Being the New Kid is Getting Old

I can’t believe I did this, but after making 2 giant lasagnas and slicing 2 giant watermelons for a potluck for my high school daughter’s Quebec Exchange program and all the participants’ families, I dropped off the food and hightailed it home.  I was fully prepared to be brave and sit with my daughter and her “twin” from Quebec, and maybe meet some of the other parents; maybe make a friend.  But when I got there, I got a big slap in the face.  Teens can be cruel, and adults who don’t know any better, can cluster together to shut out the new girl.  

I pulled into the parking lot, to a chorus of mocking teen boys calling out, “SUE’s here!  Everyone watch out! OOO, It’s SUE!”  My daughter had already warned me that it was her class joke that I take away my daughter’s phone when she is disrespectful or her grades drop – they call each other “Sue” as an insult, or if someone is not being nice, they say, “watch out, or Sue will take away your phone.”  Ha. Ha. I’m fine with the idea of all of them doing this, since I am quite convinced that I am making good parenting choices and the phone is a good tool in disciplining my daughter.  But when surrounded in real time, by a big group of teens that are whispering and laughing, while looking at you sideways?  That’s a whole different story.  I’m glad I never taught in high school, and I feel great compassion for any teacher who is the butt of these kids’ jokes.  

So you’d think my daughter would be happy to see me and make me feel better.  Nope.  She runs up to me and demands, “I hope you brought me a change of clothes!”  When I said, “no, but I brought a lot of food – will you please help me unload the car?”  she became upset and flounced away.  

I asked one of the parents where I should enter the building to bring in the food for the potluck, and she answered, “THROUGH THE DOOR.”  Seriously.  So I hefted the huge lasagna into the front door, found the entree table myself, and went back out to the car for 2 more trips of food.  This entire time, there are dozens of people milling about, hugging, chatting, taking their places at the many long tables set up for the dinner.  

When I tried to think about sitting down with total strangers who didn’t even make eye contact with me or smile, my heart just jumped up into my throat.  I went up to my daughter and whispered in her ear, “is it okay if I sit with you at dinner tonight? I feel a little nervous.”  And she said, “Mommmmm, I want to sit with my friends, and they will all just make fun of you and that would mess up the dinner. Maybe you can just go home and bring me some clothes?  You don’t have to stay for the dinner, but you can bring me the clothes when you come back to pick up the dishes.”  

That did it.  Flashback to 1st grade in Monterey, 2nd grade in Moscow, 4th grade in Kuala Lumpur, 6th grade in Reston, 7th grade in Shanghai, 9th grade in Kent, 10th grade in Bloomington, 10th grade in Taipei, Freshman year in university, 1st year in England, 1st year in Texas, 1st year in Carmel, 1st year in Pacific Grove, 1st year in Hawaii, 1st year in Banff… Maybe I have a lot of practice being the new girl, but tonight I felt knocked down and stepped on.  Tonight I felt so lonely that my throat hurt, even with 50 people clustered around me.  I can only plaster the smile on my face for so long before my cheeks start to hurt and I just want to run away. So I put my head down, got into my car, and headed for home.  

I wish someone could wave a magic wand and a door would open to this town.  Well, I say that, but I guess my real wish is that I didn’t have to have any interaction with any more people in this town.  

You don’t believe me.  If you just met me, you don’t believe me.  I’m smiley, I ask questions, I make conversation; of course I must be outgoing and personable, right?  But if you really know me, you know that inside I squirm at the idea of getting thrown in among strangers.  When I was little, being the new kid was always fortified by the strength of my sisters.  Every 2 years we moved to a new place because of my father’s job. But my sisters and I could be the new kids together.  Now, I usually have my own kids, or my husband.  My husband, especially, is very sensitive to my stranger panic, and he will hold my hand and introduce me, then whisk me home at the earliest opportunity.  The kids have lately complained that I am “anti-social” so I have been making great efforts.  But this town is shut tight like a clam.  They don’t really want help in the schools, which is the best way to get my foot into the door and meet other parents.  How many times can I knock before my knuckles start to hurt?  And after a year and a half, is it okay if I just give up and retreat to my books and my family?

I know I am being completely unreasonable, and my friends would tell me, “Don’t be silly – they are all your future friends just waiting to meet you.”  And that is very good advice.  It’s just that tonight I didn’t quite believe myself when I tried to whisper that out loud while driving home, face frozen in a tearful grimace.  I know I need to wipe these stupid childish tears and check my makeup and find a decent shirt for my daughter, and get back into my car to return to the potluck.  I just need a few more minutes to breathe and dig really really deep to find a shred of courage to grasp.  Just a few more minutes.

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

My oldest daughter, Emily, is coming home for her Reading Week (like Spring Break) from university, TODAY!  She has grown from a giggly little silly girl, through her awkward years, into a woman who works for her goals and makes her own happiness. We blinked, and she grew up.  She always had the most difficult time moving when she was younger; she took our relocations much harder than the younger two.  I remember feeling similar as a teenager, moving all over the world with my family, but never as heartbroken as Emmy would get.  I crawled inside her teenage heart, a little while back, and wrote this from her point of view.  You might think I exaggerate, but I don’t write fiction:

Snow.  Just say the word and instant images spring to mind.  Christmas, sleigh rides, and snowball fights, right?  To someone accustomed to snowy winters, these things might be taken for granted.  To a girl like me, born in Texas and raised in Hawaii, snow and the way of life that accompanies it, were alien concepts. Snow was nothing that felt like home; only sunny days and warm breezes meant home.  That is, until 4 years ago, at age 16, I came home from my school in Kona, Hawaii, to discover that my dad was being transferred to Banff, Alberta.  In my mind, we were moving to the North Pole, and my life was over.  As far as I was concerned, snow was cold, so snow was bad.  And the sun – my glorious sunshine – what was I going to do without it?! Goodbye sunny beaches and hello to snowshoes and grizzly bears.

Looking back, I realize how completely horrible I was to my family during the preparations for the move.  Even on the flight from Kona to Vancouver, I cried the entire way.  After all, every friend I had in the world was being left behind, and I was heading to a country full of strangers; cold strangers.  Every attempt by my parents, brother, and sister to cheer me up with novelty of living in a national park, learning new sports and activities, and chances to make new friends, was met with my cold shoulder (I thought that was highly appropriate, since we were moving to the tundra).  My mom just hugged me and said, “You’ll see.  You have no idea how magical snow is.  It will change you forever.”  Then we landed in Vancouver International Airport and were met with the biggest snowstorm that had hit Vancouver in 30 years (according to the news).  All flights were cancelled and the airport was shut down.  For 3 hours, the 5 of us sat up against a wall, on 10 pieces of luggage, while my dad called around to find a hotel room that wasn’t already taken by the thousands of other stranded travelers in the airport.  My little brother, Simon,  and sister, Hanna were getting antsy, I hated the world and thought this was a very perfect way for dratted Canada to welcome me, and my poor mom was stuck between telling the kids to settle down, and wiping my tears.  In between my sniffles, I heard Simon gasp and loudly whisper, “That lady is picking her nose!  Look!”  Sure enough, a very dignified lady was digging away, and right next to her was a child doing the same.  After much shushing from my mom, with instructions for us to stop giggling and to find another activity, she offered us the video camera for us to keep a video diary of our journey to Canada.  She thought we would be interviewing each other and doing something wholesome and constructive.  We thought differently.  We set out and discovered 8 people in the surrounding area who were publically picking their noses. Then we put together a mock documentary about nose picking and the types of people who like to do that in airports.  We entertained ourselves with this until it was time to pack ourselves into 2 taxis and drive to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.  Outside the taxi windows, the snow floated down; giant, fat, fluffy flakes, falling out of the sky.  When the taxis came to a stop in front of the hotel, we all tumbled out and just stood there, with our smiling faces held up to the sky.  My mom said, “Open your mouths!  Catch the snowflakes on your tongue!” and I did.  And I felt the first moment of happiness come to me.  But when I opened my eyes and saw the cloud-filled sky, I remembered that my sunshine was gone. With my returned bad mood, I grumbled my way into the hotel.  The next 3 days were filled with frantic calls to the airlines, little kids worried that Santa wouldn’t know we were there if we were stuck in Vancouver over Christmas, and  me complaining about how cold I was.  But on our 2nd day, we took a break.  The snowplows in the city just couldn’t cover all the streets, so there weren’t any cars.  We pushed our way through snow that was 2 feet deep, to an area on the waterfront where we were the only 5 people in a pristine world of hushed white softness.  We rolled in it.  We made snow angels.  We pushed and heaved and together made an enormous snowman.  There was an epic snowball fight and we ended the afternoon by trudging back to the hotel, freezing cold, but laughing and all holding hands.  Along the way, my parents asked us, “what do you think, will Canada be a good new home for us?”  The little ones yelled, “YES!” but I let go of their hands and stopped laughing.

3 days later, we finally made it to Banff.  The trees lining the street leading to the hotel were twinkling with white lights, and out of the swirling cloud of snow loomed the most beautiful castle:  the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.  We checked into our rooms, and discovered that my dad’s secretaries had put up a fully decorated, REAL Christmas tree, with gifts underneath.  The room was filled with the pungent smell of pine mixed with piping hot cocoa and whipped cream.  Among the presents under the tree were 3 toboggans, labeled for each of us kids. The next day my dad took us out behind the hotel to the sledding hill. I was in an awful mood, being so cold I could barely think, but during our first run down the hill my mood instantly uplifted. The 20 second glide down was just the break I needed from thinking about all the sad parts of moving. I didn’t have to think about anything except the thrill of feeling just a little bit out of control. Trekking up the hill for another run warmed me up to the point that I was actually sweating. I never knew that could be possible! That was my first activity in snow that I actually enjoyed. Later, in the hotel lobby, sipping on yet more hot chocolate, my parents looked at me and asked, “Is this so bad?  Could we make it our home?”  Feeling disloyal to Hawaii, I shook my head and walked to the elevators.

A few days after that, our family explored the hotel property and peeked in at the 100 year old cabin where we would live.  Nestled in the woods, Earnscliffe Cottage was the summer home of Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister.  This information went right over the head of my little brother.  He just started squealing, “MAMA!  We are moving to the Little House in the Big Woods! There will be bears and wolves and coyotes and elk and moose and foxes and more animals than we ever had in Hawaii!” Then he and Hanna toppled over and started making snow angels.  My parents looked at me and asked, “How is this?  Do you think we could make it our home?”  I immediately wiped the smile off of my face, shook my head and headed back to the hotel.

In Hawaii, I always took my showers in the morning and headed out the door with my long hair dripping wet.  The balmy breezes and the sunshine would dry it for me.  In Canada, my parents suggested I either shower at night or use a hair dryer in the morning.  Stubbornly, I refused, and one morning went outside, my head held defiantly high, my hair dripping down.  The outside temperature was -30◦.  My little brother had a great time breaking off what he called my “haircicles.”  How on earth could my parents imagine we could ever make this our new home?!

School started.  I hated it.  The girls were mean and the boys were ugly.  The entire high school was the size of my graduating class back in Hawaii.  During Social Studies, disparaging remarks were made about the gun culture in the USA and the fast food, etc, lumping all Americans in with the crazy ones.  I was constantly battling to defend my country, and butted heads with everyone.  Finally, my mom sat me down during the 2nd week of school.  She told me that, as a diplomat’s daughter, she learned a very valuable lesson growing up an American in a foreign country.  If you’re the new kid, close your mouth, put a smile on your face, and remember that you are a guest in that country.  It isn’t polite for a guest to criticize her host, and it is rude to only talk about where you came from, instead of being interested in where you are NOW.  And then she dropped the bombshell; the Rule.  The Rule was:  I had exactly 6 months to indulge in feeling sorry for myself in my new home.  They wouldn’t scold or lose their patience with my moping for 6 months.  But on the first day of the 7th month, I was required to pull myself out of mourning and join Life, whether I liked it or not.  I ranted and raged – 6 months was not enough time for me to get over my horrible situation – there was no way I could do it.  My mom said, “You’ll be surprised, honey.  It will take less time than you think.  Give it a chance.  You have Facebook to keep your old friends while you make new ones.  You also have the 4 best friends that you will ever have in your life right here with you now.  Us.  Remember that your family is your best friend – the one constant we take with us wherever we move.  We can make this our home as long as we’re together.” 

It ended up only taking 1 month. I didn’t notice the time flying by as I learned how to ski, snowboard, and ice-skate.  I stopped saying negative things, and friends surrounded me.  Every night at dinner, my family has a little tradition called Worst and Best. Each person takes a turn and first says the worst thing about their day, then for a happy ending, says the best thing about their day.  In the beginning, I could never think of a best thing, so I would cop out with saying something like, “well, I’m still alive.”  In time, it became increasingly difficult to find any worst things to say.  Then, one night after dinner, we took the dogs for a walk in the gently falling spring snow.  We all stopped under one of the black iron street lamps that was glowing in a small circle of snow-laden pine trees, the snowflakes piling up on our eyelashes as we puffed out soft clouds of breath.  My mom exclaimed, “I’ve been trying to put my finger on why it always feels so familiar, like I’ve been here before…I finally figured it out!  We’ve come through the wardrobe and we are living in Narnia!”  As the whole family laughed, I looked around the warm circle of love that we made in the forest, and I said, “Ask me.  Ask me now.”  My parents knew exactly what I meant, and they said, “Can we make this our home?”  And I replied, “My home is where my heart is, and my family is my heart.  So we are home now.”  Last month, we received our permanent residency in Canada, and one day I hope to be a dual citizen. We’ll never again have the hot Hawaiian sun on our faces, but the sun shining on the snow over here is the same sun – just a little further North.







Lenten Lentils, LaLaLa

So far, resolutions are still surviving, although there are signs of rebellion everywhere.  My family was really big on making Lenten promises – my husband decided to discipline his potty mouth, younger daughter had a laundry list of promises (including running outside for 30 minutes everyday and no gaming/social media/texting for fun), and my son gave up gaming and vowed to run outside every day for 30 minutes.  Well.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – Day #1.  First thing in the morning, as the children are thundering around upstairs, and my husband is waiting impatiently downstairs to drive them to school, he yells, “What the F**K is going on?!”  sigh.  And the kiddies come home from school, full of excuses as to why they are too tired to go out and suck in some fresh air.  FINE.  I will be perfect and do everything I promised, right? HA.

Well, I gave up my favorite thing in the world (besides the actual people I love), Facebook.  So to prevent temptation, I deleted the apps from my phone and my ipad, after changing the notification settings so I don’t get any emails telling me what I’m missing.  But then I found myself checking my phone every hour yesterday…only to find the app missing, boo.  So then I would do something lame like open up CNN or check my email.  And I wandered aimlessly for much of the day.  Withdrawal is not so fun.

I also made a quiet promise to myself that I would give this Godforsaken town a 2nd chance by doing something new every day.  Yesterday was supposed to be my day to visit the town museum.  I went.  Twice.  Both times it was closed for some unexplained reason. Attendant in the bathroom? Who knows.  And because I also promised myself I would not swear anymore, I was forced to sound ridiculous by saying out loud, “Tsk. Tsk.”  That’s it.  “Tsk. Tsk.”  And you KNOW what I really wanted to do was yell what my husband yelled up the stairs this morning.  sigh.  So I went to pick up my son from the elementary school, and he jumps into the car and exclaims, “MAMA, can we make Valentines cards for tomorrow?!  Homemade!  With like, chocolate Kisses stuck inside?!”  I haven’t done arts and crafts with the kids since we moved away from Hawaii, 4 years ago.  After all, my youngest is in 6th grade now, and tying them down to the kitchen table is like trying to wash a cat.  Possible, but not so fun.  So I thought, “why not?”  it was something new for us in Canada, I could rationalize.  Luckily, I’m a pack rat so our art supplies were in great abundance.  We bought some chocolate covered caramels wrapped in gold at the grocery store, and cut out the prettiest valentines out of contruction paper on the kitchen table.  Simon wrote out and decorated all of them, and carefully taped a candy inside each one. It was the best hour I had all day. 

So then we all bundled up and went to Ash Wednesday Mass at 7pm.  There was good news and bad news.  The good news was that our Nigerian priest from last year (who was a lovely man but whose English was incomprehensible) had been replaced with a sweet little Indian man with a very understandable sing-song accent.  The kids perked up to be able to understand the homily, and his enthusiasm brought smiles to our faces.  The bad news was that the choir still consisted of a lead singer with a microphone, and her warbling backups (3 little old ladies who loved trilling vibratto off-tuned harmony…very loudly).  My mother never taught me this, but I learned it from my friends with manners:  if you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all.  Well, I am trying to follow that advice with my spoken word (my written word is out-of-bounds…anything goes), so I was verrrry verrrry quiet during Mass.  We all held hands, I whispered explanations to my youngest son during the readings, and before we knew it, we were released into the cold night air.  Surprisingly, both the children, my husband, and I felt glad that we attended.  When we returned home, I found 6 emails in my inbox – all personal, from my big sister and friends – and I didn’t have to think about Facebook while I read them. My big sister, who is a proud Birkie-Lovin’ Pagan, called me a Lentil, and I am still laughing. It’s the new me: Lentil Sue. I might give you gas, but I am good for you!

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Any night is apparently the night to partaaay in these here parts…and my new neighbors seem to live by this mantra. We lived 5 years in a little house in Hawaii, and then moved to Banff to live blissfully in a 100 year-old cabin in the woods for 3 years.  It has been quite the adjustment to live in an apartment with neighbors below our floor, now.  You either get lucky in the neighbor department, or you get crazy people.  I don’t recall ever having a neighbor in-between, and I’m not feeling so lucky here.

In Hawaii, I had a balanced mixture.  To the left of my house, a lovely little family of 4 lived, with a gentle-voiced, traditionally raised Japanese-American Mom, a laid-back Dad, and 2 precious girls.  The first day we moved in, Sweet Lady was on my doorstep with a freshly-made plate of mochi to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Of course my family, being the circus act we are, let 2 year-old Simon open the front door.  Buck naked.  It was hot; we’d just moved there from the cooler central coast of California, AND he was potty training.  Needless to say, we nearly lost that plate of mochi, but caught it just in time.  It didn’t help matters when Sweet Lady later invited my kids over to play.  I looked out my window to see Sweet Lady and her husband frantically hosing down the mattress of a queen-sized bed in their back yard.  Then naked boy appears out of nowhere and buries his face in my lap.  Turns out, naked boy was caught standing on Sweet Lady’s bed, PEEING.  Not the best way to make a good impression, but we are now 8 years into our friendship and still going strong.

On the other side of the house, lived the Scary Family. Let me start by saying Mom is a Hot Mess, Dad is tired out Mr. Italiano Americano chef guy, and children are absolutely wacked out beyond belief.  I’m not saying Mom is a Hot Mess just because I was jealous…while we were house-hunting in the area, before buying the house, we drove by her on 3 separate occasions, jogging in her black bra and tight shorts, tanned skin gleaming, long blond ponytail swinging. Stunning from behind. Shocking to find you’ve moved into the house next to hers.  Yes, I would like my husband to say, “Wow” if he ever saw me jogging 6 blocks ahead of his car.  However, up close and personal, the tanned skin was actually saddle leather, and the blonde 5 o’clock shadow on her chin and the low voice when she began to speak, startled us a bit.  Turns out, Hot Mess is a former bodybuilder, and I don’t think steroids completely leave your system—even decades after taking them.  Or maybe she was still taking them.  Anyway, Mr. Italiano Americano may have worn the pants in the family, but Hot Mess definitely wore the jock strap.

I am a Live and Let Live kind of a person.  You could live next door to me and make love to monkeys, for all I care.  As long as the monkeys seemed happy, I would let you go about your business and I would tootle away in my garden.  The problem with living next to Hot Mess was that her part time job at the hotel (yes, she worked for my furry guy, which ended badly and then she had more reason to hate me) gave her much time to get into my business.  I wanted to dig in my garden, read my books, and enjoy the peace and quiet.  Every single time I stepped into my back yard, I heard the slam of her patio door, and then her manly voice would call out, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!  I need to tawk to you!”  I lost count of how many times I had to tell her, “My name is Sue.  Just Sue.  My parents were lazy and maybe the name should have been Susan, but it isn’t.  It’s just Sue.” To no avail – I gave up after 2 years.  After calling me over, she would proceed to lecture me on whatever was her topic for the day.  My family has a little tradition of saying “I Love you” and kissing each other goodbye every morning.  Then whoever is waving goodbye has to wave until the others can’t see you anymore.  We’re just too wild and crazy, I know.  Well, Hot Mess told me one day, after the family had driven off to work and school, “You need to stop telling him you love him.  You’re a freaking doormat.  Men want a little mystery.  I don’t tell my husband I love him all the time.  In fact, I hardly tell him. Ya gotta keep ‘em guessing.  He’s gotta know that THIS fine package could walk away at any time so he’d betta treasure me.  Ya know?”  God, I wish I could say she smoked cigarettes, because everything about her was so loathsome to me that it would have been absolutely perfect if she had been taking giant drags off of her menthol cigarette and squinting her eyes through the smoke while she was bitching at me.

Anyway, for some inexplicable reason, she hated Sweet Lady.  It was odd, because her Psycho Son was known to do really fun things like locking Sweet Lady’s girls in garden sheds and torturing small animals with the knife collection that Mr. Italiano Americano supplied (“My BOY.  My boy is a MAN and real men have GUNS and KNIVES”).  If anything, Sweet Lady should have hated her.  No worries, though, that ended up happening soon enough.

Hot Mess was very much into her Chardonnay.  So much so that she had a rendezvous with an entire bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay every single evening.  It HAD to be Kendall Jackson – she was sooo proud that she could call herself a wine snob.  For Kendall Jackson, no less…go figure.  On some days, depending on how Psycho Boy was acting out, her evenings began at 3pm.  The neighborhood kids would play outside on the cul-de-sac, and she would sit on her back patio and sunbathe.  And drink.  And drink some more.  Psycho Boy had a little sister who had the misfortune of sporting a little black moustache.  Moustache Girl was Hot Mess’ PRECIOUS and God help you if you scorned her mustachioed Precious.  Moustache Girl liked to drive her battery-powered hot-pink Barbie Jeep all over the neighborhood, doing her best to run over every child she could, screaming and cackling.  Sweet Lady’s girls and my younger daughter Hanna (who later earned the nickname Assassin, but that is another story) would ride their bikes around the neighborhood and do their best to avoid becoming Barbie Jeep road kill.  One evening around 5, when Hot Mess must have been down to the bottom of her bottle of  oo-la-la Kendall Jackson Chardy, Moustache Girl went running to her mommy to scream that all the girls were SO MEAN cuz they wouldn’t play with her.  Sweet Lady and I are standing in my driveway chatting, watching the kids play, and Hot Mess comes tearing out of her house, resplendent in her animal print bikini, boobies bulging, her diaphanous genie-pants billowing, and her words slurring spectacularly.  She heads straight for the girls, yanks them off of their bicycles, and starts screaming, “YOU little girlz are bitchezzz.  BISHHHEZZZ!  You are NOT allowed to play with each other ever again – ever!  How can you be so mean to my baby?  She juz wanz to drive her car for Chrissssesake!”  You should have seen Sweet Lady morph into Protecto Mom in 2 seconds flat.  She runs over, plants herself between our girls and Hot Mess, stands up straight and tall and starts shaking her finger in Hot Mess’ face.  All I knew was that I was too scared to put myself between those two women, for fear that Sweet Lady would scratch out my eyes and Hot Mess would punch me in the face.  But I used my words, convinced Hot Mess to return to her bottle, and hugged Sweet Lady until her adrenaline rush had calmed down.  Desperate Housewives had NUTHIN’ on us, let me tell ya.  It was like I lived for 5 years with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  The scale finally tipped when Hot Mess was so horrible at work that my husband had to ask her husband to find a way to convince her to quit before she got fired.  Then venturing into my backyard got so unpleasant that I had to buy 2 dozen poplar trees to plant along the fence line so we could enjoy our time out there without the acidic looks and snide comments floating over to us.

Wait.  I started out by complaining about my current neighbors.  They are CAKE compared to Hot Mess.  Now I just need to shut up and calm down about their cigarette smoke coming up through the heating vents, their complaints that my children talk in the morning on their way to school…yeah, children talking – outrageous, right?  I need to be thankful that we live above them, not below them.  I need to be thankful that I can look out my windows at an unobstructed view of Lake Mildred and the Rocky Mountains.  I have no mochi and I have no Sweet Lady, but I also don’t have to hear, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!!!!! I need to tawk to you!”  And Kendall Jackson Chardonnay?  You have been replaced by Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse.  Cheers!

Welcome to Jasper

My furry man had just been promoted as general manager of a beautiful resort in a tiny little town nestled in Canada’s largest national park.  He trudges off to work there a month before we move, while the kids finish the semester and I organize the movers.  A few days later, one of the biggest cabins on his hotel property burns to the ground.  In the past, it was used as the General Manager’s house…and I wondered, “Is that a little message from the universe?  Naaaahh….”

We moved to Jasper in the dead of winter.  In our last job, we were spoiled rotten with a humongous log cabin on the hotel grounds that we were given to play in for 3 years.  Here, we lived in the hotel with our 2 giant dogs, hedgehog, snake, and children, while we waited for rental properties to open up in town.  Surprise surprise, landlords don’t take too kindly to the magical combination of dogs/hedgehogs/snakes.  Why, I have no idea, as I know that my 2 children could do much more damage to a house than all my pets put together.  As a result, we lived in the hotel for 4 months, changing rooms and moving to different cabins  every couple of weeks.

It seemed like every day brought something new and horrible into our lives.  And with each new event, some snarky local would say, “Welcome to Jasper” AFTER delivering crappy news or saying something rude.  A sentence beginning with, “welcome to” should be a positive thing.  You BEGIN by welcoming someone, right?  But my new tactless friends either had wicked senses of humor, or maybe they were just plain stupid.  So on our first day of school,  I ask the sourpuss office lady in the elementary school where I should meet my son for lunch, and she replies, “everybody walks home for  lunch in Jasper. “  Our “home” was 3 miles away in the hotel and she KNEW it.  “You can pay me a dollar a day and he can eat in a classroom with the few kids who have to stay at school, or you can go to a restaurant for lunch with them.  Welcome to Jasper.” She didn’t crack a smile for the entire length of the conversation, while my cheeks were cramping from my eager attempts to be friendly.

Another day, Housekeeping left the door open in our cabin and my little boy helplessly watched his dogs run away into the forest where a pack of coyotes stood waiting for them.  Then he had to watch his mommy run into that same forest to look for the dogs, and he thought he would never see any of us ever again.  So Hotel Security strolls up to me (as I’m hollering for the dogs in my t-shirt and jeans in the snow) and tells me they’ll start searching as well, and by the way, “Welcome to Jasper!”

We finally secured a home on the hotel property, squishing 2 little apartments together  to house our small zoo.   They tell us our new appliances have arrived and to prepare for the installation.  As they stand in the kitchen watching me, I empty out our entire freezer/fridge and place the items on the kitchen table.  2 hours later, the engineers amble up to me and say, “okay, we’re ready to go; we’re done.  You have to wait for the plumber to install the dishwasher.” When? “I dunno.  I dunno if the plumber is even here today – not sure if he can do it before the weekend.” And where is the new fridge? There is no fridge!  “Oh, that’s on back-order. Prolly won’t see that for another few weeks, but who knows.  Welcome to Jasper.”  When the plumber finally installed the dishwasher, the water line blew at 2 in the morning, flooding the apartment below ours.  Instead of knocking on our door, the neighbors call Hotel Security to complain.  When the plumber finally gets around to fixing the line, he mumbles, “well I never.  I never seen such a modern dishwasher that used so much water pressure.  Heck.  Kind of a funny way to welcome you to Jasper, EH?”

It’s gotten to the point that when something ridiculous happens, like watching the town sprinklers shoot out tons of water  every morning during a week of pouring rain, my kids just turn to me and drawl, “welcome to Jasper.”

We had that one cabin burn down, then there was a fire in town at another hotel, then just a couple of months ago, our main lodge roof caught on fire.  My son remarked, “tourists must be like, ‘oh no!  fires on the left, fires on the right!  What kind of place IS this?!’…..welcome to Jasper!”

Even the wildlife wants to get in on it.  We have wild animals around every corner here.  Wolves, bears, elk, cougar, bighorn sheep…you name it, we got it.  The coyotes love to trot down the middle of the road, forcing me to slow down, following their swishing tails as they giggle amongst themselves.  And there are suicidal squirrels.  They dash across the road in front of your car. And if one car doesn’t hit them, they dash back again hoping another car will.  And do not get me started on the damn elk.  They own the hotel property.  We even have to put up signs that warn the tourists about them.  Think: Horses With Attitude.  They are that big, and the girls are bitches.  Truly.  One night, while I was out-of-town, my honey gives me a call while he’s out walking the dogs.  In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly sounds out of breath and starts exclaiming, “Oh, OH OKAY – I’m going I’m going, shoo SHOO—AAAHHH! I’ll call you back!” and hangs up.  He called back after a harrowing 5 minutes, to tell me that a she-elk had chased him all the way up our front steps into our doorway.  He had to slam the front door in her face.  Welcome to Jasper.

Lest you think I have only complaints, bear with me.  I grew up moving every 2 years of my life as we followed my father’s Foreign Service assignments all over the globe.  He specialized in communist and socialist countries, so you can imagine the scenic spots of tranquility in which we lived.  Russia, China, Malaysia…places where you only drank the water if you wanted to die a terrible poop-filled death, and where a walk to school meant possible encounters with cobras so our mother gave us walking sticks with which to beat the bushes along the way.  To me, Canada is Paradise.  The people are gentle and kind, polite and modest.  The animals might kill you and eat you, but a grizzly bear just doesn’t seem as sneaky and evil as a poisonous snake.  You give the bears their space and respect, and they usually mind their own business and leave you to yours.  Give me a thousand ocean sunsets and I will still hold out for one perfect sunrise in the mountains.  The air is crisp and clean and the sky is big and blue.  In the woods next to our new house in Jasper, the whole Circle of Life takes place.  Out of our kitchen window, we watch Mama elk give birth to precious spotted brown calves with wobbly legs.  Mama grizzly bears come along to kill and eat the calves to feed to their cubs.  Coyotes tag along to pick up the scraps.  All the while, the loons on the lake behind our house croon a soundtrack to our new life.  It’s terrible, it’s heartbreaking, it’s beautiful, and it’s now all ours.  Most importantly, wherever we go and whatever we do, we do as a family, and that makes this Home.  Welcome to Jasper.

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