Livin’ on a Prayer

Happy Victoria Day from not-exactly-springlike Calgary where we are entering our fourth day of [cue voiceover]…..five people [trapped] in one little white house, picked to have their lives documented, to find out what happens when people stop being polite….and start getting real.

But first things first. What is Victoria Day, you non-Canadians ask. Beats me, and I’ve already expended my Google-energy searching for the opening lines of MTV’s Real World. But all you really need to know about Victoria Day is that it causes schools to be closed for four days. Straight. The long weekend also marks the start of the camping season for those who enjoy spending more than one night a year out of doors (i.e. in the confines of a fancy trailer) and is known for its erratic, un-camping-friendly weather.

(Taken verbatim from Nikipedia, a lesser-known source of entirely-anecdotal information.)

For the Johnsons it marks the start of garden box season. Or, should I say, thinking about garden box season. We won’t actually plant the seeds we bought months ago for several weeks yet, if at all. The professor might say something like ‘we need to start working on our garden box this weekend.’ And I will pretend I didn’t hear him. ‘Let’s plant carrots this year,’ one boy-enthusiast might request. And I might say something like ‘no, we’ve tried carrots and failed miserably. Mr. Lund has spent years perfecting the art of carrot growing, so let’s just support him.’ Also, he  looks like he could be a relative of my mine, so I feel like I’m supporting family.

Beyond the thinking of the garden box (which takes roughly three minutes), the remainder of the weekend is spent in various configurations of fighting, piano playing, reading, game playing, fighting, eating and short stints of being outside (until the fighting gets so loud it can be heard two blocks away and we sense the neighbors getting out their phones to call someone about the noise disturbance emanating from the white house.)

Late Friday, before the professor returned from a series of (likely) fake meetings called to keep him away from the house as long as possible, the Gort sat down at the table and made a schedule for our weekend. I had to smile because this is something I’ve done with them from time to time (with about as much success as creating a budget or exercise plan).

He sat for a while, writing things down on paper, asking questions occasionally, like ‘what day is it today? These laser tag coupons expire soon. Can we do laser tag on Saturday?’ And by the time the professor got home, we had a three-page, Gort-authored blueprint for the weekend. With some very specific timings. ‘Shouldn’t you ask your brothers what they might want to do,’ I asked-suggested. ‘I think there’s something here for everyone,’ he dismissed me.



7:30-9 Chores and clean-up

9:05-10:45 [Computer] time, two episodes [of Netflix], Breakfast

11:30-1:00 Laser Quest

1:05-2:15 Walk, bike ride, outing, picnic (editor’s note: apparently food trumped exercise on this occasion)

2:30-4:00 Game night

4:00-5:00 Play outside

5:00-5:45 Dinner

6:00-6:45 Go to the park

7:00-7:30 Go to MAC’s (if well behaved) (editor’s note: the ‘if well behaved’ might be my favorite. And a froster at 7pm? Nice try….nothappening)

7:45-8:15 Reading time

8:15-8:30 Get ready for bed


Saturday came and, in keeping with the schedule, the boys got up and started cleaning. The Gort could be heard telling the Hen what to do and Percy, true to his third-boy-child status, quietly snuck off to our room for a rest, while the older boys worked. Many of our recent conversations have revolved around how to motivate our youngest. ‘He is middle management material,’ the professor had concluded the night before, ‘pretty good with numbers and good at getting other people to do things for him.’


Exhibit A: Getting his brother to feed him?!


Eventually we booted the youngest back to the real world where he did the tiniest of chores before sitting down in the middle of the kitchen for lengthy meltdown about whoknowswhat.

I’d made plans to go to the farmer’s market with a friend (well before ‘the schedule’ had been penned, for  a latte and more of Mr. Lund’s carrots) and bid the boys goodbye. ‘What time will you be back,’ the Gort suddenly asked instead of offering his usual, barely-noticing-my-departure ‘byeloveyou!’

‘Uh….I don’t know….why?’

‘Because we’re supposed to go to Laser Quest at 11…..Or maybe it’s 11:30,’ he tried to recall the details of his masterplan.

Sure enough, right around 11:30, we drove to Laser Quest in the pouring rain. We were somewhere on Macleod Trail when a Bon Jovi song came on the radio, the Johnson roadtrip anthem: Livin’ on a Prayer. May long weekend is also the time when we start thinking about the prospect of spending six days in the car with our boy-children (i.e. The Biennial Trip to the Heartland).

I turned up the volume and spun around in my seat,  ‘this is our roadtrip theme song,’ I informed the boys, my mind flooded with a nostalgic collage of all the times we’d been driving somewhere and Jon Bon Jovi had urged me to ‘hold on…to what we got.’

Unfortunately the moment was slightly ruined when it turned out to be the similar-sounding ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

(Seriously…take out the ‘whoa-whoa of the former’s opening riff and you have the opening riff of the latter.)

Undeterred, I continued the profound embarrassment of my children by holding up an imaginary microphone and belting out the chorus.

The Laser Quest parking lot was full – apparently all of Calgary had not gone camping – and when we entered the vaguely smelling-of-sweat storefront, it was teeming with noise and children. In an effort to temper expectations, I told the Gort ‘it looks kind of busy, we might not be able to get in right away.’

But as ‘luck’ would have it, they had a game starting in three minutes with room for five players. But first, we had to choose our codename, the fifteen year old employee informed us.

‘Juan Pablo,’ the Gort finally decided. And I could tell from the way the kid at the computer repeated it, that he, like all those cheerful terrible-spelling Starbucks workers, had no idea of the alphabetical configuration of Juan Pablo.

Minutes later, Blondpoplo, Gummybear, and Pipsy, along with Nixon and OldDad entered a pitch-black chamber with 34 other people (this is not for the claustrophobic or afraid-of-the-dark) and listened to the rules of laser tag. Having never played, I was unprepared for all of it: How hot it is in that dark maze (especially when you’re wearing multiple layers due to the inclement weather), how heavy the laser pack is and how seemingly interminable a 20 minute game is when you’re sweating and running around in the dark with a ten-pound laser pack.

Two minutes in, I remembered about a certain 5 year old warrior named Pipsy, the youngest, smallest person there, who (like me) had never played laser tag; the one I’d abandoned as soon as the guy-in-charge (who spent the 20 minutes napping in a dark corner) yelled ‘go!’ I could only hope the professor had been a more responsible parent.

In my defense, I did stop and strain my ears for the sounds of a child crying in a dark corner, likely resulting in my being tagged numerous times.


(To be continued….if I can summon the strength.)












Truthdays with Jason

The professor and I headed out on Thursday morning for our pseudo-weekly coffee date. I’d recently loaned him my Fitbit and he’d become subsequently obsessed with checking his steps; to achieve the coveted 10,000 every day. ‘You want to get a coffee and go for a walk,’ he offered by way of suggestion. ‘Sure. Where?’ ‘The place with the houses and the bridge that washed away.’

This being directionally challenged, professorial shorthand for Elbow Park.

I was still considering the matter of where to get the coffee when I found myself driving past Phil and Sebastian’s coffee shop and happened upon a generously sized parking spot right by the front door. It’s basically the Marda Loop equivalent of winning the lottery. With a surprising level of skill I eased my unfashionable minivan into prime parking real estate and we headed inside for a latte.

When the barista announced ‘lattes for Jason,’ (because I always defer to my companion’s inevitably easier to spell or pronounce name) I left our table to pick up the beverages. They were in paper cups. This, to me, is a profound disappointment and reason enough for crossing coffee shops off my ‘list’. Because if I’m going to park my car and snag a table in a hipster joint, I’d like the added luxury of porcelain over paper, thankyouverymuch.

I glanced at the other occupied tables in the shop. Paper cups perched on all of them. (Did all the cups break? Did the dishwasher die?)

‘Well, we might as well just take the coffee and go on our walk,’ I grumbled and the professor, who lives and breathes deadlines these days, was happy to oblige.

We parked by the formerly flooded, under construction, Elbow Park School, and crossed the bridge to Riverdale Avenue, where multi-million dollar homes line the streets, many of them still paying for the privilege of being a stone’s throw away from the river. In the span of two blocks we gazed upon ornamental Buddha statues, a would-be Italian villa whose drained fountain gave the entirely concrete front space a slightly Stalinist, East-Berlin vibe, boarded up homes whose owners possibly took their insurance settlements to higher elevations and fully functional homes whose facades resembled those I drew as a kid.

A not-particularly-artistically-inclined kid.

Yes, Calgary has an architectural style unlike any other I’ve witnessed. We climbed a rather steep hill to Britannia Drive where a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple kept company with old-fashioned, siding-clad bungalows sporting walk-out basements and city views, and updated take(s) on the cavernous Sleeping-with-the-Enemy dwelling. (Yours for only $5.75 million. Don’t waste your time looking for the pool. Or the tennis court. Or the carriage house.)

We walked past a construction site where workers were putting the finishing touches on a very large house with a balcony over the garage. For a glorious view…..of their neighbor’s domicile. Because sometimes you might think: ‘Today I want to drink my coffee and stare at the house across the street.’ And you’ll have just the balcony for the occasion.

[Full disclosure: I live in an old-fashioned white bungalow with a dorm-sized refrigerator. And no views of any kind.]

Looking at other people’s homes got me thinking about a larger question that had plagued me in recent weeks. Stemming from a Brandi Carlile song and a playground conversation with a mom I’d just met. ‘Where are you from,’ I’d inquired, partly because she spoke with an accent, and she’d mentioned being relatively new to Calgary, and also because it’s one of a go-to list of standard social inquiries drawn upon when making small talk. The others being ‘hihowareyou, howmanychildrendoyouhave or whatdoyoudo‘.  All of them, I’ve come to conclude, well-intentioned landmines to the person struggling with the particular answer.

The new-mom gave a roundabout answer, the kind only given by someone who has lived in a lot of places. ‘And you?’ she retaliated reciprocated. I gave the same vague response. Because 9 cities  and 4 countries (5 if you count a brief stint in Berlin) later, your guess is as good as mine. In terms of longest tenure in a single city, it’s Johannesburg. Even though I haven’t been there in nearly two decades. But in terms of most time spent in one country (albeit in 5 different states), it’s the U.S.

Maybe I could come up with a Tiger Woods-esque answer to sum up the range of my cultural heritage and influences. Or maybe my boys, who insist I’m from ‘South America’ have already done it for me.

Naturally I married a man with an equally complicated answer. ‘What do you say when people ask you where you’re from,’ I asked the professor. ‘I say I was born in Duluth,’ he cited the birthplace on his passport. ‘But you lived there for like a year,’ I disagreed. ‘Yeah, but it’s an easy answer. There are no follow up questions. It shuts down the conversation.’

I knew what he meant.

If I say I’m ‘from South Africa’ it elicits at least five more questions slash comments, all of which require additional explanation: 1) What city (which is an improvement from my junior high days when people would say ‘yes, but what country?’) 2) But you don’t speak with an accent. 3) Oh, were your parents doctors/diplomats/missionaries? 4)How old were you when you moved? 5) Do your parents still live there?

But if I say I’m ‘from the U.S.’ it feels like a half truth. Not to mention I’d have to say my hometown is Muncie, Indiana, which is not a particularly cosmopolitan answer and accounts for less than a third of my time here on earth.

In recent days I’ve begun to wonder if it even matters, this answer to what is ultimately a perfunctory question.

‘I was born in Duluth’ seems as good an answer as any.





Friday Night Lights

Every once in a while I will get an email from my mother which says something to the effect of ‘it’s been _ weeks since your last blog post.’ And I will mentally dig through the precious few crumbs where once resided a reasonably useful brain in an effort to conjure up something memorable or remotely amusing, and inevitably come up emptyhanded.

It happened a few days ago, the email, and I’ve been drawing a blank on suitable topics or anecdotes ever since.

Now that the boys are older, they’re not quite as overtly amusing as they once were. Other than Percy’s latest fondness for, and resulting overuse of, the word ‘nipple’. Which is hardly worth expounding upon beyond a sentence.

He also told the Hen today that his idea was ‘unrealistic.’ Which struck me as funny, a five year old saying that to a seven year old. But beyond those four seconds of witty, it’s just been ‘Days of Our Lives’ chez nous. (Minus the intrigue and scandal and long lost siblings.)

The professor was unloading the dishwasher last night, when I walked around the corner from the living area to the kitchen and nearly concussed myself on a glass-front cupboard door that had been left ajar. To say I was unamused would be a gross understatement. By way of explanation for my close encounter with death, he insisted that this was how one unloads dishes: open every single cupboard where dishes could potentially go and leave the doors open until the dishwasher is completely emptied (and one remembers to close said doors).

Which, without knowing how other households operate, I can only assume that nooneintheworld does that.

‘This is just the cat’s meow!’ I fumed at the news of his suddenly laissez-faire approach to opening and closing doors. Because the professor and I have been married for approximately 6841 days and he has indicated one (hundred) time(s) that I have a problem with not-closing doors and drawers. Of course I didn’t have the opportunity to convey any of that because the professor was convulsing with laughter.

‘The cat’s meow?!’ he all but cried at my malapropism. ‘Usually when people say that, they mean it as a positive, not the straw that broke the camel’s back.’

Like I said, crumbs where my brain used to be.

With the cupboard conundrum unresolved, I continued on with my project-du-nuit: getting rid of anything we do not currently use. As I waded through the boys’ ‘office’, picking up pennies and rainbow loom bands and 50,000 tiny pieces of Lego, I found a discarded piece of paper with barely legible boy-writing on it.

Naturally I took a moment:

Run away plan

*Get my money out of the bank

*Get rid of every single picture that has me in it

*Pack food, clothes and money

*Hitch a ride to the rockies



Sneak food while everyone is downstairs


I alerted the professor to the near-present or near-past situation and we howled, just a little, not least because of the plan’s inherent flaws: The author of the plan has enough money in the bank to pay for one night of a cheap hotel ‘in the rockies’. This does not bode well for running away for more than 24 hours.

Then there is, of course, the truly problematic matter of ‘getting rid of every single picture that has me in it.’ Clearly the boy is unaware that I have in excess of 48.000 digital images stored on various computers and external hard drives. And, seeing as the majority of my photographs are of my cherubs, eliminating every one that bears his likeness would take……..a considerable amount of time.

‘Well, when we see him sitting down at the computer trying to delete photos we’ll know it’s time to have a chat,’ the professor resolved.

Just before midnight, having filled three boxes worth of ‘stuff’, I sat down to address the somewhat pressing matter that is my children being without clean socks or pants. Woozy as a result of the hour, cupboard concussion, and skipping dinner in lieu of playing piano and consuming chocolate chip cookies, I surrounded myself with five very large loads of freshly laundered clothes and the first thing I found on Netflix that had more than two stars: Pitch Perfect.

I folded shirts and pants and attempted to relocate some of the 40 single socks taking up residence in my ‘unmatched’ box, while watching the Bellas duke it out with the Trebles.

It’s not entirely clear to me which is the lamest part of that sentence.

Or maybe it’s that I stayed up until 1:30am folding laundry, matching socks and watching the Bellas duke it out with the Trebles.







The Best of Youth

It’s that time of year, encore, when schools everywhere shutter their doors for ten-days-if-you-count-weekends-and-I-do in the name of ‘Spring Break‘.

Because we are the Johnsons and have made the onorthodox career decisions and lifestyle choices that we have, we find ourselves, encore, in Calgary. As opposed to those exotic locales with sand and water and greenstuff frequented by the rest of the population.

But this year, the joke is on them – suffering through amazing sunsets on beautiful beaches – because guess what, Spring Break in Calgary?

It’s awesome.

‘Sure,’ you roll your eyes, ‘sitting in your house all day, surrounded by unoccupied children, without breathtaking scenery or even an umbrella-drink to dull the pain?’

Okay, you might have a point,

But I’ll take ten days of unoccupied children and lack of scenery or umbrella drinks for $500 Alex….when it comes with a side of no snow.

That’s right. This year, when I look out my living room window, I see brown grass, an unfashionable minivan, trees without leaves and a charcoal colored ribbon of asphalt running through it. Oh, and on that ribbon of asphalt? Two young children riding bikes.

Sans training wheels.

The whole bike thing had reached an unbearable level of shame for all of us. For starters, we live in Canadaland, where most children appear to be proficient bike riders by the age of 4. Thus, on the rare occasions when we’d convince the boys to ride their four-wheeled bikes on family walks, there was a pervasive sense – real or imagined – that we were a slow-moving bullseye of un-Canadian underachievement.

And then the Hen, who is 7.5 and seems to care more about what other people think of him than either his older or younger brother, became so embarrassed by his status that he refused to get on his little bike. At all.

Fast forward to Sunday. Sunny, snow-less Sunday. For whatever reason Percy and the Hen had dragged their bikes out to our crescent. The Hen came inside for reasons I can’t recall now and I said to him ‘if you learn how to ride your bike today, I will buy you whatever you want at Starbucks.’ And then, sensing that it was time to carpe the diem, I added, ‘and tell Percy if he learns how to ride his bike today, he can get whatever he wants at Starbucks, too.’

Less than ten minutes later, when I was still lazily trying to decide if I should venture outside with my camera to document any potential milestones, I looked up and saw two kids riding on two-wheeled bikes.




The purple bike with beads given to us by a neighbor when we first moved to Calgary. Despite its girlish appearance, it has been the key to bike-riding success for both the Gort and Hen.

With this rather considerable monkey off his back, the Hen has turned into a rather enthusiastic little biker, venturing outside two or three times each day (despite less than balmy temperatures) to ride around our crescent until his hands are too cold to bear it.

This morning the Gort and I sat on the couch staring out the window, thoroughly entertained by the spectacle that is the two youngest boys riding circles around each other like clowns in a circus act. At one point the Hen rode directly, likely intentionally, into the curb and fell off his bike onto the sidewalk. He fell off ten more times after that, always looking to see if we were watching him, going so far as to take a bow after his umpteenth stunt.

In addition to bicycling, much of the boys’ break has centered around the fort occupying a large portion of our basement. Or ‘Occupy Basement’ as the professor has come to call it.

On Friday the Gort said: ‘can we build a fort and leave it up for the whole Spring Break?’ And I said ‘sure’ because if ever there is a time to build a fort and keep it around, Spring Break is probably that time.

There have been a couple of snags with Occupy Basement (and not just because it is using 95% of the bedding in our home.) Like when we had a family viewing of Groundhog Day on Friday night and I found myself sitting sideways on a chair at the edge of the room because it had been commandeered for structural purposes. Whether it was the less than ideal seating arrangement or the fact that Groundhog Day wasn’t quite as entertaining as I had remembered it, the movie night fizzled after about an hour with children declaring ‘I don’t really like this movie’ and parents quietly heading upstairs to rummage through the kitchen in search of easter candy.

There was also the matter of ‘fort-snacks’ which resulted in the disappearance of several pieces of tupperware containing large portions of cereal, and a bag of organic granny smith apples that was returned to the garbage with no more than six bites taken from each green fruit.

The fort has become a make-shift bedroom for the two older boys – young Percy determined he was not yet ready to sleep in the basement – and meeting space for deep brotherly conversation involving the words butt and poop and ineloquent use of the word Uranus.

Earlier tonight, the professor – eavesdropping on the stairs, in the dark – howled at a story about the Hen’s 7 year old classmate who, legend has it, typed something into Google search about ‘girls’ balls’ and subsequently lost classroom computer privileges for three weeks.

The professor also bore witness, courtesy of his office’s proximity to Occupy Basement, to this gem of a conversation:

‘Not that you want to marry her or anything, but what’s one girl in your class that you like?’

‘I’m not telling you.’

‘I won’t tell anyone.’

‘Yeah you won’t, because I’m not telling you.’

‘I’ll tell you if you tell me.’

‘You go first.’

‘How about we count to three and we’ll both say it at the same time……one…two…three.’


‘You didn’t say anything!’


‘That’s not even a name.’

The Gort has also shown an interest in culinary matters this break. ‘Can you teach me how to make spaghetti,’ he asked on Saturday-or-was-it-Sunday. I talked him through the steps of making the Marcella Hazan-ish sauce and the noodles and thirty minutes later we were eating lunch. Made by the 11 year old. And, courtesy of the ‘fistful’ of sugar he’d added to the sauce, his brothers gave him a very enthusiastic  ‘thumbs up’ while literally licking their plates clean.

Best Spring Break. Ever.


*Title borrowed from a somewhat riveting Italian miniseries the professor and I watched many years ago.






Truthdays with Jason

The professor and I had adopted the pseudo-habit of going out for coffee on Thursday mornings, courtesy of the fact that he had no classes to teach and all three of our boy-children were in school.

Pseudo-habit, because stuff like dentist appointments, field trips and visiting faculty have managed to eat up every Thursday since February began. That, and the irregular conundrum that is the Kindergarten schedule.

‘So do you want to get coffee tomorrow,’ the professor asked last night.  ‘You realize Percy doesn’t have school tomorrow right?’ ‘No! Why?’ ‘Parent teacher conferences,’ I offered the standard line of response.

Though I fail to grasp why that means Kindergarteners can’t go to school, when everyone else is already there.

Thus we found ourselves driving to the Calgary Farmer’s Market this morning with a pajama and snowboots-clad child in the backseat.

All I can say about the professor and I, at this point in our lives, is that we’re old. I mean, I feel pretty much the same as I’ve always felt – copious amounts of grey hair and inability to sit on a floor in hero pose without my feet and ankles sobbing for mercy, notwithstanding.

But the words that come out of our mouths? Old.

And the spectacle that is the professor driving through a parking lot? Old.

We arrived at the market right when it opened. Parking spots were in abundance. ‘Wow, I’ve never been able to park this close before,’ the professor mumbled in awe at his good fortune, as he steered the car across the lot in a particularly indirect and aimless manner reminiscent of an octogenarian taking the driver’s test hoping that he might be granted one more year on the road.

It reminded me of a time, nearly 30 years ago, when I was in the backseat of a car being driven through a parking lot by an elderly gentleman, and all I could think was ‘just park already‘ as he passed empty stall upon empty stall in search of…..just the right empty stall?

‘Just park already,’ I pleaded, not entirely under my breath, and at last the car came to a halt. When I stepped out of the car I noticed we weren’t entirely in our forward-facing spot; a few inches of our unfashionable minivan clearly lingering in the empty spot behind ours.

‘Do you want to pull up, you’re kind of in this spot,’ I pointed out.’


We entered the market and made our way to the coffee shop/stall/booth. As we waited for our lattes, the professor noted the black-outlined tattoo of red roses (with text) on the barista’s forearm. ‘I wonder if it’s hard to find clothes that go with that tattoo,’ he observed.

I considered her cap-sleeve floral print vintage-ish blouse and wondered how I might dress if my forearm was covered in red and black ink. It’s my main beef with colored tattoos: the wardrobe and hair and make-up implications.

We ambled around the quiet market in search of breakfast and then we sat down outside the kids’ play space where our surprisingly social 5 year old ran around with kids he didn’t know.

‘You realize our coffees cost more than our breakfast sandwiches,’ the professor sighed as someone who’d lived through the Great Depression. ‘I feel like an old man [adopts cranky, wobbly voice] can I just get some Folgers? Do you have anything for 90 cents?’

I shuddered at the thought of drinking ‘the best part of waking up’.

‘Are those her kids,’ the professor nodded in the direction of a fresh-faced woman with a pile of silver rings in her right ear, sitting at a table with four young kids. ‘Or is she the nanny?’ Compared to our tired selves, the woman looked to be in her mid-twenties with an infant, toddler and two boys who may or may not have been twins and were no older than 5.

‘I don’t know, those kids all look like her,’ I tried to assess the situation. And she was wearing a wedding ring.

Survey says: Mom!

‘It’s probably the way to go, having kids when you’re young.’ I thought out loud.

‘Really? Why?’

‘I don’t know,’ I guessed, as one living in fear that I will at some point be mistaken for Percy’s grandmother. ‘You’re probably more patient and have more energy.’

‘Hmmph,’ the professor replied,’ I don’t know about the patience, but definitely more energy,’ he sighed. Undoubtedly thinking, as was I, about the nightly energy-suck that is corralling the boys to bed, ensuring their teeth don’t decay, refereeing bathroom fights about somebody spitting on another’s hand while using the same sink. And doling out hugs and stories and snuggles when we’d rather put a pillow over our heads and take a mid-evening nap.

‘It would be kind of fun to have a baby in the house,’ he mused as he watched the not-nanny’s infant daughter quietly sleeping in her carseat. ‘Yeah,’ I agreed in the abstract, in the manner of someone whose words carry no implication. As in ‘yes, it would be fun to have a baby in the house even though we just talked about how we are too old and tired and are spending all our disposable income on $5 lattes.’

In the play space, I watched as a little girl, about 3 years old jumped in the air and plopped directly onto the floor. ‘Are kids made out of plastic? Can you imagine if we tried to do that?!’ I visualized my grown self voluntarily hurling my rear end onto an unpadded surface from hip height. ‘We’d probably break our tailbones! I mean, she’s maybe wearing a diaper [and obviously her legs are considerably shorter than mine] but still.’

Shortly afterwards, our attention turned to the leggings-is-not-pants conundrum that has plagued our world these last few years.

A woman walked past our table wearing black leggings with mesh cut-outs. It was the second time I’d seen this particular look at the farmer’s market.

It begs the question: whyyyyyyy?

Luckily Lululemon has answered: We designed these high-rise crops to help us move from Hatha to happy hour, no questions asked. With breathable Mesh panels that keep us cool as we bend, twist and sip, these pants have our backs even if post-practice drinks turn into impromptu dance parties.

From Hatha to happy hour? Except it was 9:30am at the farmer’s market. And I am asking questions.

Oy vey. Just pass me a pair of jewel-green poly-pants with an elastic waistband from the Janet Reno collection already.



The Piano Teacher

You wouldn’t know it, what with the confessions of extreme Netflix watching and talk of drinking terrible coffee at Sunterra, not to mention failed attempts at achieving Fitbit greatness, but I actually have a bit of a job.

It all began, several years ago, with a friend asking me to teach her daughter how to play piano. I said no. She asked again. I said I’d give it a try. And, yada yada yada, I now spend a portion of every day trying to exhort ‘the future’ to understand that middle C is alive and well and can only be one note, in a very specific location, on that set of lines and spaces on the paper in front of them.

I am. The piano teacher.

Yes. As with most jobs, particularly those that involve children, it’s a veritable goldmine of writing prompts. But alas, writing about other people’s children is akin to writing about one’s coworkers: almost always a bad idea.

But then, in October, my long-lost piano made its way to my Calgary home. And the longstanding guilt I’d felt at teaching other people’s children how to play piano, while my children didn’t even know middle C existed, was assuaged.

I started working in-house.

Which has had several personal and familial implications , the least of which being: I can now speak of it.

Very carefully.

My initial plan was to begin teaching the Gort and wait six months or a year to teach the Hen. I didn’t even give Percy’s tutelage a first thought, much less a second.

But as soon as the Gort had his first lesson, his middle, keep-up-with-the-Gortses brother, indicated he would not be left behind. And then someone asked me to teach their 5 year old and it seemed silly to teach someone else’s 5 year old, but not my own.

And, before I could yell get your foot off the pedal, all three of our cherubs were piano playing fools. I use the term ‘playing’, not to infer a modicum of competence, but rather as an aural indicator of the noise level in our home post-October 2014.

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘I should teach my three boys aged 5, 7 and 10 how to play piano!’, this is what you should know:

It’s going to drive you crazy. It’s going to drive your husband even crazier. You will find yourself saying unbelievable things like ‘stop practicing!’

Your husband will change the ‘last-call’ time for piano playing on a daily basis to suit his mood. ‘No piano playing after 6!’ he’ll yell one night. ‘No piano playing after 4:30!’ the next. Along with ‘no piano playing before 7:30 in the morning,’ or ‘no piano playing before 10!’

You will yell the phrase ‘no pedal!’ so often that the 5 year old will start using it too. ‘No pedal!’ he will tell his brothers, when the sustained, bordering-on-garbled sound makes its appearance. Because, let me tell you, if you think three people playing ‘Russian Sailor Dance’ or ‘Ode to Joy’ at various intervals throughout the day isn’t enough to push the sanest, kindest person over the edge, just add pedal.

Here’s the other thing you should know about boys and the piano. If they find a piece they like, they will play it. Only. Continuously. As fast and as loud as possible. With pedal (if you allow it).

And that’s when you’ll hear yourself yelling ‘stop practicing!’ Much to your own astonishment.

Like, maybe you’re familiar with that ditty called ‘Ode to Joy’. But have you heard it played super loud, so fast you can’t catch your breath and either two octaves higher or lower than written – depending on the player’s mood?

Ode to Horror, more like.


Noise level and pedal overuse and fixation with Russian Sailor Dance aside, it’s also been kind of awesome watching all three of them at the piano. The Gort playing with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, the Hen practicing like a madman and Percy, remarkably adept given his age and tiny fingers, counting ‘1-2′ out loud, as quickly as possible after every half note.

They may not be having much luck with beginner swimming, but beginner piano? Totally different story. It’s almost as if 50 percent of their genetic material was sourced from a pianist!

To be sure, there are pitfalls in having your mother for your teacher, and your sons as your students.

I’m overly familiar with nearly every piece they play, because I’ve heard at least six other children play it. I even know where they’re most likely to make a mistake because, little known fact, you can have six beginner students play the same piece and five of them will make identical mistakes.

‘You’re supposed to play a D,’ I might yell from the kitchen where I’m chopping onions.

‘I am playing a D,’ the Gort will insist.

‘No you’re not,’ I, the person who knows what a D sounds like, will volley back.

After which there might be one more round of arguing, or a change of note as the prodigal D suddenly makes an appearance and we continue on with our respective tasks.

They feel free to express their irritation or unhappiness with me, in a way they would not with another teacher. And I’m less inclined to be the most patient version of myself with them, having expended my patience trying to encourage and instruct eighteen other children,

The Gort had a lesson three or four weeks ago – that’s another pitfall, I’m less inclined to give them regular lessons, either because it’s not on the calendar or because, after teaching a series of lessons, I rarely have the energy to do three more when I get home – ‘wow, you didn’t even get mad at me,’ he mused at the end of his lesson.

It’s the little things.


The Lazy River is for Lovahs

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had a bit of a mini-break for the last five days. Having learned a thing or two from six previous instalments of ‘family weekend’ – mainly that five people inside one small house all day long is a bad idea – I was determined to find something for us to do on one of the days.

That day turned out to be Saturday. Valentine’s Day, oddly enough.

I polled the troops and determined we would drive to one-hour-away Canmore and pay a visit to their recreation facility, which boasts a swimming pool, climbing wall and public library. We’d leave early, spend a couple of hours in the car, a couple of hours at the Elevation Place and return in time to watch Ralph Macchio learn Pat Morita’s ways in The Karate Kid.

Day. Planned.

The boys were up early Saturday morning because I’d intimated we’d be hitting the road around 8. The professor made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast and it was all going according to plan when I heard Percy say: ‘I don’t want any pancakes.’

It was, as they say, a red flag. A Johnson boy declining pancakes can only mean one of two things: (1) The pancakes are too healthy-tasting (i.e. with an overly obvious amount of flaxseed or almond meal or buckwheat flour) or (2) Illness.

Seeing as the professor had been the chef, I knew taste was not at issue,  which left my barely awake brain with only one plausible option.

As Percy is a child who loves nothing more than asking for a ‘barf bowl’ to keep him company at night, despite never having used one, I considered this information with a grain of salt.

But he did look pale. And refused to eat.

I felt confident that riding in a car with a barfing child would not be a considerable improvement over spending the entire day chez nous, ‘Let’s just wait a bit and see how this plays out,’ I suggested to my peeps, who were rather aggrieved by my failure to stick to ‘the plan’.

Two hours later, having concluded that Percy was not at imminent risk of tossing his cookies, we climbed in the car and drove to Canmore.

With three pairs of eyes firmly affixed to the dashboard.

‘Don’t you think we should get gas?’ ‘What do those two orange lights mean?’ ‘What time will we get to Canmore?’ ‘How much longer till we get to Canmore?’ ‘This drive is taking forever.’

Together, the three have very nearly relieved me of the ‘need’ to serve as ‘co-pilot’ when the professor drives.

At precisely 11am, we arrived at the Elevation Place, forked over some money and split up at the changing rooms. It may be one of the only perks of being the lone female in a house of boy-men: the luxury of going to the changing rooms alone. Too bad I don’t enjoy swimming or wearing a bathing suit, otherwise I’d avail myself of this opportunity more than once every two years.

As we divvied up our belongings to ensure the professor had all of the boys’ swim stuff, we discovered a tiny error in our packing strategy, namely 2 towels for 5 people.

Apparently my carefree ‘everyone pack your own stuff’ approach had backfired.

With only myself to look after, I entered the pool area before any of the boys. Once reunited, we began what felt like the world’s slowest clock-watch, as we circuited from hot tub to lazy river and back again for precisely one hour.

During one of our hot tub respites, I noticed a young, seemingly childless couple enter the lazy river. Which, to be clear, is an oval-shaped lane of water with a current that propels you forward so you don’t have to swim.

Hence the term ‘lazy river’ I suppose.

‘Why would you come here if you don’t have kids,’ I wondered aloud. The professor and I were married for a long time before we had kids and the amount of times we set foot in an indoor pool during that time? Zero. The amount of times he said ‘how about for Valentine’s Day, we go hang out in a place where children are playing and crying and not adhering to society’s implicit bathroom etiquette?’ Zero.

And then, because it was Valentine’s Day, and I tend to recall slogans and bits of SNL skits at the oddest times, I said: ‘The Lazy River is for Lovahs.’

A nod to the 80’s ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ marketing campaign and the SNL skits with Rachel Dratch eating chicken in a hot tub with Will Ferrell and talking annoyingly about ‘my lovah’.

The joke made an appearance several more times over the course of the day.

After an hour had passed (how do people stay for more than that), when the Gort declared his fingers were so pruny they felt like they could crumble, and I felt nauseated from the heat of the hot tub and lack of food, we ventured back into the changing rooms, the boys grumbling over the towel to person ratio.

The professor volunteered to take our swim stuff back to the car, so we wouldn’t have to drag three backpacks with us when we tried out the climbing wall. In his absence, the boys and I ate cheesy buns and walnut bread from a German baker who’d conveniently set up shop in the atrium for the ‘Mountain Market’.

I’ve always thought of German baking as decidedly void of salt. And sugar. And flavor. The cheesy buns and walnut bread confirmed my longstanding hypothesis.

Many minutes passed and the professor had not yet returned. ‘Dad’s been gone for a long time,’ I noted as I reached for my phone. Two text messages and a missed call, I realized with a twinge of guilt.

It could mean only one thing: trouble. In the form of a very flat tire.

After testing out the climbing wall, the professor returned to the car to change the tire while the boys and I hung out in the library reading books.

‘The Library is for Lovahs.’

It was nearly dark by the time we got home. I popped corn and the boys popped the Karate Kid DVD into the player. It was slightly surreal to consider I was likely the same age as the Gort when I saw the movie for the first time. ‘I thought Ralph Macchio was the cutest boy ever,’ I told the boys. ‘Ew, that’s gross.’

We soaked in the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi (he and Tami Taylor should have written a joint self help book) and by the time the credits rolled, the boys were practicing their crane kicks.

Shortly thereafter, Percy made good on his threat and availed himself to the barf bowl toilet. A child who tosses his cookies completely inside a receptacle is a welcome addition to any household.

A few hours later, having made public fun of a friend for watching a movie with a 31% rating on the tomatometer and complaining about how awful it was, I sat back, smugly, to watch the very acclaimed (81% on the tomatometer) Tracks.

A (now well known) Australian woman treks 1700 miles across the desert with 3 camels. She gets real dirty. She doesn’t like people. A photographer drives out to document her journey.The camels make weird braying noises. She ends up at the ocean.

As the professor put it, ‘I think I would have rather read the National Geographic article than watched this movie.’

The Desert is for Lovahs.