Summer in the City

The kids end their school years today and tomorrow respectively. They only attend school for 2 hours on the last day and I always question, why they do this when they already have a half-day on Wednesdays. Why not tack on that two hours to Wednesday and give them the last day off altogether. How stupid and bureacratic and political and did I mention dumb?

So I have one last hour before summer madness begins.

It won't be madness so much for the first while, as we intend to relish the advent of no fixed schedule and homework. Holy Son was still studying up until the night before last. It's been a full-on year for him with school work but he's done really well. Straight As except for German and even then, his mark would probably count for an A- in a different grading system.

The best part of summer is not having to run around with the after-school activities like soccer, dance, jazz band, youth theater, Brownies and Boy Scouts, cello lessons...the list goes on and on in this insane house.

And that's partly why I've scaled back our summer plans, which would have seen us running around Western Canada visiting friends and family and schlepping suitcases in tow. We've always been vagabonds - it has fairly defined us these past two decades but I have to be honest, for the first time ever, I feel no burning desire to hit the road by plane, train or automobile. I worried this might be a sign of aging - this desire to cocoon - but I think it has more to do with coming off a very tiring year with the kids and house buying just prior to the market tanking.

Speaking of tanking, the good news of the day is that the Boeing Tanker deal is back on the table. This makes me happy if only because we happen to be a Boeing family. I hope they get their fair shot at the bid this time.

Anyways, that aside, we've also been busy gearing up for a Canada Day barbeque party we'll be hosting July 1st, on Canada's 141st birthday. This is the very opposite of cocooning, I realize, but I've been feeling lately as though I've been channeling the ghost of Erma Bombeck. I've been putting off having anyone come over because I feel bad about our lack of furniture, and our minimal decorating, and that I haven't painted yet so all the walls are pretty stark. And that some of our black plates are chipped, and that I don't have a full set of wine glasses.

And that people will come over and sneer, judge and zillow, and then make semi-apologetic comments to the effect that we must feel awful that we bought our house at the height of the housing market boom and now it has softened drastically. It's been like the conference of the neurotic birds in my brain - all this chattering of reasons why not to host friends, except the birds have not been mystical so much as foreboding and Hitchcockian.

Anyways, I re-read the Erma Bombeck poem - you know the one: If I Had My Life to Live Over....

If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television - and more while watching life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner."

There would have been more "I love you's".. More "I'm sorrys"...

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute... look at it and really see it ... live it...and never give it back.


And so in the spirit of Erma's redux, I'm going to finally unbutton the hatches, throw open the doors and bring together an eclectic assortment of Curt's co-workers, our neighbors, old neighborhood friends and school acquaintances, etc. for a street party. We've promised fun, food, drink, frivolity and Canadian wackiness and by golly, that's what we'll deliver. And so what if the house isn't totally together....who cares.

It's such a useless worry, as is the one where I worry incessantly about mixing the various peoples in my life - the partiers with the teetolers, the introverts with the extroverts, the conversatives with the liberals. I worry about it being a melting pot about to boil over, when the reality is that it usually makes for a tasty, simmering pot of fun. At least history has shown that to be so when we've hosted similar open house events.

My RCMP red surge apron is arriving in the mail, along with a number of Canadiana goodies my blessed MIL was kind enough to ship.

And so that will be the kickoff to summer and hopefully the start of some desperately-needed sunny weather, if only because I've special-ordered it to arrive in time for the party.

Godspeed the sun, the summer and a little bit of easy living.


Games Without Frontiers

The Iceman Cometh
If you were to play Name That Tune in 5 notes (OK, max 12) and ask all 33.4 million Canadians to play along, you'd get a 99,9% accuracy rate on one particular song.

What tune am I referring to? Canada's penultimate anthem, of course. The one Wayne Gretzky dubiously dubs Canada's best song and arguably, the one that is the most identifiable sound in hockey, next to a slapshot.

If you're Canadian or a weekend NHL fan, then you know the tune and you also know the recent hooplah surrounding it. It's the Hockey Night in Canada theme song and the news of the week is that the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) is supposedly giving thought to not renewing the licensing on it.

I say 'supposedly' because we all know there was something rotten in the state of Ottawa and television negotiations in going viral with this "leaked" news. It's likely all part of the negotiations - appeal to the national sentiment in order to bring some sense and sensibility to an unsettled, $2.5 licensing lawsuit that the CBC wants the composer to make go away. Unsettling is definitely the word of the day in the matter. The outcry and uproar this has caused cannot even begin to be measured. It's a veritable afront to our national identity.

It's as near and dear to Canucks as God Bless America is to Americans. Perhaps even more so.

The song, composed by Doris Claman, came into being in the late 60s and it soon became the musical Saturday night battle cry and beacon call to armchair hockey fans nationwide to gather round their black and white, rabbit-eared television sets to watch Canada's hockey greats duke it out on ice. One didn't need to look at a clock if the TV was on....you just knew what time it was when you heard those opening melody...duhn da duhn daduhn, duhn da duhndaduhn, duhn da duhn daduhn duh....doodoodoodoo dooodoooo (tune fades significantly offkey)...

Ask any Canadian, go ahead. We all have our own rendition and way of bastardizing the HNIC theme song. Some of us go deep baratone, some whistle, some even brandish an air hockey stick and feign superstar hockey player position while doing so. But we all know it. It's permanently etched on our psyche to the degree that if there were to be tribal lineups in heaven, all the dead Canadian angels could easily be the choir at the heavenly hockey match.

That's the funny thing about being Canadian. We don't have much to show for our cultural identity that we can truly brand and brag about internationally - not like many other nations. But the few things we have - like our Molson beer, and our Tim Horton's doughnuts and our hockey theme song and our toques and curling brooms - we hang onto those tenaciously and if anyone tries to take those away, we get very pugnacious and well, like right some panicky, eh.

*Update*: CTV announced yesterday that they have bought the rights to the song, which is the ultimate in media scoops, considering this was a CBC deal, and that they intend to use the song during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Way to go, CTV. We love you. And they know this. They had the foresight to see that Canadians will feel a heightened sense of gratitude, loyalty and warm fuzzies now when they think of CTV. That's how much we love our song. For shame, CBC, although that's the difference between private sector take-action decisiveness and crown corporation procrastination.

Games Without Frontiers

Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching's is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle
It's a knockout
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-wars without tears
Peter Gabriel, "Games Without Frontiers"

I never gave much thought to my Canadianness in Canada. It has only been through travel and living elsewhere as an expat that I've been able to see my nationality and my home and native land in new perspective and through new eyes.

I still get the accent thing all the time....people noticing that I apparently have one. And of course, while I've adapted to new ways of being ~ such as Americanizing my spelling, and alternating between saying either z or zed when verbalizing my e-mail address to locals, in direct correlation to how accommodating and/or sadistic I'm feeling when they inquire, "can you repeat that, I didn't hear that last letter?"), or refraining from barking whenever a neighbor talks about their roof (Holy Hub and I now just look at each other and smile and wink instead). It's a round-about kinda way of saying that while I've integrated, I'm still fiercely, fiercely Canadian.

I like to think I've become a little less tribal and apologetic in the three years since moving here though. My angry imperialism rants have lessened (somewhat), American politics leaves me feeling more indifferent than not of late, and I'm beginning to warm up to the notion that as light-year different as Americans and Canadian are in both worldview and character, we are perhaps not to very far apart.

But then schmidt happens that tests my magnanimousness. Like this article in Parade magazine last Sunday, which really pissed me off. Sometimes there is no better way to descibe a certain slant of anger than being pissed off. And I say that because those are the very words I uttered to the republic upon reading the propaganda, I mean article, from beginning to end. Although God knows, there will not be an end in sight to the issue soon. Pissed off also fits because the high Arctic is nothing if not the last unclaimed geographic pissing match and yet another so-called Great Game to be played between power-hungry nations.

Which, just thinking about the whole thing again, gives me pause for desperate prayer. Dear Great Game Scorekeeper, if Stephen Harper has nothing more to show for his legacy as PM in this early years of this new millennium, let it at least be that he does the right thing in our extreme north strong and free. And if you're going to let anyone else piss on the tundra snow, let it then be Norway or Denmark.

I don't trust this whole hunger for oil thing and the fact that all of a sudden, the U.S. has suddenly wised up to the fact that oil rights and mining reserves are unnaturally/unfairly rich in northern Alberta, the NWT and in Nunavut. I'm wating for the other shoe to drop - first Iraq, then Iran, next it will be Canada that will become the new enemy of the States. I can't fathom what hidden weapon of mass destruction we might be accused of hiding except stockpiles of hockey pucks, curling rocks and doughnut holes.

So all that said, I take back what I said about becoming less tribal. In some ways, being an expat in a foreign land has manifested in me a heightened sense of tribalism. I suppose that's only natural. Yet there's a lonely kind of liminality that an expat inherits upon receiving the exit stamp in the passport and thereby stepping off the precipice of kindred soil. The liminality is akin to any other cultural rite of passage from youth to adult, single to married, virgin to whore. You are no longer what you were before, and not quite wholly the other either.

As an expat, you remain on threshold ground between the two, able to see and participate ~ albeit only superficially ~ in the events, customs, rituals of both tribes. But you don't quite belong entirely with either group. It's a curious thing. You become, instead, an Iyerian citizen of a larger land outside nationalistic borders, even as you still identify and sympathize with the concerns and angsts of the overlapped tribes you have a toehold in. In its simplist, visual form, you can envision the expat as occupying the space between two overlapped circles.

So, in some ways I feel more tribal and emic, and in other ways, more like a long-distance etic - an Audubonian with Eddie Bauer binoculars and a keener vision to see the forest through the trees. I watch this Great Game play out on earth's northenmost ice, and I swear and I can almost hear the theme song for Hockey Night and Canada and see the Canada Kicks Ass banners waving ~ banners, incidentally, that owe their roots to the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the former USSR, in which Canada kicked some serious Russian zhopa.

It's hard not to get caught up in it all. Sung to the tune of, "when two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score."

Holy Son and I played the game of Risk awhile back. It was interesting in a surreal kind of way. We both wanted Alberta - it was a small measure of homeland security, I suspect. He was intent on conquering it all whilst I was quasi-cool with amassing a collection of equatorial islands and such, ever while recognizing that no man or woman is an island. Suffice to say, before long, he blew me out of the water with all his strategic dominions and republics and armies and newfound geo-greed. I had nary a leg nor isthmus to stake my flag into - I went from Churchillian "I will never surrender" threats and promises, to finally having to lisp, "'isth mus end, this not so great game of ours. The world is your's - may you take great care with it." This was after much concession and not a small measure of a particularly fine-tasting shiraz. I noticed the more wine I drank, the more land I,too, wanted to consume, which made me ponder if alcohol and foreign affairs are perhaps a dangerous combustion.

I played an experiential seminar game once upon a time called the Game of Life. I played it eons before reality TV came into existence. The point of the game was, ultimately, not traditional win/lose tactics but rather, for participants to garner experiential insight around how they "do" life and play the game. Do I play to win at all costs? Do I sit back and let others take control? What's my stratego? ~ these were and remain the burning questions. If all of this is but a game, how are you playing it? And what I realized is that I'm a push/pull dichotomy of fascist and serf - I'm a contortionist who suffers each time I flip from take charge to take cover. Perhaps we're all a bit that way, which might explain why the inhumane game of war and peace seems destined to continue. We haven't donned our own oxygen masks nor mastered control of the puck in the interior affairs game. In economic terms, we're not export ready. That's my version of the story and I'll defend it to the death, on this day anyways. Tomorrow is a new day, a new game, a new frontier. Who knows what flag I'll be carrying then, or which silly games I'll be playing or rude names I'll be shouting out.

Speaking of tomorrow, if you clicked the two tribes link and heard the song then you may well have heard my favorite lyrics de semaine, which read, "if any member the family should die whilst in the shelter, put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes."

We've been listening to that song in the car the last couple of days and I'm trying to get the kids to commit it to memory, because the way I figure it, you just never know when you may need to utter such sage words of advice to others. It's been kind of amusing though because Holy Daughter has been asking all kinds of questions - "what does that mean ~ tag the body? How do they tag you if you're dead?," and my favorite, "but if you're dead, who cares?" She has a point, insofar as the historical record has pretty much proven as much on the global lack of care thereof.
Sometimes I feel guilty that I clutter their minds with meaningless fodder but at other times, I'm pretty certain they'll thank me for this daily bread I've fed them. One day, I'm sure. Perhaps when they're tagging my body and dressing me up in army boots. And when they do, I'll be sure to roll over. 'Cuz that's a mother for you - always trying to get the last punk in there.