Monday, December 31, 2007

You Gotta Believe

Only 13 more hours left to post in 2007!

The old year feels old, now. I'm about ready to be done with it, even though it wasn't a bad year, all told. Not boring, in any case. But I have a few posts still knocking around my head that have morphed into Big Ideas, and that's generally the kiss of death as far as actually getting them written down is concerned--the bigger they get, the less chance that I'll actually feel up to tackling them in the 20-minute increments I usually have handy.

One of them is on Entitlement, and one's on Belief. Yah. Like I said, way too big. And both topical, as they have to do with this nearly-passed Holiday Season.

So. Entitlement will have to wait. For now, 15 minutes on belief:

As I've written about before [no time to link now, maybe I'll fix it up later] we don't do Santa Claus at our house; the Renaissance Woman being Danish, and celebrating Danish Jul, we instead have nisse: house elves that come on the night of the 24th and eat the rice pudding that good Danish households leave out for them. If they're pleased, they'll do some housework in payment, but they don't leave actual presents.

Except, a couple of years ago, when we had a housesitter watching our house over the holiday break, there were some Danish coins left on the table next to the clean and empty rice pudding bowl when we returned. And then, last year, a note was left for the Mermaid Girl on the 25th: in scrawling, untidy letters, just the way a little elf might write if it were trying to grasp a human-sized pencil with unfamiliar hands, was written "TAK FOR MAD" [thanks for the meal, in Danish].

MG, thrilled, squirreled the note away in the mass of paper and plastic that is her room, where we all forgot all about it.


We moved. And in the course of the move, that explosion of paper and plastic got churned up, and MG happened upon the note.

And one day, a couple of months ago, MG and I were having a pleasant after-school conversation about how tricky some people can be, when her face clouded over.

"Mama's tricky," she said. "And she thinks she's tricky in a fun way, but she's NOT."

She went on to explain: she'd found the note from the Nisse, wondered about it from a new, older, more skeptical point of view, and confronted RW about it. Upon which RW confessed to writing the note herself.

MG was upset, of course. And I was nonplussed--the Renaissance Woman hadn't had a chance to tell me about this newest revelation, and I wasn't sure exactly how the conversation had gone or how I should respond. I ventured that maybe Mama had wanted MG to have something fun to believe in, to make things feel magical for her, and that was why she'd written the note.

Later, RW said that it had all happened pretty much the way MG had reported. She'd been careful, though, not to say that she didn't believe in Nisse herself, and not to confess to actually eating the rice pudding--just to writing the note.

I wondered how things would go this year. But MG seemed happy to set out rice pudding again. She even put it in a small pitcher from her tea set, provided a tea-set spoon to eat it with, and hand-wrote a note in alternating red and green pencil: "Dear Nissel. We hope you like this rice pudding. from MG."

Late that night, after we'd eaten the food and lit the tree and opened the presents and said goodnight to the guests and rolled the girl into bed, the Reanaissance Woman rolled over in bed and turned to me. "Oh!" she said. "I need you to do me a favor. You need to go out to the kitchen and get rid of the rice pudding. It needs to be you who does it. But don't eat it."

So I buried the rice pudding at the bottom of the kitchen garbage, and wiped off the pitcher and spoon--but not perfectly--and turned the note over, and set them on top of it, the pitcher inside the spoon.

The next morning, MG and I were the first ones up. She inspected the empty pitcher gravely, then turned to me with piercing gaze.

"Did you eat the rice pudding?" she demanded, and I was able to swear up and down that I hadn't.

She stalked over to our fireplace and swept her finger along the front of it. "I think it's cleaner than it was last night."

"I didn't clean it!" I said-- again, truthfully. (Actually, nobody had cleaned it.)

She nodded, satisfied. "I think they came!" she didn't say much about it, but there was a small light in her eyes as she looked over the pitcher again, observing that it was clean but not completely clean, and that there was no way that Shy Kitty could have gotten the spoon in the pitcher or turned over the note like that.

RW and I compared notes later--she'd interrogated her, too.

But she never did ask me if I'd done anything with the pudding besides eating it.

I think the truth is that she wants to believe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"No, no, you have to haggle!"*

The Mermaid Girl is pretty good at math. But she's still working on some of the basics, as the following exchange will demonstrate:

Me: So, what do you choose for a vegetable?

MG: Oh, I don't know.

Me: How about...25 frozen peas?

MG: 15!

Me: Uh-uh, I'm not negotiating down from 25. If you want to negotiate, I'll start at 30. How about 30 frozen peas?

MG: 15!

Me *already thinking ahead to what I'll do if she falls apart when I won't back down from 25 to the midway point*: 29.

MG: Um...27!

Me *whew!*: Done!

*Identify the quote in the title for a fabulous not-yet-identified (because not yet decided on) prize!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Those Canadians

So this morning I got up early and drove and drove and drove down the highway , through icy rain that turned into snow flurries, past Surrey, past Langley, all the way almost past Abbotsford, hung a right and went through the tiniest cow crossing border station with a tiny border wait five or six cars long, handed over my passport and had it handed back without so much as a question about where I was from or how long I was staying. And then I was driving down the main street of a tiny sleepy border town with no living human beings out and about that I could see. Just storefronts and rain and giant candy canes lining the streets.

I kept driving down the main street and within three minutes I could tell I'd missed the turnoff for the post office because the town ended and there was nothing ahead but fields and farms, so I made a U-turn in the middle of the street, headed back, and found the P.O. over by the railroad tracks.

There was no stamp machine, but that was okay because there were only two people ahead of me, and even though they were all taking their time, chatting with the postmistress about their mailboxes and their trips to Mexico coming up, it was only five minutes before I got my turn. I whipped out my big stack of stamped envelopes and my big stack of unstamped envelopes and my small stack of parcels that needed weighing, and she sold me two books of Christmas stamps (no Chanukah or Eid or Kwanzaa or even nondenominational snowflakes, not out here) and one book of Yoda stamps, and rang everything up, and clucked in sympathy about the line at Point Roberts yesterday, and I spent another five minutes sticking the stamps on the unstamped envelopes, and handed them in, and she wished me Merry Christmas, and that was that.

I stopped at the gas station to fill up with (relatively) cheap American gas, and then stopped at the IGA for cheap cream cheese and some treats to bring to the staff room. The checkout clerk listened to my tale of Point Roberts woe, and seemed puzzled that I'd come all the way down here to mail my holiday cards. "Well, it's cheaper, and faster too," I explained.

"Ohhh," she said, "That's why there's always Canadians at the post office. I wondered, why do they come down here all the time?"

"Well," I said, "Plus, if you're mailing something to the States, it's not international if you mail it from here, and it is if you're in Canada."

"Oh, right," she said. "Yeah, well, I guess that's why our post office is so crowded all the time. You can't even park in the parking lot. You know, I go over to check my mailbox, and I can't even get in, it's so full of all those Canadians. I mean, this is our town, you know! And we can't even get into our own post office.

"But," she added, "now that you explain it, now I know why."

I shouldn't have said anything but thanks and goodbye and Merry Christmas, but I guess I was a little stung. And a little incredulous that someone who lives in a border town would never have thought about any of this before, about the many symbiotic exchanges across the border, the people who migrate in one direction or another, the uncounted strands connecting across that artificial political line drawn so long ago. So I shrugged and said something about, well, at least probably some of those Canadians came and shopped at the grocery store, and that was a good thing, probably, anyway.

She got a little revved up. "Well, see, the way the situation is around here--" and I don't know what she was going to say next, because she stopped herself. "Anyway, you have a Merry Christmas," she said, and handed me my receipt.

Huh, I thought, as I waited for the three cars ahead of me to go through the Canadian border crossing a block up the road. There was a longer line of cars headed South, I could see now, across the grass divider. Huh. I've heard some resentful talk about Americans, from friends and sometimes strangers in Vancouver, back when we used to visit. And now it's Those Canadians.


Or maybe I mean: eh?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bah Point Roberts

There are at least two posts I've been turning around in my mind but for now I just have a big BAH PHOOEY of a whine. I have had a rotten and frustrating morning spent running down to Point Roberts so I could mail all our U.S. holiday cards, as I hear things take weeks if they go through Canada Post. Plus, we figured out it would be much cheaper, even factoring in the cost of gas to get there. But I hadn't planned on:

1) Unclear Google Maps directions such that I got lost, ending up in freaking NEW WEST and losing precious time
2) An hour-plus wait at the post office, such that I couldn't wait as I had to get back to town for a meeting, and
3) There was a stamp machine, but it only took coins. No credit cards, not even U.S. paper currency which I happened to actually have in my wallet.
4) everyone said to go to the supermarket, they have stamps, but they were out of stamps.
5) I'd noticed a private mailing-service place on the way down to the post office, but they had crazy waits too, people lined up out the door, so I had to bail on that too.
6) I had to drive to downtown and pay for parking so I wouldn't be late, instead of taking the skytrain as I'd planned.

A pretty much wasted day. Except for the cheap gas and dairy products I picked up while down there. And, well, I guess it was a cute charming little town, or would have been if I hadn't been hyperventilating the whole time I was there.

And now I know how to get to Point Roberts, so in future I will only be going to New West ON PURPOSE.

Am going to try Blaine tomorrow and go in late to work. I don't know why I'm so desperate to get our cards out, but I am.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Vinyl Cafe

We first discovered the Vinyl Cafe three or four years ago, on a ferry to Vancouver Island. One of their books was for sale in the bookstore, and we bought it for the camping trip. By the time we got home, we were hooked. It was like the Prairie Home Companion stories, only...better. Much better. More like our lives, anyway. And funny in that sneaky way that starts out all deadpan and ends with you gasping for breath, laughing aloud in public so that people edge away from you as you wipe away the helpless tears and clutch your legs together to keep from peeing. And just when you couldn't laugh any more the story would hit you with a sucker punch and go all touching. We were ready to sign away our firstborn in exchange for more Dave and Morley stories, any way we could get them.

And then, miracle of miracles, we got them. Our Seattle public radio station was the first one in the U.S. to license the Vinyl Cafe radio show, and we tuned in as soon as we heard about it. At first, it was weird to hear Stuart Maclean's voice. He sounded sort of, well, sort of snide and nasal. Not at all the warm, mellow narrative voice I'd been hearing in my head when I read the stories to myself. But I got used to it after a while, and we began to plan our Sundays around the 4:00 hour so that we could hear the show, or at least be home to tape it. Even MG liked the Dave and Morley stories, though she didn't always understand them. We liked the music, too, and the genuine appreciation and admiration he seemed to have for musicians, and the way he took care to highlight Canadian music. In fact, the show was almost like an introduction (or re-introduction, in RW's case) to Canadian life, in all its familiarity and slight strangeness.

So when we heard that the Vinyl Cafe was coming to Vancouver for its annual Christmas Show, in December of this, our first year in Canada, it wasn't even a question: of course we were going, and hang the expense. I booked our tickets as soon as I could, though not soon enough to get us seats any closer than the middle of the Dress Circle.

And when we awoke this morning to find that last night's light blanket of snow had become a heavy swaddling, and that more was coming down in big, blizzard-y flakes, and that our street was no longer driveable, and that Translink was reporting bus delays, the question became how early we'd have to leave to get there on time. We ate a hearty breakfast, bundled up in coats and hats and mittens and scarves and warm boots and warm socks, grabbed a book off the shelf in case Stuart Maclean was signing, and set off for the bus stop.

We were prepared to walk the mile to the SkyTrain station if need be, but the Hastings Bus pulled up just as we'd finished skidding and slipping down our hill, so we even had time for lunch before the show started.

The show itself was everything I'd hoped for: Stuart Maclean was funny and offhand and understated, the musicians were terrific, there was a silly skit with a radio drama and a sound-effects guy (that part reminded me the most of PHC), and the Story Exchange story was touching and lovely. He called up a couple of kids to help with a CD giveaway in the middle of the show, and the interplay between the three of them (the girl was a total ham) was priceless. And he read three--three!--Dave and Morley stories, the last of which, about Dave's attempt to give Morley the perfect Christmas present, is a new classic up there with the iconic "Dave Cooks the Turkey." And there was the thrill that always comes with any live performance, especially one where you've heard it in other formats and feel like you know the players but have never seen them in person.

The only thing that marred the day for me was that the Mermaid Girl was not, shall we say, at her best. She had a meltdown before we left that almost sidelined the whole trip; she was clingy and needy during the performance, hissing questions all through the stories and glaring when we asked her to be quiet and wait for us to explain it later. She insisted on sitting on RW's lap, and kicked me in the legs. At intermission she sulked and stormed because she didn't get the biggest cookie. She calmed down a bit during the second act, but even so I was just about ready to drop her off the balcony.

With MG so fragile, we weren't sure if we should wait around to have our book signed. But I'd bought a CD for the friend who'd discovered the books with us on that very first ferry trip and wanted to get it signed for her, so we stuck around and waited in the slow-moving line.

We let MG present the book. Stuart Maclean was very focused and serious with her--as he'd been with the kids onstage--and asked whether she'd liked the show, and which part she liked best. Then she asked him if she could ask a question. "Sure," he said. "How do you think of all those great stories?" she asked. "Well," he said, "Mostly I think of them when I'm writing them. I think of them by writing them down." He asked her if she was interested in writing, herself, and she cast her eyes down modestly and said, "I want to be an author."

"What's your name?" he asked her, and she told him, first and last, and spelled it. "Well," he said, "I'll be looking for your first publication, in a while. It'll probably be a while, won't it. But I'll be looking for it." He signed our book, and then opened the front flap and wrote something else in it. "Here," he said. "Here's my e-mail address. If you have any questions about writing, you send me an e-mail. And remind me of where I met you." She nodded solemnly, clutching the book, and we said our goodbyes.

She seemed different, picking her way through the slush on the way back up to Hastings. A little taller, a little calmer. Like she'd taken on the mantle this famous onstage person had offered by taking her seriously: not a little no-count kid, kicking and whining for a shred of attention, but a peer, a potential colleague, a future Author. A person in the world. And by seeing that in her, and honoring it, he helped me see it too.

It was almost like the end of one of those Dave and Morley stories.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Weather blogging isn't usually my thing, but...


Snow! Snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow!

It was snowing, and sticking, when I woke up, tiny little flakes It was snowing bigger flakes when we ate breakfast. It had pretty much stopped and was starting to slush by the time we got to shul, but then it started blizzarding down again by the time we left to meet the Renaissance Woman at the craft fair where she was singing with her choir.

It was snowing and snowing as we inched slowly and cautiously up Cambie. It was snowing and piled up nicely and all powdery and soft when we got out of the craft fair and we noodled about for a while throwing snowballs at the walls. It was snowing as we drove home and I hydroplaned once or twice on side streets into the soft snow on the edges before heading for the main road, traffic be damned.

I decided not to go to my job's Christmas party tonight on the North Shore, where the snowy mountains are.

It is snowing outside now. Deeper and deeper and deeper, and whiter and whiter. When we look out the windows at our View it's like being inside a Currier & Ives print. MG thought the sun was coming back up when she looked out the window, but it was just the pale glow in the sky from all the snow. I lost the camera cable again but here are some other people's photos.

In Seattle, when it snows the tiniest little half-inch, everyone dithers and panics and cancels school and just stays home. The city owns about two snowplows, and they don't salt roads so's you'd notice.

Here, they've been salting for days, even side streets, and I saw plows around and about all day clearing things off. Obviously they have some idea of how to Handle snow, here.

The bad thing about living in a city that knows how to Handle snow is that they obviously expect residents to Handle it too, and to be able to suit up their cars so they're fit to drive, and to go on showing up at work and all that.

I think the Mermaid Girl will need snow boots.

I think we will need snow tires.

I hear it will all turn to rain by Monday. We'll see.