Mommy, Am I Pretty?

Around 3 am, I hear Vivi moaning in her crib.

“I’m here, I’m here,” I whisper while I flick on the hall light before opening her door.

I soon see her bare, skinny legs sticking out of the covers and wonder if she woke from being cold. She continues to whimper as I pull up her blankets and tuck them between the mattress and crib rails. Then she rolls over on her back to face me.

“Mommy am I pretty?” she says.

I’m not sure I hear her correctly. She can’t possibly be worried about her looks right now! Is she dreaming? The light is too dim for me to check whether her eyes are closed or not. She fusses some more and then,

“Mommy, is my hair pretty?”

Part of me recoils at the sentiment. To answer her positively would affirm the validity of the question in the first place. And why on earth is my 3-year-old fixated on her appearance? Where is she getting the message that pretty is paramount? Another part of me–the part that wants to jump back under my covers–wishes to placate her immediately. At 3 am, this is the part of me that wins.

“Oh yes, you’re very, very pretty,” I answer, feeling ridiculous as I listen to my own words.

She’s still complaining and groaning, but has one last question.

“Mommy, do I have rainbow hair?”

At the risk of setting her off again, and delaying my own return to bed, I tell the truth. “No,” I say, rubbing her back and legs, “No, you do not have rainbow hair, but I love you very much.” Somehow the rainbow-hair question relieves me, as if my-little-pony fantasies are more palatable than self-consciousness.

I slip out of her room, light as a bhangra dancer, so as not to elicit more inquiry.

* * *

In other news, I’ve been working on an article on the female body during the last few weeks. I’m curious how self-image in teens, mid-lifers and aging women is affected by privacy and modesty. Specifically, I’m wondering how females who hang out regularly, in normalized contexts, with other naked women, view their body differently than those who don’t. Do women who live in cultures where they are exposed to the variety of the human form, have a healthier perspective?

This doesn’t directly correlate with the anecdote I just shared, but if you have ideas or thoughts on any of the above I’m interested to hear them.





Three Huggers and Sheerness


The prairies do not allow for tourist consumers. Only participants. You must live the changing of seasons, bask in the rising and setting of their sun and be sustained by the rich soil to know their beauty.

Isn’t that perfect? I drove two-and-a-half hours, mostly on gravel roads, to take my daughter to a fiddle lesson last week and I couldn’t stop thinking about dear Sheerness. If you know the prairies, you’ll know why this speaks to me. I even stopped to take a picture of the narrow grid road, the slough and the sky, but it didn’t turn out quite like the one my brother-in-law took above.

The photo and caption are taken from Three Hugger’s Instagram account, run by my sister and her husband. Tara and her family own a small family business, making beeswax food-wraps (a sustainable alternative to plastic wrap/baggies), and just spent the last 7 weeks on the road. They drove thousands of miles, parked their camper at truck stops, parking lots and campgrounds, hiked, surfed, explored and sold their wares on the road. Just like that. Which is just like Tara.

If I were going to undertake such a huge adventure I’d do it with much more hubris; I’d announce plans far and wide beforehand, complain loudly about all the packing and then make a big deal about everything. But not Tara. She just does things like this. Come up with a product the whole family can make? No problem. Pull a camper around the continent with a Honda mini-van? Done. Sign-up for festivals everywhere, from San Diego, CA, to Canmore, AB? Check. Make it all look easy and fun, in the most unpretentious and humble way possible? Certainly. That’s my sister.

They are on the last leg of their journey, and just spent the weekend at our place on their drive east. Check out their Instagram, Facebook and Etsy site for more on their wraps and adventures.

PS. I’ve never been to Sheerness but I still want to frame that photo and put it on my wall.

Spring Ritual

Vivi swings the door open, wearing her rubber boats, with a snack in hand. We’re about to go on a walk but it’s not just any walk, it’s a hunt. We’re on a mission to find a robin. We’ve been desperate to see one ever since Scoops (the local ice-cream stand) opened this season. Desperate because, according to our family by-laws, no one is allowed out for ice-cream until the first robin sighting. And whoever sees the robin decides where we go for treats.

I’m beginning to feel like a lily-handed city girl as friends and neighbours report their own sightings. “We’ve had them around the farm for weeks,” says Violet. Krista tells me she saw five in her backyard and another neighbour can’t believe we haven’t seen any. “Now it’s our turn,” I announce to Vivi as she eats lunch in the stroller and we wheel onto our regular route.

About a 100 metres along I see movement on my left. Under the pine, behind a stand of red-osier dogwood appears potential. I steal away from the stroller, pacing the perimeter of the bushes, then drop to my knees to get a better look. Vivi tries to get out of the stroller just when a gust of wind sends both of them sailing. She yelps and I quickly put my finger to my lips–this is no time for screaming, not now when I’m just about to close in. All I need is a flash of the bird’s signature red breast.

I see Vivi squinting her eyes at me and grinning. I have a feeling the most exciting part, for her, has nothing to do with our avian search. Vivian is so used to seeing the back of my head while I drive the van; my rear end while I stand at the kitchen sink; my calves tangled around the stool while I sit in front of the laptop, that my current posture is curiously thrilling for her. She crouches beside me, both of us pressing knees and hands into muddy grass, craning for a better look.

“There it is! There it is! Do you see it, Vivi?”

Vivian turns to face me. “Boo Boo Bubble” she whispers loudly, confirming the sighting with her favourite ice-cream flavour. Mission accomplished.

Once we offer the robins sunflower seeds and other residual crumbs from the stroller, thanking them for returning north, we celebrate our victory. “We did it,” I cry, giving Vivian a high-five. “We’re the first ones to see a robin!”

That evening, the wind blows cold while we walk to Scoops. We wear long underwear, toques, mitts and winter parkas. (Belén urges me to please take off my fur-lined hood when we walk past the skate park.) No other customers are at the ice-cream stand when we arrive. Yesterday would have been more pleasant, and certainly the more sensible day for cold treats, but it simply wasn’t an option. Not according to the ritual.

Vivian does, indeed, order Boo Boo Bubble–most of it ending up on her jacket, the cement and the garbage can. I don’t order anything at all; I don’t even like ice cream. Sometimes the anticipation, the wait, the hype associated with a ritual is better than the ritual itself.

Happy Spring009


What’s Your Geographical Skill-Set?

The shuttle bus lurches around a corner and we cling to the metal railing while exclaiming over the catci. “That a saguaro,” I point out to my daughters, “and there’s a bougainvillea!” We crane our necks, taking in as much possible during our first minutes on the ground in Arizona. Everything is so rocky and colourful, and so different than the winterscape we left behind.



Grand Canyon



We hiked down about 1.5 miles

A few days later, on our way to hike in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, we eye the scenery with the same awe. “We’ll have to lather on sunscreen as soon as we step out of the van,” I murmur nervously to no one in particular. “Did you all bring your hats?” Stan asks, looking in the rear-view mirror. We pull into the trail-head parking lot and brace ourselves before opening the doors of our air-conditioned vehicle. “It looks so… so…” Susanna hesitates for a bit, looking at the prickly vegetation surrounding us, “so hot!” I wonder if this is how our friends from Iran, Venezuela or Ethiopia feel when we invite them to go ice-fishing, skiing or sailing with us in Canada. Do they, too, steel themselves in the parking lot for what lies ahead?



Later that night, we sit outside my parents’ trailer while the sun silhouettes palm-trees in their 55-plus park. We’re talking about which bio-region would’ve been easier on the first nations, settlers and explorers: central Canada or the South-West. “I’d take forest and streams any day of the week, ” I say, even if it means mosquitoes and brutal winters. My brother-in-law, Derek, makes a wise comment, “You need to build a certain kind of skill-set for wherever you live.


Stan and my mom, tasting oil at an olive farm in AZ

Days later I’m reminded of that skill-set when we pass caravans of farm labourers on the highway to San Deigo. The first bus is packed and pulls a trailer with three faded porta-potties. I stare at the bus windows to get a glimpse of the people inside. Are these workers undocumented, underpaid or ill-treated? I’m shamefully curious. Who are the people who harvest the lettuce that makes it all the way to my fridge in mid-winter? Old men, young women and teenagers are dozing with their heads tilted back. Many look Latino, are wearing straw hats and some even have scarves around their necks and chins to shield themselves from the sun. As our own vehicle climbs out of the irrigated desert and into the rocky coastal range, I imagine what their lives must be like. I wonder at the skill-set these agricultural soldiers have honed for survival.

Our second day in San Diego we head to the touristy enclave of La Jolla. I’ve rented 2 kayks and envision my parents and family exploring caves, taking pictures of sea-lions and paddling in a calm cove. I am terribly mistaken. As soon as my parents see the waves crashing on shore they decide to use their kayak as a bench on the sand. I don’t blame them–the ocean looks wild. Nothing like I’d imagined while reserving the kayaks over the phone, watching snow fall gently outside my kitchen window. Stan and Belén stare at the froth for a few minutes, get in the kayak and then beat their way through the surf. The rest of us squint our eyes and try to keep track of them.



Something must be distorted in this picture… it was way worse than it appears here:)

While Vivi chases seagulls and squishes wet sand between her fingers I start worrying. Why are they going so far out! What could happen if they tip? The swells are so big, will Belén ever make it back on the boat? Will the kayak get swept away? What about sharks? I’m not sure if it’s because I’m sick with the flu, or simply scared of the ocean, that everything suddenly seems ominous.

I interrupt a kayak guide who is admiring a freshly-caught fish, which is about the size of my eleven-year-old daughter. Under normal circumstances I might ask a few questions, congratulate the fisherman, or at least wait until they’re finished talking. But these are not normal circumstances. My husband and child are being tossed around in the open sea, likely about to drown or be eaten by sharks. I can already imagine identifying their bodies and returning to Canada as a widow.


Some of us choose to stay on shore and eat chips instead

“What happens if someone who rents a kayak gets in trouble?” I ask urgently. The guide, with curly brown hair is laughing and doesn’t hear me. I try again. “My husband is out there with my daughter and they’re not with a tour group or anything, will they be okay?” What I want to know is when I should call 911 or a helicopter or some kind of SWAT team. He grins, asks a few questions and assures me that everything will be fine, even though it’s “a gnarly day out there”. He looks about 25. I think I must look about 75, with my huge sun-hat and worried eyes. “Thanks,” I say and try to smile. I also add something lame about being used to canoeing in flat-water.

An hour later Belén and Stan return, shooting through the surf onto the shore. They are whole, unscathed and breathing. Just as I predicted to my parents who have been worrying with me, both Stan and Belén are shocked I was concerned at all. It is imminently clear I have no skill-set for ocean-side living.


Vivian is figuring it out (Thanks, James, for the photo)

Ten days after we step into the desert we land back in Regina. While Stan runs to get the car we pull our suitcases off the baggage carousel and root through our bags, pulling out jackets and toques. We wait and wait and wait for Stan to pick us up. It is now almost 2 am and all the other travelers are long gone. I ask a security guard eating a tuna sandwich if the airport stays open all night. And does he have any idea how far away the economy parking lot is? He radios another guard and asks about a man in a tee-shirt (Stan) who might be looking for his van. No news. Finally he radios again and we hear he is on his way. When he finally pulls up to the airport’s sliding doors I ask him what happened. Did he fall? Fight off an attacker? How come he took so long?

“The car was completely iced in. Must’ve melted while we were away and water froze around the wheels. It was totally stuck. Had to chip it out and push.” He closes the trunk and we shiver in our leather seats, waiting for the heater to warm the air.

A few days later I see Vivian’s plush baby-blanket on the floor of the van. It’s dirty and torn with a gaping hole in its middle. I hold it up and Vivi wails, “My blanket!”

“Oh” says Stan casually, “I put it under the wheels for some traction when I was trying to get out of the airport parking lot. Sorry Vivi.” She whimpers a little more, but I don’t feel too sympathetic. It’s not her favourite blankie, and besides, it served as an important tool in Stan’s skill-set for dealing with Saskatchewan.

What kind of skill-set do you need to live where you do? What do you wish you could tell newcomers about the skill-set they need to flourish? Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t possess the required skill-set? Please share!


Skill-set for SK, includes knowing what do with snow, candles, toques and hot chocolate (March 2018)



Identifying as a Christian

I drafted an essay, about 4 or 5 years ago, that was a pain to write. I had an idea of what I wanted to get down on paper but the connections were awkward, the structure confusing and the emotion unwieldy. Then, last month, while looking for something else in my writing folder, the essay fell out. I picked it off the floor and sat down to read it with fresh eyes. By the last paragraph, I decided I wanted to salvage it because I still feel the same way, and because it explains what I cannot easily articulate in everyday conversation.

Convivium, an on-line magazine that “fosters rigorous conversation, shares profound stories of faith, and explores some of the most difficult questions of our time”, published it this week…

I don’t believe there’s anything after this,” Connie says. “We get one time around and when we die, it’s all over.” She pauses, then adds, “There’s nothing more, nothing less.”

Lying on my back, staring at the bunk above me, I sense she pities anyone naive enough to rely on a religious crutch to explain our existence. Spiritual leanings, hard-wired into the modern psyche because of evolutionary advantage, are nothing to her but the result of legends used for societal control and group cohesion. The more I listen, the more I dread coming out…

Click to read the rest here!

If, by the end of the article, you still have time and energy to comment, I’d love to know how you relate to the piece. Does it feel familiar? Unsettle you? Surprise you?

Thanks for reading. I’m honoured, as always, that you’re here,



Wonderscape 2018

I’ve been learning a lot, in the last decade, about where ideas come from. Lately I’ve been starting to feel uncomfortable with some of the language I’ve used regarding this topic. My perspective has changed. I don’t have ideas; I receive them. I don’t come-up with ideas; I listen to them. Ideas certainly don’t originate with me, but if I’m lucky, I catch them and sometimes I even get to work with them.

It’s been a couple years since I first conceived the idea of a gathering where creators come to work on their projects and spend time learning from each other. I could not have imagined, cross-country skiing on that cold night in January 2016, what the idea would look like two years later. You, thankfully, do not have to try and imagine it either. Simply check it out here 🙂

poster 2018

Registration opened about a week ago and it is already over half-full, with makers of all disciplines hailing from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Yukon. Wonderscape is designed as an intimate retreat (maximum around 40 participants) to facilitate authentic discussions during group sessions and a cozy atmosphere. I’d love to see you there. Please contact me at if you are curious.