Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bob-bob-bobbin' Along

The robins have arrived!
We were back at the duck pond yesterday afternoon when we heard the familiar sound, looked up, and there were four robins flitting through the trees.

The arrival of robins doesn't mean no more snow -- this is Nova Scotia after all -- but it does mean we're running downhill fast and Spring waits at the bottom to catch us with wide open arms!
Now we await the arrival of "our" osprey in mid-April.

My husband came upon eagles feeding at the duck pond this week -- and realized there was a pair of GOLDEN eagles in the crowd. So we spent much of the weekend trying to capture a photo of them. A great weekend for hanging out on the shores of the pond, warm and quiet, but this is the only thing with wings that appeared:

But what a gorgeous sky!
Could have had a photo of some deer walking across the still-frozen pond but learned this lesson instead: When you are going into the woods to spy on wild animals, do not wear your red winter coat. Now, for the first time IN MY LIFE, I feel the need for camouflage clothing.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Busy Beavers

Spring and fall, in the morning, are the best times to walk around our river valley property. No bugs, for starters, and the nights are cold enough to freeze up the mud and puddles. The days are lovely, lovelier, admittedly, in the spring, but muddy. So very muddy.
We are inundated with wildlife now. The foxes have mated and the female is prowling around, looking for food to nourish her body; the eagles have mated and are building up their nests; the deer are in the pastures in droves; the geese are flying overhead. Soon, the bears will emerge from their hibernation.
We will see them in the back field, attacking ant hills. We will feel protective of the newborn fawns hiding in the pine plantation.
In the midst of all this, I walk.
As a writer who spends most of her time alone, I appreciate the company of others, even if they are wild animals who don't seek my company. Just knowing they are watching, listening is enough for me to feel not alone when I walk in what is, truly, their territory.

Two eagles, post "encounter". Top and on the left, in the shadow.

Back in the woods, the beavers are reappearing as the ice melts away. The young dog and I walked up the road to the beaver pond formed when they clogged the culvert and flooded the road. No sign of life under the smooth, dark water but they have been busy.

The tree felled over the road for its branches.
One route out of the water near the shore.

Two "access holes" with the denuded branches tossed out like toothpicks
minus the cocktail sausage.
Tracks to and from the snack bar, er, tree.

Baby beaver or raccoon?
I picture the beavers inside their house of sticks, going over the day’s list of things to be done now that spring is here. My feet crunching on the grainy snow on the road make too much noise to sneak up on them -- Smack, splash! -- and I have too much writing to do in my home office to spend hours sitting back there, just waiting to for them to crawl out of the water to feed, but I like to know they are there. Ah, but what an idea, sitting pond-side, meditating, waiting, anticipating.
As a writer, I relate to beavers more than any other wild animal. They are persistent, constantly creating, always maintaining, rebuilding when necessary. They keep to themselves, content to live and work in isolation, doing what they do best, even if others don't appreciate their work, the fruits of their labour, the point of their existence.
I leave my own calling card -- my footprints at the edge of the ice -- so they know that I, too, am emerging from my own den to soak up the energy of spring.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Conversation With...Harriet Barbour

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

When you ask around Pugwash, you’ll discover a variety of reasons why people decided to move to the village. For 38-year-old Harriet Barbour, moving here 12 years ago was her first step towards independence, opportunity and an entire community of friends.
After opening a door with a very loud squeal, Harriet invites me into her one-bedroom apartment above a store. Her apartment is very tidy and filled with comfortable furniture.
Harriet was born on the last day of January in 1975 in Nain, Labrador, where she lived with her parents and siblings until the age of ten.
“I had to be taken away from my real parents to go to Goose Bay for foster care,” she tells me.
She doesn’t remember much about that situation but she did see her parents again, although never to live with them.
“I’m the youngest,” she says of her family. “I have two brothers and a sister. Well, there was seven of us altogether but two brothers and a sister are in heaven.”
So, too, are her parents, her mother dying of hepatitis and her father of lung cancer. I ask if the photo on the wall across from the couch is her mother.
“No, that’s my sister. She’s 41. I went up to Goose Bay last fall to visit her,” Harriet says, adding that she and her older sister maintain contact through email.
“Today is my anniversary for being here in Pugwash for 12 years,” Harriet tells me so I ask her why she left Labrador and how she ended up in Pugwash.
“My foster family moved to Antigonish,” she explains. “Mom wanted me to move out of Goose Bay because there’s too much trouble at home in Labrador with drugs and alcohol. I was supposed to be living in Antigonish but Mom wanted me to come to Pugwash to stay at the home at Sunset. I’m in my own apartment now.”
The door to her apartment emits its loud squeal and we hear footsteps coming up the stairs. It’s Wanda Munroe, Harriet’s resident counsellor, doing her daily check-in.
“I’ve known Harriet since she came to Sunset,” says Wanda, sitting down in one of Harriet’s arm chairs. “She was the first person in our independent living program in 2008. She’s the only person who came out of Sunset into the program.”
According to Wanda, when Harriet first moved into her own apartment, there was a lot of hands-on help for her.
“She needed support with banking, menu planning, grocery shopping, paying her bills. She needs no support with any of that now. Now, if I come in and spend five minutes a day with her... She doesn’t need any more than that. We see her at work. And she’s a whiz on her computer.”
“It was social services who decided I should move out,” Harriet says. “I was happy about it.”
She was ready, not scared, to be on her own.
Wanda describes Harriet as very outgoing.
“For the short time she’s lived here, she probably knows more people than I do. She’s very independent. She loves to socialize. She loves Bingo [at the Legion] – she’s quite lucky,” Wanda leans in to say and Harriet laughs.
“She’s involved with Community In Blooms, painting tables or mowing lawns,” the longtime Sunset counsellor continues. “It’s nothing to drive by and hear a whistle or a yell and there she is, pushing a lawn mower or painting a table.”
When I point out to Harriet, who also works through the week as the receptionist at Sunset Industries, that the cast on her foot must be slowing her down, Wanda jumps in.
“No, it hasn’t slowed her down a bit. She broke her foot and the next day she was doing her banking.”
Harriet chipped a bone in her ankle playing floor hockey at the Special Olympics winter games held in Yarmouth at the end of February.
“I went to score a goal and I twisted my ankle.”
Harriet has been involved in Special Olympics since she was a teenager in Goose Bay and now she is a member of the Amherst chapter. For the summer games, she competes in the 100-metre dash, the running long jump, and shot put.
When she’s not working, Harriet likes to cook, sing (“She knows the first line of every song,” says Wanda), go for walks and watch hockey on TV. She has been a Habs fan since she was a kid in Labrador.
She and Wanda trade insults over Facebook when their teams play each other.
Harriet seems proud of her Inuit heritage but is adamant she won’t move back to live closer to her sister and brothers.
“There’s too much trouble,” she says with a shake of her head. “I have a lot of relatives back home in Labrador. A lot of people want me to move back home. I’m afraid someone might do something bad to me, like already happened to me when I was younger. Plus a lot of people want money from me to buy booze and cigarettes.”
Her life is in Pugwash now. So this is the story of the emancipation of Harriet Barbour.
“I have friends and family here,” says Harriet while sitting on her comfortable couch in her tidy living room. “I’m loving it. I meet all kinds of new people and I love my job.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Field Notes Column Nominated

** Breaking news! I assumed the wrong column when I wrote this last week.
Updated Tuesday, March 27:

I'm pleased to say that my "Field Notes" column is nominated for an Atlantic Community Newspapers Award in the Specialty Column category.
Writing a column, especially the slice-of-life style that comes naturally to me, is a wonderful challenge. Excavating my own life for stories that appeal to a broad cross-section of readers is something I've done since I was twelve years so getting the chance to write a bi-weekly column for a community newspaper is a lifelong ambition fulfilled.
(Problem is, whenever I attend family gatherings or meet friends for coffee, I'm hearing, "You're not going to write a column about this, are you?"  Well, actually, I am. Just made notes from last night's family supper for a Father's Day column!)
I'm pleased, too, for the long-awaited recognition for The Oxford Journal, which is 115 years old.


Best Specialty Column
Sara Mattinson – Oxford Journal
Nick Mercer – Carbonear Compass
Jonathan Riley – Digby Courier

Congratulations to my fellow nominees.
The awards are handed out in May in Halifax.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hand Delivered

Big spring snow storm. Roads are in bad shape.
Our Halifax newspaper did not get delivered this morning, not the fault of our delivery person but likely the truck didn't get out of the city.
The post office might not deliver our mail today, again not the fault of our delivery person but likely the truck won't leave the city.
And yet...The Oxford Journal is getting delivered -- as we speak and since 7 o'clock this morning -- to every store and every post office in our part of the county.
More proof that bigger isn't always better. Our small operation gets the job done regardless of the weather.

The Face of Timeless Devotion

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

It’s an unmistakable face, the face of an old dog. The white muzzle, the white hairs in the eyebrows, perhaps a pair of rheumy eyes that may or may not be clear yet still sparkle, even tuffs of white inside the always-listening ears. 
It’s the face we love, only whiter. Sometimes it’s hard to remember when the muzzle was all black or all brown, or just not quite so...white. 
We look at a human being with grey hair and wrinkles and do not immediately think with some compassion that time is pawing closely at that person yet a dog whose face has whitened means only one thing: heartbreak and farewell are surely coming too soon. It is the face of “short-gevity”, a brutal reminder that what we love most deeply and what loves us back most unconditionally soon will greet us at the door no more. 
It’s not to be rude to point that out (not like saying, “Geez, your dog is old. Are you going to put him down?”). No, it’s pointing out the one thing that gives us our humanity, that keeps us humble about our role in a dog’s life and grateful for this strange mix of blessings on four legs. In our dogs, we see that ultimate responsibility for a good life and a good death, for everlasting love and enduring heartache. In our dogs, we see ourselves, our future, the inevitable. If we are lucky, we see this several times in our life.
Aye, there’s the rub. We do this over and over again. Hold an old dog in our arms, say good-bye while dripping tears into that beloved fur, vow to never go through that again, yet in time, the longing for the sound and feel and company of a dog starts tugging on us like a leashed dog wanting to run free. 
My old dog, Stella, turned 10 last Sunday. That advancement into double digits makes me aware that we are approaching the end of the road, miles away or just around the corner I cannot tell. Every dog involves a journey of hope. 
The road we have walked together has not been easy. She came into my life when I was going through a divorce and taking care of a father with dementia, sending her protective instincts and her dominant nature into overdrive. We’ve mellowed a bit over the years although we revisit old battles periodically, the not-coming-when-called-because-this-carcass-needs-rolling-in skirmish most often, but we also create new ones, more benign now that the chaos of youth has given way to the routine of middle age. Every morning I say to her as I prepare food for the younger dog, “Stella, get out of the kitchen. You are not getting a second breakfast.”
In a new collection of essays about dogs by author E. B. White, he writes about his old dachsund Fred, “Life without him would be heaven, but I am afraid this is not what I want.” 
When I look into Stella’s familiar, frustrating face, I am not sure how I will feel when I hold her in my arms and feel her life end. Stella is a larger-than-life kind of dog, in ways both memorable and challenging, and she will leave a gaping hole in our home. I will appreciate her more when she is gone, unfortunately. I am afraid this is not what I want.
My favourite moments these days are those when Stella runs through the field and grins that wonderful toothy dog grin. It gladdens the heart of the companion of an old dog when she wants to play, when she forgets whatever aches in order to indulge in the pleasure of exploring, of accompanying, of being the dog she once was. These moments are also bittersweet; the fact that they do not occur daily reminds me of her age and how it is affecting her body, and I am reminded of the dog who came before her and how we went through this back when. 
But always together, to the very last breath from that white muzzle, holding on to our dignity, and hers, as best we can, the dog more accepting and gracious about her death than we can ever be.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are We Losing the War Against Bullying?

I'm working on my column for this week and I'm trying to write a short, cohesive piece about bullying. 
I don't know if that's possible. What a multi-faceted, complicated subject -- except for the "bullying is wrong, stop it now, what is wrong with you people?" angle. 
Perhaps I should just go with that. 
Over the weekend, as I was mulling various angles for the column over in my head, I remembered the three times I was sort-of bullied.  I use "sort-of" because they were not really bullying; just growing up bullshit. While the first two, from when I was a pre-teen, have made it into my column, the third incident exists on a totally different level. From today's perspective, it scares the crap out of me.
Back in 1988, I lived in a town of 15,000 people in Ontario; the high school had a student population of 500. On the last day of high school, when I was 18, I drove my mom's car back to school after lunch. That meant parking in the student parking lot and walking into the school through the King Street doors. In the days when you could still smoke on school property, that's where the smokers hung out, along with the kids that we referred to as "skids". This tended to be, but wasn't exclusively, the crowd that wasn't all that keen on school.
It was my last day of high school ever, so I was wearing a spring dress and anticipating the annual awards assembly that afternoon as I passed through the crowd quickly, holding my breath and not looking at anyone.
I heard a girl say, "If I had a gun..."
I knew what she meant. Back then, it didn't scare me. I didn't freak out and report it to the principal (now I only have the vague recollection that I knew at the time who spoke) nor did I tell my parents. If it hadn't been the last day of school, I simply would have avoided using the doors in the future. 
But today. 
If I heard that today, in our culture of violence and bullying, of Facebook and cyberbullying, I'd be terrified. These days, you just can't disregard a comment like that. Now you just never know. Regardless of what the experts consider the randomness of the shooting at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado or at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gun violence is on the rise and one simple comment like "If I had a gun..." can easily escalate if the wrong person overhears those words. 
I don't have an answer, not even a theory. I just know that there has always been bullying and there will always be bullying but these days, it seems so much worse thanks to Facebook and Twitter, web cams and Instagram. Half a dozen kids gathered around a set of double doors versus 1,000 so-called Facebook friends and followers...Who's gonna lose in that battle? 

Feel free to help me find an answer, hone a theory. Thoughtful comments always welcome.

Friday, March 15, 2013

One, Two, Three, Four...

...five, six, seven, eight.
What do I appreciate? Snow! Snow!
I have two hours in which to write 1,000 words on the novel I started this month but I can't get started, which happens, because I'm not in the writing zone so here I am, punching my way into that zone by counting snowflakes.
March 15 -- no one wants me to write about snow.
But I am a writer who loves precipitation. The reason for this is simple: When I was a kid, my mother usually said on sunny days, "It's too nice a day to be stuck inside." Off we went outdoors. I find now, if it is sunny, I have a hard time concentrating; I feel like I should be outside playing.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it's not entirely conducive to writing 1,000 words a day.
But it's snowing right now and I've already walked the dogs and done a plot update after "what if-ing" yesterday afternoon so really, there's no excuse for not writing other than counting snowflakes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Conversation With...Bun Betts

First published in The Oxford Journal on February 27, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Bun Betts opens the door of his home in Wentworth and the first thing I see, and admire, is the grandfather clock filling up one corner with golden oak and chimes and shiny pendulums. 
“I made that,” he tells me and this is the first of several surprises I’m in for. 
Like the fact Bun is not short for anything. 
His real name is Charles Wyman Betts and his mother called him Wyman. When he was two years old, he almost died from pneumonia and the nurse at the hospital who revived him called him her little bunny, her bun...and it stuck. 
“Not many people know my right name, not even the people at the mill.”
Bun’s grandfather, Baynard, came to Canada by stowing away on a boat when he was nine years old (you read that right) and eventually settled in the Wentworth Valley with a general store, a wife and six children, one of whom was Bun’s father, Arthur, who later founded the A.T. Betts and Sons Lumber mill . 
The store was gone by the time Bun was born in 1919 but grew up in the house that had been the store with his parents and two brothers. 
“When I got big enough to work, I worked in the mill. So did my older brother – he died quite a while ago. When Dad passed away, I kept on.” 
Bun figures he was around 70 when he sold the mill. 
“I sold it one morning before breakfast,” he smiles. “I wanted to sell it because lumber was going down and the Wood boys from Oxford came out one morning. They said, ‘Do you want to sell your mill?’ and I said, ‘Yep.’ They came back the next day and I worked for them for three years.”
The grandfather clock marks the top of the hour with the Westminster chime. I ask him about his woodworking. 
“I always did it when I had a bit of time. When I stopped milling, I worked at it when I wanted to,” says Bun who has created everything from salt & pepper shakers to wall clocks to cedar chests. “Until it got out of hand, people wanting too much. They wanted china cabinets, big ones, small ones, and buffets.” 
He says he crafted 13 grandfather clocks (they can be found in Ontario, the Valley, Moncton, Shinimicas and on the Island). The one in his living room is beautiful but Bun says, “They got a little better after that. I used a lot of cherrywood, bird’s eye maple, walnut, a lot of fancy woods.”
Let’s be honest: This man has more than skill, he has talent. At 93, Bun hasn’t been doing any wood turning lately; then again, he had to stop skiing when he was ninety.  
After a lifetime of hitting the slopes.
“I suppose I was 12 or 14 when I started skiing,” Bun says. “I had two cousins in Wentworth Station then there were all the kids in the valley that were my age. We’d go up there and ski down one side of the mountain, the side the station was on, and we’d ski on what’s the Beaver today. We had to walk up it, of course.”
It wasn’t a ski hill back then, in the thirties. 
“Oh, no. There were trees here and there and we just skied around them,” Bun says. “People started to come out from Truro and Halifax so they built a little tow and of course I was up there. It was rough going up the hill on the rope tow so I started shovelling snow and filling the holes in.”
And he just kept working. Since the mill was closed during the winter, Bun worked at the ski hill, eventually becoming the master ski sharpener. He also skied as often as he could up until three years ago when he was knocked down in a  parking lot and hurt his knee. He had only one more run in him after that. 
“I got down the hill but when I got to the bottom, I figured I’d better stay there.”
Even though he no longer skiis, he remains a fixture at the lodge which is less than a mile down the road from his home. He continues to work one day a week, fixing and sharpening skiis and snowboards. 
But didn’t I promise more surprises? He’s always had a hankering for the wind in his hair. Bun drives a Honda 1800 Goldwing motorcycle in the summer time. He goes for short trips in good weather. He gestures outside. 
“It’s just sitting in the garage, too cold, too snowy. First of May, I’ll probably get it out.”
But before he discovered motorcycles, he had a Cessna 172 (which he sold when he was eighty). 
“I always wanted to fly and one time I was up to Moncton and went in to see the guys at the flying club,” Bun says. This was in the early 1970’s. “It was easy then because gas was cheap and flying was cheap. Then I had a chance to buy this plane.”
He flew in the evenings because he worked during the day and says, “Sometimes we’d get a weekend that was decent and we’d go over to the Island.”
What he like best about flying was the chance to look around. 
“We’d just fly around here. You see all the lakes and rivers and where they go. Surprise you, the amount of little ponds and things there are around the country when you can see a dozen at a time.”
When I ask him where he found the time to do all of this, he replies, “Well, I don’t know.” 
According to Jean Wood, his companion of nearly a quarter of a century, Bun has made it to the age of 93 without ever being in the hospital.  
“He never drank, he never smoked and he doesn’t worry,” she says. “And you never hear any gossip come out of Bun Bett’s mouth. If he can’t say something good about somebody, he says nothing. His disposition is wonderful,” she adds. 
There is a pause, a silence as we absorb Jean’s words, then Bun says, “You’d think I was somebody, wouldn’t you?”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Arctic Landscape...In Nova Scotia

For some reason, when Jane called and said, "I'm picking you up and we're taking the pups to the beach," I expected we'd arrive, dressed for winter, to sand and water. What?
Instead, we found ice as far as the eye can see, which, from Heather Beach is pretty much to Prince Edward Island.
But wow! Did the pups ever enjoy themselves. Biggest space they've had to run in ever.

This will look so different in four months!

Lots and lots of ice. 

Exploring way over our heads.

My sled dogs seem to have lost the sled.

Friday, March 08, 2013

March Morning

I started out for the newspaper and ended up at the beaver brook.
There are the lovely end-of-winter days, the sap-running days of cold nights and milder days. The snow is layered over the ground now, thawed and frozen so many times, it is now hard and crunchy, ideal for walking on.
Rural concrete. My sidewalk through the fields and woods.
I'm not sure how we, the dogs and I, ended up at the beaver brook. Something early on must have been luring me because when I got out of bed, I got dressed instead of staying in my pajamas for the morning. I put a coat on instead of relying only on my hoodie sweater; after all, I was only going out for the newspaper.
Yet when the dogs headed left towards the lane instead of right towards the newspaper box, I followed them. The wind was sharp so I pulled up the hoodie. I had gloves in my pockets so I pulled them on. I was wearing boots.
The dogs are always lighter across the snow than I am so they took off, noses to the ground, ears in the air, keen for a rare morning walk (I miss those; see how I write when I've started my day out with a walk?). In the snow piled up in the lane were deep footprints frozen into the surface like ancient artifacts of past attempts at walking. I stepped onto the wedge of snow and discovered it would hold me. A few tentative steps...and the next thing I knew, I was striding along on top of the snow, cheeks stinging from the wind, fingers sore from the cold, wishing I was wearing my snow pants but watching the dogs gallop ahead while I observed the deer and fox tracks criss-crossing the lane. I'm not the only one grateful for the concrete snow.
All was quiet at the beaver brook. Frozen over. We could have kept walking but I wasn't wearing the right socks for a long trek! Tomorrow. We have that to look forward to tomorrow. But first, enjoy this moment.
Thirty minutes of spontaneous bliss as the sun rose over the river.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


Forget groundhogs, forget snow on March 1, forget the time change. I know we're in for an early spring because the cat goes in and out of the house a hundred times a day...and every morning at 4:30. What's springing forward going to do to our night-time sleep and prowl patterns??

We were in Halifax Tuesday night for The Tenors concert.
Had supper at The Wooden Monkey, the Grafton Street restaurant made famous by actor Ellen Page. Worth the hype and doesn't need the celebrity endorsement! We have another favourite restaurant.
The cozy, noisy restaurant boasts a menu as locally sourced as possible and I'm glad to see so many familiar names in the descriptions of the meals and my favourite Jost wine as a house wine (L'Acadie Pinot Grigio). I had the chowder and it was tomato-based which, and my apologies to Maritime chowder purists, was a nice change from cream and butter. Because I'm always craving salad and never turn down the change to eat a salad with goat cheese and walnuts in it, I had a small apple salad. Delish.
Which reminds of another place where we had one of the best meals: at the airport! The Maritime Ale House is outside the domestic security entrance, next to a bookstore, and back in December, we had lunch there when our US flight was delayed. My husband had fish and chips, and I don't recall what I had but the salad had walnuts and avocados in it and I remember it being the best salad I'd had in awhile.
Good books and good food: a great reason to hang out at Canada's nicest airport.

Good music is essential too.
Jimmy Rankin was on the same bill as The Tenors, which surprised me because he can headline on his own. He did three songs from his new album and since I didn't know about that, I was glad to hear them -- and get hooked.
But I realized the reason he was there after The Tenors' intermission: as they began singing "Song of the Mira", Jimmy joined them on stage, an appearance which elicited huge applause from the audience. They went on to sing "Fare Thee Well, Love" with Jimmy next.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.
One of the younger tenors said after that he can now tick 'Sing with Jimmy Rankin' off his list. JR is be in town for this week's East Coast Music Awards so it was the perfect appearance for the local crowd.

And about the audience: That's the thing about sitting cheek-by-jowl with Maritimers -- you're never alone in a crowd. It's impossible for a Maritimer to not speak to the person sitting in the chair next to them! It certainly makes you feel fully engaged in the program. I felt like I was sharing the amazing Tenor experience with the people around me. Thanks for the laughs!

This was my mother's first non-church-based concert. In 71 years!  She had a great time and only complained twice about how loud it was. About her concert experience, she would like to tell people who hold their phones up every ten minutes to take a photo to shove their stupid, distracting phone up their arses. Otherwise, she had such a good time, we had to listen to her Tenors' CDs all the way home.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Secret to Doing Well At Wii...and Life

First published in the Wednesday, February 20, 2013, issue of The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson.

Wii bowling is not the activity I would expect to yield one life lesson let alone two but that’s what you get when you Wii with kids.
My nieces and nephews received a Wii for Christmas and so when we arrived for a visit shortly after, it was immediately apparent what the week’s entertainment was going to be. We definitely can’t compete with dancing and bowling. 
Since the system was brand new to the kids, it didn’t seem right to intrude on their relentless enjoyment of the game (eight-year-old George, in particular, would play Wii from breakfast to bedtime if his mother allowed it) so I never tried to take a turn. I also didn’t want to expose the fact that a wand in my hand simply emphasizes my utter lack of coordination. 
Sometimes Uncle Dwayne would play a game sometimes my sister would jump in, taking the competition up a few notches, but I was content to sit on the couch and watch.
And learn.
Adults tend to overthink most things, especially games. We are the ones who plan too much, try too hard. We have in mind the outcome we want, the high score we need and we focus solely on that instead of on the fun of playing. Did I win? What can I do differently so that I win next time? Did a six-year-old kid really smoke me at Wii bowling? 
My brother-in-law would wander through every so often and provide advice to his children: “Just throw the ball up in the air. That usually gets a strike.”
When you watch the kids bowl, you realize he is right. They don’t care about straight lines or strategy, they don’t stand around trying to figure out the best way to swing the arm or the best stance for the feet. They just want to play so they simply aim in the general direction of the centre pin then using the Wii wand in their hand, fling the ball in that direction.
Fling is the operative word here. 
Strike! Or at least a spare. My oldest niece is a little more inclined to want to do things right but whenever she tried to line everything up, when she tried to take her time, invariably she rolled the ball in the gutter. She soon learned that the secret was in the fling.
So life lesson number one: Don’t plan so much. Just fling yourself in the direction you want to go. Even if you don’t get strike, you’ll always knock down a pin or two.
When George had to take a break to let his younger brothers have a turn, he flopped down on the couch next to me.
“We learned something,” he said to me. “You divorced the first guy you married.”
I told him that was true. 
“Didn’t you get along?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “We weren’t compatible.”
Instead of asking me what incompatible meant, George said, “So you divorced him. Then you found Uncle Dwayne. Did you want him because he is a builder?”
I laughed gently, not wanting him to think that wasn’t a good question. “No, I wanted him because he has a big heart and he cares about people.”
“That’s good, too,” George replied.
Then his arms went up and he roared, “Oh, yeah! Good strike, Vinny!”
Thus endeth that lesson. Which kept me from telling George that I like the fact Uncle Dwayne can build things, too. 
Oh, there is one more lesson I learned from hanging out with kids and a Wii system: Don’t let an eight year old create your avatar. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Seaside, Where Are You?

I was suppose to do my second report at CTV Morning Live's community correspondent for the Oxford area but just as our time slot came up... satellite internet connection died.
This delayed my debut two weeks ago and we called Seaside High Speed several times about what is actually an ongoing issue of spotty connection. Left several messages but no one at Seaside has called back.
It was very disappointing to miss that moment this morning especially since we were going to talk about the OREC Lady Golden Bears winning the Division 4 provincial basketball championship this past weekend. I'd even called the coach at 7:20 am to ask him to send a photo to the host I'd be speaking with.
This is an important gig and people were relying on me this morning but because of Seaside's poor service, I failed them. Not a good position for a perfectionist to be in!
Making sure everyone in rural Nova Scotia had access to broadband was one of the smarter government initiatives; it has made a huge difference to me as someone who works from home half the week and uses email and the Internet for my freelance work. So getting spotty connection, something that's just become an issue in the last two months (just in time to get asked to be on TV!) affects my ability to do my work efficiently in rural Nova Scotia. In this day and age, there is no need for anyone in rural NS to not be able to do whatever work online they want but we need reliable service -- and a company we can count on to take our service needs seriously.
That's the downside of the broadband initiative: It's a monopoly. Three companies were given an area each to which to provide service. Ours comes via satellite. There is no other way for us to get high speed Internet in our area than through Seaside High Speed. So what can I do when they don't respond to our complaints, when I can't get better, reliable service that allows me to fulfill my own work promises? It was embarassing this morning to not be able to give Cyril Lunney what he wanted. It messes up his part of the show and makes me look unprofessional.
Seaside, you let me down. Again. But I guess you know this today because my husband -- who is my biggest supporter, manager and pit-bull-when-wife-is-crossed -- will be calling you.
CTV is owned by Bell. Maybe Cyril can convince his boss to run a broadband line to my house and I can say bye-bye to the satellite! Too bad I'm not a celebrity community correspondent -- might have more clout. Looks like I'm stuck with Seaside.
For now.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

My Spirited Child

In honour of my older dog's 10th birthday today, here is the essay that was published in the (first defunct, now resurrected) Dogs In Canada magazine in 2006.

     I am raising what the experts call a “spirited child”. At three, Stella has all the hallmarks of this type of child: strong-willed, intense and persistent; lovable and bright; and above all, a unique challenge.  The experts warn that the usual parenting techniques likely won’t work with a spirited child and so far, they seem to be right. Raising Stella has involved many tears and frequent threats to give her away except that everyone in my neighbourhood knows who she is and what she’s like. After three years, Stella has become an adorable companion inside the house but once we head out into public, she transforms into a little monster: Frankenstella.
    Stella is a girl who needs room to run and play and she reacts ferociously when she is held back from what she wants. If someone walked up to me during one of those awful moments when we’re struggling to walk nicely down the sidewalk and announced, “I have forty acres and a couple of high-energy Labs. I’ll take her off your hands if you like,” I’d hand over the leash on the spot.
    My three-year-old Boxer came to me as a nine-week-old puppy with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, no reservation about the crate, and a love of snuggling under the covers after her six a.m. pee – after holding her water all night. She defied all behaviour expectations as outlined in the three puppy books I’d read so when I read a magazine article about “spirited children”, I realized I had the canine version of what the experts were talking about:  Despite books and classes, do the parenting methods you’ve tried not work well with your child?  No! The first book I read was a guide to your dog’s first year but twelve books, six trainers, and one animal psychic later, I’m stuck with the same problems.  Do other people’s children seem obedient and easier to read? Yes! Every training class seems to have several well-mannered Golden Retrievers that sit quietly next to their owners while Stella lunges and barks at the end of her leash as I shout, “Sit! Stop! Off! Leave it!”
    A woman raising a spirited child like Stella doesn’t have many friends. No one invites you to their home because they can’t be bothered moving anything with wooden legs out of the living room, clearing off all the countertops, and having the conversation interrupted with screeches of “Stella, no!  Stella, leave it! Stella, drop it!” No one approaches you on the street or at the park because they know they’ll be lunged at, boxed, dominated and possibly humped. No one walks by you; they cross the street and hide behind parked cars.  Studies have found that people walking dogs are perceived as friendlier and more approachable; likely that’s why dog walkers are often asked for directions. Me, I’m too busy trying to haul Stella out of the driver’s window.
If Stella was a human three-year-old, she would be the kid in the sandbox who refuses to share her toys then hits the other kids on the head because they won’t play with her; she’d be the smart kid who goofs around at school but still gets good marks while the kid who sat in front of Stella and was tormented by her all semester, fails math; and she’d be in big trouble for leaving your side (at the mall/amusement park/grocery store) and disappearing for an hour then as you are buckling her into the car seat wishing you believed in spanking puts her hand on your cheek and says, “I love you”.
    Then there’s the phone call from the daycare centre that every parent dreads: Please come pick up your child because she tried to bite an employee. As the story goes, someone came in to visit and the dogs got very excited. When the employee grabbed Stella’s collar to haul her back from the indoor fence, Stella reacted by turning her head to reach what was restraining her. I’ll give you the nip but Frankenstella wouldn’t intentionally bite anyone. 
    It’s heart-breaking, raising someone who wouldn’t pass a Good Citizen test. Stella is friendly and curious and athletic but she doesn’t grasp the concept of leash manners.  I’m dreading the day when someone accuses her of being not high-spirited but dangerous. The person would be wrong (I’m the catalyst for her bad behaviour because she doesn’t do it with the dogsitter) but in the current climate of ban-the-bad-dogs, a parent can get a little sensitive.
    The thing about raising a spirited child is that they are bright and lovable. The thing about raising a Boxer is that they are intelligent and goofy.  It’s what makes these three long years – and the next eight to come – bearable. When she is good, Stella is very, very good. Then I open the front door…

(Moving to Nova Scotia a year later where there is an alpha male and lots of room for running was exactly what this "spirited child" needed!)

Saturday, March 02, 2013

A Landmark Goes Up In Flames

The former Presbyterian church in Pugwash burned down this morning. As my husband and I drove over the bridge into the village at 9:40, I said, "Look at that white cloud billowing. Is that smoke?"
There is no pulp mill in town to produce steam like that.
"That's smoke," my husband agreed.
"Flue fire? I hope someone knows."
By the time we reached the sidestreet, we knew it was the Presbyterian church and the volunteer fire department was on the scene. 
The church had been closed and eventually sold last year because there were only six active members; recently it had opened as a daycare after being renovated. Mary Patterson, one of our community correspondents, lives across the street and her column this week will be full of unique details only a neighbour could provide, bu both OJ editor Charlie Weeks and I happened to be in Pugwash as well so we have full coverage of this story. As I left the scene, Charlie was taking photos of flames shooting out the window of the building and the basement. Quite shocking. Fire takes your breath away.
As sad as it is to lose one of this distinctive white clapboard country churches, I'm glad it was no longer an active church. Yes, there will be many people to say "Oh, I was married there" or "My children were baptized there" but no members will be left without their sanctuary, wondering where they will go tomorrow morning.

When Margaret Seitl, who runs Monty's in downtown Pugwash, stands at her cash register and looks out the huge storefront window, her view is straight up the street to the Presbyterian church perched at the top of the slope of the road. Like the loss of the twin towers from the skyline of Manhattan, Margaret's daily view will never be the same again.