Sunday, June 23, 2013

What's Your SPF?

As the summer solstice has just passed, I thought it might be a good time to say a word or two about sun:

Totally allergic.

Now, I love a sunny day as much as the next person. I love being outdoors. But only in the shady parts.

I sneeze every time I hit sunlight. I burn faster than a cheap polyester suit next to an open flame. I suffer heat stroke at the drop of a hat – literally. I break out in a rash the second I put on a sundress. I have never had a tan. Seriously. Never. I freckle, but not once in my life have I had a tan.

I don’t know, maybe it’s my DNA. All those ancestral roots in northern climates, like Winnipeg, Scotland and Iceland. I used to be embarrassed about it when I was a kid. On summer vacation, all the kids in my neighborhood would slather on baby oil and head for the Sargent Park pool. They’d be out there all day on the concrete deck frying in the sun, flipping every hour to get a nice even sear like they were chicken fillets on a griddle. I couldn’t bear five minutes before plunging into the cold pool and then heading home using, “I’ve got cramps!” as my excuse.

Going to my parent’s summer cottage put me at the mercy of the tanners on the beach. One time, some well-meaning (?) woman watched me lay down my towel, drop my terry cloth cover-up, adjust my bikini straps and head for the water. “HOO BOY!” she shouted in my direction, “Are you ever PALE! Whattya been SICK?” Nice.

I’d try to make up for my lack of sunbathing stamina by using tanning lotions and spray-ons, but I could never get the color even. I mean, who among us has ever been able to get the backs of our legs blended with the fronts with that stuff? I generally looked like I had been dyed in carrot juice anyway, so I gave that up as a lost cause.

During my adult years, friends and folks at work would toddle off to winter resorts in Hawaii, Florida, Mexico, Arizona or the Caribbean and return home looking like a million bucks, glowing some lovely toasty shade of adobe or café au lait or Jamaican patties or Kona coffee bean. How I envied them. How I dreaded the arrival of shorts season when my fish-belly-white legs would be exposed for public scrutiny.

This year is my tenth anniversary of not wearing shorts. It was a joyous day for me when capris and crops came back in style. It is also somewhat fortunate for me that dire warnings about sun worship have been issued. Now I can seek shade with impunity. I can enjoy dappled light coming through leafy canopies. I can stay off golf courses. I can find a large umbrella at a pool and get comfortable in a lounge chair with a towel over my knees. I can stroll on a beach wearing mid-calf pants, a long-sleeve T-shirt and a giant sun hat. And no one asks if I’ve got some rare disease that renders my flesh the color of halibut.

Pass me the SPF 100!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Hissing of Summer Lawn Mowers

In our little suburban neighborhood it is the men that barbecue the steaks and cut the lawns. Of course, lots of women everywhere cut grass and sear meat over flame—although, don’t look at me. I’m just saying that in our little corner of the world these tasks mostly appear to fall on males. And judging from Father’s Day advertising put out by national retailers, North America agrees. Or maybe it was the advertisers that created this identity in the first place. I suspect so. I recall images in my 1950s youth of “Dads” cooking burgers on the grill and happily cutting the lawn.

That’s the way it worked at our house.  Mind you, grass-cutting wasn’t really my Dad’s forte. He passed that task off to my brother as though it were a rite of passage. I begged Dad to let me cut the postage-sized lawn we had in the city. I loved the sound of the old push mower. But I was defeated soundly by, “NO! That’s not a job for girls!” I finally got my way when my brother married and moved out of the house.  

Dad did excel at cook-outs, however. We had a series of barbecues over the years that were essentially rectangular metal boxes on legs. Filled with charcoal briquettes and set ablaze with the assist of lighter fluid, the hot coals would reach “ready,” oh, anywhere from an hour to two days. Dad specialized in wieners and burgers in the early days, but as BBQ technology advanced, he took on roasts and chickens. He loved using the rotisserie, even though I don’t think he ever got a bird on the spit balanced enough so that an afternoon spent outdoors wouldn’t be accompanied by “whirrrrrr-CHUMP-whirrrrrrr-CHUMP” as one off-center drumstick dragged through the coals on the downward rotation. It was the soundtrack of our summers at the cottage.

Now that we have a home of our own, we have a grass cutting service.  Two Lawn Hunks arrive, cut, weed-whack, edge and blow the cuttings away within a whirl of a half hour.  But grilling is indeed my man’s domain. We grill a lot in the summer. Gas barbecue. Modern food choices for today’s open flame technology: fish, veggies, fruit. He likes the challenge of multiple items that require different cooking times and temperatures. It’s totally manly.

I am not the first to suggest that this male-dominated past time harkens back to the discovery of fire and the first cooking of mammoth meat over a bonfire. When Ken and our next door neighbor are out barbecuing at the same time, talking at the garden fence with beers in their hands, I can’t help thinking of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.  

But I still wonder whenever the Dad’s Day flyers arrive, “Really? A good Father’s Day gift is barbecue tongs? Or a Toro?”

We were sitting on our screened porch on a warm, breezy evening recently when a succession of neighbors (men) powered up their gas mowers. I am totally aggravated by gas mowers. I launched into my usual tirade about how loud and obnoxious they are.

“You’d think if they can put a man on the moon,” I ranted to Ken, “they’d be able to come up with a quiet lawn mower.”

“They have,” he said, barely containing the “Yes, Dear” tone, “The guy across the street has one of those battery pack electric models. You can hardly hear it.”

“Yeah, O.K., but why doesn’t everybody buy one of those?”

That’s when it hit me! “Wait a sec! Loud lawn mowers?  Earsplitting weed whackers? And for that matter, deafening power tools? Thunderous motorcycles? Men just aren’t into quiet stuff!”  

So, here’s my theory. Guys like making noise. They like making fire. It’s in their DNA from way back! They probably think lawn mowers and gas grills are great gifts.  So, Happy Father’s Day to men everywhere. I hope someone gets you yard stuff with decibel readings totally off the charts – or at least an apron that says “Licensed to Grill.”

Pass me some ear plugs and a fire extinguisher.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Zen and the Art of the Nap

Sunday, June 9, 2013; 3:45 p.m. EDT

Everything I know about naps I learned from the Sensei Master of Napping, my husband.

He comes by it honestly. The Neufelds are champion nappers. Inquiring, “Did you sleep?” of a bleary-eyed, bed-headed Neufeld arisen from a near-coma afternoon siesta is a deeply ironic question.

I have come rather reluctantly to the practice of catching a few zzz’s midday. Becoming nap-averse might have started in kindergarten when we had to get out our mats and lie quietly on the floor for a half hour. I always suspected this wasn’t so much for our benefit as for our teacher’s, presumably so that she could catch a breather. For me it was an ordeal of toss and turn torture.  

Not that my own family didn’t offer a few life lessons in the lie-down. My Dad was a prodigious napper; no slouch on the couch, you might say. You might even say, in a classic conundrum, that he spent every waking hour sleeping. The old man came home from work at lunch to catch a catnap. He nodded off in front of the TV every night (“DAD! You’re missing the show!” “HUH? What? No, I wasn’t! I was just resting my eyes during the commercials.”) He spent untold weekend hours on the sofa snoring into a toss cushion. Ken used to say that he wasn’t sure in the early years of our dating if maybe my Dad was paraplegic as he never got up when Ken came to our house to pick me up. (“Good evening, Mr. Malcolm!” “Mmmmm-pphhh,” was the reply from the toss cushion.)

In the early years of our marriage, I regarded afternoon sleeps as a grand waste of a good Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I chided Ken for this slothful practice. But my nagging was for nought and, in his true principled nature, he persisted.

And as the years have worn on, I have come to understand the curative qualities of a well-executed nap. Observations of my Sensei have been inspirational. It is like watching a sculptor coaxing form out of stone, or a Buddhist monk entering a trance-like meditation. At this stage of mastery, my guru can fall asleep at the drop of an eyelid, and stay somnambulant throughout tornado sirens.

I have much to learn. I began my instruction in the Zen of napping too late in life to achieve full Enlightenment. I have yet to achieve even my kensho, my first awakening, as it were. Where my dear man can slumber through the incessant growl of lawn mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers, not to mention kids shouting, dogs barking and basketballs bouncing, my peace can be shattered in an instant.

Take yesterday afternoon, for example. One lawn-mowing begat another, leap-frogging like wild fire or flu from neighbor to neighbor, bouncing across the street and back again, finally culminating at the house kitty-corner that has a lawn the size of Yellowstone National Park. I 'm nervous to go lie down today. Surely I will suffer napus interruptus once again. 

Teach me in the ways of the Nap, Sensei!  I do so long to be snoozing.

Love and Namastei,


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Play Me a Love Song

Did you see the article published last week that claims women are attracted to men with guitars?

Well, DUH!!!!

Go ahead and Google this. Scientists in France determined that guys carrying guitars prompted 30% more positive responses from women than men carrying either nothing or sports equipment.

I could have told them that! After all, I have been married to a guitar player for 36 years (this week!) and I’m here to tell you that being serenaded on a date goes a long way toward bowling you over! The choice of song is important, of course. This was in the early 70s, an era when thousands of young men were inspired by the Beatles, the Stones, James Taylor and others. If, on the night in question, Ken had chosen, let’s say, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” accompanied by grimacing and strutting with Keith Richardsesque-swagger, I might not have been quite as hopelessly enchanted. But, in his basement rec room after dinner the first time I was invited to meet his family, this romantic guy of mine sang and played Carole King’s tender ballad, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” That was it. Scrape me off the floor with a putty knife and call me smitten! I was already in love with him. The song was sweet butter icing on our courtship cake.

Some women might challenge this assertion about guitars. I can see how someone might fall for a piano man, or a saxophonist, or a drummer, maybe. Didn’t Ringo have (almost) as many fans as John, Paul or George? I even know someone who loves an accordion man! But, ladies, let’s admit it! In the movies that played in our minds when we were young, wasn’t the handsome minstrel in the moonlight serenading you under your bedroom window always a guitar player?

All through our dating years, I accompanied Ken and his brother when they played coffee houses or folk festivals. I thought my movie dreams had come true. Ken still plays and sings almost daily. Sometimes a quiet evening at home will include a concert just for me. Reunions with his siblings, and now their kids, always include guitars and all the old songs – or at least as many as we remember the lyrics to. Listening always assures me that all my dreams really have come true.

Happy Anniversary, my sweet, romantic Guitar Man.