Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Baby, Be Prepared to Be Surprised

Do you love this road sign? I see them all over Nova Scotia, and they make me smile. They remind me of the “Chance” cards in Monopoly. 1 kilometer to “?” To what? Surprise me. Some of my favorite unexpected moments:

Ceilidh (sounds like kay-lee, it’s basically Gaelic for “dance party in the kitchen, yo”) and lunch at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique. (B.—we actually have had stellar soups everywhere we’ve gone.) The fiddler and pianist played for an hour without missing a beat—seamless, irresistible jigs and reels and waltzes and hornpipes. The biggest surprise? I managed to stay in my seat and not dance around the small dining room. Barely.
Where are the owners of those bikes? Hmmm.

Riding bicycles for 26 kilometers on the Mabou River Trail without seeing another living soul. We rode up a thickly wooded ridge where the Fall colors look even more startling against the backdrop of dark green firs. The trail crosses over a dozen creeks and little rivers on weathered wooden bridges. My “?” moment was coming across an apple tree in the middle of pristine forest, no doubt planted thirty years ago by some unwitting bird. Bright apples burned crimson on every branch. They will never see the inside of an applesauce can or a pie crust. I could almost hear them singing a song of simply being-- of bearing beautiful fruit whether or not anyone is watching or expecting it. I’ve been humming ever since.

Driving over a small rise on the Cabot Trail Loop to find a huge moose walking nonchalantly across the highway. Fifteen hundred pounds of animal, and a rack of antlers so enormous that we couldn’t imagine how he even held his head up. We pulled over and watched him until he disappeared into the woods.
So, in the words of Sondre Lerche, “Better be prepared to be surprised, that’s all I know.”

Sunday, September 26, 2010


And you thought the Filet-O-Fish was a bad idea. McCrustaceans take it to a whole new level of horror. Or maybe it sounds good to you--maybe you prefer your lobster with Diet Coke and fries, Super Sized.  Maybe you need a trip to Nova Scotia. I think everyone needs a trip to Nova Scotia.

Can I tell you I love this place? And not because you can get lobster at McDonald's. Mostly because you can keep driving north and east until you come to Cape Breton Island, the kind of gorgeous unspoiled place that you didn't think exists anymore. You could stay in a little town like Mabou, where you can't find fast food for fifty miles in any direction. The inn where you stay could loan you a couple of kayaks or two bicycles tomorrow so that you could feel the slightly salty breeze in your hair while you pedal anywhere or paddle nowhere in particular. You could watch an incredible sunset and sleep through a sunrise and eat crisp local apples with sharp white cheddar for lunch.
Hopefully the Red Shoe Pub would serve fresh scallops with bacon and creamed peas again and you could stomp your foot while you ate. Because everyone stomps when the teenaged fiddler with the flying fingers cranks up the tempo. It's the only way to keep yourself from pushing your seat back and dancing on the table. And you could go to bed wondering why you think you need a Target and a cell phone and a three car garage and a Jamba Juice.

You'll want to find the person who first told you to hurry up or life would pass you by and tell them this: If I hurry up, I might pass by life. The drive through window does not appeal to me--I'm not interested in fast-lane McLife. No thanks. I've got time to walk in and sit down and order the fresh catch of the day. I want it cooked slowly, and served with live music. I'm in Nova Scotia. And when I get home, I hope there's a little Nova Scotia in me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Say Cheez!

My weekend trip to the grocery store left me with some deep questions about the meaning of life. OK, not life exactly. How about the meaning of food labels? Seriously. Do you have any idea what the following food-packaging terms mean?

Boneless ribs: Isn't a rib, by definition, a bone? That's what I thought. But who would pay $2.49 a pound for a Styrofoam tray of  meat labeled "Really Fatty Hunks of Raw Pork that Aren't Big Enough to Sell as a Roast"? I wouldn't. Slap two of my favorite meat-related words on the package though --boneless right next to ribs--and I'll buy eight pounds of it without batting an eyelash. Brilliant.

Fat Free Sour Cream (not to mention Fat Free Half and Half): Hold on. Implicit in the very concept of Sour Cream is the presence of, uh, cream. And we all know that cream is just a fancy word for FAT. Ain't no such thing as fat-free fat. So for the sake of accuracy, this white substance in the cute cow-spotted tub should be called "Sour Cream Free Sour Cream." Which begs the question--WHAT AM I ACTUALLY EATING? I probably don't want to know.

Froot: (an all-purpose fun misspelling used as a prefix for other exciting words like loops, snacks, and the super-snappy by-the-foot) If the FDA won't even allow the term "fruit" on the box, doesn't that give us a clue? Froot is actually code for "high-fructose-corn-syrup-plus-artificial-coloring." Now that's a naturally wholesome snack. Think "Five-A-Day". How can you tell if you're eating real fruit or froot? Hint: Fruit will never turn your teeth blue.

Cheez: (another useful prefix, commonly paired with It or Whiz)  The wonder-child who thought of froot got promoted from the snack department and wham! Another brilliant word twinkles in the food-aisle firmament. But don't be fooled by the phonetic similarities. Cheez is not, by any stretch of the imagination, cheese. In fact, I don't think it can even legitimately count as food--unless your definition of "food" is broad enough to include artificially flavored petroleum products. Hint: If it comes in a can with a push button, it's not cheese. But cheez has its place. One squeeze will lubricate that squeaky hinge or the sprocket on your bicycle--in bacon or sharp flavor.

I'm out of time, and we haven't even scratched the surface. So many questions left unanswered: Jello-- salad or dessert? Who named them "sweetbreads?" Does the Cap'n Crunch box really have more nutritional value than the cereal inside? All this philosophical effort makes me hungry. I think I'll go fix myself a frooty-cheezy-fat-free-boneless snack.Yum.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Today is my day to post on The Peanut Gallery Speaks. Hop over there and find me.    I've been missing my Dad this week.  Leave me a comment (it's easy on the Peanut Gallery.) I would love to hear your voice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Do you remember the first time your piano teacher gave you a book of duets? I sat next to Mrs. Mayola Kerr every Wednesday afternoon in 2nd grade or so, laboriously plunking out almost-recognizable melodies. Boring. Then one day Mrs. Kerr opened a duet book and said, "You play the primo (that's the right hand) and I'll play the secondo on the bottom." Sudden music filled the small living room, rich and rolling and irresistible. The magic of it took my breath away.  Looking at Mrs. Kerr's wrinkled hands next to mine on the black and white keys, I recognized a miracle. Our four hands together could create what my two small hands could scarce imagine--complex counterpoint. Music.

Today I celebrate a remarkable duet. This is my parents' anniversary. Fifty-seven years ago today they hopefully placed their four hands side by side on one set of keys and began to create together what they could scarce have imagined individually. Life music. Their miraculous, complex counterpoint shaped me and informed my view of the world. Sometimes Mom played primo while Dad steadily provided the deep notes that held her up. Other times Dad took the melody while Mom harmonized or kept the rhythm going in the left hand. They improvised well when life took unexpected turns, playing off each other with complementary ease. But they also practiced and prepared carefully to fill our home with the worthy, the lovely, the nourishing. Lucky me to grow up in the world they made. I learned to sing out loud, to dance with joy, to hum softly, and to simply listen with my heart.

Mom's two hands rest on the keyboard now, unaccompanied. The melody she plays must sound thin, solitary to her ear. But let me tell you what I hear:  The exquisite duet that took breath and began fifty-seven years ago today has expanded, crescendoed, spilled over in jubilant song. A symphony. Hear it, Mom. Listen to the liquid sound of love without end and eternal ensemble. The music of eighty hands surrounds you. It intertwines and undergirds and carries your lovely melody forward. The duet may be suspended for a moment, but you will never play solo again.

Happy Anniversary, Mom. And Dad. I love the song you started.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Date night, Saturday. Bob took me to our neighborhood home improvement store to look at sheds, romantic devil. (Honestly, doing anything with my babe of a husband makes me happy: Take a load to the dump? Great! Get an oil change on the van? I'd love to. We need paper towels from COSTCO? Be still my heart, date and dinner. . . cha-ching!) A row of sturdy yard sheds lines the front of Lowe's, doors nailed open for love-struck-couples-on-dates to easily check out the built-in shelving and marvel at the solid wood construction. Who ever dreamed how many shed choices are out there? Daunting.

 The one I mentally refer to as "Big Red" stands about ten feet tall and looks like something a tornado lifted up in Kansas and dropped in one piece on the sidewalk in front of Lowe's. No lie--a scaled down red-barn affair that you could park a tractor in, or a couple of milk cows. Not really practical for our suburban backyard. I pick up the brochure on the back wall of the "Heartland Ranier" model. More options. How about the "CedarShed Ranchland"? It looks like it's made of Lincoln Logs and sports a window with a flower box (oh goodie, more blooms to plant and let die.) No. Too Little House on the Prairie. The "CedarShed Clubhouse" has three windows and a covered porch. Come on. It's a SHED! You know--home to the weed whacker and forty pound bags of potting soil and sundry spiders. Seriously, someone put more thought into designing these tool huts than I have put into decorating the interior of my entire home. 

And the winner is . . . (obviously
not my yard--too many living things)
Then Bob takes my hand and leads me into "The Stratford." I can tell by the gleam in his eye that this shed speaks to him. He hasn't looked this excited since he bought that contractor-grade wheelbarrow he longed for (the one that is roughly the same size as my friend's MINI Cooper . . . what did you think necessitated the purchase of a shed?) I call this model "Kentucky Morning"--grey with white trim, double doors opening at the front and a cute little window with shutters and yes, a flower box.  It looks like Mr. Ed's gentle head should be hanging out the top of the door, waiting for a bag of oats or a decent discussion of the morning news. "This is the one for us," Bob states with confidence. He sinks into a Ralphie-esque reverie. Visions of tidy pegboards and neatly hung shovels and shelved croquet sets dance in his head. We have a winner.

Obviously not my shed, but
I can dream, can't I?
Eight by twelve feet of empty space means different things to different people. To me it means the possibility of someday parking an actual vehicle in my garage. What a concept. To Bob it represents the hope of  gaining mastery over the yard, showing it once and for all who's boss. It holds out the dream of taming the work bench sufficiently that finding the tools won't take longer than completing the project itself. Yes, hope springs eternal and sometimes you can buy it on a late Saturday night date at Lowe's.