Fifty Shades of Cheese

I have a guilty secret that I desperately need to share. When I was twenty-two years old, newly married and living in Carmen, Manitoba, I developed a peculiar addiction. Like most people with a secret life, I was finally found out by none other than my husband. I tried to draw him into my utterly compelling fantasy world, but he wasn’t having any part of it. He said that he had better things to do on a Saturday night than THAT.

Sure, I felt a little humiliated by his words and attitude, but mostly, it was his barely hidden contempt for my secret passion. Still, I couldn’t give it up. The Lawrence Welk Show (LWS)  would continue to be part of my Saturday evening.

Let me explain my fascination with it, dear reader. Because I can picture you right now, a wrinkle in your forehead drawing your eyes closer together as you frown in disbelief. Not Judy, you’re thinking, or possibly gasping aloud. She’s a little eccentric, but not crazy! I’ll plead my case and see if I can win you over.

In the middle seventies, young men still wore  their hair longish, and women too. Perms were coming back into fashion, as were longer skirts. But nothing happening in the current world could explain the 50’s hairstyles or clothing of the men and women on the LWS. They sang folk songs and dumbed down pop music (and that’s saying something) and occasionally introduced a little latin number or two. They had a young black performer who, it appeared, was only allowed to tap dance. There was a Puerto Rican couple who sang together, and a guy who played the accordion every week. The Lennon sisters would harmonize beautifully and Lawrence Welk himself, Mr. Champagne music, would lead the orchestra while lovely ladies and gentlemen in pastel colours waltzed gracefully around the dance floor.

It took me a few weeks to realize that Saturday Night Live did not have an early show on PBS that they used solely for mocking old people.  And still I was charmed. Yes, Dear reader, I am a Lawrence Welk addict. And proud of it.

It’s  the very definition of cheese, possibly the velveeta type. But I’m comfortable with that. I like a wide variety of music, and over the years I’ve sung “This Diamond Ring” with Gerry Lewis, cried to Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” (possibly the sappiest song ever written) and had my thirteen year old heart shredded by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap singing ‘Young Girl.’ Or, as my children like to call it, “The  Perv Song.” They purposefully misunderstand the innocent lyrics.

“Young girl, get out of my mind, my love for you is way out of line, better run girl, your much too young, girl.”

It’s not about THAT, I  said, but they refused to believe me. Help me, Gary Puckett. Because I’m still a big fan of yours, too.

We all have our dark little secrets. Music that we love, but never admit to owning, or television shows that we won’t confess to viewing. I, for instance, wouldn’t be caught dead watching Jersey Shore, because it just makes me sad. But if it floats your boat, go with it. There are many shades and types of cheese out there, and that’s a good thing. Feel free to share your favorite flavour with me.

Diary of a Whiny Himalayan Trekker – 1979

After years of bragging about my stoic hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, I’m going to out myself by publishing my diary. Twenty-four days of climbing, complaining, itching and rats. And beautiful scenery. See? The word order is a strong indication of a wee inclination for whining. Here goes.

Jan 8, 1979

We’re starting our trek! Our guide, Cami, picked us up at our hotel. We had a five hour bus ride ahead of us, though it’s only fifty miles. I was really dreading it. If you’ve ever seen pictures of rickety buses with people hanging out the windows, you’ll understand. Clarence managed to look very aggressive, which prevented people from sitting on top of us.We got to the village of Lamsangu, where we’ll start our trek. Our journey took six hours and the bus only broke down once. 

The mountains in the background and surrounding hills are beautiful, but the place is pretty squalid. The huts are made out of mud, grass and whatever old boards people can find. A dirt road runs through the middle and an open sewer accompanies it. Smoke pours out of every building, mingling with the smell of the sewer and the evening meals being cooked. The open faced huts are the stores, and they sell nuts, grain, material and sticky sweets with flies all over them.

Our ‘hotel’ is a typical hut, but we’re lucky today. Our beds, straw mats on low tables, are in another room, separate from the main eating room. I hope to fall asleep before I hear the rats. I’m painting a pretty gloomy picture, but I’m actually not feeling too bad. In fact, I’m excited about hiking tomorrow. I’m really going to feel proud when we reach base camp.
Tonight, we’ll have the first of many meals of rice and dal. Boring, but there’s nothing else. We brought some biscuits, peanut butter and chocolate with us, which should help a bit. We shouldn’t be overweight when we finish the trip, anyway.

Jan. 9

Got up this morning at seven am, the home owners at five. I didn’t sleep very well, but I will tonight. I’ve never been so tired in my whole life. Though we only walked up five thousand feet, it was a distance of ten miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but you have to take in consideration that it was almost straight up. By ten thirty, my legs were shaking and my back was killing me. We walked until three thirty. Cami tells me that we walked twice as far as expected. I wish he would have said something. I’m not out to break any records. We’re sleeping with a family, since the guesthouse is full. I’m going to show the lady how to make some dried soup I brought. I’ve just got to have something besides rice and dal.

Jan 10

Didn’t sleep last night, except for a few hours. It was too smoky to breathe, since there was a fire going but no chimney or open windows. It wasn’t a hard walk today and the scenery was beautiful, but I was so tired and sore I just couldn’t enjoy it. However, after many hours of walking (and quite a few tears of self pity) we came to a mountain stream and took a half hour break. I took off my boots and cooled my hot, tired feet in the water. It was heaven on earth. That cheered me up considerably and we walked until three thirty, about eighteen miles today.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I just can’t eat that rice and dal. From now on I’ll have a boiled egg for breakfast, biscuits with pb&j for lunch and reconstituted soup with nuts for supper.

Jan. 11 

Last night we slept on a porch outside. It was a mild night and I slept like a rock. It was a strenuous, totally uphill walk all day today, but I wasn’t as tired. My muscles are still quite sore, though, and it will be a few more days until I’m used to all the exercise. I can actually walk and look at the scenery at the same time. Quite a feat for me. Some of the paths are narrow and we walk at some pretty dizzying heights. I try to go fast over the bridges.

We’re seeing the real Nepal. Kathmandu is for the tourists. The people are so poor, and to me, exploited by the Monarchy. We’ve seen more beggars and deformed children than in India. Smoking is encouraged, and we’ve seen toddlers handed cigarettes by their parents. They all work so hard, using the same farming and transportation methods of a thousand years ago.

The scenery gets more beautiful as we go. Though we climbed 7000 feet in elevation today, its really warm. We got some mandarin oranges and I just got a surprise. Chicken for supper! Fresh chicken, I should add. The poor thing just breathed its last.

Jan 12

A very hard walk today. Up and over a high pass, above a cloud! and down the other side. I don’t know which is harder, walking uphill or down. We quit early and are staying in a government run resthouse in a town called Jiri. Clarence, Cami and I even have a room for just the three of us. But the best thing yet: we bought some wood and had a hot shower! We were so dirty, it took quite awhile to get clean. We also washed our shirts and underwear, and put our sleeping bags on the grass to air. I’m trying to rid mine of bedbugs. Every morning I wake up with more bites. Its so aggravating, because I can’t see them.

Except for sore muscles, we’re both pretty healthy. I have a cold but brought some medicine. Clarence has a sore throat, but we have lozenges. We’re enjoying the trek, but missing the food in Kathmandu. Twenty-three days to go!

Jan 13

Had a good supper of fried noodles and cauliflower! We went to bed and slept like rocks for ten hours. I think my insomnia is over. Started walking at 8 today, which is later than usual. We walked for 8.5 hours and it was fairly hard. Up, and then down. Twice. We passed through snow today, but its still warm enough for trekking in rolled up jeans and a shirt. It really cools off at night, though. I’m wearing my down jacket right now. I like it cold at night because the down bags are so warm we just cook. We usually have to sleep with the zippers down. That may account for my many mysterious bites. I woke up with about ten more this morning. Right now I’m grabbing my book to do some reading while its still light.

Jan. 14

Today was the most discouraging day I’ve had yet. I really hated everything. The walking, the food, the people, the mountains. I made a plan to do four more days of walking to Lukla and then fly back to Kathmandu. However, at one o’clock we stopped at a stream and rested for half an hour. I undressed to my jeans and bra and had a good wash. Though the Nepalese women are always washing in public with nothing on, our guide and porter seemed quite  embarrassed, and hastily turned their backs. I think it was the bra that threw them. Anyway, I feel a LOT better and am pretty optimistic about tomorrow.

Jan 15

Today was one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had yet. We walked over Lamjura Pass, an elevation of 12000 feet. There is still barely any snow. We had to wear sweaters in the pass, but other than the fact that we were higher than the clouds, there was no difference in the way we felt. The walking seemed easier. We’re probably just getting used to it.

Last night we met a couple from New Zealand. We stayed up and talked for what seemed like hours, but still made it to bed by 7. We usually get about ten hours of sleep a night, and we need it. I like traveling with just the four of us, but its nice to talk to other people once in awhile.

Clarence is playing ball with some kids. He really gets along with the people here. He’s trying to learn Nepalese, but he speaks it about as well as he speaks French. It gives everyone a good laugh anyway. This trip has been hard in many ways, but its certainly been good for our marriage. I wondered if spending twenty-four hours a day together would be hard, but its been just the opposite.

Jan 16

I had a really terrible sleep last night. There were rats running all over the place. I wasn’t really scared, but they made so much noise that I couldn’t fall sleep. I wasn’t that tired today, though. I really enjoyed our day. Walking the narrow paths at the edge of the mountain made it feel like we were standing on top of the world.  Then, we followed a path through dense forest where the trees joined over our heads. The leaves we stepped on were as long as our arms. Moss covered the trees and water was running everywhere. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

After a fairly steep climb, we came to a cheese factory. There was a cozy room with a fireplace where we drank tea and tasted the goods. We ended up buying an eight pound wheel of creamy white yak cheese. It’s heavy but delicious.

Jan 17

Yesterday it rained for the first time. Clarence doesn’t have his raincoat with him, so it was good that we got to a hotel/house early. We spent the evening reading by candlelight. Just before we got into bed, I noticed a huge spider on the wall. It was the size of my open hand. This completely unnerved me and when I heard the rats running around later, I just couldn’t stand it. I stood up in my bag and hopped over to Clarence’s bed. It was so narrow, we were clinging to the edge. I slept like a baby. I found the walking today hard – my knee was really aching. Hopefully, it will be better tomorrow.

Jan 18

My knee was still quite sore today. The walk was hard, being steep both uphill and downhill. We never got to Lukla until 4 o’clock. We’re staying at a fairly nice place. Though we’re sharing the room with a Nepalese family, it’s clean and there’s no smoke. We’re having chicken and fried noodles for supper. We bought a whole bunch of mandarin oranges today, so we’ll have some for dessert.

Just met a boy from France. Its so nice to talk to different people at night, though I find it irritating to walk with people other than Clarence. Only one and a half days until we have rest at Namche Bazaar.

Jan 19

There’s not much to say except that I didn’t sleep well, and I ate my last chocolate bar.

Jan 20

We arrived in Namche Bazaar, where we’ll stay for a few days before heading to Everest base camp. This place is great! The food is good (Yak steak, pancakes, cheese toast!) and there are lots of friendly tourists. We’re having a great time sitting around talking.

Jan 21

The food was very good, but I was sick all night because I ate too much. Cheese toast and cake for lunch, yak steak and potatoes, pancakes and cake for supper. It served me right. But it was just so nice to eat good food. I had trouble breathing in the night, because of the altitude. Both Clarence and I woke up in the night gasping. It’s like our bodies won’t breathe involuntarily anymore. Today was a lot better. I took it easier on the food. Had a pleasant and relaxing day at Namche.

Jan 22

We started for the base camp today. We only walked four hours, though, to the Tangboche Monastery because we had to go down a thousand feet and then up three. At thirteen thousand feet, you really feel it. You can hear every breath you take, and it feels like someone is holding you back when you walk. I really enjoyed it, though. It was cloudy today but tomorrow we should have our first good look at mount Everest. Now that we’ve walked over 150 miles, I finally feel that we’re working toward something. I guess walking for the sake of walking isn’t my bag, though its been an incredible experience. We will stay at Tangboche one more day to get acclimatized, and then go on. I don’t mind because its a really cozy place.

Jan 23

Spent a really nice day sitting around reading, going for walks and talking. The first thing I did was to sing happy birthday to Cindy. I did the same for Jennifer in December. I can’t believe Cindy is nineteen.

There’s another couple here that we meet every few days along the way. We all get along pretty well. We also visited a Buddhist monastery.  It was really disappointing, because even though it was very picturesque on the outside, it was really musty and deserted looking on the inside. Most of the monks had left for the winter.

I think we’ll spend a few days here on the way back. Our place is so clean and comfortable. I just love it.

Jan 24

We started for Perouche today. It was about a four hour walk. I found it very difficult. It’s only fourteen thousand feet, but feels like twenty. However, we rested at another monastery and I felt a lot better. This monastery was more rewarding. There were lots of monks and the place really had atmosphere. One monk was so covered up, he looked like Obi Wan Kano be from Star Wars. The Llama was there, with a shaved head and two gold earrings. They chanted in deep voices. Best of all was the hand and scalp of an abominable snowman that they had saved, like relics.

We got to Perouche and had a great supper of rice, sauce and vegetables. It was the coldest night yet, and I wore my down pants for the first time.

Jan 25

Spent the day resting, but it wasn’t very restful. In the house we’re staying in, there were four little puppies and a mean boy who constantly hit them. I couldn’t do anything because his mother encouraged him, though I told her what I thought. Later, he started to choke on a piece of food and I just said ‘choke, you little asshole.’ Maybe its the altitude. To make matters worse, our guide thought I was mad at him and I had to apologize over and over, which I wasn’t in the mood to do. Later, when we went to bed, I spent the night gasping for air.

Jan 26

Today we walked from Perouche to Labouche, which is our last camping stop. From here we will climb to Mount Khalapatar and the Everest Base Camp, and then return for the night. We’ll just rest for today, though, because we climbed 2000 feet and are now at 16,000 feet. Even though I have trouble breathing when I sleep, I have no altitude sickness. I feel proud, because many people at this point suffer headaches and nausea. Clarence, of course, is doing the trip in leaps and bounds. Yesterday, on our rest day, he climbed a small mountain of a mere 18,000 feet. He is not the norm, however.

Jan 27

Spent a very poor night becaue of the many mice. You’d think that by this time my paranoia would have been overcome, but not so. Clarence never slept well either, so we were both very tired at 7 this morning when we started out. it was just getting light, and very cold, at least -25. We were dressed warmly in down pants, jackets, wool hats and mitts.

Although we had passed the tree line three days ago, only the highest mountains have snow. The ground is brown and rocky. As we neared Khalapatar and the Base Camp, the rock piles became higher and we could see the glacier. Small lakes looked like craters, and with the mountains around us, we could have been on the moon. It was barren looking, yet really spectacular. The hard part of the climb came two hours after we left Laboucher. From here it was straight up, climbing1500 feet. The first half was tiring, but not difficult. The second half was very rocky and we had to climb using our hands. It took an hour and a half for the second part. For both Clarence and I, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It would have been hard at a lower elevation, but at 18,000 feet, it was so bad. We found it very difficult to breath. When we got to the top, we crawled under an overhanging rock and had a long rest. We ate lunch, (hard to do when you can’t breathe!) rested some more and looked down at Base camp and up at Mount Everest, feeling that the whole thing had really been worthwhile.

It was tricky going down but much easier. When we got to the base camp, we rested and then started for Labouche. We were really tired, especially Clarence. But we were jubilant. We had succeeded!

Jan 28

Slept well, but was still tired today. We walked from Labouche to Thangboche, a distance of twelve miles. We did it in four hours, up and down, convinced for some reason that we were in good enough shape. We were exhausted when we got here. We got two pans of hot water and washed ourselves. Our faces hadn’t touched water in three days, so we really needed it.

We’ll rest here another day, because it really is beautiful. it’s so warm, and there are trees. Then, we’ll go to Namche for two days and then Lukla, where we’ll fly back to Kathmandu.

Jan 29

Spending a relaxing but boring day here in Tangboche. It’s rather crowded in here right now because a trekking group has come to warm up. They sleep in tents but sit around in here all day. It annoys me because we pay for the heat. I had an argument with an American, which put me in a bad moood. Also, its my twenty-fifth birthday and there’s nothing to do. I’m kind of depressed. I’m getting too old to make a big deal out of it anyway. At least Clarence remembered to say Happy Birthday.

I’m homesick right now. I want to fly back to Kathmandu. Mostly, I want to go home.

Jan 30

My evening was much better than my afternoon. Met some very cheerful Australians and spent the rest of the day talking and playing cards. At least it took away my homesickness.

Today, we walked back to Namche Bazaar. We had just arrived when a dust storm blew up. We spent the day sitting around the fire, talking and reading. Some others are staying here, a couple I like but find rather odd. She swears she only married him so he could get a job in Canada. (He’s Australian.) He has all these weird ideas about keeping healthy. Every morning, he drinks a large glass of his own urine. I’ve seen him do it, otherwise I wouldn’t believe it.

Jan 31

Today, we walked our final leg of the journey to Lukla. It only took five hours because we went very fast. We’re anxious to fly back to Kathmandu. The trip has been wonderful in so many ways, but we’re tired, very dirty and ready for a change.

Clarence has asked about changing our flying date. We’re not supposed to fly until the 4th, but we wnat to leave tomorrow. They say maybe, if two planes come instead of one. And if the weather is good.

Feb 1

Woke up to a very cloudy sky. We were certain that we wouldn’t be leaving but decided to pack anyway. What a surprise, not one but three planes were coming! It took a while to weigh our baggage and collect boarding passes from the dark little hut that passes for an airport. Before we knew it, we were flying towards Kathmandu. I really didn’t know if we’d make it or not. The runway was so short, the plane a small Twin Otter, but we had a skillful pilot. All the passengers screamed when we took off, falling off the mountain into space. It was a lot of fun.

It was sad flying in half an hour what took twenty-four days to walk. Such long distances and steep climbs, I just can’t believe what we’ve done. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life and Clarence’s jeans come off without him undoing the fly or button. I guess its been good for us. We figured it out and we actually walked about 250 miles, with 19 walking days and 5 rest days. Not bad, really. What an experience. Now, for a hot shower and sauna, clean clothes, good food and the mail! How’s that for a happy ending?

Northern Exposure

I live a comfortable life. It’s not something that I take for granted, either. Oprah and Jesus said to count my blessings daily, and I do. But every now and then the reality of life in the north leaves me feeling vulnerable. Like the other day.  We were just a few hours into our long drive from Flin Flon to Calgary. My early morning fruit shake, cup of tea, and half bottle of water were making their presence known. My husband kept telling me to just hold on.We were almost at the next stop. I was holding on, but I am, after all, a woman of a certain age.

The thermometer outside the car said it was thirty-six below. So I tried to wait. In the end, (no pun intended) I used  the hardy Northerner’s portapotty, otherwise known as The Side of the Road.  This activity calls for all kinds of special abilities. A well balanced crouch, proper maneuvering of a long jacket, and eagle eyes that can watch for cars coming from both directions. I can’t rely on my husband, who waits comfortably in the driver’s seat. In fact, he’s more likely to take the car and drive it ten yards down the road as a joke. Ha Ha.

Then there’s the letdown problem. Squatting outside on the coldest day of the year does not encourage a relaxed attitude. Or a relaxed anything, for that matter. I felt a sudden kinship with Woody Allen. In that moment, I could have used a good therapy session. “I’m the second oldest of seven children,” I’d say. “I hardly ever got to use the bathroom.”  In spite of my dejected spirits and physical discomfort, Mother Nature finally worked her magic.

 I climbed back into the car and we continued our journey. There were more wonderful winter moments along the way. The two of us in shirtsleeves outside of the Kindersley Tim Horton’s, screaming at each other as we ran to the car. “Unlock the door! YOU have the keys! No, YOU have the keys. We had to laugh. Mostly because it was so cold, tears would have frozen on our cheeks.

We’ve used the outdoor facilities all over Asia, Europe and North America. Even Clarence’s bout of stomach flu that left him squatting in the Khyber Pass while rifle toting bandits watched in the distance was not as uncomfortable as our cold northern experience. More dangerous. But a lot warmer. We’ve had other disconcerting bathroom experiences. But I’ll leave those for another time. Potty Talk, anyone?

Finding Christmas

In case you haven’t noticed, Christmas is a time for kids. So the adult in you won’t enjoy it at all without first doing what Jesus says. “Unless you change and be like little children, you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This very same season, when seen through the eyes of an adult, becomes so distorted that it takes on a whole other meaning. Joy is replaced by shopping, magic by the very fact of being the one responsible for all the decorating. It’s easy to get bogged down by the relentless ‘to do’ list of this highly commercialized Season.

That’s why it’s imperative to connect with your childhood joy. Starting sometime in December, I play Christmas carols while I work, especially the artists that I listened to as a child: Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Mahalia Jackson. I let my spirit lighten until it floats, heading back to a time of magic and wonder. I believed in Jesus, as I do now, and I also believed in Santa Claus. My faith in both was unshakable, creating extra dimensions in the world around me.  Only a child could pass from one to another without skepticism getting in the way.

Children are almost bipolar in their emotions, and Christmas was a time of cheerfulness that bordered on the manic. The countdown to Christmas Eve would start with a trip to the bush for the perfect tree, something that my parents left up to my siblings and me. We all loved to do it but my sister Cindy and I were the true fanatics. We had a hack saw of my dad’s that was all my mother would let us take. After we got it home and let the  tree thaw a little, we’d cover it with delicate glass balls, colored lights of green, blue and red, and enough tinsel to choke five dogs. Tree decorating usually took place just a day or two before Christmas Eve. My mother, a full time nurse with seven children, would find the time to bake and the house would fill up with the other true meaning of Christmas, sugar, chocolate and French meat pies.

On Christmas Eve, I like to remember how it felt walking out into a starry night, well past my bedtime, to attend Midnight Mass. Even the most casual families (ours) were dressed up and we’d all smile shyly at the other kids in our Catechism class, as if we were strangers. There was a strong smell of alcoholic beverages in the air, not masked by the incense the priest waved. It was not the teenagers present that were responsible and my mother would frown a little at the idea of grownups drinking before Mass. It didn’t bother me, though. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the creche with its sparkly gunmetal cloth and statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus and various attendants. The angel perched at the top was always my favorite, her benign smile hinting that Christmas was her favorite time of year, too. (Angels, in my mind, were always women. Maybe it was the long hair.)

After Mass, we’d have a special meal and then head off to bed. Before going inside the house, I used to stand on the sidewalk looking up at the sky, my heart racing at the thought that maybe this time, I could catch Santa in the act of landing on our own roof. I’d go to bed and lie very still, listening for the sound of hooves. There was always that moment of disappointment in the morning, right before the excitement of the day set in. The realization that I’d missed seeing him again.Except for the time when my parents hired someone to come over dressed like Santa, but that was earlier and we hadn’t been to church yet. Still, it kept me believing.

In fact, I was almost eleven by the time I found out that Santa wasn’t real. It was crushing, and changed the way I celebrated Christmas with my own children, which was with more emphasis on the Jesus part. Still, I confess that whenever I stand outside on Christmas Eve, I just have to look up at the night sky. I want to see the stars, and picture the wise men searching through the darkness, finding the Christmas star and following it. I let my eyes scan the heavens, pretending to myself that I’m not looking for anything in particular. But I am, of course.

The child inside me still yearns for the magic, for a return to days where anything is possible, including a fat man in a red suit flying some reindeer across the sky.  I wrap the feeling around myself like a cloak and revel in it. The real Christmas story comforts me and brings hope and faith to my life. So this Christmas (and every other to come) I’m going to ignore all the hard work, even as I do it. I’ll let my thoughts and senses wander back  to the days when I knew the meaning of real excitement. My parents took the time out of their busy lives to create a season filled with joy. At last, I’m old enough to look inside myself and say, “There you are, youngster! Welcome!” To my fellow grown ups, I invite you to come on in. Enter the Kingdom, revel in the bliss of favorite memories, and have the merriest Christmas ever.

I Saw the Sign

I’m a person who usually gets lost when I drive somewhere for the first time.  I have to pay attention to signs.  Some that I’ve wondered about, for which there is probably a scientific explanation,  are the animal warnings.  They seem so random, but also very specific .  ‘Deer Crossing, next ten kilometers.’  I picture a late night meeting between a man in an orange construction vest and a lone deer.  Hushed tones, one of the pair a trained linguist, they negotiate sign placement.   We’re going to need one here.  Over there, you might want to put up a fence, since it gets a little busy.  The man tries to remember what he’s been told, since its too dark to take notes.

It pleases me to picture it that way.  I like the idea of a team effort in animal and human safety.  Good sign placement can make all the difference.  But wouldn’t it be great if there were signs for each of us that appeared at the appropriate moment?  Little flags or pieces of metal would pop up just when a person was ready to take a false step, or say the wrong thing. Like,  You’re about to embarrass yourself, thought you ought to know. If several people were around for the pop up, there might be a little confusion as to who it was for.  Me? I thought it was for you!  Maybe there’d be an argument or two.  The signs would have to be specific to avoid all the finger pointing.

Even better would be signs that popped up before you climbed out of bed in the morning.  Your husband is in a bad mood.  Keep your head down and agree with everything he says.  Or, Don’t drive to the store.  You’re going to have a fender bender.  Best of all would be the ones that said, Don’t get out of bed today, for reasons too numerous to count.  One could phone into work with this reasonable explanation.  It would work the same as ‘verified by visa’ but instead would be verified by God.  Who else would flash personal signs? 

We actually have a form of signage already, that many of us tend to ignore.  I like to call it The Writing on the Wall.  Technically, there is no writing on any particular wall, but instead, an ability to read situtations wherever one goes.  Facial expressions, dark mutterings we often ignore, all these fall under the ‘writing on the wall’ category.  Some of us are so thick headed that we have to be given the news straight up, right in the face.  Even then, bubble headed optimists like me would probably ignore any indication of bad news.

Please read the lyrics to a song, Ace of Base’s ‘I Saw the Sign,’ specifically written for this blog.  (Not really, but it fits nicely.)

I, I gotta new life, you would hardly recognize me, (cause you didn’t read the sign.)
 I’m so gladHow could a person like me care for you? (see, you didn’t read the sign.)
 I, why do I bother when you’re not the one for me?It’s enough, enough (see what I mean?)
I saw the sign. (sure you did)

Don’t be like the deer lying beside the road.  Watch for your sign, for all the signs, hints and warnings that the universe is trying to send you. Like, ‘Bumpy road ahead.’  ‘U Turn.’ ‘Watch for Falling Rocks.’ You never know.  The life, the day, and the feelings you save may be your own. 

The Poop Test

I had some routine lab tests done the other day.  When we were finished the tech handed me an envelope that said, Thank you for taking care of your health.  Since this is a priority for me, I was grateful for the sentiment.  I imagined the card inside saying something like this:

Congratulations!  You’ve taken care of your allergies, you’re drinking slightly less and you’re intake is down to three thousand calories a day. 

I smiled modestly and headed back into a busy day of writing, flogging the babyTrekker, and doing as little housework as possible.  The card sat on a book shelf  in the living room, unopened.   Later, my husband picked it up and brought it into the kitchen.  “You went to the lab today?”

I smiled, hoping he didn’t feel too badly about not receiving a card of his own.  I made some comment about receiving a ‘thumbs up’ from the Northern Regional Health Authority.  He grunted something in reply.  As he left the room, he said, “Don’t fail the poop test.”  He waved the card at me.  “I’ll leave it in the bathroom for you.”

I was stunned.  Instead of a thank you card, I’d received yet another test.  This one, I had to do myself.  The directions seemed vague, as if the management details were up to each individual.  It was like two tests in one. I needed a whole new set of skills just to cope, like a better brain and some kind of Olympic level gymnastic ability.  Did I mention that it would take three days?

 I really wanted someone to talk with about it, someone who felt as insecure and uncoordinated as me.  This wasn’t something I could post on facebook, either.  (Unless I was writing about it in a blog.)  Being a slightly anxious person doesn’t help.  I kept wondering  how my result would compare to others.  Would I fail?  Did I have the right stuff?

I’m not someone who enjoys being tested.  This wasn’t even something I could study for, not that I would have done that anyway, going by past behavior.  I felt as if someone had jumped out at me and started asking the hard questions.  “Are you successful?  Do you move through your days with a sense of optimism, or are you holding back on life?”
“I  don’t know,” I’d answer, probably tearfully.  “I thought I had been given a thank you card, and it was just another  test!  When will I be done with it all?  When will I feel that I’ve reached all my goals, crossed the finish line?”

I have a feeling that it’s never going to happen, at least, not in this lifetime.  And when I’m dead, and meet Saint Peter at the pearly gates, he’ll probably have a pop quiz or two for me as well.  I’ll stare at him, slack jawed and vacant eyed, thinking, really?  If I’m truly blessed, he’ll pat me on the back, open the gate and holler down the road, “She didn’t really pass, but I’m giving her an E for effort.”  I’m pretty sure that I’ll take it. 

Look at that View!

Here’s the thing about great scenery.  An amazing view can have a weird effect on a person. I’ve experienced pins and needles in my hands and feet, lack of breath due to extreme altitudes, and teary moments when the beauty of a place has been so intense, it’s made me drop to my knees.  That was after walking thirty miles uphill.
Most of us aren’t very creative when sharing a view with another traveler.  A few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ may be uttered, a couple of ‘wows.’  If it’s really amazing, we might say, ‘That’s amazing!’  If I’m traveling in an area where the scenery constantly changes, I find it energizing; like five cups of coffee followed by a large piece of chocolate.  If the scenery is fabulous, but continues on the same, hour after hour, I’d rather just read a book.  This is very hard on my husband, who will ooh and aah his way through a thousand miles of beautiful scenery, growing louder as I ignore him.  He does this for one reason, which is to draw me back into The Club.  
The Club is made up of people who love to travel, and then discuss their journeys with other people.  We all have anecdotes from the road, even if we’ve only been to the town a few kilometres over.  Like the blog I wrote when I couldn’t find the recreation centre in Creighton, Saskatchewan, even though it’s the largest building in town.  But, I digress. 
 People in the club are different.  They live to talk about their travels, which is why they pay so much attention to the scenery.  My husband would rather be drawn and quartered than read a book while traveling through new territory.  Unless he’s seen the same thing a hundred times, he can’t be pulled away by anything.  The thing is; he has the right attitude.  I should want to stare at the scenery all of the time.  But I don’t, and I worry that my lack of enthusiasm shows weakness of character.
I’ve traveled a fair bit.  I’ve done my share of storytelling.  But I’m not a genuine member of The Club.  I recognize the glazed look listeners get when they’re extremely bored.   And I pride myself on being the type of person to whom they can just say, ‘enough, already.’  I appreciate candour, as my friends and family know.
  I’m convinced that members of The Club also see the glazed, almost panicked look of the truly bored. The truth is, they hope their desperate enthusiasm will encourage the listener into taking their own journey, telling their own stories. I too love to travel, but hate feeling guilty for reading or writing along on the way.   I’m actually writing this while traveling through the Rockies.  “Ooh,” I say, every time my husband exclaims loudly over the brush, rocks and water by the side of the road.  I look out the window from time to time, mostly to see if he’s driving too close to the edge. 
All of this leads me to the topic of mountains.  A family friend, Graham Shaw, has been known to say, “The trouble with a mountain view is that the mountains keep getting in the way.”  The truth of this statement strikes me to my very core.  When I’m in Calgary, viewing the mountains from a certain distance, I can appreciate their grand silhouette.  But when I’m right up against them, I’m not such a big fan.  They seem to loom over me, like bullies taunting a timid traveler.  This is especially true if I’m sitting in a Gondola, or, God forbid, riding a ski lift.  It feels like the mountains are gloating, because they hold all the power.  If they happen to contain a lake or fast flowing river, I appreciate them more.  The water creates a softer, more benign look.  Like a really huge guy whose frightening appearance is instantly altered by a handsome face or gentle smile. 
One of the things I appreciate about my age is that I finally have myself figured out.  I like traveling along the ocean, but don’t enjoy the wind, ever.  I love a lake, but prefer it in August when the mosquitoes have died down.  I’d rather paddle a canoe than ride in a motorboat, also a bullying issue.  I will not be pushed into going faster than is comfortable.  Just ask my husband.
I appreciate people who are very different from me, especially the traveling, story telling, speed loving, risk taking kind.  I watch them from a distance, appreciating their willingness to try anything once.  They inspire me to say ‘aahhh.’  Maybe even, ‘wow!’  You’ll know you’re one of those people if I look at you and say, ‘Youre amazing!’  You’ll know I’m completely sincere if I’m not reading a book at the time. 

The Road to Whistler

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before

The Beatles song, Long and Winding Road, might be about love, loss and loneliness.  But as I travelled from northern Manitoba to the town of Whistler BC, the title took on a whole new meaning.   I”m fairly sure that I have seen this road before, though its been awhile.  And it wasn’t until we left Salmon Arm that the long and winding road became a bit of a nightmare. 

We spent the night in a small, privately owned motel in Bumcrack, BC.  (The name has been changed, for obvious reasons.) The building looked quaint, almost charming, on the outside, especially when compared to the rest of the town.

Our first clue regarding the accomodations might have been the shriveled looking creature curled up on a lawn chair outside the front entrance.   Think Gollum, with a tan.  Add in a can of beer and a haze of smoke to complete the picture.
 
There were no sheets on the bed in our room.  The guy at the front desk, (like George Carlin, but with bad teeth) gave us an aw, shucks grin.  “Gollum!” he called.   “You make up that bed properly!”  Turns out, Gollum was the chambermaid.  The little man loped towards our room, sheets clutched in his grimy claw.  I took them before he got in the door.
 

Did I mention that the sheets were made of a rubber, polyester blend?  The floor looked like it hadn’t been vacummed in a while.  The walls were covered in bug carcasses and what looked to be bloodied hairs from a deer carcass.  At least, we hoped that’s what it was.  The TV remote didn’t work and George Carlin showed up to change the batteries.  Another aw, shucks grin.  On the plus side, the toilets flushed.  And the door locked, if you heaved your whole body against it while sliding the lever over. 

It was the next day that we found out the reason for the rubber sheets.  On the long and winding road from Cache Creek to Whistler, it’s almost impossible not to piss yourself.  The narrow road shoots through valleys and then climbs up to impossible heights, twisting and turning like a roller coaster designed by a crack smoking engineer.  The lack of any kind of barrier inspires a type of exercise called keegles, which most men have never even heard of, followed by  bum clenches, thus ensuring that we didn’t crap ourselves. 

While driving along this twisted, crazy highway, various signs would pop up in front of us. ‘Danger of Avalanche.  Watch for wild horses.  Deer crossing.  Goat trail.  Loose cattle.’  All this, as we’re crawling along doing our keegles, holding hands and saying goodbye.  By this point, we had knots our back so large, we looked like Quazimoto.

Mostly, we were travelling thirty kilometres an hour.  We kept trying to pull over, to let braver or more impatient drivers pass us by.  The road was too narrow.  There were a few viewing points, but if anything, they increased our exercise activities.  Clench.  Squeeze.  Lift.  Breath.  Whimper.  Begin again.

“But the views were beautiful!” everyone gushed, when we finally arrived in Whistler.  Thinking back on it, I guess they were.   But it’s the last time I’ll see that long and winding road.  We intend to go back, and we’ll meet you at your door, Heather and Adam. But I’m pretty sure we’ll take the long way around. 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (with apolgies to John Berendt)

The whisper runs through the garden like a faint breeze, lightly masked by the nighttime serenade of frogs and insects.  It begins with the frantic mumbling of the smallest beet at the very end of the row.  “The dandelion!” it cries, in a tiny, frightened voice.
“Dandelion!” mocks a tall bean plant, its tone scornful and defensive.  “Try growing next to a wall of  stinkweed.” 
Laughter from a multitude of weeds adds to the growing storm of whispering voices.  To the beet, the sound is enough to freeze the scant water trembling within its tiny stem.  ‘It’s leaning over me,” it cries again, faintly.  “I won’t be able to grow.”
“Pick on someone your own size,” begs a voice from the row of peas planted nearby.
‘Fat lot of good the peas are,” murmurs another bean plant.  “They lie there all day, and we’re left to fight the enemy.”
“Like we have a choice?” whines yet another pea plant.  ‘If the farmer was paying attention, we’d  have a fence to climb.  Then you’d see what we have to offer.  But where is the farmer?”  The voice overflows with cynicism and despair;  it’s question rhetorical.
“Sitting on the ledge of her dwelling, drinking that strange water that makes her laugh too loudly.  It makes her step on us when she comes down into the garden, late at night.”  It is the delicate fringe of a carrot planted at  the far right of the garden that speaks.  It has the best view of the house, and is considered to be an authority on all things ‘farmer’ by most of the other vegetables.
The small beet ventures a fear filled glance at the tall Dandelion looming over it.  “I didn’t ask to be put here,’ the dandelion protests in a voice not unlike James Dean, if he were an effeminate weed.  “I should be on the lawn with my friends, but I got stuck here instead.  Just wait until my hair changes, then I’ll be seen in all kinds of places.”  The dandelion laughs hysterically and the plants nearby shiver in silent protest.
One of the beans sends a silent creeper that wraps around the stem of a chickweed plant which seems to have sprung up overnight.  “I’ve got one!  I’m holding on!  It’s going  to be okay, everyone!  Its going to be…!”  The voice is snuffed quickly, without the slightest sound.  A shudder ruffles the leaves of every vegetable in the garden.
We must not give up hope,’ cries a tomato plant.   “I can see the farmer from here.  I think she’s getting out her weeding tools!”  The plant swings its leaves toward a cluster of foxtails creeping into the soil behind it.  “You’ll all be gone before you know it!”
“Yaaaaay! cry the vegetables, the little beet in particular cheering as loudly as possible.
“Unless she decides to weed tonight.”
“No!” cry the others.  “She learned her lesson the last time!”  More voices chime in as the the fear spreads.  The  smallest beet cries one more time and then collapses to the ground.  “Tell the other seedlings that I tried to hold on.”  It’s voice is very faint.
“Don’t give up,” urges the giant bean plant.  “Morning will be here before you know it.  The other farmer will return, and all will be well.”  Cries of ‘the other farmer!’ ring out around the garden, but are drowned by laughter from the various weeds.
“Laugh if you must,” cries a cucumber plant, desperately trying to lift its tired leaves from the dry ground.  “But we will prevail.  The farmer always come through, in the end.”  A hushed silence falls after the cucumber’s words.  It might be out of respect from their fallen comrade, the tiny beet.  Maybe its a truce, after a long, hot, and unwatered day in the sun.  The vegetables sigh, the weeds chuckle, and the garden is quiet at last.  “The farmer,” is the last words heard from the smallest beet.  “Amen,” says the tomato.

May I Have This Dance

Every morning, for at least the past six weeks, a cheerful little robin perches on the high wire above our back alley and sings its little heart out.  This tiny harbinger of spring puts everyone in the mood for summer.  A friend who knows about birds told me why they sing so hard, and why you don’t hear them in the month of August.  The male robins go through puberty every spring of their four year life, and sing to attract females. 

I swear that its the same robin up there every single day.  He puffs out his fluffy red breast, tilts his little head and starts to whistle.  He’s been doing this for so long, I’m becoming a little anxious.  My husband, and at least one of my sisters,  would say (with a certain amount of eye rolling) that not everything is about me.  Somehow, this feels like it is.  Here’s why.  The plucky little robin who tugs on my heartstrings every morning is bringing back bad memories of my first junior high school dance. 

I know I’m not the only one who shudders a little when they recall this particular ordeal.  And it’s true that I had girl friends to dance with.  But every boy that did NOT cross the floor, tap me on the shoulder and invite me to dance? Well.  It felt like the whole gang of them was sending me a message.  In my crazed and pubescent brain, the lack of invites meant there must be something seriously wrong with me. 

Maybe it was my clothes, a real possibility when I remember the new striped tee shirt and matching green cotton pants from our local Robinsons store.  It might have been my hair style, which resembled that of a prison camp inmate, thanks to the local barber.  Perhaps it was my shy manner, my way of literally running from the room if a boy I didn’t know walked toward me.  Mostly, though, deep, deep down in the depths of my twelve year old heart, I knew that it was my complete and utter lack of coolness.  I was every awkward, clueless girl you’ve ever met  A Jethro Bodene in a vaguely female form, but with less self confidence and enthusiasm.  Even while married to the man who loves me, I still carry the sneaking suspicion that the first time he asked me out, it was motivated by a mixture of pity and arm twisting by my girlfriends.  He reassures me that its not so, but any man will say the right thing when its two in the morning and he wants to get some sleep. 

It’s my tender heart that takes me out to the deck each morning to holler at the female robins.   To ask them to give this guy a chance, for God’s sake  Because, underneath that tiny bird brain, cheerful song and fluffy breast lies a wonderful personality.  But its also that small, awkward, insecure girl hiding in the corner of my amygdala, who knows that puberty is hard enough the first time.  That first dance is agony for almost everybody.  Now imagine if you had to stand there and whistle.