Friday, 28 November 2014

The Book of Mormon Musical and Thoughts about Intolerance

There has been a lot in the newspaper and on TV lately about tolerance and racism, especially with all the stuff that's been happening in Missouri. Son Number Three and I saw a recent segment on the news that ended with an appeal for viewers to send in their experiences with racism or intolerance. My son and I got to talking about it afterward. And he posed some good questions I couldn't really answer.

If someone made a foul and disrespectful musical about the Quran or the Torah, there would be protests and riots. It wouldn't be tolerated. But someone produces such a musical about the Book of Mormon and it wins Tony Awards. Why do we insist on courtesy toward other religions but say it's okay to poke fun at Mormons? My boss got tickets to attend the show and said she wanted to go because she'd heard it was foul. And she told me this with a grin as if she had no idea that this could possibly be hurtful to anyone. She's an intelligent and extremely educated woman who spends much of her life volunteering in an impoverished country. Her heart is good. So what's going on here?

Growing up LDS, and especially living outside of Utah, we've always been taught to just let it roll off our backs, to be peacemakers, to answer disrespect with genuine caring and kindness. We're told to laugh it off and say snappy things like, "Now that you've seen the musical, read the book!" We're to love our enemies. This has been engrained in us since our ancestors were forced out of their homes by armed mobs, since the pioneers trekked across the continent, since great-great-great-grandpa was shot in the back. And I completely agree that getting angry or belligerent is not the solution. I want to contribute to the peace in the world, not detract from it. For the most part I'm able to shrug it off, ignore it, don't let it get under my skin. I'll just quietly be who I am. I'm tough, right?

But when people I know and work with and respect, people who know I'm LDS, don't even realize they're doing something that belittles my religion -- any religion -- I admit it does hurt. How much more, then, does it hurt my child?

So I told my son to go ahead and write to the TV show and share what he was feeling about it. His response? A small smile, a shake of the head. Naah. Don't stir it up. Don't make trouble. What's the point? It's not a big deal.

I'm afraid he's been a good student.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

While we are on the subject of languages...

I was remembering an example my linguistics professor gave years ago of how you can string prepositions together. Some boys were playing in the basement under the stairs, and their mother called down to them, "Come on out from down in under there!" Seven in one blow! It can still make me smile.

There is an article in today's Metro newspaper about the advantages of learning other languages and how it exercises your brain. It used to be thought that your brain stopped developing or changing much after childhood, but it appears that, in fact, you can enhance your brain physically at any age.

My great-grandmother studied a little German when she was in her 80s. She did it, I think, because my brother served a mission for two years in Germany and she wanted to be able to share some of that experience with him. At the same time, her roommate at the nursing home - in her 90s - went back to school to study criminology and psychology with the idea of becoming a private investigator (most likely after reading too much Miss Marple). I had a friend who began med school at age 59. You're never too old to learn something new.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Learning Languages

There's a new girl in my office, and she...drum roll...speaks Welsh! I haven't had anyone to speak to in years, and it is very gratifying to be able to call out a Bore da! Croeso! and have someone call back Diolch yn fawr! There's a funny thrill that goes through you when a) someone understands you, and b) you get to put into use something you've been hauling around with you for decades. It's like carrying around a key in your pocket and finally locating the lock it fits into. All that work to learn the language in the first place finally justifies itself with a greeting.

I suppose it's an apt simile. Language can unlock doors, after all. Entire vistas opened in my mind when I started learning Biblical Hebrew. Suddenly the things I'd read since childhood took on new and intriguing meanings. (Just as a quick example, the word for a long loose-sleeved robe leading to the idea that angels have wings.)

When you can draw parallels between words in different languages, you have a new avenue for entertainment and humour, too. Words are fun to play with. Like handschu for "glove" in German (literally "hand shoe"). Or you can mix up the "Shma Yisroel" with Welsh "sut mae" (pronounced almost the same), and suddenly instead of the great call to the nation, you have "How ya doin', Israel?!"

My husband was once waiting in line at a government office, and the elderly man in front of him was having difficulty making himself understood. My husband stepped forward and offered to translate. In a few moments the man was happily on his way. I asked my husband what language that had been, and he replied, "Hungarian."

I blinked at him. "You don't speak Hungarian."

"No, but I knew what he needed -- he was in the same line I was in, after all -- so I just helped things along." So there you go. No words even needed.

I have studied a lot of languages over the years to varying extents and for different reasons. Some were entirely to meet school requirements, others out of interest, and Welsh I started so I could do geneaology. All have made my brain an entertaining place for me to hang out in (there's another fun thing for you--stringing prepositions together willy-nilly) even if they haven't been overly practical. My children all started off in French immersion school, and even though they haven't gone very far with the language, I do believe it has enriched their experience so far. If nothing else, it has taught them awareness of other people and cultures.

I kid you not, someone once came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish, and when I answered, "Welsh, actually," he honestly replied, "Close enough. They're both foreign!"

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

First Sticking Snow

The snow hit on Sunday and has obscured the unraked leaves, the untrimmed roses, the un-dug onions. We're back to having to take twenty minutes to layer on all the clothing before being able to step outside. Thermal long-johns under your trousers, gloves inside mitts, sweatshirt under coat, scarf, hat, hood, double socks, boots... You feel like an Arctic explorer heading off on a month-long expedition just to waddle down to the bus to go to work.

And then there are those suave city men you see breeze onto the subway wearing just their suit and polished shoes, and you know they live in one of those expensive condo buildings where the subway runs beneath the building, and they work in one of those expensive places where the subway runs right beneath their workplace...These are the people who never go outdoors. No boots and earmuffs for them, oh no. They pop on and off the transit system without having to put a toe out in the cold.

It would be like being a mushroom, never seeing the sunlight, never feeling the cold slap your cheeks. Never breathing fresh air. All in all, I'd rather be the multi-layered Arctic explorer, thanks very much.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Food Memories

Last night Son Number Three had a couple of friends over for dinner, and for dessert I made gingerbread (the cake, not the cookies) with custard sauce. And my son's friend got teary-eyed and told me that her grandmother used to make wonderful gingerbread, but she died two years ago, and she really missed her. I wished my gingerbread could taste exactly like her grandmother's. I wished I could take this girl in my arms and say "Let me feed you."

It's interesting how certain foods ingrain themselves in our memories with specific associations. Christmas means egg nog. Thanksgiving means sweet potatoes with brown sugar. I can't eat sloppy joes without thinking of my grandma, or chocolate-covered orange sticks without thinking of my great-grandmother. Mint and black licorice will always be my grandpa. Lemon Jello salad (fluffy with fruit and whipped cream) and blueberry cheesecake and clam chowder mean Mom to me. With my dad, it's waffles with homemade warm maple syrup. With my neighbor Sister Gill it was roti and golden pancakes the size of the plates. My husband makes wonderful homemade pita and hummus, and I love his strawberry lemonade. And his meatless meatloaf. And his chip buddies. And his lasagna. And...well, that list could go on for a while. Everything he makes is my favourite!

What will my kids associate with me, I wonder? Lavender cookies? Taco won ton? Homemade pizza? No, probably my caramel popcorn. I maintain that if I were hard up for cash, I could stand on a street corner selling bags of caramel popcorn and make a good living for myself. That stuff is treasure.

Food can have all kinds of associations with it for different people, but for me, it brings up cozy thoughts of home, a warm kitchen, and love and laughter. My son has one friend who just doesn't like to eat, has no interest in it, and doesn't like to try new things. I simply can't imagine it!

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Value of Friendship

Yesterday I had sudden sharp chest pain while I was at work, accompanied by shortness of breath and nausea. I have a history of minor heart troubles, so I mentioned my discomfort to my colleague, who is a nurse (okay, I went bawling to her in a panic), and she whisked me down the street to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.

And she stayed with me. For hours.

She sat knitting calmly and talked me through it and kept me laughing, and even when they took me away for ECGs, x-rays, bloodwork, and monitoring, she stayed in the waiting room knitting until I finally came flapping out in my hospital gown to tell her I'd be a long while and she should go home. There was no point in both of us getting home late. She put up a fight but I prevailed.

My examination was thorough and prompt, though I can't say much for the bedside manner of two of the nurses. One took me down to xray and was walking quite fast, and I was having trouble keeping up. I told her I was walking slowly today, and she said, "That's okay. I'm a fast walker," and kept on going until she was about fifty feet in front of me. Now if you have a potential cardiac patient wobbling after you in her backless gown, wouldn't you stay close to make sure she doesn't topple over in the hallway? After the xray she shooed me back to my room unaccompanied and it took me a while to find the right place (thanks to the janitor who steered me right!). And then they forgot to hook me back up to my monitor and left me abandoned for about 45 minutes. The doctor finally came in and did her assessment and said it was costochondritis (inflammation of the chest wall, thanks to the virus I've been fighting. Not serious, just painful). You can only address it with anti-inflammatories and painkillers.

And then she left and I didn't know if I was supposed to go home or what. I flagged down a nurse and asked if I could take off the little sticky tab thingies from the ECG and get dressed. She said sure and left again. What she didn't hear was that I was really saying, "Please take these sticky tab thingies off of me." So I did it myself, giving myself a pat-down to make sure I got them all without the benefit of a mirror (no doubt I'll find more as the day progresses). Anyway, I got home by 7:30 last night and I'm all right. I'm glad to have this pain diagnosed, I'm warmed by the attentiveness of my colleague, and I now have an excuse to pamper myself a little this weekend.

When one's life flashes before one's eyes, one's thoughts naturally turn to chocolate, so I brought my colleague a little gift bag of Godiva truffles this morning as a thank you for her kindness. She came to me to tell me, "You didn't have to do that." To which I replied, "Neither did you. But I'm glad you did."

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Still on a roll

No pun intended. But after the baking spree on the weekend, I'm still in the mood, so last night after work I baked whole wheat bread (which was lovely) and an experimental low-fat low-sugar pumpkin-raisin-walnut bread. Which, as it turns out, didn't. Let's face it--if there's no fat or sugar, there's no joy either. I did what I could to salvage it, gave some to the dogs, considered giving the rest to the birds, and decided it would just attract rodents, so unfortunately the rest went into the green bin. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. A sad end to a cup and a half of pumpkin.

What shall I make next?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

On Watching the Giller

Last night we watched the Giller prize being awarded. I have to confess -- don't shoot me -- I've only read one of these authors, and I didn't like any of what I heard last night. Granted, we only got to hear snippits and couldn't be drawn gradually into the story the way we're meant to be when we're reading. But what I heard won't incite me to run out to buy the books.

I admit that I never end up liking the stuff other people like. Somehow the books that make the Oprah List or win the big awards always leave me rather cold. I hated Remains of the Day and was bored by Life of Pi. I can only take Margaret Atwood in small doses. I think the prose always comes out sounding like dough that has been over-proofed and is now making its way out of the pan onto the counter like a great white slug. Every word has been so carefully chosen and thought-out and molded that it all ends up sounding terribly pompous and self-aware. Even the way they read their own work is self-conscious. There's no spontaneity, and certainly no joy.

Now you may say that this is just sour grapes, because my books will never win the Giller. But you know what? I wouldn't want them to. I fully acknowledge I don't belong in the "literary" group. I don't take my work nearly as seriously as they do. Not at all, in fact. I don't write to create "art." I don't think about what I'm creating at all, really. I just want to tell a story, to have fun, to make people laugh. I splash words out like a kindergartener using construction paper and glitter glue. It doesn't make a Rembrandt, but it isn't meant to. My son, who also likes to write, commented last night that he likes to make people dream. That is a terrific aim, and I'm proud of him for it.

My silly little stories are for entertainment, and I have no delusions about them changing the world or impressing anybody. My books are styrofoam boogie boards in an ocean of big steamers and sleek yachts. And I'm okay with that. My kind of people are the kind who play with boogie boards. Personally I think words are meant to be gobbled down and flung about, treated more like a big Italian pasta dinner than three French beans artfully arranged on a plate. That may be pretty, and it may have its place in the world, but I don't find it satisfying or filling or even nourishing.

Words can serve all kinds of purposes, of course. Books of every type please someone somewhere, and certainly we don't all have to have the same likes or needs. Obviously somebody liked the stuff I heard last night. But all in all, I think I'm content with my writing's place in the world. And with my place too. I may not win $100,000, but the small joys are everything.

Though I could use a pair of winter boots...

Monday, 10 November 2014

I love it when my husband is home

Hubby is off work at the moment, and he spent the last couple of days making homemade biscotti (cranberry almond), a lovely non-meat shepherd's pie that you would swear was beef, and pita and hummus. I got into the swing of it on Saturday and turned out two kinds of biscuits, some white bread, and homemade Wheat Thins (which turned out great if anyone wants the recipe).  The house smells great!

I love it when my husband is at home. I come home to a clean house, walked dogs, dinner cooking, washed laundry, and often rearranged furniture. I feel I can just walk in and feel at ease and not have to panic about anything or worry that something went undone. I am aware I am highly lucky. I listen to the women at work gather in the staff room and grouse about their husbands, who apparently can't do anything and can't be trusted to look after the gold fish, much less the children. I can't join in the gossip. I sit quietly with my leftover shepherd's pie and just smile.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Childhood ain't what it used to be

Son Number Three had a dance in Brampton last night, and youth from all over the GTA showed up in a great turnout. He reported it was great fun. He danced with about seven girls, and then he and a group of friends went into a side room to play Magic (the card game). Some people brought food, others dropped in to say hi, and a good time was apparently had by all.

While I'm delighted he had a good, wholesome time with a group of well-behaved kids, it threw me off a little when he reported how it had gone. When I was young, I hear an elderly voice whisper in my mind, you went to a dance to dance and that was it. You didn't leave halfway through to make your own fun. Even if you cleared it with the adult leaders first. Even if the adult leaders came into the side room to cheer you on. You didn't strike out and do your own thing; you followed expectations, even if they were just your own expectations.

It got me thinking about expectations in general, and how life is very different for my son than it was for me. I lived within walking distance of everything and everyone, and I knew every person in every house in my neighbourhood. My son, on the other hand, has to bus to seminary, bus to school, and his friends all live a distance away, some even in different cities. "Game" to me meant board games, jacks, or maybe playing Four-Square in the driveway with my siblings. "Games" for my son means a solitary activity played in the basement wiggling one's thumbs. When I wanted to do something with a friend, we got permission, made arrangements in advance, and carried out the plan. Now kids just sort of fall into things, making only vague plans and letting things develop as they will. I would come home from school confident in the fact that my mother would be there, sewing or cooking or painting or reading or doing one of the million other things she did. My son usually comes home to only two anxious dogs waiting for him. (Well, not so since my older son returned home and my husband was laid off work--now he's likely to walk in to a kitchen smelling of freshly-baked biscotti. I love it when my husband is home...but that's another topic for another day.) I remember being responsible for daily chores, animal feeding, and Saturday jobs. I admit my third son has managed to slip under the radar a bit and--though perfectly willing to help out--has to be asked. His room is kept how he likes it, food manages to make its way into the basement, and even though he has known how to do laundry since he was eight, I still somehow end up doing it. (How did this happen? I blame his older brothers for wearing me out and wearing me down, so that by the time Number Three came along, I'd lost the energy to enforce anything.)

I have had to come to terms over the years with the knowledge that my children's childhoods will not be the same as mine. They will have their own memories, their own ups and downs, and their own experiences. But even while I know this, there's that persnickety part of me that says "But their childhoods won't be as good as mine! They should be like mine! That's the only really valid way of experiencing childhood that there is!" Does anyone else find themselves thinking that? How can my kids possibly be happy or turn into proper adults unless they follow the exact path I did? How can they have meaningful lives if they don't grow up on the steady input of sloppy joes, summers on the farm, games of Nertz, and boisterous family reunions that I did? I mean, really....

And then I look at them and how they are turning out--responsible, intelligent, hard-working, funny, and personable, with eclectic tastes and a wide variety of interests...and hair colours...and their own distinct style for doing things--and I think they must be turning out okay after all. I like who they are turning out to be. I genuinely enjoy their company. I guess maybe that's the best measure, even if they got here by a different route than I expected or wanted. Against all odds and in spite of having me for a mother, they're turning into fine young men. I can't quite fathom how that's happened.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Top Scholar

Bragging time! Last night we went to an awards ceremony at the high school, where Son Number Three got a medal for getting a 98% in math last semester. Only four kids in each grade were honoured in each subject, so it was a nice accomplishment. It was a fun and inspiring thing, to see these awkward, gangly kids all dressed in their finest, walking across the stage to shake hands with the principal, trustee, and various other important people. It's great to be able to cheer for your kids and publically acknowledge them. How often do you get to do that? My son was a handsome figure, tall and lean in his black suit. With his flaming pink hair standing out above the rest.

The moment has been captured for the Yearbook, pink hair and all. I couldn't be prouder.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Twenty-five years ago today, I came to Canada. I crossed the border at Sault Ste Marie in the middle of a snowstorm, at midnight, with a crying nine-month-old. From that inauspicious start, it has been a good journey all in all.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Long-Distance Grandparenting

When my oldest son was nine months old, hubby and I packed up and moved across the continent to Toronto Canada. There was reason to this madness which I won't go into here, but the result was that, though we were now surrounded by my husband's family, my kids were 3,000 miles from mine. I have explained in other posts how important my family is to me, and how I wanted my kids to grow up with the warm feeling of having family around them. But I don't think I've ever told you about how my mom responded to this new situation.

She is the best long-distance grandma ever. She came up with innovative ideas for how to stay close to our kids. She recorded herself reading Dr. Seuss, with Dad ringing a bell when it was time to turn the page, and then sent the recording and the book to our boys so she could "read" them bedtime stories. She sent tapes of children's music. Every Christmas brings a box of presents, wrapped in her distinctive old-fashioned paper and carefully selected for each child's interests. She mails cards with money on birthdays, and she and Dad call on the birthday to sing. Halloween and Easter she mails boxes of treats -- including homemade -- with cute little notes and stickers. (The kids pounce on these and painstakingly divvy everything up evenly between each person -- and of course there's always just the right number in the box.) Mom also made sure she had the email address of each grandchild and keeps up to date on what is going on in their lives. She cheers over their successes and prays over their challenges. She often sends messages of her hopes for each of us and expresses how important each family member is to her. Even though my kids lived in closer proximity to my husband's family, I think they have felt closer to mine.

Thursday my husband and I went to the pharmacy together, and as we were returning home, I realized I hadn't done anything for my own grandchild for Halloween. I want to start sending boxes of goodies and carry on the tradition my mom started, so that I can be a great long-distance grandma too. I have a great example to follow. Then I added that of course, now that our kids are grown and Mom has so much on her plate, and she just got back from a year in England, and...well, I didn't expect her to keep on doing the treat boxes and everything forever. Just as I said this, we pulled into the driveway, and there was a box sticking out of the mailbox. My husband said, "There's your Mom's Halloween box." And of course it was. Right on time, as always. The boys' reaction? "Grandma's come through again!"

I know it's silly to cry over a box of rice krispie treats and mini chocolate bars, but I nearly did. In a rush, my mom was there in the kitchen with us, watching the divvying up of the loot. You could feel the love pouring out and filling the room. It was like opening up a box of home.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

First Snow

November 1st, and it's snowing. And my onions and gooseberries are still out there in it.

I can feel myself drawing inward, curling up like an armadillo in a tight, armored ball. Keeping out the thought of another long winter. I am torn between huddling inside and not moving for the next seven months, and running shrieking down the street, waving my arms over my head.

I'm sure the neighbours would find the latter more entertaining.