Once Upon A Time, in Flin Flon

When I was at Zumba one night, we were doing this Greek dance that involved lots of finger snapping. The bottom half of me performed just fine, but the top half had to fake it because I’m snap impaired. Always have been. And it made me wonder. Like in fairy tales, was there a good and bad fairy at my christening? If so, it’s obvious which one held the most power. I picture the good fairy standing over me with her wand, ignoring my bewildered parents who begin praying that the priest will show up any minute.

Tapping me lightly on the brow, she says,”I grant Judith average good looks.”

Bad fairy speaks. Her tap is a little harder. “But her teeth will never line up properly. And she’ll be really short and need glasses. And…” At this point, the good fairy steps up. Her voice is high and light.

“Judith will have the ability to make people laugh.”

Bad fairy:

“She will have a lifelong affinity for strange accidents: She’ll fall off the stage at her ballet concert, forget to wear underwear on a windy day in Ashern, embarrass her first boyfriend with her appalling lack of info on human anatomy which she will voice loudly while surrounded by teenagers in a local movie theatre. And so on.” (The bad fairies voice sounds like she’s smoked for five hundred years and eaten way too much dairy.)

Good fairy:

“She will have enough brains to get out of high school and fake her way through university.”

Bad fairy:

“But she will have blonde moments, many of them, even though she hasn’t truly been blonde since her 12th birthday.”

Good fairy: (forgetting to add another blessing.) “Blonde moments? Why, I myself am a gorgeous blonde. What moments are we talking about?”

Bad fairy: ‘Don’t get me started.”

And the bickering continued with nary a mention of further gifts. There was to be no athletic ability or gracefulness. Or even the ability to keep my mouth shut from time to time. It’s not that I talk too much, (insert husband’s opinion here) but that I speak thoughtlessly about pretty much any topic. I get an idea in my head and it catapults out of my mouth before my brain has a chance to rally the troops and lock the gate. One might say the same about these blog posts.

The whole idea of fairies at my christening actually makes me feel better about things. So don’t try and tell me that my forgetfulness comes from my dad, or my inability to sit still is a gift from my mother. Nope. Bad fairy. Good fairy. I’m still waiting for the middle aged fairy to make an appearance because she has a lot to answer for. But that’s a topic for another day.

T’is the Season

This walk down memory lane is a blog from a couple years ago. (Sadly, I still haven’t repainted the red door.)

Something strange comes over me in the month before Christmas. A restlessness. An inability to view my surroundings with anything less than creeping dissatisfaction. The benefit of this emotion is that I get things done. Tree up. House cleaned and decorated. But there’s a less beneficial side effect. I call it the ‘Can’t leave well enough alone,’ syndrome. For example.

When my sister Cindy lived in Flin Flon, she was unhappy with her living room carpet. It was old. She longed for a clean, bare floor. One afternoon, she pulled up a corner and, lo, there was hardwood. Within minutes, (somehow, we drew my mother and sister Susan into this madness) we were ripping the carpet away from its underlay. We had it neatly rolled and were carrying it out of the house under our arms when my brother in law came home from a long, long day at work. He looked at us with such tired eyes. I felt like a thief from the Christmas movie, Home Alone. Deserving of a slippery banana peel or brick to the head.

Other years, I’ve satisfied myself with sewing a Christmas table cloth two hours before dinner was ready to be served. Or waiting to paint our rumpus room until Christmas Eve. Though we started at eleven in the morning, I can still remember my sister Linda saying, ‘Really? But I’ve never painted.’ ‘Here’s your chance,’ I answered, shoving a brush into her hand. By four o’clock, everything was lovely. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.

I’ve done other harebrained things, but this year’s been the worst. Yesterday, I got the brilliant idea that I should paint the inside of my entrance door red. I’ve always wanted a red door, and why not have it done in time for Christmas? Clarence was in Winnipeg, so there was no one to talk me out of it. Fifteen minutes later, I was at Canadian Tire buying a small can of paint, a little tray and a roller. I had washed the door before leaving home.

Filled with delight, I quickly assembled a drop cloth and small ladder. When I opened the can, the smell hit me right away. I had purchased Tremclad, since this was a metal door. It’s an oil based paint, which, in my enthusiasm, hadn’t occurred to me. Within minutes of applying it, I felt dizzy. Fifteen minutes later I had a headache the size of Montana. By the time I finished and was making lunch, I was staggering around the kitchen like I’d just drunk a forty of tequila. Volatile organic compounds. It’s tequila with a side of brain damage.

I immediately checked with our family paint advisor, sister Joni. After berating me in an appropriate fashion, she advised letting it dry, then priming it over with latex and repainting with the same. It might help, she said darkly. And, what were you thinking? Well, Joni. Alas. I wasn’t. Enthusiasm for my latest project drove all common sense away. So today, once I’ve passed the twenty-four hour drying minimum, I’m repainting. Even if it didn’t smell so bad, I’d have to, anyway. Because, though I did a good job, it looks terrible. The door actually seems possessed. There is something menacing about it, even without the odor. A malevolence. Like killer children should be waiting for me at the end of a long hallway. Or Jack Nicholson with an axe.

The downside is, I had to redirect my bookclub to my generous friend Kate’s house. The upside is, I no longer want a red door. I’ve often admired them on other people’s houses. But in my tiny foyer, it practically slaps your face as you walk by. So, lesson learned. Sigh. Now to finish gyp rocking the basement ceiling. Just kidding, honey. You’re not coming home until tomorrow, right?

The Truth About Hipster Beards

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

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

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

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

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

hipster beard

Murder, She Wrote

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

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

“Seriously, we’re being overrun. They must have come in with the tomatoes.”

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

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

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

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

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

Risky Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image may contain: 2 people, child and outdoor

Break Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights from Turkey:

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

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

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

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

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