Family Lines

stories for you

Author: Lea (page 3 of 20)

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Staying ahead of competition

People running a race.Capital Ideas Calgary is a community that links business owners to an important resource: other business owners. Each week, Capital Ideas puts out a question that’s answered by entrepreneurs based on their experiences.

Last week, Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: What market research helps you stay ahead of your competition?

Here’s my answer (along with other business owners): http://capitalideascalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2016.12.01Final.pdf

I always answered June’s question: How do you maintain life balance as an entrepreneur?

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on June 16, 2016: http://capitalideascalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CH-0616-final.pdf

What would you answer to the questions above?

A banner day

Girl drawing.

A loon scene.

Revelstoke, B.C. has a wonderful tradition: hanging hand-painted banners to deck the streets of the mountain city. The community-based program lets artists (and non-artists) paint their impressions of the town red. Or green, or brown or purple. After some prodding from friends, I put paint to canvas and helped create a flag for one of Revelstoke’s light poles.

The street banner program has been part of Revelstoke for many years. It’s hard to miss the flags hanging around the city. They wave hello and goodbye to people coming and going and brighten up dark November days when the snow has yet to make it all the way to the ground.

Revelstoke is more than a place for tourists to ski or go mountain biking, it’s a community where people have jobs and kids go to school and life is lived. I called Revelstoke home a few years ago and still have friends there, artistic friends. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting one family when it was their turn to create their banners.

Next year is Canada’s 150 birthday and the Revelstoke’s banner program is celebrating the milestone with the theme “Canada’s 150th — Strong, Proud and Free.” On that note, banners this year had to represent Canada and you could only use red, white or black paint. Hmm, in that case I think I’ll paint Canada at night.

Girl drawing.

A squirrel and a fox scene.

As a writer, I rely on words to paint pictures. I cannot draw or paint at all. (Okay. I can draw brown trees without leaves and blue ponds with grass.) Thankfully, my friend Pauline and her two daughters are accomplished artists so I had a lot of help. Pauline put together images of a heron standing in water ripples. She borrowed some elements from First Nations art and designed an extraordinary piece.

Next, I had to trace the design onto a thin sheet of Mylar, (plastic about as big as a piece of paper). Then we took the sheet to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre where the Mylar was put on a projector and the image shone onto a white waterproof canvas framed in wood. I traced the outline of the heron with a black marker onto the banner. The canvas was laid down on a table and Pauline and I got to work filling in the heron.

For me, painting was hard work. I didn’t have the patience or the creativity to colour inside the lines. (I was a terrible colourer as a kid. Always straying from the boundaries of the picture.) I took lots of deep breaths and concentrated on not making a mess. Pauline and her daughters gave me tips on how to move the paintbrush.

Outline of a heron.

Hello heron – tracing the outline of the bird onto the banner.

“Use your whole arm, not just your hand.”

“Slow down. You don’t have a deadline.”

No, there was no rush but there was pressure, pressure to make something that people would look at and not wrinkle their noses at. Pressure to have a banner that would represent Revelstoke as well as Canada. Pressure to not screw up.

With words, you have the freedom to move them around and change them. With the click of a button, the flick of a wrist, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, disappears. Painting is more permanent. Splash some red on the white canvas, like I did, and it’s not easily washed away. The red, diluted by water and detergent, turned pink. It changed the scene on the canvas, and made the heron seem like it was looking at an early sunset. That wouldn’t happen with words. But it’s sometimes good to know you can’t change things. Even if you paint over the sunset, it’ll still be there.

Heron painted in.

You’ll have to go to Revelstoke in the spring to find the finished oeuvre.

Reflections

Memoirs are written reflections.

The business of art

family_lines_artThe Department of Canadian Heritage is looking to hear from you about Canadian culture. What are your views on our arts scene? What’s important to you about our culture – is there even a Canadian culture? How do we support Canada’s artists, content creators and cultural entrepreneurs in order to create a cultural ecosystem in which they thrive… Here’s my answer: http://bit.ly/2flj74E

The Forgotten War

Korean War photos.

Korean War photos. Photo Credit: By All photographs are works of the United States federal government. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nicknamed the Forgotten War, the Canadian participation in the Korean War is overshadowed by our efforts in the First and Second World Wars. I barely knew about the Korean War when I was in secondary school. My only connection to it was the names of the men who fought in that conflict being called out at every Remembrance Day ceremony in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. When I moved to South Korea after graduating university in 1997, this all changed.

I was an English teacher for half a year in South Korea. My first post was in Puyo (Bueyo), a rural town about three hours south of Seoul. When I wanted a taste of the big city, I took a bus to Taejon (Daejong), about an hour northeast of my Korean home. In the middle of the trip, the bus passed a war memorial. Huge bronze soldiers hoisted guns into the air on a gravel patch beside the highway. No one on the bus or in Puyo could ever tell me what the monument was for but it brought the Korean War to the forefront of my mind.

Twenty years ago it wasn’t hard to remember a war had been fought all over the peninsula. Sure, South Korea was a bustling place with lots of trade and tourism and great food. But there were signs that it was still on alert, ready for action in case the North decided to attack. There were armed soldiers at train stations, bus stations and sentry points on beaches.

The war between South Korea (Republic of Korea, or ROK) and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) started on June, 25 1950 when the DPRK invaded South Korea. In February of the next year, Canada, as part of a United Nations (UN) force, entered the war. Around 26,791 Canadian military personnel took part in combat as well as observer roles after an armistice was signed in July, 27 1953. The two Korean countries have been in an uneasy ceasefire ever since.

During my teaching stint, I hopped on a bus and took it to Inchon (now Incheon) to visit a fellow English teacher, Niki. In 1997 Inchon was a growing city. In 1950, it was an important port for Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and within striking distance of North Korea. It was also the scene of the Inchon Landings in September 1950 where the UN forces recaptured Seoul and delivered a tremendous wallop to the North Korean Peoples Army (KPA). It was a strategic and crucial victory for South Korea. (UN forces began hitting the KPA from the sea. The Royal Canadian Navy was a part of this attack.)

When this Canadian got off the bus in Inchon forty years later, I didn’t have to contend with shells going off or bullets whizzing by me. There were ROK military all over the place, an obvious sign of lingering tension, but I left that all behind once I left the station. I met up with my friend and we went for a hike in the hills of Inchon. It was New Year’s Day and sunny and bright. The temperature hovered just around zero and it was perfect for a jaunt outside. We walked up and up through a patch of fir trees tree and then waded through tall golden grass. We could see the ocean, the blue Yellow Sea, as we ascended higher into the hills. Soon we were walking along a ridge strewn with broken barbed wire. Along the way were worn concrete bunkers and broken down sentry posts. Were these remnants from the Korean War? Had we stumbled upon history? I’ll never know.

That’s the problem with being a traveller sometimes. With no one around to tell us what we were looking at or signs to guide us, we had no idea if these ramparts were from the war or just part of everyday life on the south side of Korea. I later asked my Korean friends about the military ruins but they didn’t have any answers. Neither did the internet, then and today.

Modern-day Incheon (the spelling was changed in 2000) is the site of an international airport. My husband and I landed there when we went to Korea this past May. The city has exploded in size, both population and square footage, and is the third most populated place in South Korea. I wonder if the remnants of what I had seen so many years ago still exist. The war certainly does although you wouldn’t know it. Seoul is a cosmopolitan city and no different from any other city in the world even though it’s just over 56 km (35 miles) from its enemy. There are no longer soldiers patrolling the train and bus stations because technology (CCTV) can be everywhere at once. That all changed when I went to the DMZ.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

North and South Korea are separated by the demilitarized zone (the DMZ), that’s only about an hour’s drive from Seoul. The DMZ acts as a buffer between South and North Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. My husband Jason and I signed up for a DMZ tour and left on a bus one morning to get a glimpse of the other side.

As we headed out to the demilitarized zone, we began to see the markings of a country on guard. The highway skirting the river leading to the Yellow Sea had barbed wire wrapped around the guardrails and every few metres there were covered platforms with soldiers stationed in them. In some of these little houses, I saw the soldiers hunched over their guns pointed out to the water, ready to fire at any moment.

Guard post.

At the DMZ, the tension is high. We’re told when to take photos and not to make any gestures or faces towards the North Korean side. In one of the buildings on the South Korea side, there’s a plaque honouring the Canadians who fought in the Korean War. The bronze marker is one among 15 other United Nations countries that fought alongside South Korea and Canada. Five hundred and sixteen Canadians died in the Korea War, far less than the First and Second Wars. But they still sacrificed their lives for peace.

Plaque at the DMZ.

Plaque at the DMZ.

It’s only writing this blog piece that I learned that the first Canadian infantry unit to take part in the Korean War, the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), was trained in Calgary. Another connection to the Forgotten War, this one in Canada. Lest we forget, the Forgotten War.

A Wilde ghost writer

family_lines_ink

What do ghost writers have in common?

They all use invisible ink.

Happy Halloween!

The ghost above is Oscar Wilde. He was an Irish writer who wrote in the 1880s. You probably know The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest: these are just two of his works.

Headless on Halloween

Boy dressed as Headless Horseman.

My nephew in 2013 as the Headless Horseman.

Halloween is in a few days and while I won’t be dressing up, I do remember some costumes from when I was in elementary school in Nova Scotia. I always wanted to be dignified and pretty while my mother always wanted me to be something funny.

One Halloween, I asked to be a “Lady.” I’m not sure what I meant by that. I was six. My lady was a real life lady, a woman, an adult. She wore high heels and blouses and lipstick. I didn’t get the heels but I got the make-up, a black beret and a skirt. I also disappointed my mother, who wanted me to be a clown or an old fat man created by shoving a pillow down my shirt and drawing wrinkles on my face with black eyeliner.

In Grade 6, I got a little more daring. I wanted to be the Headless Horseman. For years I’d been fascinated with the story of Ichabod Crane and Sleepy Hollow and the man who rode his horse without his noggin. Some of this had to do with the fact that I lived a couple of kilometres away from Hollow Bridge. I thought the similarities between the two names were uncanny. Sleepy Hollow – Hollow Bridge: almost the same, right?

Hollow Bridge Power Plant, Nova Scotia.

Hollow Bridge Power Plant, Nova Scotia.

Hollow Bridge has a population of maybe nine people spread over three houses. There’s a Nova Scotia power plant on the right that sits high on the hill and has a huge water tower standing straight out of the landscape. Taller than any of the trees. It’s a steel feature in an otherwise bucolic setting. As for the hollow bridge, there are two bridges along the road that could be the hollow bridge. I’m not sure which one the area is named after. Anyway, I felt it was a place the headless horseman could roam. That’s how I chose my costume for my classroom party.

My father made my outfit out of things around our house. He cut shoulders for me out of a discarded piece of wood and he attached it to the top of my head by a shoelace tied under my chin. He cut eyes holes in an old dress shirt of his so I could peek out. In my day, knickers were popular for girls. These weren’t underwear but trousers cinched at the knee with elastic. I wore a royal blue corduroy pair. My mother lent me her nursing cape from 20 years earlier; it was a heavy wool black cape with red lining. It was perfect.

I topped off my outfit with a papier mâché head I made and painted to look like a face. I even added brown yarn for hair.

I was excited about wearing my costume to school. We were having the party in the tiny Gaspereau Elementary School gymnasium. I was going to rock it.

At school, I put on my spectacularly spooky outfit on at noon and thought everyone was going to love it. But no one knew who or what I was. Disappointing. How could these kids not know who the Headless Horseman was when Hollow Bridge was close by? I was astounded and hurt that my outfit went to waste. Oh well, it was cool to me.

In 2013, my 10 year-old nephew decided to dress up in a great costume – the Headless Horseman. People knew who he was supposed to be and he doesn’t live anywhere near a Hollow or Sleepy community. Pop culture finally caught up.

Ode to my Rad Pants

Rad pants.

Look at how Rad those pants are…

I’ve had my Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) Rad pants for many, many years. I got them from my roommate in Toronto in 1995. Mo liked my Guess jeans. I liked her Rad pants. We made a trade. I think I got the best part of the deal. The jeans would have been out of style a long time ago. The Rad pants, however, just met their end last week.

Ode to my Rad Pants

You once sheltered me from the sun

and kept me warm when there was none.

You protected me from rain, snow and sleet

and went with me to the mountains where my friends meet.

Your blue-sky colour always made my day

and we’ve been to many places, even Lutsel K’e.

Through thick and thin you’ve been the trousers of my heart

I’m thankful for your years of service but we have to part.

I’m so sorry to say goodbye and put you in the bin

but you’ll go to MEC heaven with a grin.

May you frolic in green meadows and sing and tap dance

Because you’re Rad… Pants.

Pants in bin.

Farewell…

The dammed fish

Creek with snow.

The creek in winter.

My sisters and I spent a lot of our free time playing in the Nova Scotia woods with the neighbourhood kids. Since there were only a six houses in the area there wasn’t a lot of children but there was a lot of things to do. Sometimes we liked to go to the creek behind our family’s home and build dams.

The creek is what’s left of a mighty river that used to power a mill up the road. In 1950, the Nova Scotia government stopped up the river and made a lake by constructing a dam for hydroelectricity. And that was the end of the mill and the river and the beginning of the creek.

The dam.

The dam.

The creek was full of nimble water spiders and pretty florescent green dragonflies and beautifully freckled speckled trout. You had to stand still and stare at one spot in the dark brown tea coloured water before you could spot a fish. We think there were some gaspereau fish, also known as alewife, under a rock where the creek pooled. But never caught one so was never sure.

I always dreamed of reeling in a big fish in the creek. The trout dad taught us to catch were tasty but small. I wanted some that had heft, that would fight, that would make a good story.

One summer day my siblings and our friends cooled off by heading to the creek. We waded over to the other side to explore that part of the waterway. There were a couple of small streams branching off and we decided to dam a section.

We worked hard. Gathering rocks and large sticks and then moss to use as mortar. A wall took shape, resembling the inside of Nick’s log house. It reminded him he had to go home and he headed off, scaring his parents by getting lost for a couple of hours in the forest. We stayed and finished our project. Wouldn’t you know, the dam held the water back. Success.

A couple of months later and it was autumn. Nick and I were hanging out and needed something to do. What about checking out the dam? Off we went into the woods. Ducking under branches, jumping over rocks and leaping across the creek in our rubber boots and sweaters to find our handiwork.

It was still doing a good job but being kids we decided it needed to come down. So we started to pull at the sticks and loosen the rocks and grab at the moss.

What was that? I could see the top of something large and dark near the surface of the water. On the creek side that was dammed.

Stepping into the water I leaned down and peered into the churned up murky creek. It was a fish. A very big fish.

I shouted to Nick and he had a good look at it too.

“That’s a big fish!”

Here was the fish of my dreams. I needed to catch it. Since I didn’t have a rod or a net I would use my hands. Nick helped.

We wrestled with the several pound fish for a good five minutes. It was slippery and floppy and strong and didn’t want to leave home. Then, with one heave I threw it onto the land. It didn’t just lay it. It went wild with fury and scared me.

I had caught the fish. Now what? I didn’t want the fish to die. Besides, it wasn’t fishing season and I didn’t want to break the law. So I pick it up and slipped it back into the creek. The undammed part. And watched it swim away.

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