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Imagine a Canada Story Contest

Hello everyone! I have had many responses in the last few days congratulating me on my selection in the national TRC writing contest recently. For those of you I haven’t been able to thank for your congratulations yet, my most sincere thanks! I have also had a lot of requests to read my story and I would be honoured to share it with you. For those of you whom I have not been able to email you the link I will post it here. I hope you enjoy!

 

Treaty Six Territory

June 21st, 2036

Looking back on the past twenty years, I am ever-surprised at how far Canada has come. When I was a boy, growing up in a farming community in rural Saskatchewan, what I am doing now would have never happened. I am taking my two daughters to the local First Nations reserve – for the third day in a row – to attend the culture festival. Quickly becoming an annual tradition for everyone in the area, the culture festival is a week long event celebrating indigenous history and tradition in Canada. As a country-wide event, each reserve customizes it to reflect its own history and traditions. This has emerged as an extremely effective way to encourage us white folks – and other newcomers to Canada – to learn and grow not only in our own cultures and traditions, but to share in the rich traditions of Canada’s First Peoples. The fact that it builds and strengthens intercultural communities is a side benefit. Yesterday there was a powwow, the day before that we partook in a feast and smudge, and today we are gathered for a re-commitment ceremony of the treaty promises that were made so long ago.

Events such as these are not new to me. Growing up in the Saskatoon inner city and attending an elementary school where my siblings and I were the only white students, I was exposed to many Cree traditions and cultural values as a youngster. For that I am forever grateful. It is now my profound joy that these rich teachings can be shared not only with my own children, but with all of the families who live around us. To see the grown-up children from what had been the most racist families in the area bringing their little ones to an event like this warms my heart in a way words can not adequately describe. That now – instead of something that a select few white people would attend for solidarity’s sake – everyone in the community can gather together to smudge, feast, and dance.

I think that this is an almost magical shift from where things were at twenty years ago. When I look even further back into the past my awe only multiplies. For someone fifty years ago to imagine a future where farmers and people from the reserve could hold hands together and share in the beauty Canada has to offer would have been unheard of. There would, of course, have been people dreaming of a time like that, working for it, striving for it. But to imagine that an on-reserve culture festival would have become a mainstream tradition may have surpassed even their hopeful imaginations.

When I delve back even further into the past, into things that were already a subject of near legend during my childhood – despite their only recent eradication – I am blown away. To think that one hundred and fifty, even one hundred years ago, children were being forcibly removed from their families and traditions; thrust into an unfamiliar and hostile environment; stripped of their traditional clothing, teachings, and language; and abused, ‘educated’, and assimilated is unthinkable. Nowadays the residential schools and their legacy sound like a dystopian novel. This is Canada’s history.

If I were to tell you that the legacy of the residential schools has completely faded I would be a liar. And is Truth not the very basis of reconciliation? Without truth there can be no understanding, no reconciliation, no future. So, as I do not want to undermine how far we have come since Gordon Indian Residential school – a school run by my own church in my own province- closed its doors in 1996, I will not lie to you: the legacy of residential schools is still alive. Poverty, addiction, and a cultural disconnect are still present in Saskatchewan’s cities and reserves. The difference now is how it is dealt with. There are countless functional support systems in place to guide people – young and old – on their journeys through life. Prisons are no longer filled with poor people and disillusioned youth. In fact, today we are as close to a traditional First Nations society as we have been since first contact. The young people are cared for and mentored by the elders, and likewise, the youth provide for elders and people in need. Cultures and traditions are taught in all schools; to white and aboriginal people alike. Day by day racism, poverty, and injustice are being replaced with love, understanding, and reconciliation. Every morning is a fresh page in the tome of Canada’s history, and today’s authors are geniuses.

My wife and I each hold the small, tender hand of one of our daughters. The four of us savour the time together as we walk from our farmstead by the lake towards the reserve. Its mid-summer now and the sun, still high in the sky, warms us pleasantly as we walk. As we pass tall grasses and poplar groves, a rustle at the side of the road grabs our attention.

“What is it, Daddy?”

I peer into the grass for a minute. “I don’t know… Maybe it’s Wesakechak!”

My daughter laughs, imagining her favourite character from Cree legend hiding out in the grass. “Maybe…”

It takes us less than two hours to walk to the reserve; a personal record for us. As we make our way to the powwow grounds we see Mr. Wilson chatting with Mr. Lightfoot and wave at them. Their kids are playing together a few feet away. Tommy Wilson just had his birthday and is admiring the gift from Eagle Lightfoot. My own daughter runs over and says hello to them before rejoining us.

“How goes the battle?” someone behind me asks.

I turn around to see Harold Swiftgrass and his wife, Elain. Her pregnant belly is protruding even more than the last time we crossed paths. I think I’m as excited for another kid in the community as they are.

“It’s going really well,” I respond with a smile. “Just finished bringing in the hay last week.”

“I’m a bit behind on mine. Too many trips into town for ultrasounds and the like, you know how it is.”

“Do I ever,” I respond, remembering how far behind my farm work got when our second child was born. “You know what Harold, I’ve got a couple free days next week. How’d it be if I came over and helped out for a while?”

Harold grins. “That would be great. In fact, bring the whole family! It’s been too long since we’ve had your whole clan over for supper.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I say.

When we get to the powwow grounds it is packed with people. It looks to me like the whole district has made its way to the reserve. My family’s light skin isn’t out of place at all here. In fact, there‘s an incredible mix of backgrounds and cultures gathered here today. A wide mix of people congregated to pay homage to promises that were made so many years ago, and to learn to better understand each other.

I see the new Nigerian family who just moved onto Henry Smith’s old quarter getting to know the Bears. It has been their goal to get to know as many people in the area as they can, and their quest has been accepted by everyone around. As I turn my head, I’m not surprised to see the Ahmadi family helping to set up another tent. They were refugees who made it to Canada about twenty years ago during the Syrian civil war. Ever since then they’ve been a big part of the community.

As well as these relative newcomers I see many faces that have been on this land for generations. In fact, there are families on this reserve that are direct relatives of influential chiefs like Big Bear and Poundmaker. Though leadership of the band has passed through many different families over the years, they are still a large part of leading the community. Their family background still holds much gravitas. In fact, the great granddaughter of Big Bear is taking on a role as an elder in today’s ceremony. It fills my heart with joy to see the unique, multicultural blend of people coming together for events like these. From people with roots in the land almost as old as the ground itself, to people just arriving in a new country. This is the joy of reconciliation.

We are all standing side by side, hand in hand, in a great Circle. I see people from all reaches of the globe standing intertwined in a beautiful symbol of togetherness. In the centre of the circle stand the two elders selected for this ceremony: one Cree and one European. Everyone in the circle watches as the two of them look into each others eyes for a moment, allowing the gravity of the gathering to grow fuller in everyone’s heart. It is a special moment. A sacred moment. I watch in trepidation as the elders release each others hands and gesture to two small children standing nearby. A boy brings forward a long piece of paper that has been rolled into a tube and tied with ribbon. A girl holds a small wooden box. As the elders take the items from the children, the ceremony commences.

Treaty Six is read out loud for everyone to hear. Unlike the very first time this was declared, there is more to this than the recitation of a legal document. As the vows are read out, each and every person in the circle is asked to reiterate and reconsecrate these promises. And in doing so the very meaning behind the document is shifted. It is no longer a list of give and take, but rather a sacred promise. A promise of interdependence and interconnectedness. Of mutuality.

As the final words of the document are read, all of the people affirm again their commitment to each other. In the pregnant pause that follows, I hear a crash ring out around the powwow grounds. A murmur runs through the crowd.

“What was that?”

The question echoes around the circle.

Just as people are deciding that it was something from the highway, or maybe a thunderclap from above another town, an old man charges into our circle. His hair is long, grey, and wild. He is dressed all in traditional buckskin clothing and wearing moccasins. His brown, weather-beaten face is a testament to being a man of the land. When he makes it to the centre of the circle he throws himself onto the ground before the elders. His whole body is shaking in exertion and his breath comes in short gasps.

“Mooshum, Kookum,” he rasps. ‘The-the Sacred Stem.”

As he says this, he procures a deerskin pouch from his robes and hands it to the Cree elder. She takes it from him with a gasp.

“It can’t be…”

Something from the back of my mind is suddenly jogged. It pushes its way through the muddled confusion of my thoughts until it finally reaches the forefront. I remember an elder telling me something a long time ago… the Sacred Stem is an item of legend in the First Nations tradition, almost like the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. It is said to be the stem of the pipe smoked at the original signing of the treaty. Sometime after that event, it was lost. As the years passed steadily by, so did its memory, until only a small number of elders even knew its story.

I watch, as slowly, carefully, the elder unwraps the bag and removes something from it. It is a wooden pipe stem. Its smooth length is devoid of any ornamentation, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Though it is in perfect condition, its age is evident in the maturity of its wood.

The elder kneels down to the old man, who has seated himself in the dirt. She whispers something into his ear and then turns her lips to his forehead. She gently kisses his brow and then takes his hand in her own and helps him to his feet. Harold steps forward from the circle and brings the old man to join the rest of the assembly.

I watch, enthralled by the recent happening, as an oskapew steps out from the circle. The young man picks up a pouch of tobacco and a wooden box of matches from his feet and takes them to the elders. He then takes the wooden box that the little girl had presented and opens it. Inside are two parts of a pipe – the stem and the bowl. He takes out the bowl and hands it to the elder who holds the Sacred Stem. She puts them together and hands the assembled pipe back to the young man. Continuing with the ceremony, he opens up the pouch of tobacco and fills the pipe bowl. When the bowl is full he hands it back to the elders. The two of them hold it between them and bow their heads in a silent prayer. I see them slowly spin the pipe in a circle, pausing as it lands on each of the four directions. I recognize this ritual from my childhood and allow myself an inward smile. When they have completed their prayers, the pipe is proffered to the young man, who lights the tobacco. The elders then smoke the pipe and seal the vows between the people they represent. As the smoky aroma ascends, we all hope that our prayers can be taken with it to the Creator, to seal our covenant.

Once the elders have finished smoking the pipe, they hand it back to the young man. He takes it, and holding it by the bowl, walks clockwise around the interior edge of the circle. When he has completed his round he takes the pipe back to the elders, who smoke it once more. This procedure is repeated three more times until it has made it around the circle four times. Having completed the ceremony, the pipe is emptied, taken apart, and replaced.

“This ends the Treaty Ceremony, but our work for the coming year has just begun,” the elders say together.

At this, everyone in the assembled crowd break into applause and cheering. I release my daughters’ hands and my family joins in the primal cheer. Somewhere behind us a drum begins to beat. As the noise from the circle recedes, the drum music picks up. Its volume heightens until its beat seems to fill my very soul. It merges with my heartbeat and becomes a part of my being, connecting me to the earth and to everyone around me. As a singer’s voice picks up, everyone in the circle begins to dance in a slow, two step rhythm. Around and around we dance. As the music grows louder we begin to spin faster. Our feet pound the ground beneath us and kick up clouds of dust. The music fills our bodies and souls so much that to dance is all we can do. The beat of the drum, the singer’s voice, and our own rhythmic footfall fill the area and connect us to the earth and each other in a way that no words can.

How important it is for us to move together in this sacred rhythm. How important to hear the treaties reiterated, reconstituted, and reconciled. To publicly agree, as a community, on something that has been our way of life for the past decade. To make a public and personal commitment to each other. To affirm our love for one another. To work to reconcile the damages incurred when white people first colonized the Great North. How important it is for my daughters to hear this, to learn about our history, and to look towards the future. A future which, unlike the future from my childhood, is not just filled with hope for love and understanding, but also for the continued growth of these things. During my childhood we were headed in the right direction. Steps were being taken towards the road of growth. But now, as I think of my daughters and the way they see the world around them, I know that we are finally walking the Good Road together. We already have one foot in the hopes of the past and the dreams for the future. We are already experiencing reconciliation each and every day. We are already experiencing acceptance and understanding each and every day. And we are already experiencing Love each and every day.

Cree legend says that the first people to sign the treaties saw them as much more than a legal document. More even than a promise, commitment, or vow. The treaties were entities in and of themselves. Living, breathing, changing beings that were to be respected and honoured. And as our community danced that day to the beat of the drum, on Treaty Six territory, I did not have to see the young man dressed in traditional clothing that had not been with us when the song began to know that the spirit of the treaty was very much alive and with us that day.

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Update of my life!

Hello everybody!

I know it has been a long time since I have posted on my blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing  stuff. In fact, I feel like I’ve been quite busy these past few months. But they have been good months indeed. My ‘school year’ has now come to an end (more or less) but a month ago I was busy with an online English course. It was a very good experience, and I hope to take another course perhaps next winter. The final project for my course was to make a music video using a song with environmental messages in it. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, so if you’d like to check it out, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFhXnvAAIKA&feature=youtu.be

As usual, I have also been doing lots of parkour! With the new addition of a trampoline, Johnny and I have been doing lots of jumping and flipping on it. We are also in the midst of of rebuilding our parkour-course in the bush. The old one, though l was sad to see it go, was in desperate need of redoing and changing. Gotta keep it exciting! We’ve been doing a fair bit of filming lately, including some cool areal shot using Johnny’s new drone! However, the editing isn’t done yet. That said, I recently posted a video from this spring which Johnny filmed and Morgan and I are featured in. You can find it on my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhQBVVURSco

The other thing I’ve been up to was writing an article to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Tom and Judy’s CSA. It was posted on the farm blog http://www.largofarm.wordpress.com/) and was also published in the North Battleford newspaper. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I will include it at the bottom of this post. It would be an informative read for those of you who would like to know more about where I am living, and a little bit of its history.

I hope this post has given you guys a little bit of insight into what I have been doing these past few months, even though I’ve been doing a lot more than what’s included here! Thanks for reading!

Christopher

Largo Farm Community Shared Agriculture 20th Anniversary

Twenty years ago, Judy Ternier and Tom Burns began what’s known as a CSA. This acronym stands for community shared agriculture. In this system, customers buy a share in the garden before the growing season begins. They buy this share at a fixed price, and then receive produce as it is available throughout the year. Customers thus share in both the risk and the bounty of the garden. On a good year there will be an abundance of vegetables; however, a bad year is part of the risk. For example, in 2002, the garden produced only four carrots. But, Judy says, there have been only five really bad gardens in Largo Farm’s CSA history. Now, in June 2015, Tom and Judy are celebrating twenty years of providing local people with fresh, healthy, affordable, and delicious food from their farm on the shores of Murray Lake.

Tom and Judy first heard about community shared agriculture in 1995 when they read an article about it in the Western Producer. They immediately recognized the potential it held for them. For Judy, who hates marketing, the CSA customers’ prior commitment to buying vegetables sounded like a great idea. On top of that, there would be less fuel used transporting produce to markets where there was no guarantee of purchase. This not only saved time and money, but was better for the environment and allowed Judy and Tom to spend more time doing what they loved.

Their CSA customers take turns helping harvest the vegetables and picking up the weekly (monthly in winter) order. After helping to harvest some of the goods and visit with the gardeners, they take the shares back home to be distributed. Because they share this responsibility, each customer has to drive out to the farm only once or twice a season. This marketing style proved successful. Prior commitment from customers spares small-scale farmers the need to haul produce to markets and greatly reduces the amount of waste. As Judy puts it, “It’s a wonderful way of selling vegetables.”

Largo Farm has five acres of garden. Along with chickens, cows, pigs, and a small selection of field crops, this is what supports both the CSA business and the people who live on the farm. Although operating a CSA is a lot of work, gardening is what Judy loves to do. It is both her full-time job and her passion. Before Tom and Judy began the CSA, their income came primarily from selling wheat, meat, and hay. Financially, the garden played only a tiny role. When the CSA began, there were only 7 shares. Now, twenty years later, the CSA is their main source of income, with 20 full shares! At roughly $20,000 in 2014, the CSA is more than enough to meet Tom and Judy’s needs. However, lifestyle is a huge part of whether or not this would be enough. The people on Largo Farm live off the grid. This means that there is no running water, electricity, or gas heat. On top of that, the farm produces around 90% of its own food (closer to 98% when the milk cow is in production). Judy said that her vision for the future is to see the farm/garden provide a modest living for two full-time gardeners. This vision is being fulfilled by the CSA.

However, the CSA isn’t without problems. Tom and Judy told me that there are two main problems (apart from unpredictable growing conditions): giving the customers either too many vegetables, or not enough vegetables. CSA farmers cannot anticipate the amount of available produce, which is determined by growing conditions. In 2002, for example, they couldn’t give their customers ten carrots each when the garden yielded a total of only four! However, the problem of quantity can be solved if customers communicate their needs. Though Judy and Tom decide how much to give customers for each pick-up, to some extent they can adjust quantities based upon people’s likes, dislikes or allergies.

As well as talking to Tom and Judy, I asked members what the CSA was like for them. A lot of them said their decision to join the CSA was encouraged by their love of fresh, good tasting, local, and chemical free vegetables. Annette Wionzek says, “After having children, I became more interested in food and how we nourish our family.” She wants her children to have a future with clean air and water, access to nourishing food, peace, and freedom. It is important to her, and many other customers, to buy their food from an organization for which those issues are important. “Largo Farm reflects true stewardship of the earth,” Annette says, “and it is evident in the way they live day to day.”

Another benefit for members is the wide selection of vegetables that they receive, especially throughout the summer months. For some, that means stepping out of their comfort zone and trying things that they wouldn’t buy in a supermarket. Jaime Maunula says, “The CSA has given our family a chance to try different vegetables that we wouldn’t normally eat.” She enjoys trying new recipes, and her children like eating the results. (The farm blog largofarm.wordpress.com offers great information on the CSA and includes recipes!) My Aunt Jacquee says, “Becoming a CSA member has made available many added bonuses to my life. I now have access to wonderfully fresh and organic food; my spirit is continually renewed every time I visit; I’ve made wonderful new friends and to top it all off, everyone is so welcoming to any friends I might bring along with me for the day, which gives me so much pleasure.” Karen Farmer informed me that during her first winter of being a member, she received so many carrots that she bought a juicer and integrated fresh carrot and ginger juice into her diet. According to Karen, this gave her more energy and helped fight off colds.

As my aunt mentioned, being part of the CSA isn’t only for the food, and picking up orders isn’t the only reason to come to the farm. During my interviews, several people told me how much their children enjoyed coming to the farm. The animals, water, land, and people are a great draw for young and old! Kids connect with the farm so much that several of them claim it as their own. Some have been coming to the farm since before their first birthday. One child, when asked “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” responded, after a bit of thought, “To Robin and Rowan’s.” (Rowan and Robin live on Largo Farm). During our interview, Tom recalled a heartwarming story. He said that on one winter pickup, a child went down into the root cellar with him and helped him haul out potatoes for the order. When he emerged from the ground, the child’s face was smudged with dirt and there was a huge smile plastered across his face. After returning home, he proclaimed to everyone he met that he was a farmer. The CSA is aimed at families, with one full share meant to meet four people’s eating needs, and the farm is a great place to bring a family.

Community is a big part of the CSA and is as important as the food. During the course of the summer and/or winter season, every member makes at least one trip to the farm. Many people choose to come out more often, and we encourage and appreciate visits. Members are also encouraged to build community among themselves. In the early days of the CSA, Tom said, people would put on a pot of tea and visit with other members when they came to pick up their veggies. As Tom put it, a personal connection to where food comes from, and connecting with other people who share your values, “overcomes the isolation of supermarket style buying.” Though perhaps not as much as it was fifteen years ago, community is still a big part of the CSA lifestyle.

Twice a year there are large communal gatherings. The most popular of those is in September, when all of the winter members come to the farm for an afternoon of harvesting the last of the summer vegetables. After the work is done, everyone convenes in the farm hall for a potluck of epic proportions. Easily the highlight of the younger members’ day, good food (including lots from the farm) is shared in community. Although the gathering includes a sign-up meeting for the following season, it is the community, farm, and food that draws people. One member’s daughter said that fall pick-up rates just below Christmas on her list of favourite holidays. The CSA is also a good place to meet new people. Two families who met through the CSA both had daughters who became good friends. This friendship would not have been possible without the community offered by Largo Farm CSA. Fifteen years later the girls are still close friends.

During the course of my interview, Judy said that what she is doing on the farm and with the CSA is “about as perfect a living as I could want.” This feeling of right livelihood is constantly reinforced by the praise and thanks received from customers and friends. Many people have expressed their appreciation to Largo Farm for both the food and the fellowship. I invite anyone who is interested in eating in a more healthy, earth-conscious, and meaningful way, or anyone who loves delicious food, to consider Tom and Judy’s CSA. Come for a visit someday. Any information you need can be found at largofarm.wordpress.com.

I asked Judy and Tom what twenty years of CSA at Largo Farm has meant to them at the deepest level. “The freedom to farm,” Tom said. “An honest living,” Judy added. “Being outside doing good work.”

Christopher Sanford Beck

Christopher Sanford Beck lives on Largo Farm with his mother, father, sister, brother, cat, and dog. They have been living on the farm since 2013 when they joined Tom, Judy, Josephine, and Johnny (Tom and Judy’s children). Less than a year earlier the family had gone to Largo Farm to buy some tomatoes and squash, which the farm sells in the fall if there is excess. After a wonderful visit with Tom and Judy, both families began thinking about a move onto the farm. Throughout the fall, winter, and spring the families had several visits, and in June 2013, the Sanford Becks moved from Saskatoon to Largo Farm. Janice Sanford Beck is the main gardener of the family and Judy’s workmate. The rest of the family enjoys the farm life as well, especially the animals.

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Japan 2014 post 60

Author’s Note: Once again, many apologies for the extreme lateness of this final stanza of the Japan trip. My life has been quite busy these last few weeks, so I hope you will forgive me!
November thirtieth (again!)
When I got onto the plane I was shown to my seat, then given a brief safety review. The lady who gave it said that really she was supposed to demonstrate everything, but that I already knew what was going on, and there would be a review playing on the tv in a few moments. She was very pleasant, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get the whole lecture! Although as promised, it came onto the built-in televisions soon enough.
Takeoff was a bit delayed, but nothing too serious. We got off the ground without a problem. Dark had already fallen, so it was pretty awesome seeing all the lights below us. I could see lights from the airport, Narita, and the surrounding areas. I don’t think I saw Tokyo, but Japan is very dense so I still saw lots of lights.
It turned out that I had two seats to myself on the flight home, which was great. My carry on bag was absolutely bulging (as you saw on an earlier post). I suspect that if I put it into those “check if your baggage is the right size” things, it wouldn’t have fit. I didn’t even try to put it into the overhead compartments (although I usually wouldn’t anyways), and could barely fit it between my window seat and the wall. It would’ve been quite uncomfortable if someone had been next to me. I was glad I didn’t try to stow my baggage, because shortly before takeoff a couple of the bins kept popping open, and wouldn’t remain shut. The flight attendants had to duct tape them shut, which looked a bit funny.
The whole flight was fairly uneventful. I watched three movies, and several tv shows. I had supper, a few soft drinks, and breakfast. I had forgotten to bring any gum to chew, so during takeoff and landing I merely moved my jaws up and down to relive the pressure in my ears; A tip I had read online while prepping for my first trip to Japan. There were several spots of turbulence due to a strong headwind, but nothing like my last return trip. Also unlike last time, I didn’t sleep at all on the flight. Although a few times I just leaned against the window and shut my eyes, or stared off blankly. Mid flight I filled out my customs form. I was a bit worried when it asked if I would be going to any farms in Canada, which of course I would be.
Altogether it was an extremely enjoyable flight, with some incredible views of the rising sun, amazingly blue clouds, and of course the snowy mountains and foothills.
Upon landing I had a bit of a wait, and then I was out taken alongside a woman in a wheelchair. We had to pass through several narrow hallways, checkpoints, and small elevators. The air canada lady said that some people are really intimidated by this walk. She then went on to say that it was much worse in the US. She also advised me to tear something off my customs form that I had forgotten to. She said that sometimes the customs guards were really rude and might ask me sardonically if I could read instructions. She was quite affable. By going through the maze, the bowels of the airport, I believe we bypassed several lines. In no time at all I had my luggage, went through customs (there were no problems with my plans to go to a farm), and was pretty much done! I saw dad through one of the big glass windows, and I nearly burst with happiness and excitement. Upon rounding a corner the rest of my family came into view as well, and there was a very happy reunion. It felt great to be embracing my parents and siblings again. The air canada lady said that she didn’t even need to see dad’s ID since it was obvious these were the right people.
In not too long we all got into the car (after passing through through the cold Canadian winter along the way!), and drove to Canmore. Dammie and Dampa were away at a craft sale when we returned, so mom and dad had a nap, and I unwound a bit. I didn’t want to fall asleep, as I knew it would really mess up my sleep pattern, so instead I worked out. During the next few hours after that, I FaceTimed Morgan, went for an extremely nice, albeit chilly walk with mom and dad, played Sorry, and Uno. When Dammie and Dampa returned, all of us sat down for a delicious pizza supper that mom had made us. For dessert we had chocolate cake and ice cream; one of Dammie’s (many) specialities. I was really glad to be able to see Dammie and Dampa so soon after getting home!
After supper I lounged in the jacuzzi bath and read. After that I lay in bed for a while, but I didn’t let myself fall asleep until ten thirty of eleven. Due to this, and to sleeping on the plane, I slept perfectly and didn’t have any jet lag at all!
I had another great day the next day, and on the following morning after that dad, Rowan, Robin, and I set off for home. Ironically we left mom in Canmore, as she was going to visit Auntie Susie in Victoria. The four of us had a long but good drive home, nothing like the drive home two years ago! We stopped for supper in North Battleford, and arrived home shortly after dark. It was awesome to be back. I was so happy to see our house, the cat, dog, and farm again. Unfortunately Shadow was sick, but it was still good to see her. It took me almost a week to fully unpack, but by now (the fifteenth of december), I’m pretty much back into the regular rhythm. I think that two months in Japan was the perfect amount of time for me. I enjoyed every day, but was ready to leave when the time came.
Thank you to everyone for following my amazing journey and adventures. And a big thank you to the Takasugi Family, and everyone else I met in Japan. It was truly incredible, and word can’t adequately describe how good it was. Thank you.
Christopher
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Japan 2014 post 59

November thirtieth

Well, today was the big day! And I’m pleased to report that I slept wonderfully. Probably due to the fact that I stayed up late enough that when I closed my eyes I fell straight to sleep, rather than lying awake worrying. So when I got out of bed, I had a pleasant last shower in Japan, followed by my last breakfast. Yatchan cooked me up some sausages, toasted me a bagel, and gave me a mikkan. After I finished my scrumptious breakfast, I finished my packing completely. I had to leave my Mount Fuji behind though, I just could not make him fit into my suitcase. But Ayana and Atsushi were very pleased that I gave it to them. Especially Atsushi! He carried it around with him, played with it alongside his toy cars, and we listed various other uses for it. A chair, pillow, teddy bear, statue, display stand, and according to a laughing Ats, a bathtub. This was said as we balanced atop it on his stomach, waving his arms and legs as if he was swimming. I’m glad that he likes it so much, and as Catherine told me, “No one has been able to take Mount Fuji across the ocean yet”.
I spent most of the morning hanging out with Yatchan and the kids (Catherine was already teaching a class at Kompao), and wandering the house aimlessly. I didn’t know what to do! I felt like there wasn’t enough time to start anything, like do parkour but I didn’t want to just lay in my room on my iPad. Pre-travel jitters were part of it. So as I said, I hung out with Yatchan and the kids a bit, and Skyped my family on last time. It’s a good thing I did, because dad informed me that my flight had been delayed a little bit (although not nearly as much as last time, which had been some five hours!), and encouraged me to keep checking the flight status. Someone that hadn’t even crossed my mind. In the end it was delayed about an hour and a half. Which is not too too bad, but was enough to make Catherine and I change our travel plans (on getting to the airport) a little bit. I had told Yatchan about the delay right after I found out, so he was able to check train schedules and sort of organize a plan for Catherine and I.
Around noon everyone in the house got into the car and went to pick up Cat. She was teaching Shigedi and Yasuhiro, so of course I came to say goodbye to them. I was able to chat with them a bit (in Japanese and English), and say thank you for the great time I had with them, and goodbye. They returned the sentiment, and handed me an envelope. It was a bit of a sad goodbye for me, but I’m glad I was able to say it. I had a blast with them.
When we got home we had a fairly simple lunch. Yat made me noodles with egg and spices. I gobbled it right up, I was starving! After I finished eating I went upstairs to my room and opened the envelope. Inside was a very nice note (written in English!) from Shigedi and Yasuhiro, and 3 000 yen. The note explained that it was for my house. When I showed it to Cat, she said that it was otoshidama. Otoshidama is a special, traditional, monetary gift given around New Years to your children. This of course made it all the more special.
When it was time, Yatchan and the kids drove Catherine and I to the train station. I hugged Yat, Ayana, and Atsushi, and said a huge thank you and goodbye. I’ll sure miss them all. But I didn’t have much time to reflect on that at the moment, Catherine and I had to (literally) run to catch our train. I had my enormous blue pack, and Catherine was wearing my overstuffed backpack. She also insisted on taking my second suitcase. As we ran through the station it felt like I was in some sort of military training! But it was worth it, we made our train, and a young man even gave up he seat so Catherine could sit down. He must’ve noticed my Canmore sweater, and our obvious whiteness, because he started talking to Catherine. In English. I believe his first question was “Are you an English teacher?”. Then he asked if we were from Canada, and the two had a good conversation. The boy (we found out he’s actually the same age as me) tried his best in English, but there was a fair bit of Japanese too. I could understand almost all of it. Among other things, he also said that he wanted to go to Canada, and cross country ski. He was extremely nice, and polite. Catherine and I both thought he was older than he actually was, since it’s fairly unusual for young teens to put themselves out like that. Even after he got out, the two hour trip to the airport was very pleasant.
Shortly after we arrived at the airport I saw a nice-looking English young man (probably mid twenties). He and I met eyes, and smiled and nodded. It was sort of awesome. Of course we couldn’t stay and chat, because Catherine and I were headed in. We got rid of my luggage as quickly as we could, and checked me in. There was a bit of confusion regarding batteries in my bags, but everything sorted itself out. And despite my worries, my bags were underweight. Although only by a couple kilograms, and the weight limit was 25! Once all that was dealt with, Catherine and I used the bathroom, checked out a couple shops, and eventually made our way to subway for a bite to eat. We both tried these cute sausages that were in flatbread with a delicious sauce. I also had a melon soda float. The women working there were Japanese, but bilingual enough to serve English speaking costumers just fine. We knew that since there was an older English man in front of us in line, but when it came to our turn, Catherine ordered in Japanese. We could both tell that it made them happy to see an English person speaking their language. And Catherine and I were happy to make see them happy, and because the food was scrum-diddly-umptious.
Not long after that, Catherine and I parted ways. It was in almost exactly the same spot that Yatchan and I had said farewell two years ago. I gave Catherine a big hug, and said dōmo arigatō gozaimashta (どうもありがとうございました, thank you so much!) with a formal bow. I had an incredible experience thanks to her and her generosity. I’m so happy. After we said goodbye, a Japanese employee took me down an escalator. I waved to Catherine until she was out of sight, and I remember doing the same to Yatchan two years ago. The employee and I went through security etc. Once he realized I spoke Japanese, he spoke hardly any English, and I understood just fine! We had a while to wait, but then I said arigatō gozaimashta to him, and got aboard the plane.
To Be Continued……
Christopher
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Japan 2014 post 58

November twenty ninth
Though today was the weekend, I still had to get up a bit early. So I jumped in the shower to wake up, hen Catherine had prepared me a bagel. I was just able to gobble it up before Reiko picked me up. We were driving, which was good because it looked like it might rain. When we got to Kompao Reiko and some of the others set up. Then Reiko and I practiced together for a while. Once everyone had come, there were ten of us! Since each team only consists of four people, one person was designated scorekeeper, and one played referee. And of course, those positions were cycled through. I got to be the scorekeeper once. The main reasons that there were lots of people was 1. Because I was there 2. Because one of the player’s junior highschool aged daughter was there 3. Because she had brought a friend. Both of them are one their school’s volleyball team, so they were pretty good. Especially when they were practicing against each other. But of course once you add the net, and the variable of the other players, it gets harder. I know from experience! But the gameplay was great, I won some and I lost some (well my team more rather), and I think I got to be on everyone’s team at one point or another. And the whole time I had fun! It was a great last volleyball, and a great way to bring my time in Japan to an end.
By the time we were all leaving it had begun to rain. Not everybody had umbrellas, so one of the players made a nifty plastic bag hat for his son. Reiko and I were wishing we had something to cover ourselves with as we went back to the car. When we got back to Catherine’s I said a sad goodbye to Reiko. Being at her house for two weeks, and with all the sports, we had bonded a lot more than last time. And I’m sure glad. But I’ll really miss her whole family.
When I got inside I did a little more packing up before lunch. My bags were getting steadily fuller, and I was really worrying about space. I didn’t think I’d accumulated THAT much stuff! I was spared having to think about it too much by the call to lunch. I had the last piece of Costco pizza, and amazing pasta that Catherine made. They were exactly what I needed to continue packing. And pack I did. All afternoon, with little breaks of course. I pretty much finished, except for the “last minute” stuff. I stopped working just in time for us to head out the door. Catherine, Yatchan, Atsushi, Ayana, and I all went to the Yaki Niku restaurant. Since today is the twenty ninth (2= ni (に) 9=ku (く), meat=Niku (にく)) there were big discounts. That means that it’s very busy, so every table was reserved, and we had a ninety minute time slot to eat. So to make sure we got our full time, we arrived before the Restaurant was even open! But we though it was a bit embarrassing to be waiting outside the Yaki Niku on Niku no hi (肉の日 or にくのひ or meat day) so we waited in the parking lot. We didn’t have to wait long though, and when we got inside some of our food was already prepared. Of yourself the meat was raw, so we fired up the burning in the centre of the table and started cooking. While our meat cooked I had a Calpis, drank my soup, and got started on a spicy, rice, vegetable dish. And when it was ready, lots of meat! And more than one type too. It was all incredible, including the tongue! We had two sauces to dip the meat into (although only one sauce at a time), and one type of meat was specifically dipped into the second sauce, and wrapped up in a leaf spread with miso. I think that was the best! So as not to drop meat juices on myself, I sort of put the whole thing in my mouth at one time, and Catherine laughed that I looked like a gremlin.
As well as the Calpis, I also had a non-alcoholic ume (うめ or plum) wine. It was very sweet, and flavourful! I really enjoyed it. And for dessert I had a bowlful of chocolate ice cream, and shared a chocolate ice cream, cocoa-powdered treat with Ayana. I also noticed that this was the same Yaki Niku restaurant that Reiko, Machiko, Machiko’s nephew, and I came to eat on the twenty ninth of last month! So I’ve been here for month Niku no his, and I’m glad!
Before going home, we stopped at the 7/11 close to the restaurant. Yatchan and I bought some more ice cream. We also found the whiskey that Massan had made (the tv show is based on a true story). But we stuck to the ice cream for tonight. When we got home we ate it all up, and I hung out with Yat and the kids for a while as Catherine worked. The four of us watched a tv show together, then played with the kids. I told Atsushi that I was leaving tomorrow, and he looked at me very earnestly and said “I’ll really miss you,”. I’ll miss him too.
After that I pretty much finished packing, then beaded with Catherine and Ayana. It was fun, but really hard; I needed Cat’s help! It was a great second last day (although it felt like the last), and I hope that I sleep well tonight. There’s a big day tomorrow!
Christopher
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Japan 2014 post 57

November twenty eighth
*Note: I must apologize for the lateness! The last few days on Japan were very busy, and upon arrival home I’ve been swept up into various things, including the extensive unpacking! So here is the first of the last, and hopefully the rest will follow shortly.

I started the day out as usual. A hot shower, a nice bowl of yogurt, and then a somewhat chilly walk to take Ayana the the tennis courts. Catherine came with me, and on the way we chatted with the lady that I’ve talked to previously. And I was able to say sayonara to her, since this is my last school day in Japan.
When we got home I did some of my blogging, then we sat down to watch Massan. I didn’t realize it until later, but it was my last time watching the show, since it only runs on weekdays. A lot of lasts…. After the show ended, I finished up my blogging. Then I started packing. I’d sort of been procrastinating it, but it was time to begin. It’s getting very close to my last day, and I really needed to see how much space I had in my suitcase. I feel like I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff!
After packing for a while I put on my running shoes, and headed outside. There were several training spots along the way to Rogers that I wanted to utilize. As well as a couple other good spots that I wanted to be able to train at before I left. And since tomorrow I have volleyball with Reiko in the morning, then lots of preparation to do, I had best go out today! So I hit all the spots I wanted to, and had a great training session. I managed a couple lunar eclipses, though not on the tires at the shrine park like I’d hoped to do. It was just too sketchy! But I did lots of other fun stuff instead.
When I got home, I did a little bit more packing, then helped Catherine and our (indirect) neighbour Hitomi San. They were working on a small, felt, (2-D) Christmas tree. Complete with ornaments and presents. This project was of course for Catherine’s classes. And the finished product that I saw looked great! During our work Sioko came over with bentos for us all. Mine was great! Not long after I finished, I decided to jump on my bike and head to Dōman park. After all, this was almost certainly the last chance I would have to train on grass for the next 4-5 months! And I’m glad I went, because I had a great time. I worked a lot on round off backtucks, and some fancier ground moves.
After my training I did a bit more packing. Just taking things step by step! It wasn’t too much later that I walked over to the gorilla and picked up Ayana. Another last. We walked home together, then I wrote a couple thank you notes. One to the Sensei of Yuta’s class, and one to Reiko’s family. Ayana had an after school snack, then we all hopped into the car and went to the Shukaijo. Well, after we dropped off Ayana. Atsushi fell asleep along the way, so as not to rouse him I stayed in the car with him and read while catherine taught. When the light faded I got some work on my iPad done too. Unfortunately Atsushi woke up fairly violently. Not that he was being violent, just lots of crying. I asked him if he wanted to stay in the car, then he just lost it. Poor guy! I think he though I meant we couldn’t go inside, but that wasn’t the case and I took him to Catherine. After he calmed down he just stayed with her, and sort of participated in her classes. Meanwhile I was able to talk to Ayako. We had a good conversation, and even made plans with Sioko to go out for supper. Ayako, Yuta, Sayune, and I were already planning to have supper together, but Catherine’s kids, and Sioko’s were now joining us. After the lessons were over, Catherine picked up Ayana from Pencilia, and Ayako picked up Yuta. Sioko and her kids stayed with me, and we hung out in the park. Her oldest daughter (perhaps 7) is in gymnastics, but was having trouble with cartwheels. So Sioko asked me to help her. And she actually improved! She did quite well, especially after being in partial marathon that morning!
For supper we decided to go to the Jusco food court. That way, everyone had lots to choose from. I had noodles, a delicious broth with egg, and nori in it, and for dessert a banana chocolate crepe. I guess you don’t need me to tell you how good the meal was! After we had all finished, we headed down the hall to the arcade. Ayako got Yuta, Sayune, and I a bunch of tokens and we went at it! I only played three or four games, but they were fun. The funniest one was a realistic fishing game. Where your “rod” vibrated when you got a bit, and you had to reel it in really fast! It was fun, but sort of stressful too! When the younger kids started getting tired, we split up and I said goodbye to Sioko and her kids. They headed home fairly soon after, but Ayako, Yuta, Sayune and I went downstairs to the grocery store. We chose several cool Japanese candies to add to my suitcase. I’m looking forward to eating them! We had a great time, and it was really sad to say goodbye when they dropped me off. But I’m really glad they were a part of my trip again!
Christopher

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Japan 2014 post 56

November twenty seventh
Well, apart from some slightly strange/scary dreams I slept quite well. In fact, it took a lot to get up! But I did, and got in the shower. After being refreshed by that I started my blogging. A little ways in, my stomach started rumbling, and I could literally feel it start to eat itself. I checked the fridge, but there were no mikkans, I was too cold for yogurt, and it would be rude to eat the last piece of pizza. Of course there were other things in there, but they would need to be heated up, and I still wasn’t quite sure I could. So I had a chocolate. Pretty crappy pre-breakfast, but it tided me over.
With a fifteen minute break for Massan, I did my blogging. When that was finished I went upstairs to do my devotional. I was half way done the first part when Atsushi started calling up the stairs. He wanted Catherine, but she was working, so I responded. He wanted someone to dress him, but he wasn’t being particularly polite. I was hungry, tired, and in the middle of my prayer work, so I said I couldn’t. But then I decided that it would be ironic to refuse someone help while reading about God. So I went downstairs and got him dressed. When I returned to my devotions and finished reading, it turned out to be about sharing God’s love and generosity, and doing acts of kindness.
After I finished that, I came back downstairs to study some Japanese. I reviewed the first three lessons in textbook 2 (the one I’m working on). I took a bagel break, and ate one with delicious jam on it. When I had finished my study, it was just about time for Catherine to have a lesson, so I decided to run to Rogers. Today was tai chi, and I wanted to have something to contribute to snack time for all of my friends. I jogged to the store, doing some nice parkour along the way, and on the way back. In fact, on the way there I met Maseko, who was en route to our house for her lesson. We said a brief hello, and that we’d see each other soon.
When I got home I popped into the kitchen to say hello to Catherine and Maseko. Ayako had a cold, so she wasn’t there. But Maseko had a gift for me! Three Japanese study books, and a Japanese/foreign language dictionary. They’re perfect for me, thank you Maseko! When her lesson was over we said a somewhat said goodbye, and she said to come back again. I didn’t have much time after that until Hoshino San came, so I lay in my sun soaked bed and read my book. I started it last night, and it’s really good. It’s called Myth Directions.
Tai chi was excellent. Maybe it was because it’s the last time, but it went really quickly. We worked on the same movements as always, with and without the fan. I really liked it. The movement, music, atmosphere, and especially the people. After the lesson almost everyone went to a restaurant for lunch together. I was really glad! title was interesting to see everyone out of tai chi. So wearing their own clothes, and just having lunch, not doing tai chi. I got to talk to most people, but especially the Sensei, Hoshino San, and the Sensei’s adult daughter. She had joined us in tai chi as well, and was very interesting. She’s lived in America, Japan, and now lives in Spain. So she’s trilingual! English, Spanish, and Japanese. I’m really glad I was able to talk to her a bit, and I’m SUPER glad that everyone who came did. The social connection was better than the food. Not to downplay the food though, it was really good too. I had sushi, udon, tempura, miso soup, and this really tasty soup with egg on top. I don’t know how they prepared the egg, but it was kind of like gelatine. The whole meal was excellent.
It was bittersweet to say goodbye. Especially though to Hoshino San. He’s been so great to me, and done so much for me. I’ll really miss him. Maybe he doesn’t like goodbyes though, because when we biked home, he just called a “mata ne” (see you) over his shoulder and kept biking. But I called out for him to wait, and said a proper goodbye and thank you. It wouldn’t have felt right for me to say goodbye so casually after how great he’s been.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. I hung out with Catherine, played iPad with the kids, tasted the persimmon, apple pear, apple sauce Catherine made (it was awesome), and went to Rogers again. I ran and did some parkour along the way, but on the way back my bag was too cumbersome. I had bought a few drinks, and some other treats. Last few days in Japan, so I may as well! When I got home I organized some of my stuff (although I’m not packing yet!), and then wrote most of this!
For supper we had the spicy shrimp, lettuce, and ranch dressing salad that Catherine makes. We also had a delicious soup with a special Japanese potato in it, and raw fish that you dip in a special sauce then wrap in tasty leaves. The whole meal was superb, and Catherine and I watched a funny video as we ate. For desert we each had a bowl of the fruit sauce, and so did Yatchan. Catherine was pretty surprised by this, because it’s a bit of an unusual combination, but he said it was good. He actually got home really early for a regular work day, and so I got to visit with him during the later part of super. It was nice.
After dishes I went upstairs and did my iPad, and reading time. And then off to bed!
Christopher  image image