Friday, April 24, 2015

Turn Your Head

Have I ever shown you these pictures? I came across them today when I was looking for some other pictures and I've decided that I'm going to frame them and hang them somewhere before I lose them again. Someday my grandkids will come to visit and wonder why I have a couple of grainy, overexposed photographs that were clearly taken with a crappy disposable camera up on my wall where their pictures should be. They'll ask, "Grandma, who's that band? Were they your favourite or something?"

And I'll say, "Those aren't pictures of a band; those are pictures of your grandpa and me. I'm on the top, he's the bottom one."

They'll do the obvious thing and try to pick me and Barclay out of the lineup on the stage. They'll point at the fiddle player, the only woman, and ask, "Is that you?"

I'll say no, and that'll really throw them.

They'll ask which one is Barclay, and I'll tell them that he's not up there either. So then I guess they'll start looking in the corners of the picture and under the stage, like it's a real-life Where's Waldo puzzle, but they won't find any people other than the ones on the stage holding instruments.

So they'll look at me like I'm crazy, and maybe I will be by then; who knows? But I'll just smile and say, "We're the ones behind the cameras."

Growing up, my family went to a jamboree in the Frenchman River Valley every year (we literally did not miss a single year). Maybe that's where my intense love for live music was born. My mom was on the committee in charge of booking the artists and organizing the food and it was this weekend-long thing where people would come from all over to camp and sit outside listening to days of live music.

I was from a really small town, technically a village, which was surrounded by a bunch of other really small towns, also technically villages. All the kids within a two hour radius knew each other from the jamboree and from the week-long camp which ran out of the same site just a couple of weeks afterward. It was the highlight of my year, every year. I had a bunch of friendships which only existed on phone lines except for those two weeks.

Anyway, it was set up so that the acts during the day were geared towards the adults and at night there was a stage with the 'louder' music. For those crazy teenagers, obviously.

That was how Barclay ended up at my jamboree one year, when I was 14 and he was 16. He had travelled down to my corner of the province in his junky old tour van with his buddies and was playing bass in one of the loud teenager bands. I was one of the loud teenagers in the front row screaming my face off, as all good loud teenagers should. At some point that weekend, we were both at the main stage at the same time and we both took a picture of the same band. Who could've known then that ten years later we'd be sitting in our living room together looking at each others' photo albums (look at your clothes! I didn't know you had a mohawk. Where was this taken? Who's that... Oh! It's you!), and we'd come across our matching pictures and realize that if we'd just glanced over during the final chorus of No You No Me we'd have seen...each other.

I've often wondered what would've happened if we'd met that weekend. If we'd looked over and noticed each other, if he'd come over to say hi and ask for my number the way he was going to the next time we saw each other. If we'd exchanged email addresses before he got back in his van and drove off, back to Regina where he'd stay until I moved there as an adult years later.

Who knows? And, with the way things have turned out, who even cares? We clearly have a best-case scenario here. I wouldn't want to mess with that, especially knowing the success rate of high school romances. Besides, 14 year-old me was strange, and that's being really generous. Maybe Barclay wouldn't have liked her so much. Maybe I should be thankful that the little weirdo kept her eyes to herself and didn't ruin my entire future.

But I still really love these pictures. They're very talkative. They say lots of things to me, like, "What if?" and "Isn't that funny?" and "Make sure you keep your eyes open." They remind me that Barclay existed in the world before he came into mine, they point out that we had a few things in common even when we were young and weird, and they yell back in time to a couple of completely oblivious teenagers, "Turn your head!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Sullivan and I went to the mall to ride the escalators the other day. He'd never really ridden one before - when we go to the mall he's usually in the stroller so we have to take the elevator in the Bay to get to the second level - so it was a pretty huge deal for him. A novelty.

(I grew up on a farm, four and a half hours from the nearest escalator, so I can relate to this.)

We got there at 8:30 am. The mall doors were open but the stores in the mall never open until 9:30 so the building was pretty empty, save for bleary-eyed mall employees heading to their respective shops, swinging key-heavy lanyards and clutching Starbucks cups. The escalators were all ours. Sullivan would grab my fingers and I'd swing him up onto the moving steps. He'd make all kinds of exclamations, pointing and laughing, and at the top I'd swing him off again. The baby equivalent of a carnival ride.

We'd only been there for about fifteen minutes when we met the woman. She was a short, old lady with a heavy accent - I learned that she was from Manilla - and a very friendly smile. She asked what we were doing at the mall so early in the morning and I said that we were there to ride the escalators. She said she was there to walk as well - it was too windy outside - and to make friends.

We were the only ones around, so I suppose we were It. We had nowhere we had to be, just the first floor and the second floor and the first floor again, so that was fine with me.

She asked how old Sullivan was and what he liked to do besides ride escalators. I told her that he was one and that he really liked books and the swing at the park. I asked her how often she came to the mall and she said she came every morning, if it wasn't nice enough to walk outside. She asked where I was from originally and I told her I grew up on a farm in southern Saskatchewan. I asked her where she was from, and she smiled widely. She must have been itching to tell someone her story, because it fell right out of her. Like she was a stack of books sitting precariously on the edge of a desk and the question was a gentle nudge that knocked all of them onto the floor with a huge crash.

"Manilla," she began. "I come from Manilla. I was like a queen in Manilla. I went to a nice school there and had a nice school bag and nice clothes. I always wore nice clothes. I met a man when I was young and we moved to Canada. It is too cold! So cold."

She began to speak in the present tense even though she was telling a story that had to be roughly thirty years old. She punctuated her sentences by jabbing me in the arm and clutching at her scarf. We stepped onto the escalator; Sullivan was oblivious to everything except the ride.

"We have two boys, my husband and I. We have two boys and my husband has a good job. Everything is okay, until my husband runs away. (I didn't know where he went then, but now I know that he went to Saudi Arabia!)" Here I got a very hard shoulder poke and she stared at me, a horrified expression on her face as though I had just now told her this news. "What do I do? What can I do? I have two little boys and no friends and no family and no money and I am in Canada and it is so cold! 

"I need to work. The government can help me a little, but it is not enough to feed my boys and have a house. I go to work, but I have no friends to watch my boys and I have no money to pay strangers to do it. I leave them at home, and I am afraid the house will burn down while I am away. Some days I can't even leave them lunch to eat while I am gone. I am afraid someone will take them away from me because I am not a good mother."

We both looked down at Sullivan, who was swinging on my hands from the escalator onto the floor. I imagined with horror being in a strange country and having to leave him at home by himself so that I could work. I imagined having absolutely no options. "What can I do?" she said again. We re-boarded the escalator.

There was a moment of silence before she broke into a broad smile and touched my arm. "I work hard, though. I work hard enough that I can afford a babysitter, and then a lawyer. He helps me to get money from my husband. I get a lot of money from my husband. He does not come back, but I have money, and so I think we will be okay. I take my boys to the store and buy them toys. They are so excited!"

We reached the end of the ride and hopped off; Sullivan pulled me around the corner to the other escalator for a quick return trip and the woman followed closely at my heels. I hoped someone was watching our little trio from inside their closed shop. I thought we must look funny, me and the laughing toddler and the old lady who kept wringing her hands and touching my arm and gesticulating wildly.

"They can eat and dress nicely and go to school, they grow up, they make friends. Their friends are always over at our house. They can go to college! They are both grown up, both engineers now. They know about science and computers and all that. One of my boys gets married! One of my boys has three cars! They buy me nice things now. They pay for me to live in a nice place where I don't even have to make my own meals. I wear nice clothes. I am like a queen again. Like I was in Manilla. And I come here and I make friends and it is so nice. We are all going to be okay."

She touched my arm again, leaned forward and clutched my shoulder. "He is so cute, your boy. He reminds me of my babies. He will grow up very fast."

And, with a smile but not a goodbye, the little old woman walked the rest of the way down the escalator and out the mall's front doors. And I realized that, for how much I did know about her, I did not know her name. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

rogue hairs and peanut butter

Barclay had to go to Saskatoon this week for work stuff, and Van and I went with him because we are needy and clingy and also we like road trips. 

Or, you know, we thought we did. 

We haven't really done much for travelling since Van was seven months old and we went to Seattle for my Grandpa's wedding, and back then he didn't have any kind of sleep schedule (or if he did, it was: sleep sometimes but mostly don't bother). Sleep schedules are great and all, but they're about as sturdy as cookies and ancient ruins. Sullivan sleeps now, but only if you put him in bed at the exact right moment (when he's tired enough but not too tired) and only if you put him in bed at a place he's comfortable with and only if it's dark and only if there's music and only if the temperature is just so and only if his stomach is full and only if you stand on your head and recite the recipe for  blueberry scones backwards in a Swedish accent. It's ridiculous. 

So we got to the hotel at midnight on Sunday and tried to make him go to sleep in a warm, strange room with a bright streetlight shining in through the sheer curtains and he was like, "OH NO OH NO WHERE AM I?"

And I was all shushy and mothery and I stroked his hair and said, "Chill out, baby, we're in Saskatoon." 

And he was like, "I'M NOT SURE IF YOU SAID 'SASKATOON' OR IF YOU SAID 'WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE SOON." That is to say, he screamed bloody murder at me for two straight hours.

We had booked a hotel with a suite so we could put Sullivan's crib in his own room (because he won't go to sleep if there are other people in the room with him, that's the one I forgot above), but when we got there the guy was like, "No, 'suite' refers to the fact that there is a chair and a fridge." 

Barclay mentioned that he'd thought maybe 'suite' meant more than one room, and the guy said, "Well I've never heard of that. Usually 'suite' just means chair and fridge." 

(I just looked up 'suite' in the dictionary, and the first definition starts off: 'a set of rooms...")

We weren't mad though, because it was midnight and we were tired and we knew we could deal. But then when we got into the little fridge chair room (which I refuse to refer to as a suite) there was hair in the bed and in the shower and in the sink and on the toilet and on the floor. Hair, in short, everywhere. Yuck. 

Anyway. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but we did spend a bit of time in the hallway drinking coffee while Sullivan attempted to sleep in our hairy fridge chair room. Which I actually enjoyed in a strange I've-never-had-coffee-here-before kind of way.

The rest of the week was a lot of wandering around parks and malls and shops with Sullivan (who has become an excellent wanderer) and visiting with my sisters (I have two in the city) and one of my high school friends who I don't get to see that often. This bit was well worth the rogue hairs and the all-night cry sessions. 

And last night, Barclay got off work and we hit up the Broadway Cafe, one of my favourite spots when I used to live in Saskatoon, for greasy diner burgers. (Sullivan, however, had toast with peanut butter on it. And by 'had toast with peanut butter', I really mean that he used the toast as a peanut butter holder. He started out by dipping his finger in the peanut butter and discreetly licking it off, but by the end of the meal, somehow, there was peanut butter everywhere. No, I mean everywhere. Like, if you were allergic to peanuts and happened to be within a three block radius of the restaurant, you'd be dead. We cleaned up after ourselves as well as we could and made sure to leave an excellent tip.)

And now, I'm in my living room at home and Sullivan is laying on the floor surrounded by his books begging me with his puppy dog eyes to never take him out of the house again. And I am tempted to make rash promises. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Morning Edition in North Central

The Morning Edition was out doing another live taping in the city today, this time at a community centre in the North Central neighbourhood. Was I there? Of course. You ask ridiculous questions. Julia, Erin, and Becky came with me too. 

I so wish I had a link to share with you so you could listen to the whole episode online - it was that good - but I don't think that's an option. So I'll just have to ramble on and on until your eyes roll back and your face falls onto your keyboard. Sorry.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Regina (which, according to my stats page, is most of you?), some context: North Central has kind of a bad rap, to put it lightly (in a critical Macleans article back in 2007, it was dubbed Canada's Worst Neighbourhood). I moved here around then, and when I applied for a job at a North Central business I was quickly informed that there were some places in the city I really shouldn't be. Even Wikipedia, which describes other Regina neighbourhoods as 'historic' and 'affluent' and 'fashionable', says only of North Central that it's 'an area of low-rent housing nowadays characterised by serious problems of crime, drug use and prostitution.'

And it is. I mean, there's no denying that. For the most part, a lot of people simply avoid that part of our city. Avoid going there, physically and mentally. Never mind that the district is literally right in the middle of the city and does make up a pretty large percentage of our population; it turns out, it's surprisingly easy to ignore 12,000 people. 

But I went there this morning with my friends, and we watched Stefani Langenegger and the Morning Edition crew celebrate North Central. And it was so cool. 

They celebrated the culture, the diversity, the improvement that has been happening, and, largely, the people who are working so hard to make it a better place.

I think it's an easy thing to look around and say, "There's a need here." These things are often glaringly obvious if your eyes are open. But it's harder, way harder, to say, "There's a need here, so I'm going to..."

We heard story after story this morning of people who did that. "There are hungry children, so I'm going to..." "There are women who just need to talk, so I'm going to..." "There are I'm going to..." "There are I'm going to..." 

Because of those people, there is a lot of really amazing stuff going on in North Central right now.

Halfway through the morning I turned to Erin and said, "I didn't realize all this was happening over here."

And she said, "Me neither. And whose fault is that?" Not in a snarky way, just, "Whose fault is that?" 

As the morning went on, more and more people came and the atmosphere got more and more festive. The buzz in the community centre finally grew so loud that we couldn't hear the broadcast anymore.

We talked about it the whole ride home in Julia's mini van. About North Central, but not just about North Central. We talked about how inspiring it was to listen to person after person who saw a need and then got to work trying to meet it. And about how we'd love to be those kinds of people too. 

Shout out to Stefani and your crew for such an excellent morning, for the bannock and coffee, for making me think, and for celebrating a place that clearly doesn't get as much positive press as it deserves.  

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Hello, How Are You? Like Your Shoes, Love Your Hair

You know what wakes you up faster than coffee in the morning? Rash decisions, instantaneous regret, and self-loathing.

(But coffee with a little cream definitely goes down smoother.)

I mean, I was still half asleep this morning when I chopped all that hair off. Half asleep. But you know when you get a little hair cut and then you're like, "More! Shorter! Balder! Faster!"? Anybody?

Anyway. It's mostly Barclay's fault, because when he knocked on the bathroom door and I shouted, "Just a second, I'm cutting my haaaaaaiiiiiirrrrrr," he should have busted in, tackled me, wrestled the scissors from my stupid hands and cut them off.

Sheesh, Barclay.

You thought I was going to post a picture, didn't you? One of those, "Go on, tell me how bad it looks (but don't actually give me your real opinion just say I'd look beautiful even if I cut my hair with a butter knife)." But no. I'm not. I'm going to maintain the teeniest shred of decency and withhold the post-hack-job-selfie (which does exist, incidentally).

In fact, I wasn't even going to write about this at all, but then I realized that I'd have to see people in person sooner or later. And I didn't want to have that conversation:

"Oh! You got...a hair cut...?"


"Oh, your hairdresser?" (Because it sounds rude to outright say, "Did you hack that up yourself?")

"I don't go to a hairdresser because I've decided to needlessly punish myself for every wrong thing I've ever done in my whole life by having horrible haircuts from here on out."

And then the gushing, "Oh! No, that's not what I meant; it looks so good!/I could never do that!/You could cut your hair with a butter knife and you'd still look fab."

I implode in the face of gushing. My brain turns to cream corn and I just start saying 'no' over and over.

So here is the plan, for those of you reading who know me in real life: When you see me, DO NOT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT MY HAIR. DO NOT. NOTHING. DO NOT WANT. Don't say, "You got bangs!" or, "I was expecting so much worse! That actually looks good!" Don't say, "Oh yeah, you messed up." Don't say, "So, I read your blog post about your haircut..."

You can say this: "Hi, Suzy. How was your week? What music are you listening to these days? Do you just love love love vacations? Let's talk about volcanoes."

Or something like that. Thanks, guys. I owe you.