moving to Canada


Image by flavijus via Flickr

This last Father’s Day marked four years in Alberta. One of the things that struck me when we first moved here was the vast difference in daylight hours during the early summer. Typically, the sun sets in Iowa around nine-ish. Here the evening stretches towards eleven and our wedding in Jasper shortly after solstice that year was illuminated until just after 11 P.M.

It’s rained like a chapter out of Genesis this month. Cloud layer upon gray cloud, puffed up and disgruntled like a woman with PMS has shrouded June in gloom. Solstice nearly passed us by.

How much rain?

Our sump pump drips constantly and water whooshed underfoot like bad Titanic sound effects. The first time I heard it, I thought it was thunder. Not because it was that loud, but because I didn’t know we had a sump pump. In the four years I’ve lived here, it’s never pumped a drip like alone the Athabasca.

Last night and tonight was yellow heaven. It’s nearly 10 PM as I type this and rays of radiance illuminate the bluest skies on the planet.

June can be chilly and summer fickle, but she always gets her glow on at some point. I am pleased I didn’t miss it.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Image by Phil Roeder (lots of comments to catch up on) via Flickr

I love my sister’s in-laws. They are a large, friendly bunch who lay waste to every bad in-law joke you may have ever heard. BIL and his twin were actually high school classmates of mine, and I actually knew him before he and my sister even met.


BIL has six brothers. All but the youngest is married. All but two have children. When even a couple of them gather in one place with their families, you know they are there. The last time I saw them all together in one place was nearly 7 years ago when DNOS and BIL married. I remember at my parents house the next day while the grown-ups were outside watching the newlyweds unwrap gifts I walked into the kitchen to find a half-dozen or so of BIL’s nieces and nephews pretending to mix drinks using various concoctions of soda pop.


My sister is actually the “oldest” of the sister-in-law’s even though she was the last one of them to marry into the family. DNOS and BIL dated for about fifteen years. They got engaged The Christmas after Will and I got married. In fact, the first time we visited after our engagement BIL’s comment to Will was “Thanks a lot.” Even with the occasionally clash of personalities, I have always thought my sister to be extremely blessed as far as in-laws are concerned. Because Will was an only child and not really comfortable with either side of his family, I knew I wouldn’t have what DNOS did but I had high hopes for pleasant holidays and other such gatherings. I didn’t get that. As we circled the park today trailing after P’s wife K as she scouted about for a picnic site in what is essentially a campground, I had brief flashes of the Mathes family celebrations. A room ringed with people on folding chairs, eating off paper plated balanced precariously on their knees while engaged in the awkward small talk that periodically broke the silence. My sister has not always taken her in-laws in stride, but her observations of mine have made her more grateful for them than she already was.


My daughter loves to visit with her cousin’s cousins. She is just beginning to understand that she is not related to Uncle BIL’s family, but she stubbornly maintains that his youngest nephew is in fact just as much her cousin as N2, BIL and DNOS’s son, is. They are quite the trio. No is the oldest at six and a half, followed by N2 who is just six and then my Dee at not quite five. They ran themselves silly, played on the swings and argued over the camping chairs. No tried to convince the other two to play “runway model” on top of one of the picnic tables. N2 was game but Dee hung back and merely watched. I don’t think she knows what a model is and the look on her face indicated that she wasn’t quite certain that this was an activity for boys. My daughter is a bit archaic in her ideas about gender. As I watched I remarked to my sister that her husband would not have permitted a game like that to played for long. He is very archaic in his ideas about gender, but as the two boys sashayed up and down the table top, wiggling their bums like girls in a hip-hop video, everyone but Dee and I pretended not to notice.


After a dinner of grilled animal and assorted junk food of which Dee partook and I demurred politely, we said our good-byes. Real good-byes I realized when Dee pointed out to No that it was very unlikely he would ever see my Dee again. It’s interesting the people who are connected to your life, but who you have such a little bit of contact with over the course of it. I wonder if a person is richer or poorer for it?

swearing in cartoon

Image via Wikipedia

BIL taught his now six year old son to swear and because he is a man, he tried to hide it from my sister, DNOS. But, as is nearly always the case, his son let the cat off his tongue one day when another driver cut them off in traffic and he hollered out, “Dumb-ass!” DNOS professed shock but I think that is only because he beat her to it. Road rage is part, albeit small, of the glue that holds her marriage to BIL so firmly. After a bit of questioning, she was able to ascertain that her son did indeed learn the offensive word from his dad, and that he was well versed in the lexicon of the profane. When I told Rob this story the first time, he laughed, “Of course he needs to swear. He’ll be a man someday.” And when the subject came up again this last week he made a remark to the effect that swearing is a man thing and perfectly acceptable.

I really don’t swear very much anymore. I made a conscious effort to give it up when I took my first teaching job twenty years ago. My colorful expressions run the gamut of g-rated Disneyesque phrases that convey the intent without offense in addition to making me look like someone’s born-again spinster aunt. Though I occasionally swear, more since Will’s illness and death, I really don’t see the need to swear.

I listen to profanity all day long. I work in a high school after all, and the casual use of the word “fuck” is omnipresent from first bell to last. It never fails to send shivers up my back akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Though it is a multi-functioning word, as far as usage goes, it always makes me wonder what kind of trailer the person who uttered it was raised in, single or doublewide? And I know exactly how unkind and judgmental a statement that is, but I simply haven’t much faith that someone who can’t come up with a synonym or witty figurative phrase to use in its place is worth the time or effort to educate further.

Canadians, I am told, are pretty foul-mouthed. When I wondered aloud if perhaps this was overstating the fact, I was assured that it wasn’t. Since I have a tendency to adopt the speech patterns of those I hear most (I have acquired quite the drawl since coming to south-central Iowa in fact) I am a bit worried that I might revert to the vocabulary of my younger self.

It’s not that “fuck” is a limited term. It can be used as a noun as in “What the fuck?”. It is a verb. “Stop fucking around and get to work.” An adjective. “Who is that fucking moron?” And an adverb. “I fucking did it all myself.” It can express a strong emotion like anger, “Fuck you!” or a tender romantic one as in “I really want to fuck you.” But, it still just conjures up images of the chain smoking, tattooed parents of the students I first taught on the east side of Des Moines. People who never made it out of middle school themselves and so their greatest ambition for their own children ….graduating the eighth grade….manifested in limos and prom-like attire for the twenty minute ceremony and the cookies and punch reception that followed in a makeshift cafeteria that doubled as the auditorium.

Profanity is really the hallmark of three things: stupidity, laziness and a tendency to be dramatic, and not in a good way. When we give into the casual use of obscene language, we are sanctioning these things.

I must confess that I have carelessly taught my own child a “bad word”. She says “dang-it”. Only very quick and clever damage control after a burst of frustration with a recalcitrant computer one afternoon prevented her from the regular use of a quite similar expression. She says “dang-it” when she is angry or frustrated, and objects that make her angry or frustrated are “dang-it things”. For example “Mommy, these dang-it shoes won’t tie.”

Language can elevate or bury us. So it is my humble opinion that we use care and consideration when speaking and do our best not to be dumb-asses about it.