Hockey Night in Saskatchewan

Re-blogging this for all you hockey fans.

Irene Pylypec

taylor-friehl-1301748-unsplash“Let’s play hockey!” was an oft repeated phrase by kids growing up on the Canadian prairies. For me, a kid who grew up on a farm four miles from the village of Yellow Creek, Saskatchewan, that meant lacing up my skates and heading to the outdoor rink at recess with my classmates – boys and girls alike.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, hockey took a slightly different twist. Hockey pucks were expensive and had the curious habit of disappearing into snowbanks never to be seen again until spring thaw. So, frozen horse turds served as an admirable substitute in a game of barnyard shinny. When my older brother’s friends dropped by, play resumed on our private playground – the frozen slough in the midst of the Gryba bush. The Gryba family owned the mostly-uncleared piece of land across the grid road opposite to our farm but did not live there. …

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The Sugar Shack

“There’s a crazy little shack beyond the tracks. And everybody calls it the sugar shack…”

In Canada, the land of maple syrup, the sugar shack is a building where sap from the sugar maple is boiled to produce maple syrup. This sweet treat is produced in eastern Canada, primarily in the province of Quebec.

However, in the 1960s sugar shacks could also be found on the western prairies. And yes, every little town in Saskatchewan had one.

The sugar shack was a thing of enormous mystery. It seemed to be founded by the males of the species and the exact location was always shrouded in secrecy. Whenever the topic of the sugar shack was discussed amongst my high school classmates, I would pester the boys – imploring them to let me in on the big secret. I was told that it was a boys-only clubhouse and that they, and only they knew the location of it and were the only ones who could enter inside its hallowed walls. Defeated, I accepted that explanation until I found out that one of my girlfriends who lived in town knew all about it and had even been inside! Now I’m being told a slightly different story by the boys. Now they tell me that sometimes the girls from town get a special invitation to see the clubhouse but I live too far away on a farm. Well, I’m having none of that! I approach one of the boys afterward and insist that he take me to the sugar shack. Reluctantly, he agrees to take my friend and me to show us the place.

I’m really excited to solve the mystery of the sugar shack: where is it? What does it look like? What goes on there? I fully expect to find the sugar shack somewhere in the bush, possibly beside the railway tracks. Much to my surprise, we are escorted to the opposite end of town. And there it is, an unassuming building hidden in plain sight. It’s just up the hill on the southeastern edge of downtown, two houses away from my relatives’ house. And it may be small, but it’s not a shack at all!

Instead of the rundown shack situated in some covert location in the woods, we enter what appears to be a newly-constructed tiny house. The room itself is sparsely furnished with a table, a couple of chairs, and even a bed.

“So, what do you guys do here?” I ask innocently.

“Oh, we mostly just hang out here, talking and reading comics,” replies our host. Sometimes, we get somebody to pull us a case of beer. And, of course, nobody can see us,” he continues, pointing to the curtained windows, “so we can smoke here anytime.”

“Well, we better be going!” he says abruptly. Girls aren’t allowed here. And I’m one of two guys who has keys to this place. If somebody else wants the key, I don’t want them to see you girls here. Don’t tell anyone I took you here,” he pleads.

What really went on there? Was it really a clubhouse for prairie boys to hang out with their buddies while reading comic books and drinking beer? Or was it more like a love shack where, far removed from parents’ prying eyes, they would take their ‘sugar’?

Wait. What’s that sound I hear? Oh, I believe it’s the collective snickering of seniors reliving their adolescent dreams in a prairie sugar shack. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. I really don’t know the answer. All I know is that there wasn’t so much as an ounce of maple sugar produced there.

Looking to Escape the Cold this Winter?

And are you looking for a good book to read while you’re relaxing under a swaying palm tree, viewing an ocean paradise from the comfort of your beach lounge? It’s not too late to buy that perfect book! My memoir, A Squatter in London, is currently available  in paperback from Amazon at a reduced price. It’s also available as an e-book, but you’ll miss out on the vintage 1970s images that are offered in the paperback version.

Hurry! You only have until the end of February to benefit from the special price. Even if you’re not going to the Dead Sea.

UK Customers

Canadian Customers

The TV That Almost Killed Me

I finally did it. I bought myself a smart TV. Not that my old one was dumb, mind you. It may have been uncomplicated – simple even, but it served me well. My “old” TV goes way back to a much simpler time when the only knowledge required by the user was knowing the location of the remote control. After finding your reading glasses and your stray remote was lured from its secret hiding place in between the sofa cushions, you just needed to press the red “on” button. And to be mindful not to confuse the up and down arrows for volume with the arrows for channel selection.

I’m not certain how many decades ago I purchased that old TV. All I know is that, following a home invasion, I made a trip to The Brick to find a replacement. The friendly Brick employee promptly ushered me to the Entertainment Department of the furniture store, to show me their new line of something known as “flat screen” TVs. Oooh! The size of them! And the clarity of the picture! Unfortunately, the terms of my insurance policy required a replacement TV purchase – which in my case was a 24” “boob tube” (You know the kind: you call the television repair man. He replaces the picture tube and you’re good to go for another 10 years). Turned out they didn’t make that size anymore, so the closest replacement to the stolen item was an RCA 26” television, which I bought.

Another Brick employee, a strapping young man, carries the TV to my car and attempts to put it in the trunk. The box is too big, so he removes the outer packaging and places the TV face down in the back seat. “This will be much easier for you to take out of the car,” he says, “because you won’t have to reach down into the trunk.”

He’s right. Even though the TV was very heavy and somewhat awkward, I managed to slide it off the back seat, grab it and start carrying it towards the house. It was winter at the time. As I’m walking up to the house, I slip on the sidewalk and fall into a snowbank with the TV landing on top of me. I try to move, but I’m pinned beneath this behemoth. I’m fervently hoping that my neighbour will just happen to look out, see my plight and rescue me. No such luck. Well, that’s just great! I think to myself. I’m going to die right here with this TV on top of me. That’s not an option, I scold myself. I try wiggling one way, then another. Nothing. I’m stuck. I try again, when suddenly there appears to be some give. I continue wriggling and pushing until I free up one leg. This gives me a little more leverage and I’m finally able to roll over and remove that offending object off me. I’m enclosing a picture of the evil monster. Feel free to boo and hiss at him.

Well, back to the present. That old RCA behaved itself until recently when it finally gave up the ghost. This time, I shop for a new television at Best Buy where Black Friday Week deals abound. Besides price, my main concerns are that the new TV fits into the space I have allocated for it and that it has the proper connections so that I can continue to play my music. When I explain marrying old technology with new, the young associate gives me a blank stare and announces, “most people use an HDMI stick, now.” I guess I’m on my own.

The new smart TV is much bigger and much lighter, and I have no problems bringing it inside and beginning the setup. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself: I’ve got it connected to the internet, synched with my cellphone AND I can play my music on the surround sound home theatre system. But I have no television reception! My cable TV (yes, I’m still using that expensive, archaic system) provider tells me that I need a new cable box. Well, the new cable box won’t initialize and after hours spent chatting online as well as talking to a real person, the cable company sends a techie over to help me. Although I can’t play my music anymore, the cable box decided to work in the meantime. So when the techie arrives, I ask him about connecting the old and the new technology. He stares at me blankly and says, “we’re not trained to do that”. Well, at least I have ultra high definition television now.

Two Great Books for the Readers on your Christmas Shopping List

Looking for that perfect Christmas gift? How about a book to go with that holiday eggnog? My narrative non-fiction paperback, A Squatter in London, is temporarily available on Amazon for a reduced price. It’s also available as an e-book but the paperback has vintage photos for you to laugh at. Here’s an excerpt to bring a smile to your face:

“This will be my first ‘black’ Christmas. It’s a few days prior to the holiday and I’m nostalgic for the magical, snow-filled Canadian winter wonderland. I’m homesick, cold, lonely and depressed…

Lainey and Bryce’s parents, the Collinses, have invited me over for Christmas dinner today. Because of the holiday, though, trains and buses aren’t running. So, as instructed by the Collins children, I ring a car hire service…

‘Your place smells very Christmas-y,’ I quip as I enter the Collins home, instantly offending my hosts. There’s an almost overpowering pine-like scent in the air and I assume that it’s coming from the newly-decorated live tree. It’s not.

‘What a thing to say,’ replies Mrs. Collins in a hushed voice. ‘Our cat just wet the rug.’”


For the children on your list, there’s an awesome children’s reader/coloring book written and  illustrated with whimsical little characters by Robert Laurie Leslie called They Love Us: A World Without Fear.

A Squatter in London (image shows author revisiting the squat in 2001) is also available internationally in the US, UK, Mexico and other countries. See, I just made your Christmas buying experience a whole lot less stressful!

A Black Christmas in London

With recent snowfall painting the Saskatchewan prairie landscape in a blanket of white, I’m reminded of a “black” Christmas spent long ago as a young woman travelling solo for the first time to London England.

This snowfall also seems to have energized scores of Canadian shoppers who have begun their quest for that perfect Christmas gift. The endeavour albeit exciting, can also be quite stressful. Therefore, I’m sharing a humorous anecdote from my first black Christmas to brighten their day.


Following are excerpts from my recently-published book, A Squatter in London:

“This will be my first ‘black’ Christmas. It’s a few days prior to the holiday and I’m nostalgic for the magical, snow-filled Canadian winter wonderland. I’m homesick, cold, lonely and depressed…

Lainey and Bryce’s parents, the Collinses, have invited me over for Christmas dinner today. Because of the holiday, though, trains and buses aren’t running. So, as instructed by the Collins children, I ring a car hire service…

‘Your place smells very Christmas-y,’ I quip as I enter the Collins home, instantly offending my hosts. There’s an almost overpowering pine-like scent in the air and I assume that it’s coming from the newly-decorated live tree. It’s not.

‘What a thing to say,’ replies Mrs. Collins in a hushed voice. ‘Our cat just wet the rug.’”


To read how I managed to entangle myself from this situation, and more about my adventures in Britain, A Squatter in London is available in e-book and paperback from Amazon in Canada, and internationally in the US, UK and other countries. It also makes a great Christmas gift! See, I just made your Christmas buying less stressful!

My First Miniskirt

I guess you could say I was a bit of a fashionista back in the day. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, we teenage girls didn’t have much of an opportunity to shop for the latest fashions. Well, there were the Sears and Eaton’s catalogues, but those fashions were for “old” people like our parents. If we truly wanted to be in style, we had to sew our own clothes. For this reason, I and several of my friends joined the local 4-H club to take sewing lessons.

My first sewing projects didn’t impress me that much: we were taught to sew a simple apron, an A-line skirt and a sleeveless, collarless blouse known as a “pop top”. But it was enough basic knowledge to get creative using my mom’s foot-pedal operated Singer sewing machine. And the catalogues came in handy for choosing fabric and pattern-shopping if the local general store didn’t have anything to my liking. Sewing patterns from Butterick, McCall’s and even Vogue garnered my undivided attention but most of the patterns I purchased were from Simplicity.

One of the most challenging things I made and one of my favourites was a pair of hot pants; they also got the most compliments, which helped! The hot pants were cotton knit material, which meant that I had to buy special thread and be very careful not to pull the material too vigorously or it would stretch at the seams. They were a bib-style, gold in colour, had pockets and sported gold metallic Pooh-bear buttons. Another favourite was a lime-green Fortrel pantsuit trimmed on the arms and legs with white fringes. I can hear a collective cyber-shudder at the mention of this masterpiece. I understand.

But the story of how I got my first miniskirt required almost no effort on my part. It was so innocent, really. One of our neighbours was having a house-warming party to which my family was invited. As my mother and I entered the neighbour’s yard, the neighbour’s dog decided that he didn’t particularly like me and ran towards me, teeth bared. Snarling, he dove straight for my knee before the hosts or my mother could stop him. Fortunately for me, his teeth bumped my knee – hard, but the bite did not draw blood. Instead, he had a mouthful of my wool skirt tightly clasped in his jaws.

Now, the wool skirt was not cheap, and my parents weren’t exactly loaded. “It would be a shame to throw this skirt away,” I say to my mother. “I could just hem it up a little, and it will be just fine.” Suffice it to say, my mother’s skirt-too-short-version and mine differed slightly. Back home, my mother asks me to slip on the torn garment while she extracts the measuring tape from the sewing basket. She carefully measures the distance from mid-knee to top of dog-ripped-hole. As I await the verdict with bated breath, she announces that I can go ahead and hem the skirt provided I use hemming tape as close as possible to the damaged area. Voila – my first miniskirt!

“Nice blouse”, quips my dad as I head out the door to join my friends, wearing my new miniskirt. “You going to wear anything with it?”miniskirt