December 8, 2014

Perfect imperfection

The holiday season is upon us all once again. 

In our house, the tree is up, the lights adorn our front porch, our Elf on the Shelf is providing daily delight (YES, I said DELIGHT… haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate… thank you Taylor Swift), gift purchases are well under way and various Christmas parties are filling up the calendar.

It’s not an easy time for everyone, let’s admit that. 

Mostly, it's because life doesn't stop just because Christmas rolls around, much as we may like it to. 

Krinkle, our Elf on the Shelf. Animal lover, or
 is this bear his captive?!
In the last few months, my wife has been wildly overworked, my daughter basically cut off the top of one of her fingers—thankfully, it was successfully reattached and she’s recovering well—, my son is navigating the social adjustments that come with a grade one class, and I myself am recovering from a minor yet invasive and intensely painful surgery.

Outside of our house, it goes on, too. One of my colleagues badly injured her foot a few weeks ago and will spend the holidays trying to heal as best she can, faced only with the likely prospects of surgery ahead (turns out having your foot run over isn't the comedy show that movies would suggest).

Closer to home, I know my brother is probably feeling a bit of the blues as we inch closer to Christmas. There is very little of our family left in Kamloops now, and we grew up in a house that regularly gathered 18 people on average. Even my brothers' parents’ in law are escaping Kamloops this year, so they won’t even have his wife’s folks around. A quiet Christmas is a strange prospect for him.

Still close to home, my best friend lost his mother to cancer in the last few weeks. He, his siblings and their father are staring down the barrel of their first Christmas without a cornerstone of their family to share in the holidays. The progression of the cancer in past weeks was so rapid that the plans went from travelling abroad for a last Christmas, to ‘maybe we can make it to Christmas’, to ‘Christmas will be a miracle’, to having already had to memorialize her loss.

Point is, there are undercurrents to Christmas that don’t mirror the happy reflections we see in store windows. Loneliness, displacement and loss are only amplified during the Christmas season.
Look! Even Vancouver can get some Christmassy
frost... in the shadow... on an otherwise sunny beach... 

When I think about The Reason for the Season, I have to admit… some of this chaos feels... familiar....maybe even makes sense. The Christmas Story isn't exactly all sugarplums and eggnog, y'know? Was Mary feeling delight and goodwill toward mankind, faced only with the displacement and discomfort of having a baby in a dirty donkey stall?

Uh, I expect not.

It’s not the birth story we would want for ourselves, to be sure, but its an accurate reflection of how our lives--even during a blessed event--can be a bit cray-cray (as the kids say).

Here we have a holiday founded on the very idea that life throws major curveballs.  But it’s in that perfect imperfection that I think the true holiday spirit belongs. We all lead busy lives, and in doing so, we walk down paths it isolation, injury, and illness at times. And sometimes, those days happen to be around Christmas.

We can still find beauty if we care to look for it. 

If you are in a position to dread Christmas a bit this year, I hope you find a way to let some of the happiness of the season in. Succumb to the lights, the music, the Spirit if so moved, and know that there are others (people like me), thinking of you, feeling a bit of your pain, but despite it all, hoping you have a Very. Merry. Christmas

Perhaps the Chase Family Video Christmas Card, below, can help spread a little merry? ENJOY! NO Bah-humbugging! Also, though our house delights in the elf on the shelf, this video is free of such items, if that is any incentive to any of you. 

As for me: Kate and I will, for the first time EVER, be having Christmas morning in our own house; just the immediate family. I am SO looking forward to it. 

Whatever your plans are, I hope you find a way to enjoy the holidays, too. 

Merry Christmas, y'all! 

October 2, 2014

35 years--Happy birthday to me!

So, year #35 is here. Or is it actually my 36th year now? I never know how these things work.

I digress.

I feel like the past year was foundation for a great year ahead. Settling into my role at work. Goofy, interesting, intelligent kids in school / preschool, and game for adventure outside of it. Kate taking on interesting and challenging work. Taking up sprint race kayaking again for the first time since 2004, and doing all the fitness that goes along with that. I feel very blessed that the big buckets of health, family life and work have been keeping me well fulfilled.

Goofy kid being goofy

Looking forward, we're pretty much all done with our home improvements and can enjoy what's there. The battles with the raccoons seem to be over for the most part (see previous postings).

I thoroughly enjoy my work which constantly has me learning new things and developing great relationships... and my colleagues send me cards like this, which means they also share a good sense of humour:

I have a wonderfully supportive family who lets me get away with being on the water a few days a week, which has been very rewarding for me since I got back in the boat in the Spring. I made it out to the last regatta of the season at the end of September, and I look forward to racing again in 2015. 

My brother phoned me today to wish me a happy birthday and inform me that I'm now officially closer to 40 than to 30.

It's not a thought that worries me.

On the one hand, I could look at our familial track record  of longevity--or distinct, multi-generational lack thereof--and freak out. But it isn't time for a mid-life crisis. It's time to enjoy just how life is. I'm not much worried about the next best thing. I have a lot of gratitude in my life for the fact that the next best thing is every day. I think it's way too easy to get caught up in wondering what's next, or spend too much time fussing on little things that don't add up to much in the end.

Don't get me wrong, the minutiae is important--it's why we have a whiteboard in our kitchen; a snapshot noting each lunch and dinner for the entire week, which kid is where, on what day, and what evening which parent is coming home late for whatever reason.

But the snapshot isn't the big picture. The big picture is 'fulfilled, loved and happy'

Best present ever.

P.S. Acting "Your Age" is overrated. Don't forget to stay a kid at least a little! 

August 13, 2014

Of raccoons and relaxation (or, the summer of surf and turf)

Way too long since the last update, so just gonna pretend I didn't miss a beat, and share a few recent stories of our goings-on... 

Before. Pure bliss. 
The renovation process in our house finally came to a conclusion with the finishing touches of the landscaping. We put in a new flagstone path that wraps around the side of the house, built some big garden boxes for veggies, and, as a piece de le resistance...insta-lawn, baby! 400 (or so) square feet of thick, lush greenery, tying together all the pieces of our now-complete backyard oasis. My sister and her family, who were visiting from the UK, were among the privileged first few to lay eyes on all its unscathed perfection. Wait, unscathed? was there a scathing?

Enter... the raccoons.

There is no debate about their intelligence. There is no debate about their brazen approach. The only debate is whether I admire them or loathe them completely, after what they did to my pristine green, flat, weedless back lawn.
After the carnage... round #1

We had seen them in the yard a few times in the evenings. Two healthy, fat bumbly adults and three adorable babies in tow. For the record, I hold the kits free of any culpability; they just watched as their parents did the dirty work, far as I can tell.

The raccoons adapted nicely to our schedules. If we saw them, we hollered, threw things, sprayed them with the water gun... I even procured a vintage--and battle tested--slingshot from a colleague who spent days of her youth taking out squirrels in the boonies outside of Kamloops. But the raccoons learned pretty quickly not to come around if there was any sign of light or life in our house. And so, in the cover of night's darkeness and silence, they slipped into our yard and wreaked their havoc upon our sweet oasis, neatly rolling back freshly laid sod in search of the sweet worms and grubs they presumed to be beneath.

No, please, ignore me and drink up. 
You must be exhausted after all that tearing my lawn apart.

This whole issue had a real due date for resolution, as my household was going on vacation. What protections could we offer, what lawn could we replace, with no one really around?

Defences had to be established.

One bottle of coyote urine, a handful or rags, a trip to the home depot and 400 square feet of ski fencing and bird netting later, we had our best attempts in place. On hands and knees well into the night, we covered our new lawn completely, tacking it down as well as we could into the soft soil beneath. Soaking the rags in coyote pee, we placed them strategically at the perimeters. This is about the best one can do, to deter the critters, through scent and barriers to access; after all, raccoons cannot read--nor would they care about--a 'stay the f**$ off my lawn' sign.

I was hopeful to be able to use the slingshot against them--not to kill them, just help them associate my lawn with pain, is all--but those adorable vermin are now wise enough not to show during the day or dusk, as previously mentioned. I'm still waiting for my chance, but at this point, I think we're in the clear (I say with hesitance, perhaps). 
Defencing fencing... I think we're winning...

We came back from our vacation, and our sister in law, who has been living with us as she's knuckled down for med school exams--reported relatively positive results. The grass has mostly taken root, and any evidence of overnight visitors has evaporated.

If anyone needs a complete raccoon repellent system, please inquire within.

And, as for that vacation part? well, I won't type out many of the details. I'll let the video do the talking. long story short, a week plus of family and good friends in Quebec and Ontario respectively, lakeside accommodations, swimming, more swimming, train rides, plane rides and some half decent weather to boot.

Next up, school year starts again all to soon... presuming our teacher's strike in B.C. ever comes to an end... say, I think I just thought of the next blog post. But for now, more summer!

May 4, 2014

Post-winter survivor guilt

They say that survivors experience a level of guilt in the wake of a tragedy; knowing that they made it through what so many others did not.

I kind of have this feeling about the winter that is now behind us. Or is behind me, anyway. Seems it's still going on in other parts of the country.

For most of the country, 'snow' became another of those nasty four-letter words this year. Each day, folks would wake up, knowing they'd have a foot of the white stuff to take off their driveways and cars, and do it in -20 temperatures.
Granville island at False Creek

Unless, of course, you live on the Pacific west coast.

*awkward silence*

To the rest of the country--continent, almost--I'm sorry.

I'm sorry it's been Spring for weeks now, but parts of the country keep getting some snow, or freezing weather.

I'm sorry that we had mere inches of snow for a week or less.

I'm sorry that we only dipped into the negative "extreme" temperatures (-10, max) for that same week, somewhere way back in November, or December or something. Maybe January. Whatever. it was so fleeting I've already forgotten it.

I'm sorry that we've been doing yard landscaping for weeks now and cleaning up for Spring.

The walkway project in our yard is coming along! 
I'm sorry that half the photos on my twitter account have been of cherry blossoms in Vancouver... for more than the past month.
This photo was taken on March 13th. Enough said.

I'm sorry my local friends are starting to visit the beaches on the weekends.

We've experienced bike riding, no-jacket weather, eating on the patio in the sunshine and wearing shorts on Saturdays. Yeah, there's rain here and there, no denying it. but at 10 degrees and above--20+ for a few days there--who cares? We have nothing, NOTHING to complain about.

Yeah, this was taken on March 13th as well.
But look, boots. There was a touch of mud. Pity us. 
So to...pretty much everyone outside the south Coast and Pacific Northwest... really, really sorry.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go ride my bike under a canopy of fresh spring blossoms.

No, I'm not kidding. I shot this on my way to work a few weeks back.

OK, that's enough gloating. I've been off the blogging wagon for a bit--more of a catch-up in the next edition!

January 21, 2014

One year ago

One year today. Wow.

There are moments that I forget you are gone.

Like when I seek to phone my brother, but dial six of the seven digits of your phone number instead, so strong is that muscle memory of dialing the house line for decades.

There are moments when I forget you are gone.

Like when your granddaughter sticks her tongue into her cheek in a moment of intense concentration, and I think, ‘I must remember to tell mum how much Heidi looks like her when she does that’.

There are moments when I forget you are gone.

Like when the kids hit a milestone and I wonder about when I hit that milestone myself as a child, and I have an impulse to email you about it, or call, or get on Skype.

But in all those moments, I do snap to the realization that you are not here. I know it’s true: last year on this day, I held your hand as you confirmed your departure.

But in all those moments of remembering that you are not here,  I realize, that in fact, you are still here.

In the ends of my fingertips, in the face of my kids, in my deeply ingrained memories, you are still here.

And always will be.

I—we—miss you, mum. Love you.  

January 6, 2014

What does Gorilla meat taste like, anyway?

“Do we eat puffins?”

In our house, we believe in trying to know where our food comes from, and teaching our kids about such things. It’s why we love growing our own veggies in our backyard. It is a tangible thing, to be able to reach down to the earth, pull out a carrot, a parsnip, or snap a bean off a stalk or pluck a zucchini from the vine… we’re lucky to be able to do it because we have the space, and we’re glad to be able to show our kids ‘this is where produce comes from’.

Meat is a tougher issue, save our friends with their backyard chickens and our ability to show our little ones how eggs can be collected. Often, as far as our kids are concerned, meat comes from a shelf in a store. We have explained to our kids that other animals are killed so that we can eat their meat and if we choose to eat meat, we should be considerate of our choices because of this. Yet somehow, it’s all a bit abstract for them. We’ve never gone fishing (#fail), so they’ve never seen us catch a living thing, kill it, and cook it. But meat ends up on our table. We don’t eat much in the way of big, red meat, so steak and ground beef and the like don’t happen much in our house. Chicken, turkey, pork… these are the meats we know the most of.

Magret de canard...French for Delicious Local Duck :) 
Recently, we started taking delivery of meat from a local urban farm called Urban Digs that sustainably raises cows, pigs, rabbits, ducks and chickens (for those of you in the lower mainland, check 'em out! They do veg as well). Each week, we are getting a ‘Beasty Box’ full of all sorts of good things, some of which we’ve not had in the house before. One week, a rabbit stew. More recently, some duck dishes, just as a few examples. When we got our rabbit stew, my son was most surprised to hear that we would be eating a flopsy-eared bunny wabbit.
“Did someone kill a rabbit for us?” he asked at the time. Well, yes, they must’ve, as I have a bag full of it in my hand... and we had a little conversation about local, sustainable meats. Yay for teachable moments.


Now to the point of my story... last week, as my wife and I read a bed time story to the kids, our daughter stopped us mid-sentence to ask a question. We were reading a book featuring northern animals, and we were on a page showing puffins.
“Do we eat puffins?” our three year-old asked, quizzically. My wife and I looked at each other. 
“Puffins? No, sweetie, we don’t. We eat chickens and turkeys, but not puffins.” Seemed like a fair question, given our interest in telling our kids to be aware of what we eat. But then:
“Why not?,” our son chimed in. “We eat gorillas, right?”

Puffins? Gorrilas? Okay, what was going on here?!

It dawned on me fairly quickly.

yummy! Nothing so delicious as protected species! 
“Are you thinking about our breakfast cereals? Like our gorilla crunch, panda puffs and the puffin squares?”
“Yeah! Those are gorillas!”
Images of any number of international wildlife protection mandates, statutes and sanctions flashed through my head. Mmmm. Love those gorilla puffs. Little gamey, but nice crunch. I could see the headlines now: Cereal killers found poaching endangered species in Vancouver (pause for applause over delicious pun).

Aligned with our values about other food sources, we also tend to buy some organic grain cereals, and the more ‘kid marketed’ products sport the names of various species that some of our purchase price goes to protect. Let me repeat that: we are protecting gorillas and puffins with our cereal purchase. Not eating them.
The kids get a few of these types of cereals sprinkled on top of their fibre flakes or whatever healthy option we’re trying to mask.

Never, in a million years, could I have guessed that in the mind of my children, the ideas were brewing that we eat gorillas. From the mouths of babes. Clearly, we haven't talked quite enough with them about where our grains come from... I guess that's next! 

Ultimately, though, this has reaffirmed to me that we are doing right with our kids to force them to consider where their food comes from. They are being considerate, at a very young age—if not a wee bit misguided, but then, the world is all new to them—as to how we fill our pantry. If they get older and decide they want to go the vegetarian route, we'd support that. But for now, I love the protein punch delivered to my kids in relatively small amounts of meat. Ever met a 'hangry' three year old? It's terrifying. Terr-i-fying... but I digress... 

Yes, we could simply raise our kids as vegetarians, perhaps negating the need for this whole conversation, but holy man, have you ever had magret de canard? I hadn’t until the other day, and, like, wow. I was glad that the duck I ate was raised non-GMO local, manic organic. That’s a sustainability I can sink my teeth into. 

Hopefully, this is passing on a decent message to my kids, too, about consideration for the world we share with other living creatures, about the food chain, and about the impact of our personal choices…

one conversation about puffins and gorillas at a time.