That Time I Tried Botox

In 2012, I had the honour of joining my community choir and others from around the world to perform Handel’s Messiah at Lincoln Center in New York. We’d practiced until I was singing in my sleep. We were nervous, exhilarated, and at our wits end trying to figure out what the weather would be like. What kind of coats to bring? How many pairs of shoes and boots?

And then there were the other questions haunting me in the middle of the night. Just how good were these other choirs? Would I get to stand beside my friends, or would I be stuck beside someone who was so fantastic, she’d be glaring at me throughout the performance. I’m sure most of us felt anxious, but it was really starting to haunt me. What could I do to make myself feel better?

First, I bought a sparkly black jacket and some swishy chiffon harem pants, along with stylish flats so my feet wouldn’t get sore. Later, I came to regret those decisions. I never wore the flats again, the jacket was itchy, and the harem pants were…well. Harem pants. Like what Barbara Eden would wear if she was eighty. But the piece de resistance was the decision I made to get Botox. I’m not sure why I decided to go for it. I guess I thought the occasion called for a big move.

Before catching the plane, I stopped in at an office I’d looked up online. It didn’t take long for them to stick a few needles in my face, and I was on my way. I felt no different at all, and wondered what the fuss was about. The truth of the matter came about four days later, when suddenly, I felt like I’d been given Novocain and it just wouldn’t wear off. It was upsetting, and for a few days I didn’t say anything to my sisters. But the day before our performance, I came clean.

The first thing I did was burst into tears. ‘Something terrible has happened,’ I sobbed, and we all sat down on the bed. They each grabbed onto some part of me, like we were all going to pray, which happens occasionally.
“What’s wrong,” they asked, sending each other worried glances. I just kept crying and couldn’t get the words out, so they started to guess.

‘Does someone have cancer?’ (Ironically, three family members would face this in a few years, but not at this time.) I shook my head. “Are you having financial problems?” Head shake. “Marriage problems?” More shaking. ‘Are you being sued?’ My only reply was to cry harder. ‘Well, you’re going to have to tell us,” Susan said. I drew a big breath.

“I got Botox and I really hate how it feels.” They exchanged looks and Joni lifted her hand, then put it back in her lap. I think she was about to smack me.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked. ‘Botox? We thought you were dying.’
‘Well, I really hate it,’ I said defensively. ‘And I thought you should know.’
‘For God’s sake,’ they muttered, and left the room. No sympathy there. Fortunately, the effects wore off after a couple of months. And it didn’t do a damn thing, anyway.

The next night was our performance, and I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I celebrated later with four cosmopolitans and some champagne shared during a sing off with the choir from Singapore. On the walk home from the party where I was half carried by my sisters while crooning Christmas Carols, I stopped to beg Janice and Ken Pawlachuk not to tell my mom I’d been drinking. These were not my finer moments, but I can honestly say that  a good time was had by all. And here’s the takeaway lesson. Don’t do anything crazy before an important event. Control your impulses and insecurities. And leave your face alone.

The Altos

I come from a family where everyone sings, and every single female is an alto. My only brother is a tenor, but he could easily join us. While not mob members like the Sopranos, we have our own set of skills. Let me give you the rundown.

I hadn’t realized that my oldest sister, Linda, could actually sing until our summer as camp counselors. We had a cabin full of young, homesick kids, and Linda would sit at the edge of their bunks and croon to them. One time, since I knew the song, I joined in. A little girl opened her eyes and glared at me. ‘Not you,’ she said. ‘Just her.’ That was my first inkling that not every Hanson was meant to solo. Even at camp.

I attend community choir because I enjoy singing, can carry a tune (if it isn’t very heavy) and love musicals. That’s it for me. I’m also shy, which might surprise my friends, and prefer being one of a crowd of sixty stuck behind the orchestra pit with the drum thumping nearby. Now that’s a choir experience I can get behind.

As the Shirley Temple of our generation, Susan had chubby cheeks, white blond hair, and a hyperactive desire to entertain people. We were the same size when I was seven and she was five, but I didn’t have an ounce of her pizazz. At the lake, on a car trip, in our own kitchen, in the middle of a movie, she was always singing, and that battery never wore down.

I didn’t know my brother Bill could sing until he joined choir. When he was a kid, he’d have thrown himself off a cliff before a single note slipped out of his mouth. His friends just didn’t roll that way. Picture a handsome young blond tenor weaving his way through a gang of Hell’s Angels while singing an Andy Kim song. That would be a no. To my surprise, he tried out for a part in the musical, Titanic, and nailed it. He feels too busy for choir now, but if we could persuade Crystal and Mark to start at six AM, he’d be there for sure. Otherwise, you can catch him singing karaoke at the Hooter.

Cindy was the only true hippy in our family. She liked to wander around the bush near our house, plucking a guitar and singing wistful songs about love and harmony. She lived for the TV show, the Partridge Family, and was convinced that all of us could be contenders. But no one ever listens to little sisters, unfortunately. Later, Cindy shone in choir, taking a lead role in Follies after starting out with a bit part from My Fair Lady, as Eliza Doolittle. ‘Aye, Guvnah!’ No one could have done it better.

Joni never gave us a clue that she could sing at all. She had a gravelly voice as a child, perhaps a symptom of too many colds. She spoke and people would search for the elderly man in the room. When our family performed gospel songs at church, and occasionally in the community, Joni was partnered with me as a ‘root pal.’ Everyone else harmonized around us. But as I stood by her, I heard the smooth tone of Doris Day. That girl could sing! We made a video to send to brother Bill who was traveling at the time. It was unintentionally hilarious, as we kept stopping so we could switch places. It looked like a badly done magic trick as we disappeared, popping into different spots throughout the song. To make things weirder, we were all dressed like Nikki from Big Love. Or old time Mennonites. Take your pick.

Jennifer is a whole other story. Severely red haired, she was bellowing out Hello Dolly! in an Ethel Merman-like voice when she was barely born. The last of seven children, she continued to be the loudest in the family. It was that or starve to death. (People from big families know what I’m talking about.) It was nothing for nineteen year old me to be driving around with four year old her in the back of the car and hear her belting out a mashup of ‘Everyone’s banging Lulu!’ with ‘And Bingo was his name-o!’ I can’t imagine what went on in her daycare, and anyway, its too late now. Still occasionally loud, always funny, she should be a writer. If you’re lucky enough to live in Flin Flon, she’s performing this Friday and Saturday at Johnny’s social club. And she doesn’t just sing. Trust me.  Now I’m going to hide from my family until they all get over this post. Goodbye.

That Other Porn

I’m not a shopper. I’ve made that very clear on my blog. My three most dreaded purchases are bathing suits, underwear and shoes. The first is obvious. I think every woman feels the same way, unless they’re modelling for Victoria’s Secret. The second is a comfort thing. You just have to take a chance and if you can find a brand you like, buy more. There is no solution for shoe shopping because: a. I have no sense of style. b. I need to feel comfortable all the time. c. I almost always experience buyers remorse and/or diminished self esteem. Part of me wishes that we were living the National Geographic dream of a loin cloth and no shoes. Of course, we’d have to have a more natural view of beauty, and for North Americans, that ship has sailed.

But something happens to me when I go into Winners. (TJ Max, in the USA.) I’m instantly taken by the thought that there might be a whole other me waiting to be discovered. Someone with glamour potential, or the ability to lose ten pounds while walking around the store. One who can wear anything without bitching about it later. Suddenly, I’m sure I’d look great in a long, shaggy gray sweater that hangs to my knees, or a pair of cropped jeans marked down to $24.99. And that cerulean blue dress on the clearance rack for $14.99. How could I not buy it?  It’s practically reaching for me as I trot by, wide eyed.

Why is the food section with its prettily packaged teas, unconventional chips and tiny bottles of maple syrup more attractive than the same items in a grocery store? Are the cookies made from quinoa, nuts and molasses as tasty as they look? The small boxes of designer hot chocolate imported from Belgium certainly look more sophisticated than my own tin of Fry’s cocoa. Whatever the reason, I find myself pawing through the products like an archaeologist at a new dig. Then I move into the household goods, my favorite section.

Have you ever noticed that things look better at Winners than they do at the Bay? Those lustrous, shell-like bowls and rose coloured wine glasses. The three foot high vases, and dainty picture frames. Tiny crystal lamps with turquoise shades that promise to transform any room. Five hundred thread count Egyptian cotton sheets for $49.99. Crisp apple strudels and warm woolen mittens. You get the idea.

And the shoe department. Nikes for $49.99! Clarks for  the same, and a lineup of every kind of sandal that I would never try on in a different store, but they’re just sitting there and I don’t have to ask for help. There’s the kind with straps that wrap around your legs, Roman soldier style. Are they for me? I stare into the tilted mirror on the floor, lifting my pants out of the way and imagining myself strolling around Italy in them. A couple quick trips up and down the aisle confirm the fit.

Here’s my mindset at Winners. In this ultimate shopping experience, maybe my feet won’t be fussy anymore. Perhaps I’ve grown a few inches since I walked in and no long have to tailor my dresses. Whatever it is, I’ll continue enjoying this version of myself that feels more comfortable in the world. The one that, like my late husband, has a linen collection.

So if you come for tea, make sure to ask me about my tiny jars of jam and hand crafted crackers. Run your hands through my fake expensive sheets. A woman dressed in linen like the one I’m pretending to be will be happy showing off her purchases.

Team Canada: Are We the Good Guys?

At a Chapters Indigo book store, I found a cute lunch bag with a picture of the Canadian flag and the slogan, ‘Still on the team.’ I loved it instantly. I have a friend who thinks patriotism is anti-world or pro-war. Something like that. But while we have much work to do as a nation, I’m very proud to be Canadian. But what does that mean?

Years ago, my sisters, daughters and I would travel to Dallas, Orlando, or Vegas for juvenile products tradeshows. We’d flog the babyTrekker baby carrier and have loads of fun doing it. Overall, people loved knowing that our product was made in Canada, so we made sure to mention it on the box. ‘Made in Canada, eh.’ To many buyers and other vendors, being from Canada meant that we were kind, reliable and honest.

There was a product I liked by an American designer with a small but thriving business. It turned out that her very unique stroller cover had been stolen by a Canadian company called Jolly Jumper. ‘And they’re Canadian!’ she kept saying, as if this was the most important detail. I wasn’t surprised, since they’d ripped me off the year before in the most shameless way. One of their sales people was pregnant and had asked me for one at wholesale cost. Of course I gave it to her. Within six months, their badly made copy of my other carrier, the First Journey, was on the market.

I’d had the same reaction as my American friend. ‘But they’re Canadian!’ Kind of a plaintive cry, an awakening to a few hard truths that some Canadians are as ruthless as, say, He Who Must Not Be Named that Lives to the South. Why do we think of ourselves as ‘good guys’ anyway? Do Canadians never steal, tell lies or act rudely? Are we all like characters in those old Jeannette MacDonald, Nelson Eddie movies; direct, thoughtful and without guile? Unfortunately, no. So where does this idea come from, and why are we all drinking the same Kool-Aid about what it means to be Canadian?

Here’s my theory. Some other countries may dislike our healthcare program and not appreciate our attitudes about guns. This may be true of some Canadians as well. But overall, we have a social contract that we’ve figuratively signed onto, saying, ‘I might hate you but I need you to prosper, so I can, too.’

We don’t have the kind of healthcare I’d like, one that includes dental and pharmaceutical expenses, but what we have is pretty substantial. When you lose your spouse to cancer as I did, you find out pretty quickly how good we have it. And as I recall, not one person said to him, ‘Gee, I really hate that you have free Cancer Care.’ As it turns out, we Canadians are pretty united on several fronts.

We can bicker about how we heat our houses and run our cars. Gas! Windmills! But being Canadian means we all deal with a lot of cold weather, and being warm and fed comes first. Our social contract says that we can argue, but we can’t fall apart. We can’t afford to be a country constantly at war with itself. This sophisticated, intricate Canadian system that we carry together, like movers hauling a piano around, depends on a certain amount of harmony. And for us, the solution to a shooting in Canada isn’t to give every shopper in Toronto a gun, but to try to understand each situation as it arises. It helps that in spite of the many folks I know who hunt, not one considers using a gun as a form of home defense.

As we move uneasily through elections, we’re all aware that in spite of our various concerns like immigration, taxation and social programs, we have to keep it together.  Some think that Andrew Scheer would be an awesome Prime Minister. Others want to weep into their pillows at the very thought. It doesn’t matter. We’re a diverse group, and that’s a very good thing.

We may not like our prime minister, or our next one, but we know this. Nobody wants to end up in a dictatorship. That’s why a lot of our folks emigrated here in the first place. None of us want to live without the rights we take for granted. Most of us want every other Canadian to have them as well. I may not like your politics, or the fact that you don’t recycle or mow your lawn. But I’m willing to live with it. This piano is just too heavy to carry without you.

The Game’s Afoot

All my life I’ve been a terrible card player. Once the games got more challenging than ‘Go Fish’ I lost the ability to win. When I worked at HBM&S as a student, I faced daily humiliation at the game of Durroc. (made up game…who knows the correct spelling?) Is it a math thing, or a confidence problem? I’m not sure. Maybe both.

A few winters ago, my friend Gaye held a dinner party at her house. The wine flowed, the conversation was delightful. Much to my dismay, after dessert the cards came out. And the game of Ramole proceeded to kick my ass. We were betting with quarters and it wasn’t very long before I was deeply in debt to every person there. I’m blaming it on the wine, but really I’m just bad at cards.

Even Monopoly was a challenge. I had a romantic view of the game, so tended to play with my heart instead of being practical. And the money made me anxious so I’d hold onto my cash instead of buying up houses as they came onto the market. When I met my husband and we played with friends, he’d throw money around like a bigshot. We had to watch him like a hawk, because he wasn’t above stuffing extra cash under his side of the board. We never let him be the banker, but he usually won anyway.

A few years ago, some friends invited us to join a bridge club. My friend Nayda plays, and she’d told me some things about the game. My biggest problem, besides the challenge of learning, is the silence rule. Apparently, people don’t speak while playing. I can just see myself holding my cards and longing to ask for advice or talk about books or the latest Netflix show. Or talk about anything, really.

I excel at easy kid’s games, like snakes and ladders, or Clue. I can beat an eight year old at checkers, but after that all bets are off. I have no strategy or game plan, ever. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. And I don’t like to feel like I’m at school, about to fail a math test. Which is how card games occasionally make me feel. But I just read a Walrus article about how we’re all supposed to continually try new things. Especially things that scare us. It’s good for the brain, and an important part of creating new neural pathways.

I’m all about making healthy choices. I want to be the kind of person who meets a challenge head on, so when my daughter and I went to a karaoke session at the Calgary writer’s conference, I got up and sang. It was bad, and I waited until the last moment. I sang Ruby, by Kenny Rogers and people clapped with looks of deep pity on their faces when I was done. But still. I did it. And while I’m not going to jump from a high cliff or an airplane, I guess I’m willing to drink and play card games when the occasion arises. Just don’t make me play bridge.

To All the Books I’ve Loved Before

It started with the Baby Feet nursery book. Copyrighted in 1928, it had stories like the politically incorrect ‘Little Black Sambo,’ and the tale of the Teeny Tiny Woman. My siblings and I never grew tired of them, and even now, are constantly looking for an edition in better shape than the one we still own. (Full disclosure: I drew on the pages and cut them up with scissors when I was four. Or maybe six. I was very young for my age.)

Books can be friends, and not just the characters in the story. It’s the way it feels in your hands. The cover design. It looks back at you and says, yes. We are going to be besties. When at age nine my teacher said no more picture books, I was horrified. My obsession with Dr. Seuss was genuine: Bartholomew Cubbins and the Five Hundred Hats. Oobleck. Yurtle the Turtle, the King’s Stilts. I loved them all. But I took a breath and stepped into the world of Hugh Lofting, who I called Hudge until a teacher corrected me.

The Dr. Doolittle series was my first foray into chapter books. It was so influential, we ended up naming our new red haired puppy, Chee Chee, which means ginger in monkey language. From there I became Pollyanna, Trixie Belden and every adventurous character by Enid Blyton. Then there were the classics like Little Women, Heidi, and Robin Hood, an abridged series that my uncle gave us every year for Christmas.

I could never figure out what really happened to Beth in Little Women. The last sentence in the saddest chapter says: “…a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last.” Was she dead or not? I wasn’t a ‘read between the lines’ kind of girl. But eventually I figured it out. She was dead. But with God. So she wasn’t really dead. Or something like that.

As a teenager, Harlequin Romances were my entrée into the world of working women, travel and romance. The protagonists were all virgins. Many had cool jobs like ballerina, opera singer, or first violin in a London orchestra. But they all got married and lived happily ever after, though I was never sure if they got to keep their jobs.The books cost a dollar, and we traded them around like comics.

After the Harlequins came the aptly named bodice rippers. To be honest, it was hard for me to understand how such aggressive seductions could be romantic. The word no really meant, ‘only if you force me.’ And then there was the age difference. If he was thirty-two, she’d be sixteen. I only read a few before I was done. I got halfway through ‘Sweet Savage Love,’ (a lot like the title) and said, nope.

In high school, my favorite novel was Rumer Godden’s ‘An Episode of Sparrows.’ My least favorite was ‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton. I just didn’t get it. We also read ‘Of Human Bondage’, ‘Tess of the Durberville’s and ‘Huck Finn.’ The last was the only book that wasn’t unrelentingly sad. I always had trouble understanding the theme of a book and still do, which is troublesome, given that I’m a writer. On another note, in my first year at university I discovered the Lord of the Rings series and almost failed  midterms by trying to get through the whole thing in five days. Never do that.

I was a more discerning reader by this point. Barbara Taylor Bradford was hugely popular back then. I read a few of her books, then picked one up where the protagonist had twin one year old’s, was the CEO of a large corporation and a master gardener. I had no kids yet, and no green thumb to speak of, but somehow I knew this character was extremely far fetched. Like an early Clive Cussler book where a scuba diver lands on a beach and ravishes a girl who is sunbathing. ‘Thanks,’ she says afterward. ‘I needed that.’ I clapped the book shut and shook my head. These authors are hugely successful and have made millions of dollars, so I’ll doubt they’ll be hurt by my words. They can laugh all the way to the bank while reading this blog.

But here’s the truth about reading. Immersing oneself in a novel makes life better. Empathy, curiosity, hope and persistence are traits we can absorb from characters we love. Like when Dumbledore from Harry Potter says, ‘It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.’ The child in all of us understands that no matter how old we are, we’re on a journey, and we have some input into where we go and how we get there. We learn from our heroes that being brave and forging ahead really does help. Unless you’re reading Thomas Hardy. Then, abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Just kidding. (Sort of)

This is the cover of my childhood book, ‘Little Women.’ Just because.
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