I Sipped Margaritas While the World Burned

IMG_1015 (2)It’s astonishing how quickly the world can change both on individual and collective levels. It’s also surprising how while disasters touch some, others are left relatively (or completely) unscathed.

Me? I’m pretty much unscathed. We booked a last-minute trip to Mazatlán, Sinaloa, MX, just before the world went to pieces. Admittedly, some moments were a little unnerving. One evening, we sat on our king size bed, comfortably scrolling through the headlines and videos regarding the rapid descent of the coronavirus. “Snowbirds and travelers outside of Canada, come home immediately.” The Prime Minister’s message was clear. We returned on our previously-scheduled flight a few days before the airlines shut down completely to tourist traffic.

During our time in paradise we stayed at a beach hotel and every night, we listened to the waters of the Sea of Cortez moving in and moving out over the rocks that lay close to the shoreline. One night as I slept peacefully with the sound of the waves echoing in my dreams, our friends’ house burnt to the ground. That old house’s wiring didn’t care if its inhabitants were in the midst of a global pandemic. It started a fire that burned hotly and swiftly, leaving nothing but ashes and memories where, for a long time, lives had been lived.

Fortunately, our friends were the only ones home on the night of the fire. Their grandchild had gone home with her mom earlier in that evening, and our friends’ adult son who sometimes stayed at home when not on shift was at work. The smoke detectors did their job and our friends found their way through the patio door off their bedroom and out into the frigid night from where they called 911.

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A lamp post in the Historic District of Mazatlan.

I felt terrible about this fire! Of course, I sent a cheerful text when we got home safe and sound. “Had a great trip! Made it back safe. How are you guys doing?” I had no clue what had happened until I received a text in return: “Did you hear we had a house fire?”

After that, I called. I needed to know what kind of house fire. Was it a small grease fire that singed the wall behind the stove or was the house gone? Sadly, it was the latter.

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The rocks at Cerritos Beach.

But that’s how it goes. Rain falls on the rich and poor, and life happens differently to individual people. From some reason (or more likely for no reason), I live in this rural Alberta village and not in a Syrian refugee camp. This is a good fact to remember when I’d like to go for a walk with a friend because Netflix is not living up to my expectations.

Still, it was a stark contrast, my-lime-and-sun-drenched days compared to the destruction of my friends’ home during the world’s general upheaval.

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This has made me feel grateful, a little guilty, and has reminded me that sh*t happens and to not take it too personally. After all, it’s not personal. It’s just life.

Please take care, dear friends, and thanks for making me part of today’s distraction! ~ Lori

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Never Judge a Man by His Pants

Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Amy Chua

He approached us as we stood on the corner studying Google Maps on my husband’s phone and asked, “Can I help you find something?”

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An inviting doorway with a big step up.

I glanced up and there he stood with a garbage bag of empty cans slung over his shoulder, wearing pants with flared legs that ended about six inches above his well-worn Crocs, and a stained linen shirt. Many of the teeth were missing from his sunny smile and as he smiled, his deeply-creased face wrinkled a little more making his eyes shine even brighter.

“Yes,” we answered, “We’re looking for the basilica. Which direction do we need to go?”

He pointed back the way we came and we laughed. “Guess we got turned around.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You don’t want to be on these streets. They’re not that safe.”

To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world. – Chinese Proverb

No, this wasn’t another tale of dangerous Mexico, not another dire warning. He went on to explain, “The sidewalks are steep and uneven, and there’s lots of traffic with not much room to drive.” The kind stranger was right. We’d gone the opposite direction of the main square in Mazatlán and made our way into a neighbourhood with a mixture of beautiful homes and rundown villas. The curbs were treacherously high and the narrow sidewalks often ended at a driveway in a steep drop of two or three feet. We had wandered out of tourista-land.

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Look at all these gorgeous inlaid ceramic tiles!

He gave us further directions, “Just head back, cross the main street but be careful. It’s very busy. The main square is where City Hall is, too, along with the church. Just turn left after you cross that main street.” We thanked him and eventually stumbled into the main square, two happy tourists.

All of this exchange was in his perfect English and some of our short Spanish phrases. I don’t expect people from Mexico to speak perfect English because Mexico is not an English-speaking country, and yet I often hear criticisms about Mexican nationals’ lack of English. This irritates me.

Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things. ‒ Flora Lewis

We watch a lot of YouTube videos about travel in Mexico. The other day, one YouTuber was recounting his adventure of leaving Mexico to return to Canada for the duration of the pandemic. He encountered some confusion at the airport, conflicting information posted on the flight boards, so he approached airport staff for help.

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See the water on the sidewalk in the bottom-right of this photo? It was pouring out of that second-floor suite, far-right, and streaming down the side of the road for a long way and down several streets.

“The problem was, her English wasn’t very good,” he explained to which I responded out loud, “No, the problem was that your Spanish wasn’t good enough.” With apps like Google Translate easily available on our cell phones, we can make the effort to communicate with folks in their own language.

This interaction was one of the many pleasant surprises that Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, held for us. We were so lucky to visit there before the world changed so quickly! I wish you and yours all the best.

Thanks for reading and take care of each other. ~ Lori

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Machado Square in the Historical Centre of Mazatlan.

 

 

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick

Hello everyone! Here’s a St. Paddy’s Day repost. I hope it makes you smile. (I love the song by Rawlins Cross posted at the end.)

Take care of yourselves and each other. – Lori

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This day always reminds me of when I taught Grade 3 at St. Patrick’s School in Grande Prairie, Alberta. It was big celebration and, at night, there was at least one Celtic band playing somewhere in town. That was in the late 1990s when Celtic music blended with rock was popular. We’d go out and drink and dance and be happy that, maybe, just maybe, spring might come to that bleak northern landscape. I loved those days.

This St. Paddy’s Day, I’m celebrating again, although this time there’s no drinking and dancing (but the day is young…). I’m rejoicing because my nine-week full-time temporary teaching contract is done.

Challenging and Humbling

This teaching stint was a challenging and often humbling experience. Funny, I thought I knew something about being an educator and then I tackled that same job within a completely new context. I soon found out that in teaching, there’s always something to learn, and those students were my best teachers. I tripped and fell every day, and I staggered to my feet and kept on going.

I taught every grade in the school and I worked one-on-one with a number of students, too. It was busy and varied. I had to switch mental gears constantly to interact with the different ages and abilities of all the students. No wonder I’m exhausted! It was a very worthwhile assignment and this old dog learned a lot of new tricks. So I guess that saying flies out the window, at least in my case.

Fleeing Facebook

During this time, I left Facebook. As you likely know, I’d been considering this for a while for a whole bunch of good reasons. The reason that finally caused me to leave was a message I received criticizing my actions in the classroom. It was three o’clock in the morning and I was having trouble sleeping because of the very challenging day I’d had previously. Stupidly, I opened Facebook on my tablet and found the message. Stupidly, I read it. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

Celtic Shamrock

On Facebook, there was always someone to let me know when I failed in case I missed it. I hadn’t missed it, of course, but there’s pleasure for some in pointing out others’ shortcomings. It’s a sweet treat to correct and criticize, to feel that moral high ground beneath one’s feet. I’m sure I’ve felt that solid footing once or twice myself, that firm certainty.

Keep on posting, peon!

Because I posted frequently, and had several friends and followers, Facebook would automatically nag me each day with notifications reminding me to keep creating content for the company: 1073 people that like Lori Knutson haven’t heard from you in a while. And yet, when I left Facebook, I did not receive 1073 concerned phone calls or emails. I guess my posts weren’t as urgently needed as Facebook thought.

St Patrick and MedusaI do miss a lot of my friendly interactions on Facebook and I do feel a bit disconnected. On the other hand, my mind is clearer and I feel less distracted, less jittery. There used to be an anxious social media knot in my stomach. When I’d relax for a moment with a cup of tea and a book, I felt like I should be posting, should be “liking” and clicking. Now the knot is gone. While I miss some friends, I don’t miss Facebook. I feel like I’ve taken back a part of myself that I’d given too freely, and that feels good.

Have a happy Sunday, dear readers, and please consider following my WordPress blog. I’d really like to keep in touch and this is a good way to do it! And if you’d like to help me get around Facebook, please share my posts on that forum. Facebook still remains one of the best ways to promote content and sell a lawnmower.

Take good care and spread a little sunshine. This rock’n’roll song with bagpipes is too awesome not to share! Take a listen in Canada’s own Rawlins Cross.

~ Lori

Natural Hot Springs Adventure

IMG_6311Here’s a post I wrote a while ago about an unexpected experience at a river’s edge where there was a natural hot spring. I think next time I’ll spend the $6.00. I’ll miss the naked guy, but I’ll appreciate a shower and a nice place to change. Take care! – Lori

“If you want to save some money, there is a natural hot spring down by the river’s edge. It’s beautiful and hardly anyone ever goes down there. Just follow the second logging road in through the trees. You’ll find it.”

The woman at the tourist information centre made it sound like paradise: towering cedars, clear water, and bubbling hot springs. And all for free. Who could resist? And, really, why would you want to?

Listen to me read this post:

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She was right. It wasn’t hard to find. The logging road was well used and, although deeply rutted here and there, quite comfortably passable until we got to the spot where a tree had fallen across the road. A vehicle was already stopped at the tree because there was no way around the tree. Three people were working away to move the barrier. With our muscle added to the effort, the very heavy tree was rolled off the roadway.

We drove a bit farther and finally a little orange sign nailed to a massive tree trunk along the road indicated that this was where to get out and start walking.

The first path was wide and with many twists and turns, and it ended up at a large wooden tub that someone had built by hand. A green garden hose ran into the huge vat from an unseen source. The big wooden tub was full to the brim with steaming water. I stuck my finger in, pulled it out with lightning speed and thought, “If I had 4000 potatoes I needed to boil almost instantly, this set up would be perfect!”

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From where we stood next to the deathtrap hot tub, I could hear   water moving swiftly over rocks. We followed a narrower path around a bend and for a few metres before the river came into view.

There, at water’s edge, someone had painstakingly constructed a piled-stone wall enclosing a little hot pool area six by eight feet or so. A dirty and tattered blue plastic tarp also helped to dam up the separate pool. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Inside that roughly walled off section near the river’s shore, the water was still. Another green garden hose stuck out of the rocks that lined the riverbank. From this flowed more of the potato-boiling hot water I was telling you about. This hot water poured out of the garden hose and splashed into the cold water of the Arrow Lakes chain. Where hot and cold met in the rock pool, the water was pleasantly warm.

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A forest path.

We stripped down to our swimming suits, left our clothes on a rock and gingerly stepped in. Not bad. We hadn’t been in there long before someone emerged from the trees on that narrow path. In one hand he held a paperback novel and in the other, half a bottle of red wine. We greeted him. He quietly answered in French and smiled, the light brightening his dreadlocks as he moved out of the shade and into the sun closer to the water’s edge.

Then I watched in fascination as this young man set down his book and his bottle on a flat rock, and proceeded to remove every stitch of clothing. I knew I should look away but this was way too good to believe!

I assumed he was a tree planter, planting new trees in the forests that had been logged. Naked as the day he was born, he scooped up the novel and his wine, and sat down on a boulder. There he read and drank and let his toes dangle in the hot water. From where I sat, I couldn’t argue that he seemed right at home and I envied, just a little, this young stranger’s comfort with himself and the world.

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Although I admired his youth and sense of freedom, I decided to leave some of my own clothes on that afternoon because I no longer share his youth and I’ve never quite been that free. Still, the tree planter made the experience of the natural hot springs just a little more natural, and that was great!

Thanks for reading. Have a great new week! – Lori

 

 

 

 

Pigeon-holed

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Here’s a repost all about how I don’t like being categorized as one type of writer or another. I can’t choose between genres and I can’t pretend to be one thing. I’m multi-facetet, so take what you like and leave the rest.

We try to sort people into boxes and when they don’t fit, we are not that happy. Human beings sure don’t like surprises when it comes to human behavior. Good luck controlling and predicting that. I learned a lot when I wrote my novel Denby Jullsen, Hughenden about how folks are disappointed when they don’t get the behaviour they expect.

Before writing Denby, my first book-length fiction for adult readers, I’d worked for several years for The Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune as their weekly faith columnist. This was great! This position kept me writing and ultimately it led to the publication of my first book.

Listen to me read this post:

A friend of mine who had been a faithful follower of my faith column felt proud when I released Denby. She lent the book to her friends, older women who had also enjoyed my column. They were not impressed. What had happened to Lori? She never made references to sex in her weekly column, she never wrote about drinking, and she certainly never swore in her faith pieces.

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A recent picture of me. Now I’m used to disappointing others.

My friend and her cohorts had inadvertently tripped over one of the differences between a newspaper column and fiction for grown-ups. The borrowed book was unsettling. Feathers flew in the henhouse.

Again, more recently, someone else expressed disappointment with the sexy bits in Denby. It’s been a few years now and I’ve had to explain to some ruffled readers that, if a writer does it correctly, characters in books behave like actual people. They have physical relationships, experience lust, and then lose interest. Some characters drink too much and even swear occasionally while others appear as straight as pins. Later on, those straight characters are the ones who go right off the rails.

Does the writer always get to choose how her creations will behave? Heck no. I try to fit my characters into boxes that suit the plot. I slot them into a timeline and place them on a carefully-mapped trajectory. They usually get to where I intend them to go, but they do unexpected things along the way. They swear, have sex, and have a drink, those unruly, realistic characters.

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Fictional characters aren’t the only ones we like to strictly categorize. For years, I tried in vain to neatly compartmentalize myself. “From now on, I will act this way.” It rarely worked out for me. The container into which I stuffed myself kept expanding and changing shape. I’ve accepted now that this will be the case until I’m placed in that final box and dropped into the ground. In fact, now I see all this changing and shifting as something to celebrate, but it took a long time to foster that point of view.

Throughout my life I’ve watched as others like me have tried unsuccessfully to fit into too tight a niche. They believe they should be a certain way. It never quite works out for them, either. I’ve also witnessed people confined by the rigid expectations of others. Living under the weight of cruel control is a joyless, soulless existence.  I’ve had the sorrow of seeing some die while still trapped by their restrictive designations, and I’ve felt my heart soar at seeing others break free of their restraints and fly. It can go either way.

Denby CoverI know I’ve said it before and it’s still true. People are complicated. We are full of surprises and often hard to predict. Yet, we try to mold ourselves and others into what we expect. This leads to a range of reactions from mild disappointment to full-out fury. To avoid disappointment and anger we could learn to accept our changing, unsteady human nature. But that would mean tearing down a whole lot of walls and gaining a fresh new perspective.  Sometimes it’s just easier to pigeon-hole ourselves and everyone around us.

If you haven’t signed up to follow my blog by email or here on WordPress, please consider doing so. If you’re signed up, you won’t miss a blog post. Thanks for reading and take care. ~ Lori

A Collage of Photos and Thoughts

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a great week. This piece is my excuse to post a few of my favourite thoughts, quotes, and images. Have a good weekend and thanks for stopping by. ~ Lori

Divested – A Poem

Invested:

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Country cemetery near Madison, Saskatchewan.

Dig a hole,
Build a house,
Or buy a house.
Big screen TV,
Recreational vehicle,
a boat to tow behind.

Renovate:

New cupboards,
New floors.
Fix up the bathroom,
Replace the light fixtures.
New dishes,

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Autumn landscape off into the distance.

New furniture,
And carpets to match.

 

 

Eliminate:

First a garage sale,
Then the house sale.

Smaller place:

A condominium,
Or assisted-living.
Another sale,
Adult children post
accumulation on Kijiji.

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Into the woods.

Much smaller place:

 

Cremation or casket?
Dig a hole.
Divested.

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An autumn road near home.

MarkTwain ALie

Don_t Come To My Funeral(My Bad Poem That Makes a Good Point)Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t care.Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t be there.But when I invite you to A barbeque

Not Young Enough

Don’t Assume There’s a Later

After dying in a car crash, three friends go to Heaven for orientation. They are all asked this question: “When you are in your casket, with friends and family mourning for you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”

The first guy immediately responds, “I would like to hear them say that I was one of the great doctors of my time and a great family man.”

The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference to our children of tomorrow.”

The last guy thinks for a minute then replies, “I’d like to hear them say ‘LOOK, HE’S MOVING!’”


Before beginning this piece I deliberated for a long while because I don’t know if you’ll be interested in reading about this experience or not. Why did I hesitate and why am I still wondering if this will be a suitable topic? As you know, dear reader, I tend to write quite a bit about death and, compared to the other lighter, funny topics I touch on, the death-themed blogs, strangely enough, aren’t as popular. Go figure.

In my experience, people generally don’t like to think about dying. As I’ve expressed before, though, death is one of those big things we all have in common and the greatest fact that makes me appreciate life. I would go so far as to say that death gives my life meaning. Why should I live fully, take chances, eat good food and drink good wine? Because I’m going to die, that’s why. I can’t think of a better reason or a more solid truth than that. Death has given me a deep respect for life. I’m not suggesting that mortality should be the centre of your thoughts; I’m only stating that considering my own mortality has benefited my living.

About thirteen years ago now, I devoured the DVD boxset of the HBO drama Six Feet Under. The five-year-long series told the story of the Fisher family, of their friends and the people they meet along the way, and of their Los Angeles funeral home business. The show’s finale reveals how each main character reaches the end of the line, and by the time I’d finished watching this final episode, I knew what I was going to do.

Within a few months, I had made an appointment with a lawyer to get a will created, purchased a cemetery plot outside of town and wrote the script for my own funeral. Should I get taken out by a semi on the way to work one morning, everything is ready to go in a tidy manila file folder. I’m certain I’m going to die and uncertain about when, so it seemed most considerate to those who will have to deal with my departure that I prepared for it.

More than mere consideration for those left living prompted me to undergo this process. Writing my own funeral, standing atop that tiny prairie plot and discussing my last will and testament made death very real to me. It was no longer an event that was going to happen sometime. It became an event that could happen anytime. This new, sharper perspective brought to my life a kind of gentle urgency that whispers in my ear, “What’s most important? Do it now. Don’t assume there’s a later.”

Do I still go on autopilot several times throughout the day? Do I forget that each moment is unique and precious, never to be experienced again? Do I fail to remember that tomorrow may never come? You bet. But remembering death’s inevitability is the quickest way to swing my intentions back around to what matters most to me right here and right now. That’s the gift death has given me.

 

Kids Survive the Darnedest Things

Hi there! Here’s a post I put together for the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society all about a lost child and the dream a man had that told him exactly where to find her.

Kids Survive the Darnedest Things

Little nine-year-old Ethel Thorpe, caused a stir in the community that old timers will never forget. July 13, 1915, she and her little dog left as usual about 4 p.m. to bring home the cows. Her family waited, and waited in vain, for her return. It started to rain and her frantic parents, knowing she had on only a light cotton shirt and overalls, lighted a big bonfire on top of a high hill, hoping she would see the light and come to it.

They notified neighbours, who in turn passed on the word that a child was lost and soon the entire countryside from Wainwright to Provost to Hardisty was organized into a huge search party. Men searched on horseback, in buggies and on foot, through rain-soaked brush and trees, through grain fields and rolling prairie thunderstorms encumbered them, they searched doggedly on. But after four days and nights of searching, hopes that she would be found alive were at low ebb.

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The west side of Hughenden’s main street, 1912

The morning of July 18th dawned clear. The sun shone brightly for the first time in days. Its warmth and brightness seemed to give renewed vigor to the enormous crowd that turned out to make one final effort to find little Ethel.

Two bachelors, Jim Murphy and John Black, felt confident that today they would find her. They knew just where to look, for Jim Murphy had dreamed a dream that night. In the dream he saw the child and recognized the terrain.

They lost no time in getting started that morning. When they reached the approximate spot of Jim’s dream, he got out of the buggy and said, “I’ll walk around this side of the bush, you drive around the other. She is here somewhere.” And there she was, just as he had known she would be, huddled down in the tall grass with her little dog clutched tightly to her breast.

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A summertime view from Hughenden’s countryside.

Ethel’s first impulse on being found was to run and flee. It took a lot of coaxing on the part of the men, one of whom was a friend of the family, before she could be persuaded to go with them. It is thought that through exposure to wet and cold, and the fright of being lost, she had been in a sort of fevered stupor much of the time, for she told of how she would run and hide whenever she saw men or teams approaching.

She had lived on berries and slough water, and no doubt her dog, cuddled close to her, helped keep Ethel warm. A doctor pronounced her quite all right but rather weak after her ordeal.

~ written by Mary Burpee, from The Lantern Years


Regarding The Lantern Years: Buffalo Park to Neutral Hills

Lantern YearsThe Lantern Years is a book that covers the span of history from 1867-1967 in Hughenden, Amisk, Czar and surrounding districts. The book was compiled and edited by the Hughenden Women’s Institute. In 1967 it was published by Inter-Collegiate Press, Ltd., Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then this Centennial project was marketed and sold.

Here is the first note of appreciation from the front of the book:

In Appreciation

The Hughenden Women’s Institute Book Committee wish to express their sincere thanks to the following:

  • Our families for their understanding and tolerance when our work on “The       Lantern Years” seemed to have precedence over all but the most essential tasks.
  • All clubs and organizations and individuals who have given us their financial support.
  • The newspapers and broadcasting companies who helped to tell their readers and listeners about “The Lanterns Years.”
  • To all those who so willingly showed their faith in us and “The Lantern Years” by buying anywhere from one to a dozen books in advance of publication. And to those same people we say thank you too for all the kind words of interest and encouragement expressed both verbally and by letter. There were times when they meant more to us than you could ever guess.
  • To Mr. Dick Brouwer for his help and co-operation in the matter of the old pictures.
  • To everyone who has helped in any way with “The Lantern Years” we say “thank you.”

Mary Burpee

Tena Parke

Viola Wight

Ester Mellemstrand (our helper from Amisk)


Whenever I’m doing local research, The Lantern Years is often open on my desk as it is right now. This book offers a unique take on the history of this area. The book is a goldmine of stories often told in the voice of the storyteller. There are old photos throughout the book, and an especially good collection in its back pages, including these great pictures:


Here’s another note of appreciation found in the front pages of The Lantern Years from Mrs. H. H. Carson on behalf of the district:

In Sincere Appreciation

Our sincere appreciation is extended to Mrs. Clarence Burpee, Mrs. L.S. Parke, Mrs. I. Mellemstrand, and Mrs. H.S. Wight for the devotion, time and effort given to the writing and assembly of material for this history so that it might be an authentic record of the pioneers of this district.

A grateful thank you is extended to each and every member of the Hughenden Women’s Institute who have contributed to the history and promoted the sale of books.


Hughenden PicnicTowed Behind Horse

Thanks for dropping by! If you’ve enjoyed this little bit of history, please consider sharing it. Have a really good weekend.

~ Lori

 

 

A Change in Routine, A Change in Perspective

Late Afternoon

A pasture in the late afternoon sun along the road I walk.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago all about how shaking up our routine can open us up to a renewed view of life. Today I’m considering facing a fear and digging into a couple projects I’ve left untouched for too long. And so I find myself thinking about a change in routine and a change in perspective.

I hope you have a great new week in which you can experience a refreshed outlook. We all need that in January! ~ Lori

Listen to me read this post:

I’d felt a cold circling around my head last night as we played a board game with the neighbours. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up with a throbbing headache, irritated throat, and clogged sinuses. No problem, though. I took it easy all day, slept in, and drank tea.

At about 5:00, I felt a bit better and a little restless. Today the weather warmed up. The temperature rose from about -30 degrees Celsius to about -5. No longer a prisoner in my house and thinking that maybe the fresh air would do me good, I went out for a walk.

Lately, I’ve developed a habit of walking in the early afternoon, right after lunch, when the light is full. How different my world looks at 5:00 p.m. with the sun low in the sky and the street lights making the snow crystals sparkle like diamonds.

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Another late-afternoon view from along the road I walk north of town.

Against the washed-denim sky, fading with each passing minute, bare tree branches stretched and tangled together, black and stark. In the ditches along the road, tracks told of rabbits that had been there just before me.

As I walked by, the horses that looked like painted plywood cutouts propped up in the pasture raised their curious noses to watch me. When I inhaled, the clean winter air filled my lungs and as I exhaled, I felt all the cold germs leave my body.

Through the very last light of day I headed back into town grateful that a minor head cold gave me a change in routine and a change in perspective.

Thanks for dropping by! Don’t be a stranger. ~ Lori

 

The High Cost of Dying

It’s something many of us are curious about, but it’s a difficult topic to find information about and a sensitive subject to bring up. That’s why I brought out the funeral invoice I had on hand and shared the costs with you in this post. In the second part of this blog, I wrote about embalming and cremation, and how I feel like I have very limited options when it comes to dying.

Traditional Funeral Costs in Saskatchewan

In December of 2018, my father-in-law passed away. He was from Kindersley, Saskatchewan, but had been in the hospital in Saskatoon following an emergency hip replacement operation. That necessary surgery proved to be too much for his 92-year-old body.

The total cost of his memorial was $11,070.00. The funeral home my husband and his sister used is Kindersley Community Funeral Home and Crematorium Inc. Here’s a breakdown of the costs, taken from the funeral invoice, along with an explanation of some of these costs:

Mileage from Saskatoon – $480

My father-in-law’s body needed to be transferred from the University Hospital back to Kindersley, SK. Only ambulances and hearses are permitted by law to transport human remains. The distance between Saskatoon and Kindersley is 200 km. That’s $2.40 a kilometer. An ambulance pick-up and transport within Saskatchewan costs between $245 and $325. I reviewed the provincial government’s website and found no information about the availability of transport of deceased persons by ambulance.

Decedent Care and Identification – $665

This includes identifying the body as my father-in-law’s and moving his remains from the hospital morgue to the hearse.

First Call and Local Transfer – $575

I don’t know what this is unless it’s a charge above and beyond the rental of the hearse for the funeral. It could be the cost of bringing the body to the church and then to the cemetery.

Vehicles – Funeral Coach – $600

This is for the hearse rental for the day of the funeral.

Casket – $2,945

This casket is described on the invoice as the Imperial Casket Ashton Woodbar. A similar casket from Costco is $900, but the substantially cheaper one is made of poplar, not ash, and it is not quite as ornate.

Ashton Woodbar Casket

Walker Casket Hilltop

Cemetery Open and Close – $682

This amount covers opening and closing up the grave. Also, it likely includes the cost of the rough box/grave liner.

Second Inscription – $380

My husband’s mother passed away in 2006. At that time, a headstone was engraved and erected. My father-in-law’s date of death needed to be inscribed on the pre-existing stone.

Cosmetology – $125

Dressing and Casketing – $195

Equipment for Church and Cemetery – $190

Food for Lunch – $86.55

Church Fees – $600

The minister of my father-in-law’s church performed the service and the family rented the intimate church hall for the lunch following the funeral.

Jamac for Obituary Etc. – $56.70

This seems to be the cost of submitting the obituary to the newspaper and online. I looked up the term “jamac” and found out that it’s an acronym for Joint Aeronautical Materials Activity, but I don’t think that’s what’s being referred to on the invoice.

200 Inserts @ .10 Each $20

Legal Attendance and Administration – $445

Local Notices – $60

Overhead: Building and Staff – $1,145

There was a time on the evening before the funeral during which friends and family could view the displayed body at the funeral home. An attendant from the home was hired to be there. I think the viewing was open for two hours.

200 Printed Service Cards – $300

Staples lets you create funeral cards and prints them off for you. It costs $158 to print 200 of them.

Regulatory Fee$50

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The cemetery at Kindersley, Saskatchewan in December.

Staff for Traditional Service – $525

I think there were two people from the funeral home in attendance at the church. The service was half-an-hour long and the burial took about the same length of time.

Universal Precaution Supplies – $60

Funeral Arrangements – $425

Goods and Services Tax – $459.25

Payment Interest Information:

“In most cases, estate funds can be released to look after funeral accounts, even if there is need for probate. Interest at 1.5% per month will be charged after 30 days (19.6% annual rate).”

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The Tradition of Embalming

Listen to me read this post:

Human beings have experimented with preserving dead bodies for thousands of years. It was President Abraham Lincoln who made the practice of embalming in North America popular during the American Civil War. Lincoln became acquainted with Dr. Thomas Holmes when, in May of 1861, the doctor offered to embalm the body of Lincoln’s friend and colleague, Colonel  Ellsworth. After that, Dr. Holmes embalmed thousands of Union soldiers’ bodies so that they could be transported back home.

Surgeon Embalms CW Soldier's Body

 
A surgeon embalms a soldier’s body during the Civil War. Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

On May 24th, 1861, Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, a close friend and colleague of President Lincoln, was killed while removing a Confederate flag from a hotel in Virginia. Dr. Holmes went to Lincoln and offered to embalm Colonel Ellsworth’s body, free of charge. The Colonel then lay in state at New York City Hall so soldiers could pay their respects.

~ From Fit For a President: The History of Embalming

Then, in 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., his body was embalmed and transported by train for public viewings. Here’s a great article written by Brian Walsh, Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Elon University in North Carolina, all about the tradition of embalming and how it has become a part of the funeral industry.

After researching the practice of embalming, I know this for certain: I don’t want it done to me. I have made this very clear to friends and family members. At this point, my only other option is cremation. The average cost of cremation in Alberta ranges from $1,100 to $1,300 with no funeral service. There are, however, less expensive direct cremation options.

Traditional-Bamboo-Caramelize-2000x2000-Clear

Traditional Bamboo Urn passagesonternational.com

If you want a funeral service along with a cremation in Alberta, this will run you between $2,800 and $3,800.

Ideally, I would prefer that my body is left alone after I die. I don’t want to be stuffed in a high-heat oven and rapidly burned or have my blood replaced with chemicals. To me, it all seems, at best, undignified and, at worst, gross. Also, the dear folks left to mourn me are also left to pay for all this indignity that I don’t even want.

You know what would be nice? I would really like for my body to be cleaned up, dressed up, and wrapped up in a homemade quilt or placed in a willow basket casket, and buried in the local cemetery. I don’t even need (or desire) an ornate headstone. A natural field stone, large enough to inscribe my name and dates of birth and death on, would be fine by me. But I don’t have a lot of choice. I feel like my inevitable death has been commandeered by the traditional funeral industry.

Willow Casket by Passages International

Willow Casket by Passages International passagesinternational.com

I like the concept of green burials but not strictly for environmental reasons. Sure, it’s better for all the poisonous chemicals not to leak out of my body and into the soil, but in the sparsely-populated Lakeview Cemetery, my embalming fluid probably won’t make that big a difference. What I like is the decreased cost to my loved ones and the increased dignity to my remains. I’m okay with decomposing naturally like other unpreserved organic material, not like the romaine lettuce and avocado skins in my compost bin.

Thanks for reading and listening! I hope you have a very pleasant weekend wherever you are. ~ Lori

 

 

Live Dangerously

 

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Beachfront bar in Sayulita, Mexico.

I have to admit that I re-read this the other day and laughed out loud. I was so irritated by the travel advice given in the photocopies I received when I went to get my Twinrix vaccination. I really resent being made to feel afraid of the big world around me.

Yes, I realize that I could get sick or attacked or injured while traveling. But any number of terrible things could happen to me at any time and anywhere. I refuse to let this fact keep me from experiencing life.

Am I sometimes afraid? Of course! I’m nervous about entering a lot of new situations. I try to explore those unfamiliar sights and tastes and sounds anyway. No, it doesn’t always work out and occasionally I feel disappointed or a little ill or generally let down. And then I get over it.

I hope you have a very nice weekend and, if you’re in my neck of the woods, keep warm and take care!

~ Lori

Not so long ago when I went to get my Twinrix vaccination, I received from the pharmacy what I call The Red Folder of Fear. In it was information about all the devastating things that could happen to me if I leave my house.

For your benefit, dear reader, I’ll share some of these tips with you here. You can find more information to keep you at home at or, at the very least, keep you afraid at Health Canada’s website.

After all, travelling isn’t about enjoying the world. It’s about enjoying safety precautions.

“Too much sun can be harmful, so be careful!”

Yes. Here’s a newsflash: Sun can cause sunburn and sun can cause us to age, just like life does.

Listen to me read this post:

“If you are in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., [You daredevil!] wear long pants, long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim.”

Safe and attractive. Don’t go out after dark, either, because that’s unsafe for a whole heap of other reasons. That gives you two or three hours in the morning, and another two hours before supper to experience the paradise you flew five hours to see and the vacation you spent a month’s wages on.

What’s my recommendation for avoiding the afternoon sun? Find a shady bar or a lawn chair under an umbrella and keep hydrating with whatever they’re serving. Prefer not to sample the local beverages? Go for a massage. That’s pretty safe, and it will get you out of that ridiculous hat and those long pants.

For the sake of all that’s good in the world, even if that dangerous sun is shining, leave your hotel room.

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Iguana at the Marina in Puerto Vallarta.

Here’s a good one:

“Wash your own salad greens in a solution of six drops of chlorine bleach in one litre of safe water. Soak for thirty minutes, and then rinse with safe water.”

Is the water safe? How can you know for sure? This whole water scenario sounds risky to me.

“Lori, are you coming downstairs for a margarita?”

“No, you go ahead. I’ve got lettuce soaking in the bathroom sink and I still need to peel some vegetables. Also, I’m frightened of the sunshine.”

Yes, peeling your own vegetables (and nuts?) is also advised in The Red Folder of Fear:

“Peel your own fruits, vegetables, and nuts.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve peeled a nut. It might be fun to try that again.

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A dangerous heap of coconuts.

“Beware of local buses. They are often overcrowded, poorly maintained, and in a hurry.”

Suggested interpretation: If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s not good enough for me.

Local buses can be your ticket to affordable adventure. Seriously. Local public transportation can take you places you’d never think to visit on your own. Riding the bus is a great way to tour and a good chance to rub elbows with the locals.

Sure, don’t lick your fingers after clutching the bar on the back of the seat in front of you. But why would you do that? You’re a world-travelling bus rider. You’ll wash your hands and then lick your fingers.

Why were you clutching the seat bar or the one above your head? Because, often, these buses are in a hurry, so hold on tight and enjoy the scenery!

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Some of the 24 suggested first aid items.

Don’t leave home without it.

The Red Folder of Fear lists twenty-four handy items you could pack in your travel medical kit depending on a list of ten factors I’m not going to mention. I suggest antihistamines, a pain reliever, bandages, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, something for nausea, and sunscreen.

Within its comprehensive list of twenty-four items, The Red Folder of Fear suggests bringing:

  • A thermometer.
  • A first aid book.
  • Shampoo for treating lice and scabies.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • Disinfectant.
  • A Swiss army knife. (I love this one and so do the folks at airport security!)

By the end of this list, I’m wondering if I’m becoming less of a tourist and more of a serial killer.

I get the impression from The Red Folder of Fear that the only safe place to vacation is on my big red couch at home. If I stay there, I decrease my chances of illness and injury, of trauma during and following a wild bus ride, and of having any fun.

While that folder increases my chances of staying alive, it greatly reduces the chance that I’ll get to experience life at all.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

 

 

 

 

 

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