Lessons From the Business Side of the Road

In light of my recent eight hour drive home, I’m revisiting the subject of peeing outdoors. I must write this because if I don’t, I’ll start discussing the relaxed standards of widowhood. It’s like living in a frat house with a population of one. It turns out that my husband was the prissy half of our duo, (he had one sibling, I had six…it makes a difference.) Between the hours of midnight and eight, our bedroom sounds like a herd of trumpet swans have moved in. There’s no one home but me, so who cares, right? But I’ve been told that the topic of farting is not fit for public consumption, so that’ll be enough of that.

Instead, let me regale you with my latest grievance. It says somewhere in the Talmud (I’m not Jewish…sorry for the cultural appropriation) that there’s a men’s morning prayer with the following words:

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.”  

I say Amen and high five every man on the planet for being on the winning side of that prayer, solely because of the act of peeing. Men get to stand up for it. You can drive by at 110 klicks an hour and feel certain that the guy standing outside his car is just kicking the tires. But nobody buys it when you’re squatting with your pants down. And there are not enough bathrooms between Flin Flon and Winnipeg to avoid this situation, so the whole time I’m driving, I’m keeping an eye out for lonely roads exiting the main highway.

This is a bad idea for several reasons.

A. Serial killers lurking nearby
B. Bears

It’s still spring and every bear in Manitoba was traveling the number six highway on Friday. I’d pull over on a lonely stretch of road, not a car in sight, and barely (pun intended) get down to business when an actual bear would lumber into view. I broke speed records getting back into my car. So I entered one of those abandoned logging roads, first making sure there wasn’t a clown-faced axe-wielding murderer hiding nearby. In spite of the all clear, there were still several problems with the area.

First, it was disgusting. People, this is not your personal dump for your child’s diapers, your fast food containers and the last thousand water bottles you drank from and then abandoned. There was barely room to move, the place was so littered. And, there was a bear. A black one, smallish, but even so. I had already assumed the position, feeling grateful for the stretchiness of my Lulu Lemon pants and trying not to pee on my shoes. I thought I was going to faint, but fortunately I skedaddled instead.

In spite of the cold, it’s actually easier peeing out of doors in the winter. The bears are sleeping and the snow means no splashing, which is a plus. Men probably splash too, but I doubt they care because of the distance thing. I can’t explain it properly because I’m not good at geometry, or finding pi or longitude. Maybe its physics. I don’t know.

I started wondering about the plan for women. Like, what’s with all the squatting, dear Creator? But then, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. Childbirth, gardening, picking up tiny toys like Lego pieces. There are many reasons for the act of squatting. With it comes a certain sense of resignation, of patience, and a calm acceptance of what is, at least in the moment. Squatting makes a person feel vulnerable, and maybe that’s why women are so open with their feelings, comparatively speaking.

That which doesn’t kill you (the bear, the axe wielding murderer) makes you stronger, according to Nietzsche.  At least in the thigh area. So I’m doing a 180 on my whining and will consider the squatting position a gift. I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama squats. I’ve seen him do it in a magazine photo. Maybe he’s practicing yoga, or praying. Perhaps he’s getting in touch with his feminine side and allowing himself to be vulnerable. Whichever it is, I choose to believe that for those few moments of getting down to business, I’m also exercising and meditating.

It feels appropriate to end this blog post with the almost prayerful lyrics of Canadian female icon, Shania Twain:

Oh, oh, oh, I want to be free, yeah, 
to feel the way I feel,

Man! 
I feel like a woman!

Me too, Shania.

Mamma Mia!

The musical is over. The props are put away, the actors returning to their regular lives. Teachers, students, miners, nurses, retired people and at least one writer will take a deep breath and enjoy the peace, quiet, and extra time on their hands. And yet.

I grew accustomed to the daily cries of the Greek Chorus, ie: the Flin Flon Community Choir, sequestered behind the scenery with the band. We were our own little family back there. ‘What’s happening now?’ we’d ask anyone with a view of the floor. Fortunately, there was lots of singing backstage so we didn’t have too much time on our hands to think about it. I missed being out in the hall with the actors, but we definitely paid better attention to our fearless conductor, Crystal Kolt.

As we sang our hearts out night after night, I realized that the music in Mamma Mia is perfect for every occasion. Feeling betrayed? Try the theme song.

 ‘I was cheated by you and I think you know when, so I made up my mind it must come to an end. Look at me now, will I ever learn, I don’t know how, but I suddenly lose control, there’s a fire within my soul.

These words are applicable to many situations. Got teenagers? A broken down clothes dryer? It’s handy having a theme song you can direct at the recalcitrant child or household appliance, especially when you enjoy singing and need to let off a little steam.

I wouldn’t mind if my friends met me on the street singing, ‘Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong…how it hurts to see you crying, how it hurts to see you sad.’ We all need sympathy from time to time, and it’s such a tender song. Who wouldn’t feel understood with these lyrics? In fact, there were many cathartic moments happening backstage during the whole of the musical. It was like a therapy session. But free.

Then, there’s many people’s favorite song, Dancing Queen.

‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life!’  

Well, maybe you can’t dance or jive, but when you listen to Donna’s friends and all the back up singers belting this one out, you’ll feel like you can. This song epitomizes those moments when life can’t get any better. It’s a high five from the universe, the whole world dancing, singing, and pointing at you in a ‘you can do it’ vote of confidence. You find yourself squaring your shoulders and thinking, ‘Dammit, I think I can!’

Then, there’s the cast. Janelle Haucault is our choreographer, ( and that’s forever, Janelle. Don’t try to get out of it.) Unless you’ve been to a Flin Flon musical production, you’ll never see anything like our own Mamma Mia cast and their wild dance moves. After each energetic number, they’d drag themselves to their changing stations, stunned into silence by their extreme effort and looking like nothing more than colorfully dressed, sweaty zombies who got bit at studio 54 in 1979 and haven’t summoned the energy or brains to go home. Every year, the whole singing, dancing cast always seems to lose weight. It’s almost become an audition promise. Like some kind of fitness class from hell…(but not like our class, Tracy. We love our classes with you. 🙂 And yet somehow they gather the energy for the next number, and the next.

We, the choir, are squirming in the dark, frantically looking at our scores, the words written in some kind of comic sans, our book lights trying to sort out the music as we belt out what we hope is the right part. We’re like miners of a different sort seeking the notes and script and praying we strike it rich so we don’t have to see Crystal’s shoulders slump in defeat when we blow it.

Meanwhile, the band is playing like their assess are on fire. The drums, guitars, pianos and tambourines just don’t stop. Nothing short of amazing, and all this perfection for free. That’s right, non-Flinonians. Except for a few, everyone sings, dances, cartwheels and pours their heart and soul out for the sheer fun of it.

And it is fun. We’ve had twenty plus years of performing, and it never gets old. As Sophie sings, ‘It’s the name of the game. Do you feel it the way I do?’  Yes, Sophie. In fact, we all get that crazy high that comes from joining our voices with a bunch of others and letting it rip. Do things go wrong? Occasionally. I never noticed a single mistake with the cast, but I remember singing out too early on one part and then saying, ‘Well, shit. I blew that one,’ before remembering the microphones hovering over our heads. Thankfully, I don’t have a voice that carries.  Which is nothing to be proud of but helps in moments like these.

When the finale comes and the crowd surges to its feet to join us in singing Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen and Waterloo, there are no doubters in the room. There are no left or right wing nuts, no grudge holders, no sad people. The place rocks and every voice is raised in the kind of harmony that always comes with the celebration of music, art, and most importantly, community. It’s like a magical kind of glue, so that no matter what worries are trying to crowd our spirits, we all have this singing and dancing time together, and in those moments, joy takes over. Of course, the same thing can happen at a Bomber game, too. But that’s a whole other blog. See you in the fall, choristers. Now everyone get some rest.

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That’s Gymnastic!

When my daughter Michelle came into town, I roped her into helping saw the bottom off her bedroom door, which scraped against the flooring. YouTube had recommended using a reciprocating saw for the job but when we started it up, I realized we’d be safer wrestling alligators. We settled on the jigsaw as being easier to control.

Here is the problem with sawing the bottom of a door with a jigsaw but no dust mask. It takes forever, and all the sawdust flies up your nose.

“Mom, every time you look away to breathe, your line gets crooked.” She was right. The bottom of the door was as jagged as the teeth of a meth addict. (Or an apocalypse survivor. They say dental care is the first thing to go.) She took a turn with the jig saw, but it was exhausting. We gained an inch for every fifteen minutes of work. I took the last turn and promptly broke the blade, then foolishly touched the broken end and burned my finger. Those kids who lick poles when its 30 below never learn.

Someone told me how to change the blade in the drill. Since Michelle had to head back to her real life, I went out and fixed the door by myself. The sawed off bottom now looks more like the teeth of someone needing braces, but when the light in the bedroom is off, you can hardly tell.

My next project involved courage of a higher sort. My laundry room louvered doors needed some trim. Now that I’m no longer afraid of my mitre saw, I got the pieces cut and only had to nail them in place. The problem was that my clothes dryer sits six inches from the left door and I didn’t want to move it because then the vent hose falls off and I’ve never mastered the art of putting it back on.

So I placed a board across the top of the dryer, put my small kitchen stool beside it and carefully climbed up, making sure to point the nail gun away from my face. (This is not my first nail gun rodeo.) Now I had to contort my body, get behind the dryer and squeeze the gun in place to nail the trim. What with all the bending, the straining and the pushing, I felt like I was giving birth to the nail. I had to take a break just to sweat and curse. (Also happens when actually giving birth.) Finally, I did it. I was gold. Home free.

Or so I thought. Stepping down proved to be a bigger problem. Let me set the scene for you. You’ve already figured out that I’m not Mike Holmes with his ‘do it right the first time’ mantra. I’d love to do it right, but first I have to learn to do it. I’m a creative type, which means that I’m using the longest air hose possible on my compressor. It snakes thirty times around the laundry room, heads back toward the rumpus room and finally joins up with the compressor right beside the stairs. I’ve got boards lying around, hammers, measuring tape. It’s a zoo of wild tools and the zookeeper is not always on top of the wild game.

But the good thing is, I know this about myself. I know that having three pictures with the glass out and two broken mirrors does not happen to people who are really coordinated. So while I’m extremely disorganized in most things, I’m also wary. I work like I expect a horde of zombies to enter the room at any minute. I chant to myself, ‘don’t die doing this,’ and it seems to help. So when I leapt from the dryer to the low stool and it skated across the room, I held onto the nail gun and used my newly acquired gym muscles (thank you, Tracy!) to stay aboard.

This was one of those moments in life when you realize that two parts of your life are coming together: weight class and carpentry. Because I’ve learned to hold my position in a four hour squat (just kidding, kind of)  I skated that sucker right across the room until I bumped into the vanity and stopped abruptly. I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “That was gymnastic!” Because if there’s anything that I’m not, its that.

I’m coming along in my weight class, but I have one remedial move where I have to hold onto a bar. It seems that the lunge, where you step backward onto one bended knee and then get up to do it 99 more times, is beneficial. My thigh muscles did not let me down. Ever since surfing the laundry room floor, I have begun calling myself Skater Girl, Avril Lavigne style.

I remain humble about my skills, and yet I have a certain sense of pride.

A. I got the job done.
B. I didn’t lose a hand, or die. Others might question my sanity, but I call my finished work while not dying on the job a success. Now, here’s a photo of my 45 degree upper corners on the louvered doors.

ps. I was missing a slat so I boiled a piece of wood in water and made it fit! It seems I’m turning into an older, more inept version of McGyver.

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What Not to Wear

I love the TV show Project Runway. Maybe its the years I spent designing products, or because I learned to sew in my twenties and still remember the marvel of making my own clothes. These garments would not have passed grade nine Home EC – not if anyone had checked the seams, zippers or darts. But I’ll never forget the first couple things I made; white bell bottoms and a fabulous satin pantsuit. If I’d ever learned to disco, I had the right outfit. It pains me that I don’t have a photo of it to paste here. But that was back in the day when you had to use an actual camera.

I also made a number of semi-hideous matching Victorian dresses for my three daughters. “This is the last time I’m doing this,” my long suffering twelve-year-old told me at her cousin Leon’s wedding. There was also the blue velvet with white satin collar outfits they wore when they were too young to complain. Otherwise, their plea might have gone like this: “Judith Pettersen designed these hideous garments. Please save us.”

I watch Project Runway like an alien examining human beings. I don’t ‘get’ fashion, and lag years behind other people, especially those who appear in magazines wearing famous designers. Unlike my daughters, I’d be happy if the whole world wore matching jumpsuits and no one bothered expressing themselves with clothing, ever. Am I comfortable spilling my anxieties and secret wishes on this page for the whole world to read? Yes. Have I ever once figured out fashion trends? To quote the Donald: ‘Not.’

I’ve recently learned that the enormous white sneakers I wore in the nineties are making a comeback. This fear was confirmed by the Project Runway show I watched just the other night. Every model strutted down the runway in bizarre interpretations of puffy jackets, dresses designed for a dystopian world, and extra wide calf length pants. The last outfit was matched with a pair of sling-back shoes, and the designer was criticized for not accessorizing with supersized sneakers. The models are 5′ 11″ and110 pounds. They wear crazy with no problem at all. Then there’s the rest of us. Dressed like that, we’d all look homeless.

Back in the nineties I proudly wore those white sneakers, or, as we call them in my neck of the woods, runners. I was in love with that era’s combo of shapeless pants, wide sweaters and huge Minnie Mouse style shoes. But now my heart sinks at the thought of revisiting the Big Whites. ‘Do we have to?’ I ask myself, with the troubled certainty that I will never get things right. This also applies to your average North Americans vacationing in Europe. On the other side of the world, they’re always three years ahead, fashion wise. Every time I visit London, I feel like an Appalachian Hillbilly. (My apologies to all hill folk, but Hollywood has not been kind to your people.)

On the other hand, I live in Northern Canada, so jackets tend to be naturally puffy, and so does footwear. But that’s in the winter, mostly. Can’t I wear something more slimming in summer? May I not hold on to relatively form fitting clothes? Perhaps a T shirt or two? When you’re short, you don’t want to call a lot of attention to the fact, and the MC Hammer pants coming back into style do the vertically challenged no favours. Right, Joni Hanson?  Unfair of me to target a sister, but yes. In the nineties, she was in bad need of a makeover. When she put on a pair of jeans one day, people thought she’d lost fifty pounds. Such is the power of tailoring.

In conclusion, I fear the next decade. I’m in that awkward age group where I can’t dress young, but don’t find the elastic waist pants and loose tops of the elderly quite necessary yet. But, wait. That’s the answer. Old people clothes are finally in. (Or, back in. Remember the nineties.) Elastic waistbands, comfy shirts and pants. And yes. Big white shoes. The baby boomers are descending even as I write. Watch out, New York fashion week…you’re about to be ripped off.

If you don’t watch Project Runway, I have no evidence to prove any of this. Whenever I try to google pictures about it, all that comes up is ‘mature porn, very old naked people.’ Since that’s a fashion we’ll all be embracing soon enough, let’s just leave it at that.

The Hard Part is Getting Back Up

In today’s weight class, we worked in sixty second segments. Doesn’t that sound easy? We interspersed dumb bell routines with some other activities, like using a stepper, a stationary bike with a fan, a ski thingy, and also Jacob’s Ladder, which sounds like something you’d climb to get to heaven but is really more fitting for a Catholic Purgatory experience. Lots of climbing, but you’re going nowhere except down. Because you can’t climb fast enough to make it to the top. And if you go too fast, then you feel very out of control and have to drift downward, hopelessly defeated, and climb off.

A minute seems like such a short period of time, but the whole hour has a ‘go, go go!’ thing happening, including the sit-ups portion. Getting up from the floor is the hardest part for me. I’m supposed to use my core, but that bitch hardly ever shows up. Sometimes I feel like I’ve joined an S&M club, but I’m only involved with the M portion. When Tracy (who is lovely, and nothing like Aunt Lydia from a Handmaid’s Tale) (there is no gun to my back as I write this) tells us to pull in our belly buttons, tighten our stomach muscles and stop using our glutes, I experience a moment of confusion. And bitterness, because my belly button and that whole general area has been letting me down for years.

And then I find out that overusing your glutes can cause problems for your bladder. (Tracy is concerned about the whole body, not just the biceps. In my mind, that was the only muscle that mattered.) Truthfully, it’s my bladder that does a lot of the whining during class. “Why am I involved? Isn’t it enough that you drank tequila on the weekend? One shot? Yeah, right.” It’s not just my brain that likes to complain. My organs are about to form a union, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

I would love to have a gym butler  at every class, fetching my water and helping me up off the floor. Also, a reporter of some kind asking tough questions. “Is your heart rate supposed to be that high? Do you always slow down when Tracy’s back is turned? Is that sweat on your shirt or did you spill your water again?” The reporter could never quote me because my language is boringly composed of sharp cries and this kind of thing:

Dear Jesus, when will it be over?
I just hammered my thigh with a dumbbell!
Oh, God. Did she say we’re doing Moby? NO! The hour is up! Right? (like there’s some kind of complaint department. I guess filling Tracy in could be the reporter’s job. There’d be a lot to say, because my organs are growing very vocal.)

The crazy thing is, for the first half hour, I feel really strong and determined, and I get some pretty wild ideas. Like, maybe I’ll head to the bar after class and start a fight. Or rescue somebody from a dark alleyway. (I’m really good with cats.) And then I watch a movie like GI Jane and find out that Demi Moore did six hours of workout a day just to prep. Well, hell, no. I guess my hour workout isn’t so bad after all. I think I’ll settle for getting stronger, feeling fitter, being happier and possibly someday winning an arm wrestling contest with a child. It’s good to have goals.

Since You’ve Been Gone

Dear Clarence,

It’s a year today since you moved out of this life and into the next. I remember your calmness when you left the world. The way your eyes twinkled at the end. Your words were full of love, and we surrounded you with everything we had, holding onto you until the last moment. Until we had to let you go. We had talked about what might lie on the other side of death, and what you might find there. Your last words were, ‘I hope I get to go for a swim.’ I sure hope you did, honey.

In case you don’t know, here’s what’s happened since you’ve been gone. I stumbled my way through spring and went into the summer full tilt, handling my emotions by never pausing for a moment. Like a shark that has to keep swimming, I felt as though something terrible would happen if I stood still for even a moment. I got a little bit kooky about it, and you’ll be glad to know that the neighbors intervened in the kindest way. One day, I’d been working in the garden for twelve hours, when they suggested I take a break and head inside. I’m pretty sure that right then, I needed to be told what to do. The yard definitely benefited from my ongoing mania. I’ve been renovating, too, and joined a weight class, which you would love. And the new ER you worked so hard for is finally finished. I hear that it’s lovely.

Every first thing we do without you is hard. The kids coming home in the summer, all the birthdays, including yours. My first time in the canoe without you paddling behind me. First Halloween. First Christmas. And now, a whole new year in which you never lived for even a day. Do you know how strange that is? Things are happening around the planet, and it’s all a little scarier without your calm perspective.

I didn’t understand that I would have to be brave. I believed that the need for it would be over once your suffering had ended. But when you died, it felt like parts of my body had been cut away and the pain was going to kill me. It didn’t, and that was hard, too. Because then I had to learn how to live without you. Which sounds like a line from a cheesy love song, but is actually true.

I didn’t really understand the forever-ness of it. Like, maybe you’d pop your head around the corner and say, ‘Just kidding. I’m still here!’ But that happens only in my dreams. Every day, those of us left behind arm ourselves with pep talks, with friends, and with plans for a future that does not include you. Every now and then, a wave of grief comes out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet. But grief has to win sometimes, because that’s part of this journey that has no map.

We’re celebrating you today in Banff, Clarence. We’re going to illegally scatter a tiny bit of your ashes somewhere near the hotsprings, one of your favourite places, and then read a poem by Leonard Cohen. It’s beautiful, so I’m going to print it out here. It’s called Dimensions of Love.

Sometimes I hear you stop abruptly
and change your direction
and start towards me
I hear it as a kind of rustling
My heart leaps up to greet you
to greet you in the air
to take you back home
to resume our long life together
Then I remember
the uncrossable dimensions of love
and I prepare myself
for the consequence of memory
and longing
but memory with its list of years
turns gracefully aside
and longing kneels down
like a calf
in the straw of amazement
and for the moment that it takes
to keep your death alive
we are refreshed
in each other’s timeless company

It’s from his latest poetry collection, The Flame, which I am in love with. Reading poetry helps.

After that, we’ll go for a swim in the hot springs. I’m going to imagine that somewhere across a thin divide, so very close to us, you’ll be having your own swim. You’ll be right beside me like you used to be, and even though I won’t see you, perhaps I’ll feel you there. And that will be its own kind of joy. Those moments when we celebrate you hold me together. So in future blogs, I still might make fun of your wardrobe like I used to. I might talk about the crazy things you did while you were here. And when I write those things, I’ll be telling you and everyone else another thing that’s true. I’m not ready to let you go.

Dear Lois (A Community Choir Lament)

I have failed you. Today at choir, I tried to do exactly what you do every Saturday. Sing enthusiastically, learn the part, and then record it for altos who like to practice during the week. I didn’t get the job done.

In my defense, which is a poor one, I have a bad cold and I’m not handling it well. I haven’t been sick since the fall of 2017 and frankly, I’m as whiny as a man with a cold. Yet staying home and watching TV is boring, so today, I decided to show up for choir practice. I had promised to do this for you, after all. And now, in my highest  operatic alto voice, here is my litany of THINGS THAT WENT WRONG.

First, a hissy shout out to the composers of the Mamma Mia music book (Don’t worry…it’s not Abba’s fault) who charge a fortune for their score and then leave parts out. That’s right, non musical people. A professional score, missing whole bars and measures of music, is what we’re dealing with here. The musical debuted in 1999, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t twenty years time enough to fix all the mistakes? Then there’s the barely legible font, obviously created by a joker with great eyesight.

I know my fellow choir members don’t like it when I use the word ‘dunderhead.’ But for those who talk when we’re supposed to be singing, or repeatedly find themselves singing the wrong song, it works. Today, I fit the description so well, I should inscribe it on a hat. A warm one, because I live in the north.

Because of the cold, my head is stuffed with cotton and my lungs are making strange wheezing sounds, like a badly tuned organ. My choir binder is neat and organized, because I thought it was complete. But we got handed a bunch of new music for the bowing part at the end (seriously, the bows take that long? It’s like 100 pages.) The altos were practicing in another room, under the tutelage of Courtney, our local librarian. Instead of beating us about the head with her book, she kept apologizing, as if the person who messed up the score for the musical wasn’t to blame for our current struggles.

Fuzzy headed, couldn’t find the right page, and it was way too warm inside the school. I was really feeling the lyrics to that song, ‘It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.’ (not part of Mamma Mia, sadly.) I’d walked to choir, and had layered my Lulu Lemon tights beneath my jeans. Courtney, who’d taken us page by page through the music, says, “Are We Ready?” At this point, I’m trying to undress, crouching with one foot out of my jeans and one in, and hopping around like an uncoordinated frog. “Wait,” I called out. “I haven’t got my pants off yet.” I swear the whole alto section gave a massive sigh in complete unison which sounded lovely and would have been perfect if it was part of the score.

I kept dropping my pencil, losing my highlighter, needing a Kleenex, trying not to cough, ( I think I left a lung on the floor somewhere) and trying to record with the new app I downloaded, like you asked me to, Lois. Yes, I have a cell phone. I have apps. But I couldn’t figure out how to re-record, or even start afresh, and then I dropped more things and I guess I should apologize to Beth and Susan who sat beside me. I should probably move through life wearing a sign that says, ‘Sorry for being so annoying all the time.’ I could colour coordinate it with my dunderhead hat.

Anyway. I did not record the parts, Lois, and for that, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

ps. Don’t worry about the missing bars from Mamma Mia. I’m sure they’ll show up by the time you get home.