Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Truth About Hipster Beards


Once upon the new millennium, a guy looked at a photo of Sigmund Freud and said to himself, my facial hair envy is out of control. I must have that beard. I'll shag it up, grow it longer, and throw testosterone around like a final sale at Sears. In an alternate scenario, the same man saw some Amish people driving their buggies into town and was taken aback by the manly ruggedness of it all. Overwhelmed by the desire to join a cult, instead he decided to skip the buggy, the plain clothes and pants that button instead of zip, and grow himself some long, shaggy facial hair. Third option: Tom Hanks in the movie, Cast Away. There it is. The winning look. A magical combination of irony and soul baring honesty. Bingo.

These are the only scenarios I can come up with that will explain the strange phenomena of the hipster beard. I had my first sighting of it in 2012 at my niece Heather's wedding. The fellow was visiting from New Zealand, and my first thought was that he was an actor from the Lord of the Rings movies. His beard had to be at least eighteen inches in length, and fluffy in an eerie and disturbing way. I expected birds to fly out from hidden nests, or a swarm of wasps to descend, the lights to go out and strange maniacal laughter to issue from his lips.This man had a very pretty wife with him. I kept staring at her, wishing I could take her aside.  'I can help you escape,' I wanted to say.

I've read several explanations for the rise of the hipster beard. One theory is that men want to downplay their attractiveness and up their masculine quotient in a bid to find a mate. Others suggest that if a man dresses too well, the beard is his way of saying, I know. I'm awesome, but in case it's too much, here's this beard. You're welcome.

I like beards. My husband has one, and though I wish it was a little less scruffy, it could never be considered hipster. Combined with his Crocs and oversized wardrobe, his style says, 'Not homeless, just admiring the look.' It's an unironic thing.

Ladies, let me know what you think. Perhaps younger women are on board with hipster beards. Maybe its just me. Perhaps snuggling up to eighteen inches of facial hair is a real turn on. I'd like to know for sure. And men with hipster beards, please weigh in on this. I have a feeling there's more to it than meets the eye. And no. I'm not talking about the birds.




Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Murder, She Wrote

A few weeks ago we harvested our generous tomato crop, set the produce inside the house and left town. Upon our return, a problem emerged in a very literal way. As I stepped into the upstairs bathroom, a cloud of fruit flies mistook me for a rotten banana and swarmed like a death cloud. "Fruit flies in the bathroom!" I gasped to my husband.

'Uh huh,' he said, not looking up from his magazine.

"Seriously, we're being overrun. They must have come in with the tomatoes." 

Not drawing a smidgen of interest, I asked myself several questions. Why the bathroom? Why not the dining room, or even the kitchen? I hadn't left any fruit out, the garbage had been emptied. There was truly only the tomatoes to feast on. Yet the flies clung to the bathroom like those creepy, haunting children in horror movies. Not that I've seen them. I'm way too chicken for that. 

First, I tried to lure them with a cheap solution: apple cider vinegar. A few flies went for it, but most just danced around my head. Obviously a bigger sacrifice was required. Opening a bottle of red wine, I poured several glassfuls and placed them strategically around the bathroom. Over the next few days, the flies began to drown themselves. The trick was to not reward them with wine streaking the sides of the glass. They had to swoop down so the intoxicating smell could lure them to their deaths.

Every time I do something like this, I find myself thinking, dear God, don't let reincarnation be true. Because then, I'm a serial killer. I find myself whispering, 'Grandpa, is that you?' when I see a fruit fly trying to swim for it. That's the problem with being a writer. No scenario is too implausible. I have mixed feelings about killing bugs, anyway, except for mosquitoes. When carrying a spider out of the house I'd say to my kids, 'When they take over the world, they'll remember their friends.' (Note to self: a crying four year old does not understand this kind of joking.)

Anyway, back to the mercenary task at hand. We were so overrun, it took a whole bottle of wine to do the job. When there are too many dead floaters, the other fruit flies catch on, so you have to keep refreshing their drink. I tried placing the glasses in certain spots, but kept them away from the toilet for reasons stated in a previous blog; I don't like interruptions to my mini-vacation and reading time.

It's important to use a drinking glass instead of a wine bottle, because people have been known to accept the open bottle invitation and take a swig. On the other hand, it's another way of letting your partner know that fruit flies are a problem.



















Monday, October 9, 2017

Risky Business

In our mid-twenties, my husband suggested we quit our teaching jobs to travel through Asia from Turkey to Nepal. The Encounter Overland company would supply the tents, food, converted army truck, and eighteen more people from all over the world. I pictured myself on this exciting new adventure, tanned and fit in my new hiking books and British army wool sweater.

I got the boots, the tan and the sweater, but while lying in a tent somewhere in India with a rampant case of dysentery, I truly began to understand myself. I hate being uncomfortable. It wasn't the cold, or the rats (which came later in the Himalayas) or the camping. It was the unexpected twists in our journey that kept taking me by surprise. I'm someone who enjoys a well ordered, nine to five kind of life. But every other person on the trip was exactly like Clarence. 'Bring it on!' was their attitude, though we all did our fair share of whining. How many times did we push that army truck out of the sand, ditch, field, etc? I truly don't want to know.

As I lay feverish in the tent, wearing my tenth and last pair of underwear, I realized that I was a fraud. I was there simply because I married a very adventurous person. The kind of guy that rests on the ground under a tree in the Canadian bush, closes his eyes and goes to sleep. Meanwhile, I apply bug spray and sunblock, find a mat and cushion, have a good book to read and plenty of snacks on hand while being on constant alert for bears.
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But here's what I gained from our Asian journey:

*Seeing the stars in that same field in India, so thick that the black velvet sky could barely peek through.

*Kissing my husband in front of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

*Rowing on the Ganges river while Hindu people in colourful clothing scattered the ashes of their loved ones.


*Seeing the Bamyan Buddhas before they were blown up by the Taliban, then taking a horse and carriage ride through the valley where Alexander the Great once traveled.

*Watching Clarence perform the chicken dance when trying to procure dinner at various shops. Every now and then we'd get some kind of meat, but first there was plenty of laughter from the shop owners.

* Being banished to the back of the truck when leaving Kabul because of a stomach ailment we called 'The Egg burps,' a truly foul type of belching that affected myself, Bill, and a few others. This was before the dysentery and should have clued me in about eating street meat.

*Seeing the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Floating around misty Srinagar Dal Lake in Kashmir on a small boat.

*Hearing someone mention Paul Bergman of Flin Flon, while sitting on the floor of a restaurant in Kathmandu.

*Hiking to the base camp of Mount Everest and staying in the simple huts of the Nepalese people. My best tip? Never sleep in the kitchen, because like I said before, rats. Although I've heard they have hotels there now, which kind of breaks my heart.

*Watching the sun set on the Gulf of Thailand like a giant orange ball after recovering from sun stroke that was so bad, I couldn't walk. All I can say is, don't fall asleep on the beach in the middle of the afternoon.

*Hiking the golden triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma and seeing a sign that said, 'Please watch out for the murder maybe.'

*Experiencing Asia at a time when it was still relatively safe to do so. Following on our heels was the Iranian revolution, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, conflict in Kashmir, and political instability everywhere else.

*A respect for people like Clarence, whose ongoing curiosity about the world and its citizens keeps them traveling to distant shores and making friends around the world. I pretended to be one for eight months and experienced an awesome adventure I will never forget.

*Meeting strangers who became dear friends. Going through crazy, sometimes dangerous circumstances, and still laughing about it when we're together. I salute you, my intrepid adventurers. I know you're having a wonderful time at the reunion in Brighton, England. For some reason, I picture you all in 1920's bathing suits, cavorting, drinking wine and probably doing the Charleston. May God bless you all. And please live through the reunion so you can tell me all about it.

 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Got Culture?

Culture Days, an end of September cross Canada celebration, is a wild weekend party and an endurance test that I have failed. I'm down with the flu, but Crystal Kolt has to be feeling even tougher. She spends the whole weekend running through the streets of Flin Flon shouting, 'You've got culture! You've got culture! You've got.... Well. You get the idea. She's like Oprah with the car giveaway, only she does this with five thousand people plus. I can't list all the events because there was 120 of them, but every year she manages to persuade people to host yet another one. Be a mime! Wear a costume and parade down Main Street while telling stories! The only person who can match her energy is her husband Mark, who travels from venue to venue, toting his piano and sound equipment, his jaw set like a hero in an action movie. 

I spent Friday morning at Culture's Kool for Kids. And the kids really do think it's cool. After recovering, I went to the Hooter at 5 for for some live entertainment. I haven't been there since my twenties so I had a gin and tonic with sister Linda, to celebrate. We sat in front of a big wooden bench with an owl on it, carved by local musician and artist, Wayne Deans. There were a number of talented performers, and my youngest sang a couple songs while I tried not to pee my pants out of sheer nervousness. She sold it. (Insert motherly pride here.)

I never miss the Talking Books event at our local library. Basically, the librarian clears the counter with one arm and starts loading on the wine and cheese with the other. Like every other year, the speakers tucked in various corners of the library were fascinating. Pat Bruderer carries on the ancient tradition of Birch bark biting with pieces so lovely and thin, you can see through them. When I asked if she could bite the bark and watch TV  at the same time, she said no. Then she paused. 'Yeah. I probably could. The design work happens inside your brain.' By this point my friend Kate was pulling me away while mumbling things like, 'She can't help it.'

Our new dentist, Tarun Babiani, sings and dances, sometimes combining the two to the delight of his patients, and is one of the loveliest people to ever move to this northern town. He's from Dubai, but he likes the cold. Yes, it's true. Long time Flin Flonner Randy Whitbread is a fantastic photographer whose Northern Lights series makes you feel like God took the picture.  Kristy Janvier has traveled the world as a Disney princess and a dancer. There were other speakers, and everyone had a large audience of cheese and cracker munching listeners.

I missed the three drummers jamming at the Rotary Wheel and a ton of other events on Friday.  But I could feel a tickle at the back of my throat and wanted to pace myself. Ha! Saturday morning started with all kinds of events at the Rotary Wheel, first with a blessing, some hoop dancing, Aboriginal crafts for kids, and an appearance by our Community choir. We sang the Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations' while Crystal urged others to conduct us. I couldn't see so I made a lot of mistakes in spite of our local optometrist and fellow singer holding my book for me.

Have you noticed a theme here, people? It's hard to move to Flin Flon and not join the choir, or Ham Sandwich, or any artistic and sometimes athletic endeavors that flourish in this town. I like to approach new people like a spy seeking new contacts.

"Can you sing? '
'A little,' the newcomer replies, looking puzzled. Slightly fearful.
Okay, you're in.' Unfortunately, some people now run in the other direction when they see me coming.

A singing group called Borealis put on an event at a church which featured a children's choir. The kid's sound was tight and their expressions hilarious. But Borealis blew me away. As I drove home, I had a dream. (The kind where your eyes are open because, you know-- you're driving.)

I dreamt that Borealis was going to follow me home, live in my house, and interpret my every mood with a song. I can just see them huddled in the upstairs hallway, all twenty-five of them holding whispered conversations.

Tim: 'Is she feeling nostalgic?' (Wearing his most interesting and enthusiastic expression. Everyone in choir knows what I mean.)
Penny: I think that's her pissed off face. Let's sooth her with that song about the woods.
Angela: I know she really appreciates the sopranos, (I do!) so let's sing something high.'
Susan: Oh, for heaven's sake. We're not living at your house!' (She's my sister, so she gets to be a little testy.)
I would love having Borealis on call at all times. I can picture its members reading this, hastily packing their bags and leaving town.

The Wild Things outdoor market at Creekside park was a hit. The day was beautiful, the trees glorious shades of orange and yellow. I spent way too much money buying art, pottery and several food items. I could take out Andre the Giant with my pail of honey. My daughter Mari and her friend, Andi, had a vintage clothing tent where they sold things like old trunks (from our messy garage! Yaaay!) and 70's disco dresses. They worked like dogs before the show but it was worth it.

Saturday afternoon, I went to Raphael's zany play, Waiting for Trudeau. I felt like I'd dropped acid and then fallen down a rabbit hole, which may account for all the giggling. For anyone who remembers the seventies, it was reminiscent of Firesign Theater.

I worked behind the bar at Wild Rice Night. Here's the thing about all 24 entertainers and the musicians. They were racing through the Culture Days weekend like their hair was on fire. Most of them had more than one gig and by Sunday, were lurching around like zombies. We take our artists for granted. It's because they never let us down.

I saw many of them at the heart of our Culture Day's weekend, the Dance Down Main Street. Kristy Janvier taught us the moves to Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagac's latest tune, You Got to Run. We followed  the children and the Flin Flon Bomber's down the street, and I have to give those boys credit for their moves. I was directly behind them and they kept me on track. By the time the dance ended, I was done in.

Sadly, I missed the Tiff movie, Maudie, which everyone's been raving about, and Mark's playing at Norva with Tarun singing and Kristy Janvier performing interpretive dance. I was already feeling feverish, but I have no regrets. Culture Days is an experience not to be missed. I'm going to steal some photos from my friend Noelle, a  fantastic photographer, and post them here. Please share your best memories of the weekend, friends.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing, crowd and outdoorImage may contain: 2 people, child and outdoor




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Break Down

While traveling through Asia in a converted army truck with a group of zany folks from around the world, we were almost through Turkey when we broke down in a small Kurdish village called Yuksekova. The guidebook we used said not to stop there. Not for lunch, not for tea. It's larger now, and more cosmopolitan, but back then it was a scary place to spend seven days.

We pitched our tents in a circle around the truck to avoid having any of our gear stolen. Clarence and I thought we were prepared. No. In our summer sleeping bags and thin rain jackets, we froze as the temperature went below zero Celsius every night. I've never been so cold, and I'm from northern Manitoba.

We actually invited another couple to sleep in our tent, for the shared body heat. Clarence and I put his sleeping bag over mine and squeezed into that small rectangle together. Our tent cot collapsed, of course. But it was actually warmer on the ground. To this day I'm an inveterate night time pee-er, so of course, around 2 or 3 AM, I'd have to go outside the tent. All the villagers were sleeping, but the packs of wild dogs that roamed the countryside were not. They would circle the village, growling and barking. Clarence would come outside with me and count down. "They're about fifty feet away. Forty, thirty...hurry up. They're almost here...hurry!"

Do you know how hard it is to pee under that kind of time restraint? I remember diving into the tent with the dogs snapping at our heels. We'd laugh out of sheer terror, then try to go back to sleep.  It was so cold! When traveling, it was nothing for us to get up at 4:30, shiver as the cooking crew of the day made breakfast and then squeeze together in the back of the truck, our laundry hanging above our heads.

Meanwhile, in Yuksekova, every day a crowd would gather at the wall behind our truck for their favorite entertainment: Us. At first, the people seemed fairly benign. The kids would jeer and the old men cat call, but we weren't too worried. All the women on our truck were wearing scarves so as not to offend the locals. But it soon became apparent that we could not walk around freely. We had designated bathroom breaks where the guys from our truck would encircle us as we walked over to the local outdoor biffy. This was a shack with a set of footprints on the cement  that you crouched over and did your business. Unfortunately, many people had poor aim, so you had to watch where you stepped. While we walked inside our circle of men, the people of the village would throw things at us. It was very discouraging.

There was a fellow we took to calling Omar, (he reminded us of the actor, Omar Sharif) who would ride up on a big white horse and stare at us with a very intense look in his eyes. It was the children that were the most annoying, and through sheer boredom, our behavior became quite childish as we started hollering things like, 'The Kurds are turds!' Etc. On behalf of myself and my husband, I would like to apologize to the Kurdish people. They're a brave lot and none of us were at our finest that week.

It's weird when someone perceives you to be something you are not. All the women on our truck were thought to be hired prostitutes, because what self respecting woman would travel around like this? I'm careful with how I think about people from other cultures, now, because I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. That's the great thing about travel. You think about Canada, and feel so deeply grateful. Hot water. Peace. Acceptance. No wonder refugees want to live here.

Anyway, one evening after supper, except for the guys who went to phone the British Embassy and the other guys who were scouring the country side for truck parts, the rest of us were sitting in the truck feeling very sorry for ourselves. Suddenly, all the men from the village showed up and started to rock the vehicle from side to side. Clarence was there with us and I remember standing in the middle, clutching him and crying, 'We're going to die in Yuksekova! Oh my God!' I'm sure that was another instance where my mother was praying. Eventually they tired of scaring the crap out of us and went on their way. We tried bribing the village police with whisky, etc, but aside from accepting our gifts, they weren't really all that much help.

On what I remember as our last night there, some local teachers from a nearby boarding school came and offered to host us for the night. We were thrilled! We folded up our sleeping bags and brought everything we owned so it wouldn't be stolen. Clarence and I were offered a ride which we gratefully accepted. My husband got in the front with the driver, and I was ushered into the middle of the back seat. Two teachers sat with me, one on each side. I felt completely safe and comfortable until they attacked me. They were literally ripping my clothes off and Clarence had to shout at them and tell them that I belonged to him. He didn't bother saying I was his wife, because they'd never have believed it. But they stopped. I kept thinking, these guys are teachers!

Culturally, we might have been from Mars. When members of the Iranian army drove into the village to take us across the border (a tale that needs its own post) I remember how courteous they were. They were all young, like us, and seemed happy to meet us. The Shah was about to be kicked out, and the country was going to change, but that day was wonderful.

Turkey is a beautiful country and Istanbul was very modern at the time. Women often wore no head covering at all. We went to Turkish baths where stone lion heads gushed water and where we reclined on a large marble dais in the center and were washed by women wearing loin cloths. It was very biblical.

When we went to another small town and asked if they had baths for women, they said yes! Very excitedly. We arrived at the baths (wearing our bathing suits, just in case) and every man in town was there, lining the walls and awaiting our arrival. Our guys stood in a circle behind us and held up their towels so we could have a semi private wash. Good times.

Other highlights from Turkey:

Clarence jumping into Peter's arms in Lake Van when he saw an octopus in the water. The beauty of it was how gracefully Peter caught him.

A hail storm that delivered hail the size of hardball's and sent us into hiding with pots over our heads.

Our friend and fellow traveler, Lynn Olson, being chased down the beach by an old man brandishing a burning piece of wood (He wants to kill me! she said. No one has ever screamed that loud, since,) because we didn't know all the driftwood was his. 

Turkish bazaars, (lovely!) Turkish Delight (yuck!) Fantastic scenery and an unforgettable experience. No breakdown will ever be as memorable. So, dear friends who are gathering for another reunion, here's to great memories. I'll write some more, soon.




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Heart

A month ago, my husband had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected and taught me something I didn't know about myself. (Yes, I've made this all about me.) I realized that when life takes a dystopian turn, I don't panic. I just become very stupid. Uhhhhhhhhhh, is what goes through my head. Or something like it.

I remember calling for an ambulance, clearing a path for the paramedics through our garage, and trying to calm my husband who was busy barking out orders. Stressful situations bring out the sergeant in him, the strict kind. Think Lou Gossett Jr. in 'An Officer and A Gentleman.' While he bellowed from the basement sofa, I was being prompted by the 911 operator to ask him questions. 'Are you clammy? Where is the pain? How is your breathing?' Meanwhile, he's trying to grab the phone and holler, 'Just send the damned ambulance!' They were already on their way, but try telling that to Lou Gossett Jr.

We got to the hospital and the questions continued. 'How bad is your pain from a scale of one to ten, with one being the weakest and ten the strongest?' The air turned so blue, I thought about opening some windows. They asked this every five minutes. When he realized it was protocol, he settled down.

Meanwhile, the doctor in emergency  asked me about my husband's medication. Proudly, I opened my purse. While they were loading Clarence into the ambulance, I'd calmly walked around and packed up the necessary items. So when I unzipped the top, I was dismayed to find only the creature comforts I'd brought for myself: my kindle and some dark chocolate. 'I always carry these in case of an emergency,' I said. 'You know, in case I'm waiting and I get bored or hungry.' Dear reader, do you ever listen to yourself and think, I'm a total asshole? It was that kind of moment. Fortunately, they had his medication info in the system.

On the air ambulance to Winnipeg, my husband discussed politics with the nurse the whole way. Finally, about fifteen minutes out, the guy turned to me and said, 'I'll give him some fentanyl just to shut him up.' We exchanged a look of understanding and I went back to reading my kindle. You see? Always bring one with you! I may have secretly nibbled on some chocolate as well.

It took a while for them to put in the stents and by the time he was settled in bed, it was late. Clarence was was positively cheerful at that point. I left with my sister, Jennifer, part of my wonderful built in support system, aka The Hanson Family. It was the next morning that was an eye opener.

I got there late because I felt like I was moving through molasses. You know the feeling when you can't seem to speed up, even though you're in a hurry? Then, I couldn't find the right parking lot. I had a panicked feeling in my chest, and when I walked into his room and saw that he was in a world of pain, I completely lost it. As it turned out, that wasn't a bad thing. Standing in the hallway crying to a nurse didn't hurt. They got an anesthetist to come up with a pain plan that worked very well.

But that morning I faced the realization that my husband might die. The thought of living without him blocked out every other good thing in my life. It was a total eclipse of the heart. My heart, not his. I've faced this before, as he continues scaring the crap out of me with all his health related shenanigans.

I'm a little bit like him when I'm stressed. "What's next,' I asked him, 'leprosy?' I guess I sounded a little testy because I got a few strange looks from the nurse. It reminded me of Clarence's auntie Gladys when her husband stopped breathing one night. They didn't know about sleep apnea, back then, but she walloped him one and said, 'You're not dying and leaving me with this mess, you son of a bitch.' Which is the Krysowaty way of saying, 'I love you.'

All is well at the moment. We've battened down the hatches, we're gearing up for winter, and praying for all this damn smoke from forest fires to go away. Things could have been worse. He might have had his heart attack in Houston during all the flooding. As we sat in my sister's comfortable house, I remember feeling so grateful for it, and for her.  In life there will always be chocolate, but also aggravation. Those small and big moments that make up everyone's story. If we're lucky, we'll experience things that are so awesome, they should be accompanied by a carload of screaming cheerleaders.

And the dark times, those moments of total eclipse where the world is dark and we're uncertain about what will happen next? We all have them. The days when life hands us lemons and we cannot bring ourselves to make lemonade. We let those suckers rot on the shelf because doing the necessary work feels like rolling a boulder uphill. But. We can live our lives in small moments. In pockets of joy that spring up constantly, if only we choose to notice them. To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, "Always say yes to the present moment. Always dwell in the now." So if you see me standing somewhere with a goofy look on my face, know that I'm there. And I'm willing to share my chocolate.
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/eckhart_tolle.html
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/eckhart_tolle.html



Friday, September 8, 2017

Two Shots of Happy

When Clarence and I were traveling through Asia with Encounter Overland, we camped in a field in Turkey across from the Greek island of Lesbos. We were new to the group, maybe a week in, and as we set up our tents and built a campfire, someone brought out a bottle of Turkish vodka.

Another someone found a package of tang and we started mixing drinks. It was on this particular night that my friends Lorna, Lynn, Peta and I started singing together. We were promptly dubbed the Lesbos sisters, and continued annoying the whole group for the next three months.

But on that night we were in fine form. As we drank our way through the bottle, we gradually ran out of tang. 'It's so smooth!' we said. 'You don't even need mix!' Some of the more sensible campers went to bed, but the Lesbos sisters remained behind, serenading anyone who happened to be in the area.

To quote the bible, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Like the sheepherders of old, they were drawn in by some angels singing; ie: the Lesbos Sisters. I can't remember exactly when they joined us, but I have a pretty good idea why.

Folks,when I was twenty-four, there were some things about the world that I didn't understand yet.

1. I have a meagre capacity for drinking alcohol.
2. I would miss these singing sisters for the rest of my life.
3. Drinking straight vodka makes you blind for a day.
4. Shepherds who want to show you their sheep are just like guys who invite you over to see their etchings. Or, in the case of my husband, their aquarium.

Fortunately, my sisters were watching out for me. I think it was Peta who dragged me back from the edge of a field and out of the clutches of some eager shepherds. And I'm sure that back in Flin Flon, my mother was sitting up in bed, crying, "Save her, God! She's a bit of an idiot!" Apparently both she and Clarence's mother wore out their knees with all the praying over our eight month vacation.

The next day, the others in the group got very tired of hearing me whine, 'I'm blind! I can't see!' I'm almost positive there was some serious mockery going on right in front of my face. And who could blame them? For one thing, we drank all the tang. And I'm fairly sure the vodka was for meant for bribing border guards and not for gilding the throats of our girl's group.

Folks from that trip are having another reunion in England this fall, and I'm grieved we won't be there. But expect more stories to come your way, my intrepid, beloved friends. They're my way of saying that I miss you all.

And now, a photo of the Lesbos sisters followed by the appropriate song.






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VQOOHfpArc

Monday, August 14, 2017

Game of Thrones

Our upstairs bathroom toilet has been breaking my spirit for over a year now. Nothing flushed on the first try, or even the second. No problem if the contents were yellow, because we're kind of mellow people, anyway. But when it's brown...well. It's a big faker, that toilet. Lots of swirling, then nothing. 'Just kidding,' it would sneer. You'd stand there, finger on the flapper, and feel your life slipping by.

We had to remember to tell our guests about it. Otherwise we'd end up standing outside the bathroom door saying things like, 'Don't be alarmed, but..." Yeah. Once, I was at a gas station washroom with a long lineup of people waiting outside the door. The toilet would not flush. I took the lid off the tank and tried fiddling with things. Nothing. Finally, I had to leave and naturally, I blamed the person who went before me. 'Some people,' I said while scurrying to my car.

Our toilet needed constant scrubbing. My rubber gloves and environmentally friendly cleaner had a permanent place on top of the sink since there was no point in putting them away. And I had to run in there every time someone dropped by and give it a going over.

Finally, my wish came true and we ordered a new one. I decided I wanted a super deluxe toilet with two environmentally friendly flushing buttons and the sucking action of an inverted tornado. We were going over budget, skipping the American Standard for a different kind whose name I don't know because we accidentally threw out all the packaging. It started with a C.

Enter the super flow all in one toilet with a lid that floats down to touch the seat with a gentle caress. It has a wide neck that can swallow a T shirt with no problem. My only concern was how high the thing looked in the picture. We measured me from the knee down and discovered that my feet would touch the ground with about an inch to spare. We ordered it and waited semi-patiently for it to arrive. It took a while.

The day it came, I crooned like a Disney princess dancing in a meadow with a back up chorus of mice. Once the singing was done, it was time for installation. Afterward, I stood back and admired it. Compared to our old toilet, it looked like the Starship Enterprise, but with a different theme song. Randy Bachman's 'Taking Care of Business,' fit nicely.

After the toilet glue had set, I sat down to see how it felt. It was different. The bowl was a big oval, and the beautiful seat that lowers in a timely but majestic fashion was a little thicker than normal. The result? Only my toes could touch the floor.

Well. I loved the new toilet, but for comfort's sake, I'd have to read my magazines somewhere else. And how could I possibly do that? Everyone knows that time in the bathroom does not count as sloughing off. It's a human need. Plus, we have a furnace register right beside the toilet. Since I like to keep the thermometer low to save money, the bathroom is our cozy winter retreat. Our Florida mini-vacation.

I didn't want to complain about it, so I told my husband, in a very chipper fashion, "I'll just have to get used to it!" As the first week passed, we became even more enamored with its strong flushing ability. And it's pristine-ness. Apparently, it came with its own maid who washed it at night while we're asleep.

But part of me mourned my years as a bathroom magazine reader. All the tips from Writer's Digest, the mood boosts from Oprah. The informative articles from Macleans and strange fiction from the Walrus. Our weekly newspaper, the Reminder, so I'm up to date, locally. Could this affect my mental well being? Would I become like a Trump supporter, ill informed and full of doo doo? 

Then, something magical happened. I sat down one day, accidentally slid to the back of the oval, and immediately felt the change. The back was lower than the front! My whole foot could touch the floor! I shouted out in joy to my husband who never answered because he hates it when I try talking to him from another room. (For some reason, I never seem to learn this particular lesson.)

Now, my life is better than ever. I'll have the warm furnace air in the winter, the conditioned air in summer. At hand, my vast library of magazines and a throne worthy of a queen. My only problem now is leaving the room. Fortunately, Clarence has started using our other bathroom downstairs. It's small and cluttered with paintings, a sword and a number of large seashells. But since he was the decorator, he's fine with it.

FYI: If you ring our doorbell and don't get an answer, we may indeed be home. Chances are, we're catching up on the news, or reading the latest book reviews and the goings on about town. One of us may decide to cut things short and rush to get the door. But my guess is, you'll have to come back later.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

California Girls

When I was seventeen, my sisters Linda, Susan and I traveled to California for the month of August. The furthest we'd been from home was Jasper, Alberta, since our usual family vacation meant going away to the farm. I know. That sounds like a euphemism for being killed. But we truly loved the farm.

Once we'd conned my aunt and uncle into inviting us to stay, we began our journey. A long car trip took us to Saskatoon where we caught the train. We were supposed to ride it all the way to Vancouver, but there was a fire in our dining car. CN flew us to Vancouver, then put us up in a sleeper car for the night. Except for the earache I had on the plane and the six hour wait in Edmonton, it was all an adventure. Then the real excitement began.

We hopped a greyhound bus for the long journey down to San Jose, California, where my uncle Marvin would meet us. We almost got sent back at the border because Susan and I were underage. Fortunately, my sister Linda had a letter from my mother with parental consent plus advice about not talking to strangers. Oh, the irony. There wasn't a hobo, sleazebag or potential serial killer that we didn't chat up over the next few days.

We didn't sit together, not that I can remember. And the places where we had to switch buses were always interesting. Teenage girls can always find someone to entertain them. Nowadays, parents would have nervous breakdowns worrying about three girls on their own. My parents probably thought, 'Three down, four to go.' Just kidding.

When we got to San Jose, my uncle was waiting for us in a pink Cadillac convertible. Our sense of sophistication ratcheted upward, though we probably looked like young hookers driving off with a pimp. But the car top was down, our hair was blowing in the wind, and Linda got to sit in front, like always.

They lived in a distant suburb of San Jose, and man, was it classy. My uncle was a doctor and they had a beautiful house with an Olympic sized pool. That was nothing. We soon met rich folks who had indoor AND outdoor pools. At the time, Flin Flon had nothing like it. We had to take our swimming lessons at Phantom Lake or Denare Beach. The cute life guards partially made up for it, but this! We were in heaven.

Yes, there was some culture shock. Yogurt hadn't reached Flin Flon yet. We were still eating basic meat and potato meals with regular vegetables like carrots, and breakfast cereal like corn flakes. People in these neighborhoods had pet goats so they could make their own yogurt. This makes it sound like a farm community, but it wasn't. Everyone had acreages and did whatever they wanted. Hippies were still in fashion. These were wealthy, pretentious hippies, except for my fabulous aunt and uncle who were part of the dressy cocktail crowd.Think Mad Men, the later years.

Picture three teenage girls from Flin Flon, Manitoba, visiting California for the first time. My oldest sister, Linda, was a beautiful nineteen year old. Long blond hair, long soon to be tanned legs. Susan and I were just inching our way out of the dorky stage, which wasn't helped by our behavior. My aunt and uncle had invited their friend's teenagers over for us to meet, but we were too busy shooting each other off the diving board in a serious game of cops and robbers. Susan also complicated things by using what can only be described as a Eurotrash accent for the whole vacation. It was so annoying, and Linda and I were constantly telling new people that she was faking.

My aunt was thirty-six at the time and drop dead gorgeous. She was the first person to tell me that name calling my sisters wasn't nice. My parents had done their best, but I'm sure having seven children left them wishing we were using weapons instead of words. Just kidding. Anyway, thank you, Auntie Joanie, for your kindness. She and Marvin took us to fabulous restaurants, she let us wear her clothes and wigs, and took us shopping. The beach was amazing, and I got to see my first anorexic person. Coming from such a large family, none of us could imagine a person voluntarily giving up food.

From the visiting teenagers, I learned that we had terrible wardrobes. That the children's section at Flin Flon's Robinson's store wasn't cool. (Susan and I were small for our age.) By the time we left, we had a growing suspicion of just how out of it we were. Many people I attended high school with could have filled me in, but I'm not sure I was ready to hear it, then. Though Debbie St. Goddard did take me aside in the Hapnot school washroom and tell me to try wearing my glasses under my sideburns instead of over. "You have a nice face,' she said kindly. 'Now, doesn't this look better?' Honestly, where did she learn this stuff? I'm still puzzled about it.

One afternoon during our California vacation, I met a thirteen year old who looked like an eighteen year old Ann Margaret. Her makeup and hair were immaculate. Seventeen!' she kept saying to me. 'You can't be!' "This is how a seventeen year old looks where I come from," I lied. Later, I got introduced to my uncle's liquor cabinet and got drunk for the first time and broke a glass in the shower. Why, I'm not certain. My sisters covered up for me, and I'm only able to tell this story because my mother is dead. Susan and I drove our sister Linda crazy. She might have looked the part of the sophisticated teenager, but her idea of risky behavior meant staying up all night to finish her book. Our immature shenanigans did not interest her at all. We couldn't even tempt her into a game of cops and robbers.

For the trip back to Vancouver, my uncle decided to fly us in his small plane. We had one too many people, so Linda flew commercial. When we arrived at my aunt's friend's house, I couldn't get over how other people lived. It was such a beautiful place, and the mom stayed home with the kids and had her own sitting room that her children couldn't enter without knocking first. I hoped my mother wouldn't find out how the other half lived, because we simply didn't have the space for that kind of entitlement.

While in Vancouver, we went to the horse races and sat in the la di da section. (Not sure of the official name.) We all had to dress up, and my uncle bought us champagne. I even got to bet on a horse, but I didn't win. Apparently you're supposed to study the racing book to help figure out your odds.

While there, we met more teenagers with beautiful houses who simply ignored us. By this point, I didn't blame them. 'I know,' I wanted to say. 'We're working on it.' One night the three of us went down to the P&E fairgrounds. We had a blast and flirted with three teenage carnies who had the audacity to show up at our place the next morning with little stuffed animals for us to take home. Susan and Linda were gracious, but I stayed up in my room, horrified. After all, I had a boyfriend at home who wouldn't leave for university for a couple of weeks. That demands a certain standard of behavior, right?

Returning home must have been dull compared to weeks of sun, fun and new experiences. I promptly bought a Beach Boy's album and fake remembered my life as a surfer girl, or possibly someone whose name was Wendy. I'd brought home a new pair of crushed strawberry velvet hipster jeans, a fabulous sweater that I shrank in the wash the following week, a very cool hat that Susan and I shared, and a black unitard that we all fought over for the next few years.

I also remember:

Watching cable TV for the first time.
The almost instant change from day to night compared to the long twilight of the north.
The movie, Love Story, on the largest screen I've seen yet, and the copious tears that followed.
Floating around the pool on large Styrofoam chairs with drink holders. (Explains burglarizing the liquor cabinet.)

My auntie Joanie is still alive, and Jennifer has brought her back to Winnipeg with her. When I see her, I'm going to give her the biggest hug and thank her for putting up with us. She was a saint, but a very fun one.  In honour of our trip and all of our memories, here's a video of the Beach Boys. My aunt looked just like the girl in the polka dot bikini, but blonde.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcrbDYe4qL4










Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Vasectomy Song

After our third baby was born, my husband made the nerve wracking decision to have a vasectomy. Having been through childbirth three times, I had to hide my lip curl at his anxiety. 'Try passing a bowling ball,' I wanted to say. Okay, did say.

His only request was that I accompany him for the procedure. The doctor agreed, but said if I felt light headed, I should leave the room. Seriously, I thought. I've been to the pain Olympics, my friend. This is a day at the fair.

When we got to the hospital, I was handed a gown much like the one my husband was wearing. Only difference, he was lying on a table looking extremely vulnerable. Awww, I thought. Poor guy. He looks apprehensive. I really did feel bad, having morphed from wife mode into mommy mode.

His doctor was a good one, but without the city experience of a thousand previous customers. My Winnipeg brother in law bragged that when he had his vasectomy, it was done in fifteen minutes at his doctor's office, and he obligingly held the family jewels himself.

As per my job description, I stood by Clarence's side and held his hand. The doctor injected some freezing and then we stood around like we were waiting for drinks. When the doctor finally got started, it wasn't long before I realized that the freezing hadn't completely taken hold. I think it was the way Clarence's eyes rolled back in his head whenever there was a tug on the merchandise.

With my husband, no occasion can proceed normally so, before long, he began loudly whistling television theme songs. Judy Betteridge, the nurse, gave him a startled look. I thought to myself, let the crazy games begin. Clarence wanted us to play, 'Guess the Correct Show.'

 "Quick, which one is it?" he gasped. Fortunately, I knew his full repertoire. "Ghost Squad, 1963," I said hurriedly, in case our nurse beat me.  He moved rapidly from song to song while Judy and I began shouting out wild guesses. "Gunsmoke! Bonanza! Gilligan's Island! Surfside Six! The Barney Miller Show! And so on. Mostly older themes.

Meanwhile, unaware they'd booked appointments on the same day, one of his many brothers-in-law was nervously waiting outside the room for his own vasectomy. 'Who's the nut whistling in there?" he asked. "That's your brother in law, Clarence," they said. "Ah," he replied, needing no other explanation.

While all of this was going on, I was indeed growing a little queasy. The doctor had pulled something like a telephone cord out of Clarence's private parts, saying, "What do you think? Cut about this much?" He held his fingers a half inch apart. "I have no idea," I said, gripping the table and ready to faint. My gown was lightly spattered with blood and I truly wanted to leave the room. Don't get me wrong...this was still a walk in the park compared to childbirth. But I wasn't prepared for the reality of it.

In the end, it turned out that the theme songs benefited me as much as him. We laughed, we held hands, and when it was all done, he was fine. At home, we applied the glove of love (rubber glove filled with crushed ice gently resting on the affected area) and watched television, possibly gearing up for the next theme song occasion. Our neighbor, Rick Hall, made up a song about the whole experience and recorded it for us. I can't find my copy, but it's nice that the occasion was marked in such a special way. I hope Rick still has a copy, but since I can't paste his tune here, I'll add the one that Clarence whistled first. If, dear reader, you're a guy with your own vasectomy memories, please feel free to join in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeN8Z4lk-EU




Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Welcome Home

When I think back to moments in my childhood, I always remember three things: playing in the bush, walking out to Phantom Lake, and buying penny candy at Johnny's. These were my favorite summer activities. Winter was a long slog to the gray penitentiary we called Birchview School, broken up by weekends of learning to ski at the club, skating at the Birchview bunkhouse, and driving our parents crazy with our shenanigans inside the house.

Summer was a whole other country. At times, the shock of freedom was almost too much for me. In those days, parents really knew how to take their eye off the ball. If you were quiet and sneaky (which I could manage with my eyes closed) you could have your Freshie made, a sandwich slapped together and be on your way to the bush in about ten minutes. I was never alone in these enterprises, because I had a lot of siblings.

Being in the bush involved a number of games: playing tag at the sandpit, building fake tree forts, (because we were never any good at the real thing) and playing house on any available rock or sheltered area with a mossy floor. We also liked to spy on people, having read many Enid Blyton and Trixie Belden books. This is equally true for kids who lived uptown, or so I've been told.

Finding pop bottles and turning them in at Johnny's Confectionery was a summer ritual in Birchview. I'm not sure how we got so lucky because as far as we knew, only rich people and teenage boys could afford to consume such exotic, expensive drinks as coca cola and orange crush. Johnny's, to my young mind, was the best store in town, and every night I dreamed that somehow I would get locked inside and eat candy until I died of happiness.

I'm not going to say much about Phantom Lake, because I've written about it before. But for readers who have never been to Flin Flon, picture heaven for a kid and you've got it about right. That crazy merry go round that sat high off the ground, the barrel you could run on, the giant game of checkers you had to wait in line for. Then there were the docks. Swimming from first to second was a rite of passage. Hanging out with the lifeguards when we got to the lake early was a perk, too. I defy any Gidget movie to have better looking guys than the ones saving our lives at Phantom Lake.

Hanging out at Rotary Park meant spending some time at Ross Lake Cemetery. We spent hours wandering around the graves and making up stories about the people resting there.  My parents are there now. I know they'd love to have a bunch of kids sitting next to them and making up some whoppers.

For those of you coming to Flin Flon and area to celebrate home coming, don't forget to bring the kid in you along for the ride. Some things may have changed, but no one can take away the magic of your northern childhood. That goes for my own kids, too. So, welcome home, all. We're so happy to see you. Let's have some fun this weekend, and if you're headed to the Whitney Forum on Friday or Saturday night, you might hear something like this. Here's the karaoke version of a Canadian classic by Trooper. Practice up and we'll see you soon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roqoA08QdbA




Friday, June 23, 2017

Zen and the Art of Bathroom Maintenance


Things change as a person grows older. As time for leisure increases, so does one's ability to make scientific observations while seated in the bathroom. For instance. One can always measure the passing of time by the rate of  toilet paper use. And at our house, the roll is almost always empty.

I'm married to a man whose small family was very generous with their toilet paper. I have six siblings, so my parents allowed about four sheets per bathroom experience. Now that I'm older and richer, I still can't break that parsimonious habit.

My husband acts like the stuff grows on trees. No, honey, it was a tree. He uses a half roll every time, like he's cleaning up battery acid. It's the little things, folks, than creates strained moments between married people.

With all our concern over international politics and that bizarre behavior to the South of us, it's this bathroom pettiness that preoccupies me. Let's be honest. The bathroom has become, for many, a kind of mini-sanctuary. 'No, honey,' I shout gleefully from my perch, 'I can't answer the phone! I'm in the bathroom! No, I don't know where your reading glasses are!' (Lie...I'm wearing them.) So when my sanctuary is disturbed by minor irritations, it kind of ruins the whole, serene, fung shui-ness of it. I'm not sure if my husband notices the empty roll and waits for me to fill it, or if it magically un-spools before I enter the room. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen?


Then, there's the other bathroom irritant: magazine postcards. You know those little rectangles of paper that fall from every magazine you open? They have the address of the publisher on them, and say things like, 'Mail in to subscribe!' You hold it in your hand and mutter to yourself, 'But... I'm already a subscriber.' Oh, foolish bathroom magazine reader. They don't care.

What if you're reading for free at the library? Well, they want you to mail the thing in and get your own subscription. Which you won't do, because you want to read for free. To paraphrase either Confucius or Eleanor Rosevelt, 'It is better to light these cards on fire than to sit and curse the darkness.'

Worse still are the magazines that staple those suckers into the spine. They're made of heavy paper and when you try to tear them out, the magazine cover slides off. These petty annoyances take their toll. I picture them as a tiny creature with a hammer and a very small chisel. Every time I see the empty toilet paper roll, or the bathroom floor littered with magazine postcards, the creature taps the chisel against my flesh and bone and, as the song lyric suggests, 'Takes another little piece of my heart.'

This is why a person should meditate and do yoga. While the toilet paper and magazine card stuff still happens, it's put firmly into place by the relaxed zen-like attitude of the practitioner. I, on the other hand, want to start a change.org campaign over it. Or form a resistance group. Whichever one allows the most shouting. It will be a paperless movement. Email only, unless we all decide to drive to Ottawa and present our concerns.

To the Walrus magazine, and Macleans, to Oprah, Writer's Digest and the United Church Observer, here is your first notice. Don't make me come down there and start throwing things. As you know, I have the time to do it and my fuse is shortening. And thanks to you all, I have the makings of a really good bonfire.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The To Do List

In my favorite Ann Tyler novel, 'The Accidental Tourist,' travel writer Macon Leary decides to save time and energy by eating popcorn at every meal and washing his clothes while he showers. This decision was motivated by depression, but I couldn't help admiring his minimalist lifestyle.

My brain is so filled with Things That Need Doing, I feel like a wimpy Atlas trying to hold up the world. The list swirls around me in the morning, and slaps me on the back of the head in the evening. 'Thanks for nothing,' it grumbles as I pass by. Life would be so much easier if inanimate objects would hold their tongues.

When, oh when will I finally touch up the paint on the kitchen cabinets, weed the garden, work on my novel, wash clothes, dust (so hard to do without a gun to my head) vacuum, change the sheets in the spare bedrooms, get the car washed, go to zumba, make meals, binge on Netflix when I should be writing, attend choir practice and massage the kale before making a salad (this one is from my friend, Lois. I never knew how I was neglecting this vegetable.)

I have no children living at home but I feel busy anyway. And I'm terrible at multitasking. I can't help comparing my life to that of a cave dweller ten thousand years ago. Here's what her list would say.

Survive childbirth
Find berries
Pray mate lives through mammoth hunt so no need to flirt with caveman UGH, who can't be bothered to run a twig through his teeth
Pick bone out of supper dish to wear in hair
Weave basket and fill with berries

Doesn't that sound relaxing? Like a camping trip that never ends. For sister, Jennifer, this would be torture. To me, it's ideal. Other benefits of living like a cave woman:

No make-up application, just slap on some bear fat if the hunt was good.
Tie hair in a knot. Add bone. Repeat in six months.
Nurse naked baby. Let naked baby play on cave floor. Give naked baby large bone for chewing.
Light fire to keep animals away.


I love camping. But making the pots from animal hide and scavenging for food may prove too challenging. Especially when I accidentally let the fire go out and have to embrace the raw foods movement. The upside is, I wouldn't have a list that nags me. No pens, no paper, no computers. No email, or Facebook, or twitter. No books to read or television to watch. No shaving for men or, happily, for women. No saving for retirement, just a gifting of the woven baskets and pots after I reach the creaking old age of thirty.

Instead of whining on my blog, I would regale my fellow cave dwellers with tales of the day's difficulties. The basket didn't turn out, there were no berries, we might all starve. On second thought, maybe I'll embrace my life as a modern woman and let my To Do List bend my ear for a few more minutes. After all, I took the time to write this blog post. I can certainly combine some dusting with Netflix binging. Do some laundry between shows. As it turns out, as long as there's some entertainment involved, I can multitask after all.





Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Gardening Games

The cold rainy spring is finally over. Gardeners around town are emerging from their homes like new kittens blinking into the sunlight. Dearest hubby takes a step outside, but I sweep him away with my arm. 'I volunteer!' I gasp. 'I volunteer as tribute!' Somewhere in the crowd of neighbors, someone whistles a four note mocking jay salute. As one, we open our gardening shed doors and brace ourselves. The hunger...I mean, the summer games have begun.

I fetch the wheelbarrow and my bag of necessities: String for marking off the rows, shears for trimming hedges, various digging appliances, an old spoon. Like Katniss Everdeen with her arrows, I lay them carefully on the wrought iron table near the leaning arch of Clarence. Packets of seeds wait patiently inside the house. But I'm not ready for them yet.

Dressed in my Gomer Pyle hat and mom jeans, I turn over the soil in the garden, fill pots for the deck and finish cleaning the perennial beds. After five trips around town to pick up plants (Too many! It's an addiction!) I'm back at the Pettersen farm. We have a plan for outside that is more ambitious than mere survival. Clarence is the bigger visionary (More fruit trees! Another statue for the back garden!) but I manage to rein him in on the pricier items. We must pace ourselves for the long game.

While we whip the garden and yard into shape, the house languishes. These are not the days for inviting guests over. The bed goes unmade, clothes unwashed. We simply remove our gardening clothes at the end of the day and don them again in the morning. We are our own mosquito repellent. Meals must still be made, but for lunch we eat things like kippers and onions, peanut butter and strange looking wheat free crackers.

The craziest thing about the game of gardening is the expense. Like gamblers with no self control, we can't resist buying the BIG tomato plant with a tomato already on it so we know it's a winner. There's nothing worse than putting heart and soul into gardening, only to be let down come the fall.

Working out in the sunshine, barking at each other over hedges and bags of mulch, we have a pretty good time. 'It's five o'clock somewhere,' is a very rewarding aspect of gardening. Sweaty, covered in bites, with drinks clutched in soiled hands, we survey our front and back yard. It's our Tara, our reward for enduring eight months of winter. And as God is our witness, we'll never be hungry in the month of September. (Okay. I know that's from Gone with the Wind and not the Hunger Games, but I couldn't resist.)

So, here's to you, neighbors and fellow gardeners. For all of you brave Katniss Everdeen tributes who have volunteered for the game, here's to your trowels and shovels, your sore backs and dirt speckled faces. I kiss the three middle fingers of my grimy left hand and hold them out to you as a salute to your tenacity. May your crops be abundant, may your bug bites diminish in size. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sisterhood of the Traveling Mom Jeans


My sisters and I used to wear each other's clothing when we were teenagers. Occasionally, my brother was included. He was ten before he realized that tights weren't the same as long underwear. The tradition of passing on clothes has continued, though unfortunately, Bill cannot be duped anymore.

My sisters and I, like every woman, have shrunk or grown over time, so the habit of passing along clothing has continued. My oldest sister has lost a bit of weight, whereas I have gone in the opposite direction. Lately, my clothes have taken to mocking me. 'Really,' they say derisively. 'You're going to force me over those hips again?' My jeans in particular are very expressive. Sometimes they cat call from the closet, which is why I always sleep with the door shut.

I recently gave Linda four pairs of pants which no longer fit me. They were never nice to me, anyway, being the most scornful pieces of clothing ever worn. In turn, she gifted me with a pair of mom jeans. She'd gotten them from a friend, but they never fit so she passed them on. I haven't worn anything like them since the nineties, when I dressed badly on a fairly consistent basis. I tried the mom jeans on just for a laugh.

When I looked in the mirror I saw my nineteen nineties silhouette. Like fly fishing waders, the bum joined the thighs in a continuous line. And yet there was a kindness to them. They practically purred as I buttoned them. The waist sat high, the relaxed fit gave them the feel of stiff pajamas. 'You look marvelous,' I heard them say. Having a kind, well mannered pair of pants went a long way toward soothing my self esteem.

The longer I wear them, the more I like them. It's unlikely they'll be seen outside the house unless I'm gardening or the apocalypse has struck and I haven't had time to change. But its nice to have clothes that fit in a relaxed manner. 'No pressure here,' they say. And they mean it.

The next time you're in a second hand store, find some khakis or jeans with the 'mom' look. Locate your size, then go one larger. Wear them at home for personal events like eating an extra big lunch, or working in the garden where you do a lot of squatting. You'll love the feel and the complimentary nature of mom jeans.

Not everyone has conversations with their clothes, but as someone who does, let me say this. If your shirts or pants are too tight, you can be sure they're making fun of you. Get the last laugh by throwing those bitches in a giveaway bag. Just don't trade insults with them as you're walking into the store. Not everyone understands the cruelty of a pair of Simon Chang yoga jeans. You can rest assured that I do.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

I Remember Mama

My mother used to talk in tongues whenever I played the Beach Boys. She wasn't speaking an ancient language. She was communicating with God in a very meditative way. And what she was saying was, 'Man, I love this music.'

She said it during our road trips, and whenever we cut cotton for my babyTrekker business. At home, she loved gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. With me, she reveled in the music from my teenage years.

'They don't make music like this anymore,' she'd say, and keep on praying. Aloud. Sometimes she'd forget where we were and carry on, even while walking into a bank. But half the town would be dead by now if she hadn't been praying, so I can't complain.

She was not your average mother. When I was young, I wanted her to be like everyone else. Wear a house dress, stay home, and wait on us hand and foot. She declined to do that, and embarked on a nursing career, though she still managed to act like a house elf from the Harry Potter series. It was nothing for me to receive freshly ironed clothes, right before she left for work in the morning. There are other aspects of my lazy ways that I decline to share at this particular time, but let's just say I was not the only child on the receiving end of things.

For years, I had this fantasy that I could go back in time and be a better daughter. I'd whip the other kids into shape, clean the house till it shone, and get excellent marks in school. My first novel was about someone doing just that. That story may never see the light of day, but it helped assuage my guilt. Which is another one of mother's little helpers.

What mother doesn't spend part of her life feeling bad for things she's neglected? Maybe a few crackheads, but that's about it. For the rest of us, guilt is an international past time. From time to time my mother would mention things she felt bad about. I'd get all indignant and say stuff like, "Are you saying I didn't turn out well?"

She'd think about it. "Well, yes," she'd say. She could be funny, too. A funny mom, a hard worker, a prayer warrior, a house elf, a refuge in times of trouble. The only unforgivable thing she ever did was to die. I think God must have heard one of her prayers, which loosely translated meant, 'Please get me the hell out of here. I'm tired.'

You are missed every day, mom. And not just by your kids. Other people's kids miss you, too. I know because they tell me all the time. So, happy Mother's Day, mom. I hope you're not working too hard up there, and I hope dad is finally teaching you how to dance. In honour of all our road trips, here's a little something for you to enjoy. The words aren't exactly the right sentiment, but you love the music. And the title hits home. Because I'd love to get you back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1EDv9_eUhc

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sometimes, When we Limp

When my husband and I got married, I started hemming his pants for him. To my surprise, he had one leg a half inch shorter than the other. I sewed everything accordingly. It was only when he saw a chiropractor about four years later that we realized he didn't have to live that way. After a couple spinal adjustments, I had to fix all those pant hems.

The other morning I was rushing to the door on my way uptown when I realized I was having the same experience. "Look!" I said to my husband. "My left leg is shorter than my right!" He thought I was faking. I was so freaked out, he finally started showing proper concern. We couldn't figure out what had happened. I had no pain. No memory of falling (recently) or hurting my back. But I definitely had one leg at least an inch longer than the other.

I walked back and forth across the room, my hysteria growing. "What the hell?" I double checked my left heel, thinking that something must be stuck there, but there was nothing. Just a definite hitch in my gait as I walked back and forth across the room. "I'm not changing all my pants," I declared, which was my  pathetic way of shouting into the void. Not that I believe in the void.To me, there's always someone on the other end of the line.

We have a lot going on with our family at large. Some people very dear to me are facing big health challenges. Why not me, I thought. I've never been one to panic, but, dammit. "I must have a tumour on my heel," I said aloud. I was preparing to take off my boot when I caught sight of my right foot.

I was wearing two different boots. In my defense, they're almost identical, except that one pair is flat. I have never done this before. Never left the house with two different socks or shoes. I've occasionally worn a shirt inside out. The consolation prize was the five minutes of laughter we shared, and the relief that my leg was all right. The downside is, I'm definitely a person who's not paying attention. Since I already know this, it doesn't really hurt my feelings. But I thought I'd improved over the years. 

Perhaps the slippery slope of distraction means I spend a little more time turning in circles while wondering what I'm supposed to be doing. When I experience stress, I stop paying attention. And life has a way of throwing things at us when we least expect it. For now, I'll hobble along. Do my best to keep my brain engaged. It may not work every time, but you can be sure my boots will match.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Cable Guy

I got a letter a month ago saying we had to surrender our old PVR. (DVR, for my American friends.) Apparently, Flin Flon has been stuck with analog television for far too long, and Shaw was bringing us into the 21st century.

 The boxes arrived (three instead of one!) and I let them sit until the day my TV wouldn't work anymore. The boxes had big 'Self Installation,' stickers on them, which I didn't necessarily believe. When something technologically challenging comes along, Clarence is always out of town. But I got the first one unpacked, unhooked the old PVR and stuck the new one in place. The television listed a random message meaning, 'No. I don't think so.'

So I called the cable guy. And you know what that's like. You're on hold for so long, and when you finally reach someone, they accidentally hang up on you. At least, that's my story. Anyway, at last I was talking to Dave. (Not his real name. I've forgotten it.) He informed me that I had to have the unit authorized. Well, why didn't they say that in the letter? We got that done with the first machine. It worked. Then Dave announced that I'd have to call back if the others weren't ready yet. "No, wait!" I shouted into the phone, and promptly put him on speaker mode.

"I'm taking you into the basement, Dave." He was mildly interested in accompanying me there. I set the phone on the coffee table. After heaving around the furniture and mumbling bad words I hoped Dave couldn't hear, I got the second PVR hooked up. It wouldn't work. Both of us started feeling very frustrated, but he managed to keep calm. He said things like, are you sure the co-ax cable is switched to the PVR and not still on the TV? I checked. Then I lied. "Yep, but let me tighten it a bit." We both cheered as we realized it was working. Two down, one to go.

I was heading upstairs to the bedroom when I realized I'd left Dave in the basement. "I'm sorry, Dave," I hollered. "I'm coming back to get you." He replied, but I couldn't really hear what he said. I'd left the living room TV on Turner Classics, so the backdrop to all my stress was a deep baritone voice singing romantically in an old Errol Flynn movie.

I fetched Dave and we went into the bedroom. We couldn't get this one to work at all. In the meantime, Dave, my cable guy, asked, "What's that racket?" We were feeling quite comfortable at this point. "Some guy in an Errol Flynn movie," I said. After that, he started talking a lot more slowly.

Now that I'd been relegated to confused senior status, we decided I should mail the broken one back. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized we have a Shaw office in town. Exchange made. Problem solved. I feel I owe Dave a dinner, in spite of all his attempts to persuade me otherwise. Unfortunately, he's never there when I call. In lieu of that, I'd be happy to phone Shaw's head office and sing his praises, if only I could remember his real name. Oh Dave. Perhaps I'm watching the right channel after all.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dear Sigmund Freud

Please forgive the cliche, but I have a bone to pick with you. Back in the day, you suggested that the words we sometimes mis-speak are laden with some alternate meaning, usually having to do with sex. Some of us happen to disagree with you. For example.

I was at our church tea after community choir when a friend sat down at my table. I'd left practice early, so I asked a question of my fellow alto. "What did you sing after the hand job number?"

While the people at my table laughed, I began building a pretty good case against you, Dr. Freud. You see, one of the songs from Grease is called, Hand Jive.' The fact that I called it something entirely different means nothing about my state of mind. NOTHING.

There are those of us living on the planet who happen to dwell in Freudian slip land. We frequently say the wrong thing. I once said, "Would you like some death with your soup?" to a little old lady, while handing her the bread basket. Honestly, bread and death both contain the letters 'ea' which almost makes them a slipdong. I mean a dipthong. (Think of a pair of tiny bikini panties. It helps.)

Meanwhile, some of us also like to use colourful descriptions. Like, 'He was very thickheaded.' This does not mean that your mind has taken a sexual turn. It just means that you've been singing the Hand Job song. (ha ha, just kidding.)

Once, at choir, a young French Canadian was struggling to sing her part. The conductor was trying to find her a good spot to stand in for the performance. Meanwhile, some of us (or maybe just me) were praying, "Please, don't put her over here!" She had a strong accent, and tended to sing the words  a couple seconds after everyone else had finished. Anyway, she took one look at me and said loudly, "I cannot take the hate."

I immediately, and guiltily, jumped in. "Nobody hates you. Of course not!" The other altos all had their eyes averted. I was swimming in the deep end, and it was up to me not to sink. (cliches were invented for a reason.)

"Not the hate," she said, with great irritation. "The hate." I was dumbfounded. And then I realized she meant, "I cannot take the height.' She was short, like me, and wanted to stand in the front row. Another meaning for dumbfounded? Finding out you are dumb. That was me, in the moment. Regardless. Sometimes, Sigmund Freud, a cigar is just a cigar. Even for a heavy smoker like you.




Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rambling

We've been on the road so much lately, I can hear Willie Nelson serenading us from the back of the car. I love seeing people, doing interesting things and being in the driver's seat. My brain is so much more creative out on the open road. I could solve half the world's problems if I only had a machine to record my deeply profound thoughts. (Lois, I know my phone would do it, but I'm not good with those apps and can't remember my apple password.) And I never think of it until I'm driving. Oh, the solutions that come to mind! I can't recall even one.

Our car journeys have begun to resemble our lives. Because we live so far from everything (all northern readers, please join me in a deep sigh) we bring too much with us. For reasons I can't share (in the interests of my marital future) our car resembles one of those overloaded buses you see in India. I'm a tiny part of the problem. If he disagrees with this, my hubby can write his own blog. (hahah...it'll never happen!)

I have a friend who never eats in her car. Her life is attractively minimalist, but in a very put together way. If she ever died in the woods, she'd have on the perfect outfit, her hair would be done, and all the animals would leave her carcass alone out of deep respect for her togetherness. 'Namaste' they'd whisper quietly, and skirt around her.  She's that kind of woman.

I am not. My car is a reflection of the way I move through life. There are no chicken bones littering the floor, but I have a tendency to bring big lunches, many different coats, and much footwear, everywhere we go. (Damned climate change. We used to be able to count on a cold winter.) My husband also brings too many things. I swear he had a pair of winter boots with us in Houston. He complains about the big lunches I pack, but I've noticed him enjoying them later.

I'd like to try paring down a little on the over preparation. Like, I always have to leave my house clean in case I die while I'm gone. People have told me that this is tempting fate. Apparently, the grim reaper is always waiting around the corner. And I'm saying, 'come on in and, please, bring your scythe.' But I'm a nah nah, boo boo kind of person. It's another way of saying, 'I defy you, stars.' That Shakespeare...what a show-off.

My husband and I have a pretty good travel relationship. I'm not much help as a navigator, but I excel at spotting danger. I just wish I could do it in a more composed fashion. This last trip, he was changing lanes, and a car coming onto the highway didn't notice. I started screaming a bad word over and over again. It would have been better if I'd shouted, 'Horn! Horn!' You know. To let him know what action to take. He managed to swerve in time, but I still felt bad about all that swearing. Being the passenger can really take it out of you.

Another thing we agree on is what to play on the radio. We like CBC. It's only when we lose the signal that we switch to music. We're both in love with Leonard Cohen's latest album, "You want it Darker." To that title I say, "Yes, Leonard, I do. And how did you know?" It's the perfect music for troubled times, and perversely, makes me feel better about everything. I'm kind of mad that he's dead.

Same with Stuart Mclean. So, dear Leonard who art in heaven, please. Look him up. He's a fairly new arrival, and he'll have you feeling better in no time. Get him to tell you the story of Dave going through the carwash while riding on top of the car. Or the one where he and Morley stay in the wrong cabin and do major renovations. Two Canadian icons gone, just when we need them the most.  (Long moment of sadness.) Now, back to my theme.

Car journeys, aside from the great music and CBC radio, provide some big AHA! moments for me. Like, my life might be easier without so many jackets. Or I'll think of a great twist for my latest novel. Other times, I'll come up with the best plan, EVER, to save the world. Seriously, it's on the tip of my tongue. And, if I find a way to record that revelation, I'll be sure to write about it. Watch for future titles such as, "Polar Bears Saved...All is Well!' Or, "Peace on Earth at Last!' Something along those lines. You're welcome.




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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObG9bBJFcIM


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.