When I was 19, I had no talent and no chill. Brodie Sun Walk has both. In another piece for Vern Magazine, I interviewed hand-lettering and calligraphy artist Brodie Sun Walk as someone Calgarians should know. Despite his rising-star status, Brodie is pretty down to earth. It was a pleasure to meet him and I hope his star continues to climb!
Sometimes you get a story assignment that you just have to write. Vern Magazine (short for vernacular) is a fun, new online publication that speaks specifically to Calgarians. It launched in June and is an exciting new voice on city life, food, drink, travel and entertainment. As a child of the ’80s, I had so much fun writing this piece on the perfect throwback summer. Enjoy!
We did it. We came, we saw, we camped. We ate, we hiked, we left a teensy bit earlier than planned due to the blistering heat in Alberta’s badlands. Overall, it was a successful summer memory. Our kids, who complain in the best of times, somehow slid pretty effortlessly into a camping state-of-mind.
The day we were heading out, I made a discovery that proved invaluable: podcasts for kids. I downloaded a few modern fables from Storynory and a couple TEDTalks for Kids and Family. My intention was to play them during the long drive from the city, but I forgot. It worked out for the best, though, because we listened to them together at bedtime, as we lay in the tent in the dark. It was the calmest our family of five has ever been in a 100-square-foot space.
My concerns for our kids’ sleep had been unfounded, since they melted into a deep, blissful slumber around midnight. My husband and I, on the other hand, lay awake until about 5am, nodding off just in time for what the Alberta Parks staff call the dawn chorus—a fitful, morning cacophony of birds and insects and I’m assuming tortured frogs.
Fortunately, there was coffee. Enough to make the dawn chorus seem special, even cheerful. When we packed up our things at the end of our stay, the birds were resting in the very little shade and for the most part, spared us from their melodic squawks. Still, I think we left on a high note. Who knows, we may even do it all again.
We were rummaging through a bin of old belongings when my daughters unearthed a (somewhat scandalous) photo of my husband and I. It was taken in the summer of 2003, sometime in the early days of our bourgeoning courtship. We were cuddled, tightly, in a tent during a small town folk festival in Nova Scotia’s eastern-most tip. The photo had made its way among the junk during our moves as a couple from Nova Scotia to Ontario and eventually Alberta.
My girls were agasp at this photo. It wasn’t our tangled limbs and locking lips, or the bottle of Alexander Keith’s dangling in my hand. It wasn’t even the unfortunate khaki bucket hat my husband was wearing without shame. They were shocked. Incensed. Stunned.
“YOU WENT CAMPING??!!”
I’m proudly Canadian. I know and accept that camping is a thing. But here in Alberta, camping is a thing. It’s the thing. I was not prepared. I was also not prepared for my three daughters to make it their thing. The last time I went camping was exactly that time in the photo, when I was falling in love with an older boy who invited me camping. Nine years of marriage and three kids later, I was finally being called out on my bullsh*t. If I could go camping for their tall, dimpled father then I could go camping for our little, dimpled kids, because EVERYONE IN THEIR CLASS GOES CAMPING AND WHY CAN’T WE.
Ok, ok, we’ll go camping.
Since the total sum of our equipment equaled one French Press and nothing else—in our family, coffee is a camping essential—I had a lot of work to do. One of my first lessons on this wilderness journey: camping ain’t cheap.
You’d think it would be, but starting from scratch for a family of five meant collecting everything from a tent, sleeping bags, stove, right down to the matches. (Thank God I had already invested in a French Press.) I stockpiled our inventory over the course of a year, and the day that Alberta Parks opened its site bookings in early Spring, I was finally one of those Albertans who was part of the buzz. I picked our date and site in one of Alberta’s super popular Provincial Parks. Which lead me to my second lesson: camping is a culture.
Convinced we would stick out like sore (city) thumbs, I did a little research about camping etiquette. I practiced pitching our massive tent, I assembled and test-ran our cute little stove. I may have even roughed up our cooler a bit, so everything didn’t look so, you know, shiny. Which was completely unnecessary, due to the third lesson that I’ll likely learn very soon: camping is dirty.
As I’m gathering our equipment, planning our meals and packing our bags for our extra-long weekend in the wilderness, I’m also preparing myself for our time in the great, dusty, bug-filled outdoors. Our kids are ecstatic. My husband is relaxed. My breath is shallow, my to-do list is long and my internet search history is filled with tips for identifying rattlesnakes. But I’m now totally confident that we’re fully prepared and fully equipped to have some fun (and maybe a few Keith’s). If I have time, I may try to find that old photo before we leave to remind me of those early days. The bucket hat, though? Sadly, the bucket hat did not make it.
Calgary’s Child was one of the first publications I picked up after moving to Calgary. (I was freshly pregnant and totally panicked.) So I was super excited to contribute to their Teen and Tween Guide this Spring to discuss online safety and babysitting. On an exciting side note, I’m also looking forward to an amazing follow-up opportunity for this article in July—stay tuned!
My first assignment as a writer-for-hirer after a long hiatus was for Avenue Magazine, a gorgeous glossy publication for Calgary’s food, fashion, lifestyle, arts and culture scene. This article featured several exciting innovations in design from local companies, products and concepts. I absolutely loved researching this piece. I hope you enjoy reading it!
One of the coolest things about being a writer is interviewing some amazing people. One of the most intimidating things about being a writer is interviewing some amazing people. Back in February I interviewed THREE Canadian hockey heroes for Calgary Hockey Magazine. I hope I didn’t embarrass myself and I definitely enjoyed talking to these incredible athletes but the transcripts will forever be buried because I was so nervous during my interview with #22 that I mispronounced my own name. Here’s a link to these stories for Calgary Hockey Magazine.
If you’ve been to Calgary, chances are you’ve been to Banff. I’ll never forget the first time my husband and I drove towards the mountains, enveloped by one of the most beautiful horizons in the world, on a highway littered only with ‘wildlife crossing’ signs. Since then we’ve been back several times, and as promised, we’ve spotted many furry friends along the way. But it wasn’t until this month of this year, at the Banff Centre for the Arts, that I finally came toe to toe (toe to hoof?) with a deer.
A few deer, in fact. It was my last day of a writing retreat and I was walking along the wooded trail into town to get some fresh air (and fresh fudge). A small, furry herd was grazing in the middle of the narrow path, without care or concern for my dire fudge needs. Since I’m super nature-y, I knew just what to do: text my husband who would know what to do.
Me: Do I walk by??? I don’t understand.
Husband: Should be fine
Me: They won’t move!!!
Husband: Just don’t be between baby and mother
Me: *eye-rolling emoticon / photo of deer who, like my husband, were unmoved by my contempt*
Husband: Very pretty and calm. Breathe it in.
The idea of doing a writing retreat at the Banff Centre became a dream of mine the minute I learned there was such a thing as a writing retreat at the Banff Centre. It seemed like the most incredible thing. Five serene, inspired days in the mountains with nothing to do but write. (And eat and drink, because, writers.)
Last fall I finally found the courage (and resources) to make that fantasy a reality, and I registered for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta winter writing retreat. Characteristically, I then spent the following few months fantasizing about how to back the hell out of it.
It loomed so large, the overwhelming idea of my ‘retreat.’ This experience was something for serious writers, not unserious me. I wouldn’t measure up. I wouldn’t belong. But when that February departure day finally came, I packed my laptop, my notes and my gym clothes (unused) and with a little gentle nudging from my husband I headed off to Banff. It was serene. I did write. I definitely ate and drank. It was one of the greatest privileges I’ve been afforded as a writer, serious or not.
When I came across the deer on the trail, I was genuinely hesitant to keep moving forward. It was too steep to go around the herd, I was too underdressed to stand there all day in the frigid mountain air, and, frankly, I really wanted that fudge. So I walked, slowly, towards the animals until they parted just enough to let the frumpy human through. I made it to town, bought some fudge, and sent my husband my favourite apology emoticon for my previous profanity-laced texts.
On my walk back to campus, the deer were gone. (Or they were in the trees? I don’t know much about deer.) I stopped on the trail in my tracks, in the same spot as my previous impasse, and looked around.
Years ago, I could never have imaged we’d still be living in Calgary, that I’d be writing professionally again, and that I’d have my chance to attend a retreat in Banff. I stood there in the snow and decided to let myself believe that I belonged there. And then, after I ate all my fudge (sorry, family) I decided to breathe it in.
From the day you became a parent, you’re either waiting for time to speed up (When will they crawl? When will they walk? When will they talk?) or for time to slow down (Stop growing! Stop changing! CRAWL BACK IN MY BELLY!)
The rapid, relentless progression of childhood leaves me breathless. The minute I start to feel comfortable in my parenting role, the ground shifts beneath my feet and I’m behind again. What’s that? It’s fun, you say? You could find it fun, the way a cat finds it fun to chase a laser around the room. In this case I’m the cat, my parenting goals are the laser, and my kids have already moved on from the game while I’m still trying to land on the little red dot.
I couldn’t tell you what has made us so incredibly busy in the last couple months. School, schedules, stomach bugs (enough with the stomach bugs!) plus a myriad of other excitements and challenges. The pages in our full family calendar have flipped by even faster than my daughter grew out of her back-to-school clothes. (Seriously, STOP!) But I can tell you that I’m working very hard to keep up. I haven’t gone for a good long run in a little while, or even a little run in a good long while, but my parenting fitness has been given a strenuous work out lately.
Parenting isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon. It’s psychological Ironman. It’s emotional CrossFit. It’s sometimes, literally, Formula 1. (We’re late for hockey, people!)
And just like my measly 5K performances, I’m actually grateful to hit my less-than-perfect personal best. Which means we’re not first, we’re not last, I’m on the verge of collapse, but we’re happy. Winded, confused, and hungry… but happy.
I swear I even Googled it. “When can my child read Harry Potter?”
Admittedly, I was a little selective with the search results. Like when you Google “How bad is yelling at your kids, really?” and scroll until you find an article titled, “I yelled at my kids and they turned out fine!” By Dina Lohan.
Some search results suggested that yes, indeed, my seven-year-old daughter might be old enough to read Harry Potter. She had been asking me all year to delve into his world, having heard about Harry Potter from some (possibly older?) school mates.
I was tempted too. I was an avid reader when I was young, and I just couldn’t wait for my daughter to experience getting lost inside a world within a book. She was already reading some chapter books that I thought were pretty poorly written. Maybe it was time for some first rate material? What’s the harm? So at the beginning of the summer, I ordered a gorgeously illustrated version of The Philosopher’s Stone and settled in to re-live the magic with my willing, wide-eyed daughter.
Of course I’d read the books before. But somehow the scarier, murder-y details of the story had since escaped me. Dead parents? Abusive caregivers? Attempted infanticide? All within the first chapter? I started getting nervous. I became uncomfortably and acutely aware of every age-inappropriate paragraph and passage as we read deeper into the story. But I did my best to make it sunny. Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens… We forged on to the fun stuff, and soon enough she was hooked. It was literally magical.
We read a chapter as often as we could, and she was just. so. into. it. I was impressed at how much she was able to retain, and when my husband would pop his head in the room to ask if it was any good, I would chuff at him in my best (still bad) Hagrid voice, “NEVER-INSULT-ALBUS-DUMBLEDORE-IN-FRONT-OF-ME!”
Because it was good. It was very good. Until it wasn’t. I’m not sure at what point the image of He Who Shall Not Be Named seeped into her head, but it did and it stayed there. When we finally reached the end, she was simultaneously smitten by the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and irreversibly, inconsolably terrified. Not exactly the result I had been hoping for, but probably one I could have predicted.
On a particularly bad night, I peeked over at my husband as our oldest daughter lay shaking between us, and I whispered, “I think I goofed.”
He said, “Don’ look at me, it was yer daft plan.” (His Hagrid voice is better than mine, which is surprising since he’s never read the books.)
Since then, things have improved. Luckily, as with most dark arts, my daughters love for the story has overpowered her fear. She’s hooked, and even hopes to be Hermione for Halloween. (Note to self, order costume early this year.)
I made it clear from the beginning that we would have to wait before we read the next book in the series. Harry Potter is a process. A wonderful process, a sometimes scary process, and one that we will be returning to soon. When the time is right.