it this year, as it passed us by last year, so I think I’ll send Michael out to shoot a turkey and harvest a pumpkin.  Sorted.

A Trip to the ER (and George Clooney was nowhere in sight….)

25 Sep

I’m ill.  Not as ill as I was on Monday, but ill enough to be grumpy and tired and wanting to stay in bed all day.  Benjamin had strep throat last week and decided to share his germs among us.  While he spent two days off school (and the second day he bounced around the house, full of the joys of spring), his ageing mother was run over and flattened by the strep juggernaut.  I started feeling bad on Sunday night, all aches and pains and a sore throat.  I hobbled up to bed, and spent the night shivering and roasting and tossing and turning with the pain.  Michael got up to take my temperature, and stuck a fan beside the bed to cool me down.  Now I know how irritating I am when the kids are sick and want to be tucked in.  I kept pulling the duvet back over me and he kept taking it off again – “you have a temperature!” – until I wanted to kill him.  Except I didn’t have the energy.  I crawled out of bed on Monday morning, packed the kids off to school and headed to the doctor with Nicholas, who also had a sore throat.   45 minutes of sitting in the waiting room finished me off.  By the time we got to the doctor’s office, I was a shivery achey mess.  She examined Nicholas, decided to do a throat swab, and eventually had to call a nurse to help her hold him still on the bed.  He was gagging and complaining and I was longing to lie down for a week in a dark room.  Ten minutes later, I was all tucked up, under hot sheets (that the nurse had kindly warmed up in the microwave), full of paracetemol, waiting for a phlebotomist to come and take bloods.  Nicholas had assumed the role of Keeper of the Handbag, and was busy sneaking chewing gum out of it at every opportunity.  Michael had to leave work to come and collect me, and I crawled back into bed feeling very sorry for myself.

I’m sure it’s the same in most houses, but the impact of the woman of the house being sick and the impact of the man of the house having to take to his bed are entirely different things.  He gets sick, goes to bed, takes his medicine and has his meals handed to him. Everything in the house continues as normal.  She gets ill, and the house falls down around her ears.  Nobody can find anything.  Everyone eats random items out of the fridge.  The floors get crunchy underfoot and the bedrooms resemble bomb sites within half a day. The laundry….well….there are no words.

The kids wandered in and out, looking for help with their maths homework, for forms to be signed, for suggestions for food.  Michael started cooking the dinner, and arrived up to see if I wanted anything to eat.  At this stage, I was practically catatonic in the bed, and so off to the Emergency Room we went, with Eddie and Kelly kindly sacrificing their evening (and sanity) to mind the kids and get them off to bed.  I was feeling so unbelievably awful at that stage that I didn’t give a hoot about anything except lying down again, so the fact that I was sitting in a wheelchair, with my mouth open, my eyes closed and my hair all over my face, intermittently keening and occasionally retching into a bowl, didn’t bother me at all at the time.  Now, I look back and hope to God that nobody there will ever see me again and think “there’s that woman that was mooing like a cow in the ER that night. And she wasn’t even wearing a bra!”.

I was wheeled off to a bed, covered with mountains of blankets (bliss), and hooked up to a drip (urgh). I could hear doctors talking to Michael, but I wasn’t really able to speak, and so I just curled up with the drip, the pulse thing, the oxygen mask, the blood pressure cuff, and tried to go into a nice peaceful coma (which is difficult when you can’t turn over without getting tangled up in all the wires).  Not that there’s anything peaceful about the ER in any hospital. Doctors were discussing all the various cases, and there was a dispute going on as to whether some man was having a heart attack or not.  The woman beside me was elderly, I think, and her daughter was looking after her.  She was so calm, and her mother was obviously agitated, because she kept pulling off all her ECG wires, and sliding down the bed.  It all became a background soundtrack and I drifted off into a semi-aware state, morphined up to the eyeballs and toasty warm. Every so often someone would arrive to ask me questions.  The kind of questions they ask to make sure that some weird virus isn’t frying your brain. “Hey Barb, do you know where you are?” “The hospital”, I’d slur.  “Which hospital?” “The Royal University Hospital”.  Seriously, what a mouthful when you’re sick. Thank God they didn’t start asking me questions about Canadian trivia.  I’d have been carted straight off to neurology.  The doctor came back to talk to Michael again about tests that I’d had that morning in the doctor’s office.  “She had a swab for strep throat and blood tests for West Nile Virus”, said MIchael, “which were sent here to the hospital”.  I struggled into consciousness.  “Regina”, I whispered.  They turned to look at me.  “Regina“, I said again, starting to feel cranky that they weren’t understanding me.  Michael nearly had a heart attack.  “Oh my God!”, he said, “she thinks we’re in Regina!”  Thankfully, the doctor had belatedly realised what I meant, and rushed to reassure him that I hadn’t started losing my mind.  “The tests for West Nile Virus go to Regina”, he said.  I decided it would be safer not to offer any more helpful remarks.

It’s amazing what being rehydrated and shot full of morphine can do for a person.  After being wheeled in looking like a saggy bag of limbs and hair, I managed to walk out of the ER five hours later, still feeling awful but well enough to realise that I must have been really ill to have left my bra at home.  At the time, the thought of having to manoeuvre my way into it was enough to kill me. I got into my own bed, put my head onto my own pillow, and slept all night.  Two days later, I’m still not right, but I’m hoping the weekend will bring a new me – no more germs, all-day pyjamas, unwashed hair and general sickie-ness.  The Canadian health service is great, but I don’t really need any more close-ups of it.


Royal University Hospital Saskatoon


15 Sep

“Football’s not a matter of life and death….it’s more important than that” – all of you nodding sagely along with Bill Shankly’s famous quote have obviously never come into contact with the world of ice hockey.  Or just plain hockey, as it’s called here in Canada, because clearly no other kind of hockey exists, or matters in any way.  Hockey is like a religion over here; it’s deeply embedded in the DNA of most Canadians, and Christopher and Benjamin have decided that this is the sport they want to have a go at this year.  So, we registered them, got them kitted out, and waited to hear about the tryouts.  Kitting them out is not as simple as the phrase might suggest.  It was up there with school supplies shopping.  I don’t think astronauts have to don as much gear as someone venturing onto the ice with a hockey stick.  They needed helmets (with cages), mouth guards and neck guards.  Their chests, shoulders and upper arms are encased in a padded vest thingy, and they need elbow pads as well.  They wear shorts with a cup, and padded hockey pants.  Underneath these are massive shin guards and over these go huge hockey socks (which are held up by the velcro on the jockey shorts).  Their gloves look like something a boxer would wear.  They need skates, a hockey stick, and a gigantic bag to keep the whole ensemble together.


I got the email about tryouts last week.  I don’t know exactly what I’d envisioned, but I thought we’d toddle along to a rink for an hour and the coaches would divide them into the three different tiers with their league.  Christopher and Benjamin are playing with the Atom league, and the tiers run from 1 (the best in the age group) down to 3.  God forbid that tryouts would be that casual or flippant.  It’s like a full-scale military operation.  Their tryouts were to take place on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning – 75 minutes each time.  The 75 minutes doesn’t take into account the previous 60 minutes of trying to help them into all the gear, and the subsequent 20 minutes of hauling them out of it again.  This is tortuous.  I spent forty-two years biting my nails, and finally had my first manicure ever last week, only to realise that pretty nails are not an asset when trying to lace up and unlace the bloody skates.  I can’t believe that no-one has invented an alternative to laces yet.  They have to be tightened bit by bit all the way to the top and then loosened all the way down again.  The laces are hard and rough and then wet and cold when it comes to taking them off.  I hate them.

So, on Friday evening we started the whole process.  Michael and I helped them into all the gear, loaded their bags into the van, and off we went to the rink, which is right behind Costco, and which, apparently, I “couldn’t miss”.  Canadians are such an optimistic race.  Round and round we drove, until I eventually pulled into a gas station and headed inside to ask for directions.  There were six men at the counter.  Six. And they all looked at me blankly when I asked them where the ice rink might be found.  Off I went again, into a nearby Subway, where a very enthusiastic Riders fan sent me back up the street with instructions to turn left and then right.  I found myself driving around the huge car park of the Credit Union Centre, with no ice rink in sight.  We finally spotted a lone truck driver at the far end of the lot, and he redirected us to the rink, which might as well have had an invisibility cloak tossed over it for all the notice the locals take.  It was packed.  We battled our way through the doors with the bags and into a jammed locker room, which was stuffed with padded kids and sweating parents on their knees, trying to lace up their damn skates.  Fathers were issuing advice, none of which I understood, and the atmosphere was loaded with nervous excitement.  Their time came, and the doors to the rink swung open; off they glided on to the ice, where black-clothed referees and coaches were circling nonchalantly, clutching cups of coffee and making skating look like the easiest thing on earth.

Now, I know that the term “ice-rink” should have been a clue, but I almost died of hypothermia sitting on the benches and watching the drills.  My breath was frosting in front of me, and I couldn’t feel most of my limbs after the first thirty minutes.   I took the occasional stroll outside to warm up (it had been 30 degrees all day) and then returned to see what horrors the next drill held.  Some of the kids were amazing; they knew all the drills and were completely at home on the ice.  Every time a new drill started, the coaches would send them off first to show the rest what needed to be done.  Christopher and Benjamin managed fairly well until about the fourth drill in.  They were supposed to skate all the way to the end of the rink, then skate backwards towards us again, then skate to the end while dropping repeatedly onto one knee, and finally back to us again while jumping over the markings with both feet.   They started well, got to the other end of the rink, and then couldn’t get the hang of going backwards.  It was painful to watch.  One by one, the other kids passed them, while my sorry-looking pair floundered on the same three feet of ice, going nowhere fast.  One of the coaches came to their rescue, and showed them how to carve large semi-circles in the ice, while waggling their hips.  They struggled to the end, and then attempted the bending of the knees bit.  I was drinking my tears laughing at this stage.  They knelt, fell over, pirouetted inelegantly, got up, tried again, same thing…..got to the end, turned, and came back towards me, jumping with two feet, splatting onto the ice, scrambling up, same thing again….

Eventually one of the coaches couldn’t take it any more, and took them aside to show them how to stop, and how to skate backwards.  They learnt more in thirty minutes than they had all winter on the rink beside us.  The session ended, we spent twenty minutes back in the smelly changing rooms, and headed home to get some sleep before Round 2.   The next session was where they evaluated the drills; this time around they managed to do them all without making a show of themselves, and the afternoon session was a scrimmage game.  They were divided into two teams and played two 30 minute games.  This was great to watch – the five players on the ice changed over every couple of minutes, and the rink was full of whirling figures in red and green jerseys.  The referee circled constantly, while the evaluators watched from the bench.  The last session, another scrimmage game, was this morning, and the teams will be announced this evening.  I don’t know how good a fist we’ll make of being hockey parents, but we’ll try it out for this year, and learn the rules as we go along.

In other news of the week, I’m down 20 pounds since last Tuesday, and had my first photo-shoot the same day.  More about the photo-shoot later – what an amazing day :-). The first article in the Star Phoenix appeared yesterday, and the blog that I’m writing about this experience also appeared.  Here’s the links:



As the seasons turn

7 Sep

and we bask in thirty degrees of sunshine, it’s hard to believe that it’s already back-to-school time for the children. The first day back in September always seems unimaginable at the beginning of the summer holidays; that arrival home at the end of June with schoolbags, lost property, portfolios and end-of-term goodies holds such promise within it. The golden days of summer stretch ahead, each one shimmering with the prospect of new adventures, lazy mornings and outdoor living. Even as July ticked by and August stealthily moved in, the imminence of September was steadfastly ignored. The evenings are drawing in now, and the leaves are turning and dropping, and last week the prospect of returning to school started to glow with its own excitement. Once the hell of shopping for school supplies is done, and all the bags are packed and ready to go, the anticipation of a new school year carries an intrinsic appeal. There’s just something about all those fresh copies and new pencils, the pristine binders and new crayons, the snowy-white erasers and labelled calculators; all the thrills of a new teacher, a new classroom, a new year of making friends and learning new things. Christopher and Isabel moved into Grade 5, with Benjamin in Grade 4 and Nicholas in Grade 2. They weren’t the new kids anymore; the rooms, teachers, school rules, morning rituals are all old hat now, and I’m so grateful not to have to go through that period of transition again. With any luck, there will be fewer phone calls home from teachers and less of the heart-sinking “what have they done now?” moments.

As we head into Fall, it’s disconcerting to realise that we’ve done all this before; the registration for community classes and sports, the Halloween gear arriving into the shops, the balmy autumn evenings and navy skies. It’s really brought home to us that we’ve come full cycle now – a year here and all four seasons been and gone again. We’ve had our winter, and know that it might be long, cold and white, but we will get through it and maybe this year get to do some of the things we didn’t get around to last year – cross-country skiiing, downhill skiiing, ice-fishing and speed-skating. I’m buying either snow-pants or longjohns for myself this time round.

The Beautiful You makeover is in full swing now. I spent Thursday trying on trendy outfits and fabulous shoes for the photo-shoot next week. I haven’t a grey hair left in my head since Wednesday’s visit with the fabulous Joy, and I’m booked in for my very first manicure ever on Monday. Rebecca came with me to the hairdressing salon, and spent most of the time eating chocolates and mandarins, while providing a running commentary on the state of my hair. “It’s blue now”, she announced at the beginning, to be followed by “now it’s yellow and black” while the colour was being washed out. I had a vision of looking like a wasp in my mind; dirty blonde is the final result. Every time I catch sight of myself in a mirror, I’m momentarily taken aback.

The last hurrah of summer was the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival downtown last weekend. One side of the river was devoted to kids’ activities and sports, while the other side focused on dancing and music. The kids were decked out in Canadian Football t-shirts, and Warren the Balloon Man weaved his magic; Isabel and Nicholas sported incredible dragon hats, and Rebecca indulged her violent side with a sword and sheath. Christopher and Benjamin spent most of the time doing the football circuit – throw the ball, complete the obstacle course, run for the line (while looking over your shoulder) and catch the ball again, with the occasional full-length thump onto the ground to add some drama. The guys organising it were eyeing them up as potential recruits, and I was all ready with my refusal when the kids arrived over to ask if they could add it to the list of sports they want to play this year. So far, they want to swim, play hockey, play soccer, play football, play basketball and do track and field. I’ve explained that there are only two parents, and seven days in the week, so we’ve settled on ice-hockey. Nicholas has enrolled in Science Saturdays at the University of Saskatoon, and will be joining the Beavers division of the Boy Scouts next week. Isabel will be back at Girl Guides, and Rebecca at ballet, so the usual whirlwind of activities is ahead of us.


The evening ended with fire-dancing and the fireworks display. Amy, Rebecca’s playschool teacher, was one of the fire-spinners; there were four of them, spinning and dancing in front of a mesmerised crowd. It was brilliant. The fireworks lit up the sky while the music pounded beside us. We crossed the bridge home at about 11pm, lighting up all around us with our flashing lights and flashing balloons. There’s something magical at being out at that hour of the night with a crowd of people – the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, with people sitting around on their deckchairs at the side of the river, waiting for the show to begin. Niamh and her son Luke joined us, and Rebecca and Luke spent most of the time holding hands and having earnest conversations about Pitch from The Rise of the Guardians. Pitch, or the Bogey Man, is Rebecca’s favourite excuse at the moment for sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night, pleading nightmares.

We foolishly waited until the last week of summer to go to the outdoor swimming pools. There are loonie and toonie swims every evening at the pools (one dollar and two dollar), and we went to the Riversdale Pool with our picnic rug and towels. It was bliss to get into cold water. Donna and Daria and their children were there, so the kids gleefully hit the water and the slide. June and Kelly and James arrived then, and there was some competitive handstanding underwater going on. Kelly won. By a mile. June kept her dignity, and I was somewhat lacking in grace. We might try synchronized swimming next. When we arrived first, I disrobed and started walking to the pool in my togs, which felt weird. “What’s wrong with my togs?” I hissed at Michael. “What do you mean?” he hissed back, eyeing me up and down. “They don’t feel right! Are you sure there isn’t a rip in the back of them?” I had a vision of me sauntering along with my ass hanging out. He looked again. “No, they’re grand!” he said. “Well, they just feel funny,” I grumbled. He leaned towards me. “They’re too big for you now”, he pointed out. Woo-hoo 🙂

June’s mother arrived this week, bearing gifts of Tayto and chocolate. The photo on Facebook instilled a desperate yearning in me for an Irish visitor, but I’m not sure whether that’s a yen to see someone, or a desire to have a temporary crash-and-burn off this diet. I can’t believe I haven’t had a bar of Dairy Milk for almost five weeks. Roll on Christmas….

fireworks festival