Monthly Archives: February 2012

Into the great unknown (world of beauty products and cockroaches)

I’m feeling a little bit out of my comfort zone.

All because of this:

Homesick in a jar

What is it?

It’s a body scrub tub.

And it’s empty.

I buy it from Tval, been using it exclusively for two years, and I love it.

And now I’m 6,000km away from procuring more.

When I’m away from home, it’s the little things, like body scrub, I miss most.

The big things come with me: Sylvia, Travis, my cell phone and an Internet connection to every other important person in my life. I can still watch Doyle on Wednesday nights, and I can keep in touch with my training buddy in real time. But I can’t swing in to Tval and pick up some more body scrub or Sylvia’s favourite bubble bath.

I miss my dutch oven. I miss my cast iron fry pan. I miss my fiberglass baking mat. I miss the brass upholstery buttons on our second-hand couch. I miss the 600-meter walk to the post office and the inevitable chat about the weather with the postmistress. I miss the knots in our pine ceiling.

I don’t necessarily miss the draught through the walls or the never-ending appetite of the beast, but I miss the familiarity of home.

TRUE STORY:
Newfoundland was once featured in an Archie Comic for being allergen-free. Mr. Lodge (Veronica’s dad) suffered from hayfever, and Dilton (the little smart guy) recommended he take a trip to Newfoundland where the air is clear. This is not entirely true. Those with sensitivities to pollen will be affected in early summer, but I guess it’s not as potent as other places? Maybe the swift ocean breeze blows the airborne irritants out to sea.

However, Newfoundland is also lacking in cougars, black widow spiders, cock roaches and rattle snakes. I can be reasonably sure that any insect bite I sustain in NL will be non life-threatening. Likewise, the animal life to be relatively harmless.

We have no skunks, racoons or porcupines. No poisonous snakes, no ROUS’s.

Until very recently, we were immune from Lyme disease. Heck, even the syphilis outbreak has been confined to the maritimes.

Newfoundland: The best place on earth!

So to be all of a sudden having to weigh the likelihood of a cougar encounter before heading out to ski is unsettling. And that empty jar of body scrub is a a very tangible reminder that I’m not in Kansas Newfoundland anymore.

But dividing my time between Newfoundland and Alberta now means embracing oil country for half the year. If that means harnessing a bear bell to Sylvia’s Chariot on the ski trails, then so be it.

Likewise having to do the rounds of natural body scrubs manufactured in Alberta.

Like I said, it’s the little things.

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Results.

I did something today that I haven’t done for a very, very long time. Perhaps ever.

I threw a pair of my jeans in the tumble-dryer… on purpose.

They’ve been sitting pretty loosely around my waist for some time, so instead of taking them from the washing machine to the drying rack, I tossed them in the dryer hoping to snug them up a bit.

But when the warm-air cycle had finished, they were still loose and ill-fitting.

I think these jeans are officially Too Big.

They will bypass my closet and go directly to the donation bin.

Yahoo!

Shouts out to my long-distance training partner in NL! I owe my new jean size to your text messages and virtual high fives.

Oh, the tundra sponge it was golden brown, and some was a bright blood-red…

We took another little road trip on Saturday, heading South and East to visit family. For three hours of the trip, from the outskirts of Calgary all the way to Medicine Hat, the Northern Lights danced out our driver’s side windows.

In a word, awesome.

They were green and yellow, and shaped first like clouds and then like castles and then like slides and escalators. And they danced! They got brighter and they faded away and strands of colour came down to touch the horizon.

We pulled off the highway so as not to risk driving into the ditch. (Good call).

I’ve only seen the Northern Lights a handful of times. Once as a child, around Easter. We were in Greenspond having a cousin slumber-party when the parents woke us up and dragged us outdoors to see the Northern Lights over the mish. I remember it being cold out, and the whole sky was grayish-green.

I went to Labrador a bunch of times for various xc ski races and adventures, but never was fortunate enough to see the lights.

Then I spent several summers and one fall working in St. Anthony (where I really recommend you all visit) and one night was woken by two friends shouting from the back yard.

“Miss Button! Miss Button!” (Yes, I have friends who call me Miss…) “Put some clothes on and get out here!”

We bottomed out the Camry several times as we took the dirt road up to the old American army base above town. There we whistled and played the harmonica and shouted at the sky, and the lights were green and purple and blue, and lit up all of the northern sky.

The lights on Saturday were particularly poignant for me, as my current job involves lots of learning about Labrador and the North. Telecommuting over three time zones has its challenges, but the Northern Lights made me feel more connected than any of the hundred e-mails I wrote last week.

Today is Family Day, and while I am working on Newfoundland time (where today is just a regular Monday/deadline day/day at the office), we went out for lunch together to a restaurant where, when we asked for crayons, served up a portable DVD player and a choice of Disney classics for Sylvia.

Wow.

None of the films on offer could stand up to the Northern Lights show of Saturday night, so we passed on the DVD player and instead played slapsies and tickle monster… both of which would probably make the Approved Family Day List Of Activities miles ahead of movies at the table.

And if she got a little tispsy, well at least she was getting tipsy with the family.

That's good stuff.

Thanks, Alberta, for the Northern Lights and the sanctioned family day. Couldn’t have done it without you.

*Title from Robert Service’s The Ballad of the Northern Lights. A good read. Not one of my party tricks (whereby I recite The Cremation of Sam McGee), but still one of my favourites. Stare and shrink! — say! you wouldn’t think that I was a millionaire

Choose your own adventure

For me, the best getaways have always been the most spontaneous.

Two years ago, I planned the hell out of a weekend on Bell Island, which turned into one bad-luck experience after another. (Missed the ferry, hotel was crap, surprise early-birthday cake for Travis was inedible and the town map was… comical.) Bell Island itself is beautiful and we will go back, but that trip stank. Now that I think about it, I started this blog mere weeks after that. It would have been excellent blog fodder…

Four years ago, I made a girls-only trip to Fogo Island where our only plan was “Go to Fogo. Come home on Sunday.” It was great – Caribou! Icebergs! Hiking! Snowy beaches in May! – right up until I lost the brakes in my car on the way home. Still, Fogo Island remains one of my favourite Stay-cation destinations.

We’ve had a few other trips that have worked out swimmingly despite very little planning – not least of all, our epic road trip across the country just last month with nothing but a final destination and a bit of Google maps route-comparison before we left to guide our way.

Last year, we had a hell of a good time in Calgary thanks to a last-minute Hotwire deal.

So when it comes to travel, spontaneous = good. Planning = bad.

This was a genuine shocker of a conclusion for me to come to because there’s nothing I hate more than surprises. Don’t tell me you have a gift for me but that I have to wait until tomorrow to open it. You have a gift? Let’s have it. Now. I can’t possibly wait until tomorrow, or even one hour from now. I can’t handle the anticipation. I get all worked up into a ball of anxiety and can’t function until the impending surprise is delivered. Uncertainty gets me in an even worse way. My imagination runs through every possible scenario – all bad – while I wait for the final outcome.

Let me give you an example: last week week I got a voice mail. Nothing unusual: “Hi, please call me when you have a chance.” I immediately try to imagine all the many reasons why this person needs my attention – from the blase (do they want a recipe?) to the terrifying (Travis’ truck went off the road!) This process of zero-to-terror takes approximately eleven seconds. But I HAVE learned that eliminating the uncertainty – in this case by returning the call – as soon as possible can end that awful mental cycle of terror and doom. So I did… and I got THEIR voicemail. “Hi, it’s Laura. Just returning your call. I’ll be pacing by the phone and working up a sweat until I hear back from you.” Then I proceeded to put my WHOLE DAY on pause while I waited and waited for the phone to ring, and had a full blown panic attack while I was at it. (True story – just ask Travis). (There is probably a psych diagnosis to be made in there somewhere).

While I know RATIONALLY that reality won’t be as bad as my imagination would have me believe, uncertainty and me still don’t get along very well.

Which is why my laissez-faire approach to travel kind of surprises people who know me well. Myself included.

But we proved my spontaneous = good theory again this past weekend, with a brilliant visit to Jasper National Park. We scored a hell of a deal online for the Maligne Lodge – probably the first of our online hotel deals that we’ll actually return to because it was so gosh-darned nice, not because it had the cheapest rate online. We drove into Jasper after dark, and the stars seemed a little too close to earth that I had myself convinced that despite all roadsigns to the contrary, we had taken a wrong turn somewhere. (Because we were supposed to be surrounded by mountains! We shouldn’t be able to see stars on a horizon this low! Get it?). Anyway, by the time we woke up the mountains were back and the views were stunning. We strolled the “strip” for breakfast and mitts, then took a hike to Maligne Canyon.

It was wicked.

I haven’t found any photos online that do it justice, so I don’t mind posting these sub-par shots:

Maligne Canyon, 51m deep

Malign Canyon feature shaped by a whirlpool

The hike was a challenge – slippery and steep – but the day was positively BALMY. Sylvia rode in her Chariot most of the way, though she did take some time to size up a frozen waterfall and splash in the shallows. Like you would.

Eyeing the ice...

We drove home via the Icefields Parkway and stopped at the site of the glass-floored observation deck that will be built this year. The glaciers were snowcovered and we didn’t see any wildlife but the drive was spectacular.

Sylvia also had a ball playing with the camera (our good camera is in the mail, so the free-with-purchase-of-printer device is now a toddler plaything) so there were lots of pictures like this one to weed through when we got home:

I am coming to eat your braaaaaaiiiiiiins

So maybe a little uncertainty in the rest of my life is a good thing. (Tell that to my anxiety.) But all in all, a successful first family trip to the mountains.

Reading reccomendations from a toddler

We went to the library the other night.

Sylvia is still more interested in pulling books off shelves and playing with the toys than actually reading or choosing stories to take home, but I persist because one day I know something will click and she’ll contentedly sit and read. Won’t she? I mean, she finally started sleeping through the night and stopped nursing – two things that at the time felt like she was going to do FOREVER – so I assume the library will eventually be a pleasant place to visit instead of the Nascar rally it is right now.

After we had our books and were ready to go, the children’s librarian (who is also the program coordinator and all-around friendly person) convinced me to stay for a writers’ forum.

“Oh Sylvia can play in the corner, and if she gets tired of it you can just slip out!” she told me.

How one “slips out” of a quiet room with a wriggly toddler, I don’t quite know. But I believed her.

Sylvia did stay quiet as people arrived and settled their coats on the backs of their chairs, but as soon as the guest author opened his mouth, all bets were off.

“What do you mean I’m not the center of attention?” is what I’m sure she was thinking as as she crumpled plastic cups, demanded water and squawked the indignity of having to play quietly.

So we left before it really truly began.

And that’s ok, because we had a bagful of books waiting for us at the counter. We bundled ourselves into our winter boots and headed home.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was going through the library books that I noticed the selection we had brought home:

Home Remedies for Seniors
Goodnight Moon (we own several copies already)
And a lift-the-flap book with no flaps.

Turns out, cruising the stacks with a toddler can really broaden your reading horizons.

So…

that lasted all of what, six weeks?

I’m working again.

Not at an office, and not full time (yet), but I have deadlines and people to answer to and people to (gently) boss around.

Within 90 minutes of taking the job, I secured part time childcare in a regulated daycare centre.

And that must be some kind of record.

But the best part about it all is this: I get to call up the federal government to let them know I am a productive citizen once again.

You see, two days ago I applied for E.I. (That’s employment insurance in Canada – the federal subsidy for people out of work through no fault of their own, like wrongful dismissal, medical or maternity leave, or yes, even when you quit your job to follow your spouse across the country). And even though my resignation was legitimate, and even though I had explored other options before finally pulling the plug, and even though all my dealings with Service Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency have ALWAYS been above board, I still came away feeling like a criminal. I think it’s their own way of keeping the number of applicants down – we will SHAME you into not applying! Mwahahahahah!

The fact is, E.I. is probably one of the most abused social security programs in Canada. It’s free money*, after all. However. When perfectly honest folks are turned down or talked down to because of all the bad apples who treat the system like their own private bottomless bank, it rankles.

You would think that maternity leave would be one of the more straightforward EI applications. Doc signs a form saying you’re pregnant, and you send along a copy of the baby’s birth certificate. Done.

Ha. If only!

I had to maneuver my 42-week pregnant belly through countless virtual HOOPS before I got it straightened away. And you know what? A full eighteen months after Sylvia was born, I got a call from the CRA, just wanting to check the facts on my time off work and the baby’s date of birth, and what colour underwear I was wearing at the time.

So I really didn’t expect this application to go smoothly.

Mostly I’m just glad I don’t have to wait to find out.

*not really, but try explaining that to the folks who help themselves to an eight-month vacation each year.

Full disclosure: I once worked for Service Canada. I know better than to cheat the system, and not just because my parents raised me to be an honourable person.