Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Step Behind

There is a cartoon by Roz Chast in the New Yorker magazine, page 47 of the August 29, 2011, that made me laugh.  She always hits my neuroses right on the button.  I probably risk copyright infringement if I attempt to paste the cartoon into my blog for you, so I will describe it.  It seems to be autobiographical and has 6 panels, one for each decade of her life when she has failed to embrace the current zeitgeist.  She says she was too young for the 60s, too squeamish for the 70s, too unambitious for the 80s, too techno-phobic for the 90s, too poor for the 00s, and too old for the teens.  In the last “too old” panel, she draws herself sitting on a park bench as two young things walk by.  One asks, “What’s that old lady doing?” The other says, “I think she’s reading a book!”

I think Roz Chast and I must have been born the same year!  

Having been born in 1953, I fall into the latter half of the Baby Boomer generation (the US Census bureau says we span 1946 – 1964) – i.e., the group that wasn’t nearly as participatory as the elder boomers who were weaned on Rock and Roll and social activism.  

I was 11 when the Beatles first came to North America.  Their flight from London stopped for refueling at Winnipeg International Airport (no kidding!)  I heard about this on the radio.  But being only 11, I was obviously too young to drive and had parents unwilling to take me.  I missed the whole thing.  I got to see the coverage on the news.  All those screaming teens waving to the Fab Four who came out briefly onto the steps of the plane to greet their adoring fans?  I wasn’t among them.

By the late 60s when kids were hitchhiking across Canada to groove on the Summer of Love in Vancouver, I was in Grade 9.  There might have been 14 year old hippies out there, but we all knew they were no- good kids. At 14, I wasn’t even allowed to stay at home alone when my parents went out.

I was in university for most of the 70s. But too chicken for the protests, the environmentalism, the back-to-the-land escapism, the student union, the crafts.  Sure I wore a head scarf tied on backwards, but really only on days I didn’t want to get up early enough to wash my hair before class.

I wore shoulder pads in the 80s but it didn’t fool anybody.  I wasn’t ambitious enough to break any glass ceilings. I did have one job as a project coordinator on a construction site.  I wore steel toe boots and a construction hat on my first day, but got big laughs from the guys on site.  Fortunately it was October 31st and I told them it was, ha, ha, my Hallowe’en costume.

The 90s were a blur of techno-phobia.  It seemed to me that everyone knew computer language and my vocabulary was so far behind I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to explain what a gigabyte, or a URL or a browser was, let alone how to use Microsoft Word.  To this day I don’t know the difference between a jpeg and a tiff.  When email was just brand new, Ken (who revels in new technology) sent a Christmas greeting to his entire contact list, including me.  When I replied with a prickly response, which was something like, “Nice! You sent your wife a Christmas greeting on email!”  I hit Reply All without knowing I shouldn’t have done that.  Some of Ken’s contacts thought that was very amusing.  I was mortified.

Then the 21st century arrived.  Roz Chast’s cartoon shows her looking aghast as two women ogle a pair of shoes that are on sale for $600. Yeah, I was too poor for the 00s. We all were!  There hasn’t been a good economy since 1999!  When did we all start needing $600 shoes, granite counter tops and stainless steel fridges?  I blame the “improvement” shows on TV!  I think it’s those home improvement shows that feature young couples looking for their first homes who HAVE TO HAVE stainless appliances that caused the housing crisis!

So, now that we are in the two thousand teens, I hate to think that I’m too old for the current social milieu.  But I don’t have my Kindle yet!   Hey, at least I know what a Kindle is!
Sketchbook by Roz Chast appears in the New Yorker magazine – go to www.newyorker.com to see her work, including the

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School Days

Creeping like snail, unwillingly, to school.

                                                                                                                William Shakespeare, “As you Like It”, Act II, Scene VII

Riley, our Golden, is ready for back-to-school.  When the kids go back in our neighborhood this week, Riley will be delighted to see all his fans again. Here in Oakwood, kids walk to school there are no school buses. This gives our community an “Andy of Mayberry” kind of feel like how things were in years gone by when we were kids.

Being on a corner lot mid-way between the elementary school and the high school, we get a good portion of the student population passing by our fence.  Riley cutes them all up.  He loves the little kids who shout, “Hi Doggy!” and toss the ball for him.  And he sits nicely for the high school girls who give him pats and say, “Ooooooh! He’s so Cuuu-UTE!”  How’s a boy to resist that?  Riley loves back-to-school.

I’m sure there must be kids who love back-to-school also.  Ken, for example, was a kid who did. He says he used to love the first day of school.  He cites the standard themes: seeing all his friends again, great new school clothes, and crisp new school supplies.  But then, Ken is an optimist. He is one of life’s great enthusiasts. He had a great time at school – mostly in drama class (his words:  “A great way to meet girls!”)

Me? I’m one of life’s great grumblers. I wasn’t so crazy about it. For me, the last few days of August always felt like waiting to face the guillotine. The first semester felt like a life sentence without any possibility of parole.

For me, going back to school was an event of seismic scale – it rocked my world.  Contemplating the long months ahead of incarceration in a classroom gave me the blues.  Long months until summer’s freedom again.  Every year I turned in a dismal performance until January when I would finally give up my grumpiness at just being there and finally knuckle down to do some work. The teachers used to tell my mother that, “She seems to need a routine.”  I never thought so.  Not for me the tyranny of the alarm clock or the monotony of lessons and homework! What I needed was to be OUTTA THERE!

Oh, sure, like any kid, I liked looking at all my new school supplies – all clean and shiny.  But for me, “shopping for supplies” meant going to my Dad’s office supply store to pilfer from open stock, walking up and down the dark rows of the stock room, taking erasers and binders from open boxes marked “X” for “broken inventory”.   This was the ultimate in discount shopping, and there were no lineups at the cash-out, but it was hardly as much fun as going to the drug store to pick out the very prettiest Barbie binder or later one with the Beatles on it! 

As for clothes shopping, this meant the annual Labour Day Weekend drive south from Winnipeg, “across The Line,” as my parents referred to the trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where my mother would buy me saddle oxfords and penny loafers and then attempt to obfuscate their presence at the border. “You kids, let us do all the talking!” Talk about tension!

So is it any wonder that this time of year gives me restless sleep?  And a faint feeling of doom?  Oh, and sure, I’ll admit to a sweet sense of renewal in September, as though the year starts now rather than in January.  Funny how that vague sense of apprehension mixed with excitement can linger into adulthood.  But now, pushing 60, I can safely remind myself that the dread is just a reflex and I can relax and instead go with remembering the excitement of the first day of school, with watching today’s moms and dads taking pictures of their kids, dressed up, on their way to meet their friends and new teachers, and with letting Riley out there to wait for pats.

Hmm. I seem to be getting a powerful urge to go buy a new pair of shoes!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dance Like Someone is Watching - Please!!

I’m sad that Season Eight of “So You Think You Can Dance” has wrapped up.  For me it’s the TV highlight of the summer.  If you aren’t familiar with it, it isn’t the competition with stars who are partnered with professional ballroom dancers.  It’s the one with talented young dancers who compete in all kinds of styles with all kinds of partners.  It always amazes me how good they are and how versatile some of them can be across dance genres.  The choreography by some top-ranked people is first rate as well and even the judges are interesting.  And then there is the gorgeous, warm, and TALL Cat Deeley who hosts the show. She’s just fabulous!  These comments are all my opinion, of course.  A recent article in the New York Times annoyed me with some cranky comments about the program.  But the numerous Emmy nominations the show has received back up my thoughts that SYTYCD is pretty great.  In fact, watching the show, I have a touch of envy toward those young people with stars in their eyes, arabesque-ing into dance glory.

I longed to be a dancer when I was a kid. I begged my parents for ballet lessons. I was enthralled by ballerinas when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. My brother told me years later that my Dad wasn’t crazy about the whole idea because he didn’t want some male dancer having his hands on my butt (in the lifts! You knew that was what I meant!)  So they enrolled me in Highland dancing instead.  
Now, Highland dancing, accompanied by the skirl of the pipes, is a bracing, noble art form, born in Scotland where many of the dances were performed by Highland soldiers on the eve of battle. So, although it is frankly quite absurd for a 7 year old girl to be pounding the floor around the crossed tips of broad swords, I was proud of participating in this dance  – and even won a couple of medals in competition.

But I saw myself in a tutu and pointe shoes, not in a kilt and men’s battle regalia, for heaven’s sake!

However, my youth, anorexic as it was, (I was SO suited to a life in the ballet) passed and then so did my young adult hood.  I fulfilled my ballet dreams – well almost – when I finally enrolled in an adult class at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in my university years. Without the training that starts at age 3, the dream was quickly shattered by the sight in the mirrors of the dozen of us adult dancers, barely air-borne in jetés, groaning into pliés, and reeling dizzily endeavoring to tournant. It was more comedic than elegant. Not a pretty sight.

Next came my tap years.  I started in my mid-30s and only gave it up, twenty odd years later, in 2009 when my ankles became terminally inflamed. I was passionate about tap. I loved it. A friend once referred to it as chuckling with one’s feet.  It is all that and more. It is rhythm and beat the soul of music played out by the percussion of your feet. It is the dance personification of jazz.

That is, unless you are performing in a suburban dance school recital.

Perhaps you’ve been to one of these excruciating extravaganzas.  If you have you know what they’re like: long hours in an airless, non-air conditioned school auditorium watching endless 3 minute dance numbers by every age group, waiting, in boredom, until your loved one appears for their 3 minutes in the spotlight.

 If you are an adult dancer in this scenario, you don’t so much find yourself channeling the greats of Tap History or the soul of music as you do find yourself in a “novelty number” pretty much in the “Good Sport” category receiving audience approval for: “well, good for them for getting up and doing that!”  You will be upstaged by the show-off four- year olds in their Bumble Bee costumes who elicit “awww”s from the audience. And you will likely be scheduled to be onstage immediately following the teens who are in training to be pole dancers.

So, there you are, in your middle years, in a be-glittered and be-dazzled costume, in some number dreamt up by your instructor to go with the recital theme that asks you to be a Spanish lady, or a nun, or a schoolgirl, or a schoolgirl who becomes a nun, or a tourist on a cruise ship, a pizza cook, a cocktail (I was a Pink Lady once), a cowgirl, or a hillbilly in Daisy Duke denim short shorts and a tank top (not a good look on the over-50 set!)

I can only be grateful that I never found myself in a number like the one that won a tap competition I attended once.  Taking first prize was a group of 20 giant pink chickens and a skunk. Their music was “Nobody Here but Us Chickens.”  Yes, 21 middle aged ladies in giant pink feathered costumes with huge bright yellow beaks, plus one overgrown black and white skunk that “got into the hen house.”  I’m not making this up.  Their dance was more a drill team routine than a tap number.  When the judges announced the winning team, these 21 women hugged and squealed and jumped up and down in unison.  Their victory dance was a better performance than their competition routine.  I remember thinking to myself, “There is no justice!”  To have lost to pink chickens was the low point of my dance career.

So, now I watch the talented young things on SYTYCD and think how lucky they are to be doing what they love to do, performing serious choreography, launching their dance careers, and wearing some pretty smashing-looking costumes!  May they never be asked to be pink chickens.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Having nothing better to do this past Sunday, I said to Ken, “Let’s go for lunch somewhere!”  A thought popped into my head, you know how they do, “Whoa! Did we just become my parents?” And the next, even more chilling thought was, “Are we starting to act like Old Age Pensioners?”

Not that there is anything wrong with being an OAP. We’ll get there eventually. It’s just that I’m not quite ready for my golden years. And please, God, don’t let us get too early to the point where we are eating dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon at one of those buffet places where the food is so soft you don’t actually need teeth. (Bless all those who are already there.)

It was the omission of another actual activity in the question of what to do on a Sunday afternoon that gave me pause.

Now, neither of us has ever been part of the rock climbing/sky diving/zip lining/white water rafting set. Sunday drives are our idea of adventure. (Ken has always said that thrill junkies ought to try working in the arts if they want real danger.) We’ve been going on great outings on Sundays for 30 plus years. We reserve Sunday as OUR day; reserved for time together. Depending on where we’ve lived, we’ve gone on hikes and dog-walks in parks, long strolls along coastal shorelines, and picnics at lakeside beaches. We’ve visited little US towns in our pursuit to discover America, attended street fairs, tasted wine and looked for roadside veggie stands, explored obscure museums (the JELL-O Museum in LeRoy, NY was our all time favorite) and poked around second hand stores in a quest for quirky vintage salt and pepper shakers.

Lunch has normally been a feature of these outings, but not necessarily the main event.

My parents were champion lunchers. For them it was high ritual. They loved going on a picnic or going to a “coffee shop” for a sandwich. I don’t think they ever patronized a fast food place. No Micky-D’s or Tim’s drive- through for my folks. They had to have a proper sit-down meal, right on the stroke of twelve noon. Picnics often featured sandwiches my mother made with ground up ham mixed with ground walnuts and her special sweet, boiled salad dressing. Odd, but tasty.  When they bought a cottage in the late 60s at a lake community one hour’s drive north of Winnipeg, they’d leave the city shortly after 11 a.m. on a Friday just so they could hit the half way point in time for lunch in a cafe. It would be a highlight of their day.

It has taken me a lifetime to try to shake that kind of promptness in taking meals. But it hasn’t worked. I like my meals on time.

I don’t know; maybe we are getting closer to our dotage than we think. We stopped one recent Sunday at a Frisch’s Big Boy for a burger. I ordered a regular cheese burger and cole slaw, but the mindless young thing that served us brought me a senior’s portion burger and a cup of soup!  What assumption about me did she make that would lead her to do that? Do I look like I collect Social Security?

However, aside from the obvious cheek by a 16 year old who likely thought I was a fossil, I didn’t mind the smaller portion! Although the meat was the thickness of a single-ply napkin (serviette to my Canadian readers) at least I didn’t have to fudge my Weight Watcher’s points that day.

Anyway, there we were, Ken and I, this past Sunday afternoon, with no other purpose for our excursion to Miamisburg, Ohio, only 30 minutes from home, having lunch in a proper sit down kind of place more or less on the dot of twelve. We walked around the downtown a bit, but it was hardly an activity worthy of the title “Sunday Outing.”

We might as well get our AARP cards so that we can at least enjoy some discounts.

Can elastic waist pants be far behind?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


And now, a word about our dog, Riley.

You were expecting this blog to be about something else with that title? Maybe you were thinking about a certain chocolatey treat you had in college?

No, “Special Brownie” is our code phrase for finding yourself in a situation when you need special attention. Let me explain.

When I was a kid, I belonged to Brownies; that “too-wit, too-woo”-reciting, around-the-giant-toadstool-dancing, cookie-selling, badge-earning, pixie preview for Girl Guides (aka Girl Scouts in the U.S.)  Each week, we would conclude our elfin ritual with a snack. Usually this consisted of cookies and rich, red Ribena — a super-sweet, syrupy red currant concentrate mixed with water — prepared by our leader, Brown Owl, who was British, and thus I concluded that Ribena was considered a delicacy in the UK — TV ads emphasized that it was “RICH, RED Ribena!”

Anyway, the treats were not offered to one girl in our troop who was diabetic. Instead, she would be given a ham sandwich and milk. Brown Owl explained that she was a “Special Brownie.”  I felt bad for the kid, but remember thinking to myself in my seven-year old brain, “I’m glad I’m not a Special Brownie!” Not that I had anything against ham. But who wants to be special in the way that you can’t have fun like everybody else?

I never forgot that alias; that label. It is a reference point for my aversion to needing singular treatment, dietary or otherwise. It happens on occasion, but I try to avoid it. I told Ken this story years ago, and every once in awhile he will chide me with, “Well, aren’t you a Special Brownie?” 

But, I digress. This isn’t about me. This is about Riley. He is my Special Brownie. 

When I last wrote about Riley, it was April and he was having worrisome health issues. I know you have been waiting for an update!

Poor little guy got down to a skeletal 43 pounds. Now, when you understand that Goldens usually weigh in at 65-75, you can tell how desperate we were! Regardless of what we fed him, his system just couldn’t digest nutrients in his food and was actually on the offensive, causing his digestion no end of irritation and us no end of worry. Finally we consulted a veterinary internal medicine specialist. A biopsy and endoscope (you can only imagine how expensive that was – ka-ching!) led to a diagnosis: “Lymphangeactasia” — a disease of the small bowel that is uncurable, but manageable with a low fat diet and drugs. He is on Prednisone, plus a couple of other drugs (ka-ching, ka-ching.) At this writing, he eats 4 cups of kibble, plus 3 cans of dog food per day (ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!) This is so that he gets enough food to prompt at least some of the nutrients to make it through his “firewall” to get absorbed by his system. For those of you with normal dogs, you know how much food this is. For you non-dog owners – believe me, this is a LOT of food – about the equivalent weight of a Yorkshire terrier.

But poor Riley has had to put up with Special Brownie status in his social life as well. He’s had to conserve calories, so we haven’t taken him on long walks for weeks and weeks (vet said short walks were o.k.) He hasn’t been to his doggy day care in months. He doesn’t go swimming (we don’t need any intestinal problems as a result of creek/pond/lake water!)  He’s had some play times with some close buddies – his BFF, Dover, and his summer romance, Talley, the Wheaton terrier visiting next door – but these have been very short. Mostly he lazes around with his mom. We’ve had a nice time together, but a young dog needs to get up and go!

I just got home from taking him to the specialist for his follow-up visit. She was very pleased that he’s looking so good. He is gaining weight and is now up to 68 pounds. (Yay!) He will be on meds and a hearty amount of low fat food likely for his lifetime, but other than that, he’s good. I took him to the day care for a half day as a little reward. They said he played his a** off!

So, we are optimistic that he will be playing and running and jumping like the other dogs real soon. He will always be a Special Brownie, of course. And I’m thinking — the poster boy for Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease!