Category: Canada

R Streets R Stories

You can thank Sheri for that title – we used it as a hashtag for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival this year, and as an abbreviation of our theme, Our Streets Are Stories.

I always look forward to the CVAF anyway, but this year was extra special because I got Involved again and volunteered as the communications coordinator for the festival. This involved the usual social media effort, manning the Twitter and Instagram feeds while managing to keep myself as far removed from Facebook as possible. My alter ego on there suddenly became alarmingly popular though! This was a thinly disguised excuse to have an official reason to go out every night of the week and pack in as much festivalling as possible. I was creating valuable live coverage, honest! I even got an all access pass! (to a free festival).

I also had to help write press releases and schedule interviews with local media. Sheri (the chairperson) and other members of the planning committee were shunted off to TV and live radio interviews, frequently at horrendous times of the early morning. I did one myself too, at 6.45am on a Tuesday on community radio, practically guaranteeing me an audience of bus drivers and unfortunate Tim Hortons workers.

All these efforts paid off though, and the turn out was HUGE, despite the weather not being as exceptional as last year.  One key message we tried to emphasise in our media briefings was that the festival is #AllWeekLong. So many people still seem to think the festival is just the Street Fair on the last Saturday, when there are arts, dance, theatre, literature, music and film events on every evening for the whole week. Here’s a small sample…

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My parents arrived the first evening of festival week! A great way to start their summer holiday and I made sure to drag them to as many events as we could. They both even wrote and read poems at the poetry slam just 24 hours after their arrival! Poems had to be on the theme of ‘our streets are stories’ again. Here is my effort:

Cathedral Stories are worthy of glory
My poetry usually is not
While trying to avoid complication
I went for literal interpretation
The point of which I forgot.

It’s easier to start with a question, she says
How about, ‘What’s the word on the street?’
SLOW
or sometimes
‘No Parking’

At this time of year
Stranger signs start to appear
One popped up today
A stencil, sprayed, just outside Safeway
“It’s Good To Be Alive” the street seems to say.

Our cathedral story truly began
Five years ago
Returning from another poetry slam
Or was it just burgers in here?
Memories fade, the details unclear
But walking home we were
Small girl complaining
It had started raining
Small girl stops, plastic jacket undone
Not caring, while I start quietly swearing

She sits on the curb
In a puddle, plants her feet
And starts reading her book
In the middle of the street.

 

 

 

 

A new season.

I sound so clichéd saying this is my favourite time of year…

If you say “pumpkin spice latte” into a mirror 3 times, a white girl in yoga pants appears and tells you all the things she loves about fall.

Regina is looking stunningly beautiful with the sun out and the leaves falling – Instagram-worthy, I’m sure. The mosquitos have returned to whatever realm of evil from whence they came, I don’t have to argue with Theia about the wearing of the dreaded sun hat, and Miranda has started full time school!

I had the summer “off” – that is, the cafe is now safe in the hands of Sheri and whereas I am still involved, it no longer takes up every waking moment. However, with no school and no routine, the past few months were actually busier than ‘normal’! I had to find something that would amuse both the small beastlings every day, and that proved difficult given that everything had to be organised around Theia’s nap times, and Miri’s tendancy to turn the TV on every second she’s in the house. Nevertheless, we packed a lot in to the school holiday; it felt like we managed a million different playdates but we still didn’t actually contact half of her classmates despite promises of meeting up over the summer. Carl and I took the kids camping for the first time in our enormous tent down to Buffalo Pound – Miranda had a fantastic time and enjoyed even the most uncomfortable parts (it was me having the tantrum when we parked in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos, she was fine!)

She also mastered her bicycle which was a Momentous Achievement (especially since it meant that I didn’t have to try and pedal with both of them!). We had library trips and park trips and swimming and museum outings and so on. I started (finally!) doing the market with the Wheelie Good Coffee again and Miri has pedaled alongside me all the way to the plaza. I am so proud!

But the days are getting shorter and cooler, the trees are already gold, and during the day it is just Theia and I. A vague routine has been established (barring cafe-related emergencies) and I now manage to go for long walks or bike rides in the vain hope of getting her to sleep. It has been perfect Stomping weather recently! Crisp, clear and colourful.

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Last week was the official Grand Launch of the cafe in its new form, and it coincided with the Downtown Business Improvement District’s ‘Park(ing)’ day. Park(ing) days are now a nationwide thing, where we were encouraged to reclaim the parking space outside the cafe and turn it into some sort of Park. We actually reversed it, covered the step outside the cafe in flowers and bikes (and my Wheelie cart) and had that as a park, and then filled the parking space with armchairs and bookshelves and lamps and made a ‘reading room’ outside:


The day was a massive success for the cafe, and hopefully for the Downtown BID as well. I sat in an armchair in the middle of 11th Ave with my coffee, Theia snoozed in the sun, and I stared at the big shiny office block that I escaped 18 months ago. I am hopelessly broke right now and dreading the Job Hunt, but I have no regrets about quitting that job whatsoever!

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Home

Holy frijoles, three months since my last post? Oo eck, better get typing.

This is a bittersweet post because I have lots of things to be cheerful about and one big thing that is making me miserable. Let’s dwell on the positive for now!

Here is the positive:

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We bought a house!

I even mentioned it as a remote possibility in my last post – the permanent residency approval meant we were finally eligible for a mortgage. We had actually seen the house up for sale at Christmas when The Parents were here (for they are the sort who casually look up house prices “just to check”) but at the time we assumed it was all in the realm of fantasy. By the end of March, with residency approved, we discovered that not only was the house still on the market, it had also been reduced by $20,000. After consultations about help with the deposit with my wonderful and very generous parents, we put in an offer for another $10k less, and incredibly it was accepted the same day! The house was empty anyway and of course we had no property of our own to sell, so the sale went through very quickly and we actually completed and took possession within 3 weeks of putting the offer in! Naturally though, (and seemingly just because this involved me) there were quite a few last-minute bureaucratic tangles to deal with, and physically moving our stuff with two kids was an absolute nightmare. Theia has learned to crawl, and is close to walking now too. She got in Every Single Box as we packed. Ugh. Exhausting. But, we are in!

The house is blue and seemingly bigger on this inside, therefore, it is a Tardis house. There is more than enough room for The Parents to visit and stay long term, and we could even lock them comfortably in the attic if needs be. There are plenty of odd and unusual features like a full bathroom with claw-footed bath inexplicably plumbed into the unfinished basement to keep me amused. But best of all, it is only 3 blocks away from where we used to be, and so we are still in Cathedral (the bestest neighbourhood in town!)

It is my favourite time of year again, Cathedral Village Arts Festival time! This year Miranda did not go to bed before 9.30pm on any night of the week. We fitted in parading and picnicking and painting a cardboard version of our house on the Monday (the library took a very literal interpretation of this year’s theme, “paint the town”!), then saw some children’s theatre. Tuesday was a drunken poetry slam where I rhymed and ranted about daughters of feminists, we won sci-fi books at Wednesday’s Towel Day costume contest (I dressed as Slarty Bartfast, complete with beard), Thursday was a clown show and Miranda is now in love with all things Clown which is a little scary, and Friday was the 25th arts festival anniversary special show, featuring Taiko drumming and lifesized rapping Grandma puppets (and plenty more that we missed because of Bedtime). I dared to actually take a day off from the cafe on Saturday because I assumed all my regular customers would be at the Cathedral street fair. I think I was right. It was PACKED as usual, but actually more pleasant because it wasn’t so uncomfortably hot as last year. I had volunteered with Miri’s daycare helping out on their facepainting stall, and we had half-hour waits and line ups all day. Then it rained and I got utterly drenched. We saw some bands in the evening, had beers, much silliness ensued. Good times.

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We ran into my friend Barbara, this year’s chair of the festival several times during the week and she kept saying that it was nice to see us at so many events. Another friend commented that I seemed to know so many people there and always knew what was going on when. I don’t think of these things as unusual. I love having such a huge festival on my doorstep and it would be a shame not to make the most of it. And I know a lot of people here because they are a very friendly, welcoming lot and I do my best to get to know the neighbours – (not something I felt I’d ever want or be able to do in Darlington!). We have legitimized it by buying a piece of it, but this city and particularly this neighbourhood rapidly became our home and we are very, very happy to be here!

Saskatchewan stereotypes

I am in a wide open space…. There is a great deal of snow-covered nothing out here. Carl is driving us back, 300km of dead straight roads stretching out ahead of us and not another car in sight. Its almost eery. They even put rumble strips running up to the few junctions to wake you up in case you’re using cruise control and forget to turn!

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There are many jokes and stereotypes about Saskatchewan, most of which I have ignored because they don’t really apply to Regina.
“In Saskatchewan, time stands still” (no daylight saving time)
“In Saskatchewan,  you can see your dog running away for two days”
There’s also plenty of Corner Gas references that I can’t comment on having never seen it, and then there are the less kind comments about marrying your cousin and so on….
In comparison to the UK equivalent, Regina is a small town, barely a blip on the map and certainly not a “city” in the more generally understood sense of the word. To my mind, a place is not a city unless you can walk for more than half an hour without running in to someone you know. After nearly 4 years here, i am pretty much guaranteed to see a familiar face as soon as i leave the house. This is not just because the population is tiny but also because everyone is so friendly. But outside Regina, in rural Saskatchewan the likelihood of running into anyone,  whether you know them or not, is distinctly remote.

The Parents are here for Christmas, and this year we decided to go adventuring and booked a log cabin in the woods near Greenwater Lake, which is about 3 hours north west. It was gorgeous! Much more snow than in Regina, and Proper Trees! I didn’t realise I missed trees, but it was oddly pleasing to wake up surrounded by them again.  We were the only people in the campsite, and got to play around in the snow,  take Miranda toboganning and march across the frozen lake completely undisturbed. No phone signal and no wifi either – actually quite lovely, At night it was pitch black and utterly silent, to the point where Miri woke up st 1am wanting her bedside light on because she was scared of the dark. She’s not used to it!

Of course,  this also meant that there was no food. We’d read online that there was a cafe in the provincial park, and so hadn’t brought much with us. It being Christmas week and the park being empty apart from us, of course the café was closed, and so we had to venture out to “nearby” Porcupine Plain (25km away) as soon as Carl started looking hungrily at the squirrels. There were only two places that did food in Porcupine Plain, and both were just about to close at 8pm when we finally arrived. The first was WEIRD. Funny little cafe with chunky white diner mugs, and a group of old men who just stared at us without saying anything when we went in. There seemed to be no one behind the counter and no one interested in serving us, and also nothing that looked like food, just the diner mugs full of stewed coffee. So we turned around and walked out again, and still the men didn’t say anything.  Next door (literally), was much more friendly, and despite us arriving two minutes before closing time (sorry!) we were soon presented with enormous burgers and small mountains of chips. Yum. As we left, I read the community notice board: a house for sale for $45,000 complete with its own well on site(ie: no running water), a poster for the Christmas Eve service at the church, and an ad for “Firearms training”…

On route, we’d stopped in Wadena, and encountered our first Coffee Row. I’d vaguely heard about this little ritual: small cafes in tiny communities where people gather with their coffees on one long table to chat and discuss the world all day, every day. It may sound simple enough, but it is a very distinct cultural phenomenon in small town Saskatchewan. From what we heard it was mainly about what was on TV last night and the weather, but my parents rather reluctantly got into conversation with the old man next to them, who was not only fiercely proud of being Canadian, but also a devoted Christian. After makinng sure we understood the true meaning of Christmas, he fortunately turned back to his friend before he really noticed he was addressing a bunch of liberal godless cynics!

Those cafe experiences were glimpses of Real Saskatchewan for me: remote but friendly, conservative but well-meaning,  flat and cold, but beautiful and certainly a very very long way removed from the grey, miserable mass of humanity in Britain where we were last Christmas!

Cloak of Invisibility

It is December, and right up until last week, I was still cycling to the cafe. This is unheard of!
People are betting on the likelihood of a “brown” Christmas, which amuses me greatly since I remember how hard we used to wish each year for a white one in Darlington. The last no-snow Christnas that anyone in Regina can remember was 1998. So odds are we should be good…
The bunnies are all confused though. There are giant Jackrabbits (technically, hares, I think!) that live downtown, and a couple of them have taken up residence in the car park behind the cafe. We named them Wayne and Waynetta Wabbit and I even have a seasonal Christmas coffee on the menu called “confused jackrabbit” in their honour. They are confused because they have gone white already. Each year, they grow their winter coat, changing them from grubby grey-brown bunnies that match the general downtown concrete, into pristine white bunnies camouflaged against the snow. Except this year, they are white already but there is no snow hide in, and they look very, very out of place.

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I want to stick out like a snow bunny.
I mentioned I am still cycling: Theia can now sit up well enough that she can ride in the forward-facing kid seat on the front of the Taga bike, so after another conversion effort (20 seconds to convert it? My arse! More like 20 minutes. With swearing.) – we are happily pedalling about on what has to be one of the most eyecatching vehicles in Regina, avoiding the seasonal idiots who have forgotten how to drive in ice. The advantage of the Taga bike is that I can pretend it’s Mainly Stroller and ride on the sidewalks with it and thus not risk Death by Idiot-in-SUV quite so frequently.  Unfortunately in Regina most sidewalks are in worse condition than the roads, and having 3 wheels means hitting every slope, hole, chip of broken glass, lump or inexplicably unpaved patch City Hall wish to challenge me with. So, sometimes the road is a better option, but there,  I am small, and low and slow and vulnerable, and because I lack a petrol engine, I mysteriously become invisible. This is a car-obsessed land, and unless you have one, you are a nobody, despite freakish hybrid kid-transportation devices.

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I am having similar issues with the cafe. Not that people are running us over, but just that we seem to be equally invisible because no one gets out of their cars. We thought our spot on 11th would be pretty good because there is a lot of passing traffic headed downtown. We have a bright purple 26ft sign over the equally massive window, chalkboard outside and over the summer, even a little patio table out the front. Yet people drive straight past; I’d like to say they are concentrating on the road but often or not, it’s their phones… And then, 8 months after opening, we get the surprised, “oh, are you new?” questions along with “I didn’t know you were here!”. Yes, this is partially our lack of marketing budget, but also because so few traverse downtown on foot or by bike. Peoples! This winter is incredibly mild! Get out of your cars and take advantage of it!

Little House on the Prairie

I have never seen that show. Ever. Is that a bad thing?

In other news:

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This is VERY exciting, especially after the miserable summer. I’m 14 weeks now, feeling very sick and lethargic (still), we’ve had a scan and all seems to be well in there. I’m due at the end of July, which of course is going to complicate cafe matters no end, but something will work out, it always does!
What’s this got to do with Little House on the Prairie? I hear you ask. There is a tentative connection, I promise. I have a friend who is also pregnant now, and we’ve been discussing all sorts of things baby-related, including nausea, the cost of giant bras,  exhaustion, how sympathetic are husbands are(n’t), the lost art of sewing, hospitals and midwives, and restricted diets.  She misses wine. I miss wine too, and watching Carl drink beer over Christmas was not particularly fun at all.. grr… but actually I am usually too sick to contemplate the idea of alcohol anyway.
But why can’t I have wine? She wails. “In medieval times, they drunk beer and wine all the time because the water was too dirty, and they all had babies quite happily….” A good point, though I am doubtful about the “happily” part. I also pointed out that not only was the beer much, much weaker, they also used alcohol as one of the few forms of painkiller, despite high infant mortality rates they had no way of diagnosing foetal-alcohol syndrome anyway, and a great many women died in childbirth too. Apparently, this means I am no fun.
I have been having random attacks of creativity recently, and I am wondering whether this is part of the “nesting” instinct – I certainly haven’t been filled with the desire to clean my house or anything. But I did attempt to sew a baby sleeping bag and ‘upcycle’ an old t-shirt into a swaddling blanket for summer. Neither attempt was particularly successful. This is how we got on to talk of Little House on the Prairie. I’m not sure exactly when it is set, but Pregnant Friend was saying how the family had to cope with the horrific prairie winters with little food and no coal, and how overjoyed they always were in the spring when the train finally arrived again and brought fabric so they could make new clothes.
It is a fairly safe assumption that neither of us would cope at all in those conditions – if the enormous trains running behind my house actually stopped and brought fabric supplies in the spring, we still wouldn’t know what to do with it. Though I think I might have the edge over my friend, especially when she says things like “I’d just curl up and DIE if I had to walk to work in the snow while pregnant” – erm, welcome to my world, dear… First world problems, indeed.
I have had similar discussions with other Mummy friends, some of whom are considerably more “naturally-minded” than I am. Some of them sew. Most Upcycle – (a word I believe has no place outside Pinterest) One had a water birth. There were doulas involved. Some even go as far as using all-natural, home made, environmentally friendly cleaning products. Crusty parenting, basically, though in Canada it is adorably called “crunchy”. Of course I respect their choices, and to them I must seem like a heartless cynic, but my real issue here is just the loose and liberal use of the word “Natural”.
I have a midwife now and I have every intention of breastfeeding, and I like using slings. (Babywearing to me, sounds like you have skinned your offspring and are using it as a scarf or something) This is about as crusty/crunchy as I get. However, I WILL have a natural birth, but I am not living on the set of Little House on the Prairie. Natural is not the same thing as “traditional”, and just because we always used to do it one way, doesn’t mean we should continue. It is 2015. Natural, for a white, Westernised woman living in one of the richest countries in the world, means hospital birth with medical experts on hand and as many free drugs as possible!!