Saturday, August 27, 2016

Who He Was.

Years ago, too many to mention, I lived this strange life of a weekend ski patroller in the lower mainland of BC. I would work my regular week at the sporting goods store (can you say "amazing staff discounts"?) and then on Friday afternoon, would pack up my '69 VW Van and head up to Manning Park or Hemlock Valley for the weekend of training or patrolling. One weekend, I didn't get out of work on time so I had my van packed up and headed out at about 4:30 am to try and get first tracks at Manning by 7. I had just passed Chilliwack, and was making good time when in the dark of my van, I could smell something akin to burning tires or oil or some other toxic black carcinogen.
I flicked on the interior light and was shocked that the whole back of the van was filled with black smoke. I pulled over quickly and was at the back hatch before the van had stopped moving. I was grabbing for my skis and equipment bag and throwing them in the grass beside the van. Priorities, people. Plus, at this time, my equipment may have been worth substantially more than the van itself.

I went to open the engine compartment and it was extremely hot to the touch. I grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the front seat (thank you again, Dad...) and used my gloves to open the engine compartment. There was a LOT of smoke, not a lot of fire. I wasn't sure if I should "waste" the fire extinguisher so I didn't use it. I just sat on the side of the road, in the dark, and waited for something to happen. You know, like you do when you're a twenty year old girl. These were pre-cell phone days so I looked around and saw the lights on in a nearby dairy farm. Dairy farmers. Up before dawn. Seemed like a decent option. I felt that whatever had happened, was finished so I threw my gear back in the van, locked it up, and then climbed through a ditch and jumped to the other side and walked towards the brightly lit interior of the dairy farm.

I'm not sure what the farmer thought when I walked into his milking parlour that morning. I walked in, unannounced, and had to shout at him over the sounds of the cows and the machinery. He was hosing down the floor at the far end so I was nearly behind him when he heard me and I nearly got doused with his hose. He looked surprisingly calm for having been infiltrated by some hippie chick this early in the morning. He graciously let me use his phone at the office to call my dad (who else?) and then he and his wife and I had coffee and buns while we waited for my dad to show up. The first light of day was a ways off so he drove me back to my van and his wife, sent me on my way with fresh baked buns and a bottle of juice. Seriously.

Turns out, some rod thingy had jammed into the oil holder thingy and so when Dad arrived, there was nothing to do but turn back to home and write off a weekend of fresh powder for a weekend at the local mechanics, forking over my hard earned cash for a rebuilt engine and the satisfaction of knowing I didn't waste a fire extinguisher on what was clearly not an emergent situation.

You know what didn't happen those early morning hours when I trespassed onto a farmyard and walked into a business uninvited? No one took a bat to my windshield. Or screamed in fear at my arrival. And thank God, no one had their gun in hand and took my life. Why? I don't know. But I have some thoughts. Perhaps it was a different time? Or maybe mornings are when farmers are at their most sociable? Or perhaps it was there was no perceived or media perpetuated threat that I was out to steal from them or harm them. Perhaps because I was alone. Or a female. Or white. Or because the dialogue against white women isn't as racially and hatefully charged as that against young, male, First Nations men who could not possibly have any purpose other than violence or theft to come onto private property.

I hope I'm not oversimplifying something I believe is incredibly simple. We live in a racist society. I don't believe that we could honestly imagine thousands of white, young women going missing and not be outraged or active in the search for answers. And yet, we can allow missing and murdered indigenous women to remain in the graves afforded them by murderers and roll our eyes at yet another news story profiling a cry for justice.  We perpetuate the idea that somehow our First Nations people have been given so much and squandered it but we don't look at what we've taken from them and how we've abused it. We wouldn't stand for someone to write in the media that our sons were thieves and vandals if they had returned from a day of fun at the beach with their friends and looked for help for a flat tire. Yet, we believe the story from the first print that this car load of youth were up to no good...because well, they were First Nations and well, you know....

The thing that breaks my heart beyond the loss of a young man who had dreams and the fact that his family and friends seemingly have to speak on behalf of his character. To hold up photos of Colten Boushie and surround it with the attributes they knew of him. He was a good guy.  A son.  A boyfriend. A grandson. Loved by many. As if they must prove that his murder is worthy of punishment. As if they need to rewrite the assertations that he somehow deserved to die in the back of a car.

I read this MacLeans article this morning but I couldn't get past the tears looking at the hands holding up Colten Boushie's image and the words they wrote of him. The hands that are holding up the character of the boy they loved. So that the world will see him as he was...not as we are led to fear him to have been. When we see images of Colten in the coming days, I challenge you to look at him with their eyes. With love. And admiration. And the voices of those who REALLY knew him, ate with him, played with him, laughed with him and loved him telling you who he was...not the media or the fearful or the defensive.

I walked into a farmer's barn and walked away with lunch. Colten left a farmyard 20+ years later with no life left in him and a family with empty arms.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Lamest Vacation We'll Ever Love

The iconic red adirondack chairs dotted throughout Canadian Nat'l Parks

I know that Tolkien has been quoted as saying that "not all who wander are lost..." and I believe that to be true, yet he lived before the days of internet booking. Our family has been hearing for years how lovely and interesting the Cypress Hills area of Saskatchewan is. We've wanted to go and yet, for the past ten years, we've never made it just a few hours south to go and see it for ourselves. So, this week, Easton and I were rambling around the house while Jason and Aidan lived the life of the gainfully employed. One evening, Jason gave Easton and I a push to go camping.

So, I gave Easton a couple of choices. Choice #1 was booked for the days we had in mind. Choice #2 was experiencing a fire ban and an infestation of black flies...that's not restful for anyone. Choice #3, well, it was Cypress Hills. So, I went online, looked at several of the park's camping options and decided we would splurge a little and stay for a couple nights in one of the park's Otentiks. These are sort of glamping options (and I use the term loosely...) but it is nice to have the tent up when you get there, a cot and mattress off of the ground, and a grade of canvas that will keep you dry through any summer storm. So, after looking at a couple of spots, I found a place that had availability for the nights we wanted and a few clicks and a credit card number and we were booked! 

So, I went around the garage and basement to dust off our camping equipment and then realized that we had left our huge rubbermaid bin of camping supplies in the rv that we had sold a few years back. So much for a cheap mid-week camping trip. I razed our cupboards hard and scrounged what I could and then hit the dollar store (which, ironically, didn't sell a single item for a dollar....) for the rest. I packed up our little Ford Escape (pronounced Es-cah-pay)  and then came in to pack my backpack when it dawned on me...Grasslands. National. Park. Grasslands. National. Park.  

I couldn't possibly be that ... mistaken? Inattentive? Stupid? Oh, friends. Yes. Yes I could. And I was. I was that stupid. I had somehow in my confident, internet savant way booked Easton and I into the wrong park. I wasn't panicking yet. Yet. Only because I thought, well, they must be fairly close many parks can there be in southern Saskatchewan?

Oh, lesson #1 in Canadian geography. Canada is big. It's just so big. And that means, even our little province...of just a measly million gigantic. And so, the neighbouring parks...while yes, on the map, seem very close in proximity...are in reality hundreds of kilometres apart.  And hours...of....driving. 

Cue the tears and the self berating...but I above all, am a make-the-best-of-a-bad-situation kinda girl (also fondly known as admit-no-mistake-this-is-what-I-was-planning-all-along kinda girl.)

So, I met my husband on the front step and blurted my "change of plans" to him with some remorse and though he did his best to assure me that it would be fine or perhaps I could change the reservation (I couldn't...I tried)...I had a sinking feeling that this mother/son camping trip would be memorable in a way I hadn't been planning on.   I sat on the news of my mistaken reservation while Easton packed up his stuff. And went to bed. And pretty much until we got into the vehicle the next day. By then, I had him somewhat convinced that after all that we had been through on trips together, he could survive two days of camping with his mom wherever it ended up being.

Then we pulled into the middle of nowhere. Easton quietly said, "Well, this is underwhelming." I couldn't really disagree. It was beautiful for sure. The Canadian prairies have a really amazing beauty about them. It's just that there's I mean, it's like being in southern California and seeing a pretty, tanned, blonde. It just gets so tiresome. ; ) But really, the truth is...the prairies are beautiful. The flowers, the grasslands, the hills and the skies...oh, the skies....but without some diversity to the landscape, it's just kind of numbs you into indifference. When you can drive for hours and see very little change in topography?'s just bikinied blondes after a while.

Thankfully, Easton and I had a great time. We laughed a lot. We hiked a fair amount. We read. We ate. We played games. We ate. I chased photos of wildflowers, he chased reception for face timing his friends. He's good company, this kid. Two nights under the stars and two days of non-stop Mom time and he was still in good humour and cracking jokes...but ready to come home.

I'm going to tuck this little trip away as a winner that came out of a mistake. There've been many of those in my lifetime. This one's going on the top of that pile and will be remembered with affection as the "lamest vacation ever." Maybe next year, Cypress Hills.

Boots capped every fence post for about 5 km

It's amazing how far a teenaged boy will trek for 4 bars of reception

You can watch your kid walk away for miles....

Black eyed Susan and a bumblebee

Wild roses....a favourite

A lonely male bison wandered by us on our last evening sunset walk

The view from the hike at 70 Mile Butte

A black tailed prairie dog. One of 60,000 we saw. And named.


Junipers and rosehips



The amazing light on the prairies

The beauty of the grasslands

The sun dipping below the horizon

This moment reminded me of our time in Nevada

A mom, a kid and a self timer....all you need.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Seemingly Small Miracles

Tonight the boys are all out seeing a new superhero movie and it's just us girls at home. So, Charlie has had a bath and is stretched out smelling lovely at the foot of my bed. Maisy is racing circles around the room in her last energy spurt (hopefully a short one...) before she curls up in my sock drawer for the night. It's quiet. The rain has passed. The air is cooler than it's been in a month and the wind is coming in through the screen.

I've been thinking a lot about our friends in Zimbabwe and Zambia this week. On Monday, our dear Zambian friends, James and Sukai, came to visit us at our house! This was such an unexpected dream come true. I've been hosted by this couple for the past 9 years when I visit Zambia. They walk through Mulenga with me and they invite me into their home and their lives. They feed me and make sure I'm well hydrated. Sukai makes sure I'm not rubbing my hands all over the railing in the community hospital and picking up who knows what!  They are Zambia to me. Friendly. Kind. Generous. Caring. Infinitely selfless.

So, again, to have them in our home - even for a short visit, was an honour I didn't know I'd ever get to enjoy. James and Sukai were in Edmonton last week and we attended the marriage of their handsome first born son, Arthur, to his beautiful Canadian bride, Alisha. It was great to be in the same room with so many of our Hands at Work family although it was a short stay as we had to get back home for Aidan and Jason to get back to work.  Still, it was lovely to be able to have just incredibly normal conversations around being the mother of the groom, missing your kids, and travelling so long to get across the ocean. We chatted about all the details that go into a wedding, particularly one where there are international guests and cultural differences! No small undertaking.

Something about having James and Sukai in our home, sitting on my couch, laughing with my boys and measuring height...just seemed so inevitable and yet so miraculous. I think I am learning to expect miracles, in some small way. I mean, I don't think I'm going to win the lottery (particularly because I don't buy tickets...) but the miraculous coming-to-reality of things I secretly have hoped for and longed for. Like having James and Sukai over for coffee. For our families to share each others' homes easily and comfortably.  For our kids to know them well enough to know that they are trusted friends. For their kids to invite us to their wedding. So good.

I have other silent and secret dreams that maybe seem a little run of the mill to many, but I'm telling you, when the miraculous occurs and those smallest of hopes come to fruition? It's a hope filling moment that can carry you through another week of uncertainty. And it reminds me that the Jesus I feel like I'm getting to know is mindful of the things that really matter to me. Hopefully, that will carry me through these next uncertain times.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Добро пожаловат (Welcome!)

I know I have often joked that there are days when it is warmer in Siberia than it is in Saskatchewan but I never imagined that perhaps one day, there would be readers on my blog from that comparatively balmy locale. So, to those, I say welcome.

The other day, I caught sight of the map on my blog that tells me where my biggest group of readers come from. Russia? What? I clicked on the map and it told me that nearly twice as many people in Russia read my blog than Canadians or Americans! Seriously? That had to be a glitch but I dug in a little more and it seems I'm kind of a big deal in the far reaches of Russia.

So, I am feeling a little like I need to connect to that readership. So, I googled Russian faux-pas's (fauxs pas....faux pases?...more googling needed) to avoid. I probably would never do many of these things but always good to know, you case I get an invite...which I'd be totally open to! Unless hinting not so subtly is also offensive...which, in that case, I apologize. I have a lot to learn. But I'm more than willing. So, to my new Russian friends.... Добро пожаловат ! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know where you are reading from...Russian, Zambian, Indian, American or's lovely knowing you're out there.

Sometimes, knowing what NOT to do is even more important if you want to fit in or at least produce a good impression. Read on to find out about ten Russian social taboos.



If you’re invited over for dinner, or just for a visit, don’t come to a Russian house with nothing. What you bring doesn’t really matter — a box of chocolates, flowers, or a small toy for a child. Russian hosts prepare for company by cooking their best dishes and buying delicacies that they normally wouldn’t for themselves. If, after all this effort, a guest shows up without even a flower, Russians believe he doesn’t care.

I'm pretty sure I've got this one down...I would never. 


Russian apartments are covered in rugs. Often, they’re expensive Persian rugs with intricate designs, which aren’t cleaned as easily as traditional American carpeting. Besides, Russians walk a lot through dusty streets, instead of just stepping from the car directly into the home. For these reasons, and also because this tradition has gone on for centuries, Russians take off their street shoes when they enter private residencies. The host usually offers a pair of tapochki (tah-puhch-kee; slippers); if you go to a party, women usually bring a pair of nice shoes to wear inside. And again, if you fail to take your shoes off, nobody will say anything. But sneak a peek: Are you the only person wearing your snow-covered boots at the dinner table?

I would never...this is for our American friends...who I never understood leaving the shoes/boots on...


Russians aren’t politically correct. Go ahead and tell an anyekdot (uh-neek-doht; joke) based on ethnicity, appearance, or gender stereotypes; just steer clear of jokes about somebody’s mother or father. You won’t be understood.

But what if....okay...fair enough. I'll try and hold back. What about my own parents? Or myself as a parent? Okay, just avoiding the subject altogether.


People who don’t speak Russian usually think that they know one Russian phrase: a toast, Na Zdorov’ye! Little do they know that Na Zdorov’ye! (nuh zdah-rohv’-ee; for health) is what Russians say when somebody thanks them for a meal. In Polish, indeed, Na Zdorov’ye! or something close to it, is a traditional toast. Russians, on the other hand, like to make up something long and complex, such as, Za druzhbu myezhdu narodami! (zah droozh-boo myezh-doo nuh-roh-duh-mee; To friendship between nations!) If you want a more generic Russian toast, go with Za Vas! (zuh vahs; To you!)

Pretty sure I couldn't even if I wanted to....but I have been known to botch languages on many an occasion...told a lovely but inebriated drunk man to go and sleep well...instead of to just travel well. In the end, it seemed somewhat appropriate if not a little bossy. 


A Russian saying, otdat’ poslyednyuyu rubashku (aht-daht’ pahs-lyed-nyu-yu roo-bahsh-koo; to give away one’s last shirt), makes the point that you have to be giving, no matter what the expense for yourself. In Russia, offering guests whatever they want is considered polite. Those wants don’t just include food or accommodations; old-school Russians offer you whatever possessions you comment on, like a picture on the wall, a vase, or a sweater.
Now, being offered something doesn’t necessarily mean you should take it. Russians aren’t offering something because they want to get rid of it; they’re offering because they want to do something nice for you. So, unless you feel that plundering their home is a good idea, don’t just take things offered to you and leave. Refuse first, and do so a couple of times, because your hosts will insist. And only accept the gift if you really want this special something, but then return the favor and give your hosts something nice, as well.

This seems like something I would do but I have learned that even lingering your eyes on something too long or mentioning it in passing is grounds for leaving the household with it....I've acquired a coffee grinder and more than a few chitenge (Zambian skirts) over my wandering eyes in the past few years. 


Russians dress up on more occasions than Americans do. Even to go for a casual walk, a Russian woman may wear high heels and a nice dress. A hardcore feminist may say women do this because they’re victimized and oppressed. But Russian women themselves explain it this way, “We only live once; I want to look and feel my best.”
On some occasions, all foreigners, regardless of gender, run the risk of being the most underdressed person in the room. These occasions include dinner parties and trips to the theater. Going to a restaurant is also considered a festive occasion, and you don’t want to show up in your jeans and T-shirt, no matter how informal you think the restaurant may be. In any case, checking on the dress code before going out somewhere is a good idea.

As usual, fashion will always be my downfall. I often underdress even unknowingly. I mean, who knew that in the teeniest community in Share, South Africa the dress code for Sunday church was prom queen formal. My simple cotton skirt and top were looked upon with great disappointment by the children we were staying with in the community. I'll try and step it up. 


Here’s where Russians differ strikingly from Western Europeans. They don’t go Dutch. So, if you ask a lady out, don’t expect her to pay for herself, not at a restaurant or anywhere else. You can, of course, suggest that she pay, but that usually rules out the possibility of seeing her again. She may not even have money on her. Unless they expect to run into a maniac and have to escape through the back exit, Russian women wouldn’t think of bringing money when going out with a man.

Not planning on any dates but if I do, I'll leave my wallet (and I guess, my husband...) at home. 


This rule may make politically correct people cringe, but Russians believe that a man is physically stronger than a woman. Therefore, they believe a man who watches a woman carry something heavy without helping her is impolite. 

This is not the hill this feminist would die on...


When Russians come to America and ride public transportation, they’re very confused to see young people sitting when an elderly person is standing nearby. They don’t understand that in America, an elderly person may be offended when offered a seat. In Russia, if you don’t offer the elderly and pregnant women a seat on a bus, the entire bus looks at you as if you’re a criminal. Women, even (or especially) young ones, are also offered seats on public transportation. But that’s optional. Getting up and offering a seat to an elderly person, on the other hand, is a must.

Happy to comply....


Bodily functions are considered extremely impolite in public, even if the sound is especially long and expressive, and the author is proud of it.
Moreover, if the incident happens (we’re all human), don’t apologize. By apologizing, you acknowledge your authorship, and attract more attention to the fact. Meanwhile, Russians, terrified by what just happened, pretend they didn’t notice, or silently blame it on the dog. Obviously, these people are in denial. But if you don’t want to be remembered predominantly for this incident, steer clear of natural bodily functions in public.

Deny, deny, deny....I can do that. 

Guess we've all learned a little something today...who said this wasn't an educational blog?