Tuesday, December 26, 2017

With Every Christmas Card I Write

We got a white Christmas. For those of you who live in snowier regions, you're probably thinking, "So what? We've had snow since the Grey Cup." But here in Dayton, we haven't had a December 24/25 snowfall in excess of an inch since 2010. I wasn't dreaming of it, like Bing Crosby crooning about it (I suspect this national obsession with snow began with that movie.) Personally, I worry about walking/driving when it's icy. But as mother always used to say, "You can't do much about the weather." She had a way with a good adage. 

We attended a 5 pm Christmas Eve service — the one with the Christmas story, carols, candles, a young couple playing the roles of Mary and Joseph whose tiny one slept through her part as the baby Jesus (yes, a darling baby girl played Jesus this year — I liked that) and kids gathered in the manger scene dressed up as sheep, shepherds, angels and "wise ones" — a non-gender-specific nod to the fact that either girls or boys could choose this role. We walked out of the church into a shaken snow globe and everyone called out good wishes to one another for a Merry Christmas and safe drive home. It was heart-warming.

Something about snow flakes falling gently makes everything peaceful. This is not true of raging blizzards or those monumental 8-foot drift extravaganzas we experienced in Buffalo. Those were enough to induce panic. But by this Christmas morning, a light blanket of snow covered the ground in our neighborhood, the sun had come out, and everything suddenly went all cozy. All was calm, all was bright.

We spent a pleasant day, opening gifts, popping a breakfast casserole in the oven, watching Her Majesty, the Queen's message, FaceTiming or phoning family, preparing our evening meal to share with our next door neighbors, toasting the season with some champagne that they brought along to dinner, eating too much, going for a glass of wine at another neighbor's. 

Today, December 26th, I am enjoying a second cup of tea in my Ho Ho Ho mug, contemplating a designated "No Bra" day, and eventually I'll get around to washing last night's dishes. Ken put Yak-Trax on his boots due to the ice and took Riley for a walk. We put the dog's new sweater on him because of the frosty air. He's such a sweet soul, he doesn't seem to mind wearing clothes. We tell him how dapper he looks to make him feel okay about it.

For us Canadians, this is Boxing Day, which is a holiday that can either mean, "Wear pjs all day and eat left overs," or "Hit the malls to return stuff."  For me it is usually an excuse to extend the holiday spirit one more day before the post-Christmas blues set in. I love all the anticipation and excitement  — and then ppppphhhfftt! It's over. That makes me sad.

Ken announced his retirement the week before Christmas. That makes me happy. I'm delighted that after 40 years of working, he will be able to slow down, at least a little. And I am thrilled that we will be moving back to Canada, returning to our beloved west coast. After years of discussion about, "where will we live when we retire?" we decided on Nanaimo, British Columbia. Our new house is only steps away from an ocean beach. The thought of it makes me giddy. For the geographically challenged among you, I am including a map — also handy if you would think about visiting us.

So, you see, I have this happy/sad thing going on. We are sad to be leaving Dayton. We love our home and the community, Ken loves his job, I love the volunteer work Riley and I do reading with kids, and we have made so many good friends here. People have been extraordinarily kind to us. Saying good bye come September is going to be heart wrenching. 

But we are happy to think about future adventures and rekindling friendships in Qualicum Beach, Victoria, Richmond and Vancouver. Traveling to see family and friends in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton or Montreal will involve only provincial border crossings which do not require passports and documentation. 

Most of you already know our news. Thank you everyone for your warm wishes. We so appreciate your phone calls, emails, cards, comments on Facebook, and kind words. If this is the first time you've heard it — surprise! 

May your days be merry and bright. And may at least a few of your Christmases be white. Chances are pretty good it will be raining in Nanaimo on December 25th, 2018.


Lesley,Ken & Riley 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

A couple of questions this week got me wondering if I could mash up two stories into one for this Thanksgiving week blog.  

First, somebody asked me, "Do you celebrate Thanksgiving?" My reaction was, "Duh! Of course we do!" But, before I could blurt that out, my brain filtered the question. The asker was someone who knows that The Mr and I are Canadian. I translated his inquiry to mean, "Do you mark American Thanksgiving with any kind of celebration?" I elaborated with my reply, "Well, we usually celebrate the holiday because kind friends invite us to dinner." It was my best Blanche DuBois "Streetcar" moment — "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." 

A couple of days later, a friend on Facebook shared one of those question "games" — you know the kind. This one asked: "Who is the most famous person you have ever met?" The post had 5,624,215 views! That's a lot of star power! I wasn't about to dive in to read 5 million replies, but it was fun to read a handful of comments. Celebrities ranged from John Lennon to Mahatma Ghandi to the Queen Mum. "Wow!" I thought, "Those would have been memorable  encounters," — unlike, say, meeting Mickey Mouse, which someone bragged about, a rendezvous that only requires that you buy a ticket to Disney World. 

The most famous person I ever met was Tennessee Williams. I didn't need a ticket and it was memorable.

The circumstances were these: It was the 80s. The Mr was working at a theatre company in Vancouver, BC, where Mr Williams was in residence while he worked on an adaptation of Chekov's "The Seagull." The Mr had the dubious honor of shepherding Mr Williams, who, it turns out, did rely heavily on the kindness of strangers, to put it kindly. Today, we might say that he was "needy." Constantly misplacing his glasses.

The phone at home rang one evening. I picked it up and said, "Hello?" as one does. The gentleman caller said, "Is Mr Neufeld there? This is Tennessee Williams calling." I gasped. I barely croaked out, "Hold on, please," before hurling the phone across the room to my husband. No cool whatsoever. 

During Williams' stay, a party was arranged in his honor. That phone call had gone so well! Now I was paralyzed with fear of things going even worse at my face to face meeting with this great playwright. Would it be too gushing to tell him that "The Glass Menagerie" meant more to me than any piece of literature I had ever read? That it was my favorite play of all time? That I believed in my heart that he had written it for me — that I was Laura — the awkward, self-conscious, anxious teen who had no dates during all of high school, who slept in a bedroom filled with dozens of horse figurines, and that I hid under the wing of my over-protective mom?

I mustered up my courage to speak to him. Deep breath. I shook his hand, and said, "Your plays are wonderful!" "Yes. Yes. Thank you," he said and turned toward the buffet table. No doubt he'd heard such vacuous remarks many times before. 

I was crushed and embarrassed, of course, but only at my inability to articulate my feelings. (I continue to be starstruck whenever meeting someone famous.) But I have wondered since then if Mr Williams was at all comfortable with his fame. Anyone who could write such poignant scenes for characters that struggle so with life must surely have been no egotist. Perhaps he found all that fandom tedious.

I suppose the thread between my two stories is a bit thin. In my mind, the events seemed coincidental. The "kindness of strangers" part resonated for sure. 

For most, Thanksgiving in the US is such a grand affair; bountiful, extravagant, unstinting in the feast upon the table. Family is expected to gather for the annual ritual. A four day holiday ensures that everyone pauses for a moment to express gratefulness. Given all that, the Mr and I have never felt bad that we are on the outside looking in — without family here, and as we do not feel the tug of emotional attachment that comes from childhood memories of green bean casserole and candied yams and mom's pumpkin pie, it doesn't upset us at all if we have no plans for the holiday. 

But we have come to learn that American Thanksgiving extends to outsiders. Over the years, kind friends have welcomed us to join them — even when we have been strangers to their gathered horde of assorted relatives. It's as though no one should be left out. Meals are prepared and served to homeless and disadvantaged individuals so that they may partake of the celebration. The generosity of spirit inherent in this feast day is abundant. It overflows like a cornucopia. It is America at its best.

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and strangers alike. And thank you.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Close Encounters of the Drug Store Kind

One of the things I love about our community is its small town feel. Friends and acquaintances shout a cheery, "Hello! How are you?" when they see you out and about. Neighbors linger at the fence to talk about the weather. Everybody knows your dog's name. Even strangers nod and say, "Morning," as they pass you on the street. The local Starbucks is generally packed with familiar faces. A trip to our grocery market almost guarantees that you will run into someone you know and you'll stop to chat for a few minutes. You might grab a coffee and linger together near the bakery counter comparing notes on favorite pastries. Or maybe you'll wander along in the aisles, grocery carts side by side, as you inspect the tomatoes and squeeze the Charmin. If you see a pal at the check out, you'll hang on until they're done so you can stroll out to the parking lot together. Yep, our neighborhood is about as sociable as they come. 

Except at the drugstore.

The pharmacy is Ground Zero for social avoidance. At the CVS, you'd just as soon be a total stranger, even to your best friends, than run into somebody you know. It's like, uh, oh! There's so-and-so. Glance the other way. Avoid eye contact. Duck behind the travel size toiletries if you have to. Basically, steer clear of everybody. Why? Because you don't want anyone to know what unspeakable health issues you harbor. 

Oh, it's not so bad over by the greeting cards or the toothpaste or the shaving cream. If you bump into somebody in these Neutral Zones, you can say, "Hey, how's it goin'?" And it isn't even  all that awkward to venture into slightly deeper territory of the, "What are you up to these days?" variety. But that's IT! You extricate from the exchange as fast as you can. 

Horrors upon horrors if you should spy somebody you know in the adult incontinence product aisle! If you're lucky, they won't see you, and commando-like, you can scoot into the Kleenex and TP department before you're detected — you know, lest they think, well, you know. Whatever you came in to buy will just have to wait until the next trip because there is NO way you're going up to the cash desk with a package of Poise.

Even worse is bumping into an acquaintance, let's say, over by the Hallowe'en candy display. You chat briefly. "How many kids do you get at your house?" "Oh, that many! Wow! We were down last year. I only bought 300 hundred mini Hershey bars last time and we had left overs. Well, good to see you! Bye!"

But, your excursion today is taking you to the health care aisle — you know, where the icky preparations lurk — where "personal" turns to "intimate." And when you turn toward Deep Drug Store, oh, no, what's happening? She's turning in the same direction! Where is she going? Please don't let it be THAT section!

But it is! She's right behind you! Oh, now what are you going to do? You've missed your chance to dodge out of there. It's too late for guerrilla tactics — you're stuck between Kaopectate and the KY. 

You and she side step each other — edgy, agitated. Words between you become brittle and skittish. You try not to notice the products in her cart. But you can't look away!

"Oh, heh, heh, I'm shopping for my elderly neighbor," she says, "Some toenail fungus cream." 

"Oh, heh, heh, that's nice of you. I'm just getting something for heartburn," lying, as you grab your Metamucil when she isn't looking and bolt to the check out. You frantically plunge your debit card into the reader and spurt, "I don't need cash back, thanks!" You glance over your shoulder and grab your shopping bag from the girl. You make a dash for the parking lot. You scream out of there, screeching your tires, making the turn out of the driveway on two wheels, like a gangster in a get-away car. 

Whew, made it out alive! Do you think she saw? Nah. You congratulate yourself on a successful mission. You clever, nimble Ninja, you! 

When you get home, you knock back a stiff cocktail of orange-flavored fiber, and seriously contemplate online shopping from now on. Wearing dark glasses. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bra Shopping: An American Horror Story

Warning: Some (men) may find the following discussion too embarrassing. Reader discretion is advised.

I find conversations among women at a coffee bar frequently become the adult equivalent of ghost stories at summer camp — designed to frighten you to bits. Accounts of icky diseases. Sagas of ugly divorces. Rumors of crimes in the neighborhood. If you come away from a morning break with the ladies at your favorite Starbucks without a spike in your blood pressure or feeling just a little bit squeamish, you haven't done it right.

One day recently, I do believe I scared the socks off my exercise group when I uttered these two words: Bra Shopping. 

I heard a gasp. One woman shuddered. Someone clapped her hand over her mouth. In the silence that fell upon us, the dread was palpable. 

And so, with my grande, half-caff, soy, no-foam latte with caramel drizzle illuminating my face like a flashlight at a bonfire, I began my terrifying tale.

It was a dark and stormy day. Lightening flashed and thunder rolled as the glass door of the lingerie shop creaked open. Two shadowy figures at the cash desk looked up with sinister expressions that made my flesh crawl. They seemed to cast a spell over me. I tried to turn and run, but their gaze fixed me in my spot.

"How can we help you today, my pretty?" one of them croaked. The other returned to her ceaseless folding of underpants too small for a Barbie, a zombie-like glaze cast over her hollow eyes. 

"I'm looking for a..a… bra," I managed to choke out the words. "You see, my car broke down outside your store, and I.…" Sweat beaded up on my forehead. Words caught in my throat.

"Come. Come in, my dear. We have what you need." 

I felt my legs stumbling forward though my feet were like concrete blocks. 

"What kind of bra do you want? You see. We have so many." She wheezed a maniacal, breathy "uheha, uheh," a simpering laugh not unlike Peter Lorre in a mad scientist movie. 

"Well, you know, I, uh, oh, I don't know, um, what do you recommend?" The cat had my tongue. There wasn't a cat on the premises. This is a metaphor.

"The older gals seem to like this one," she thrust a giant, padded structure toward me, its back and sides clearly meant for full coverage and shaping. 

I was too stunned to react to the pejorative "old lady" remark.

"Come, my sweet," she beckoned me to a fitting room, "Try it on. You'll see."

Meekly, fearfully, I followed her to the back.

"Let me know when you have it on and I'll come and check it for you. Uheha."

My heart raced. My mouth went dry. Panic was setting in. I removed my T shirt and discarded the pathetic rag of a bra I had on. I slid the monstrous cup-shaped garment over my shoulders. 

"Do you have it on?" she cackled from the other side of the fitting room drape. "I'll CHECK it for you."

My survival instincts kicked in — not a moment too soon — I threw my T shirt back over my head and shivered it down across my torso —  bosom now encased in foam gathered up firmly and pointing skyward. I stepped out before she had a chance to push the curtain aside. 

I gasped at my reflection in the mirror. "OH! It's too much!" I said aloud, "I look like I'm all boobs in this thing!" The "girls" were up around my collarbone.

"Isn't that good?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know. Maybe for dressing up. But for everyday, it's a little pretentious."

And then, she hit me with the magic words — the hex to which I surrender every time — "It makes you look slimmer, dear."

I bought the damn thing. Curse you, Bra Lady! I escaped the store by the skin of my teeth.

When I had finished, the ladies at coffee sat quietly for a moment. Then, one of them broke the silence, "Yeah, bra shopping. The worst!" she paused, "But we should be grateful for healthy breasts."

Amen to that, Sister!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where Will YOU be for Totality?

I plan to squeeze in a short vacay and a few too many glasses of wine before the end of the world next week.  

Oh, you haven't heard? August 21st apparently. That's the day that the moon will eclipse the sun.

"Some" folks are predicting that the solar eclipse is a sign of the coming apocalypse. (Hey! "Eclipse" and "apocalypse" rhyme. Maybe that's where they got the idea.)  

Anyway, they are going to be SO disappointed to wake up on August 22nd and find things pretty much the same as the day before. 

Or, at least, that's my prediction. I'm proceeding on a reasonable assumption, based on having actually LIVED through a total eclipse of the sun, that another day is coming. Sure, anyone can get hit by a bus, which I suppose could justify taking precautions against armageddon, but are we all going to snuff it because of the moon passing between us and the sun? I'm guessing not.

And besides, the Calamity Crew are going to miss out on all the fun! (By the way, what WILL people who are expecting the end of days DO next Monday? I'm guessing they aren't shopping online for solar eclipse glasses and setting up folding chairs on the lawn, or organizing viewing parties along with the thousands of others staking out spots in one of the cities under the path of "Totality." Maybe they will all join hands and chant something, like, oh, I don't know, "We flunked Science. We flunked Science.") 

Already there is considerable buzz about the eclipse in the media. And why not? This is a huge deal — the first time in 99 years that the path of Totality will pass entirely within the US. 

Solar viewing glasses are sold out anywhere I've searched locally — and we'll only get 90% of the full show where we live. I can't even imagine the excitement where they will see 100% darkness.

But, wait a sec! Yes, I can! Because, as noted above, we lived through Totality! It was February 26, 1979. Winnipeg was directly under the path of a total solar eclipse. We were about to witness an honest to goodness, 100% coverage, full daytime-turns-to-night solar event, and the whole city was lit up about it. 

We had government-issued viewing goggles — scientist-approved, safety lenses mounted in cardboard — and some enterprising designer created handsome commemorative buttons that everyone wore for the week prior to the eclipse. 

For weeks afterward, the conversation each time you saw someone you knew, went something like this, "Where were you for Totality?" And you'd reply, "Oh, I was (fill in location)….wasn't it incredible? Where were you?" This awe-inspiring, celestial event united one and all.

And where were WE during Totality, you ask? 

Well, the Mr worked for Manitoba Theatre Centre and acted as company manager to escort a mime troupe on tour around rural Manitoba on a Greyhound. They stopped the bus at the side of the Trans-Canada and everyone tumbled out -- silently, of course — because it was a group of six mimes who were not speaking to each other either on-stage or off — a deeply ironic fact that has always amused me — and the Mr took this picture. Note the viewing glasses and the parkas. It was February in Manitoba — mind-numbingly cold.

As for me, I worked in a three-story, flat-roofed building downtown. Our entire office crew, along with about a hundred other folks, trooped up the fire exit stairs to the rooftop, a few minutes before the Big Moment. We all gazed skyward, freezing our Canadian toes and tuchuses off in the -30 degree air, and fell as silent as six touring mimes when the daytime twilight of the partial eclipse lapsed into darkness. The sun became replaced by a black hole in the sky, its corona glowing outward like radiant beams from a angel's halo. 

Where I was standing, only the snow on the roof lay behind me. I glanced back to witness two phenomena that we had been hearing about. Birds raced across the sky as though startled from their regularly programed activities, in a sudden hurry to find a roost as darkness set in. And then I saw the "shadow bands" — the ripple of the moon's shadow — a fleeting display scooting across the snow, perfectly contrasted on that white canvas. It was magical.

And so, I say to all those nut bar predictors of doom, "Get your heads out of your butts and enjoy this! This ultimate of astronomical displays! This most wondrous of natural phenomenon! You may not see another total eclipse of the sun in your lifetime — especially if there is no tomorrow!" 

Me? I have lunch plans for the 22nd. Ever the optimist.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let's Dish, OR, A Brief History of Dinnerware I Have Known

Most nights, the Mr and I eat our evening meal at the dining room table. It's our little ritual effort to elevate midweek meals to the "wine and dine" category; also designed to keep us from noshing out of take-out containers on our laps while watching TV, like characters on "The Big Bang Theory." Conversation is important at dinnertime — much of it along the lines of, "How was your day, dear?" We listen to music. During winter months, I might even light a candle or two. On ordinary days, we use the kitchen dishes — "ordinary" being the operative word here because this is our "everyday" set of serviceable plates and salad bowls. The "good china" is reserved for guests.  

I was "dishing" about this with a good friend recently. It was a Proustian remembrance of things past.  Well, maybe it wasn't THAT brainy a discussion, but it certainly took us both on a nostalgic journey back to childhood — and beyond.

In my mother's generation, a bride received pieces of her chosen — possibly "registered" — china as wedding gifts. They would be displayed at her "Trousseau Tea" so everyone could admire her good taste. Or a newly wed might save up for items in the set, purchasing them one at a time with cash that was left over after all other necessary expenses had been paid. Some families inherited dishes from previous generations. Regardless of acquisition or provenance, fine china was among a family's most valued possessions; showcased in glass-fronted hutches; brought out for Sunday dinners when "company" came over. A dinner table laid with grandma's crocheted tablecloth and "the best set" announced that the folks you invited over mattered enough to get the good dishes down from the curio cabinet. It created a festive air appropriate for family celebrations and major holidays. 

Ours was not a wealthy household — comfortably middle class, maybe — but not rich. Regardless, "good" dishes were important and my mother treasured hers. As a child, I was fascinated with them, exhibited as they were in the china cabinet — a mini, curated museum of plates inserted into little slots that supported vertical displays, cups stacked one into another set upon the saucers, vegetable serving pieces carefully placed as accents, delicate sugar bowl and creamer arranged just-so. 

Sometime during my junior high years, Mum got a new set of china. I have no idea what happened to the old set, or why she made this radical change from the fussy, Olde English maroon floral pattern that I adored in the dining room display. It might have been a style shift for her or perhaps she heard of a good deal at Eaton's. My aunt worked in the Eaton's catalogue "China Re-Buy" department and, although we never had any idea what that meant, I suspect that she came across some robust bargains. In any case the new dishes were Minton, in a pattern called "Blue Symphony." They were oh, so elegant in a light, frothy turquoise with silver rims, a fluted edge, and a delicate leaf pattern laced around the inner circle. These new artifacts took their place in the cabinet to be admired and handled gingerly on Sundays. The way my mother said, "Minton" in hushed tones when asked what lovely new pattern she had bought made me think that they must be pretty high-class — a status symbol beyond our means.

Eventually, it was my turn. My mother and the aunt from Eaton's China Re-buy discussed my "hope chest." At 17, I certainly hoped that one day I'd be endowed with a "chest," but that's not what they meant. And seriously, why would they think that all of a sudden I needed a set of dishes? I had not had a single date throughout my entire high school career, so, I'm not sure why they thought I should be planning a wedding trousseau, but I guess hope springs eternal. Or maybe it was another steal of a deal at Eaton's. In any case, they encouraged me to pick a pattern. Absurd as that was, I did as I was told. It was a nice fantasy. I picked something befitting a modern miss in grade 12. It had white on white embossed flowers around the edge and a gold rim. Classy. Right away I got critique from the aunt about having to get gold flatware to match that rim, and wouldn't that just be a total nuisance?

Before I ever got a chance to use these dishes, I met the future Mr, and also went to Interior Design school. The times they were a'changin'. My modernist, Bauhaus-inspired, architecturally-based design education sent me spinning into a world unknown to a kid from the west end of Winnipeg. Danish, Finnish and German designs appeared on my radar — sleek, undecorated, simple, elegant, functional. I fell in love with the Mr, and almost simultaneously with a glossy white set of china, flatware and stemware from Rosenthal, called "The Plus System." A SYSTEM no less! Be still my modernist, total design heart! I registered these wondrous place settings at Eaton's when we announced our wedding date. My aunt took great exception to this rebellion against traditional bone china. She was incensed with the design, but more to the point for her was that I could put Rosenthal in the dishwasher. "Of course, I'll put them in the dishwasher," I said. "Who ever heard of such a thing," she griped, "truly GOOD dishes are always washed by hand." My mother understood and we sold the white on white florals.

Mum continued to use "Blue Symphony" until she no longer had the energy to wash it all by hand after a family dinner. She bought Corelle dinnerware that accompanied her to her tiny assisted living apartment. I continue to adore my Rosenthal and love bringing it to the table. 

Now that Mum is gone, I have her "Blue Symphony" packed up in a box in the basement. She tried to sell it on two different occasions — she knew it wasn't my taste and never insisted that that I take it. Toward the end of her life, I agreed that I would and that seemed to make her happy. Her good dishes held special meaning for her. 

I understand that the market for fine china has dropped dramatically. Apparently, "young people these days" buy at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Serviceable every day dishes. I say, good for them! It's surely an evolutionary thing. And better than eating from take-out containers.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

LG Elegy: A Fridge too Far

To think it was only such a short time ago when I wrote this love poem to my new LG fridge. Where DO the years go? There wasn't even time to say goodbye! We were away. On vacation when LG passed on. Alas, dear fridge, we hardly knew ye.
Here is the welcome it received when it came into our home, lo, these short five years ago.

Ode on an LG Fridge; 2012
O rectangular shape! Fair fridge! With doors
That ope’ double wide to welcome deli meats and Tetrapaks with ease,
And ice maker that doth quietly not scare the dog; 
Thou, slim form, with bottom freezer deep, doth harbor frozen peas.
And doth thy upper chamber shelter milk?
Aye, whole gallons by thy adjustable shelves and door holders!
And when old age shall this homeowner waste,
Thou shalt remain, scarce past your warranty. 
Then, fridge, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is fridge, fridge beauty, — that is all 
In truth I pledged to this century!”
 (apologies to John Keats; Ode on a Grecian Urn)

And now? The LG has shuffled off its cooling coil. Oh, faithless friend! How cans't thou betray thy promise? What of thine warrantied lifespan? Nay, only five years? Speak to me not of Built-in Obsolescence! I will hear thee not!
Well, that's it. I am done singing praises to this refrigerator. You can only imagine the sinking feeling to return home with bright, fresh, new groceries after your week's vacation to find lukewarm dairy products lurking in the upper cabinet and soggy, thawed casseroles in the freezer. A deceased fridge takes on an ominous, dank atmosphere when its light is extinguished — gloomy and sinister. Bacteria may be invisible to the human eye, but you know they're in there, like ghosts in a graveyard.
Throwing out food was an operation reminiscent of the olden days when fridges needed to be defrosted periodically. Remember that? Twice a year, my folks would make a full day project out of it: removing every last bottle, jar, and wax-paper-wrapped leftover, gambling on whether or not any potential hint of botulinus indicated keeping or tossing. Perishables got tucked away in a red and black tartan ice chest. Jars containing sketchy, but probably safe condiments were lined up along the kitchen counter. A bath towel got wadded up at the back in the space where the vegetable crisper was removed for cleaning. The door got propped open. And then began the long process of watching the 12-inch thick coating of hoar frost drip, drip, drip onto the towel below — a glacial pace that took an ice age. My family never stored anything in the freezer compartment, except a can of frozen orange juice concentrate and an aluminum ice tray that was always stuck to the freezer floor — wet metal on ice, duh — because there was simply not enough room for anything other than frost — building up over time in geological layers.
Fridges these days are hardly that much fun. 

Everything in the LG got tossed, save a jar of gherkins that I hadn't opened yet.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer of '67

One, little, two, little, three Canadians
Now we are twenty million!

Longue vie!

North, south, east, west,
Church bells will ring, ring!
It's the hundredth anniversary of 

If you know it, sing along! (Bonus points if you know it in French.)

To my American friends, be glad you DON'T know this little ditty; it is a persistent ear worm at 3 am.

And why do we know this song so well? How is it we remember every word after 50 years? Because it was everywhere that summer of 1967. Every school kid across the nation learned it for Canada's Centennial celebrations. In Winnipeg, we marched in a giant parade; a sea of kids, all singing Bobby Gimby's Canada song, all waving little Maple Leaf flags, all wearing red and white. I was 14. It was a big moment in a kid's life.

Now Canada is celebrating 150 years since confederation. I don't know if there is a Canada 150 song, but I do know that celebrations are planned nationwide for the July 1st, Canada Day holiday, and I understand that Peter Mansbridge is retiring from The National on Saturday. (Say it isn't so!)

Even though we live in the US, we will hoist our Canadian Maple Leaf into the flag holder on our front porch and go out for dinner. We know a place here in Dayton that serves a righteous poutine

The summer of '67 was a stand-out year for me as a 14 year-old. There was that parade I mentioned above. I have a clear picture of walking along Portage Avenue with my school mates, beaming with pride at the cheering crowds lining the sidewalks and center boulevard. 

Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, came in July to open the Pan-American Games. I remember being so impressed that my brother was volunteering as a driver to pick up athletes at the airport in a fancy convertible. He met people from all over the western hemisphere. 

Mostly, I remember my trip to EXPO 67 in Montreal. 

My Dad arranged the entire trip — and looking back, although he didn't accompany us, he did treat Mum and me to the very best — and I ought to have been a bit more grateful. It was my first flight on an airplane — an experience that cemented my fear of flying for a lifetime. We landed in Montreal during a thunder storm that made my short, pre-teen life flash before my eyes. 

He booked us a room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel — one of Canada's premier CPR Chateau hotels — luxury accommodations then, as they are now. (And a couple of weeks later, the scene where French president, Charles DeGaulle's declared, "Vive le Quebec LIBRE!" It was a news event that my 14 year-old self could actually engage with because I had been in that same spot where he threw out this inflammatory remark.)

That week of EXPO 67, I got my period and was miserable the entire time. (Thus setting a precedent for my cycle to arrive in time for every vacation thereafter, until menopause finally kicked in.) Poor Mum had to put up with a sullen, moody girl whom she had to drag away from the hotel room TV, where I was watching kids slow-dance to Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," to go experience the wonders of the World's Fair. 

I do remember some of it: long lines to get into pavilions, many oddly-shaped buildings, multi-screened films, people-moving conveyors, and entire seating banks that saved you the bother of walking from one exhibit zone to the next as they actually took you on the journey. I woke up one night in the QE hotel with motion sickness. (Such a joy of a child.) 

Ethnic food of every variety was available in every pavilion, presenting a severe challenge to the mother of a confirmed fussy eater. We wandered for hours, hungry, one afternoon at the Fair, searching for something to feed a kid that had grown up on a decidedly bland, Canadian Prairie diet. How on earth, then, did we end up with Naan bread and Chicken Tikka Masala? Maybe Mum thought it looked like chicken soup. I remember liking the Naan. (Rotten kid.)

I don't recall if I ever gave up my ill-tempered EXPO 67 sulk — I was likely too stubborn to let on that I might be having fun — but I do recall being so proud in the Canadian pavilion, the inverted pyramid by preeminent architect, Arthur Erickson. A lasting impression.

I think I cheered up a little when Mum and I departed on a train bound for Toronto. Dad came through on great accommodations here, too. We stayed in the then-brand-new Inn on the Park, a luxury resort in suburban Don Mills. It had a pool and Canada's first discotheque, although we availed ourselves of neither. Mum in a disco! Ha ha ha!  (I find it something of a marvel that my dad would have found out about these places without the benefit of hotels.com or Trip Advisor. How did anyone make reservations in the olden days before the internet?)  

We toured the city's highlights, finding our way around on transit. We ate safe, sane Canadian food in the hotel restaurant. My aunt and uncle came to pick us up after a couple of days to take us out to Newmarket to stay with them. Before leaving Toronto, they took us on a drive to show us any city sights we might have missed. One was Yorkville, "to see the hippies." Yes, in 1967, the Summer of Love, Toronto's Yorkville was a hippie hang-out — the Canadian version of Haight-Ashbury. The adults in the car gawked and tsk-tsked about long hair, "I don't mind if it's clean!" and colorful clothing, "How do their parents let them go out looking like that?" But my eyes were as wide as saucers. I was overcome by the sudden need to be a hippie. I was instantly desperate to trade my sensible shift dress with its daisy appliqué for bell-bottoms, a fringed leather vest, and a headband. "You don't want to be like THEM," my uncle said. Oh, yes! Yes, I do! I thought it, but didn't say it out loud.

The summer of '67 — it was my turning point. From impossible pre-teen to impossible teenager. I went into grade 10 that fall. High school. I used my clothing allowance to buy bell-bottom jeans in a neon turquoise and an equally garish orange sweater to go with them. My mother said, "Well, if that's what YOU think looks nice…" her preferred passive-aggressive comment that meant, "How DOES your mother let you go out looking like that?" Thus, my teen years began.

The summer after grade 12, I went to EXPO 70 in Osaka, Japan, where our school choir sang at the Canadian pavilion. Hippie values informed my high school and university years, although I never ran away to join them; to hitchhike to Vancouver as so many kids did. 

I grew up to appreciate luxury hotels, great food, and interesting fashion. I worked on design teams for the Canada and Yukon pavilions at EXPO 86 in Vancouver and wrote design proposals for EXPO 92 in Seville. World Expos ended up being components integral to my life; those experiences leveraged later career choices. 

And now, it's the summer of '17. Fifty-years since that amazing summer. I hope there is at least one little, two little, three little, Canadian kids of 14 for whom Canada 150 is their amazing, memorable turning-point summer. Happy 150! Happy Canada Day!