Monday, September 27, 2010

The birds and the beansprout

I know it, my momma knows it, the surgeon knows it, and now you're gonna know it too: I AM A PRUDE.

In our house, we don't have what you all have. We have little generals, gladys knight and the pips, yoo-hoos, and BTMs. I cannot even say "belly" without blushing. I blame the Pope. Also those little mauve handbooks they gave us, secretly, in grade 5. Handbooks that, having fallen into the hands of one PK, who I'm sure grew up to be a very nice man and a pillar of his community, were a source of shame and consternation for easily 7 months. Every morning he greeted me with "Isn't it wonderful being a girl? Are you MEN-STROO-ATING today?" And then punched me in the head or twisted the skin on one of my forearms so tightly that I got blisters. I think he liked me. Or he hated me. With boys it's hard to tell.

So tonight Lief wants to know about babies. He's 7, it's time. Right? I had always envisioned having a good friend who is a mid-wife come and give him the talk. I've put it off now for ever, with talk of baby catalogues, molehills, sub-porch dumpings of infants, the bee balm thing, etc. Tonight, though, I took a deep breath, and, inspired by dinner, also a cooked shrimp and a bean sprout. And put on sort of a puppet show, with the bean sprout swimming through the air toward the unsuspecting pink crustacean.

Writing "pink crustacean" has made me kind of uncomfortable. You see how bad it is?

I can imagine Kid in 20 years, lying on his shrink's couch and speaking of bad dreams involving Thai food. Going now to put another $20 in the online therapy fund. He's going to need it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What colour is your menopause?

Mine? Orange.

Yep, got home from Banff, painted the office orange.

(Note crazed, saggy-eyed expression. If you see any of your friends looking like this, ladies, keep them AWAY from the PAINT STORE.)

(Also don't let them buy a pony. They won't take care of it.)

(OMG: Are those AGE SPOTS on my hand? I have age spots on my hand.)

(What colour helps you cope with age spots? Besides the colour gin?)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Strokes aren't funny

Working from home, lounging in jammies at 10.45am. Pizza and coffee for breakfast. I would be the first (OK: maybe the second or third--my family is all judgey these days) to admit that I wasn't looking like anyone you would want to rub up against or call "mommy." So, while husband is walking dog and child is at school, I resolve to shower, dry my hair, maybe put on a little make-up. It would be like our voodoo bungalow version of that show where deserving families open their eyes and OHMYGOD the shotgun shack has been torn down and in its place is a Tudor-style coach house complete with trampoline and trout stream.

So I get through the shower without so much as a glance at the knee dimples and am drying my long silver locks. I read in a magazine at the dog groomer's that a good way to give your roots a little lift--JUST LIKE KATE BOSWORTH IN THIS STOCK PHOTO!--is to dry your hair upside down. I can do that--today is a day of MIRACLES, my friend! Whole-hearted renovation of the self!

So I flip my hair down and. . . .

Whack my head on the bathroom counter so hard that, apparently, one of my contacts pops out. When I stand back up and look in the mirror to see if I can discern any part of my skull shining through, I believe myself to be having a stroke because I cannot focus properly. (And this is not the first time that's happened to me, either, which just reinforces the idea that this time it's a real stroke because, honestly, to whom would this happen TWICE??) I back into the wall, knocking down the ugly metal wall hanging sculpture thing that I hate almost as much as husband does, something I won't admit to because that would mean handing back a hard-won decorating victory. As it falls, it takes out a sizable track of skin all down my back. There is blood. Quite a lot of blood.

So the upshot is that beauty totally isn't worth it and, if you think you're having a stroke, don't stop to wonder if maybe just one of your contacts popped out because that would be the wrong lesson to derive from this tale. GET HELP. Right away.

For me, there is no help. There is, however, gin--it must be the arsenic hour somewhere.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Science Fiction Kitchen

In two weeks I start a new writing class through UCLA Extension. This one's on writing short speculative fiction. I'm doing this as a double-dog dare to myself, and it's bound up with all kinds of panic, anxiety and self-doubt.

Kind of like cooking.

You wanna talk about alien worlds, alternative timelines, horror and urban fantasy--well, then, that's pretty much talking about what's cooking in my kitchen.

If you stand quietly before the scorching peas and pause for thought while reaching for the flame retardant, one could not fault you for wondering whether Something Strange were going on: has this not just happened? Again?

Kneeling to lift the raw bird from the oven at 6pm on Christmas Day, it would not be unjustified to speculate that, whatever world I was in when I turned the oven to 350 and then went skating with the 12 members of my dinner party for four hours, it was perhaps not THIS world.

Perhaps the door between this world and that, or those, is the same door that leads to the pantry, wherein, mysteriously, live 7 bags of organic quinoa but not a single grain of sugar. Wherein may be found a child's size 3 shoe and two box of Baby NumNums--although the only child in this house is a 7yo boy--but no cereal of any description. Whose shoe is that? It looks familiar, but.....No. Impossible. For 5 years? In the pantry for 5 EARTH YEARS?

Many dozens of identical squares of baking chocolate--unsweetened, semi-sweet, sweet, bitter--none of which are in boxes, leaving the sugar content of all desserts a matter of scientific fascination.

Cinnamon eerily transformed into curry leads to an odd prickling feeling at the back of the neck over "breakfast."

And through all of this I stumble like a dim-witted Star Trek extra who doesn't know what it means (DEATH DEATH DEATH) that her tunic does not match the others'.

I would call the genre "suburban fantasy," but that gives entirely the wrong impression. No ripped milkmen here. (Although vomiting can really give those abs a workout.) (Trust me.)

This is about horror, people, and the uncanny, the undead (that chicken divan just would not stay down), revenants that walk among us reeking of tuna casserole. Burnt tuna casserole.

I best I could pass this course just by submitting menus and including tasting notes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Close Encounters of the Parent-Teacher Kind

Off to meet the new teacher in half an hour. Going through my list of reminders to self:

--Don't mention that thing about the badger
--Don't try to make all adjectives five syllables
--Jokes about headlice aren't funny to a Grade 2 teacher
--Don't talk about underpants
--Don't call Kid a "little weirdo" or a "varmint"
--Probably shouldn't refer to him as "Smoochy" either
--Or "stupid pants"
--Avoid referring to you-know-what
--Steer clear of talk about medieval catapults
--Practice these words: normal, calm, well-adjusted, delightful
--Don't eat mints to cover the smell of gin
--Best not to chew gum either
--Not that I've been drinking
--Why am I always talking about gin? I hardly ever drink gin
--Remember: not everyone thinks the word "gin" is as funny as you do
--Best not to talk about drinking at all
--Also medications are out
--Say something nice about her lipstick but in a non-creepy way (like, not "I bet that shade looks great on vinyl")
--Never mention to anyone you know that you keep a blog
--Maybe stop blogging altogether
--Wear shoes this time

Monday, September 13, 2010


I'm on the phone with my aged inlaws. I love my inlaws. She's your typical no-nonsense Yankee with a Middlebury degree in American lit. He's an eccentric Czech French professor emeritus. Despite wildly different upbringings, they have many things in common.

DEAFNESS, in particular.

One entire page of FIL's Czech-language skiing article has gone missing overnight. Mysteriously. Poof, it has disappeared from the document, which is now only 3 paragraphs long. I am trying to help them through the "Find" process.

They are each on a phone. As we open, she's in the upstairs study, he's in the kitchen downstairs. The computer is upstairs. The computer is ca. 1886.

To try to locate the missing file, I ask FIL for a word that would appear in the article and not too many other places. He comes up with the word "vemenek"(which seems to mean "udders," and what in the world that has to do with Alpine skiing is currently and I hope always will be mysterious to me) (it's also possible that I have misheard the Czech word) (which is not unheard of, as you will see).

So what MIL hears is vemek.
Then vememek.
Then vefememek.
Then--and at this point the two of them are shouting at each other on the phone while standing about 18 inches apart--benemek.

They are both breathing hard and a sharp tone has possibly a little bit crept into their loving back-and-forth.

Try Kanada, FIL suggests, when the vemenek/bemenek/shmemenek routine has proven fruitless.

I try to interject something about how the computer isn't simply refusing to tell them about a word that is in fact in its hard drive somewhere, and that it's not a matter of taste. (No one's listening.)

Kanada, with a K, he says.

I know how to spell Kanada, she says.

With a K.

Yes, in Czech it's with a K. I KNOW.

Maybe I would have written KanadU. Czech is an inflected language.


Or JD Southam. Try that. You left out the JD.

I think Southam will be enough.

Oh, certainly, I interject. (No one's listening.)

Southam's not in there either. You must have deleted your work somehow.

Why would I have done that? This machine has deleted my work before. I am going to go back to writing on a piece of paper with a pen, which has served me well for nearly 90 years. I remember when I wrote my novel in 1933....

I'm not saying you did it on purpose, just that by mistake you might have.....

Try Belgika. Or Belgiku, or (I'm just riffing here) Belgi-roni. Czech is an inflected language, and this would have been the dative of absolute derision.

At some point, MIL's phone is turned off, but I can hear her asking me questions because FIL's phone is still on and he's standing beside her. I try to get him to tell her that her phone isn't on but he mistakes this for a request to turn his phone off.

And abruptly there is silence. As though 11 tons of snow fell on the small town of my life and there would be no snow plough for at least a week.

And at this point, I burst--unexpectedly--into tears. Isn't this just the way it will happen, and every day it's coming closer to happening: raucous familiar life in all its loud and confusing--even annoying--small details, and then: nothing.

I tried to call them back but they were trying to call me back and for 10 minutes there was only busy signals and answering machines.

When I finally got through, we were quiet and calm, maybe a little embarrassed. At least I was: I wondered if my desperation was obvious.

Don't hang up. Don't go.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sundays in my city

Technically, it's Monday, Unknown Mami. But it's a holiday Monday, which is sort of like a Sunday, and I just now found out about your Sunday city project, so here goes. Here's Calgary on "Sunday" evening.

This is the view out my back door at dusk. This is a city filled with gleaming glass skyscrapers as well as skyscrapers of a more organic nature, such as these lovely spruce trees. They're about 40 years old at this point. They're home to squirrels grey and black and red, crows, jays, occasionally an ill-tempered osprey. Also, as of last Halloween, a long strip of slowly decomposing toilet paper (which I have cleverly hidden from view in this shot).

Unknown Mami

Friday, September 3, 2010

Things neither you nor I knew about me

Upon visit to lovely physician, I have been informed that I have more than my fair share of large intestine. Like, MUCH more than my share.

If anyone knows what to do with that information, I would like to hear about it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Try to Remember

We had a stentorious stereo when I was a child--wickery front, gleaming mahogany casing that showed small sticky fingerprints, a shelf for storing your martini supplies. A real piece of furniture, stalwart, massive, serious. That's where I heard all the music that turned me into such a lover of music, although some of the things I loved then I'm utterly embarrassed to admit now. (Maybe after another glass of this impertinent Grauburgunder). One could imagine listening to Winston Churchill on it.

When I was first read Cinderella, I imagined Patti Page as my fairy godmother--her butterscotch voice instantly soothed bee stings, sunburn, Donny Bowhay's wandering six-year-old eye. Moms spoke like that on television but rarely on Glenview Crescent, where "I'll skin you alive" and "who do you think you are?"were the most common things I remember hearing, and not just in my house, either. I recall sitting quietly behind the green brocade curtains in the living room, listening to "Try to Remember" at about age 7 and already feeling nostalgic for something I wouldn't experience for another 20 years. (I just found out that Tom Jones wrote the lyrics. That's mad.) You can email Miss Patti at, if you'd care to. I believe I will. It will be like emailing the Pope, but the Pope in a champagne gown.

I'd be a regular church goer again if we got to wear stuff like that. You Cardinals in the audience, listen up. I don't need to be ordained (although that would be nice), I just want to dress up in something at least as fancy as the stuff you all get to wear. When I'm Pope, I'm turning all of you into Bluebirds. You are on notice.

Anyhow, back to matters at hand. I was just trying out Ping, the new iTunes feature, and it wanted to know what my favorite 10 songs were. I entered 10, but, truth be told, they're not the ten that, in moments of pain or fear or panic--when I require the comfort of music--leap into my mind. Those would include "Song Sung Blue," "I Wanna Sing You a Love Song," "Mockingbird Hill," "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley," "Lemon Tree," "Yellow Bird," and "Let it Be."  And just for the sake of adding two more, I'll go with this song we sang in church, the name of which I don't know, but was about there being a long long road to freedom; and "Silent Night."

I think about things like this when Lief is in the station wagon with me, listening to such things as Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To." Will he, at the unimaginable age of 47, feel sorrow or regret or nostalgia and immediately hear "your famous friend, well I blew him before you, yeah" running through his mind?