Category Archives: Uncategorized

Welcome Home

When I think back to moments in my childhood, I always remember three things: playing in the bush, walking out to Phantom Lake, and buying penny candy at Johnny’s. These were my favorite summer activities. Winter was a long slog to the gray penitentiary we called Birchview School, broken up by weekends of learning to ski at the club, skating at the Birchview bunkhouse, and driving our parents crazy with our shenanigans inside the house.

Summer was a whole other country. At times, the shock of freedom was almost too much for me. In those days, parents really knew how to take their eye off the ball. If you were quiet and sneaky (which I could manage with my eyes closed) you could have your Freshie made, a sandwich slapped together and be on your way to the bush in about ten minutes. I was never alone in these enterprises, because I had a lot of siblings.

Being in the bush involved a number of games: playing tag at the sandpit, building fake tree forts, (because we were never any good at the real thing) and playing house on any available rock or sheltered area with a mossy floor. We also liked to spy on people, having read many Enid Blyton and Trixie Belden books. This is equally true for kids who lived uptown, or so I’ve been told.

Finding pop bottles and turning them in at Johnny’s Confectionery was a summer ritual in Birchview. I’m not sure how we got so lucky because as far as we knew, only rich people and teenage boys could afford to consume such exotic, expensive drinks as coca cola and orange crush. Johnny’s, to my young mind, was the best store in town, and every night I dreamed that somehow I would get locked inside and eat candy until I died of happiness.

I’m not going to say much about Phantom Lake, because I’ve written about it before. But for readers who have never been to Flin Flon, picture heaven for a kid and you’ve got it about right. That crazy merry go round that sat high off the ground, the barrel you could run on, the giant game of checkers you had to wait in line for. Then there were the docks. Swimming from first to second was a rite of passage. Hanging out with the lifeguards when we got to the lake early was a perk, too. I defy any Gidget movie to have better looking guys than the ones saving our lives at Phantom Lake.

Hanging out at Rotary Park meant spending some time at Ross Lake Cemetery. We spent hours wandering around the graves and making up stories about the people resting there. My parents are there now. I know they’d love to have a bunch of kids sitting next to them and making up some whoppers.

For those of you coming to Flin Flon and area to celebrate home coming, don’t forget to bring the kid in you along for the ride. Some things may have changed, but no one can take away the magic of your northern childhood. That goes for my own kids, too. So, welcome home, all. We’re so happy to see you. Let’s have some fun this weekend, and if you’re headed to the Whitney Forum on Friday or Saturday night, you might hear something like this. Here’s the karaoke version of a Canadian classic by Trooper. Practice up and we’ll see you soon.

Zen, and the Art of Bathroom Maintenance

Things change as a person grows older. As time for leisure increases, so does one’s ability to make scientific observations while seated in the bathroom. For instance. One can always measure the passing of time by the rate of  toilet paper use. And at our house, the roll is almost always empty.

I’m married to a man whose small family was very generous with their toilet paper. I have six siblings, so my parents allowed about four sheets per bathroom experience. Now that I’m older and richer, I still can’t break that parsimonious habit.

My husband acts like the stuff grows on trees. No, honey, it was a tree. He uses a half roll every time, like he’s cleaning up battery acid. It’s the little things, folks, than creates strained moments between married people.

With all our concern over international politics and that bizarre behavior to the South of us, it’s this bathroom pettiness that preoccupies me. Let’s be honest. The bathroom has become, for many, a kind of mini-sanctuary. ‘No, honey,’ I shout gleefully from my perch, ‘I can’t answer the phone! I’m in the bathroom! No, I don’t know where your reading glasses are!’ (Lie…I’m wearing them.) So when my sanctuary is disturbed by minor irritations, it kind of ruins the whole, serene, fung shui-ness of it. I’m not sure if my husband notices the empty roll and waits for me to fill it, or if it magically un-spools before I enter the room. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen?

Then, there’s the other bathroom irritant: magazine postcards. You know those little rectangles of paper that fall from every magazine you open? They have the address of the publisher on them, and say things like, ‘Mail in to subscribe!’ You hold it in your hand and mutter to yourself, ‘But… I’m already a subscriber.’ Oh, foolish bathroom magazine reader. They don’t care.

What if you’re reading for free at the library? Well, they want you to mail the thing in and get your own subscription. Which you won’t do, because you want to read for free. To paraphrase either Confucius or Eleanor Rosevelt, ‘It is better to light these cards on fire than to sit and curse the darkness.’

Worse still are the magazines that staple those suckers into the spine. They’re made of heavy paper and when you try to tear them out, the magazine cover slides off. These petty annoyances take their toll. I picture them as a tiny creature with a hammer and a very small chisel. Every time I see the empty toilet paper roll, or the bathroom floor littered with magazine postcards, the creature taps the chisel against my flesh and bone and, as the song lyric suggests, ‘Takes another little piece of my heart.’

This is why a person should meditate and do yoga. While the toilet paper and magazine card stuff still happens, it’s put firmly into place by the relaxed zen-like attitude of the practitioner. I, on the other hand, want to start a change.org campaign over it. Or form a resistance group. Whichever one allows the most shouting. It will be a paperless movement. Email only, unless we all decide to drive to Ottawa and present our concerns.

To the Walrus magazine, and Macleans, to Oprah, Writer’s Digest and the United Church Observer, here is your first notice. Don’t make me come down there and start throwing things. As you know, I have the time to do it and my fuse is shortening. And thanks to you all, I have the makings of a really good bonfire.

The To Do List

In my favorite Ann Tyler novel, ‘The Accidental Tourist,’ travel writer Macon Leary decides to save time and energy by eating popcorn at every meal and washing his clothes while he showers. This decision was motivated by depression, but I couldn’t help admiring his minimalist lifestyle.

My brain is so filled with Things That Need Doing, I feel like a wimpy Atlas trying to hold up the world. The list swirls around me in the morning, and slaps me on the back of the head in the evening. ‘Thanks for nothing,’ it grumbles as I pass by. Life would be so much easier if inanimate objects would hold their tongues.

When, oh when will I finally touch up the paint on the kitchen cabinets, weed the garden, work on my novel, wash clothes, dust (so hard to do without a gun to my head) vacuum, change the sheets in the spare bedrooms, get the car washed, go to zumba, make meals, binge on Netflix when I should be writing, attend choir practice and massage the kale before making a salad (this one is from my friend, Lois. I never knew how I was neglecting this vegetable.)

I have no children living at home but I feel busy anyway. And I’m terrible at multitasking. I can’t help comparing my life to that of a cave dweller ten thousand years ago. Here’s what her list would say.

Survive childbirth
Find berries
Pray mate lives through mammoth hunt so no need to flirt with caveman UGH, who can’t be bothered to run a twig through his teeth
Pick bone out of supper dish to wear in hair
Weave basket and fill with berries

Doesn’t that sound relaxing? Like a camping trip that never ends. For sister, Jennifer, this would be torture. To me, it’s ideal. Other benefits of living like a cave woman:

No make-up application, just slap on some bear fat if the hunt was good.
Tie hair in a knot. Add bone. Repeat in six months.
Nurse naked baby. Let naked baby play on cave floor. Give naked baby large bone for chewing.
Light fire to keep animals away.

 

I love camping. But making the pots from animal hide and scavenging for food may prove too challenging. Especially when I accidentally let the fire go out and have to embrace the raw foods movement. The upside is, I wouldn’t have a list that nags me. No pens, no paper, no computers. No email, or Facebook, or twitter. No books to read or television to watch. No shaving for men or, happily, for women. No saving for retirement, just a gifting of the woven baskets and pots after I reach the creaking old age of thirty.

Instead of whining on my blog, I would regale my fellow cave dwellers with tales of the day’s difficulties. The basket didn’t turn out, there were no berries, we might all starve. On second thought, maybe I’ll embrace my life as a modern woman and let my To Do List bend my ear for a few more minutes. After all, I took the time to write this blog post. I can certainly combine some dusting with Netflix binging. Do some laundry between shows. As it turns out, as long as there’s some entertainment involved, I can multitask after all.

The Gardening Games

The cold rainy spring is finally over. Gardeners around town are emerging from their homes like new kittens blinking into the sunlight. Dearest hubby takes a step outside, but I sweep him away with my arm. ‘I volunteer!’ I gasp. ‘I volunteer as tribute!’ Somewhere in the crowd of neighbors, someone whistles a four note mocking jay salute. As one, we open our gardening shed doors and brace ourselves. The hunger…I mean, the summer games have begun.

I fetch the wheelbarrow and my bag of necessities: String for marking off the rows, shears for trimming hedges, various digging appliances, an old spoon. Like Katniss Everdeen with her arrows, I lay them carefully on the wrought iron table near the leaning arch of Clarence. Packets of seeds wait patiently inside the house. But I’m not ready for them yet.

Dressed in my Gomer Pyle hat and mom jeans, I turn over the soil in the garden, fill pots for the deck and finish cleaning the perennial beds. After five trips around town to pick up plants (Too many! It’s an addiction!) I’m back at the Pettersen farm. We have a plan for outside that is more ambitious than mere survival. Clarence is the bigger visionary (More fruit trees! Another statue for the back garden!) but I manage to rein him in on the pricier items. We must pace ourselves for the long game.

While we whip the garden and yard into shape, the house languishes. These are not the days for inviting guests over. The bed goes unmade, clothes unwashed. We simply remove our gardening clothes at the end of the day and don them again in the morning. We are our own mosquito repellent. Meals must still be made, but for lunch we eat things like kippers and onions, peanut butter and strange looking wheat free crackers.

The craziest thing about the game of gardening is the expense. Like gamblers with no self control, we can’t resist buying the BIG tomato plant with a tomato already on it so we know it’s a winner. There’s nothing worse than putting heart and soul into gardening, only to be let down come the fall.

Working out in the sunshine, barking at each other over hedges and bags of mulch, we have a pretty good time. ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere,’ is a very rewarding aspect of gardening. Sweaty, covered in bites, with drinks clutched in soiled hands, we survey our front and back yard. It’s our Tara, our reward for enduring eight months of winter. And as God is our witness, we’ll never be hungry in the month of September. (Okay. I know that’s from Gone with the Wind and not the Hunger Games, but I couldn’t resist.)

So, here’s to you, neighbors and fellow gardeners. For all of you brave Katniss Everdeen tributes who have volunteered for the game, here’s to your trowels and shovels, your sore backs and dirt speckled faces. I kiss the three middle fingers of my grimy left hand and hold them out to you as a salute to your tenacity. May your crops be abundant, may your bug bites diminish in size. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Mom Jeans

My sisters and I used to wear each other’s clothing when we were teenagers. Occasionally, my brother was included. He was ten before he realized that tights weren’t the same as long underwear. The tradition of passing on clothes has continued, though unfortunately, Bill cannot be duped anymore.

My sisters and I, like every woman, have shrunk or grown over time, so the habit of passing along clothing has continued. My oldest sister has lost a bit of weight, whereas I have gone in the opposite direction. Lately, my clothes have taken to mocking me. ‘Really,’ they say derisively. ‘You’re going to force me over those hips again?’ My jeans in particular are very expressive. Sometimes they cat call from the closet, which is why I always sleep with the door shut.

I recently gave Linda four pairs of pants which no longer fit me. They were never nice to me, anyway, being the most scornful pieces of clothing ever worn. In turn, she gifted me with a pair of mom jeans. She’d gotten them from a friend, but they never fit so she passed them on. I haven’t worn anything like them since the nineties, when I dressed badly on a fairly consistent basis. I tried the mom jeans on just for a laugh.

When I looked in the mirror I saw my nineteen nineties silhouette. Like fly fishing waders, the bum joined the thighs in a continuous line. And yet there was a kindness to them. They practically purred as I buttoned them. The waist sat high, the relaxed fit gave them the feel of stiff pajamas. ‘You look marvelous,’ I heard them say. Having a kind, well mannered pair of pants went a long way toward soothing my self esteem.

The longer I wear them, the more I like them. It’s unlikely they’ll be seen outside the house unless I’m gardening or the apocalypse has struck and I haven’t had time to change. But its nice to have clothes that fit in a relaxed manner. ‘No pressure here,’ they say. And they mean it.

The next time you’re in a second hand store, find some khakis or jeans with the ‘mom’ look. Locate your size, then go one larger. Wear them at home for personal events like eating an extra big lunch, or working in the garden where you do a lot of squatting. You’ll love the feel and the complimentary nature of mom jeans.

Not everyone has conversations with their clothes, but as someone who does, let me say this. If your shirts or pants are too tight, you can be sure they’re making fun of you. Get the last laugh by throwing those bitches in a giveaway bag. Just don’t trade insults with them as you’re walking into the store. Not everyone understands the cruelty of a pair of Simon Chang yoga jeans. You can rest assured that I do.

I Remember Mama

My mother used to talk in tongues whenever I played the Beach Boys. She wasn’t speaking an ancient language. She was communicating with God in a very meditative way. And what she was saying was, ‘Man, I love this music.’

She said it during our road trips, and whenever we cut cotton for my babyTrekker business. At home, she loved gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. With me, she reveled in the music from my teenage years.

‘They don’t make music like this anymore,’ she’d say, and keep on praying. Aloud. Sometimes she’d forget where we were and carry on, even while walking into a bank. But half the town would be dead by now if she hadn’t been praying, so I can’t complain.

She was not your average mother. When I was young, I wanted her to be like everyone else. Wear a house dress, stay home, and wait on us hand and foot. She declined to do that, and embarked on a nursing career, though she still managed to act like a house elf from the Harry Potter series. It was nothing for me to receive freshly ironed clothes, right before she left for work in the morning. There are other aspects of my lazy ways that I decline to share at this particular time, but let’s just say I was not the only child on the receiving end of things.

For years, I had this fantasy that I could go back in time and be a better daughter. I’d whip the other kids into shape, clean the house till it shone, and get excellent marks in school. My first novel was about someone doing just that. That story may never see the light of day, but it helped assuage my guilt. Which is another one of mother’s little helpers.

What mother doesn’t spend part of her life feeling bad for things she’s neglected? Maybe a few crackheads, but that’s about it. For the rest of us, guilt is an international past time. From time to time my mother would mention things she felt bad about. I’d get all indignant and say stuff like, “Are you saying I didn’t turn out well?”

She’d think about it. “Well, yes,” she’d say. She could be funny, too. A funny mom, a hard worker, a prayer warrior, a house elf, a refuge in times of trouble. The only unforgivable thing she ever did was to die. I think God must have heard one of her prayers, which loosely translated meant, ‘Please get me the hell out of here. I’m tired.’

You are missed every day, mom. And not just by your kids. Other people’s kids miss you, too. I know because they tell me all the time. So, happy Mother’s Day, mom. I hope you’re not working too hard up there, and I hope dad is finally teaching you how to dance. In honour of all our road trips, here’s a little something for you to enjoy. The words aren’t exactly the right sentiment, but you love the music. And the title hits home. Because I’d love to get you back.

Sometimes, When we Limp

When my husband and I got married, I started hemming his pants for him. To my surprise, he had one leg a half inch shorter than the other. I sewed everything accordingly. It was only when he saw a chiropractor about four years later that we realized he didn’t have to live that way. After a couple spinal adjustments, I had to fix all those pant hems.

The other morning I was rushing to the door on my way uptown when I realized I was having the same experience. “Look!” I said to my husband. “My left leg is shorter than my right!” He thought I was faking. I was so freaked out, he finally started showing proper concern. We couldn’t figure out what had happened. I had no pain. No memory of falling (recently) or hurting my back. But I definitely had one leg at least an inch longer than the other.

I walked back and forth across the room, my hysteria growing. “What the hell?” I double checked my left heel, thinking that something must be stuck there, but there was nothing. Just a definite hitch in my gait as I walked back and forth across the room. “I’m not changing all my pants,” I declared, which was my  pathetic way of shouting into the void. Not that I believe in the void.To me, there’s always someone on the other end of the line.

We have a lot going on with our family at large. Some people very dear to me are facing big health challenges. Why not me, I thought. I’ve never been one to panic, but, dammit. “I must have a tumour on my heel,” I said aloud. I was preparing to take off my boot when I caught sight of my right foot.

I was wearing two different boots. In my defense, they’re almost identical, except that one pair is flat. I have never done this before. Never left the house with two different socks or shoes. I’ve occasionally worn a shirt inside out. The consolation prize was the five minutes of laughter we shared, and the relief that my leg was all right. The downside is, I’m definitely a person who’s not paying attention. Since I already know this, it doesn’t really hurt my feelings. But I thought I’d improved over the years.

Perhaps the slippery slope of distraction means I spend a little more time turning in circles while wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. When I experience stress, I stop paying attention. And life has a way of throwing things at us when we least expect it. For now, I’ll hobble along. Do my best to keep my brain engaged. It may not work every time, but you can be sure my boots will match.