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Archive for August, 2011

Having spent a week in my childhood home in New Brunswick, this summer on my own, I had ample opportunity to consider what it is that defines the province, and it’s people, for me since I am no longer ‘one of them.’

Really being or not being ‘one of them’ is a good place to start. Even though I have been ‘away’ for nearly twenty-one years (and about half of my life), if I were to return, I would be viewed as from there. Whereas a person who has lived there for the past twenty-one years might be viewed as from someplace else, or ‘not from here’, or even new. This is a reality that I was very aware of while I still lived there, and it is reality for any small or predominantly mono-cultural community. Even a small culture within a larger one. It is why, in a larger metropolitan area similar people groups come together. It is just one that has always amused me, when I go back for a visit (and, of course every visit includes at least one query of “so when are you moving back?”).

On another note, chivalry is not dead in New Brunswick! I do not think that I opened a door to a store or other business the entire time I was there. One day I was entering a McDonalds restaurant when a guy ran past me and opened, not just the exterior door for me, but the interior one as well (I contemplated asking him if he could follow me to the restrooms, so that I didn’t have to open those doors either).

Then there was another day … when I was going to McDonalds again (really I did not spend my entire vacation at McDonald restaurants … I was simply enjoying a coffee and free wi-fi). When I was at the paying, I asked my server if there was an outlet where I could charge my computer, while accessing the wi-fi. She said, “yes there is one, but … Joe is sitting there. As soon as your coffee is up, I will go ask him if he would move to another table.” I did not respond, because I was moving her words around, and around my head, trying to figure out if what I had heard, was indeed what she had said.

Sure enough, off she scurried to ‘Joe’s’ table! And Joe was more than willing to unplug his charging computer, and move to another table, so that I could plug mine in! My head was swirling with wonder … When I finally came to my senses, I suggested to Joe that if he wanted, he could stay right there, and we could share the table (and the outlet). And so he did. And so we two strangers, sat across from each other charging, and typing, and sipping on our coffee, with periodic comments about the weather.

And, speaking of fast food restaurants in New Brunswick … can you say oxymoron? There is nothing FAST in New Brunswick! The day I was at McDonalds, when the guy was opening any door in front of me, there was a lineup of at least twenty people inside, and the cars were around the restaurant, and to the road on the outside. And the employees had the deer in the headlights look … you know looking at the problem in front of them, and not moving a muscle to get let the traffic pass.

Part of the slow service (everywhere) is that New Brunswickers are a very social and friendly people. They will chat your ear off as you are paying for a purchase, asking about your day, where you are from, why you are there (as a former resident of the province, let me tell you, their motivation is not all about being friendly … they are nosy as can be and … you are not from there).

If you are in New Brunswick (or, really, any province from Ontario east) you will notice bilingualism everywhere. Every sign on the road, every government publication, every service from business to public, is available in both English and French. New Brunswick became Canada’s first (and still only) officially bilingual province in 1969 (a very good year 😉 ). The francophone community makes up about one third of the population of the province, with most being Acadian. But, my knowledge of french, in this bilingual province, is far more commonly known there as franglaise … a little french and a little english combined … it makes understanding both languages so much easier 🙂 .

I now live in another province with (unofficial) bilingualism (multilingualism) … but, it is far more related to where the province is going than where it has been. There are no ‘official’ indicators (signs, publications, etc.), but multiculturalism abounds. So, it is always a bit strange when it is everywhere I look while visiting New Brunswick.

There is one more thing I think of when I think of New Brunswick … 80’s music. I am not sure how it happens, but every time I go there, I end up having a rental car thats radio is set to a station that plays hits from the 1980’s. And, every time I am there, I do not really notice the radio station until I have been there for a number of days. I expect that I do not notice because I moved from New Brunswick in 1990 … so the sounds of Kenny Loggins, or Phil Collins or Billy Joel ‘fit’ that environment 😉

I love the salty smell in the air. I love the rolling hills. I love the horizon that goes on forever. I love the red-hued mud of the Bay of Fundy. I love the constant breeze. I love the seafood. I love the covered bridges. I love the sunrises. I love the red autumn leaves. I love the feet of snow, accompanied by the bright sunshine, in winter. I love the sounds of people speaking franglaise. I love the people. These are the things that define New Brunswick, for me … they are they things I miss, and the things that feel innately familiar when I am there.

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Beginnings are great! A fresh start, a clean slate, a new page. Well, after a two month (well, for me it was more like a two week) break from working in a school, today is back to work … sigh (for those of you who do not work in on a school schedule, I realize that you will be playing your miniature violins, as I whine and complain about the end of summer break. I know the perspectives of non-school workers of those of us who work a school schedule … ‘you work less than eight hours a day,’ ‘you get two weeks off at Christmas,’ ‘you get two weeks off at Spring Break,’ ‘you get two months off in the summer,’ ‘there seems to be a Professional day every month’ and on, and on, and on. I have broad shoulders, I can handle it 😉 But, I digress).

I am not really all that upset about actually going back to work, I am more sad to see the end of summer. Although it really is not over until about the twenty-first of September, the start of school always seems to be the real, practical, end of the summer season. And really, is there anyone who wants to see the end of summer? I don’t think so!

So, my alarm will be set for 6am, my clothes will be laid out the night before (I’m a bit anal … no, really it is just that I do not want anything to hinder my joy of a relaxing morning coffee, and having to think about what to wear just simply throws me off), my coffee maker timer set, and my cell phone charged (not that I would use my cell phone, at work, to text … not me 😉 ). All of the regular work preparations have been done, now it is just to get my pea-sized brain around this reality.

Really there is no preparation for getting my brain wrapped around the reality of back to work. A person just has to do it, go through the motions, leap into it (kind of like getting married, or having a child).

I do look forward to catching up with co-workers, meeting new colleagues, and hearing about new and exciting plans and perspectives on various things pertaining to our students this year.

This summer I heard someone say, ‘begin with the end in mind.’ It seemed so simple, yet so profound a statement. It is a statement of understanding goals, consequences, hope and vision. It is a statement that makes me think about what I hope the end to look like.

I wonder … if I go to work each day of this school year, with an end goal in mind, for me, for the students I work with … will each of my work days have more focus, more direction, more accomplishment, more purpose? Will having a ‘end’ perspective make me more attentive, more directed, more eager to do the job I am hired to do? Will I be better at my job? Will I receive more joy from the work I do? Will my students catch the excitement that I feel to be there, as we work together to achieve their goals?

So, tomorrow is a day of catching up, of getting reacquainted and of visioning for the year to come … all with the end in mind.

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It was a dark and stormy night … well, actually it was a humid and sunny afternoon … but it doesn’t really matter, because the foreboding inner feeling was the same.

I was in a shopping mall, doing a little shopping for a few little trinkets to bring home to my kids (okay, trinkets might be the wrong word … it just has connotations of a grandmother who is obsessive compulsive about little ornaments and ‘do-dads’, and her house is littered with them … providing ample opportunity to spend hours each week dusting, polishing and moving from place to place … but, I digress), when, all of a sudden I got an urge to pee (and, anyone who has given birth knows that an urge like that only means one thing … making it to the bathroom on time is like living with a ticking time bomb … never knowing just when, or how cataclysmic the explosion might be).

As I visually sought out those classic symbols of the restroom … the next step up from stick people, one wearing pants, and the other a dress, I fought to not allow my fear of the unknown get to me. I needed to maintain my composure and dignity, and not go off running through the mall like a maniac, yelling ‘I gotta pee, where do I go to go?’

And there they were, the mr. and the ms. (I wanted to say mrs., but thought that might not be politically correct … although I am not sure that singling out women by a dress or skirt is very politically correct), hanging from a sign on the ceiling, like a beacon from a lighthouse, as the waves of … well as the waves were quickly surrounding me. But, my agony would not be relieved as soon as one might think.

Sure enough, finding the sought-after sign was not the end of my urgent problem, but the beginning of a new one.

As with many times in the past, I was in a public place and had to walk past the mens washroom, down a maze-like corridor with twists and turns (and often burnt out light bulbs) just to relieve my post-pregnancy bladder. As I make the turns I am sure that I will leave more that just a carbon footprint. I am also sure that there will be some pervert lurking around the next dark corner.

Have you ever noticed the locations of men’s restrooms and women’s rest rooms in public places? It has been my finding (after a lifetime of active, full-bladdered research) that, almost exclusively, womens restrooms are a further walk than the mens rest rooms.

What exactly are the designers and builders of these fine establishments thinking? There is a part of me that whispers every time this happens … ‘probably designed by a man.’ Whoever it is that is doing the designing and creating of public restrooms, needs to start doing the designs while their bladder is full … so that they can design from a position of need.

And speaking of sitting down on the job, really is there anything on this Earth that can provide as much instant pleasure and relief, like emptying your bladder? And really, this is why bathrooms are poorly designed … because the act of emptying ones bladder is so wonderful that, when it is over, the trail that led there is forgotten, until the next time that it strikes again.

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The day began as most have, while visiting my parents. I awake at least a half hour before my alarm goes off … despite not feeling rested, and having awakened numerous times in the night. As soon as my mind awakens, so does my bladder … and it’s an urgent awakening (how does that happen? You are sleeping comfortably, but as soon as your mind awakens to the day, your bladder is doing a 911 call).

After a shower, tea and homemade biscuits (tomorrow I will start the day with coffee and a ten mile hike, to try to work off these biscuits), we were off to the airport.

Gone are the days of ‘super packing’ your suitcase with whatever would fit … now they weigh your bags, and not just to save the backs of the luggage handlers … but also as  money-making scam (I am sure the airlines public logic is in keeping with being more environmentally responsible … but I still see it as an airline money-maker, otherwise more conservative packers would be offered a rebate from the airlines). All of that to say, I was required to do a bit of re-packing of my goods, and was sad to not be able to bring back the entire case of Simply Crispie (www.topfundraisers.ca/chocbars.htm) chocolate bars … sorry kids!

After tears filled our eyes (but, we are far too … mature to let them fall …), I entered airport security. A friendly security gentleman asked, before I was even able to breath yet, how I was doing today … all I could respond was ‘tormented’.

I passed through security, boarded my flight to Montreal. There I waited for over two hours … texting hubby, emailing, writing, people watching. And then on to my final destination … Vancouver, BC.

Anyone with loved ones who live away from where you live understands my ‘tormented’ response to the security personnel. Each farewell you are tormented with two realities. One is that your life is not where their life is, and the other is that each farewell could be a final one.

It is then that I am acutely aware how far the east is from the west. It is not like we can drive there in a day, or fly there in a couple of hours … we cannot even fly directly there from where we live. It takes planning, and effort to get together.

This day was really heavy for me … leaving always is. And I am not expecting it to get easier or lighter anytime soon. Because we live in such a large, such a vast country … and as the plane touched down on the west coast … nine and a half hours after taking flight from the east coast I was so very aware of how far the east is from the west.

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Day three on the east coast, again meant spending some time at a certain coffee shop, for their brew and their wi-fi. Now wouldn’t it just be hilarious if I come to the east coast, home to a total of eight locations (province wide), and I get hooked on Starbucks coffee? I live in an area with a population of only about 94,000, and there are eleven locations (at one intersection there is one on three of the four corners).

On these two days I have had lunch with another sister in law, helped my mom learn how to order digital photos from an in-store do-it-yourself kiosk, had a wonderful walk and dinner with a friend that goes back to elementary school (and really, I did come all this way to see her 😉 ), and taken many pictures of houses and scenery that will be used in a future post.

Since I am at my ‘growing up’ home, spending time with my parents and extended family, I have been doing a significant amount of ponderdering family dynamics, and extended family relationships. I can and have griped about my family (and I am confident that similar griping goes on, in my absence, by them about me … after all “I took their grandkids away from them … ” GAG!).

But, a few years back a bit of reality hit me. How I treat my parents, how I talk about my parents, how I show love (or not love) to them and for them … is seen and heard by my kids. It is the example of how to love your elders that my kids will learn the most from. I can tell them how to love their elders, I can show them how to love their elders by how I love other people, but what they will learn from (and parrot) most keenly, most naturally, is what they have seen and heard from me, about my own parents.

Yikes, that is pressure (after all, it is my kids who will choose my care home for me when I am old).

And not only is it pressure, but, sometimes it is forced (kind of like when our own kids say and do things that truly give us understanding of why some living creatures eat their young, and we have to love them anyway … I think you hear what I am saying). It is forced, almost … a command, like a commandment (similar to the one about parents not exasperating (Ephes. 6:4) or embitter (Col. 3:21) their children … just sayin’).

All joking aside, it is a commandment … the fifth (Exodus 20:12), as a matter of fact it says, “to honor your mother and your father, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Now I don’t know what land God is giving to me … I have moved a few times, and I expect there are a few more moves to come. But I am not sure that ‘land’ in this context necessarily means land. I think that maybe it means place, location, culture, context … family.

” So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” … Personally, I have days where I really do not care if I live ‘long’, but knowing that those days are given to ME by GOD … well that just makes me not want to waste a single one. Each day is a gift, and tomorrow … well we do not know if that one is being ‘gifted’ to us, until we get there. So, each day, I feel I need to remind myself that the the land or family I have been given (by God) is temporary, and I do not know how long it has been given to me for. And so, I need to be sure I am utilizing and making good use of each gifted day I get with my family. I cannot waste a gifted day holding a grudge (not that I haven’t done that, and won’t do it again, and again … especially with hubby … in the future). How my family feels about, or treats me, is immaterial … I am responsible only for me, and how I honor and respect the gift given to me by God.

Now, some people have, lets be honest, terrible families, terrible parents. Maybe there were abuses, neglect, abandonment. Maybe your parents were only a good example of what NOT to become. Honoring such a parent seems to be impossible, even cruel. But the command is not to honor your parents IF they didn’t embitter or exasperate you. There is no if (it also wasn’t to exasperate and embitter IF your kids don’t honor you … just sayin’) in the commandment.

I am not saying that ANY person, of any age should subject themselves to harm in any way, to obey this command. What I am saying is that sometimes, honoring that sort of parent is to not follow their example … parent differently, love differently, live differently … and don’t do to them that they have done to you (in case you didn’t notice, that is the ‘golden rule’ worded differently).

If your parents were mean-spirited … don’t follow their example

If your parents were abusive … don’t follow their example

If your parents neglected you … don’t follow their example

If your parents abandoned you … don’t follow their example

Sometimes being a different adult, being a different parent, being a different son or daughter (to them) than they were to everyone around them, is the best way to honor them (along with yourself and everyone around you).

All that said … I want to ensure that each of my ‘gifted’ days is utilized honoring, not abusing, abandoning, neglecting or abusing. Because that is the model I want my kids to grow up seeing as, not just good, but normal.

I have a feeling it might have more benefit than just teaching my kids something good. I think, I hope, that the greatest benefit will be that I come to the end of my days with no what ifs, no regrets (or at least fewer). And maybe even a better understanding that my parents were once MY caregivers …

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Today we went to the Hopewell Rocks ( http://www.thehopewellrocks.ca/ ). I vaguely remember going there last when I was about ten years old, and , although I remember thinking it was cool, I do not really remember much else. And so it was high on my ‘to do’ list for this trip.

It is a cool place of red stone, magnificently formed ‘flowerpots’ (often called this because they rise out of the sand and stones, many feet into the air, with plant life growing on top of them), fossils and tides that rise and fall as much as fifty feet, two times each day. It is believed that it is the location of a mountain range that surpasses the size of the western Rockie Mountains. All that to say, it is a beautiful place of wonder.

My dad and I met my brother, his wife, her son and friend there. It was as we were walking through the wooded pathway that I was reminded just how very treed New Brunswick is (it is the Canadian province with the highest percentage of trees per square km … so really, there should be more tree huggers here than in BC). And not only treed, but moss covered trees … so hauntingly beautiful (Dad thinks they are spooky). And not the green stuff on trees in British Columbia, but a dry white-gray moss … it almost looks like the tree is graying.

At the end of the trail is the metal staircase that leads you to the ocean floor. I am confident that it was the same staircase that had been there when I was there as a child. It is narrow, and the ability to see through the stairs to the bottom keeps many peoples heart rate up (I heard countless numbers of people giving others the advice to ‘don’t look down.’)

Once you are on the ocean floor, to say you feel miniscule is an understatement. The floor that you walk is is more stoney than sandy. And it is red’ish in color. It is easy to see the usual heights that the tides bring the water to, by the wear of the rocks all around.

There are crevices that are marked to not trespass into (and I certainly don’t know of any that might have trespassed 😉 ).

When we arrived there was a guy playing beautiful music, and we discovered that he was there with others planning  for a wedding in the weeks to come. What a perfect, unique and beautiful place for a wedding to remember … for the couple and all of their guests.

I was glad that I wore runners, as the beach was not easy to walk on. But others had also been wise, in wearing sandals that allowed them to walk out onto the mud nearer to the water. The mud of the Bay of Fundy has always made me think of quicksand. It just looks like it could swallow a person in moments.

At high tide, (every twelve ‘ish hours) the beach is cleared of people and filled with muddy water.

Once we left there we took a rather long and curving road to a place I had never been to before (my dad says he had never been there before either). It is a place called Cape Enrage (http://www.capeenrage.ca/) and it has nothing to do with a woman with PMS. The lighthouse there has been there for over one hundred and fifty years (imagine that friends from the west coast, where everything over fifty years old gets torn down). Thanks to the progress of technology, and specifically GPS, the lighthouse is no longer in use (since 2000, when it was decommissioned).

It is another beautiful place where tides come and go at amazing rates, and geological finds are readily to be found.

There is a contest going on, and if you go to http://www.new7wonders.com you can read about this contest, to, by popular vote, contribute to the new list of the 7 Wonders of the World. The only Canadian entry, of the twenty-eight, world-wide, is the Bay of Fundy.

I know I am maybe a bit prejudice 🙂 but I do think it deserves to be among the world’s seven. If you agree, I encourage you to go to http://www.votemyfundy.com and vote! It is that easy, and kids can vote to.

Truly this was another wonderfilled day in New Brunswick!

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I figured that since I am at my parents house, and since the best, most requested food served here, is my Dad’s biscuits, that is what today’s recipe would be.

Now, you may call them scones (or ‘scons’, which really is only the pronunciation if you speak with a British accent) if you wish … but, biscuits is what they are called under this roof … always have been, always will be. If I were to get really specific, I would tell you they are called ‘Brittany Biscuits’ but, biscuits will do just fine.

This recipe is not really a summertime recipe, as you have to turn your oven on. But, since they are so good, and since my parents have air conditioning (and since my mother likes to keep the house at igloo-like temperatures), it works here to have them in the summer. Plus, they make for great ‘cakes’ for strawberry (blueberry, raspberry, etc.) shortcakes … see, I can make any recipe a summertime recipe.

It would probably be good to mention that this recipe makes enough for a crowd … a big, ugly, east coast family crowd (in laws and outlaws). When my dad makes it, he stores most of it, in the refrigerator, to be used at a later date. This way he can make fresh biscuits for his favorite daughter (okay, only daughter) every morning (I so do not want to be reminded that the day of my reckoning with my scales is coming … ever so quickly … but, I digress).

The ingredients are simple, and most you should already have on hand (except for the shortening, that we have told is so very bad for us, due to the trans fats … personally, I use butter, but I have to say that shortening does honor the quality of taste, so much better). And the time factor is really pretty short … within about half an hour you can be peeling your first one open (and within an hour you will need to be rolled away from the table).

First off, preheat your oven to 405 degrees F. This temperature may differ depending on the elevation at which you live, and the humidity in the air.

Then you need to fetch the biggest bowl in the house (aka, the popcorn bowl … if you love popcorn like I do … and I am not talking about the dreadful microwave variety). Into it you need to measure 8 cups of all-purpose flour (if you want to add more nutritional value you could use have whole wheat flour … but I think it’s really a waste of time … they are biscuits, not toast, you are not making biscuits for their nutritional value, you make them because they are so freaking tasty), 1/3 cup of baking powder (check the expiry date on the container, if it has expired, the biscuits will not rise … and biscuit-style hockey pucks are not appealing), 2 teaspoons of salt, and 3 teaspoons of sugar. Now traditionally these ingredients would be sifted together, but I whisk them once they are in the bowl, and my dad (whose recipe it is, and who is the only person who can really make them taste like they should) probably uses a fork or wooden spoon … if he mixes them together at all, before cutting in 1 cup of shortening (Fluffo … it is what Dad uses, so I have to tell you) with a pastry blender.

Once all of the ingredients look well combined, and similar in appearance to oats, it is time to get messy!

And I do not just mean physically … my dad’s measurements get a little vague at this point … So, now you can refrigerate your ‘mix’, and take out as much as you want, whenever you want. And when you are ready to bake biscuits til they are browned beautifully (I so love alliteration … it is the only figure of speech that I really understand), place as much ‘mix’ in a bowl as you would like (start with about two cups). Make a well in the center of the mix. Then comes the milk and (sigh) this is where my dad takes after his mother … he says to add as much as is needed …

I know, I feel your pain! I am anal too … I need specific measurements! So, here is my guide … add a bit at a time (say about 1/4 cup) and stir with a fork, until the dough is soft, and it pulls away from (instead of sticks to) the sides of the bowl. Once that feat is accomplished, turn the dough out onto a floured surface (maybe the counter top).

Now knead it until it is done … OR about 10-15 times 😉 Then roll to about 1″ thickness, and cut with a cutter, or glass into round biscuits (or, live on the edge and just cut them into squares, or rectangles, or hearts, or … oh, how my undiagnosed ADD is surfacing now … maybe Pac-Man?). Keep rolling and cutting until all the dough is used. My dad’s ritual includes making a ‘hot dog’ … this is where he takes the last bit of dough (more than the amount for one ‘normal’ biscuit), and forming it into the cylindrical shape of a hot dog. This is the MOST COVETED biscuit in the bunch! It is bigger than the rest, and it is … different! If Dad places the ‘hot dog’ biscuit on your plate … you are the favorite person at that meal!

Lay them on an ungreased baking sheet. And bake for 12-15 minutes … until the tops are golden brown.

Now, eat them IMMEDIATELY! Warm is better than cold, but hot is better than warm.

On my parents table is jam (strawberry ONLY), peanut butter, cheese whiz (blech!), and margarine (they have never been a ‘butter’ family). Personally, I do not need to add a thing to them … just open them up, and feel the heat of the steam warm your cheeks as you go in for your first bite … delicious!

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