Us vs Wing Commander (the movie)

11165098_oriEnjoyed watching Wing Commander with my son tonight (courtesy of Netflix) — it was his first time (that he can recall) seeing it. Terrific film. I remember reading praise for the realistic feel of the ship designs, as though submarines and battleships had been retrofitted for spaceflight and interstellar journeys and combat. It’s a great ride, that movie. Makes me want to seek out and watch, with him, a few others that he’s never seen before or that I might have shown him bits of once or twice: The Last StarfighterThe ExplorersFlight of the Navigator . . . I remember having seen Starfighter at a drive-in theatre with my parents, although I’m not sure when or where I first saw the latter two. I know my family had them on VHS for years when I was growing up.

One thing I really love about watching space fantasy films with Jack is that he gets into discussing the physics of the setting and debating the logistics of the story. Not that either of us is terribly up on our understandings of more than the basics regarding friction and mass — we talk about the theory that we understand behind warp travel and space-time and the dynamics of navigating around anomalies or using them to create wormholes. Tonight, while we were watching, he was looking up quasars and pulsars and singularities, and we were brainstorming how a ship might be able to use the energy of one of those to “jump” forward (or sideways!) to another location. We talked visualization concepts — I suggested that maybe a pulsar’s energy moves like waves in an ocean, so a ship with the technology of the movie would aim at the curl, using the “hole” as an entry point to punch through or a place to move the space around it. As I understand it, that’s what warping essentially does: it’s a method of moving space around the object, rather than propelling the object through the space, although to the perspective of the passengers, they’re not moving at all. Or they’re perceiving it as a stillness, a frozen moment, as “jumping” is depicted in Wing Commander.

Side note: Did you know that Mark Hamill did the voice of the hero Christopher Bailey’s computer in Wing Commander? I knew that it sounded familiar! Plus, Bridget perked up when she noticed that the two main characters are played by the guys from the live-action Scooby Doo movies, Freddy Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard.

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Anyway . . . that was my Friday evening excitement, discussing what we think we know about space travel as it’s depicted in science fiction and fantasy, doing research, plus analyzing the tropes and story elements of the film itself. Good times!

The Value — and Comfort — of Silence

There are some days when so much talking has been done — so much hectic running, problem-solving, bargaining, sympathy, storytelling, explaining, restating, revising, assessing, interpreting, guiding, restraining, smiling, frowning — so much of everything that the only remedy for the knots of stress drawing shoulders together and creasing the brow is a good long space of silence. preview Doesn’t have to be absolutely quiet, although that’s nice for a while. Music in the background works nicely, too. Tonight, though, would have been a good night for a long walk with the dog with only the hush of wind sweeping over the snowy hillocks and houses. I, however, was extremely tired when I got home and opted for a lovely short nap instead. I think I ought to have gone for the walk after supper, maybe. Debating now whether it’s too late, or too cold. There is a comfort in being alone with one’s own thoughts. When you have kids, sometimes that quiet is dangerous. Children who are quiet are either asleep or up to something. Tonight, they are neither — since I was sick for those three days, they’re making up for lost time. It’s just frustrating to feel so  . . . drained. It’s not that I’m not appreciative of the bond we have, or that I have the luxury of time and space in which to spend time with my children. But as I recently read in another person’s blog, sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the moments with the family when exhaustion is in charge. It’s a different kind of exhaustion from the work of babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but it’s still there. And January doesn’t help either. Bloody long and cold month, with one more to go (albeit a few days shorter) before the hope of warmth returns. This is when people who can afford it start planning their spring break vacations away, in places hot and sunny with sandy beaches and lapping waters. Several of my students are paying into something called an S-Trip, which is a young-person-only, supervised holiday at a tropical resort, sans parents or teachers. I would enjoy planning a getaway with our children, taking them to Florida (the great Canadian rite of passage: March Break in Disneyworld!), but that prize remains out of reach as long as student debts remain. The other side of it is that I have done a tame version of Spring Break in Florida, and I found that coming back to dirty snow and damp cold was almost worse than not having left it at all.

IMG_5194When I was in university, my mother took myself and her mum to Marco Island for a week. I was grumpy, missing my husband of only few years, struggling with undiagnosed mental health issues as well as feeling hormonal, a bit bored at staying off the beaten path so we wouldn’t tire out my 80 year old Gran, and frustrated at having still another two years of school until I could graduate. I forgot to value the silence. And given our collective personality similarities and differences, there was a tension that built until my Gran got upset and stated that she would be happier at a hotel. We had a sit down and discussion, worked it out, got through, and it really was a nice holiday after all of that, but it’s always going to be one of those, “if I knew then what I know now” kind of deals. I ended up giving my Gran a pedicure, I remember that, and having lovely walks along the beaches as well as visiting family friends.

IMG_5196But it was over all too quickly, and flying away from the warmth, colour, palm trees and sunshine back to grey roads and frozen car doors was horrible. No wonder Snow Birds leave before the first snow and don’t come back until it’s all gone away. Still, I am grateful that my kids have learned to respect when I need quiet, for the most part. And hubby helps as well. Increasingly, they’re valuing time to themselves also, retreating to their own rooms to play without being a bother or making a worse mess than what already exists. Family patterns and behaviours are necessarily dynamic, shifting as we all age and move into different stages of our lives; perhaps we’ve entered a place where we’re all now capable and prone to introspection, even Bridget. Certainly the children have learned to value the fact that their rooms are valuable for activities that would be too noisy or crowded for the living room, and how to negotiate taking over our common space when they want more than one friend to stay overnight.

There are still some nights when I wish I had Holly Golightly’s pretty earplugs, but they’re getting fewer and farther in between.

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And for one glorious day, the hamster wheel slows down a little…

Even though I didn’t get my daughter to her skating lesson right on time, 7 minutes late onto the ice is still better than 15. And then the rest of my day was just . . . breathing space. She was difficult to get ready for skiing, but making her put on her ski boots and sticking her boots into the bindings was easier than I had expected. What’s more, I didn’t feel the judgement I was expecting from a few other parents whose children were also having lessons. Instead, I found support.

“Good for you,” one nice lady told me. “I don’t think I’d have been able to make her get going like that.”

It wasn’t easy, I said. And it continued to be tough. She stood there and cried, as she’d cried while I made her switch her snow boots for the ski boots, and pulled her outside, and marched her to the ski rack, and pushed her feet into place on the skis. She cried when the wonderful and patient ski instructor came up behind her (with my permission) and gently skied with her down the slope. She stopped a little when I trundled down the hill and pulled her behind me halfway back to the top.

I pulled a Maria von Trapp: I tried making as much of it a game as I could.

“Aaah! Don’t run me over!” I yelled over my shoulder.

“I’m not, you’re pulling me!”

(Not sure whether she knows I’m kidding. I changed tactics.)

“Mush, Mommy!” I bolster myself, trying to jog upwards against gravity. “Mush!”

Then the grade got the better of me, and she had to side-step. But her instructor and I made it fun, gasping for breath as I held her hands and helped her to balance.

Once we got to the top, her next move was to cry again, pleading to take her skis off. I told her I was too tired just then, she had to wait. Then, I turned her around and had her facing another direction. More tears.

The snot coursing down her face gave me an idea.

“Do you want a kleenex?”

She nodded. I told her I’d be right back, and headed inside the chalet. As soon as the door closed, I went and found Hubby, told him what was up, and asked him to help me out with her. I will admit to a bit of selfishness here: I have paid for a family membership and I want to ski, too. I need the exercise and the peace. And bless his heart, unlike our first visit to the ski hill when he’d been remarkably grumpy, he was willing to come out into the cold to help.

Here’s where I got tricky: I approached with kleenex in hand, but suddenly, “gravity” was pulling me down the hill, away from them! I called up to Bridget and her instructor, “Anthony! Bridget! I have the kleenex but gravity is pulling me down the hill! You’ll have to come to me!”

Anthony gently coasted down toward me, and she took the kleenex. Then I winked at him. “Oh, no! Gravity has you too! Now you’re going down the hill past me!”

She cried again, but went down the hill the second time.

I used this opportunity, while Hubby was watching her and calling out encouragement, to dash back into the chalet and put on my own ski boots and helmet. Came out just as he was helping her back up the hill. She didn’t want me to leave, but as I said to her, now it was my turn while she finished her lesson. And now that her Dad was in charge, the games were definitely changing.

Sometimes, you need that good-cop, bad-cop routine when you’re parenting. All he had to tell her was that if she took her skis off, he was going to take everything out of her room for a week.

She did not like that. Nor did she like me leaving her to suffer. But again, I tried to have some fun with it. I coasted slowly away, yelling, “No, don’t chase me! I won’t let you catch me!” Heh heh, that old reverse psychology thing. You never know when it’s going to actually work. Well, she didn’t come after me herself, but her instructor grabbed her up again (slowly, gently, making eye contact with me to make sure it was okay), and the two of them “chased” me in a gradual zig zag down the hill. And would you believe it — she smiled!

At least until I said I was off to the bigger hill, and then she was crying again.

I looked back a couple of times on my way, and saw her dad taking her in hand. Literally, he was helping her to get back up the hill. And then the next time I looked back, she was going down with the instructor again.

The third time I looked, as I waited to get on the T-bar, she was going down independently, with the instructor skiing backwards in front of her.

Best. Feeling. Ever.

This general perception I’ve had lately of being trapped on a perpetual hamster wheel, pumping my legs in the same routine and getting nowhere fast, stuck in the rut of day-in, day-out, it vanished as I was propelled up the lift with my music playing, the wind in my face, and the beautiful fluffy snow falling softly from tree branches. I tried two new runs, wiping out magnificently on the second one where the snow hadn’t been graded in a while and was so deep, I couldn’t see the ski that had fallen off at first. But that deep, deep snow on which my momentum was hung up, hurling my body forward and down, was also pillowy-soft for the landing, I didn’t lose my glasses, and I actually found myself laughing as I spit out the mouthful of snow. And I laughed at myself when I fell again a few minutes later, and I couldn’t get back up on my feet.

It was only an hour and a half at the ski hill — and of that, I think I did about an hour of skiing, or maybe less — but damn, it felt good. Got home and there were no immediate concerns to be faced. The TV stayed off for a while. I had a hot shower (still ended up with a refreshed cold and an abundance of sneezing), held our bearded dragon for the first time because she showed more comfort with us, and did some long-overdue reading and editing, sipping wine, then tea, and making turnovers for the first time in forever, with my records playing.

The hamster wheel is waiting for me, just a day away. I can feel it. But my daughter, who started her ski lessons crying and ended them laughing and bragging about the fun she’d had; my son, who repeatedly thanked me for bringing us out skiing every weekend now; my husband, who’s having a whole weekend off with us and gave me the space I needed, plus taking over on being the heavy with our younger child — all of these have taken the squeak out of the wheel, or even moved it aside. We got through the rough edges of the day, found our balance as a family, and although our house is still messy, we’re going to bed feeling good.

Skiing: 1988 vs 2015 . . . Good times. Shy times. Better times.

One late winter day last year, I stuck my feet into downhill ski boots and strapped on the skis for the first time in a little over two decades. The first run was terrifying, but with guidance from a friend and colleague, I made it down the hill alive and unbroken (though screaming most of the way). I remembered how much I’d enjoyed swooshing down the hill and determined to do more of it. I managed a second venture back to that ski hill, this time bringing my children, but it was more stress than fun: my daughter didn’t take to the lessons well (part of the issue being the instructor’s accent — my daughter doesn’t speak any French — and the steep grade of the hills), but my son loved it, even going on after his first up-close-and-personal encounter with a tree.

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On the lift at Mont Kanasuta last year (2014).

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Dig that view! Absolutely stunning.

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Bridget likes the concept but struggles with the reality. I know she’ll get the hang of it with her lessons this year.

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Renting skis for a day or two was a great way to reintroduce myself to the sport. Very glad I found my snow pants for this year, though. The splash pants help, but don’t prevent snow from getting crammed up the back of your sweater when you wipe out!

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My teenager quickly getting the hang of his skis. Attaboy!

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What a good sister to lend her big brother a helping hand!

So this year, I decided for my own mental and physical well-being, and to encourage my kids to enjoy the great outdoors in our long, northern winters, we’d each get skis and a membership at Larder Lake Ski Hill, which is only 30 minutes away from home. This brought back a lot of memories, including being given my first new-to-me pair of skis when I was 11 or 12. 

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Me, in my fabulous faux-fur coat, ready to hit the slopes! Although, in this pic, I might have been going cross-country… 😛

I have tried to keep in mind what it’s like to be a child, trying to recall my perspective when I was my children’s ages and how baffled I sometimes was by my parents’ behaviour. It’s much easier to recognize now their motivations (and levels of exhaustion). So I understood that my son was a little dismayed by the scratches and faded colours of his new-to-him skis, picked up for a bargain along with a set of boots. But they work, and they were very, VERY affordable, and they let him fly down the hills. Plus, they’re safe.

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My almost-14-year-old ready to fly! We both enjoy the little speakers in his helmet, letting him listen to his tunes as he goes. 😀

My first set of skis in 1988 were blue and green in colour, and although they gave me speed, my parents didn’t know at the swap meet that they were unsafe. The rules of safety on the ski hill had changed without their knowledge, and I didn’t find out until I had nearly outgrown them that the leash on the bindings was basically illegal. The design was meant to keep one’s skis from running away down the incline in the event of a wipeout, but it had a terrible side effect of banging the skier painfully about the head during the wipeout. Happened to me the second time I bombed down a steep hill, in fact.

Oh, yeah. At that time — 1988 — we didn’t wear helmets. Those skis hurt. A lot.

Poles were also considered standard for everyone back then, but I remember at one point deciding to leave my poles at the chalet and taking on the ride without them. I loved it! So it didn’t surprise me when I was told last year by the instructor, and this year, that kids are no longer taught to ski with poles. My husband still finds it a bit hard to understand, but I get it. They’re optional, after you’ve learned to balance and shift.

Adolescent me didn’t wear a helmet, occasionally used the poles, had leashes about my ankles that threatened me with more pain than necessary, and outgrew the equipment quickly. By the time I could no longer coax my feet into the boots, my family had moved too far from most ski hills to make purchasing new equipment worthwhile, and when we went back within a comfortable driving range, I had lost interest. My head and legs probably still remembered those damned leashes, though I missed that terrific swish and swoosh downhill.

10885178_764408086974251_2962209519960220687_nAdult me isn’t growing anymore, though. My main concern now is making downhill skiing (and outdoor activities in winter) a healthy habit. If I can do that, it will make purchasing brand-new skis a worthwhile investment. It feels a bit funny to wear the helmet, still, but I’ve known people to get badly hurt smacking into a tree or a hard patch of packed snow, so I might just put effort into decorating my helmet in order to personalize it for myself. And it’s like wearing my helmet when I’m on a bicycle (darn, another item I need to replace since mine was stolen three years ago . . .) and with the kids: it’s a good example for them.

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I still feel kind of dorky, and I have to remember to take that “Medium” sticker off the front. I should look into knitting patterns for helmets . . .

Plus, the helmet is incredibly comfortable and warm. I mean, sometimes with a hat on you get a slight breeze or it flies off and you’re downright cold. But a lined ski helmet is downright cozy when you’re flying down that hill. Definitely worth the money.

It’s funny, but walking into the chalet brings back memories of shyness and anxiety. I remember feeling so out of place when I was an adolescent, perceiving glances as unspoken questions like “Why are you here?”; now, though, I’m able to walk into the chalet and meet others’ eyes with a smile. Maybe it’s the difference of twenty-odd years, the experience of growing up, the necessity of considering whether my children are feeling shy and wanting to set a good example for them of how to cope, or a combination of all these things. One thing is for sure: I love the atmosphere of the Larder Lake Ski Hill chalet more than any other I’ve experienced. It’s happy, friendly, and welcoming. Of course, it helps to see familiar faces, but there is a vibe in that small building that I didn’t experience at the Tri Town Ski and Snowboard Village, Blue Mountain in Collingwood, or Mont Kanasuta in Quebec. It’s possible that they are friendly and welcoming, and I’m filtering my experiences through my own lack of confidence in my skiing abilities, problems in my own social skills, and issues with my self-esteem.

But I’ve been riding the endorphins ever since the first run this afternoon. We all went to the hill last weekend — my hubby included, although with surgery needed on his knee skiing is out of the question for him for the time being — and I managed one run before my feet went numb because I’d buckled my boots too tightly. This afternoon my son and I did about an hour’s worth, had a great time, and resolved to try to get back again tomorrow. And next weekend my daughter will start afternoon lessons with a terrific instructor I know. The thing I like, too, about making this a family activity is the time it gives us together to talk about whatever is on the kids’ minds, get away from being couch potatoes, and make the memories that I know will last for years and years.

For now, I will continue to bask in the recollection of today’s fluffy, creamy white powder, fresh-fallen and still coming down; how it squeaked under my skis on the lift and slid in puffs away from me on the way back down. The whisper of snowflakes on my skin as I whisk past them in the cold air, and my son’s gleeful laughter at seeing me buzz past him. Today was a good day.

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