Mistress of the Mix: Oh Canada

By the time you read this, I will have fled the country. I know a lot of people have threatened to fly the coop and head to Canada during the political shit storm we’ve been experiencing since 2016, but I’m actually doing it. I mean, I’m not staying or anything, (my apologies to anyone who just did the happy dance and a few fist pumps). I’ll be back next week.

But I really am in Canada at the moment. And I’m not really sure how I feel about it. Because this trip is my dad’s last hurrah.

This was my dad in his heyday. When he was young, tan and fit, an adventure seeker who loved to backpack, hike and fish. A true nature boy. That was before he became a college professor, before he earned his doctorate, before he became a bestselling novelist, and before he was blessed with a handful of spirited, independent daughters.

Now, my dad is 88, and an old man. He’s been married for 60 years to my mom, written dozens of books, and passed as much of his knowledge on to the world as he can. And if you’ll give him just 5 minutes  an hour and a half, he’ll lecture you on a variety of topics from sustainable gardening to global economics.

But dad’s not doing so well. After my mom was hit by a car two years ago this week, dad had the chance to live all by himself for the first time in six decades, and do whatever he wanted. There was no wife around to nag him about his dietary choices or other risky behaviors, like his penchant for a tobacco pipe and a horrifyingly bad salt habit. He even got a cat, which my mother is allergic to

The way he tells it, it was glorious.

But by the time my mother came home from the rehab center to finish healing at home, dad’s health was deteriorating quickly. I’m pretty sure the situation was helped along because he was left to his own devices for so long.

One day his hip broke. He was just sitting in a chair on the deck, wasn’t even monkeying about on a jungle gym (which is how he ended up in the hospital when he was in his late 40’s), and his hip just gave out. He’d already had a hip replacement twenty years prior, and wasn’t a candidate for another. So he just had to deal. Since that day he’s been hobbling about with one crutch and a walker (which is a dangerous combination when you’re trying to use both of them together, but that’s my dad). Not long after that things started to get much worse.

On my birthday, dad waited until I had driven two hours up to Ashland, ate a meal of escargot, fried onion rings and filet mignon, and then asked to be driven to the emergency room. The doctor had bad news. End stage congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease with limited prognosis.

She told him there was nothing more she could do for him medically (although HE could do a few things for himself, like stop drinking canned chicken broth for breakfast and put his feet up after taking his diuretic in the morning to help the edema). She referred him to a home hospice program, to make sure his various wounds and meds were being tended to, and that’s how things have been since that day in December.

He has persevered since that day nine months ago. He’s not getting better, but the setting of his sun has been long and slow, reminding me of a Southeast Alaska summer evening. Dusk can go on and on for what seems like forever until it finally dips below the horizon.

So dad has decided that he wants to make one last adventure, one last jaunt into the wild before he fades into the night, and that’s why I’m in Canada at this very moment.

Dad has made it clear exactly what he wants to do on this end-of-life bucket list trip, and my sister Dana and I are going to do our level best to make sure he has that experience. We will fly to Vancouver, BC, hop into a big yellow taxi, and spend the night in Vancouver. The next day we’ll board the Rocky Mountaineer for a two day train trip through the Canadian Rockies that ends in Banff.

This is the exact train car he wants to ride in. Minus the commentary from the tour guide. I pity the poor tour guide that I know will be on board attempting to regale passengers with speeches about Canadian natural history, because I know my dad, and I used to be a tour guide. I think it will be difficult for him not to try to take over the lecture, or at the very least turn it into a dialogue dual between the two of them. I’m thinking of bringing along some classical music and a pair of headphones, and try to get those in my dad’s ears before the tour guide begins. Stravinsky. Rachmaninov. Dvorak. That should keep his ears occupied while he takes in the scenery. Because that’s what he says he wants to do.

And while he’s taking in that breaktaking scenery of the Canadian mountains, valleys and lakes, he says he wants to sit in the domed train car with a whiskey sour in his hand. Just like the one below. I might even take up drinking whiskey sours myself on this trip, since my dad, sister and myself will be sharing one hotel room between the three of us in Vancouver, Kamloops and Banff before flying home on Sunday.

We’ll take along his walker, oxygen, meds, and all of the other various things that one might need to attend to the needs of a person in his medical situation, including a flask of whiskey. My sister and I will prepare as much as we can for the expected as well as the unexpected, and then we’ll just cross our fingers. And maybe drink a couple of whiskey sours.

Besides majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and gravy with their french fries, Canada has a rich legacy of great music. To keep your ears (and mine) occupied for the next little bit of time, the Oh Canada streaming playlist is below. It’s stocked with some of my favorite Canadian musicians, like Diana Krall, kd Lang and Feist, although I’m sure there’s a few I’ve forgotten. Feel free to comment below if you don’t see your favorite Canuck in the mix!

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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23 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    In my vinyl collection I have a Paul Anka album and two Anne Murray albums. I’ll listen to them.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    How wonderful you and your Sis are fulfilling your Dad’s bucket list. Quite the adventure. I’ll add a few songs that came to mind because of your trip and the journey your Dad in on:
    Canadian Sunset
    Rocky Mountain High
    We’ll Meet Again
    City of New Orleans
    Oh My Papa
    Last Roundup
    Goldmine in the Sky

  3. Avatar George Parker says:

    What a wonderful tribute! I’m glad that you are having this trip with your dad.

    Great playlist. One song we could add from Rush: Time Stand Still, from the Hold Your Fire album.

  4. Avatar erin friedman says:

    What a journey – for all of you. I’ve got a train trip like that on my bucket list, too — and I’d make my husband sing Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    What? No Nickelback?

    Here’s a handfull from other Canadian bands and musicians:

    “This Tornado Loves You” — Neko Case
    “Sundown” — Gordon Lightfoot
    “Long Time Running” — The Tragically Hip
    “God Shuffled His Feet” — Crash Test Dummies
    “I Shall be Released” — The Band

    I envy you, Val. When my dad was 80 he ran a half-marathon, struggled (unusual for him), went to the doctor a week later because he still didn’t feel right, and was diagnosed with advanced Leukemia. He was gone within a couple of days. I wish to this day that we’d had time for one last trip to Colorado.

    P.S. From Arcade Fire, I’d have gone with “My Body is a Cage.”

  6. Avatar Janet says:

    I love this adventure, and I second the addition of Neko Case!

  7. Avatar Rob Belgeri says:

    Please consider Mr. Lightfoot’s “Summer Side of Life” for the mix. Great living elegy. Sounds like your dad didn’t squander his summer sides of life. I’m going to be 66 next month. This one works for me.

  8. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    Oh, Valerie! Sending hugs to you and your sister, and your dad and mom. What a beautiful, loving thing to do for him. Hoping it is everything he hopes it is! Best wishes.

  9. Avatar Candace C says:

    Enjoy your trip, enjoy your dad, and enjoy your whiskey. I applaud you and your sister for doing this for your dad; he sounds like one helluva guy. I love the pics of him. Oh, and I second Steve’s Arcade Fire song choice.

  10. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Beautiful writing, Valerie. And anyone who has had the good fortune to have had loving, strong-willed, exemplary parents with consistent adherence to lofty values can relate.

    A bit misty now thinking of Mom’s and Dad’s last few months, and the many years of fine memories that preceded their passing. Mozart-Requiem-Lacrimosa

  11. Steve Steve says:

    So sorry to hear about your mom. But I’ll bet she’s there with you. What a wonderful thing you’re doing for your dad. He’s so fortunate to have you in his life. He’s a lucky man. And this sounds like a WONDERFUL trip!

  12. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    William Shatner’s version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” should get a smile out of him.

  13. Avatar Claudia Hastings says:

    How special…I hope all goes well for you three.
    One of my favorite singers from there is Michael Bublé!
    I love his music, I ‘ve seen him perform 3 times.

  14. Avatar Viki Twyman says:

    What a wonderful way to spend time with your Dad as he comes to the end of his journey. Have a beautiful and safe trip. And yes, I think you just might need a few of those whiskey sours. Lol

  15. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    What an awesome final journey for your dad.

    I think it’s been thirty years since I’ve had a whiskey sour, but I plan to indulge in one in you dad’s honor.

    Any recommendations for a good place to get a whiskey sour.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      In my top 3 of cocktails (along with gin & tonic and Kentucky sidecar).

      The trick is finding a place that makes their own sweet and sour, not too sweet. Also ask if they float a dash of egg white on top. If they do, it’s your call whether to include that or not.

      There’s this bar in Davis…when I ordered a whiskey sour, the bartender was like, “You sure? We make them with pineapple juice.” I gave it a try. Sickeningly sweet. Ghastly.

      I’d try the Squire Room.

  16. Avatar Cheri Anderson says:

    Canadian Michael Buble is easy to listen to….

  17. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    Be sure to have a little stop at Mountain House Restaurant & Bar there’s a band with a Canuk there that can sing a pretty decent melody 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2MtEsrcTTs

  18. Avatar Janine Hall says:

    Sending you and your dad a hug. We can only do the best we can at the end of the journey. My mom gave me the the best gift at the end of hers. She was peaceful and told me not to grieve for her. It was the best conversation we had in years and gave me such grace.

  19. Oh, Val. I hope this is the trip your dad hopes for, that there are no disasters, that you three enjoy each others’ company, and that there are many cocktails to ease the way.

    I’ll be thinking of you all. Thanks for taking us this far with you on the journey.

  20. Mistress of the Mix Mistress of the Mix says:

    Hey everybody, thanks for all the comments and song suggestions! I’ll add them! I’m back from the trip, and while I’ll write about it in a future column, for now I’ll just say that if you ever find yourself with only 3 or 4 days to take a stellar whirlwind vacation…the Rocky Mountaineer is AMAZING! They treated us like royalty.

  21. Avatar Caroline says:

    I look forward to your mixes Valerie. And your stories especially. Diggin the way you live and love sista! Thank you. I thought of two faves—Cowboy Junkies and Patrick Watson.