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Cool School

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Did you see Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story this year? It was cool.

So was the song COOL in the movie… the one below is from the original 1961 screenplay…

Yup, finger-snapping cool.

I really really wanted to be cool in the 1960’s. Movies were Cool School.

Saturday 50¢ cent matinees at the Palace or Capitol Theatre in Hamilton, Ontario were MY Cool School.

The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde enthralled me. Best opening credits ever and an explosive, emotional killer of a final scene.

I wanted to grow up to be Clyde Barrow… or Bonnie Parker… didn’t matter that she was a woman, she was young and sexy and fun. She made lipstick seem sensuous and pornographic.

They were both cool.

Actually, I think I really wanted to be Warren Beatty playing Clyde because he was just as young as Faye Dunaway (Bonnie) but even more sexy and more fun, plus he chopped some toes off in prison just so he didn’t have to do chain gang duty… is anything more sexy or fun than chopping off your toes to get a week off work? So much more cool than COVID.

And, have you ever seen Beatty’s smile? Who wouldn’t want to be him?

He was cool.

And if I couldn’t be Warren Beatty playing Clyde or Faye Dunaway playing Bonnie, then I’d have settled for Steve McQueen as a detective in Bullitt.

McQueen was so stoic and unemotional (in the movie and in real life). Stoic is cool.

More importantly, he drove a screaming fast 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback that could fly over San Francisco hills like it was a jet setting off into California’s skies before landing with a big crash-bang on the asphalt. (He drove that Mustang like he rode the motorcycle in The Great Escape).

He was so cool.

Wait? Maybe it was actually Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy or Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid that I wanted to be… they both had blue eyes and deadly smiles.

Butch could kick other big guys in the balls and Sundance could 6-shooter 10 men dead in 5 seconds like a Tesla hits 60 miles per hour in 5 seconds.

Oh man, they were cool.

Interior of Hamilton’s Capitol Theatre where I spent many childhood matinee hours

Flash forward 50 years…

In today’s 10 screen Multiplex movie world, I’d suppose I’d gobble my popcorn and dream of being sexily sardonic Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool… he is today’s COOL. Hi Blake Honey, I’m home. Good Twitter comeback at me today!

Alas, my dreams of being cool like all these actors… or for that matter, my other dream of becoming a rock star like Elton John never happened. If I ever had any chances… well… they slipped through my fingers like sand in an egg-timer.

Here I sit at this point in life – broken-hearted and broken-bodied *Boo-Hoo*– and I’ve accepted my Cool School dreams will never be actualized. Dreams CAN be enough.

But isn’t West Side Story’s Tony (Ansel Elgort) pretty cool?

A Pinch of Galloping Gourmet, A Cup of Anthony Bourdain…

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Welcome to another “change-of-scenery” guest post from my young-old friend Jim Ferguson.

This time out, James is casting his “Oregon eye” on some very interesting cuisinery experiences he’s had the rare opportunity – and gustatory courage – to try out.

Feel free to share back with Jim some of your more intriguing food experiences.

So now friends, without further delay… here’s Jim.

……………..

Once again, Sir Lawrence – has asked me for a guest blog contribution and as usual I am happy to bail out my old friend and give his brain a rest for a week or so.

It is timely too because I have been pondering my grandmother of late and that has opened the door to some ponderings on eating etiquette and food experiences.

How in the heck do you make that leap you might ask?

Well, you are just going to have to read on for the answer. I suspect you will read on because who doesn’t enjoy a good discussion about FOOD, n’est-ce pas!!!

Like many children, I was a bit of a messy eater. Okay! I was more like the Muppets character Cookie Monster devouring his cookies when it came to my childhood eating habits.

My poor mother was a saint for having to clean up after my older brother and me after meals.

My father was oft heard to say “Geez…were you born in a pig sty?” In fact, I heard that so often in my childhood that the whole stork theory ranked second behind the pig sty theory as to where babies came from. I was convinced that just maybe I DID emerge from a pig sty!

I guess it is reasonable to assume that most babies and toddlers are a bit messy when it comes to the finer points of eating. Back then, it wasn’t about taste but more about quantity and how fast you could shovel in the food – pure unadulterated gluttony!

As I grew older my dear Scottish grandmother contributed her sage advice towards refining my eating etiquette as only Scottish grandmothers can.

Wee youngster Jim and Grandmother Nina in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Nina, as we called her, was a stout Scot who made her way across the Atlantic to marry my granddad in the late 1920s. Nina arrived in Quebec City and shortly after was married and suddenly she found herself pioneering in the Lac St. Jean region of Quebec.

She always had a bit of an “edge” to her and maybe this was born of her harsh life in the Quebec wilderness. I could get a smile from her from time to time but they were few and far between.

She was prim and proper and an imposing figure to this wee lad. Nary a hair was ever out of place.

She and granddad would occasionally visit us when I was growing up in Nova Scotia.

I have vivid memories of Nina telling to get my elbows off the table otherwise there could be profound social repercussions. When Nina spoke-I tended to listen!

I could not imagine what social repercussions were so important that I had to get my elbows off the table, but my grandma set me straight. I can still hear her words of wisdom saying to me in her Scottish brogue “Awe Jimmy, how do you ever expect to have supper with the Queen if you keep putting your elbows on the table?

Queen Elizabeth had been making trips to Canada regularly back in the 1960s. In fact, she came through Halifax-Dartmouth area in Nova Scotia where I spent my younger years and had been taught the “wrist-wrist, elbow-elbow” wave that was appropriate for Her Majesty.

However, never once did I for a moment imagine that HRH was going to stop by 27 Penhorn Drive in Dartmouth to invite me for supper.

That wasn’t on my radar and, in fact, if she had stopped by, I suspect I would have run in the opposite direction screaming (think Kevin McAllister from the Christmas classic “Home Alone” running with flailing arms, screaming up the stairs, hiding under his parents bed…yup….that probably would have been me).

Now, if HRH had been a Montreal Canadiens hockey fan and brought my favourite player – Yvan Cournoyer – with her, well that would have been a different story all-together…

Well… I am now 64-years old and still no supper date with the royals on the horizon. My life is incomplete.

Still… I have learned other food pearls over the course of my lifetime as, no doubt, you have too.

I suspect Larry has more to share on this theme as he and Maureen are much more worldly-wise than I with their globetrotting over the past few decades. I did, however, learn a few choice pearls along the way besides keeping my elbows off the table.

During our Yellowknife days, Larry was quite the chef.

I recall him “relishing” (pun intended) in knowing his way around the kitchen (why else would Maureen ever have married the lad from Hamilton, right?) and in fact I was on the receiving end of his cooking talents and can attest to the fact that Chef Boyardee has nothing on Larry.

For my part, I learned how to make stew in the Arctic town, Yellowknife, in the mid-1970s.

I was living with a First Nations family at the time. Roy was Ojibwe First Nations, and Rosa, Dogrib First Nations, from a village just down Great Slave Lake from Yellowknife.

They had 4 kids but still opened their home and hearts for me to stay with them for several months.

Roy and Rosa taught me how to make a great stew and that very few ingredients were off limits.

I was never a fan of stew and so my first inclination was to politely decline the offer, but I’m glad that I allowed myself to experience Roy and Rosa’s stew. There were lots of vegetables and spices, and of course gently-browned beef tender to the bite. It really was delectable.

We were all part of the Yellowknife Baha’i community and the group used to host a unique event called the “caribou unity stew”.

The Baha’i community of Yellowknife, always looking for ways to bring people together, would host caribou unity stews 3-4 times annually where we would rent a public hall with a kitchen facility and invite as many people to come as possible with the idea that everyone had to bring something to add to the stew pot.

The Baha’is provided the caribou and everyone else brought the other ingredients: potatoes, celery, corn, rice, carrots, etc.

It was lots of fun and I have from time to time held similar events over the years but never quite replicating those fantastic Yellowknife events.

It was always a mystery what would end up in the stew because one never knew what special ingredient guests would bring. The stews were delicious and during the winter months the meat was freshly harvested and cooked to perfection. If you recall the Galloping Gourmet – Graham Kerr – savouring every morsel of his creation, well, you get the picture…

It was also in Yellowknife that I was exposed to my version of poutine.

I was living on very little money and would go into the old Yellowknife Inn and amble along the cafeteria line and order a pop and a plate of fries with brown gravy and cheese to which I would add ketchup. I think that experience not only added a few pounds to my girth but tested my gut constitution to the max… All-in-all, my Yellowknife days were filled with food experimentation opportunities.

A number of years later, in the mid-1990s, I spent 2 months in the Republic of Guyana in South America helping with a rural health project.

Guyana has a large segment of the population from India living in the capital city of Georgetown.

I fell in love with many of the traditional foods and spices from India. Still, to this day, just the thought of a lamb vindaloo meal starts my mouth to watering. It was also the first time I saw people plunge their hands into food with gusto.

That was a huge “No No” in my family.

I was taught to NEVER launch hands first into food but in Guyana I overcame this family norm and “dove right in”. As the old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, in Guyana, I did as the Guyanese did.

When I left the big city of Georgetown to go to the remote Rupununi region to participate in the health project, I learned about eating food right out of the fire – mostly freshly harvested chicken, beef, pork, or fish. If you wanted to eat, you had to eat simply. Rice was the staple with every meal with some meat or other and lots of spices.

Later on, in Alaska, I learned to sample foods that were way off my food radar.

There are traditional foods consumed by the Eskimo peoples of NorthWest Alaska (they refer to themselves as Eskimo so I will use that term).

These foods included “black meat”, seal oil, whale blubber (muktuk), whale meat, seal, walrus meat and blubber, and exotic local bird (murre) eggs, to name but a few.

As Larry will attest, I am sure, when in a different culture, if someone offers you food you humbly accept with gratitude (at least for a taste). Well… in Alaska, I was offered all the above and sampled it all on more than one occasion.

Much of the harvested food was dipped in seal oil. Seal oil was such a staple of the Eskimo culture that it was not unusual to smell the oil emanating from the skin pores of the people who consumed this on a regular basis.

For someone who was not a regular consumer of the traditional Eskimo diet, I learned that many of these foods were an acquired taste, especially the “black meat” which was mainly seal, walrus, or reindeer meat left to dry on a rack for a week or longer until blackened and then eaten with seal oil. The meat was often tough to chew – like eating jerky – but the seal oil helped soften it up a bit.

Muktuk was made more palatable by dipping it in teriyaki sauce, a trick I learned from the locals. It was rubbery in texture. Sushi lovers would have a field day with much of the traditional cuisine.

My first experience cooking murre eggs was quite a shock.

The murre lay their eggs in the cliffs near the village and these are collected at great risk by the village folk. I was given the large eggs regularly.

I was told not to fry them like a regular egg, but… I had forgotten this important advice. I threw on some bacon and fried up an egg (they are huge) and soon discovered it was just like eating fish! Surprise! Surprise! The murre survive by eating fish so why would I think the eggs would taste otherwise? If you boil the eggs, they taste less fishy. Lesson learned.

Today, here I am at 64-years old, retired, and no longer with elbows on the table.

I still sit by the phone waiting for the Queen to call me for our long overdue supper date.

COVID-19 has curtailed any international travel plans thus limiting my exposure to new and exciting gustatory opportunities.

I am, however, left with wonderful memories of what has been.

I also know that as a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, I can, at least, plan a trip to Summerland, BC one of these years (Covid permitting) for a home-cooked meal from the kitchen of the “musical gourmet” – Sir Lawrence – in return for an evening of mandolin and guitar playing and lots of singing.

Now I wait for Larry’s call – let’s just hope he isn’t in league with the Queen.

Peace, Jim

Do Astronauts Eat Cold Oats?

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Have you ever had a wet dream over cold oatmeal?

I know I’m a bit old for this, but I think I’ve come close.

Yes, Cold Overnight Oats are THAT good (here’s a simple recipe).

Remember last week when I said I was having difficulty in unearthing subject matter to write these posts? I will totally forgive you for thinking that this post might perfectly exemplify that statement.

OK, moving forward…

… Food, glorious food…

In the 1960’s, I grew up on simple, new-age chemical foods. The wonders of modern laboratories. Tinned peas. Astronaut drinks. Spam. TV dinners. All eaten to the soundtrack of Honey (Bobby Goldsboro) and I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye).

Even babies were fed “nutritionally superior” food from a can or bottle. Women no longer needed breasts, while some of the chemicals we consumed helped men grow breasts, go figure.

When I look back on my childhood and compare it with today… well… the food choices, l’idée du moment, the sheer variety of ingredients, and exposure to ethnic foods has exploded in 50 plus years.

In the early to mid-1960’s I had yet to lay eyes or teeth on a green pepper… a dragonfruit, a passion fruit, a kiwi, a mango, a yam, sushi, turmeric, yogurt, cumin, soybean anything, wild rice, couscous, rotis, lentils, the list continues on to the horizon.

Here I am, half a century later… 50 years in the life of edibles and… food has changed BUT so have I. (A small aside: in 1960, the average Canadian consumed about 2800 calories daily, today it sidles in at close to 3400 calories per person (International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).)

For most of us today, the health consequences of what we eat is far more front-of-mind than it was 50 years ago; the impact that we have on animal life and the health of soils and eco-systems that grow our sustenance is increasingly more important to us.

Ultimately, what we eat, what we enjoy… are flavours, colours and textures that tempt our senses. While some eat to live, most days I live to eat. Sorry Socrates…

Enjoying, savouring food is one of our greatest human characteristics. The popularity of food shows on our TV’s is a pretty fair testament to our love of delicious foods and the company of those we love to be around while eating.

Time for a gustatory journey…

Let’s go on a small time-travelling tour of the evolution of my food half-century and peek in at some of the changes both to the world I live in now and how I too have changed.

CAUTION: Some of the things I once consumed are a bit scary… PSYCHO of the Cuisine Scene!

13 of My Favourite Foods of 1971 and 2021

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1971

  • 1. Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich on white Wonder Bread
  • 2. Chicken à la King
  • 3. Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls with Egg Rolls
  • 4. Roast Beef with Oven-roasted potatoes
  • 5. French Onion Soup
  • 6. AlphaBits cereal
  • 7. Lipton Onion chip dip
  • 8. Tang orange drink
  • 9. Spaghetti-O’s
  • 10. Jello 1-2-3
  • 11. Cheese Fondue
  • 12. Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • and my all-time favourite 13. Tomato Aspic (YUK!)

2021

  • 1. Peanut Butter and Banana on Crusty Whole Grain
  • 2. Chicken Rogan Josh
  • 3. Steamed Dumplings and Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
  • 4. Moroccan Tagine
  • 5. Squash Veloute
  • 6. Cold Overnight Banana Blueberry Oats or Bran Flakes
  • 7. Tangy Mango Salsa with Tortilla Chips
  • 8. Freshly Prepared Fruit Salad
  • 9. Pasta E Fagioli
  • 10. Fruit Pizza
  • 11. Chicken Enchiladas
  • 12. Seafood Paella
  • 13. Greek Salad

Back to the future: It’s almost as if I’ve returned from space after 50 years like a modern-day Marco Polo with a cargo bay full of new, pungent spices, and fresh produce, and a lot less chemical additives.

Going forward, I think I could be happy blasting off to Mars with Elon, exploring the cosmos but only so long as I can take along my cold overnight oats (and lattes!) and leave the Spaghetti-O’s and Tomato Aspic behind!

Good Ole Days for this Good Ole Boy

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Goodnight Jim Bob… goodnight Mary Ellen… goodnight Grandma… goodnight John Boy…..

… and on and on through the list of names called out in the cricket-clamorous darkness of a Virginia depression-era family.

Almost anyone of my vintage (or any of my children whom I forced to watch reruns!) would recognize the closing dialogue of this show…

Probably next to Hockey Night in Canada (Leafs vs Canadiens! GO Habs!!), my most treasured television program of my younger years was a treacly, heartwarming, and often bittersweet show called The Waltons (1972-1981).

I loved the show so much that we even named our eldest daughter after one of the show’s characters, Erin Walton.

The program for me was a bit like like Billy Joel’s lyrics…“it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

WTH? Billy Joel on the road again?

I was perspiring, sweltering, glowing… working like a salt-stained Trojan through a treadmill run this week when I “ran” across a TV station replaying a 1970’s episode of The Waltons.

YES!

And yes again… because like so many things we look back on many years afterwards, it was even more syrupy and corny than I recalled, but still… I felt the heart-pulling pangs of lost innocence, the sweet scenes of family love and respect and order, even good Christian Godliness at its most pious.

The smell of pine trees and fresh-baked apple pies came through my TV screen; I could hear and touch the cool, rippling waters of the nearby fishing river and the hazy cloud of road dust clogging my nostrils as an old Model A Roadster or Ford Pickup rattled by on the 1930’s country roads.

My late father liked to describe his youth as “the good ole days“. As he spoke these words, I could see him playing “episodes” of his life inside his head.

As we age, we find ourselves looking back on the past in various forms of dreamy wonder and filmy carefreeness (I hope this is the case for most). Our minds fill with images and sensory input that meanders in and out while we sleep or as we pass through our daily lives.

Yet as sweet as the idea of “good ole days” is, I’d suggest that everything was rarely as fully idealistic and romantic as we might recall, but… so what… it seems better to try and idealize our past than to suffer through the traumas and dramas that were an inevitable part of those times.

Yesterday, just like today, was a mixture of breathtaking beauty and agonizingly beastly events. It comes to us all in varying degrees.

The Waltons helps me turn to this wondrous, dreamland state where it was always warm and sunny, everyone laughed and got along famously, Mom’s food (Mom’s were always the cooks in those days) was simple but delicious, and a summer day lasted a week.

Like the Waltons, my parents, siblings and I would come together and share Sunday dinners (always Roast Beef… in those times, the only vegetarian at our table was the cow we were consuming) each week as a group around the table.

We would chat and babble and portion out our stories of the day and the week just passed…

… my Mom would tell her tomboy tales of playing baseball on the farm with no gloves and smile as she reminisced of how her hands would ache from catching hard balls with no padding or protection; Dad would shell out his stories of his parents’ floral shop and his sisters playing piano in the parlour….

It was comforting to listen to sentimental remembrances of times I would never experience…

… and as I think back about all of this … I can hear those “Waltons” nostalgic sounds of harmonica and autoharp, the plaintive trumpet and accordion… as I enjoy the romantic memories of my own “good ole days”.

Twenty Years Ago Erstwhile…

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David Albert Green and Lila Margueretta Miller – my parents July 14, 1940

… we were all wide-eyed and baby-scented Millennials, growing accustomed to this once-in-a-lifetime new year that began with the number 2 – catching our collective breath knowing that we had magically survived Y2K pandemonium… but also…

… 20 years ago this month I coordinated, edited, and collated a family book for a reunion of my Mom and Dad’s children and grandchildren; a reunion that celebrated what would have been my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary, had they lived to see the day themselves.

I’ll tell you more about the book and why you might consider doing something similar yourself in a minute.

My oldest brother Robert and wife Lois organized the family’s gathering at Miette Hot Springs, about 60 k. northeast of Jasper in the majestic and rugged Rocky Mountains.

My 4 siblings, our kids, and I have spread out from our Ontario childhood home of Hamilton, east to Nova Scotia, and westward into Saskatchewan and beyond to Alberta and British Columbia. I guess we were ahead of our time; we practised social distancing on a family basis before it was COVID-fashionable. So prescient!

And so, on July 14, 2000, our Green/Miller family group huddled together and staged a mini-reenactment of the tiny wedding that had taken place – in the midst of World War II’s gathering intensity – in Greenfield Park (Quebec) United Church 60 years earlier with two witnesses only: my Mom’s brother Alvin and his wife Pearl.

Back to the book preps: To put the book together for this reunion I decided to approach it in a two-pronged manner:

1. Gather the raw data of genealogy: birthdates, marriage dates and death dates. This satisfied my “science” mind, the 123’s of how we got to where we were in history. The internet was still relatively fresh to us all in 2000, but I was surprisingly able to gather lots and lots of family intelligence and figures. I unearthed a flock of names and relationships that were blind to me up until then. This was exciting!

Pedigree or ancestry chart template with portraits of men and women in round frames. Visualization of links between ancestors and descendants, family members. Modern colorful vector illustration.

2. As important though – in my thinking, more important – were the stories and details of daily life, the “artistic” or human side of all those names and dates. I wanted to see and read my family history through first hand accounts and stories. I longed to feel the life in my past.

I contacted all my living siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and newly-discovered relatives I found through my genealogy research. I asked (OK, begged) for stories and anecdotes from the past that gave personality to the basic facts.

It’s no huge secret that history is largely HISstory and HERstory viewed through our own unique and often biased eyes.

In generous spirit, I received lots of input. Yes!

I gathered together the written stories of those who were willing, and also collected those stories I could through letters and accounts that had been recorded by my relatives who were now passed. This was pure gold.

After my Mom’s Dad – my grandfather Will – died in the winter of 1935, my grandmother Maggie wrote to my Mom about her feelings of loneliness:

Mabel washed a big washing Monday with Clarence’s help and went home on Tuesday… Earl and Clarence are in the swamp and Lloyd is choring and in the house quite often. Still we can’t help but notice the vacant chair. It seems so quiet. But when we think of other people have to come through the same thing. We will have to do the best we know how.”

It’s a palpable reminder for me that all those names we sometimes glaze over in genealogy research were REAL people that breathed and pooped just like I do now (except that pooping part happened largely outdoors in outhouses). They had their own scent, their own voices. Personalities, sweet or irascible. Maybe even racist.

Another golden example: in his later years, my father wrote a mini-memoir to pass on to his kids and grandchildren. Writing your own life history is likely the best “advice” that my Dad ever unintentionally passed on to me.

Here’s a small sampling of what he wrote about the first time he and my Mom met, in 1937.

Recently, he had moved back to Ontario from Nova Scotia where he had been working for the Bank of Montreal for the Depression-era annual salary of  $938.61.

After a month or two of looking for work, I started in the office of Supertest Petroleum on Church Street [Toronto]. At first, I lived in the east end not far from Kew Beach as I thought how marvellous it would be to have a beach close by. I was soon to discover that Lake Ontario is mighty cold. I later decided to move to the west end of the city and joined a boarding house on Ostind Ave. I moved in one evening after work. As my landlady showed me to my room, I noticed a rather cute girl talking on the phone in the downstairs hall.  It turned out that she occupied the room next to mine and her name was Lila Miller. I was smitten and as she was unattached I made it my business to take up as much of her time as I could. Her mother, who was a widow, lived on a farm near Hillsburg with her youngest son Lloyd. There were five in the family, namely Alvin, Clarence, Mabel, Lloyd and Lila. Lila often went home on Sundays and the occasional weekend and I eventually got in on one of these trips home where Lila’s mother and Lloyd would look over Lila’s new boyfriend. They must have approved as I got to go again for the odd Sunday or weekend.”

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Since I pulled this information together in book form 20 years ago, I’ve lost a sister and a sister-in-law who were both at the 2000 family reunion. My eldest brother, the “smart” sibling of my family, sits in what appears an Alzheimer’s state of minimal registration of the world.

What I want to lay on you here today is… you, and your descendants will treasure any information and stories that you collect today about your grandparents, parents, siblings and yes, yourself.

Know that we are Kansas’s Dust in the Wind.

Our dust can blow in the free air and be lost like feathers in the morning breeze… that is a choice we can easily allow to happen, no action required…. or….

… we can catch some of that dust in a jar, like fireflies, and place a cap on it so that we and others, can enjoy its blanket of warmth over and over.

One hundred years from now, that dust will sit, undisturbed, unchanged and waiting to be “lived” again after you and I are dust ourselves.

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I Feel Pregnant With New Normal Spring

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chest burst

SPLATTER! My belly bursts open and ruby red blood explodes violently over spring’s natural art canvas.

Despite all the negativity associated with this viral pandemic – and there is tragedy in all directions, whether to health or economy or social structures – there’s an immense pressure of delight inside me that wants to burst out like the gooey creature in the movie Alien.

I pry my eyes open and check to see that I’m still intact after this scintilla of daydream imaginings subsides.

Yes! No burst belly. No blood. I’m all here. I smile.

This explosion of non-medicated pleasure must be akin to the feeling that others experience when they talk of being “Reborn”.

It’s spring.

The perennial Louvre that awaits outside my front door is so much more apparent to me this year. Thank you Coronavirus.

More than I can recall in decades. Thank you Coronavirus.

The lilacs and lily-of-the-valley are sweeter, the rhodos are more colourful, the Scarlet Tanagers more orange and chattery. Thank you Coronavirus.

Maybe it’s all a sense of nostalgia. Or … could it be my caffeine consumption has skyrocketed from lack of scheduled activity? Where’s the cause and effect?

Bottom line? I LOVE spring.

Spring blossoms - The Boston Globe

Sure, I like all the seasons, but I love Spring.

Spring and fall are like a pair of fraternal twins… similar in some ways, but definitely not identical.

Spring is Vivaldi’s helium-laced concerto… I listen to the bud-burst of violins and my mustard-stained T-shirt morphs into a tux, my bottle of Corona Lite becomes a delicate flute of champagne, and I speak with refined precision where once I generously littered my sentences with F bombs and ill-spoken slang.

  • Spring is a newborn lamb that frolics and delights in the moment with no thought for the future or worries or negative events that may befall it in months and years to come.
  • Spring is childlike and curious and naive.
  • Spring is young and full of enthusiasm and forward-looking hope and wonder.
  • Spring is full of light.

Fall too shares many of the same beauties as spring; temperatures moderate, chrysanthemums and asters bloom in profusion and crisp autumn scents fill the air from ripening fruits… but…  in those same beauties lie the seeds of a coming demise, a hibernation and creeping darkness.

Now, I wonder if we can compare the trajectory of our lives with the tenor of the seasons.

Are pubescent and teenage years our spring… our elder and retirement years our autumn? Is one superior to the other?

Is this even debate-worthy?

Beats me… but lets look further anyway…

I see teenage and elder times as the fraternal twins of our lifespan. They have their own sets of excitement and vivacity, and also their snags and nuisances.

Our spring and fall seasons.

spring and fall

  • I remember pimples and thick, dark hair… now I see smile lines and male-pattern baldness (you might see grey roots).
  • I remember worrying about the lack of puberty’s male frippery ie. armpit and groin hair growth, voice deepening… now I worry about excess hair growing on the rims of my ears.
  • I remember the boyish excitement of buying my first car at 17 and then worrying about where the hell I’d find the dollars to pay for the repairs needed on the beat-up old Rambler that got me to college… now I think of a lifetime of savings and healthy financial gains while simultaneously worrying about tanking stock markets and will there be sufficient money to maintain a lifestyle into these elder years.
  • I remember studying and working to learn the amazing wonders of human biology, hoping to pass interminable tests that would lead me forward and give me the basis for a life ahead of stability… now I live with the internal desire to learn and progress knowing that it’s out of interminable interest, curiosity, and passion.
  • I remember ridiculing (and being ridiculed by) “others” who were different (I won’t even outline who these “others” were, you make it up according to your own experiences)… now I cringe thinking back, and I understand today that understanding and compassion comes from meeting, interacting and living in the shoes of others – to feel their joys, pains and difficulties as they see them.
  • I remember the giddy elation of fresh love bounded by the heartbreak and loss of unrequited or broken-off love… now I revel in grandparent love and worry about the heartbreak and loss of loved ones that surround me.

The spring and fall of our lives… the children we love (let’s be realistic, and sometimes abhor) equally but perhaps for different reasons.

This year – this spring – has given most of us an opportunity to settle into a unique moment where we see and hear things just a little differently than we have in our past.

There is more fog when we look out the “future window” but more clarity in the present.

While I’ve always enjoyed the pleasures in the awakening of spring…

… with this season’s opening…

… I’ve unlatched my senses a tiny bit more than ever and saturated myself in the extreme charm and elegance of it all.

I’ll stay splatter free for now and contain that cute little alien inside me that wants to burst out… but only barely.

Thank you Coronavirus…

cute alien

 

 

 

Photographs and Memories Are Silly

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You know how you enjoy going through old photo albums and reminiscing about your friends and family and your bizarre hairstyle – and OMG those clothes you were wearing?  Why did your mother let you wear THAT skirt? What the hell were you thinking?

So silly.

I’ve been writing this “Fringe” blog for 7+ years now and after 384 posts, I’ve packed up a suitcase load of words and shared mercilessly.

I’ve filled buckets of seriousness and barrels of silliness… it’s a recipe that kind of sums up life, doesn’t it?

And for anyone who thinks that workplace retirement is a time of total relaxation and leisure, there’s another door you might want to look behind in your own Oz-World that contains a few dozen time-consumers…

Which brings me to this blog post… I have a closet-full of items to be attending to this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (cutting down monster hedges and music practice and tutoring and meal prep for a large gang) … and so I’ve given myself permission (thank you Larry) to recycle and reuse… no, not my favourite old and well-worn Calvin Klein boxers… nope… today I’m recycling/reposting a blog post from this month 5 years ago.

Speaking of Oz-World, I took in the film JUDY this week… Ms. Garland was trapped in a world of sadness mixed with ecstasy and way too much drugs and alcohol. Perhaps a dose of silliness like I’ve described below would have de-stressed her days a tiny bit… maybe silliness would have allowed Judy to spend a bit more time on this planet amongst us… but alas, she’s over the rainbow now…

On this Canuck Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you find a few moments of silliness to tickle your inner self … cuz, Thanksgiving is… In Your Pants!

 

Silly is … In My Pants

October 4, 2015

PEI Autumn

I’m just beginning to see millions of leaves succumb to their slow, colourful deaths as we pass the fall equinox. It makes dying a beautiful thing.

And it got me to thinking about changes, and seasons, and those things that are predictable in our lives and other things that change and surprise us.

Take the moon for example. We all know that full moons contribute to the “surprise” factor.

Full moons make crazy things happen, things we’d never expect. This past week’s Harvest “Blood” Moon – wasn’t it stunning? – probably had more impact than usual.

Something that surprised me? Maybe it was full moon inspired?

Singer/Songwriter James Taylor got really silly on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show the other night.

Yup, James Taylor. I love his music but he isn’t normally a silly kind of guy.

“You’ve Got A Friend” and “Fire and Rain” are beautiful, deep, hardly silly songs. He croons serious songs that melt into our hearts and our heads.

Silly? Adding the words, “in my pants…” at the end of each line of Taylor’s music definitely qualifies as silly. ” … But I always thought that I’d see you again… in my pants

So it must have been the moon. Right? Must have been.

Thank you James for reminding me that we all need to be silly sometimes.

Silliness can be an important part of our humanity, our ability to cope when times grow tough. Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness) wrote all about finding humour and laughter in life when confronted with serious pain or illness.

Sometimes I find myself slipping into an earnest seriousness. I have to slap myself on the side of the head to remember to be silly, not to take everything so damned humourlessly. Then I feel better.

Fix the mood and everyone dances like feathers …

There’s a guy who is my age that I work with in the Greek restaurant where I’m a bartender … he’s a server/waiter. Let’s call him Fred.

When everything is calm and quiet, he’s sweet and charming. Full of light humour and smiles. Mr. Congeniality.

But once lineups form at the door, tables in the restaurant fill up, and the hum of activity snarls into a roar, Fred turns into a yelling monstrosity of an animal. He becomes a toddler that only knows “ME“!

It’s like he might just throw himself to the floor and begin crying and stamping his feet unless everyone does everything for him … RIGHT NOW!!

Cosby as Dr. Jeykll

I don’t like Fred much at these moments. His blood pressure readings must be reaching into the clouds way above us.

Later, when customers begin shuffling out of the restaurant, sated and satisfied and a teensy bit tipsy from the delicious libations I’ve poured, Fred sloughs off his nasty mask and returns to his “resting pulse” rate of friendly and charming.

He’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a serving tray and a menu pad.

I can’t blame the moon for Fred’s tantrums. This is his normal reaction, the way he copes when stress begins to pile on.

I feel badly for him and badly for those around him who have to do their jobs despite his vile behaviour. Fred should try singing, “… in my pants“.

But let me tell you about another server I work with – let’s call him Mark – somewhat younger, who always finds a way to laugh and giggle through the busiest times.

He’s smart and good at his job, just like Fred, but Mark always finds a way to stay calm and goofy.

Mark gets the same work accomplished as Fred but everyone around him is more relaxed and smiley as he does his thing.

Mark works two jobs most days and is on his feet for hours and hours at a time, always with a smile and a goofy laugh. I like working with and being around Mark. He makes me calmer and sillier.

We all have our own unique personalities and ways of coping when things turn tough. It’s hard to smile sometimes.

I know I can stress out and get tense and humourless.

But I’m trying really hard to find the silliness, the humour in every situation. Really good or really bad.

Humour is like air … you can’t always see it with your eyes but it’s blowing and floating around us, helping us survive the tough stuff.

Maybe humour is like a religious tonic for non-believers, soothing us when times get rough, a bridge over troubled waters.

When things get busy in the restaurant this evening … while Fred is flailing disruptively, I figure Mark and I will be hearing “…in my pants” dancing in our heads.

... in my pants ... and I ain't afraid to show it ...

 

Letters Of Hope From Mom and Bill Gates

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My young playful Mom

I got a bunch of letters from my Mom the other day.

There were, and still are, hours of wonderful reading and digesting.

The artistically sculpted handwriting that wove the stories of my family’s daily goings-on wasn’t a genetic trait passed on to me as it was to my two sisters … I find my words sinking into a steadily deteriorating scribble that’s readable, but just.

Did I mention that my Mom died more than 45 years ago?

Obviously, the letters that I’m talking about weren’t written yesterday. They’re nestled in a box of archived family photos and memorabilia I’ve held onto. A good deal of it has also been passed to me by others, my siblings, aunts and uncles and distant cousins.

My eyes glaze a tiny bit as I hum Jim Croce’s Photographs and Memories.

My night owl Mom would write late at night when she was most awake, the house dark and silent. Sitting at the dining room table, smoking her homemade, unfiltered cigarettes, her words and thoughts glided onto the pages. Sometimes 3, 4, even 10 pages long.

Most of the letters were written in the 1960’s and early 1970’s to my older brother Robert who had moved west to Edmonton for university. These were the years where my siblings and myself were at our most volatile and malleable, the times when most of our life’s major decisions were being formulated and dreamed.

Lots of talk about school exams and boyfriends/girlfriends/weddings, painful ear infections, paper routes and bitter snowstorms.

 

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The “small” stories held in the probably more than 200 pages of handwritten love aren’t the ones that capture newspaper headlines: there are no abbreviations like LOL or UR or WTF, the script lines are written on clean white unlined paper, mostly 8.5 x 11 inch.

The grammar and spelling are excellent (although I would call her out for using real instead of the adverb really!) given they were written by a farm girl from tiny Hillsburg, Ontario, born in an era when education for girls was far less important than striving for their MRS.

Mom’s words were mostly fun and newsy and very optimistic. Nostalgic and warm. Written close to the end of her years – she sadly died before she reached 61 years old – they were filled with the plans and stories that show a woman who found the best in each person and the immense love for the family that she had surrounded herself with.

Yes, my Mom was dedicated to her family … my Mom was optimistic despite any troubles that no doubt existed. Everyone has troubles.

Sure, Mom would have had problems (tell me one woman with 5 kids that doesn’t have troubles) … Bill Gates has troubles too I bet. Yes, THAT Bill Gates.

Bill Gates sees troubles in the world.

I got a bunch of words in a letter from Bill and Melinda Gates the other day.

Gates Letter 2018

Their letter outlines a myriad collection of problems that exist in the world, “we’re highlighting nine more things that have surprised us along this journey. Some worry us. Others inspire us. All of them are prodding us to action. We hope they do the same for you, because that’s how the world gets better.”

I wasn’t a great fan of Bill Gates when he ran Microsoft.

He always seemed to be attempting to take over the technology of the world with inferior products. He shoved and elbowed to crush whatever competition was waiting and was willing to use all the levers at his devious disposal to eliminate them.

But since leaving as head of Microsoft 10 years ago, Gates and his partner Melinda have found a softer side, or at the very least, a very positive use for his drive to dominate.

The Gates Foundation is a huge philanthropic force dedicated to improving the lives of everyone using technology and intelligent processes. Diseases such as AIDS and malaria have been major focuses, as has the education of young women.

Gates is the antithesis of Trump… Gates, like me, believes that improving the lot of the poorest, sickest, and most destitute the world over improves all our lives. He uses real data, real news, real hope, to combat the fake and the transparently false.

Reading my Mom’s and Gates’ letters this week has left a warm glow inside me.

I’m always on the lookout for mentors, near and far… those who inspire with their deeds.

This week has brought me the gift of a positive glow from that most intimate source… my mother, speaking to me from the past… and an external source of wisdom and hope, Bill Gates, holding confidence and promise in the future.

Optimism … I watched Kacey Musgraves singing at the Grammy Awards this week… her simply optimistic song, Rainbow, “ … there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”

Or, as Bill and Melinda Gates write: “The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”

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