Northern BC

Hey, so I went up to the deepest wilds of Northern BC for work recently.  First time being away from the baby, which was kind of weird but 100% fine.  It helped that we had out last nursing session 3 days earlier (the milk dried up, and she was cool with it, reaching for a sippy cup when she found nothing else to drink).  But really, it was bizarrely, totally fine to be away from the kid and the husband for 4 full days.  It was a worthwhile trip, too.  It’s one thing to learn about jointed tubing, and it’s another thing to stand on a drill floor 30 meters above the ground and see what the kelly floor looks like, and how the tubing gets there, you know?

It’s also just nice to get our of town for a few days.  We flew up in a small commercial plane – small enough that there were propellers, and at row 5, I was halfway to the back of the plane. Nice smooth ride up – just bunnyhopping north and westwards.

Whee!

Whee!

Then the three of us (I was traveling with two coworkers) got to ride in a 4 seater chopper, and because I begged, I got to sit in the front with the super hot Australian pilot.  (For some reason, in the bush, all the pilots are young Australian men?  No complaints.)

DOUBLE WHEE!

DOUBLE WHEE!

I wanted to be in the front for the views – the cute pilot was just a bonus.  It’s just so vast and empty, I can’t even tell you.  There are occasional thin strands of “roads”, trails at best, made by energy companies, used by 4x4s, and quickly reclaimed by nature.  Random rivers and lakes and creeks and oxbows and it’s like a geography lesson from above.

I was reading the most recent Game of Thrones book, and these isolated strands of white trees made me think of Godswoods and being north of the Wall. I am a nerd.

I was reading the most recent Game of Thrones book, and these isolated strands of white trees made me think of Godswoods and being north of the Wall. I am a nerd.

It’s really, really far north.  Camp’s about 58 degrees north, and the Arctic Circle starts at 66 degrees.  I was there a week before Solstice.  The sun officially set around 11:30, and rose again around 3:30.  It barely got dark.  I found it hard to sleep, because at 12:30, it was still almost bright enough out to read by.

This picture was taken around 11:30 at night.

This picture was taken around 11:30 at night.

It also screwed up my schedule, because when someone said “Let’s go bear hunting”, it made sense to go, because it looked like 7pm brightness out all evening.  Of course, it was actually 10 pm, but whatever, there were bears!

Baby bear!  Mama's hiding in the bushes.

Baby bear! Mama’s hiding in the bushes.

"Bear hunting" is when you slowly drive the 22 km to the main highway and count all the bears you see, from the safety of your pickup truck.

“Bear hunting” is when you slowly drive the 20 km to the main highway and count all the bears you see, from the safety of your pickup truck.  (This photo was taken at 11 pm.)

I saw 7 bears, and was thoroughly delighted.  I’ve seen bears many times before, but it’s still a novelty.  Even after taking the Bear Awareness course at work, and seeing videos of bears climbing trees and polar bear cubs covered in seal blood.  Bears are still neat!  (If, you know, super dangerous wild animals who under no circumstances ever should you attempt to pet.)

Just call me Brian, in my super hot borrowed coveralls.

Just call me Brian, in my super hot borrowed coveralls.

Seeing the site was great, getting to walk around unescorted was nice, getting the various companies to explain their processes to me was really helpful (and understanding at least 70% of what they were saying was even better!)…  The food was excellent, as is always the case in dry, remote camps.  (12 hour shifts, no booze, nothing to do but sleep and workout when not on site…  the food HAS to be good to keep people happy.)

Flying home was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but at least I was on a mostly empty 737, and so got my own row for all three hops.  We were unfortunately grounded in Edmonton, due to lighting and tornadoes and shit.  By grounded, I mean trapped in a plane for three fucking hours, while the plane was pulled in to the hanger.  It was terrible.  The 6 of us left on the plane could have rented a car and driven home faster, especially once they found a mechanical problem, and then had to wait for 15 other planes to take off in front of us.  I was fine being away from the baby until then, and then I got twitchy and frustrated and really wanted to be home.  (I should have beaten D and J home from work, not got there just before bedtime.)  On the upside, I got to read 650 of the Dances with Dragons book, so that was nice.

It's a good thing I'm not a nervous flier, because the landing was like an intense roller coaster ride of bouncing and tilting.

It’s a good thing I’m not a nervous flier, because the landing was like an intense roller coaster ride of bouncing and tilting.

When I finally got home, I had D bring J up to the main floor so that she could see me walk back in the front door, after watching me leave a few days earlier.  She saw me coming up the walk and got frantic with excitement, and was pawing at the door while D unlocked it.  I scooped her up in a hug and she nuzzled right in, for a second.  And then refused to even so much as glance at me for the next thirty minutes.  Wouldn’t let go of me, but was so clearly, adorably punishing me for leaving by purposefully refusing to look at me.  It was cute.  We cuddled and talked and then I read her a few books and then she was fine.

I’m glad I went, I was glad to come home.  Which is all I ask of any trip ever, basically.  Just nice that this one didn’t, you know, cost me cash dollars like all my other trips do.  Also, bears!

Dad

My dad died three years ago.  Three and a half now, really.  At the end of January, although I couldn’t swear on the date.  My memories of how it felt are vivid, but a calendar is conspicuously absent when I talk about his illness and death.  He was diagnosed in May, I think?  Or maybe June?  He did three rounds of chemo, I think, but maybe just two, or four.  Was it the same number of rounds of radiation as chemo, or not?  I think they just did radiation on the brain, but couldn’t swear to that.

But I remember how fucking terrible that Christmas was, so clearly.  I remember the hospital bed in the living room that he wasn’t quite in, yet.  Not for a few more days, so we covered it in presents to make up for the lack of tree, or any other festive trappings.  I remember the night he died with achingly clarity, and the taste of cold McDonald fries eaten in the emergency ward.  I remember most of all the horrible feeling of waiting.  Death was waiting in the wings, but we didn’t know if we had hours or days left, and so we went home to sleep for a few hours.  And that is, of course, when he died.  (I don’t know yet how to feel about that.  Mainly I don’t.  Can’t.  Wont.)

On Father’s Day, everyone on my whole fucking facebook feed (hyperbole) put a picture of them dancing with their daddies at their weddings.  And I refused to have any of the feelings.  Or to address Father’s Day on social media in any way.  (David got a card and a book and some booze.  Low key for sure.)  We were never big on Hallmark holidays growing up, so they day doesn’t actually carry that much emotional punch for me, but clearly it does a bit, because I’m typing this out.  It certainly carries more punch than his actual day of death, considering I only remember that a week later this year.  I don’t have any pictures of my dad at my wedding, obviously.  I don’t have any pictures I can bear to look at from the year before that, either.  (Jesus.  I just found a single picture on FB from a family wedding in July of 2009, at least two chemo rounds in, and I can’t even look at it.  Skeletal is the only word for it, and it got nothing but worse from there.)

You know, it’s not that I miss my dad more on some randomly assigned Sunday in June.  It’s that on this one, randomly assigned Sunday in June that I am more acutely aware of the big alive-father-shaped-hole in my life.  And it fucking sucks.

Don’t smoke, kids.  That shit will kill you in a terrible way, and leave behind a person-shaped-hole behind that will haunt your family for the rest of their lives.

Fuck.

On Vacations

Dallas was a nice trip.  We saw a bunch, ate some good food, bought a few things, and had more than one family nap.  (I love family naps.)  It was a relaxing, enjoyable trip, and I’ll try and get a few pictures up eventually.  The funny thing is how people have reacted to our choice of destination.  We’ve both had variations on the following conversation a few times.

“But… Dallas?  Why?”  “Why not?”  “Oh, you must have friends down there?” “No.”  “Is the weather great or something?”  “Not really – I mean, there’s no snow, but it’s still hoodie weather.”  “So what are you going to do for 10 days?”  “The JFK stuff, for sure, and otherwise, we’ll find something to do.  It’s a big city – there’s always something to see.”  “You’re not making plans??”  “Nah, we’ll wing it – I’m sure it will work out!”

And it totally did.  I stand by the fact that you can find something to do for a week in just about every place, ever, if you make some effort.  It’s certainly easier in a town with an aquarium, a zoo, a half dozen museums and a presidential assassination site, but there’s always something.  (And the less there is that you need to see, the more naps you can have.)

As for the why Dallas and not somewhere else?  Well, that one’s a little bit funnier, at least to me.

We had always planned to take a vacation right before my mat leave ends, but we held off on deciding where until the NHL strike resolved.  It finally did, and my hockey-crazy husband put down Dallas and Miami as two options.  I added New Orleans to the list on the ‘domestic’ side, and Jamaica and Cuba on the tropical side.   We decided against Cuba due to the fact that everyone we talk to complains about the food, and after getting sick on our last resort trip, we weren’t eager to go through that again.  New Orleans fell off because the timing in regards to Mardi Gras wasn’t good – not that I wouldn’t like to see it, but not so much with an 11 month baby and trying to get a hotel at the last minute.  The only logical way for us to get to Miami is through Dallas, and added 4 hours to a flight day with a baby, which would have liveable but not awesome.  So the toss up became random city wander in Dallas versus a resort trip to Jamaica.  And we’d just done a resort trip, so Dallas it was!

The Wall of Map

The Wall of Map

Plus, and this is actually no small consideration, Dallas allowed us to get THREE pins on our giant map of the world that hangs in our dining room.  It’s 6 feet long.  And we use colour coded pins to show where I’ve gone (white), David’s gone (blue), we’ve gone (red) and us plus J have gone (orange).   It’s so nerdy, but I love it.  LOVE IT.  It also handily covers up a wall that the previous owners did some form of crappy finish on, so a giant map takes away from the faux-finish, which is a nice bonus.  But really, I just love looking at maps, and looking at all the places I’ve been, and getting a daily reminder of how much I like my life.  Which is a pretty good return on a $50 piece of paper!

It’s fun to look at, too.  When we have parties, you’ll always find someone looking at the map, often comparing stories with someone else.  It’s a good conversation piece.

This shows a lot of different trips

This shows a lot of different trips

It’s also fun to look at where we’ve been.  I’ve got furthest north (Fort Nelson in northern BC), furthest east (Oman) and furthest south (Costa Rica) covered.  David wins the west with Hawaii.  The Yucatan has three pins of three different colours all clustered together – a white one for the trip to Cozumel with my parents in high school, an orange one for our trip to Cancun last year, and a red one for Chitzen Itza, which we did without J.  I totally win the Pacific North West, due to road trips years ago, and David dominates Europe, due to a post-university 3 month trip.  Interestingly, there are only 3 pins for places we’ve both been but separately: Orlando, Toronto and London.

We may

We may use this as a suggestion list when trip planning…

I won’t lie to you – some of our vacations, like Dallas, are influenced by the empty spaces in the map.  Sure, we have to want to see them, but filling in that blank southern expanse of America was a consideration on our trip.  It certainly is why we took a day trip to Waco.  I mean, that and the Dr Pepper museum, of course.  Because you on vacation – why not drive 4 hours round trip to check out a museum, a mammoth burial site and get a pin for the wall?  (Oh, yeah, we’re fun to travel with.  It’s a good thing that we both enjoy this kind of ridiculousness.)

The only one worth going to is Oman

The only one worth going to is Oman

Man, I love going on vacations.  I know I’ve said this a bunch of times, but I really, really do.  And I am so pleased that we’ve managed to integrate J in to our vacation-life as smoothly as we have.  That’s one of my biggest fears about parenthood, proven wrong.

Christmas

A little on the late side, but here we go.

Christmas was lovely.  The relativity short family time windows were relaxed and pleasant.  The gifts were generous.  The baby was adorable.  It was a lovely holiday.

Portrait of young girl with tree

Portrait of young girl with tree

New traditions were explored.  I personally like the Santa myth, so we’re going to push it a little, and we totally used this year as a practice run.  For example: all the presents from us were wrapped in white and silver wrapping paper (Ikea makes the best Christmas paper) and everything from Santa was in bright garish paper.  Jess “opened” a present on Christmas Eve – something I always loved doing as a kid.  But this year, it was festive pjs, and as a friend of mine pointed out, the problem with doing that is that they get them near the end of the festive season, not at the beginning, where you’d get more use out of them.  So next year, Jess will get cute Christmas pjs on the 1st of December (all other organizational skills being equal…).  David and I did advent calendars again – lego and playmobile.   My inner six year old loves them.

Christmas imp in new pjs

Christmas imp in new pjs

One of the big things that my family always did differently, growing up, was to spread the present opening out.  On Christmas Eve, you got a present.  (The compromise from my father’s German upbringing when everything was opened on the Eve.)  Christmas Morning you got stockings, and Christmas afternoon you got to open a few presents, and the rest of the day was spent eating and playing games and going to family dinners.  Boxing Day you’d open another presents, and then maybe 2 days later you’d open another one, and it finally wrapped up by New Year’s Eve, at the latest.

Nom nom nom

Nom nom nom

Now, that makes it sound like there was a ton of presents, but really, there wasn’t – it was just spread out more so that it felt like more.  The anticipation of opening gifts was often more exciting that the gifts themselves.  (So many socks.)   It was great in many ways, because the holiday felt longer, and richer, and the anticipation went on.  My mom’s birthday is mid-December, and the house rule was that you couldn’t start any form of Christmas decorations or celebrations until December 14th, so we couldn’t stretch the holiday out earlier in the month.

Dec 28, and still a few more presents to go

Dec 28, and still a few more presents to go

I think this is actually a great tradition, but it does mean that I am super, super uncomfortable around people who just like, dive in and are done opening things by 10 am on Christmas Morning.  In part because I just don’t get it, and in part because opening that much stuff – that much conspicuous consumption all at one – makes me squirm.   It seems harder to enjoy each present because you’re so overwhelmed by ALL THE STUFF.   Harder to be genuinely excited by each gift.  Harder to remember all that you received.  Harder to teach the baby about gratitude and appreciation and leisurely holidays.  I’m not saying that everyone else is doing it wrong or anything – just that it’s wrong for me, and I like the way we do it.  It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to learn that growing up only one person opened a gift at a time, and it was then passed around and duly admired before the next person took their turn.  Luckily David is willing to go with my delayed gift opening, even if he doesn’t fully understand why opening a pile of presents all at once makes me squirm.

Dec 31 and Jess finally figured out how to rip wrapping paper

Jan 2 and Jess finally figured out how to rip wrapping paper

One nice perk for this is that by the end of the week, Jess finally figured out the hows and whys of ripping wrapping paper.  That picture is of the very last present that she opened, and it was the first one where she did much of the paper removal.  She was really, really excited to have figured it out, and it was adorable.

It was a lovely week.  David was home, and we had very little to do and just hung out and played games and snuggled the baby and opened presents and ate food and watched shows and drank drinks and generally enjoyed the hell out of each other’s company.  Just lovely.

Our Christmas tree, and all our gifts, including the best one - the one in the Tigger shirt

Our Christmas tree, and all our gifts, including the best one – the one in the Tigger shirt

Christmases past

The first death happened late spring of my 4th grade – my Grandma K dropped dead of a heart attack, a totally unexpected thing.  The first Christmas after that was hard – my dad took the death of his mother very badly, and the first Christmas after any loss is tough.  My Grandpa K died in November of grade 6 – a long slow terrible death from emphysema.  In grade 7, on the last day of classes before the Christmas break, my uncle Johnny was terribly injured on the job, and he lingered until the quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s.  The whole vacation was spent sitting in the ICU waiting room, and it was terrible.  In grade 9, my Grandma W died just before New Year, in the hospice we’d spent a wrenching Christmas watching the cancer finally win.  Grandpa W died when I was in grade 12, not long before Christmas, finally succumbing in the same hospice as his wife, also to cancer.

So what I’m trying to say is that Christmas?  Wasn’t exactly a festive happy season for me, growing up.  Christmas was the time where people died, and even on years blessedly free of funerals, the memories were always so close to the surface.

That combined badly with my mother’s rabid hatred of shopping and deep theological issues with the church she’d been raised in.  One year, in grade 12, she canceled the holiday outright.  (Gave us the option of not having Christmas in Calgary, or not having Christmas in Mexico.  Mexico was lovely.)

So I grew up being, at best, ambivalent towards the holiday. It helped when my mother put her foot down and started to refuse attending more than one Christmas events in a single day, and cutting out trips to visit my grandparents on Boxing Day, three hour away.  Before that, on the edges of my memories, were Christmases mainly marked by stress and frustration.  After that, were less spoken family tensions, but at least we started to have pleasant Christmas mornings.

As a young adult, navigating Christmases with my ex’s family was a stressful nightmare that would start in November and involve a  month of back and forth and crying and manipulation and guilt and stress and general horribleness.  (I really, really don’t miss that.)

The Christmases of my childhood were full of unspoken family tension and tears.  The Christmases of my school years were full of death and funerals and tears.  The Christmases of my young adulthood were full of loud family tensions and tears.

 

I refuse to let this be the legacy my daughter grows up with.

 

We haven’t quite figured out how yet, and god knows you can’t avoid deaths, but we can at the very least deal with scheduling multiple family gatherings calmly, well beforehand and not allowing waffling after the final decision is made.  We’re also insisting on not traveling for Christmas this year – baby’s first Christmas and all.  (Next year, it will be baby’s first Christmas where she knows what’s going on, and the year after maybe the future hypothetical baby’s first Christmas, and I am willing to keep coming up with stuff for as long as I have to, if it means I can wake up on Christmas morning in my own bed.  Or in Mexico – that can be quite nice too.)  It helps that all the grandparents are being calm and rational about it, and everyone recognizes that, free of any close ties to the religious nature of the holiday, there’s no difference celebrating family together on Boxing Day instead.  Or on Dec 28th, for that matter.  When Jess is old enough to care about Santa, that might change things a little, but then, it’s better if you’re at home so Santa can find you, right?  But seriously, I am willing to travel the couple of hours south to spend Christmas with my inlaws – I have in the past – but with a little baby it’s SO much easier to stay home, and everyone seems to get that.  Also, neither one of our sisters will be home for the holidays, so it’s a very small number of people’s feelings that need to be taken in to account.  So we’ve eliminated the fighting over Christmas drama.  Our sisters not being home eliminates the sibling drama that made last year’s Christmas rather shitty.   We have a long standing family dinner at my aunt’s house on Christmas Day, but that’s it for driving around.  (And she lives like, 7 minutes away from us.) What else.  Presents: I actually like buying and receiving presents.  On mat leave, I don’t have to fight Saturday crows at the mall, instead free to go at 10 am on a Tuesday and cut down that stress.  I have a pretty good idea of what everyone’s getting already, and figuring out the rest doesn’t stress me out.  We’ll actually decorate the house this year – I know Jess will love looking at the shiny lights and other pretty things, and so far, she’s not mobile enough to be a big threat to a tree.  (Well, this week, anyway…)

My 2012 Christmas resolution is to start a new tradition of calm, pleasant holidays, with the minimum possible level of crying and drama and stress.  Fingers crossed!