January 21, 2015

Neighbourhood Games

I was reading a post by one of my very favourite blogger friends, Lucille over at Useful or Beautiful, when I was struck with an idea for a little post of my own. She was writing about all the shoes she wore when she was a child growing up in England. She mentioned a pair of fabric party shoes that became worn out in one wearing due to the energetic nature of the party games: Squeak Piggy Squeak, Blind Man's Bluff, Oranges and Lemons, Musical Chairs and Musical Statues. I am old enough, and Anglified enough, to be familiar with a couple of the games she mentions playing in childhood. I am not going to write about my girlhood shoes, which, besides one pair of super-trendy white canvas Nike runners with the blue swoosh and my first pair of platform sandals, were unremarkable. I am going to write about the games we played in my neighbourhood because, friends, those were some very good times.

My neighbourhood on Silica Street was a lot like many other neighbourhoods in the world at that time in the century, I am sure; it was full of families. On a good night we could have fifteen kids playing outside after supper. The only reason to stay inside on a non-rainy night was a case of the flu or too much homework. The other kids we played with on those nights did not have to be necessarily approved of/interviewed by our parents. We did not even have to like each other all that much. The games we played demanded numbers to be successful and fun, and numbers we could provide simply by showing up. The sheer joy and enthusiasm we had for the games was generally enough to carry us through any personal conflicts with other kids.

In summer we played Hide and Seek or Sardines. In Hide and Seek, boundaries for hiding were agreed upon and one person who was 'it' counted to fifty before beginning to seek for the rest of us. The boundaries included anywhere within our block, including the alley. In Sardines, only one person hid somewhere within the boundaries and everyone else separated to look for them after counting to fifty. The hiding spot had to be large enough to accommodate each 'finder' who would join the 'hider' once he/she was found. We would be packed into the hiding space like sardines in a can, trying not to make any noise whatsoever, and the last person to find the 'hider' was 'it'. We also played a game called War, which involved painting a chalk circle on the street and planning various manouvers to take over portions of the circle. When fewer of us were available to play we relied upon Four Square, Hop Scotch and various skipping games. On summer days we played in the shady public wooded area on the north side of our street. We built treeforts which were taken down by the city only to be rebuilt by us at the first opportunity. During the fall we collected glossy brown horse chestnuts from the same wooded area and kept them in paper bags. Someone among us convinced her dad to drill holes in her chestnuts so she could make a necklace, but other than that, chestnuts were greatly averse to being made into things. We often threw them at each other instead, used them for made-up games, or when some of us were really bad, we threw them at passing cars from up in the canopy of the trees that overhung the street.

In winter, when the snow fell fast and deep the city closed Cedar Street, which was so steep drivers had to put their cars in the lowest gear to make the descent. Then, word would spread quickly and we would all jump into our snowsuits, boots, mittens and touques, grab our Crazy Carpets and go. Cedar Street was long and if we did not bail off our Crazy Carpets after the first long block we would have to climb up an extra-long way. By the end of the night, discarded, snow encrusted mittens and touques littered the sides of the street while we, red cheeked, hot and sweaty, climbed up the hill to race back down once more before we were called in by our parents to get ready for bed. When we got older we went further afield for tobogganing. Queen Elizabeth Park and Trafalgar Junior High had grassy slopes on which to sail down into the sports fields. The golf course way up at the top of town provided perfect tubing - people, including my elder teenaged siblings, drove up there with inner tubes and made wide tracks on the rolling slopes that seemed to go on for miles in the moonlight.

While my own children enjoyed playing outside daily with other children when they were small and we lived in a small resort community with other like-minded families, it took a little while before they found children to play with in our own neighbourhood in the town we currently live in. While we did see children riding bikes around our neighbourhood and were heartened when we saw groups playing road hockey or basketball in the park up the street, we could not help but wonder why our neighbourhood was not teeming with kids playing games of all sorts outside together. My children, however, played outside our house all the time and soon attracted a few others from the neighbourhood to play road hockey, ride around on bikes and skateboards, and play various games as well. Now that my children are grown, I still wonder, when I am out and about why I do not see more children out playing - school and organized sports are not the only places to learn social skills and fair play. A few years ago our neighbourhood school built a hill in the center of the fields and also more recently installed brand new playground equipment thanks to a large donation from NHL hockey players Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Sedin twins have set up a fund to encourage families in small communities to play and exercise more. The hill and equipment both get a fair bit of use from young neighbourhood families, which is encouraging. Various movements, such as Bring Back Play, encouraging healthy, unscheduled play for kids are happening in Canada as well. We forty-somethings know what our nation's kids are missing in modern life and are trying to reinstate some kind of desire in families to get outside and play on a regular basis.

A friend of my sister's recently posted a photo on Facebook of their high school senior band enjoying a summer picnic at someone's lakeshore property some time around 1980. The photo included about twenty students. Not one teenager in the group lacked the appearance of great health and physical fitness. In fact, they looked like a bunch of young movie stars or professional athletes by today's standards. Unlike the kids of today, they had no Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas, Tim Horton's Ice Capps or Monster Energy Drinks to pile on empty calories back then. A sedentary lifestyle was unusual for a teenager and engaging in some risk-taking behaviours like cliff-jumping was the norm - at least where I grew up. Parents are fed so much fear these days about what 'could' happen to our children we are afraid to let them out of our sight. I am not saying it is easy for me to let my thirteen year old waif of a daughter walk downtown by herself, or ride her bike to the swimming pool alone. I have been fed the same fears for her safety, but I make myself let her go because she is learning to trust her instincts, to discover her own boundaries and get some exercise in the process. As a forty-something mom who values the outdoorsy, independent childhood of my own generation and the good seeds it sowed for a healthy adulthood, mentally, emotionally and physically, I owe her that much.

This is not my sister's band class. It is the cast of Freaks and Geeks, a
show my kids and I have watched and enjoyed. It is set in the 1980's and honestly
represents high school at that time, and to some extent modern times, with uncanny accuracy. 

January 8, 2015

Learning to Fly

My youngest daughter is deep into rehearsals for a production of a family-friendly version of the Broadway hit, The Addams Family. The musical is based on the original American comics by Charles Addams about a fictional family who, according to Wickipedia, 'are a satirical inversion of the ideal American family; an eccentric, wealthy clan who delight in the macabre and are unaware, or do not care, that other people find them bizarre or frightening.' The comics were published at intervals in The New Yorker between 1938 and 1988 when Charles Addams died. Films, TV series, video games and the above mentioned musical have all been based on the comics. Charles Addams said of his created family: 

Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Grandma Frump is foolishly good-natured. Wednesday is her mother's daughter. A closely knit family, the real head being Morticia - although each of the others is a definite character - except for Grandma, who is easily led. Many of the troubles they have as a family are due to Grandma's fumbling, weak character. The house is a wreck, of course, but this is a house-proud family just the same and every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem.

My daughter is double-casted (meaning she shares her alternating roles with another young actress) as Grandma and as a 1960's flight attendant, or stewardess as they called them in those days, in the chorus of undead ancestors. The production is on a large scale and will have a two week run in the new, and quite swanky, cultural centre in our nearby, mid-sized city which is also home to the school of performing arts which she attends for classes and rehearsals. I have not read the script, but I have a skeleton of the story thanks to my daughter's general enthusiastic chattiness, as well as a good idea of the various songs and dances - she practices in the house, of course. We have, thankfully, a room with a door on it downstairs where she can feel free to make all kinds of delightful vocal noise, and a large square of plywood on which she hones her tap sequences.

When our girl first began to practise her parts she would only do so when we were out. She has come a long way. Now she gleefully shows us videos of her and her castmates working on their routines which the director has filmed and posted on a secret Youtube channel, and eagerly demonstrates her dance moves. The school of performing arts is her second home and she loves everyone there and everything about it. Kids aged twelve to eighteen attend the school's Mainstage program and kids from tiny tots on up take all kinds of other classes and programs. Our daughter started with a couple of summer camps and then took two year-long programs before she asked to join the Mainstage program. Even though the program is a huge commitment from the kids and their parents, we agreed. Her sister was leaving home last September to attend college and our youngest would be the only one home during the school semesters. In order to help her forget how much she missed her siblings we helped her with her audition for the musical and enrolled her in the program. Little did I know how much I, too would become involved.

No, I will not be acting, singing and dancing in The Addams Family. I will be helping backstage as part of the production crew. I am learning new words like 'fly system' which are weighted ropes that are pulled with a certain amount of skill and muscle to move the set pieces up and down on horizontal pipes hung from the rafters above the stage, and 'main rag' which is the big, red velvet curtain which can be used to hide more involved set changes or to indicate the opening or closing of the performance. Tomorrow evening I will be learning what I need to do backstage for the entire show. I will have to be up past midnight many nights from now until the end of the show. Considering I am generally in bed by ten o'clock I will have to drink some extra coffee in the afternoons so I do not nod off in the cozy dark of the backstage area during the show. Then, we have 'cue to cue' rehearsals on the weekend, followed by two dress rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday, preview shows on Wednesday and Thursday, and then opening night on Friday.

I am glad I am not one of the performers. During our safety tour of the backstage area of the theatre the other night, I faced the rows and rows of seats from the stage and imagined them filled with people awaiting and expecting the performers' best. I confess I gasped at the thought. But the kids? They seem fearless. Those who catch the acting bug seem to thrive on performing in front of crowds. My daughter has certainly caught the bug, but even she has confessed to being a little scared and nervous. She has never performed for such a large audience, not since her elementary school choir shows when the audience was filled mainly with parents. She is also tremendously excited to take the past four months' practise and rehearsal and preparation and throw it at an audience. For my part, I merely hope I can support her and the other kids by doing whatever it is I have to do backstage properly. I will take a break to watch at least once from the audience, though. My husband and I are going to attend the opening night performance and gala.

Watching this video from the original Broadway production has stirred the magic for me and I can't wait to see my daughter and all her friends in their roles. As we say in the theatre biz, 'Break a leg!'

December 24, 2014

A Merry Christmas Boogie

Dear Friends,

It's raining cats and dogs here, but far away at the North Pole, Santa and his reindeer are gearing up for their gift giving frenzy ride tonight in any and all weathers.

I heard this song, ' The Reindeer Boogie' for the first time last night on CBC Radio 2 when I was making dinner. The girls and I broke into a kitchen dance party. We might not have snow this Christmas Eve but we do have some Hank Snow. And, we have our eldest son, his girlfriend and our niece arriving tonight. Our college kids have been home for a week already.

Wishing you all the blessings of Christmastime with your friends and family.

All our best!

Rebecca and family


Or, if you can't see this one, try clicking on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT148jvQCM8

December 16, 2014

Happy Trails

One day this December we had a weather window 
in the middle of a wall of rain
V and I went Christmas shopping
but took an hour's break to walk on the Vedder River Trail
about a half hour's drive from our home

Some of our most beautiful days here 
come when the weather clears 
and we are left with open vistas
and gentle signs of life's ongoing abundance
and generosity to us mere mortals

Seeds cling in the wind and wait
for spring
They are winter's strange flowers
I love them for that

In late fall and winter 
leaves are stripped from the trees
but light shines between the bare branches
widening the view and revealing
the trees' graceful reaching limbs
casting long afternoon shadows on the trail

The trail is shared by walkers, cylists, dogs and horses
Wild rabbits and nervous birds hide in the camouflaging brush
Trail etiquette dictates all creatures yield to each other
keeping the peace and opening faces
to smile and greet all travellers on the trail 
no matter what their mode of transport

At the end of the hour the light waned
I took one last picture
of trees and river, shrubs and grasses
yielding to the twilight
in peace and harmony
striking a chord of joy and gratitude
in my heart

Though the year be dying
and the days be at their shortest
the sporadic gifts of light in December give hope
to all around
sustaining us 'til spring comes again

December 4, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know it has been an age since I posted something on this blog. Life has been rather full of late and although ideas and a desire to post have floated around incessantly in my head I have not had time to sit down and get to it. A couple of Saturday mornings ago I sat in my favourite coffee shop and wrote the draft of a post in my notebook. Did it get typed and posted? No. I have done this twice now. Like Charlie Brown I can't quite get it together. 'Good grief!'

I do have at least one rather good excuse, though. Some of my regular reader friends will remember I began working on a novel on November 1st, 2013. I am happy to report that my novel's first draft was completed on November 25th of this year. I was, needless to say, relieved and delighted. When I originally wrote about completing NaNoWriMo (see linked post above for an explanation) I thought I only needed to write about another third to complete my draft. I was wrong. My word count ended at 103,000 words, more than double what I had written as part of National Novel Writing Month. Still, I was happy with the outcome and look forward to the editing process. I have been advised by an editor friend to let the manuscript rest for a while so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Completing my first draft was a Christmas gift to myself, I suppose, and one I was happy to unwrap early, for now I can concentrate on making the house clean beautiful and the upcoming Season as delicious as possible for my family and friends. My husband also just started three weeks of holidays from work so I know much will be accomplished in the way of tedious long-neglected tasks around here. My three living-away kids will be home for varying lengths of time for the Holidays and even though I will be spending a lot of time ferrying my youngest daughter to her rehearsals for the production of the Addams Family Musical to take place in January, I will enjoy every minute of having a full house once again.

The first Christmassy thing I do every year is bake fruitcakes. In the early days only my husband and I enjoyed eating these boozy, rummy fruit and nut cakes. Then, I began sending my parents one, too and they asked for the recipe. This year I received a message from our twenty year old son which said, "I am looking forward to eating Christmas cake with a glass of port." My eldest daughter now enjoys the cake as well, so it looks like we will have no trouble consuming the two large and three small cakes I have baked this year. Today I will bathe the cakes in rum and rewrap them in cheesecloth to marinate for another week when I will bathe them in rum again. They end up very well preserved by Christmas week. I have also already made a double batch of another family favourite: cheese ball. I coat the cheese balls in chopped walnuts harvested from the tree in our back yard, and serve it with a variety of crackers. We have already attended two events at which cheese ball was our contribution to the food table; we are becoming rather predictable at parties.

Christmas is not Christmas in our family without certain food related traditions, but new additions are always welcome. Last month, my youngest daughter and I made Maple Toffee Popcorn for the first time. It was absolutely delicious and would make a great gift for gluten-free friends. We will be making a big batch again. I will make fruit and nut chocolate bark as well, but I will leave the rest of the baking to my husband and daughter who has been away at college and surviving on stove-top cooking. She is longing to bake when she comes home next weekend.

Last Friday we and our eldest daughter attended the year-end concert at our son's university. He is in his second year studying violin in the Orchestral Performance program and we are always happy to go to any concert in the university's beautiful concert hall. Our son had worked very hard to get a top seat in the orchestra for the second half of the concert when they would perform Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 5. Shostakovich is one of his favourite composers and the piece is also a favourite. The first half of the concert featured an extremely accomplished young pianist performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, but it was the second half which earned a standing ovation - or perhaps a cumulative effect was the cause. Either way, the concert was wonderful and we and everyone else in the packed house were so proud of all the young musicians up on the stage in front of us. When we came out of the hall at the end of the concert snow was falling in earnest. A group of students had run outside to play in the snow and were visible from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby. I love snow, too, but driving in it is not my favourite activity. After dropping off our son at his dorm building we drove to our eldest daughter's apartment and said goodbye to her. We made our way slowly and carefully all the way to Langley where the snow had come and gone already leaving the roads bare for the rest of the journey home.We munched on chips and listened to the radio to keep ourselves awake, arriving at home well past midnight, but we both felt it had been worth it.

Speaking of fine young musicians, I am a new fan of twenty-six year old pianist Yuja Wang. I am happy to share a video of her playing one of my (and her) favourite composers, Chopin. Have a listen during this month of hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, and I guarantee it will help you catch your breath. Until next time, enjoy December as it speeds by at its customary alarming rate. I know I am.

November 13, 2014

Musings on Municipal Elections

Elections for the municipality and district school board happen this weekend in my part of the world. I already know who will get my votes. I have read the candidate Q and A's in the newspaper, read their leaflets, talked to many of them in person (this is a small town) and silently crossed off my list those whom I know have good intentions but perhaps not the necessary skills and/or related experience for the job I would be entrusting them to do for the community.

I am impressed so many people have put themselves forward as candidates. Eight people are competing for municipal councillor in our district, two for mayor, and six for three school board positions. To have so much choice for leadership is a luxury for voters. Currently serving on two local boards, I am well aware of the commitment and work needed to properly do the job one is voted to do (hint: it is never enough). What is even more true of such positions is how misunderstood they are. Few people really know what goes on behind the scenes and just how much of one's time such positions can involve. I am not paid by taxpayers to do what I do on the boards I serve, but I can imagine the pressure I would feel if I were. I have had a taste of the bitter fruit of dissatisfaction and at times downright anger that comes from the caring public when my board has made an unpopular decision, and that is only within the small arts community here. I cannot imagine how crushed I would be if after years of dedication and public consultation I succeeded, for example, in building a bicycle lane from my town to the resort community down the road - something I would dearly love to see happen for the pleasure and safety of so many - and a large percentage of citizens despised me for it and thought nothing of hurling hate-bombs at me at public meetings and in the 'letters to the editor' section of our weekly paper.

Many of us are far too eager to criticize those who make decisions on our behalf. Of course the internet has only made the situation worse. Newspapers demand names when writing a letter to the editor, but any Jo Schmo can leave a nasty comment on a website using an alias. To counter this current ugly trend I think this might be a good time to be grateful to the many people who care enough about our communities to run for council and school board and open themselves up to scrutiny from the discontented populace. Of course we also must hold them to account due to the fact that they will, in fact, work for us, but I also believe we could all benefit from counting slowly to ten before hurling those hate bombs. If we do our homework before making decisions on the issues at hand we will often realize there are, as my mother-in-law tends to say, three sides to every story. Engaging in a complaint session with the guy across the street for an hour does not make us an expert. Asking questions, listening to answers, paying attention to what happens in other similar communities, reading the newspaper and attending the occasional council meeting or information session does not make us an expert either but it gives us a wee bit more credibility as a voter and community member.

In my opinion, to give them credibility, municipal government must be made up of people who embrace the big-picture mentality. They must look at their role as a humble cog in the wheel of a forward moving vehicle, one they know full well will always move too fast for some and too slowly for others. They must work well with others and cooperate. They must listen more than they talk and be eager to consider new ideas. They must be prepared to back up their arguments against such-and-such a policy with plenty of research (they must enjoy reading or at least be able to study lots of dry documents). They must have the interests of the whole community at heart and not just one part of it. They must not be toadies of land developers. They must be people-persons. They must be open minded and scrupulously honest. They must not build anything extraordinarily ugly (Am I the only one who believes the raspberry sculpture in Abbotsford fits this category?) or environmentally irresponsible. Do I ask a lot of them? Absolutely. But no more than I would ask from myself.

I thank everyone who has served for the past three or more years, especially a certain local farmer who has given three terms and deservedly wishes to spend more time with his family. I congratulate, in advance, all those who are elected for the next term to serve our community and our school children. You have your work cut out for you, but I hope you will perform it willingly and with at least a few of the qualities listed above.

A friend once suggested I run for council. I responded thus: "I just can't get excited about drainage ditches, which seems like a very important issue here, so no. I will stick to the arts." For better or for worse, 'til death do us part it seems.

October 31, 2014

Halloween Then and Now

One Halloween at the end of the last century of the last millenium
my friend Barb and I joined our families together 
for a fun night of trick or treats.

A paleontologist, an alien and a cat (?)
went door to door 
with a knight, a wizard and a fairy princess.

When we walked down the main street of Courtenay
people kept saying, "Great costume, Dumbledore!"
"I'm just a wizard," was lost in the cotton ball beard.
Fairy princess and cat (?) grew tired.

After bags and buckets were filled
with sweets for the sweet
we gathered in Barb's street 
for the neighbourhood potato gun blasting of pumpkins.

Fireworks popped and cracked nearby
but the potato gun's blast and shatter thrilled the kids
to no end.
The parents didn't exactly stand back 
and keep their hands in their pockets either.

The knight, the wizard and the fairy princess
were followed by another a few years later.
I don't remember what she dressed up as for her first Halloween. 

This year that little sister is thirteen
and uninterested in going door-to-door calling out 'trick or treat!'
She did go to school dressed in costume today.

She and her friend will hand out treats at our door tonight.
The knight, the wizard and the fairy princess grew up and
are all away at work and college, so the mime must take over Halloween duties.

"I'm looking forward to seeing all the cute little kids," she says.

"I miss the knight, the wizard and the little fairy princess (who was
a fairy princess three years in a row)" I say.

But, I am very glad to have a mime around the house.

Happy Halloween!