Wednesday, October 26, 2011


In the last few days, I’ve read a couple of newspaper columns and a blog or two in which the writers have observed how Halloween has been appropriated by adults. It has gone, they say, from being a fun night for little kids to being an excuse for grown-ups to put on costumes and act like kids.  Ken and I have never really followed this trend nor taken part because, as Ken maintains, when you work in the theatre, putting on costumes isn’t much of a novelty. I don’t know whether other theatre people disdain Halloween for this same reason, but that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Neither have we ever created a stage set on our front steps with ghouls and ghosts and skeletons. For someone who found “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” to be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, I find the graveyards on neighborhood lawns a bit unnerving. I try not to look.

However, the Halloween blogs got me thinking about “dressing-up.”   We haven’t been to a costume party in 35 years. But when I was a kid it was planning my Halloween costume that thrilled me the most.

First, I should say that I was one of those weird kids who didn’t care much for candy.  I was so indifferent to the loot we collected that it would roll around to Easter by the time my mother would finally hold up the bag full of Nibs, Bazooka bubble gum, candy bracelets and jaw breakers that had been stuffed to the back of the kitchen cupboard and say, “I’m throwing this junk out now!” Fine with me. 

My childhood pal and Halloween planning partner, Cora Lynne, who lived five doors away from our house, was all about the candy.  She was one of those kids who pinched spare change from her mother’s purse so we could go to “Sam the Cheat’s,” as all the kids in the neighborhood called our corner store.  She would spend fifteen minutes or more reviewing the open bins of penny candy to pick out her favorites, while Sam grumbled behind the counter, “I’m watching you kids. Don’t even think about stealing from me.”  I was never interested, especially as I was afraid of Sam and had heard the terrible tales told by my parents of bugs having been found in the raisin nut chocolate bars. But for Cora Lynne, candy represented the supreme goal of childhood and Halloween candy the climax of her entire sugary year.

Nope, for me it was the costume.  We would start planning what to wear in August.  My mind would race with ideas and I could think of nothing else until I had nailed down the details.  One year we went as exotic gypsies. Another year, as cool beatniks. I was 11 when the Beatles first came to North America, so I think we might have even gone as Beatles, maybe it was on our last year of trick or treating.  It occurs to me now that we were working through our alter egos – trying on characters we would never be, but making visible statements about what we thought of ourselves, or how we wanted adults to see us. We secretly hoped to shock and dismay.

Of course, this was when we were old enough to not need adult help. At this stage, the only intervention they’d offer was, “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that, missy!” or, “Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?” 

But of course, the costume you wear for Halloween when you are a little kid is chosen by your parents.

When I first went out for Halloween, I got to be a princess! But as every kid who grew up on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s knows, this meant wearing your costume over your snow suit. And if your mother didn’t have a talent for sewing, it also meant that you were taken to the drug store to pick out a paper costume. This happened to me several years in a row. Once the paper sack got pulled over the snow suit, I looked more like a troll than a princess. Mom would wedge the tiara down over my toque (American translation: wool hat.) Once I had run with my pillow case full of candy up one side of your street and down the other, up and down front steps, shouting “Halloweeeen AAAPPPLes!” (American translation: “Trick or Treat!”) the princess dress was thoroughly torn and tattered. It was kind of a reverse Cinderella effect.  

When I got to elementary school, my non-sewing mother relied on purchasing more resilient costumes.  I became either a cowgirl or a Chinese farm laborer the latter thanks to my aunt who traveled to the west coast annually and always brought back Chinese pajamas and a broad straw hat from Vancouver’s Chinatown, such as the ones worn by rice farmers or the laborers conscripted to build the Canadian railways in the 1800s.  I preferred the cowgirl outfit because, even at that young age, I had a sense there might be some impropriety about wearing the Chinese pj’s.

But at a costume parade in grade 2, one of the years that I went as a cowgirl, I wore a red cowboy hat, a red and white checked shirt, a denim skirt and a brown fake leather vest with white whip-stitching, and I remember watching a girl in my class who wore a floor length pink dress with puffy sleeves and tied in back with a lovely satin sash.  She had one of those tall pointed hats that her mom had made for her that had a flowy veil of pink chiffon streaming down to her shoulders. She was every inch a beautiful princess. And I remember thinking to myself, “Nuts! I want to be a princess!”

Wait a sec! Maybe this year! Anyone having a party?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kabin Karma

Ken and I went on a three day excursion this past weekend.  Leaf-peeping was the excuse. Some R&R Relationship and Reconnection was the actual goal, although Rest and Relaxation sounded good, too.

We love staying at country inn-style B&BS and have made it a quest over the years to find especially nice places. Good mattress. Down quilt. Two-person hot tub. Fireplace. Happy Hour. Lavish breakfast.  Scenic setting.  Peace and quiet.  That’s what we look for.  Fortunately there are numerous places that offer these amenities and some are even affordable.  But the way we look at it, we aren’t putting kids through college, so we treat ourselves now and again.

On Saturday we stayed at an inn tucked away along a back road in southern Ohio Amish Country. It has a charming 1800s farm house where dinner and breakfast are served, and Amish-built log cabins nestled into a forested portion of the innkeepers’ considerable rural acreage.  It was a gorgeous day and we had taken our time driving country roads and enjoying the fall color. Once we checked in, we went for a woodland walk and returned to sit on our porch for a snack of cheese from the Amish farm next door and a glass of the wine we brought from home.  Ken went for a nap, and I stayed on the little porch, sitting in an Adirondack chair to read, to watch the sunlight on yellow leaves, and let my mind drift.

As I always do when we stay in these places, I begin to imagine how nice it would be to do this every weekend.  How relaxing! How restorative!  I’ll fantasize about a cabin of our own.  Soon, I’ll be designing a cottage in my head – just like this one!  Except, with a kitchen. And a satellite dish. And a guest room with ensuite.  And a better view. Waterfront, I think.  Oh, well.  It’s kind of an impossible dream, but lovely to think about.  Who can afford waterfront these days anyway?

After dinner, we joined a group of guests who were sitting around a fire pit that had a wonderful blaze going. Being in such a remote location, we could see stars again and listen to crickets chirp and owls hoot. We sat there contemplating the vastness of the universe warmed by the primeval appeal of the fire.  When we toddled off to bed, we were transformed individuals.

Until I tried to get to sleep.  In the quiet and the inky darkness, the day’s magic dissolved into terrible thoughts. First, my mind wandered to imagining a bear sniffing out the banana bread we had packed in the picnic hamper (it isn’t likely there are bears there at all – but still...)  She would tear the door off the cabin to find it and eat banana bread along with us as a side dish.

Next, my brain concocted a crazed group of hillbillies, buzzed-up on Mountain Dew caffeine mega-watts, rampaging around in a pick-up truck and causing no end of violence and mayhem.  They would think that at least one of us was “purty.”  I worried that I should have closed and locked the windows.  What was that noise?  Why is it so dag-nabbed dark in here? It was a miracle I got to sleep at all.

But, in the morning, all seemed well.  Silly to have worried!  Clear blue sky. Birds chirping. Leaves fluttering. Our breakfast was indeed lavish and delicious. We thanked the innkeepers and went on our way to the next locale, stopping to hike into a State Park geological site that has the most amazing cave and rock formations.

Sunday night we stayed at a different inn deep in Ohio’s absolutely beautiful Hocking Hills area.  We drove to what seemed like the end of nowhere and it was past that.  The appeal of this inn is its situation on a gorge a gorgeous gorgewith walking trails practically right out the front door of our darling cottage.  We had a screened-in porch where we could sit with our afternoon quaff of wine and right on cue, a family of deer walked by, stopping to flex their ears at us and gaze over to see if we were any danger to them.  Idyllic.

After dinner we played Gin Rummy until bedtime.  I fell asleep right away.

At 2:00 in the morning, a huge clap of thunder woke us both.  I awoke with such a start that my heart pounded.  Ken fell back to sleep, but I was so wide awake that I got up to sit in our tiny living room to read and hopefully calm down.  Thunder and lightning continued. The wind picked up. The curtains fluttered inward at the open windows. I sat in a wingback chair with a single light shining on my book a collection of short stories by my favorite Canadian author, Alice Munro.  The story started out to tell about a woman in her seventies whose husband had died and she was living alone in her tiny farmhouse.  One day a young man comes to her door claiming to be from a utility company. She lets him in, but he doesn’t leave right away. He claims he is diabetic and could she please fix him something to eat. He sits down at the kitchen table.  But when he breaks the tea cup she passes him and threatens her with a shard of china, I stopped reading! Ack! I don’t like where this is going!  I jumped back into bed and stared out into the darkness for hours. It was too quiet.  My heart was still pounding so loud I swear an intruder would hear it. I fell asleep at some point. But I’m not sure what time it had not been a restful night.

The morning dawned crisp and clear not a cloud in the sky. Sunlight shining through yellow leaves.  Deer strolling past our dear little cottage. A lavish breakfast waiting. All was well. Silly to have worried!

It was just a great weekend all in all. But there’s a good reason why we don’t own a cottage or a cabin. I couldn’t take the stress.  


Friday, October 14, 2011


Don’t you think it would have prevented a lot of anxiety in our youth if we could have glimpsed our adult selves through some kind of crystal ball?  I mean, dating in high school, for example, would have been a lot less fraught with melodrama if I had only known that one day I would be living every woman’s dream yes, me, though I could never have imagined it at the time.  For, you see, I go out on date night every weekend – sometimes on Friday AND Saturday!  How has this happened to a formerly shy, 95-pound, flat-chested, braces-toothed, arts-nerd in glasses such as I was in high school?

I married a man in show biz!  You can’t get luckier than that.  Dinner and a show? Darn near standard fare for us!  Broadway musical? By all means!  A play? Play on!  Philharmonic?  Phabulous!  Opera?  Oh, we’re there!  Comedy and concerts?  Can’t miss ‘em!  Ballet? I married a man who likes ballet!

For us, it’s nice to stay home once in a while for heaven’s sake!

A far cry from my teenage years, let me tell you, when staying home was monotonously the norm!  I longed to go out. My parents kept saying things like, “These are the best years of your life!” And I was thinking, “Oh, my God! You mean it gets worse?”

From grades 7 to 9 I had a steady boyfriend, but our dates were limited, well, by being 13 and 14 years old, as well as by a lack of transportation and cash. He had a paper route but his earning power wasn’t great enough to take me to the movies. Sometimes we’d ride a bus to the end of its run and back again just for something to do.  When he broke up with me, I was heartbroken and went into deep introspection, getting my hair cut as short as a nun’s (if I hadn’t been brought up Protestant I would have taken vows right then and there.) I stayed home every weekend to watch TV with the folks.  This was not the Seventeen magazine recommended way to get into the “A” group.  

I accepted the odd date (odd being the operative word) from guys who needed to practice dating pretty much pity dates on both our parts like the sweet, but overly-serious guy who sang to me all through West Side Story, and the kid who sat in front of me in home room who sniffed his armpits during class. My self-banishment lasted until grade 12 when I got my braces off.  I decided to face the world again.

It took a few months before I got the hang of going out with boys again, but I did crawl my way back to social acceptability, eventually, mostly with the help of my best friend who was beautiful, charming and popular, and who mentored me out of exile.

I met the man of my dreams in university.  He was cute, funny, easy to be with, in the theatre program, played the guitar (he had me at “You’ve Got a Friend”) and was totally into the arts. It was love. The rest is history.

So, 40 years later, he and I were in the audience last Friday night when the Flying Karamazov Brothers performed at the Victoria Theatre here in Dayton.  The Vic is a beautifully restored vaudeville/movie house that is part of the complex that Ken heads, and makes the perfect venue for a show like the FKB’s which is mostly juggling, but also old fashioned, silly vaudevillian schtick.  In one of their routines, the four guys juggled those things that look like bowling pins, three against one, in different patterns and rhythms, for a very long time mesmerizing to watch all the while keeping up a patter of conversation and jokes.  They peppered in some local references and riffed on what a citizen of Dayton is called.

A “Daytonian”?  No, they said, sounds too much like Daytona Beach.

(This was followed by a few more that I don’t remember.)

And finally, a “Daytonite”?  No, sounds too much like Date Night.
That’s when it hit me.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world!  Why?  Because every weekend is Date Night for

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vegetables are a Side Dish

In 1957, Canada proclaimed the second Monday of October to be a day of Thanksgiving for the year’s bountiful harvest. The tradition of a thanksgiving feast dates back thousands of years among Canada’s Frist Nations, and history records that there were feasts to give thanks in the early French settlements, beginning in 1604. Thanksgiving in Canada has followed European and American traditions, most notably making turkey the key culinary feature in many homes.  The holiday occurs on October 10 this year when families will gather, feasts will be prepared and consumed. My blog this week is written with deep gratitude for the food on our table and for our many blessings of employment, a home, friends and family, and in the knowledge that so many people are not blessed with our bounty.

Nevertheless….as I peel Brussels sprouts….

Vegetables and I have a tenuous relationship. In this age of enlightened eating, obesity awareness and Saturday morning farm markets, I remain on shaky ground with produce.

You know all those magazine articles and diet tips you read about reducing calories by snacking on carrot sticks or celery stalks? That holds no appeal for me whatsoever.  Unless we’re talking about adding ranch dressing, a carrot stick is last on the list of my preferred snack foods. We once witnessed with horror the dietary habits of a woman who worked with Ken some years ago.  She snacked on baby carrots all day long.  She became a one-bag-a-day addict! Her skin turned orange right before our eyes!  The revulsion of it is indelibly etched on my mind.

As a kid, I struggled to choke down the vegetables my mother put in front of me.

Growing up in Winnipeg, out there on the wintery Canadian Prairie in the 1950s and 60s, the vegetables added to dinner plates at our house came in cans. They consisted of greyish peas, corn in gunky cream sauce, wax beans that may have actually been wax, beets (oh, the humanity!) and if we were being punished for some reason, lima beans.  Except for Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas when a cauliflower would put in an appearance or perhaps some hateful Brussels sprouts, the only “fresh” vegetables came from the tuber family: carrots, turnips, and potatoes. The latter were mashed.  Every night.  Not being allowed to leave the table until I had cleaned my plate, I would push cold corn and potatoes around to make patterns and roads, imagining that the corn fairy would magically appear to get me out of there, or at least bring dessert.

Summer was a different story. My parents would drive out into the country to seek out farmers’ roadside stalls. We would then feast with glee on juicy sweet green peas, crisp carrots, radishes, green onions, snappy snap beans, and golden sweet corn cobs.  During asparagus season we’d eat the pungent stringy stalks for days on end; on toast with cream sauce for lunch, napped in butter for dinner.  In this act of true appreciation for the short harvest season, mother fed us such quantities of fresh produce that we’d all come down with what my parents euphemistically called “summer complaint.”

Truly, it was meat and bread that got me through my childhood. I feel quite attached to them.

Broccoli, peppers, avocados, and other exotic fare arrived on the scene when I was around 17. Things looked up from there. Now, as a grown up with a fairly sophisticated palate, I do love a lot of veggies, but I can barely make it through a salad at lunch without thinking that it might have been really good if it had had a yummy protein – like breaded chicken fingers, or thin slices of steak, or that dietary bad boy, bacon!

This makes a weight loss program like Weight Watchers a bit tricky.  Vegetables and fruits are, for the most part, assigned zero points. This means that you can eat all you want and it will have no effect on your daily points allowance. Adding the proteins and starches I love puts me well along the way to using up my total of 29 points before lunch is over.

Now, I’m not trying to make a case against eating veggies.  I recognize their healthful benefits.  I totally respect the vegetarian ethic.  I even like a good number of them – vegetables, that is, (vegetarians are o.k. too.) They’re wonderful – in their proper place – on the plate playing second banana, (pardon the fruit pun) to the main event: fish, meat or poultry. 

And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that veggies are way better if they are “dressed” in something from the other food groups – mostly dairy.  Spinach is a lot tastier folded into Boursin cream cheese with a touch of garlic and parmesan.  Sweet potatoes are to die for when pureed with honey, cream and sage.  Cauliflower is heaven in a bowl as a soup made with Stilton cheese. Broccoli is really only tolerable with a cheddar sauce. Or, as a friend in Buffalo says, “Veggies are really just an excuse for butter.”

So, maybe I’ve never really become a grown-up who eats her vegetable without complaint.  Still waiting for the corn fairy, I guess.