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My Prairie Home by Chelsea McMullan

The only Canadian feature film in the official selection of this year's Sundance Film Festival, My Prairie Home was enthusiastically received in Park City, Utah. In the 77-minute NFB documentary, filmmaker Chelsea McMullan follows Montreal-based indie singer Rae Spoon across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a Greyhound bus. But this is not your standard music documentary of a road trip. As we travel the highway across the endless prairie, we learn about the hills and valleys of Rae Spoon's early life.

The indie singer was raised in an evangelical Christian family under a tyrannical father, a church deacon of questionable mental health. Early on Spoon sought refuge in music to avoid her parents' continual sightings of signs of the Rapture. Life was already difficult enough for Spoon who couldn't see herself as a wife and mother, answering to a husband. In fact, a husband was almost unfathomable. Spoon is gay and describes herself as gender neutral, using the personal pronoun "they" in self-reference. As can be expected, high school was not easy, nor was coming out. In a soft-spoken manner, Spoon relates standing up to family, community and high school bullies, but the prairies remain an integral part of Spoon's identity and the place the singer still calls home.

Besides the stunning shots of the Canadian prairie, the viewer is treated to Spoon's hauntingly beautiful singing voice. For anyone who has driven across Canada, the prairie provinces seem endless. But there is a magical beauty to the golden velour-textured wheat fields and that great big prairie sky. My Prairie Home is a moving coming-of-age film that may be instrumental in challenging many preconceived notions about the transgendered.

If you missed the film at the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal the NFB is screening it free online for 48 hours (January 26 and 27). To view the film on the NFB site click here.

Other film reviews
The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang


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To Patch or Not To Patch

Amid frigid temperatures last week, I found myself on St-Hubert Street, north of Jean-Talon, trying to find of all things, iron on-patches. And with all the fabric stores and sewing accessory shops you'd think that it would have been easy. But I was directed and redirected to a number of stores before I finally found what I was looking for. It would appear that people don't patch anymore.

My son, Sacha, now six years old won't stop growing. I bought him two pairs of jeans in September, and they're already too small. This winter, he's been wearing navy blue hand-me-down snow pants, the ones his sister wore 5 years ago. But because he likes to rough-house, there are holes in the knees. I could go out and buy him a new pair, but these snow pants still fit him.

To patch or not to patch? This is a makeshift solution, not altogether aesthetically pleasing, but an attempt to salvage rather than discard. This wasn't a protest against the flood of cheap Chinese imports as some of you might imagine. Instead, this was brought about by pure nostalgia. I wanted to see the steps my mom, a single mother, had gone through to patch clothes.

When I found the patches I was looking for, "Made in Canada" was printed on the label, something I have not seen in years. Factoring in the dust and the metal hook I found the patches on, I guessed that they might be decades old, possibly hanging in that exact same place.

Now some of you will smile at my attempt to iron patches on snow pants because, as I soon discovered after reading the patch instructions, you can't iron rayon. It melts. But now I was determined to find a way to do it.

While in Accessoires de Couture St-Hubert, I was also relieved to find "Made in Canada" cotton socks. Although much more expensive than their "Made in China" counterparts, they come with the added bonus that they don't strangle your ankles. But don`t talk to me about the Chinese-sizing conundrum. In November, I spent an hour in a department store trying to find winter boots for my daughter, but nothing fit her size-5 foot, except a size-7 boot. But I digress...

The new cotton socks were placed around the edges of the patch so the hot iron would not come into contact with the rayon snow pants. The sock solution was my contribution to the iron-on patch effort. My more patient husband volunteered to do the ironing portion. To some, it would appear that he had hijacked my pious effort to revisit my late mother's memory, but in fact his help was greatly appreciated. We could share the blame if it all went south.

I was able to revisit my late-mother's memory vicariously through my husband's ironing. It all came rushing back to me, leaving me to wonder why I'd wanted to stroll down memory lane in the first place.

I suddenly remembered her saying "Shit!" as she ironed on patches because there was never enough glue on the edges for them to stick properly. But my more virtuous husband just pressed his lips together and then calmly said, "The patch edges aren't sticking." Then I remember my mother grumbling, "God damn it! Now I'm going to have to stitch around those useless patches!" This involved more work and created another problem. My mother was a perfectionist, particularly when it came to sewing, and the strongest hand-sewn stitches would show, a major sewing faux pas, the mark of an amateur.

My husband did suggest using the sewing machine to sew down the edges, but I told him that the pants were too thick for a sewing machine needle. "I'll sew around the edges," he offered. I cringed. I watched him do a whip stitch around the edges, the weakest and most obvious stitch, but at least he tried to match the colour of the thread.

In the end, my son's snow pants looked only marginally better than when they were ripped. As can be expected, after a few falls, the whip stitch came apart. But overall the patches are still intact, and the pants should last the entire winter. Every time I see his snow pants I laugh, and I'm sure my mother would have laughed too.


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