Thursday, May 24, 2012

Playing Chicken

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Chicken Dance in Canada. A band called The Emeralds first introduced it to Canadian banquet halls in Edmonton, Alberta in 1982. According to Wikipedia, the Chicken Dance, or Bird Dance as it is sometimes called, was originally composed in the 1950s by a Swiss guy named Werner Thomas. But The Emeralds’ polka-inspired version was the one that popularized it at weddings everywhere. Their “Bird Dance” album went double-platinum in Canada and earned multiple gold albums. That tells you a lot about Canada.

“Composed” might seem like a strong verb for the Chicken Dance. But you have to give credit where credit is due. When have you been to a wedding or on a cruise when you haven’t done the Chicken Dance? Between it, the Hokey Pokey and the Macarena, that pretty much says party right there.

I might have missed this special occasion if it hadn’t been for my sister-in-law in Edmonton who told me about it. She and my brother-in-law are friends with a member of The Emeralds, who apparently still play gigs where the Chicken Dance is invoked and who are still happily collecting royalties.

If you don’t know the dance, here are the basic steps (if memory serves):

In a group, standing in a circle facing one another, raise your arms, elbows bent, making the form of chicken beaks with your fingers pressed together.  

When the music starts, make hand gestures for 4 counts like chickens clucking. La la la-la la-la la.

Stick your fingers under your armpits and make gestures for 4 counts like chickens flapping their wings. La la la-la la-la la.

Clasp your hands behind your lower back making gestures like chicken tail feathers while you wiggle your hips down and then up again for 4 counts like chickens shaking their tail feathers. La La La La!

Stand still and clap for 4 counts. La La La La!

Repeat a few times.

At the musical bridge, everybody polka!  (See alternate recommended activities for the bridge on the internet there seem to be numerous regional variations.)

Now, there are a couple of people close to me reading this who are thinking, “Oh, she’s NOT going to tell her Chicken Dance story, is she?” Never fear. I am not going to tell my Chicken Dance story on Facebook or on the blogosphere. I’d have to be nuts to do that.

Suffice to say that there was a wedding involved. And I’m not saying anything about what happened, but I will give you some advice.

Never speculate about whether there will be dancing at the wedding you are about to attend while you are in the shower getting ready for said wedding. And never start singing that Chicken Dance tune in the shower calling out to your better half who is shaving at the sink, “Hey honey, do you think they’ll play the Chicken Dance?” And never ever do the Chicken Dance IN the shower, especially the hip swivel. And never, ever, EVER, grab for the shower curtain as you find yourself slipping in the tub and falling tuchis over teakettle backwards OUT of the shower.

They say that you can’t get seriously hurt while you are laughing. But I wouldn’t trust that. Follow my advice instead.

Our nephew is getting married in Edmonton in September. We are looking forward to the wedding but I kind of hope there won’t be any Chicken Dancing. I might not be able to stop laughing. And if my sister-in-law breathes a word of this story to ANYONE, I will disavow its veracity. Nothing ever happened in any shower at any time while we were ever getting ready to go to any wedding.

Dedicated to my dear sister-in-law, Donna - thanks for the blog topic!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


It was a rainy day in Dayton on Sunday. Ken left on an early flight to attend a conference in Austin. Riley curled up on the couch and didn’t even raise his head when I suggested a walk. I held up his leash. He just blinked at me and tucked his nose under his tail. So, fine. I did my weekly online Weight Watchers weigh-in, made some tea and a tomato/egg scramble and then served it to myself on cracked oat toast. I tallied up my breakfast points, checked out what was posted on Facebook, did the crossword, poured a second cup of tea which meant I wouldn’t be venturing too far from home any time soon if you get my drift, watched a two-hour Masterpiece Classic I had recorded a couple of weeks ago, and finally by 11:00 I thought I should get out of the jammies, get dressed and do something productive.

That uncharacteristic spark of energy led to cleaning out the closet in the bedroom that we refer to as our home office, aka, the Museum of Junk.

Among the assorted artifacts I unearthed that I hadn’t seen in the three years since we moved into the house were the following:

One bin of computer cords and various demo CDs, the purposes for which I have no idea because the computer, printer and all other electronics seem to be operating just fine without them.

Seven mismatched toss cushions that no longer participate in our home d├ęcor.

Three logo-emblazoned conference tote bags with matching aluminum travel mugs.

Four old, non-digital cameras and a disabled tripod with only two working legs.

One gallon-sized baggie filled with pens; none of which work.

Five manufacturer’s boxes for electronics that we no longer own.

One bag of Canadian ephemera – i.e., a bunch of plastic items imprinted with the maple leaf.

One floor mop.

One file folder of photos, cartoons and memos that used to be pinned to my office divider at my job in Buffalo.

Seriously. Why do we keep this stuff? No, I mean really. It’s an interesting question. As someone with museum experience, this is fascinating to me. Imagine historians of the future examining the relics of our age. They might assess today’s trash as harboring momentous social and cultural implications. Those articles from the closet could turn out to be treasures, clearly. Stuff with impressive provenance. Creditable objects worthy of interpretation and preservation. Slap a label on them and call them exhibits!

Maybe you’ve got some of this stuff in your house. You too could curate your own home museum exhibitions. Here’s how to bring out your latent amateur historian. We’ll use the floor mop as our example. First, we’ll examine its history and relevance to life today and develop a premise or theory. Next, we’ll craft some exhibit text that might go something like this:

                MOP, string type, with Miracle Microfiber, circa 2009:

First invented in 1496, the domestic cleaning appliances known as “mops” have been used over the centuries to dry-dust floor areas or, when used with buckets of hot water and soapy solutions they assist with the wet washing of such floor marks as dirty paw prints. Mops manufactured in the early part of the 21st century used microfiber technology to magnetize dust particles and cling to them forever. This mop is in remarkable condition having only been used once to attract dog hair and so-called “dust bunnies” under a bedroom dresser but which failed in its duty to release the dirt when shaken outdoors causing its owner to determine that it was really only moving filth from one location to another and thus abandoned it at the back of a closet.

See? You can all kinds of fun as a junior curator!

I de-accessioned the boxes to the recycle bins, decided that a Goodwill Gallery was the best place for the toss cushions and threw out the pens. But the rest of this stuff – hey, maybe there’s reason to think it might have merit!

So, now, the issue is, how do we display our artifacts? Or should we return them to the archives? Here is where the truly great custodians of chatchkes really shine. When the going gets tough, the curator gets storage containers. (And I’ve done them all. I was doing decorative bins before Martha Stewart even got her first glue gun.)

My latest breakthrough in storage containment concepts are 8 ½” x 11” clear, plastic file folders with closeable flaps. These babies are ideal for magazine clippings, photos, maps, trip brochures you name it. What we’d call in the museum biz, “visible storage.”

So, now that I have all that junk catalogued and put away for all eternity, I’m feeling a curatorial frenzy coming on. I might take on some spaces in the basement, like the Subterranean Slide Show Storage Facility, the Cardboard Box Boneyard, and the Not-Ironed-Yet Hall of Fame.  Maybe I should charge admission.

Monday, May 7, 2012

One Weird Old Trick

If your computer is anything like mine, you get a column of advertisements on the right hand section of your screen every time you open email. (And here I have to admit that I use a laptop even though I know this puts me squarely in the dinosaur category, so I don’t know if this happens on smart phones or iPads or whatever because I don’t have any of those.)  

Many of these ads blare an announcement about “one weird old trick” that will help you reduce your belly fat, save on car insurance, make your boobs look bigger or get your husband to clean the gutters (or the eavestroughs, if you are in Canada.) O.K., I made up that last one (not the eavestrough part.)

Have you seen these ads? Ever opened one of them? My curiosity about belly fat got the better of me one day and I did. I got a video that went on and on and never got to the point before I got bored and pressed Exit, but I think it was headed toward selling me some acai berry juice.  I’m not sure if the acai berry is also a cure for high priced car insurance or flat chestedness, but it isn’t likely that I’ll find out because I won’t be opening any more weird old trick ads. I’m disappointed the ads are so mundane because the words, “weird old trick” were rather evocative to me. I imagined misshapen old crones  conjuring potions and chanting verses like Shakespeare’s weird sisters in the Scottish play eye of newt and toe of frog and all that and “Poof” – gone are those love handles you’ve been nurturing for the last twenty years.  So, I got to thinking about other weird old trick applications. Like, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an instant remedy for housework? I hate housework. Sure it’s nice when things are sparkling fresh, but I just haven’t got the energy most days to go fill a bucket with hot water and clean something. This line of thinking got me to channeling Betty.

Betty lived next door to us in our 1950s neighborhood in suburban Richmond, British Columbia. This was the first house we bought, which was in 1984 when we had been married a mere 7 years. Betty and her husband, Jon, had lived in their 1957 rancher since it was brand new. They had raised their three kids who had flown the coop as it were and Jon had taken to raising chickens, and they were thinking about their retirement years tooling around in a Winnebago.  Betty and Jon kind of adopted us “newlyweds.” They gave us helpful advice on gardening and general home ownership.  Betty did a little sewing for me and came in some afternoons to let out our Irish setter who loved to bark at the chickens causing Jon to install a higher fence.  If Jon happened to walk along the side of his house that was next to our over-the-sink kitchen window and if I was preparing chicken for dinner, I would hold up a leg and point to the dog. It always made him look back and count his flock.

Jon gave us “spent” tulip bulbs that he took from the city works yard where he worked as a machinery repair man. He knew spent tulip bulbs from viable ones because he had grown them in his native Holland before coming to Canada in the 50s. He hated to see good tulip bulbs go to waste. I think he told me once that they had to eat them during WWII. Jon and Betty had a couple of thousand tulips in their yard glorious in the springtime. However, I digress.

Betty told me that her mother-in-law had taken her aside when she got married in Holland in order to give her some marital advice. Betty expected it would be about you- know-what. But instead, Jon’s mother told her that if she didn’t feel like cleaning her house she should wait for a windy day, open up all her windows and let the breeze blow all the dirt away.

Perfect!  Love that idea! So, on a lovely spring day recently when the wind was gusty, I thought of Betty and decided to try her one weird old trick. I never feel like cleaning and I do love a good breeze blowing through the house so I opened all the windows as wide as they would go. Mistake! Over the course of the day, the wind blew in a fine dusting of dirt that settled on every window sill, floor, appliance, counter, piece of furniture and knick-knack in the house.  Worst was the bathroom where I have a window box that had not yet been planted for the summer. Our normally all-white tiled bathroom had a covering of black specks of dirt from top to bottom from the spray of soil. It looked like black dandruff.

And even worse was the fact that I didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. I discovered this when I went to retrieve it from the basement floor where it lay in a heap from the ass-kicking it got one day when I got totally fed up with its canister’s total reluctance to follow me. We had never gotten along, the vacuum and I. I let it “fall” down the stairs, cursing at it for being a useless, rotten, crummy, impossible-to-operate piece of poo. Now it was dead. And I wasn’t sorry. But I was stuck with sweeping up dirt in the bathroom with a hand-held whisk and dust pan.

The cleaning ladies came the next day. They’re my idea of an old trick – although they’re not that weird.  Nice girls, really.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Blogged Down

Where do you do your best thinking? For me, it’s in the shower and/or driving the car.

And by “best” I mean those brain wave moments when you get your juiciest creative ideas or solve problems that you’ve been concentrating on for weeks but nothing has come to you no matter how hard you tax your brain. They’re those sudden, “AHAs!” when you know you have a great answer, that comes seemingly out of the blue and when you least expect it. I find the “best” thinking is really not like thinking at all, but more like a little voice coming from somewhere deep in your intuitive fiber. These gems float into your conscience like tiny bubbles that pop on the surface of your bathwater.

Let us refer once again to the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop (EBWW) that I attended two weeks ago – or as a blogger and fellow attendee called it, “the epicenter of comedic and humor writing today.” (See link below.)  I heard at least two presenters confess the same thing: they get their best ideas in the shower or in the car. And I thought, “Hey! Me, too!” So, how about that?!? Some well-established writers validating my thought process! I was so pleased to hear someone else thinks this way because there are many times when I have been alone in the car, stopped at a red light, brain storming away to myself about some great idea only to look over at the driver next to me and realize that they’re giving me that, “Crazy Lady!” look. Although, seriously, people. With all manner of mobile devices these days, aren’t we all used to seeing someone talking to their dashboard? But then, I always wonder if the amount of time I spend talking to myself might actually be a “sign.” So I usually cease mouthing the words when I realize someone is looking and hope I don’t forget to write some notes at the next red light. Advice from the workshop: always carry a notebook and pen everywhere you go!

Anyway, my other favorite place for getting ideas is in the shower. I don’t know if it’s the hot water, the solitude or the fragrance of the shampoo, but it usually works with satisfying regularity. Except, it hasn’t for the last week or two. I had not had a good idea in days and days – well, since the EBWW actually. I guess this is what they call writer’s block. I was despairing of ever writing a blog again. But then I was in the shower on Saturday morning (as I am every morning except on occasional “Declared No-Bath Sundays”) when my brain kicked into high gear, firing on all cylinders like a  race car at the Indy 500. The ideas were flowing so fast my brain couldn’t contain them. Plus, I know from many, many times before that if I don’t write this stuff down, it will be gone forever, evermore true as I advance in years. But I had shampoo in my hair! Quick, Lesley, get rinsed! Think, think, think! Memorize those great story bits until you can hop out and write them down! I jumped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. No time to dry anything! Still repeating my ideas to myself. Slipped into my UGG slippers and dashed for my desk, holding the towel up under my arm pits and not really tucking it all the way around, if you get my menaing. Sure hope no neighbors are looking in the windows right at this second!  On my yellow legal pad I jotted notes as fast as a court reporter at a sensational murder trial. The ink ran in the little puddles forming from my dripping wet hair. I got my ideas expunged and returned to finish my shower. The inside of the UGGS were wet. Damp sheepskin is never that pleasant on the feet. I put them on a sill by an open window to dry.

Once I was “decent” I looked at the ideas I had written down. They weren’t that great. My brilliant idea was to write about doing my best thinking in the shower. I started the blog, but every time I went back to it, I put it aside. Too lame. So, I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here. Is it “Don’t trust the thinking you do in the shower!”?  Or is it, “Invent a waterproof writing surface for use in the bath and it will become a best seller at writers’ conferences and you’ll get very, very rich”? Or is it, “Just about anything can be a good story idea; just run with it!”? I’m considering this third option as the possible right answer. I’ll be able to report on that next week if I don’t get any more good ideas. But for now, I’m going for a drive. And hoping for a better blog topic. Any thoughts?

Here are links to blogs by a couple of very talented writers who posted about the EBWW: