Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Saskatoon Mornings

It's dark when we get up. Pitch dark, as though it were much earlier than it really is. In Saskatoon the sun arrives a little later every day. Today's sunrise is said to be at 9:06, a time that will presumably increase until the solstice, and then gradually decrease as the phenomenon reverses itself. 

Getting going in the mornings isn't as hard here as one might think. Once you're awake it's best to get moving. Rebecca sometimes stirs when she sees me sitting on the edge of the bed, reaching for daily medications, but more often she stays on her warm spot atop the feather comforter. She only raises her head in anticipation when she sees me grab my Carhartt bibs. The overalls go over a layer of sweats or long underwear, which is paired with a t-shirt and pullover hoodie. Then come the SmartWool socks, -40 snow boots, a scarf and touque, all covered with a down filled parka and Thinsulate mits. This is all to take the dog out and start the car.

Rebecca, is anxious to get outside and wastes no time finding a new spot to yellow in the snow. If I have time, I take her for a quick trot to expel other business, otherwise I connect her to the lead attached to the porch. Rebecca loves the snow, her feet do not. It gets in the cracks between her paw pads causing her to limp on alternating feet. As soon as she's done, I scurry her back inside. 

Next comes the scraping. The car windows require scraping just about every morning. The process takes between 5 and 10 minutes. It's at this point that any exposed skin begins to sting from the extreem cold, which brings me to a key point. As long as you are covered, the cold isn't that bad here. It will freeze your skin given enough time, between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the wind chill, but the cold here doesn't get inside you. It's not like San Francisco where the chill resides under your skin. It's a very dry cold, one that must be respected.

Once the windows are scraped we are ready to go. The temp inside the car resembles a meat locker, despite the fact that it's been running for at least 10 minutes. I'm told to really warm up a car it takes about 30 minutes, but we don't have that kind of time. My mits stay on as we pull out onto the unplowed residential road. New snow actually makes the road easier to drive on, otherwise, it's essentially ice covered with a bit of loose snow. Pretty much everyone takes it slow on the slick roads, especially in the morning. 

As I join the procession that heads downtown I can't help but admire the resilience of the people who live here. Saskatooners love the outdoors, and even on cold, cold mornings it's not uncommon to see people walking to work, waiting at unsheltered bus stops or even riding winterized bicycles. In the afternoons scores of children play outside in the snow. Parks have both playgrounds and sledding mounds for their entertainment. School yards have ice rinks. Runners trot along trails with spiked shoes. Dogs wear special boots for extended play in the dog park. Life simply just thrives. In fact in a lot of ways it seems like Saskatoon comes alive in the winter and it's just beautiful to behold. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Work for me has always been a bit of a defining thing. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to grow up and have a job. I just wanted to be responsible for something, and make things happen.

I got my first job the day after my 16th birthday. I worked in the kitchen of a small restaurant in Benicia, California, and it was there that I really learned to work. I was told things like "work smarter, not harder," and learned how to achieve high expectations. The work ethic I gained at that first job, has stayed with me through every job I've ever had.

The next major job was the Army. In the Army, I learned how to problem solve and how to think ahead. If anything ever fed my ambition it was the Army. I was constantly striving to achieve more. I loved it for that reason. It was a place where my desire to always do more was more than welcome.

After the Army, I had a string of jobs hardly worth mentioning. As rule though, I always made a point of learning something new be it software or a different way to accomplish tasks. Then in the year 2000, I started working in nonprofit. I had a great boss who was a wonderful mentor, and really loved the sense of mission that came with the work. I worked in the nonprofit sector for 11 years. I gave a lot, learned a lot, and often miss it a lot. Sometimes work that feels like a struggle can seem more meaningful, even if it does wear you out.

For the last three years, I've been consulting, mostly doing websites and social media integration. I like working with clients, but the need to constantly hustle for the next job can be overwhelming at times.  I will likely continue to do this sort of work as time and laws permit.

Coming to Canada is representative of a whole new life for me. I'm essentially starting over, and the concept bleeds over to my occupational life. I'm looking for work here, and am hopeful for a new job soon. But, what I really hope for the most is a life that doesn't leave me looking for gratification solely from what I do. I'd like to have a life that simply just makes me happy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall in Saskatchewan

Fall in Saskatchewan is cold by California standards. Most mornings begin below freezing, and if the temperature does rise, the wind chill reminds you that something far colder is in store. 

My current locale is Saskatoon, and here,  everyone is preparing for the main event: Winter.

As a newcomer, I am woefully unprepared. I don't have the right clothes and footwear, although I do seem to have outerwear mostly covered. Even my car is unprepared for winter here. There's a requirement for special wiper fluid, special anti-freeze and winter tires that must be put on if I want to go anywhere once the white stuff comes in force.

To facilitate my winter readiness, a trip to Canadian Tire was in order. Canadian Tire is an interesting hybrid of automotive, home, and sporting goods. Kind of like Sears without the clothing lines, furniture and major appliances if that makes sense. It's a great store to get lost in. There are canoes, and kitchen appliances, and power tools, and big rubber bins and of course, tires.

The tire counter was busy, but it wasn't long before a slim young man helped us buy two winter tires for my car. I will still need to get steel rims for them, and have them installed but luckily I have an in for that part.

Besides the winter tires and all the special fluids, I will also have to get a chip in my windshield repaired before the extreme cold comes. Failure to do so could cause a failure of the windshield. And, to clean the windshield, I got a wooden ice and snow scraper. Apparently the plastic ones just shatter in the cold.

After our success at Canadian Tire, we headed to Timmy's. Timmy's is slang for Tim Horton donuts. If anything is ubiquitous in Canada it's Tim Hortons. They are in every shopping center, every neighborhood, every truck stop, just everywhere. Timmy's has good coffee, donuts, soup, sandwiches and bagels. There's also free wifi and at many locations a drive-through, not unlike many Starbuck's in the states. I am yet to enter a Tim Hortons that isn't busy.

In Saskatoon you can find a complete cross-section of the community within Timmy's: families, elderly couples, students, teenagers, professors, immigrants, farmers, and professionals. For this reason, and because they have donuts, Timmy's is one of my new favorite places to be. I especially like the Tim Bits, which is what they call donut holes, and yes, the pun is absolutely intended.

This morning I was met with a dusting of snow. There's no denying what is to come, but at least I'm starting to feel a little more ready than I was when I got here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


A lot has happened since I blogged last. Burning Man came and went. I went, as did my 18-year-old. He worked with us on the Gayte Crew and totally kicked ass. I was a very proud momma out on the playa this year. It started out as, "oh you're Clarity's son," and ended as "wow, you're Shirly's mom?" He made a name for himself, and it was awesome to watch.

After the Burn, we returned to California, Shirly returned to Japan for a while, and I started preparing for a new adventure: The Great White North (aka Canada). Yes, I'm attempting to "winter in Canada," and yes I know how absurd that sounds, but it's the only way I will know if I can really hack it.

Why Canada? That's another story entirely, but for all intents and purposes, I'm starting over, and attempting to do so in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is about 3 hours or so above the American border.

Getting there was a three-day adventure through Nevada, Idaho and Montana. I have a few regrets from the trip, like not stopping at the Potato Museum in Idaho, and not buying boots in Montana, but for the most part, the trip was smooth and uneventful. I narrowly missed hitting a coyote in lower Montana, and sadly injured a pheasant about 20 miles from the border.

The border was a bit of an ordeal. They let me in, but only after 2 and a half hours of interrogation and inspection. And there are conditions, and issues, and hoops. It suddenly became clear to me the irony of my current status as an immigrant given my family history and ethnic background.

But things are slowly falling into place. As usual, consulting work fell from the sky at just the right moment, so I'm busy, doing work and looking for work at the same time. Rebecca has succumbed to a new routine of walks and is warming up to her kennel for when I'm out of the house. And me, I'm traversing a new culture, with entirely new (to me) environmental requirements that include winter tires for my car, hats and gloves, wool socks and a new pair of boots ordered from the store I saw them at in Montana. It's an adventure. It's definitely an adventure.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Third Hill

I've started hiking again, partially because my dogs enjoy the trail, I enjoy the view and I need the exercise, and partially because I need to lose weight.

This last trip to Japan did me no favors. I came back heavier than I've ever been. I tried to watch my diet there and even exercised quite regularly, but extenuating circumstanced yielded stress which contributed to me not yielding pounds, so now I have a new routine. I'm making progress, and it's encouraging.

Typically when I go to my trail I go to what I call the third hill. The first is long, the second is steep, and the third is a short series of switch-backs that leads to a hilltop high enough to feel like I accomplished something.

I take the girls when I go. Jada, who is going on ten, stays by my side most of the way. Occasionally she will rush a lizard or take note of a bird nearby, but for the most part she is happy to trot by my side. I have a puppy now too. Her name is Rebecca. She's going on nine months old and is full of energy. She's not yet fully trained, so I keep her on leash till the second hill. By then she's good and tired from pulling me up the hill and is less likely to run too far.

Being on the trail is both tranquil and familiar. I never get sick of the view and the clarity that a quick jaunt provides. It reminds me of who I am, and that I have a way of accomplishing things.

My life is in flux at the moment. I'm at the cusp of some really big changes, and I'm not even really sure exactly what my future holds. Maybe my goals aren't quite so lofty now, but that's OK.

Conquering challenges is just using skills I already have in a different way. For now, I know I can make it to the third hill. It doesn't matter if it's on my trail or someplace else. It's something I know I can do.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Keeping a Close Eye

It's a dangerous world and evil does exist. It sounds like a statement that was likely made at the recent NRA National Meeting, but sadly it's true. 

In recent weeks, we have seen terrorism in Boston, and now a whole other kind of horror in Cleveland. It's quite possible that in both cases, that someone saw what was going on, but just didn't recognize it.

As a writer, I often say ours is a practice that brings attention to the things we see that others may not recognize. Sometimes we ask questions. If we are brave, we ask hard questions. In light of recent events, perhaps this is a practice that should be adopted by more than writers, artists and others who's occupation is based in expression. Critical thought is not ours to hoard.

Living in frustrating times is hard. As a nation, we are disenchanted with our leaders and their inability or lack of will to compromise. Meanwhile many continue to struggle with the aftermath of the mortgage crisis and unemployment.

Attention paid to our owns situation may seem like apathy, but I don't think that it is. We are simply distracted, too distracted to think about things we see that don't seem right. While we may be watching every penny spent in this first world existence, third world horrors occur in our midst. It could be we are not watching the right things.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Recipe for a California Life

It started with cooking. Now, that I'm back in my house in California, I am gradually reclaiming a life I abandoned to spend time with my kids. And one of the things I love the most about California is our easy access to a variety of produce and ingredients to make interesting food.

Coming back to an almost empty pantry kind of challenged my imagination some. I essentially had to start over from scratch for even the most basic ingredients: salt, lemon pepper, garlic, ginger. As a rule I always have beans and rice in the house, but also pasta, pasta sauce, canned beans, tortillas, and the very essential basic vegetables for most recipes: celery, onions, carrots and tomatos.

But even having those weren't really enough to start getting creative with my cooking. Over a period of weeks I've stocked some meats, coconut milk, veggies good for curries, fruit and potatoes. Add in some modest amounts of cheese and breads, and now I can cook with gusto.

I pride myself on making non-boring food, that is attractive and tasty. So I cook. It's my first step back into a California life. And now, when I make something I'm particularly happy with I put it on Pinterest. It's a form of expression that I think actually says a lot about me if you look with a careful eye.

Some of my other expressions are starting to reappear as well, like this one. Being able to cook the way I like to has helped me reconnect with the writer I usually am. I find myself blogging again both personally and professionally which is always a good thing. There's still a lot of rebuilding in terms of my stateside existence, but these small steps are at least a start.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sing Out, Dont Cry

When I was a kid, my parents and a group of their friends got together to form a Latin-American service club. They had monthly meetings in Spanish, big dances and functions, and an annual Queen contest. I use to fall asleep at these things on sofas or under tables.

The members of the group were like an extended family. We worked on each other's back yard projects, brought food when someone died, and even had occasional sibling like squabbles.

But, one of my favorite activities of the group was the singing. What started out as a spanish church choir, evolved into a weekly sing along of Mexican folk songs. There were guitars and an accordion and the occasional violin. I can remember hearing my God-Mother strumming along and singing at the top of her voice with a joy that even angels would envy.

The apex of every sing along was always when they sang Cielito Lindo. Most people recognize the chorus,
Canta no llores
Porque cantando se alegran,
Cielito lindo, los corazones
 which I translate to

Sing out don't cry
For singing brings gladness,
heavenly loveliness and heart 

As a child, I didn't understand the words, but I could sense the sentiment.

These days I attend a different sing along. It's called Jerk Church. We get together on a weekly basis to sing folk and drinking songs. There are guitars, libations, and food, and shenanigans and there's even an accordion and the occasional violin.

The Church is made of a great group of folks that works on each other's back yard projects, and have occasional squabbles. And even though I'm away from this Church a lot, I'm always welcomed back like a prodigal sibling, with occasional caressing. (See what I did there?)

When I was first introduced to the group a couple of years ago at Burning Man, I couldn't figure out why it was so immediately endearing to me.  But this morning, I woke up with Cielito Lindo in my head, and it became immediately clear.

Jerk Church is a great thing to behold, and if you want to see it for yourself, you have a chance tonight. There will be a sing along, cue card girls, libations and probably some shenanigans. Hope to see you there and if you come remember to Sing Out, Don't Cry.