Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of Summer

Today was the first day in a long while that the whole house (save Holy Hub, who is a 5am creature of work habit) slept in. Holy Son awoke at 10:50 am. Long live sloth.

And yet summer, in all its lazy splendour, barely begins and evidence of its demise is all around us. The more audacious leaves of the bunch dare to turn colour. Bathing suits are already marked down for clearance in the stores as the merchandisers impatiently prepare to bring the back to school stuff in. And the seasonal camping gear displays are now slim to nil. How sad is that?

Summer is short enough already. But I'm doing my best to ignore the department stores and their mixed up calendar.

The latter part of June saw us prepping for our crazy Canuck street party. We were mostly on track with getting the house in order and food/drink together when we received a last minute call from out-of-town (country actually) friends that they were a couple of hours away and heading our direction with baby in tow.

The weather was gorgeous during their stay and one of the highlights was being able to attend the local Canadian Consulate barbeque, with Canadian wines and beers on perma-pour and Cadbury chocolate bars in huge abundance. We got to play hose hockey - our team name was The Touques - and we sucked which was not entirely good, considering the game entailed blowing a ping pong ball through various team member hoses attached to the sides of the blow-up hockey "arena" through to the opponent's goal.

These friends departed on the last Monday of June but not before said young mat-leave wife, who shall remain nameless, divested herself of the equivalent of someone's annual salary on anything and everything she could think to buy, most especially if it sported a designer name and a stiletto heel. We see our fair share of Canadian visitors who come to shop but she took the proverbial cake. Our friend advises that the shopping didn't let up even enroute back to the border. They couldn't even open their car door without something falling out. It brings new meaning to the term loaded. May the Lord have mercy on him. They've barely been married a year. He's in for it, I think.

I like when our life is graced with real shoppers though. It helps put things into perspective for Holy Hub, who harbours the erroneous belief that I'm a shopper. She's way out of my league, I'm afraid.

Anyways, no sooner did they drive off, then sheets were being washed and changed for our next arrival, a few hours later, of my sis-in-law, who caught took the Clipper over from Victoria with nanaimo bar ingredients in tow (Bird's vanilla custard pudding mix). At 5am the next day, I was busy making a triple batch of this quintessentially Canadian dessert for our party that night.

We were blessed to have 83 degree weather for the party that night and hosted the entire affair on our front driveway, which is quite large. Somewhere between 40 and 50 people showed up from the cul de sac, our old neighborhood and various other nooks and crannies of our life here. Holy Daughter set up a Canada Customs booth and our cardboard cut-out Mountie acted as sufficient deterrent for those hoping to sneak into the country without appropriate i.d.

Lucky for them, she was feeling generous that night. She permitted library cards, Costco and Safeway cards and even a red and white debit card. All visitors were then duly branded with a Canada tattoo and allowed entrance, but not before having to attempt to answer a series on not so skilled-testing questions about Canada. Holy Hub passed with flying colours - I barely did. I couldn't resist throwing a dud question into the mix that even the Canadians in the crowd answered wrong - see if you can find it.

1. What are Canada’s two national sports?
A. Ice Hockey, Basketball B. Baseball, Tennis C. Basketball, Lacrosse D. Lacrosse, Ice Hockey

2. How many lakes are there in Canada?
A. Unknown B. 500 thousand C. 1 million D. 5 million

3. Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada?
A. Alexander Mackenzie B. John A. MacDonald C. Louis Riel D. Wilfred Laurier

4. Canada has two national symbols. What are they?
A. Beaver & Maple Leaf B. Maple Leaf & Moose C. Beaver & Grizzly Bear D. Moose & Salmon

5. Canada has the longest covered bridge in the world (1,282 feet long). Where is it located?
A. West Montrose, ON B. La Sarre, QE C. Gold River, BC D. Hartland, NB

6. What university developed the world's first anti-gravity suit?
A. University of Toronto B. Simon Fraser University C. University of British Columbia D. Queen’s University

7. Andrew Bonar Law was the only Canadian ever to do what?
A. Win the Indianapolis 500 B. Serve as Prime Minister of Great Britain C. Board the MIR space station D. Win the Tour De France

8. How many National Parks are there in Canada?
A. 84 B. 25 C. 40 D. 60

9. In which year did Canada adopt the metric system?
A. 1975 B. 1985 C. 1967 D. 1970

10. How many time zones are there in Canada?
A. 6 B. 8 C. 4 D. 5

11. What is the highest mountain in Canada?
A. Mount Forbe B. Mount Logan C. Mount Kitchener D. Mount Lefroy

12. What is the longest river in Canada?
A. Fraser River B. St. Laurence River C. Mackenzie River D. Red River

13. What is Canada's most northern island?
A. Queen Charlotte B. Ellesmere C. Victoria D. Baffin

14. Which of the following authors is not Canadian?
A. W.O. Mitchell B. Margaret Atwood C. A.A. Milne D. Michael Ondaatje

15. Which Province has the largest concentration of moose in North America?
A. Alberta B. British Columbia C. Newfoundland D. Quebec

16. When was “Oh Canada” proclaimed as Canada’s national anthem?
A. 1870 B. 1935 C. 1980 D. 1999

17. What year did Canada quit using dog sleds as the main mode of transportation?
A. 1898 B. 1903 C. 1911 D. 1932

18. Which one of these inventions was not Canadian?
A. Roller skate B. Basketball C. IMAX D. Artificial Heart

19. Which one of these games was not created in Canada?
A. Trivia Pursuit B. Pictionary C. Scrabble D. Balderdash

20. 80% of Canadians live where?
A. In Igloos B. In Ontario C. With a Caribou D. Close to the US border

We featured Hockey Night in Canada street shootouts and Capture the Americanadian Flag in the back forest for the kids, while adults got to eat, drink Canadian beer or our own special yuckaflux, another Canadian tradition, and be merry. Holy Hub, who wore a cowboy hat made of out Molson Canadian beer boxes, made a saskatoon berry (a crunchy blue-ish berry indigenous to Alberta and Saskatchewan) cobbler in the Dutch oven that proved popular with Canadians and Americans alike. I looked equally as festive, decked out as I was with my Mountie-ish hat and RCMP apron.

And a fine time was had by all. One neighbour whispered that the block has never seen so much fun.

But the fun and frivolity didn't stop there. We then kicked into Holy Hub birthday mode with family celebrations starting the very next day, since Holy Hub and I were planning to be out for the evening of his birthday. Not just anywhere out but at the BB King concert, no less. A few months ago, I went searching the Net to see if I could maybe surprise Holy Hub with a flight to wherever BB King happened to be playing the night of his birthday. Imagine my surprise to find out that he was booked to play here, of all far flung places. Gotta love synchronicity.

So off we went, with little more than our newly-purchased beach chairs in tow, to our first outdoor concert at the local winery. Talk about feeling like a couple of naked, country bumpkins showing up to the city faire. All the couples - and that was pretty much the demographic - 50+ white couples - were decked out with little picnic baskets, bottles of wine, intricately-etched wine glasses, miniature cutting boards with cheese knives, imported cheeses, grapes, the whole wine and cheese enchilada.

I had thought to pack some cookies and chips. We bought our wine and our kiosk dinner there and then proceeded to sip serupticiously out of plastic cups and dine in dubious plastic fork and plate pleasure. And then we did what all good concert goers do - we grooved to the King. He was as much a delight to listen to, as he regailed the crowd with tales of yesteryear and now, as he was to watch. 82 years old and still oozing the blues. It was fun. I haven't smiled that much or felt inclined to break into musically-inspired tears so much in a very long time.

So little wonder that come the 4th of July, I was plum tuckered. We flew an American flag on the house for the first time - it was a landmark day in liminal citizenry. Attempting to hit the hay at 9pm that night in these parts, however, was an exercise in futility. Whereas our old neighbourhood was pretty quiet and devoid of covert pyros, our new neighborhood was a vestige of such. Firecrackers were shooting off from every side and in every direction. I felt like I was the lone dud popcorn kernel in a pan of hot oil that night. I finally gave up, got up, and with Holy Hub and the kids newly returned from their high hilltop fireworks viewing vantage point one neighborhood over, I joined them for a quick dogwalk around the block.

Not even a week later, we would return for the same walk around the block in order to view the charred remains of a neighbour's house that went up in flames in the wee hours of yestermorn when, to quote Edgar Alan Poe, "each seperate dying ember" (of the lady's squashed cigarette butt) "wrought its ghost upon the floor." It was a cataclysmic awakening outside our bedroom window with fire sirens wailing, helicopters hovering, embers exploding, flames raging and smoke billowing.

And it was surreal on many fronts, to say the least. I had just finished drafting my memoir chapter on Fire, which details our own family tale of how much went up in smoke the day our house burned to the ground on January 7, 1970. Fire was very much on my mind. It's never been very far outside my consciousness, actually.

When I was the same age as Holy Son now, a house nearby to our own in Kenilworth blew-up - the fatality of a gas leak. I remember riding my bike over and standing there, aghast and in wide-eyed stare at the gaping hole where their house and home once stood.

As I trace our own married life and times - (two decades come August), I can't help but notice how often we have been touched by tragedy equally as close to home. In Edmonton circa mid-9os and only a few blocks away from our house, a young mother was brutally murdered by an intruder. Holy Hub studiously went about installing a house alarm system for us and I slept with one eye open each night for years thereafter.

In Islamabad, a Swiss man was senselessly murdered while hiking on the scenic-lookout hiking trail across the road from our home. Holy Hub studiously went about fostering increased security and international relations in our parts by plying the Checkpoint Charlie police at our corner with all-you-can-drink tea and chat.

One year later back in Canada, our brother's house caught fire. All escaped relatively unscathed but as I recall, he wore that tragedy with "like father, like son" pride for years to come.

And then not long after settling into our Calgary home, our neighbor just three houses up was found dead at her front entry landing ~ supposed the legacy of a random intrusion. But those of us who knew her to be estranged from her disturbed husband, an aldermanic hopeful in the previous civic election and fundamental Christian with a troubled teenhood, knew different. Rumours quickly spread of how the kids were found locked in their bedroom upstairs. What mother locks her kids in their bedroom unless fearing a danger far greater than fire?

Three years ago, tragedy again struck close. Shortly after moving to the U.S., we awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of fire engines. Turns out, a disgrunted divorceed man a couple of blocks away had set fire to the house for the insurance claim. The house next door caught fire, as well, and three years later, it has only just been rebuilt. The burnt remains and blacked shell of a car in the attached garage of Mr. Arsonist's house (who now sits in jail to ponder the perils of playing with fire) stand as testament to his bonfire of vanity.

And here again, the home fires burned. "A spark neglected makes a mighty fire" is perhaps the greatest of Herrick's understatements, as our now homeless neighbors have learned.

Suffice to say, I'm thankful for a little quiet on the western front from hereonin this summer. The closest I wish to get to fire this summer is at marshmallow stick's length away, superstitiously chanting "I hate white rabbits."

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