Going Home for Christmas / Going South

Once upon a time, I lived in a city that was a few hours north-east of my hometown. At the time I didn’t have a car (or a driver’s license, for that matter) so visiting my parents usually meant a long Greyhound trip. Sometimes, though, the train tickets went on a big enough sale that I could mentally justify the expense of the much pleasanter rail trip. I loved taking the train — still do, really.

One of the funny things about traveling between these two cities was that winter arrived in them at different times. About a decade ago I took the train home for Christmas, and while it was thoroughly cold and snowy in the city where I lived, it was really still just late fall where I was going. It was so odd to see the scenery change from winter to fall, as if a time-lapse film were playing in reverse.

Naturally, I wrote a poem about the experience. It has just been published by The Scriblerus in their Spring 2021 “travel” issue and you can read it here.

In which I come out of a particularly Canadian closet

Although my husband and I have been living in the United States for about five years now, we are Canadian, and occasionally manage to get back home to Ontario to see family and all that jazz. We just got back from a lovely week-long visit, seeing various people in various cities, and it’s given me some things to mull over.

I had forgotten the strong undercurrent of anti-American sentiment that runs through Canadian culture. Or not forgotten, exactly, but I had been able to put it aside for a time while living in this country that, for all its faults and for all that I remain exquisitely conscious of being foreign, I do very much enjoy. But when people found out that we live in the US, the questions immediately followed as to why we were living there and what we thought of the current president — mostly from strangers, and seeming less from curiosity than with an interest in having us prove our credentials. (I was also reminded that geographical ignorance runs both ways, when a parking lot attendant in a border city asked us where our State is located, while completely butchering its pronunciation.) Strangers felt comfortable saying things about America and Americans to us because those things are generally comfortable to say in Canada. We can rattle off the stereotypes pretty easily: Americans are loud, boorish, arrogant, jingoistic, outrageously fat, ignorant, racist, monolingual, radically capitalist gun nuts.

It’s amazing to me both how pervasive and how subtle this can be. When we moved to the US five years ago, one of the things that surprised me was how nice everyone was. The Americans we were running into were, on the whole, pretty kind people. They were easygoing, open, and friendly. Many of them have been extraordinarily generous to us. Are there Americans who display some of the stereotypical qualities outlined above? Of course there are. But in my experience, they’re not the majority, not by a long shot. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was running into pleasant Americans. I should probably have been more surprised at my surprise.

It’s not like I hadn’t had contact with the United States before coming to live here. Good grief, half my family is American. My mother was born in Maryland; surely that means I am partly American myself, by heritage if not by citizenship. But it’s something I’ve tended to downplay, because admitting that you like Americans or that you are one is often met in Canada, if not with hostility, at least with a certain degree of suspicion. My mother, emigrating with her parents in the early 1970s, was met by her classmates with cries of “Yankee go home!” In forty or so years, I’m not sure how much has changed.

But this is where I live if not for the long term, then at least for now. Some of our dearest friends are American, as our three quarters of our children’s godparents. I have a Canadian brother-in-law who took American citizenship. Half my extended family lives here or is from here — and of course, our children were born Stateside and so are dual citizens (Canadian through us, American by birth). I like America. I like Americans. There, I said it.

This is not to say that I think the United States is problem-free. Do I think that a two-party system of government is completely bananas? Do I think that American healthcare is deeply broken ? Are America’s lingering racial wounds sometimes all too obvious? Yes, yes, and yes. We have run into our fair share of cultural differences here, some of which have been truly head-scratching. But just like you can love a family member without loving all of the decisions they make, you can love a people without loving all of the institutions under which they abide. I don’t think there is any inherent conflict there (after all, many Americans don’t love all of the institutions that shape their country either). Liking Americans shouldn’t have to mean approving of everything about America. Similarly, disapproving of certain things about America shouldn’t have to mean automatically disliking Americans.

And so I’m coming out of this particular Maple-emblazoned closet: My name is Christine. I am Canadian. And I think that Americans are pretty ok.

Thankful (a non-exhaustive list)

  • Light interstate traffic
  • Frozen pizza and sparkling apple cider
  • Neighbours who pick up packages
  • Anselm’s recent 3rd birthday (astonishing)
  • Perpetua’s language explosion this past week or so (new words incl: baby, puppy, all done, ding ding, Perpetua, Anselm, bye-bye, shoes, yes, no)
  • Yoga pants, woolly socks, and hoodies
  • Friends who are family
  • Those who practice anonymous generosity upon us
  • The finding of lost items
  • Play-doh, Candyland, new books, and puzzles
  • Clean sheets on a made bed in a tidy room

We went to Ocean City…

… and all we got was this lousy view:

Terrible, no? This was taken from the back deck of the house where we stayed. (Yes… we were spoiled rotten.)

We got back on Saturday from a somewhat spontaneous mini-vacation! Someone we know owns a townhouse in Ocean City and offered us a chance to stay there if we liked… which we definitely did. So my husband took a few days off work, we packed the kids and the car, and took off for a quick Wed-Sat date with the ocean.

The drives both went well; we’re frequent roadtrippers (Perpetua had five trips of 4+ hours under her belt before her first birthday), so our kids are really very good in the car. I am glad that we’ve had an “early and often” mindset when it comes to travel; in our experience, if you start them young it only gets easier as you go along. I would hate to be facing down a first trip with, say, a five and a three year old who had never done it before.

Ocean City itself reminds me of Niagara Falls: kinda junky, kinda tourist-trappy, but the natural wonder you are there to see lives up to its reputation. Early fall definitely seems like the time to go: the weather is still nice, the ocean is cold but not frigid, and (most importantly) nobody else is there. We had the beach nearly to ourselves most of the time, and if it’s sometimes hard to find a restaurant that’s open weekdays, that’s a small price to pay. It is a little weird walking around the city in the off-season — there’s a definite ghost town vibe. But honestly, a vacation with no one else around is pretty much our ideal situation (being a family of introverted homebodies). It was great.

The water was too cold and our kids too young for swimming, but we walked in the surf and played in the sand. Perpetua took off running straight toward the water every time we set her down. Anselm hung back quite a bit more but still enjoyed getting his feet wet. We didn’t get as much sleep as we would have liked — Anselm was up before sunrise on more that one occasion — but it may be true what they say, that a change is as good as a rest. It was good to have gone, and good to be back. I am grateful.

Road trip with an infant: achievement unlocked

As I write this, the baby is upstairs asleep, Stan is watching the Canada-England soccer match, and the rain is falling steadily as it has done all day. We are all various degrees of exhausted, but also pleased with our accomplishment: three days and two nights in a hotel, just a few hours away, with fair success and no disasters. We’re even unpacked.

This mini-roadtrip was the perfect practice for a longer trip we’ll be taking this summer (and one that’s probably going to be even longer sometime in the fall) — so special thanks to my cousins A and K for getting married. Anselm coped with the hotel / disturbed nap schedule / extended family hoopla / etc. a lot better than we had anticipated, which is encouraging.

Some things for me to remember for next time (because I need to write them down somewhere … and I can’t lose a blog post):

1. Hotel rooms are cold. Bring socks for the baby!

2. Our car gets about five, five-and-a-half hours’ of highway driving on a half tank of gas.

3. Sleeping: at home, Anselm sleeps on a mattress next to our bed. We didn’t bring it with us because the hotel would provide a crib & we figured on using that mattress. We did so; but it was small and hard, and next time it might be easier to just bring the crib mattress. Bringing Anselm’s sheet so that his bed smelled the same was probably helpful.

4. Next time, more snack food. Always more snack food.

5. I’m pretty sure it’s true what they say: Ohio drivers are just the worst.

6. The best time to leave looks like immediately after breakfast. Pack as much as possible the night before, get up, shower and eat, feed the baby, nurse the baby, and go. He should sleep for a good hour or two if you get on the road soon enough. Otherwise he’ll only fall asleep in the ten minutes before the next rest stop, leading to the eternal conundrum: wake the baby or pee one’s pants? Both terrible options.

7. Don’t forget to update the GPS. And be thankful for friendly park rangers.

8. You will feel bad because your baby cries in the night and hotel walls are thin. But then your bed will start shaking in sync with your next door neighbour’s… athletic… activities, and you will shrug and call it even. In hotel living, nobody wins.

Trip Notes (III and final)

Coming home from vacation is nicer when you come home to this (click to embiggen):

Here’s the breakdown:

Mooched:

  • Letters to Karen, by Charlie W. Shedd
  • Letters to Philip, by Charlie W. Shedd
  • Priceless Weddings for under $5000, by Kathleen Kennedy

Sent from Phenix & Phenix:

  • Runaway, by Steve Simpson
  • Castaway Kid, by R. B. Mitchell
  • Genuine Men, by Nancy Bruno
  • The Last Plague, by Glen E. Page
  • It Starts with You!, by Julia J. Austin

Sent from Bloomsbury Press:

  • The Power Makers, by Maury Klein

Bought from Thrift Store:

  • London, by Edward Rutherfurd
  • My Antonia, by Willa Cather
  • The Best American Mystery Stories 2000, ed. by Donald E. Westlake

From my Grandmother:

  • The Living Planet, by David Attenborough
  • Great Canadian Short Stories, ed. by Alec Lucas (not pictured)

That’s fourteen lovely new books to (re/)read. Woohoo!

Trip Notes (II)

(1) If you wait an extra five days to buy your plane tickets, they will suddenly be $600 more expensive. Don’t do this. So long, easy flight home! It was nice dreaming about you. I’ll be in the car.

(2) When dining at Mary’s Kountry Kitchen, be aware: “Petite Portions” are exactly that. Also, I think that people need to stop with the kutesy kountry spellings. Please.

(3) When it comes to homesickness, I think that it’s the little things that count most. Being in a different country? That’s fine. All of the locks on doors turning in the wrong direction? That’s a bit jarring.

(4) Things elderly American men want to know:

  • You’re from Canada?
  • What’s the price of gasoline up there?
  • How many litres are there in a gallon?
  • Do you import most of your oil?
  • How’s the governor general doing?
  • You sure have a pretty country up there.
  • Do you speak French?
  • I hope you appreciate your grandmother.

Trip Notes (I)

(1) Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I observed the first scarlet leaves of, um, summer.

(2) Went to the Barnes Foundation Museum on Sunday. Saw 181 Renoirs, almost 70 Cézannes, also numerous Matisse paintings, Soutine, Picasso, Rousseau, etc. Renoir I like very much. Matisse I do not like at all. Soutine I like. Rousseau I don’t think was particularly good at doing faces, but I think I liked his stuff overall. And thus concludes your armchair tour of Impressionism.

(3) Also saw my new favourite painting in the world ever, for which I cannot find a representation online. It’s called something like “Two Women on the Shore, Mediterranean,” and was painted in 1896 by French pointilist painter Henri-Edmund Cross. It’s gorgeous. And I didn’t even remember to take a picture of it . . .

(4) The sun makes me sad. I have gotten overheated two days in a row (not burned, just too hot for too long) and have been sadly crawling around the house feeling cold and sleepy.

(5) But on the plus side, there are lots and lots of books to read here!

(6) Lots!

Huzzarp!

On Wednesday night I handed in my last paper and had my last class until September.

Last night, I did the last of my work at my second summer job.

Free, free!

Well, free to work more hours at summer job number one, is really what it comes down to. But also free to stop reading boring essays about reader-response criticism from this book. And free to not write boring essays about reader-response criticism.

Theoretically, I’m free to post more here . . . but not this coming week! I am a-travelling down Statesward, for my grandmother’s 85th birthday shindig. Posting, I expect, will continue to be light.

In the mean time, I’ve started packing and must decide on what books to bring along. The trip begins with a twelve-hour drive and ends with another one, and so I’m picking great chunky books that are likely to last more than an hour or two apiece. So far, my picks are these:

Four Fires is a newish novel by Bryce Courtenay — one of my favourite novelists — and it’s huge! My copy comes in at 992 pages, which is only 16 pages less than the Tolkein. I can knock books this size down pretty quickly, but between the two of them I think I’ve got a lot of car time covered. As for the two Baldacci books, I haven’t read them and don’t really know what they’re about, but they were were given to me to read by my friend H, and so I’ll take them along as well.

And soon I will be gone! My TBR pile has been dwindling in an alarming fashion, but I am expecting nine or ten books to arrive in the mail soonish — and so hopefully I’ll have a nice pile to come back to.