Up In the Air

There are times when I’m pulled from my comfortable life by uncertain events. I’m no longer running on autopilot, which is how we all live when things are going well. 

A few months ago I was flying to Winnipeg and ready for take-off when the flight attendant approached me. She spoke in a low tone, like we were both spies for the same organization and couldn’t let on that anything unusual was happening. 

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. “I need you to move to the very back of the plane. It’s a matter of weight.’ Let me be clear. There were eight of us scattered around the plane at that point. I stared at the others who pretended they hadn’t heard. Then I got up and took the walk of shame to the very back, not my favourite spot to sit, because it gets cold when they open the door.

I wanted to say, ‘Why me and not that guy?’ But then, that guy was moved from his spot to one across the aisle from me. We exchanged sheepish looks and joked about how we were really trying to get our weight under control but it just wasn’t working.  The same thing happened to me on an Air Canada flight where I was the only passenger asked to move. You kinda feel picked on at that point. 

Another reality-altering moment happened after we’d performed our Community Choir’s spring production of Mary Poppins. My musician billet had returned to Winnipeg, I’d sorted out my neglected house, and was finally in the middle of a decent sleep when I was awakened by the sound of a Banshee. It was haunting…kind of a high-pitched wail that had me bolting out of bed and spinning in every direction. While feeling discombobulated, I also felt proud of myself for not hiding under the covers. 

The haunting noise went on and on, and once I realized I was alone in the room, I was able to locate the source of the sound. It came from a dresser drawer, top left.  Feeling disoriented (can you blame me?) I bent my head and said, ‘Hello?’ Then I opened the drawer and fell back to earth. My life slid into place…no Banshee…just an old Sony voice recorder I’d used for recording some of my alto parts for the musical. 

It had tipped over in the drawer and turned on, but the battery was dying so my very high alto part, not pleasant at the best of times, sounded…well. Like a banshee. I was so mad that I’d woken myself up, I couldn’t even laugh about it until the next day. 

Something else I’m up in the air about is how I talk to my outside plants, especially the trees. I do it, but I feel a bit foolish. ‘I’m sorry I chopped off those branches last summer…did I kill you? Try not to die. You were expensive.’ Something along those lines. Or, with a small plant, I might give it a light caress as I pass by, and whisper, ‘I hope your day is going well. How is everyone getting along?’ 

I figure that plants might be like people. There are those they want to grow next to, and those they’d rather leave behind. It’s a lot like politics, which also leaves me up in the air. I meet people who say the kookiest things on Facebook but discover that they’re kind and helpful to others. It’s discombobulating. Why can’t terrible people wear tee shirts that say, ‘Bad to the Bone,’ to let the rest of us know? But that’s not life.

We’re all a mixed bag, and though we basically want the same things….peace and safety for ourselves, our loved ones,and the world, we all have different ideas of how to get there. I might not like your way, you might not like mine. That’s why being kind is so important. Because, as bad as it is to be a world leader with sinister intentions, its just as bad to be an asshole. That’s another tee shirt people should have to wear. Although wer’e all human and we all take a turn at being that from time to time.

I’m not up in the air about this next part. Let’s be our best selves, even if we don’t vote the same. Even if we don’t have the same belief system. I attend church. You might not. That shouldn’t make me a kook (I go to such a nice church!) and it doesn’t make you any less in God’s eyes. Let’s wish each other well, be grateful for our good lives, and spare a bit of time and money for those who are not as fortunate. It’s pretty simple, after all. And for those of you who, like me, occasionally talk to the trees, here’s a song by Dirty Harry himself. I’m pretty sure he was shocked to find himself in a musical. He’d fit in well in Flin Flon.

Shut Your Mouth

I think of myself as a moderate health nut, eating well and exercising. I never sign up for extreme sports and I won’t become a Vegan. (But I should be a vegan. I feel so guilty.)

So when my friend…let’s call her S….told me about her new health kick, I was intrigued but a bit skeptical. Here was the deal. Every night before bed, she and her husband would tape their mouths shut. Picture something like this, but less pretty.

The reasons for doing so came from a book called ‘Breath,’ by James Nestor. I didn’t have the book but thought I’d try taping my mouth shut at night, just to see what would happen. I lasted 15 seconds. It was like being straight-jacketed by the night shift staff in a film noir psych ward.  Why would anyone try this? Well, for the following reasons.

Being a mouth breather is a bad, bad thing. It causes bone loss in the face, a narrowing of the mouth, and problems in the throat. So, mouth breathing: Bad. Nose breathing: Good. I got the book from the library to find out why. 

Our nose is like a shield for the rest of our body. It keeps the dust and dirt out and gently warms the air heading for our lungs. The bad side effects of being a mouth breather include asthma, sleep apnea, exhaustion, and crooked teeth.  Also, most of us aren’t chewing enough anymore. Our food is too processed. The people who lived three hundred years ago had to chow down on wild boar meat and whatever vegetation was on hand, resulting in much straighter teeth. Scientists have the skulls to prove it. 

There are many kinds of breathing covered in the book. You can lie on the ground and breath hard and fast to induce an experience that replicates taking LSD. I think I’ll skip that one. There are exercises that Buddhist monks do, where they can stop and start their hearts just by changing the way they breathe. Over breathing is bad, slow breathing is better. Each breath should be 5.5 seconds in, and 5.5 seconds out. (With your mouth shut.) The carbon dioxide in our lungs plays an important part in our health and longevity. Nose breathers live longer.

Since I’m a moderate health nut, no crazy shenanigans for me. I keep my mouth shut at night by using a small piece of medical tape, placing it in the center of my lips like a lowered Charlie Chaplin moustache. It’s quite comfortable and definitely helps prevent mouth breathing. I’m considering it for the daytime, too. Hopefully I’ll remember to peel it off before I leave the house.

Did you know you can grow back the bone you’ve lost by doing this? The guy who wrote the book gained bone the width of six pennies slapped together. I’m hoping that within a few years, you’ll see me on Main Street and think, wow. Her jaw looks bigger. Mostly, I hope you notice that I only open my mouth to talk. Which happens frequently. In fact, I might have to rethink my whole personality. On the other hand, I”m just a writer standing in front of readers I might not know, asking them to tape their mouths shut at night. In honor of that, here’s a song with an appropriate title. Just pretend I’m watching you.https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=172)+The+Police+-+Every+Breath+You+Take+(Official+Video)+-+YouTube&&view=detail&mid=E5A3654FE5B80DFEE256E5A3654FE5B80DFEE256&&FORM=VRDGAR&ru=%2Fvideos%2Fsearch%3Fq%3D172)%2BThe%2BPolice%2B-%2BEvery%2BBreath%2BYou%2BTake%2B(Official%2BVideo)%2B-%2BYouTube%26qpvt%3D172)%2BThe%2BPolice%2B-%2BEvery%2BBreath%2BYou%2BTake%2B(Official%2BVideo)%2B-%2BYouTube%26FORM%3DVDRE

Cadmium and Lead in My Chocolate? Oh My

 My journey with dark chocolate started a number of years ago with a desperately whispered prayer. As I lay on the sofa, a half-eaten Easter Bunny in hand, (not the live kind…I’m not that bad) and a tub of ice cream resting on my stomach, I said this to God. 

“Please! Help me get off the sugar wagon!”

I knew I needed some kind of 12-step program, because I was the type of addict that would knock you over the head and steal your bag of Halloween candy. And I was tired of putting my kids in that kind of danger.

After some time passed, an odd thing began to happen. (Bear with me if you’ve heard this story. I sense some eye-rolling from siblings and friends.) I started to break out in hives. At first, there were just a few. But as the weeks passed, I started to look like this guy.

This went on for some months and the list of foods causing the hives continued to grow. Apples, (organic were fine) strawberries, fish, shrimp, and sometimes nothing. As Thanksgiving approached, I was feeling desperate. I called my cousin Sue, our resident expert on all things food related. 

“You’re not going to like this,” she said. “Your body’s reaction has nothing to do with those foods. You’re going to have to give up sugar and wheat. Maybe a few other grains.” She sensed my hesitation and…okay…my complete disbelief. “Just try it.” So I did. In one week, no more hives. 

It took a few months for me to realize that I was finally off sugar. And had no brain fog. And felt great. But still, I cast a few dark looks at the sky. “Ha ha, very funny,” I said. But the joke was on me. Still, it ended up being worth it. And eventually, I found my way to dark chocolate. I’m talking 85% dark. The reeeaaaally healthy stuff. Or so I thought. (So we all thought, right?) I’ve been living in denial about the latest chocolate news because I’m good at that. But when they finally announced the problem on CBC, I could no longer kid myself. I’ve been eating three or four squares a day for years. YEARS! This explains a few things.

When I go through airport security, I take my boots off. My pockets are empty. I carry nothing but a kind heart and a benign smile for the airport staff. And yet I set off the gatey thing that checks for bombs almost every time. Did it not occur to one of those people to say, “OMG, this woman is packed with cadmium and lead! ” I would have really appreciated the heads up. I mean, I take really good care of myself. I eat kale all the time! So now I have to pray, ‘Dear God, get me off the chocolate wagon,’ and only She knows if there is a decent substitute out there. (Please don’t say carob. It is disgusting.)

I’m open to ideas, people. While I wait on God for her next practical joke, I need some ideas that don’t include artificial sweeteners (except stevia) and recipes that don’t involve wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, or any of those ‘we’re the original wheat’ things like Millet. I can do small quantities of rice flour and corn flour, but I still get a belly ache, even though I like to pretend I don’t. 

If you don’t have any ideas, that’s okay. Just allow me this very pouty blog post. (Especially on Valentine’s Day with a deceased husband, no chocolate, and according to recent, depressing studies, alcohol recently added to the naughty list.  Thankfully I will be zooming with friends shortly and can whine to them while enjoying a cup of tea with a wedge of cheese. (Please don’t give me bad news about dairy. Leave me something.) 

And if you decide to comment, please don’t try to argue with me about God. I get that most people think the Creator is a guy, but it just doesn’t ring true for me. God is not a person. And frankly, if someone was going to birth the world, only females would have the guts to say, ‘Yeah, I think I can take that on.’ Jesus was a man…I’ll give you that. And I love Him too, so, let’s hope he weighs in on my current problem. I’ll inform you all as soon as I hear back. It will probably be something darkly comedic, but good for me in the end. And all I can say is, Amen to that.

How Canadians Dress for the Apocalypse

I enjoy all kinds of dystopian fiction. Alien invasions, futuristic thrillers…any movie or series where things aren’t looking too good. Because no matter how messed up our world is, we’re not there yet and hopefully never will be. The thing I don’t like about shows like Mad Max-Fury Road, the Walking Dead, or Water World, is those ridiculous leather outfits some characters wear.

Why are people dressing so uncomfortably when the world has gone to hell in a handbasket? It’s obvious that the future is overheated. All the characters are either stewing in their own sweat or searching for water. The land is cracked, and rivers and lakes are nonexistent. So why does the Bad Guy need four layers of leather sewn into a cascading cape? What’s with the women in tight leather pants, vests and knee-high boots? It’s at least 35C (95 to you Fahrenheit people.) Maybe hotter. After all, it’s the Apocalypse. You’re not supposed to be comfortable. 

But I don’t think Canadians would wear those outfits when the world is falling apart.  Any Canuck with two brain cells would scavenge for the warmest jackets. Perhaps a Helly Hansen or a NorthFace parka. (Not promoting…just going for quality.)

And for footwear, we are not going to wear knee-high leather boots. How could we escape the cannibals or zombies? We need high-quality sneakers or hikers and a decent -30 rated boot with a good sole for winter. I can run like a maniac in my sheepskin Uggs. The first thing I did when I bought a pair was run like hell. You should have seen the salesperson’s face.

My biggest pet peeve? The masks. Leather (of course) covers a guy’s entire face except for the eyeholes. Searingly hot in summer, the wearers would have a constant rash. A better option is a cozy scarf for a cold winter’s run through darkened streets. Of course if you’re being chased, you’d be better off with an infinity scarf. No dangling ends. And for the Love of God, wear some mittens. They can be leather on the outside, but they have to be lined. 

I have never cared much for fashion. But nobody should worry about it when the world is a dust bowl and strange creatures roam the land. Let the Parisians get eaten by the scavengers as they try to run away in their heeled boots. Let macho guys roast their nether regions with their tight leather pants. And let us Canadians make our way comfortably and sensibly through the frozen, barren terrain as we attempt to outrun a pack of polar bears. Oh Canada, my money’s on us.


I’m not trying to compare myself with the protagonist of the novel, ‘Divergent,’ who jumps from the platform of a speeding train to land on the roof of a tall building. I’d be dead before the book got started. But I believe the title accurately describes the strange routes and mysterious highways inside my brain. 

A few weeks ago I was trying to figure out why my outdoor Christmas decoration wouldn’t light up. So I did what I always do when I can’t solve a problem. I googled it. (Well, I often pray when there’s a problem, but YouTube seemed the right fit at the moment.) Sure enough, a guy in a video told me it might be the fuses under the trap door of the plug.

Trap door?? Using a thin knife, I pushed a teensy cover back from the plug. Seeing the two tiny fuses nestled inside left me feeling like all the grown-ups had it wrong. There really was a North Pole where Santa lived with his reindeer and a bunch of elves. The discovery charmed my brain. And for some reason, it reminded me of those childhood days when I was forced to do something boring. Like be in church. ( I love church now. Go figure.) Back then, I would cup my hands and watch as the folds in my skin turned into ancient caves inhabited by tiny people. I was happily occupied for the next hour. 

When a teacher  (yes, this happened at school, too) asked, “Now, did everyone understand the directions I just gave you? Speak out now if you didn’t!”…did I put up my hand? Not a chance. I was too busy watching the cave dwellers being attacked by an ogre. Dear readers, if your report cards ever said that you needed to stop daydreaming, you are my people. 

Definition of divergent: tending to be different or develop in different directions

Until recently, I’d assumed that everyone had sensory issues. Loud music or sudden noises, itchy tags on shirts that cause discomfort verging on pain. Being forced to sit in a chair for long stretches without being allowed to move. Turns out, I was wrong about everyone feeling the same. It’s just some of us who experience the neural divide. 

I became an excellent reader in the second grade, but even today, road maps and sheet music can challenge my navigational skills. In my copies of our choir’s Christmas music, I felt the need to draw arrows pointing every which way,  highlight all musical notes, and scatter stern instructions all over the pages. (Pay attention! Look up! etc.) The sheets looked like a mad scientist’s plans for blowing up the world. 

I need to repeat trips a number of times before I feel comfortable with most routes. When I travel at night, even through a familiar city, it always feels like someone has moved all the buildings around just to mess with me. I took a personality test a year ago, and one of the suggestions was, ‘steer clear of board memberships. They’re not for the likes of you.’ But I sit on two boards, (the sitting part hurts!) and give myself permission to walk around if I’m feeling antsy. My desire to feel useful, to be a part of things, trumps my discomfort with meetings.

Having said all that, I’m glad I’m me. I like the way my brain works, especially my imagination. I could do without some of the discomforts that come with divergence, but I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. To badly paraphrase Walt Whitman’s poem, The Road Not Taken, 

                              Two brains diverged in a neural pathway.

                              Mine took the one less traveled by,

                              And that has made all the difference.  

I am mostly kind, empathetic, and occasionally blunt, (the words coming out of my mouth often take me by surprise.) And I sometimes view the world differently from other people. When something interests me, I am totally focused. My brain likes to be entertained…it wants to be charmed and distracted from the boring, everyday things in life. It’s why I like meeting new people, often accosting them in lineups at the grocery store with some friendly chatter. And yet I like daily routines and familiar food, and most of all, a life that involves lots of movement. In spite of past insecurities, I feel at home with myself. I also find daily life to be filled with the absurd…so many things that make me laugh. In light of that, please enjoy the following message from Stuart of SNL fame, who like the rest of us, is dealing with his own issues.

These Vexing Moments

As I said before, there’s strange ASMR stuff on the web. Videos of people tapping  rubber ducks, caressing microphones or making strange sounds like they’re about to throw up. Who finds that relaxing? I like the videos with hair brushing and neck massages. Nothing kinky, just calming. Except in certain situations.

Not long ago I was driving to the Chinook Centre in Calgary. I set my GPS, choosing the woman from the Maps app who barks at me when I’m drifting into the wrong lane. I was feeling a bit tense with the heavy traffic and having no idea where I was going. Suddenly and unbeknownst to me, my Youtube ASMR video from the night before cut in. As the  formerly soothing voice murmured in hushed tones, I thought  for a few frantic seconds that someone  was in the car with me. Someone possibly holding a gun to my head and whispering threatening messages. When I realized what it was, I couldnt turn it off because I wanted to hear the bossy GPS voice. My journey continued like this. 

“Stay in the left lane! Far left!’

“Feel your eyes closing as I gently run this long toothed comb along the top of your head.”

“After four hundred metres, turn right.”

“Feel the gentle spray of lavender oil beside your face.”

“Rerouting…rerouting. In 700 metres, take the next right turn.”

“Missed turn…rerouting.”

“Sip this soothing cup of tea while I brush your hair. Are you feeling relaxed?”

No. I was not relaxed. When I arrived at the mall, I made sure to exit the YouTube video for the sake of the return journey home. 

The second vexing thing happened a couple days ago. I’d installed a baby gate at the top of the stairs in my entranceway to keep my daughter’s dog from wandering during a recent visit. To take it down, I needed to tie two parts together, but lacked the necessary tools. I headed to Canadian Tire and walked around the store, unable to remember the name for what I needed. I asked a store clerk. 

“Do you have those things…you know, they’re plastic? The long ones? You can use them to tie people up?”

The young woman stared at me solemnly, one hand reaching for her walkie talkie.

“I mean, like on TV. You know, ‘put your hands behind your back,’ and whammo, they’re incapicated? I need those things.”

A long pause. “You mean, zip ties?” 

I exhaled in relief. “Yes! I keep forgetting the name.” I noticed her strained expression and laughed. “Ha ha! I’ll be asking for rope and a shovel next. Ha ha!” She didn’t smile back at me. 

Just kidding,” I said weakly. “But I really need the ties for my baby gate.”

“Uh huh.” She found them for me. I’m almost certain she didn’t call the police.  

The third thing happened today. I was wearing a new coat…one of those three quarter length extra-light-down numbers suited to the fall and early winter. It was only my third time wearing it, but when I took it off, I noticed something strange. The left armpit of the coat smelled strongly of body odor. I had worn it the previous night over a clean shirt. I went and got the shirt. It smelled fine. I sniffed myself. I smelled fine. I wanted to wear it again on a walk, but not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a can of hairspray and sprayed the smelly spot. Then I dried it with a hair dryer. It worked. I hung the coat in the closet, but when I pulled it out later, the smell was back. Just one armpit. I was wearing a fresh shirt and plenty of deodorant, which left only one explanation. My coat was haunted by a one armed, smelly ghost. Even stranger, the next day, both armpits smelled. I hadn’t worn it again!

I still have the bill, but who would believe me?  Feeling paranoid, I went through all the jackets I’ve been wearing and none of them have this problem.  If anyone has a suggestion, I’m up for it. Now, I realize that this is what we call a first world problem. I’m lucky to have more than one coat. 

So for now, I’ll wash it, try to remember the words, ‘zip ties’ and always exit out of my ASMR videos before driving anywhere. And in case you didn’t believe me about the rubber duck, here it is. 

(120) ASMR ON A RUBBER DUCK 🍓Gentle Tapping & Scratching 🍓Fireplace Sounds 🍓NO TALKING – YouTube

I know, right?

Great Expectations

 My journey re-reading the classic literature of my youth (so far.)

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 I finished the last one recently and gave it a hearty two thumbs up. I know…it’s already a classic and doesn’t need my approval. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking Leo Tolstoys ‘War and Peace’ was a snooze fest. Sixty hours of listening! Dracula was quite satisfying in comparison. 

But the title of Dicken’s masterpiece left me wondering about my own expectations. I live in a comfortable world. I don’t spend 14 hours a day working a blacksmith’s forge and praying my luck will turn. I like to recognize that fact with ongoing thankfulness, some spoken aloud and some just repeated inside my head. ‘Thanks for my bed, my warm house. The food in my fridge and cupboard. Thanks for friends and family. Thank you God…(not sure how to be thankful without naming names) for my life. An attitude of gratitude sustains me during those times when all I want to do is roll up in a ball and feel sorry for myself. I don’t think it’s possible to be human and not have those moments of deep self pity. But  joy never appears when I’m wallowing. 

And every now and then, I get to rejoice over an unexpected gift. Like earlier this summer,when I picked up the Sharper Image Wave Oven  for a mere $10 in a local thrift store. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought, “It’s ten bucks. Can’t lose.” Turns out, it works like a barbeque, deep fryer and regular oven. Curious about the price, I looked for it on Amazon, and there it was. Two months ago it was over $700 but the price has gone down to $400. You can get other brands much cheaper.

It is fantastic. In fact, every friend and relative reading this will say, “Dear God, no. She’s talking about her wave oven again.” I couldn’t shut up about it. When I was leaving my hair dresser’s a couple weeks ago, I ran into three little girls who’d purchased items at a second hand children’s store. “I got an easy bake oven!’  the youngest one said to me. “Oh yeah?” I replied. And then I told them my whole story. They were very impressed. Ironically, my wave oven works with a lightbulb. It’s an easy bake for grownups.

The title, ‘Great Expectations’ should be applied judiciously to one’s circumstances. Do I expect to win the lottery? No. But then, I never buy lottery tickets. Do I still expect good things to happen to me? Yes. I never want to low ball my own life. It’s important to recognize how the small things add up into something big. Things worth being grateful for. Play a great golf game? Feel free to bust a move on the putting green. Get your garden in on time without losing your tomatoes to frost? Brag about it on Facebook. We’ll all be happy for you. 

When something unexpected comes into your life (it doesn’t have to be the Wave Oven, but man, that felt good) then shout your thanks to the universe. We can solve a lot of problems of the heart, mind and soul when we feel thankful. As Charles Dicken’s Pip discovered, being able to recognize all the love we’ve given and received  might be the best gift of all. The target I’m working toward is the report card I’ll receive at the end of my life when I’m standing before the pearly gates. I know I’ve got many faults. I haven’t always shown love the way I should and I’m often impatient. But in spite of that, I really hope my Maker checks off Exceeds Expectations. That would be great indeed.

Strange Things are Happening

I once sat for two hours in the living room of a friend without noticing that she’d changed all her furniture. For a writer, I’m remarkably unobservant. I would be a terrible witness should a crime happen in front of me, mixing up what I saw with the plot of my last novel. I tend to live in my head most of the time.

However, I was preparing to dab paint on a few worn spots on my house exterior when I happened to look up. The twenty foot long, seven foot wide overhang was covered in cobwebs and other unidentifiable things. Possibly small bits of human remains, judging by the size of the spiders. With some trepidation I realized I had landed in Stranger Things territory. I thought about borrowing my brother-in-law’s power washer to clean the area, but given the fragility of my previous paint job, decided to just use the hose. As I sprayed fiercely, the webs and bits of human flesh (okay, probably not) clung to the roof and walls before falling on me. Even the ones ten feet away managed to reach me, as if I’m some kind of threat. These were old webs. The bugs were long dead. 

And by the way, dear spiders, I’m your friend. When you come into my house, I use my spider catcher to gently carry you out onto the deck and set you free. I do this for all bugs except mosquitoes. I’m not a Buddhist, so I don’t feel compelled to keep them alive. On occasion, I might catch a bug’s leg in the trap door, but overall, most insects traveling through my house go unharmed. I’m sending this message over the world wide web (it’s crawling with informants) as a message regarding my compassion for all creatures. (Except mosquitoes, the vampires of the world. Vampire hunters, unite!)

This is not the only bit of weirdness going on in my area. I’ve never heard geese sound the way they have over the last few days when flying past my house–strange choking noises like they’re being strangled. Is this a cry for help? If so, you ought to know that I can’t fly. And I don’t want you landing on my lawn with all your squawking and messy poop. I’ll chase you, then run. There were repercussions from teasing the geese on my uncle’s farm. and I’m still carrying the emotional scars. 

The squirrels and chipmunks have been weirdly aggressive lately. I don’t have a bird feeder so they’re not fighting me for territory, but they’re very bold. They rush up to my swing (where I draw up my legs to avoid being bitten) and bark at me in their strange little voices. The squirrels, especially, never shut up. My yard, along with my neighbors, has become a kind of asylum for them. They sit brazenly on my deck furniture and run through my garden while jeering at me. How can I tell, you might be wondering? There’s something in the way they cock their heads, their beady eyes bright with malice. I’m almost certain they’re using the F word on me but I’m not leaving. This is my house. 

And yet, is it mine because the land titles office says so? Perhaps because the animal kingdom has no MLA or MP representing them, they have to stand their ground. For instance, a few minutes ago I was watering plants in the back yard when I noticed a plastic bag snagged on the canoe I store under my deck. I whipped the bag away and leapt backward, banging my head on a post. Two chipmunks, possibly teenagers, lay sprawled in a very compromising position. “It’s not spring!” I hollered as they ran away. Perhaps they were inspired by the song I was playing on my phone at the time; Meghan Trainor’s ‘Let’s Marvin Gaye and Get it On.’ Since I’m not a chipmunk I won’t bet on it. 

The world has certainly changed over the last number of years. Crazy winds, wild fires and animals behaving in uncharacteristic ways.  Then there’s the Republicans. (I’m not American  but they seem to be everyone’s problem. ) Perhaps this foreshadowing is the animal kingdom’s way of telling us they know who to blame. So the sword hanging over my head might not be the world passing away in a nuclear blast, but in a series of small  bites delivered over many years. Robert Frost wrote,

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

And I say, as long as it’s not death by mice.

60 Hours

 While preparing for my children’s annual summer visit, I decided to revisit a novel I last read at the age of nineteen. War and Peace is not a page turner, and the war parts were especially boring to a young woman trying to figure out her own world. I picked the audio book this time, figuring I’d get some work done while listening. Undismayed by the sixty hour length of the novel, I was barely through the first week when the Libby app gleefully asked if I wanted to renew. Apparently there’s not a long lineup of people waiting for it. 

As I worked in the garden, placed fresh sheets on the beds, made meals and tidied up the place, the British narrator droned on and on. I managed a few home repairs while listening; hanging by one arm from a sturdy spindle, replacing the missing  ones on my deck, drill in hand, toes reaching for the top of the ladder. I did not want to die while listening to War and Peace, but I felt the book slowly sapping my will to live.

Tolstoy deserves his reputation as an amazing writer. His character descriptions are detailed and his control of the unwieldy novel is impressive. But he could have learned a thing or two from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, all of whom were dead by the time he was published. Jane’s novels are magnificently descriptive. She satirizes her characters in such a way that you find yourself thinking, I know that person! Tolstoy does the same thing, but at a much…more…languorous…pace. 

The gothic air of the Bronte sister’s work came from their circumstances. The average life expectancy in the village of Haworth, polluted by industry, was just 22, so a bit of gloom was called for and certainly delivered in both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. As much as I love them, I always pause in my reading of Jane Austen’s novels to admire her rich, witty takes on society. Whereas I just want Leo to get on with it. 

It was difficult finding time to listen with my family visiting. Ten people packed the house for 11 days. Amidst the eating, drinking and traveling to and from the lakes to visit with other family members, there wasn’t a lot of time for war or peace. Trying to keep track of the many characters with similar names meant I had to rack my brain while pulling dandelions and fertilizing the lawn. And my brain just doesn’t need that. Also, I’m not good at multi-tasking. 

War and Peace was serialized before being published as a novel. It must have been as exciting back then as A Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. I would have enjoyed this book back in 1867, but I can’t say I’m loving it now. It’s become a duty read, like one of those book club selections that elicit excitement but end up letting you down. We’ve had a few of those over the years in our Number One Ladies Book Club. (Please see our shelf in the local library. We’re very proud of it.)

My family have returned to their own homes, now, so I’m listening whenever I can. Part of me is excited to revisit this novel. The rest of me wonders if I should be dedicating such a large portion of my life to it. I find myself falling into melancholia, whether from missing my children or from the cynicism/desperation/ennui of the characters. If you’ve read it, please let me know what you think. Don’t worry about the fabulous reputation of the novel, just be honest. After all, I still have 40 listening hours left. Feel free to talk me out of it.