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.

020

048

Grand Canyon

050053

055

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?

 

029

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.

062

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.

104

110

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.

111

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.

IMG_3738

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!

001

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

 

 

Advertisements

The Key to Being a Great House Guest

They say traveling fosters appreciation for your own home; I say having the right kind of guests can do the same thing. We just had family from Pennsylvania stay with us for a week and their visit was an eye-opener for us. A huge pour of vitality into our sense of place. Yes, this is what Canada is like! Yep, this is the prairies! Welcome to our piece of it! every conversation seemed to say, because they were gracious enough to appreciate the nuances we take for granted and show interest in our lives.

The day before our guests arrive my daughters and I are driving home from the lake, trying to mentally prepare for their visit. We are thinking of tips to send them as they embark on their Saskatchewan vacation. Susanna has a scrap of paper and is jotting down our ideas as we come up with them.

“There’s a subtle beauty here,” I say. “It’s not a fast-food, cheap kinda love.” Susanna scribbles it down. “You won’t be bowled over by mountains and oceans and forest.” The big sky, train whistles, and open space grow on you slowly until, one day, you find your attachment to this place goes as deep as the alfalfa roots that chisel through the soil.

We pass by a derelict farmyard. And then another. The canola is in full bloom now and green wheat carpets the fields. A clutch of old grain bins stand together, dying on the land. The wood is aged and rotting and there are gaping holes where the harvest was once kept safe. I think of the picturesque towns of Lancaster County–where our family is coming from–the antique brick buildings, tidy gardens and picket fences. “How do we describe the oldness around here?” I ask the girls. “It’s not a quaint kind of look, but more of a collapsing-in-a-swamp abandonment.”

We pencil in a few more notes and Belén suddenly comments, “You know what’s weird? All of these things sound horrible but when you put them together they describe a place I love.”

Dave, Katrina, and Eli arrive before we complete the list.  Dave helps Stan trench in electrical lines for our new workshop. Katrina makes herself at home in my garden and serves up kale and lemon balm smoothies on a daily basis. Eli slides into routine around here as if getting into an old pair of slippers: eat, play ball, read, repeat. We take them to “our” lake, go for early morning walks on the flats, and play guitar, banjo, fiddle, and the spoons. We build a stage, paint murals and host a house concert together. They have tea with our neighbour, play checkers in the park, and run errands with my girls. The whole time I am learning from them what it means to be a guest.

full patio listening to Kim de Laforest and Greg Simm

When we travel we often stay with friends or family along the way. It’s on these trips that I notice what makes a great host… fresh flowers, comfy pillows, relaxed, no-fuss attitudes. We all love how Uncle Herb and Aunt Vera offer an island full of cheeses, dips, crackers and fruit for grazing. (“Herb and Vera’s” has become common lingo in our house for putting out snacks.) Now, as we host, I am reminding myself how I want to be as a guest.

Dave, Katrina and Eli stay seven days. Seven days can be a long time. It’s 21 meals and shared bathrooms, couches and morning routines. Seven days can seem like an interminable visit or a short week, depending on the dynamics. In our case, it’s the latter and here’s why: they care about the life we are making. They show interest in our home, garden, friends, projects, weather, politics, economy, favourite books, food, and just about everything else.

I realize the most important thing you can do for your hosts is appreciate their home. This doesn’t mean pretending to like it more than your own, where corn on the cob is ready 2 months earlier and the lush countryside is as charming as a page from a storybook. It doesn’t require feigned compliments or making comparisons. It means trying to understand the culture and the community. It means asking questions. About the dragonflies, about the climate, about the plants. It means observing all you can. It means commenting on what is life-giving so that your hosts see their place with new eyes. All of this converts burden into blessing and makes your visit an honour.

Dave and Stan serenading someone to sleep?

Katrina harvesting spinach

Happy travels this summer. Now go notice and bless!

Tricia

PS. Here’s a link to Kim de Laforest and Greg Simm (the musicians we hosted) playing in a very COOL location!

PSS. And another to Katrina’s Soulful Community page 🙂

 

 

 

Slippery Elm Lozenges and a Winter Holiday

DSCN9539_

When I’m feeling healthy I don’t think about swallowing. I just do it. There, I did it again–without thinking or wincing. Isn’t it amazing how we appreciate even the simplest functions when our body isn’t working the way we are used to? When I have a cold, and daggers line my throat, I wonder how I could ever take good health for granted. Then I get better and forget all about it. Until the next virus shows up–when I’ll search my site to find this recipe again. These homemade cough drops soothe the throat, don’t contain refined sugars* or artificial colourings* like commercial lozenges, and are easy to make.

Recipe for Herbal Lozenges

1/2 cup slippery elm bark powder (mucilaginous herb useful for treating inflammations)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (an antibacterial and antiviral)
1/2 cup licorice root tea (treats sore throat and cough)
4 tablespoons of honey (for flavour and antibacterial qualities)

Boil water, brew licorice tea, and sweeten it with honey. (This tea is extremely sweet–be sure to taste a drop before you add it to see for yourself.) Mix with elm powder and cinnamon and shape into little balls. Keep some powder aside to help roll the dough (dip the balls in it while you are forming them) as it will be sticky. Place lozenges on a cookie sheet and leave to dry. You can dehydrate these or place in a warm oven to speed up the process. When they are dry they will not be as hard as conventional cough drops but they last just as long in the mouth.

Belén and I love the way these taste and eat them like candy. Susanna, on the other hand, won’t touch them. When I offered some of my last batch to Stan he responded with, “Do I have to?” I kind of don’t blame him, they look a lot like deer droppings. But they seem to help and that’s good enough for me.

DSCN9535_

*Disclosure: I avoid all artificial colours and sugar unless they happen to be in Skittles, or anything else I want to eat. I’m also the kind of person who drinks my kombucha with hotdogs and potato chips. Just so you know.

***

We’re at the fiddle contest and I’m trying to jiggle Vivian to sleep at the back of the hall, when I spot two other little girls heading for the water fountain. Arms linked and tripping over each other’s winter boots they whisper and giggle, the way most nine-year-olds do. Except they’re doing it in French. Later when Belén and I are waltzing in the swirling crowd of dancers she hears it too. Young people, middle-aged people, and old people, all speaking the language of instruction at her school. And they’re doing it voluntarily. On the drive home from Winnipeg I ask the girls if they noticed it.

“Yes,” Belén says, “And I kept wondering why they were doing it when nobody was making them speak French.”

Which is one of the reasons we like to go to the Festival du Voyageur; so our girls can hear people singing, dancing, partying, and joking in French–a language they associate with math and science, teachers and textbooks. This time we went with my parents and made a little vacation of it, skating on the river, going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, staying in a hotel and eating out.

DSCN9596_

At the Museum for Human Rights. I love this picture of my dad and Vivian. My mom is to the right of my dad.

DSCN9599_

Our favourite group at the festival–Bon Débarras

DSCN9607_

I got them to look at me for the photo but they mostly entranced by the step-dancing on stage.

My parents at one of the Festival snow sculptures

The sky darkens and our bodies are starting to ache from the cold when the next singer comes on stage. She strums a few chords then yells out to the crowd, “If I were you, I’d have stayed home tonight!” The tents are warmed with huge propane heaters but we can still see our breath and can’t shake the chill of spending the day outside. A few more notes ring out from her guitar. “But I had to come because I’m playing!” The crowd laughs and claps with mittened hands. Soon we’ll go back to the hotel where I’ll run the hottest bath I can handle, the older girls will run back and forth between Grandma and Grandpa’s room and ours, Vivian will finally be able to nurse without distraction, and Stan can kick off his boots after accomplishing another day’s holiday. Which is a bit what it feels like as we get used to traveling with an infant again. She’s been mostly content but it’s not like we haven’t noticed her, and that’s good, but still harder. In Vivian’s defense, she hasn’t had much time to be a baby; like lollygag in her playpen or suckle in a quiet corner. There is too much at the museum to see, maple syrup taffy to taste, and too many miles to skate.

DSCN9572_

My parents with B and S behind

DSCN9573_

Skating on miles of river trails. They had wooden chairs outfitted with skis to give people a break:)

DSCN9577_

Vivian is under that pile of plastic and blankets in the stroller.

DSCN9575_

 Stay warm,

Tricia

All Natural Two-In-One Shampoo Recipe

“Brisk” was the word the gas station attendant used to describe the wind that brought the temperature to -40 C the other night; someone not so reserved might have used more colourful vocabulary.

Yesterday afternoon, while supervising students waiting for the school bus, I noticed three junior-high girls huddled together in line, swaying and singing (or was it moaning?) Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya…

“Thinking of fire and warmth?” I asked. They nodded and just kept grooving.

Meanwhile, Susanna’s been experimenting with the cold in her usual manner–filling ziploc bags with water and seeing how fast they freeze on our front porch. She’s been doing this for years now, and when she was younger most of the water would land on the floor before it ever got outside, but now the process is pretty streamlined.

DSCN7174_

She lost a tooth this week!

DSCN7180_

I’m not really sure what draws her to hefting around ice…

DSCN7175_

This kind of weather gets people talking. About cheap airplane tickets, tropical vacations, and even relocation. A friend of mine, who has taught in international schools around the world, came over for a visit recently and we started discussing the great things about living overseas–the adventure, the markets full of fresh fruit, the climate–and then I remembered how I felt when I came back. It was an overwhelming sense of ease, that came from navigating my home culture. Suddenly I noticed, and appreciated, all the sarcastic remarks and jokes I was “getting” without even trying. When people referred to something obscure while delivering a punchline I didn’t have to ask any questions; I knew what they were talking about and I “got” it. Believe me, it’s a beautiful thing to “get” something.

And so, this week, when someone forwarded me this link I laughed hard…no effort or cultural footnotes required. If I’d tried to explain to my former Guarani neighbours why this crunchy scale is so funny, the humour would’ve evaporated. Jokes poking fun at family cloth (a reusable alternative to toilet paper) aren’t so hilarious to someone wiping their butt with cleaned-off corn cobs out of necessity. While much humour transcends culture, there are some things that are funny because of our culture. The crunchy scale is one of them, and even though many people in my town wouldn’t find it the least bit funny, I know at least two of you who will.

My girls took the whole thing very seriously. I read off the requirements to get to the next crunchy level and they nodded their heads competitively. We stalled at level eight (requiring organic, local food that has been blessed by vegan unicorns), but then moved ahead when we saw it also included going “no-poo”. For those of you who think this is something to do with your excretory system, let me explain… Going no-poo means ditching commercial shampoos and other hair products containing dubious ingredients. There are millions of websites that detail why someone might choose to do this but this isn’t one of them. All I want to do is share the light I’m finding at the end of my 2-year-long, no-poo tunnel. Technically, it’s not really no-poo since I’ve purchased, and used, some natural shampoos during this time, but let me tell you, I stayed the course with vinegar and baking soda for a long time… way longer than I should’ve because

A) It’s no fun to wash your hair with something that doesn’t suds up

B) My hair didn’t feel clean

I found a version of this simple shampoo/conditioner on-line after I’d given up on baking soda and vinegar, and heard the girls complaining about rinsing out their conditioner.

“Can’t you just buy a two-in-one, Mom?” they’d asked.

“Of course I can, but I’m going to try and make one first,” I answered.

Here’s what I did and how it turned out:

All Natural Two-In-One Shampoo

1. Measure one part liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) with one part coconut milk (the kind you use for thai cooking).

2. Shake before each use. A little goes a long way–mix up one cup of shampoo at a time and it will store well in your bathroom.

3. You can add essential oils, or decrease the amount of soap or milk if the ratio isn’t quite right for you hair type.

4. Once in a while, when the girls have a lot of tangles, I rinse their hair with a little apple cider vinegar and water. They hate this.

DSCN7183_

Rather than show a picture of my own lustrous locks, (imagine away; it’s better that way) here’s a photo of the foamy shampoo in action. The two-in-one halves my girls’ bath-time!

Have a wonderful weekend, whether you are a no-poo experimenter, a cold-weather warrior, a veteran traveler, or none of the above.

Tricia

PS. If you see me in person, don’t judge the shampoo by my hair–it’s toque season.

PSS. I feel like I need to clarify something… we don’t used family cloth.

Good Words: Do you want to come along?

Our family returned home from a long day away recently.  While I was taking off my shoes, I saw the red light of the answering machine blinking across the kitchen.  We all listened to the message while tripping over each other, shedding our jackets and bags.

“…I was just wondering how your week at school had gone, Tric…”

When it was over, Stan said to me, “Now that girl is one good friend.”

The message was from a friend I have had most of my life.  Although we haven’t lived in the same place for many years we have kept in touch well enough to know each other’s schedules, routines, when the other is in a good/rough cycle with their spouse or kids, books we are reading, hair products we are using, plants we are growing…

She is also one of the friends who photocopied Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobby, coloured it, and gave it to me before I left for South America.

“…One day in January, Toot decided to set off on his biggest trip ever.  He decided to see the world.  “Do you want to come along?” he asked Puddle.  “We could start with someplace warm and wild.”

Puddle preferred to stay home.

I love snow, he thought…”

It is a tender story of friendship, travel, and being content at home.  The pictures are wonderful; especially when coloured in pencil crayon by some best friends!

I pulled this book from my daughters’ shelf and read it to them again this week.  Even though we are not in a see-the-world space right now, like I was when I first read it, it makes me smile.  And to be honest, I’m happy to be the piggy at home, for now.

(Important:  I am not advocating for the illegal reproduction of this book.  Please borrow it from your library or buy it! 🙂 )

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!