Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dear People of Houston

Thanks for the warm welcome to your lovely city. Y'all are so friendly that even the teenagers are talking to me. One asked me to weigh in on the purse she was picking out for her mother. Such confidence in a complete stranger! I hope I didn't steer her wrong. (This is a pun. It was a very western looking purse.)  Some of my other favorite things:

1. The museums are fabulous. I've spent days at the Natural Science, Fine Art, and the Houston Space Center. I still haven't seen the American Cowboy Museum, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, or the Beer Can house, which may take us all day. For some reason, beer tastes better here. Maybe it's the patio life. People really like to sit outside, and with all the beautiful flowers and trees, it's easy to see why. I'm not sure how they talk themselves into going home.

2. People dress casually, like in Vegas, but without the constant gambling and scent of desperation that leaves me feeling anxious. At any given time there, I'm the least fun person in the room. I like myself better here.

3. The airport. The friendliness goes up a notch, and in Houston, that's saying something. I don't think we've ever been called baby, before. Certainly not by airport security. I have to confess, I was expecting pat downs, dire warnings and some frank political talk. Perhaps a stern warning about behaving myself. Nope. Just sheer friendliness.

4. There are a lot of good looking men here. Like, seriously good looking. It's hard not to stare. Even in Whole Foods, where I was this afternoon, the hot guys completely outnumbered the balding hippies (and I say this with no disrespect to balding men, one of whom I love.) I'm surprised I didn't faint at the Rodeo, the other night. All I could think was, Yeehaw!

5. The weather. It's the rainy season, but even so, the temperature feels warm to someone from Canada. My only discomfort happens inside the buildings. The museums aren't too bad but the restaurants are freezing. The maxed out air conditioning causes the reptilian part of my brain to assume I'm in danger. Which sane Canadian allows themselves to get this cold? None of us. I spend a lot of time calming myself down. No, I say firmly, you are not going to freeze to death. My daughter has been converted to the Houston way of life, and really likes it cold. I wear fur slippers and my warmest pajamas at her apartment.

6. The Rodeo. So fun, and please don't tell my friends at P.E.T.A because I especially loved the Bronc Busting. The horses win way more than the cowboys do. And I loved my giant drink, in spite of being a little embarrassed to be seen with it. It was like wearing a huge sign saying, I AM AN  ALCOHOLIC.

7. I haven't seen a single gun. It's true that I'm not very observant, and I confess I was a little petrified coming here. But the people are just regular folks, going about their business, a little friendlier than the rest of the world. If I lived in Houston, my chances of seeing guns would go up. But as a visitor, I have to say, well done. Keep hiding those holsters. Your tourists thank you for it.

8. The food is incredible. I didn't know barbeque could be so good, and in spite of my gall bladder begging for a break from all the fat, I simply can't resist. I'll be good again when I go home. The drinks are also fantastic, though I've seen aquariums smaller than these marguerita glasses.

9. The bats down by the Bayou. Every evening they fly out from under a bridge and glide up into the sky. Even more startling are the hawks that swoop down to eat the bats. It's like gladiators at the coliseum in Rome. You can't look away, even if you want to. The bats are not interested in people, so I like them.

10. My daughter's work place. She has a corner office with a beautiful view. I feel like Don Draper in there, waiting for my secretary to bring me some scotch. Disappointingly, they don't seem to drink at work, and the way she hustled us out of there made me realize that, like parents everywhere, we're continuing the fine tradition of embarrassing our children.

I'm sure there is much more to see. Meanwhile, our 30 oz. steak dinner and fish bowl drink are waiting. Thank goodness my daughter doesn't own a scale.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Where Eagles Dare

Last Saturday, I went downhill skiing for the first time in forty-three years. I prayed that my Zumba trained legs would be fit enough to survive the slopes at Kananaskis. It helped having my two granddaughters there. Claire, at six, is a natural. Charlotte, at four, is getting very comfortable skiing with her dad. I figured that as long as I kept up with the kids, I wouldn't do too badly.

My troubles began in the rental office. They're quick in there, and don't have a lot of time for anxious older folks. I could see the staff making eye contact with each other. These people are doomed, they seemed to be saying. We had a sinking feeling they were right.

To my dismay, ski boots have changed since the seventies. They're higher, and probably safer.  But they grip your calves like they're trying to bring you down a size. So walking feels impossible. You wear helmets now, too. A sensible idea, given my knack of falling down during a leisurely stroll.

Things began badly when I sprained my arm carrying my skis out to our starting point. The ones I had growing up were much lighter. But my spirits lifted considerably when Clarence fell down right out of the gate. I was so glad it wasn't me. Sorry about that, honey. I wasn't there for the other time you fell. But full disclosure: I took my skis off at one point, and hiked down about thirty feet. I have no right to brag. And yet, here I am, feeling pretty damn good about myself.

My difficulties began about five minutes into my first run. I took a corner too fast and ended up heading for the fence, the steep drop-off kind. My son in law hollered, "Does she know how to stop?" My daughter wasn't sure, and neither was I. Some latent memory came rushing back so I was able to turn at the last minute and save myself. I'm fairly sure screaming was a major part of my self-rescue effort.

Before I reached the bottom, I managed to get my pole stuck under the front of my left ski. Only by performing a stunt worthy of Charlie Chaplin did I manage to stay upright. A svelte female skier passing by, yelled, "Awesome recovery!" It was a proud moment.

A less proud one happened a few runs later. I was doing well, crossing back and forth as I made my way down. At one point, the mountain seemed very hill-like, and I thought I'd have some fun on this 'gradual slope.' Heading straight down, I picked up a terrific amount of speed. As I passed my six year old granddaughter, I was laughing in that way you do when you're trying not to scream. "Save yourself!" I said, or something to that effect. Fortunately, she thought it was funny and didn't think she had to rescue me.

It ended up being a terrific day, other than the half hour we spent stuck on a chair lift. I was sandwiched between two drama queens, my husband and my daughter. Granddaughter, Claire, was there, too. She managed to keep us all calm. But my knees are still aching from the drag of those heavy skis.

I wish they used tow ropes, like they did when I was growing up. But then, I'd need the Crerar boys to help me up the mountain when my mittens iced up. It happened often in those days. That was how it was when I learned to ski at the Flin Flon ski club. Practice, weekly humiliation and more practice. Fortunately, and to my immense gratification, I've discovered that I've still got a few of the old  moves. Now all I need is the number of a good chiropractor.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Down on the Boardwalk

I love taking the boardwalk around Ross lake on my way uptown. Back when I had a job, it's how I got to work. Now, it's about the sheer joy of crisp air, solitude and the ability to cut loose unnoticed.

I'm usually a party of one, except for a few dog walkers. In summer, I've got bears to think about, but winter? Just ice, snow, and my playlist. I like to mix it up, but the most important feature of the walk is my personal dance off. Is this dangerous for someone with my limited abilities? Perhaps. But picture this.

During my forty minute stroll, I am a sensation. Invisible people cheer loudly as I dance with Kevin Bacon, Ryan Gosling (La La Land Style) and Patrick Swayze. Because nobody puts baby in the corner. Not on my walk. I can throw my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore (I do! Every single day!) and moonwalk while Michael Jackson sings in my ear. I'm so good at it.

The best part of walking alone in the woods in winter? If I see someone coming, I shut down the act and pretend to be normal. I like to twirl, too, which allows me to check behind me from time to time.

Though I'd like to be selfish and keep the boardwalk all to myself, this is a gift that must be shared. Who knows how many of you are out there, longing to take your show on the road? I can't keep it all to myself. Don't feel shy if you see me there, either. We'll both pretend that nothing special is happening. We're not auditioning for American Idol, or So You Think You Can Dance. (Yes, we can!)

 I'm especially fond of my Dancing with the Stars moments, where God is my partner. Maybe you don't think that Franki Valli had me and God in mind when he sang, 'Who Loves you' but to me it just fits.

Who loves you,
Who loves you pretty baby? (You do, God!)
When tears are in your eyes,
And you can't find the way.
It's hard to make believe,
You're happy when you're gray. (the gray thing is true, it's taking over my whole head. God, you really get me!)
Baby when you're feelin' like,
You'll never see the mornin' light.
Come to me,
Baby, you'll see.

It's my favorite time on the walk, where the Creator and I really let it all hang out, sometimes with the twist, or just a good jive session. He, She, They. My multi gendered God can really boogie. Plus I get a kind of virtual hug at the end, though that might just be my mom filling in.

Thank you, Dave Price, for all your hard work in maintaining this beautiful Flin Flon feature, and to the City of Flin Flon for whatever part you play. (I'm not sure...paint? Gravel? Lights?) Not only am I getting fit and feeling happy, I'm entertaining the ravens and even a coyote or two. And believe me, they're lovin' it.

Once again, with feeling, this one's for the God of the boardwalk, for Dave and everyone else who wants to share their truth with the world, just not with people.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

@ Home on the Range

Not everyone enjoys cooking. For most, it's something we do out of necessity. But now that our kids are grown, I've found that I don't mind cooking meals. After raising a family, making dinner for two is easy. My stove ,er, my range and I are old friends. I'm quick, too. With no fanfare at all, I can have a decent dinner prepared in twenty minutes or less.

My husband has a different approach. When planning a meal, he likes to announce his intentions a week or two ahead. "I'm going to make clam chowder soup," he'll say importantly.  The purchasing of the groceries requires serious planning. But after buying the food, days can go by before the actual meal is made. You see, he likes to spend a certain amount of time building himself up. He treats the event like he's embarking on a triathalon, or about to swim the English Channel. He prepares with lots of self talk. "This is going to be the best clam chowder EVER!' My job is to offer words of praise and keep the eye rolling to a strict mininum.

Prepping for the main event is everything. There is no time for the chef to tidy, or wash pots after each stage of the procedure. All his energy must be saved for the creation of his masterpiece. When dinner is finally ready, it's my job to do the drumroll, have plenty of backpats ready, and then simply enjoy dinner. The cleanup comes later.

His finest performance to date is a stew he made in Calgary for the Faktor family. Simmering bones, short ribs, and some kind of secret sauce were just a part of his recipe. My daughter said it was delicious. I'll take her word for it, since I wasn't there, and she had to clean the pots by herself. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to that clam chowder soup. It's due any day now. (light clapping, a mild cheer.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Could I Get a Little Help Over Here?

 When I was kid, there were times when I realized I was not in charge of my situation. These moments would appear out of nowhere, like snakes hiding in the grass. This may be less true for children today, what with helicopter parenting and being tethered to the house.

When I was young, we were shoved out the door in the morning, either for school or for playing. If it was the latter, it was understood that you didn't have to come home until supper. A late return was encouraged by parents with too many kids. In those days, that was everybody.

Here is a list of things that worried me. Stray dogs, (which were everywhere,) unknown bullies, (because the ones you knew, you could avoid) running into a bear in the bush, and mud puddles. The last one was a fear born of experience, because I knew myself so well. To me, they were simply irresistible.

After a good downpour I'd be wearing my rubber boots and actively searching for trouble. There was a certain coyness to my approach, and I would feign surprise at the puddles appearing at the bottom of our back road. If I was with my sisters or brother, things had a way of turning out. But when I was alone, calamity usually struck. I would stomp around in the middle of the mud puddle, which was large enough to swallow a deer, until that epic moment when I would become completely glued into place, and unable to move either of my feet.

At this point, I'd look around casually, like everything was okay. I don't remember being approached by grownups, or even a car driving up the back alley. Picture a nine year old female, four feet tall and sixty pounds. It was simply impossible for me to pull my boots out of the muck. Eventually I'd jump out, leave them behind, and end up walking home in my socks, usually after doing a face plant. I'd return to the puddle with one irate parent or another so they could rescue my boots. In spite of that, I never refrained from my next, hopeful, mud puddle approach.

This story is not going to encourage helicopter parents to be less vigilant, but it should. The lessons learned during those lonely, stuck moments, or cautious approaches to a bush trail, or the exhilarating but scary walk to Phantom Lake, all helped me to see myself as a survivor. I might not do well, but I would do. Many times, I could rely on my siblings, or kids from the neighborhood, for help.They might pick on me at home, but out in the wild or on the long trek to Phantom, we had each other's backs.There was a code, and most kids followed it.

We were allowed to light fires, sword fight with sticks, balance on a board over a rolling barrel,) while my mother hollered, 'If you pinch your toes, don't come crying to me!') and raft across the pond behind what is now the Victoria Inn. The fear of drowning was overcome by the sense of victory, and the sheer fun of it all. Like women forgetting childbirth, I would leave behind the feelings of helplessness, and see myself as independent and victorious. Until the next birth...er, adventure.

And now I must apologize to my own children for the level of hovering, for the times I didn't trust in their common sense. (Full disclosure, this message may not apply to teenagers.) I'm sorry, kids. I hope you had fun, anyway. At least we lived by the bush. And if you did have the occasional crazy adventure, please share. I promise to be thrilled for you.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Fifty Shades of Mr. Mark Kolt

It's impossible to live in Flin Flon and not know who Mark Kolt is. Lawyer and administrator for the City, pianist (and more) for the Community Choir, musician extraordinaire for multiple bands and many special occasions. But that's not all.

Mark is also a composer. Anyone fortunate enough to attend one of the choir's Christmas concerts will have heard his beautiful piece, 'Star of Bethlehem.' But he's done plenty more than that. When sister Jennifer decided on a Carpenter's Christmas concert, Mark arranged the parts for soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Before I get into specifics, let me tell you this. Mark is  a considerate composer. Unlike Beethoven, he understands our limitations, and never wants us to feel bad. No high E for six measures  (I'm guesstimating...it felt like more) for the altos, thank you very much. Which is why I was puzzled after last weekend's concerts. It finally dawned on the altos that our parts were a little more difficult than usual. I'm pulling my punches, here. Let's just say there was plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Thank goodness for our new dentist, who is also in the choir, and will be prepared for our damaged molars.)

I'll try to be delicate, but keep in mind that a certain amount of frankness is necessary, here. We all know that Mark considers the sopranos the heart of our choir. Therefore, in the mansion of his mind, they are the composer's true muse and worthy of loving affection, hand holding, and complimentary easy parts. (This is what all the altos think, okay?) The same could be said for the tenors. Well done. Good effort. Pip pip.

As for the alto parts? Well. We are the ones chained in the basement, next to the whips. Is it good for you, Mark asks, hefting the cat of nine tails, a gleam in his eye. ( Not having read the books, I have no idea if Christian Gray of the original 'Fifty Shades' actually did this, but I've heard rumours.) No, not really, we reply, bracing ourselves for the...let's just call it the chastisement. The basses, the alto males, are also known to have the occasional rough ride. Though most of them are just asking for it.

In summation, I must acknowledge that, yes, Mark, we were bad. And we deserve a little punishment from time to time. But if a sincere apology will lighten our future, then here it is. We did not do your arrangements the justice they deserved. We did not. But. We'd like a little more loving in the next piece, please, and a lot less pain. We, too, want to make you proud. We'd like to be, if not the heart, then maybe the bladder or the colon. Something essential. And it wouldn't hurt to give us the melody from time to time, either, when you're scoring your next big thing.

the alto, second row
 right side of the dungeon.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Hitch in My Step

I like to move briskly. Plodding along sets my teeth on edge, so my tendency is to gallop. The plus side is, I get lots done. The downside? Sometimes I drop things, or occasionally fall down. I'm quick, but not necessarily graceful. I can fake graceful, but it doesn't offer me much protection.

The other day, there was an incident at my house. I was heading (briskly) into my bedroom when the left belt loop of my newish jeans got snagged on the door handle. It's a lever type, and at the very end, it folds itself up like a seashell. I'd never noticed this before, but it literally stopped me in my tracks. 

Technically, I shouldn't have been wearing the jeans. They're a little snug, but since I only  bought them six months ago, I like to pretend they still fit. Because they're newish, I didn't want to pull away and rip off the belt loop. On the other hand, I was stuck. And I was by myself. My husband was a thousand miles away, which always seems to be the case when I end up in one of these situations.

Was the universe telling me to slow down? Was it saying that I'm a little 'stuck' these days? Or was I simply the victim of another weird happening, like when my exercise ball got trapped under my treadmill and lifted me into the air.  Whatever it was, I could only rely on myself for help.

The loops are small, so there wasn't much wiggle room, especially given the jean's close fit. I tried rotating my hip, but it only made it worse. I could not get that loop out of the little curly end. Pulling down my jeans was not an option, so i tried unzipping them. Finally, after ten frustrating minutes, I got the loop free from the door handle.

I should carry my cell phone at all times. Highly inconvenient, terribly annoying, but at least I could call for help. At the very least, if I'm going to move briskly through my life, I'd better keep my eyes open.Watch out for exercise balls rolling under my treadmill, or for old meat stuck to the barbecue. (It had me thinking one of the neighbors had died and was busily decomposing.) And those pesky door handles. For now, I'll wear jeans without loops, or at least make sure they fit. But if you don't see me around, ask the folks next door to check up on me. After all, neighborly concern should go both ways.