Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Benny Invents A New Game & Much, Much More! (Issue #154)

Our family cottage, with which you folks have become familiar over the last few years, has all the amenities necessary for a comfortable life. At least it does from May to sometime in October. Because it is not insulated, nor does it have a foundation, the pipes would freeze and split during winter if the water remained connected.

Therefore, every October, sometime after (Canadian) Thanksgiving, a local handyman comes around, turns off our water, drains the pipes and fills the traps with antifreeze. From that point on, until late spring, trips to the cottage are of short duration and very much weather-dependent.

The weather this fall has been so darn balmy that we hoped the handyguy would postpone his work into November. When contacted and asked about that possibility, he said it "depends." Which is local-speak for a shrug of the shoulders.

So when we ventured up there last weekend, even though it was two weeks after Thanksgiving, I was hopeful that we'd still have running water.

We didn't.

Adjustments must be made when one is living without plumbing. Bathing, washing dishes, going to the bathroom - all become tasks which require foresight, planning and resigning oneself to a certain measure of discomfort. It helps to remember that not many generations ago, folks lived that way all the time. It also helps to be a bit nuts.

But what really helps, when you're "showering" outside in a cold rain, then rinsing off in a 55F (12C) lake, is to lubricate oneself on the inside first with a belt or three of Scotch.

It was BennyTheJackRussellTerror's first visit and he was in heaven. He loved having endless room to run and surprisingly, seemed untroubled by the fact we were plumbing-challenged. He delighted us by inventing a new game - a game of stunningly-inspired lunacy.

It was windy much of the time. Wind affects lakes by making waves. Waves roll onto shore. Benny's shore. They must be thwarted. So he took it upon himself to patrol the rocky shoreline, defending all and sundry from the endless parade of waves by biting them. I'll add a link to the video evidence at the end of this.

A highlight for me was seeing not one, not two, but three otters playing a short distance from our dock. In my 40 years of cottaging at that lake, I'd never seen an otter before. To see three gamboling a few feet away was breathtaking. Unfortunately, by the time a camera arrived on scene, they were out of reasonable picture range.

Here are a few pics from when my camera was with me:

A plus on dark, rainy days from a photographic viewpoint, is the wonderful colour saturation.

Without running water, this unpretentious little shack out back assumes an important role.

Benny is prepared to defend the rock from the next wave's onslaught.

The next three images show how patience can be rewarded and why it's always a good idea to have a camera handy. The day was dark and unsettled. A few moments before sunset, a glow began to appear in the west. The pictures were taken in approximately 5-minute intervals.

Hilary has also blogged about the visit and posted pictures. As of this writing, I haven't seen hers yet. I'm pretty sure we're going to near-duplicate some pictures but I didn't want to be influenced by what she posted. I know she's taken some great shots though. You can visit her blog, The Smitten Image, by clicking here.

As promised, you can see a snippet of Benny's heroic wave-biting here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Squeaky Drawer (Issue #153)

Some of you know I'm a moderator of an online writers' community called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. There are over 17,000 members and hundreds of ongoing discussion threads - some of which deal with current events and other non-writing-related topics. As you might imagine when dealing with so many opinionated, reasonably-intelligent egos, discussions can sometimes become heated. The moderators have a private room on the site within which we discuss various issues affecting the board, often revolving around plans for dealing with the latest bruhaha. Sometimes we just kick back and shoot the breeze (in a virtual, internet kind of a way).

A recent bull session involved parenting strategies and it triggered a memory of my father's most brilliant psychological ploy.

I was about 10 years old. Theresa would be around eight, Karl six, Mark five, Marina three and Lisa a toddler. (I don't have a calculator handy but that should add up to six kids.)

This would be around 1961. Home computers and video games were decades away. Kids amused themselves by playing outside in almost all kinds of weather.


We'd be out there on blazing hot days and during snowstorms but if it was cold and rainy, we had to play indoors.

Apparently, there were times when we might have been a tad rowdy. Hard to believe, I know. But I suppose six kids in one small house, usually in one room of that house, might get somewhat rambunctious.

I can recall us being locked in the basement rec room. It had Dutch doors, so my mother would keep the bottom one locked but the top one open so she could hear if someone needed to go to the hospital. Or the toilet. This would free her up somewhat to do whatever it was that Moms did when they weren't actively Momming.

Of course at 10, I was undeterred by the locked bottom door. I could clamber out through the top. But years earlier I was stymied. So when I was about four, I liberated a grapefruit spoon (with that nifty serrated edge) and set about drilling a hole through that bottom door, near the lock. The theory was, I would slip my hand through the hole, reach out, unlock the door and surprise Mom when I appeared upstairs.

It would have worked too, if the spoon had been bigger. Over the course of a few days, I managed to drill a hole all right but I couldn't fit my hand through it.

But I digress.

So, picture six kids bouncing around in a confined space. There might have been some violence here and there. A little jumping and falling and running and tripping. Concurrent with those activities of course, would be the sound effects. Booms. Thuds. Crashes. Screams. Crying. Laughter. The usual.

One day, probably after consecutive days of wet weather, my mother, usually a rather placid woman, snapped.

When Mom was riled she'd holler some. Hollering had a fairly short-term effect on our behaviour. Occasionally she would pinch an upper arm or an ear. That would sting and have a more lasting effect - up to several minutes.

But when Mom had had enough - when she really couldn't stand it anymore - she'd cry.

Moms aren't supposed to cry. Her tears would have an instantly sobering effect on us. Partly because it was such a rare event, perhaps once a year, and partly because we knew Dad was going to get involved when he got home from work.

In situations like this, Dad majored in Being Disappointed. He would talk and talk and talk about expectations and respect and caring and how he sure hated Being Disappointed in us. I swear, sometimes we had to poke each other in order to stay awake.

One day though, after Mom cried, Dad didn't lecture us. After supper he told us to follow him downstairs. He carried an old leather belt in his hands.

We were nervous. And respectfully quiet. In the unfinished part of the basement, near the dirty old coal-burning furnace, was a small area he used as a workshop. In a corner stood an old broom.

Dad took the broom and sawed off about a foot of the handle. Positioning us to either side of him, making sure we could all see, he then used a pair of shears to cut the leather belt into three pieces. When done, he nailed the pieces of leather to the end of the broom handle.

It made for a vicious-looking whip.

He tested it with a few whacks against the bench and nodded, satisfied, then bade us follow him back upstairs to the kitchen.

I'm pretty sure everybody has a drawer somewhere in their kitchen wherein they keep stuff that doesn't really belong anywhere else - things like tape and string and elastics and candles. Well, back then, in that kitchen, that particular drawer squeaked. Not a delicate, mousey-type squeak either. Nope, that drawer screeched when opened. Imagine Barry Manilow plopping down on a thumbtack.

Dad opened the squeaky drawer and placed his newly-made whip inside. Then he closed it and went to read his newspaper.

For years afterward, when we were bouncing from bed to bed instead of sleeping, or playing Throw Lisa Against The Wall a little too enthusiastically, all my parents needed to do to achieve silence was open the squeaky drawer.

Wisely, they never closed it too quickly afterwards. The one, piercing screech left a mental image in our heads of that strap/whip sitting there - ready to be used.

And it never was. Not once. The squeak was enough.

Dad was a pretty smart guy.

Addendum: Going away for a few days on Thursday, Oct. 18th, so please forgive my delayed response to any further comments.

Just in case you don't know, you can see what Dutch doors look like if you click here.

If you're interested in visiting the AW Water Cooler, you can click here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It was like this....

"Frank," I hear a few of you mutter, "you haven't posted anything lately."

Let me s'plain. No. That will take too long. Let me recap.

My computer has been in the shop for much of the last 10 days. And when it hasn't been in the shop, it's been fritzing. And when it's not been fritzing, I've been out of town.

So there.

I should be posting (and emailing) with my usual degree of infrequency in a few days. I hope you'll wander back for a look-see then.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Uh, No. Life Is Not A Game Show. (Issue #152)

I was taught that when someone (me) screwed up (got caught) and the explanation (lie) failed to win exoneration, it was time to apologize and atone. Somewhere along the road to maturity, one eventually even bypasses the attempt to fib. It's what a man does. (And yes, it's what women do too.) It's about taking responsibility for one's behaviour. Most folks of my generation clued into the concept fairly early on. My own learning was aided and abetted by periodic whacks from nuns and other teachers.

But let's leave the sepia-toned memories of whip-wielding nuns for a moment and flash forward to today.

These days, on a near-weekly basis, we're confronted with pop musicians, athletes and movie stars who do Very Bad Things and then apologize. But they don't really apologize. Instead, they go into damage-control mode as orchestrated by well-paid advisors - advisors who are desperate to rehabilitate the image of their meal ticket. And these advisors are all singing from the same songbook. It doesn't matter if it's Britney, Lindsay, Michael Vick or any of dozens of others - the refrain is similar:

"I made a wrong choice. I hope to make better choices going forward.*"


Isn't. That. Special.

They made a wrong choice. They would like us to believe it could happen to anyone. If only they had chosen Door #1 because behind it was Reasonable Behaviour! Oh, and look! Behind the curtain that the lovely Doreen is now parting...it's...it's a Heaping Helping of Personal Responsibility coupled with a Smidge of Social Conscience!

But Nooooooooooooo! They had to choose Door #3 and got How To Drive Drunk, Flash Your Crotch, Insult Gays and Kill Dogs. What a bummer.

Woe is them. They made a wrong choice.

Nuh-uh. No sale here. They were selfish, inconsiderate a**holes, at the very least. But I'll admit they didn't get that way by themselves. The wrong choices were made years earlier. By parents. By indifferent schools. By substituting money for caring, presents for companionship. By being raised in a society which values celebrity over all.

As much as their behaviour appalls, I honestly feel sorry for most of these people, many of whom are little more than kids. Values like respect, honesty, dignity and compassion, instead of being ingrained by the time they hit their teens, remain abstract concepts. They can mouth the words, as taught by their agents, managers and lawyers, and they can learn that downcast eyes and a tremulous voice mimics contrition -- but in their heart of hearts, I think most of them just don't get it and probably never will. As long as they have money and flashbulbs going off in their faces, they'll have simpering sycophants whispering about how wonderful they are. And they'll believe them.

Because to do otherwise is to admit there's an emptiness inside that can't be filled with money, red carpets, screaming fans and high-fives. And then what do they have to turn to?

Oh yeah. Drugs, alcohol and brushes with the law.

And so it goes.


* This is my nominee for the phrase of the year that MUST be obliterated, expunged, erased from the lexicon. If you hear or read it, you can be reasonably sure the user is trying to sell you a line of something that is better spread on farmer's fields.


More nice cottage pics at Hilary's blog.