Uphill, Both Ways

      Its been creeping up on me for a long time.   I finally have to acknowledge something that my children have known about me for awhile.  Like my father before me, I’ve begun whining about How Much Things Have Changed.  Sure, I never walked five miles to school, uphill both ways, in 40 below weather with a lunch bucket frozen to my hand.  Dad, you win that one.  But!  Brace yourself for this, and Clarence, thanks for bursting my bubble. I just found out that there are hotels in the Himalayas on the way to Mount Everest.  Hotels!!  Nothing else could signal so well the collapse of the world as I knew it.  Next thing you know, people will be driving around the golf course in cars.  Wait.  They do that already.  But back to the Himalayas.

     Way, way back, in 1979 to be exact, Clarence and I were hiking to the Everest Base Camp.  Those of you who know me well will understand that this was not my idea.  On the other hand, being only twenty-four at the time, I was eager to take part in it.  I mourn that change as well.  But anyway.  We walked about 250 miles over 24 days.  That’s two hundred and fifty miles! It was mostly uphill!  There were no hotels, per se.  Instead, we stayed with the Nepalese people in their homes.  While this was a rich cultural experience that I in no way regret, it probably explains my tendency for intermittent coughing.  The people built huge fires in their small huts, and at night they closed all the windows and doors.  There were no chimneys.  So the smoke just built up until you couldn’t even see the person lying next to you.  On the other hand, it helped hide the rats that lurked in every corner. 

     On second thought, they didn’t lurk.  They gamboled around the room, having an especially good time on top of my sleeping bag.  Then there was the food.  It was mostly rice and dalbaht.  (I may be spelling it wrong, but I can’t find my diary.)  There was no butter.  No salt and pepper.  Just rice.  The chai was good, though.  We stayed one night at a monastery and bought a wheel of yak cheese so large, it would have looked comfortable on a tractor.  We could barely carry it between four of us.  Still,  we ate it in three days.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry.  Nothing gets plugged up when you’re walking for eight hours a day, uphill.  Its an impossibility.  (Side note: when I came back to Canada I searched everywhere for yak cheese.  Apparently, they don’t export it.)

     Rats.  Plain white rice.  Two hundred and fifty miles uphill.  To make matters worse, Clarence lost thirty pounds and I gained five. I could go on (and  will, if someone asks me to.)    But my point in all the whining is this.  What’s next?  Sliding floors that help you move faster?  Wait.  They have those in the airport.  You get my drift, though.  Why does the next generation have it so much easier?  And will they at least appreciate the hardships we suffered?  I’m begging all the baby boomers who read this to take up my cause.  Whine to the next generation.  Carry on the grand tradition of belly aching about change.  After all, I’m only one woman.  I can’t carry the load alone. 

The Sound of Your Life

     I am aware of the fact that I have a good life.  This is true for most of the people I know, though all of us face adversity from time to time.  Still, I’m going to whine a little about something that my life is  missing.  In order to have it, Apple would have to figure out a way to make  life apps.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  I know which one I’d want, though yours might be something different.

     I would like my own personal soundtrack.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to live in a movie.  I like making up my own dialogue, thank you very much.  And I like being surprised by life, and also appreciate not knowing when the end is coming.  So, no script app.  But a soundtrack is a completely different thing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet a friend on the street and have just the right kind of music playing lightly (or not so lightly) in the background?  If the conversation was intense, there might be a pulsating undertone.  Or maybe just a poignant violin, depending on the topic.  If one of you was having a bad day, the other would know it instantly.

 There might be some downsides to it, like if you were planning to kill somebody and everywhere you went, violins were shrieking like they do in horror movies, right before the monster appears. However, I’m a pacifist, so I don’t think it would be a problem.  Some of our family dinners might be a little crazy, but that would just be business as  usual.  We usually have music anyway, come to think of it.

     For my personal, every day life, I want the music to swell for me, like it did for Scarlett O’Hara in the movie, ‘Gone With the Wind.’   When I dig in our garden,  I want a whole orchestra backing up the flow of my tears as I hold up a shrunken vegetable and cry “As God is my witness, I’ll never plant potatoes again.”  So much more satisfying than just whining to my husband about it when things don’ t turn out.  And relationships would reach a whole new level of interest.  Especially the sex part.  (Forgive me, my children, but its true.  Parents have sex.  And yes, they would like some music, too.) 

     A soundtrack would be especially useful when times are tough.  When my self esteem is circling the toilet bowl with all the other crap, I’d like a little music to mark the pain.  Maybe our soundtracks could be programmed to gradually get more upbeat if we’re wallowing too long in our self pity.  It would drag us right out of the doldrums and have us marching to a whole new tune, feeling great about life again.  Most of all, I want a soundtrack that, like Mary Tyler Moore,  gives me permission to just go ahead and throw my hat in the air.   Because, if I do it to music, then I’ll know for sure.  I’m  going to make it after all. (drum beat and cat meow)  Sigh.

Love Story

This is reprinted for Connor and Cheyenne, Susan and Brent, and for baby Mason, the newest addition to the clan.
February is the month for stories of the heart.  If you’ve ever set sail on the ship of love, you’ll recall the intensity, the pain and the wonder of it all.  Yet ask any new parent about first holding their newborn, and they will tell you of a connection so deep, it makes everything else pale in comparison.  And so nature planned it.   
Why else would we willingly deprive ourselves of free time for the next decade, face an avalanche of poopy diapers, or walk the floor at 3 in the morning while singing old Barry Manilow tunes, which is the only thing your tired brain can produce and which strangely enough seems to help.  This is truly God and biology at work.  It amazes me even now how those tiny dictators have us hopping to attention, all the while keeping a firm grip on our hearts.
          And how does this explain that other love story; the grandparent?  Just when the kids have left home, the dog has gone to doggy heaven, and retirement looms like a sweet promise on the horizon, along comes the first grandchild.  Even if a parent is unprepared, and the grandparents are in shock, still, a new chapter in the book of love is written.  And this one is a blockbuster.  Plans fly out the window in the face of this new being.  Grandparents are as helpless as parents in resisting this tiny force of nature.  I hear grandparents say all the time, “You enjoy them, and then you send them home.” 
         But they don’t!  The grandparents that I know, including my own parents and in-laws, give up many weekends to care for their grandchildren, and most seem happy to do it.  It’s like an angel appeared with a trumpet and shouted, “Let the endless giving of time, love, and energy begin again!” But that’s not how it feels, because love never drains your batteries.  It charges you up instead.
          I remember when our oldest was a year old, and she threw up in the middle of the night.  I immediately called my parents, who came running over (though my mother is a nurse and should have known better.)  We all watched over Hilary like she was a time bomb ready to go off, and when she simply fell asleep on the living room floor, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  “That was a close one.”  No, it really wasn’t.  And of course, it happened time and again, though we all learned to panic less often.  The love was there, always, and the time given, with my mother taking turns walking the floor with her 16 grandchildren, and even traveling with my sister to conferences, walking around cities wearing her grandsons in the babyTrekker.  When I was feeling overwhelmed, my parents and in-laws would come over and hold my babies while I did housework. 
Love signs us up; we have no choice in the matter.  So this February, which many consider the month of love, I salute and give thanks for grandparents, who give their hearts over and over again, along with their time, energy, and money passed under the table to grandchildren. 

Why I Love the Walking Dead

I don’t like horror movies.  I don’t like the news.  In fact, I dislike violence  of any kind.  So my fascination with AMC’s ‘the Walking Dead’ has taken me completely by surprise.  I got hooked watching the season one finale and was utterly compelled (almost against my will!) to follow it from the beginning.  To say this in writing is like admitting that I get up in the middle of the night to eat, or that I like the Lawrence Welk show.  Damn you to hell, blog, for making me reveal  my dirty little secrets.

I’ve been trying to figure out the appeal of  this post apocalyptic drama.  Its not the zombies, that’s for sure.   Its not the suspense, which actually makes me a little crazy.  Would you lie down in an abandoned pharmacy and have sex on the floor if there was even a remote possibility that a dead person (who is biologically programmed to bite you) might be lurking in the dark?  No.  Me either. 

I couldn’t sleep last night, which was bad.  But I figured out the appeal of the show, which was good.  Its this.  The people who are still themselves, ( ie: not dead, yet still walking around) have one job to do.  Stay away from the Zombies.  Sure, they still need to forage for food  and supplies in  dark abandoned stores.  They need medicine, and sometimes even sex (or a combination of the two, as previously mentioned.)  But that’s about it.   There are no dentist appointments.  Maybe even no dentists.  Nobody  shovels snow, or goes to see their lawyer about making up a will.   There are no parent teacher interviews.  Instead, parents huddle under their cars, hands clapped over their children’s mouths as the zombies trudge by.  They’re all just running for their lives.

The characters don’t care about global warming.  Nobody is trying to track down organic food.  They just don’t want to be food.  Nobody mentions getting a hair cut, or highlights.  Supposedly no one wears make up, though they all look great.  It’s easier to be thin and fit when you’re running all the time. In the middle of all the horror and fear, there must be some comfort in that.

Besides a plan, a post apocalyptic survivor  needs a gun or a bat.  (Only a direct head shot takes out a zombie.)  A car is also important, though a convoy of cars is best.   My heart is in my mouth during the whole show, though the parts where they’re all driving is when I feel safest.  You know where everyone is.  And zombies can’t run that fast.  On the other hand, you never know if one has hitched a ride on the roof.  I sit on the sofa, a pillow conveniently close by so I can use it to block the screen from time to time. 

The unspoken question posed by the show is this.  How do people behave when the world as they know it ends?  When we’re all in survivor mode, which one of us will shoot a guy in the leg so that he has to remain behind, thereby drawing all the zombies that have previously been dragging themselves in your direction?  Who among us is a hero, bravely rescuing others and putting themselves in harms way?  I have a sneaky suspicion that its not me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a nice person, but in this case, I think I’d be more than a little self serving.   In other words, bang!  Here, Mr. Zombie, have a serving of him. 

We’re probably all better people when we’re not running for our lives.  Fatter.  Maybe more self indulgent.  But most likely, a lot nicer to our neighbors. 

Best Year Ever

2012.  Two thousand twelve.  It doesn’t matter how I write it, I love the look and sound of the new year.  Never mind the Mayans or anyone else who has a bad word to say about it.  I have a good feeling about this one.  For the first time ever, I’ve been able to write cheques and letters without putting the wrong year down. 

I’ve  got my resolutions in order, both personal and business.  This year, we’ll celebrate our 23rd year in business.  That’s a lot of babyTrekkers.  Thanks to all our former and present customers for your letters, photos and funny stories.  I’ve been blessed by all of you.  There is something wonderful about having a business that connects a person to others around the planet.  I love that fact that people on every continent have worn and loved the babyTrekker.  For those of you unfamiliar with our Canadian carrier, let me give you a few facts.

The babyTrekkers  are made with love and care, one at a time.  We purchase our organic cotton through an American company, use American made buckles and foam.  Everything else, including the manufacturing, comes from Canada.  We pay attention to the details, and we like to get things right.  If we don’t, we  make it right for our customers who somehow, over the years, have come to feel like old friends.

This is the year that I celebrate, you, the customer.  I salute you, my friends, for undertaking the precious, overwhelming and ongoing task of parenting.  I honor your quest to be the best mom and dad you can be, and for making a place for the babyTrekker  in your family’s story.    I pray that this is the best year ever, for you, for me, for all of us who share this amazing planet.  God bless you all and have a great 2012.

Holding on for Dear Life

On Sunday, my dad turned eighty-six years old.  We held a small family party for him at our house, which is a little trickier than it used to be, because he can’t walk.  We had dinner in the garden, rolling his chair down the brick path and right up to the table.  It was a treat for all of us, because we usually have to visit him at the nursing home where he lives. 

It’s hard for me to imagine that a time will come when dad won’t be here anymore.  We’re just so comfortable together.  We hug and kiss each other goodbye every single day.  Even the switch in our roles has been an easy, if poignant, transition.  Many of the things that my father used to do for me as a child, I now do for him.  I’ll brush his hair, or wash his face with a warm cloth.  I’ll fetch him a sweater, or put his shoes on him.  He’s okay with it, too.  We’re in such a smooth routine, it almost allows me to deny the fact that someday, I’ll have to let him go.  It makes me want to hold onto him for dear life.

But life is all about letting go.  From the time our children start to walk, they begin to proclaim their independence.  After a few months of tottering around on shaky legs, all they want to do is to explore their world.  They alternate between pushing you away and then clinging to you as if the house was on fire.  It can make your head spin, this back and forthness of their growing up.

We are all, both young and old, in a constant state of change.  It’s not a comfortable thought for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy transitions.  But there is one way to make life stand still for a moment. And that is to just stop  right in the middle of whatever you’re doing, and look around you.  Pay attention to what’s happening, and realize that this is your life moving along, small moment by small moment.
 Whether you’re just growing up or busy raising children, it can feel like it’s taking forever.  But one day, you look back, and it seems that it only took about five minutes.  And if we’re lucky, we realize that all the little moments in our lives, like sitting around the supper table on a warm summer night, or helping a tired child get ready for bed, were the ones that were the most important in the end.  And then it doesn’t matter what you grew up to be, or if your child is a good athlete, or is terrible in math.  What counts is that you have a precious chain of many moments, where you were fully aware that they were, and are, the blessings that make up a life.     

Dear Mr. Harper:

            Last night I dreamed that the oceans had turned to Jello.  Everything under the water was stuck, like chunks of pineapple in fruit salad that was a sad shade of gray.  I woke up with a post apocalyptic feeling that always seems to follow bad news.
             The list of disasters around the world is endless.  Drought, floods and increasing numbers of hurricanes are all signs that Mother Nature isn’t happy. We’re a little full of ourselves about life up here in the North, snuggled safely between the rocks and trees.  But last week’s windstorm was eerie.  It gave us all a taste of what much of the world experiences seasonally.
            To quote hip hop artist, Nelly, “It’s getting hot in here.”  Nine countries hit new temperature highs last summer, causing devastating floods in Pakistan and elsewhere.
There aren’t many credible scientists who dispute global warming.  Those who are work hard for their supper serving the interests of industries that are major pollutors. It’s also hard for governments to ignore the pleas (and the cash) of big business, especially when so many families benefit from the work. The Alberta oil sands are a good example.  The system for extracting oil is much less efficient than regular oil wells, creating high carbon emissions for less result.  But the world is so energy hungry that the jobs created by it pay well.   
We all want prosperous communities. 
But in the attempt to keep the economy moving (and get re-elected) most governments choose to ignore the disasters awaiting the planet.  There’s some lip service, but no one is doing anything significant to halt carbon emissions.  We need serious investment into energy alternatives.   We need stricter environmental laws that big business has to follow.  If the financial incentives are there, the results will be amazing.  Its not too late.

Flin Flon Culture Days, Alive and Well

Culture days is a celebration of all things artistic.  We paint, we sing, we attend community events that bring us all together.  We dance and sometimes, we cry. 
Last year’s song by K’naan, Waving Flag, was a HUGE success as our dance pick.  Most of us aren’t that coordinated, but we all danced and clapped with joy as we made our way down Main Street.  Different songs speak to different people, but that one spoke to all of us.  So what now?
            For 2011, I’m proposing Michael Buble’s song, Hollywood.  This choice is not the favorite, but here’s why I like it.  The tune is amazing and fun, as is the voice.  Here, in the lyrics, is why it fits.
‘So don’t fly higher, for your fire, put it in your head, baby Hollywood is dead, you can find it in yourself.  Keep on loving what is true and the world will come to you, you can find it in yourself.’
Each of us is an artist, though we may not paint, or write, sing or play an instrument.  We all dream, we dance in the shower to the Black Eyed peas, we sing into our hairbrushes (yes, even at 57.)  We create things every day, whether it’s an essay for school, a project for work or a braid in a child’s hair.  We are all artists.  We find what we need inside ourselves, when we love what is true. 
When we dance down Main Street, we’re celebrating so many things.  We’re saluting this amazing country that we live in.  We’re acknowledging the artists who add an extra dimension to our world, bringing colours and insights and emotions we’ve never imagined or experienced.  But mostly we’re celebrating each other.  As friends and neighbors, we’re dancing in unity, flowing and laughing as we move together.  Our eyes meet and we smile, acknowledging just how amazing this experience is.  Hollywood may indeed be dead.  But Flin Flon is alive and well, and we’re rockin’ it! 
Let me know what you think!  Let’s get a dialogue started.

When Candy was Dandy

 In the 1960’s, every kid I knew had the same idea.  Where can we scrape up a few nickels to buy a chocolate bar?  Forget the search for peace, love and understanding. The bigger question was, how many pop bottles can I find to trade for penny candy?  We’d check every ditch, and weren’t above asking couples at the beach for their empties. 
            We thought about the sweet stuff a lot, probably more than kids do nowadays.  That’s why Halloween was such a big deal.  It was the same thing with soft drinks.  We got them in our Christmas stockings, or while on vacation.  How many of us remember traveling with the car windows rolled down on a hot day, everyone covered in road dust, a cold, sweaty pop in each person’s hand?
            This memory illustrates the difference from then to now.  The change in consumption is having a definite effect on our environment.  Because kids (and adults) have treats every day, there are food wrappers, plastic bottles and pop cans strewn everywhere.  They’re more noticeable on the walking paths around town.  Even the strategic placement of garbage cans and recycling bins seem to have little impact.  This careless attitude is disrespectful to our town, to Mother Earth, and to each other.  Its even disrespectful to candy, when you think about it.
            The other impact of junk food is felt by society as a whole.  Nobody set out to exercise in the sixties, at least from what I can remember.  Everyone played, or worked in their gardens or shoveled snow.  Yet somehow, people were fitter.  At least, that’s how it seems in my memory.  Today we battle with soaring diabetes rates, cancer and other diseases that may be weight related.    It turns out that most of the candy around now is made with cheaper alternatives, like high fructose corn syrup. 
            It seems that cheap and readily available junk food is not a good thing for anyone.  Not for the children who struggle with obesity, their health compromised at a young age.  And certainly not for society, as costs rise and the government struggles to keep up with an increasingly unhealthy population.
            It was hard for smokers when the price of cigarettes went sky high because of large tax levies.  Smoking has been recognized as being hazardous to our health, and a high cost is a deterrent to a lot of people.  Maybe if junk food cost more, it would have the same impact.  The tax money could be used for health care, and the general population would benefit.  There’d be a lot less litter around town, and who knows? Maybe the chips, chocolate bars and pop would make a Christmas comeback.      

Avoidance Behavior at its Best

A unique situation that verges on a strange type of illness flares up within me every summer (at least, since I’ve become an adult.)  It started long before I had children, though having babies definitely made the symptoms a little worse.  Starting in mid spring I begin to feel overwhelmed by the approach of summer.  Most of my friends and neighbors long for this, their favorite season.  They can’t wait to lie out on the patio, a cool drink in hand, a book or magazine flopped to one side of the chair as they gaze lazily at the sky.  This image gives me nightmares, frankly, which tend to start right around the end of May.  Why? you may ask with honest astonishment.  Because the summer creates in me a fierce need to do absolutely everything.  I must have a wonderful garden, an incredible vacation, maximum time with family, freshly painted items and/or fabulous garage sale nick nacks arranged artfully around the yard.  If I’m not on high alert, having the best time of my frantic life, then I feel that I’m wasting the precious few months of warm weather. 

I have learned some calming techniques, but the best one came along with the babyTrekker.  When in doubt about what to do, go for a walk.  Don’t think about the messy house, the unweeded garden, the new plants languishing in their pots.  Strap that baby on and head outside.  If its raining, invest in one of those $2.00 plastic ponchos, cut the front low enough for the baby, and head into the rain.  Walk briskly and inhale deeply.  Wonderful things will start to happen in your brain.  Endorphins begin their happy dance and sanity returns, allowing perspective on EVERYTHING.  Because there is no agenda, or chaos, or reason to feel anxious on that beautiful/rainy/snowy day.  This life is a gift, and nature has tied it up for us in beautiful ribbons of greenery and sunshine, of bees and butterflies.  John Lennon said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.  It also happens when you’re busy being stressed out about unimportant things.  Easy for a parent to do.  So let it go, and don’t force yourself to make one more decision.  When life feels sour and demanding, head outside and get moving.  Mother nature is waiting with open arms and no expectations at all.