Family Lines

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Month: February 2013

Double suns legacy

Photo of a sundog.

Photo of a sundog. Credit:

Calgary had two suns yesterday. At least that’s what it looked like to me. I wish I had brought my camera and I would have snapped a photo. But the flare would have ruined the picture anyway so I’ll share my experience with you through writing.

There must be a scientific explanation for what I saw. Two twin glowing objects metres away from each other (from my vantage point) in a cloudy sky. It was hard to tell the suns apart at first but then a red curve split the middle of the orb on the left. The arch turned inward towards the other object like it was trying to include its now not-so-identical copy.

While I was left with a mystery for a short it was cleared up with some research. I found that what I saw was a sundog. Sundogs are caused by the refraction of sunlight from either six-sided ice crystals formed in high and cold cirrus clouds or by ice crystals, known as diamond dust, in extreme cold weather that float in the air at low levels. Fascinating.

People have been observing sundogs since we walked the earth. Aristotle and Cicero both mention double suns in their musings. Shakespeare wrote about the anomaly. There was also a sundog that frightened English soldiers before the War of the Roses in 1461.

It’s interesting that even today in our modern world of conveniences, unlimited knowledge thanks to the internet and ability to travel anywhere including space, that we can still share an experience with someone from over a thousand years ago. That the sundog still possesses the power to awe. Still has the capacity to make us ask “what is that in the sky?” Still has the potential to leave us in wonder like the many people before us and, hopefully, after.


Families include furry folk too

Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

It’s Family Day in Alberta and B.C. and a few other places in Canada. Many of you have the day off to hopefully go on some outdoor adventures or do something else cool with your clan. But it doesn’t just have to be with human family – there’s also our non-human kin.

Two of my friends recently said goodbye to their pets. One woman told me most people didn’t understand why she was so upset. It was only a cat. She could get another one. To those of us who are pet people, we understand. Pets are family.

Our cats and dogs and rabbits and iguanas and hedgehogs and snakes are part of our lives. They are our fuzzy sisters and brothers, our most consistent furry roommates and our cuddling confidants (maybe not the hedgehog or snake). They make us laugh, they make us angry, they mostly make us happy and they never ask for anything other than a pat on the belly.

When I lived in Sackville, New Brunswick 12 years ago, I had a three bedroom apartment. I did have two roommates – my cat and dog. Jai, my tiny grey kitty, came from Calgary. A farmer brought in the little girl with a club foot to be put down because the other barn cats had been beating her up. My cousin, a veterinarian in training, saw the sweetness in Jai and so I ended up with her.

Madeleine was a beagle I found along with her puppy, Ali. They had been running up and down the Nova Scotia dirt roads leading to where I grew up. My parents took Ali and I got her mama.

Madeleine had some problems, probably because she had been abused, but she wasn’t mean or nasty. She was shy, didn’t like men and I couldn’t trust her off leash. I also couldn’t trust her to be around food. If anything was in her reach it was gone. To be gobbled down in a few bites.

Jai and Madeleine didn’t like each other at first. But eventually they began to play with each other. Jai loved being chased and even though she had a club foot she was quick. Madeleine would jump around trying to catch her. They were never best friends but they were sisters.

Every Saturday morning Jai would watch the apartment while Madeleine and I went to the Farmers’ Market. It was held in the Bridge Street Café, a coffee shop downtown that was about a 10 minute jaunt away. Madeleine loved to go for walks and she would sniffsniffsniff all over the place. She was never happy when I tied her up near the café to wait for me when I went to buy my treats. She would howl and howl and people in the market would ask:

“Whose dog is that? What a loud and horrible sound.”

I would pretend I didn’t hear them. I knew Madeleine only had a few minutes longer before I came to rescue her. I only went to one booth anyway. The one that sold the almond croissants.

The baker was German and lived in Baie Verte – about a 20 minute drive from Sackville. He had the best baked goods ever and my favourite was the marzipan filled pastry. Mmmmm. I haven’t had anything like it since. The baker put the croissant in a brown paper bag, folded the top over once and handed it to me. I stuck it in my handbag and went to pick up my beagle.

Our walk home was quicker than our walk to the market since my mouth was watering thinking about the marzipan I was going to eat. Jai greeted us once we got down the stairs and into the apartment. I took off my shoes and then Madeleine’s leash and set my handbag down on the living room floor. There was no way my beagle could get into my purse without unbuttoning the top and then having to unfold the paper bag. My treat was safe while I ran around the corner to the kitchen to make tea.

Filling the kettle with water took no longer than 10 seconds. When I came back Madeleine was smacking her lips. Like she had eaten something. Strange. My handbag was where I had left it and it was still closed. My croissant was safe. She hadn’t ate it.

I picked up my purse, opened it and pulled out the brown paper bag with the tasty delight in it. Except my arm swung back wildly because the bag was lighter than I had expected. It was not heavy with the sweet crusts of an almond pastry. It was as light as air.

The bag was empty.

Somehow Madeleine had undone the button on my purse, unfolded the paper bag, ate the croissant, folded the bag up exactly as the Baie Verte baker had, done up the button on my handbag and ate my treat – all under 10 seconds. How did she do it? Jai probably knew but never told. It was a family secret.







Learning to land

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS. That plane is a 172.

It’s pretty cool knowing how to fly an airplane. Being able to be the person to take the plane off the ground. And being the person who puts the wheels back on the ground. I’m one of those people. I have my private pilot’s licence and I learned at the controls of a Cessa 150 over Nova Scotia.

The 150 is a two-seater. It’s a small airplane the catches every breath of wind and can be pushed to and fro if you let it. The cockpit is tiny and makes you feel like you’re part of the machine. This is needed if you’re trying to learn how to land. Something I didn’t excel at.

I always had trouble with landings. No matter how much I practiced, I just couldn’t see the runway properly. I was either too high or too low or too fast or too slow. The little Cessna-150, two-seater, wanted more time in the sky.

My instructor told me to look down the runway. I was trying too hard to park my Cessna like a car. I wanted that spot right there and I was going to get it. But it doesn’t work that way. You have to let your airplane decide where it wants to go. Finally, one day we clicked and we both found the earth at the same time.

Next step: learning how to land without the runway. Forced landings are important to a pilot. If your plane ever runs into trouble, you must know how to get it down quickly and safely wherever you are. You have to learn how to land on anything.

After an engine failure in flight, the best glide speed, 60 knots, should be established as quickly as possible. This will help the airplane maintain altitude until a safe landing can be made.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Sixty knots. That’s the speed my airplane has to be set at in order to make an emergency – forced — landing safely. To alight on a field, an iced lake, an abandoned road. To be able to glide from the air without any power.  Only hope.

A pilot should always be on constant attention and look for alternative landing sites in case of emergency and he can’t make his destination.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

This pilot is a she.

My flight instructor took me over the fields of Canning. He taught me how to pick a spot where a two-seater could land. These places can be anything from a meadow to a country road. There are a few telltale signs that signal danger. Things like telephone poles wreak havoc on wings. Deep furrows in pastures can flip the Cessna.

“God help you if you have to land in trees or water,” my instructor says.

I picture myself being propelled into the top of an evergreen. I picture myself drowning in clear water surrounded by thousands of full bubbles.

My instructor pulls the throttle out all the way out. That stops the motor. A few gurgles from the motor and the plane is free flying.

The propeller continues to turn with the wind. I have a few seconds to make my choice of where I am to land. If I don’t make the decision soon, I will be dead. In theory.

The pilot should always pick a proper landing area. One that is not too far or too close. One that will not provide the pilot with new problems.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Look to the left. Look to the right. Look straight in front of me. There are maybe three spots I can put plane down. One seems to be too far. The other too close. Perhaps…that one will do.

I set the plane for its glide speed at 60. I concentrate on keeping the knots at the correct pace. I try and estimate the distance to the chosen field. It’s zooming closer and closer. The strip I’ve chosen looks to be OK. No poles in the way. No trees. No plough has disturbed the grass. I can land there.

Or can I?

Floating quickly towards the point I’ve picked, I put about 10 degrees of flaps on. Will this slow me down enough and bring me to my spot?

Flaps are high lift devices. Flaps can also slow the airplane down and make it easier to make your mark.

-Pilot knowledge Handbook-

“Flaps are a girl’s best friend!” is what I’m heard saying a lot. They make you fall fast and drag you down. Perfect when you’re landing.

The crude runway is approaching. Faster and faster and faster. The roar of the engine makes me believe my plane is a lion. I need to tame it so I put more flaps on. 20 degrees. We sink. The Cessna settles into its glide speed. I don’t try to take control. It’ll come. I’ll land when I’m ready.


Find a penny and I will pick it up

 A penny on the ground.I published this story on my blog last year. But since my blog was hacked and the post disappeared I thought I would re-publish it in honour of Feb. 4, 2013 – the day the Canadian government starts phasing out the “copper” piece.

The penny died today. And despite it being taken out of circulation I keep finding one cent coins discarded on the ground. I thought most people would be pinching their pennies now in attempt to preserve them.

The penny is also a part of my younger days and continues to be, for a short time at least. My first memories of money call to mind visiting a corner shop when I was small. My sisters and I called it the Licorice Store and it was just down the street.

The shop was in Westville, Nova Scotia. It was owned by the Roys (I removed the apostrophe) and located in an old house painted green. It had creaky wooden planked floors and smelled like candy even though there were many other items sharing the space. Loaves of bread lined one wall, on a shelf in the middle of the room were your regular household items, and on the other side of the store there was a glass counter. Under that counter was all the sweets a little one could dream about.

Minty green leaves, soft yellow bananas, red marshmallow strawberries and black licorice pieces – one could be yours for just a penny. The green leaves were my favourite. But so too were the bananas and the marshmallows. My mother liked the licorice.

The fact that I could buy myself a tiny treat for all of one cent was such a simple, and cheap, pleasure. But a penny doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.

Growing up whenever I got a handbag as a birthday present, I would find a penny at the bottom of the purse. Putting money in a wallet or purse being given as a gift means you’ll never be without money. I keep that tradition even today when I give handbags to friends.

For wedding presents years ago my parents used to give knives and there would always be a penny taped to the side of the blade. This is so the knife doesn’t cut the friendship. Another custom I’ve carried on in my own life.

One Christmas my father gave me a handcrafted pin made from a penny as a present. I wore it on my coat all over Germany and France that winter. Many people remarked on it being a Canadian penny.

Throughout my life I was taught to pick up pennies lying on the ground. A rhyme reminds me why.

“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.

“Find a penny let it lie. Need a penny till you die.”

Nowadays I walk almost everywhere I need to go. When I’m out and about I’ll stop and pick up a lonely coin left on the sidewalk or street.

In the fall the copper coins aren’t too easy to spot. Hidden from view by brown leaves. In winter shiny new pennies are easy to find. Sparkling in the snow. In spring and summer people lose change more often. So I think. They’re unencumbered by coats and jackets and things that need to be zipped up. The lighter the better and their pockets rid themselves naturally of heavy coins, especially in the heat.

A few years ago when I was living in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, my landlord remarked that someone must have lost a lot of change because he was constantly finding coins up and down the driveway. Turns out my then-boyfriend had collected his pennies and sprinkled them along my route to work. He knew how much I liked to pick up coins.

Just the other day in Calgary I picked up one penny when I was crossing the street on my way to a meeting. On my way home I found another one. The first was a rusty 1983 penny and the other was an even rustier 1978.

Penny candy remains in name only now thanks to inflation and the economy and all. And with the actual penny on the way out – we might lose our one cent traditions. And you can’t put a price on that.


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