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.

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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.

Across the continent again …. because we can!

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Happy Canada Day, everyone! It’s the 150th birthday of our great nation, and a plethora of party-people are heading for our great nation’s great capital. As usual, the Ottawa branch of Clan Chepita is swimming against the current – we left Ottawa for Hamilton yesterday, whizzing past a line of cars crawling from Ajax to the NCR. Under Murphy’s Law, road trip sub-section, at least 75% of the people trapped in that slow-slithering metal snake had to pee, and the other 25% were desperate for cold pop or a smoke or simple delivery from their fellow vehicular denizens. 

We are spending Canada Day with Ryan’s parents. Ron and Pat love it when we mess up their sheets and bathrooms, eat their food and drink their booze. They love it. At least, that’s what they say, though not in those particular words. Something more along the lines of “so glad you guys are here” – but we won’t get hung up on semantics.

Tomorrow, we hit the road for …. well, somewhere. It’s our annual big-ass road trip! We’re thinking Idaho, because Idaho – but, of course, it could be anywhere. We’ll know by the time it’s all over. Road trip preparation used to be alot tougher, tripping over toddlers while shoving our entire life into suitcases and bags. Now, though, Fiona and Bridget pack for themselves. Big kids for the win!

Wherever I go, I will apply my sharp eyes and restless pen to everything around me. I brought you Kansas, Texas and Georgia – and I’ll do the same with wherever we end up this time. Every lovely little diner, hole-in-the-wall Mexican delight, ice cream break-down, weird conversation, odd who-knew attraction, shitty motel and breath-taking view. Ciao for now!

Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your life?

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The youth and I do not always get along well, it’s true. There are alot of things I just don’t understand about how they do their thang. Fake glasses with thick frames, when all I ever wanted to do with my glasses was get rid of them. All that eyeliner. High-waisted shorts. Man buns. Endless selfies under layers of filters. Texting each other when they’re in the same room. The strange popularity of obnoxious YouTubers. I will stop right there, as I don’t want to sound like a shirty old cuss. Now, if everybody will just get off my lawn and pull up their pants, I’ll get on with this rare post in support of young people.

It’s graduation season. All over the world, people are closing the book on one chapter of their life and moving on to another. Our darling Fiona is leaving the familiarity and security of her school of the past five years for highschool at Notre Dame. With the added fuss of end-of-the-year activities, including uniform fittings and a leaving ceremony (because apparently sixth grade grad is a thing), our June’s been ridiculously busy. She’s excited and nervous, all at once. Big changes are coming. Every spring, for several years now, my Facebook newsfeed contains at least one person sharing the following meme:

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It’s made me snicker every time, I admit. However, it’s not true. Being a kid is actually really hard.

Your personality is still forming – and so are those of your peers. This means that every day you make a conscious decision as to how to present yourself to the world, and that world consists mainly of people who are too immature to respect what you’re offering. Popularity occupies a disproportionate level of importance, and is based heavily on things that are beyond your control. Good hair. Clear skin. The right (i.e. trendy and expensive) clothes. Smooth moves. I’m pretty sure teenagers have not changed that much since my own teen years – which means smooth moves still elude many of them. You have strong opinions, but they are laughed at by many of your peers and dismissed by parents and teachers. What do you know? Talk to me again when you’ve been around the block a few times …. If you put out, you’re a slut – and guys like you while girls scorn you. If you abstain from sex, you’re a prude – and girls like you while guys don’t bother with you. If you’re queer, you face the heavy task of trusting people with that deeply personal piece of information – and they might not react well. Everyone probably assumes you’re straight. You’ve been alive less than 20 years, but people are asking you what you want to do with the next 30 or 40 years of your life. You are constantly being tested on what you know, even though alot of what you know is new – and there’s more of it every day. The results of these tests determine whether you can follow the career path you’ve told everyone you want to follow. You’re being evaluated by just one institution’s accepted metrics – yet you’re being told that you have to measure up or you’re going nowhere in life. You’re facing years of testing, development, uncertainty – and debt.

Not all of you are going to make it. Failure, bad choices, heartache, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, drugs, crime, and suicide stalk you like wolves. Your generation is the one that is most vulnerable to all of these things. If you’ve made it to graduation, fab for you – it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Here’s to your future!

 

I’m a Christian who believes that members of the LGBTQ+ community should have the same rights, freedoms and security as the rest of us. Because Jesus said so.

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I have to start this post by admitting that the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community have never been a high priority of mine. I don’t have many gay friends, and the ones I’ve got seem to be living happy lives. Here in Ottawa, openly gay people go around being openly gay – and, as far as I can tell, no one gives them a second glance. People in Canada can marry anyone they want, as long as the person is neither related to them nor married already – and they can start a family, too. My home town in rural Newfoundland was pretty redneck, and I know a handful of people who hid their sexual orientation until leaving there for fear of being rejected by their family and bullied by their peers. But I’ve reached the point where I’ve been away from Robert’s Arm for as long as I lived there – the social mores of that town don’t cast as long a shadow over my thoughts as they used to.

Then came the terrible incident at Pulse in Orlando. 49 people dead, over fifty injured, after a gunman sprayed the crowd with two guns. He claimed allegiance to ISIL, the troublesome terrorists responsible for a number of awful deeds around the world. He did it because the club is known to be a queer favourite, and he hated gay people. For millions of people, myself included, this was unfathomable. He disagreed so strongly with LGBTQ+ lifestyles that he hated anyone involved. He hated them so much that he took their lives. Unimaginable. Optimistically, I thought this guy had to be rare – maybe even a one-off. Then I watched this video of people reading aloud some of the hate mail received by Pride Toronto. It’s filled with disturbing statements and nasty language. Apparently, Omar Mateen wasn’t alone in thinking that gay people are dirty animals who should make the world a better place by dying. Some people are blaming the massacre at Pulse on the people who were targeted, saying that they brought the violence on themselves by associating with the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, many of these people who claim to despise gay people also try to lay claim to something else: that they are Christians.

I am a Christian – that is to say, a Christ-follower. The knowledge that fellow Christians are so hateful toward a group of people simply based on who they love is painful. In the Christian community, we are living by faith in the grace of God. The whole premise of Christianity is the notion that we are members of a fallen race who needed the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our salvation and example and daily strength. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)  We celebrate this at Christmas and Easter – and every time we pray. Unless, apparently, we’re talking about gay people. Then, we take the Old Testament law that we are supposedly no longer subject to, and use it to beat down those who identify as something other than straight. The New Testament (the new code of living that the advent of Jesus Christ introduced) says very little about homosexuality. Depending on your translation or interpretation, it says nothing at all. The real umbrage against homosexuality in the Bible is actually in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is also home to a number of other rules and prejudices we no longer bother with. Perhaps we should bring them all back, for consistency’s sake. Know anyone who’s cheated on their spouse? Get out the rocks and start lobbing! Get rid of your blended clothing (which, these days, is – oh, everything we wear). When your slave gets all clingy and refuses to leave you, you have a choice – you can pierce his ear with a modern tool like the guns they use at Claire’s, or you can stick with tradition and use an awl. The menstrual tent on the outskirts of town needs better signage – none of us ladies want to pollute the community with our blood! The smoke from the sacrificial fire is breaking air pollution by-laws, and I’m running out of goats to burn.

Someone once asked Jesus the following question: out of all the laws in the Torah, which is the most important? (Matthew 22:36). Jesus quoted two laws from the Old Testament: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God. Love each other. Just love.

A few facts from around the world ….

Being gay will lead to the death penalty in Sudan, Mauritania and much of the Middle East. Gay people can spend anywhere from 14 years to life in prison in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, India and Guyana. In wide swaths of Africa, as well as pockets of the Middle East, Asia and South America, it’s a slightly kinder penalty. Just 14 years! In the rest of Africa (with a nod to South Africa which seems to grant full rights), Asia and Russia, Eastern Europe and parts of South America, they’ll put up with you being gay as long as you keep it on the down-low.

And in Orlando, one year ago today, being gay – or even just being friends with gay people – meant being executed in cold blood by a madman who hated people because they didn’t live exactly as he did. Many are remembering the horrifying events, and mourning the beautiful souls taken too soon. As Christians, we should be standing side-by-side with the grieving and the defenders of human rights. We should be welcoming and celebrating love wherever we find it. We should not downgrade the tragedy of human lives destroyed because of some Old Testament drivel from which we have been freed by our saviour.

We have enough clanging symbols and noisy gongs in this world. Anyone can be that. If we want to be salt and light, we have to rise above that – to be more than that. Real love, now, for everyone – with no strings or judgements attached. Because Jesus said so.

My underwhelming return to Facebook ….

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I made it through Lent without Facebook. 40 days without social media. I accidentally clicked on the Facebook link a time or two, but then I walked my trespassing ass right back out of there. It’s been nearly two weeks since I came back to the fold – just after Easter began, in fact. “Began” you say? Yes, began. According to Catholicism, this past Sunday was the 7th Sunday of Easter. Easter is not just a weekend – apparently, it’s 50 days long!

Theology aside, I thought it would be difficult to be away from Facebook. I was wrong. It was peaceful. I didn’t have to subject myself to the boredom of being party to the minutiae of people’s lives. No fascinating updates like “traffic was so bad today” or “painting our kitchen” or “my little kid said insert totally-predictable-little-kid-statement here“. No pictures of what people ate for lunch. No political hoopla or look-you-guys-my-life-is-so-awesome staged pictures. Nobody felt the burning need to reassure me that they are #soblessed. No love-me-love-me-love-me selfies posted for the sole purpose of receiving compliments. I didn’t have to read the same ungrateful statuses from the same collection of whiners every day. The acronym FML fell off my radar. When crazy things happened, I didn’t have to listen to the analysis and processing of 50 different people. I could just quietly think the event through, maybe talk about it with a pal. And there was no pressure to craft and post exactly the right response.

Sure, it was strange not to wish Ryan a happy birthday on Facebook, or create a tribute to my father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. I missed some people with whom I only communicate via Facebook. I was taking pictures, but I wasn’t able to share them with my dozens of Facebook friends. I just had to enjoy them myself, then print them for our family albums. Like people used to do with pictures. It was frustrating not to be able to share links to my blog posts. I kept writing through Lent – in fact, I published five posts. They didn’t get nearly as much attention as they usually do. Ten readers at most. However, this caused me to consider just why I feel like I need lots of people to read my blog.  Maybe I don’t. After a couple of weeks, the pleasure and satisfaction of simply composing a blog post was the same as if I were about to hook 100 readers.

I thought I would be excited to return to Facebook. Wrong again. After a few weeks away from it, social media looks more ridiculous than ever. I feel increasingly alienated from Facebook. I don’t bother to post nearly as much as I once did. I didn’t even share with the Facebook world that Ryan and I were going to New Orleans until I assembled an album a week after our return. I didn’t post a drippy Mother’s Day salute, either. Another precious little soul is going to be calling me Auntie Beth some day. I didn’t share that news. Occasionally, I think of things that could be fun to share – and then I don’t bother. It just isn’t as important as I once thought it was to give a digital audience a breathless update of my everything all the time. Moment of shameless honesty here: I love attention. Good, bad, laughing, shocked – I don’t care. One of my biggest fears is oblivion. But the price one pays for the kind of attention social media dishes up is starting to look rather steep.

Many days, I scroll joylessly, waiting in vain for something – anything – that cuts through the banality. Advertisements. Quizzes. Do you actually think you’re brilliant because you got 9 out of 10 right in the quiz-of-the-moment? Do you really believe that by sharing the result of four minutes of multiple-choice questions you will establish yourself as a genius in the minds of your digital acquaintances? Most of us are rolling our eyes so hard we have to stop scrolling until we can see again. Drama. Oversharing. If you took eight pictures of the same baby in the same clothes with the same background, we only need to see one. Maybe not even one if we saw a shot of the same baby yesterday.

Bullying. You can be anything you want on Facebook and nobody will bother you about it. Unless you’re religious. Or conservative. Or pro-life. Whatever you do, do not be openly pro-life. It will be a matter of minutes before people start piling up on your page, ferociously defending their right to kill their babies under any and all circumstances. You will get called names that would make a sailor blush.

And the ignorance …. Good gravy. A while ago, I fought openly with a blatant racist on Facebook. He is convinced that Islam is a religion of murder, and Muslims are inherently evil – and that one Muslim in Canada is one too many. Never mind that he is a redneck jackass from the arse-end of nowhere who’s never even met a Muslim – he is determined to make sure he never will, either. Sadly, he’s from my home town, and we used to be friends. Many people from Robert’s Arm are lovely, but not him. He is so hateful his Facebook account was shut down. I found out this week that he started another one under a new name, because he showed up on my “people you may know” list. The new account has been suspended multiple times. Apparently, he doesn’t care. He continues to spout evil and – much to my dismay – the asshole has 155 friends. How?

I was guilty of a few of the things I just complained about. I shared things that no one would – or should – care about. I said things that would only be entertaining for me and a handful of my friends. I posted three pictures where one would have done. I got a kick out of compliments on my pictures, even when I knew the compliments were knee-jerk reactions to my pictures by sycophants who just wanted me to notice them – and maybe compliment them back. I eagerly participated in drama (I loves me a good throw-down sometimes), and maybe there are people out there who feel I have bullied them. I thought this was all fine for the most part until I pulled away from it for a while. Surveying it all from the sidelines changed my take.

I don’t really know where this is going. Maybe I’ll quit Facebook altogether. Maybe I’ll go along with it for a little while longer, trying to find my groove. Maybe a thousand words is too much to spend on this subject. Either way, thanks for reading. I love it when you look my way.