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Waiting is the Hardest Part

February 22, 2015

Cat in front of monitorIts seems these days I’m always waiting for something – the kettle to boil, the toast to pop up, the cat to lie down in front of the monitor so I can see what I’ve just typed. I wait in line at the grocery story, the post office, the gas station. I wait for the mail to arrive, the garbage to be picked up, the car to warm up. I wait for emails or phone calls or visits from ‘the kids’. I wait at traffic lights, railway crossings, and behind school buses. I wait for the snow to stop falling, the sun to shine, the temperature to inch upwards. Waiting, waiting, waiting …

According to various online sources, the average person spends nearly an hour a day (or about 4% of their time) waiting. That’s a lot of ‘wasted’ time, but it’s probably (mostly) unavoidable. However, since I’m not a particularly patient person (just ask my husband :) ), I generally HATE waiting.

First Born

Son #1 (FINALLY!) July 1981

I waited nearly nine years (after getting married the first time) before I had my first child (partly because I married very young – that was one of the things I DIDN’T wait to do!)  And then the baby decided he was going to keep me waiting even longer for his arrival. When I’d gone a full week past my due date, the doctor sent me (on a Friday afternoon) to an obstetrician who, after a brief examination, told me, “This baby will be here before the weekend is over. If not, give me call on Monday.” On Monday, I was calling her office to report, “No baby yet.”  She had me admitted to the hospital later that day and labour was induced mid-afternoon; twelve hours later the contractions stopped. They let me sleep for a few hours, but at 7:30 the next morning, things were started up again. Another twelve hours passed and – despite the best efforts of my own doctor, a now-different obstetrician, and various other members of the labour and delivery staff – the baby had still not presented himself to the world. It took two more hours and an emergency c-section for him to finally arrive (it turns out he’d gotten himself sort of jammed sideways in the birth canal). Fortunately – even though he had some breathing issues because of the length of time the whole process took, and had to spend the first few days of his life in an incubator – everything turned out okay.

Congrats CardFast forward 33 years. On my son’s birthday last July, after the presents were opened but before we went out to dinner, he handed me a ‘greeting card’ style envelope. Curious about why I was getting a card on HIS birthday (but thinking maybe it was some sort of expression of appreciation for having brought him into the world all those years ago) I opened it and read, “One of life’s happiest secrets is just how much family our hearts can hold”. My first thought was that he and his long time girlfriend were getting married; then I opened the card and saw the words, “’You have a new little someone in the family! There’s a new leaf on your family tree – a new addition to your circle of love.” Clipped to the other side of the card was a fuzzy black and white photo. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. My eyes moved down to my son’s handwriting at the bottom of the card – and I saw the words I suppose I’d been waiting for years to see/hear: “You’re going to be grandparents”.

My mom with my first born

My mom (and dad) with my son (1981)

My mother became a grandmother when she was 42 years old (only 2 years after she became a mother for the fifth [and last] time; there was a significant age difference between my eldest brother and my younger one). When she was my age, she had 7 grandchildren (she had 5 more, plus 9 great-grandchildren by the time she passed away in 2012); when I was in my 40s she would often remind me, “When I was your age, I’d been a grandmother for years” (even though my boys were only in their late teens/early 20s). I would reassure her that I most certainly hoped to be a grandmother ‘someday’ – and I absolutely, positively meant it!

And now that dream was going to be a reality. Only I was going to have to wait another six and a half months!

Bunny for baby

A bunny for the baby

During that time, it often felt like the whole process was taking far too long; at other times, it felt like time was flying past. I could see the changes in my daughter-in-law’s body (despite the fact that she and my son have never ‘formalized’ their partnership with a ceremony and a piece of paper, I think of her that way) each time she and my son visited (they live about an hour’s drive away), and I got periodic updates on ultrasounds and comments from the midwife about the baby’s progress.  At Christmas there were several teeny-tiny outfits and blankets and other precious little things under the tree, and the talk inevitably turned to babies and the wonders of the whole child bearing (and rearing) process. The waiting was almost over.

The baby’s official due date was February 3. The last week of January was tense. Every time the phone rang, I jumped. Email updates were exchanged as we all waited. But, like her father (multiple ultrasounds had confirmed it was a girl), the baby simply refused to arrive on time, or quickly. And so we waited. Ten days past her due date, my daughter-in-law went into the hospital to be induced. Nearly eighteen (sleepless) hours later, the obstetrician suggested a c-section and it was decided that that was the best course of action. As it turned out, the baby had positioned herself in the birth canal in much the same way her father had 33 ½ years earlier!  Like father, like daughter!  Happily, however, she showed no ill effects from her the length of time it took for her to make her grand entrance into the world, and I’m thrilled to announce that my granddaughter, Madeleine Scarlett Kathleen, arrived at 6:25 a.m. on February 14, 2015 (‘Kathleen’ was added to her name when my son realized what day it was – Valentine’s Day was also my mother’s birthday; her name was Kathleen. We all agree that she was watching over things that morning!)

New Grandmother (Feb 2015)

It takes only a few minutes for the kettle to boil, the toast to pop, the car to warm up, the line up in the store to slowly inch forward. It can take hours for the mail to arrive or the doctor to ‘see you now’. I suspect it will be days or weeks before the snow subsides and the temperature rises. It took nine months (after years of waiting) for my first grandchild to arrive. But it was definitely worth the wait. In fact, it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had yet here on … the other side of 55.

 

 

I Want Minions*

February 9, 2015

*NOT the ones in the Despicable Me movies

A minion is defined as: a loyal servant of another, usually more powerful, being (Wikipedia) or: a person who is not important and who has to do what another person of higher rank orders them to do (Cambridge Dictionary Online). Synonyms include: underling, henchman, flunky, lackey, hanger-on, dogsbody, follower, hireling, vassal, stooge, toady, sycophant.

Smee (from the movie, Hook)In books and movies, it’s usually the villain who has minions. They carry out their boss’s orders and do their dirty work for them. Minions ask no questions, follow directives to the letter, and do not whine about the heinous acts they are required to perform (oftentimes they don’t speak at all). Minions are neither servants nor slaves (in the strictest sense of those terms); they have a specific purpose (to get the job done at any cost). They are totally dispensable; more tools than sentient beings. Minions (if you can believe what you see in the movies) appear to be fairly easy to come by (perhaps you simply order them from ‘Minions ‘R Us’), totally submissive, lacking in empathy and morals, and always eager to please their master, regardless of the task assigned (although no one ever seems to explain what’s in it for them – a place to sleep and three square meals a day, perhaps?)  Some villains have a single minion (Hook had Smee; Goldfinger had Oddjob); others have whole armies of them (the Borg Queen had her collective; Darth Vader had his Imperial Storm Troopers).

What I don’t get is why it’s only ‘the bad guys’ who get to have minions. Why can’t a nice, middle class, law abiding citizen (like me) have one (or two)? I certainly have quite a bit of ‘dirty work’ that needs to be taken care of on a regular basis. I bet there are minions out there who’d like to serve as an underling to someone who’s a little less ‘evil’ than their current boss, someone who assigns tasks that don’t involve  a whole lot of blood, guts and gore. Is there a job-matching site where a ‘person of higher rank’ can find a good, reliable minion? If so, sign me up!

Minion Hat from ZazzleOr – wouldn’t it be great if you could have a spell cast on someone who’s preternaturally evil themselves (say, some narcissist or sociopath who’s ‘done you wrong’ in the past) and turn them into a minion? I can think of several people right now (including a couple of family members) who’d make great flunkies. Once turned into minions, they could lurk in a corner somewhere (behind the curtains, perhaps) or stand silently in a small closet until called upon to (for example) empty the kitty litter, take out the trash, clear the snow from the driveway, weed the garden, dust and vacuum the house, clean the bathrooms, etc.  As minions, they’d have to do it all willingly, efficiently, and without a single sneer of resentment or animosity. I could even get them hats that identify them as minions (from zazzle.com). How great would that be?!?!?!

Robot & Frank MovieSome might suggest that technological minions are already among us or on the horizon. We’ve already got autonomous ‘robots’ that can vacuum floors, mow lawns, assemble cars, and pick up rocks on Mars. Humanoid robots are being tested in home care situations (if you haven’t seen the movie, ‘Robot & Frank’  , I strongly recommend it; it’s a fun and touching story about how one man [in the near future] adapts his ‘companion’ robot for his own purposes), and Google is apparently very close to launching a driverless car. But  I just can’t see myself getting the same satisfaction out of commanding a programmable robot to wash the kitchen floor as I would a flesh and blood minion who has pledged themselves to me (where’s the ‘power’ in a relationship when one half of it is constructed of steel and circuits and software?)

I definitely think I’m on to something here. After all, if I had my own minion(s), my life would be a thousand times better, because I could spend way more time doing the things I want to do vs. things I have to do, now that I’m on … the other side of 55.

 

 

 

Life’s Too Short Not To Have Fun

January 25, 2015
Playing Dressup

Playing Dressup (1960)

When I was young, having fun was a given. It was almost impossible not to have fun when you were skipping rope, roller skating, playing hopscotch, riding your bike, bouncing a rubber ball against the wall at the school, ice skating, swinging as high as could on the schoolyard swings or hanging upside down on the monkey bars, going to the store for a Popsicle, riding the Tilt-a-Whirl or merry-go-round at the carnival, enjoying Saturday movie matinees, giggling with your girlfriends at sleepovers, taking part in five-pin bowling marathons, climbing trees in the backyard, skipping stones at the lake, building sandcastles on the beach, playing ‘dress up’, or making up silly jokes.

Even as a young woman, fun was plentiful. There were parties, dances, evenings at the pub with friends, holiday adventures (near and far), ping pong and pool ‘tournaments’, concerts, all night movie marathons, weddings, dancercise classes, after work coffee klatches, and all night gossip sessions with girlfriends.

TMNT (1991)

Universal Studios, Florida, 1991

During the ‘married with children’ phase there were excursions to the park, wet and wild days around the pool, outings to the Library and the movie theatre and the ice cream store, day trips to Canada’s Wonderland, Niagara Falls, and the CNE, regular forays to visit the grandparents and spend time at the beach in the town where they lived, annual trips to Disney World (and other exotic vacation spots), family birthday parties, and lots and lots of giggling, imaginative, active playtime.

But after reading a (short) article about the importance of keeping ‘fun’ in your life, I realized (shockingly) that fun is a lot harder to come by on the other side of 55. I tried to think of the last time I could honestly say I had ‘fun’. It took a few minutes but I determined that it was an unseasonably warm and sunny day in late October last year, when my daughter-in-law invited me out for lunch. I left my car at their apartment and we walked the half dozen blocks to the shopping ‘district’, sat outside and talked while waiting for a table in the restaurant she’d chosen, then popped in and out of several shops on the way back, just to ‘window shop’. It had started to rain while we’d been eating and neither of us had thought to bring an umbrella, so we were soaked by the time we got back to the apartment, but we didn’t care. We’d talked and laughed and enjoyed one another’s company. We’d had fun!

Couple on a motorcycleMy husband and I certainly enjoy one another’s company and we do a lot of ‘pleasurable’ things together, but few of them are what I could call outright ‘fun’. We enjoy the same kinds of movies, but unless we go to the theatre and watch them on the ‘big screen’, and perhaps have a nice dinner afterwards, I don’t think of watching TV or movies together as ‘fun’. We go out on the motorcycle nearly every weekend in the summer, but unless we take a route we’ve not travelled before (or, better yet, get lost), it’s enjoyable, but not really ‘fun’. I’ve taken several ‘alone’ vacations (all within driving distance of home) but while I benefited from the experience, and enjoyed it, it’s the few trips we’ve taken together that have been ‘fun’.

In the past, ‘fun’ was derived from a combination of adventure and activity and friends. Now it seems more connected to the concept of doing something out of the ordinary, trying something new, switching things up and deviating from ‘routine’.  And it also appears that, while I take great pleasure in exploring new places, meeting new people, and participating in new activities on my own, I don’t really ‘have fun’ unless someone I care about is with me. It’s in the sharing that simple enjoyment or entertainment turns to ‘fun’.

I don’t like the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions. but I do believe it’s important to set goals every now and again. My goal for 2015 is to have more fun – to share life and all its glories with my family and close friends; to do new things and share the rush of joy that results with them. Because, let’s face it, life is too short to stop having fun!

 

Life’s Too Short to Read Poorly Written Books

October 26, 2014

NOTE: Yes, I’ve been away from blogging for awhile! But now I’m back – and with a brand new series: “Life’s Too Short”. Posts will be less frequent than in the past (i.e., I won’t be maintaining a regular weekly schedule) and the focus will be on insights and epiphanies (‘ah ha’ moments) I’ve experienced since I’ve reached ‘the other side of 55’. This post is the first in the series.

Little CottontailI have always been an avid reader. My earliest memories of books and reading were ‘Little Golden Books’ with titles like Little Cottontail, Bambi, and Snow White. I also had a favourite book about an accident-prone cocker spaniel named Amber, and one with three animal-themed stories in it (featuring Buffin Bear, Squiffy the Squirrel, and Roly and Poly the racoon twins). In the early 60s I read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery I could get my hands on. When I was eleven or twelve, a friend of my mother’s gave her several dozen ‘medical romance’ paperbacks, but since mom didn’t read that sort of thing, my sister and I took the boxes downstairs and read (and re-read) every single one of them (NOTE: they were very chaste stories – nothing like the widely varied [and sometimes rather explicit] romance novels published today).

Old Oakville LibraryOne of my clearest memories is of going on a Grade 8 school field trip (on Wednesday, May 17, 1966, according to my old school newsletter) to the public library and getting my first library card. That was a truly momentous occasion. I was officially a member of the ‘adult’ library, with access to more books than I could ever read. (A year later, the original town library was closed and a brand new one – several blocks further west, but still within walking distance of my house – was built to celebrate Canada’s Centennial; it was much larger and brighter, and held hundreds more books. I spent a LOT of time there.)

In the summer of 1968, I got my first (non-babysitting) job at a variety store in the north end of town. When things were quiet (which was most of the time), I’d pick a paperback off the shelf and start reading. When my shift was over, I’d make a note of the page where I’d left off, return the book to the shelf, and go home. I don’t recall any of those books EVER being sold, so I managed to finish every single one I started. That fall, I got a job at another variety-type store (closer to home), where I continued to while away the hours reading (I ‘worked’ after school most days – when there was sporadic traffic in and out of the store, as well as the closing shift every Friday and on alternate Saturdays, when it was rare to have more than half a dozen customers between 7 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.). Basically, I was getting paid $1.25 an hour to read. I loved it!

Airport NovelI recall slugging my way through massive tomes like Hotel and Airport by Arthur Hailey, Tai Pan (and later Shogun and Nobel House) by James Clavell, andValley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann; gothic romances from authors like Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney; historic romances by Catherine Cookson and Georgette Heyer; family sagas like Penmarric by Susan Howatch; and dozens and dozens of ‘contemporary romances’ published by Harlequin (at the time they primarily reprinted and distributed medical romances from Mills and Boon in England; they were priced at 25 cents each). NOTE: as I was writing this, I realized that the majority of ‘popular fiction’ sold in Canada during the 60s and 70s was written by British authors – fascinating.

By the time I was finished with school and holding down a full time job, reading had become my favourite form of ‘recreation’ (at one point I actually declared that I was going to work my way from A to Z in the fiction section of the library, choosing books that appealed to me based on the ‘blurb’ on the back/inside cover – be they mystery, suspense, romance, or sweeping family saga; I think I got to the Es before that idea fizzled out).

The Flame And The FlowerIn 1972 I recall the ‘buzz’ around the publication of a scandalous ‘bodice ripper’ called The Flame and the Flower by Katherine Woodiwiss (now considered THE book that launched the current multi-billion dollar romance industry), and the ‘immoral’ pro-feminist novel, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I read them both (and many others of their ilk, all equally ‘shocking’ at the time, but enlightening in oh, so many ways). Some time in the early 1980s, I discovered a ‘western romance’ series (The Calder Series) by a former Harlequin author, Janet Dailey (the very first – and for a long time, ONLY – American author to write for Harlequin; her Americana series for them featured a story set in each of the 50 states of the U.S.A.). I continued to read her books, enjoying her style so much that I decided to ‘someday’ write romance novels for a living, too (a goal I’m actively pursuing now that I’m retired!)

So Many BooksIn the past 50+ years, I’ve read hundreds of books by dozens of authors in a wide variety of genres. Sometimes I select them based on recommendations from friends; at other times I simply browse the shelves of my local bookstore or library and pick up books that ‘sound like something I’d like’.  I’m fond of trolling garage sales, used bookstores, and second-hand shops for new authors (I LOVE a bargain – our local animal shelter occasionally sells paperbacks in their ‘gently used’ store for 10 cents each!) At one point (not that long ago), I had over 350 books in my private ‘library’. I have since purged those I know I won’t read again (setting them aside for the neighbourhood ‘Garage Sale for the Cure’ or ‘blue boxing’ those that are too worn to pass on); any that I know I will revisit have been moved to a bookcase downstairs (leaving two bookcases in the spare bedroom jammed with novels just waiting to be cracked open and enjoyed).

The big difference between my reading habits of years ago (i.e., up to about 2010) and now, however, is that in the past I would always – ALWAYS – finish a book I started, no matter how tough the going got (i.e., poorly constructed plots, lame dialogue, or unbelievable circumstances got a mild expletive of annoyance and a shrug as I turned the page and kept slogging through).  Now, when I lose patience with a book because the heroine isn’t sympathetic, the hero is a jerk, things that are supposed to be funny are actually just tasteless or crude, the author worked a weak romance into a book about how to train dogs, put out forest fires, run a wedding business or refurbish an inn, or there’s a subplot about a giraffe running amok in a major metropolitan city but only two people ever actually see it, I simply put it down (or toss it across the room while muttering, ‘How the h*** does that kind of crap get published?’), and pull something else off the shelf.

NOTE: I suspect a significant part of my recent discontent with poorly written books is the result of having spent the better part of the last four years studying and learning the craft of writing. It seems that the more I know about the techniques of writing a ‘bestseller’, the quicker I identify (and become annoyed with) problems related to plot and structure, characterization, dialogue, setting, narrative, etc. Where ‘before’ I knew there was something ‘not quite right’ with a story, now I can pinpoint the issues specifically and I can’t move past them. I suppose this is one of the ‘downsides’ of becoming a ‘skilled’ writer – you see the flaws you used to be able to ignore.

I was raised to ‘finish what you start’ and for most of my life I’ve followed this ‘rule’ without questioning it. But I’ve come to realize in the last few years that there are hundreds of thousands of ‘good’ books out there that I haven’t yet read – and life’s just far too short to waste my time reading poorly written ones.

My Perfect Library

My idea of a nearly-perfect personal library.

What’s on YOUR ‘Back to School’ List?

August 13, 2014

CondomsYou know you’re getting old when you’re taken aback to see Trojan condoms listed as one of the ‘essential’ Back to School health and beauty products in this week’s WalMart e-flyer. (Better ‘safe’ than sorry, I suppose.)

I guess this is just another reminder that I’m on … the other side of 55.

Broken Branches

July 27, 2014

For the past few days I have been thinking about – and mourning, to a degree – a woman I had never met. Her husband found my email address in her online account and was kind enough to take the time to notify me of her passing. I was saddened to hear of her death. I had hoped to one day meet her and ‘compare notes’, as they say. She lived in the next town – the town I grew up in. She was only eight years older than me. She was my second cousin. I never even knew she existed until last January.

Powers Family CrestIt was one of those bitterly cold winter days when I was at loose ends. I decided to sort through the miscellaneous ‘stuff’ that I had shoved into the living room wall unit when I came across my mother’s old address book. I hadn’t looked through it since I had notified the dozen or so ‘distant’ friends in it of her death two years earlier. Was it worth keeping? I wondered, or should I merely make a note of the addresses I didn’t have in my own records, and then toss it? As I went through it page by page, I noticed the words ‘Powers Family History’ beside one of the names in the Ls (Powers was my mother’s mother’s maiden name). I didn’t recognize the name (although I would have sent her a note when Mom died), but my curiosity was peaked. I had undertaken quite a bit of genealogical research after my parents’ passing (prompted by an email from a distant relative on my father’s side of the family, and two photo albums my mother had put together years ago – one about her early life and one about my father’s) and there were quite a few gaps on both sides. Perhaps this person has some of the answers I’m looking for, I thought. So I wrote her a brief letter explaining who I was and where I had gotten her name and address, and hoped for a reply. She phoned me a week later.

I grew up in a family that didn’t talk much about family history or ‘relatives’. For the first ten years of my life, both my grandmothers lived in the same house as our family. My father had converted our three story house into three apartments, moving the stairs outside and converting the upper two levels into apartments; we lived on the main floor and the grandmothers each had their own apartment upstairs (my mother’s father lived up there, too, until his death in 1956; Dad’s father had died when he was 17). The only ‘family’ who ever came to visit were two great-aunts (the widows of two of Dad’s uncles on his mother’s side, one of whom eventually came to live near us when she was about 75). I never questioned the lack of other aunts, uncles, and cousins (like my friends had) because I’d always thought both Mom and Dad were ‘only’ children (and they never talked about any kind of ‘extended’ family other than the two old aunties of Dad’s who occasionally visited).

FamilyTree2The only ‘family’ on Mom’s side that I recall hearing about was my grandmother’s sister. She was 8 years older than my grandmother and pretty much raised her after their mother died (of ‘consumption’) when my grandmother was only a year old; I don’t recall her ever visiting us (although I do remember my grandmother talking about her occasionally). Mom did have a story or two about a cousin (the aunt’s son) who had owned a restaurant in Toronto where Mom had worked when she was in her teens (Christmas cards were still exchanged each year). There was some mention of the aunt having ‘several’ children, but I only vaguely recall hearing a name or two mentioned and I never saw any pictures of them until I went through Mom’s ‘family history’ album and saw a family photo taken at the aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1953 (and they certainly never visited, nor did Mom or my grandmother go to see them that I know of, even though I have since discovered they lived only a couple of hours’ drive away). It turns out Mom had 8 cousins; 7 of them were married and 6 of the couples had children –meaning there were 19 second cousins in my family that I never met and knew nothing about until this year.

Even more surprising was the discovery that my mother wasn’t an ‘only child’. It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 1980 that I found out she had a brother (two and a half years younger than her). My brother and sister (who are 10 and 8 years older than me) knew of him, but apparently ‘something happened’ around 1953 or so (the year I was born) that drove a wedge between Mom and her brother, and they hadn’t spoken to each other since (estrangement seems to be something of a pattern in our family – say or do the ‘wrong thing’ [in someone else’s opinion] and suddenly people aren’t talking to you anymore!)  A few family members tried to bring my ‘uncle’ back into the fold, but it didn’t last long (Mom died still bitterly angry with him; I will likely never know why!)

Every Family Has A StoryIn any case, it turned out that the woman whose name I found next to the ‘family history’ notation in Mom’s address book was the daughter of one of Mom’s cousins – not the one she’d worked for, but the middle son (who – surprise, surprise – I found a photo of in Mom’s album; he and two of his other children had paid my grandmother a visit in 1978). My ‘newly discovered’ second cousin had undertaken some family research several years earlier and had contacted my mother for information about our ‘branch’ of the family tree. The information Mom had sent her was all data I already had, but some of it had turned out to be inaccurate or incomplete (as I found out during my own research), so I sent copies of my files to her (as well as scans of some old family photos – including one our great-grandparents Powers taken around 1875, and one of my grandmother with her sister and brother-in-law [my second cousin’s grandparents] taken about 1905). In exchange, she sent me a link to an interactive family history her brother had developed, which provided me with names, dates and details on her side of the family (information I hadn’t been able to obtain elsewhere!) We set a date to meet a few weeks later, but there was a driving snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures that day, so we decided to postpone the visit until ‘the weather improved’. Unfortunately, we didn’t reschedule, and now it’s too late. I deeply regret that. I would like to have met her and learned more about that branch of my family tree.

I will get in touch with her husband and ask him to pass my contact information along to her brothers and her sister, in case any of them are interested in touching base with a ‘lost’ second cousin. But I can’t help feeling like I missed an opportunity to connect with a branch of my extended family (one I didn’t even realize existed).

Family Branches On A TreeOne thing I’ve come to realize (from all the research I’ve done – discovering ancestors I didn’t even know I had – and the ‘missed opportunity’ of meeting my second cousin) is that no matter the circumstances that prevent us from getting to know one another (or the misunderstandings or differences of opinion that drive us apart) family connections are important. I guess that’s just another one of life’s lessons I’ve learned here on … the other side of 55.

 

Oh, Canada. My Misrepresented Land!

May 17, 2014
Hockey Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The other day I plucked a novel off my bookshelf and curled up on the couch to while away a rainy afternoon reading a story by one of my favourite authors. I noticed (in the ‘Acknowledgements’) that the author had extended her thanks to an individual who had taken her to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and Maple Leaf Gardens (former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team) in Toronto, and for ‘showing [her] more of the warmth and beauty of Canada than [she] already knew’. Apparently she had chosen to create a hero who was a French-Canadian NHL player. As a Canadian who thinks Canada and Canadians get short-shrift in popular fiction, I was pleased that ‘one of our own’ was going to be featured in a novel by a New York Times Bestselling author. That is, until I began to read the book.

Like so many Americans, this author did not seem to understand – or incorporate into her writing – the fact that Canada is a huge country (second only in size only to Russia, and larger by a small percentage than the United States) with ten distinct provinces and three territories (similar in concept to the 50 ‘states’ that make up the United States of America). Throughout the book she referred to a small lake ‘in Canada’ (as the central point of reference for the area where the hero was from); what she neglected to include was the fact that the lake is located in the Gatineau region of the province of Quebec. Considering there are more than three million lakes ‘in Canada’, skimping on the specific location would have made it extremely difficult for most readers to properly orient themselves in the story. Why leave this important geographical detail out?

How Many Americans View Canada

How Many Americans View Canada – as one big clump of land to the north with no specific identifiable provinces or territories

She also mentioned several Canadian cities throughout the telling of the story, and in every single case she neglected to mention the province they are in (e.g., ‘Calgary, Canada’). I’ve noticed this same sort of circumvention in American television shows and news stories – whenever something takes place in Canada, they simply refer to the city and the country and leave out the province or territory (for example, ‘Toronto, Canada’, ‘Whitehorse, Canada’). I find this very odd. You don’t hear or read about cities in the United States being referred to that way (e.g., ‘Los Angeles, USA’, ‘Houston, USA’; it’s always ‘Los Angeles, California’, ‘Boston, Massachusetts’ – and regardless of the country of origin of the story ‘USA’ is usually left out as if it’s assumed that everyone knows what country these places are in).

The Real Canada

The Real Canada – 10 distinct Provinces and 3 Territories

No EhAnother thing that really irked me was the way the author wrote a significant number of the hero’s lines of dialogue – she insisted on putting ‘eh?’ at the end of many of his sentences. Every time I saw it, I wanted to scratch it out with a pen! While some French Canadians do use this figure of speech, it is not all that common. In fact it is one of those ridiculous stereotypes (instilled in the public consciousness by comedians who think it’s funny to satirize a particular nationality or ethnic group by over-emphasizing some peculiar ‘quirk’) that drives most Canadians crazy! I actually had an aspiring writer – a member of a critique group I moderate who lives in Florida – email me not long ago to ask for clarification on ‘the correct way to use the vernacular eh?. ’ She had included an example sentence [with ‘eh?’ at the end] and wanted to know if it was ‘an appropriate use of Canadian talk’.  I was blunt and unyielding in my reply – I told her: DON’T DO IT!).

I will not deny that there are some Canadians who end sentences with a casual ‘eh?’ (or use it in conversation as a short form for ‘What do you think?’) but there are probably as many Canadians (and Americans and Australians and Europeans) who insert ‘You know?’, ‘Huh?’, ‘Okay?’ or ‘You reckon?’ at the end of sentences (and/or scatter ‘Um’, ‘Uh’, and ‘Like’ throughout their conversations). You certainly don’t want to read a story with those sorts of euphemisms peppered throughout dialogue!

The (Fictional) McKenzie BrothersTo be honest, I have lived in Canada for 60 years and met thousands upon thousands of people and I don’t recall a single one ever using ‘eh?’ at the end of a sentence! Bob and Doug Mackenzie (the fictional Canadian brothers from ‘The Great White North’, developed for the comedy show SCTV) aside, we don’t speak that way! (And while we’re on the subject of language, although French is our second ‘official’ language, only about 20% of Canadians are actually French-first speaking; 60% are English-first and the remainder primarily speak any one of almost fifty languages including Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Punjabi, Cantonese, Arabic, Tagalong, Mandarin, Portuguese and more than two dozen Aboriginal dialects.  If you put 100 Canadians and 100 Americans in a room together, you would be hard pressed to figure out who was who).

BC Desert

Desert in southern British Columbia

Another perverted view many Americans have of Canada is that the entire country is covered in ice and snow year round. Customs agents often tell stories of visitors from the US arriving at crossings in the middle of July dressed in parkas, with skis on their roof racks, as if they expect to encounter a sudden glacial wall of ice and snow at the border! It’s shocking that so many people living right next door to us know little or nothing about our climate.  While it’s true that 27% of Canada falls with the Sub Arctic/Arctic climate zone, the other 73% is a mix of Boreal, Temperate, Grassland, and even Semi-Desert (only 2% … but, still, we have a desert in southern British Columbia).  The largest state in the USA is Alaska – which means almost 18% of the country is SubArctic/Arctic – yet you don’t hear Canadians (or Europeans, Australians, etc.) suggesting that the USA is covered with ice and snow! Personally, I cannot fathom this kind of ignorance!

Summer In Ontario

Summer In Ontario

Temperatures in some areas of Canada (like Southern Ontario, where I live) can soar into the mid 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) for up to three months during the summer, and we’ve had some winters with almost no snow at all. (NOTE: Canada converted to the metric system a couple of decades ago, so perhaps some of our more ‘clueless’ neighbours don’t yet understand that ‘temperatures in the 30s’ [in Celsius] is the same as ‘temperatures in the 90s’ [in Fahrenheit]). It’s not unusual for parts of the eastern seaboard of the US (and as far west as Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) to actually have worse winter weather than we experience in many parts of Canada, especially southern Ontario and Quebec and western British Columbia. (NOTE: while the 49th parallel is considered the ‘dividing line’ between Canada and the US, a significant portion of both Ontario and Quebec and the Atlantic provinces [New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland] are geographically south of that latitude – in fact, they’re actually parallel to or more southerly than the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa; the southern-most point in Ontario is actually in line with northern California, Nevada and Utah).

Toronto

Toronto

There are lots of other misrepresentations or misunderstandings about Canada. I don’t have the space to list them all here but suffice it to say we are very similar to – and on equal footing with – our American neighbours when it comes to language, culture, entertainment, technology, medicine, education, fashion, music … and just about anything else you can think of. While we have only about 10% of the total population of the US (35 million compared to 315 million), our top ten cities are as modern and populated as the top 35 cities in the US (while we don’t have any cities the size of New York or Los Angeles, Toronto is equivalent in population to Chicago, Montreal to Philadelphia, Calgary to Dallas, Ottawa to Austin, Edmonton to San Francisco, Winnipeg to Boston, and Vancouver to Portland).

CanadarmSome of the world’s most popular and/or (in)famous actors have come from Canada – including Ryan Gosling, Jim Carrey, Donald and Keifer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Perry, Dan Ackroyd, Ryan Reynolds, William Shatner, and Eric MacCormack. We’ve also produced a huge range of musical talents – Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Sum41, Barenaked Ladies, Rush, Neil Young, Nickleback. And let’s not forget that Canadians invented quite a few miraculous products that have changed the world, such as AM Radio, IMAX, the telephone, the zipper, Pablum, basketball, SONAR, the Blackberry, the electron microscope, and the Canadarm.

All in all, we’re a pretty damn great nation and we deserve a great deal more respect and acknowledgement than we often get in the foreign media and from people who are too lazy or too arrogant to take the time to find out more about us.  I for one am proud to be a Canadian on … the other side of 55.

CanadaQuote

 

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