One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus

There was no toke involved in this story. But the principle is still there, I promise. It begins with an idea I got one day, to order an electrolysis machine that would take care of all my hair related needs. I pictured myself lying on the sofa with a large strip of something electrical taped to my leg, while the machine forever removed the need for a razor or chemicals. I’d paid quite a bit for it, but figured that once I was done, I could lend it to my friends. Excitedly, I took the pieces out of the box, impressed by the smallness of the machine and the multitude of parts. It was when I started reading the instructions that I realized I’d made a mistake. ‘Make sure the client holds the stabilizing rod firmly in hand or has tucked it securely beneath her thigh, to avoid electrocution.” 

When I ordered it, the company had said the machine was made for professional use. I thought they were bragging. But indeed, the machine was meant for a spa, or for those experienced at keeping people alive when applying electrical jolts. I sent it back and I’m happy to say I got a full refund. 

My next purchase was sleep related. I’d been waking in the middle of the night with a bit of anxiety, sitting bolt upright with my heart pounding after some crazy dream or other. I don’t like sleeping pills or even night time antihistamines. They have a way of backfiring in ways I won’t get into now. But marijuana that’s approved by Health Canada seemed like just the ticket. I got hold of Flin Flon’s famous Mr. W. and went over to check out his store. He had everything you could imagine possible in the world of marijuana related items. “I want candy,” I said. “Sleep candy.” He looked deeply into my eyes like he was gazing into my soul. “You need something that will cheer you up before bed. What about this delicious caramel made with all natural ingredients? But remember to only use half.” 

I went home prepared for the night ahead, cut the sucker in two and ate it by 8 pm. Apparently, edibles need to be devoured two hours before you actually need them. By nine o’clock I was staggering slightly as I walked around the house. My balance was that of someone who’d had about five straight shots of tequila. By ten o’clock, I could barely climb into bed. It took me a while because I was drying a few dishes and their importance had magnified to such an extent that I was in raptures. “This pot lid is the Dalai lama of all pot lids,” I remember whispering to myself. I was full of deep thoughts that took place in very slow motion. Then I got the giggles. Everything struck me as funny. I was laughing wildly at something that probably wasn’t funny at all, when suddenly, the room seemed to close in on me and I started feeling like I couldn’t breath. And then shadowy shapes started approaching my bed. 

“Not the zombies from the Walking Dead!” I cried. “Oh sweet Jesus, I’m having a really bad trip!” I wanted to call one of my sisters for help, but 

a) didn’t want a lecture 

b) didn’t want to wake anyone up (forgetting that it was only ten PM.) 

It took a few hours for that part to wear off and for me to settle into a restless sleep. I woke the next morning still completely stoned. But my lesson was learned. I am not a half-caramel-marijuana-filled-candy kind of person. I am a tiny sliver cut carefully off the end, person. The bigger lesson of the whole thing? Always check my cockamamy schemes with others first. I can be impulsive, and my dear departed husband is no longer the voice of reason in my life. Perhaps I’ll ask myself some questions before I embark on the next big thing. Like, will this kill me? Will I want it to? The good news is, once or twice a month, I will have a very good sleep. As for the hair problem, I’m so over it. 

In honor of an old blog, ‘Fifty Shades of Cheese’ and my friend, John Scott, who found me this song, here it is in its full, 1971 glory.

Where Are the Normal Pants?

While shopping for pants one day, I was reminded of the clothes worn in a new Korean show on Netflix. Their styles are always a year or two ahead of us, but to my dismay, this Winner’s store seemed to be embracing the same look in women’s pants. Wide legged, calf length and stretchy, they’re an ‘AH, YES!’ to a 95 lb. 5’6″ Korean woman, and a nightmare to a short white female.

‘Where are all the normal pants?’ I asked a harried employee. ‘This is it,’ she said, sounding at the end of her rope. She was tall and elegant, and the clothes I surveyed would fit her perfectly. I suddenly realized that all the clunky white sneakers I’d complained about last year were a foreshadowing of the return to the nineties silhouette. High waisted pants with front pleats and a baggy flair. Loose, deconstructed shirts. For someone short and currently flirting with Covid-isolation-induced chubbiness, a certain amount of tailoring is called for. Would I like to wear these comfortable clothes? Yes, I would. Will I? Since I have pictures of myself from the nineties when I was much thinner and still looked ridiculous in them, no, I won’t. 

It’s not that I don’t care about fashion. It’s that I hate it. In spite of my fascination with shows like Project Runway, where designers sew weirdly attractive items for 6 ft. 90 lb. women, I’ve never liked picking out clothes. If I had my way, we’d all wear sacks in a variety of colours, both men and women. High heels would be against the law, (I’ve never been a stronger feminist than when I watch a TV FBI agent teetering around on spike heels.) As I’ve said before, I’d also love a country wide mandate on wearing jumpsuits in a variety of colours. No one would be allowed a belt, either, since I don’t have much of a waist and hate to be reminded of it.

People fed up with the growing divisiveness in politics might fantasize about living in a section of the country where everyone agrees with them and there is unity for all. I fantasize about living in a world where no one cares what they wear. But now I have an addendum. Wear what you want, as long as its not baggy, nineties style clothes. (Do you remember men’s suits, back then? All the guys looked like they were wearing their dad’s clothes. Women’s suit jackets weren’t much better.) So, to sum up: pick attractive jumpsuits or sacks. I can go either way. I just can’t go back to the nineties.

Nuts

 I was buying nuts in Baba’s today when two thoughts intruded. The first was a bit of an aha moment. Is this why I’ve been gaining weight? I like to believe that Covid Belly Syndrome results from the Bug slipping past me, its sickly breath not landing directly but touching close enough to leave me with extra pounds. ‘Here’s some flab’ it whispers as it rushes by. I know this is a complete fabrication of my isolated ‘can’t take much more’ brain. But since I don’t want to claim responsibility, I think I’ll stick with it. 

The second thought was a bit more worrisome. Am I becoming a nut hoarder? I still have a few cups left of slivered almonds and pecans. Why feel compelled to buy more? Again, I blame Covid. If the stores were to close suddenly, I would not worry about running out of toilet paper or boxes of macaroni. I would grieve the loss of such an efficient protein. 

And then another thought occurred. Am I becoming a nut? Have I eaten so many that the analogy, ‘nuttier than a pecan’ has gained some truth? Probably. But if so, I’m not alone. As hostile and indifferent as the world could be before this pandemic descended, there’s never been a wider divide between people on the left and the right, politically. We are all, on both sides, feeling very misunderstood.

Sometimes a hostile thought will wake me in the middle of the night, gripping my brain until I shout, ‘Stop!’ (I highly recommend rebuking your more disturbing nighttime ideas in this fashion. In order to keep crazy in its place, you have to act a little…well. It’s easier if you sleep alone. Although one episode with a light sleeper lying beside you might be good for a laugh.)

We might not be as entrenched in our beliefs as our US counterparts. But the issue with masks and vaccinations is much the same. When I get together with vaccinated friends, we often descend into bitter conversations. ‘Why won’t they get the shot and help the world?’ I’m sure its the same with people who are unvaccinated. ‘Why can’t they leave us alone? Let us make our own decisions? And let us shop without masks and gather in large groups, because we know we’ll be okay?’

Most people who are not vaccinated are simply afraid. I’m not sure why, because they obviously have friends and family who’ve survived both shots, even those of us who felt a bit ill after our second one. But the unvaccinated all seem to know someone who didn’t survive. This might be a person they’ve only heard about through the anti-vaccine grapevine, but it obviously feels true to them.

I haven’t met an unvaccinated person who claimed to be as persecuted as Jews during WWII, or the Indigenous people dragged off to residential schools. But they’re out there. To those people, I say this. Unless you’ve been pulled from your mother’s arms, and starved and bullied for years, or lived in a concentration camp until your body resembled a walking skeleton, and had all your possessions taken by neighbors and the police, then no. You can’t make that comparison. I’m sure it feels unfair that there are things you can no longer do, especially in Manitoba. You can’t attend movies, most restaurants, sporting events held inside. This does not make you Rosa Parks, who courageously stood up to white people and insisted on her rights. You are simply too afraid to get vaccinated, and for that reason, I feel bad for you.

Covid is testing everyone. It’s not going to be over this month, or this year. New variants are making their way toward us and all we can do is protect ourselves the best we can. And protect you. I have unvaccinated people in my extended family, people I love. People I want to see grow old. And I understand why many of you are feeling hostile, because frankly, we all are. 

Let’s practice a little forgiveness. Let’s draw on a small bit of common sense and be kind to one another. One of the reasons some of us are sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night, shouting ‘Stop!’ to our own thoughts, is because we miss people. I’m seeing more of them now, but it’s not the same. I want to walk down the street, mask-less, and wave to people. Smile at them. Know who they are. (That’s a tough one for me. It was hard for me to remember faces before everyone started wearing masks.) Let’s acknowledge that we’re not our best selves right now. And let’s acknowledge what we have together as a society, and pray we don’t destroy it. As my daughter Hilary likes to say, let’s not allow Covid to pull us under. Let’s be stronger than that. There will come a day when it will be over. My prayer is that you’ll all be alive and well for the celebrations.

Brain Dead

When I was a child, I ate porridge for breakfast during the winter. It was such a traditional meal that it took years for me to connect my vacant stare, occasional drooling and noxious gas problems with such a wholesome, heart friendly grain. I’m sure my teachers didn’t realize that that the neutron bomb in the classroom was set off by the small girl in the front row who often had trouble paying attention. 

Many years later, I had to give up wheat, oats and other fun grains. If you could make something light and wonderful with it, my stomach said, I don’t think so. The side benefit of the sacrifice was having a clear head. I hadn’t realized the power of brain fog until it disappeared along with bread and porridge. Lately, I haven’t been doing too badly with small amounts of both. Perhaps I’ve served my time, or maybe the Creator has decided that sixteen years of denial is enough. 

When juggling an allergy, it’s impossible to keep all the balls in the air at once. The questions I’m supposed to ask myself are these:

1. Will my stomach feel nauseous and/or bloat like I’m about to give birth?

2. Does my skin look like I live in the Sahara desert?

3. Will I be able to walk and chew gum at the same time?

4. Should I try to pretend that hives are mosquito bites?

Apparently, I am very comfortable living in denial. Which is a river on the same continent as the Sahara. 

When my kids traveled home a few weeks ago, I decided to bake them some granola bars. I’m constantly fussing over their diets, even though they’re grown ups and in charge of themselves. But God knows we were eating enough potato and corn chips to feed a village. I figured we could all use a healthy snack. To my delight, the oats didn’t seem to bother my stomach at all. As the weeks went by, I had more than a few pieces every day, including today. My day of reckoning. 

After countless  bags of chips, some drinking and much Olympics viewing, my company went home. I stared at my neglected yard and went to find my gardening outfit, including a pair of ancient dress pants with comfy, worn out Lycra. I couldn’t find them anywhere. 

I sat down on the bed, puzzled. That’s when I realized I was already wearing them. I had put them on twenty minutes before. Oh no, I thought. Clasping my hands together like an overwrought opera singer, I headed for the bathroom. 

When I’m upset, I like to gargle. The strong Listerine flavors seem to calm me down. I reached into the cupboard and grabbed my blue bottle of mouthwash. After a mere five seconds, it became clear to me that I’d grabbed the nail polish remover (in my defense, same size bottle, identical colour) and spent the next few minutes spitting and rinsing. (And then, yes, gargling. If ever there was a time…) 

Struggling to rub two brain cells together, I finally made a connection regarding my serious lack of focus. It was the oats. ‘Aha!’ I yelled, feeling powerful and relieved, like Dr. Frankenstein when he finally brings his monster to life. ‘I have brain fog!’ I shouted. (Shouting while alone in my house is a regular activity of mine.) 

Knowing the truth was such a relief. Because the alternative was not going to be pleasant. And now I wouldn’t have to lie to my kids about having trouble finding my way home from the store. There’d be no episodes of spotting my phone in the fridge (that’s oatmeal behavior) or searching for glasses perched on my head. No. Because as soon as I’m finished this last container of granola bars, I will cease and desist. And then I will talk like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.  

“The sum of the square root of two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the third side.” 

But not really. I’ve never been very good at math. Although I really rocked the slide rule in the tenth grade. Which is amazing when you consider I was still eating oats. 

You Light the Fire, (I’ll Take Cover)

 I had an old fashioned marriage. My husband did all the guy things and I did the traditional female stuff, partly because he was raised in a certain way.  At one of our extended family gatherings, he got up to do dishes and his dad said, “Sit down, son, there’s women here for that.” I left the moment of truth telling to Clarence and his dishcloth-wearing brothers in law. 

On a particular evening, (after fourteen years of marriage) he was heading out to play hockey with his team, the Bears, and he wondered why I had never washed his equipment. Let me be clear. I dated hockey players (You couldn’t help it…they were everywhere) but I was not one, nor were any of my family members. As far as I was concerned, Clarence wore skates, shoulder and knee pads, and a jersey. His stuff was always stored in the garage or laundry room and I paid it no attention. As he pulled his things out of the bag, they all seemed to retain his body shape. The tee shirt was so stiff, you could have used it as a weapon. As for the jock strap and towel, well. Let’s just say we bought him some new things. ‘You could have told me,’ I said. ‘I would have washed them for you.’ 

“Some of the guys were starting to complain,” he said soberly, holding the solidified clothing. We had a laugh and let it go.

I say all this to tell you the following. I never manned the barbeque until Clarence died, (note the gender expressed here) since it has always frightened me. I know the basics, but once the automatic ignition button stopped working, I only used it when my youngest daughter, Mari, was in town. ‘You light the fire and I’ll take cover,’ I said more than once. We both wished for matches that were at least 18 inches long. When she moved away, that was the end of barbequed food for me. 

The last person to use it was my son in law, Bob. I told him it wasn’t working and he said, gazing at it with the kind of look you’d give a dead zombie, “I think it just needs a good cleaning.” This was a bit like my lack of experience with hockey equipment. I thought barbeques self cleaned every time you fired them up. 

Since I’m planning on cooking for family today, I decided to give it a scrubbing. But first I had to examine it. Even rudimentary technologies like barbeques puzzle me, placing me in the ‘always a caveman, never an engineer,’ category of human. I mean, I read books about scientific things, but they don’t say anything about how barbeques work, probably assuming that most people read the instructions. Ours were long gone.

As I took it apart, I could see that the bottom was filled with ashes similar to horror movie remains, along with broken metal parts lying forlornly along the bottom. Wearing my white pants and a nice top (as my mother would say, you’re just like your father. You never change your clothes for the dirty work) I scraped out the ashes and filled a bucket with hot soapy water  to wash the thing down. After ruining my kitchen scrubbing brush and floor brush, the grill didn’t look too bad. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, either. 

There were several potential reasons for this. 

A. I have a hard time telling if the gas cannister is empty. (I need to buy a gas monitoring thingy.)

B. Maybe I’ve hooked it up wrong. 

My neighbor Gerry paid a visit and we discovered I’d turned the knob the wrong way on the tank. In my defense, I wasn’t wearing reading glasses. However dinner turns out and even if the bottom of the barbeque doesn’t fall out, I know I’ll be buying a new one very soon. And a gas monitoring thingy. 

Battle Cry

(Don’t get up in arms, I’m just taking the piss.)

 I waged war the other morning, but it was the crows and magpies that started the battle. They swooped across my back yard, screaming at full volume. After a good twenty minutes, I couldn’t take the noise anymore. Besides, I don’t want them moving in. I set my small Bluetooth speaker on the deck, crept away like it had nothing to do with me, and played the song, Revolution, by the Beatles. Only, I played the Jim Sturgess version because it’s a little raunchier. The birds left in 20 seconds. 

It got me thinking. I didn’t pick John Lennon’s version because the letter L in the word, ‘World’ is so soft that it’s hard to believe he’s singing about revolution. And I wondered, how on earth did Britain take over so much of the planet using such a poncy accent? When you hear Brits like Prince Charles speak, you think, yes, you can run a library. You can bring back farming without pesticides. Or be in a famous band. But don’t ever be a general. Don’t try to be a bad guy, either. You just don’t have the accent for it. 

When facing the enemy, perhaps Britain could have a Yorkshireman shouting insults across the battle field. The only problem is, no one would understand them. ‘Find us a Cockney from South London!’ That might work. Realistically, they’d need the Celts back, with their animal skins and blue faces. It wouldn’t matter if no one was there to translate. Everyone would be too busy running away. 

Where does that leave Canadians? If you’re from the East Coast, the enemy would pause for a long moment. ‘Can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying but I’d really like to give them all a hug.’ If the army was from Ontario, everyone would think they were American. If they were from Manitoba or Saskatchewan and possibly Alberta, a shout would go up. ‘They’re from the Dakotas! Stand down!’ (It’s different than being American. Think of the movie, Fargo. Yeah, that accent.)

If you really want to terrify an enemy, use a Russian or Slavic accent. It’s all those Die Hard movies, or possibly,  the Mission Impossibles. A Scandinavian should remind us of Vikings, but all I can hear is the Swedish chef on the Muppets. A whole lot of ‘lurty, flurty’ going on. The Aussies would fall for the old, ‘Here, have a beer,’ from the enemy, and the New Zealanders, once again, would not be understood. My niece Heather’s, husband, Adam, a handsome Kiwi, once called our house asking to speak with Heetha. I hung up three times before I realized he meant ‘Heather.’ 

I’m going for a paddle soon, and I’ll be having a chat with those obnoxious otters again. Perhaps I’ll pretend to be Russian. But since I’m terrible at accents, I’ll have to stick with my Marge, from Fargo impression. It’s one I land every time.

Anti-Masker?

 Okay, it’s not what you think. But first I should fill you in on some gifts I’ve received from my daughters over the years. Mysterious boxes arriving in the mail with items like candles and books, uplifting quotes and interesting tchotchkes. They were shipped three months apart, and I felt like a happy little kid at Christmas. 

They were the best surprise. Not the scary clown waiting for you in the dark, kind. (I used to think I liked the unexpected. I don’t.) These packages of love burst into my life, turning ordinary days into something special.

Last year, thanks to my girls, I attended Master Class online. I learned the art of negotiation from an FBI expert, attended writing classes by Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume and a few others. There were cooking classes, gardening experts…anything I wanted to learn was on there. I also received the gift of Story Worth. I write something about my life each week and my girls will have it turned into a book.

This year’s Mother’s Day gift was a super expensive tinted sunscreen. My regular brand leaves me looking pale and ghostly. This one makes me feel like a movie star. They threw in some  bath bombs and a high end, ultra expensive tube of papaya facial mask. Probably six months worth. 

I’ve tried the mask a few times, dabbing it lightly over my face and leaving it for the two to five recommended minutes. Last night before bed, I decided to give it another go. I gently squeezed the tube and twice the regular amount shot out. Have I said the stuff is expensive? I wasn’t able to push it back in the tube so I slathered it on. Less than five minutes passed before I felt a tingling which quickly morphed into the feeling you’d get holding your face near open flames. I rushed to the bathroom and washed the mask off. It took a while because that stuff adhered like some kind of alien protoplasm. When my face was finally bare, I had to take a step back.

I looked like burn victim Ralph Fiennes in the movie, The English Patient. I felt like him, too. Soaking a wash cloth in cold water, I gently laid it against my fire licked skin. It was so soothing, I wet another and stuck it in the freezer. This went on for the next hour.

 I couldn’t decide if it felt like the kind of burn you get when you forget to use oven mitts, or if it was closer to the worst sunburn possible. Even as the redness slightly receded, I found new discomfort in the tightness of my skin. It was actively shrinking. I could hear it screaming for help as it clung to the bones of my face. ‘What the fuuuuuuuuck!’ was the message my skin cells painfully transmitted as they joined together in a desperate plea. I tried a new technique of lathering myself with a heavy cream before applying another cloth from the freezer. It seemed to work. But all night, I had to sleep on my back. I knew my skin would never survive contact with the pillowcase. It felt so vulnerable, like a billion tiny cells crying as one and blaming me for what I’d put them through.

When I woke in the morning, my skin felt tight but natural. I rushed to the mirror, expecting a miracle. Wrinkles gone, nothing sagging, my nineteen year old face staring back at me. Nope. I looked exactly the same as I did the night before the Great Burning. So, I’m giving the sunscreen ten out of ten. I’m giving the face mask a hearty thumbs down. In the meantime, I’ll creep around with a large hat on and my old 100 proof sunscreen slathered over my vulnerable skin, hiding from the light like a vampire. Fortunately we’re going through a cold spell. There’s always a silver lining to these things.

Home of the Beaver

I got my kayak out today for the first time in 2021. It feels a bit early, but I dipped a toe into Hook Lake and it was so much warmer than last spring, thanks to our amazing winter. Yet off in the distance, snow still sugared the edges of the water in some places. On the second lake, chunks of ice floated in one long sheet, like someone was throwing a party and waiting impatiently for the tequila to arrive. 

I was a party of one. As I dropped my bum into my kayak, followed by my trailing leg (it’s not elegant, but it works) I got the same feeling I get every time I leave shore, paddle in hand, filled with far too much excitement for such a serene undertaking. But the lake is never just a lake. It’s an experience, and I’m never the only player involved. 

I hadn’t gone far on the second lake, reached via a skinny, boulder filled narrow channel, when I noticed three little heads popping up around me. They were either young beavers, or very large muskrats, and they were making the strangest sounds. Like a bronchial cough, but with a certain tone to it. A Peter Lorre tone. If you’re not familiar with the actor, let me fill you in. He always played the part of a ratfink, or a murderer. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon. His voice gave a sinister aspect to the animal’s presence on the lake. They kept swimming ahead of me, ducking into the lake every few minutes, and surfacing with that malevolent cough. I left them behind, but after five minutes, I saw them again, trailing behind me. 

“You’re creeping me out!’ I called. “Stop following me.” As if they understood English, they turned around and left. But it had me wondering. Were these beavers a thrupple? I’ve only seen them alone or in pairs before. But it’s 2021, for heaven’s sake. Live and let live, I say. 

Shortly after, I spotted two baby loons on the lake. They were quite small and I would have thought them ducklings if not for their distinctive colouring. They let me get close enough to take a photo, but flew off before I could accomplish my mission. Since I’m not the most stable paddler, I decided not to lean into the shot. 

Loons mate for life. Were these two chicks matched up? Did they zero in on the first bird they saw and just decide to settle? If so, they’re very different from humans, who can hem and haw and date for ten years, and still have a fifty percent chance of things not working out. It must be easier for a loon. Find food. Fly away from danger. Leave when it gets cold. After that, there’s probably not much to talk about. 

There doesn’t seem to a be a lot of dissension in the animal/fish/fowl kingdom. I tried to picture the fish down below me divided on subjects like politics. Do they argue with the beavers about all the wood cluttering up the lake? They could do so safely, since beavers are herbivores. But muskrats like some tasty protein, and I’m sure the fish are wary enough to know it. 

‘How did you vote in the last election?” I asked. Nobody replied. I went back to singing, which is my usual paddling activity, working my way through the Canadian paddling song, Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, and finishing with a Loggins and Messina tune about Christopher Robin. It was one of my husband’s favorites, and since his ashes are scattered in that lake, it seemed only right to serenade him. Then the beavers came back and I decided to head to shore. It was the Peter Lorre cough that spooked me. Anyway, it’s their home, not mine. I’m just visiting. But I’ll be back. I tell them this in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. I can be sinister, too. 

All My Siblings

I have to repost this because tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I don’t know how she survived us all.

Growing up in a house with six other children required a certain amount of hardiness. After a traditional baptism, another followed that was more like an ongoing episode of Fear Factor. It involved loud squalling, bare knuckle fighting, laughing, and general hysteria. Since six of us were less than two years apart, my mother was always in full survival mode. People talk a lot about the common sense of parents in the sixties, but let’s be honest. Families were larger and a few toys couldn’t possibly compete with wild ideas and the lure of general mayhem. Many parents buckled against the pressure and allowed their offspring to run free. Until I was fifteen and Jennifer was born, all of us lived upstairs. It was a tight space for the eight people there at the time. ‘Go outside!’ was a common refrain at our house.

    ‘Quit climbing the walls!’ was another. My sisters, brother and I would take turns bracing our hands and feet against the sides of the entryway to our living room and see who could hike their way up to the ceiling in the quickest possible time. This was done with a lot of yelling, jeering and possible sabotage, like pulling someone’s legs out from under them. Susan and I were often the instigators, and she remains to this day the most competitive person in the family. If you showed her something you could do, she’d figure out a way to do it faster. The important part was when she got to win.

When we weren’t climbing the walls, Susan and I were busy making up new commercials. We were certain we could do a better job than the ad companies we heard on the radio, or saw on television. My mother encouraged this kind of behavior because it took less yelling and a lot more planning. Another favorite activity was pretending to be movie stars. I’m fairly certain that Linda enjoyed this too. If you needed a glamorous, tight dress look, you would simply insert both feet in one leg of your pajama bottoms, and use the empty leg for twirling. I was Connie Stevens. Someone else in the family was Annette Funicello, though I can’t remember who. Possibly Bill. Just kidding. Though we did encourage him to take part in our crazy plans. ‘Encourage,’ meaning a fair amount of arm twisting. Literally twisting of the arms. Remember snakebites? That was torture for beginners at our house.

My father was more cunning than my mother when it came to filling up our time. If she was at work, he’d put on one of his Spike Jones records and we’d dance like crazy until we fell down. Seriously, like teenagers popping ecstasy at a rave, we’d exhaust ourselves boogieing to ‘Cocktails for Two.’ He played music the whole time mom was out, especially some of his crazier jazz records by artists like Stan Kenton. Or, to paraphrase my mother, ‘I’ve died and gone to hell, and this is the soundtrack.’

In the early years, we had a wood stove in the basement. Occasionally, we’d thread hot dogs onto sticks or coat hangers, for roasting. Or we’d play with fire, adding interesting things to the stove and waiting to see what would happen. My mother was usually upstairs washing floors, preparing meals and generally working like an indentured servant. She worried we’d burn ourselves or put our arms through the ringer washer that always seemed to be running. It was the dilemma of every mother: ‘They might be in danger. But they’re so quiet right now.’ Her need for some kind of peace and order gave us plenty of opportunities to try out our crazy ideas. In no particular order, here are a few more:

Sliding on cardboard down the basement stairs.
Making a slide with blankets for the younger kids to slip from the top bunk to the bed on the other side of the room. We only dropped the blanket a few times.
Sneaking food from the kitchen. I liked to pretend I was a hungry orphan.
Lighting the candles hidden in a cross on the wall that were meant for special religious occasions. I spent the rest of the week worrying I was going to burn in hell for being sacrilegious.
Playing mass and taking turns squishing bread and shoving it into each other’s mouths. We mumbled fake Latin words and had the parishioners kneel for a really long time. (My children did the same thing, but with different hymns and more Holy Spirit carryings on.)
Flipping through the gigantic family bible that was filled with horrifying images of the torture of saints. We couldn’t get enough of it.

There were times when we played regular games, too, like Monopoly and War, (the card game, though we were always up for the other kind, too.) Clue fascinated all of us because we really wanted to live in a glamorous mansion with murderous people. Chinese Checkers promised a good hour’s worth of arguing, then there was Sorry, and the hipper kinds of games, like Password, also a television show. We truly loved Password.

The only reason my parents lived as long as they did was because we all loved to read, or have someone read to us. I’m sure mom and dad tiptoed through the house on such days, usually a Saturday when we’d all been to the library. There was also the lure of the great outdoors, though that often involved a command rather than a wish.

I like to think that our wild youth directed our futures. Linda (always seeking refuge) became a librarian, researcher and major source of info and help to breastfeeding moms everywhere. I was an entrepreneur (I can make it better!) and a writer. Susan left home to seek her fortune as a performer and traveled across Canada singing backup for Graham Shaw and his Juno award winning album. (Okay! You win!) Bill became a carpenter, probably for reasons of self defense. (saw, hammer, nails) Cindy’s been a preacher and a fantastic saleswoman, which may be one and the same job. Joni has had too many careers to name, is the best painter and can restore order to any home. (She was the kind of kid who put tape across the bedroom floor so your mess couldn’t wander onto her side.) And Jen grew up singing, simply as a way of being heard above all the noise, and carried it further with a couple of albums and a personality large enough to subdue nations.

Thirty-five years after my mother had her first baby, Jennifer left home and gave my parents the gift of an empty nest. They couldn’t get over the quiet. Then, there were grandchildren. But that’s a story for another day.

Life and the Playlist

 I was out for a walk the other day, my old, uncool headphones clapped over my ears, (I can’t wear earbuds anymore – they cause wax buildup) when I had a revelation. There is plenty of rhyme and rhythm in my music playlist, but not much order. 

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is followed by I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady, then a few songs from One Direction, Damien Rice, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Beatles, and Justin Bieber and The Weekend. Then there’s a hymn by an African children’s choir and two Christmas carols, because I can’t always see what I’m doing when compiling these lists. I love musicals, so a few from Les Miserable are followed by Gordon Lightfoot’s The Way I Feel, and then some from Leonard Cohen, but only the gloomy stuff because like him, at times I want it darker. 

When I was young, I liked listening to the whole album. Getting a feel for the theme, and appreciating the artistry of the collection. Now, I’m more like a jumpy addict who can’t hang on to a thought long enough to appreciate it. And I’m starting to feel that this has always been my way. I listened to whole albums only because they came on a record, a tape or a CD, and that’s how they were played.

There’s a small segment of the population who spend the day doing stuff in the right order and remembering things. I am not one of them. The cell phone I was searching for was in my back pocket. I wasn’t in the fridge to grab a snack but to clean it out. I went downstairs to do laundry, not organize my bookshelf. I’d like to blame Covid for part of this, but I’m fairly certain its a life long condition. As I write this, my soup is bubbling on the stove. If not for the sound, it could heat for hours until the fire alarm went off. 

It’s not so much, to use the Latin term, Lackus Brainyitis as it is Lackus Focus. (Okay the last one definitely doesn’t work. There’s got to be a better fake Latin phrase.)  I’ve written this in my usual self exploratory fashion and realized that thinking and doing one logical thing after the next is boring to my brain. It’s not fun. My brain is like a teenager, longing for new experiences and hating to be told what to do. “You’re not the boss of me,” it says whenever I speak aloud and try to give it instructions.

The only thing that can rein in that badly behaved, often sulky and dysfunctional organ is another organ – my heart. When my brain and I are in a fight (Clean up! No! Do it now!) then my heart jumps in with some calming words. “Go for a walk. Call a friend. Forgive yourself the occasional lack of follow through. Forgive yourself for not writing more. Give yourself permission to be sad about the state of the world, especially under the pandemic, and then read something funny. Listen to CBC, which always makes you feel good. Strangely, my heart never sounds condescending like my brain does. My heart is a wise old person and my brain is a dick.

I feel better having written this out. And now, if there’s any soup left in the pot, I will have lunch. And then I will write. Though my brain has said this blog doesn’t count, my heart disagrees. But I can hear my latest novel’s protagonist screaming at me from my office and I’m fairly certain she’s in trouble. Since she listens to my heart and not my brain, I will go rescue her now. First, I’ll just do one more thing…