The American Calgarian

Tales of a Midwesterner transplanted in Western Canada

Archive for the tag “Wisconsin”

He Called Me Erickson

Summer in the late 1970s always included a visit from Uncle George and family.  One of my mom’s five brothers, he had moved to this mysterious place where Vikings came from called “The Twin Cities” and was the only of her siblings to move out of the area where they grew up.  I loved when he and his family came to visit.  George would give a lot of advice to all of us kids.  Most of the time, when I would repeat this advice to my parents, they would explain that George was “full of BS” and not take what he said too seriously.  Then, they would send me back to him to get the answer for what letters “BS” meant.

Summers were usually hot and humid, made more so by the cigarette smoke that would fill our kitchen.  During George’s visits, the evenings were full of noise and new words, (which I was instructed never to repeat).  My aunts and uncles would gather at Grandma’s or our house (we lived three houses away from my grandparents) and play cards, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and smoke cigarettes.  The card games among Ray, Jim, George, Barbara, their spouses and my parents seemed to go late into the night.  Though thinking about it, I was a little kid, so it probably wasn’t all that late, really.

I could tell many stories about Uncle George. I could tell about how my grandmother would pound on the kitchen ceiling with her broomstick, (directly under his bedroom), to get him up for chores on the farm, or work in the factory, or to get back to college.  I could tell of how he was really good at winning things at county fair-type games.  He once won a stuffed animal or something for my mom, (he called her “Kid”), and hid it in a bassinnet.  He told her that he had won something for her, but she would have to pull back the blanket to see what it was.  She was terrified and took a week to work up the courage to uncover the teddy bear (or whatever it was).  He told my brother of a little “misunderstanding” that happened at the University of Wisconsin which resulted in his fraternity getting kicked off campus.  He said many times that people were just too sensitive.  He had a great sense of humor.  He had nicknames for all of us.  Popper, Lester, Stoney, Kid, Erickson, Clarkson.. we all answered to whatever he said because he was fun to be around.

Over the last many years he had faced some serious health problems.  Each time, my mom would call me and say that she was worried his condition was grave.  She was thankful his kids were taking such good care of him.  Each time, he came through determined to golf in Arizona for the winter.  Also over the last few years, Barbara, one of my mom’s sisters, was leaving us as a result of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Barbara passed away in the beginning of November.  George came down for her funeral and talked with as many as he could in the family.  He still called my mom “Kid”.

While visiting with my mom over their sister’s funeral, he had shared that he had no regrets and he was thankful for his life experiences over his many years.  George passed away this past Thanksgiving.  Knowing he was content with the life he led brought peace to many in our family.  The funeral, I was told, was a true celebration of his life.  He would have liked the party, my mom said.  There were many toasts to George and all the joy he brought to people.

The uncles that used to gather at my parents house in the summer have all passed on.  My memories of them are filled with summer evenings filled with family, laughter and a healthy dose of BS.  I would like to think that they have reunited at the kitchen table in heaven to play cards.  I imagine St. Peter, St Jude or St. Balthasar shaking their heads, wondering who let these clowns in anyway, as they curse at each other, deal cards, smoke and drink their Pabst Blue Ribbon.

To George! With love, Erickson


My Two Week Political Binge

It’s Friday and I am hungover.  The political conventions are over and I am spinning with visions of PBS in my head.  I need coffee.  The last two weeks I have been watching speakers and checking facts and tweeting and explaining what all this is to my kids.  I know it’s all a big scripted show.  (Unless, of course, you are talking with an empty chair.  Sorry, low hanging fruit, I couldn’t resist.)  So, yes, it is a scripted, highly produced spectacular about how great each candidate is and their vision for the future of the United States.  And I love it.

Growing up my family kept up on current events.  Are my parents Republican or Democrat?  I honestly don’t know.  Mom, Dad , my brother and I would talk about current events – 80s happenings – and we almost never agreed.  We had a say, though.  My brother and I were expected to debate. We were expected to engage in the conversation and have an educated opinion.  We were also expected to be open-minded and listen to others’ point of view.  Mom and Dad have opinions.  Strong opinions.  My dad especially has a tendency to get on rants about this and that.  I asked him once who he voted for in an election.  Once is the key word.  His reply? “Its nobody else’s business for whom you vote.  The important thing is that you always vote.”  Then he went on about how the US is a great country, all the hopes of his family when they arrived in the US many moons ago, and how anybody in the US can do anything they put their mind to… you get the idea.  So, is he a Republican? Democrat? Libertarian? Communist? (j/k Dad, just wanted to see if you really read these posts) I don’t know.  We’ve always discussed multiple sides of an issue.  He and my mom would let us decide for ourselves.  At times this has not worked in their favor, mind you.

Back to my political hangover.

My kids have been asking what all the hubbub is about and why I am watching all this.  I explain that we Americans will be electing a new president in a few short months and that these two, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are asking for our votes.  President Obama is up for re-election and we get to decide whether we want for him to continue to be president for another four years or if we want Mitt Romney to be president instead.  Many questions from the kids.

Why is President Obama only president for four years?  Wasn’t there a president that stayed in office for twelve years?  What if a president dies while in office?  What’s the difference who is president?  Who are you voting for, Mom?  Why aren’t there any little kids with Mitt Romney?  Do you think Sasha and Malia like living in the White House?  I bet they don’t want to move again.

I tried to be even.  I told them about term limits.  I told him about Republicans and Democrats as age appropriate and diplomatic as I could.  As my parents, I have strong political opinions.  However, I am not comfortable with my children becoming little parrots around school and town spouting off all my political points of view.  As they grow, I want for them to decide for themselves.  (I think so, anyway.)   Since Paul Ryan is from our native Wisconsin, I may have spent a little more time talking about where he grew up and how he is now a pretty big deal in Congress and will be the Vice President if Mitt Romney gets elected.  This led into the conversation about how a person can go into politics and what the qualifications are to run for Congress and President.  It was a nice talk.

So over the last day or so, during the Democratic Party’s National Convention, the conversation had turned to, “Mom, who are you voting for?”  I told them I wasn’t sure yet, (liar, liar), that both are smart, qualified candidates and that I was going to do some additional reading prior to making my decision (pants on fire).   Maybe not totally a lie.  True, both candidates are smart men.  True, both have been deemed worthy to represent their parties in the election and will be on the ballot. True, both are well-educated and have support of many people. False, I have not yet made a decision.

I turned the question to them.  I said, “You have seen some of the speeches and I told you about each candidate.  Who would you like to see get elected?”  Mid answered first.  “I would like to see Mitt Romney get elected and have a turn.  We are supposed to let people take turns, right?  And Obama has already been president.  Romney has been trying to be president for a really long time, according to the person on the TV.” Okay.  Taking turns is a nice sentiment.  Jaybird went next.  “I want Obama to stay President, because I don’t want his daughters to have to move into a different house again.  And the other guy he is always with (Joe Biden) is funny.”  Apparently she has internalized some issues about our relocation and has picked up on how Joe Biden can be quite entertaining.  I turned to Apprentice and asked the question.  He replied that he is not interested, as neither plays hockey and we live in Canada.  Alrighty, then.

Jaybird had the comment of the night, however, when she went on to ask, “Why are there no women running for President?  I want there to be a woman President.  That would be cool.”  I agreed.  That would be cool, I told her, I would like to see a woman get elected President also.

So how did I do presenting the candidates in an unbiased, diplomatic, age appropriate manner?  Not perfect, by any stretch, but perhaps somewhere between Fox News and MSNBC.

Hometown Run

I have been doing reasonably well keeping up with runs while on vacation.  The weather has been hot so the runs have typically been pretty early in the morning, before the heat and humidity set in.

Running was never really my “thing” when I was a kid living in this small Wisconsin town.  I played tennis for the most part and some other organized sports in school.  Every now and again I would go for runs while between sports seasons or when I needed to get out of the house.  Usually my dad would accompany me.  He said it was because he liked to run, although I think it was just to be sure that I was actually running and not getting into any trouble.  Well played, Dad, well played.

Anyway, back to now.  I have become a runner of sorts so I had my mind set to at least 4 runs per week while on vacation.  So far, so good.  Good for now, as I am in my hometown and I know where I am going.  We will see what happens on a little road trip in a few days.  Running through my hometown has been a refreshing trip down memory lane.  As I pass houses that were once inhabited by friends and may still be the home of their parents, many memories of good times growing up came flooding back.

Today while crossing the street I saw a driver that resembled a friend from high school.  So deep in my thoughts that I said to myself, “His parents must have gotten a new car. Didn’t his mom have a little yellow Mazda?”  Ridiculous, of course, because we are old enough to buy our own cars, and the Mazda is most likely long gone.  When the car turned and I saw the personalized plates, I was brought back to present day, albeit briefly.

I have not been running a set route, just kind of going wherever the wind takes me.  This morning I approached the middle school, thinking of awkward dances back in the day, followed by Park Plaza Pizza (so yummy).  Crossing the street, there was the church where I was confirmed and spent many a Sunday morning and Christmas.  Heading back to my parents’ house, memories came into my head of the summer when Jenifer broke her foot and consequently the theme song for our summer was “I Want to Ride my Bicycle”.  There was the house that hung the Halloween costumes in the attic window, which totally freaked out Julie and I as we walked by one Friday night.  I came into contact with two running groups, one of teenage boys and one of teenage girls, and for a fleeting moment I tried to recognize the kids.  Do I know any of them?  Of course not.  I passed a few houses where I once babysat children and wondered where they all are currently living.  I also thought of school teachers as I passed one of their homes.  Band trips, tennis meets, homecoming, prom…

Things look a little different in my hometown but one thing is certain. LakeShore Drive is a good morning run.  So if you are in the greater Beaver Dam area and see a 40ish year old with a ponytail poking out of a white hat of the next couple of weeks, please wave or beep.  Or better yet, lace up your shoes to come run with me and we’ll catch up.

Back on Track!

Or, the Art Classes that helped to get my training back on track and the vacation that threatens to ruin it…

I have noted previously that the kids and I have gotten into the habit of a bike/run. Each time has been a little more successful and I am really enjoying it. However, I have to begin training for the next race. It’s not a full marathon, but I need to start focusing my runs, (or at least some of them), so that I am ready to put into gear for 21.1k. Or, just keep up enough that I don’t injure myself when the hard-core stuff starts.

Last week I had an opportunity, as there was a free program put on by the city at our neighborhood park. All the kids could go and I was counting on them being there for at least a few hours so that I could get the usual glamorous errands, cleaning and laundry done and sneak in a couple of good runs. Problem was that it was hotter than Hades. The kids wilted after being outside for a while. There was also the problem that the games they were playing at this program were “lame” and “babyish” (their words, not mine). So last week was shot.

Enter this week. The kids are in an art class in the afternoons. Perfect! Running in the afternoon once again! The kids love the art classes, (huge win), and I enjoyed a run or two on my own. Thursday morning, however, the kids all looked at me and asked when we were going for a ride/run again. Also, could we do one after breakfast? I hate to say no to a productive activity, so after we were cleaned up from breakfast we headed out on our usual route. It was a beautiful morning, sun shining, nice breezes and not too hot. Truth be told, though, I was a dripping mess upon our return home so stepped in for a quick shower. My queue was Jaybird asking, rather dramatically, “what’s that smell?” when we got in the house. Turns out, it was me.

Anyway, this art class for the kids has been a godsend for me to get back into some regular training. Looming on the horizon, however, is our vacation to the Badger State, full of all its microbrews and crafted spirits and fried food and….

So, friends in the US, hear my plea. I am going to say things like, “I have to get a run in so need to stay hydrated” and “can’t stay out too late tonight, need to run in the morning” and post things like “anyone up for a run today?” Please be gentle. I will have only a few weeks to get ready for a half marathon upon returning home and keeping disciplined while on vacation may prove to be a huge challenge for me. Hell, staying focused during the summer is a challenge for me without a vacation thrown in the mix.

Thanks for your help. Now, who wants to meet for a beer? Or a run? Or both?

Independence Day

It’s Fourth of July weekend. The time of year when we load our kids into the minivan and park on the side of the road on top of a hill and wait for the small towns around us to start their fireworks. By the end of the displays, our necks hurt from straining from side to side to see all the different firework shows. We are up late, running around, celebrating Independence Day.

It’s the time of the year when the backyard neighbors see our fire pit going and come down the hill with a pitcher of margaritas and glasses. Again, our kids play inside and out while we enjoy each other’s company over a fire, drinks and finger foods. Its nice out, cool in the evening and warm and sunny during the day. There are parades through every downtown with people sporting red, white and blue outfits. There are marching bands, (once upon a time I was in a marching band.. loved it), loud bands, signs of patriotism everywhere. Every evening the noise of fireworks interrupts our sleep and the smell of burnt fuses is in the in the smoky air.

It’s the time of year when grandparents, family and friends come over and we grill dinners. We have fruit salads, vegetable salads and pasta salads followed by icey-pops and frozen custard. We are a mess of sunscreen, mosquito repellant and sweat. It is summer in Wisconsin and it is a great time of year. We relax by lakes, relive years gone by and reflect on how lucky we are to live in a free country. Of course, we give thanks for those that fought to make it so.

I still live in a free country, but this year there is only red and white. The stars and stripes have been replaced by a maple leaf. If you are saying to yourself, “Man, she seems homesick,” you are right. I love our home in Canada and feel very thankful to be close to the mountains, living in a great country with terrific people. But it is not home. Not yet, anyway.

We attended the festivities for Canada Day this week, as it is a national holiday here as well. It did not disappoint. The sun was shining, there many areas for people to hang out eat, try on cowboy hats or whatever. I was an arm’s length from Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. Really, I was. I wish I had the camera ready. He gave a little speech that made my homesickness go away.

He talked of Canadian independence. He talked of being thankful to live in a free country. But what hit home for me was his talk of the Canadian tradition to welcome people from all over the world into this great country. To show that all are welcome here. It made me smile. So, although this started as a self-pitying post about my longing to celebrate the 4th of July with American friends in the great state of Wisconsin, I am finishing by saying that I am a lucky woman. I am a citizen of the United States and while we may not get everything right and our foreign policy may be a little off at times, (our domestic policy can be way off, too, come to think of it), I still believe in us. I believe that we can do great things and that despite the challenges the US faces, we are still one of the best games in town. I am also lucky because I live in a country that welcomes newcomers and is doing and capable of doing great things, albeit more quietly and politely than their southern neighbors.

So this week, no matter if you are celebrating Canadian independence, The United States’ independence, or are lucky enough to celebrate both, I urge you to take a moment.  Breathe it all in, look around you and count blessings.  My guess (and my hope) is that you will have too many to count.

Something’s missing…

By this time in the spring, or for at least the last three, I am in throes of marathon training.  The last two years I have been on way to an obnoxious number of miles on the Saturday before Easter.  I would get up at dawn, dress, eat, get my running list playing, text my running buddy and slide out the door.

I could do the run in my sleep.  In fact, if I close my eyes and I can still picture all the mileage.  Run north on Comanche, turn east and pass North High School, run around Lowell Elementary, turn left on Madison.  There is a church on Madison that had a “tomb” and two Roman soldiers standing guard starting Good Friday until (I imagine, anyway) Easter morning.  At this point in my run, still in a good mood and really just getting started, I would see these soldiers.  As I approached, they would stand.  Being a Christian on Easter weekend and feeling feisty starting on my long run, I called out.

“He Is Risen!”  I raised my arms to the sky and flashed a huge smile of thankfulness.  As an aside, I love Easter.  The whole idea of the holiday and unconditional love and forgiveness and all that gets me a little choked up.  But I digress.

I expected, and wanted, a response mirroring my proclamation. “Yeah, that’s tomorrow”, is what I received, as if they were fraternity brothers coming home from a rough night.  WHAT? I carried on with the run, a bit confused.  Turning down Moreland I could help but giggle at the silliness of it.

When meeting my friend Mike at the Glacial Drumlin Trail, as I did many a Saturday, I told him about the encounter with the Roman soldiers and we had a good laugh.  As a fellow runner, church goer and generally good person he would run outrageous distances with me for fun while I trained.  I also think that he enjoyed my suffering, as he is a stronger runner than I, but that’s not important now.

Saturdays used to be my long run mornings because of church commitments on Sunday.  This spring my long runs have changed to Sunday mornings for group runs with the (apparently godless) Canadians.  Today, the day before Easter, I had short run in the crisp morning sun.  But something was missing.  As I passed a small church in the neighborhood, I was reminded of the previous years and the Roman soldiers.  I was thinking that if Mike were here we would most likely be discussing legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, the recent election in Wisconsin, church, our spouses and kids, goings on at work and do a little singing in the later miles. I was thinking that I missed those Roman Soldiers this Saturday.

Six Months

Its been six months since I packed my office in Wisconsin and said “Farewell” to many coworkers and friends.

Six months.  I have started and stopped writing about this “career change” several times.  Each time, I tear up and have to stop.

I have always identified myself as a professional person.  Of course, mother and wife as well, but also my own person, with accomplishments uniquely my own, outside of the roles of mother and wife.  Leaving the corporate world was a biggie.  I was proud of the job I did, the people I worked with and the organization we worked for.  I knew that we were making a difference in the lives of our neighbors, friends and family through our work.

Six months ago I was relieved that the office was abuzz with activity as I closed my office door for the last time and waved goodbye.  It simply would have been too messy if (insert too many names here) were not on conference calls or out at meetings or interviewing new candidates when I slipped away.  I worked with some really good people, many of whom have kept in touch (thankfully).  Truth be told, I cried the whole drive home.  The whole drive, which I had learned how to navigate many ways in order to deal with rush hour traffic and keep my commute to about 45 minutes.  I hated that commute.

I have told many people starting new jobs that it takes about six months to gain confidence in what you are doing at your position.   So here I am, at six months into my new position as Prime Minister of the House, (that’s right, I changed my title from SAHM to PMOH, will post on that later), finally feeling confident in my abilities within the new role.  I am cooking and baking with reckless abandon and no one has become ill as a result.  All the preaching I used to do about nutrition and children is becoming easier to practice as I have more time to make meals for the family.  It is rewarding to see that my children are happy I am around more, (I wasn’t so sure they would be).

It has been six months since I wore a business suit for more than an interview.  While I have had a couple of interviews, nothing seemed to fit.  This new position suits me, funny enough, and I am enjoying all the “additional duties as assigned”.  I have become comfortable managing things on the home front that JB and I used to take turns managing.  With him conquering his new position, I have been able to conquer mine, which is all home-based.  A definite shift in our separation of labor.

I thought this would be a temp job.  But as any rewarding temp job goes, I think I am going to stick with it for a while.  As a woman I met recently in Houston said, with an amazing southern drawl, “the Good Lord puts your where He needs you when its appropriate.  Ya just gotta trust it girl, and do the best you can.”

Six months.  New opportunities may present themselves and I am setting some new goals.  For now, I am where I need to be.  I trust it.

A January Confession

When I announced that I was moving the NW, a man I worked with warned me.  “It gets cold there.  I lived in Manitoba for a while and it was lovely, but the winters can be like nothing you have experienced.  Bloody bone-chilling.”  I smiled and nodded politely, because I really like and respect this person.  But I was thinking, dude, you are from South Africa, what do you know about cold?   I was raised in Wisconsin, for crying out loud, I know what cold is. (To get the full effect, say it like this – whi-KAHN-sin, through your nose.)  All through November and December, well-meaning Calgarians had been asking us if we were ready.  Winters are not usually this mild, the cold weather would be coming soon, they would say.  Bleh.   It was fine.  I had barely gotten out my parka.

For the last couple of days it has been -29C, with a windchill of about -40C.  (-22F without the windchill.)  I have a confession.  I am cold.

The interesting thing is that although things have slowed down a bit, almost nothing is cancelled.  Schools are still running, businesses are open as usual, people are going to work as planned.  I have only seen a few things temporarily close where the activities are outdoor, like downhill skiing.  Which reminds me of something a running coach said in San Diego last year.  “Winter does something to a person.”  He meant it in a positive light.  Winter does, in fact, do something to you.  It makes you appreciate things like the air you are taking into your lungs, (because you can feel it all the way down), the crispness of a morning, the grass under the snow that is just begging to turn green again in the spring.  This morning the sky is a bright seawater blue with shiny ice crystals.  Its beautiful, assuming you are indoors with hot coffee, of course.  Winter makes you slow down, to be better prepared.  It can also keep you inside with your family, and when the time is used wisely to play inside games or read or just snuggle on the couch, it is all good.

Winter makes you an optimist.  For me, I am optimistic that the forecast is correct for the weekend and it will make it to 0C.  Heat wave!

It’s good to be a ‘Sconnie..

There is a fresh blanket of snow outside.  The UW Badgers are Rose Bowl bound.  The Green Bay Packers are 12-0.  I just saw the delightful new Muppet Movie.  It is great to be from Wisconsin right now.  OKay, I know the Muppets have nothing to do with Wisconsin, but I love the Muppets, its my blog and I just saw the movie.  Where was I again?  Oh, yeah, its great to be a ‘Sconnie.  Except I am in Canada.  Could someone please cue the Beer Barrel Polka?

This weekend we started with the usual provisions for a Badger football game, Usinger Brats cooked in Old Milwaukee, kraut, baked beans and beer.  Add some neighbors and we had a little party.  Our neighbors are from the UK, so some of the game had to be explained, (why is the clock stopping with a first down?  why can’t you hit the punter? why do you have a stock certificate from the Green Bay Packers?), and we had a great time teaching our British friends the way of the Wisconsin tailgate.  They took to it like old pros, and we shared many stories of football games, both American and British style.  At one point, our friend said, “You Americans DO know how to do college properly.”  This made me laugh, especially because she has such a strong British accent. 

Weekends like this make me appreciate all that is home.  Warm fires, snow, football, kids running wild all over the place (inside and out) and the UW Varsity Band.  I could practically hear our former neighbors (and UW Alums) cheering with every WI score.  I may be a time zone and a country away, but I am in a Wisconsin state of mind. 

U. Rah. Rah. Wisconsin.

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