Monday, December 23, 2013

A Moment of Silence for the Women of Christmas

This is my tribute to women during the busiest season of their lives. In no way should my male readers take this as a slight or a rejection of all they have to offer. I know that any one of you can pour a drink with the best of them. You probably make excellent egg nog, and are a dab hand at making sure the freezer is stocked with bags of ice. You probably make those last minute runs to the grocery store to pick up the forgotten can of Cranberry sauce, gas up the cars and do those little things that make all the difference to a happy holiday. Putting up the lights outside, often a man's job, is an integral part of the Christmas season. However.

December is a tough time for women. A time of preparation not unlike that faced by Olympic athletes. Some positive self talk is needed, some team spirit, a friendly reminder that others are also preparing for the game, laying it all out on the line. There may be doubts, but cheerfulness and good spirits will prevail, for the most part.

This salute is for the woman of the house, that workhorse of Christmas past, present and future. I'm going to take this even further and add an extra tribute for mothers. Not only are they the holders of the Christmas flame. They must also do the following:

 Remember what every child has told Santa regarding their Christmas wishes.
Decorate the tree, with help from the kids, which means everything takes a lot longer.
Find the time to give the house an extra cleaning, that lick and polish that says "Extra Special Season!"
Continue cooking regular meals while baking dozens of cookies, squares, meat pies, extra frozen 'just in case' dinners and making appetizers for all the parties she will attend as part of the joy of Christmas.
Buy gifts for teachers, coaches, bosses, co-workers and people her husband needs to buy gifts for.
Find that special outfit that looks 'Christmasy' but doesn't break the family budget and is comfortable enough to allow the chasing down of toddlers and the searching under sofas for missing lego pieces.
Have the ability to come home from work, make dinner, prepare something for the babysitter to do with the kids so she can attend the annual party with her husband, all the while wishing she was home in a hot bath with a good book.
Smile instead of screaming "WTF!!" when realizing the cookies that were meant for the neighbor's Christmas party were stolen from the freezer by little Elves who just happen to have the same names as her husband and kids.

This Christmas Eve, I salute all of you cheer bringers and memory creators. You are the Women of Christmas. You are the keepers of the family flame, the guardians of the heart of every child. God bless you in this joyful season. Over these next few days, take some time to thank those who have gone before you, like your own mother. Give the woman shopping beside you a friendly glance, a show of support that acknowledges all the things she's doing for others. And finally, you dear woman reader, give yourself a word of thanks, a pat on the back. May your own Christmas wishes come true. Especially the one where other people clean up. God bless.

Friday, December 13, 2013

In Pursuit of Good Enough

Writing a blog reminds me of going to confession. Something about the tiny room in the back of my old Catholic church, the lingering scent of incense, the attentive and gentle presence of the priest. It all seems to work in much the same way. On the page and in the church I spill the beans every time. Are bloggers actually seeking forgiveness, then, or some type of absolution? The blank page has a way of sitting semi-patiently, cursor blinking, like a busy priest with a lot of waiting customers. "Come ooooon," I can hear the page saying to me. "Just get it over with." It's like stripping off one's clothes and pointing out all the flabby areas for the whole world to see. "Yup," the writer is saying, "This is actually something I did or said, thought about, loved, or dreamt."

Nobody compels us to spill our guts in the confessional, except a belief in the presence of God and the peace that comes from sharing one's fears. Maybe the blank page is as much therapist as priest. "Come on, you know you'll feel better if you write it all down." It's so true. I'm having an aha moment as I write...

I am not a person who strives for excellence. I always wanted my children to play sports, but never to compete in the Olympics. Why have all that pressure? So your child can wash out at the age of thirty-five and be grateful for their job at Canadian Tire? The same goes for music careers. I like to sing, my whole family does. But having a child depend on it for a living, and actually succeed to the point that they have to keep racking up one hit after another leaves me feeling faint. Have fun with your music, kids, but leave the crazy life style to somebody else.

It's the same with business. I have loved designing and selling the babyTrekker. I believe that it is an excellent product, but at the same time, have resisted taking the business to the next level. I have fun with it, but don't feel crazed about it. Nor do I desire the label 'high powered executive.' It fills me with dread, actually.

Perhaps my hesitation comes from a fear of failure, but somehow, I don't think so. I believe that I've been given the gift of recognition, the ability to find the gold that shines in the very middle of things, in the anonymity and peace of the smaller life.  Andy Warhol once said that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. You know you're like me if you find yourself saying, after receiving said fame, "Thanks very much, universe. And thank God that's over."

You are one of the many like minded beings who make up the world, who love well and cherish the complexities of ordinary life. Like a thirsty person facing a  fridge full of beer, the trick is being able at some point to place your hand over the glass and say 'that's enough for now.' That's good enough. Thank you.

I watch the people who dream big, thirsting to be at the top of whatever mountain they're trying to conquer. I wish them well, even as I give thanks that its not me there at the front of the line, betting the farm or whatever it is people do when they compete for top honours. I'm the one in the middle of the crowd, cheering them on. Then I go home and resume the life I love.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Please Proceed to the Back of the Plane

Now that I’m older, I've decided to give my life the respect it deserves. By savoring each moment, the simple transforms into the extraordinary. Like when I'm listening to CBC radio in the kitchen and feel such a heady rush of joy, I know it's impossible to feel any happier.  That store of joy is tucked away inside me, ready to be released whenever I remember to access it.

Like what happened to me last night. I was half way home from New York on a stopover in Chicago when I experienced what I like to call a Junior High Moment. Those of you who drifted through the middle school years at the top of the social heap, please stop reading. You probably can't identify with this story. You may laugh coldly, wishing you could do so while pointing at me in person. For the rest of you who understand the notion of humiliation, please read on.

Our flight was slightly delayed. When the time came to board, I was reading my kindle but got into line and reached the front quickly. The stewardess looked at my boarding pass and said into the PA, "We’re boarding the Gold Members. This is Number One Boarding Only." Like a bouncer outside a popular club, she gave me a look that said volumes, adding, "Please step back.” I gazed around in my usual state of confusion. People looked away, in particular a man I’d been chatting with. He brushed right past me, eyes averted, as if I’d just peed on the floor. Obviously a Gold Member, a Number One Passenger. I hung around the back of the line, reading my kindle and not feeling too bad about it. After all, I booked through Expedia. What did I expect?

The second time, still engrossed in my book and waving my passport and boarding pass vaguely in the stewardess’s direction, I got almost the same answer, though she didn’t bother addressing me but spoke into the PA system saying, ‘This is a boarding call for Number Two Passengers Only!” I walked away. That was when I started to feel like I was back in junior high. This time I stayed in my chair as she went back to the microphone and called, “Members of the military, please board!” I’m not kidding.
Then, “The Number Three Passengers may board now.” She looked directly at me as she said it. Feeling like I was headed for Steerage on the Titanic, I passed her at a slow trot. She looked away politely, like I really had peed on the carpet. When I got on the plane the stewardess stared at my boarding pass before saying in a bored tone, “Please proceed to the back of the plane.”

Once happily seated, I began to read again. I didn’t bother listening to the safety directions. Hadn’t I heard them a thousand times? This turned out to be a mistake. The stewardess, once finished, came down the aisle and hollered, “Who knows how many exits there are? Who was listening?” We all looked around guiltily. Passengers started throwing out numbers, all of them wrong. I still can’t remember the correct answer.
The inquisition continued, “Who is seated by the exit? And what would you do for other passengers in an emergency?” We all looked around in genuine alarm. The woman across the aisle said fearfully, “I didn’t know we were going to be tested!” In that moment, I experienced a complete moment of joy. I may have been seated last, but no one in the classroom, er, the plane, was watching me scornfully. They weren’t looking at me at all. Instead, we were all watching the stewardess and the exit seat passengers in horrified fascination.

It occurred to me then that no one in junior high ever feels like a Gold Passenger, but more like the occupant of a lonely cell in steerage. At the age of twelve I saw gleeful vindictiveness where there was nothing but plain relief. It was not them being singled out for humiliation. They were not the ones who had tripped in the hallway, or farted audibly in class or forgot for the hundredth time to put their name at the top of a school paper. We were all klutzes and dodo brains, a club of the socially inept intimidated by a bouncer who existed only in our imaginations.


We never truly get out of Junior High, at least not until we’re much, much older. To graduate, we have to spend some time at the back of the plane.  Be the last picked for Dodge Ball or the cautionary tale shared by a grateful other. Life has to drop us on our faces quite a few times to make its point. We can give in to humiliation by rolling over and pretending to be dead or jump up like a gymnast who just nailed an Olympic Gold landing. The next time you hear someone fart out loud in public, especially if they’re over fifty, give them a wink and a thumbs up. Chances are they’ll just grin. If they’re over sixty, offer them a high five. Then you know you’ve graduated for sure. And its all downhill, er, smooth sailing, from there.  



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faith, Stress, and the Zombie Apocalypse

A week ago I got back from a trip, woke up on Thursday morning and remembered I'd agreed to do the church service on Sunday. I started thinking about my sermon and all the stuff I had to do over the next few days. I felt excessively busy, but in a very disorganized way. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread, like I wasn't going to accomplish a single thing and would turn up at the church and say, "I got nuthin. Have a nice week."

When I went to bed that night, it took me a while to fall asleep. When I finally did, I dreamt that I was in my church, standing in the pulpit, facing the congregation. There were the same expectant faces I've seen before, but with one major difference. Zombies were coming down the aisle toward me, lurching through the sanctuary door in groups of two or three. No one seemed to pay much attention, but periodically members of the congregation would turn around and take a few of them out with a handy shot to the head. I would pause every paragraph or so and throw a knife or a spear. I seemed to have an endless supply behind the pulpit. Other than that, we were all engaged in the activity of church.

When I woke up, my first thought was, "I'm so glad that's not real. What a great life I have!". How calm, orderly and safe it is, not to mention ultra comfortable and free from zombies. The second thought was directed to the Creator. "I get it," I said aloud, in case there was any doubt. "My life is not that stressful!"

Besides setting me straight, the dream also gave me plenty to think about regarding how and what we humans believe, and the way we conduct our lives. As I took a bath that morning, reveling in the joyous luxury of being Canadian, having access to cheap hot water and the perk of working from home, I thought about faith. What do I take for granted, what do I hope for, and what do I believe to be true?

None of us, including astrophysicist Brian Greene, will ever truly understand how the universe works. I will never know how I managed to have such a blessed life when others live in such terrible circumstances. I certainly haven't done anything to deserve mine. I believe that we blessed few have a duty to help other people, to be grateful for what we've got, and to realize that most of the time, the things we're stressing about don't really matter.

The next time you feel yourself building up a full head of steam over a missed deadline, a stressful meeting or telvision show that didn't PVR (I can't believe I'm admitting that) then remember this. At least you're not busy fretting and stewing in the middle of a Zombie Apolcalypse. That's enough to make anyone grateful.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind

In the last few days, I've been in a Bob Dylan frame of mind. Meaning, I'm feeling a little whiny. This hang dog, self pity party got its start during a road trip to Winnipeg. The catalyst  for the whole experience was my morning fruit shake, which I always have for breakfast, even when traveling.

First, I must explain the careful consideration I give to my traveling outfit. 1. It cannot cling, especially in the nether regions, but must flow and breathe. 2. The top must be loose, and work with both a cool air conditioned car and a warmer one. (In case the air conditioning breaks.) I chose my baby blue button down oxford style shirt with the roll up sleeves, and a pair of white capris made of the kind of a jersey fabric that, for comfort, requires no underwear and is not see through. So.

As I was getting into the car at Tim Horton's in the Pas, I accidentally doused myself with the deep purple fruit shake. Since I planned on dropping off my car at the dealership in Winnipeg, I was vastly annoyed, because I don't mind dressing casually, but I hate stained clothing. Hate it. "I'll change before we get there," I told my mother, who, being experienced at traveling with her children, is very close mouthed, and has the ragged, bitten lips to prove it.

Somewhere between Ashern and the turnoff, we pulled over onto a rough path that led into the bush.. I dug around in my  suitcase, which was wedged between two coolers, but couldn't find a thing. Finally, I discovered an orange  sun dress which would be cool enough for traveling in 30 degree heat. I couldn't find any underwear, though. My mother offered a pair of hers, but I declined, informing her that the dress was knee length, and who would ever know, anyway?

As it turns out, the gas station attendant at an Ashern station figured it out pretty quickly. I got out of the car and experienced a 'Marilyn Monroe in a white dress over a heating grate' moment, with a few, major differences. There was no joyful sexiness. No flirtatious grins, or girly 'oooohs!' Instead, there was a horrified fifty-nine year old woman and a possibly scarred for life teenager standing face to face beside the pumps. He barked, "You forgot to open the gas cap!" I yelped, "What is with this wind!" Then we did that thing where you each try to get by but move to the same side, me crouched over like I had a serious case of osteoporisis, clutching the bottom of my skirt and yelling, Mom! Mom! and him with his head thrown back, eyes squeezed tightly shut like I'd just thrown acid in them.

It's a good thing mom was in the bathroom already, because she probably would have run toward me clutching a pair of white cotton panties, holding them up like she was a participant in a game show. She'd never say, 'I told you so,' because she's not that kind of mother. Instead, she had to listen to me relive my embarrassment all the way to Winnipeg. She doesn't rolls her eyes, either, which I consider a miracle, since I've raised a few girls myself. Maybe its a side benefit of her cataract surgery.

When I got to my sister's house, where my mother was going to stay, I asked if I could borrow a pair of her panties. As I headed to the bedroom, I heard my brother in law say reassuringly, "Don't worry, Judy, lots of people crap their pants on that long road."

In the end (pun intended) it was not the answer that was blowing in the wind, after all. The answer, my friend, is that I'll be getting gas at a different station in Ashern when I return home.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What's That Smell?

About a week ago I was standing on my back deck when I smelled something truly terrible. It was a sweetish odor, and rotten, like a potato that is so old, it has collapsed in on itself. I searched the area around the deck, but a wind wafted the scent away and I forgot about it.

The next day the odor came back. It was even stronger and I became filled with a terrible dread. The longer I stayed outside, my nose in the air like a hunting dog following the scent of a fox, the more I became convinced that one of my neighbors had passed away and was lying undiscovered in his home. I shared this worry with my daughter, Hilary, who looked a little skeptical. After a while, though, she too became concerned about the source of the odor, though not to the same extent as I.

 I was filled with an immediate sense of guilt for not noticing the comings and goings of all the neighbors closest to me. Though blessed with a strong nose, I have no memory for faces. It takes me years to remember people who live only a few doors down. It can be embarrassing when I meet them down town and don't have a clue who they are, especially when they ask after my family. I'm sure there is a name  for this type of syndrome. If there is, please don't tell me.

This guilt was intensified by my Catholic upbringing, which I'm deeply grateful for because it grounds me, preventing a sense of over confidence that overtakes people absent minded enough to forget all the bad things that can happen in life. It can be a cross to bear, though, no pun intended. Anyway, back to the dead neighbor.

I probably wouldn't have been so concerned except that a couple of the neighbors live alone and the smell was just so intense, death undiscovered seemed the only possible answer. What could I do? I didn't want to walk to the front doors of the potentially deceased, bang on them and then say, 'Oh, thank God. I thought you were dead.' Even for me, that's a bit much. A possible solution came in the form of my next door neighbor. Let's call him Ralph.

Ralph is widely considered to be an asset to the neighborhood, at least to the members of my household. He is the first, and sometimes only one to check for possible burglars lurking in the back alley, for bears rattling around the garbage cans and for lending a hand with moving things, which is the height of neighborliness. He is also wonderful at reminding absent minded people like me not to forget the pot on the stove, the unwatered plants or the visiting toddler that may be wandering too close to the road. In other words, he is reliable, someone to turn to in a pinch. And this was pinching!

"Ralph!," I cried. "I smell something terrible and I think one of the neighbors is dead!" Let me pause in the story to add another positive attribute of this helpful man. He is also a writer and, though grounded in reality, has a good imagination and appreciates a melodramatic moment from time to time. He admitted that his sense of smell was not as strong as mine, but began immediately sniffing the air anyway, willing to help me figure it out. We both stood there, he in his yard, me on my deck, our noses in the air, sniffing like a pair of disapproving republicans. He looked a little undecided but in the end, we agreed that  a 'wait and see' policy would be best to adopt.

This was a good thing, because later that afternoon I discovered some old meat clinging to the grill of my barbeque, which is situated under a black cover on the hottest part of my deck. If the  odor on the deck was disgusting, it was nothing to the smell that drifted  through the air once I lifted the lid. But what a relief.

Was I embarrassed at having jumped to conclusions? Not at all. Though Ralph had a good laugh at my expense, we both appreciated the opportunity that was almost afforded the both of us at coming to the aid of one in need, even if that one was already dead.

I'm going to use this little lesson, not to reason differently, or perhaps less imaginatively, but as a new impetus for watching my neighbors. I'll see if I can remember what they look like, and I'll try to be more like Ralph, to lend a helping hand, or nose, and be there when the people on my street really need me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fifty Shades of Cheese

I have a guilty secret that I desperately need to share. When I was twenty-two years old, newly married and living in Carmen, Manitoba, I developed a peculiar addiction. Like most people with a secret life, I was finally found out by none other than my husband. I tried to draw him into my utterly compelling fantasy world, but he wasn't having any part of it. He said that he had better things to do on a Saturday night than THAT.

Sure, I felt a little humiliated by his words and attitude, but mostly, it was his barely hidden contempt for my secret passion. Still, I couldn't give it up. The Lawrence Welk Show (LWS)  would continue to be part of my Saturday evening.

Let me explain my fascination with it, dear reader. Because I can picture you right now, a wrinkle in your forehead drawing your eyes closer together as you frown in disbelief. Not Judy, you're thinking, or possibly gasping aloud. She's a little eccentric, but not crazy! I'll plead my case and see if I can win you over.

In the middle seventies, young men still wore  their hair longish, and women too. Perms were coming back into fashion, as were longer skirts. But nothing happening in the current world could explain the 50's hairstyles or clothing of the men and women on the LWS. They sang folk songs and dumbed down pop music (and that's saying something) and occasionally introduced a little latin number or two. They had a young black performer who, it appeared, was only allowed to tap dance. There was a Puerto Rican couple who sang together, and a guy who played the accordion every week. The Lennon sisters would harmonize beautifully and Lawrence Welk himself, Mr. Champagne music, would lead the orchestra while lovely ladies and gentlemen in pastel colours waltzed gracefully around the dance floor.

It took me a few weeks to realize that Saturday Night Live did not have an early show on PBS that they used solely for mocking old people.  And still I was charmed. Yes, Dear reader, I am a Lawrence Welk addict. And proud of it.

It's  the very definition of cheese, possibly the velveeta type. But I'm comfortable with that. I like a wide variety of music, and over the years I've sung "This Diamond Ring" with Gerry Lewis, cried to Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey," (possibly the sappiest song ever written) and had my thirteen year old heart shredded by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap singing 'Young Girl.' Or, as my children like to call it, "The  Perv Song." They purposefully misunderstand the innocent lyrics.

"Young girl, get out of my mind, my love for you is way out of line, better run girl, your much too young, girl."

It's not about THAT, I  said, but they refused to believe me. Help me, Gary Puckett. Because I'm still a big fan of yours, too.

We all have our dark little secrets. Music that we love, but never admit to owning, or television shows that we won't confess to viewing. I, for instance, wouldn't be caught dead watching Jersey Shore, because it just makes me sad. But if it floats your boat, go with it. There are many shades and types of cheese out there, and that's a good thing. Feel free to share your favorite flavour with me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Diary of a Whiny Himalayan Trekker - 1979

After years of bragging about my stoic hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, I'm going to out myself by publishing my diary. Twenty-four days of climbing, complaining, itching and rats. And beautiful scenery. See? The word order is a strong indication of a wee inclination for whining. Here goes.

Jan 8, 1979

We're starting our trek! Our guide, Cami, picked us up at our hotel. We had a five hour bus ride ahead of us, though it's only fifty miles. I was really dreading it. If you've ever seen pictures of rickety buses with people hanging out the windows, you'll understand. Clarence managed to look very aggressive, which prevented people from sitting on top of us.We got to the village of Lamsangu, where we'll start our trek. Our journey took six hours and the bus only broke down once. 

The mountains in the background and surrounding hills are beautiful, but the place is pretty squalid. The huts are made out of mud, grass and whatever old boards people can find. A dirt road runs through the middle and an open sewer accompanies it. Smoke pours out of every building, mingling with the smell of the sewer and the evening meals being cooked. The open faced huts are the stores, and they sell nuts, grain, material and sticky sweets with flies all over them.

Our 'hotel' is a typical hut, but we're lucky today. Our beds, straw mats on low tables, are in another room, separate from the main eating room. I hope to fall asleep before I hear the rats. I'm painting a pretty gloomy picture, but I'm actually not feeling too bad. In fact, I'm excited about hiking tomorrow. I'm really going to feel proud when we reach base camp.
Tonight, we'll have the first of many meals of rice and dal. Boring, but there's nothing else. We brought some biscuits, peanut butter and chocolate with us, which should help a bit. We shouldn't be overweight when we finish the trip, anyway.

Jan. 9

Got up this morning at seven am, the home owners at five. I didn't sleep very well, but I will tonight. I've never been so tired in my whole life. Though we only walked up five thousand feet, it was a distance of ten miles. It doesn't sound like much, but you have to take in consideration that it was almost straight up. By ten thirty, my legs were shaking and my back was killing me. We walked until three thirty. Cami tells me that we walked twice as far as expected. I wish he would have said something. I'm not out to break any records. We're sleeping with a family, since the guesthouse is full. I'm going to show the lady how to make some dried soup I brought. I've just got to have something besides rice and dal.

Jan 10

Didn't sleep last night, except for a few hours. It was too smoky to breathe, since there was a fire going but no chimney or open windows. It wasn't a hard walk today and the scenery was beautiful, but I was so tired and sore I just couldn't enjoy it. However, after many hours of walking (and quite a few tears of self pity) we came to a mountain stream and took a half hour break. I took off my boots and cooled my hot, tired feet in the water. It was heaven on earth. That cheered me up considerably and we walked until three thirty, about eighteen miles today.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I just can't eat that rice and dal. From now on I'll have a boiled egg for breakfast, biscuits with pb&j for lunch and reconstituted soup with nuts for supper.

Jan. 11 

Last night we slept on a porch outside. It was a mild night and I slept like a rock. It was a strenuous, totally uphill walk all day today, but I wasn't as tired. My muscles are still quite sore, though, and it will be a few more days until I'm used to all the exercise. I can actually walk and look at the scenery at the same time. Quite a feat for me. Some of the paths are narrow and we walk at some pretty dizzying heights. I try to go fast over the bridges.

We're seeing the real Nepal. Kathmandu is for the tourists. The people are so poor, and to me, exploited by the Monarchy. We've seen more beggars and deformed children than in India. Smoking is encouraged, and we've seen toddlers handed cigarettes by their parents. They all work so hard, using the same farming and transportation methods of a thousand years ago.

The scenery gets more beautiful as we go. Though we climbed 7000 feet in elevation today, its really warm. We got some mandarin oranges and I just got a surprise. Chicken for supper! Fresh chicken, I should add. The poor thing just breathed its last.

Jan 12

A very hard walk today. Up and over a high pass, above a cloud! and down the other side. I don't know which is harder, walking uphill or down. We quit early and are staying in a government run resthouse in a town called Jiri. Clarence, Cami and I even have a room for just the three of us. But the best thing yet: we bought some wood and had a hot shower! We were so dirty, it took quite awhile to get clean. We also washed our shirts and underwear, and put our sleeping bags on the grass to air. I'm trying to rid mine of bedbugs. Every morning I wake up with more bites. Its so aggravating, because I can't see them.

Except for sore muscles, we're both pretty healthy. I have a cold but brought some medicine. Clarence has a sore throat, but we have lozenges. We're enjoying the trek, but missing the food in Kathmandu. Twenty-three days to go!

Jan 13

Had a good supper of fried noodles and cauliflower! We went to bed and slept like rocks for ten hours. I think my insomnia is over. Started walking at 8 today, which is later than usual. We walked for 8.5 hours and it was fairly hard. Up, and then down. Twice. We passed through snow today, but its still warm enough for trekking in rolled up jeans and a shirt. It really cools off at night, though. I'm wearing my down jacket right now. I like it cold at night because the down bags are so warm we just cook. We usually have to sleep with the zippers down. That may account for my many mysterious bites. I woke up with about ten more this morning. Right now I'm grabbing my book to do some reading while its still light.

Jan. 14

Today was the most discouraging day I've had yet. I really hated everything. The walking, the food, the people, the mountains. I made a plan to do four more days of walking to Lukla and then fly back to Kathmandu. However, at one o'clock we stopped at a stream and rested for half an hour. I undressed to my jeans and bra and had a good wash. Though the Nepalese women are always washing in public with nothing on, our guide and porter seemed quite  embarrassed, and hastily turned their backs. I think it was the bra that threw them. Anyway, I feel a LOT better and am pretty optimistic about tomorrow.

Jan 15

Today was one of the most enjoyable days we've had yet. We walked over Lamjura Pass, an elevation of 12000 feet. There is still barely any snow. We had to wear sweaters in the pass, but other than the fact that we were higher than the clouds, there was no difference in the way we felt. The walking seemed easier. We're probably just getting used to it.

Last night we met a couple from New Zealand. We stayed up and talked for what seemed like hours, but still made it to bed by 7. We usually get about ten hours of sleep a night, and we need it. I like traveling with just the four of us, but its nice to talk to other people once in awhile.

Clarence is playing ball with some kids. He really gets along with the people here. He's trying to learn Nepalese, but he speaks it about as well as he speaks French. It gives everyone a good laugh anyway. This trip has been hard in many ways, but its certainly been good for our marriage. I wondered if spending twenty-four hours a day together would be hard, but its been just the opposite.

Jan 16

I had a really terrible sleep last night. There were rats running all over the place. I wasn't really scared, but they made so much noise that I couldn't fall sleep. I wasn't that tired today, though. I really enjoyed our day. Walking the narrow paths at the edge of the mountain made it feel like we were standing on top of the world.  Then, we followed a path through dense forest where the trees joined over our heads. The leaves we stepped on were as long as our arms. Moss covered the trees and water was running everywhere. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

After a fairly steep climb, we came to a cheese factory. There was a cozy room with a fireplace where we drank tea and tasted the goods. We ended up buying an eight pound wheel of creamy white yak cheese. It's heavy but delicious.

Jan 17

Yesterday it rained for the first time. Clarence doesn't have his raincoat with him, so it was good that we got to a hotel/house early. We spent the evening reading by candlelight. Just before we got into bed, I noticed a huge spider on the wall. It was the size of my open hand. This completely unnerved me and when I heard the rats running around later, I just couldn't stand it. I stood up in my bag and hopped over to Clarence's bed. It was so narrow, we were clinging to the edge. I slept like a baby. I found the walking today hard - my knee was really aching. Hopefully, it will be better tomorrow.

Jan 18

My knee was still quite sore today. The walk was hard, being steep both uphill and downhill. We never got to Lukla until 4 o'clock. We're staying at a fairly nice place. Though we're sharing the room with a Nepalese family, it's clean and there's no smoke. We're having chicken and fried noodles for supper. We bought a whole bunch of mandarin oranges today, so we'll have some for dessert.

Just met a boy from France. Its so nice to talk to different people at night, though I find it irritating to walk with people other than Clarence. Only one and a half days until we have rest at Namche Bazaar.

Jan 19

There's not much to say except that I didn't sleep well, and I ate my last chocolate bar.

Jan 20

We arrived in Namche Bazaar, where we'll stay for a few days before heading to Everest base camp. This place is great! The food is good (Yak steak, pancakes, cheese toast!) and there are lots of friendly tourists. We're having a great time sitting around talking.

Jan 21

The food was very good, but I was sick all night because I ate too much. Cheese toast and cake for lunch, yak steak and potatoes, pancakes and cake for supper. It served me right. But it was just so nice to eat good food. I had trouble breathing in the night, because of the altitude. Both Clarence and I woke up in the night gasping. It's like our bodies won't breathe involuntarily anymore. Today was a lot better. I took it easier on the food. Had a pleasant and relaxing day at Namche.

Jan 22

We started for the base camp today. We only walked four hours, though, to the Tangboche Monastery because we had to go down a thousand feet and then up three. At thirteen thousand feet, you really feel it. You can hear every breath you take, and it feels like someone is holding you back when you walk. I really enjoyed it, though. It was cloudy today but tomorrow we should have our first good look at mount Everest. Now that we've walked over 150 miles, I finally feel that we're working toward something. I guess walking for the sake of walking isn't my bag, though its been an incredible experience. We will stay at Tangboche one more day to get acclimatized, and then go on. I don't mind because its a really cozy place.

Jan 23

Spent a really nice day sitting around reading, going for walks and talking. The first thing I did was to sing happy birthday to Cindy. I did the same for Jennifer in December. I can't believe Cindy is nineteen.

There's another couple here that we meet every few days along the way. We all get along pretty well. We also visited a Buddhist monastery.  It was really disappointing, because even though it was very picturesque on the outside, it was really musty and deserted looking on the inside. Most of the monks had left for the winter.

I think we'll spend a few days here on the way back. Our place is so clean and comfortable. I just love it.

Jan 24

We started for Perouche today. It was about a four hour walk. I found it very difficult. It's only fourteen thousand feet, but feels like twenty. However, we rested at another monastery and I felt a lot better. This monastery was more rewarding. There were lots of monks and the place really had atmosphere. One monk was so covered up, he looked like Obi Wan Kano be from Star Wars. The Llama was there, with a shaved head and two gold earrings. They chanted in deep voices. Best of all was the hand and scalp of an abominable snowman that they had saved, like relics.

We got to Perouche and had a great supper of rice, sauce and vegetables. It was the coldest night yet, and I wore my down pants for the first time.

Jan 25

Spent the day resting, but it wasn't very restful. In the house we're staying in, there were four little puppies and a mean boy who constantly hit them. I couldn't do anything because his mother encouraged him, though I told her what I thought. Later, he started to choke on a piece of food and I just said 'choke, you little asshole.' Maybe its the altitude. To make matters worse, our guide thought I was mad at him and I had to apologize over and over, which I wasn't in the mood to do. Later, when we went to bed, I spent the night gasping for air.

Jan 26

Today we walked from Perouche to Labouche, which is our last camping stop. From here we will climb to Mount Khalapatar and the Everest Base Camp, and then return for the night. We'll just rest for today, though, because we climbed 2000 feet and are now at 16,000 feet. Even though I have trouble breathing when I sleep, I have no altitude sickness. I feel proud, because many people at this point suffer headaches and nausea. Clarence, of course, is doing the trip in leaps and bounds. Yesterday, on our rest day, he climbed a small mountain of a mere 18,000 feet. He is not the norm, however.

Jan 27

Spent a very poor night becaue of the many mice. You'd think that by this time my paranoia would have been overcome, but not so. Clarence never slept well either, so we were both very tired at 7 this morning when we started out. it was just getting light, and very cold, at least -25. We were dressed warmly in down pants, jackets, wool hats and mitts.

Although we had passed the tree line three days ago, only the highest mountains have snow. The ground is brown and rocky. As we neared Khalapatar and the Base Camp, the rock piles became higher and we could see the glacier. Small lakes looked like craters, and with the mountains around us, we could have been on the moon. It was barren looking, yet really spectacular. The hard part of the climb came two hours after we left Laboucher. From here it was straight up, climbing1500 feet. The first half was tiring, but not difficult. The second half was very rocky and we had to climb using our hands. It took an hour and a half for the second part. For both Clarence and I, it was the hardest thing we've ever done. It would have been hard at a lower elevation, but at 18,000 feet, it was so bad. We found it very difficult to breath. When we got to the top, we crawled under an overhanging rock and had a long rest. We ate lunch, (hard to do when you can't breathe!) rested some more and looked down at Base camp and up at Mount Everest, feeling that the whole thing had really been worthwhile.

It was tricky going down but much easier. When we got to the base camp, we rested and then started for Labouche. We were really tired, especially Clarence. But we were jubilant. We had succeeded!

Jan 28

Slept well, but was still tired today. We walked from Labouche to Thangboche, a distance of twelve miles. We did it in four hours, up and down, convinced for some reason that we were in good enough shape. We were exhausted when we got here. We got two pans of hot water and washed ourselves. Our faces hadn't touched water in three days, so we really needed it.

We'll rest here another day, because it really is beautiful. it's so warm, and there are trees. Then, we'll go to Namche for two days and then Lukla, where we'll fly back to Kathmandu.

Jan 29

Spending a relaxing but boring day here in Tangboche. It's rather crowded in here right now because a trekking group has come to warm up. They sleep in tents but sit around in here all day. It annoys me because we pay for the heat. I had an argument with an American, which put me in a bad moood. Also, its my twenty-fifth birthday and there's nothing to do. I'm kind of depressed. I'm getting too old to make a big deal out of it anyway. At least Clarence remembered to say Happy Birthday.

I'm homesick right now. I want to fly back to Kathmandu. Mostly, I want to go home.

Jan 30

My evening was much better than my afternoon. Met some very cheerful Australians and spent the rest of the day talking and playing cards. At least it took away my homesickness.

Today, we walked back to Namche Bazaar. We had just arrived when a dust storm blew up. We spent the day sitting around the fire, talking and reading. Some others are staying here, a couple I like but find rather odd. She swears she only married him so he could get a job in Canada. (He's Australian.) He has all these weird ideas about keeping healthy. Every morning, he drinks a large glass of his own urine. I've seen him do it, otherwise I wouldn't believe it.

Jan 31

Today, we walked our final leg of the journey to Lukla. It only took five hours because we went very fast. We're anxious to fly back to Kathmandu. The trip has been wonderful in so many ways, but we're tired, very dirty and ready for a change.

Clarence has asked about changing our flying date. We're not supposed to fly until the 4th, but we wnat to leave tomorrow. They say maybe, if two planes come instead of one. And if the weather is good.

Feb 1

Woke up to a very cloudy sky. We were certain that we wouldn't be leaving but decided to pack anyway. What a surprise, not one but three planes were coming! It took a while to weigh our baggage and collect boarding passes from the dark little hut that passes for an airport. Before we knew it, we were flying towards Kathmandu. I really didn't know if we'd make it or not. The runway was so short, the plane a small Twin Otter, but we had a skillful pilot. All the passengers screamed when we took off, falling off the mountain into space. It was a lot of fun.

It was sad flying in half an hour what took twenty-four days to walk. Such long distances and steep climbs, I just can't believe what we've done. I'm fitter than I've ever been in my life and Clarence's jeans come off without him undoing the fly or button. I guess its been good for us. We figured it out and we actually walked about 250 miles, with 19 walking days and 5 rest days. Not bad, really. What an experience. Now, for a hot shower and sauna, clean clothes, good food and the mail! How's that for a happy ending?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Northern Exposure

I live a comfortable life. It's not something that I take for granted, either. Oprah and Jesus said to count my blessings daily, and I do. But every now and then the reality of life in the north leaves me feeling vulnerable. Like the other day.  We were just a few hours into our long drive from Flin Flon to Calgary. My early morning fruit shake, cup of tea, and half bottle of water were making their presence known. My husband kept telling me to just hold on.We were almost at the next stop. I was holding on, but I am, after all, a woman of a certain age.

The thermometer outside the car said it was thirty-six below. So I tried to wait. In the end, (no pun intended) I used  the hardy Northerner's portapotty, otherwise known as The Side of the Road.  This activity calls for all kinds of special abilities. A well balanced crouch, proper maneuvering of a long jacket, and eagle eyes that can watch for cars coming from both directions. I can't rely on my husband, who waits comfortably in the driver's seat. In fact, he's more likely to take the car and drive it ten yards down the road as a joke. Ha Ha.

Then there's the letdown problem. Squatting outside on the coldest day of the year does not encourage a relaxed attitude. Or a relaxed anything, for that matter. I felt a sudden kinship with Woody Allen. In that moment, I could have used a good therapy session. "I'm the second oldest of seven children," I'd say. "I hardly ever got to use the bathroom."  In spite of my dejected spirits and physical discomfort, Mother Nature finally worked her magic.

 I climbed back into the car and we continued our journey. There were more wonderful winter moments along the way. The two of us in shirtsleeves outside of the Kindersley Tim Horton's, screaming at each other as we ran to the car. "Unlock the door! YOU have the keys! No, YOU have the keys. We had to laugh. Mostly because it was so cold, tears would have frozen on our cheeks.

We've used the outdoor facilities all over Asia, Europe and North America. Even Clarence's bout of stomach flu that left him squatting in the Khyber Pass while rifle toting bandits watched in the distance was not as uncomfortable as our cold northern experience. More dangerous. But a lot warmer. We've had other disconcerting bathroom experiences. But I'll leave those for another time. Potty Talk, anyone?