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.







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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