Godt Nytaar!

I am three quarters Danish;  my mother was born in the tiny fishing village of Karrebeksminde on the coast of the island of Sjaelland (Sealand, if you prefer) in Denmark.  Sjaelland is also home to Denmark’s capitol, Copenhagen.  My father, as it turns out, was conceived on the high seas as my grandparents immigrated from Denmark to Canada.  He was their first child, born in Calgary, Alberta.

My parents met in Vancouver and were considered rather old when they had me;  my father was 35 and my mother 37.  As a result, I was an only child, and all through my childhood I heard about Denmark.  My parents both had Danish friends, so I remember visits between them, fat cigars smouldering, Danish delicacies like festsuppe and vienerbrod (translated literally as “feast soup” and Vienna bread or Danish pastry), and at Christmas, little Danish flags everywhere.  I remember visiting the Danish Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where I had been baptised, and its red roof and model ship hanging from the rafters, a site in pretty much every Danish Lutheran church, and I recall attending the Danish Bazaar in the church’s basement every year.  My first words were a mishmash of Danish and English, and my mother loved to brag to her family back in Denmark that I spoke that language.  I found out years later that my Danish was actually pretty much a hybrid between the two languages and my grammar was all wrong, but as a child it seemed perfectly natural to me to converse in either language.  When I first went to school, I remember being given a spelling test and asked to spell the word “milk”, which I dutifully spelled “melk” because that was the Danish spelling.  I was offended to be told that it was wrong.  How could it be wrong to spell something correctly in Danish??

Eventually, my Danish was overshadowed by English, although I kept it up in conversation with my parents over the years.  In the spring of 1970, my mother’s sister, my Aunt May came to visit us.  It was a real adventure for me to have my Aunt May, who spoke a little English but not much, staying with us for a few weeks.  We introduced her to Vancouver, where she marvelled at the skyscrapers and mountains, both unheard of in Copenhagen.  I loved to tease her at her inability to pronouce English words starting with “th” and “shr” because they came out of her mouth sounding hilarious to me!  She good naturedly went along with my teasing and we got along famously.  I didn’t know at the time that the reason my Aunt May came to visit was because my mother was dying, and this was their last chance to see each other.  When my aunt was preparing to fly back to Denmark, I was upset that my mother wouldn’t let me go with them to the airport, but of course, I know better now.

My parents were planning a trip to Denmark when my mother passed away.  In a phone conversation with my Aunt May shortly after my mother’s death, she convinced my father to rebook the trip for the following year, 1973.  And so that spring, my father and I flew to Europe, neither of us having been out of North America before.  By this time I was 15 and a real teenage brat, but we spent five weeks in the country of our heritage, travelling from Sjaelland to Lolland Falster where my grandparents were born, enjoying Copenhagen, riding bicycles and light trains and buses and visiting with everyone we could on both sides of the family.  I was able to see the house that my mother was born and grew up in, the church where my father’s parents were married and the country that I had, up to then, only imagined.  I spent my 16th birthday in a pub with my Aunt May and my Dad, which would have been unheard of here in Canada.  My Aunt ordered me a pint of beer and after that, I was blitzed!

At a dinner out one evening, we decided to have Chinese food, and I was absolutely entranced listening to the Chinese waiters speak Danish…it was utterly fascinating to me.  I was also perturbed to hear the Danes talk about “pizza”…what?  There’s no Danish word for pizza?  I bought and wore Danish clogs as my father and Aunt May and I wandered the streets of Copenhagen, visited the real Little Mermaid and enjoyed the sites and sounds.  There were beautiful castles, cobbled streets, fairgrounds, a depth of history I could barely grasp, great food and wonderful people.  When I said goodbye to my Aunt May, I was sure I would be back again some day.

As it turns out, I have not been there since, and I recently found out that my Aunt May passed away just before Christmas 2009 at the age of 95.  Many times I have had dreams about being there or flying there, but life has always found a way of distracted me from actually going.  I have kept in touch with some of my cousins, and every now and then I think about and talk about going back, perhaps with one or both of my daughters.  In the meantime, every Christmas I put Danish flags on our Christmas tree, and once every year or two I hold a smorgasborg for my good friends with traditional Danish food and lots of beer and schnapps.

My father remarried a couple of years after my mother passed away, and I inherited an unusually blended family of Danish and Chinese.  My brother, who looks more Chinese than caucasian, was told as a child by his Danish grandmother “Never forget that you’re a Viking!”  I smile, imagining this little boy who always indentified more with his Chinese roots hearing that from his grandmother.  I often tease him that I’m going to bring out the Dane in him, but I have yet to succeed :-).

In the meantime I’ve never forgotten my Danish roots, and although my mother worked very hard at speaking English without an accent and becoming a Canadian, I’m happy that she and my father gave me such a wonderful, rich culture to celebrate.

Godt Nytaar means Happy New Year. 
To all of my readers, here’s to a year full of happiness, harmony and good health!

IJ

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Out For A Walk

Steveston Fishermen's WharfImage via Wikipedia

One day when I was about 12 years old, I was about to be sent home from school because I had come down with the flu.  The nurse at the school tried to call my mother at home, but there was no answer.

I knew where she was.  She was out walking.  I didn’t realize at the time that the reason my mother had taken up walking was because of her cancer diagnosis;  she was out almost every day walking anywhere from two to four miles.  It was the only time I ever saw her wear pants and running shoes.  When I was five years old, my Dad’s car kicked the bucket, and since we couldn’t afford another one, we went without a car for about five years.  My Dad was a bus driver, so we either walked or took the bus anywhere and everywhere for those years.  The three of us walked to the neighbourhood grocery story every Friday evening and packed home the week’s groceries.  It was just our routine.  As a kid, Dad loved walking or hiking everywhere either alone or with a friend, and often walked up the famous Grouse Grind on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, long before it became cool to do that!  As he got older, he never stopped walking, and would often choose to walk rather than take the car. 

Many years later I was out on my usual walk when I suddenly remembered my mother’s walks, and realized that we had both chosen the same activity as a health benefit.  At first, walking was something I did occasionally, especially when I was in Richmond visiting my family.  The boardwalk by the Fraser River in Steveston is a lovely walk, but my little Fernwood neighbourhood here in Victoria is also a pleasant route. These days, I try to walk four times a week and as the weather improves sometimes I walk pretty much every day.  In the last few months I’ve focused on it even more, especially after reading a few stories on the benefits of walking for at least half-an-hour at a time.  It keeps your weight in check, of course, but I’ve always thought of it as the most obvious form of exercise a human being can choose.  We were made to walk.

My sister runs.  I hate running.  It always feels like my innards are being pounded into mush, never mind the crunching sound my knees and hips make when I have to dash across a street to avoid a car, for instance.  I gloated to my sister once when I found out that at a certain distance, running and walking burn the same amount of calories.  Take THAT!  Yeah!  She just looked at me with her little smile, knowing full well that she’s in better shape than I am, regardless of any of my proclamations.  Good thing she’s OLDER so I can at least rub that in.  I win 🙂

A couple of months ago I found an About.com article all about walking.  I found out that your weight x distance = the energy consumed by walking, so I immediately opened Google Earth and used the distance tool to calculate how far my usual walks were taking me and how many calories I was burning.  Hmmmm.  Okay, so not that great.  I fiddled around a bit and adjusted a few blocks this way and that way and came to a new route that would burn more calories.  The other caloric element that wasn’t taken into consideration was the fact that I live on a hill.  No matter which way I go, I eventually have to go uphill to get home again.  That boosts the caloric numbers too, so I decided to find the street with the steepest grade, just to make it even better. The first time I attempted that street, I was wheezing by the time I had only gotten a quarter of the way up.  Holy crap.  Half way up and my legs were aching and my heart pounding out of my chest.  When I reached the top, outside of being completely winded, I had a hot flash.  Sheesh.  But I did it.  And I’ve incorporated that street into most of my daily walks since.  It’s gotten somewhat easier, but it still kills me.

Aside from gardening and golfing, walking is what keeps me sane and centred.  There is the physical benefit, to be sure, but the emotional and mental benefits are just as important to me, if not more so.  Some days when it’s wet and cold out there, it’s hard to get motivated, but once I am out the door, I immediately feel better.  Even though I go at a pretty good clip, I pay attention to trees and birds and gardens and to the people I often see on a regular basis.  I always say hello or good morning and serve up my best smile.  By the time I get home, I’m stress-free and at peace with the world.

When my cat became ill and started to lose his kidney function a few months back, I found a vet that was within walking distance so I could incorporate the visits to pick up his specialized food and medication.  And these days, instead of hopping in the car to go to the bank or to the grocery store, I stick on a backpack and walk it instead.  Fortunately we have a mall fairly close to us that has pretty much everything we need.  With some encouragement, I occasionally convince my husband to walk with me there and back, but for the most part I walk alone and enjoy every moment.

It has been on my mind in the last while that I should one day take you on a small, pictorial tour of my walk, just to show you some of the interesting sights I have come across.   If I can ever remember to take my camera with me, I will do just that.  Maybe you’d enjoy taking a walk with me :-).

IJ

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My First Tune-Up

Steering wheels from different periodsImage via Wikipedia

I was in my early 20’s when I finally got my driver’s license…a little older than most of my friends who drove. My impetus was that I had a boyfriend who lived in another city, and I was tired of taking the bus. So I bought a used silver VW Rabbit, took some driving lessons, failed my first test and then finally passed. I was very proud of myself.

I had heard of some mysterious procedure called a tune-up that had to be performed on the car on a regular basis. A couple of months after I bought the car, I decided that I should perhaps get one of these, and so I started looking through the yellow pages for a shop that dealt with VW‘s. I found an autobahn and made an appointment.

When I picked the newly tuned car up after work, it all seemed very simple, and the mechanic said the car was now in good working order. I was so pleased at having gotten through my first tune-up with flying colours that I took it for a little drive. It was downtown Vancouver, right in the middle of rush hour, but I was having fun. On a street with a slight hill, I hit a red light, and then realized my seat was back further than I wanted it to be. So I decided to adjust it.

At the red light.

On the hill.

Thank goodness I had my hands firmly on the wheel…the seat fired backwards before I could even think, and it was only my grip on the wheel that kept me from completely losing control. I’m a short person, and I could barely keep my foot on the brake, the light was still red but about to change. I used every muscle I could muster and gradually dragged myself and the seat closer to the front, yanking the steering wheel pretty hard. Phew! Just as the light changed, I hooked my seat into place. This little incident threw me somewhat, so I decided to head home. Someone honked at me lightly as I was making a right turn. I looked in my rearview mirror, but couldn’t figure out who it was. A couple of streets later on another turn, I heard the mysterious honk again.

As I drove into the spiralling underground parking lot of my apartment block, I realized that it was ME honking… everytime I turned right, the horn would blow! I had to spiral right all the way down the underground parking lot…and now I was furious!! Who were these “autobahn experts” who wrecked my car??!!??!!

I got to my apartment and phoned them immediately. “My car horn honks every time I turn right…what did you do to it?” “Ma’am, we only work on the engine when we do a tune-up.” “But this has just begun to happen, and I think YOU are responsible!!” “Okay, okay, bring it in and we’ll take a look at it.”

The real job was planning a route back to the autobahn without turning right…I managed to accomplish that until the very last turn, right into the parking lot of the autobahn. And then, just as I turned, someone pulled in front of me, and I was stuck with my steering wheel in a right turn and the horn started one long, loud, blast. I tried desperately to turn the wheel so I could get it to stop. Suddenly there were employees and customers running out of the building trying to figure out who that bitch in the car was, honking her horn like that…a bus full of people drove by, and everyone was peering out the window at the commotion.

The other car finally moved so I could straighten out my wheel. I must have been the colour of Santa’s suit by the time I got out of the car and stomped over to the mechanic. When he looked at my steering column, he said “It looks like your steering wheel was yanked really hard, the wires for the horn have come loose.”

Ahem.

IJ

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On Being A Girl

Female symbol. Created by Gustavb.Image via Wikipedia

For the most part, I like being a girl. There are some days when I don’t, of course, but since that day in elementary school when I was terrified of having to climb the ropes in P.E. and found out I didn’t have to because only the boys had to climb them, I’ve been relatively relieved to be a girl.

Before I started elementary school, I only played with boys because we didn’t have as many girls in the neighbourhood at the time. I was, in fact, afraid of one group of girls who were a little older than me and used to come by my house and call me “cute”. I didn’t like them. Boys, to me, were easier to get along with. I enjoyed playing with toy cars and building forts and putting on plays in the back yard. I wasn’t much for dolls. You might have thought of me as a tomboy, but I wasn’t that either. I just liked what I liked. I hated wearing dresses because we had to wear them in school. My favourite day of the year was sports day when we all competed in various competitions. I didn’t like sports, particularly, I just liked that I could wear shorts to school on sports day. Ah. Much more comfortable.

The hormone thing changed my relationship with boys considerably. Their hormones, not mine.

I wasn’t at all comfortable with being attractive to males in the beginning. Eeeww. I distinctly remember standing at the bus stop once when I was about 13 and some guy in a big dump truck whistling at me out of his window. I wasn’t sure what to do. What does that MEAN??? It was a very weird experience, but it began happening more and more as I blossomed (I hate that word, is there a better one? I’m not a petunia for pete’s sake.) I suppose I should have appreciated being attractive to anyone, but mostly it made me cringe.

I did, however, have that feminine urge to get married and have children. I understand the drive to do so although I know that not every female experiences that feeling. One of the most profound experiences in my life was giving birth to my first daughter. There was this unbelievable sense of accomplishment from that…as if my body had done exactly what it was supposed to. I can’t describe it any other way. So it seemed to me that this was my purpose, but once I had actually achieved those goals, I felt at a loss as to what I should do next. Was that it? Get married, have children…ta da?

That was when I began to focus my energies more on my music again.

Being a female alone, out late at night and packing up after a gig somewhere made me somewhat vulnerable I suppose. Many times there were guys who would go out of their way to help me load my gear and accompany me to my car, and I always appreciated that very much.

On one occasion I was moving my gear to my car in an underground parking lot in downtown Vancouver, after a gig at a Starbucks. A friend had come to see me that night and helped me load up, which was great, but then he had to leave and I was by myself in that underground parking lot. It didn’t bother me until the next morning when I heard that a guy with a 12 inch knife had entered the Starbucks probably only minutes after I left, and threatened the employees.

That’s when I decided that I needed a cell phone. I often stayed with my in-laws when I performed on the mainland, but I think I worried them more than I worried about myself. My mother-in-law told me once that often she wouldn’t sleep until she heard me come in.

I can’t say that I was particularly afraid at night because I’m not exactly a pushover. I mean, if I was confronted by someone who was trying to do something to me, I’d probably just get really mad. It’s likely not the best reaction for a person to have, but that’s the way I am. I think there are males out there who can smell vulnerability, but they would never have smelled it from me, and that’s that!

Sometimes I wonder if my early interaction with boys gave me a better sense of them. I don’t know.

My daughters have taught me a lot about being a girl. They always liked the frilly dresses and fancy hair and make-up stuff that I just didn’t get, and over time they’ve given me a better appreciation of my “girlness”. It’s funny because when I was carrying them, I thought they were both boys. In fact, I think I wanted boys because I understood them and figured I’d be a better Mom to boys. But I can’t imagine living life without my girls now, and they were the best gift a reluctant female could ever have had.

I appreciate the attention of males now more than ever. Only, now they have gone grayer. How can that be? But I am no longer uncomfortable with their gazes or flirtations, I only wish it would happen more.

So wouldn’t you know it, now that my skin is starting to sag and my vision is blurring…now that I’m filling out in bad places and sweltering with hot flashes…I’m finally really enjoying being a girl.

IJ

[Note to self: you realize Kim is going to razz you for still calling yourself a girl :-)]

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