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Vintage Christmas Ornaments

This is going to be picture heavy and text light. I already wrote about my favorite Christmas ball and how when it broke I was heartbroken. A few years ago a I found a replacement. As more of these wonderful balls of eras past are being brought back, I find I want more ornaments but I have a small tree and it’s already festooned. The ball on the left was around when I was a child. It has three indentations. In those days, Christmas lights tended to be green, blue, yellow and red, and bubble lights. The indentations were made to collect and reflect light. The gold ball has three indents at the top and the glitter effect (if you click on the picture and enlarge it) is a result of the flash on the camera, but the glaze is solid. The one on the right is a modern version but replicates the indentations, the wacky shapes and the glitter painted on the balls.

The pipe is darkening at the top and will eventually break there.

The oil lamp is the last of its kind. I remember we used to have more of them. But as glass ages it can become brittle. I also have one last silver pipe left. It would have had a noisemaker in it at one point. We also had little trombones or trumpets and you could blow in them making little horn noises. They were quite delicate, the noisemaker going first and the looping stems breaking. These super thin ornaments were all blown by hand (and mouth!) and it’s easy to put your finger through the glass as it ages.

I still have some coffee pots. There used to be stout, little round tea kettles but they all fell apart.

I have one blue pot that has double handles.

The green coffee pots have little swatches of pink glitter. Then there are the two handled pots, all with a painted design. Since all these ornaments are around 50 years or more in age, the paint, glitter and even the blown glass coating, is wearing off in places. The green pot also has the glitter effect in the glass which might be caused by the color begin to crack with age but again, it is a solid color only. I also have a burgundy pot, a blue one and a pinkish-red pot.

Bell garland w/kissing angels in background.

Two other antique items I have are the remains of glass garlands and glass birds. The garlands are extremely fragile. Neither are even six feet long anymore. One is just a rainbow of color beads (shown to the right with one

Old umbrella and bead garland.

of three remaining old umbrellas), and the other has beads that are fused as doubles, and it has small little solid bells (which reminds me that we used to have bells too). I treat these with extreme care but they are getting shorter every year.

A rare swan.

The birds were always a favorite. The old ones had the stiff fiberglass tails and were on a spring above the clip. It was always the tails and the springs that went first. Birds have come back big time now but with real feathers on them. You’ll not find those stiff fiberglass tails at all. I have about four birds left and one is a double of another, with no tail. All of these antique ornaments I treat with utmost care. I wrap them in bubble wrap and store in a box. There is carpet under my tree so if they fall, they won’t break as easily. But no matter how careful I am, they will eventually deteriorate. It’s partly for posterity’s sake that I record these now, while they still exist. I still wish I had that original ball that had all the memories of Christmas tied up into it but there are still many ornaments to appreciate.

A modern bird w/feathers.

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Terror of the Air: Cold War Memories

When I was a child growing up in Calgary, there was an air raid siren in our neighborhood, at the corner where the Chinese store was. Yes, we did call the little corner store the Chinese store, as it was run by Chinese, yet this was never a derogatory term. I believe the air raid siren was across the street by the gas station. It was very tall, with a thick pole about the width of two light standards. It had to be about 25-30 feet high, with a big megaphone shaped horn at the top and all of it painted bright silver (or maybe that was the metal).

The top of ours was something like this, though the pole was round.

Ours was similar in style though the pole was round.

This Cold War artifact was very present in our memories and daily life. For one they would test it yearly and it sounded just like those WWII sirens you hear in the movies. I think. I was a kid so it’s hard to remember exactly. But the testing didn’t continue through every year.

Yet I remember that we were told to hunker down should a bomb drop and hide under our desks. There was a film they showed us, grainy black and white. I think it was sometime before grade 4 and I remember it being about bombings, maybe about Hiroshima because people were running from bombs dropping and the only image that seared into my brain was that of someone being vaporized by the bomb and leaving a skeletal imprint on the building behind them.
 
We were a generation growing up with fear of a world war, reminded by our parents and grandparents who may have lived through the horrors. We were after the generation of love and peace, the anti-war movement but were influenced by it nonetheless. Love and peace and hippy power had invaded and surely we were protected from the terrors of war. Yet we had those ever present reminders like the air raid siren.
 
My mother also had a gas mask, one of those old style ones with a corrugated rubber tube and
Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

then a red tin at the end. What that tin was for, I’m not sure. It couldn’t hold air and I had no faith that it had ever filtered anything. Maybe it was just to convince people they were safe. The mask could have been hers from the war but I it might also have been a second hand one she bought when she was spraying insecticides on her plants. We would play in it and pretend we were monsters but not that often, because it was hot and steamy in there.I think for awhile there was an old army jacket hanging around, either my mother’s or my father’s. Most of these items disappeared by the time I was twelve except for the gas mask that no one used, and the air raid siren, now silent and ominous of a former era.

One day, when I was a teenager the siren went off. I don’t know if it was a test or some valve or button failing after all the years. But that terrible wail filled the air. Most of us ignored it, after a glance to the clear blue sky, but I remember these two little kids, about seven, who crying in sheer terror ran helter skelter for home, sure that the bombs were about to drop. I don’t know what they’d been told about wars, what mind curdling films they had been shown, but obviously the horror of war was a real thing for them.

When I was sixteen and in school, we heard the siren go one day. We were at least ten blocks diagonal away from it, yet it was pretty clear. No one bothered paying attention. After all, where do you go if the bombs are dropping? There were no bomb shelters that had ever existed in our area, bombs were more lethal from what we knew, and radiation would get us no matter what. Shortly after that, the air raid siren disappeared.

I would have off and on through the years, nightmares that were end of the world scenarios. Sometimes the bombs had dropped, sometimes it was just deadly radiation and sometimes the Nazis were chasing and persecuting me. They obviously were a form of stress  dream but one that would wake me in the middle of the night.

We are a generation that has seen war mostly from afar (except those in the military) yet that terror is a reality for some people every day. War is still not the thing of the past and it is more deadly than ever before. Perhaps that’s why my dreams are still spattered with war scenarios and movie realities. It would be nice some day that war is just a make believe thing but I think it will be a long time until humanity evolves to that next level.

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Childhood Games: Marbles and More

We live in such an era of media overload that the childhood games of yesteryear are all but forgotten.Video games and TV still predominate to such a degree that childhood obesity is now a problem in North America. Sure there are some sports but perhaps not enough.

And with all the media inundation, children have forgotten often how to play or to create a game out of nothing. Back when civilization consisted of making everything by hand a child was lucky to have even one toy. It might be made of clay or wood, or perhaps scraps of cloth though early clothing construction consisted of no leftover bits. The toys would be tools to imagination and the child would have to create their own games.

Years ago I went with friends to their cabin in Clinton, BC. The little nieces were out in a rustic wood cabin with no electricity, no TV and no games. They started to whine about being bored. So I said, come on, grab a towel and let’s go outside. The three little girls followed me and we ran around like superheros or jumped out of the crabapple tree. Before long, they’d forgotten about their store bought toys and were enjoying make-believe in nature.merrygoround1

There have always been complex games and simple games. Chess is a complex board game, checkers, not as much. When I was a kid in elementary school there was the usual playground equipment: teeter totters, monkey bars, a merry-go-round (the foot powered style) and that would be it. Swings were for the parks but not amongst unruly kids during recess.

But we also played another game. I think it was around grade 3 that the kids would line up against the wall of the school and play marbles. You needed a few marbles to begin. Other kids would sit with their legs in a V, with a marble or marbles lined up. Then you would stand at the predetermined line and roll your marble toward the other one. If you hit the marble you got to keep both. If you missed, the other person kept both. Some people would line up three or more, or like a bowling alley so that you would have to hit the ones in front before getting the more prized marble at the back. Some people even built cardboard arches to set their marbles in.

Cat’s eyes were the commonest type of marble, but sometimes there would be a more interesting color combo. catseyesThere were the larger sizes; I can’t remember what we called them but I think either boulders or jumbos.  Next in marbles were the sold colors, opaque or with a marblesswirl through them. And there were the clear marbles, either blue or white or green, or some other color. I remember taking some of these and frying them in the frying pan, then dropping them in water. These would form crackle marbles. They too were prized but somewhat fragile.

But the most coveted of all marbles were the steelies, ball bearings really but their silvery perfection was what every kid aimed for. You used your cat’s eyes first to hit the other marbles and tried to get more prized marbles. If you ran low on the lowly cat’s eyes, then you set up your prize marbles (but not usually your most favored) to gain more marbles. It was about collecting the coolest marbles and about the most.seagrams I even had a clay marble at some point. It was very old but not worth much to the other kids.

Almost as precious as those steelies were the bags to carry your marbles in. And the best bag of all was the purple, Seagram’s Crown Royal whiskey bag. I managed to get one. Maybe it came with some marbles, maybe from an older sibling, but it was definitely the choicest bag.

When talking recently with my siblings, my older brother and sister and my younger brother (a span of eleven years) we all remember shooting marbles and the Seagram’s bags. My younger brother said it was uncommon for girls to play, yet I remember doing it but also being unaware of whether I was in a minority of girls to boys. But it seems we played through grades 3-5. Grade 1 was too young and by grade 6 we were on our way out to junior high (grade 7 in Alberta). It was probably the most popular playground game in school.

My younger brother is a teacher and says no one plays marbles anymore. It’s too bad. It was cheap and simple and taught kids numbers, how to trade and value. I don’t remember any fights breaking out over marbles. Maybe they did from time to time but it was still a way to keep kids occupied that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. I still like marbles as pretty pieces of glass. Perhaps, as the economy continues to slow, people will go back to simpler pastimes.

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Cats and Gods

Cats, we all know them. We love them or we hates them. There are those of us who love them, and that’s pretty much everyone on my block. My neighbor had a cat that died a year ago. He’s just got two new cats. I have one but used to have two. My other neighbor has four, two of which were the children of my cat when she was an unwed, teenage mom (also abandoned on the street). There used to be three of her children but one died. And my neighbor’s other two cats were street cats as well.

My landlady, the Mother Teresa of cats, has adopted so many homeless cats over time. Her two current cats were adopted from the street. One actually abandoned his first owner and the other was taken from his rough tom days on the street. We used to have a fish factory at the end of the street and there was always a bunch of feral cats living there. My landlady captured them, had them fixed and released them. She also still goes and feeds them every day.

Neighbors across the street and down the block have cats or have had them. There are two or three dogs but the cats outnumber them and the neighboring blocks have many cats as well. I also at one point, when I had my previous cat, had an interloper, a very pregnant, little tabby female. It turns out that she knew how to use my cat door and at that time I didn’t have one that looked. It seemed obvious to us that she was going to have the kittens in my place since I’d found her sleeping on my bed several times.

So we cleaned out the bottom of the closet and arranged some towels for the inevitable event. My landlady had laid out a little bed in the sink in the work shed but the cat studiously avoided it. And sure enough, I went away one weekend and when I came back, the cat had had kittens, seven of them on the seventh day of the seventh month. That’s a large litter for a cat. She also had chosen to have them, not on the lovely towel bed we had made for her in my bedroom closet, but in the den on a bunch of fabric I had stored.

With such an auspicious number of cats with the 777, I decided they all had to be named after gods. I named her Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, because giving birth to all those babies made her a deity. The only black kitten, a female was name Kali after the Hindu goddess. There was one tuxedo cat that was named after a Celtic god but I can’t remember which one, Cuchulain rings a bell but he was a hero not a god. There were four tabbies, two with brown noses that I named Freya and Loki and two males with pink noses that were named Zeus and Hermes. And there was one longhair tabby male. I can’t remember all the names but I covered the Norse, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian and Hindu pantheons with the names. I believe there was an Isis and Osiris in there.

The cats went off to different homes and I don’t think any of them kept their original names. The longhaired cat became Smokey because of the color of his fur. Hermes and Zeus became Starsky and Hutch. I guess they weren’t meant for godhood.

 But then my other cat came along, she whose children were adopted next door. At the time I just wanted to name her after a god but I had no special reason. She was petite, with bunny fur and big eyes. Aphrodite seemed to big a name for such a small cat so I named her Venus. She did, after motherhood, fill out into a matronly form. However, she became less aloof after my other cat died and did in fact prove that I’ve named her aptly. Any time anyone enters my house my cat flops over at their feet and splays her belly to be rubbed. She loves attention all the time and being pet, even in the wrong direction. She doesn’t care as long as it’s attention. But she hates and is jealous of other cats.

Cats have been around a very long time and domesticated by humans for millennia. However, they have not been domesticated as long as dogs, the first animal that humans domesticated. And one can argue the domestication of cats, who maintain their independence. Cats are definitely more agile with their paws than a dog is, and they can go in litter boxes, eliminating the need for a daily walking. They are also pretty resistant to training, which dogs are not.

Between that life of ease, the aloofness, the independent behaviors, it’s no wonder that they have been associated with godhood. Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and mummified them, just like humans. And I believe that it’s the Thai people who believe that nothing perfect can remain on Earth, because it would ascend to heaven. Therefore the cat’s tails are cut so that they aren’t perfect.

So is it any wonder we name cats after gods? I always say I’m coming back as a cat in my next life. It wouldn’t be so bad to be pampered. My neighbor now has two new cats and my landlady and I think he should give them godly names. They’re Persians so they definitely look regal. It’s fitting to give a cat a godly name, because it goes with their nature. If one named a dog after a god, that god would have to be goofy or obedient, not exactly the way we see deities. Hail, the noble pussycat. 🙂

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Memories: Firebugs

Everyone makes mistakes in their lives or does things innocently without considering the consequences. We learn sometimes in a trial by fire. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or smarter or at least thinking, I sure won’t do that again.

My first true experience with fire was when I was about eight and my brother six.  We weren’t in the habit of burning candles around the house. Still, there were matches to be found because my father smoked. My little brother and I would come home from school at lunch hours and light paper straws and smoke them, or pretended to. I guess no one was home at the time because we surely wouldn’t have got away with this if my mother was around.

This was all well in our enactment of adult activities, but then we proceeded to candles (there were a few around the house). On Saturday mornings when all the older folk were asleep my brother and I would get up to play in our unfinished (cement floor and that fake wood paneling on the walls) “rumpus room.” Since we couldn’t make too loud a rumpus at that time, we’d play with my dolls or his cars. There was an old bed in there, an ideal place to play. At one point I dropped a piece of doll’s clothing under the bed, so my brother went to look for it, where it was dark, with a candle.

Yep, before we knew it the bed was starting to smolder. We ran back and forth from the bathroom downstairs filling glasses of water and tossing it on the bed. But the fire was underneath and happily consuming the dry interior. After some minutes of our futile attempts and the house slowly filling with smoke, we made the hard decision and trucked upstairs to my mother’s bedroom to wake her. And of course we said, “We were just playing and all of a sudden this fire started.”

My mother got my older brother up who took the mattress out to the yard to hose it down. No real harm done, thankfully. Surprisingly, we didn’t get the living daylights beat out of us but instead were chastised soundly, me especially, because I was older and should have known better. The chastisement worked. I was so ashamed that I didn’t tell my firebug tale until I was in my late twenties.

My second run-in was at a comedy dinner show. I believe it was a Fawlty Towers theme which worked well through the dinner. After we ate, half the table had to turn to see the stage. The tables had tealights all over and I had hair nearly to my waist at the time. I heard this shout behind me and someone batted at my head. Apparently my hair was flaming from the tealight and I hadn’t heard anything…yet. Someone else was about to pour a pitcher of water on my hair but they got it out before I knew what was happening. The whole restaurant smelled of burned hair, which the actors used to say their next show would be “Hair.”

And my hair? The burned part was mostly indiscernible. It had only burned a surface layer. There was that one purely stupid move one time, where I lit a pillar candle on my mantle. But then I wanted to see if it was scented and what scent it was so I picked up the candle and looked underneath, with the flame burning. And I burned my bangs.  Duh, that was a smart one.

What have I learned from all this? Don’t play with fire. Be cautious and know your surroundings when fire is present. Don’t do stupid things near fire. Pretty simple really. There is one last fire tale, which is long but I’ll try to shorten it.

At one point I was in Pennsylvania camping with a very large group of  people (very very large group) enough that we wandered from campsite to campsite partying. On the last night, it was raining hard enough that we were pretty wet, but it was a warm rain. There was mud everywhere so we left our shoes in the campground because they were getting destroyed, and we wandered, with alcohol.

I was actually not drunk yet when I decided to bellydance around one fire. I was ankle deep in mud and I ended up slipping on the slimy surface and going down on my right knee and both hands into the fire. Luckily two guys pulled me out immediately. My hands weren’t burned and I decided it was a sign from the gods to quit.

As we wandered away in the dark, I pulled up my still wet (from the rain) pant leg, touched my leg below the knee and said, yeah, I burned myself. Then I proceeded to drink the night away and ignored the burn for another 12 hours. When I eventually, the next day, looked at my leg, it was black and crusty. The medics on site tried to clean, which put me into shock.

When I flew home I had to go to the hospital for burn treatment, which put me in shock again. I also needed antibiotics for a bacteria that can set in after 24 hours and be very serious. And I needed burn treatment (cleaning, burn cream and rewrapping every day) for two weeks. Luckily the burn was below the knee as opposed to be on the joint, and I was in Calgary where their walk-in clinics were equipped for such things.

I figured out what had happened that night was that my cotton clothing was wet from the rain. My hands didn’t burn because I wasn’t in the fire long enough. My pants weren’t burned because they were wet, but there had been a bar (for roasting meat) in the fire and I had been steam burned that night, receiving a third degree burn and a permanent scar. The only good thing about a third degree burn is that it doesn’t hurt much because the nerves have been killed.

To this day, I have no feeling in that one spot on my leg. The scar is relatively small and I have a stupidity award. I don’t drink tequila anymore. Even if I wasn’t drunk when I slipped up, I figure why tempt fate with more. What did I learn that last time? Don’t play with fire, don’t dance in the mud, don’t fall into fires. I really do hope that’s my last life’s lesson with fire.

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Alcoholism and Life

I grew up with an alcoholic father. Some might debate this but he drank a fair amount, did terrible things to us and grew violent. It was not pretty and it marred us with scars we bear to this day. My mother went back to school at one point and worked as an alcohol and drug abuse counsellor so she knew the signs well. It’s interesting, before she moved into that line of work, the men she dated were all alcoholics.

I also had a friend who became my best friend and lived across the alley from me. We got into various types of trouble together, went to parties, and drank underage, as most of our friends did. I cannot tell her tale as to what pushed her too far. It could be an easy statement of physiology though easy is not the way it was. By sixteen she was an alcoholic with a host of embarrassing events under her belt, making difficult for her friends to be around her. I asked my mother what to do (and I have to say my mother was very good about not berating us for drinking underage) so she gave me some pamphlets to pass on to my friend. One was a checklist of behaviors that could indicate you’re an alcoholic. Some of the statements were: do you not remember what you’ve done while drinking, do you pass out after drinking, do you feel the need to drink every day–things like that.

Of course, giving a teenager such pamphlets didn’t go over that well and as high school grew towards its end and my friend also became pregnant (facilitating a quick marriage), we also started to grow apart. I couldn’t help her and she was going to need to help herself. I don’t know if she was embarrassed by her alcoholism or felt that I judged her (and I confess that I did at that time) but we eventually lost contact. It was only many many years later that she made the effort to contact me, having been dry for a long time, with grown and growing children. I then had to get past the wall that I had left behind from that time.

In high school I had also started dating a guy who I went with for a year and a half. He was two years older than me so he was finished while I was in grade 11. And he worked at a pub. I looked old for my age and could get into the bars without being ID’d. (Oddly enough, after I turned legal age, I was ID’d often.) He too became an alcoholic, drinking too much and too often. I don’t remember if that’s what broke up the relationship but it was a contributing factor.

I’d seen enough alcoholism by my mid-twenties, including an Irish couple in Vancouver who were on a self-destructive path through their drinking.  We also stopped being friends. And there are others, those with the red splotchy faces, the abusive tongues, the rude behavior that had driven friend and family away. I would often talk to these people, if they were friends, expressing concern but when they continued along their way I felt I didn’t need to be in the path of their abuse either.

I was arrogant enough to think I’d never be an alcoholic because I didn’t like alcohol that much and I was aware of it. That may have been the case but I wasn’t aware of the abyss in my soul and where it was sucking me to. I was unhappy and single, while all my friends were in couples. I hated myself, my eating disorder was out of control. On top of it, I’d fallen in love with a man who didn’t love me and inadvertently probably rubbed the fact in my face with his patronizing way.

Before I knew it I was drinking to drown the pain and perceived loneliness. I stood in the back of a poetry performance night one evening, crying (from my broken heart), then going out to my car to drink a cider, then coming in and crying, and repeating in progressively drunken way. I went to a camping event and proceeded to get so drunk that I didn’t know what I did. In essence, I had a blackout. Then on New Year’s eve I went to Blaine to some friends’ party. Bored and feeling the loneliness around all the couples there, I decided to drive back to Vancouver to another party.

Lucky for me, some friends braved my wrath and took my keys away. I later passed out and left the next day. Shortly after that night I was thinking of my life and realized I teetered on the edge of becoming a full fledged alcoholic. The brink was close and I was sliding over it. Also lucky for me, with that realization, I started to reassert control over my life.

And two friends at that time, drew straws to see who would approach me and say I had a drinking problem. The loser got to come up to me, probably expecting me to tear into her. But when she said, we think you have a drinking problem, I said, Thank you for being such good friends to tell me. You have the right, if you see me out of control at any time, please tell me.

And after that, I did try to control it, and not drink to cover my problems. Alcoholism, though, can strike for a number of reasons. Some people are physiologically more susceptible. Others make it part of their lifestyle. Others use to flood the hollow spots. It is the duty of anyone who is friend or family to say to the drinker, You have a problem and you need help. But as always, it is up to the person to change and hopefully have the support of friends when they take that path. I learned some valuable lessons about drinking and about me. I wouldn’t want to go that road again.

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The Spice of Life

I grew up in a pretty whitebread Canadian family, where roast beef was served on Sundays with baked potato and frozen (but of course cooked) vegetables, which I always thought were gakky. Liver was also dished up once every couple of weeks, along with the ubiquitous brussels sprouts (which I do like). I figure this must have been one of the rare fresh vegetables of my youth.

Other delicacies included tongue, which indeed looked like a monster tongue, “beans I like,” which was an insipid concoction of watered down tomato soup, lima beans and wieners, and meatloaf with bacon laid across it. All of these things were liberally salted, beyond liberal really as my mother was a huge salt abuser, along with using some oregano, seasoning salt and other suspect spice blends. They made things salty but nothing was spicy.

Every set contains a salt and a pepper shaker and ours sat on the table like some iconic god, visible but unknowable. I’m sure the same shaker of pepper lasted ten years. Of course, the prepackaged pepper of yesteryear was mostly flavorless, like those little packets of pepper you get in fast food restaurants: mostly color and no taste.

So I knew nothing of spice. The closest my family ever moved towards spicy was chili powder in the chili. And lots of salt. Salty badness. My mother still puts salt on pizza, one of the saltiest foods out there. She’ll assault with salt before tasting.

When I was in art college, my boyfriend invited me for dinner to his place one night. It was student fare but tacos with a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me that it was “hot” hot sauce so I was a little overwhelmed with that first taste. But then…my tastebuds awoke and I began to experiment more with this. I also started drinking Caesars (for you Americans, it’s similar to a Bloody Mary but instead of tomato juice with the vodka you use clamato [tomato and clam juice and sugar–not as gross as it sounds] with Worcestershire and tabasco).

Then another of my friends talked about some manly man test they did which involved either drinking tabasco or putting a lot in the drinks. I think I particpated in the second part (I was never stupid enough to drink it straight) and my penchant for spice continued.

I then moved to Vancouver, where I met my friend Hanocia, from a tribal state in India. She carried a bag of chili or serrano peppers in her purse to eat with her food. We would go out and drink Caesars where we usually just asked for the bottle of tabasco. We returned an empty bottle to the bartender one night with at least two inches gone from it. His jaw dropped as he stuttered, “I’ve never seen anyone use so much.” And we weren’t even sweating the spice.

Then I moved in as a roommate with Hanocia and her boyfriend, where we would all sit eating the normally spiced food but with a bowl of chili peppers on the table. It wasn’t hot unless you were sweating and your nose dripping. By this time I had achieved the cast iron stomach needed for the truly ferocious peppers. I even had a poster of all the peppers on my kitchen ceiling (the only space for it) and it became my goal to try them all. When I went to India, Hanocia’s people, the Khasis, tend to eat their food plain but with a bowl of peppers. At the end of the evening I had more stems along the side of my plate than anyone else. Beau goggled and said, “Wait till I tell the girls at work, and you’re a white person too.” (A note: all peppers come from central America and did not originate in Asia.)

Over the years, I did sample as many peppers as I could find, right up to the scotch bonnets or habaneros, that rate 10 for hot on a scale of 10. They are so hot that few people can eat a whole one and they can blister you. Many people can’t eat these because the heat burns away any flavor, but I like habaneros because they have a fruity flavor under that atomic heat. (I”ve since found there are hotter peppers but I haven’t tasted them.)

I’ve made five pepper chili, which has included serranos, jalapenos, Thai chili, pequenos and habaneros. I don’t count or use bell peppers (I react to them) because though supposedly all peppers are of the nightshade family these are considered different. Maybe they’re nightshades but the others aren’t, but all are peppers.

My love affair with hot peppers has developed over the years and friends have gone to other countries and brought me back another bottle of hot sauce. I have about 15 in my fridge at any one time. It just goes to show that a white kid from the bland food sticks can attain heights of chili pepper hotness. But alas, my champion pepper chomping may have hit an end as rosacea is exacerbated by spicy foods. I’m still hoping though because I do love the taste way more than black pepper, though that will do in a pinch.

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Childhood Memories: Toys

I heard someone saying the other day, “I don’t remember anything about grade three.” The point was that she remember the grades on either side to some degree but nothing about grade three. And over time we forget a lot of the everyday, normal boring stuff. We remember the unusual, the good and the bad. Often, I think, we remember the bad best of all because it sears our memories like a branding iron, the pain making pathways we’d sooner forget.

So good memories become rarer in some cases. A few though, stay in our memories in various ways, sometimes in a back file that is triggered when you see something. Like the other night when in a friend’s attic there was a little wooden sleigh with metal runners. I remember having one like that when I was a child, which had been my older siblings’. And thinking of that makes me remember this big (about 6 inches long) red, metal tractor with large rubber wheels and a spring beneath the seat. It had been my older brother’s but could have been around even longer than that.

I had this little metal fridge. In my eyes it was about ten inches tall. I don’t know if that’s accurate but I really loved it. It was white and round and then one year I got a sleek new brown and black fridge, all rectangular with plastic vegetables. I still missed the original fridge, which had somehow even then, seemed to have more personality than the new gadget. I can’t explain why I was so attached to that old metal fridge.

And dolls. My sister was never into them but I had a doll in a purple dress with purple hair. She may have even been a walking doll, one that if you grabbed its hand and walked it would rock back and forth and follow. Actually now that I think of it, the walking doll was different and a couple of feet tall whereas the purple doll was about a foot tall. There was also a nurse doll, in a blue and white striped dress, a white nurse’s cap and a blue cape. It too must have come from my sister. My favorite was a Debbie doll. She was about 6-8 inches tall with short, curly platinum hair (kind of Marilyn Monroe-ish) and unlike Barbie dolls had proportionate plastic features.

The best thing about my Debbie doll was her plastic closet of clothes. They were quite a range and made fairly well. Compared to Barbie’s fairly trashy clothes, Debbie’s were very well made. Little cocktail dresses with a velvet top and red taffeta skirt, evening gowns, suits in various materials. I always liked dressing up dolls and paper dolls and would spend hours design and drawing fashion outfits in my early tweens. I briefly entertained thoughts of being a fashion designer but didn’t like sewing.

Dolls were a pretty big thing. I was pretty typical that way. My brother had asked for a G.I. Joe doll but my mother (maybe typical of her era) said that boys didn’t play with dolls. Riiight. So in his own way my brother, two years younger, maybe four years of age, found a way. He took all of my dolls, stripped off their clothes and threw them in a big pile. I imagine he danced around looking demonic but that’s just my imagination. But what he was imagining was that he was burning them or as my brother called it, “I’m firing them.” Shades of the Inquisition.

I remember the dolls because I played with them. I remember the tractor because it was so heavy and just always there, even after we were all too old to play with it. I think it was passed down to my nephew. I remember the fridge because in my mind it was special. These are all good memories and there were many bad ones in my childhood. But if nothing else, these paint the picture of the wonder and exploration of children.

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Phobias, Or: Spider Spider Burning Bright

Yes, I am misquoting a William Blake poem in the title. The actual line reads, “Tiger, tiger burning bright…” Yet it speaks just as well to anyone who has ever experienced a spider phobia, known as arachnophobia.

My progression into arachnophobia started as a child. There were two incidences that I can think of that may have been the beginning of my fear of spiders. I’m not sure which came first. We used to live in a house that was a split level. My sister and I shared one of the basement bedrooms and the room was mostly below ground, with 2-foot high windows at the top. Below these windows was a ledge that ornaments sat upon.

I remember I had this plastic bubble bath container in the shape of Pinocchio as well as a plastic piggy bank that I’ve talked about in an earlier post. One night I dreamt that the top popped off of Pinocchio and out poured hundreds of spiders. One other night as I was falling asleep I heard a “plop” upon my pillow. I don’t know if I actually found the spider or imagined it but after that I feared spiders.

Calgary had daddy longlegs mostly, which, depending on where and how they’re described, may be called Harvestmen and are arachnids but not spiders. Still, they’re spidery enough for any fear. The phobia was manageable while I lived in the colder clime that controlled the spider populations. Then I moved to Vancouver.

The first year I moved in with a friend and she was gone through the summer to Greece. And the spiders came a visiting. There were so many creepy crawlies in Vancouver because of the warmer climate that my phobia escalated. The worst were the wolf spiders; large, hairy (at least I think they were) and fast. I was completely freaked out and like a true arachnophobic, I could not kill them because it meant getting too close to them. So my place was littered with plastic containers that trapped spiders beneath them. I put a book on each container for fear that they would get out. When a friend came to visit, he had to dump them for me.

When I vacuumed I’d moan and shriek as the spiders hung from the edge of the long nozzle. Every once in a while I’d dropped the vacuum cleaner’s wand and run back if I thought the spider was crawling down the pipe. I’m sure it would have looked hilarious to anyone watching but the phobia was very real. Camping was a real issue. My tent was zippered tightly shut and if there was a spider someone had to get it out or I couldn’t sleep.

The worst that first year was this monstrous wolf spider that lived in a hole in the wall of the house, right next to the door knob. It was all I could do to get the key in the lock and at night I was terrified. (Note, that people with severe phobias can die from fright. One should never find it funny to chase the person with the phobic producing object.) This spider was one of those granddaddy wolf spiders, with a body as long as my thumb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider

One day I couldn’t take it any longer. I loaded a spray bottle with super hot water and went out to the spider’s home. I started shooting in sprays of hot water…and all the wolf spider did was leap out to attach the water. I couldn’t kill the bugger. Years later I read that some wolf spiders live in warm underwater currents.

My phobia became so bad that I couldn’t go near any spider. It could be the size of a pin dot but if it landed on me I was shrieking and batting it away, in full hysterics. It wasn’t funny and it was getting so bad that I was about to go to my doctor. In a coastal rainforest you can’t avoid spiders and sometimes they fly through the air on their strands. Even staying indoors wouldn’t help because spiders are everywhere. So yes, the spiders burned very brightly in my life.

Along the way I spent a year upgrading hiking trails. I had to hike in and out an hour each way. I started the job wearing gardening gloves and carrying a stick so I could knock the webs out of the way. Imagine being in the forest and keeping watch for spiders. That meant checking every branch I was under, every log I sat on, every piece of foliage I had to grab.

Then one day, about six months later, a spider was on my hand and I flicked it off, calm as you please. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. My phobia was gone. One form of therapy for phobias is a slow introduction to the phobia inducing item. I’d been doing this by being in the forest every day. I no longer freak out or cry. I still don’t like wolf spiders but I’ll leave other spiders hanging in the window and watch them spin and eat. Somehow that natural therapy probably did the job faster than months of counselling ever would have.

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Internet & Sex & Voice

Has the internet changed since those early DOS days of looking for cheap sex and hot chat? I remember getting on to the great vast abyss of the internet. There I sat before my black screen, the neon green cursor blinking a way. Like shouting into a black tunnel, I would send questions out, hoping for an answer from the unknown universe of the internet, not yet called the world wide web.

There was little in the realm of urls. Locally, there was an ISP called Mindlink. It might have been the only one or one of very few at that point. When I joined up and went online to these groups, Mindlink would show the names of all the people online. Sometimes it was ten, sometimes twenty at a time. I joined a couple of chat groups and found that they often contained pedantic blowhards who shot down anyone talking about a subject. They were so obnoxious in trying to show their stellar intelligence that I left them to join Mindlink’s nonsense group.

When you signed up for thsi group you were asked for an alias. Once given, no one would ever see your real name unless you chose to reveal it. For whatever crazy reason, I chose the moniker Laughing Fist. There were others on the group like Feste and names I no longer remember. And true to the name of the group, we talked nonsense. Sometime puns, sometimes jokes, sometimes mad ramblings, but the group was created to counteract all those “serious” groups of know-it-alls.

Mindlink would hold meets where members could meet in a pub in public. My partner at the time had no interest in computers and internet and I really didn’t feel a need to go to the meet-ups. As I was trying to find information on subjects, mostly for writing, on the internet, I discovered that there were numerous chat rooms. A lot of those early groups had specific topics or the alt.groups. But sure enough, about 90% of them dealt with sex, maybe because 90% of people on the net were men and boys.

Mindlink had instant chat and whenever I signed on to the list, where everyone could see your name, I would get guys messaging me right away. Everyone could post a profile and I made it clear that if you asked me how old I was first, then you weren’t interested in chatting with me but just trying to date me. And then there were the guys who would ask if I was interested in hot chat. Basic talking dirty online. I wasn’t interested, have never really been interested. For one, I had no idea how old the person was or what he was like. For two, I’m a writer. I can write all sorts of stories. It might get them off but I’d only be practising my writing.

I also realized in the nonsense group where everyone had shortened my name to Fisty, that they thought I was a guy. Probably from the name and from the way I wrote. Once I realized that, I said nothing that would give away my gender. It was fairly easy and made me realize how much you can have a different personality on the internet. Unfortunately as internet use expanded, the stalkers and degenerates found it as a way to lure impressionable and gullible teenagers. I did eventually show up at a meet where everyone was surprised to find out Fisty was a girl.

I don’t go searching out the millions of sites on porn, and as search engines have become more sophisticated one is not as likely to stumble on porn, hot chat, or sex sites unless one wants to. So what percentage of the internet is taken up with sex? I’m sure there is someone out there adding up the googling and could tell us…maybe. But I think even looking at WordPress and my blog gives an idea. I write on a range of topics but some of the ones that get the most hits are the ones about sex, genitals, prostitutes.

We think that humans are more advanced or far above our animal brethren but we forget we are run by the same instincts as they are: the need to procreate. Of course, we have gone further in eroticizing many aspects, making some good and wholesome, some naughty, dirty or downright perverse. We have cultural conventions and moires that animals don’t have. So in essence we have complicated sex, but people still think about it a lot. Whether we’re curious, or appalled or turned on, many still want to read about it.

I think the internet may be broader and more far reaching from those early days of hot chat but I’m not sure by how much. And look at how far we’ve come in less than twenty years. We have way more pictures. 🙂

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