Winnipeggers: I Need Your Winter Wisdom

November 26th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

“Why would I be cold?”

That’s what my wise yoga instructor said as she zipped up her snowpants, getting ready to head back out into the cold after an hour of blissfully cozy restorative yoga. A group of us were chatting about proper winter gear and agreed that when you have nice, warm, functional outerwear, winter isn’t all that awful. Sure you could put on the bare minimum, but why would you want to, when you could actually be more or less warm if you dressed properly?

This discussion prompted me to admit to myself that I really did need a new winter coat, and to get myself a pair a snowpants, which I haven’t worn since I was, oh, probably 10 years old. Now that I think of it, other than my trusty winter boots, I haven’t upgraded much of my winter wear since moving to Winnipeg, and really, stuff that worked in Vancouver just doesn’t cut it out here. Last week, I got myself some nice, semi-stylish Thinsulate mittens and so far, so good, though I suspect once winter is REALLY here I’ll probably be wearing thin gloves under those babies, too. And I need some long underwear. I hear that silk ones are really comfy.

My yoga instructor’s comment has been with me all week, reminding me to ask myself, why would I be cold, when I could be, well, NOT cold?

So, what advice can you give me on saying “hellz no” to being cold?


The other day it took me a solid 10 minutes to scrape the thick, smooth ice off my windshield. Pathetically, my arms and ribs are still a bit achy from the effort.  Is this inevitable? Or is there some sort of magic tool that actually makes this easier? Are those brass scrapers really better than the hard plastic ones? What are your experiences? As my family’s designated car-cleaner-offer I need all the ideas I can get.


Also, now that our master plan to convince everyone we know to move to Glenelm is nearing completion, we are spending a lot more time outside walking to others’ houses. My poor kids’ faces are going to be frostbitten in no time. Where do I get those stretchy balaclava masks where only the eyes are exposed?? (I also have my eye on Smittens – mittens that kids can’t take off.) Parents – what are your suggestions for kids’ outerwear that cuts the mustard during Winnipeg winters?

My Husband Gets to Vote on our Kids’ Education, But I Don’t — Please Sign Our Petition!

October 6th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

If your spouse has the right to vote on your kids’ future school trustees, shouldn’t you also have the right to vote? Is there an instance where parents of the same children should be afforded different voting rights? That is the question my husband and I have been grappling with over the last couple of months.

The city is abuzz, gearing up towards its civic and school board elections, and Manitoba’s Francophone school division (DSFM) will be holding its school trustee elections next week. Normally I would be pretty excited. When I turned 18, the thing I was most psyched for was not to drink legally (though that was pretty fun), but to have the right to vote.

Earlier this year, the government announced that the eligible DSFM voters list had been expanded in time for this year’s election. This was greeted with great fanfare – on the surface, it looked like a big improvement. But upon closer inspection, we can see that there are still a lot of people left off the voting list. I am one of them.

Prior to these changes, the only way you got to vote in the DSFM trustee elections was to have a child currently enrolled in a DSFM school.  This meant that only a fraction of the population who have a vested interest in Francophone education in our province got to vote. Once your kids graduated, you were out of luck. Even more incredibly, even if you yourself had graduated from a DSFM school, you couldn’t vote, not until you had kids and they were in school.

The changes that were announced earlier this year did greatly expand the number of voters. Now, most graduates of the DSFM, parents of those graduates, current students who are 18 or older, and parents who have a child enrolled in a preschool that is offered within a DSFM school can also vote. This is a huge step in the right direction, but it still denies the right to vote to many people who should have a say on Francophone schools in Manitoba.

I am  the parent of two children who will attend Francophone school, and who have this right by virtue of the fact that their father is an “ayant droit” — an “entitled person” who can send his children to Francophone school because his first language was French. But while my husband finally has the right to vote in the upcoming elections, I will not.

It comes down to the interpretation of the Public Schools Act and of the regulation that expanded the voter list earlier this year. Read one way (a more inclusive way), it gives the right to vote to anyone who is married to someone who has the right the vote. Read another way (the way the DSFM board and the province have chosen to interpret it), it does not.

My husband has spent the last few weeks trying to get a solid answer on whether this could possibly be the case. Could they really be choosing to interpret the law in a way that is so exclusive? Could they really be saying that in a married couple, one person has the right to vote but the other doesn’t get to vote until the children are in school? We don’t understand what could possibly be the reason for denying families the right to vote in the system they have the right to enrol their kids in.

To this end, he has started a petition to urge the province to use the more liberal and inclusive interpretation and allow spouses who are otherwise ineligible the right to vote. I would be thrilled if you signed it and shared widely with your networks!

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss DSFM funding. While the DSFM is a public school system, it does not collect taxes directly from property tax bills, as do the other school divisions. Instead, it receives transfers from the other school divisions based on how many students would have gone to school in that division, had they not been enrolled in the DSFM.

What this means is that I get to vote for Winnipeg School Division trustees just by virtue of living within the division, even though my kids won’t go to WSD schools. But I will not get to vote for the trustees of the school division my kids will attend, because I apparently don’t meet the criteria. Being married to someone who has the right to vote is not enough.

It comes down to this for me. Why should a say in governance be limited to such a small group of people? Kids are in school for 13 years, 15 if they do preschool for two years. That gives you at the very most, four opportunities to vote for trustees; in many cases, only three. In my particular case, my older child will be in Grade 3 before I get to vote.

Doesn’t it make sense for people to vote on who will represent their interests BEFORE their kids are in school? By what logic does it make sense to say,”Okay, once your kids are have graduated, you can keep voting forever, but you don’t get a say until they actually start school?”

In my own family, my husband, his siblings, and his parents can all vote now, thanks to the expanded voter list. This is excellent; they’ve been waiting a long time for this. But among the spouses, even though we all have children who will eventually attend the DSFM, not one of us can vote because none of us graduated from the DSFM. We are a motley crew with varying levels of proficiency in French: one went to Francophone school in another province, two went to immersion, and one to English school, yet we all support our kids’ rights to French education as much as our DSFM graduate spouses do.

Even among the urban DSFM trustee candidates themselves, there are at least two who have spouses who can’t vote yet, like me. How is this possibly right or fair?

The fact is, I almost got to vote this year. We applied for preschool (prématernelle) this year, and did not get a spot. We’re on a waiting list. If we had gotten a spot, I’d be able to vote. But in my view, there are several problems with giving preschool parents the right to vote anyway.

  • Almost all of the province’s Francophone preschools are run through non-profit daycares that are located inside DSFM schools. They are not actually run by the DSFM.
  • There are limited preschool spots (from what I understand, usually about 10 spaces per school). The spots that are there are filled based not on a first-come, first-served or lottery system, but by a long list of priorities that ensures children who already have a sibling in the daycare or school, or who have a parent working in the daycare, etc., etc, get first dibs on preschool spots.
  • Preschool isn’t free, like school is.

I understand the spirit of giving preschool parents the right to vote in the DSFM trustee elections, and I do agree with it in theory: if you care enough about your children’s francophone education to enroll them in Francophone preschool rather than English or immersion preschool, you should have say in how the division is governed.

But when you look at those aspects of preschool enrollment being linked to the right to vote, you see some major problems. You can imagine that it doesn’t take long for those spots to fill up with children who already have an “in” to the system, so to speak – so there isn’t space available to just anyone who wants it.  Assuming you did get a spot, what if you can’t afford it? Too poor to vote? I know that sounds a bit sensational, but think about it.

In my view, until the DSFM can offer free preschool to every child who wants a spot, the right to vote should not be linked to having a child in preschool.

To make matters worse, completely aside from the spousal voting issue, the fact is that as I mentioned earlier, many important and involved members of the province’s Francophone community still do not have the right to vote because they either graduated before 1995, do not have children, or do not meet the other requirements. And there are plenty of people out there who fit that bill.

For now, allowing spouses vote alongside their partners is a good step in the right direction.

P.S. The DSFM urban candidates debate is tonight at École Christine-Lespérance (425 John Forsyth Rd) from 7 to 9pm.

The Real Mayoral Candidates of Winnipeg

September 12th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

The last couple nights my husband and I have hopped into bed, fired up the iPad, opened up YouTube, and done some serious research for the upcoming civic election: we’ve been watching Ace Burpee’s “Candidates in Cars” video series.

To date, Ace has interviewed six mayoral hopefuls in a super-casual setting: driving around in Chrissy Troy’s sweet ride with a camera capturing their conversations.

I found it fascinating to watch how all the candidates handle themselves so differently, and with varying levels of comfort in the presence of a veritable local celeb. While of course there’s a certain amount of subtle and not-so-subtle campaigning, it’s pretty entertaining and revealing to hear what random topics come up, and what kind of interests and passions the candidates have. Van Halen (Brian Bowman), second-hand clothes shopping (Judy Wasylycia-Leis), karaoke (Paula Havixbeck), “meat carts” (Robert Falcon Ouellette), the chaos of youth hockey (Mike Vogiatzakis) and Sudoku (David Sanders) — it’s all fair game. I actually learned a lot of interesting things about our city, not just about the candidates.

My favourite moments from each video:

  • David Sanders giving a shout-out to the Traveling Wilburys
  • Paula Havixbeck blushing as she names the bars she went to when she was 20
  • Mike Vogiatzakis talking about going to Greece with his mother
  • Brian Bowman bringing up Van Halen approximately 46 times
  • Robert Falcon Ouellette saying his dream musical performance would be with an Eastern European gypsy band at a wedding. (“But not too polka-like”. Heh.)
  • Judy Wasykycia-Leis talking about taking her son to a Beyonce concert
  • Ace asks advice on rules of the road (every video)

Part personal interview, part city tour, with some good laughs and of course a few awkward/cringe-worthy moments, this series is pretty revealing, and I think everyone should check it out. Hoping Ace is able to get the rest of the candidates on board for interviews!

And so, in no particular order, here are the videos – hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

5 Ways Blogging has Changed My Life

September 9th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for a loooong time… I started a LiveJournal in 2002 and didn’t look back. Over the years I’ve blogged on personal topics, on work-related topics, and on local topics, and though I don’t get a lot of time to do it these days, it’s still important to me.  I got to thinking about all the positive things that blogging has brought into my life, after a friend of mine, whom I met through this blog, moved away from Winnipeg. So without further ado, I present to you, five ways that blogging has changed my life.


Probably the best thing about blogging is that it has given me the chance to make new friends. When I moved to Winnipeg I had one good friend of my own here, and when I married her husband’s brother, I was welcomed into one the most awesome families in the world, along with their social circles. But it was  (and still is) important to me to make “my own” friends, and as an introvert, that’s not always easily.

An unexpected but very welcome gift that blogging has given me is friendship with three wonderful gals — all of them relatively new to Winnipeg, like me. They have become an important part of my life, especially as we entered into the seasons of pregnancy and parenthood around the same time. As I mentioned earlier, one of these dear friends just moved away, and I will really miss her. Fortunately, she’s planning on coming back for a visit next summer 🙂

Local Knowledge

Okay, so I’m still perpetually confused by certain quirks of our city*, but blogging has given me the opportunity to become a lot more familiar with Winnipeg than your average newcomer. I love the reaction people have when I mention that something is a “Manitoba thing” and find that being this nerdy about my chosen hometown has provided me with a certain amount of “insider knowledge” – which comes in very handy when meeting new people or making small talk (again, something the introvert in me really benefits from). The other day, a friend remarked to me, “Why is it that every time I search for some sort of local dish or food item, your blog comes up?” I get a big kick out of that!

I think no matter where you’re from, there are certain local quirks that everyone is really proud of. It’s nice to have a good sense of what those are, and to catch and understand subtle references. And on the flipside, because I’m not from here, I have a decent sense of what “Winnipeg things” I don’t think are anything to be proud of, and I try to be especially careful not to adopt certain attitudes (e.g., dismissing the usefulness of public transit, being irrationally cheap, casual ignorance/subtle racism, etc.).


Another major benefit has been the boost in confidence I’ve gotten about my writing. I’ve always loved to write, but for a long time wasn’t doing it particularly publicly. The positive reception I’ve received has been really encouraging for me. Even though I realize it’s probably an evil genius plan for getting free content to publish, being selected as the Freep’s “Blog of the Week” several times has been pretty cool (but watch now, I’ll never get chosen again)! Having such encouraging feedback to my posts from various audiences was what finally nudged me towards freelance writing, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long while.


Blogging has opened a lot of doors for me. Long before we ever worked together, my boss and I struck up a friendship because we were both library bloggers. That connection eventually paved the way for a job opportunity. Another contact I made through library blogging was a big asset when I was looking for work here in Winnipeg (better yet, she became a great friend and colleague too!).

As I mentioned earlier, blogging also provided me with a portfolio to use when I started freelance writing. Now I get paid to write about stuff I’m interested in – still kind of blows my mind! (You can check out my pieces on The Baby Post and the Virgin Atlantic blog, if you’re so inclined.)


Because I don’t blog all that often these days, I’m pleasantly surprised that I get a fairly steady stream of emails from all sorts of people, for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’re thinking about moving to Winnipeg — a job that would bring them to the city for the first time, or an opportunity to move back to the city after having been away.  Or, they don’t live here anymore but enjoyed a trip down memory lane and being reminded of the great times they spent here.

Whatever their situation, I’ve had emails from people literally all over the world asking if I have any advice for them. (I don’t think I’m particularly qualified, but I’m happy to share my thoughts!) Others have told me that that my words have been useful to them in some way.  The best compliments I’ve received are from people who say they were feeling uncertain about the city based on its reputation, but were encouraged by what they read on my blog.

Winnipeg has been good to me, and I think it’s really cool that in some small way I can help change people’s ideas about it. I cherish these emails and though I don’t often hear from these folks again, I think of them often and wonder where their journeys have taken them. I always hope that if they did choose Winnipeg in the end, that they’re happy with their decision.

There are other interesting experiences that blogging has brought to my life. Who knew anyone would ever want to interview little old me on the topic of honey dill sauce, or wedding socials (which I didn’t know existed 10 years ago) or speed limits… but that part of blogging is of the “fun yet terrifying” sort, and not particularly life-changing. Then there are the perks, like the occasional swag or free event, which I can’t complain about (watch for my wayyyyyy overdue post on the awesome mural tour the West End BIZ runs, coming to this blog hopefully before too long)! And of course, there are the fun memories that I’ll always have of running the blog with two of my very best friends, Aaron and Laurel. In a way, those feel like my glory days of Winnipeg — being young(er) and having fewer responsibilities, and the freedom to explore the city without kids in tow. We enthusiastically threw ourselves into exploring — and understanding — this curmudgeonly yet charming city, and I think we’d all agree our time here was all the richer for it. At the very least it meant we drank a lot of local beer in the name of research!

Anyway — that’s my take on how blogging has changed my life. If blogging has changed yours in some way, I would love to hear about it!

*Currently confusing me: this city has three high schools that are affectionately known as “[Male name] Mac” (even though two of them are actually Mc, not Mac) and four elementary schools whose names are “Lord [Something]”. Once I set out to investigate these topics I realized it was not as confusing as I thought. I was sure there were at least 16 different Lord Something schools. Three cheers for blog research!

Your Official Guide to Being a Winnipegger

August 6th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

Given the nice, hot summer weather we’re finally having, it’s hard to remember that this past winter was a record-setter. During those long, cold days, local software developer Thu Tran and his colleagues at iQmetrix made a cool little video about Winnipeg, and I know that readers of this blog will appreciate it as much as I did.  The video is called Muddy Waters: Your Official Guide to Being a Winnipegger.

Thu tells me that “in about March of this year, during what seemed to have been the coldest winter in history, the morale of the entire city seemed to be in rough shape. So we just thought, we would try to do something about it. Make a fun video that poked fun of ourselves a little bit, but also reminded everyone that this is one great city.”

This video captures many of the classic Winnipeg references that we’ve come to expect from any discussion of Winnipeg (socials, Slurpees, snow, and mosquitoes), but still manages to evoke happy feelings of recognition and pride. I loved the part about taking visitors to the Forks (so true!) and the hilarious Skinners/VJ’s/Mitzi’s/Nucci’s/BDI drip sequence. As a non-born-and-bred Winnipegger, I had lots of fun seeing how many prominent ‘Peggers I could identify during the last part of the video! I admit that I even got a little teary-eyed towards the end 🙂

Thu gives props to all his fellow video collaborators, especially Chad Kipling (the “eating guy”) and Jessica Watson (the “thumbs-up girl”).

Thanks, Thu & co., for bringing a smile to my face today – this is one I’ll be revisiting again this winter!

Summer Roasts, Toasts, Thoughts and a Question

July 19th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

Ah, summer in Winnipeg. I guess it’s nothing if not unpredictable! I don’t have a super-cohesive post today; just some random stuff I wanted to share, a question to ask, things to complain about, and others to rave about. In no particular order…

Toasts: We love the garage we take our car to (Midwest Tire at Regent & Lag) for many reasons, not the least of which is the oil change perk – often a voucher for a free carwash at the The Chamois. I had never experienced or even heard of something as awesome as the Chamois until I moved to Winnipeg – does this sort of thing exist elsewhere? I feel like you could make millions! Yes indeed, we love the Chamois (truth be told, we always, always call it the Sham-Wow) and even my mum looks forward to her visits to Winnipeg specifically for the opportunity to visit the Chamois. For the uninitiated, the Chamois is a magical place where you can get your car cleaned on the inside and outside AT THE SAME TIME. All the while, you get to sit in a nice, cool, air-conditioned area on comfy couches, drinking a cup of free coffee, while your 4-year old presses his face against the glass, entranced, as he watches the giant scrubbers give your car a serious cleaning.  As the outside is cleaned, a team of cleaners is inside the vehicle, wiping it down, vacuuming up a winter’s worth of gravel and a spring’s worth of those annoying elm seed pods, and, should you desire, adorning it with an air freshener in the scent of your choice. Take my word for it. The Chamois rules.

We were visiting with family in West Hawk Lake last weekend and it happened to be MeteorFest. What a fun little community party! Even with the off- and on- crappy weather, we still got a decent amount of beach time in, and there we met a team of lovely young women running the Recycle Everywhere tent. They gave the little ones in our group free Frisbees, temporary tattoos, and beach pails.  I couldn’t resist offering up my thoughts on how Manitoba seriously needs to get on the deposit-for-all-beverage-containers train, and despite my ranting they were still nice to me, and even gave me one of those cool folding reusable shopping bags.

Lastly in the toasts category… I went on a great tour this week: The West End BIZ Murals Tour! Our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide Sasha took us to see a whole bunch of cool murals in the West End and I learned a lot about the area. I’m planning an actual blog post on that soon. There was an added bonus to the tour, too: it gave me the opportunity to finally meet Chris Cassidy, of West End Dumplings fame — we’ve “known” each other for years online but never met in person.

Roasts: Speaking of elms, yesterday while walking in my neighbourhood, a gentleman who was coming out of his house pointed out yet another of our area’s ancient elm trees has been tagged for removal because of Dutch Elm disease. SO SAD. We chatted for a few minutes about the trees, and he told us that Glenelm’s trees were actually planted as a Depression-era make-work project in the 1930s. It’s truly painful to see these beautiful, giant trees come down and the exchange served as a good reminder for me to be diligent about banding our trees – and even got me thinking that maybe I could organize a block-wide banding effort this year.

Also, come on, mosquitoes of Winnipeg. Why you gotta be that way? Seriously, even with the fogging, the mosquitoes are BAD this year. The other day I took the kids grocery shopping and between leaving the front door, buckling them into their seats, and closing my car door, I had three new bites. Plus, on the drive, I killed many more that were trapped in the car. I was at Vita Health earlier today and noticed a big display of anti-mosquito products. One suggestion was using lavender oil in an aromatherapy diffuser to keep the bugs away while you’re on the deck. The cashier also told me neem oil seems to be very popular this year. Anyone had luck with either of those?

Question: A question for you born-and-bred and in-the-know Winnipeggers – what is the scoop with the beach at Birds Hill Park? I always hear people talking about what a great family beach there is, but I have also heard mixed information on whether it’s part of a privately owned campground (Oasis?), and that it was actually closed for a while… can anyone clarify? When people talk about the beach, are they referring to one actually in Birds Hill Provincial Park? I’m super-confused. Help!

Thoughts (food-related, natch): I think we can all agree that Winnipeg just keeps getting more and more awesome for food lovers. Every time I read about our growing food truck fleet, I am practically drooling. Gourmet tater tots? Yes please. I tried some pizza from Red Ember at the St Norbert Farmers Market a few weeks ago… wow. Visiting the food trucks is definitely on my to-do list this summer.

A year I wrote that I was hoping to check out the Scoop n’ Weigh one of these days, and I did make it there! What a great store. I love that they have kitchenware AND food. And their play area for kids is fantastic.

A new shop is about to open up in my ‘hood… Fresh to the Bone Meats at 260 Henderson (in the old Elmwood Hobbyworks space). Don’t know anything about the store, but I’m psyched that a food store is coming back to the area after the Pal’s at Johnson & Henderson closed. I have a secret dream that maybe Neechi Commons could open at satellite store in the old Pal’s space. Frankly, Pal’s was not the most appealing grocery store, but everyone in the area really misses being able to pop in to grab milk or other staples. Neechi is such a wonderful and surprisingly well-stocked small grocery store, and I would frequent it regularly if it were within walking distance.

Over & out for me today… happy summer, everyone – stay cool (or warm) and dry, and above all, bite-free and having fun!

Ode to My Front Porch

June 2nd, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

I might be kind of a nerd (okay, I know I’m kind of a nerd), but I really love Thursdays because that’s the day my neighbourhood’s community newspaper, The Herald, is delivered. There are usually all sorts of neat little tidbits inside: notices for upcoming events, stories about area residents and the interesting things they do with their lives, Kathryne Grisim‘s restaurant reviews, and even the odd advertisement catches my eye. One of the paper’s regular columns is called “Community Correspondent”, where residents share short essays on whatever topic is on their mind. Sometimes (but not always) it seems to be written by an older person, bemoaning the current state of the city or the world. Most of the time, I kind of agree with them. I guess I’m an old soul. Or a curmudgeon. Or both. 😉

This past week the column was titled “What happened to the screened veranda?“. In it, Transcona resident Ron Buffie mentions that some of the city’s newer houses have “that old-timey look with verandas across the front”, but wonders why none of them are screened! Buffie’s article is charming and funny and makes some very good points.

Well, Ron, we have a screened veranda (we call it the porch) and we adore it. And I agree with you in wondering “why more houses are not being built with verandas, screened verandas.  It seems like such a sensible and inexpensive method of helping to enjoy our summers.”

Enjoyment is the key word here. Call me crazy, but I have never been a particularly big fan of mosquitoes (and unfortunately, they have an absurdly strong affinity for me). And I used to love the intense Winnipeg summer sunshine, but something in me shifted when I had my first baby and now I am a shade seeker. Our shady, screened front porch is our haven from the sun and the bugs, and since the weather has finally warmed up, we’ve been enjoying it at all hours of the day.

Our son begs to eat breakfast outside almost every morning, and it’s a pleasure to breathe in the fresh morning air, watching folks stream up and down the street on their way to work or school. During the scorching afternoons we’ll drag the Exersaucer onto the porch, plunk our daughter in it, and enjoy popping in and out of the porch as we blow bubbles in the front yard, putter in the garden, or chat with neighbours. But the best time to enjoy the porch is at night when the mosquitoes would make it exceedingly unpleasant to be outside. We get a bit of a breeze floating through, and the stillness of the street is calming and relaxing. Add a glass of sangria or beer and it’s really good. And when the bells from the Orthodox church across the river begin to chime, their rich tones meandering through our street’s lush elm canopy, it’s perfection.

Last summer, after our daughter was born, my sister came to visit for a few weeks. She lives in the relentlessly hot and humid climes of the Niagara region, and to be honest, I was worried about how she would fare in Winnipeg. But we lucked out with a couple weeks of marginally cooler-than-usual weather, and it turned out to be a blissful reprieve for her. The porch was her favourite place to be, preferably while snuggled up with a newborn. I will always remember the twinkle in her eye and excitement in her voice as she proposed, nightly, “Let’s go sit on the porch!” Even though I was exhausted and should have been going to bed, the simple act of staying up to enjoy a beautiful July evening made just being at home feel like a treat. With some candles lit and a summery cocktail in hand, it almost felt like being on vacation in some dreamy, distant land.

So, my house is almost a hundred years old (century party next year!). There are a lot of things about it that look shabby without a hint of chic, and it drives me crazy when we have to spend money on boring, invisible things like updating electrical or plumbing. But if our screened porch (or veranda, as I may have to start calling it) is a relic of the olden days, of a time when people spent more time outside with each other and less time by themselves in front of screens, then I for one am glad to have a home that reflects that era. Our screened porch is one of my favourite things about my house, and also about summertime in Winnipeg.

Three cheers for screened verandas!

A Winter Event of No Fixed Duration

March 27th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

I am a big fan of Douglas Coupland’s earlier books, and Life After God is one of my favourites. In one particular passage from the Patty Hearst chapter, the narrator is talking to his brother about a neighbourhood dog named Walter who died of a broken heart after one of his owners died. His brother gives him a new way to look at the situation:

“He said that duration doesn’t mean anything to a dog. Whether you go to the corner store for ten minutes or you go to Hawaii for two weeks, all your dog experiences during your absence is a ‘sadness event’ of no fixed duration. ‘One hour… two weeks–it’s all the same to your dog. Walter suffered and was miserable, but not the way a person would have suffered.’ “

In the midst of this relentless winter, I keep coming back to this passage and applying it to winter. A winter event of no fixed duration. Normally I’m not one to talk much about the weather – because we have zero control over it, I kind of find it a pointless subject and not worth much brain space.  I have so rarely looked at the forecast these last few months that when people start talking about weather to me, it usually is actually news to me and therefore sometimes even interesting!

But truly, this year has just been crazy. My massage therapist, who lives and works in my neighbourhood, told me that the word on the street is that someone is gonna get beat up soon if this weather lasts much longer — people are that out of sorts about it. I laughed, but it’s probably true. Especially with having little kids, this winter has been very hard. Most of the time it’s just been too cold to be outside at all. And inevitably when it’s not too cold, we’re sick. We can’t win.

Still, even though we’re all close to the end of our ropes, it seems futile to even get any ideas of when it will start to warm up.  I guess I’m not the only person whose winter has been neverending. Meagan Francis is one of my favourite bloggers/podcasters and her recent post “Why winter is like early motherhood (and why it’s best to surrender to both)” struck a chord with me for this very reason. Meagan, who lives in upper Michigan, writes,

“When I was a newer mom, I was like I usually am in February: irrationally hopeful. Every time the baby would take a longer-than-usual nap or sleep through the night, every time I’d make it through Target without a single wail or blown-out diaper, I’d think that maybe we’d moved on from the no-sleeping stage or the crying-in-stores stage or the blowing-out-of-diapers stage.

And then, the next time I was holding a wide-awake baby at 3 AM or trying to shush a screaming baby in the checkout line at the grocery store or wondering how to get a completely poop-filled Onesie off over a baby’s head in a department-store bathroom without creating an even bigger mess, I’d get that familiar twinge of disappointment. Oh. It’s not really over yet, is it? 

It wasn’t until the third baby that I learned to completely surrender to baby-ness and stop waiting for the less-fun phases to pass (maybe because by then I understood that when one not-so-fun phase passes, there is always another to take its place, anyway.) Much like how, this winter, I didn’t bother keeping an eagle eye on the forecast because I knew it would be just more of the same, with my third baby I stopped watching so anxiously for signs of development, of progress. I knew progress would come in its own sweet time, and that probably the less I obsessed over it the faster it would seem to come.”

Yep. No point being irrationally hopeful that the temperatures will pick up any time soon, or that this snow will be gone in short order. We live in Winnipeg. This has been a year of records, but really, deep down, are any of us truly shocked at this winter’s intensity?

So do not despair. Winter will be here until it is gone. Stay warm in the meantime!


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Honey Dill Sauce

January 25th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

Over the years I’ve been contacted several times by members of the media because of my blogging. Socials, family finance, my neighbourhood of Glenelm, having a baby at St. B hospital, the Winnipeg patio scene — I don’t know how interested anyone is, but I have given my humble opinions about many things for the radio and newspaper. Without a doubt, though, Manitoba’s most famously un-famous condiment, honey dill sauce, is the funnest and strangest topic I’ve shared my thoughts on yet.  Be sure to check out Dave Sanderson’s illuminating article in today’s Freep:  A Manitoba mistake: Honey dill sauce is strange and it’s zesty… and it’s ours! Some serious investigatory journalism on a very important local matter. But be forewarned. You will almost certainly be craving chicken fingers by the time you’re done reading!

My Own Winnipeg

January 16th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

Well, it’s winter in Winnipeg again. There are six-foot icicles hanging from the the side of my house and Winnipeg wrap sightings have gone up by about a million percent. Okay, I’m exaggerating both of those measures, but don’t we love extremes here? (Colder than Mars, anyone?)

I can’t believe how little I wrote here in 2013. I had a good excuse as any; I had a baby halfway through. Sometimes I suddenly realize I have two children who will call Winnipeg their birthplace and probably also their hometown. I guess it’s just neat when I think about how before I lived here, the idea of Winnipeg always inexplicably seemed like home, and now it most certainly is.

Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about my Winnipeg. (Confession: I still have not seen the movie My Winnipeg. I heard something about frozen horses and can’t seem to muster the courage to face that.) About how Winnipeg is a pretty big city, but there are whole parts of it that I have never been to and am completely unfamiliar with. Last summer I dropped my husband off at a stag  in Charleswood. As I drove home I realized that it’s a HUGE neighbourhood that I know absolutely nothing about. This is kind of embarrassing, but I didn’t even realize there was actually so much city there. But many, many people must call it home. When my husband and I had our wedding anniversary this year, we had a newborn and were too exhausted to do anything but go for a drive while my mum babysat. We wound up on Regent and just kept driving, all the way to the end of Transcona. Again – who knew there was still so much city past Lagimodiere? Not me! I guess it makes sense that some of Winnipeg’s larger neighbourhoods were once their own distinct cities.

My own Winnipeg is mostly based in Elmwood, East Kildonan, St. Boniface and St. Vital. I go a couple times a month to Corydon/Osborne, Wolseley, and north Main. Going to the box stores on Kenasten (sorry, Route 90) is a once-a-year kind of deal for me and I usually have to look up on a map exactly how I’m going to get there.  But I’m pretty sure I have never been to say, The Maples, or Royalwood, or Lindenwoods (wait, I think I went to a garage sale in Lindenwoods, once.). I don’t even really have a grasp of where they are located. I guess, realistically, most people live their lives in a smaller subset of the city; it’s just weird to think about the fact that there are areas of the city I have only heard because of traffic reports on the radio. I mean, it’s not like this is New York or something!

But it’s a nice feeling to realize that the parts of the city I am familiar with, I finally really am comfortable in. I still regularly get lost turned around downtown when coming home from the airport, but now I generally don’t have to pull over to consult Sherlock’s;  I can always figure out where I am. It occurs to me that, after five years, I have finally committed to memory the fact that you can’t turn left from Marion onto Archibald during peak hours, and you can’t turn left onto Portage from Main, full stop. (Or left onto St. Mary’s from Marion, for that matter.) I know that the advance arrow to turn left onto Des Meurons from Provencher is perilously short and you have to be ready to go the second it turns green. And I can pretty safely get through Confusion Corner with only mild unease.

Yes, I think I am becoming one of you. I had a total cheap Winnipegger moment the other day. I’d seen Bartley Kives and Bryan Scott’s new book, Stuck in the Middle, at Costco before Christmas, and mentioned to my husband that it would make a great gift. Alas, I guess I mentioned too subtly, because there was no book under the tree for me. So when I was at Costco the other day I looked to see if they still had any copies. They did not. I cursed myself for not having picked it up earlier; I think it was about half the price at Costco as at bookstores. I TOTALLY BELIEVE in supporting local and bricks & mortar booksellers, and understand why their prices have to be higher than online and at Costco – yet I pouted to myself the rest of the trip for not having snagged it at such a low price when I had the chance. (Okay, I just put it on hold at the library. That is the ultimate in frugality!) [Total sidenote: does it seem to anyone else that at any given moment of any given day, the whole city of Winnipeg is at Costco? Seriously, don’t we have anything better to do??]

But I also love how generous Winnipeggers can be. That same pre-Christmas trip to Costco, it was a very cold and blustery day as I wrangled my 3-year old and my groceries to the car, when the man who I’d parked next to came back to his car at the same time – and offered me a hand unloading my cart! That brightened my whole day. Indeed, I think Winnipeg has made me a friendlier person to the people I meet day to day. Sometimes, when I catch myself in the act of doing something kind, I’ll humblebrag to myself, “Well, that was a Winnipeggy thing to do!”  That could well be the best thing about being a cheap Winnipegger: friendliness is free. And I think friendliness begets friendliness. And if McDonald’s taught us anything, it’s that smiles are free.

So, what is my own Winnipeg? I suppose my own Winnipeg is more than any particular neighbourhood or being cheap or being friendly. My own Winnipeg is dusty – so, so, dusty – and dry in the summer, but also lush and green with treed canopies, and anticipating the big waves at Grand Beach, and walking to an ice cream shop that is only open a few months of the year. My own Winnipeg is permanently dirty snow in the winter, and being a curling widow on MCA (er, Manitoba Open) weekend, and counting down the days to Festival du Voyageur, and simultaneously thanking and cursing the crews for ploughing our lane — and trapping us on the lane side of our back driveway. My Winnipeg is go ahead, make a U-turn! And the beautiful lighted archways on Corydon that I just noticed for the first time this year, and furiously trying to register for swimming lessons with Leisure Online, and missing the turnoff to Assiniboine Park every. single. time!  My Winnipeg is yes, “dainties” is absolutely the best word to describe, well, dainties. (I noticed the term rolling effortlessly off my tongue for the first time this Christmas.)

Winnipeg itself is fading into the background of my life more and more with every passing year, but I’m still glad I chose this city to be my home. The thing about Winnipeg is that it can be yours in any way you choose, and that can change as much as you like. And I can’t wait to see what my Winnipeg is like five, 10, 50 years from now.