The freedom soldiers won for me includes the right to decorate my home and celebrate holidays any way, any time.

rbvag1rq6uuaa8mqaawy6gyfm9q566

Seasons can be measured in many ways. The greening of the earth, and the wild explosion of colours in the spring – and the feeling that everything is new again. The undulating heat rising from the pavement, the desire (and will) to do nothing more than sit in the sun with a cold beer in the summer. The red, orange and gold glory of October, then the gradual fading of all colour in the fall – and the hint of smoke in the crisp air. Fat, fluffy snowflakes and brittle ground and glowing faces signify the start of winter. I often joke that I determine the season by the debris in my house. Mud in the spring, playground sand in the summer, leaves in the fall and road salt in the winter. Now that we’re all caught in the world wide web, though, there are other indicators.

Like Facebook. January is heralded by descriptions of workout routines, healthy recipes and storage solutions. I know it’s February because some people are posting lovey-dovey statuses while others are proclaiming their ability to sustain a meaningful relationship without tacky cards or diamonds (even though – or, perhaps, because – no one offered them either of those things). I know it’s Easter because my newsfeed is awash with images of Jesus and little ones wearing bunny ears (and people who are annoyed that the two coexist). May? Mothers. Everyone wishes for just one more day with their dead mother, thinks their still-mothering mother is the best one ever, is so proud of the mother of their children or is amazingly blessed to be a mother. June? Tributes to Dad, single mothers wishing themselves a happy Father’s Day, and mortarboards above proud young faces. In July and August, everyone’s trying to prove that they are having the summery-est summer. My newsfeed is an endless scroll of well-filtered guts sucked in and captured at just the right angle, wicked sunburns, babies with sweaty heads and sand-filled diapers napping in tiny tents, children racing into or out of the water, umbrella-garnished pastel drinks sweating on patio tables, coffee mugs with a cottage sunrise in the background. September? Back-to-school pics, and complaints about packing lunches – as well as admirably-creative-but-hopelessly-fiddly lunchbox ideas that people will try twice and abandon. Thanksgiving brings recipes and pictures of pumpkin patch visits. Right after Thanksgiving, I start seeing freakishly altered profile pics and costume ideas, and recipes for cookies shaped like spiders and bananas decorated like ghosts – and homemade gummy worms even though you can buy the real thing for pennies any time of the year. So, I know Halloween is coming. Now that Halloween is over, we have entered the annual debate about when to start celebrating Christmas in relation to Remembrance Day. Some people are solidly against even a hint of Christmassing before Remembrance Day, believing that it is disrespectful to our war-dead and our military to make merry while marking their service to our country:

Others say that they can play Christmas music and put up their decorations any damn day they please. I’m with them. We, as free Canadians, owe dead soldiers and still-standing veterans a mighty debt of gratitude. They did horrific things we could never imagine in the name of our freedom – and they won it for us. But freedom is not a concept that changes based on others’ approval – freedom is absolute. You may not like what I’m doing, but generations of brave men and women fought to the death for my right to do it – I say that you are disrespecting them when you try to take that from me. I, personally, do not often get into celebrating Christmas before Remembrance Day. This is not because I think it’s wrong; it’s because I celebrate Christmas for many weeks (well into January), and holding off builds anticipation and makes the holidays just a touch more special. Also, I prefer to take things one at a time – I like to focus on each special day on its own. That’s my style, and it’s ok. Just like it’s ok to put up Christmas decorations on November 1 or December 24, and to take them down on December 26 or February 1. It’s ok to not celebrate Christmas at all. Freedom.

We are a society of proud – and, in many cases, reasonably successful – multitaskers, but we can become very single-minded when it suits our purposes. We can listen to music and drink a coffee and eat a muffin and chat with a friend while we drive – but, apparently, we can’t acknowledge soldiers’ sacrifices and celebrate Christmas at the same time? Of course we can! We do things like that all the time. We celebrate a child’s birthday while mourning the passing of a grandparent. We set a festive table and make a toast to our blessings, while our hearts give a sad, silent nod to the invisible empty chairs. We are stopped in our tracks, shocked speechless, at the horror of a terrorist attack – and then we rejoice over the announcement that a relative or friend is going to bring another brand new soul into this weary, scarred world. We love in the face of hatred. We celebrate as we grieve. And some of us thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom while we Christmas it up – because we can.

White chicks wearing headdresses at music festivals are not racists.

earth-from-space-western

The issue represented by the title of this post is the one that first alerted me to the concept of cultural appropriation. I read an opinion piece in Maclean’s magazine suggesting that white people wearing headdresses at music festivals are appropriating Native American culture. Since reading that piece, I’ve read a number of other articles on the same topic. Kim and Kylie Kardashian were criticized, one for wearing cornrows and the other for wearing a Yaki ponytail (a hairpiece that, apparently, only black women are supposed to buy). The University of Ottawa cancelled a yoga class because a few people whined about stealing Indian culture. The class is back now, with a new teacher. The new teacher was, amazingly, hired without being told of the controversy surrounding stretching at U of O. When she learned what had happened before she was hired, she worried aloud that she may have been chosen for the position simply because she is Indian and therefore “authentic”. White people should not wear sombreros or put “el” in front of anything that isn’t actually a Spanish word. Iggy Azalea’s guilty of rapping while being white. (Her accuser, Macklemore, expressed this by rapping while being white – but that’s ok, apparently, because his heart is in the right place.) Recently, Justin Bieber caught flak for wearing dreadlocks, because he is not black. Designer Marc Jacobs’ use of dreads on his models during a fashion week show drew angry reactions for the same reason. To add ridiculousness to an already impressively ridiculous list, Kendall Jenner posed for a Vogue ballet-themed photo shoot in a leotard, leg-warmers and pointe shoes – and was promptly accused of appropriating ballet culture, whatever that is. Ballerinas spend so many years perfecting their craft that they feel personally insulted when a rube like Jenner dresses like one of them. Um, what? I’m not even going to try to even with that.

I’ve read a number of opinion pieces on this topic, ranging from mildly disapproving to militantly opposed. Some people are annoyed that white people are taking their traditional hairstyle or clothing or sacred objects lightly – making a fashion statement. Others say it’s ok for white people to do that, as long as they understand the significance of what they are wearing or using and support the culture in which they are dabbling. Others go a little further, annoyed that white people can put on or take off hairstyles, garb and décor without assuming any of the burden of the people who are born into it. An example that is frequently cited is black people with dreads or ‘fros feeling that people look down on them, while white people who adopt these styles are considered cool or edgy, and can still be treated like professionals. Then there are those who say it’s never ok for white people to have hairstyles associated with black people or teach stretching exercises associated with Indians or wear hats associated with Mexicans – white people should be one thing, white (whatever that means), and leave other people’s styles and symbols alone.

Since this is BethBlog and I can say whatever I want, here’s what I think of the whole cultural appropriation flap: Telling people what they can have on their walls or coffee table based on their country of origin is wrong. Telling people they can’t dress a certain way because they’re not a member of a certain ethnic group is wrong. Shutting down a free fitness class for university students because the participants are not of Indian origin is wrong. Telling people that they can’t wear certain hairstyles because they are white is wrong. Even giving a little by saying “ok, white people can wear these hairstyles, but they have to feel really, really, really bad about being white while they wear them” – that’s wrong, too. Insisting that people justify their possessions or fashion choices or personal tastes is wrong. To say otherwise is to say that placing limitations on someone’s freedom is ok if that someone is white – and it’s not ok. Whatever happened to the idea that we should be colour-blind and just let people be who they want to be?  I guess we’re all one world – one race – until we’re not.

I have a map of the world on my wall, framed by flags from every country. Its colour and detail come together to make it a thing of beauty. If I cut out the tiny piece of the map that shows my home, and get rid of all the rest, the map would not be lovely any longer. It would be small and limited, and looking at it would make me feel diminished. In some ways, it feels as if that is what the people screaming “cultural appropriation” want.

I have statues and masks and wall-hangings from Africa, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. I have a nesting doll from Ukraine. I have a Mardi Gras mask from New Orleans and wooden shoes from Holland. I have a dream catcher, and a Lakota carving. I have a Chinese lantern commemorating the Year of the Monkey. I have three Navajo blankets. I have a beautiful pashmina my dear friend brought back to me from Istanbul, which I wrap around my shoulders when I’m chilly. I have candle holders and cloth and a wooden box from India. I have a marble box from Pakistan. I have pieces of jewelry that feature the yin yang symbol, and the ankh. I freely add influences from other culinary traditions to the food I prepare (sometimes more than one per dish). Depending on where I’m celebrating my birthday, I might end up wearing a giant sombrero. Why? Because I love these things. They are beautiful, and they enhance my look, my home and my life – they make me feel good. Also, because it isn’t hurting anyone for me to love these things – I’m not stealing from other people’s heritage, I’m enjoying it. In fact, they’re free to enjoy mine – and they do it everyday, in lots of different ways. Most of all, though, because nobody has the right to tell me, based on the colour of my skin, what I can or can’t appreciate, wear, eat, or do. That’s freedom, and it’s for everyone, and there are no contextual conditions.

My inner mean girl needs to get a life – or, at least, let others live theirs.

Nineteen years ago (NINETEEN! YEARS! AGO! Time, time, time.), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for anything, I stuffed everything I owned into my 323 hatchback and left small-town Newfoundland for college in Nova Scotia. When I got there, the first new thing I encountered was dorm life. The walls of my room were green. But it was readily apparent that they had also been blue, peach and tan at various points in their storied life. The screenless window had a rotting wooden frame that jammed often (probably because all those layers of paint had added an extra quarter-inch to it all ’round). My desk had a homemade Ouija board scorched into it. My mattress was …. well, a dorm room mattress. I tried not to look at the stains while changing the sheets, because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to speculate as to their origin (I’m still not). It didn’t take long for me to make it home, though. A collection of photos on the cork board. One of my grandmother’s patchwork quilts on the bed, and a Beavis and Butthead poster above it.

s-l225

A little later, there was a potted cactus on the windowsill and a hamster named Cottonball on the Ouija board. On top of it all, I had discovered the heights of student sophistication: jamming a black taper candle into a Baileys bottle.

Less than six feet away from me, there was a duplicate bed and desk. These belonged to my roommate Amanda*. She had her own hamster, Bandit (whose cage she cleaned once an equinox), and her own purple taper candle in a Baby Duck bottle. She was a long-awaited adopted only child whose parents worshipped the ground she complained on, and she was not easy to live with. Her boyfriend, Darren*, came to visit her every weekend. He drank beer after beer, and threw the caps on the floor. Words can’t express how I adored blindly stepping on those scalloped metal edges on my way out of the room first thing in the morning. At night, while I pretended to sleep, they bumped uglies. Loudly. One night in November, nearing the breaking point, I jumped out of bed, flipped the light on, and started calling their plays like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. (Oh, Meatloaf …. You are so delightfully sweaty and meaty and loafy.) Amanda stopped talking to me, and Darren visited less often, after that. At the end of the semester, Amanda flunked everything and dropped out. Though I have not heard from her in years, I like to think she and Darren are still out there, together. Burping the alphabet, perhaps, or supporting each other in their struggle to comprehend the comics in the Saturday paper.

When Amanda left, I had the room to myself, and I kept it that way for the rest of my four college years. I enhanced my living space greatly by acquiring a second hamster and three guinea pigs, which made it smell ever-so-slightly of barn. I took my closet door off its hinges and laid it flat across the two desks, to make room for my computer. As a finishing touch, a loveliness of ladybugs burrowed into my windowsill and fruitfully multiplied until I opened the window (and left it open) in an effort at population control.

So, you can imagine my reaction when I read this blog post about the beautifully decorated dorm rooms at Ole Miss. Apparently, female roomies collaborate and pool their money long before they move in, and they come up with this:

c30b7c788d372204d4f018824f638459

And this:

images

And this:

sub-buzz-28635-1471375232-2_0537bae64735f0f995afa65fd55face6-today-inline-large

(No, the girls don’t come with the décor. But they look like they do, don’t they?)

Their dorm rooms are so beautiful that there’s a competition for most beautiful dorm room. That’s actually a thing. Because money is something I think about alot, the first thing I wondered was how students could possibly come up with the cash. What a waste. How privileged are they, to be able to drop a grand on ottomans and monogrammed wall art? Nothing I’ve ever lived in – or ever will live in – is as pretty as these giant jewelry boxes for young ladies. Wow. Those girls have their ducks in a row – they know what’s really important. They’re making one of the biggest moves of their life, and matching bedspreads is all they can come up with to mark the occasion? Gosh, wonder how booze stains and vomit wash out of faux fur rugs …. Everything about this trend made me want to smack the insipid faces of the little divas posing with their Target haul until they did something ill-bred, like dropping their smug game-show-host smiles for a few seconds.

Then, I wondered how these girls and their pimped-out dorm rooms could make me so stabby. Why did I care what a handful of girls I’ve never met are doing with their dorm rooms I’ll never visit? Why was I being so mean?

For those who read BethBlog regularly (thank you), you’ll know I’m no stranger to nastiness. I snark on people who take and share too many pictures, people who enrol their kids in an overwhelmment (there – I just created a new collective noun) of activities, and people who celebrate holidays in stupid ways. People who shop Black Friday sales like its their last chance to buy anything, ever, just ahead of the cornucopia of Christmas, annoy me. I think people who overthink, overdocument and overshare everything are ridiculous. I find people who curate and present their life as if it were a style mag, self-help book or visual life coach, unbearably snotty. People who spend a disproportionate amount of time daydreaming on Facebook have earned my disdain. As have people who drive minivans, pour too much of themselves into their lawn, and schlep their babies to classes of any kind.

In other words, I’m a seasoned bitch, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Some things in life simply call for a bitch, need a bitch, and I’m on it. I think alot of people live life in such a ludicrous fashion that they deserve a stink-eye topped with a raised eyebrow, with a side of curled lip – served cold. These girls, though? They’re eighteen and taking pleasure in decorating the room they’ll live in for the better part of a year. What do I expect them to be doing? Solving world conflicts? Ending famines? Stopping climate change in its tracks? And how do I know they’re not doing their part in those struggles, too? Their way of expressing themselves isn’t my way – so I’ve dismissed it as idiotic, and derided it as vapid and valueless. Many women do what I do, over and over. We make fun of women who cook or bake beautifully. Who has time for that? Hello! Pizza delivery exists for a reason. We assume women who are fashionable don’t have anything else to think about. We defiantly wave our dollar-store craft kits in the face of women who make lovely things out of odds and ends, and are bold enough to post a pic. I’ve got better things to do – you must have no life if that’s how you spend your time. And, yes, decorating. It’s ok to have a nice house, but you’d better not have an adorable house. Otherwise, we all know you’ve got throw pillows for brains – and you are clearly a cold fish if your house is clean. You can keep your pristine palace, I’m too busy making memories for that.

Why? Why we feel the need to put each other down over things that don’t affect us? Are we so unhappy with our life that we must take down everyone around us to even the score? Are we focussing so intently on the tall poppy that we forget that we have a garden of our own? Do we not understand that breaking someone else down won’t build us up? We tell our kids to live and let-live. We say “everyone’s different, and that’s ok”, to teach them acceptance of others. Then we rain judgement on others for the crime of having different priorities and executing them with style. If a handful of teenagers making their rooms pretty is all it takes to piss us off (and many a lady rager got her knickers in a twist over this – I’m not the only one), maybe we need to dig deeper for more confidence and contentment.

* No names have been changed because these people have mercifully faded from my life, and I hope never to hear from them again.

 

The Girl Who Cried “Body-Shaming”.

images

Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and therefore the target audience for these news stories and opinion pieces. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to human interest stories in general, and those that feature women in particular. Maybe my social media filters are not tight enough, or I have the wrong contacts. Maybe, deep down, I simply love a good hate-read. Whatever the case, I have really gotten tired of the concept of body-shaming (or, as some call it, fat-shaming) and the people who whine about it.

Every day, I encounter a new outrage (sometimes more than one). There are no fat leading ladies because society finds fat people repulsive. There are no fat models because designers don’t want to be represented by fat people. Designer X wouldn’t dress Celebrity Y because she is fat and Designer X is a fat-bashing snob. Stores don’t carry clothing in my size because the store owner is embarrassed to have fat customers. Some jerk at the beach looked at me funny because he thinks I should be wearing a mumu instead of a bikini. I feel embarrassed about my girth at the gym in front of all those mirrors, so gyms are fat-shaming enterprises. Airlines are mean because they make fat people pay extra for taking up extra space. Cruise ships are mean because they are reluctant to super-size their deck chairs. Hospitals are mean because they are grousing about having to stretch their already-paper-thin budget to buy special equipment to accommodate fat people. Taxing junk food is discrimination against fat people. Wah, wah, wah.

The latest mention has come courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen. Apparently, the health care system is mistreating obese women who are pregnant, or wish to become so. This is according to a study that includes 24 white, middle-class women in two unnamed mid-size Canadian cities. Excellent methodology, that – sure to lead to reliable conclusions. Two of the examples cited may have a case, in my view. One woman reported that her doctor refused to remove her IUD because she is so fat that pregnancy, for her, would be “a disaster”. Refusing to remove an unnecessary foreign object from a patient’s body is denying care, and her doctor should have done what she requested, while counselling her regarding the potential consequences. Another woman reported that her doctor never examines her internally. A good doctor does his or her due diligence, and internal exams are a required aspect of quality gynecological care. Both of these circumstances merit, at the very least, further investigation.

However, the rest of the complaints discussed in the Citizen article seem to be a matter of ignorance, skewed patient perception, and hyperbole. Women report dreading prenatal appointments, feeling like they are disgusting, or feeling like their doctor thinks they are bad mothers. This is too baseless and vague to properly address, with no anecdotes to back any of it up. How can it be proven, or even investigated, that a woman says she feels like whatever? Two more-concrete claims came from a woman who was refused fertility treatments until she lost 60 pounds, and one who was told that her infertility is caused by her fatness. These two stories make me feel sorry for the women. However, let’s consider the facts …. Obese pregnant women run a higher miscarriage risk. They are more susceptible to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Their babies are more likely to have congenital abnormalities. Obese pregnant women are also far more likely to require a caesarean section, because labour and delivery are complicated by extra weight and its attendant health problems. These are important medical issues.

If I tell a pack-a-day smoker he shouldn’t try to run a marathon until he quits smoking and lets his lungs clear out, I’m not trying to crush his dreams or hurt his feelings or make him feel like a bad person – I’m merely trying to protect the fool from pushing his damaged body past its limits into dangerous territory. Doctors who tell fat women they might not be able to conceive in their condition are not trampling on hope. They are giving medical facts to their patients. Doctors who warn fat women of the dangers of pregnancy are not being mean. They are trying to help their patients prepare for the strong possibility that they will face more limitations and problems during their pregnancy and delivery than a woman with a healthy body weight. Doctors who refuse to help fat women become pregnant unless they lose weight are not practicing “soft eugenics”, as ridiculously suggested by the authors of the study. They are giving the woman and her future children a better chance for a healthier outcome. All of these things are a doctor’s job.  If a plumber is called to my house to replace a toilet, and he notices and comments on a leaky sink, he is not pipe-shaming me. He is doing what he is supposed to do as the particular expert I’ve consulted.

This nebulous study, and the attention it has received, is yet another example of the daily hand-wringing I’m done with. The reaction to perceived body-shaming mainly comes in the form of an online rant, with a few well-meaning lines about bodies coming in all different sizes and loving the skin you’re in – and then the accusation of body-shaming. I let you make me feel uncomfortable because I’m sensitive about being fat – so you must be an asshole. The whole situation is painted black and white, and the only side anyone should be on is the side of the so-called victim. It seems that the whole world is out to get fat people. Or is it?

I’m not without sympathy. Some children are mercilessly bullied over their weight. Some people have been treated poorly by the healthcare system and the service industry because they are fat. Extra materials, more complicated patterns and manufacturing processes drive up the cost of plus-sized clothing – and having to pay more for clothing is frustrating. Simple economics: extra weight means extra wear-and-tear on a vehicle, and extra fuel – and buying two seats on an airplane is a hardship many people can’t afford. It must be painful to know that your dream of being a mother or the health of your children may be hampered by your weight. It can be the battle of a lifetime for some people to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And on and on …. However, along with the sympathy, it’s time to administer a healthy dose of reality.

Sure, it’s annoying to see that the entertainment industry consists mainly of people who are smaller than you – but, in many cases, famous actresses and singers and models are smaller than most people. It’s not pleasant to hear that a designer refused to dress whoever because her bones don’t protrude. However, we’re talking about a rarified world that reflects very little of our daily existence anyway. That’s why it’s entertainment, not the evening news or a documentary! No intelligent person I know is looking to Hollywood to see a reflection of herself and find the meaning of life. Clothing stores are businesses. What they care about is money. If they don’t carry your size, it’s because it’s not profitable – they don’t need your money badly enough to cater to you. Whining about how mean they are and posting desperate online diatribes begging them to value your business because you are so much more than your dress size will not shame execs into stocking your size. Instead, take your money to a store that will sell you clothing that fits you, and enjoy stepping out in it. Airlines also only care about money. All they see is extra weight = extra fuel = higher expense to fly you somewhere. They don’t want to deal with multiple passengers complaining that their space was partially occupied by someone else’s ass, so they will make make you buy an extra seat. When you protest, they don’t care that you are never going to fly with them again. Everyone else still will, and – if you’re honest – you probably will, too, if their seat sale is juicy enough. As for how people “make you feel”, if you examine the situation in detail, you may find that how you feel has alot to do with your own perception of yourself coupled with the oh-so-human tendency to make everything about ourselves. People are not looking at you all the time – in fact, most of the time they aren’t even thinking about you. Don’t assume that every negative facial expression or action or comment is leveled at you and your weight. By frantically flinging the body-shaming accusation in every possible direction, you’re diverting attention from areas of true concern and helping society build up an immunity to actual cases of body-shaming.

You love yourself? Great! Rock on, and enjoy your life. You don’t love yourself? Change yourself! But please stop this stupid trend of yelling at companies and organizations and the old lady at the pool and the meathead at the gym for not seeing things your way, then claiming fierce love for yourself and complete peace with your circumstances – then making excuses for, and begging us all to look past, the same self you just claimed to adore. It doesn’t wash, and it’s really irritating.

Georgia is still on my mind.

045

So, we’re back from our road trip …. I left my millions thousands hundreds possibly-double-digits of fans hanging with my farewell post about a month ago. I was feeling overwhelmed by the headlines, and really needed to get away. Well, I don’t think the world has improved since then – but my state-of-mind has. I guess I just needed to get away.

As we always do, we packed up our car with too much of everything and headed for the never-known-to-fail McDonald’s breakfast kick-off. Then, we hit the road. It was a brilliantly beautiful day – the sky was a perfect shade of blue, punctuated by puffy white clouds and a sun like the Cyrkle’s “Red Rubber Ball”. Retro Casey Kasem from 1971 gave us “Hot Pants”, from Georgia boy James Brown. (Take a moment to enjoy the Godfather of Soul in all his sweaty, bouffant, bare-chested glory. It’s on me.) We came across a cute little park, where we stopped to eat our everything-that-won’t-last-and-can’t-be-frozen picnic lunch, consisting of items like a lone banana, an entire bag of carrots and sandwiches with way too much ham on them. After a romp on the playground equipment, we were driving again, and sharing a brief snicker about the overly earnest, children’s-bookish town name “Constableville”. This year, we’ve introduced the concept of Fiona and Bridget having control of the radio for a half-hour each. Fiona ventures into rock and alternative occasionally, but Bridget is firmly a pop fan. So, we heard Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” three times in one day. We would go on to hear it about twenty more times over the next couple of weeks. We settled in a Best Western Plus in Johnson City, New York. The pool was set up for lane-swimming, so we occupied a lane to cool down. We got a few dirty looks, but we were behaving – so who cares? We had dinner at Ground Round, with its endless popcorn, and talked about how much we loved being on the road again.

We had good intentions of attending mass the next morning, but Piggy (a stuffed pig with a ribbon around her neck that Bridget bought Fiona with a handful of change at a white elephant sale years ago) was missing. We couldn’t leave without her. She had apparently spent the night in a lost-and-found bin after being dropped in the parking lot the day before. After recovering Piggy, we hit Pennsylvania with its rolling green mountains and farmland. I enjoyed the perfect lunch – a buttery, crispy grilled cheese sandwich, creamy tomato soup and a giant dill pickle – at Country Friends Café. We entered rural Maryland to Luke Bryan’s awfully cheesy “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”. The general consensus in the car was that country music (well, this branch of it, anyway) is no good. I disagree, and – as you may have noticed – I firmly believe I’m right. In Frederick, we stopped rolling, and checked into a Motel 6. The girls and I enjoyed a swim (Ryan often uses that time to be alone, aloneness being scarce on road trips). We sank gratefully into the cool water after a hot day of travelling. Two other families shared the pool with us. One with a sleepy baby who wanted nothing but his mother, and one with a heavily pregnant mother wrangling a toddler who insisted on “fwimming” by himself. I lounged in the sun, occasionally cracking an eyelid to make sure two sleek heads were still above water, and marvelled at how things change. I remember well when I had a three-year-old and a baby hanging off me, both of them petrified of the water and seemingly trying to drown me and each other at every turn …. Dinner was at an expensive steakhouse called Red Horse, but the crab cakes and garlic mashed potatoes were amazing – so I forgive them. Much as I try to stay away from current events while on the road, over Starr Hill’s taster pack that evening, Ryan and I couldn’t help but discuss Baton Rouge. The harsh reality of being black in America, the gut-wrenching terror of being a cop in a country where anyone could be packing heat and you have a target on your back.

The next morning, after driving into Virgina fueled on eyeball-burning, hair-sprouting motel coffee, we hit a farmer’s market and bought gorgeous peaches and blueberries

032.JPG

We had a picnic lunch of gas station fare in the shade, and later a visit to a Tastee Freez (oh, the E abuse) in Gordonsville. At a gas station, a man lounging on a bench asked where we’re from. When he heard we’re from Canada, his eyes grew wide and he said “oh, I know – you guys gonna make them two in the back do some of the drivin'”. In Oxford, North Carolina, (unofficial state motto: “a Baptist church every eight paces”), we checked into the King’s Inn, and ate at George’s Family Restaurant. The star of that meal was the pasta Bridget and I shared. Spinach, mushrooms, pine nuts and chicken came together to make something beautiful.

The next morning, we discovered that Piggy was missing again. This time, she had slept in the parking lot next to a vending machine. This seemed like less of a big deal once I had downed a few slugs of the coffee in my hand. I sometimes wonder if I could quit coffee and be like those freaks who don’t need it. Then, I try to go without it for about three minutes in the morning, and I know I shouldn’t even try. While driving, we heard a commercial for a preschool that allows parents to check in online to get updates and videos throughout the day. Ryan said that’s the next step for parents who have a video moniter, and Fiona elaborated: “that’s for stalker parents who are desperate”. Sadly, I think they’re right – even more sadly, I think there’s quite a market for that sort of thing. Whatever happened to just asking your kids about their day?

Sometime that afternoon, we crossed into the wet, hot, stifling, smothering dirty south. Swimming at our Quality Inn pool, and dinner at Chili’s, were highlights. On the other hand, so was watching cockroaches scuttling in and out of pools of light outside our room later, while enjoying Thomas Creek amber ale. Either we’re easy to please or we’ve been broken down …. ? The end result’s the same, so we won’t worry about it. At the continental breakfast, over a biscuit smothered in sausage gravy, I chatted with a guy about American politics. He shook his head and said “Trump crooked, Clinton crooked. Ever’body crooked. Votin’ like tryin’ to decide which disease we wanna die of.”

We made it to Georgia that morning. The welcome centre was huge, and manned by a woman who did her best to sell her state. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and all four of us excitedly thought of what we might do during the coming days. I gathered my usual collection of maps and brochures to pour over in the car. Our first stop after the welcome centre was another welcome centre: a 200-year-old house (in fact, the oldest house) in Athens. We were looking for Weaver D’s Automatic for the People Café. Many music fans will recognise that phrase …. We toured the house because we could, and moved on. The restaurant was tiny, with no air conditioning – but those industrial fans cooled things down just fine. There were long tables covered with checkered oil cloth, and Weaver D himself was manning both the counter and the fryer. We all had fried chicken. For side items, I chose mac-n-cheese and collard greens. Weaver D’s food was amazing. It was soul food perfection, served with tall styrofoam cups of ice-cold lemonade and fresh, hot cornbread.

061.JPG

We left Athens for Macon, stopping at a tiny gas station along the way where we bought malt liquor in mason jars (lemon and strawberry flavours). Our beer that night was Hopsecutioner, made by Terrapin of Athens. It was strong, and challenging – and it stood up well to the hot night. The next morning, it lingered in my head a little – but dissipated easily without ruining my visit to the Tubman African American Museum. This collection of memorabilia and art is wonderful, and the museum is arranged well. We watched two short movies, one about Harriet Tubman and one about Rosa Parks (Fiona’s personal hero). Though the stories were filled with cruelty and suffering, they were presented in such a way that they glowed with hope and pride. The music exhibit contained information about Georgia’s many black entertainers – Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Ray Charles. Little Richard’s piano was on display, with a sign that said “do not play Little Richard’s piano – he’ll know.” I joked that perhaps Little Richard himself was in the piano. Fiona gleefully backed me up, and we almost had Bridget believing it.

After a kickin’ chicken sandwich at a Zaxby’s, we were on our way to the coast, passing increasingly swampy land the further south we moved. Dinner was at a Toucan’s Ale House (our first one), where I enjoyed a mouth-watering barbeque sampler plate and some Sweetwater Georgia Brown. We later watched most of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. It is discouraging that this angry, grating, freakishly orange man could one day be America’s president.

The next day, after picking up a Subway picnic lunch, we went in search of one of Georgia’s famous beaches. It took us quite a while to find it, as the signage isn’t great. The drive around St. Simon’s Island was pretty, though – pastel bungalows, and glimpses of a stunning blue ocean through strange, stunted, twisted trees draped with Spanish moss. The girls and I played in the waves, and beach-combed, while Ryan indulged in his favourite beach activity – sprawling to music. The salt water and sun exhausted us before we left the island, so we didn’t go far. Just to Kingsland, the highlight of which was the well of melted butter in the middle of the mashed potatoes I ordered at a Longhorn. Golden, salty, greasy heaven. Munich happened, but I shoved it to the back of my mind. Mass killings are yet another thing from which our road trip allowed me to escape – just for a few days.

The next day was laundry day …. And, as with pretty much everything, laundry is more fun on the road. Begging change in the parking lot, filling dodgy washers from thirty years ago with our nasty, worn-too-many-times clothes – knowing our suitcases will smell fresh for at least a day after the whole process is over. While the ancient dryer scorched our garments, we enjoyed of a dose of “Golden Girls” (the beloved TV trend of last year’s trip). Then, we were off to Albany, the childhood home of Ray Charles. En route, we stopped at a Sonic and drank thick, cold milkshakes while listening to 1973’s retro Casey Kasem. Mine was a peanut butter fudge shake, and I really can’t think of anything that would have improved it. That night, drinking our way through a Sweetwater taster pack, we discovered a series called “The Sixties” that kept us up late. Who knew that there were people other than JFK shot the day he died? Well, ok, possibly American history buffs knew. And people who lived through it. And many others. Maybe this is something only Ryan and I didn’t know – but we know now. Thank you, CNN and Tom Hanks!

Another Sunday – another failed attempt to attend mass.We found a church, but apparently the schedule on the website was out-dated – the place was empty. We went to a park instead. Not quite a church, but – after all – “the groves were God’s first temples”. These groves were proof that we were a long way from home. The air rang with strange insect and animal noises. There were unfamiliar bugs mating every few steps, and a bat flapping around even though it was mid-day. There was a pond that looked distinctively alligatory (yes, that is a word – I have made it so), and we steered wide of it. We visited an impressive monument to Ray Charles. A statue of Ray playing the piano slowly rotated while his music played continuously. Fountains surrounded the statue, and spreading out in several directions from the statue were walkways painted to look like piano keyboards. Appropriately, the interpretive plaque’s text was presented in both English and Braille.

133.JPG

After a quick trip to Subway, we were on our way to Florida. After reaching Florida, we stopped at a gas station selling the usual assortment of decorative knives, guns, dust-covered eighties toys, garishly dyed shells – and cold pop. Given that it was 38 ̊ C even before considering the humidity, I felt no guilt about purchasing – and eagerly slugging – a 32 oz diet pop. Shortly after that, driving through Williston, we saw a sign for the unfortunately named delivery business “Big O’s Package”. What were they thinking? Then again, that night we rented a room in the Withlacoochie Motel. Maybe it’s a theme? Though I am unable to say the name of the place without snickering, I have to admit that the Withlacoochie Motel is adorable. (Real keys! On cheap plastic keyrings! Plastic chairs outside every room inviting people to just be!) We had the pool to ourselves, which is – of course – our favourite pool experience. We ate dinner in the slightly-tacky-but-sweet seafood joint next door. Ryan and I introduced Fiona and Bridget to fried alligator, which we enjoyed with a side of Cajun mayo. That night, over tangerine beer (yes, it exists – and it’s good) outside our room, we saw a hercules beetle attempting to plough through a plastic chair, heard a rattler warning us off, and encountered what we are almost certain was a baby bobcat. Nature firmly welcomed us to Florida.

You may be wondering why we went to Florida. Wasn’t Georgia the point of our trip? Well, yes – but we found ourselves with the ability and time to finally visit a place that’s been circling my mind like a plane wanting to land for years: Weeki Wachee. I was introduced to it by the video of a song among Ryan’s Top 500 songs: “Low C” by Supergrass. However, far from the crumbling bygone I was expecting, Weeki Wachee had a line-up around several blocks by 9 a.m., and there was a lot to see and do. We were there for the mermaids, though, and what a show! I’ve loved mermaids for years, and the little girl in me was enthralled.160161

Of course, this being the United States of America, the mermaids were not only graceful, talented and beautiful. They were also patriotic.

163

Before leaving, we had our picture taken with the suspiciously dry Mermaid Chelsea.

164.JPG

After brunch at an IHOP (red velvet pancakes …. *swoon*), we were moving north again, to Valdosta. We checked in to, bizarrely, a building that held both a Super 8 and a Days Inn. After a swim in the mercifully cool and refreshing pool, we had dinner at the Smok’n Pig.. We had ribs, brisket and pulled pork with eight different sauces, as well as seasoned fries and fried okra. The whole meal was amazeballs even before the dessert: peach cobbler topped with pecans and brown sugar, the best of Georgia à la mode.

175

That night, we watched Bernie Sanders try to get his adoring fans to join Team Hilary, and then a horrible show about why planes crash. Because, you know, who needs to sleep?

The next night was spent in Carrolton, which we had visited on our honeymoon (thirteen years ago). At that time, we were camping, and there were only two of us. This time, we were in an Econolodge, and we have doubled in number. On our way there, we pulled into one of the tackiest gas stations I’ve ever seen (and that is saying something, given my considerable experience with gas stations of all stripes). There was a stick of burning incense wedged into the lotto ticket machine, and roll-on body oil in at least 25 scents. Fiona and Bridget went to the washroom, and gleefully reported to me that there was a vending machine selling Horny Goat Weed (whatever that is) and Black Jack condoms. After my trip to the washroom, I can confirm that both of these items were for sale – complete with full-colour cartoon illustrations (yes, a cartoon condom with facial features). In keeping with the tone of the joint, I bought a tall can of Natty Daddy malt liquor. 25 oz of booze for $1.89. Ryan said “it’s your head”, but I quite enjoyed it – and my head was fine down the line. The heat was still trapped in the concrete on the ground outside, but we detected the faintest whiff of cool in the air, and we soaked it in.

The next day, there was that funny feeling of things speeding up when you’re on a road trip, that sense of time flying away – a feeling I have never liked. Lunch was at Las Palmas, with good tortilla chips and salsa, and a chicken con queso dish that I adored. In the afternoon, we passed through beautiful mountains with clouds so low it felt like we could have reached up and grabbed them. We ended up in Dalton, “the carpet capital of the world”, and kind of ignored that designation. Our primary interest in Dalton was moonshine. The distillery had been in operation over a hundred years. The owner, complete with ZZ Top beard, was affable and eager.

197.JPG

He explained how they make moonshine, and how they apply flavours, and offered unlimited samples. He was happy that we are Canadians, saying that Canadians really know how to have fun (“even women”). We tried several flavours – butterscotch, caramel (will someone please tell me the difference between those two things), peach, cinnamon – and some kind of 140 proof barley-based booze that blazed a burning trail down my throat and gave me goosebumps. We couldn’t buy hooch directly from the still, because of local liquor laws – but we could buy a souvenir from them for about $25, and be given a bottle of moonshine as a thank-you for visiting. It will be a real treat some Saturday night to crack the seal on our cinnamon ‘shine ….

That night, we were in Atlanta. Our hotel was just a five-minute walk from Turner Field, and when we got there we were pleasantly surprised: it turns out that if you show up less than 2.5 hours before the game and you agree you’re going straight into the stadium, you get your ticket for $1. For $4, we attended a Braves game! We had hot pizza, cold beer and frozen yogurt for dessert with at least eight kinds of candy on it. It was a relief when the blazing sun went down, since we were sitting directly in it and roasting through the first few innings.

213

Next day, we made short work of S0uth Carolina, and ended up at a Days Inn with a beautiful pool and not much else. But if you’ve got kids and it’s blisteringly hot, if you’ve got a pool, you’ve got plenty! We enjoyed a Texas Roadhouse, Buckshot Amber and a show about a serial killer named Felix Vail. No wonder I don’t watch TV generally …. The next day, we ended up with the mixed blessing of a cloudy day, and I determined my outfit by smell-test (something unheard-of in the rosy beginnings of a road trip). So, here I sat in my least-smelly dress, enjoying the mellow feeling in the car and the coffee to go with. In Spring Creek, there were generously-stuffed hoagies, and a deluge of rain. We arrived late to the Sacred Heart of Jesus church, but we made it. A nice feeling …. After that, there was dinner at Los Toltecos, and Double D IPA – and “The Seventies” on CNN on which to geek out.

Our last full day on the road, there was a cool, grey mist through West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. For lunch, up a winding mountain, there was Cracker Barrel, one more time. Then there was nothing for the longest time – because the area was so isolated. On every road trip, sometimes more than once, there is that moment when you are pretty sure you’ll have to pee roadside. This was one of those moments. That evening’s dinner was at Friendly’s. A wonderful road trip indulgence, complete with ice cream for four.The next day, we were back in Canada with a border guard saying “welcome back, guys” – and reminiscing about our wanderings. It was great to see that our house was still standing, and have spaghetti on our own patio, and sleep in our own beds – but I have a feeling that, if the option had presented itself, another day on the road would have been eagerly greeted with my second-least-smelly dress and a smile.

My words seem to have dried up.

Flower-Examples-Rose-White1

I have a notebook that I carry with me everywhere I go. I pull it out of my purse often, to scribble – or build on – ideas for blog posts. When I use an idea, I scratch it out. There are many ideas in my notebook that have not been scatched out. Yet I have not written a post in a month …. Each time I try, something awful comes screaming to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, and I can’t think of anything to say.

France.

Belgium.

Afghanistan.

Pakistan.

Iraq.

Bangladesh.

The Philippines.

France again.

Africa, all over the bloody continent.

Syria.

Russia.

America, America, America – and its cursed love affair with guns.

Trump.

Dallas cops dead. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Plane crashes under mysterious circumstances.

Hostages taken, used as collateral – and murdered while cameras roll.

Children abused, children missing, children murdered.

Each time some new, awful headline leaps out at me from the newspaper or the internet, I try to make sense of it. I think about how I might frame it – what I could say about it. Then, I think about how many ways I’ve said the same damn thing over the same damn things – and I wonder what’s next. Heavy-hearted and just plain tired, I shrug and move on, because there isn’t anything else I can do. I have no comfort to offer because I’m fairly certain the next spectacularly rotten failing of humanity is just waiting to extinguish whatever tiny flicker I can coax to glow. And I’m not about to join the ranks of slacktivists hashtagging memes and feeling like they’ve made a difference when all they’ve done is add to the noise …. I can’t see that being satisfying or even meaningful.

So I guess I’m taking a break from writing …. ? I’m about to hit the road with my three favourite faces – our road trip is just minutes away. When I’m on the road, I tend to stay away from the internet. I get the odd bit of news from the free newspaper that some hotels hand out with their morning offering of coffee and muffins (or stale donuts or decisively firm pastries or, if we’re far enough south, biscuits and sausage gravy), or the radio. Ryan or Fiona or Bridget might announce something to me. But I won’t be drowning in it like I am here at home, wave after wave of sorrow and cruelty crashing over me while I start to understand why so many people tune out and watch videos of kittens.

I’ll be back. Life is still beautiful – and filled with things for me to get ornery about, too. And I will, of course, have to report on all the crazy, weird and wondrous things I come across as we wander across the map of North America. In the meantime, I pray peace and compassion and good will for us all.

 

All parents come a little too close to the gorillas and alligators sometimes.

jellyfish1

It’s been a month since I last wrote anything more than a one-line love note or a grocery list. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to write, or that there’s been nothing to write about. It’s just writer’s block, really – or maybe plain old laziness. In any case, I’m back today because of two animals: a gorilla and an alligator. By now, the stories are well-known. A four-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo climbed into the enclosure of Harambe the gorilla. The gorilla started dragging the boy around. Zoo officials made the heart-wrenching decision to save the boy’s life by shooting Harambe. A two-year-old boy visiting Disney was snatched by an alligator while wading in a lagoon. His father fought with the animal, but was no match for it. Divers recovered little Lane Graves’ body yesterday. The parents of both children have received harsh criticism – and, in some cases, pure cruelty – from around the world. These days, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection can say whatever they want to a massive audience in a matter of seconds. In some cases, of course, what people have to say is enlightening and uplifting. Other times, it’s as if we’ve handed a bullhorn to bullshit.

In all honesty, I am often quick to judge, myself. My first thought when I heard about these incidents was to wonder where the parents were and what they were doing. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt the uncomfortable sensation of my own pointing finger turning back to me. There are no perfect parents. On our confident days, we just know we’re doing a damn fine job. Other days, doubts gnaw at the edges of our underslept, overstimuated minds, and we feel like we’re doing everything wrong. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

If the mother in Cincinnati had caught her son by the back of his shirt as he was scaling the barrier, if the father in Florida had picked up his son just seconds earlier, they’d be just like the rest of us – laughing uneasily about a near-miss, and deeply grateful that nothing bad happened. Because it happens to all of us. A few seconds here, a few inches there, a last-minute detour – and it could have been us and our children. In solidarity with these parents, I present my own gallery of gorillas and alligators:

  • When Fiona was just days old, I accidentally dipped her face below the bathwater. My mother noticed before I did, yanked her out of the bath and pounded her back until she sputtered and wailed. Would I, inexperienced, hormonal and sleep-deprived, have noticed in time if my mother had not been there?
  • A few months later, Fiona rolled off the couch onto the hardwood floor. I just didn’t know she could roll yet …. What if she had landed on her soft baby head?
  • Strolling along on a sunny day, Fiona’s car seat (with her in it) was ejected from her stroller as I rolled it over a bump, because it wasn’t connected to the stroller properly. She flew through the air, landing face down, and I cried with gratitude when I saw that somehow she was ok. She could so easily have not been ok.
  • Fiona just about severed Bridget’s pinky finger playing a door-slamming game. (And can somebody, anybody, tell me what is so amazing about slamming doors? Every time the girls get together with their friends, there’s always some point where I find myself yelling at them to stop slamming doors.)  Blood everywhere, screaming, stitches – and where were the parents? Having a coffee in the next room. Yes, that’s right, we were in a different room than our 3- and 1- year-old daughters, relaxing – and one of them got badly injured while we were at it.
  • Bridget had not one, not two, not three, but four allergic reactions to eggs before we figured out that eggs were her issue.
  • Fiona once opened the car door on the highway. And it wasn’t rush hour, either, so we were going full-speed. Thankfully, she was strapped into her booster seat, and the wind quickly forced the door shut again.
  • I turned my back for the length of time it took to tell Fiona to put on her shoes, and Bridget fell off the toilet straight onto her face. She still has a small scar on her forehead from the edge of the trash can. I suppose it could have been worse ….
  • Fiona toppled over on an escalator, tumbling down a few steps and crouching in fear as she neared the bottom. She bawled while I hollered at her from my place at the top of the escalator, clutching Bridget, to stand up and get off the escalator when it reached the bottom – and I was petrified that her hair or clothes would get caught.They didn’t. She listened to my frantic, barking instructions, and stepped off unscathed, aside from a few nasty metal-teeth gashes.
  • Bridget tried peeling potatoes …. and peeled a deep strip of skin off her finger. She bled copiously, and I worried about potential infection from dirty potato skins for days afterwards.
  • Fiona recently had an anaphylactic reaction to …. something. Her appointment with an allergist is in November, so I guess we’ll know then. Her reaction was not recognized until her face was swelling up and she was wheezing – because neither Ryan nor I thought she was that serious when she said she was winded from her time at the park.

The girls have been left alone in the house, and in the car. There’s been carpet burn because we weren’t close enough on the stairs, road-burn because we weren’t in reach during bicycle incidents. We’ve arrived at our destination and seen that one or the other of our daughters wasn’t strapped in properly. We’ve found ourselves in a scary situation because one or the other of the girls is choking on a food they weren’t ready for yet – or crammed in too fast. Both girls have broken away in a parking lot or across a street. They’ve both disappeared in stores. More than once, I’ve scanned the horizon at the beach and waited breathlessly for their sleek, wet heads to surface. They go to the park by themselves, and I wonder while they’re gone whether this is a healthy part of their development or me jumping the gun for convenience. Both Ryan and I have been distracted while driving. In fact, find me one person on the face of the planet who has not been distracted while driving kids around! But we’re ok. The kids are still living, breathing, fighting, lipping back, making messes and eating money – by the grace of God, by the hand of fate, by a hair, by the skin of their teeth. What would the headlines look like otherwise? I remember my brother almost falling into the Grand Canyon, and my father catching him by the back of his overalls. Stupid family drops preschooler in the biggest hole on earth. I remember being on a trip to Florida with my family when I was a child, and parking beside a beach and dashing for the cool blue water. My mother lingered behind and read a sign that warned of the danger of a Portuguese man o’ war infestation. She called us back to shore, and explained that this was not a good place to swim. We moved on. Stupid family ignores warning signs, swims in infested water, loses child to venomous creatures ….

There are so many times when the outcome could have been horrendous, heartbreaking, crippling. But it wasn’t. We got away. These families didn’t, who knows why – and they deserve our sympathy, not our ridicule. Imagine the emotions of the mother in Cincinnati as she saw her child at the mercy of a 450 lb gorilla and waited helplessly to see what zoo staff would do. Imagine the desperation of the father in Florida as he fought off the alligator. His son was dragged into the water by a prehistoric reptile, never to be seen alive again. What punishment could be harder than that? Yet asshole armchair quarterbacks do not hesitate to add to the pain by blaming the parents, who were doing their best.

In as much as we are all Nigeria, Charlie Hebdo, France, Syria, Orlando …. we are also all that mother, that father. The only thing standing between us and them is the luck of the draw. We are humanity, and the death of one diminishes all of us. Love and mercy today. That’s all.