Monday, May 31, 2010

Roast Beast

It's said that every child born into this world is gifted by another world with three blessings or talents. But when I was born, while three wee fairies appeared, only two gave me christening presents.

The first fairy waved her wand and said, "She'll be pretty enough but not too pretty so she'll never suffer the envy of others."

The second fairy waved her wand and said, "She'll be smart enough but not too smart so she'll never curse the world with another invention like gunpowder or the nuclear bomb."

The third fairy sneezed, "Ker-chooo! Bless me," she said, by way of excusing her hay fevered self then added, "And bless her too but I don't think she'll be needing any help from me. Have you seen that family of hers? Why that's a thousand blessings right there and I dare say she'll be spoiled already." So, instead of waving her wand she merely tucked it behind her ear so she could blow her nose on a lilac petal.

And of course the sniffling fairy was quite right and very wise and, even if she had been about to bestow me with my very own kingdom, it could never have meant as much to me as my family. 



I am endlessly amazed at, among other things, my family's generosity, love, ingenuity, good humour and good graces even in the face of one of my outlandish schemes. So, when I proposed a pig roast to fete a visit from my American cousins and their Brazilian friends and my own farewell/birthday, it was not a surprise, though it was a relief, when Uncle A polished, painted and donated his spit, and Uncle D donated a week of his life to building a cover for it in case of rain, and Leona offered their farm and dishes and a million other details to the cause.

There were a lot of moments of doubt-like when the affair blossomed to double the guests long after I'd already ordered the pig, then again when, upon seeing the wee tininess of the piglet, I realized with certainty there would not be enough meat and yet again when my roiling stomach convinced me the pungent briny marinade I'd concocted would ruin the meat before it ever made it onto the spit- but my family was there at each turn, reassuring me everything would be just fine and roasting up "plan b" chickens, just in case.

There were other moments where I felt like a serial killer, driving around with a carcass in my trunk, talk of clean rubber gloves and fluid catching tarps, not to mention suturing the skin - so humanesque it was easy to see why pigs are used in med schools- after stuffing it. "Quit thinking about it," Uncle D demanded at one point, but really, once the thought strikes you, it's nearly impossible to shake.

Then too, as a vegetarian recently converted back to a carnivorous diet I had much explaining to do regarding my decision to roast a beast, which I won't essay today except to say I don't eat pork on a regular basis but in this situation there was tribe and ritual to consider, a belief in roles and purpose for all living creatures fulfill and our own place in the these cycles.

In the end there was laughter and love, new friendships made, however brief, and more than enough pork for everyone. And there was that moment when, coming out of the main house I stood on the back deck looking out towards the torch lit summer kitchen where everyone had taken shelter from an evening storm round the wood stove. The laughter and chatter rising from it was so great it drowned out the thunder and, as lightning lit the charcoal sky beyond the meadow I thought, There, in the midst of this puddling mess and mud, is my family sharing food and wine, stories and jokes and, because of them, I am the most fortunate soul on earth.

Plautdietsch Word of the Day: Gummshoo = galoshes (or rubber boots)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

;)

Dear Chef,

You know I adore you. You know I love and relate to your ad hoc cooking philosophy, the way you teach how to cook not necessarily what to cook and, mostly, and your spice pantry. But today, when you alluded to the reasons chickens no longer require marinade for tenderness with nothing more than a wink and a smile and a "Let's just say today's chickens aren't the same as grandma's chickens" well, let's just say I lost a little respect for you -wink smile.

I don't think the fact that chickens no longer have room to move and are, in fact, engineered to not be able to move, is anything to wink and smile about. I think glossing over issues like this is irresponsible. I appreciate that you only get a half hour which is certainly and absolutely not enough time to provide in depth analysis of our current food crisis but surely if your goal is to educate viewers about food you do everyone a great injustice by refusing to address it all.

I know you're not averse to editorializing about food choices. I've seen you advise against high fructose corn syrup, sweetened juices and unhealthy frying practices. You promote fresh, whole ingredients. So why would you not advocate for free range organic chickens? More likely to be ethically raised, nutritionally and ecologically superior free range chickens are just like grandma's chickens were and, while they may be more expensive, do offer an opportunity to exercise our right to nutritionally sound food.

The word idiot comes to us from the ancient Greeks who used it to describe a private person who refused to do his duty and take part in political life. Obviously, Michael, we no longer live in a democracy like the Greeks. Democracy has shifted to a corporatocracy and our political arena is not parliament but the marketplace. The most effective political action and protest we can exercise occurs not at city hall but the shopping mall and, while every product is opportunity to assert our political and social ethos, the most important and, I would argue, efficient place to vote is in the produce aisles. After all, most of us eat three or four times a day, even the most dedicated activists can't say they attend that many protests a day.

But, every time one of your viewers opts for buying a chicken who had room to walk, nest and live with dignity in a natural environment instead of a creature tortured in a factory barn that's exactly what what they're doing. Protesting. And it is an option, and you had that option but you chose not only not to exercise it but not to acknowledge it. And that leaves all of us, including your progeny, one step closer to eating frankenfood. Do you have a recipe for that?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a pig roast to plan. Let's just say, you don't want to get me started. ;)

Regards,
Me

P.S. Pizza soup? Best. Idea. Ever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No Rednecks

I spent the weekend covered in paint while my mother played with power tools. My father even stopped by to fix the plumbing and swing a hammer for a few hours but we're still not quite done.

Today however it was back to what passes for civilization.

Within hours I find myself stuck in traffic wondering how I am supposed to feel compassion for the fellow ogling me from the next vehicle. He has made a point of flaunting his ignorance by paying to have "No Fat chicks; they'll scrape the paint on the my truck" and "No granny panties" stenciled onto his truck; as though proud of proving Darwin's theory of evolution wrong. To quell the hate, I tell myself he has borrowed the truck from his brother. This is the closest I can come to compassion-not hating, not punching him in the face.


Later I see an infant t-shirt with the slogan: Boobie Addict. Still later I see a bag of organic cheezies. Seriously? I loathe this culture.

How do I get back here:

video

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Islands in a Scream

I went scouting for a good swimming spot today. It’s going to require crossing a most fickle and tempestuous part of the lake but, after only an hour, I found the perfect spot.  It’s a tiny island with an easy access landing spot and rocks like perfectly contoured armchairs in the sun. There are two of these rocks but that’s not what reminded me of you. What reminded me of you were the otter droppings.

We fought about the canoe rental. We fought about the tent (“Fine,” you yelled, “bring the tent but I’m not sleeping in it!”) We fought about the food and, by the time we left the city, it was dark. We fought about that too, as we drove through the night. In the morning we woke up in the van, made up for all of yesterday’s fighting, then began packing in the gear to the lake.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nightlife

Tired today. Was up most of the night dealing with faulty plumbing, flooding and bats. Am hoping I didn’t wake the campers across the road with my unbridled spewing of profanities. Am also hoping no one saw me dashing about outside in my underwear.

Update: Apparently the bat was actually a bird sized insect and I killed it when I swatted it away. That’s me; killing bird sized creatures in one desperate flail.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Beavers Go Bad

I have always thought it silly to be afraid of sharks. The odds of a shark attack are something like .000006% if you like to play in the surf or absolutely none if you stay on dry land. It’s a waste of energy to worry about sharks.

 Beavers, on the other hand, are terrifying. People make fun of Canada for having the beaver as it’s national animal but, if you’re not at least a little afraid of an amphibious rodent with engineering skills, you deserve to be enslaved by beaver overlords. Laugh all you like but unless they’ve forgotten (and I doubt they have, what do you think they do for entertainment in those lodges if not tell stories) that little episode in history when we were turning them into hats, it’s not going to be pretty.

I paddled out to the creek this evening and sat by the dam listening to the nature chorus when I saw a beaver disappear underwater. I hauled out my camera and waited. And waited. And waited. I did a little cloud fishing the fruits of which I will post next week when I have a faster, more reliable connection.

I waited some more, then a little bit more but nothing more notable happened so I started to head back. I was about to round the final bend back onto the lake when a canon shot rang through the marsh. A hundred pound beaver issuing a warning with a slap of his tail. All hail the first of our beaver overlords.

Five  minutes later, with my heart still racing from my narrow escape I was back on the lake proper when a beaver cut me off. Literally. Swam right in front of my kayak. I barely stopped in time to keep from hitting him. He did not flinch. He did not waiver. He did not disappear to swim under water. He was unabashed and quite casual. Nerves. Of. Steel.

 I, meanwhile, did the thing where I snapped a dozen pictures in the wrong mode so I have no proof of this encounter, but  take heed people. They’re getting bold.  It’s only a matter of time before they start urbanizing; felling traffic lights, hydro lines and telephone poles. Let this serve as my equivalent tail slapping canon shot warning to all of humanity. They’re coming. And Jaws is going to seem like a birthday party ...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Zen and the Art of Roofing

“Imagine,”  he says, “you’re a raindrop.”

This is the essence of shingling. Imagine you are water wanting to get inside the invitingly warm, dry dwelling. Now, you are the inhabitant ; prevent the raindrop from getting inside. Here is the hammer. Here are the nails. Here are the burning hot asphalt shingles. Here too,  are the neighbourhood men unwilling to watch your mother and you on the roof unsupervised.

“You needn’t feel obligated,” you say, secretly wishing he might climb off the roof with his helpful hints and helpfulness. Why is help so hard? You so contrary? So difficult?

“I don’t,” he says, picking up a hammer, “but I know your mother will bake me a pie.”

So together you measure and hammer and debate which pie might be your mother’s  blue ribbon specialty. He orders a rhubarb and strawberry (smart man, it’s in season) and with each row completed, you’re more grateful he stayed.

When another neighbour offers to help he says , “Nah, we’re doing fine.”

“Oh sure,” you tease, “ You just don’t want to share your pie.”

So  the second neighbour climbs the ladder and now there are four; the three of you hammering, measuring, being a raindrop- while your mother cuts the ends- until, just before the sky turn a violent purple and threatens a storm, you are done.

But the neighbours are not. After dinner yet another neighbour stops by with his toddling son shyly proffering a bottle of homemade wine for the hardworking women and still later there are free drinks in the coffee shop.

Today you learned to shingle a roof.
Today you learned you are a raindrop.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Life on the Seine

We stopped in the hamlet where I was born on the way to the lake. While Ma did an errand I strolled through the parish cemetery. The old cemetery next to the cathedral is quite small and I was soon ambling towards the new cemetery across the river. Crossing the bridge I saw this:

I love the idea of building across a river. What a great alternative to using up land. Of course there’s always the risk of flooding which brings me back to a dream the Dude gave me: a houseboat. Flood proof and portable = perfect.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stocking Up

I spent the day getting ready for my first extended stay at the cabin starting tomorrow. Mostly this entailed a lot of food preparation. I whipped up a half dozen of these veggie burgers, some gluten free buns from my sorghum bread recipe and, at the last minute a Chef (insert dreamy sigh) inspired pizza soup. I also adapted a homemade granola recipe from one of my mother's magazines to make it gluten free. It turned out beautifully. I have been gluten free for three years and have spent as long trying to find the holy grail of crunchy oatless granola and today I can finally say, no more $10 mini bags of sugary, specialty granola for me.

Crunchy Homemade GF Granola

1 2/3 c. stabilized rice bran
1 cup quinoa flakes
1/3 cup dry milk powder
1/3 shredded coconut
¼ cup liquid honey or maple syrup
¼ sunflower seeds
2T oil
2T water
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla

Banana chips (optional)
Raisins (optional)

Combine all ingredients up to the last two (optional). Mix well. Spread into a 13”x9” pan and bake @ 350* for 35-40 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Stir every ten minutes and drizzle with more maple syrup or liquid honey. Cool completely. Store in airtight container for up to one week.

10 servings, 1 serving = ½ cup

P's and Q's

Mother's Day was something of a fiasco beginning with my main brunch ingredient disappearing as someone's midnight snack. There were a lot of ways this might have resolved itself but the offending party was somewhat indelicate, by which I mean to say brutish, in their handling of the situation and I took even greater offense.

Circumstances being what they were, it was necessary to put aside my indignation without much discussion, but I am admittedly quite incapable of letting go of things when I feel I've been wronged. So I allowed it to fester and stew all through the meal and I managed to get myself so worked up I spent all day fighting back burning hot, angry tears.

That evening, convinced I would burst if I didn't have my say, I wrote an e-mail to my transgressor, explaining, among other things, the correct way to apologize. Today's daily Tao is then an apropos lesson for me.   Hey, it took me 30 years to even realize I had a problem and it was me, so I guess it would be expecting a bit much to suppose I'm going to change overnight.

How lucky then to get another day to practice.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shelf Life

Earlier this week I took what will probably be my last trip into the city, to spend gift certificates, and ended up wandering into a musty fusty archaic bookstore. There was, like all the best used bookstores, definitively no dewy decimal system at play on the shelves.

The owner and I took up an easy conversation about poetry (Steve Noyes in particular, though I can't seem to find any of his work online) traveling and personal libraries.

"I've thought about traveling," he said wistfully, "but I don't know what I'd do with my library."

"Well," I offered truthfully, " A good book is often better than a plane ticket."

I then admitted that letting go of my library felt like letting go of hundreds of my favourite friends. I told him how I'd had a home lined up for my books but that fell through at the last minute and I'd been forced to sell most of them. We commiserated, this stranger and I, surrounded by books stacked perilously close to the ceiling with only a tiny twisting path between them. Did I say stranger? He understood this ink and paper part of me in a way few others ever will or could; how could he be anything but a kindred soul.

He glanced at the clock and announced he had to get to his call center job, the one he worked so he could afford to keep his personal library, this store, so I had to leave without a single book.

Driving home later that night, after curry take-out for dinner and one last visit with an old workmate at the bingo hall, I started thinking about these used bookstore owners. They are, inevitably, aging hippie males, curmudgeonly with no regard for wealth or status and I couldn't help but wonder- then fret about- what will happen when these men retire and close shop. Who, in the age of the e-kindle, will fill the gap and become the keepers and guardians of my favourite friends? Where will I go to wile away hours among the stacks, discovering new worlds and reuniting with old friends, when there are no more cranky beatnik bibliophiles to horde these antiquarian tomes? How will I identify kindred souls in 2040?

"Things come and go in life to help us change.
Once the moment of change comes, we must let the situation go.
If we resist, the situation will completely drain us.
It is not easy to let go, but it is much more painful
to try to hold on to something that wants to pass."
-Zen Life, Daniel Levin

Peas and Cues

We were at a thali stop on our way to Pokhara, Nepal when I offered to share my plate with my travel companion and she helped herself. Back on the bus she was consulting her guidebook and read, "It is considered rude and unclean to eat food off another person's plate." She was mortified. I speculated that this might only be the case in remote areas or when food has been blessed by a holy man. She eyed me skeptically.

"Or we just ate like barbarians. We're two white chicks, I'm sure they expect us to be strange," I shrugged.

I always try to be well mannered and aware of local customs when I roam about the planet, so I wasn't being dismissive, but it's impossible to always get it right and I've noticed that gracious hosts forgive the unimportant and are quick to educate about any offensive faux pas. I was in a bar in Nicaragua with a drink in my right hand, for instance, when I learned not to proffer my left hand in greeting. (This is universally true I know, though apparently only imperative in countries where toilet tissue isn't ubiquitous.) Embarrassing, sure, but comical and lead into an enlightening conversation in comparative cultures.

Back in Nepal, subsequent meals involved mutual lamentation about wanting to taste each other's orders but my travel friend refused. One evening I went out for dinner with a new Nepali friend who, immediately after our food arrived at the table, suggested we split our plates so we could both try and enjoy everything. While we divvied up our plates I told him about the etiquette advice in my travel buddy's guide book.

"I've never heard of such a thing," he said then added, shaking his head and laughing, "Americans and their guidebooks. Always they believe everything only from their guidebooks."

Which makes me wonder who's seeing the Lonely Planet people coming and saying, "Here, in Tanzania, you are expected to bring a toad on a leash and your own banana leaf bowl with you if invited to dinner."?

Of course, within group differences being greater than between group differences, rudeness is not limited to cross-cultural misunderstandings.

I had an acquaintance over for drinks one afternoon. I offered a plate of strawberries, cheese and fudge with the wine but the conversation spilled into the evening so I cooked up a reasonably large pot of curried chili and served it with corn chips. He ate it all up. I assumed he must still be hungry so I brought out another bag of chips. He finished that too so I refilled the fruit bowl, which had been emptied over the course of the afternoon with more clementines. By now I was getting worried. I didn't have much left to offer him. When remaining clementines were gone I apologized and offered to run to the convenience store to pick up some more chips.

"Um," my company said shyly, "I'm actually full."

Turns out he had been raised that it was rude to not eat everything that was put in front of you. I had been raised to keep feeding company until they refuse to eat anymore. And there we were, a dangerous mix of social proprieties until one of us caves and embarrasses their mother.

You can take the International Dining Etiquette Quiz and try to beat my near perfect 10/11 score (What?! The English really do boil everything) (via How to cook Like your Grandmother)

Plautdietsch Word of the Day:  fe'sseie mich = pardon me

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

By Degrees

I was a strident atheist for most of my life. Having grown up in a community quagmired in religion and all the fear and hate that so often accompanies unquestioned faith I found it impossible, unconscionable, even morally reprehensible to believe in the Judeo-Christian god.

When I was in University though, almost all of my electives were of a spiritual nature- Death & Concepts, Comparative Religions, the Psychology of Religion - because I wanted to understand why and how people could believe in these myths and, worse, allow such dogma to shape bigoted, small minded world views. These courses didn't change my atheist stance at the time, but they did make me see how these issues could be discussed intelligibly, and how religion need not preclude reason.

Still, University was a good three years behind me before I had the astonishing (to me) revelation that atheism required just as much faith as theism. This epiphany, at what was probably one of the darker points in my life for a lot of unrelated reasons, led me to the shift from atheism to agnosticism. And this shift, in turn, opened my mind, and my heart or soul or both, to some fascinating possibilities.

Since then, the more I learn about science-quantum physics, biology, human biology and evolution, the more convinced I become that, at the very least the world we inhabit, must be the result of some sort of intelligent design. We're actually at a point in scientific history where scientists are quite comfortable predicting our extinction and the rise of a new wave of hominid based on what we know about the past. (This will happen, by the way, based on a simple shifting of a skull bone known as the sphenoid, just as it has at every other point in our evolution). Once you can predict evolution it becomes difficult not to view it as something pre-programmed to move us forward, toward an inevitable and purposeful end. But what end?

That's where it starts getting good, and that is, I think where science, particularly quantum physics, will eventually lead us. Straight to the place where we'll find the great big mystery humans have given a million names and faces.

I feel silly now when I recall all the hours I spent vehemently arguing god does not exist, as I would if I had to admit I'd wasted so many evenings arguing against Santa Claus. What interests me now are the possibilities far more than the probabilities and I really can't wait until we discover just who, or what, is behind all this madness. I would love to know whose amusement it is, exactly, that I seem to have been placed here for. So far the only contribution I can make towards this identification is it seems to have a very twisted sense of humour and somedays the jokes seem to be disproportionately made at my expense.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ma

A world without mothers would have far too many monster trucks and one eyed people, don't you think? 

My mother was only 18 years old when she had my older brother. By contrast, I am nearly past a reasonable age for child bearing and I still can't fathom being solely responsible to and for another human being. But she did it, twice, and she did it with all the patience and graciousness of a saint. Of course she isn't a saint, which only makes such a feat even more remarkable.

To all the amazing women in the world who make it look easy, including my own ma: Happy Mother's Day! 

Plautdietsch phrase of the day: Miene mama hat mir jesagt = My mother told me so.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunbeams and Violet Rays

Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.
- Cree Indian Proverb

I am writing a novel that is set about two generations from now and food, or more succinctly, the food system figures prominently in the plot so I was excited to see the exhibit "Food Justice" at our local museum. My expectations were low but, though the exhibit was small, the art was beautiful, accessible and thought provoking. The globalized nature of our food system was well represented in works from Japan to India to Iran, and included artists like Alejandro Aranda and Bert Monterona.



I had the entire place to myself  and afterward I sneaked out the back door to the museum proper. The museum is actually a re-creation of a typical Mennonite village and served me well as a reference point while reading Pahlaniuk's "Choke" a few years back. In the summer the "streets" are lined with townspeople in period costumes, the blacksmith's shop is fully operational and you can buy sommaborscht, zweiback and platz at the restaurant. Schmeck's gut (gut pronounced "goot"= tastes good). On some Sundays you can even catch a sermon at the church, where the men sit on one side and the rest on the other.
But yesterday it was basically deserted and made a perfect playground for a (finally) sunny afternoon.







Our Diva is home and Ma and I were invited to the farm for the evening. After dinner (perfectly grilled steak, tender asparagus and mini roast potatoes schmeckt sehr gut) the Violet Ray, which promises to cure every "disease germ" known and unknown to man, made an appearance.





Among her many talents, the Diva mixes a mean martini and I think this may have been the one that tossed me over the edge and I started missing the plot of the evening.



I know for certain I didn't drink enough water which is why this post is more picturesque than verbose. Lucky you.

As for me, I am off to nurse my headache at the Diva's concert tonight, after which it's headlong into a whirlwind weekend of mixing, whirring and stirring. (Does anyone else remember the Kids in the Hall: Mix, mix stir stir marry young, it's all a blur...) It's lemon rhubarb cheesecake for the party tomorrow night, then I'm making Mother's Day brunch, the menu for which can't be divulged just yet. I'm quite excited about it though, for it's combined simplicity and creative twists.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Melancholy










"A river to the south to wash away our sins
A college to the east of us, to learn where sin begins
and a graveyard to the west of it all which I may soon be lying in..."
-Oregon Hill, Cowboy Junkies




My parents live one street over from what, when I was growing up, we jokingly referred to as the "Highway to Heaven." Following the road from west to east there is a medical clinic, no less than three churches, a "college" and finally a cemetery.

This afternoon, during a lull in this week long rain, I attempted to shake my malaise, and possibly stir up some inspiration from the nuanced stories in the headstones, with a visit to the cemetery. There are two other, more atmospheric, cemeteries in town but the prairie winds were piercing cold and I didn't know when the rain would start again so I decided to stay close to home.

I love visiting cemeteries, particularly when I travel. They are a true history of any place you might find yourself. Like the rings in the trunk of a tree, graveyards provide a record, both obvious and subtle, of life and loss to be deciphered. Plagues, population and demographic shifts and immigration influxes, all these things can be measured by the clues on the headstones.

More than just history there's also the culture, philosophies and poetry of life cut to the quick in pithy epitaphs:
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers
the o'erfraught heart and bids it break... "-
Shakespeare
 or
``If I should die think only this of me:
That there`s some corner of a foreign field that is England.`` - Rupert Brook


In Halifax we found cemeteries with the remains of Titanic passengers, in Prague the Jewish cemetery dates back to 1300. I once did a road trip to Neepawa, Manitoba to try and find the marker that inspired Margaret  Laurence to write the "Stone Angel". (I never found the exact grave, but it was autumn and the Pembina Valley was such a vibrant red and gold that trip still rivals Salem, Mass.-which, by the way has some fascinating cemeteries of it's own- as my favourite place to have experienced fall.)

And beneath these layers of geographic histories are the personal sagas hinted at by the styles of stones, the words etched eternally in stone and the souls that surround them. In some graveyards I've seen whole families dead within months of each other, couples who pass within days of each other and the sad mysterious anonymous or unknowns.

But, while the mature couples who cannot seem to live apart make me whimsically sigh, there is always one section in every cemetery that breaks my heart. I had thought, maybe hoped, that because the one I was in this afternoon was modern and new, maybe this section wouldn't exist, or at least it would be smaller thanks to all our advances and modern medicine. But there just the same, in the southwest corner, was the baby cemetery with all the uniquely familiar tombstones marked " Our Dearest" or "Sweetest" or "Most Cherished Littlest Angel.``

Thinking of the story, attributed to Hemmingway:  ``For Sale: Baby shoes. Never Worn.`` I turned to head for home with that piercing prairie wind making my eyes sting.

Plautdietsch phrase of the day: Dot stiemt und stiemt und stiemt noch immer = It storms and storms and storms forever.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gender Benders

Internet dating is not an activity for the faint of heart. Last fall, after realizing it had been four years since my only love (aka the Dude) and I parted ways, I thought I'd give a relationship another whirl. As nobody seems to speak without first filtering through Facebook or eHarmony I signed up on a free site and waited for the adventures to begin. Within days my inbox was full of puzzling responses from men assuring me they could single-handedly take down three men in service of my protection or various poorly spelled variations thereof. Most included pictures and most were freakishly large men with thick necks so I assumed it was just the steroids and hit delete. After about a week of this, some chap with the moniker Tru2U asked "What's a mensch?"

My profile indicated I was "looking for a mensch-someone you can count on to have your back in sketchy situations." In retrospect I ought to have predicted the confusion that would result from this ambiguity. It seems my would be paramours who bothered to google mensch had as much difficulty defining manly as me.

On a trip to Nepal I spent time over the course of a week with a local business man. The first day he laughed at me and my adamant, if floundering, attempts to do everything for myself. Many of these things, ordering dinner, asking directions, would have been easier if I'd demured to his capable countenance but I was nothing if not obstinate in my efforts. "I've heard," he said shaking his head and chuckling, "that you Western women are like men and now I see it's true."

Naturally, I was deeply offended by this and pressed him for an explanation but he just laughed and waved his hands. By the second day however, I was already resigned to following his lead and began to see how much simpler things were when he handled them. I began to relax. I let him take care of me. He was not only solicitous but he anticipated my needs. For the first time in years I was able to let my guard down. And, as embarrassed as my culture would insist I should be to admit it, I fell in love with this man in the chaos that is Katmandu for this simple reason: he made it easy. Like he made everything easy. Anything I needed or merely wanted he made it happen. Mind you, I'm a simple girl and my wants and needs are fairly simple too, but still, to me, that was manly. How, I ask you, is a girl to resist?

Since then I've had numerous conversations with males about manliness because it seems to me something that's sorely lacking in our culture. How did we lose it? Was it ever there or am I just being sentimental about some place we've never been? One fellow I discussed this with said simply, "You're liberated now, get over it." Possibly. But does my right to education and the vote necessarily preclude his right to have good character and be nurturing?

One Christmas the Ex (not the Dude) and I were shopping in a big box electronic store. In the middle of the second verse of "Run, Run Rudolph" there came the resounding crash of breaking glass and a voice yelling, "Give me everything in the case!" Someone was robbing the camera section of the store. I knew this because I witnessed the entire event from where I stood behind the movie shelves. My ex, on the other hand saw nothing, as he had ducked behind me and was using me as a human shield. This then, by my standards, is not manly.

I am not suggesting, by the way, that he ought to have sheltered me from any potential onslaught of bullets but I do maintain that he might have retained a shred of my respect (and respect is, according to psychologists, sociologists and others who study these things, actually more important to the viability of a romantic relationship than love) had he not pinned my arms to my side in an effort to hold me in place. So yeah, not manly but this is, apparently, what a mountain of burned bras has bequeathed me.

How did this happen? Is there more to this than culture? It seems I'm not alone in asking these questions about masculinity and, most heartening to me, Oscar Boyson has, in "An Emasculating Truth", reached the same definition of manliness as me; among other things a man accepts responsibility, is caring and nurturing. And where there's one there must be more than one. So there may be hope for this spinster yet.

Plautdietsch Word of the Day : Kjäakjsche = kitchen maid (or "the help")

Monday, May 3, 2010

Parlour Games

Apparently this was Proust's favourite parlour game. I can see why, I mean I had no idea I even had a favourite bird until I played this. If rain is keeping you inside today too make some tea and play along. Just copy and paste the questions into the comment section or, if you're shy, e-mail me your answers. But really there's no need to be shy. Despite evidence to the contrary, I won't judge you. These are profoundly important questions I want to know your answers to.

What is your dream of happiness?
I’m living it. I mean, I have problems and things I have to work on but that’s all part of it I think. And, in the meantime, I eat good food, I drink good wine, I get enough exercise and, most days, I have clean underwear. I have people in my life who love me, challenge me, inspire me and/or make me laugh. It’s kind of impossible not to be happy.

What is your idea of misery?
Living in a QualiCo home inside a gated community and driving a mini van full of kids around suburbia.

Where would you like to live?
Wherever I land as long as I have the option to leave.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Self-sufficiency, dependability, intelligence, menschness

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Independence, graciousness, intelligence, muchness

What is your chief characteristic?
Neuroticism, I think. Possibly just plain crazy but I think most of my crazy stems from my neuroses? Does that make me a bad person? Is that why I’m unlovable? Am I unlovable? Oh my... yeah, mostly I’m just neurotic. But I’m cuddly too.

What is your principal fault?
I am fantsastically impatient. As my mother says, “ You do not suffer fools gladly.” Unfortunately for me, I am also often a fool.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bertinelli Blues

From the moment I arrived home I have been dogged by the vague notion of being in a made for broadband TV movie. The kind about a divorcee who returns home to care for her ailing grandma/settle her parents estate/find herself. Hijinks and poignancy ensue as she tries to reintegrate into the small town, running into a seemingly endless cast of characters from her past on every trip to the post office or bank; her Jr. High gym teacher, her first kiss, her childhood dentist. (That is, I confess, the part of the plot that makes me cringe the most). Unabashed in her metropolitan urbanism, her attempts to transform the town to a mecca of sophistication are consistently frustrated by their small town mentalities. In the end it's she who trades her high heels for galoshes, when she falls in love all over again with her recently widowed high school sweet heart. (That, is the part that wakes me up screaming and in cold sweats. Not the heels. I don't actually wear heels. The falling in love in this town).  Valerie Bertinelli would play me even though she's 50, or maybe I'm playing Valerie Bertinelli playing me in some bizarre meta movie hologram.

I left home when I was seventeen. Actually I eloped. With a boy named Steve. It wasn't a serious elopement, I don't even recall ever kissing him to be honest. It was more of a political statement, a satirical poke at the institution of marriage if you will. Or so I thought. Somewhere between our prairie town and Victoria Island- a bar brawl in Calgary to be precise- it became apparent what we had, and all we had, was a failure to communicate. By the time we crossed the Rockies, not only were the farcical nuptials off, but we were no longer speaking. We parted ways in the shadow of the mountains and I never came back.

Half my life later I decide to make my lemon ginger Asian pasta which required coconut milk and meant a trip to the grocery store. It was here, in what passes for the imported food aisle, I finally had my Valerie Bertinelli moment. There, pushing a wobbly shopping cart with a toddler, case of PC coke and mega box of sugary breakfast cereal, was Steve. I managed to avert my eyes the instant I recognized him but he stopped and gaped. I sauntered carelessly down the aisle then, rounding the corner, made a mad dash for the Liquor Mart conveniently located on the other side of the parking lot, barely pausing at the check out counter long enough to pay.

It took me two glasses of wine to realize it wasn't Steve himself that sent me running to the bottle, which was a relief because I didn't remember liking him enough to require liquid eraser. It wasn't even the fruition of the dreaded Bertinelli moment. It was the sight of this person who, when I knew him, idolized Thoreau and wanted to hire hookers just to talk to them, pushing a kid in a cart and me instinctively knowing what that meant. He had grown up while I still want to marry someone on Friday just to divorce them on Monday, I still see a child as too big to fit into my backpack and prefer planes to mini vans. Not to mention the amount of sugar in that shopping cart would give a small elephant diabetes. In retrospect that was also very distressing.

Saccharine aside though, I can't help but wonder, how does this happen? Am I lost in Neverland?

On the plus side the wine went really well with dinner. Check out the beautiful label. I love the 70's design. Something about it captures the essence of a day like today, when the rain is finally turning the brown to green and it's all filtered through a grainy gray sky, perfectly.


 My father, on the other hand preferred to eat this:



Maybe I'm adopted?


Mom and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a Latin jazz concert tonight, gratis. Trio Bembe was brilliant but the situation awkward being that the concert was in a church and you really ought to be swinging your hips when the latin rhythms are beating. Pew dancing just doesn't quite cut it. Which reminds me of the joke: if you want to confuse a Mennonite offer them free dance lessons.

German phrase of the day: Eine stille Antwort meint ja= a silent answer means yes