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On the Road again

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(why did I leave this as a draft three weeks ago? We’ve moved. The kids’ rooms are still a disaster, only now, most of the rest of the house is, too. Progress!!)

Have you ever had a crappy landlord? Like the one I had for a year with Kim in New Orleans, the one who stuck broken matchsticks inside our window sash to “repair” some rattling going on? Or the one I had another year at university who told us we would have to wait until he got back from vacation to deal with a vermin infestation in our bathroom? I thought those landlords resided safely in my student-ghetto past, in buildings with 40 layers of paint and questionable laundry facilities. Alas, I was mistaken. When you are a grown up and paying grown up rent, you can have crappy landlords who are crappy on a bigger, grown up level.

In related news: we are homeowners again and the moving truck comes next week. Eeeeep.

Now, this will be our third complete move of house since May 2011 (you envy me, I know) and you would think that such frequent moves would have honed and tempered our packing and sorting skills until I could pack a box of books or kitchen gadgets merely with my steely gaze. Alas, such is not my reality. Reality was a weekend “motivating” the children to pack up their rooms and to do a thorough sorting of STUFF as they went. My slightly guilty feelings, related to the drill sergeant demeanour I was sporting paled in comparison to the piles of paper, unused toys, outgrown shoes and clothing, and random hair accessories discovered in the bins, boxes, nooks and crannies of their rooms.



Written by Jennifer

October 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Canada, home, Kids

Summer, Skin and Heart

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Canada agrees with me. Anything that spared me from the infernal heat of the Midwest this past July would agree with me, though, so maybe I’m cheating. It gets hot here, too, southern Ontario is south of big chunks of the US so it isn’t actually the Great Frozen Icefield in the North all the time. There are lakes and rivers and it gets muggy and then we went to Quebec and the bugz were very buggy indeed. And bite-y. Damn bugz.

It’s hot out today and on my walk through downtown for iced coffee (to ameliorate the headache that comes from running for only the second time in three weeks AND doing noon yoga with someone twenty years younger than I) there was a lot of flesh on display. Kids and their parents at the downtown spash park. I envied them, especially the naked toddlers screaming and running through the fountains. Our journey to Quebec involved a large lake, with only us in attendance; one of my baths was a glorious skinny dip in the sunlight–clothes should always be optional at lakes in the summertime and damn the bugs.

The toddlers aren’t the only ones running around naked, though. In the amazing parade of ink that is any city walk in the summertime, I have discovered a formerly unknown-to-me site for a tattoo: between a woman’s breasts. You might smirk at my leering glance but allow me to assure you that I have seen not ONE, but TWO inter-booble tattoos today, sported by women clad in tank tops and shorts. I thought I had spied a third (in a three-block walk!) when I realized that this enterprising young lady had her cell phone stashed there.

I did not get close enough to read or interpret these tatoos–I figure they are some sort of territorial marking for a mate, much as the phone is a way to keep those to whom you wish to speak closecloserclosest to your heart. They were both green though, in that generic tattoo-ionk-green sort of way. I wanted them to be red and blue and floral and amazing–a stamp of some sort of power or joy center in the heart. That did not appear to be the case, though. My wish for a bright, colorful and joyful inter-booble tattoo on others does not, however, mean that I wish one for myself. Nosiree. I will have to open my heart and project the joy and centered-ness without a visual clue.

Written by Jennifer

August 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Canada, life

The Little Things

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Last night, Ingrid had soccer (go, Koalas!) at “the rez.” Newbie that I am, I was terribly confused the first few times I heard speak of “the rez” in Hamilton because, well, that is a rather disrespectful, throwaway term for “American Indian Reservation.” Turns out, here it refers to a lovely flat green space on the escarpment in my neighborhood and is short for “the reservoir.” Which I assume is underneath the green space. Then again, what I don’t know about life in Hamilton, Ontario is pretty legion still and I could well be terribly wrong.

Greta and I walked her up the hill. Although it threatened rain, it was a glorious evening and the light had that quality that just screamed “summer break,” and it felt good to be outside, watching the kids spazz out in the grass. Greta, not on a team, (no I in team, baby, no me either!) ran up the hill on the other side of “the rez” to romp and play and gossip with her friends. She promised to walk her sister home, so I walked home alone to have an uninterrupted adult conversation with my spouse (I know, shocking!).

While I mused on my confusion about “the rez” and Dale and I discussed work, I mentioned a committee at work, whose activities I am anticipating with some personal interest. As I began to say, “the committee will be . . ” we both said “STRUCK” and laughed. One doesn’t “strike” a committee in the US, one forms one. The committee is not struck to do something, it is charged to do so. (Naughty beast that I am, I picture ineffective committees getting bonked on the head with something.) Striking a committee didn’t confuse me, since context makes abundantly clear what is meant. I am equally sure that a Canadian wouldn’t blink at hearing “form a committee and charge them to . . .” Little things.

In my job, the different definitions of “college” in the US and Canada trip me up all the time. While “college” in the US is a generic term used to refer to any sort of post-secondary education; here in The Great White North it really shouldn’t be used when discussing a university, or, if I really understand what is going on, any BA-granting institution. Since we both work at universities, it is pretty important to keep that distinction clear.

Greta will be in middle school next year. I imagine that will be a whole new arena for me to exhibit my cultural ignorance in. I hear, however, that they DO have a cafeteria and I won’t have to pack her lunch every day. Little things.

Written by Jennifer

May 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Canada, Kids

On the Dangers of Commuting

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My commute is pretty tame by most standards. I have about 30 minutes on the road, plus another 5-10 for parking and getting to my office. I wish I lived within walking distance of my garret in an ivory tower but THAT is where I live in my fantasy world.

In my real-world life, where I cruise along the 403 against traffic to my office in a rehabbed brownfields site, I pass farm fields, a tractor or two, signs for orchards and, now that spring is upon us, a consistent flock of redwing blackbirds pecking in the greenery on the verge of the highway. Bucolic southern Ontario.

My current audiobook, The Nr. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, takes place in Botswana, worlds away from southern Ontario. As I listen, I try to imagine what a thorn tree looks like, and how the bush looks as it stretches away toward the desert. I know what redbush tea tastes like, so I can at least drink together with the characters in my mind. I think to myself: when you get to the office, you should look up a map of Botswana, so that you can picture all of this accurately. But I’m not sure that an accurate geographical or political map of Botswana in my brain would mean I enjoyed the story more. My imagination suffices.

Unfortunately. And I say unfortunately because my imagination was all I needed this morning on my drive in to picture, quite vividly, a scene in the novel where Mma Ramotswe sees a snake slither in front of her car, hears a noise, but does not see the snake in the road when she looks in her rear-view mirror. She pulls over after pondering all the stories she has heard about snakes getting up inside the chassis of a car and loitering about, waiting to bit unsuspecting car drivers. I pictured this snake–a cobra, she thought, long and green. I have seen pictures of Indian cobras, and I think of them as black or brown but my imagination is powerful enough to envision a very long, green African cobra. I pictured this cobra underneath her seat, writhing its way into the space behind the dashboard, and I squirmed and I gagged and I averted my inner gaze from my mind’s eye and generally made an ass of myself behind the wheel.

While Mma Ramotswe has to worry about the cobra wrapped around her engine block, my fellow commuters were likely wondering what sort of at-home pap smear device the driver of the blue Subaru was trying out this morning on the road!

Written by Jennifer

March 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Posted in books, Canada

Happy Landings

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In a notebook somewhere I recorded that Dale promised to write our holiday Christmas letter this year. We were driving down the interstate, in the wide expanse between Kansas and Canada, and remarking on our vagabond ways. Under the general theme of “staying in touch,” I reminded him that last year we had just let the whole Christmas card or letter thing slide and how unfortunate that was. Since HE carries the blame/responsibility for our peripatetic voyages of the past few years, I figured it was his job to report to our family and friends how we’ve fared and where we’ve landed and how it’s all working out for us. He agreed. And a lot of good THAT did me. It’s December 22 and still no letter. I suppose he has three days left.

Other than missing my friends dearly and wondering WHERE IN THE HELL IS THE SNOW????, I find no reason to complain. Canada is treating me well. I don’t have to listen to daily news of Brownback’s perfidy. There are ice skating rinks popping up all over the place. I have a job that is fulfilling and sends me to work every day with good people. I have my health and, as Count Rugen reminds us, if you don’t have your health,  you don’t have anything.

This is the dark time of year. Today is the first day of winter and, officially, the solstice as well (though it was yesterday according to calendar makers).  In these northern climes, the lack of sunlight couples with grey, overcast skies to remind me of why our earliest ancestors lit candles and hung lights during December. We all need the spark of light to remind us of the joy in the world, the spark in our hearts, the promise of renewal and hope. I am not immune to the glumness that attaches itself to so many of my fellow creatures during the Advent season but I am wrestling it to the ground and plying it with egg nog and calling that an attitude adjustment.

May your days be merry and bright. Happy Solstice. Let the light shine.

Written by Jennifer

December 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Canada

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as bad weather

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We used to live in New Haven, Connecticut, birthplace of George W. Bush. We moved there from Salt Lake City, Utah and I am pretty sure that I experienced less culture shock moving from St. Louis to Berlin. New Haven is small and gritty and post-industrial. Yale is all ivy and old masonry as one would expect; but for me, it’s beauty is marred somewhat by the close proximity to real poverty and its attendant dangers to personal safety. I was never a fan of New Haven. The excitement that we had built up before the move, in which we created visions of ourselves as East Coast People, fell  flat pretty quickly as we addressed the costs of childcare and housing one one income. We had one, and then two, small children. We did not jet off to Boston or New York City for the weekend, even though they were only two hours away. We did not enjoy the Off Off Broadway theater for which New Haven is famous–we were broke!

So, although New Haven as a city in which to live held and holds practically no charm for me, living there was in many respects like living anywhere else. You make or find a community of like-minded people–in our case parents with small children–and your life revolves in its own small orbit. Our orbit consisted of the families who were involved in our parent-run, co-op day care. It was a community forged in the fires of state childcare regulations and diaper changes and those moms and dads and their kids were my New Haven and THEM I loved.

The families in the co-op taught me all sorts of things. Don’t feed a toddler in diapers curry was one of those things but there were other gems, as well. The one I have been thinking of, and citing to others, frequently in recent weeks comes from my Danish friend Benedicte, who navigated much of her daily life with two (then three) kids without a car: There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. She regaled us with stories of her Danish childhood, when children played outside every day regardless of the (frequent) grey skies and rain, or snow, or whatever else Mother Nature threw at the residents of a country that is dark dark dark and wet in wintertime.

As fall turns to winter here in the Great White North, I am constantly reminded of Benedicte’s edict. I have invested in a full-length coat (this one, by Patagonia, though my black one is decidedly less shiny) and it is not only incredibly toasty but does not make me look like the Michelin tire guy. Yesterday was cold and wet and dreary. Today’s wet may involve snow instead of rain, which is really the way the end of November should be, anyway. I know the long, grey months of winter still lie ahead of us and I refuse to let the weather get me down. We shall bundle up against the cold and the wet and the wind. I have knitting needles and wool, warm clothing, and a ready supply of tea and toddies. All will be well.

Written by Jennifer

November 30, 2011 at 11:43 am

Posted in Canada, life


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Given that I’m in a new place, physically and professionally, and spend a lot of time in my own head, it comes as no surprise that I’m having some weirdo anxiety-fueled dreams.

There’s the one where it’s the first day of class and I don’t know where my room is or what I’m supposed to teach them.

There’s the one where my students and I are all sitting around the seminar table and I want to show them some great books we’re going to discuss and my copies of the books are all waterlogged and moldy and the pages are fused together.

Ahhh, good times.

But by far my favorite anxiety dream was the one I had last night. The kids are at school and I glance up at the clock to see that it is 10:30 and realize I sent them to school without lunch and snack and their first nutrition break just passed and my kids have nothing to eat! The rest of the dream is spent running around a dreamscape town buying odd food choices in even odder places. There are no ziploc bags or containers of any sort for the egg salad sandwich and I put potato chips (!) in a tea bag and find a cache of rotting hamburger in a meeting room. And while I’m doing this, the number of kids I have to feed keeps growing. First one, then two, then three and then, thank god, Ingrid came in and woke me up.

Some mornings I wish Canadian elementary schools had cafeterias.

Written by Jennifer

September 29, 2011 at 7:27 am

Posted in Canada, Kids, writing