February 27, 2010

Marjorie and the Solid Gold Toilet

Marjorie and my mom have been friends since they were two, precocious kids. They went to school together and we have at least one black and white photo of the two of them posing on the dock when they were lipsticked lifeguards together in the fifties. They have kept in contact and visited back and forth since my mom moved to Vancouver with her family when she was eighteen (my Grandpa was transferred with the railways), and when Marjorie became a teacher and moved to Calgary.

When I was a kid, an announcement of a visit from Marjorie was good news. We saw her often as my mom and dad moved back to mom's hometown in 1964 and Marjorie's parents were still alive and living there. Marjorie had vivacity in spades, and boy, could she make an entrance. She would arrive at our funky, mismatched house to visit my laid back and slightly hippified mother, dressed head to toe in red or purple or some bright colour, besparkled, made-up and coiffed to within an inch of her life. She had a fur coat, a mink, I think, and a loud voice that could conquer Grand Central Station at rush hour.

But it was her stories that I enjoyed the most, and I would often forget other plans to sit on a stool with knees tucked up under my chin and listen to her. Marjorie had two grown daughters, but was single and independent enough to travel a great deal. Our family travelled very little, so I lived vicariously through her tales. In addition to describing her experiences, she would always fill us in on the cleanliness, or lack thereof, of her most recently visited city, and we would laugh after she was gone at her many complaints about the 'loud obnoxious Americans' in her tour group, wondering what they thought of her.

I will always remember one story in particular (Mom, correct me if there are errors in my story - I was twelve or so when I heard it). Marjorie was visiting a famous Sheik's palace in some middle eastern country. As usual she was part of a tour group. The tour guide was leading them through the grandest, most opulent rooms of the palace, including an incredibly luxurious bathroom, where she pointed out a functional solid gold toilet. As the group moved on, Marjorie became fixated on the idea of having a pee on that toilet. She decided she could not miss the opportunity of sitting on a golden throne. Somehow, astoundingly, she found a way to sneak away from the group and go back to the bathroom, climb over the rope without setting off any alarms, and...well, you can imagine the rest. Needless to say, she succeeded in her quest, and lived to tell about it.

My mom is going to visit Marjorie this weekend; Marjorie hasn't been well for a year or so and the doctor says she doesn't have much time left before her condition deteriorates to the point of leaving her in a condition unable to communicate. I'm sure between these two great ladies there will be tears but perhaps there will also be some giggles as they share all there is to remember between them. It is hard to imagine all that vivacious, glamorous personality and colour fading away, but we will never, ever forget Marjorie. How could we? She made it impossible, bless her.

February 23, 2010

While the Cat's away...

My husband is in Edmonton on a business trip for a few days. He is not away very often, and we are lucky, as I told my daughter when she was crying about it, some daddies have to be away an awful lot.

When the children were small he went away a lot more than he does with his current job. To be honest, I used to sometimes be relieved to see him go. You see, our marriage is like this, or at least it used to be - we have mellowed over time: He is six years older than I am and our personalities are quite different. Sometimes it feels like he is my boss and I am a slightly wayward employee who works to his expectations for short periods of time between longer periods of living off in my own world with not much to show for it. On the other hand, he sometimes feels like a scolded schoolboy when I get the upper hand in arguments and when he is at the receiving end of one of my 'lectures'. Who knows how opposites attract? In our case I think it must be a question of balancing one another out, because somehow it works.

My very good friend, Toni once said, jokingly, that if she left her husband, it wouldn't be for another man, she'd leave him to be alone. Toni is a writer who works as an editor for a publishing house. She is rather introverted and needs time to think and ponder and formulate. I can't claim to be much of an introvert, but I also value my time alone. While my husband is away, my children are still here so I am not alone very much, except when they are in school. Besides, my boys stay up later than I do. When the children were little, and my husband was away I would enjoy doing things entirely my own way, with no one to question any decision I made, but after a few days of being the sole commander-in-chief I would get tired of it. After all, there was no adult around to bounce things off of, no best friend to get my in-jokes, no one tall to lean on, no one solid to lean against, and I would be so happy and relieved to see him when he got home again, as would the children (who always have been very close to their dad).

My husband called last night from his hotel. He told me they had given him a room with a king-sized bed. I told him he'd better sleep diagonally to get the full benefit - I used to be a terrible bed and blanket hog. Admittedly, I sleep like a log when he is not here. I am not woken up in the night when he gets up to go to the bathroom or when he tosses and turns (he can be a light sleeper), but then again, when he is here and I wake up in the night he is there to reach for - and in our busy lives it is that silent question often asked in the darkness of 'are you here for me?' and the answer, 'yes, I am here to love you always' that provides the glue that keeps us, and our family of six, together. And I am happier for it.

February 19, 2010

A Winter's Tale

2010 saw the warmest January in 125 years on the west coast of Canada, but you don't have to tell that to the Olympic course makers at Cypress Mountain, which has been functioning as a ski hill for almost that long. I am pretty aware of it myself today. I was out doing errands earlier this afternoon and if it were not for the wind carrying a slightly chilling message of it still being winter, I would have tied my windbreaker around my waist. The south-facing flowering shrubs' buds are beginning to burst into green, and in the case of my neighbours' forsythia hedge, into yellow. My garlic plants are four inches tall and the purple crocus are opening their petals wide to soak up the warm sun. The north side of the house is slower to show signs of spring but I can see, even from my perch here by the living room window, little white tips on the star magnolia's buds. Almost every day of this winter has been warmer than normal, and we have not entered hibernation in this part of the world to the same degree as the last few winters.

Last winter was a snowy one, and even though, for a person who grew up close to the Alberta border and experienced fairly long, snowy winters, I have become a bit wimpy about snow, it only took a few days of scraping the windshield, shoveling the driveway and pumping the brakes on icy roads to get used to real winter once more. One day before Christmas my husband had a day off work and with the kids all in school for the day we decided to venture out and do some Christmas shopping in the city. The conditions were not exactly ideal for driving, but we went anyway, trusting our 'all wheel drive' and good tires.

After about forty-five minutes our van decided to break down. Oh joy. We pulled over and tried to figure out what was wrong. It was beyond us, so my husband called BCAA on his cell phone and within a short time a tow truck arrived. We found we could drive the van slowly and so the driver followed us up and over the next turnoff. Deciding we would make it back to a mechanic he left us for a more serious call. Sure enough, within a few minutes we were broken down, and again managed to pull over and call BCAA.

We had first broken down at 10:30 a.m. and it was now almost noon. Finally another tow truck came only to tell us that cars were in the ditch up and down the highway and someone, eventually would come for us. Fortunately, we were able to turn on the van to warm up for a bit, we just could not go anywhere. Tow trucks, and even a police car, came and went, checking to make sure we were okay, only to leave to help people in more serious situations. They always promised to come back. Meanwhile, the heavy wet snow was falling and making the road conditions increasingly treacherous. We watched several drivers pull over on the hill ahead, clean off their headlights and windshields, in order to keep driving. After about an hour it was pretty clear we would not be rescued anytime soon. We had brought a few snacks and water with us but no lunch. We were broken down beside a golf course and I wondered if the clubhouse might be open. My husband stayed with the van and I climbed over the guard rail and tramped through the snow to the clubhouse, which was, believe it or not, open on such a day. They didn't have a menu to choose from, but they did have coffee and some frozen chili they kindly offered to heat up for us.

Finally at 4 p.m. a truck arrived. To help us! We had called the schools and the kids were all safely home so that was one worry gone. A friend had offered to come and pick us up but we didn't want him to risk it. By this time the opposing lane had been closed and as we rode high in the overheated cab our driver told us about his harrowing day. We saw the evidence for ourselves as we observed car after car, truck after truck in the ditch, and a semi jackknifed across the highway. Finally we arrived back in our town. I asked to be let out close to our house while my husband went on to the mechanic's with the truck driver who earned a good-sized tip for getting us home safely.

It took me about twenty minutes to make my way home on foot on the slippery, snowy road. I was shaking with relief by the time I opened the door to my house. When I stepped into the entryway my eldest son (16) appeared at the top of the stairs and said, "So what happened?" I told him our tale of waiting hours for a tow and of witnessing so many car accidents. I was very nearly in tears and I think I was expressing myself rather dramatically. I must have been for my son quickly said, "Uh, Mom? Ryan's here, eh," as his new friend appeared beside him. My son didn't have to say anything else. The slightly strained, cautioning look on his face said it all: Mom, you're kind of embarrassing me, so could you please pull yourself together?

Then he asked me what we were having for supper.


February 15, 2010

My Olympic Post (So Close and Yet, So Far)

One would think that because I live so close to Vancouver that I would be there, right now, cheering on my nation's sports heroes instead of spending the day cleaning the bathrooms, baking and blogging.
My absence it is not out of any kind of protest against the Olympics or the fact that, in my crabbier moments, I have likened the expense of our country hosting the snow-dependent event in a rainforest city like Vancouver to me spending a month, on my present budget, wining, dining and gambling high stakes in Las Vegas. In fact, we are Olympic enthusiasts in this house and I think the television must have been on for twelve hours yesterday. If my husband and I were twentysomethings and childless we would probably be in Vancouver as much as possible like my friend Emee's sons, who just had to experience the excitement in person. After all, there are great concerts every day at Robson Square and up at Whistler Mountain, and it's only $25.00 to get into BC Place to witness a medal ceremony each evening, which would be $150.00 if we took the kids who would certainly not want to be left behind.
I admit, it would have been wonderful to be at BC Place stadium to witness the opening ceremonies (which I thought were quite beautiful, and did an artful job of expressing the overall culture of our huge country - apart from the David Fosterized version of 'Oh Canada,' our national anthem), but since we were at the stadium in October for the U2 concert it was easy to imagine the scope of being there with 60,000 other people. We also couldn't afford the $800 + ticket price...each.

For years now we have heard nothing but warnings about the blocking off of the center of Vancouver (which is already a tricky city to navigate) during the Olympics, the lack of parking, the need to take the skytrain and busses instead (which sounds great, but authorities were also warning us of overcrowding and delays, and the nearest train station is an hour's drive from my home). It's enough to keep this crowd-fearing mortal at home. I have heard, however, from a friend that the new insfrastructure of walking trails along the shores and improvements in general to the downtown core really are beautiful and a lasting use of tax dollars. I am sure the new sports facilities and the improvements to existing ones will come in handy to the city, as well.

My Olympic participation has involved attending the torch relay with my family as it passed through our town, and enjoying the entertainment which included my son's high school jazz ensemble. I admit it was pretty exciting to be one of the last of 12,000 coast-to-coast stops for the Olympic torch. My daughters even got a free Coke and flags (emblazoned with Coke icons) to wave. And I found a coveted official red mitten on the ground which I will keep as a souvenir. On Saturday night I went to a concert of Prince Edward Island's 'Vishten', who play an earthy style of traditional, very danceable Acadian music (Acadians are Maritime French Canadians who were originally expulsed over 200 years ago from Nova Scotia - many landing in Louisiana). They were on their way to play several shows at the Olympics this week. They were fantastic, and so was the parking right in front of the village hall.
My husband considered taking a child or two to an Olympic event but the ones he was interested in seeing were far too expensive for us, and the hockey games we could afford promised to be, what he calls, 'blowouts', ie. Finland 15, Estonia 0, and no fun at all. He lived in Calgary during the '88 Olympics and said all the evening concerts were free, transportation well organized and accessible, and it cost $25.00 to watch downhill skiing. It was a different time, in a spacious city planned in a grid of roadways over a flat landscape, and the Calgary Olympics actually made money.

Last week at my younger daughter's school they held their own version of the Olympics. They held competitions in all sorts of adapted sports involving hockey sticks and scooter boards. They even had one competition called 'Find a Parking Spot'. My daughter was assigned to 'Team Switzerland,' so now she says, next to Canada, she's cheering for the Swiss. Her whole school has been invited to attend a Paralympic curling match, so she may go to that with her class. My other children certainly would not mind going to an event, but unlike in the city of Vancouver, their schools are not closed for two weeks.

We are going to go to Vancouver at some point to witness all the downtown improvements for ourselves, but I think we'll wait until the city calms down a bit. In the meantime, we'll keep the t.v. on in the evenings and cheer from our comfortable couch. It is very cool to watch an event at Cypress Mountain (where we have been nordic skiing many times) or Whistler or the Pacific Coliseum and say to each other, "We've been there!"

February 9, 2010

The Ties that Bind - However Loosely

I have a beautiful scarf. It is handwoven of hand-dyed silk threads in rich tones of copper, gold, purple, fuscia, and blue. It is just the right weight to add a little warmth, but not too much. It goes well with black, brown, and blue and dresses up jeans and a sweater (which pretty much describes my wardrobe). I always receive plenty of compliments when I wear it, and I wear it a lot this time of year. There is just one problem with my favourite scarf. It isn't really mine.

Twenty-odd years ago its owner adopted me as a friend. I had known Dawn for a few years, but not well. She was a year behind me in school and was friends with some of my friends. I remember going to some kind of production at the Capitol Theatre and she was there, too. She came up to me afterwards and announced she was pregnant, and thought I would like to know. I'm not sure why she thought I would like to know, but I took it as a gesture of good will, gave her a hug, and told her I was here for her if she needed me.

Dawn was not married or even in a relationship anymore at the time. She was living with her mom, who is a lovely, supportive kind of woman, so Dawn was certainly not alone. We began spending time together, cooking exotic food, going to movies and parties, going for walks and out for tea. And we talked - a lot. She was having a dilemma: should she keep and raise the baby she was carrying, or give her up for adoption. She happened to have some family friends, a couple unable to conceive, interested in an open adoption. If Dawn gave the baby to be raised by this couple, she would be able to be a part of her life without the immense responsibility of raising her alone as a young, single mother. I believe I stayed neutral, and told Dawn that it was her choice and for the rest of her life, so she had better make it for herself. I just asked questions to try and encourage her to consider all sides of the issue. In the end she decided to give the baby to her friends, who let her name it. They added Dawn as a second name.

With the baby safely born and well settled in her home, Dawn decided to carry on with her plans to go to India for a year and volunteer in a Buddhist orphanage. I went off to University in Vancouver, having done with my local college.

A year and a few months later, I got a call. Dawn was back in Canada and wanted to visit me at my brother's rooming house where I was living. It was not a good time for her to come. I was going through a hard time - a very hard time. I was seriously questioning the career path I had chosen for myself, I was finding my living situation very lonely as my brother worked seven days on, seven days off at a group home for troubled teens and had a girlfriend on Vancouver Island so was never home, my boyfriend was in an intense college course and had much less time for sad, confused little me - although he did what he could, and I was considering dropping out of school altogether until I figured out what to do next. Dawn came anyway, and I did want to see her again, but she was not in any better shape than I, in fact she was in worse shape. She had given her baby to another mother to raise because she felt she had so much to do in life, and now, she admitted to me, she was questioning her decision. She was depressed, and desperate to talk about it, but I was depressed, too and too saturated with my own problems to take her troubles on board - I had no room for them, and I was not mature enough at the time to know how to make room.

I remember trying to explain myself to her, but she didn't, or couldn't understand. In fact Dawn started crying and shouting at the same time about how I was shutting her out, didn't care, and then she said those three little words that usually signify the end of a relationship: "You have changed". She left the next day. I saw her a few more times after that and there were gestures of friendship on both sides. When Dawn went again to India she sent me five yards of ivory cream silk, which I later had made into my wedding suit, and we met from time to time when both of us were in our hometown, but it was never to be the same as it had once been.

Somehow, in the middle of everything, I ended up with Dawn's beautiful scarf. I don't remember her giving it to me, I am quite sure she left it with me by accident. Dawn moved away from our hometown and we lost touch, but I have never sent the scarf to her care of her mother because I am afraid that would somehow signify a permanent rejection, like sending an ex all their letters. Rather, even though I love wearing it and think of Dawn every time I do, I would be happy to see her by chance on the street of our hometown some time; I would take the scarf off my own neck and and wrap it around her in acknowledgement of the good times we had together when she needed my friendship and I had what it took to fulfill that need with gladness.

February 7, 2010

I've Been Tagged!

I've been tagged by Jen at Starting Over and the deal is I have to answer 12 personal questions. The thing is, I'm not sure anyone is all that interested. If they are, here is the list. It is only worth reading once:

8 shows I like to watch:
I really don't watch a lot of t.v. but when I do sit down with that rare control of the remote:

Inspector Morse reruns
Midsomer Murders
Poirot and/or Miss Marple
Documentaries (just watched a fascinating one called 'Hyper Parents/Coddled Kids')
Wheel of Fortune (love solving those word puzzles)
CBC news, especially the weather (yes, I'm Canadian)
Rick Mercer Report (Canada's answer to Jon Stewart)
This Hour has 22 Minutes (more Canadian satire)

8 Favourite places to eat and drink:

Heritage Coffee House
The Copper Room (dinner and dancing)
The Lakeside
The Water Street Cafe
Main Street Diner
Victory Fish and Chips
Wildcat Grill

8 things I look forward to:

My morning coffee
Sleeping in
The first flowers of spring
Visits with family and friends
Husband's holidays from work, especially when it happens to be a school day
Mondays (kids back in school and blissful quiet at home)
Saturdays (kids off school and house full of life, music, and noise)

8 Things that happened yesterday:

I went grocery shopping
I made pizza and apple-rhubarb crisp
I went for a run with my husband
My son spent all day attending the Surrey jazz festival
My other son wrote an interesting creation myth for homework
My daughter spent the day at the stables wrangling miniature ponies
I read 'Never Shoot a Stampede Queen' in the bathtub (as usual)
I looked at all the stuff on the coffee table and didn't clean it up

8 things I love about winter:

Less yard work to do
Skiing when I can afford the time and expense
I do better in cold than in heat
Long hot baths in the evening
The Christmas season
Skating as a family
Making and eating soup

Things on my wish list:

A really nice tank top and capris for yoga
A digital camera (I have to keep borrowing my daughter's)
To move the 1 tonne piano upstairs (not going to happen)
Running a half-marathon
Those pesky aphids to leave my garden altogether
A greener thumb
To write another book
Children who grow up into happy, well-adjusted adults

8 Things I am passionate about:

My family
Writing and books
Food and healthy eating
Nature, especially places with water
Intelligent religion

8 Words and Phrases I have used most often:

Just give me a chance to sit here and drink my coffee, then I'll...
Wash your hands, there's a really bad flu going around.
Please put away your laundry.
Have you cleaned your room, yet?
How was your day?
Just call and let me know what you're doing.
Have you practised yet?
Good night sweetie, God bless. I love you.

8 Things I learned from the past:

Wash your hands often and clean your fingernails.
Never make a major decision when you are really, really up, really, really down, or really, really tired.
Sleep on it.
Eat a good breakfast every day.
Get outside, and get the kids outside as much as possible.
Even a 20 minute nap makes the rest of the day possible.
Just let husband watch the soccer game. He'll do the job later, and with more enthusiasm.

8 Places I would like to visit:

The U.K.
New York City
Prince Edward Island
The Dalmatian Coast
New Zealand

8 Things I want/need:

This was pretty much covered in my wish list except:

To figure out how to provide links on my blog (help?)
World Peace and an end to hunger

8 people I would like to tag:

Calamity, Kids and Other Stuff
bringing up charlie
Dust and Dreams
My Own Desiderata
AbodeOne Three
Dreamfarm Girl
uno,dos, tracey

Tagging is completely voluntary, so if you feel like participating, please do. If not, no sweat.

February 4, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I am not a natural performer, not a good public speaker, not a good actor. My history with performing is inauspicious at best. As a girl, I rarely got through a piano piece without major mistakes when being adjudicated in the Kootenay Music Festivals, I was consistently put in the chorus for the annual school play, and when I landed a role as the angel Gabriel in the Christmas pageant I was lucky enough to remember my speech let alone give it any meaning. As a young dancer I seemed to do alright, but that was due to many, many rehearsals as part of a group. It is frontline solo performance I speak of here.

I found out fairly recently that I can read my writing out loud to an audience tolerably well, as well as talk about it, but that may be because my feelings about writing transcend self-consciousness (finally). And I can finally sing well enough to feel fairly good about singing in public. I am an anomaly in my family, however. My eldest and middle sisters are both comfortable on stage as actors, and the other one is a seasoned performer of music (she was even the singer in a disco revival band called 'Shag' that gained a large, devoted following), both my brothers are entirely comfortable singing and performing professionally in public, and both my parents have performed on stage as both actors and musicians. I also turned on CBC radio the other day while making supper and heard a new song by my nephew James Lamb. My other very talented nephew, Christopher (James' brother) has also put out a CD and performs regularly, and several of my nieces are lovely dancers. And don't even get me started on the bravery of my own children (but of course, I will talk about them at length if asked).

Landing as the youngest child in such a family, I think I just grew up to believe something had to be done really well, or it just shouldn't be attempted on stage, in front of people, especially paying people. I do not think that everyone has the same idea. I have seen many, many performances which never should have made it to the stage - most of the acts at the last talent show at my kids' high school for example, not to mention Miley Cyrus. And even some people who could be good performers just, well, blow it by not striking the right balance between too much and too little. In my experience there is a tendancy among amateurs to overdo performances - to overact, to sing beyond their ability, to read too long to an audience. I do understand that performers have to learn the art of performing and the tolerance of an audience, and so they have to start somewhere in order to test their skills, which is why the audience of a school play, dance recital, or music festival is composed mainly of cheerleading parents and grandparents. I do think, however, that more should be expected of more experienced performers, and I will share a little story to support my case.

We were sitting on stools around the kitchen island in my parent's house last August - My sister, Pauline and I, and my mom and dad. Pauline and I were eating toast and peanut butter and she was telling us about her gig the evening before. Pauline is a wonderful singer/songwriter who has been performing for about twenty years, and had played at an event, which included another musician and a poet. The following is how I remember her telling it:

Apparently, when it came time for the poet to read, she announced to the audience, which consisted of people of all ages including children, that when she teaches her poetry class she has them read the poems twice because it takes the students at least two readings to really get the meaning of the poem. Therefore, she had decided it would be a good idea if she read the audience each of her poems - twice. Pauline then described the reaction of the poor audience, which took the opportunity after each first reading of a poem to gradually, methodically back away and out the back door in order to wait it out until the next performer. Did the poet get the message from the receding audience? No! She carried right on, double reading until she ran out of time (or maybe out of audience. I wasn't there.)

Amid the groans and laughter of everyone in my parent's kitchen I said, "Hey, that sounds like that movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, except in this case it would be The Poet Always Reads Twice.

Pauline said, "That sounds like a great title to a murder mystery."

My dad finished us off, "Yeah, guess who gets murdered!"

Better her than me.

Note: The top photo is of my sister Pauline Lamb, photographer unknown. The black and white photo is of James Lamb and was taken by photographer Christine McAvoy (she has a blog) of Vancouver. All musicians mentioned have a myspace page if you would like to look them up. Please let me know if you need further direction. I'm not very good at providing links yet.