You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Monday, May 30, 2011

Everyone and Their Dog

"Looks like everyone and their dog is here." ~ Stewart Hutchings

I grew up with a distaste for crowds. I learned this from my father, who intentionally avoided places he considered tourist traps. Many of my friends got to visit the Flinstones theme park in Kelowna, B.C. The Hutchings family drove right past places like this without slowing down. Dad would gladly stop at a place that had historical or cultural significance. Initially, I was led to believe that these were more worthwhile places to visit. In hindsight, it is entirely possible that we actually stopped at these places because they were far less crowded??? We would go out of our way to find campsites that did not have power hookups and showers. When it came time to visit Klondike Days in Edmonton, we went with mom and our grandparents. For the most part, I still dislike crowds. Like the narrator of Robert Frost's famous poem, I prefer the road less taken.

On the May long weekend, we decided to go for a hike on a very popular trail. The Kootenay Plains are a remarkable place to visit and the most traveled path in the area goes to Siffleur Falls. It really is a beautiful spot. The trail is wide, well developed and flat. It is a very easy, accessible, family friendly hike. It is not as busy as a place like Johnston Canyon or Bow Summit, but on the day we hiked it, there was no solitude.

We passed groups of every imaginable composition. Families with three or more generations. Church youth groups. Mountain bikers. Buxom young ladies in bikini tops. Solo trekkers. Shirtless dudes with potbellies toting a Coors Light in one hand and a lit Export A in the other. Young couples. Asian, German, First Nations, Redneck, Quebecois. Aside from the trail we chose to spend our Saturday enjoying, the one thing that most of the groups had in common was a canine companion. When we pulled into the nearly full parking lot, I couldn't help imagine what my father's reaction would be. I honestly think we would have circled the parking lot and left. It was that busy.

While I have many of my dad's quirks when it comes to spending time outdoors, I happen to be a dog owner. One of the first things my wife and I bought together was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. We named her Bailey (after the character in WKRP, not the Irish Creme) and she was a huge part of our life. She passed away when our boys were fairly young and we were poochless for about three years. In September 2008, we got an e-mail about a litter of seventeen Chesapeake puppies. The pictures were incredibly cute and you can guess the rest of the tale. We have another Retriever in our lives and she keeps us on our toes. She is very true to her breed, though she is quite small. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in speed, agility and stubbornness. Maggie is, shall we say, a spirited creature. She needs to run, swim and retrieve things. She digs, barks, jumps up and listens when it suits her. I am concerned that she could die of gastric misadventure.

In spite of her overall goofiness, we love her to bits and I think the feeling is mutual. She spends most of her nights in the bedroom of one of our family members. If we are not home, she plunks herself between the boys' bedrooms at night. She really is at her best when we are hiking, biking or near a body of water. Needless to say, she was in her glory on the hike to Siffleur Falls. Not only did she get to swim, run and explore, she got to sniff the rear end of dozens of new pooches. Talk about doggy heaven!

I know that this journey would have made dad's skin crawl. It was a bit much for me, but when I really thought about it, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. All of the people we encountered were there for the same reason - to enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful spring day. The dogs we encountered were very well behaved and the hikers were generally well-behaved. My kids had a great trip and I'm pretty sure that, given the opportunity, they will bring their kids to hike this trail.

It is true that I am more willing to visit a crowded place than my father. I have endured the wildlife-induced traffic jams of Yellowstone Park and elbowed for a view of Old Faithful. On our family journey to Los Angeles, we made a bee-line for Hollywood and Disneyland. I love visiting big cities like Toronto and Chicago. Somehow, I don't mind Las Vegas in spite of the incredible excess and waste it represents. Last fall, we spent the night in a Motel 6 in Niagara Falls, ate at the Rainforest Cafe, went on the Skywheel and took a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. Talk about full-bore, crowded, cheesy tourist traps!

Given the choice, I still prefer to have a stretch of river or trail to myself. I don't mind sharing with wildlife. When I fish, I like to go with partner, mainly because my favorite fishing spots tend to be pretty secluded (see my post The Places I Love to Fish).

If I must share the outdoors, I prefer to share with my family. And my dog. After all, I can endure any crowd when I'm surrounded by those I care for the most.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Technological Dissonance

dis·so·nance Noun /ˈdisənəns/
  • dissonances plural
  • Lack of harmony among musical notes
    • an unusual degree of dissonance for such choral styles
    • the harsh dissonances give a sound which is quite untypical of the Renaissance
  • A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements

The idea for this post has been percolating for over a year, but I never seem to get around to actually writing it. I've changed titles, messed around with the topic and even now, I'm rewriting this introduction for the fourth or fifth time. In essence, this post is about saying NO to your kids even when you eventually say YES. It's not easy to explain, so here goes.

I’m not talking about a state of total denial. I’m just saying that it is a parent’s job to teach their children. As a child's primary teacher, parents do children no favors by saying “Yes” to all of their requests.

For several years, I was absolutely adamant that our children would not have video games or a gaming system. I said no for a long, long time. At times, I ranted and raved. I cited the "vidiots" I taught who spent every waking hour gaming instead of reading or doing my incredibly meaningful homework. I read to my kids every chance I got. We did not (and still do not) have a DVD player in our vehicle. When we went on a long road trip, we took books, played games like 21 Questions and, if it was an extra long trip, we purchased an Invisible Ink puzzle book.

My reasoning went something like this... I didn’t have anything like it when I grew up. Most of my friends had some sort of gaming system – Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision. I made do with my handheld Coleco football game. I never was very good at video games (with the notable exception of Galaga) so I spent a lot of my childhood enjoying simple things like reading and playing with sticks. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I missed anything because I didn’t own an Intellivision until 1996 (a fellow teacher had a system gathering dust in his garage, so I brought it home on a whim.)

Over the past couple of years, gaming systems have gradually made their way into our house. Santa brought my oldest son a Nintendo DS and since then, a DSI, two iPods and an Xbox Kinect have appeared. My children have always had a computer to use. They are digital natives and it amazes me to watch them interact with and figure out anything that is electronic. What finally swayed me was watching how their peers interacted and socialized. Gaming has become a social event that can be shared whether they are in the same place as a friend or not. I wondered if I was turning my kids into social pariahs through my absolute denial of portable, personal gaming systems.

Their gaming was initially restricted to educational sites and games like Brain Age. Over time, we have mellowed. Before our New Year's Eve party this year, I even purchased the Dance Central game so the kids could play (and laugh at the adults.)

In retrospect, it appears that I was being obstinate and perhaps hypocritical about gaming systems. I did have handheld games as a kid – Coleco Football, Mattel Basketball, and an amazing piece of plastic called a Merlin. When I was twelve, one of the coolest things I did with the friend I wrote about in Stand by Me was to play Space Invaders on his Atari. During my third year of University, I bought a Mac Classic II (after all, it had a blazing clock speed of 16mHz, twice as fast as the first generation of Mac Classics. When I started dating my wife, I did enjoy playing Donkey Kong on their Nintendo. I have a laptop from work that I bring home and take with me when I travel. My wife and I both have an iPhone and when I’m away from 3G and WiFi, it seems strange to me.

Part of the reason this post has taken so long is that I don’t believe in preaching. I particularly don’t want to write one thing, then turn around and do the other thing. My first title for this post was “Do Your Kids a Favour and Say No”. Upon further reflection, dissonance has tempered my outer grouch.

In my job, I do encounter children whose parents indulge their every whim. For many parents, screen time for their children means peace and quiet. Buying candy in the store also buys a quiet child and prevents embarrassment. My wife and I try hard to ensure that our children understand that they cannot have everything. We don't have the financial resources, but more importantly, I really want my kids to understand that things need to be earned.

More than anything, I hope that parents think carefully about the decisions they make when it comes to their children. I take a very long time to make decisions because I really need to understand as much a possible about an issue before I determine my stance. I am pleased with the way technology operates in our home. It allows us to learn, to communicate and provides a great deal of entertainment. Like anything, moderation is crucial. Every hour spent in front of a screen is balanced with an hour of physical activity, homework, reading or family time.

After all, I spend a great deal of time writing this blog because I really enjoy writing and I love the feedback I get from people on the thoughts that rattle around in my head. It would be pretty sanctimonious for me to deny my children the opportunites that technology affords them. I may not always say what I mean, but I do mean what I say!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stand by Me

Over the past weekend, I led a group on hike around Nordegg, Alberta. The route follows an abandoned rail line and crosses three trestles that are in varying states of disrepair. As the kids (and adults) nervously picked their way across rotting boards, one of the group leaders mentioned how much the trek reminded him of a scene from Rob Reiner's great film, Stand by Me. This comment brought back a flood of memories for me that form the basis for this post.

Many people have seen this wonderful film and I imagine that most people know it was based on Stephen King's novella, The Body. I'm not sure that everyone knows that this story first appeared in a collection of King's novellas called Different Seasons, a book that also spawned the blockbuster film The Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known Apt Pupil. When I was a teenager, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I purchased Carrie at Woodward's book section in July 1982, read it in two days, and was hooked. I plowed through all of King's books I could and was thrilled when my mom brought home the paperback version of Different Seasons in the fall of 1983. She bought it at The Wee Book Inn in Edmonton's old Strathcona neighborhood and it still sits on my bookshelf.

There is a line in the movie that says "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

My answer is yes. And no. Let me explain...

When I was twelve, I had a fair number of friends. Like Gordie, the protagonist and narrator of The Body, I had three or four very close friends. Now that I am forty, I've lost track of most of them, stayed in contact with several and lost one of those friends to an automobile accident nearly twenty years ago. My youngest son is named after my fallen friend, who died two weeks after I had asked him to be in my wedding party. His loss had a profound impact on me and completely changed the way I look at the world.

Another of my very close friends had been my best friend through most of elementary school. We shared a keen interest in birds, fishing, music and sports. We were in the same class and Cub troop. We slept over at one another's homes, went camping together, rode our bikes along the roads surrounding our elementary school. I admired him and wished I could be more like him in so many ways. He was always a bit taller than me, even though I was very tall for my age. He was definitely far better looking. When we went to the local roller rink, girls lined up to skate with him. They skated with me, too, not for my looks, but because I could skate backwards. In grade six, he moved to another school and we continued to keep in contact, but things were never the same as they were when we were in grade five. He moved to Toronto for a year when we were in junior high but returned to Sherwood Park during the summer of 1986. It's somewhat ironic that one of the last things I really remember doing with him was going to see the biggest movie of that summer. You guessed it. Stand by Me.

At twelve, my closest friend had already been my teammate for six hockey seasons. We spent the winters traveling to the same arenas, eating in the same roadside diners, and staying in the same hotels. Our weekends consisted of practices and games throughout Alberta. We even travelled to Quebec to participate in the Tournoi Hockey de Carnival and billeted together with a man who drove an AMC Pacer, spoke fluent English, and made sure we ate plenty of pastries. When we weren't on the ice, we often went to one another's homes and spent our time firing orange street hockey balls, pucks and tennis balls at one another. We watched Stampede Wrestling with his Ukrainian Baba on Saturday afternoons. We listened to AC/DC on vinyl records and eagerly anticipated the opportunity to watch Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oilers rewrite the NHL's record books. By the end of most of our hockey seasons, our bounty included several medals, trophies and complete sets of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards.

He was a great hockey player. Smart, skilled and shady when he had to be. We were captains and assistant captains. We won far more games than we lost. Even at twelve, though, he had a different perspective. He loved the USA and had been thrilled when the American hockey team won gold at Lake Placid. Two of his favorite pro players were Dave Christian (a result of his preference for Christian hockey sticks) and Greg Millen (yes, the colour commentator). Like his father, my best friend thought about things in unique ways. Some of my favorite memories of those years included driving to and from hockey, listening to talk radio and discussing whatever event his father was interested in.

We have stayed in contact in spite of the fact that we live in two different provinces and lead much different lives. I really look forward to our infrequent visits, as do my boys, who idolize their "Uncle Weese". It is true that I don't have any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Friends like them are incredibly special and I am very fortunate that I get to stay in contact with many of the guys I played hockey and rugby with as a teenager. We lived, loved, got an education, made plenty of mistakes, killed a few brain cells and somehow managed to become productive adults. Even as adults, I know them by their nicknames. Willy, Billy, Hoovman, Otto, Goo, Colman, Pee Wee, Parkie. I love the fact that we still get a chance to pick up where we left off. We don't need to talk on the phone or send Christmas cards. These guys really are the best and the fact that we still dart in and out of one another's busy lives is a testament to what great guys they are.

In my new life in Red Deer, most of my closest friends are teachers. We have worked hard, played hard and laughed lots during the past eighteen years. I am blessed that my best friend and teammate through university lives about 500 steps away. We have been "best man" at one another's wedding. We have taught, coached, backpacked, camped, played and lived together. He is perpetually upbeat, easygoing and positive. Our kids all go to school together and I have the extraordinary opportunity to work at their school. Like their Uncle Weese, my boys consider Jeremy an uncle and I'm fortunate to call him my friend.

My adult friends are an awful lot like the friends I had as a teenager. They are quality human beings who are not afraid to have a good time. My adult friends love sports, the outdoors and their families. Like my buddies from high school, they all have nicknames. Bee. G-Mac. Jimbo. Jimmy. Noonan. Pearson. Pickles. Robbie.

My childhood memories are like a lawn full of dew. It only takes a small step before I am drenched with thoughts that run a gamut of emotions. The older I get, the more positive the memories. It is completely accurate to say that my friends today are nothing like the friends I had when I was twelve.

I am convinced that this is a good thing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Peace be With You

I believe that you can tell a great deal about a person from the way they treat animals and children. My paternal grandfather was a tough man to be around at times. Even after he passed away, he requested that there be no memorial service. His final wishes were to be cremated and his ashes spread near the junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan Rivers. This spot is about an hour’s drive from my home in Red Deer and it is on the way to one of my favourite rivers to fish. Every time we cross the river, I smile to myself and think of the day we gathered to fulfill his final wishes.

It was a small contingent. Me, my parents, my aunt and uncle. We met for breakfast in Rocky Mountain House, a small town where my grandfather was stationed during his time with the RCMP. The restaurant is a short drive away from junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan, so we found our spot quickly. It was a gorgeous spring day, but we were not able to access the actual junction of the rivers, so we settled for a spot along the banks of the Clearwater just upstream.

As we said our goodbyes and released his ashes, we heard the voices of two small children. Their dog bounded up to meet us and actually ran right through the recently spread remains of my grandfather. At first, I was taken aback that someone else had intruded on the final memory of a man I admired and learned so much from as a child. My aunt, as usual, was able to make me smile and put things into perspective. We didn’t say anything to the children, returned to our vehicles and came to my place in Red Deer to spend the rest of the afternoon. As we prepared for supper, Auntie Lee laughed to herself then told us how she thought it was fitting that our intimate memorial service had been crashed.

“After all,” she noted, “Dad loved kids and animals. He didn’t like most people, but he always had time for children and animals. I don’t think he would have minded that we had company today.”

I’m inspired to write this by the passing of a person I only saw three or four times a year, but I looked forward to seeing him each time. I didn't know him really well, but honestly felt like I got to know him better each time we came to Nordegg. Brent Young was a figure known by anyone who spent time around the Shunda Creek Hostel or townsite at Nordegg, Alberta. He managed the hostel, was a driving force in the volunteer Fire Department/Search and Rescue, introduced countless people to the wonders of central Alberta and put a smile on the face of everyone he talked to. Brent grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, but landed in Nordegg several years ago and chose to stay because "he liked the big back yard." He was full of unforgettable witticisms like "There's not much happening, but it's all going on in Nordegg.”

Brent loved the outdoors and the adventure it brought. He told me that the perfect drink was scotch because it was easy to carry into the backcountry and all you really needed to add was snow. One of his main mantras was “No dramas” and he spent as much time as he could climbing, skiing or just trekking around. He was absolutely selfless and never seemed to be in much of a rush. This summer, I watched him tour my ten year old son around the Nordegg Fire/EMS newest bush rescue vehicle. For at least fifteen minutes, he answered every single question with the same patience and enthusiasm. Brent loved to talk and treated people with dignity. He was a big part of the reason I wrote the following blog last summer. (Nordegg: Reason #3 To Love Central Alberta)

For the past several years, every time I brought a group of children to stay at the Hostel, I looked forward to visiting with Brent. My oldest son loved the hostel so much, he wanted to spend his tenth birthday there. From middle schoolers to Cub groups to my own children, Brent treated the kids with respect and loved sharing his little piece of the world with anyone who found their way to the hostel. Kids loved Brent because he wore knitted hats, spoke with the cadence of a surfer and dished out phrases like “Cool bananas” and "Have a sunshiny day". Even if we weren’t staying at the hostel, I loved seeing him around the community or when we came to the hostel for a hot shower.

Brent died last week in a backcountry skiing accident. It seems fitting because he made his exit doing something he loved to do. I’ve read many stories about the untimely passing of people who love the mountains. Will Gadd has written a couple of columns about people who remind me of Brent. Accidents are an acknowledged risk of anyone who heads into the backcountry. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled you are, nature is more powerful and unpredictable. I’ve often said that if I pass away unexpectedly, I’d want to do so while I was fishing. I honestly never believed that a person I knew and admired would be in this type of situation.

The world lost a beauty last week. Brent truly made the world a better place and people can learn a great deal from the way he respected and loved the outdoors, treated others (particularly children), and animals. He was the full meal deal.

We are heading to the hostel for Cub Camp this weekend and it saddens me deeply to know he won’t be there in person. Shakakan.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thanks, Mom

I stand outside/This woman's work/This woman's world" - Kate Bush

I'm certain I've said thank you to my mom more times than I can count. I'm equally certain I have never have explained exactly what I'm thankful for. There are several moms in my family and I work with a primarily female staff, most of whom are moms. With any luck, this post will illuminate the respect I have for these ladies and anyone who is blessed with the title of "Mom".

A while ago, I wrote a blog for Father's Day called My Most Important Job. I was able to write it from my heart and speak very clearly about how much it means to be a father. I enjoyed thinking about the lessons in fatherhood I learned from my dad and both of my grandfathers. This post is a bit tougher to put into words. I hope I can do justice to how much I admire and respect moms.

In my line of work, I need to deal with situations that involve speaking to mothers about their children. The bond between a mother and their child(ren) is one of the strongest things I have run into. Even the toughest, most at-risk, troubled children will not betray their mom. Mothers of these troubled kids usually don't give up on their child. Even a mother who says "I don't know what to do with that kid anymore" has deep-rooted affection in their eyes. It's a connection that no father can really understand because we don't carry this child inside of our bodies.

Watching the birth of my children is one of the greatest experiences in my life. It was unbelievable, really, to see a new life begin. One of my favorite movies in university was John Hughes' "She's Having a Baby". In this movie, Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern play a couple who have a very difficult time bringing a child into the world. The scene where McGovern's character gives birth to their daughter is both gut-wrenching and touching. Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" provides an emotionally-charged soundtrack to the scene, but I never truly understood it until we rode the emotional roller coaster of becoming parents.

Our first son was born a nearly month early and my wife's labour was extremely quick. At first, we weren't sure it was happening. Within hours we went from being a married couple to being parents, completely responsible for bringing a new child into the world. The birth of our second child was more difficult and happened very close to when it was supposed to, but it was no less amazing. Giving birth is nerve-wracking, difficult, painful, draining, life-changing and ultimately SO rewarding.

My wife is my best friend and the best mom I know. Admittedly, I'm biased, but I get front tow seats to watch what she gives to our children every day. The patience, kindness and soft-heartedness that exist in both my boys is a direct result of their mother's influence. She has given them the gift of music and I so admire her knowledge and ability. My wife's tender spot for animals lives on in both of my kids. Their love for our dog is unconditional and automatic, even when she is poorly behaved. My wife has been sleep deprived for the last eleven years but she is always there for our kids. She clips fingernails, combs hair, changes beds, listens carefully, makes the best lunches and gives huge hugs that smell like love. When I am hard on our kids, she lets me know and provides a balance every child is entitled to. Her influence and my respect for her is impossible to fully describe.

My mother is equally admirable. She is one of the smartest and best-read women I know. Our weekly trips to the Strathcona County Library remain the best memories of my childhood. We would load into the baby blue Chevette and spend an hour or two exploring the wonders of the library. I knew that mom went to the University of Alberta and for as long as I can remember, it seemed like a given that I would also go the U of A one day (in fact, I liked it so much that went there to earn my Bachelor's and Master's degree). My mom was also patient and dedicated. She gave herself completely to a life of working for Safeway and watching her go to work at all hours of the day and rarely missing a day taught me the importance of dedication. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were simple things like going to the library or driving out of town for a hockey practice, game or tournament. Mom did everything she could for me and my sister. The sacrifices my parents made for us to be involved in sports, dress well, attend school and become adults are incredible. It makes me very proud to say that my mom is honest, selfless, creative and talented.

The other moms in my life possess many of the same qualities. The ladies I work with strike a balance between being amazing teachers and fantastic mothers. My mother-in-law has a huge heart and is absolutely there for all of her daughters. This dedication lives on in both of my wife's sisters, who live and breathe for their children. My sister is another wonderful example of how becoming a mom changes everything. She had her first child at a relatively young age and it completely changed her life. I have spent a lot more time with my sister's family over the past year and it is so rewarding to see how much she devotes to her three children.

I don't know if I have done justice to the importance of the moms in my life. I know it is impossible to cover all of the things that moms are. Moms bring softness to a cuddle and strength to a hug. They raise, feed and deliver children to our world. They are equal parts tender and tough. Moms protect and defend their children.

Every child deserves a mom like the moms in my life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rites of Spring

Spring is really important when you live in a cold place.

I live in a cold place. Don't get me wrong, there are many things about winter that I really like. Skiing. Hockey. Sledding. Bright blue skies crashing into blinding white fields. Watching my dog bound through snow. Chinooks. Let's just say that I tolerate winter and make the most of it. The things I dislike about winter far outweigh the things I love, but since I try hard to make this blog a positive place, I will spare you a rant.

In central Alberta, there are a few sure signs of spring. They are special to me because they mean that the longer, warmer, gentler days of summer are on their way. Summer has always been extremely important in my life. I have looked forward to at least two months of holidays for as long as I can remember. I chose to spend my life in school, which means that spring means the end of an important cycle for me. School years are cyclical roller coasters of emotion, urgency and commitment. I have always found that no matter what happens throughout a school year, May brings a degree of relief and contentment.

A sure sign of spring is the premature appearance of white legs in public. I wear shorts for most of the summer and I can't wait to throw on a pair of shorts in the spring. Some people certainly push it and wear shorts when they really shouldn't. I went to an Edmonton Oilers game on February 28. It was seriously cold, but we followed a dude wearing a Boston Bruins jersey and shorts into Rexall Place. Too early for me, but as soon as the daily highs reach double digits (Celcius), I can't help myself. Today was the warmest day of the year so far and it was no coincidence that my boys joined me in wearing shorts to school. At the best of times, my legs look like they were borrowed from a furry chicken. When spring arrives, though, they get unveiled.

Birds also tell me that spring is near. As a kid, my favorite book was An Introduction to Ornithology, closely followed by Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds. The reappearance of geese, swans, raptors and songbirds always lets me know that warmer temperatures must be on the way. We had an unusally high influx of robins in central Alberta this year and it created false expectations throughout the region. When I was eight, a robin built a nest in a spruce tree on our yard and it was just low enough that I could check it every day. That spring, I watched a life cycle unfold from nest construction to the appearance of three baby blue eggs to the first clumsy flights of the young robins. It was magical to me (and I'm pretty sure I was wearing shorts every time I went to check the nest.)

Flowers also tell me that spring is near. We have tulips in our yard that tentatively poke their heads out once the ground warms up. In Alberta, we usually have a May snowstorm that knocks the stuffing out of the first flowers of spring, but I do enjoy looking for them. Last week, on our way home from the final ski trip of the season, we stopped at a small church just west of Morley flats. I love this spot because this church sits in a beautiful foothill location on the banks of the Bow River. I love not only the location, but the style of the history of this church. It is so representative of Alberta's missionary past. We stopped to look around and I was delighted to find crocuses in full bloom. On the acreage where I grew up, the crocuses would usually share their appearance with the robins. It seems odd how a simple flower can lift your spirits, but seeing those crocuses put me in a great frame of mind.

The most telling sign of spring in Alberta, however, is the magical reappearance of people outside. Through the winter, you see some people on the street. Kids playing hockey, the dedicated dog owners, health nuts and postal workers reign supreme once the snow flies. When the weather turns, however, the trails and sidewalks start to get downright crowded. Bikes, rollerblades, skateboards and scooters materialize. Ball diamonds come to life. The streets around soccer fields are lined with cars and the fields are lined with folding lawn chairs. The smell of grilled meat and the sound of lawnmowers fills the air. Recreational vehicles, shop vacs and pressure washers are pulled out of hibernation. There is a collective energy that is hard to explain, but you recognize immediately.

As I thought about this post, I thought of many other signs of spring. Hockey playoffs, flip flops, backyard fires, street cleaning, rabbits that turn from white to brown overnight, floods in Manitoba, my first sunburnt nose of the season, playing rock/paper/scissors to determine who does the spring dog poo pickup, heading out to fish even though I know the fishing won't be great.

I'm calling it, folks. Spring has sprung. What are YOUR rites of spring?