Unwanted Advice From Strangers

There is nothing that irks me more than the unwanted advice that some people feel compelled to give complete strangers, unprovoked.

Years ago, I recall standing waiting for my sister in a small town in Jamaica. A man of whom I did not know or later care to know, walked up to me looked me up and down and said something to the tune of “you should not gain any more weight.”

I was mad, fuming mad. But found that I had no witty come back especially as I was holding back a few tears.

It is not until now: twenty four years later that I finally have something to say.

(That’s how slow I am on my witty retorts.)

I just found an old home movie of myself dancing around the living room to Rosemary Clooney’s Come on a-my house, with my baby doing circles in a floppy sunhat and a pink feather duster. This movie compelled me to realize some hard truths.

So here it is, my reply to this unwanted advice from a complete stranger.

Dear Jamaican man:

 Although I was upset at the time. I’ll admit you were right. I haven’t looked so good since that time I was standing in the foyer sporting some unattractive cornrows with a sunburnt scalp wearing my favourite flowing 90’s flowered dress. The fabric pulled tight around the hips.

 Soon after, when I returned to Canada, I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter while attending the memorial for the grandmother that she never met. I struggled with losing the weight from baby number one but lost it and then gained it again after baby number two. But looking back at this home movie I see that  I still managed to dance around the living room in my bare feet, large behind swaying behind me. I still managed to work two part time jobs while raising my children. I chopped kindling every other day in winter; fat arms wobbling. For years I still managed to walk the dog or drag out the garbage bins to the curb,  or at Christmas time still made my perogies from scratch. ( I know the homemade perogies did not help.)

So yes strange man in Jamaica… you were prophetic in your unkind words. I am thinking that if you yourself are still alive, I imagine that you are most likely portly and bald too. I picture you sitting somewhere alone in a wheelchair without any friends because of your penchance for telling people what you think, unprovoked and often cruelly. 

But in this particular case, man with the unwanted advice;  I must say, you were right. I have never looked so luminescent as that time that I was standing in the shade on a hot day in Jamaica waiting for my sister,  eating a small green banana that I had just bought from a little boy off the side of the road.  I stood there, eyes feasting on the glittering ocean, completely unaware that I was about to start a family, my wonderful little family that still loved me through the years, fat ass and all.


Book Review- FUN HOME


I know grown women are not supposed to love graphic novels ( we should be reading Austen in the bubble bath)- but if you read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home you would understand my love of this particular genre.  I love a good novel packed with prose and the wonderful part about this book is that it is a graphic memoir – packed with prose!

Follow Alison as a child trying to navigate the tense world of a marriage built on illusions or as the author describes her father’s perception of his family as  ”  A Still Life With Children.” She compares her family to the Addams family and develops strange OCD afflictions as a result of her parents’ unhappiness. This book deals with so many intricacies of a family’s experience- it is part coming out story,  interwoven with the myth of Icarus and the philosophy of Camus.

Bechdel deals with topics such as the absurdity of death in a family of funeral directors. She delves into the complexities of our relationships with our mothers and fathers; she wryly observes that ” the bar is lower for fathers than for mothers.”

If you love authors who use words like legerdemain – libidinal or postlapsarian melancholy and don’t mind naked cadavers – then this books for you.


Now an award-winning Broadway musical.

Birthdays Are For the Birds


How has it been a year since the last birthday suit special? Birthdays to me these days are not exactly a time to celebrate but a time to reflect and be sentimental about my life. What have I accomplished? Where am I headed?

I am taking a very intensive ceramics course at VIU. Yesterday I was in the studio for over eight hours, not including the commute. So when I woke up today I forgot it was my birthday! I forgot to sit outside in solitude and listen to the birds like I used to do as a child. I must have been an odd child, come to think of it. Just recently in class we had to make ocarinas, little clay flutes. I remember my father gave me one as gift when I was a child. Was I seven or eight years old? It was a little flute in the shape of a bird. I used to sit on a step-ladder in the back yard, to be closer to the tree tops and play that flute, I think it only had one or two notes… I was trying to communicate with the birds.

I really haven’t come that far from those days. Not too long ago, as I was taking out the compost, I heard a bird calling out in quite a complicated tune. I whistled to it, and it answered back! I was so excited! My dream had come true! I could  finally communicate with another species!

For years ( as a child) I was  obsessed with catching a live bird. I had never thought out what I would do after I caught one. But believe it or not, one day I actually did catch a baby blue jay in my hands. I guess it was opportunity meets preparation. I had spent months stalking birds, they were so close, yet so fast! They knew what I was up to and darted away every time! This was a time before too much technology, when children would spend their days outside hiding underneath shrubbery, crawling around in the dirt, daring each other to eat unknown berries …you know who you are! I was advised right away to let the baby bird go of course. But my dream did come true. Here I am at my birthday wishing intently to catch a bird ( or maybe I am wishing for a mood ring ( see picture below)… see? Make a wish and try for it. It may actually come true.


How to Become An Armchair Anthropologist


Sometimes I am addicted to movies that make me ugly cry. The other night I figured it would be safe to watch a classic old black and white movie by myself because I knew no one in my family would be mad that I watched it without them. It was called Penny Serenade. I love Irene Dunne and Cary Grant is pretty easy on the eyes as they say, so I thought I would give it a whirl.  Spoiler Alert: It begins with a woman looking somberly past an empty child’s room so I knew right away that it was gonna get sad and pretty quick. Then you find out that the couple is going to get a divorce -which sets you off to wonder what sort of tragedy has caused this, so you know that you better get out your box of Kleenex and fast.

The concept of the movie plays out where each record the woman pulls out of her album titled, The Story of a Happy Marriage reminds her of different parts of her life. Viewers get to hear the music and see the history of her life connected to each song.  Part of the reason why I love old movies is that I can become a sort of armchair cultural anthropologist as I watch them.  How old record stores worked, for instance- it was fascinating. There is a piano where someone can play sheet music for you or a listening room to choose your music, how else would one hear these songs without the internet? Also anthropologically speaking, seeing how a printing press worked with all of the moving parts was fun to witness.  I enjoy studying how the roles of men and women in the US are portrayed in each era.  Their behavior didn’t seem too far off from how things are today. Early on in their marriage when the man immediately quit his good job when he got a small inheritance and the wife asked: “oh, was it a lot more than we thought?” And when he admitted it was a lot less, she said, “well I don’t understand, why you would quit a perfectly good job.” This made me laugh and think yes, this scenario is timeless. Later in the movie when they didn’t have any income coming in I found it frustrating that they didn’t consider sending the woman out to find work. Witnessing how the adoption process worked was also amusing. Pretty free and easy according to Hollywood. Heres a baby, she’s meant for you, what you have no clue how to look after her and don’t have any diapers?— well just pick stuff up on your way home.

Spoiler alert: My favorite scene was the first night and the following morning after they come home with an infant. The fear and ungainliness of trying to bath and diaper her that first morning were perfectly portrayed, for me this was the winning scene. As an armchair cultural anthropologist, it was fun to have a diaper folding lesson, the one pin kind. What -no bamboo diapers with velcro fasteners? I also loved to see how society once existed in a plastic-free world. I am always on a lookout for scenes in the kitchen and how food is served up etc.  Glass baby bottles were the only option in this era.

The little girl is a show stopper both when she is a chubby little happy one year old and when she is the echo in the Christmas play. These film writers know how to wring out your heart. Especially because of oodles of foreshadowing from the start, you know that things are not going to work out- but like a car wreck, you can’t look away.

Is this film schlocky and full of Hollywood tricks? Yes. Did it make me have an enjoyable time sniffling away and letting the story “play on my heartstrings?”  Yes.

Sometimes I just want to be whisked off into someone else’s problems, problems that make you weep and not in a pretty way.

 This is my (almost) free therapy. Our TCM channel is included with our internet bundle so it is still fairly cheap. Throw in a bowl of homemade popcorn and your night with therapy included is quite economical.

On a scale of 1- 5 Kleenex tissue box rating system, with 5 as the highest rating, I give it a 4.5  for a tear jerker.

Click below for a 10-minute clip- squeaky stairs and all.


Fly Like An Eagle

It’s nineteen seventy-six,  I’m in my dentist’s chair and I am in a strange dream-like fog similar to something from a Cheech and Chong movie— from a generous dose of nitrous oxide. I am eight years old. My tiny ears are clamped down by a massive set of headphones and a mask of laughing gas completely covers half my face held in place by an elastic strap. The song that is pumped into my impressionable brain is Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band. The lyrics -like an eagle-eagle -eagle- waiver in my mind just the wings of an eagle, or I imagined they would if I ever got the opportunity to see one in the prairies.   I was relaxed and tripping out and soon my dentist came in with a needle that seemed larger than my head. It came towards me and I watched in interest as it was placed into my small mouth with a long slow push. It is interesting that this was the song choice. 

Was my dentist being ironic?

He was friendly and over the top. He said you were so good today you get a kiss, and I would look worried but he would lean in with great theatrics and stamp my hand with a red ink outline of lips. Ever time I hear this song I can’t help but remember myself with my cavity-prone candy eating teeth, laying in that dentist chair in my bell bottom pants. I often had to take the bus home with my mouth frozen and drooling through the North End of Winnipeg. We had the same family dentist for years. And I miss him, like I miss my childhood—with a misguided longing for things that seemed simpler and fun, but were really just ordinary and often painful.


On Record Players

Why do I get so much enjoyment from the fact that my teenager has to ask me how to use my new Christmas present?

This year I asked for a record player so that I could enjoy the old albums that I have been hauling around for over thirty years. They are in bad shape on the outside but amazingly play just fine. Asking for a record player has allowed me to take a step back in time. I am a time traveler to my sixteen-year-old self. The album Sandinista by the Clash drop kicks me with memories of my youth, every time. I love it as much as I did all those years ago when  I would listen to it while doing my aerobic exercises on my carpeted bedroom floor. Now I listen to it while doing yoga on my living room floor. Not much has changed. Besides everything.

It is really quite fun to see an eighteen-year-old look at the small 45’s and ask, what is this?  I try to not smirk as I say knowingly, “that record needs a special plastic insert for the large hole, and you must change the little knob from 33 to 45” It is great to feel wise and all-knowing for once about a form of technology. Oddly enough after moving provinces and about ten different homes, my husband and I have managed to keep our records. We have the same taste in music- we have doubles of the Sex Pistols and the Violent Femmes- this is an indication to me that we are soul mates.  We still enjoy the same music and now we can listen to it all on my new record player—

which we all know is really a time travel machine.




The Birthday Suit Special



Photo courtesy of Beer Street Journal

As a child when it was my special day I would get up early on the first of June, bring my pillow still warm from my head and place it outside on the cold concrete steps of my house. I would sit on my fluffy down pillow and just listen to the frantic trilling of bird songs which I felt were singing just for me. This was before everyone was up and about. Before the demands of my mother, before my little sister was up, before tearing open my package of Carnation instant breakfast that I would stir into a cold glass of milk, lumpy and sweet, swallowed in a rush to beat the school bell for nine o’clock. Before all the neighbours were up doing their noisy grown up things, before the machines roared to life, cars whisking neighbours away to their jobs, before the high whine of the lawn mowers started by a pull string, and the sounds of the children in the schoolyard across the lane, yelling and shouting exuberantly.

This was how I liked to start my day when I was eight. And I am trying to remember that child. In her honour, I will sit quietly listening to the sounds of nature that are still here despite the traffic, despite the urban sprawl, despite the noise of airplanes and the potent smell of pesticides sprayed from trucks with hoses.

Walking my favourite path at Nose Hill the other day I noticed a coyote walk by me at the top of a ridge. We both stopped to look at each other. But, after noting that I wasn’t threatening—it just went on its way, joyful that winter was over, ( I imagined this thought of course). It pounced on something playfully with its large paws, perhaps it was a nervous mouse trapped under its claws. It didn’t occur to me to be afraid, it was a wild animal, after all, the size of a large dog. Every day I see hawks sitting on the tips of the tallest lampposts along Shaganappi and think, despite us, despite the city, the animals remain, and I am grateful.

I will think of this as I sit quietly— grateful for the sounds of nature, my gift to myself on my special day.  (But I no longer need a pillow for padding. )The birds are still here doing their frenzied thing!

Lucky me.

The Time Before Email

I have been going through a lot of boxes in anticipation of a big move. My intention was to cull unnecessary junk. I have managed to recycle quite a bit of old books and papers. But what I found is a treasure trove of written material.

It was a time before emails. I have poems written on crinkled paper Hallmark bags, I have an orange envelope with my progress reports from Seven Oaks School Division No.10–apparently in 1973,  I was “sometimes dreamy’ with a good imagination.

I found postcards from friends on trips to London or Hawaii. Words of love from faces I can no longer recall. Letters I sent to my baba from summer camp. I recall reading a book with her late on a Saturday night– Letters From Camp. We would laugh so hard that I wet myself and my baba fell onto the middle of the linoleum in her sparse kitchen.

I found Love letters that are as thick as a Russian novel—day-to-day happenings, written neatly with small drawings in pen— a kind of handwritten Instagram, but much slower. How can I get rid of these precious, precious items?

I can’t.  So into a box they go. I encourage everyone to pull out a pen and write a letter to someone. Write words of love or just any silly thing. I know your friend will be overjoyed to receive it. Your words will be a welcome surprise from junk mail and bills.

Those Happy Golden Years

I have never been to the Calgary tower. But I enjoy looking at it from the C-Train. It is tall and alien looking and when the coloured lights shine on it at night it is like it is beckoning beings from outer space to come on over and say hello. I wonder if kids hang out at the tower and just run up and down the stairs for fun. It reminds me that as a child I often would spend a whole day with a friend running through the halls of the Manitoba legislature building. It was like it was our own private castle to play in. And it was totally open to the public. I am sure the security guard loved listening to two little girls peering down over the railings saying, Hello? Hello?” Giggling as we waited to hear our echoing voices.

We desperately tried to find a stairway up to the Golden Boy. Oddly enough there was an  unlocked door to an open stairway, but it disappointed us when we found another locked door after many tiring steps. What did we imagine we would do once we got up there? Hang onto his big old golden leg as we surveyed the landscape?

I loved the large bison that flanked the staircase. I would pat them and pretend they were my pets. I was lucky enough that my own father worked there and would sometimes take me on a Sunday if he had work to do. That’s why I felt comfortable there, it was once my dad’s workplace.

I suppose the proprietary feeling I had for the Manitoba legislature building is how Ivanka Trump feels about the White House. It’s her dad’s place of work. She probably wanders around in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers down those empty waxed floors at night, just ’cause she can. It must be fun to order pizza and give the address… ” Yes- hello ? Can you make sure to add pineapple and a side of extra sauce?, oh and just ring the bell, at the White House!”

And I am not talking politics here. I am just mentioning that we feel comfortable where our family is. Even if it is the legislature buildings or the White House . I felt comfortable in the back of my grandfather’s furrier store- Boston Furs where I would sit and watch all the men sit at their roaring sewing machines making fur hats and coats to keep all the Russian ladies warm in the cold dark winters of Winnipeg. Often on weekends, I would stand in the front window next to the mannequin, remaining still for what I imagined was hours, pretending that I was a small mannequin.

What I am saying is that I really hope that children today get the same freedoms we had as children growing up in the seventies.