My Jijuu

Today is just one day shy of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie’s birthday. Tomorrow, she will be turning 78 years old. I would just like to share a little bit about my Jijuu because this beautiful woman deserves to shine bright, not only on her birthday, but every damn day of the year.

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My Jijuu is the most respectful and humble woman I know. She carries herself with dignity, grace, and resilience. She’s a hunter, a fisher, a sewer, a teacher, a mother, a Jijuu, and my best friend. She is a strong believer in God, she likes to smoke cigarettes. and she’s crazy as hell. Although my Jijuu is an elder, she’s a little bit of a daredevil. I have some crazy stories of her and I travelling on white caps to get back to our family at fish camp, or crossing the melting ice road too close to it breaking up and her going along with just about any idea that I can conjure up. One of my favorite things about her is that she is always down to come on road trips with me.
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My Jijuu has given birth to eight children, two of whom have unfortunately passed away. She lost a daughter who was only a few months old and then her youngest son who passed away twenty-five years ago at the age of nineteen. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my uncle Geejam and how even though he passed away, he is still close to her heart and binding her and I together.

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My Uncle Geejam was buried on October 19, 1991 and it just so happened that I was the first baby born on October 19, 1992. On the day that I was born, my Jijuu Christie Thompson gave me my Gwich’in name, “Gwikitch’ihkh’eh”, which means “In Return” because, as she said, I was the life given after his life was taken.

When my Jijuu talks about my Uncle Geejam, she speaks so fondly as she describes his love for the game of hockey, for his family – especially his siblings and cousins, and for her. He was a crazy guy who was always happy and everybody loved to tease. As she tells me about my Uncle, I can hear the pain in her voice as if it happened just yesterday.

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This one time, my Jijuu and I were driving the Dempster Highway on the way to our very first Moosehide Gathering in 2014. She was telling me about how my uncle would drive her wherever she wanted to go – all over the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. And then she looked at me with the sweetest look that only a Jijuu can give, and said “and now look at my Gwikich’ihkh’eh driving me around, just like my Geejam did”.

Oh my Jijuu, I hope and pray that I can drive you around for many many years to come.

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Gwiintl’oo Nahtinithan & Nidrin dagoonch’uu gwiinzii srigoojanhch’uu.

 – shayla snowshoe

Becoming a Maker

Last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had specific things that I envisioned her having, and one of those was bonnets. I just loved seeing babies in bonnets. Unfortunately, I could only every find bonnets for $25-$50 CAD in the style that I liked. To put it simply, they were something I couldn’t afford (especially since I wanted her to have one for every outfit – ha!). Finally I couldn’t stand not having any for her so I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it. I figured if I could learn how to sew then I could save some money. I am so glad that I bought that sewing machine because it has become a small part of me.

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Now, I can’t even count how many bonnets I’ve made (okay, I probably could, if I took some time to). I’ve altered the pattern (what feels like) a million times to get the fit I like on my daughter’s round head. When she was newborn I had to redo the pattern to get a small enough bonnet for her little head and as she grows I continue altering. Recently I gave away five of Alba’s bonnets to someone who needed them more than her, the great part is I am easily making more for her to replace the five that we gave away. It’s not costing me much financially as a lot of the fabrics I use are given to me in the form of old sheets (thanks mama!).

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Crocheted pixie hats and mittens for my daughter.

Recently I’ve also started delving into other projects. I’ve sewn some skirts/dresses for my daughter and myself, as well as taught myself to crochet. I can make things. A lot of these are beginner projects but I hope to make her some heirloom pieces that she can give to her children or that I can keep for any other children I may have.

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A pinafore dress and bunny bonnet I made for Alba’s first Easter.

 

The best part of all of this isn’t the money I am saving learning how to make things (instead of buy), nor is it the possibility that my grand-children will get to wear these clothes, instead it’s that I am spending time on me. Myself. While I was pregnant, one of the things I worried about was my identity. Who would I be after my daughter was born? Mother is such a beautiful title, and it is a part of my core, I was made to be Alba’s Mother, but I am more than her Mother. I am still Claudine, someone who wasn’t a mom for the past 27 years and as I navigate through my motherhood story I am trying to keep a grasp on that.  I’ve read and heard about drowning in parenthood and that hasn’t happened to me (yet, I’m sure it will come at some point). I’ve heard that the days are long, that it’s monotonous, and I think (for me) that hasn’t happened because (when I can) I take the time to just do “me” things. It’s therapeutic. I love being a Mom, and I think one of the reasons I love it is because I try to have balance and spend time on myself, especially in these wonderful early days when I’m with her literally 24/7. So, when Alba sleeps, I like to make things (or do something that I enjoy). I think this makes me a better mama, a happier mama, and I truly wish I could stay home with her forever because I am enjoying every single day.

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It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have to sew on the floor because she’s napping on the couch and I want to be in the same room as her. Another time I sewed on the floor in the basement because everywhere else in the house someone was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone up but I really wanted to finish my project. To say I love it is a little bit of an understatement.

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Alba wearing the same bonnet in both images. On the right image we are bother wearing skirts that I made. 

 

Since Alba joined my life just a short 5 months ago, I have become slightly terrified of becoming an empty nester in the future (yes, I think about things like that), but at least I’ll have my sewing machine with me (*insert laughing emoticon).

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Tgu dzipdzaba apels; Peel the apples

Farmers, fishermen, hunters. We all follow the weather. Closely.

This year on our farm, we had a bumper crop of apples. We are attributing it to the many affects of climate change. We had thought the drought through the summer might impact our harvest. But the warm weather and lack of rain swung us the other way. Sooooo many apples.

It was time to Tgu dzipdzaba apels – to peel the apples.

When we have things that have been imported into our territory, sometimes our word is similar to the language of the person who brought it – with a smalgyax flourish of course. In this instance “apples” become “apels”.

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We had started our season by taking our first harvest to a local apple press. They UV pasteurize it and we freeze it in cartons. This year, we took a truckload and we knew we were going to have twice as much yet to come. Truth be told. I still have a fridge dedicated to their storage and a freezer full of pressed juice.

We decided with this many apples we would need to press our own. Now apple pressing can be hard work with a traditional press. After some YouTube research by my father in law and a very nifty example of a home press made out of a washing machine, we decided we could fashion something of our own. Ours would be built from a new and dedicated motor originally designed as a garborator and a hydraulic home-made press.

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First step was to wash all the apples thoroughly and then remove blemishes and the cores. You don’t actually have to remove the cores. There is some school of thought that the seeds have a level of cyanide might pose a risk at a high enough quantity. I don’t think the commercial presses remove the seeds and it’s actually the same compound that gives almonds their lovely taste, such as found in almond extract. But better safe than sorry.

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We then guided them through the machine to crush them.

The pulp was then fed into our press, which is mostly a net, a bucket with holes, a press and patience.

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The results were DELICIOUS.
I cannot describe the serious taste extravaganza that you are seeing photographed here. If there was a word to describe a the taste, it would be fresh.

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It doesn’t look like it changes the world in a big way. But these apples have been tended by our family, now by three generations. They have been handpicked and pressed with our own hands. It’s food security, that tastes like home. It feels like it feeds your soul. It feels similar to when we put away fish, moose meat, medicines. We feel a part of the world around us in a way that is reciprocal and respectful.

So yes, it’s just apple juice. But it’s also time with our family, on our land, harvested and pressed by us together. It’s pretty much everything.

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 – Jessica Wood

HOME

Takwakin (Autumn or Fall) is the time of year that my family and I usually make our annual visit to Saskatchewan. However, this year we decided to stay home on the coast. Taking my boys back to where I come from is always a time that I look forward to. I want them to see, smell and hear the sounds of the places that form my earliest memories. I want them to feel the warm sun on their faces as they gaze at the endless prairie sky. I want my boys to remember where their ancestors came from. To see the place of the stories of the rougarou and the Virgin Mary. I want my boys to play in the same leaf filled ditches that my sisters, cousins and I did. To smell the freshly cut wheat, barley and canola. To taste fresh lake fish caught by my grandfather. I want my boys to know those connections. I want us to feel those experiences in our bones, to remember the changes of the season.

For a long time I lived a life where I was torn between my home in Saskatchewan and my home on the coast. I struggled with how to teach our children about where our ancestors came from when we live so far away. Over the years we have even discussed the idea of moving closer to our ancestral territories. We exchange romantic ideas on learning Cree, harvesting from the land, getting a horse or two, maybe some chickens and driving off into the sunset. Then we would wake from that dream and look around at the life that we have built for ourselves on the west coast. We love it here and will probably never move back to Saskatchewan. And that is okay.

More than half of my life has been spent on the west coast. Where we live now on Cormorant Island, traditional territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw, is where my children call home. My youngest has no memory of living anywhere else. Community members have welcomed me, this lost halfbreed from Saskatchewan, and my family into their lives. We are forming friendships here that will last lifetimes. We laugh, we cry and we laugh again. Our stories weave together into a new narrative. It is this connection that makes me feel at home. All these years later, I have finally learned that home doesn’t need to be tied to a specific space and place. Home can change, like the seasons. So, I guess that I must not be lost anymore. I’ve always been home.

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The waters east of Alert Bay. (BC)

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The waters of Northern Saskatchewan. (SK)

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Alert Bay playground. (BC)

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My eldest son takes a break while we visit my cousin on his farm. (SK)

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My youngest looking at all the eulachon inside the smokehouse. (BC)

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My eldest walking into the barn as my grandfather walks out of the barn. (SK)

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My boys and their friends playing in our backyard. (BC)

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My son and his cousin playing around the same slough I played around with my cousins. (SK)

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Ziplock bag, eagle feather, tarp and a black bear. (BC)

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Truck, chairs, velvet paintings and a moose antler rack. (SK)

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The next generation getting to know each other. (BC)

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My father locking the gates after paying our respects to our ancestors at the Green Lake cemetery. (SK)

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Gukwdzi (Big House) in Alert Bay. (BC)

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Visiting Wanuskewin Heritage Park that sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River. (SK)

-Amanda Laliberte

Making Bannock

I’ve got a history with my dad. Last year he had his larynx removed due to cancer and this is our first visit since the surgery. He is quieter and can’t speak as much. Most people won’t remember my dad like this but since his laryngeal cancer diagnosis, he has changed. He can still be an ill-tempered old man, but at least he is now a quiet ill-tempered old man. I do my best to move on and involve my kids in their mosóm’s life. We see him at least once a year and now when he visits us in Alert Bay the boys get to tell their friends about their cyborg mosóm with his tracheoesophageal prothesis. Side note: its a great way to scare the hell out of kids and teach them to never smoke.

I asked my dad if we could make some bannock, but not the crispy fry bread style that we eat here on the West Coast. I wanted the kind that I grew up eating, the dry biscuit cooked in the oven and called by a multitude of names: bannock, la galet, baanak, pahkwesikan. I could go on about how the introduction of flour and sugar into our ancestors diets was a colonial act of cultural genocide… Or I could explore how bannock isn’t the healthiest option for our people now or ever… But not this time, right now I want to share how myself, my boys and my dad connected today while making bannock.

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I ask my dad what we need while he is digging into his pant pockets, pulling out some neatly folded five dollar bills. I don’t understand why he is bringing out his money so I just start collecting what I think we need, white flour, sugar, baking soda, lard, milk and my camera. I glance over and on the counter he is carefully unfolding a piece of paper that was wrapped up with his bills. It is his bannock and fry bread recipes. Whaaaat? He carries around his bannock recipes like he carries his money. Since he carries it with his money, does that mean I can share it with others? I don’t bother asking because I know the answer is NO WAY.

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I grab my camera and start documenting the bannock making session. My dad wasn’t pleased with me taking the photos so immediately he places his hand to cover the hole in his throat and in a raspy voice tells me NO and points at the flour and mixing bowl. I temporarily put my camera down. I mix the flour, baking powder, salt in a large bowl. First lesson: Melt the lard and margarine. If my dad wasn’t pointing with his lips as to what I was to do next, I personally would have used butter over the margarine. But it is his recipe, so I must keep doing as I am told but with few words just head shaking, nods and lip pointing.

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He points to the milk and I measure it out but as I am about to pour it into a bowl, he shakes his head then tells me that it must be at room temperature. Second lesson: Warm the milk with sugar on the stovetop. Aha moment. This must explain why my bannock is so hard and flat. While things are melting and warming up on the stovetop, I grab my camera and start taking pictures. He gives me a look, I put down the camera, and start pouring in the margarine and Tender Flake. Mix. Then I add the warm milk and sugar. I mix.

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Now this is the part I always mess up; I always over mix my bannock. I look to my father for guidance because I don’t want to f*ck up this bannock and I want my sons and husband to be proud of the woman in their life who knows how to make good bannock. (yeah, what is up with us and our pride around bannock making skills?) I tell him that I always over knead the dough and he points and nods as I mix. He tells me to place it on a floured surface then roll it and knead it, which I do. Lesson three: Be gentle but not too gentle with your bannock. Having the warm liquids in the mixture, makes a huge difference with the texture of the bannock, it feels stretchier and not so tough.

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I manage to convince him to take over because I want to see how he shapes his bannock. With my dusty hands I pick up my camera and take a few photos of my dad patting down and shaping it into something vaguely rectangle-like. Once he is done he motions his chin towards the cookie sheet and asks me for aluminum foil. He places the foil on the cookie sheet while I take more photos.

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Then he places the bannock onto the foiled cookie sheet, pokes it  with a fork and places it into the oven. Quietly I clean up the kitchen while he sips his coffee that is spiked with Sambuca. He says it is his sweetener. Minutes later, my eldest son comes in to ask about the smell and looks inside the oven to have a glimpse of what is baking inside the oven. The house smells good which is a sign that the bannock must be done soon.

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Dad comes into the kitchen and opens the oven, flips the bannock and checks the bottom to make sure that it is done. He nods. The bannock is ready.

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-Amanda Laliberte

kisâkihitin – you are loved by me

Yesterday, someone asked me about how my husband and I met. I don’t get asked this question very often but when it happens I get this silly grin on my face, my eyes glaze over and my stomach feels lighter.

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In the summer of 2005 I had just moved to Victoria after spending a year in Nanaimo attending Malaspina College/University. My summer job was working for the Metis Nation of Greater Victoria as their admin assistant. One day, this guy walked in to the office. Oooooooo eeeeeeee he was one good lookin’ guy. He introduced himself and told me that he’d just moved back from Montreal. He wanted to be closer to his family. I thought, hmmm. Nice guy, good values. We chatted some more, I told him about our monthly potlucks and of the employment training programs we were offering that summer. Eventually he left and I remember the other women in the office rushing in asking me what had just happened. I told them nothing. Period. They told me they certainly saw something good. And from there on the teasing started, the blushing and a lot of laughter. This guy kept stopping by the office that month for other things, which I didn’t mind. And then one day I dropped the boyfriend bomb on him. Yeah, did I forget to mention that I had moved to Victoria because of my boyfriend? Whoops. I remember the awkwardness of the situation and the look on his face. He stopped dropping by the office after that for some reason.

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Over the next couple of years, our paths crossed again and again. Him and his mom would attend MNGV potlucks, we were  in a few of the same classes at UVIC, where we both got active in the Native Students Union and the LE,NONET program. There was even a time when I made an attempt on a first year Biology course (I barely passed on that one) and we tried studying together. Yep, it didn’t work, I found myself way too distracted by him just being him. The way he spoke, the way he looked, the way he would try to get me excited about cells and mitochondria and ATP and stuff like that. Many of my good friends will remember what it was like being in the basement of the NSU when he and I were in the same room. Me and my nervous cackle laughter and acting like I was busy. Him acting like he was busy in those silver Havaianas that he wore in the warmer months and cowboy boots in the winter months.

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One afternoon a few of us were hanging out at the NSU and my friend’s daughter and I were playing M.A.S.H. I named off 4x boys names, 4x jobs, 4x cars, 4x living spaces, 4x cities, 4x numbers, 4x pets and then she did the spiral thing and I told her to stop. The game started and she began to count and cross things off. As she started to cross things off, I felt myself blushing like an 8 year old girl but also crossing my fingers that THIS would be my M.A.S.H., my future. I felt myself changing another shade of red as she read my future out loud for everyone to hear. He was was also in the room. I would one day become a dolphin trainer, who would live in a motel in Duncan with a dog and drive a Porsche while raising 13 kids with my husband, Ami.

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As I write this I can’t help but laugh and cry a bit. Who knew that all these years later my life wouldn’t be so far fetched from that M.A.S.H. game? Thanks Emma. Just in case you need extra money while going off to university this fall, do your M.A.S.H. thing.

A few days from now, we will be reflecting, remembering and celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary. I am incredibly blessed to be sharing this crazy life with my husband and our two sons.

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