Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

A Mini- British Isle February 23, 2013

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He has served me often, but today, asked me, as I ordered my latte, “Are you Irish?” I nodded, smiling. “I’m Welsh. He is English and she is Scottish”. I was among friends! “Where in Ireland are you from?”, the Scottish lady asks, “Donegal”. She laughs; her mother lived there too.

As yet, I have only met one Irish family in the Prairies, who emigrated here 30 years ago. In response to this dearth of Irish-ness, I now embrace the entire British Isles as home, and that sometimes extends to Europe, especially when we discuss the difference in politics.

When I first planned my adventure, I received welcomed advice from an Irish immigrant settled in Vancouver. She warned me, you may now feel that you want to escape Ireland, but when you arrive, choose a place that has an Irish community to support you. I scoffed. Me, old independent me on a fresh journey? Give me new people, new backgrounds, new accents. Arriving in the Rocky Mountains, the melting pot of eclectic internationals, I relished the differences. Anzac day and Australia Day, Remembrance Sunday and Thanksgiving, Christmas across the world, food, drink, pastimes and words, our politics, our values, our clothes.

Now, I understand my predecessor’s advice. It isn’t that I resent or tire from people asking about Robert Burns’ night (Scottish), or their disbelief that the Queen is not my Queen, though I am very happy for the Royal Pregnancy. I don’t really mind explaining the Troubles, how much things have settled, or current tensions. I enjoy the opportunity to explain my culture, my history and heritage. But, oh how nice, for there to be no explanations required. Remember when different meant those from Dublin, or Kerry? Great Britain was a whole other island. Now those accents sound like home.

It seems to me that is by being far away from home, we stop concentrating on that which divides us, and instead look for the familiar. Here, I look for what is the same, sounds the same, tastes the same. The Welsh, English and Scottish don’t just know Eastenders and Coronation Street, they know Brookside and Emmerdale, and are lucky enough to not know about Fair City. They know too what the 80s were like and the effect of the current recession. They know what crisps are, appreciate Cadbury’s and good tea. They too can cope with 7 days straight of rain.

In the end, what warms me, is the connection. Here is the Irish, the Scot, the Welsh and the English. So, it turns out, not far from my Canadian home, there is a little place I can go to that feels, just a little bit, like my home on the other side of the Atlantic.


The firmness of friendship March 29, 2012

Filed under: Friendship — wakingupincanada @ 6:00 pm
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When I was 16, our English teacher, a cheery, wise and happy man with a smock of white hair and thick black eyebrows commented that for our final exams, our poems would largely be based on transience, a mis-balance he believed, as in life, poems were mostly about love. I have become to wonder if he was wrong.

Banff is a transient town, and the lives of people like me are built upon hellos and goodbyes. Much revolves around the workplace here. In Banff, living space is everything, and many employers provide subsidised accommodation to their staff. The people I work with, I live with, ski with, eat with and socialise with.

Every week, people walk into our store, resumes in hand, and we don’t know if this is our new best friend standing in front of us. In our team, we have a plethora of characters  – the high energy people, the super-organised individuals, the laid-back crew, the super sellers and the super helpers. This mesh of personalities is like a microscopic view on the world and all that it takes to make it go around every day.

And just when you fall in love with it all, it is time for another goodbye. This week, we have a double dose of departure, with 2 beautiful people heading home. Unlike before in my life, when treasured companions move on to a better job or better home but stay in the area or at least the friendship circle, the international melting pot that is Banff sees possible Best Friends Forever fly off to the far reaches of the world, to a different career, a different lifestyle.

Somehow here, you connect with the transience that is life, the constant ebb and flow that is people. With every changing staff member or housemate, there is a change in the balance, the routine, the atmosphere. Sometimes it is a little shift barely noticeable, other times, for better or worse, a sudden movement occurs forcing ripples out in all directions. Sometimes the only thing is to stand firm in yourself and allow others the same courtesy. Other times, it seems to me, it is about learning from them, trusting them and enjoying them for as long as you have them.

It has been 7 months and many friends now. As 2 of my BFFs move on, I see all that they have given me: 6 mile runs through the mountains and gym workouts; pyramid hill sprints and scrabble in Tim Hortons, indulgent breakfasts and cheap cinema nights, wine and crackers and double dates. Only a true friend allows you to swear at them at the beginning of a 3 minute hill sprint or shares the joy in playing scrabble over good coffee at Tim Hortons, and offers to share the car she will win in Roll Up the Rim. A BFF gets lost with you and enjoys the views regardless.

It strikes me at these times, not how tough it is to say goodbye, but just how brilliant a good friend is. As we move through life and all its phases, a good friend grounds you, wherever your roots may be.




Compacting Sunday October 23, 2011

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In my world, Sundays are enshrined as rest days.  The day starts with Mass. Time for dinner is set around the big activities: Are we having a fry for breakfast? Where and when is the football today? Then slotted in last is the small, important things: Sunday papers, naps and if there is a quality Sunday matinée on the television. Summer time adds the extra question of whether the hay needs to be bailed today. Not that I bail hay, but the men in my family do and that has a knock on effect on its women, whether I like it or not. Sunday is a rest day, barr farm work. It’s a long day and I enjoyed its slow pace.

In Banff, I work Sundays. I don’t mind, and appreciate that most of my life I have been blessed with Sundays off.  I still make sure to maximise my free mornings in honour of the day: Mass, breakfast out, easy living. This morning, I lay in bed cosy, debating when to get up. I heard my housemate shout, and I immediately pulled open my shutter: the lawn was white. Overnight a light sprinkling of snow has decorated Banff. Yesterday’s rain is now deadly ice and I have learned this morning to stay off the white stripes on a pedestrian crossing.

In a valley of calm, the white dusting adds a further layer of peace. the world seems quieter when it’s white, as if there is a collective intake of breath at its beauty. The streets are as busy as a normal October Sunday and I struggled to find a seat in Wild Flour, my favourite coffee hang out. People around here are ready for this weather and celebrate it. Outside a man takes a photo of his girlfriend in the middle of the road, no doubt getting Cascade Mountain’s white backdrop. I hope a car does not come and slip on the ice, and I remember I am not in Donegal, and cars drive slowly here whatever the weather.

I rarely read the paper here. It was custom at home: my Sunday Times and Dad’s Donegal On Sunday, covering everything we would need to know. There were sections I never read, and I wondered if I should just leave them in the shop. As for the rest, it would take me until mid-afternoon to read, and often a few pieces kept until after dinner. Here, I don’t give it the time. I feel it would be a waste of a paper. I am working at 2. I am aware of its absence. The main news comes to me on Twitter but I miss the opinion pieces, the interesting side bits that made me think outside my box and also, to learn more about Canadian affairs and Canadian reporting. I take a newspaper left behind and glance through it, reading a few pieces that stand out. Some people think that print is dead but I just have to look around this coffee shop and know differently: Sunday mornings replaces laptops for newspapers.

A friend texts about his Sunday dinner and I have a pang of jealousy. It has been 11 weeks since my last Sunday dinner. I make up for it by investing in breakfasts. Next time, I will order my pancakes and bacon and maple syrup, regardless of whether it is Canadian dish or not.

As a Catholic, I respect Sunday as the day to go visit God, and to take it easy just like He did in the Bible. However, regardless of your faith, it seems a good time to just take it a little easier; rest, review, renew for the week ahead.  My week ahead starts at 2pm today. I’m embracing the peace and quiet of snow and Sunday until then.


Births and Birthdays October 22, 2011

Filed under: Travel — wakingupincanada @ 8:14 am
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Today is my God-daughter’s birthday. She is 2 years old. I can see she has already grown in the 2 months since I left, leaving her baby face behind and looking more like a little girl. Her words are coming along well and her smile is as big as ever. I am grateful for Skype and Facetime. Not for me to see her grow, but for her to remember who I am. I was honoured when my brother asked me to be a God-mother two years ago, and have spent 2 years working out what a God-mother should be. So far, babysitting, story telling and pulling faces have been the main duties. I wonder does she understand that today is her special day and that it is her, not her big sister, that is to blow out the candles.

I have also awoken to several e-mails from my sister who is at my parents at the moment. They are entitled: Live Action from Pig Watch.  While I slept, our mother pig has had Percy, Porky, Podge, Petunia, Panda and 3 others in the middle who don’t seem to have been named. Don’t get attached: we eat our pigs and they are quite delicious.

It is these simple events that make me miss home; the little day-to-day things. It’s not a hard miss, a huge longing, just little tugs that turn my head backwards and make me appreciate what I am missing. I am not sad I missed the piglets being born but I can see the fun my sisters have had keeping track on it, taking the photos and generally mucking about.  For a very long time, I was close to all the family action, knew everything and could drop by anytime. Now I am the one far away and I wonder did I ever take as much care as my sister at keeping those absent in body close to the heart of the family. I would be attending Chloe’s Birthday and telling stories about princesses saving the world and animals having adventures.

Instead, I am getting inspiration for more and better stories for her; of bears and squirrels and far off lands that are not mere imagination. One day, I will take my Canadian adventure and turn it into a fairy tale for her, full of flying, courage, adventure, bravery and animals, a little sadness, a touch of trouble, and of course, a happy ending: the perfect recipe for any story.

Happy Birthday, Chloe!