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.