Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Even More Conversations with 60-Plus Year-Olds

Dear Blog Subscribers, If you saw the condensed version of this on Facebook this week, my apologies for the replay.

Scene 1:  The Bedroom. Afternoon. The Mr. has just arrived home from work. The Mrs. has just carried a load of laundry into the bedroom.

Me: (Putting clean sheets on the bed) Could you please pull that corner up? I can't quite get it tucked under the mattress.

Mr.: (Tugging on the bed sheet) Geez, that IS tight. Honest to Pete! They can put a man on the moon, but they can't make a decent fitted sheet.

Me: How did you know I got Greek food for dinner?

Mr.: I didn't. What are you talking about?

Me: What are YOU talking about?

Mr.: Uhhm…?

Me: You. You just said something about feta cheese!

Mr.: No, I didn't!

Me: Yes, you did!

Mr.: When?

Me: Just now! You said something about making a decent feta cheese.

Mr.: FITTED SHEET! I said, "They can't make a decent FITTED SHEET!"

Me: Oh. 

Mr.: This is how it's going to be, isn't it?

Me: GOING to be? Already is. Anyway, I think these sheets shrank in the dryer.

Mr.: That's not all that's shrinking.

Me: Pardon?

Mr.: Nothing, dear. So, did you buy lamb patties?

Me: Sham fatties?!?! 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bird Brain, OR, A Tale of Three Cell Phones

I imagine that there must be accepted methodology to serious birdwatching. Or at least a code of conduct. I am not a serious birder in the strictest sense — i.e. I do not own a Tilley hat, nor do I have a "woop-woop" siren on the top of my Subaru for those occasions when one dashes out on "bird alerts." However, I do keep a life-list of avian sightings in the back of my "Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to North American Birds" and I like to think that I know the basic fieldcraft involved in observing our feathered friends.

Regardless, who among us wouldn't get all a-twitter at the site of everyone's favorite raptor, the Bald Eagle? On our recent vacation in Beautiful British Columbia, the Mr. and I were taking a walk along a shoreline path when we spotted a stoic BE perched in nonchalant fashion on a pylon at ocean's edge. Eagles are plentiful in this region but that fact does not diminish my excitement at seeing one up close and personal. BEs are very entertaining to watch and one hopes that they will treat the onlooker to a salmon fishing demonstration. I whisked out my iPhone to get the "money shot." Had I been in possession of a real camera with a mega telephoto lens I might have snapped the photo-journalist-worthy BE photo of a lifetime, but BE showed up on my hand-held device's camera frame as a mere, tiny speck —almost invisible. Here's where I, an experienced bird watcher, flew into action.

Between me and the bird, lay a stretch of sand and weeds, a concrete pad beyond, and finally a weir of rocks. I assessed that the appropriate tactic was to creep, with the stealth of a cat after a canary, ever closer, taking a photo every foot or so as I neared the BE's perch. I glanced to my left to see a man dismount from a bicycle. He too whisked out a mobile phone and in tandem, we crept and clicked, crept and clicked. We entered into an unspoken bond of bird observance; a quiet camaraderie; birds of a feather, as it were; a tacit understanding between us that we did not want to startle our quarry.

Ever closer, Bike Rider and I halted at each step. The BE turned to fix its steely gaze upon us. It screeched and we paused to respect its warning. This slow march became a meditation. Eyes glued on the bird. Appreciating. Admiring. Communing with Nature.

Once I reached the concrete pad, I dared go no further. The rocks were shiny; rinsed by sea spray; no doubt a hazard to life and limb. It was clear that my photos would never do justice to this idyll and I ceased taking them. Bike Rider, the Mr. and I stood on the shore, motionless in reverence before this majestic creature.

Then entered a third Picture Taker. She was a young thing. She held her iPhone up at shoulder level as she strode toward us. Her steps were brisk and determined. She slogged across the sandy path, trampled through the weeds, and clambered to the very edge of the concrete. Too fast! Too abrupt! The BE lifted into the air and flapped its titanic wings over the water. Picture Taker ruined the moment. She turned and walked on, never breaking her pace, eyes glued to her device. Probably on her Twitter feed.

Maybe she did us a favor, otherwise we might have stood there all afternoon and missed the Early Bird special at the local pub. Regardless, Bike Rider and I exchanged an eye roll, as if to say, "Tsk!" and we parted company. 

Later, my feathers were still a little ruffled by the incident, so I googled, "Bird Watchers' Code of Conduct." And of course, I found what I was looking for at "The British Trust for Ornithology" web site. This unimpeachable source offers a list of some common courtesies for maintaining peace among birders. One cardinal rule is this, "Don’t get too close when taking your photograph – you’ll incur the wrath of everyone else watching if you scare the bird away."

Hmm. Yes. Clearly our young Picture Taker had not consulted her BTO guide that day. She'd missed the whole point of the exercise. Which proves the age-old saying, "You can't soar with the eagles if you're walking around tweeting."  

Friday, June 10, 2016

That's How We Roll

12 day trip, by the numbers:

1 tote bag-sized carry-on for essentials, like ear buds, crossword puzzles, and snacks. 

1 21" regulation-sized, rolling carry-on, crammed to capacity with all the other gear. Both the Mister and I will check a bag this size. You might be thinking, "If you're going to check them anyway, why not take bigger bags?" Because, if the check-in line is too long we can easily change our minds and carry them onboard. (This has happened.) "OK, then why not just carry on?" Well, because, I'd need to be bench pressing 100 pounds to heft this thing into the overhead bin. And giving the Mister a hernia isn't a great start to any vacation. Besides, a 21" rolling bag makes your friends think you pack light and they will admire your ability. 

42 days-worth of clothing. I have never once in my entire life "packed light." I always take way too much. After 12 days, guaranteed, I will return home with things Ive worn not even one single time.

1 epic engineering feat packing 42 days-worth of stuff in a 21" carry-on. I saw an article about rolling items of clothing. The theory goes that you can economize on luggage space this way and , as a bonus, your garments will arrive at your destination wrinkle-free. I packed a couple of days ago to test the theory. It all looked so bulky and I couldn't get my luggage zipped. So, I took it all out again. Every last bit of it was creased, crumpled and crinkled beyond reason. I smoothed it all out, folded it neatly, and got it all back in the suitcase, and in the exercise, conserved enough space for a couple more items and a fourth pair of shoes.

12 nearly identical T-shirts. Why? Because there will not be one day that goes by that I won't drop food on my front.

6 zip-lok baggies. I really have to thank the TSA. I love the baggies. I've discovered that they are so handy, not only for your 3 oz. liquids, but also for your prescription meds, your OTC pharmaceuticals, your makeup, your snacks, your sandwich and your miscellaneous other sundry items. The beauty is in the transparency. Where once you would have all this flotsam in a cute cosmetics bag and had trouble finding anything, now you've got plastic zip-loks - the ultimate visible storage system.

12 pairs of you-know-whats. Sorry to get so personal, but if you own 12 pairs, then take them, because it will save you a day of trying to find a laundromat or hanging your hand-washed-in-the-hotel-sink smalls around your room where they aren't going to dry anyway. Unless you are such a seriously nerdy traveler that you've got those Expedia "14 days, one pair of gauch" (Winnipeg term) techno-undies that you rinse out each night and they are dry by morning. Seriously. Who does that?

2 books downloaded to your mobile device. Some of you will need more than this. But I read at the speed of a turtle on valium, so I might get a couple of pages done between now and the time we get home. But it doesn't hurt to dream — or to be well-stocked with diversions if you flight is delayed. 

900 tunes on your mobile device, because, you know 6 hours on a plane is just tedious. Mind you, all you really need is the "Hamilton" cast album. Over and over again. 

Well, that's my list. I have to go now and try to squeeze in another pair of shoes. I'll be back in 12 days and will tell you all about my vacation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Grade 4 Song Book

Memorial Day is a significant US holiday. And so, it wasn't surprising to me that I heard "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" this weekend. What surprised me was that I knew the words. In fact, I sang along. Now, how, you may wonder, does a Canadian kid claim to know the lyrics of this quintessentially American anthem? Well, I learned it in school.

Yes, way back in the early 60s, some curriculum developer at the Winnipeg School Board thought that a music class for 4th graders should really include, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." This is an odd choice in my opinion. Canada is not a republic. Nor does it have a battle hymn. Nevertheless, I remember distinctly, us 9 year-olds, sitting at our desks, belting out, "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…." who was, apparently, carrying a "terrible, swift sword." That was startling. And I doubt any of us had any idea what "the grapes of wrath" were, let alone where they were stored. What was the meaning of this?

That wasn't the only song choice that made no sense to a kid living in the True North. We had limited knowledge of the Civil War, but proudly delivered, in spirited voices, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah, Hurrah!" Then we reached back to American revolutionary days for "Yankee Doodle" which was about a dude who came to town riding on a pony with a feather in his cap that he called "macaroni." Whaaaat?

American folk songs didn't comprise the only foreign content in our repertoire. We learned "Waltzing Matilda." Subtitles, please! We didn't have one clue about the Australian outback nor about jolly swagmen, billabongs, jumbucks, or tucker-bags. We sure as heck had never seen a Coolabah tree and had no information about how long it takes for a billy to boil. I suspect our teacher didn't either.

French? "Frere Jacques," of course, and, "Alouette!" Our accents butchered it. The original, en francais, goes,"Alouette, gentile alouette. Alouette, je te plumerai," but in our crappy French it became, "Aloo-ett-a, jaunty plume array." As far as we knew, that could easily have been the right translation — the song IS about a bird, after all.

Then we sang the praises of the British with, "Rule Britannia!" We also crooned, "Early One Morning," which was a sweeter, more lyrical ballad, but so sad. Poor maiden! Who WAS this cad that she begged, "Oh don't deceive me! Oh, never leave me! How can you use a poor maiden so?" Was this supposed to be some kind of sex-ed for us pre-teen maidens? If our teachers meant to make dating sound scary, this was a good start. Mind you, not as terrifying as the film in Health Class about the wonderful thing that was about to happen to us once a month. For me, it was beginning to sink in that womanhood was not going to be as easy peasy as Samantha on Bewitched made it look.

My personal all-time favorite was, "What Do We Do With the Drunken Sailor?" Our teacher did her best to dramatize lyrics, such as, "early in the morning," by making us sing, "err-lie in the mor-nin,'" and she wanted us to change, "Put him in the long boat until HE gets sober," to syncopated rhythm, "Put 'im in the longboat, TILLY he gets sober." Maybe she thought it sounded more authentic that way. Really? Was that what she was worried about? I mean! What kind of a thing is this for a 9-year old kid to be singing!?! Drunken sailors! Indeed.

In other words, we didn't get much Canadian content. But that was Canada when I was a kid. Our country suffered from a huge identity crisis. Bound to Britain. Partly French. Not American in spite of our favorite TV shows. Not entirely comfortable with waves of immigrant populations. Not terribly inclusive of First Nations. It wasn't until later in the 1960s, the Pierre Trudeau era, that discussion arose around Canadian identity. I came into my teens and early adulthood digging deep to understand our values; to celebrate our Canadian culture and heritage. Festivals on major holidays were emceed in French and English. We celebrated our multi-cultural mosaic in song and dance. Radio stations were legislated to play a certain percentage of Canadian music. 

In 1967, school kids nationwide learned a simple ditty written by Bobby Gimby: "CA-NA-DA! (one little, two little, three Canadians), WEEE love thee! CA-NA-DA (now we are twenty-million), Strong and Free!" It became our anthem for Canada's centennial year. After that, we were off and running.

Somewhere along the line, we Canadians became known for politeness and funny accents and saying, "Eh?" But, listen, it wouldn't be long after 1967 that we contributed great musicians to the collaborative pop culture; such notables as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ian and Sylvia, Leonard Cohen, The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, and a bit later, Bryan Adams, Diana Krall, Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morrisette, Michael BublĂ©, Celine Dion, to name a few. (Sorry about Nickleback.) 

Hey, Neil Young grew up in Winnipeg. So did Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. I wonder if they sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in grade 4? 

(Search YouTube for "Bobby Gimby's Canada Song" to see a fun, vintage video.)