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Dachau 1 comment

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site is set up to educate with as much clarity and sensitivity as possible while also IMG_2232memorializing the tragic brutality that this ground witnessed. There are multiple sculptures, plaques, monuments, etc. that commemorate the victims and the crimes perpetrated. Newer buildings are on site as memorials, sponsored by multiple faiths that had clergy/leaders/members in the camp, including obviously a Jewish representation but also Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. One of the buildings is currently in use as a nunnery.

There is no minimizing, dodging or obfuscating the role of this camp, the first concentration camp, in setting the tone for other camps. Everything that was done elsewhere started here. Given all the things I saw as testament to the crimes and death that occurred … what is really a struggle for me is understanding how vast the network of camps and sub-camps was. We were shown a map of the territories held by Germany at the peak of the war and the map was filled with literally hundreds of locations where versions of this place, in smaller and larger scales, were located. We have heard only of a handful of the usual names – Auschwitz-Birchenau, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau. But there were literally hundreds of camps and sub-camps. I was aghast at the breadth and scope of barbarism undertaken across such a wide geographic area.

Grave to mark ashes of thousands of unknowns (Jewish Memorial)

Grave to mark ashes of thousands of unknowns (Jewish Memorial)

During my visit, it was (mostly) quiet.  People were respectful and clearly there to learn, to try to comprehend, to absorb. Entrance to the site is free. I’d estimate there were a few thousand people there while I was there, so it is well used. There are lots of trees around the exterior of the camp proper, and thus lots of birds singing. That seemed out of place, as if the birds should know better. It poured rain, on and off, and that seemed entirely in keeping with the mood. Our tour group had 15 high school kids from Indiana and it was interesting to watch them go from being “too cool for this” and sort of detached to being really quite sober. I overheard discussion of the use of this memorial site for school groups and it appears that schools from all over Europe and North America make stops here. That feels like a good thing, but it does make it a bit of a challenge for maintaining the appropriate decorum when pre-teens and teens are responding to what they see with humour or (feigned) apathy. I think Dachau has an impact on everyone who visits and I think it is important for as many young people from as many different backgrounds as possible to see it – and I also think that kids don’t always know what to do with their emotional responses “in the moment”.

The Original Pink Triangle

The Original Pink Triangle

It felt oddly synchronous to be looking at the actual original pink triangle symbol, as deployed to identify a homosexual “enemy of the state”, the day after World Pride had  wrapped up in my home city of Toronto. There is no more clear reason to justify the existence of an event like “World Pride” than standing in an original building at Dachau and looking an original wall chart of symbols used to identify people, one of which was a pink triangle. Interestingly, there is a committee of survivors that has a crucial role in determining the types of memorials that will be allowed. A memorial focusing on homosexuals is absent because, in the hierarchy / social structure of the camp at the time, homosexuals were at the bottom of the barrel along with known criminals and other “asocials”. The committee of survivors isn’t comfortable acknowledging the targeting of homosexuals by approving a memorial for this group. When I spoke to our guide about this privately, he suggested that people were waiting for the committee of survivors (which is quite small now) to hand over their legacy to perhaps a more current committee with a more current perspective.  I would have liked to have seen something there as an acknowledgement that gay people were one of the many groups identified as “enemies of the state” – and I also think this can wait until the time is right.  Homosexuals are identified within the part of the exhibit that describes all the targeted groups, and our situation is given as much detail and focus as most of the other groups.

I took only a handful of pictures. It didn’t seem … seemly.

Dachau is just outside of Munich and the typical journey one takes to get there is from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Munich. It is a short 10-15 minute ride. German citizens in Munich are extremely sensitive about people coming to visit to learn more about Nazis and about concentration camps. I knew about specific laws around giving an Nazi salute (even in jest, this will get you arrested) and I didn’t realize Mein Kampf was still a banned book. It was odd to be taking a tour with a group to specific sites relevant to WWII and to be scrutinized by the locals. They will listen and try to be sure the guide isn’t Munich-bashing or sensationalizing. Locals are also concerned with Neo-Nazis using specific sites as touchstones for their own purposes. As much as they don’t want their quite beautiful city associated with the rise of the Nazi party, as it happens, this is now a key part of the city’s past. Never mind that the PLO leveraged this association with the murders during the Olympics in 72, which adds another horrific piece to the global perception of Munich. I don’t want to suggest that Munich has had a bad rap – it is what it is – but it is a pleasant place, rich in layers of history beyond the 20th Century, walkable, reasonably friendly – I quite enjoyed it.

There are lots of very subtle, slightly subversive, commemorative elements in Munich. Many bullet holes and other types of damage have

Dodger's Alley

Dodger’s Alley

been left, on purpose, unrepaired, in the architecture, like reminders. Scars. You have to look for these, but they are there. A more deliberate, striking example is a metallic (gold? bronze?) shimmering trail down the cobblestones in an alleyway known as Dodger’s Alley. In the 30′s/40′s, citizens of Munich who walked by a specific Nazi plaque on the corner of one of the main squares had to give a Nazi salute or be arrested for not doing so. There were lots of people who didn’t want to give a Nazi salute. So, to avoid walking by that plaque, many would take a detour down Dodger’s Alley. Nazi authorities caught on to this and started policing the use of the alley, interrogating people found in the alley as to their purpose for being there. If no satisfactory purpose was offered, a person would be thrown immediately into Dachau. Just for taking a detour to avoid giving a salute. Even these people were “enemies of the state”. As to the metallic trail, there is no plaque or explanation. You need to just know, or be told, why it is there and what it signifies. Apparently, there are lots of these sorts of things all over the city, commemorations of resistance. I didn’t have time to go find more, unfortunately.

Four Heros You Need to Know About

Four Heros You Need to Know About

I will close by noting this plaque. It is almost hidden behind a door that leads from the gas chamber into the crematorium. (Please don’t imagine that I typed that sentence with any degree of casualness.) There is a railing in place, making it harder to get a straight on, close photo.  Since it is hard to read, I’ll type out what it says here. They gave their lives – the least I can do is try to get this right.

Here in Dachau on the 12th of September 1944
four young Woman Officers of the British Forces attached to Special Operations Executive
were brutally murdered and their bodies cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
served the Resistance in France during the common struggle for freedom from tyranny.

Mrs. YOLANDE E M BEEKMAN (née Unternahrer)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Miss MADELEINE DAMERMENT
Légion d’Honneur    Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Miss NOORUNISA INAYAT KHAN
George Cross Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
Mentioned in Despatches Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Mrs ELIANE S PLEWMAN (née Browne-Bartoli)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be no torment touch them”

Bravery, compassion and a complete and utter focus on their missions, to the exclusion of all else, including their own lives.  This was a surprise find towards the end of my visit to Dachau – but it shouldn’t have been. I feel like I should know these names and that I should know more about these stories.  Their world, a world in which their skills and dedication were needed at extreme cost, is not that far removed from our current time of social media, popular culture, ridiculous fads and trivial pursuits.

Do not forget.

Rags Click Here To Comment!

In Grade 12, I wrote a paper on Scott Joplin for music class. I had to do a great deal of research on it and it is the first topic I remember getting seriously “hooked” on, from a research perspective, other than WWII.

I spent more time on that paper than anything else I did that year. I spent hours reading every book I could get my hands on that was remotely related to music in the US at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. And, of course, I read about Scott Joplin specifically. I have only the vaguest recollection now of the specific details of his story but I have clear and distinct memories of my emotional reaction to the tragedy of his story. The raw, clear expression of talent that would not be suppressed vs. extreme social forces working against that talent. At times, I wept while listening to multiple interpretations of almost every piece he wrote, the popular and the obscure. I disliked the “hot dog” speed demons who turned these gems into blurry races of music. To me, his compositions are not meant to be played even briskly – the subtlety is lost. Played slowly, to me, the pain and knife’s edge place between brilliance and subservience that Joplin lived in for most of his life just cry out.  Back in the day, I settled in on Joshua Rifkin as my favourite interpreter for his slower, contemplative tempos and his ability to pull the emotional centre out of the music.

I listened and I wept. I still have that paper somewhere and, to this day, a slow, careful interpretation of Joplin’s best can really get me. The guy wrote all this material, was famous, to a degree, yet died in relative poverty, pain and obscurity with much of his best work unseen and unstaged.

So I’m writing this big, completely unrelated, report for work and there are numbers, charts and graphs spinning around my head most of the day. It has been said that music without lyrics is best for concentration so I’ve turned back to one of my original research subjects, Master Joplin, for background music and, still, some interpretations catch me off guard, right in that soft spot. When that happens, I have to stop writing for a moment and just listen.

Researching that Scott Joplin paper would be so different now. There are so many online resources and oh so many options for listening and comparing versions of specific pieces. YouTube is a treasure trove. There are other Joplin aficionados out there, imagine that, and some have put together amazing playlists of a variety of performers and versions. It is mind boggling. There are different variations of his story out there and debates about what happened, when, to whom. I haven’t had time to read all this – I’ve just been listening as I attempt to piece together decidedly non-musical data, attempting to turn it into useful information.

Here is Rifkin’s rendition of Solace, complete with pops and crackles from the vinyl.

 

 

The Drive Click Here To Comment!

There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.

Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes.  Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.

Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week.  Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.

As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling  my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself – and often my friends – from activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.

My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.

This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.

I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable.  But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.

Bodies of Future/Past 3 comments

There is a video making the rounds at the moment, a three minute clip from an interview about Dustin Hoffman’s experience preparing for the role of Tootsie.

Dustin’s moment of clarity

I don’t always “buy” celebrity “moments” in interviews, but this one rings true.*  I admire him for connecting the dots with such resonance.

I had a rather personal response to this video. I lost 95 lbs over 18 months, roughly between 2008 – 2009. I held steady there for a while but gradually – with all the changes and stress – my weight has crept back up, close to where I started.

When I was losing weight, I noticed that more people talked to me. Men and women. Between having a year off work to consult independently, being in an energizing new relationship, and feeling more attractive, I was certainly projecting a happy, vibrant energy. Undeniably, it helped that I was also fitter, not just more proportional. I had more energy, more muscle shape, and I was really happy with this – especially the muscles and the cardio fitness. Happy people are more attractive people, of course. It is a non-vicious cycle.

Face Too Skinny?

Face Too Skinny?

I’m thinking about Dustin’s comment in his video in which he says that he wouldn’t go and talk to himself as a woman at a party, for example, because he didn’t meet his own brainwashed standard of beauty. When I say people were more interested in talking to me, this is what I mean – the simple act of choosing whom to have a conversation with in a social situation. This too is a variable, and a highly prized one in our society. Feeling attractive in these moments means feeling valued.

There was a very specific point at which, from my point of view, I became “visible” and “viable” to people around me. It was really at the point where I’d lost about 35 lbs. with ultimately 60 more to go in the overall attempt. I wasn’t “skinny” by any means but something happened in the perception of proportions that changed my look. I started wearing different clothes and that accented the change. From my perspective, the more weight I lost from this point onward, the “chattier” people got.

As I got down to my lowest weight point – still by no means “skinny” – I thought my face didn’t look quite right. Too harsh or hard, perhaps? The photo here is at close to my lowest weight.

My life has changed enormously since this time. New routines are hard to establish and maintain, especially given the amount of driving I have been doing.  All the changes have taken an emotional toll on both Knotty Girl and myself.  When there are stressors and demands, I’m not programmed to run to the gym and sweat it off. I’m programmed to consume foods that I shouldn’t.  Thus, in all of the hubub, the weight has almost all come back and I don’t look like this anymore. I’ve certainly been conscious of this trend, I’ve felt a bit powerless about it, and I have tried to note at what point I appeared to fade from visibility, generally speaking. At what point am I less likely to be the person spoken to at the party? Not surprisingly, it was right about at gaining 60 of the lost 95 lbs back. So, in other words, there is something magical in terms of the perception of the exterior self that happens right about at that fulcrum point.

This is a non-scientific experiment of course. The other variables – like my own moodiness or sleep deprivation or what have you – are hard to account for.  My own sense of feeling less confident, less sure-footed in my new roles at home and in the ever-changing tides at work, hasn’t helped.

Biceps of Future/Past

Biceps of Future/Past

If I were talking to Dustin about this, I’d tell him not to feel too hard on himself. We are all subject to the “physical attractiveness brain washing”, both men and women. We look at ourselves and judge. We look at others and draw conclusions, often within seconds. I know I do it. The trick is to become self-aware of this behaviour and to try to manage it somehow. I remember hearing Susie Bright say something like this (apologies for inaccurate paraphrasing): the most interesting person in the room is the least “attractive” one because they have to work their other skills – charm, humour, sexiness, intelligence – to gain ground lost by not being “attractive”.

So now what? When I reflect back on the weight loss adventure, I’m remembering how good it felt to be strong and fit. I’m going to aim for that. I’m not sure I’m going to even weigh myself, although those numbers are good guideposts. I’m not aiming to raise my visibility, per se, to anyone but myself. I’ll know I’m getting somewhere when I can walk nine holes without huffing, skate three periods without collapsing, and find myself admiring the curve of my own biceps.

*It is hard to view Dustin’s reference to his conversation with his wife, Lisa Hoffman, without a sense of irony.

Listen To Your Sports Gut Click Here To Comment!

I spent a significant chunk of time in the first half of 2009 working on the concept / development of a hockey skills reality TV show. My job was to produce draft after draft of the concept and to lead the pitch of the concept to lawyers and production companies.

I didn’t say much about this at the time as I had a gut feel that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I was right. I thought I’d learn a few things and meet some interesting people. Can’t say that it was a terrific return on investment so maybe the learning is to listen more carefully to my gut.

I did get to wear Mike Krushelnyski’s championship rings one night in a bar. That was fun. :)

Krusher's rings

Easy Is In the Eye Of The Beholder Click Here To Comment!

About nine years ago, I had a short but mind-blowing chat with a woman in the choir-of-my-past. She had gotten involved with a woman who was living at quite a distance from Toronto and I had just struck up an intense long-distance connection with a woman in Copenhagen.  As one does, one tries to seek some common ground and I said to her, “It is hard, isn’t it? Trying to manage building a relationship, a connection, at a distance?” And she looked at me with a penetrating, quizzical expression and said, “Why does everyone say that, that distance relationships are so hard? Who ever said that moving in together or getting married was easy? It is just what people are used to, what they view as ‘normal’. But in fact it is very hard. But people are used to that pattern so it gets called ‘easy’.  You and I know that it isn’t easy, either way. So follow your heart.”

She gave me a lot to think about, as she usually did, in our little mid-rehearsal chats.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, and not so much in relation to the fact that I have, indeed, moved in with the lovely Knotty Girl and her (mostly) adorable children. That part is as hard/easy/magnificent/mundane/challenging/fun/exciting/surprising/normal/frustrating/puzzling/funny/beautiful as it is supposed to be. I’m thinking more about the reactions people have had to me appearing to have gone mad by moving a vast distance out of the city.

The established, expected “pattern” would be to live close to work and to stay within spitting distance of the city that I’ve come to love and feel nurtured by. But is that truly the “easy” choice, or just the “expected” choice? How “easy” is it to live in very dense proximity to strangers who behave in unexpected ways, to cope with traffic that is worsening daily, to have very limited access to greenspace, to have to plan carefully one’s route to across town and back to account for time of day, traffic, road closures, protests, events and water main breaks?

The breaking point for me, where the rose-coloured glasses filtering “easy” fell off my eyes, happened one day when Knotty Girl and I pulled up to the arena for a hockey game and were astounded to witness a man stopping on the lawn in front of our car, pulling down his pants and defecating right in front of us. He just did his bidness and pulled his pants up and walked on. That was the beginning of the end for me living downtown. It was no longer “easy” and I could no longer pretend that I found it to be so.

I am, after all, a country girl. I am used to having cows, horses or pigs poo’ing in front of me. Not people.

My gorgeous condo was starting to feel cramped by lack of access to the outdoors and hauling bags of heavy groceries and hockey gear up three flights of stairs no longer seemed as easy as it once did.  In fact, everything about city living started to feel cramped. Space is entirely at a premium, be it space to put a vehicle or space to put a desk to work at. Even space at Starbucks, for those with laptops and that need for the unique focus that public space can provide, can be hard to come by.

I was raised in a huge, rambling, rickety farmhouse with seven bedrooms and two kitchens. We had 750 acres of land, much of which was at my disposal to roam, plow or play cops/robbers/army/spy or whatever, with or without my little buddies. The brickwork in the house was so weak in some spots, like “my” tv watching spot in the living room, that you could feel the wind blow against your ankles for six months of the year. But it sure was big. And there was room for everyone.

Is it “easy” to live far from the city, work, friends and hockey? Not always. Does it feel more “normal” to me? Yes, actually it does. We watch the weather closely, we plan and prepare for things (usually) in a more considered way. We are distracted by birds at the feeders, by the arc of snow blowing in clumps off the trees and glinting in the sunlight, by the size and proximity of the full moon against a black sky, by the wild turkeys and their crazy footprints across the snow on the ice rink. This feels preferable to being distracted by car alarms, traffic tie-ups, unintelligible arguments in grocery stores and sirens. We are responsible for solving a lot of our own problems out here, or at least being somewhat prepared for them.

A few months ago, as Hurricane Sandy approached the North American coast line, Knotty Girl and I spent about two hours getting ready. We gathered up all that might blow around on our property and stashed it safely. We shopped. We parked our cars out of possible treefall zones. We charged up all our flashlights and other devices. The weather models didn’t really suggest we would get hit hard but we’ve come to learn that weather forecasting is a less-than-exact science. It was best to be ready. And we were. I slept so well that night, having done all that we could think of to minimize damage and maximize continuity of lifestyle. We woke up to a few small branches down on the lawn. The hydro didn’t even go out.

My point is that we had some things we could do to make ourselves as prepared as possible. I don’t find this as easy in the city, especially in living spaces like condos. I did make sure that I had a gas fireplace and a gas stove in my place and hoped I could operate them if the hydro were out for an extended period. Hauling items up and down the three flights of stairs was a trade off for not having to rely on an elevator. The hydro did go out a couple of times in the nine years I lived there and I was grateful for having heat, cooking ability, and normal access to my abode.  But I couldn’t make my neighbours take their patio furniture and flower boxes off their balconies so that these items wouldn’t blow through MY windows. I’d be rewarded with a door slammed in my face if I tried such a thing. I couldn’t make all my condo neighbours be mindful of allowing strangers into the property and many of us were rewarded with an expensive overnight car break-in spree a few years ago.  Hell – the city can’t even make dog owners be accountable for dog poo and that problem seemed to get worse and worse in my neighbourhood over the years.

I apologize for the poo theme. One might think that I have a shitty opinion of downtown life. I don’t entirely. Let’s just say it lost its glamour for me and I’m feeling less claustrophobic and more able to make choices about how things happen out here, away from the city lights.  Easy? Not entirely. Preferable? Yes. More deeply familiar to me? Completely.

An Ode to the MixMaster Click Here To Comment!

(In August, I read and immediately saved this Globe and Mail column, which I found delightful and nostalgic. It has inspired this post.)

I have a scar on my left index finger from when I was about nine. My mother asked me to set up the MixMaster in its customary position on the kitchen work table. The Sunbeam MixMaster, the workhorse of 1950′s kitchen small appliances, was rarely far from usage. But our farm kitchen didn’t have enough counterspace to have all the truly useful appliances out and available. So, with each use, the MixMaster had to be set up and, afterwards, put away.

Today’s design wizards would have safety switches and braking systems to make sure that a child wouldn’t ever plug in a MixMaster with the power turned on. With their hand resting casually on the beaters. However, the machines of the 1950′s and the kitchens of the 1970′s were not designed thusly. And so, in my first solo attempt to set up the sacred machine, my hand got caught in the beaters momentarily. It was pretty scary, at the time, but no harm was done. And I have this tiny scar, a MixMaster war wound.

That is my only bad memory of the Sunbeam MixMaster. That, and the horrid, electric-motor-burning smell it made at the end of its useable life. I was in Toronto by then, living on my own in my condo, loving using my Mom’s MixMaster to get my Christmas baking done.

RIP MixMaster

This photo was taken hours before it really gave up the ghost. This would have been 2008 and I put MixMaster’s birth date at about 1955. 53 years … not bad for a kitchen appliance.

Mom and I used that machine more than I can possibly describe. Endless batches of cookies, squares, bars, more cookies, fudge, candy … if it needed mixing, this was the machine to do it. Mom was pretty well known for her squares and cookies. Just recently, my cousin Steve has asked if I can make my Mom’s date squares. Perhaps no one can, Steve, without ye Olde MixMaster.

The MixMaster was also our mashed potato maker as it did operate as a very heavy hand mixer as well. Our family has a bit of a “thing” about mashed potatoes and I think the root/blame begins here, with the smooth operating MixMaster.

Mom baked endlessly before I came along, and carried on doing so long after I left the house, right up until her death in 1998.  I secured the MixMaster for my own use shortly thereafter and used it, although not as consistently or regularly, until it self-selected itself out of active duty.

The Sunbeam MixMaster operates, rather cleverly, through the design of the bowls and a tiny plastic button on the end of one of the special beaters. The button gently turns the bowl as part of the motion of the beaters. When the MixMaster was in my possession, I always worried about one of the bowls or the beaters getting broken or somehow malfunctioning. So, when I saw this at a yard sale, I snapped it up “for parts”.

The same, but not quite the same.

The “for parts” mixer sat in a box, wrapped in old towels, and almost forgotten, for about 10 years. It was moved around through my various interim abodes. It was part of my collection of stuff that I paid Good Money to store while my condo was under construction. It just sat around in a box, waiting. And then, one day, when I needed it, “for parts” was there, 100%, ready for action. It has been operational for about seven months now, and it has had a decent workout.

I could have gone on like this for a while. “For parts” was doing okay, shuttling from one counter to another between uses, bowls precariously teetering on the stand as the mixer would be moved about. Lately, “for parts” has started to make me nervous.  There is a little girl who likes to help. And this little girl has long hair and an intense curiosity about things that go “whirrrr”.  Also, the other day, when I threw together some cookies on a whim, it seemed to struggle a bit. So, when out on an unrelated retail mission, Knotty Girl and I spotted this on sale at 40% off.

Very shiny new Sports Car mixer.

This is too heavy to shuttle around so it has to stay put in one place. The bowl can’t break and the single beater is more shielded away from small hands and hair. And it has a very good motor in it. So far, it has done a lovely job on cookie dough and waffles. I will report back, closer to Christmas, on the date squares (Steve).

“For parts” is in semi-retirement, specializing now in mashed potatoes. Right over my (and Charlotte’s) head, above the workspace in the kitchen, is the original – Mom’s MixMaster – now in a place of honour beside the mixing bowl that also forms such a big part of my baking memories with Mom.

Beside the equally sacred mixing bowl that I’m terrified to break.

As things go, I think this is a pretty appropriate evolution, don’t you?

(Anyone taking bets on the longevity of the KitchenAid? :-) )

PostCards 4 comments

I don’t believe I’ve ever let a year go by without a blog entry before. Whoops. I’ve had my hands a little full, you see. Sorry about that.

A few weeks ago, I submitted this blog entry from 2010 to Cottage Life magazine, in response for a call for online writers. I received a rather curt response, informing me that the time of the lengthy narrative is over, or some such. It is interesting to note that, as e-reader devices proliferate, content is required to be shorter, pithier and … well … shorter. Or curter, I suppose, as the rejection note I received was only two lines long.

All this by way of suggesting that my blog entries will likely remain longer than the average online offering yet shorter than anything Tolstoy ever wrote. I know my readers can cope.

I wrote to Cottage Life to suggest that I am now living the life of a cottager-in-reverse and, further, suggesting that some might be interested in reading about this. I have only anecdotal data at hand, but it seems to me that there is a steadily growing exodus from high-den-city living to more rural settings. Perhaps I’m part of a trend that people might find interesting.

(Perhaps not, I can hear the CL editor saying, in a demonstration of the brevity he/she had been seeking. Insert here the sound of virtual paper being crumpled and tossed.)

In any case, Knotty Girl and I found ourselves, after 24 months of transitions, adjustments, crisies (real and imagined), and challenges, sitting quietly on our newly re-surfaced dock by the river Labour Day weekend, absorbing the quiet and still moments that remained of the Summer of 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year ago, our lives were in a state that was just one notch under chaos. My condo wasn’t selling, Knotty Girl’s house-sitting arrangement was due to end, and KG’s mother’s condo was also not selling yet needing to be emptied. KG’s mother, in her own health care crisis, was being shifted from nursing home to respite care to ???. All this left us squeezed and lacking in time and resources to make choices. And stressed.

I want to say that much of what we owned was in this storage locker but, in fact, only about 25% of three households fit in here.  Did I mention stressed at all? We were practically sleepless and vibrating with anxiety from about mid-August to, oh, late September when all the various real estate deals were sealed and decisions had been made. After that, it was just the tiny matter of consolidating three households and getting all our remaining possessions moved. We had about 3.5 weeks to arrange it all. We, meaning me, actually as KG had her hands full with her mom’s health stuff (moving from hospital to hospice to nursing home all while we were trying to do this) and, of course, parenting.

It was important to keep Jay and Charlotte upbeat and away from this stress, so one thing Knotty Girl and I did with them a bit last summer was geocache. Here they are, just over a year ago, finding a cache near Flemington Park, I think.

They have matured so much in the last year, as you’ll see from a photo a bit later in this post.

So – there was a lot going on August/September 2011 and it makes this August/September feel like a breeze in comparison.

In the madcap rush of trying to do the best one can do given the information one has at the time, we wound up moving two hours out of the city. We found a red brick house on about half an acre of property in the Kawarthas, exactly 1 hour and 50 minutes drive from the campus where I teach. Oh … and it is on a quiet, picturesque, swimmable, fishable river. With birds and turtles and ducks and mink and fishies and beavers and deer and …

We like to call it “The PostCard”.

Props to our friends Rachel and Pam who live five minutes up the road for helping us find it and get organized at the destination end, and to Ginny and Heather for being instrumental in getting us moved, in so many ways. I have some photos of actual moving weekend, courtesy Ginny, that I’ll dedicate another blog entry to posting.

We have all undergone some transformations in the past year.  As has the property itself. Here is what it looked like before we made an offer – and I draw your attention particularly to the “lawn” in these photos.

Not only was the actual property suffering a bit from lack of attention and care, we then went and did this to it. (This = Well drilling, November 2011).

Not only does our fabulous new and apparently healthy well provide us with endless water for household use, it literally fuels the heating and cooling of the house. This house is heated and cooled by water from the ground at a fraction of the cost of fossil fuels. We need electricity to run the units and to push the hot or cold air around the duct work.  This was a huge factor for me in deciding to purchase. The house needed to be enough of a bargain to make the major expense of doing this viable. (It was.)

Of course, this system needs drainage and that took three tries to get it right. The first poorly executed attempt flooded our basement. On New Year’s Eve. Our poor yard. Our poor basement. Our poor nerves.

Shortly after the well (not the drain) was finished, it snowed. Quite a bit. And often.

The hydro didn’t go out nearly as much as I hoped expected. But we were ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tried to build an ice rink. FAIL. But we are trying again, post-Sandy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of us really hoped that we had been good enough and that Santa would come (I guess we were, and he did).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were visited by some adorable – and slightly unnerving – flying squirrels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, it was hard to tell what season we were in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone was kind enough to let me know she likes my cooking.

 

Then, eventually, the snow melted, leaving us with this. Not sure if you can see it from this photo, but that is a big pile’o’dirt there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it was time to get to work on some landscaping and general neatening up to make the place livable.

On my bucket list was “seeing a pilleated woodpecker” – we’ve now gotten up close and personal with several!

Mid-spring, it was time to take Sophie for her annual check-up/ meet the new local vet / get shots, etc. The local vet is great, the waiting room is small, and this little package was hard to miss.

After a weekend’s worth of discussion, which involved me resisting and Knotty Girl campaigning, Joni came home. Colour Sophie “NOT AMUSED”.

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Joni is happy in her new home!

Sophie tries to steal Joni’s stuff!

Joni used to like to come to work with me but she seems to have outgrown this for now.

Geometry lesson … mass over fulcrum … no, wait …

(For the record, Joni has pretty much demolished my clothing rack. )

Gymanstics! That’s what I like! Truce. Momentary.So, we threw down grass seed on all that dirt and watered. And waited. And watered. There are no photos of the watering and the mud. Maybe Bev has some as she and Dale and Taryn were up immediately after the landscapers left. She called it water sprinkler performance art. In any case, the (presumed) acquisition of a lawn created in me an urge for machinery. A tractor, to be precise. Apparently, there were a few in the ‘hood to choose from.

I went with something more conventional and am VERY happy with Agnes. Spring and summer were awesome – we had so many friends up to visit. We fished, we swam, we had coffee with snapping turtles … Two turtles blessed our lawn with their nests and we were so pleased to witness the results later in the season. Here is this Momma snapping turtle depositing her eggs. You just don’t see something like this every day – well captured, Knotty Girl!

Here are the kids strutting their stuff off the end of the dock.  The wildlife has gotten pretty used to us. Check out the nonchalant duckie. Video and voice-over courtesy Knotty Girl!

We put up our Pride flag at the end of June and enjoyed it throughout the season. This particular flag is very special, being a souvenir from a Fundy Boy production. It sports Pride on one side and a Union Jack on the other! Note sproutage of the lawn, looking more green than brown!

The summer sped by and it was time to order firewood. I know I’m hard of hearing but so was the other guy on the end of the phone when I ordered it. He brought two bush cords – I only ordered one! The kids were fabulous helpers when it came time to stack this. I taught them to sing “I know an old woman who swallowed a fly … ” and after we went swimming and I taught them how to spit sunflower seed shells into the water. I am a bastion of edification.

All that firewood inspired us to construct a fire pit which I hope will get lots of use in future seasons.

We did plant a garden but much too late. Still, we did get piles of stubby tasty carrots, some hot peppers, one zucchini, four beets and about a bushel of green tomatos.

Too soon, it was time to head back to school.

For the curious, I go back to school, too. My rhythm has changed, obviously. I head down to the Big Smoke for several days in a row for teaching/meetings/hockey then head back up. My schedule will change each semester so – always an adventure! I try to take as much of what I need as possible to keep costs down. Here is my first week of sandwiches for lunch, in waxed paper, obviously.

Of course, in Toronto, there just isn’t space to teach the way I’d like to. Helping Jay With Some Geography. Knotty Girl captured us in secret from her office window.

Remember those snapping turtles laying eggs? Well, you know all that circle of life stuff. Several hatched and made it to the water! (Again, video courtesy Knotty Girl.)

The pictures and videos tell part of the story. So much more happened. So many friends came to stay and visit. So many small and not so small improvements were made and many more planned for. We learned that we never have enough time to do it all. I learned that sometimes it doesn’t matter.

I’ve learned that kids are amazing and challenging, sometimes at the same time. Great teachers they are, too.

So are cats, as it turns out.

I learned how hard I can be to live with sometimes. This is something you lose sight of when you live alone for a long time.  I think I’ve learned to be less hard. Or at least, I think I know what “less hard” might look like when I get there. I think the 2010/2011 vortex scarred us both, differently maybe. We seem to be just emerging from all that chaos now, healing still and getting on our feet. It feels like a relief to let go of the anxiety.

I’ve learned that the WWBA from previous posts is really the Woman With Beautiful Soul but that is WWBS and that doesn’t sound as good. Nonetheless … as I write this, Post-Hurricane-Tropical-Something-Or-Other Sandy is on her way and there is no one I’d rather be in the PostCard in the woods with tonight.The wind is howling (apparently – I can’t hear it) but we are snug and settled here. A year and a bit ago, the world was going on as normal and our world was being turned on its head on a daily (hourly?) basis. Now, we are quite stable here while the outside world is getting tossed around. Funny how things shift.  That is a lesson in itself.  Wait five minutes (six months? a year?) and things can look quite different.

I head into Year Two of the PostCard, I feel like I can get back to more regular blogging, which I would love. I’ve missed it so.

 

 

Space 4 comments

It has been weeks, months, of managing space. Of living in limbo as Knotty Girl and I try to blend our lives in the midst of challenges that are completely unrelated to this blending. KG trying to manage her mother’s complex health and personal affairs. Me trying to get my head around my working life and trying to “vacation” while doing so. Me living partially in my staged, listed condo space, partially at KG’s temporary house-sitting space.  One foot here, one foot there. As I type this now, I’m sitting in a local, newly discovered pub to accommodate a showing of my condo space.

Everyone who “knows” my living space of the last seven years seems to love it. Many of my friends have said, “If my life pointed me to living in downtown Toronto, I’d buy your place in a heartbeat.”  That is sweet and heartfelt. However, the market is indicating something different. When surrounded by new, highly-amenitied high rise glass and steel towers, my little low-rise loft – lacking in the concierge, the marble foyer, the in-house gym - seems to lack the glassy cubicle coldness that the market seems to expect.

If only my walls could talk. I purchased the place from architectural rendering before the shovel hit the ground in May 2002. I waited, impatiently, in a 400 sq. ft. basement apartment until July 2004 to move in. The first six months were hell, with 57 items incomplete on the construction list, including two out of three sinks missing. Much of my valued stuff in storage had been wrecked through dampness and I thought I’d made a huge mistake with the whole thing. However, about six months in, everything seemed to settle a bit. I started to enjoy the magnificent space, the location, my neighbours. A community started to form in the building, paint got up on previously stark white walls, and the space started to really feel like home. Meals prepared and enjoyed. Rehearsals for plays and music performances.  Laughter. Socks and underwear even careening off the ceiling fan from time to time.  (Perhaps I should put that in the listing.)

I have called this space my “oasis in the city” and it has felt like this – a quiet, secure, healing place. There has been much to heal from, as there often is in an examined life.  It has felt safe and protective, yet welcoming and communal. It is, as a space, special to me. The walls, now freshly repaired from nail holes and scuff marks, and beautifully painted, have wrapped around me, fitting whatever needs I have had, from rehearsal space to party space to gallery space to quiet reflective space to new love space.

Time passes and a home can be outgrown, as is the case now. There is no room for KG’s two children, not to mention a workshop and another office. To pass this space on, I want to reminisce, to help them “feel” it … to feel as comfortable, relaxed, open as I have felt – more comfortable than I could ever feel in a glass tower overlooking a cityscape. To help them feel the sense of community that they can help build anew, just by their presence in this space.

But listings don’t work that way, and some decisions are made with the cold reality of interest rates, square footage, and the fitting of furniture and placement of televisions. However, life does not work that way. A peaceful, quiet, light-filled space in a downtown location is surely worth some fiddling around with sofas and entertainment solutions.

In truth, with the staging, it feels much less like my space than it once did. I’m curiously enjoying the neat and tidy minimalist lifestyle. But I can’t cook big complex meals …  or bacon. Everything I take out of cupboards or drawers has to be put back. None of the detritus of day-to-day life – receipts, pocket change, scraps of paper with shopping lists, odds and ends - can be visible.  The place feels sanitized and so much less personal. This, however, is in an effort to help the next person visualize themselves in this space. Their colours, their art, their detritus. Their laughter, their love, their life. I know when this space finds its next occupant, it will respond to their needs as beautifully as it has responded to mine. And this thought makes me smile.

It Got Better 7 comments

It is late evening, and I’m exhausted and frustrated. Grading deadlines are slipping by me as the technology I’ve relied on to exchange work and feedback with students is letting me down. I’m beginning to believe that the process whereby any young person in this age learns how to communicate is quite broken and, as a communicator, this leaves me despondent. My apartment is a disaster, from a hygiene standpoint, and I’m not really all that special myself at the moment. My dog is unwell, again, and that is frightening and expensive. After the grading deadlines are dealt with, there is another – slightly less intense I hope – wave of activity on the horizon. I fervently hope, daily, that the social connections and opportunities I’m missing out on will still be there when I’m in a more balanced place.

That is really the issue: everything is just a bit out of balance – some days, a lot out of balance. I’ve been through this before, and it does pass. I know that. When I was 17, however, this lack of balance felt profound and cavernous. Insurmountable. Unending.  My father had shown up the summer previous, and after a five year absence, announced that he was selling the house and “moving us to town”. Just like that – he decided. It took a year to find a buyer and to negotiate the purchase of a house in town. My estranged parents did not speak to each other and avoided even being in the same room. There were opinions to share on potential homes, and instructions to relay between parties – parents, brothers, real estate agents, potential purchasers. I was the interpreter / go-between.  My father, suffering then with a not inconsequential onset of early senility, had the habit of yanking me out of class, without warning, and hauling me off to look at a house “for your mother”.  And … we were selling the most precious place on earth, as far as I was concerned. I’d lived on that farm all my life. Thus, the Great Move off the Farm in the summer of 1981 was the last chapter in what had already been a year-long, rather harrowing, squabbly saga.

We moved on Friday, June 5 and there was a party at a friend’s house that night. I remember getting very drunk and staggering home to a bed that was not properly constructed and subsequently sleeping at a 45 degree angle all night. My grandmother died, suddenly and unexpectedly, on Sunday, June 7. Or at least they found her that day. She didn’t get to see our new home.

My summer job had started. For the second or third year running, I was part of a traveling children’s theatre troupe, performing at day camps and libraries across our part of the province. Several of my friends were involved in this troupe as well.  Long days of bouncing around in a van with no seats – certainly not meeting any safety code of any kind – and leaping out, setting up, performing, loading up and moving on. Some days, we had three locations to hit in quick succession. It was fun, but it could be gruelling, hot and monotonous.

Somewhere in the year leading up to that summer, my inner life had shifted. I became slightly more aware, without language or even strong consciousness, that I was attracted to women. I abhorred this knowledge, floating somewhere below my articulated thoughts. I remember looking at my hands one day and thinking, “God – please don’t let these be the hands of a homosexual.” Every time I had a thought like that, I pushed it very far down. I had deeply, deeply internalized the wrongness of these attractions. And, being a good student, I paid attention. I didn’t need external bullies – I bullied myself.

But, when you are 17, sexual energy is everywhere and it was certainly present that summer in our little theatre troupe. We had the two Ds – boys, my best friend A, J the older female chaperone “adult”, and me. The five of us, bouncing around the province in a VW van. I remember getting quieter and quieter as the summer unfolded, and I remember that the only top I wore for weeks was my orange hockey jersey from my winter rec hockey team. It has only just struck me now the protective nature of this choice – my jersey, which originated from the only group of women that included people like me. Even on the hottest, sweatiest August days, I would sit sullenly in that van, in my orange hockey jersey, watching the two Ds flirt endlessly and mercilessly with A.

Included among the many attributes of that summer is that it is the first time any of us ever witnessed A telling another person to “fuck off”, her frustrated response after the playful, raucous flirtation crossed some line or other.

I didn’t “get” the flirtation. I didn’t speak, hadn’t learned or understood, the language of it. The meaning of it. I understood the textual, obvious meaning, but the subtext of playful meaninglessness eluded me. It did not elude me that I was not included in this ongoing, electrostatic, summer-long exchange between these three people who were my friends. The exclusion became more painful than anything I’d experienced. I remember my frustrating inability to just be like them and join in, even lightheartedly. Girls didn’t flirt with boys directly and if I tried, it would be like sawdust. There was no energy in it. It was impossible. I withdrew, further and further. I was deeply angry, hurt, and confused.

Mid-August, we had a booking at the Pinery Provincial Park. There was to be an late morning show and then a “just before bedtime” show for the campers and their kids. Lots of free time before and after both shows. A and I decided to have our lunch in the woods and a “friendly” raccoon wandered over to check out our offerings. A, not having knowledge of wild things, tried to pet the raccoon and soon learned that one gets bitten when one attempts such a thing. Then followed a “search” for the specific raccoon which was rather ridiculous really. How many raccoons are there in the Pinery, anyway?

I had reached some kind of nadir of my despondency that day, and I don’t recall if there was a specific thing that happened to drive me there. We had brought our bathing suits and had planned to have a bonfire on the beach after the early evening show. There I sat on a log on the beach, with my orange hockey jersey on over my bathing suit, the sun setting across the horizon and my friends cavorting in the surf of Lake Huron. I sat there for a long time, watching. Finding the mystery of how people get connected to be too difficult. Simply not believing that I would ever be one of those people to experience a human connection. A sexual connection. I didn’t have or develop what it takes for this mysterious thing that clearly comes easily to everyone else. I wasn’t good enough, nor would I ever be.

Sunsets over Lake Huron are among the most beautiful on earth and I suddenly thought it would be a good idea for me to just get lost in it. Just swim until I no longer existed, and had become one with the Lake and energy of the sun. I remember clearly peeling off the protective jersey and wading into the cold lake water. I started swimming, right past my friends. Further. I kept going. Steadily. I could hear my name being called. I kept going. And the sun kept going down.

I was a very strong swimmer at 17, and quite a determined one in that moment. I had gotten a long way out before I heard splashing behind me. One of the D’s, the weakest swimmer ironically, had bolted after me which was quite an impressive feat, really. He grabbed my foot, I think, and then my arm. He yelled something at me, right in my face, in a scared, angry voice. He was struggling to stay afloat himself and that hadn’t been my intent. So I let him steer me back to shore and “save” me. If memory serves, and it does get a little foggy at this point, I think I put my hockey jersey back on and sat back down sullenly on my log while he sputtered and stamped around our bonfire. It was all a bit surreal.

Later that weekend, there was a kitchen table meeting with A’s parents and my Mom, discussing how to handle treatment for A’s raccoon bite. She was furious at me for making my big swim and she brought it up at this discussion. I had nothing to say for myself, as I recall, so the subject was dropped. No one ever brought it up again, as I recall. I remember accompanying A to the hospital for those horrid rabies shots. She tells me that I went with her for every single one. I honestly don’t remember that.  I do remember feeling that the raccoon bite had made a more lasting impression on the adults than my big swim had.

Being a teenager is really hard. Emotions loom large and they all feel complex, entangled and frustrating. Suicide attempts happen in a larger context than simply “being gay” and “being bullied” although these things have enormous impact. Being able to talk about whatever it is that makes us feel apart and isolated, being able to really appreciate a healthy, whole reflection of ourselves, to see all the beauty each individual brings BECAUSE they are individuals, not part of a mass-produced mind-meld – these are important gifts that young people need.

For the record, I more than made up for the absence of teen flirting later. I was a late bloomer in that regard. And I’m very, very grateful that D swam after me that August evening in 1981. Because having too much work, an attention-seeking feline, an elderly canine, a beautiful girlfriend, a dirty apartment, a drawer overflowing with hockey jerseys, too many invitations and not enough time … these are all the blessings of a full, if not always balanced, life. And I am indeed blessed.

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