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Saturday, April 29, 2017

the owl roost

When I was a kid I always had trouble buying gifts for my dad.  Like most adults, if he needed or wanted anything he just bought it whenever he needed or wanted it.

My mom and he often disagreed on the definition of "need."

I didn't realize it at the time but everyone has trouble buying gifts for adults for the exact same reason. I think we have all fallen into the trap of latching on to the one or two things we know someone likes and beating that gift idea into the ground. It helps if the adult in question has started a collection or has had one foisted upon them.

My dad collected owls - how vigorously he would have pursued this interest if there hadn't been so many birthdays and Christmases and Father's Days to be shopped for is unclear.

My own frog obsession was started when my schoolfriend, Paula Lockyer, purchased an adorable stuffed frog (probably at a drug store) and gave her to me for my birthday sometime during junior high (probably at a sleepover in the Simmons family playroom).

The frog was most definitely a girl because her red lipstick was (and still is) fierce. Her name is Freddy Frig Frog and she decided to come with me on my first solo plane trip when I was 16. Afterwards she went on all my trips as a good luck charm.

She has since been retired as a travel companion because her bow was getting frayed and I didn't want her to lose those fantastic lips.

My father took this singular frog love to mean I needed more of them and he started bringing back frogs to me from every trip my parents took.

A frog collection was born.

I gave into the pressure and started buying my own, eventually becoming a bit of a snob, not giving as much love to the frog I received as a present if it was the same frog I already had wearing a different hat.

Buying a frog or an owl or a cat for a collector is usually a pretty safe bet because if you think it's cute, it probably is. And there are so many owl and frog and cat variations out there that you probably won't give an exact duplicate (except for when you do). The collector will most likely love it right up until she realizes she has run out of places to put it and by then the collection is a pain in the butt to dust. She will probably still secretly love it long after she has blown past that stage and has started to reduce the inventory.

So a long time ago, every April, June, and December, I dutifully went out looking for a gift for my dad. I tried to be original but too many times all I could find was the cutest owl I could find.

One time I was dismayed and delighted to find my dad had bought himself the exact same mirror shaped like the exact same white owl.

Both mirrors made their way down to our cabin, The Owl Roost, famous in ornithological circles for the hundreds of owl species that live there. There was even a popular contest to guess the number in residence. There was no real answer because no one could agree on a final tally or whether you should count the playing cards hidden in the drawer individually.

Everybody loved the owls so anyone who cared enough about my dad to buy him a gift eventually fell into the owl trap.  It was irresistible. It was inevitable.

I have even gotten owls as presents from friends who got my collecting obsession confused with my dad's.  I still have my favourites.

After my dad died far too young at 53, the owl collection at the Owl Roost ceased to grow at its previous pace.  Eventually, it started to contract as the dust and mildew of too many winters took their toll. It was often too much trouble to climb up and clean the high shelf encircling the main room of the cabin, a shelf built especially for owl display.

But the best and brightest remain, occasionally joined by the odd new owl someone couldn't resist.

It's still impossible to figure out how many owls live in the Owl Roost - still too many to get an accurate count.

Whenever someone on Facebook posts a memory of their dad who has passed away, I always feel a little pang for my own dad and little guilty too because I don't do something like that very often. I sometimes would rather forget a lot of dates: April 30th, Father's Day, February 8th.

And most especially February 3rd.  I really hate February 3rd.

I don't really forget them but sometimes it's just easier to remember that they're coming up or realize they are just past.

I woke up this morning (not really this morning - last month to tell the truth) and I was idly thinking that if there had been an internet when I was a kid, I would have been able to search the world for the perfect gift for my dad.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be nice if on my dad's birthday I made a short post in which I revealed that I went shopping online for my dad and found the perfect gift, no expense spared.  The gifting possibilities were endless.

Then I realized I already had the perfect gift.  I had actually gotten it a few years ago, back when I was in England.  A photograph I got my husband to take for me.

So here you go, Dad. I got you an owl.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

what i did for love

A couple of months ago, we got a call from a friend about a good deal on tickets to New York and did we want to go there with her and her daughter, SWDNO's best friend.

Of course a seat sale to NYC is just an invitation to blow all the money you save on airfare on that city's wonders and delights. After convincing ourselves this was such a good deal we couldn't pass it up and pretending we had no idea how poor we would be afterwards, we agreed pretty readily.

The first time I went to New York, I was 18. In order to get there, I stuffed myself into a VW camper van with five other people, the majority of my family; my older sister had to be in Moncton. Our ultimate destination was Florida so we had only one day to spend in the Big Apple.

My brother was the only one brave (or foolhardy) enough to drive us into the heart of the beast. To a crowd of Newfoundlanders who hadn't even mastered the art of merging, the traffic in and around New York was like something out of Grand Theft Auto (a simile we wouldn't have used because it didn't exist back then).

It was a beautiful spring day which my brother and two younger sisters decided would be best spent navigating the NY subway system so they could visit a friend who worked at the Waldorf Astoria (!) but who lived in Brooklyn.

I was a weird teenager who actually liked hanging out with her parents, or at least would tolerate their presence because they wanted to see actual NYC - or more particularly Manhattan, and more specifically everything in walking distance of Times Square.

I remember walking around feeling like I had been there before, knowing the street names, having seen it all so many times in the movies and on TV. We went to the top of the Empire State Building. I bought a T-shirt declaring my undying love for NY.

Mostly, we just had time to wander around, jaws dropping, clutching our purses against the muggers.

I couldn't wait to get back.

It took me 32 years - I had to make Her Father take me there as a 50th birthday present because he was only interested in sunshine and beaches in the deep, dark winter of a Newfoundland spring. Technically, we went in the fall that time, but fall and spring are equally the best times to go to New York.

We saw Central Park, we went to the top of 30 Rock. We saw The Book of Mormon at highway robbery prices because of travel delays and poor planning, and because my husband didn't want to disappoint me.

Our next trip we took at Easter. We got to stroll on the Avenue, Fifth Avenue, with people in their Easter bonnets.

It was a blast. We saw Central Park, we went to the top of the Empire State, we saw Wicked and Beautiful. They were still pricey tickets but we didn't spend quite so much because we booked in advance.

For our most recent trip we were even smarter. I wanted to see everything so it didn't matter which show I went to, mostly. I was ready to take my chances at the half-price ticket booth in Times Square.

But after seeing a video of Jake Gyllenhaal sing "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George, I convinced Her Father that we absolutely needed to see it (it was a limited run). He gave me the tickets for my birthday.

We prudently booked it for the second night so there was no danger of Air Canada or United screwing us over (United and AC screwed us over the first time).

Sunday in the Park with George and Jake Gyllenhaal is about making art, putting it together. I am attempting to do that with this blog so it is really relevant to my life right now.  The production was first rate, the snacks were expensive.

The reason the snacks were so expensive is because they were all about art too.

I kept the Coke bottle/tin because I spent so much money on it I didn't feel I could buy any of the other cool art/souvenir t-shirts on sale (items in the background were not purchased at the theatre).

The sign over the bar was a quote from the play, the importance of balance between life and work.

George couldn't find room in his life for anyone unless they helped him with his art. He had room for a bare minimum of non-art (the sign says: More red, more blue, more beer). There is apparently always room for beer.

Art isn't easy but going to this play was because we pre-purchased the tickets.

I had to struggle to see art the first day we arrived, however. The day was cold and a bit damp; we were all exhausted and everyone wanted to have a nap. Our luggage had not arrived. I needed to figure out how to get discount tickets to whichever show was the best deal.

I finally decided that the only show I was willing to stay awake for was Groundhog Day. I loved the movie and I loved Tim Minchin, the man who wrote the music and lyrics.

Because my windbreaker/rain jacket was also refusing to come to America, I had to wrap myself up in my Tardis hoodie and brave the cold. It wasn't too bad while I was walking to Times Square but it was pretty bitter once I had to wait on line.  I got reasonably good seats at a good price, in a back row of the Orchestra section.

I also bought our friends tickets to see Cats; by some miracle, it was playing in the theatre right across the street from Groundhog Day so we made arrangements to meet on the street right before the shows.  Then I dragged my cold bones back for a two hour nap - had to set an alarm so we wouldn't sleep in.

We somehow managed to drag ourselves back out into the cold despite not having had enough sleep, an hour before showtime. Fortunately, I didn't have space in our checked bag for the thick cozy sweater I had packed in my carry-on so SWDNO had a warmer sweater than what she had worn on the plane.  Normally, I would not wear a Tardis to a Broadway show but I had no other options.

We arrived on 52nd street with 10 minutes to spare, gave our friends their tickets, and rushed to join the line filtering into the August Wilson Theatre across the way. I was just opening my purse to show I had no concealed fruit on my person when I noticed an impossible thing.

The tickets I held in my fist, the ones I had checked as per instruction before leaving the TKTS booth earlier that afternoon, were for Groundhog Day but not for April 7. They were for April 8!

This was impossible - first of all, the TKTS booth can only sell tickets for the day of the performance so they couldn't have sold me tickets for the following night. Secondly, I had tickets to see Jake in the Park on Saturday Night and I couldn't see Groundhog Day at the same time.

Panicking, I rushed to the ticket booth and gibbered at the guy behind the glass. He couldn't understand how it happened either so he went off to talk to the manager. When he finally came back, I waved my receipt at him to show further proof I wasn't scamming him.

He assured me that he would never distrust anyone in a Tardis so he took a big red Sharpie and wrote J105 and J106 on our tickets in big friendly letters.  When we got to our seats and saw that we were only 10 rows from the stage and right smack dab in the middle with two empty seats in front of us, we were in our glee.

At first I found it hard to pay attention we were so wound up in our good fortune at getting such good seats to such a good show. But the show was worth all the drama. It was clever, funny, musically interesting, full of creative staging, lightning fast costume changes, and delightful sleight of hand.

There was even a song all about me, Playing Nancy.

We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us.

Afterwards, we bought all the souvenirs we could afford. We will be twins in matching rodent shirts.

Later I tweeted the greatest compliment I could think of which was that I wanted to steal the ideas I was getting while watching the show.

Then a Broadway miracle occurred. Tim Minchin liked me. Twice.

I was verklempt.

After the reality of all this ticket and souvenir purchasing began to sink in, I started thinking about ways to economise. Plus my options for Sunday and Monday night Broadway shows were not as wide-ranging as I had hoped. None of the other shows I had high on my list were even on offer. Aladdin was too dear and practically sold out to boot.

So on Sunday, we rested. On Monday, Her Father decided to check out the musical rodent while SWDNO and I checked out a fantastic movie theatre showing Beauty and the Beast. I loved that musical as an animated film and enjoyed the live action almost as much. The theatre was worth the extra we paid for it too, with it's comfy reclining seats complete with foot rests, all adjusted with the touch of buttons; you wouldn't even know there was anyone in the seats in front of you because the tops of the seats in front were on level with the low wall at our feet.

At the end, I stood up to find my head was projected on the screen. We made hand puppets over the closing credits.

Afterwards, we went back to 52nd Street to hang out at the Groundhog Day stage door. My Cousin Debbie has a friend in the cast who had added us to the guest list or so we thought. But there was a miscommunication and the door guy didn't know who we were. He said he'd check but everyone else on the list were being let in and it looked like we weren't.

Someone else appeared who was there for Tari Kelly, our friend of a cousin friend. She came out to meet them and when someone called her by name, I grabbed my chance.

"I'm Cousin Debbie's cousin!" I cried. "We're not on the list."

She quickly sorted that out and we were in, standing on a Broadway stage looking out at the primo seats we had sat in only three nights before. Tari graciously took time away from her actual friends to show us around.

I have been in a few local productions at the Arts and Culture Centre so it was partly what I was expecting, but the compactness of it all was astounding. They have to get a lot of stuff into a very little space, a multitude of props and set pieces, on shelves, stuck in corners, hanging from the ceiling.

In my last show, I had trouble getting a couple of chairs on stage and a bar piece I had to maneuver was tricky to get locked on its mark. They have to wrangle so many moving pieces in that show and do it with such professionalism and grace I was in awe.

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting end to our stay in New York.

Although my bills have yet to come home to roost and I am wondering whether I will pay them with buttons or beach rocks, I don't think I have ever felt so satisfied with a trip in my life.

Art isn't easy and it sure ain't cheap, but it's worth it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

what if i had a pointed stick?

The no plot family has just returned from a 5-day jaunt in the wilds of New York City, Big Apple, and boy, did we have some big city adventures.

Our story began in an unusual way for us in that Her Father was away on business and was going to meet us there.  SWDNO and I have only travelled together by plane without Her Father one time before and that involved a journey home from Halifax and a minor panic attack when I couldn't find her ID which it turned out I didn't actually need because it wasn't required of someone under the age of 16.

I have travelled many times on my own but I had forgotten about the extra steps for checking in to an international flight and I didn't have everything I needed handy. Her Father would normally handle those details; I am usually in a minor/major panic over all the things I have to do the day before a flight so I let him. After struggling with the bureaucracy and the snotty, impatient foot tapping of the Air Canada check-in website, I came to the realization that I needed to give my husband a raise.

Then we had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to catch our flight. I managed to handle that much better than usual with nary a panicky twinge, even grabbing some breakfast snacks for later since my stomach refuses to wake up until it sees a decent amount of light in the sky.  I even ate said snacks, or most of them, as we flew from St. John's to Halifax to Montreal. SWDNO has a sleepier stomach than mine, being a teenage stomach and all, otherwise I swear I would have shared with her.

Montreal was the launching point for our migration south to the Land of the Free; we were certainly bringing the weary, if not the poverty - we would become a lot poorer the longer we stayed near the Statue of Liberty, in fact.  Still, I was pretty chipper for someone who had had only a few hours sleep.

When we had to pass from the lackluster Canadian-secured departure area for the hyper-secure-bordering-on-paranoid American-secured departure area, I found it amusing when my carry on bag took a slight detour so that it could be searched. I couldn't think what had raised the alarm because I usually hide my illegal goods quite cleverly.

It turned out, I had a fully loaded banana guard in my bag that the security agent retrieved with a grin and waved in the air to show his comrade on the x-ray machine. They let us pass through even though we were clearly a security risk. Good thing I hadn't come at them with a handful of raspberries.*

My banana was not destined to escape additional scrutiny, however.

Instead of proceeding to the never ending, hardly moving line to the next available customs agent, SWDNO and I were then directed to a electronic kiosk where we were given the 3rd degree by a jumped-up ATM which tried to trip us up with questions like were we dangerous criminals carrying any guns, explosives, or surfboards? As an experienced traveller, I know you just say "no" to everything without reading the questions.

SWDNO had never been asked these questions directly before so she insisted that we had to answer one question "yes". We were in fact trying to import one single, solitary banana into the country and therefore had to pay once again for our sin.

The ATM printed out a couple of disapproving chits into our waiting hands. It's disapproval was made plain by the large "x" slashed across each one.

We were then shuttled into another incredibly short line - we were the entire line in fact. I guess it was the troublemakers line and no one else dared to make any trouble in the glare of the American Homeland Security spotlights.  We waited for someone to release the hounds.

We were finally waved over to an actual human customs officer** who seemed to not even notice the badges of shame that our chits were wearing.  He repeated most of the same questions as the ATM but in a slightly different way, hoping no doubt to trip us up.

He nearly got me too. He asked if we had any food and I was in the middle of saying no when it occurred to me that bananas are also a type of food in addition to being military ordnance. I hastily admitted to the banana as casually as I could.

I pointed an accusing finger at my own daughter and claimed she was to blame for all this unpleasantness having insisted on my answering the question truthfully.

The customs officer laughed and said at least she was honest. Then he waved us through.

Imagine our glee as we stood on the other side of the sliding doors, essentially already on American soil with our nutritious snack/WMD still in hand.

In a few short hours we were loose on the streets of New York, armed for bear.

Sadly, our sole checked suitcase lost its nerve at the last minute. She organized a small rebellion of 5 or 6 other items of luggage and refused to cross the border. We learned this upon our arrival at La Guardia when the luggage carousel refused to provide any more items for a small group of us to choose from.

Air Canada managed to round up the recalcitrant baggage and dragged them into Trumpland later that same day, kicking and screaming I imagine. Our bag waited until the dead of night to slip unseen into the city, under cover of darkness.

The rest of the story you can hear about on Fox News.

*Thanks, Jennifer. :-)
One of our travelling companions suggested that security hadn't really thought it was a weapon but that they were hoping it was something naughty. She is clearly not a Monty Python fan.
**could have been a terminator