Still Sparkling

Before checking my e-mail this morning I made a solemn promise to myself to answer the Daily WordPress Prompt no matter what.  Every day I read it and have good intentions, but we all know the place to which good intentions are paving the road.  This road is also crowded with people who write awkward sentences and take a long time to get to the point.

Sparkling or Still

What’s your idea of a perfect day off: one during which you can quietly relax, doing nothing, or one with one fun activity lined up after the other? Tell us how you’d spend your time.

At the risk of boring you into a coma, here goes.  Hey, it’s not like I’ve duct taped you to a chair in my living room where you feel obligated to choke down a bad cup of coffee and pretend to listen.  Although that’s how you may feel.

I have been successfully retired for fifty days.  That’s almost two months of continuous days off, and that makes me a self-proclaimed expert on the subject.  Quietly relaxing doing nothing is a fun activity for me, so I choose both answers simultaneously.

My typical day starts with coffee consumed while I scroll through all the e-mails I get from the best of the blogs I follow.  This can take a long time, depending on how interesting you all have decided to be on any particular day.  November has been a crazy month with everyone posting like mad.  I’m anticipating less activity in December when we’re all in Christmas mode.  Even if you don’t celebrate it, it’s pretty hard to ignore altogether.

W finishes reading the paper and most mornings wanders off to the kitchen, eventually interrupting me after making breakfast to tell me to come and cook my own eggs.  He just can’t make himself mutilate eggs the way I do.  Broken, flipped and cooked to death should be a choice in all breakfast restaurants.

If either of us has somewhere to go, we get our act together and do that.  If we don’t, the best way to spend an afternoon for me is messing around in my art room.  Messing around is no vague term.  Sometimes I share my mess, sometimes I don’t.  There was this one oil pastel thing I did that was so hideous I threw it out.  Picture an alien with green eyes and hair on fire.

I also read real books or something on my kindle, clean up, play some word games, write some kind of nonsense on my blog, drum up some ambition to make something for dinner, make lists.  Yes, there are days when I don’t leave my house.  I refuse to feel bad about this, although I will admit some form of physical exercise will have to make it on to one of my lists soon.  Up and down the stairs fifteen times a day should count for something in the meantime.

WAKE UP!  I’m still talking to you.  Don’t you want to hear how I spend my evenings??  They’re more or less a repeat of the afternoons, actually.

Some days I wonder if they miss me at work.  Then I read Dilbert on my page a day calendar and think – nope – probably not.

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Today is our anniversary so we will probably go out to eat somewhere.  We also know there’s a bunch of leftovers in the fridge and neither of us would care if we opted for that instead.  It’s quite delightful to have days stretch ahead of me which I can fill with whatever I want.

Okay, duct tape is going in the garbage and you’re free to go.  I’ll finish up the coffee.  Draw a couple of flaming red-haired elves.  Try not to get too stressed out by all the excitement in my mad and crazy life.

I worked hard for this!  I’m going to enjoy every single fun and relaxing minute of it.

nano

Scene From A Park

Photo Credit James Lee

Photo Credit James Lee

Writing 101:  Point of View

A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry.  Write this scene.  Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

We went for a stroll one afternoon in the park. I thought it might be our last outing of the season before the snow came, or even the last for the year until spring, supposing I survived the winter. Possibly the last park stroll of my life. I didn’t know. There were no birds to feed, the geese had all gone south. Leaves were falling and skittering across our path in the brisk wind and there was a faint smell of burning in the autumn air. Cold enough for a jacket buttoned up and for noses and cheeks to tingle. So I was surprised when we came across the old woman sitting alone on her bench, bare hands on cold steel needles. She looked up but the little clicking sounds the needles made as she worked bright red yarn around them never faltered. Her steely grey eyes peered straight through me as if I wasn’t even there. I let go of Sally’s hand and roughly brushed the tears I couldn’t control from my cold cheeks. What the hell? I never used to cry. But my emotions had gone haywire lately. I wanted immediately to lash out at a perfect stranger, shake my fist, yell at her wrinkled old face. Look at me, I’M STILL HERE! I’m not gone yet. And it won’t be today. Today is NOT a good day to die. I looked away, wiped my palms on my jeans, and grabbed Sally’s hand. And then we just kept walking.

There was such a sadness in Sam that last fall we spent together. And so much anger. I honestly don’t know how I’d handle a similar diagnosis, but when he got the bad news, I decided the right thing for him to do was to keep on living. No giving up, no wallowing. I wanted him to be grateful for every single day he had left and happy to live all of them. But his moods were just all over the place. Of course I understood why, but still it was hard for me to cope with the intensity and the fierceness of his feelings. The funniest things would set him off. Like the day we went for a walk in the park. Everything was so beautiful and colourful and crisp. I’ve always loved Indian summer. There was a little old grandma sitting on one of the park benches busily knitting a child’s bright red sweater. She glanced up at us as we approached and I returned her sweet smile. It vanished though, when she looked at Sam. Because he was crying. Deep wrenching sobs, although later he’d claim it was just a few tears from the cold air and some pent-up emotion and naturally he didn’t want to talk about it. He dug his fists into his eyes, and then he grabbed my hand again and almost wrenched my shoulder out of its socket pulling me away. That poor old grandma, I’m sure he must have given her a crazy scare. And poor me. But mostly, poor, poor, dear Sam.

I was never one to sit at home by myself with nobody to talk to and nothing new to see, so as long as the weather stayed decent and my legs were willing, I’d pack up whatever I was working on and shuffle my old bones over to the park across the way. The bench I liked the best was under a big old red maple tree, and that fall it was just gorgeous. Red as the little sweater I had decided to knit for the dog I didn’t have. Once in a while the odd curious person would take the time to stop and chat. I lived for that. I used to tell fortunes and predict the future in my younger days, but those skills must fade away with age and lack of practice, because I got pretty rusty. Still, I liked to give it a whirl whenever I had the chance. Mostly I’d come up with nothing much to write home about. So when that young couple walked up the path it was like I’d been struck by psychic lightning. Her sadness mixed up with bewildered confusion, his rage manifested in clenched fists and choked back tears. Their combined unhappiness almost bowled me over. There was so much I wanted to say to them about hope and faith and nothing written in stone,  but they didn’t stop. Maybe it’s just as well. They were both already resigned to a future they believed they were powerless to change.  Too bad no one likes a little old lady who interferes.

Bottoms Up

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Well I SUPPOSE it’s about time for a REAL post.  Said the pre-retiring mess-making cartoon-drawing officially old lady trying to make sense of this new not-classic mode of creation on Word Press.

So just ignore that, I’m not here to complain about insignificant things, because what I really want to talk about is my signature beverage.  It was a WP prompt awhile ago that made me laugh, because, really, who do we think we are, famous people with images or something?  And without even knowing me all that well you might suspect my drink du jour would be a tall glass of red wine (good guess) but it wasn’t always so.

It used to be chocolate milk.  I thought I would never outgrow it, and maybe I still haven’t completely, because that stuff is good.  Not the kind you mix with a powdered concoction into actual milk, but the kind you buy in little brown bottles or cartons which may or may not contain any real milk.  Smooth and thick and chocolate-y with coma inducing amounts of sugar.  This was such a rare treat when I was a kid that whenever we ate out (another once in a blue moon treat) that’s what I would order to drink.  Who cares about the food.  Chocolate milk goes with absolutely everything.

Then when I was a teenager trying to put chocolate behind me, Coca Cola was the next best thing.  Until it became cool to prefer Pepsi although if you did a blind taste test you’d probably have to cheat if you really wanted people to think you could tell the difference.

In my twenties and beyond, when I became extremely world-weary and sophisticated, my go-to beverage was a Harvey Wallbanger.  Because what could possibly be more sophisticated than that.  Not cheap draft beer, that’s for sure, although I admit I drank my fair share of that too, depending entirely on the money situation of the moment.   Vodka, orange juice, Galliano, a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.  And lots of ice.  Umbrella purely optional.  But a nice touch.

W is the one who got me drinking amber rum.  Probably because the umbrellas were an embarrassment for him.  And it had to be with real Pepsi, no substitutions.  And a twist of lemon or lime.  I’m the one who switched myself to spiced rum.  He hates it.  All the more for me then.

Raising children changes everything of course, and drinking something like coffee to keep yourself alert replaces drinking anything that might cause you to pass out and miss seeing whatever it is they’re up to now.  And coffee seems harmless enough until you clue in to how addicted you are to it.  Even then, it’s not easy to give it up.  Mostly because you can’t possibly convince yourself that there’s any good reason to do so.  And besides, you spent a lot of money on that stupid Tassimo.

But pop and diet pop are SO incredibly bad for you.  I’ve had enough of them to last several life times and now I’m ready to quit.  Wine seems like a viable alternative.  I used to like white, but not much.  Then my daughter started raving about Malbec and I’ve been hopelessly hooked ever since.  It’s like store-bought chocolate milk for adults.  Plus you look way more worldly and refined sipping on something that’s not in a plastic cup or a travel mug, right?

Well I hope so.  I have a friend who won’t drink red wine because it makes her teeth and lips red.  I say, who cares?  I also say, drink whatever you want, teeth and lips be damned.  That’s the first time I’ve ever said that really, and probably the last time now that I look at it critically and while completely sober.

Damn, I should have said water.  We should ALL be saying water.  And being thankful that we have access to the clean and drinkable kind. That would be commendable, but also boring.  So red wine it is.  Until I’m at the stage in my life where they switch me to Metamucil through a plastic bendy straw.  May the wine preserve me until then.

Chemistry

sunshine

Good morning sunshine!

Well, it’s not morning anymore, but the a.m. of today was a gorgeous one.  The first of over three hundred more that are not the first of April.  I don’t like pranks and jokes and being fooled.  Even though I am often a great and gullible target.  Or maybe that’s exactly why shenanigans and trickery aggravate me so much.

Anyway, the SUNSHINE!  I thought today we were supposed to go sailing into many degrees on the plus side of zero celsius, but apparently that’s next week.  They say.  I’m beginning to dislike THEY.  Because now they say we’re getting snow showers this afternoon.  Seriously.  They need to keep this information to themselves if they can’t think of anything nice to tell us.

So what does all this have to do with the Daily Prompt: Land of ConfusionWhich subject in school did you find impossible to master? Did math give you hives? Did English make you scream? Do tell!

Well, it has nothing to do with it, really, except to illustrate why I simply don’t have the right character to be good at every subject there is.  I’m much too inattentive and unfocused (and yes, confused) to be messing around and dealing with really important stuff.   No, English did not make me scream. I loved English.  Math gave me a lot of headaches.   But Chemistry made me pull my hair out and wish to die.  I guess it’s good that there are people out there who care about the composition and properties of substances and various elementary forms of matter and their reactions and phenomena.  Without those people we would not have dangerous cleaning products and makeup. 

But who thought putting a bunch of teenagers in a room with substances that react to other substances including fire and water was a good idea?  I have told the story elsewhere of how a grade twelve classmate and I dropped a recently blown out match into a garbage can and blew it up.  It was an accident.  And it was only a small explosion.  It taught me to blow out a match and then hold it under running water before disposing of it amongst flammable materials.  So I guess you could say chemistry was not a complete waste of time for me, but I definitely don’t remember much else about it.  Except maybe for how much I hated the periodic table.

If high school chemistry had dealt with sympathetic understanding, rapport, and the interaction of one personality with another, now that I might have been good at.  Where all the answers weren’t H2O and Bunsen burners.  Okay, those were only my answers, but you know what I mean. 

On second thought, maybe unleashing all that touchy feely stuff in a room full of teenagers isn’t a really smart idea either.

What was your worst subject in school?  What’s the weather like where you are?  If you’re a world famous chemist or if you’re living in one of those places where the grass is green and crocuses are blooming, I take it back – I don’t think I want to hear about it.  Even if it’s just a prank.

Like a Stone

William Powell Frith - Sleep

William Powell Frith – Sleep

March 23rd Daily Prompt:  Mr. Sandman 

What kind of sleeper are you? Do you drop off like a stone and awaken refreshed, or do you need pitch black and silence to drift off to dream?

(I know this is yesterdays prompt, and I would have done it yesterday if I hadn’t needed to take so many naps.  It’s the only sane way to spend a Monday.)

I am a marathon sleeper.  If sleeping were an Olympic event I would be a high ranking favourite, a definite contender for the gold.  I have been in training my entire life.  When I was a baby my mother said her envious friends were sure she must be sedating me.  She could plop me down on any flat surface while she visited and drank tea and I would stay happily passed out until it was time to bundle me up again and take me home.  It was anyone’s guess what color my eyes were for several months because they were so rarely open.

I don’t remember ever being freaked out by bedtime as a child.  Or as an adult either.  So when I gave birth to a daughter who couldn’t seem to figure out how to sleep for more than four hours at a stretch until she was six months old, and then bumped it up to six hours between midnight and six a.m. until she was almost two – well that was enough to make me totally rethink the parenting thing, never mind my new zombie-like personality caused by sleep deprivation.  She was the kind of kid who would jump up and down in the middle of the room and sing and dance to stay awake.  After that I had a less confusing child who restored my faith in the existence of our family’s powerful sleep gene.  I never loved my son so much as when he would look at me with his forlorn little face at the end of the day and say “Is it time to go to bed yet?”

Although pitch black silence is nice for inducing sleep, for me it’s not a necessary requirement.  My grandma could fall asleep anywhere and so can I.  A loud noise or the phone ringing or incessant and annoying snoring (not mentioning any names here) will wake me up easily enough, but if I’m not sufficiently rested I will be ridiculously cranky until you shut up and go away and leave me alone.  Or give me coffee.  That also works.

Maybe I was a raving insomniac in a past life and in this one I’m making up for all that lost sleep. Sleep is such a lovely thing.  I don’t understand why we all don’t do more of it.  Although I’ve heard there are people who would like to do that and can’t.  That makes me feel like one of the lucky ones.   It’s like my brain has an off switch triggered by simply closing my eyes.  Is that a blessing or a curse?  I don’t know.  Maybe the mysteries of the universe can only be solved at 3 a.m., in which case I probably won’t be the one doing that.

But I’m sure this talent for dropping happily off into dreamland and staying there for hours has to be a true indicator of an untroubled mind, right?

Anyway, don’t think too hard about that.  Just agree with me.  You’ll sleep better.

Kidnapped

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Daily Prompt:  Captives Choice.  You’ve been kidnapped and given a choice:  would you rather be stranded on an island, dropped into an unknown forest, or locked in a strange building?

Well this just brings up a whole mess of questions, doesn’t it?  Who are my kidnappers, what do they want, and why in the world have they kidnapped me?   If they’re expecting to get some huge ransom in return for my safe release, they’re in for a big surprise.  Oh well, however misguided and ill-informed they are,  they seem like decent guys, giving me a choice about where I’m to be held and all.

If they’re leaving me to die, then an island should definitely be their first choice, because it’s my last of the three. Islands by definition are completely surrounded by water, so stranded is an understatement in my case.  Even with a boat and a life jacket I would probably be too afraid to venture off dry land on my own.  Swimming is totally out of the question.  I can feel myself drowning just thinking about it.

Is there any other kind of forest besides ‘unknown’?  I’m personally not familiar with any forests and can’t imagine getting to know one.  They are jam-packed with trees and underbrush and wild animals.  And probably bugs.  I wouldn’t fit in.  Mind you, if they dropped me from high enough, it wouldn’t matter, would it?

So, locked in a strange building it is, thank you very much. I hope by strange they mean unusual or weird and not just unfamiliar to me.  Exploring old buildings can be fun even under duress in unfortunate circumstances.  I think.  Like if it was haunted or something, that would add an unusual and exciting twist.  There might be closets to open and bureau drawers to go through and filing cabinets full of clues.  To what I must admit I have no clue, but who knows, I might be smart enough to recognize one if I came across it.  In a building there’s going to be indoor plumbing, or at least a far greater likelihood of it than the island and forest scenarios.  Have I ever mentioned how much I like my creature comforts?  Even if it’s only bare walls surrounding me it’s preferable to cowering in wide open spaces.  With animals and bugs.

Locks can be picked.  Doors can be broken down.  Windows can be broken.  Floor boards can be ripped up and hidden beneath.  Not that I’ve ever done any of those things, but I don’t imagine they’re that far beyond my capabilities.  I would give them a try.  And if I could break out of one building, perhaps there would be other buildings close by to escape to and break into, where I could set off fire alarms or borrow a phone, or scream a lot and beg for help.

If this locked building turns out to be in the middle of an unknown forest on a deserted island, well shit.  Now I have no idea what to do.  Except give my kidnappers supreme hell for being collossal idiots.  I certainly hope they come back for me so I can tell them that.

Music Lessons

piano

365 Days of Writing Prompts from WordPress:  Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse.  How is your life different today because of him or her?

My mother bought a second-hand upright piano when we were kids and announced that all of us were going to take lessons and learn how to play it.  I don’t remember being given a choice about that, but we embarked on the process willingly enough.  Music lessons must have been something my parents discussed and dad agreed to simply to make mom happy, although even buying the piano would have been a major expense for them and certainly was not a necessity.  Like all good parents, they sacrificed to give their kids opportunities.  And like all kids everywhere, we did not always appreciate the things we had to do for our own good.

Mr. Rhodes was short and round and serious and I never saw him dressed in anything but a suit and tie.  He had black brush cut hair, big dark rimmed glasses and a stern and scowling look, but he was, underneath all that, a gentle man.  He played the organ at our church and his wife was our choir director.  She was also an Avon Lady, and he was a high school industrial arts teacher who taught music in his spare time. They lived in a little white stucco house near the high school and although I must have visited it a hundred times, all I remember is the tiny living room with a table chock full of Avon stuff and the piano lesson room around the corner where I would sit on a hard bench for an hour at a time in the interests of obtaining a well-rounded education.

From the first lesson he had a lot of patience with me.  I had none at all with myself.  Much like how I wanted to be able to read books after a couple of weeks in grade one,  I expected to be able to play the piano well and to do it quickly without a lot of effort.  I wanted short cuts to mediocrity.  He was more bent on slowly fostering and developing an appreciation and a love in me for all things musical.  Music delighted him.   Lesson after lesson he painstakingly taught me how to read the notes on the page, the proper fingering and hand positions, and a lot of boring stuff about dead composers and sharps and flats and major and minor keys and keeping time.  I thought all the practicing would kill me so I did as little of it as possible.

Despite my best efforts to merely survive the tedium, a lot of knowledge sunk in and eventually some talent oozed out.  He told me I was one of his best pupils, although now I think he was being rather generous with his praise.  I did get very good at sight-reading, sitting down with a brand new piece of music in front of me and playing it through without difficulty.  But I never felt like interpreting what was written into anything beautiful or sad or joyous with feeling and real emotion.  Watching a concert pianist play something classical and emote all over the keyboard with closed eyes and a rapturous face made me extremely uncomfortable.  I had no ambition whatsoever for that to ever be me.  When Mr. Rhodes would wave his pencil in the air and cry “Dolce!  Pianisimo!”  in the middle of a piece,  I would often just bang away all the harder to drown him out.

Less dedicated teachers might have thrown up their hands, but he looked for ways to encourage and motivate me.  He went out one day and bought me a big music book full of John Philip Sousa marches and told me to take it home and play my heart out.  Suddenly music was a beautiful thing.  Our piano took a real beating for a while after that.  Grandioso and fortissimo were definitely my thing.  I was never what anyone would describe as a loud or forceful person, but for whatever reason, playing the piano brought that out in me.

My brother got to quit the piano lessons when he’d had enough of them, and one of my sisters decided she wanted singing lessons instead.  I often said I wanted to stop, but I could see how much it meant to mom for me to keep going.  And Mr. Rhodes pronounced me almost good enough to take my grade eight practical and theory exams if I chose to work a little harder.  So I kept going for music lessons longer than I ever expected I would, with no real plan for ever putting them to any use.

You may find it strange to learn that I went on to play the organ at church after taking lessons on that instrument as well, and adding deep bass foot pedaling to my repertoire.   I learned to do soft and quiet background pieces, slow and funereal dirges, the kind of soothing music that can put some church goers to sleep.  But I lived for the glory hallelujah Onward-Christian-Soldier marching hymns putting fire in everyone’s soul, never mind leaving a lot of the older parishioners a little breathless and blue in the face.

My music teacher had a heart attack and died in his backyard on a summer afternoon when I was halfway through high school.  I don’t know if there were any warning signs but that wouldn’t have changed the fact that it was sad and shocking news.  I never got to tell him how bad I felt for not passing the music exams, although I brushed it off as totally unimportant at the time.  I did tell everyone I didn’t want to take them but they urged me on so I went through the motions in my usual lackadaisical fashion.   Even though I knew how disappointed he would be if I didn’t do well, I didn’t work hard enough and I’m sorry for that.  I passed the sight reading part with flying colors though. That was the only thing that impressed my examiners.

How is my life different because of him?  Well I didn’t really have much of a life going on before he and his piano were in it, so I can only imagine how different it would be without all my miscellaneous musical knowledge.  It drives me nuts to hear wrong notes and anything played or sung off-key.  I can still look at a piece of music and read it and hear it in my head.  Maybe I could still play it, but these old hands are certainly out of practice.  We couldn’t be hauling a piano all over the place when my kids were growing up, so they never got to be “Rhodes scholars” like me.

I’ve heard people say they wish they’d kept up with their music lessons, but I don’t mind that they stopped for me when they did.  It was never one of my passions.  I’m simply happy to have known someone who loved it all so very much.

365 writing prompts