Constitutional rights of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association – but only if your conscience toes the ruling party’s line?

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From the age of sixteen, I have spent summers working. I worked in St. John’s that first year, dividing my time between the Newfoundland Institute of Cold Ocean Science and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The next year, I worked for my town, doing everything from community fundraisers to cemetary maintenance to cleaning the fire hall to supervising a kids’ dance. Then, it was answering phones and greeting visitors to what was then known as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (now called Indigenous and Northern Affairs). The following two summers were spent doing grunt work for Newfoundland’s Forestry and Agrifoods Agency. I got an excellent tan. All of these jobs were available to me because of government support for student employment. In addition to broadening my work experience and honing valuable administrative, leadership, social and life skills, they were a great help in getting me through school, along with student loans, and – of course – the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Fast-forward more years than I care to dwell on: at mass yesterday, the priest read a letter composed by Bishop Douglas Crosby of the Diocese of Hamilton. The letter was about two camps that are supported by the parish – one a mentoring-and-leadership camp that is affordable even to those whose families can’t afford to send them to camp, and one for children with mobility challenges (for example, spina bifida and cerebral palsy) who need physical assistance to participate in the camp activities typically enjoyed by able-bodied children. These camps have traditionally been assisted by government funding to hire students to help run things. Many tasks, from janitorial and cooking duties to supervising the children, are completed by students. The campers gain positive, relatable role models. The students gain experience and skills. If it’s like any other summer camp I’ve heard of, everyone gains great memories and increased confidence. These camps are now, apparently, at risk because they have been denied public funding for student positions. Why? Because the Catholic church would not deny its convictions and attest to its support for abortion. If you feel that a church’s position on abortion and a church-supported camp’s ability to hire a lifeguard ought not to be connected, you’re not alone.

The federal government’s recently introduced policy of denying student job funding (via FSWEP, the Federal Student Work Experience Program) to groups who refuse to attest to their support for abortion rights has been controversial. In addition to camps like the ones mentioned above, churches have always been a solid support for vulnerable and marginalized communities through everything from food banks to youth centres to sponsorship of refugees to breakfast programs to charity shops to hospices – and more. The students hired by churches are not being paid to protest abortion rights. They’re being paid to help the parish carry out these vital services to the community. Many churches are trying to put their money where their mouth is, as is the Diocese of Hamilton, by collecting donations from members. But the charitable giving of most churchgoers is already high. The additional burden of funding programs that were once covered by government grants will likely result in money being stretched thinner across more surface area. Previously robust initiatives may suffer, and newly supported initiatives may not be able to survive.

The struggles of churches and church-supported programs are probably not going to attract much sympathy or even interest. Reactions might even include some ill-concealed glee. If there’s one thing people love to hate these days, it’s religion – and, by extension, religious institutions and religious people. Abortion rights is a very hot topic with strong feelings on both sides. However, regardless of whether you like churches and churchgoers, regardless of your position on abortion, what should attract a great deal of interest is the government’s infringement on the constitutional right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association.

Abortion is legal. This means that any woman who wants one has a right to seek one. Canada has gone one step further and made them publicly funded, so money is no obstacle. This is not likely to change – Canadians have, for the most part, accepted the reality of living in a country that supports and pays for abortion. Many Canadians have longed for that right, and actively promoted it. However, constitutional rights are enshrined. I cannot change the law, but I don’t have to like it or support it. In fact, constitutionally, I should be allowed to hate it – and say so – and be a member of an organization that condemns it. Furthermore, if my constitutional rights are being properly upheld, I should still be granted full access to the same publicly funded programs as those who cherish the right to abortion on the taxpayer’s tab.

The Trudeau government took its first step down a very slippery slope when Justin Trudeau declared that pro-lifers could not run as Liberals. Many people were disturbed by his apparent desire to surround himself with yes-men, and his refusal to entertain any viewpoint other than his own, on such a controversial topic. In true Justin style, he steamrolled over these concerns and moved on. The issue of whether people whose conscience will not allow them to support abortion rights should be considered for student employment funding will probably not be treated any differently.

As I said, a slippery slope. What’s next? Will public servants have to sign their support for things they don’t agree with to keep their jobs? Will there be a new checkbox on social assistance applications that allows Canada to make sure it isn’t providing financial aid to people with unpopular views? What about student loans for people who don’t agree with abortion? Will those be affected? These examples may sound extreme, but it’s all public money – just like FSWEP. People who don’t agree with the Liberal party’s policies or even Canadian law are still Canadians – many of whom pay for FSWEP and other such programs with their taxes. As Canadians, they should be entitled to believe whatever they like, and say so, with no fear of it affecting their access to public funding and programs. Anything else – in this case, the hypocrisy of a government that claims to uphold the rights and freedoms of all of us while making second-class citizens of people who don’t hold or support approved views – is unconstitutional.

 

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Green Gifts

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Though you wouldn’t know it right now, it’s spring. (Seriously, April – what’s with yesterday’s blizzard and this morning’s -20 C wake-up? Are you trying to be an asshole, or does it come naturally?) This time of the year, my thoughts turn to gardening. You guys, I love gardening. It wasn’t always this way. I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t keep a weed alive. I once killed an air plant. Seriously. Google “air plant”, and try to count how many times the word “easy” appears in the search results.

One of the great discoveries of your thirties is this: though you are finally, firmly an adult, you’re far from a done deal. You can – and should – continue to learn new things and dive into new passions. Really, what pushed me into gardening was moving into our current home. It came with beautifully established gardens on all sides, planted and tended by someone who really knew their stuff. From the departure of rotten spring snow til the falling of fresh stuff, lovely bits of life pop up in various spots. Between April and October, there’s always a flower to enjoy somewhere. There are lots of bushes, and tall trees, too. We bought the house in March, and had no idea what living surprises awaited us until we moved the following June.

Of course, it’s not all roses. (See what I did there?) The lovely bushes and trees cost us a fortune in trimming and removal last year, after we realized that one day we might just wake up to find ourselves smothered, jungle-style, if we didn’t fight back. We have wild roses along our back fence that send out runners aplenty, which all have to be ripped out by hand. We have blackberries. That’s nice when we’re nibbling on them. It’s considerably less nice when we’re trying to keep the prickly vines from eating our entire yard. We have a maple tree. Every year, I uproot dozens of baby maples. Those cute little seedlings grow up, you see, and we have room for one – not 78. There’s plenty of mowing for the mister to do. And, while I don’t mind the odd weed (in fact, I adore some weeds, like dandelions), or the lived-in look, I have a deep – possibly obsessive – need for tidiness. The sight of things growing between interlocking bricks makes me crazy, and I suspect that the previous owner of our house had an interlocking brick fetish (if there is such a thing – someone look it up, please). My back is already weeping at the thought of the stooping ahead.

But the learning, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction – the joy – it gives me is worth everything it costs. Gardening has taught me so many important things that can be applied to life.

The first thing you see often isn’t the most important thing, and it’s never an island unto itself. From the street, you see a tree. What you don’t see is the rich soil supporting it, insects tunneling in and out of it, enriching it. The strong root system pumping water and nutrients. The wind challenging, shaping and strengthening the trunk. You see a flower. What you don’t see are the smaller plants bracing it. The larger plants sheltering it. The butterflies, bees and wasps pollinating it. The sun and rain feeding it. We all have a part to play.

Things aren’t always what they look like at first. Along the back wall of our house, there is a slow-growing plant with a few dead ends. Its leaves are rather plain. It’s got vicious thorns. For three summers, it hooked my clothes and drew blood, and I chopped it down. Yet it kept coming back – I could not get rid of it. I hated that thing. One summer, I was away alot, and didn’t have time to do my usual hack job. I returned to find it sporting 18 beautiful red roses. With plants, colour and beauty can come from the dullest of corners. Loveliness can lie dormant for long years. So it is with people, if we give them a chance.

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Don’t wait until an opportunity presents itself – enjoy what you have nowThe roses on that bush last a week at most. Some flowers are in their glory for far less time than that. You have to admire them, take pictures of them, pick them to grace your table when they show up – not when your life slows down, or plans have been cancelled, and you have an extra moment. When it comes to flowers, stop and make a moment. They might not be there tomorrow. Maybe you won’t, either.

Be careful what you encourage, whether actively or passively. In a garden, the fastest, most competitive growers are usually the ones you don’t want. Ignore them for an inch, and they’ll take a mile. Get lazy for a week, and they’ll start strangling all the good plants around them. Leave them for a month, and they’ll be all that’s left by the time you come back. The easiest thoughts are negative. The easiest courses of action are lazy. Apathy and evil will flow into a void, take root and boil over. For good things to flourish, you have to pursue them, encourage them and defend them tirelessly.

Even the best-laid plants (and plans) can go awry. You select a plant because something about it calls to you. You gently transport it home, choose the best spot for it, carefully plant it and water it in. You picture excitedly how gorgeous it will be when it begins to flourish. You might even bore your husband and kids and friends with it (if you’re me). Then, a late frost shrivels and blackens it. Or a violent downpour washes it right out of the ground. Or a particularly cruel sun withers and yellows it. Or an animal tears it up. Heartbreaking, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You knew you were risking all of those things when you put that sprout in the ground. It feels even more personal and savage if it’s a plant you grew from seed. Houses burn down. Whole towns flood out and float away. Businesses go under. Children die. It doesn’t matter how much of your heart you put into them – some cruel force can just sweep them away anytime. Control is an illusion, foolish at best and dangerous at worst. But if the alternative is not to bother … Well, I’ll take the risk, for a chance to live my life in full, rich colour.

Just beBreathe in, breathe out. Sometimes, the true contentment is found in the journey – in the work. Pick slowly through a tangle of tender green, the smell of rich earth rising, with the sun soaking into your back and your feet firmly planted. Inch by inch, pay close attention to detail. Listen to your heartbeat. Entertain your thoughts. Lose the clock. Lose your expectations. Find yourself.

A musical journey through Beth’s 2017 …

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At the beginning of every year, I make a list of the my 40 favourite songs from the previous year. It’s fun to look back over the musical landscape of the past twelve months. The songs make me smile, cry and remember. I started doing this in 2014 – and I’ve not missed a year since. Ryan has dutifully listened to every chart in its entirety – not because he likes my music. He makes no bones about the fact that he thinks some of my musical tastes are appalling. That’s fine by me because I know I’m right. This is, after all, BethBlog. No, he listens because he’s an avid music fan, a lover of numbers – and a grand husband. And I’m sure all my faithful readers totally listen to every song, too. Right? Right? Of course, you do!

Having made the chart in January, I would like to publish it before Easter. Have I mentioned that I still can’t seem to conquer my way-too-much-all-the-damn-time? Sigh … So, without further ado, the following list is my Top 40 of 2017. As usual, I’ve ordered them from barely-hanging-on #40 to glittering #1 – and I’ve provided links so you can listen along. And, as usual, there are plenty of genres to enjoy. From rap to pop tarts to yee-haws …

40. Chained to the Rhythm – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

39. Believer – Imagine Dragons

38. … Ready for it? – Taylor Swift

37. Reminder – The Weeknd

36. Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

35. Praying – Kesha

34. Scars to your Beautiful – Alessia Cara

33. You’re the Best Thing About Me – U2

32. Rockabye – Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

31. Bad at Love – Halsey

30. If I Yold You – Darius Rucker

29. Born Yesterday – Hollerado

28. Blood in the Cut – K-Flay

27. Glorious – Macklemore feat. Skylar Grey

26. Bank Account – 21 Savage

25. I Got You – Bebe Rexha

24. The Way You Used To Do – Queens of the Stone Age

23. The Story of OJ – Jay Z

22. The Man – The Killers

21. No Such Thing As A Broken Heart – Old Dominion

20. How to Boil an Egg – Courtney Barnett

19. Thunder – Imagine Dragons

18. Strip That Down – Liam Payne feat. Quavo

17. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists

16. Bad Liar – Selena Gomez

15. Los Ageless – St. Vincent

14. High – Sir Sly

13. Issues – Julia Michaels

12. Bad and Boujee – Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert

11. Creature Comfort – Arcade Fire

10. Love Me Now – John Legend

9. rockstar – Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

8. Starboy – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

7. Something for Your Mind – Superorganism

6. Shark Smile – Big Thief

5. Sign of the Times – Harry Styles

4. Million Reasons – Lady Gaga

3. New Rules – Dua Lipa

2. Man Listen – Belly

If you’re still with me, thank you … Your reward is Lorde, dancing in with #1, the hypnotic, urgent, sexy “Green Light”! Happy listening!

My thoughts and prayers should not be the focus of your anger right now.

Another day in America, another school shooting  A little over a week ago, Nikolas Cruz (a troubled former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida), opened fire in the school, killing 17 people and wounding many others. We’re shocked and horrified – again. We’re holding our children just a little tighter – again. We’re angry that such violence is allowed to exist in our world – again. Families are still burying their dead, and Americans are searching for answers and solutions – again. We Canadians are peeking through our blinds at our neighbour’s latest domestic disturbance, feeling both sorry for, and superior to, them. Social media is awash with sorrow and outrage on behalf of the families terrorized by the daily possibility of a school shooting. And rightly so: there were 65 of them in the US last year. They’re on track to beat their own record this year – it’s only February, and there have already been nearly 20 occurrences of a live round being discharged in a school building or on a school campus. Another common theme – at least, in my newsfeed, anyway – is smugness. We’ve got gun control, so we don’t have school shootings. Yay, Canada! Again, rightly so: I worry about lots of things when I kiss my kids goodbye in the morning, but a school shootings – nearly non-existent in Canada – are very low on the list.

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing another theme emerge: screw your thoughts and prayers, you useless hypocrite, and do something.

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In my opinion, memes like these are judgmental, patronizing, insulting and presumptuous. How do you know that the person who’s praying isn’t doing anything about the problem? You don’t. You just assume. How dare you judge someone else’s sincerity or try to censor their reaction to what is happening, just because their response is not like yours? How arrogant of you to decide that a person is lazily ignoring all possible solutions in favour of prayer and meditation, when all you actually know about the person is that he or she shared a thoughts-and-prayers meme.

Even worse, people share memes like this one, which implies that people who pray are worse than useless – they’re using their prayers to feel like they’re doing something productive so they won’t feel guilty about not doing something:

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Again with the presumption, judgement and insult.

Clearly, if you are sharing memes like the examples above, you don’t believe in praying. You believe that it has no value – and, indeed, no place in the life of any intelligent human being. However, there are millions of people who do not feel that way – myself included. I have known, all my life, that I am surrounded by prayer. My grandparents prayed for me faithfully. So did my father. So does my mother, and my mother-in-law, my husband and my children. So do some of my friends. Does it change things in my life? Maybe – but, again, you don’t believe it. So I guess that’s my personal leap of faith … Does it make me feel better about pretty much everything? Yes. No matter what comes my way, no matter how low I feel, knowing that someone is praying for me – loves me enough to hit their knees on my behalf, and wish me the best – is like receiving a strong hug from invisible arms.

When a child falls and hurts themselves, one of the first things most people do is hug them and speak gently to them. It won’t mop the blood from their knees or heal their bruises, but it will be comforting. It will show the little one they’re not alone, and that someone is watching and cares. When a friend comes out with bad news, most of us will hold that friend and tell them we are there for them. We can’t lift them out of debt, fix the struggles of their children, or bring a dead spouse or parent back to life. But they will draw strength from the warmth of our touch, the emotional caress of our concern. They will know someone sees their pain and gives a damn.

Imagine, now, that it suddenly became trendy to mock that response.

“Hey, you – it’s adorable that you can give hugs instead of making actual change.”

“Oh, look, you kissed her boo-boo! Now it’s going to magically disappear … Or not. Because science.”

“Hug away, selfish asshole. At least now you won’t have to actually help somebody, because you’ve made yourself feel like you already have.”

“Oh, sure, listen to her whine, then tell her you’re there for her. ‘Cause that will totally cure your friend’s cancer.”

Most people wouldn’t do that. That would be insensitive, crass and just plain mean. But so many seem to have no qualms about trampling on heartfelt wishes and bone-deep beliefs, offered by people who are just trying to get through life with a little grace and kindness. I have no control over American politics. I can’t raise shooting victims from the dead and give them back to their family. I can’t banish the nightmares of the survivors. My earnest desire that things will get better, my terribly inadequate shreds of sympathy, my prayers – are sometimes all I have to give. And, frankly, if they never do an ounce of good, at least they’re positive and unifying. That’s alot more than can be said for mean-spirited memes.

Triggered.

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Ladies and gentlemen (if that’s not too harsh and repressive an address for you), we are gathered here today to mourn the death of Open Debate at Wilfred Laurier University. Mr. Debate … Ms.? Zr.? I must make a note to ask how dear old Open would like to be addressed. Moving on … Mr. Debate was an essential part of learning about our complicated world, and furnishing the empty rooms of our minds with all sorts of interesting ideas. One might say that he … Sorry. Zie? They? Oh, sod it. Let’s not talk about Open Debate at all, as we really have no idea how to do it without upsetting people anyway. Perhaps there’s nothing to mourn, as it appears more important to coddle people’s highly tuned sensibilities than to introduce them to any opinion other than the one they already espouse.

Lindsay Shepherd knows all about it. She’s a 22-year-old grad student and teaching assistant. In one of her classes, “Canadian Communication in Context”, she showed an excerpt from a video debate featuring a University of Toronto psychology prof named Jordan Peterson. Peterson inspired controversy last fall when he criticized Bill C-15, which added gender expression and gender identity to the federal human rights act and the Criminal Code. He refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they”, “zie” and “zher”, which – as one might imagine – further annoys quite a few people. One or more students complained that, by showing the video clip, Shepherd created a “toxic environment”. Not by endorsing Peterson’s views – but by not condemning them. In other words, for neutrally presenting the video – for not taking a position herself in front of the class – Shepherd was labelled “transphobic”, and accused of “cultivating a space” where opinions such as Peterson’s can be “nurtured”. She is now required to submit all lesson plans to her supervisor (Nathan Rambukkana) in advance. He will sit in on her next few classes. She must not submit any more controversial videos of this kind. Rambukkana, told Shepherd that showing the video was akin to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler“.

I wish I wasn’t regularly required to say things like this, but here goes … Peterson, though boorish, is no Hitler. In comparing Jordan Peterson with Adolph Hitler, Rambukkana makes a stunning leap across the brutal occupation of eleven sovereign nations, the savagely creative murders of six million people, and the ignominy of their desecrated bodies and mass graves. Yes, indeed, openly criticising an Act of Parliament and refusing to use preferred pronouns is exactly the same as the Holocaust. I personally challenge Rambukkana to say this in front of Holocaust survivors and their families. I have a feeling the ensuing debate would be lively – but, in light of what has happened to Shepherd, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to listen to it.

This is, sadly, one of many recent examples of the strangling of free speech and open debate in our universities. Even when freedom of expression and disagreement are   allowed to exist, they come with so-called trigger warnings because they might – gasp – bother someone. Universities, once the cradle of objective thought and exchange of ideas, are becoming simply cradles. Sprawling, expensively equipped, beautifully manicured “safe spaces”, where what was once considered challenging is now termed triggering. Where emotionally insulated and stunted people hide behind anonymous complaints to the administration rather than listening to, and learning to intelligently confront, opposing views.

My university days are rapidly fading in the rear view mirror, but two academic experiences come back to me when I think of what happened to Lindsay Shepherd at Wilfred Laurier. One is a debate about GMOs in which I took the part of the widely disliked Monsanto and Frankenfoods – not because I was a fan of the company, but because I was assigned that side of the debate – and we all thought it was important to present all perspectives. Aside from the odd jokey “boo”, people listened to what I had to say – because respect is an important ingredient in the success of a debate. The second is a David Suzuki documentary about the suffering of animals on their way to becoming food in Asia. Scenes ranged from chickens plucked while still alive to live dogs displayed in cages for purchase and consumption to – most disturbing of all – skinned cats held by a metal ring around their necks being boiled alive. Watching those pink, bony bodies floundering weakly, imagining the pain they were undoubtedly feeling, I felt nauseous. I’ve never forgotten the sight. Our ethics prof had made this required viewing. Though he warned us that it was graphic, nobody asked to be excused – again, because we all thought it was important to present all perspectives. The documentary sparked hours of conversation about the experience of animals from farm to table, and what we owe them as keepers and consumers, and how to implement policy changes where needed. What was triggered? Interest. Learning. Debate. Understanding. Personal growth. I believe that I, and my fellow students, emerged from these experiences (and many others) challenged and changed.

This is what university – and learning in general – is for. What will we accomplish if we surround ourselves only with people who agree with us? If we shout down, silence or run from anyone who says things we don’t like, how will we learn enough about them to engage them in meaningful discussion and introduce them to our own perspective? In taking this approach, Wilfred Laurier University is actually harming the community it wishes to protect. If trans people are to be accepted (in more than just law) as ordinary members of society, with all the rights and privileges this entails, we have to dissect and disarm negative perceptions of them. We can’t accomplish that by simply telling naysayers to shut up and go away – and we certainly won’t get there by forcibly suppressing anyone who dares to raise the issue.

Idaho – ho!

We’re not far from Christmas, so here’s how our summer vacation went … Curse you, writer’s block!

We’re back from our road trip, so now we know where we went. (Telling people we don’t know our road trip destination as late as the day before our road trip never fails to amuse me. Their reaction is an excellent way to gauge just how deep their need for control really runs.) In the end, Idaho won. It’s been a long time since we last headed so firmly west. Ten years, in fact. It was time to do it again, this time without Fiona tantrumming on my last nerve from her carseat and Bridget dancing on my bladder from inside me.

Our trip started with the sweet-n-sour combination of a sad farewell to Ron and Pat and the near-electric sizzle of excitement over hitting the road. Bridget, who loves potatoes more than any other potato-lover I’ve ever met, cheered when we announced that Idaho was our destination. Retro Casey Kasem added to the fun feeling in our car with “Mr. Big Stuff”. (Speaking of big stuff – Jean Knight’s hair!) Our high spirits fell a touch when I discovered that I had left my purse at Ron’s and Pat’s place. I needed it, so we returned to their house. They were waiting at the door with my bag, and some extra hugs. For their insatiably, shamelessly nosy neighbours, it was the Best. Day Ever! Those people just about broke their necks staring at us pulling back into the driveway after having left less than an hour before. None of my fellow trippers razzed me even a little about this jackassery, proving – yet again – that they are the best.

Lunch was at a Denny’s, with what seemed like everyone else on the road – try their bacon avocado burger sometime (but do it on a day when you won’t have to wait an hour for one). We crossed the border into America shortly after that, and encountered a border guard from Idaho. Yes, in Michigan. He warned us that we were going to get there and say “holy cow, there’s nothing here”. Undaunted, we drove on. That night, we stayed at a Super 8-turning-Rodeway in South Lansing, in a room with a busted security chain. South Lansing is suffused by an air of general decay. Closed-down, crumbling restaurants, motels and car lots everywhere. More than half of the cars we saw were falling apart. Our motel was near a dead Holiday Inn, and we spent a few minutes staring at the faded sign while listening to the Swallows’ bouncy, impudent “It Ain’t the Meat” – they didn’t go together well. Dinner, though, was delicious. We went to Los Tres Amigos, where my pollo loco was dreamy. Ryan ordered a variety of things, all thrown together in a cast-iron pot shaped like a pig. Chicken, beef, chorizo, cheese and vegetables – including steamed cactus.

The waitress shared her favourite way of eating cactus – sprinkled with salt and lime juice. We each tried a strip of it that way, and she was right – it was quite good. That night, we enjoyed a little Goose 312, and our first “Golden Girls” fix – and the feeling of embarking on another adventure.

Our continental breakfast the following morning can most kindly be described as underwhelming. I’m not sure if the motel owner had ever actually made coffee, and I sincerely hope not – that way, I can tell myself he simply didn’t know that coffee shouldn’t look like apple juice. Somehow, even the ubiquitous Froot Loops were gone, leaving behind a sad pile of multi-coloured dust. I ate my cinnamon roll cold because I twice blew a fuse trying to microwave it. Dubious start notwithstanding, we were in high spirits as we rolled through the Midwest. Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, endless blue skies over slightly dry fields, punctuated by water towers and Cracker Barrels, blurred together. The girls spent the better part of the afternoon flashing naked Ken dolls at fellow travellers. Ryan felt that this was disrespectful, and I – because sometimes I am twelve on the inside – felt that this was hilarious. All the same, we discouraged them from distracting other drivers, and they moved on to safer, less obnoxious activities.

We spent that night in Williamsberg, Iowa, in the lovely Cozy House Inn & Suites. Fireflies flared and faded in the darkening fields around us, and we could hear a few July 4th revelers getting an early start. Ryan pointed out that we had been through three states beginning with I that day – and we were on our way to the only other one.

That morning, Independence Day, we saw one of the truly great things America has to offer: beer, on tap, in a gas station. Yes, that’s right: in the country that introduced us to the wonders of a drive-thru liquor store, we saw a fellow pulling pints in the middle of a Kum & Go. God bless America! Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” sounded just right under the baby blue sky and fluffy clouds as we rolled into Adair to visit our favourite water tower. It was still there, smiling away at the world. So many things disappear, but not Old Smiley – not yet, and (I hope) never.

Lunch was at a the Corn Crib, boasting that it was voted the best mom-n-pop joint in Iowa. I don’t know how that sort of thing is determined, but I loved my pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket sliders, drenched in house-made sauces. We later stopped for cold drinks in some tiny Nebraska town. Arm Pit, or Ass Crack, perhaps. There was a dead restaurant with fake plants in the windows, and clouds of dust blowing by – and not much else. That night, we stayed at the Western Inn, a lovely little motel with lavender walls and an old-fashioned neon sign like something a traveller would have encountered in the glory days of Route 66.

After a refreshing swim, we had dinner at Whiskey Creek – delectable ribs. Our beer that night was an odd one – Beatnik Sour, by Exile. In my opinion, i tasted like juice that has been sitting out too long – but Ryan liked it. People were setting off fireworks across the street – about a hundred feet away from us, in fact – and all over town. It was an exciting way to end our day.

The next morning, the dry, earthy pastels of Nebraska rolled along for miles under a chalky grey-blue sky – until Wyoming brought us sharper, brighter, wilder scenery. We stopped at the Pine Bluffs welcome centre, and went on a hot hike along a trail to an archeological dig site. Rattlesnakes tapped out a warning on both sides of the trail as we walked. At the dig site, there was a display of the many finds – including coins of a currency exclusive to Pine Bluff, and so many arrowheads that they were allowing visitors to take them as free souvenirs.

I’ve had a soft spot for Wyoming since Ryan and I made it the destination of our first road trip together, fifteen years ago. It gave us a hunger for the road that just won’t quit, an itch we’re still scratching. We stayed in Laramie that night, at a Ramada. The Ramada in Laramie has a terrible rating on Trip Adviser, and I really don’t know why. The staff was friendly, our room was clean and comfortable, the pool and hot tub were lovely and the continental breakfast the next morning had everything a person could possibly want to eat for breakfast. I couldn’t see anything wrong with this place. What on earth did the skids on Trip Adviser want? Did someone have to ask for extra towels? Did someone have to report a broken hair dryer? Was there a rotting elk carcass in the bathtub?

We traveled through Wyoming to rugged, lonely, lovely Utah, stopping for Chester’s Chicken at lunchtime in the oddly-named Wamsutter – I love fried chicken. Love it. So fragrant and greasy and satisfying.  However, in a nod to the fact that I am no longer 21 and need to draw some lines somewhere, I ordered okra and stripped the breading off it. In the afternoon, I experienced the excitement of purchasing 1L of Cuervo Gold and 1.5 L of Triple Sec for $20. Even with the exchange rate, I got an entire summer’s worth of margaritas for less than a third of the price I’d pay at that oh-so-classy monopoly, the LCBO. And, again, I say: God bless America! Utah’s welcome centre boasts an amazing view, wildlife (including a prairie dog that appeared to live inside a Pepsi machine, and an exhibit honouring Mormons – including a covered wagon that had traveled all the way from Illinois (and no – the seat is not padded).

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(Please note that the above animal is not included in the aforementioned wildlife. I found him to be remarkably tame, given his impressive size and rack.)

Nice as the welcome centre is, our night in Utah was decidedly not. The Motel 6 in Ogden – which we had booked that morning knowing that much of Utah is, though attractive, a wasteland – was a fugly construction site. The parking lot was a dusty obstacle course. Even the entrance to the lobby was pitted, cracked and surrounded by caution tape. The pool, which we had been looking forward to using, was a concrete hole in the ground. Worse still, there was no hot water. The advertised “magnificent mountain view” was not visible from our side of the motel. All we could see was machinery and debris. None of this was disclosed at any point during the booking process. Fiona and I had cold baths, then we crossed the parking lot to a Denny’s, where my white-people problems kept coming. I ordered a steak skillet and was told that mushrooms (my favourite part of such a dish, apart – naturally – from the steak) were not available. To be fair, though, the waitress made me a salad to make up for it. Motel 6 has yet to attempt amends of any sort, the crooks. We drowned our sorrows in 90 Schilling Ale, and reminded ourselves that even a night in a shitty motel somewhere in Utah is an adventure worth having.

The next morning, we were outta there. I found myself nursing a strong hope that the place would burn to the ground … However, we hit Idaho that day, and – in my excitement – I forgot to be annoyed. The welcome centre was small, but meticulous, and we spent a happy half-hour browsing stacks of what-to-do-in-Idaho brochures, and snapping pictures of the flag and welcome sign. We ate lunch at a little restaurant called The Pines, where there was a map containing pins representing the homes of various diners. Now, there’s a pin on Ottawa! We drove through some amazing mountains just because we could, and stumbled across the Soda Springs geyser. It erupts every hour, like Old Faithful. It’s surrounded by beautiful red and orange mineral deposits, and a boardwalk with benches – and, of course, we waited. I wasn’t sure of the temperature of the water, so I repeatedly warned Fiona and Bridget to stay away from the geyser. When we saw a couple of boys treating it like it was their local splash pad, though, there was no holding our Bright Eyes back. She got soaked to the skin dancing in the spray.

We stayed at a Travelodge in Pocatello that night. Across the parking lot was Chapala Mexican Grill, complete with Mexican karaoke and complimentary sopapilla. I was urged to sing that night, and I didn’t because I wasn’t feeling particularly confident. Now, I wish I had … Next time someone asks me to sing – anywhere, anytime – I will. Hold me to it. Our hotel featured an empty-yet-appealing bar. The Stones’ “Miss You” was playing, and we wanted to stroll in there and order us a whatever. But we didn’t want to be the only customers; that’s alot of pressure. We returned to our room, and drank a six-pack of Drop Top. Idaho, wild, mysterious, beautiful and potato-ridden, lay before us – ours for the next few days.

Before leaving Pocatello, we decided to check out Don Aslett’s Museum of Clean. Don Aslet himself (if slightly sexist, and rife with blonde jokes) did an excellent job of guiding us through his impressive collection of vacuum cleaners, washing machines and cleaning tools (including hundreds of years’ worth of toilets). He is well-versed in the history of cleaning. It was an excellent attraction for families. We could – and were encouraged to – touch just about everything. There were no picture or video bans. There was a solid angle on the concept of trash reduction and environmental preservation. The slogan for the place is “Education – Inspiration – Adventure”, and I was so inspired. I wanted to clean all the stuff. Before leaving, we simply had to buy a toilet-shaped shot glass.

After lunch at a Black Bear Diner, we headed for Boise. We stopped at a Philips 66 for cold drinks, and I told Fiona – who was busily shredding a straw wrapper into tiny pieces – to put her trash where it belonged. She was goofing around, not wanting to comply. A fellow one table over, wearing a shirt that said “life is short – pray hard”, admonished her to honour Ryan and I so that it might be well with her soul. She lost her goof, and shamefacedly put her garbage in the garbage can. Thanks, weirdo – can I hire you? It takes a village to spook a child into behaving.

As we rolled into Boise, we listened to 107.1 K-Hits – the music we listen to on Saturday nights, because that station carries retro Casey Kasem countdowns. In fact, after checking into a Howard Johnson and enjoying a refreshing swim, we drove to a Sonic so we could listen to the show while eating dinner. Those peanut butter shakes …

The next day being Sunday, we attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where the music included an upright bass – you don’t see that every Sunday! After mass, we combined the dreaded chore of cleaning our clothes with a lunch at the Idaho Pizza House. Though the pizza was average (at best), there was a fine variety of it – and it was good to be able to avoid sitting in a hot, icky laundromat with all the crazies. After filling our funky suitcases with clean (if slightly scorched) garments, we hit the road again. This time, we were heading north to see the beautiful sky-scraping evergreens Ryan and I remember from our first time in Idaho. We were not disappointed.

Cradled between gently rolling mountains, the road was punctuated by yellow diamond curve signs and runaway truck ramps. And, oh, those sparkling deep-blue lakes! We drove through Boise National Forest, and then Payette National Forest (bizarrely titled “Land of Many Uses”), to the Rustic Motel in McCall. We bought foot-long subs and brought them back to our room to watch “The Nineties” on CNN. Fiona and Bridget were fascinated by the little taste of what it was like to be us, once upon a time.

Later, we listened to the night sounds of the forest while sipping Citrus Mistress. Those night sounds were occasionally interrupted by a giggly staffer dashing back and forth between the office and a room occupied by someone she was either befriending, romancing or fighting. Ryan and I, though very talented eavesdroppers, really couldn’t tell.

The next morning brought the kind of sunshine you only get in the mountains – bright and clean, smelling of pine needles and rich earth. We drove through Hell’s Canyon, hemmed in by rock faces and steadily being carved deeper by a green-blue-grey river. Lunch featured a chicken-fried steak because vacation, at a cute little place called Seasons Restaurant in Grangeville. The highway climbed ever higher, leading us to a breath-taking scenic stop in Lewiston – we could see all the way to Washington. It was a long way down … I demonstrated my motherly tenderness by telling Fiona and Bridget that if I saw either of them goofing around at the edge I would have a heart attack, and promptly kill both of them upon recovery.

There was a tacky gift shop nearby selling made-in-China moccasins and dream catchers and wood carvings of bears – my kind of place! The sign even advertised cowboy boots, and I was all set to buy a pair to suit all my stomping needs. Alas, it was closed. We did, however, find one just like it down the road. We browsed, and bought nothing – it was fun just looking around. We hit Coeur d’Alene at rush hour. We stayed there years ago at a ridiculously expensive wasp-infested smoke-infused cabin in a row of cabins occupied by toothless people drinking out of paper bags. The bed was terrible. (We have a special talent for finding places like that. What’s your superpower?) Having no desire to end up doing anything remotely similar, we moved on to Spokane. Our stay in the Apple Tree Inn completed our sleeping tour of the lower 48, which we celebrated at Rancho Chico down the street. They brought us three complimentary baskets of tortilla chips, and – at the end – free sopapilla. They also made me a solid margarita. That night featured Mirror Pond Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery, and “Forensic Files”. That show became popular with all four of us during our Idaho adventure. Let me tell y’all, I am never committing a crime. Well, not one for which I could do hard time, anyway. Those investigators always get their man. Or woman. Or, more-rarely-yet-not-unprecedented, their child. I hope it scared the pants off Fiona and Bridget, too.

The next morning, more amazing mountains and lakes blah blah blah. Seriously – being surrounded by the natural beauty of Idaho gave me a sad glimpse into just how undeserving our homo sapiens asses are of natural beauty. Just a couple of days in, and I was already ho-humming my way through some of the most gorgeous postcard-esque “Sound of Music” backdrops. My “hey, look at this” could no longer get the girls to pull their noses out of their books. As we drove, I read a complimentary copy of The Innlander I had received from the motel. I knew none of the names or places, but I was in total newspaper withdrawal and welcomed the grainy print, flimsy pages and smudged fingers eagerly. In Bonner’s Ferry, we had lunch at the adorably twee Under the Sun Bistro, where even the hand soap in the washroom is organic and locally made. I had the perfect cream of tomato soup, a turkey and apple sandwich and huckleberry lemonade (huckleberries being somewhat of a thing in Idaho). We visited the Kootenai Wildlife Reserve, where we saw alot of bees, butterflies, dragonflies and birds. It was beautiful there, but there were no bears. I had seen bears in pamphlets, bears on signs, bears advertising things, bears in art – but I am sad to say that my Idaho experience was completely devoid of actual bears. As we drove into Montana and Mountain Time, we had that melancholy sense of turning around. We did, however, stir ourselves to stop at Kootenai Falls. There was a hiking trail and a swing bridge, and we couldn’t resist. None of us had ever experienced a swing bridge. Like everything else we do on road trips, we crossed it together. I love that feeling – together. My posse, my pack – where I belong. Bridget marched ahead grimly. I swear, if the bridge had suddenly fallen away in front of her, she’d have kept going. Fiona floundered in the middle. Ryan, with a death grip on the side ropes, called to her to keep moving. After a moment’s hesitation, she did. On the other side of the bridge, we had a feeling of accomplishment – of satisfaction.

The sky was impossibly blue, with perfectly formed cartoon clouds – the kind you’d see in a painting of Jesus coming back to earth. The Sandman Motel in Libby, Montana, is owned by a genial Aussie who eagerly shared that the cast and crew of “The Revenant” had stayed there during filming. The motel boasted a view of the mountains – but this claim was unnecessary, given that a view of the mountains is guaranteed everywhere in Libby. We had dinner at The Antlers – Ryan and I enjoyed giant bowls of pasta there. We were nearly the only customers, aside from an elderly couple. The old lady insisted that I must be Fiona’s and Bridget’s grandmother because we were so affectionate with each other. I don’t know if her impairment was visual or cognitive, but I sincerely hope she had one or the other going on. Otherwise, I need new face junk to ward off the aggressively encroaching years … That night, Ryan and I sipped Big Sky Brewing’s Summer Honey (another damn bear). It was so dark that we couldn’t see past the motel parking lot. Somewhere out there were the mountains – a comforting thought.

The next day was spent marvelling at the sheer isolation of Montana … Winding highways punctuated by sightings of big-eared knobby-kneed deer and tiny towns like Kalispell, the only place indicated on any sign for over 80 miles. Isolation be damned, though, every little town came equipped with multiple casinos advertising keno and poker and slots. You might not have cell service or timely medical care, but – by God – you can gamble on your way to gamble! Between towns, the highway ran alongside terrifying drops with little more than a rusted guard rail – if that – to protect us. I found myself mentally pulling the road toward us, loop by loop, willing our car to stay on it. We had a deep-fried lunch at a lodge festooned with dead animals and playing Hank Williams and the Oak Ridge Boys. Our stop that night was the Town House Inn, a place we’ve stayed before, in Havre, Montana. There were free cookies, and a pretty indoor pool with sour-smelling carpet surrounding it (yes, carpet in a pool enclosure). Dinner was at a Pizza Hut, surrounded by fugly people who smelled of unwashed armpits. However, the quality and taste of the Pizza Hut fare was as expected, so it’s all good. We won’t hold the clientele against the franchise. Dump Truck IPA by Bayern Brewing, out of Missoula, crowned our night against the backdrop of “Forensic Files”, and then a horrible show called “Botched” about bad plastic surgeries. Because I am an asshole, this show helped me sleep. Nothing will make you more grateful for your own boobs than photos of someone else’s botched ones.

The next morning came early – we were still such a long way from home. All the same, home was clearly needed. When one kid’s drinking flavoured creamers and the other kid’s dipping her bacon in melted butter, you know you need a return to real life and rules. With our windows open to the forgiving early morning air, we headed for North Dakota, stopping in Glendive for lunch. We saw only two restaurants – a Chinese one, and a Pizza Hut. Hence, our second Pizza Hut experience in less than 24 hours. The Pizza Hut was in a strip mall surrounded by empty store fronts and a dying K-Mart. It was as if we were already in North Dakota. North Dakota, when it arrived, welcomed us not to a National Forest but to a National Grassland. Sigh. The only excitement driving through North Dakota came just past Bismarck – the sickening thump of a plastic caution sign wedged under our car and dragging. We pulled over, and let Boo – our tiniest member – slide up to her waist under the car to investigate while I stood behind the car like a human traffic cone. Ryan shoved the offending plastic loose with a snow scraper. With a clunk and a prayer of thanks, we left it behind. In Jamestown, we found the lovely Two Rivers Inn with newly decorated rooms, beautifully fresh air and a Dairy Queen a few feet away. It doesn’t get any better than that in North Dakota. No, really: it doesn’t.

We spent the next day rolling through the mild freshness of Minnesota and Wisconsin, stopping at a Red Robin in St. Cloud for the best turkey burger I’ve ever had. Ryan’s energy was flagging, and I entertained him by flipping from station to station and seeing how fast he could guess the name and artist of whatever song was playing. He is amazing at this game, and enjoyed it immensely. Also, he stayed awake and therefore didn’t kill us all. A win for everyone! At a place boringly called The Plaza in Wassau, we had dinner at Brewski’s. A very good fish-n-chips and chicken marsala, accompanied by the awesome punch of a double-shot rum-n-coke. When I complimented the bartender, he said he made it like his mother does. There was a beautiful pool there, with a kiddie pool and hot tub – though we only used the standard pool. The Spotted Cow IPA by New Glarus was – as the clerk had promised us – perfect. Though we looked forward to going home, a part of each of us wondered if we couldn’t just go on forever – like the road.

Not all ACs are created equal. The Plaza’s was great. That mechanical hum and frosty air gave me a wonderful sleep. There was a very good continental breakfast – not just sausages and scrambled eggs and home fries, but French toast. On the way out of the parking lot, I slopped coffee on my one clean dress. It was road-trip clean, meaning stains blended with the pattern convincingly, and it had passed that morning’s smell test – so the coffee wasn’t a big deal. Possibly, the scent of the coffee made it better. Soon we were back in Michigan, framed close by trees, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 from 1976. It was overwhelmingly disco-packed, though Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run” inspired a passionate sing-along. We enjoyed one last crack at an American Subway, and an impromptu dance for Ryan, Fiona and I chased Boo clear out of the restaurant. She is, at times, our last remaining shred of decency. We stopped at an old-school grocery store in Engadine, where we bought big, fluffy ice cream cones for Fiona and Bridget, and 1.5 L of Bacardi for just over twenty bucks for me. At Hometown Inn & Suites, we enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna and parenting the children of stupid parents who were using the facilities as a babysitter while scrolling their phones. Dinner was at a Buffalo Wild Wings, where we tried jerk, chipotle, parmesan-and-garlic, and hot buffalo wings. So good.

Ryan kicked all our asses in trivia (impressive, considering he had driven about eight thousand kilometres in two weeks). Wisconsin Brewery’s Amber (with a badger on the bottle) was our last night’s fun.

After an easy border crossing and a whole lot of Ontario in wind and rain (though not enough rain to dispense with the baked-on bugs of nearly nine thousand kilometres, we saw Ottawa on a sign. 370 km to Ottawa. Damn, Ontario’s big … Another amazing road trip – and more enduring memories – logged. As for that border guard at the beginning of our adventure, Idaho was some of the most exciting nothing we’ve ever experienced. If you’re still reading (and, if you are, wow – thanks), I’ll bet you want to go there now.

“Someone was mean to me years ago, so I’m going to punish someone completely unconnected now.” Sounds about right ….

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I was going to write about our trip to Idaho, I really was. But, as often happens when it comes to BethBlog, I got distracted and now I want to talk about something else. Pride parade inclusivity, to be exact. Right about now you’re probably wondering what even I, one of the seasoned Oscar-the-Grouches of the figurative trash can known as the world wide web, could possibly have to bitch about when it comes to the inclusiveness of Pride parades. Isn’t everyone invited to participate in Pride by definition? Isn’t it all about everyone being different, and being different being ok? Sure – unless you’re a police officer.

Those who know me well know I love reading – particularly newspapers. There’s just something about the dry, clean, faintly chemical aroma of broadsheet, the delicate grey crinkle, the inky smudges that linger on your fingers …. I also find many blog post topics while perusing newspapers. Our world is an odd one, with plenty to talk about. This time, what caught my eye was an article about police officers being allowed to take part in Calgary’s Pride celebration – but not in uniform. This is because the LGBTQ+ community has not always been treated kindly by the law. They faced discrimination for many years. This discrimination was upheld and – at times – made worse by the police. Anti-sodomy laws made the very existence of gay people illegal, and therefore dangerous. Their romantic relationships were considered a crime against nature. Police officers raided gay bars to destroy the spaces where LGBTQ+ people felt safe. Gay people avoided involving the police even when they were the victims of crime, because they knew they wouldn’t be treated fairly – and a police presence might even make things worse. Gay-bashing was about more than cruel words.

Other cities have faced similar controversy in planning their Pride celebrations, including Vancouver and Toronto. Here in Ottawa, police officers were asked by Pride organizers to refrain from wearing their uniform if they chose to join the parade. Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau denied the request, stating that officers could wear whatever they like while participating in the Pride parade, and that he, himself, would be attending in uniform. The uniform, he explained, is part of police officers’ identity – it represents how they serve their community. Indeed. Freedom of expression ought to be one of the core values of a Pride celebration. We live in a society where we can be, and express, anything we want – including a gay cop who is proud of both aspects of their life and experience, or a straight cop who wants to represent the respect and support modern police officers offer the LGBTQ+ community.

It is understandable, given the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s interactions with law enforcement professionals, that the relationship between the two is sometimes fragile. Very important – and very delicate – dialogues have happened, and must continue to take place, to foster trust and understanding. Police officers have, in recent years, been enthusiastic participants in Pride celebrations across the country. Hands have been extended and clasped in friendship across decades of marginalization, abuse, fear and mistrust. This is as it should be. We cannot move forward without leaving the past in the past. Real progress has been made. However, Pride organizers risk damaging – or even losing – that progress if they allow the parade to become less inclusive to punish today’s police officers for the mistakes of past ones. Like the rainbow symbol it has adopted, Pride should be a coming-together of all sorts of people – not a tool for revenge.

* It should be noted that not all Pride celebrants want to exclude law enforcement officers, or their uniforms. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community have stated that their Pride parade includes the police. Kudos to them! They are the way forward.