February 19, 2019

The Great Maple Syrup Swapperoo

What’s on my mind? Icky sticky licky maple syrup.

I once had exotic dreams that Ron and I might visit Quebec or New England to participate in the maple syrup harvest. Wearing the mandatory black-and-red plaid shirts as befits the occasion, we wouldn’t care that we looked more like saps than what oozed from the trees. 

Huddled around camp fires between the maples, we’d sing French songs about coureurs de bois, slapping spoons against our thighs to make lively, toe-tapping music before drifting to sleep with the sap and our noses plugged.

Ron is a maple syrup aficionado. I’m content with Aunt Jemima. Ron loves the stuff Costco peddles as Grade A maple syrup. I don’t doubt that it is, but to me, it tastes cheap and thin. I prefer the darker, thicker Grade B maple syrup, which I find richer than Grade A. 

No marriage is perfect, so we’ve agreed to disagree. Which is how we come to The Great Maple Syrup Swapperoo.

Believing Ron couldn’t tell the difference between maple syrup and Aunt Jemima, I began diluting the real stuff with the imitation, always asking: “How’s the maple syrup?” 

“Great!” he said. So I diluted it further. Once again, he said: “Great!”

Things got to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Ha-ha, fooled you!” I said. He wasn’t happy. Can’t say I blame him. He immediately complained about the fake stuff, saying he’d known all along something wasn’t right. 

The last time I made pancakes, I served them with pure maple syrup. “How’s the syrup?” I asked, pretending to smirk. “Fake,” said Ron. When I told him it was the real thing, he was even more unhappy that I’d fooled him again. 

I’ve concluded it’s the very idea of maple syrup and its romantic production that Ron and so many other people love.

Maple syrup festivals have even sprung up on the West Coast island I call home. Can you imagine? Here? Maple syrup is being tapped in backwoods places considered the salt of the earth. Who cares if salt and maple syrup production don’t always go together? It’s happening and it’s happening here! 

I know so little about maple syrup that I didn’t even know what kind of tree is tapped for its syrup. Wow! Maples? Who knew? Excited to join the romance of the harvest, I read that: “Most maples will give sap if tapped during the right season and the right weather conditions.” 

This is the right season. These are the right weather conditions. It’s snowing like a house on fire! (Let’s just kick that unfortunate cliché aside.)

I can see it now! Taps in the trees ... the drip and flow! Here it comes, gurgling out … All the Aunt Jemima I could possibly want, and all the maple syrup for Ron! Compromise is the foundation of any happy marriage. Note to self: Buy plaid shirt.

© Nicole Parton 2019

February 18, 2019

No Nudes is Good News

What’s on my mind? The day my skirt fell down on the highly polished floor of the circular rotunda of a large, well-known hotel, I didn’t know this would happen and didn’t know that it had. Standing smack in the center of that floor, its brilliance was all I could see. But anyone standing near me who stared into its reflective sheen could easily have seen London and France. 

Oblivious to the state of my skirt, I was probably thinking deep thoughts at the time: Does anyone still read Archie comics? Are doves really pigeons in disguise? Do dreams actually come true “when youuu wish upon a starrr ... Makes no diff’rence whooo you arrre …” 

Really? When I was single, I wished on many stars and threw many coins into many wells, and didn’t ever have one wish granted. But the day my skirt fell down, men came running from all directions. I had no idea attracting a man’s attention could be so simple.

I loved that skirt. Even though it was too big around the waist, I wore it hitched up and belt-cinched. So impressed was I of this shiny floor that I failed to notice the leather belt securing my skirt had slipped a notch - maybe three.

No nudes is good nudes. I was wearing underpants and pantyhose under my skirt. Now on full display, my pantyhose trapped my privates like the casings of a sausage. I was vaguely aware that everyone - even Joe Namath - had tossed out their pantyhose, but was very glad I had not. Tight as they were, my pantyhose hid my underpants. Stepping out of my skirt, I grabbed it and ran the 40-yard dash to the elevator.

My plan was to take refuge, slip my skirt back on, and yank that stupid belt until my (facial) cheeks turned from their present scarlet to can’t-breathe-blue. I’d swagger out of that elevator looking like a million bucks, with no one the wiser.

Except that ... Between me and the elevator was a formidable wall of bellboys and security people and shocked guests and a passel of snot-nosed kids pointing to my near-naked butt, all of them blocking my way: 

“Any luggage today, Madam?”

“Come ’ere you! We need to have a little talk …”

“Get her away from me, Harold, get her away!”

“Mom-meeee! Is that lady going swim-ming? Why isn’t she wearing …?”

I finally reached the elevator. Either it was lolly-gagging somewhere around the 108th floor (with probably 60 scheduled stops along the way), or it had permanently broken down. Regardless, it wasn’t in the lobby.

This happened as my then-spouse completed our check-out. He wasn’t the excitable type, so when he turned from the reception desk to find me skirtless in the rotunda, all he said (as though it happened everyday) was: “Your skirt is puddled around your ankles.” 

I remember his flat, even words precisely. He’d already asked the valet to fetch the car. Calm as ever, he suggested I get in. 

© Nicole Parton 2019

February 16, 2019

The Buck Stops Here

What’s on my mind? As the snow bucketed down three nights ago, I poked my nose out the front door. I wanted to smell its freshness. I wanted to immerse myself in its quiet. Most of all, I wanted to watch it - white feathers, floating down. When you live in a place where it rarely snows, snow is a magical thing.

What I saw were tracks - likely, a deer’s - coming up the sidewalk to stop at the front door. I imagined the deer resting on the mat, seeking refuge from the cold. She must have leaped from mat to garden: The tracks showed her arrival, but not her departure. Curious.

The gardens fresh snow showed deep leg holes just outside the window - evidence that the deer had vaulted from mat to garden in one giant leap for deer-kind.

When this happened two snowy nights in a row, and when our cedar hedge showed nibble-nibble signs of becoming a buffet, I told Ron: “We’ll leave carrots and lettuce at the door tonight!” 

My daughter tongue-in-cheek suggested leaving the door open so the deer could warm herself by the fire. Snow and deer poop in the garden is one thing; snow and deer poop in the living room, quite another. Unless you fancy venison, of course.

Our fridge was well stocked: This deer deserves a proper meal!  I left a plate of chopped carrots and lettuce beside the mat, where the deer could munch, rest, and overhear Seinfeld re-runs in comfort.

(She? How did I know? She could have been a he. We once saw a four-point buck in the garden, the remnants of Rons prize rhododendron dangling from his mouth. No sane homeowner messes with a buck. We let him be.) 

I rose early the next morning to see … More animal tracks! Many, many more! 

Although the lettuce and carrots were untouched, the sidewalk snow showed the comings and goings of small and large animals that may have included rabbits, and …

ME: “Ron! Wake up, Ron! A cougar walked up the sidewalk last night!”

HE: “Mwahff? How can you tell?”

ME: “There are large tracks with paw imprints in the snow!”

HE: “I don’t believe it. Where? Let me see.” He sprang from bed. 

I was surprised Ron was so … unsurprised, but that’s a man for you … Emotions always in check.

HE: “Just as I thought! Those prints are mine. I crouched in the flower bed last night, putting both hands in the snow to measure its depth.”

ME: “You did?”

HE: “I did.”

ME: “I guess you didn’t want the chopped lettuce and carrots I set out (ha-ha).” Then, chin to chest: “The deer didnt want them, either.”

HE: “Maybe if you removed them from the fancy dish you bought in France, they might be more interested.”

ME: “Animals shouldn’t eat from a dirty sidewalk …”

HE: “Sheesh!”

Throwing the lettuce and carrots in the snow, he carried the dish inside. This morning, every scrap was gone.

© Nicole Parton 2019

February 14, 2019

Are Polls for Dogs?

What’s on my mind? Climate change. Is it real? 

A highly esteemed Australian scientist I know and greatly respect says climate change is part of a normal cycle. Which it is, of course. But how long is the cycle? My friend isn’t a climate scientist, but nor am I. 

As I understand the issue, a pivotal part of the argument swirls around “weather” v. “climate.” The first is relatively short-term; the second, long-term. How my friend and others define those concepts, I don’t know. 

The second argument focuses on the effect human activities have - or do not have - on the atmosphere. The third points to the inconsistency of relative short-term written meteorological records. 

I’m not qualified to address any of those points.

I believe North America is in a rapidly accelerating time of colder winters and hotter summers. News reports suggest greater flooding, more serious wildfires, and higher winds. In recent weeks, one Australian state experienced severe flooding and severe fires at the same time.

The north polar cap is rapidly melting. Some scientists say Antarctica has considerably more ice plunging into the sea each year than 40 years ago. However, other scientists say East Antarctica added five billion tons of ice each year from 1992 to 2017. The science on climate change is by no means settled.

My Australian friend referred to a recent Pew poll that only 7% of Australians are concerned about climate change - the unspoken words being “if it exists at all.” 

I know enough to understand poll answers depend on how poll questions are phrased.

So I asked Google: “Percentage of Canadian adults concerned about climate change?” Up popped a 1986 Ipsos result that “two-thirds (63%) feel desperately concerned that if drastic action not taken right now, the world may not last much longer than another couple of generations.”

That was the first hit to come up; not wanting to cherry-pick or bias the result, I decided to go with first hits only. Because of the parameters I’d set myself, I didn’t search for something more current.

I then asked Google the same question about Americans. The first hit came from a February, 2018 journal of the American Psychological Association, which stated: “71% of Americans … think global warming is happening, according to a Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey. While 47 percent say they are “very” or “extremely” sure of it, 13 percent do not believe it is happening and the rest are unsure.”

(Those numbers dont add up, but that was what the first hit reported.)

I then asked the question about Australians: The first hit I got was a summary of a Lowy Institute Poll headed: “Australians’ support for climate action at its highest level in a decade.” (June, 2018) 

The poll’s summary states: “59% of respondents agreed with the statement that: “Climate change is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs … This represents an increase of 5 percentage points from 2017, and a consistent increase in support for this statement over the past six years. It suggests that support for climate action in Australia is bouncing back towards its high point of 68% in the first set of Lowy Polls in 2006.”

Breaking with my “first hit” methodology, I ran through the Google headers in response to my question about Australians’ perspective. Story after story after story (even a recent Pew poll) said much the same.

Don’t tell me polls are for dogs. At what point does “weather” become “climate change”? Climate once happened over eons. It’s now been happening over – what? The past 30 years? The past 50? The past 100? 

I don’t know, but what I’ve seen and felt and read over the past decade is that whatever’s happening, it’s doing so faster than many people anticipated. I fear we may have passed the point of no return. Tell your children and grandchildren you love them. Hug them tightly. And hope for the best.

© Nicole Parton, 2019  

February 13, 2019

The Enchanted Woods

What’s on my mind? We saw the Enchanted Woods this morning. The sun lit the trails; glorious glorious! I hope you never see them.

It took us two years to find the woods, and then only because we followed up on a whispered rumor of their existence.

I won’t tell you the location of the woods’ unmarked entrance, or the name of the picturesque creek that meanders through the trees. 

I won’t lead you to the many places in these same woods where the trees grimace and glare. I won’t tell you where to find Sir Douglas’ castle, or take you to what appears to be a small grave, marked with a branch-and-bark cross. I won’t reveal the place where someone left an ode to Karen: “My friend, my angel.” 

These are, after all, the “Enchanted Woods” - a magical place in which flat stones are transformed into birds’ eggs laid in sea shells; in which stones are painted to look like dinosaurs’ eggs, ladybugs, and snails. 

If you stumbled on this place, you’d only bring your city friends with their city ways, and that would be no good. 

They’d tramp around in their city clothes and city shoes, oblivious to the magic just beyond the shadows and the trees. Your city friends wouldn’t notice the teddy bears and action figures and other toys abandoned by the long-ago children who transitioned to adulthood and forgot about this place. 

More than two dozen species of songbirds live here - pileated woodpeckers, flickers, dippers, pine siskins, juncos, winter wrens, robins, chickadees, cedar waxwings, jays … In and around the creek are red-tailed squirrels, raccoons, mink, West Coast black-tail deer, black bears, cut-throat trout, fresh water shrimp, bullhead frogs, Northern red-legged frogs, tree frogs … 

Bits and pieces of artwork are nailed to trees, tucked into holes at their bases or closeted in their branches.
There are tiny, moss-draped figurines from another era. There are statuettes of plaster dwarfs, cemented gnomes, and plastic elves. An amber pendant dangles from a branch, swaying in the wind. 

Some of these things have monetary value; most do not. To remove even one item would be bad karma, I think. Mess with magic, and magic has a way of biting you in the butt.

There is schlock: The reclining frog; the frog under a mushroom umbrella. And more schlock: The plaster skunk and plastic hedgehog, circa 1960. What matters is that these things once gave someone pleasure, and are doing so again.

And then there are the signs: “I came, I sawed, I fixed it,” says one. “Let your colors shine!” says another, crayoned on a shell. 

I can safely guess there are at least 150 pieces of lost, donated, and hand-crafted treasure in the acres and acres of trails that encircle the Enchanted Woods. The people of the island where I live are the guardians of this place. The location of these woods must remain a secret.

No offence intended, but you’re not wanted here.

© Nicole Parton, 2019  

February 11, 2019

Live and Let Dye

What’s on my mind? Doesn’t anyone dye, anymore? I don’t think they do. They “color” their hair. I don’t, only because I’m indecisive and would probably hate myself two minutes after doing it - the same way I feel after eating a slab of coconut cream pie. 

My hair is still at the “pepper” stage: I manage to hide the “salt” under hats, scarves, and the heads of gigantic football mascots, which is a problem only when my hairdresser forces me to remove it. 

While I’m at it … (Q: While you’re at what, Nicole? A: That’s for me to know and you to find out) While I’m at it, no one’s  a “hairdresser,” anymore. Now they’re “stylists.” I still call mine a “hairdresser” so she won’t get a swelled head and charge me extra. 

For that matter, does anyone die, anymore? If someone you know recently has, you may want to skip this section. 

People “pass” and are “lost.” The first sounds like lingering flatulence; the second, like they’ve wandered off at the mall. Some people “pass” when errant flower pots dislodge themselves from sixth-floor window sills to crash down on unsuspecting heads (attached to equally unsuspecting bodies) on the sidewalk below. 

Some people really do wander off at the mall, their shrunken bodies found six months later in neglected furnace rooms innocently mistaken for the food court. Dying is never fun, but dying without the pastrami sandwich the deceased so desperately craved in the search for the food court … Well, that really is a bummer.  

Some people go to “a better place.” Secular society that we’ve become, that place had better have excellent room service, robes, and turndowns. (Robes? There really are robes? I was afraid I’d have to spend eternity in that ratty plaid dressing gown I’ve had since 1992). 

Rarely do today’s obituaries depict the “departed” meeting St. Peter at “the Pearly Gates.” St. Peter appears to have fallen out of fashion, and no one - except He Who Shall Remain Nameless - decorates in gold that much, anymore.

In the whitewashed words of the standard obit, hardly anyone ever drops dead. You never read: “Harvey was a big son-of-a-b****. When he crashed down, he took the downstairs’ neighbors’ ceiling with him.” 

You never see: “As everyone knows, Janis had more creditors than brains. We’ll be taking up a collection at her celebration of life, so BYOB and shake out those piggy banks!” 

Instead, obits tend to put the best face on the worst things: “Phil leaves behind two adoring collies and Muriel, his wife of 56 years, who unfortunately has an unbreakable hair appointment with her stylist, M. Georges, and so will be unable attend Phil’s memorial service …”  

You know …? Maybe I will color my hair. 

© Nicole Parton, 2019  

February 10, 2019

Music Lessons

What’s on my mind? Allow me to give you something. Take it! I insist!

“Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey now …
It’s finger pop poppin’ time
Finger poppin’ poppin’ time
I feel so good
And that's a real good sign
Here comes May and here comes Sue
Here come Johnny and Bobby too
It's finger pop poppin’ time …” 

- Hank Ballard (composer); Hank Ballard (lead vocalist) and the Midnighters, 1960

Why has this 59-year-old song been churning through my brain for the past five days? It’s catchy, but hardly profound.

Here’s a more recent composition. Having said that, I intend no slur against the composer/singer or against any socio-economic or cultural group. Quite the opposite. 

F**k Up Some Commas is a hip-hop/rap composition. I apologize if I’ve misconstrued the composer’s full intent; the apostrophized edits are mine.

Fake ni**a lie to a real ni**a,
That’s just some s**t that you don’t do
Imma stay riding for my real ni**as
Thats just some s**t that Im gon’ do
F**k all the commas, let’s f**k up some commas n**ga
Let’s f**k up some commas, let’s do that s**t random
Yeah, Future 
Future Hendrix, it’s some s**t you don’t do

F**k up some commas
Let’s f**k up some commas yeah
Let’s f**k up some commas,
Let’s f**k up some commas yeah
Forty thou to a hunned thou
A hunned thou nother hundred thou
Three hunned thou, five hunned thou
A mill y’all let’s have a money shower

F**k up some commas, let’s f**k up some commas yeah ...

- Nayvadius Wilburn (aka Future), Gary Hill, Joshua Luellen (composers), 2014; Future (performer) 

Wikipedia reports that Rolling Stone magazine ranked “F**k Up Some Commas” eighth on its year-end list of the 50 best songs of 2015. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified it double platinum for sales of over two million digital copies in the US.

On my initial reading, I didn’t understand what Future was saying (I haven’t reproduced the piece in full). At first, I felt there was no need for its rough, angry tone. But then I considered the past and present experiences of Black Americans. And only then understood what a remarkable composition this is. 

When you lack a voice, you can still “f**k up some commas” as one small, rebellious statement of personal power. People can try to take that away by “correcting you, but you can deliberately persist. Why does it have to be like that? Why cant we build bridges instead of walls?

It’s frustrating that my musical tastes are stuck in the past -  but the message of Futures composition deserves to be remembered.

Whether in the 18th C private audiences in the salons of the very rich, to the 21st C private audiences in the foyers and mezzanines and ballrooms of the very rich, to the CDs and YouTubes and streaming sites and public concert halls of the middle class, to the freely shared music of the streets, music speaks to us all.

Music has always appealed to different cultures and tastes. What’s familiar to native Americans and First Nations tends to be foreign to audiences considered “mainstream.”

Just as music brings us together, it also divides us through our lack of shared experiences and understanding. We live in dangerous times. These are times when - irrespective of race, religion, and economic status - we need to acknowledge and try to understand truths that lie outside our own experience.   We need to respect, empathize with, and support one another more than ever before, even if we f**k up some commas, and f**k ’em up real good 

PS: Well ... I’ve just learned my high-falutin’ words don’t match the composer’s intent. I’ll keep my interpretation, thanks. And I’ll continue trying to practice tolerance for other viewpoints, even when they’re light years from mine.

PPS: Someone has just asked me what the composer’s intent was. Oh, dear. I’m a dork. I’m going to recommend that you do a little research and read up on this yourself. 

© Nicole Parton, 2019 

February 9, 2019

The Lightness of a Partially Human Brain

What’s on my mind? Forensic pathologists say the average human brain weighs 3 lb. or 1.4 kg - about the size of a cantaloupe. If you don’t know what a “forensic pathologist” is, you probably don’t want to know. 

If you don’t know what a “human brain” is, you probably don’t need to know. If you don’t know what a “cantaloupe” is, you probably live in some distant land and would like to know. Send me your address, a USD money order for postage and handling, and I’ll see what I can do for you.

By sheer good fortune, my own brain weighs 1.2 oz. or 35 g. On the plus side, this means less dusting, vacuuming, and polishing. On the negative side, this means I sit around all day watching cable news coverage of Donald J. Trump.

This guy apparently married some dame who willingly sold her soul to the highest bidder and wound up with him. Now she sits around all day watching cable news coverage of Donald J. Trump in the event her keeper presents her with a questionnaire. 

I understand her human brain weighs more than the average and his partially human brain weighs less, which means he sits around all day watching cable news coverage of himself.

To escape the TV set and do something of value, the auctioned-off lady now has a “Be Best” campaign to encourage children to be kind, respectful of others, compassionate, and courageous. 

The man with the partially human brain weighing less than hers (and, sadly, with a soul weighing less than the tiniest feather) has not yet grasped the meaning of this campaign. 

It’s rumored that forensic pathologists can hardly wait to get their hands on his head. It’s rare for a partially human brain  (especially weighing as little as his) to require as much dusting, vacuuming, polishing, and sheer, hard scrubbing as his does. 

Sadly, this man’s partially human brain accepts no intellectual stimulation or cleaning - none. Sadly, he doesnt care. Even more sadly, his partially human brain died a long time ago. 

© Nicole Parton, 2019

February 8, 2019

Sleeping with Hugh Grant

What’s on my mind? Hugh Grant … Always, always Hugh Grant.

I met him once … Sorta. Maybe not. Never, actually. But I have seen his movies! Wouldn’t miss ’em for the world. 

When I sorta met Hugh Grant (the hunky British actor whom I worship from afar), we shared a hospital room. Before I prepared to meet Hugh Grant, I was last in hospital when my now middle-aged children were born, and before that, when I was born. Things have changed. 

Men now bunk in the same room as women, at least in the burg where I live. Which is unfortunate, because any woman who hopes to meet Hugh Grant would want to be wearing the Full Zsa Zsa when she does. 

(I was wearing the Full Zsa Zsa, but it was as Zsa Zsa Gabor looked when she died two months short of her 100th birthday. Let’s just say Zsa Zsa’s beauty peaked in 1937.)

Only a blue curtain separated my bed from Hugh’s - and I wanted to meet the man behind the blue curtain. Was Hugh really as charming as he was in the movies? Could he still dance as he did in Love Actually? More to the point … Did he still have those cute little buns he had in Love Actually

I was sleeping beside Hugh Grant! Which is pretty much the same as sleeping with Hugh Grant. Pretty much.

It sure sounded like Hugh Grant behind the blue curtain. Très charmant. Enjoying a frisson of attention from the nurses. He’d been wheeled to our room around midnight; this morning marked the first day of his hospital confinement. Hugh had snapped his tibia in a car crash. It needed pinning or pegging or whatever it is that surgeons do with well-sculpted legs that project from cute little buns. 

Someone had been driving too fast and it definitely wasn’t Hugh! Which may have been a big fat fibula, but it sure sounded convincing when I overheard him tell that to the nurses.

Sure enough, Hugh disappeared from his bed early that morning, only to be wheeled back a few hours later as every nurse on the floor surrounded his bedside with sympathetic words. I tried to catch a glimpse of him as I limped (unaided and in pain) to the washroom, but all I saw was a phalanx of nurses’ backsides.

In that familiar Hugh Grant-ish manner, he also told the nurses: “Its a good thing I wasnt born 200 years ago, or my leg would have been amputated.” Let alone that there were no cars. 

“Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!” one nurse brayed. Ah, the ancient courting ritual of thrust and parry! I didn’t mean that as it came out. I didn’t mean that as it left my mouth, either. 

Desperate to see Hugh Grant, I bided my time until the nurses drifted away and I heard Hughs gentle snoring. I then tiptoed to his bedside as he slept. My plan was to accidentally-on-purpose trip over his pinned tibia, waiting to request an autograph until his screaming subsided. 

I wouldn’t seek an autograph unless he really were Hugh Grant, which is why I didnt get one. I didn’t have the moxie to assess those buns, but - whoever the guy was - he had a fine set of tonsils, flapping in the sterilized hospital air.

© Nicole Parton, 2019