Family Lines

stories for you

Month: March 2014

Six words memoir

Lake.

Where some of the lake monsters were born.

A six word memoir…can it be done? Yes, says SMITH Magazine. The magazine states six words make you get to the point. That six words are a catalyst for self-expression. That six words force you to be creatively creative.

I tend to think that while six words certainly hit the bone and pare down to the very essence of your anecdote, you miss some of the best parts. Those best parts, like description and emotion and well, the story, are left to be made up by other people’s imaginations. By leaving most of the tale unwritten, you have shaped a piece of fiction when you wanted to tell the truth. I thought I would try a few six word memoirs anyway.

Gusts send sand into my eyes.

Gap workers always have to fold.

Lake monsters live in my mind.

Even my eyebrows sweat in Africa.

Gap store.

I once worked at a Gap. And spent many an hour folding.

I’m not sure if any of the above “memoirs” worked and I am fighting the urge to include more details. But I won’t.

What’s your six word memoir?

A crisp spring

Calgary city view.

A spring afternoon in Calgary, March 21, 2014.

It’s supposed to be spring right now but it’s not. Definitely not. Winter is hugging us tight and is not going to let us go. Usually during chilly February evenings I like to warm up with a bowl full of apple crisp. Right out of the oven. It’s a great way to sweeten dark winter nights and with the snow still flying in March, I think it’s apple crisp time. Despite my terrible cooking and baking skills, it’s one thing I can make.

My mother made supper for the family on week nights when I was growing up in Nova Scotia. The five of us would sit at the table around 6:30 p.m. or 7, after my dad got home from work, to eat our meal. Sometimes we had baked sole, sometimes haddock, sometimes Shepard’s pie and sometimes chicken. We always got dessert.

My favourite treat wasn’t chocolate cake or ice cream or pudding – it was apple crisp. Even when it was piping hot I’d be shoveling into my mouth. Even though it scorched my tongue. Through the burning I’d taste sweet Annapolis Valley fruit, baked into a soft compote. The crisp was also a little bit crunchy – from the topping of oatmeal and butter and brown sugar. Mmmm. Delicious. There’s nothing better when the snow is falling outside and the wind is trying to get in the front door.

Supper table.

My family’s supper, lunch and breakfast table.

The recipe came from my mother’s 4H cookbook from where she grew up – Burris, Ontario. Now it’s been a family recipe for almost 40 years now. My mum taught me to make apple crisp when I was younger. No easy feat as I just don’t like being in the kitchen.

Peeling the apples was fine and my dog, Jasper, would wait for the trimmings. He would gobble them up and want more. I loved the crisp’s topping so much that I told myself when I lived on my own I would make a whole bowl of it and eat it all myself. (I’ve lived on my own for a while but haven’t indulged in a pound or two of topping in one sitting.)

I have prepared the dessert so often that I don’t even need to look at the instructions anymore. It’s often the dish I take to potlucks or serve at dinner parties and it’s surprising no one is sick of it yet. Unless they don’t have the heart to tell me.

It doesn’t matter where I’ve made the apple crisp – from The Gambia, West Africa to Sackville, New Brunswick to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories to Revelstoke, British Columbia, every time the aroma hits me I’m reminded of home, winter nights and my family.

Apple crisp (from memory)

  •  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
  • Peel and slice about 6 medium sized apples
  • Place the sliced apples in a 9×13 inch pan.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon of white sugar over the sliced apples

Topping

  • Combine 3 cups of oats, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, pinch of salt, ¾ cup of melt butter and mix.
  • Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about ½ hour to 45 minutes

Over and out: Waterville Airport

People in an airplane.

Taking my family for a flight at the Waterville Airport, NS.

A tiny airport in Nova Scotia is closing and for many of you reading this blog it won’t mean a thing. But for me, it’s where I first learned to check the oil, feel the wings for dents and bruises, kick the tires and then…fly.

The Waterville/Kings County Municipal Airport has been operating since the late 1970s. The aerodrome is in a nice little spot with its runway right in the middle of the Annapolis Valley. Sometimes the high hills (or North and South Mountain as Bluenosers call them) capture the fog and keep it prisoner in the early morning. Eventually it escapes and seeks refuge in the Bay of Fundy, sitting just over North Mountain. A few years ago I got stuck in the air in that dawn summer mist but that’s another story. For now, I’ll let other memories soar.

A few years ago, in the beginning of this millennium, I moved back to Nova Scotia from Alberta to become a pilot. I had been working as a journalist at a television station and needed a change. (TV isn’t the glamorous job you think it is.) Since I was young, I had always wanted to fly. When I was seven I saw my uncle’s airplane parked at his Winnipeg house and that was that. I wanted to go up in the air.

Learning to fly was cheaper in Nova Scotia, half the cost of Calgary. I moved back in with my parents and got a job at one of the two flight schools at Waterville. I become a part-time receptionist and hired hand helping out with planes.

I spent hours at the flight centre and often had two lessons a day. My very first flight was on a sunny spring day. My instructor Mark and I squeezed into the cockpit of a two-seater Cessna 150, XBR (or X-Ray Bravo Romeo). There was almost no room to move in the 150 but as we rolled onto the runway, it didn’t seem to matter.

Cessna 150.

The first airplane I flew – Cessna 150 XBR – at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Mark took the Cessna up into the air and as soon as we were levelled off – he handed me the wheel.

“You have control,” he said.

“I have control,” I said and pointed the red striped plane north. I flew us to the training area near the house where I grew up. Once I spotted it, a green roof sticking out of the brown forest, I circled a few times, looking almost right into my bedroom. It was a strange thought that, just an hour ago, I was in that room. Bound to the floor. Now here I was, in the air, hanging over my home.

I flew back to Waterville, picking out the runway with ease. It’s right beside the extra-large Michelin tire plant, which is why the airport is now relocating as the factory is expanding. I didn’t land the plane that first flying lesson, Mark did that. Landing for me would come later and I would only learn after a few “crash landings.”

Flying for me wasn’t about the freedom I hear many other pilots describe. It wasn’t about being higher than the ravens and the hawks and the eagles. It wasn’t about escaping earth. For me it was about fulfilling a life time goal. It was about doing something I aspired to do and never thought I would ever have the chance. Getting my private pilot’s licence meant the future was wide open and I could do anything I wanted.

During the year I was learning to fly, 9/11 happened. The airline industry faltered and it was hard for people to find flying jobs. Since then I’ve been taking a few commercial training flights even though it’s expensive and time-consuming. One day I would like to complete that goal too. One day.

With the closure of the Waterville Airport comes the end of flying lessons, parachute courses, ground school and many other things connected to aviation. But it’s not the end of the memories of taking off runway 28 and shooting straight into the sky, a blue sky when the weather is perfect.

“I have control.”

Show, don’t tell

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

I’ve been teaching a memoir writing workshop and for one class we talked about emotional writing and how to convey sentiment without using words like angry or happy. These words tell – not show – how you feel. The best way to express feelings in writing is to actually describe how the emotions make you feel and what they are doing to you or your character.

Next we did a writing exercise where we took an emotion word and wrote about it without using the word. We wrote for 10 minutes, then shared our stories and guessed which emotion we wrote about. Can you guess mine?

High up in my airplane, I can see the landing strip. But I can’t land. Every time I try to make it back to earth, the wind pushes me off the soil. I’ve tried three times to touch down, one, two, three – how am I going to put this airplane back on the ground?

Stupid wind, you’re going to be the death of me.

Don’t underestimate the athlete

2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.

Russian gold medalist in sit-ski at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.

The Olympics may be over but the best is yet to come – the Paralympics. The Paralympics are by far the better show of athletic skill and heart. Despite this, these games are not well attended and there are hardly any Paralympic sports broadcast on Canadian TV.

In 2010 I was posted in Whistler, B.C. as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service. As part of the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games I got the chance to not only write about some of the competitions but take in the atmosphere of the global events held in our country.

During the Olympics, Whistler was filled with people. The medals plaza was stuffed to capacity with spectators every night and the streets of the mountain town were packed with revellers. The stands at cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined and biathlon were jammed with fans no matter the weather. That all changed during the Paralympics and I wondered why.

Paralympians work just as hard as Olympians. They’re all athletes training to be number one in their sport. They’re all dealing with outside pressures such as family and finances and work. They’re all attempting to realize a dream – standing on the podium and representing their country. Usually, only Olympians get to feel the glory. We hear about their fight to be the best. We hear their stories of making it to the top. You rarely hear about a Paralympian’s quest for gold. But when you do, you’ll cheer louder than ever like I did.

One of my roles at the Paralympics was to write stories about the athletes. I interviewed them and asked them questions that would be considered rude in other circumstances.

“What is your disability category?”

Andy Soule.

Andy Soule, U.S. Paralympian. Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andy_Soule,_2010_Paralympics.jpg

In Paralympic cross-country skiing and biathlon, there are standing events, sitting events and visually impaired events. One U.S. sit-ski and biathlon competitor had his legs amputated after being hit by an explosive while serving in Afghanistan. An athlete before he lost his limbs, Andy Soule told me he wanted to stay active after his injuries and when he was introduced to cross-country skiing, he was a natural. Five years after his life-changing event, he was at the 2010 Paralympics, and making history as the first American to win a bronze medal in biathlon in either the Olympic or the Paralympic Games.

Andy’s story was just one incredible story out of many. No doubt Olympians face adversity too but when some superstars had a bad race, they stormed past reporters and wouldn’t talk. Most Paralympians opened up about their experiences and shared their thoughts about the competition, making themselves available to the media – win or lose.

Even though the stands weren’t even half-full at the cross-country and biathlon, Paralympians couldn’t get over the amount of people cheering them on. The athletes said it was fantastic and they hadn’t ever seen crowds like that. I only wish that more people would realize how great the Paralympics are and look past the disabilities.

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