Me and Olivia Newton-John

When I was 13 , Olivia Newton-John hit the airwaves with her song, “Let Me Be There”.  I first heard it on my little red transistor radio with the plastic ear-piece that was perpetually plugged in my right ear.
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Olivia was everything I wasn’t, but wanted to be: pretty, blonde,  blue eyed and clear-skinned with excellent teeth and a cool accent.  I was mousey and hazel-eyed with Clearasil-covered acne, braces and a resulting lisp.
clear
The one thing we DID have in common was that we could both sing.  Granted, I did MY singing in church, the shower and into a portable tape-recorder, but I had a passable voice. 
“Let Me Be There” was one of my favourites, but when Olivia followed up with “I Honestly Love You”, my teenage angst caught fire and I belted it out with so much  sensitivity, passion and devotion that I felt one day for sure, I could be the next ON-J.
We spun Olivia’s 45s on my friend Jane’s record-player. ( She bore a much closer resemblance to her than I ever could with her perfect teeth, baby-blues and long blonde locks.)  We would dance around her family room and sing our hearts out.
I followed Olivia’s career for some time.  When she appeared in “Grease” alongside John Travolta, I didn’t see the movie over and over for JT. No way!  I was there to see my Olivia swooning in her poodle skirt and saddle-shoes.  I still know all the words to “Hopelessly Devoted”. In fact, I was a bit miffed at the sleazy transformation they imposed on my pure Olivia at the end of the movie.
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I stuck with her when she starred in “Xanadu” as a roller-blader.  I still love her in that one and in my opinion, “Magic” is a great song that is highly under-rated.  She was so beautiful in that movie.
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When the video for “Physical” came out in 1981, I started sporting headbands, leg-warmers and torn t-shirts.  I still didn’t look like Olivia, but at least the braces were gone and I had graduated to contact lenses instead of bulky horn-rims.
I knew that ON-J had her own store, Koala Blue in Australia. I knew when she got married. I kept pretty good tabs on her for a number of years, but when she did the movie “Two of a Kind” with Travolta again,  I knew my love for her had died.
Besides, I couldn’t really explain an Olivia obsession when I was decked out in black and going through my vampire-phase, could I? She just didn’t have enough bite.
catbite
Kat Mortensen©2010  Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I Had Rabbit In Belgium, Or My Life With Food

(Please click pictures for their sources.)
Of course you are saying to yourself, “Rabbit, in Belgium? What’s she on about now?” Let me explain.
I’ve lived nearly 50 years on this earth and I can honestly say that almost every one of my memories of that 50 years is somehow tied to food.  I’m not just talking about birthday cakes and Christmas dinners; I remember every fine dining experience, every fast-food take-away, spreads for family get-togethers, pub-lunches and even that strawberry shortcake on a stick that the Dickie Dee guy used to pull out of his bicycle- freezer.
AnneS
I think I can attribute my culinary remembrances to having had parents who were great lovers of food.  Admittedly, growing up in the 60s and 70s made me the child-guinea pig for any manner of processed and packaged food experimentation, but thanks largely to my dad’s membership in “The Book of the Month Club” and my mom’s willingness to try new things with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and Ann Seranne, I was exposed to many great meals as well as the “Squeeze-a-snack” cheese and the Pillsbury Crescent Roll wiener-wraps.
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Plus, my dad had been to many exotic places while stationed with the British Army in the 1940s and 50s, so on Saturday afternoons, he was always mixing up things like leftover soups in the fridge with curry and spices and encouraging me to have a taste.
When I was very young, my father came home from his Chartered Accountancy job with Revenue Canada and said that our family (my dad, my mom and I) had been invited to an Indian dinner at his co-worker, Cal Mohatra’s house. I was puzzled by this whole “Indian” reference, but being a generous (and let’s face it, a bit precocious) four year old, surreptitiously packed a present in my dad’s briefcase for Mr. Mohatra— an Indian head-dress made out of shirt cardboard.  When we went to dinner a few days later, I realized he was not the “Cowboys and Indians” sort of Indian at all, but a very nice man with brown skin who wore a suit just like my daddy.  This was perhaps my first view of people from other cultures. It was also my first exposure to foreign spices and it was the beginning of a life-long love.
cigar
My parents enjoyed going out to dinner too and whenever possible, we would head over for Chinese at the Nanking restaurant— a little place tucked away on a narrow street behind the Toronto City Hall. It was on the second floor of a building and I remember having to walk up what seemed like a hundred stairs, (it  which was probably only a dozen or so) to a rather dark room with lots of tables and clinking glasses and silverware and the hum of people speaking in quiet tones.  It was also my first time hearing people speak in another language—a very speedy, sing-song sort of way of speaking, I thought. I also remember loving sinking my teeth into the crispy-spongy batter of chicken balls with plum sauce and of course, fortune cookies.  I admit, this was a very Canadian-style Chinese food and it wasn’t until I was much older that I was exposed to the really hot stuff like Kung Pao Chicken and Singapore noodles.
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One particular food memory that sticks in my head is when we were driving home from a vacation down east (we always say “down” even though it’s actually out east and I don’t really know why), and stopped in the town of Peterborough, Ontario and went to a steakhouse called “Roland’s” where they also served lobster.  It was a roadside spot that had fancy white tablecloths and napkins, but I think what I remember most is the large blackish-green lobsters with the elastic-bands around their claws that were swimming in the big tank up at the front near the kitchen.  I was captivated by them and didn’t have the sense at the age of seven or eight to question their sad plight.  Now I certainly do.
roland
(Still open for business!)
If you want to talk lobster, mind you, I must tell you of the fantastic feasts we would have at my aunt’s house in Cape Breton.  They lived on the Bras D’or Lakes—the East Bay side and my uncle Mack trapped his own lobsters.  Now when you buy a lobster in a grocery store, I’ll bet they’re not much bigger than a crawfish!  Mack’s lobsters were easily a foot and half long or more!  He would boil them up in a huge oil drum over a roaring fire down at the boathouse across the road and then we would all sit out at a long line of picnic tables covered in newspaper. (Family would come from all over for these feasts and there would easily be 40 people.)  There’d be dishes of melted butter and vinegar and mayonnaise and we’d each have our own machete (well, it looked like one to me) to hack away at our meal.  I don’t like to think about the poor lobster, but I can honestly say that was bar none the best seafood  I ever had and will probably never be topped.


My mom and I can talk about food for hours. In fact, it is one of the things that we truly have in common and that usually doesn’t end up in debate (unless you count Coronation Street and even then we can “get into it”).  We both love cookbooks and cooking.  She passed the love of food on to me and I ran with it.  I can sit with a cookbook and read it like it’s a bestselling novel.  What’s really amazing, is that I can actually taste things in my mind, so when it comes to working with recipes and making them my own, I have a bit of an advantage over folks who don’t know what something will be like. I can read a recipe and know if I will enjoy it or not and I can tell if someone has put a recipe together that will just never work.
I have had few disasters with my own cooking and the same goes for my mom.  The one of hers that stands out for me was a fish dish that used a can of Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup and a smattering of curry powder.  All the curry powder in the world was never going to save that undercooked, over-sauced blunder. I shy away from cans of soup in recipes; they’re loaded with sodium and other nasty stuff.
As for me, it was a potato-pancake creation that had way too much flour and tasted something like play-dough that is my claim to infamy. My husband likes to bring that one up when I get too cocky.
pp playdoh 
(Should have looked like the top shot, but tasted like the stuff on the bottom.)
You must be wondering about the whole “rabbit in Belgium” thing.  It’s not just a catchy title; it really is true! In 1977 (just after my 16th birthday) my dad took our family to Europe for a tour of World War II battlegrounds and Catholic Churches. We got to experience some very interesting meals and dishes and I distinctly recall a gorgeous confection of vanilla ice cream and chocolate-dipped wafers that I had at a konditorei in Zurich (after just having purchased a gorgeous floral print, tiered dirndl skirt and clogs). There was also the seriously hot pepper masquerading as a green bean on my dad’s plate in the little restaurant in Cloppenburg, Germany. My dad’s head nearly blew off. That turned into a family legend, as things like that are wont to do.
One time the tour culminated in a unique culinary revelation. A dish of rabbit stew at a small, ordinary restaurant in Bastogne, Belgium, was memorable not only for the dish itself, but also because we ate it at the site of the Battle of the Bulge.  It tasted very much like chicken—tender to the teeth and sauced to perfection. It is conceivable that General Patton ate the same dish, since he had brought his Third Army north to Bastogne to relieve the U.S. troops who were holding it off from the Germans, 32 years earlier.
bastogne
My dad always loved the story of General McAuliffe, who after being asked to surrender by the Germans at Bastogne, sent a message back that read, “Nuts!” It really broke him up every time he told us that tale.
Well, that’s all for this round. We’ve gone from soup to nuts, but there are many more courses to explore, so if you love food and you want to come along for the ride, please join me and please leave a comment about your own memories (and disasters are always welcome).
Kat Mortensen©2010  Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around.

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My first love was a Scot and I have had a thing for men from the British Isles ever since. I like them lean and with a cropped-cut and symmetrical ears. Bright eyes with hints of gold always get me and a dapper dandy with a conservative look is a real head-turner as far as I’m concerned.

He was kind of like a mail-order bride, having been shipped over on the recommendation of my dad’s sister, Josie who was in Scotland and just knew he was right for me.
I was devoted to my first love and he went everywhere with me.

We went for strolls around the room, like those couples in Jane Austen novels, perambulating the perimeters of the parlour. It was a hot summery day, so I was sporting my checked seersucker set, soft shoes and short socks. We were so happy together, just look at the smile on my face!

Often, Ted and I (that was his name) used to love to lie in the grass and catch the sun’s rays (this was before it was unsafe to do so, although Ted never worried about spfs since he was always covered head to toe). Here we are in the long grass, enjoying the day. That’s not our house in the background; we lived in a swanky apartment!

I was a big fan of Amelia Earhart’s and wanted to fly a plane just like her, so one day we went to the Lakeshore Park and had a look at a plane just like one she might have flown. Like my plaid pants? They were Ted’s idea, since they looked so Scottish. I must have got some dirt in my eye. Good thing Ted was there to help me get it out.

Ted came with me to Cape Breton Island one summer and we had a grand time with cousins Kenny and Burton, rolling around in the grass with their fab dogs, Flip and Pal. I wonder where they are now? Ted was a bit leery of them at first, so I kept his feet off the ground and away from their playful snappers! (Flip’s and Pal’s, NOT Kenny’s and Burton’s.) I’m pretty sure Ted was whispering in my ear, wondering what on earth I was doing with my right hand? I always was a bit of an oddball kid.

Back at York Street, in Glace Bay, Papa treated us to a reading of some great books. Ted got a bit bored, if I’m honest. He didn’t like the Big Bad Wolf. I wasn’t worried because Papa always took great care with both of us. Besides, do you see the picture of Jesus above our heads? (Not the guy on the right, that’s Uncle Jimmy!) He had us well covered.

Do you believe in miracles? I do! One time when I was home sick from school, I was lying in Mommy and Daddy’s big double bed while they were getting dressed for work. Ted was on one side of the bed and I was on the other. I had my back to Ted because I didn’t want to give him my germs, but I guess he thought it was more important to comfort me because when I rolled over, he was right up beside me, tucked next to my back!!! It had to be a miracle because the whole time, Mommy and Daddy were in front of me at the dresser and closet, putting on their clothes. Neat, eh?

One Christmas, I got a gorgeous toboggan and Ted was so excited; he couldn’t wait to get outside and go speeding down the hills! He loved to build snowmen too. Here we are practicing on the carpet in the apartment. If you’ll recall, I love to sled!

Ted is just like me, he loves all creatures (except insects—you remember the wasp stories?). We used to go with Mom, all decked out in our finery; she, in her lamb-collared scarlet coat and I, with my brown-velvet collared one. We both had shiny shoes and I even had a matching hat! (Mom was so style-conscious and I have to say, a bit of that rubbed off on me too.) We went to Grenadier Pond in High Park to feed the ducks. Ted liked to throw bread crusts out to the drakes and mallards. We must not have taken the bag out yet when this picture was snapped.

Ted and I have been together for nearly 50 years! Can you believe it? He’s been my shoulder to cry on through thick and thin. When I fell off my bike in 1972 and smashed my front teeth, Ted was there for me. When I had strep throat and scarlet fever, or even stomach flu (although he was a bit squeamish about the yellow bucket by the bed and who can blame him?) he was there!

He’s helped me fall asleep—allowing me to rub his glass eye until the sheen nearly wore away and letting me darn near squeeze the stuffing out of him when boyfriends went astray. He’s endured many tears and drool, and cat hair and being crammed into moving boxes and sharing bedspace with tons of other animals, but he’s always the one who comes out on top!

Here’s a photo of one of my birthdays. I raked in a bunch of toys, games, books and stuffed animals, but Teddy (that’s my pet-name for him and the one I use most often) was still number ONE. He’s the guy that I’m holding in my arms in the photo, not the others. (Like my pixie cut?)

Ted moved out with me to my first apartment and moved in when my husband and I got together. He was on our bed for years and only recently decided to move into the spare room with his good friend Pablo the big blue bear, Richard Parker, the giant Bengal tiger and a host of other friends.

About 20 years ago, Teddy’s suit was wearing very thin. I mean he’d been wearing it for nearly 30 years! So I designed and crocheted him a whole new outfit and totally reFURbished him in wool and made him a snazzy bow tie too. He has very bad feet these days and his right leg is a tad shorter then his left, but his suit keeps him nice and toasty.

He’s held up really well for pushing 50, wouldn’t you agree? (He’s going on 52 now!)

Kat Mortensen©2010 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Please bear with me.

Click for photo source.

I’m sure some of you think I’ve gone all schizo or something with the constant changes I keep making to my background on this blog. The truth is, I have yet to find THE one that satisfies me. I’m not really a “hearts and flowers” type, nor am I all scrap-booky, or buttons and bows.
The problem is, I do want something unique, but not showy and when I find colours I like, I seem to get some flower or button thing thrown into the mix. This is the reason for my losing the most recent background that was present until this morning.

The reason I’m telling you this is because you may have to put up with a few experiments over the next few days, so please just bear with me as I come to a resolution. The good new is, I am delighted with the background for my haiku blog, “Kigo of the Kat“. (If you’ve not dropped in over there yet, I urge you to do so). Give it a try! My haiku/senryu are a little bit out of the ordinary.

I’m also pleased as punch with the background I’ve finally found for “Blasts From the Past“. It’s got the retrospective colour-scheme I’ve been searching for and accommodates my posts and sidebar very nicely. I realize I’ve been a bit slow with the Blast posts recently, but I hope to get back on track with more regular offerings soon.

That’s the lowdown. I haven’t lost my marbles—yet!

Kat

Reigning cats and dogs (and birds, and fish and rodents) – Part One.

It all started with Smoky. I’m not really sure where Smoky came from in the first place, and I’m even fuzzier about where he ended up.
I was five years old when Smoky came into my life. He was my first kitten. He was small, all-black and had those little bright kitten-eyes that win you over along with those irresistible squeaky mews from a little pink-tongued maw.
From a very early age, I exhibited a love of animals. At the Sacred Heart Day Nursery where I spent my happy pre-school days, I was known for my commanding performances of “Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion” from the television show, “Daktari”, which of course involved crawling around on all fours and roaring.
clarence
I also loved to visit the animals at the small zoo at High Park in Toronto and feeding the ducks of adjacent Grenadier Pond was the highlight of my days.

That’s me!

The very first movie I was ever taken to see in a theatre was the 1966 flick, “Born Free” about George and Joy Adamson and their pride of lions. I was five years old and it made a huge impression on me. So much so, that I wanted nothing so much as to have my own cat. That was when Smoky came on the scene.
All I can recall about the little black fella was that he loved to scale the drapes and secret himself away in the T.V. set to sleep beside the nice, warm tube. I have no idea how or when Smoky disappeared from my world, but he did! What I rather suspect is that there was some sort of overheating issue inside the old G.E. that nobody told me about.
In any case, we moved from Toronto to the suburbs and it wasn’t long before my whinging got to my dad’s soft heart and another creature came to live with us. This was the start of many a phyla to grace our home at 2394 Pyramid Crescent.
After Smoky, the first cat to come calling was a stray. She was a short-haired gingery tabby and she was hanging around our back porch. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was putting out saucers of milk every night. Honest.
I begged to be allowed to keep the stray, but despite my pleas, my mother held firm against the idea. My dad was a bit more pliable.
It was Good Friday and I was at the bottom of the street visiting with my friend, Frances Murray when the telephone rang. Her older sister, Rachel said it was for me. When I took the receiver, I was surprised to hear my mother’s voice say, “Come home, we’ve got a surprise for you.”
Well, no points for guessing what the surprise was. The stray-cat was in our kitchen lapping up a bowl of milk when I walked in the front door. I called her “Tammy”. I don’t remember why.
Tammy had a short and infamous time at our house. Looking back now, I can see it was because my mom had issues with a non-existent condition she believed Tammy had. The cat merely cleaned itself fastidiously, as felines are wont to do, but the excessive licking of her fur drove my mother to distraction and one day, Tammy was swept up and taken to the nearest shelter to be adopted by a more tolerant and deserving family.
turtle (Not Sam)
A number of critters were introduced to erase the loss of poor Tammy from my memory. There was a fish called, “Goldie” or something equally inspired, and a turtle named “Sam”. Why a turtle would be deemed to have such a name is now beyond me, but that’s what I christened him. Perhaps it was taken from one of my favourite books, “Green Eggs and Ham”.
I can still recall the almost tender feel of Sam’s teency claws pinching my flesh. He had a very inauspicious life of floating about in his plastic dish, clambering up his plastic ramp and sunning himself under his plastic palm. It was sad when he made his big break for freedom and dried out under the sofa. Of course you know what happened to “Goldie”—belly-up and the old flusheroo.
When my best friend Jane K., next-door, got a kitten and named it Elsa (after the lion in my beloved “Born Free”), it wasn’t long before I had my dad driving me to the house where they got her so I could pick out one for myself. So began the “Misty” era.
mack Click pic for Wik source
Misty, was what they call a mackerel-tabby in England. She was blackish grey with prominent striping—a real beauty! She was a lovely puss with a friendly disposition and when she was old enough we got her fixed. Problem is, the “fix” didn’t really take. When the “heat” was on in the Springtime, the local males were still getting a whiff of Misty and coming around to leave their calling cards—a bit of their singular scent along the sides of the house, in the bushes—everywhere!
It wasn’t long before my mother got wind of the situation and started working on my father to do something about it. Before long, Misty was taking that all-too familiar trip down our driveway, and out of my life! I still swear she was sitting in the back window meowing for my help. I cried all night long.
You do get over these things and it really helps when your dad lets you get not one, but two budgerigars in their own fancy cage with perch and seed feeder and some sort of bone-thing to sharpen their beaks. Of course, being from a Catholic family, they had to have saints’ names (that’s the rule, didn’t you know?) and so they were called Peter and Paul(ine).
pandp
Budgies are fun. They are noisy and chipper, they sing sweet songs and you can carry them around on your index finger or your shoulder or even on your head. My birds were a beautiful cerulean colour with black and white striped heads and long tails. They had a good life. We treated them well, kept their cage free of their grey poop and fed them all that birds love to eat. Everything was just dandy until … my dad thought they might like to go outside in the backyard for a bit to get some fresh air. He carted their rectangular cage out the door, through the garage and into the backyard and rested it on a chaise longue.
The fresh air went to P & P’s heads because they went mental! Somehow, one of them sprung the latch on the door and the other one beat it open. Off they flew, never to be seen again. Well, at least one of them was never seen again. The other one ended up on a neighbouring street in the house of a girl who lived across from my one of my school-friends.
I was visiting Jane T. and we were playing outside when this girl started talking about how they had found this blue budgie outside and now it was in her room and she was keeping it. It was hopeless to explain; she was never going to give it up and how could I prove it was my Peter, or Pauline?
So, we went back to cats. We’d just come back from a vacation visiting my mom’s family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I got the notion to have another cat. There were lots of kittens at a farm near my cousin’s cottage in East Bay and I came back from the trip with a bee in my bonnet. My father, helpless against my pleas/tears gave in and we got a gorgeous silver tabby and called him Fourchu (sounds like For Sha) after a small town in C.B.
Fourchu was a real charmer of a cat. He was cuddly, loving, fun to play with and would let you do anything to him. Sadly, he didn’t live too long because he developed a urinary problem that plagues many male cats and at the time, we (and apparently vets) knew little about how to treat it. It was recommended that we add tomato juice to Fourchu’s food, but I know now, that’s probably what did him in. After a hellish time, he had to be put to sleep.
One of my memories of Fourchu was how he used to sit atop the aquarium that housed our gerbils. My dad outfitted the glass case with a wood-frame, wire-mesh cover and Fourchu would lie on the mesh and make whimpering noises while the inhabitants bounced up and down and bumped his belly with their nubby noses.






Fourchu keeps tabs on the wee ones.


In fact, that may be how Sneezer got his nose infection. He used to rub his nose furiously with his front paws until it bled, scabbed over and then he would start again. He was one of a trio of gerbils. My dad named them, “Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer”, partially after one of his favourite off-colour ditties from his British Army days. I googled it and can’t find any reference, so maybe he made it up. It went something like this: “Julius Caesar lit a beezer, off the coast of France”. I don’t know anything beyond that because whenever he started to tell it, he would end up gasping with laughter and not being able to go on. It was his little private joke.
toga
In any case, Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer were so-monikered and they became playmates for me and my sister, Nancy. We didn’t buy plastic runnels and pods for our pets—no! We made them from scratch with empty tissue boxes and toilet rolls and our sleeves and pant-legs. If you’ve never had a gerbil run up your pant-leg (minds out of the gutter; we’re not talking Pet Shop Boys here!) then you’re missing out! It’s tickly and it makes you giggle and as a kid you actually believe the gerbils are having a whale of a time, but that’s probably just sheer panic that’s making them run like the devil, isn’t it?
Our poor trio came to bad ends. We had switched their abode from the aquarium to a nice wire cage with spinning wheel and Caesar got his foot caught and had to bite it off to free himself. He bled to death on the floor of the cage. We found him on Sunday morning upon returning from mass and running downstairs to check on our pack. I don’t know how many times he went around on his last ride; it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Beezer didn’t fare much better. My sister took him and Sneezer to school so they could be observed by her classmates and some bright spark of a thug-child dropped the brick that was holding down the lid right onto poor old Beez. I’m so glad I didn’t witness that.
Not really sure what happened to Sneezer. He probably just expired from sheer loneliness, or maybe his nasal infection finally killed him.

*Stay tuned for Part Two where the Davison Family gets a lucky dog.
Kat Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

A Room of One’s Own

As a child, I was fortunate to have a father who had a good job and a mother who had good taste.  This facilitated a number of things to my benefit: plentiful food on the table, a charming and well-appointed wardrobe and a lovely big bedroom in the bungalow on Pyramid Crescent.
I was an only child until the age of nine. This put me in quite a position to be spoiled by mother and father.  I was Daddy’s little girl and Mommy’s little angel.  I had lovely ringlets and big green eyes and was not shy with it, so people were generally drawn to my chattiness, my sweet demeanour and my little coquettish smile.  My grandmother apparently thought I was too fussed over and even my aunt warned my mother that she spent too much time worrying about me and not letting me be a kid like my cousin, Janis.
bobs
For most of my childhood, youth and young adulthood, I had the most wonderful bedroom. In it, I spent many happy hours reading the likes of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, colouring in my bird and animal colouring books, playing with Barbie and Dawn dolls and later doing homework, dressing up for dates and gearing up for nights out on the dance floor.
Mine was no ordinary little girl’s room. When we first moved to the brand new house in the 60s subdivision of Sheridan Homelands, I had the big back bedroom with the hardwood floor and a large sliding window with a view to the backyard and the public junior high school beyond.  Many mornings I woke to the sound of my favourite birds: the robin, the cardinal and the blue-jay. I would watch as the buses pulled into the schoolyard each morning, just before I headed up the road to St. Francis of Assisi, Catholic school, on foot.
The decor was not typical for a child. There was no ornate, girly white furniture, like my friend Jane T had in her bedroom.  There was no captain’s bed with storage underneath.  My room was furnished with twin beds handed down from my cousin.  They were serviceable, Colonial-style, stained-wood with box-spring and mattress and my mother kitted them out with funky, floral sheets and cherry-red whaled corduroy bedspreads.  The walls were papered in pink and white stripes and the window was draped in the most unique fabric of heavy cream linen with brush-stroke pink and navy-blue women’s heads in stylish hats. I spent many moments staring at those heads and imagining myself in those hats.  Perhaps this is why I love hats so much today.
big eyed
Click pic for Flickr source.
Artwork was also a feature in my fantastic bedroom.  Those ubiquitous doe-eyed girls in harlequin and ballet costumes framed in narrow rectangles were paired up on the wall of my room.  I had a favourite grey-wood framed,  faux-oil of two cats with sad eyes in pride of place over my bed. Always, there was a frond of dried-up Pascal palm tucked in behind the frame to keep me mindful of my faith.
When my three-year old adopted sister came into my life, I soon realized that I would have to share my bedroom with her and I was not a bit happy.  Pretty soon, she was in the bed next to mine with a collection of new stuffed toys to rival my own menagerie of Teddy, Doggie and Pinky the pajama-bag poodle.  Then it was a trip to Hanover, Ontario to Smitty’s furniture where we picked out a huge royal blue painted modular dresser with matching cube night-tables in blue and white and matching blue and white ladder-back chairs. 
It sounds awful to admit it now, but I was not a very nice new sister.  Once the novelty of having her around had worn off, when we were in the privacy of my room (because I still thought of it as MINE) if she were making funny noises and I couldn’t sleep, I would pinch her nose to get her to close her mouth.  (This doesn’t work with husbands.  I don’t recommend it if you think your mate has Sleep Apnea – get a CPAP, or better yet, move to another room.)
It turns out, my sister had adenoid problems and she had to go into the hospital and have them removed. (Well, at least I had MY room back for a spell anyway.)  She did come back though and so we had a few years of tussles and sibling scuffles for a number of years until we were teenagers and she moved into her own room next-door with the big double bed reserved for my grandmother when she came to visit from Cape Breton. I got MY room back.
forest
In my teendom, I outgrew the pink stripes and the red spreads.  I had seen mural wall-paper in a magazine and I really liked the look of an autumn forest.  I convinced my dad to buy it and to redecorate my room.  It was fantastic!  It covered one wall completely and the rest of the walls were painted in a neutral taupe colour.  I loved to lie and look in wonder at those paths through the gold-leafed woods.  Not surprisingly, I often thought of Frost’s “Two roads diverged…”
The clunky cube furniture moved next-door with my sister and I reclaimed the old “silver-mink” mirrored dresser and upright dresser for my own.  It just went much better with the woodsy look.  I now had long, dark brown heavy drapes that kept the winter winds at bay with their rubber lining and the hat-ladies, sadly, went into storage in a wooden box in the basement.
There was one really strange thing about my new mural.  Lying on the bed one evening, I happened to scan the photo and my eyes came to rest in the top left-hand corner.  There, I could make out the image of a dark-haired, moustached man in a white shirt with a wide, dark tie.  I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but looking more closely, I could not deny that he was there.  Who was this fellow? I mused. Could he be the photographer putting his own image into his work for posterity? I’ll never know, but it was a little disconcerting to have this man who looked not a little like the Führer peering down at me from the top of my wall.
It seems I was never really meant to have a room of my own, after all.
Kat Mortensen©2009  Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

What’s that buzz?

It’s August–my least favourite month of the year. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.
It isn’t just the fact that August brings waves of heat and humidity. No. It is also the peak season for one of my worst fears: the dreaded wasp.
I have a few phobias, that’s a fact. I am fearful of fire – I don’t light matches. I am fearful of needles (ever since the Nazi-nurse gave me a booster shot in kindergarten and my arm swelled up like a balloon). Of all my phobias, however, the most enduring and undiminished fear is that of stinging insects.
As a child, I thought bees were cute, fuzzy and soft. I watched “Romper Room” and we sang that little song, “Do Be a Do-bee”, remember? What was not to love about bees? They made that lovely buzzing sound, they made yummy honey and they populated and pollinated all the pretty flowers.

I went blithely along for years, not fearing those black and yellow insects, until one summer when I was on vacation in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. We were visiting my great-aunt, Clara, in the town of Glace Bay where my mother grew up. We loved to visit Clara because she was such a sweetheart and always gave us vanilla ice-cream with home-made runny, strawberry jam drizzled on top. I loved her yard because she had a fantastic flower garden filled with sweet peas and tiger lilies.
My cousin Janis and I were out in the front yard exploring while our mothers had a visit in the old house that had originally belonged to their grandmother (or “Other Mama” as she was always known). We were playing hide and seek and Janis hid beside the white-painted, arched trellis that led to another part of the garden. What she did not know was that a wasp-nest must have blown from a tree or somewhere and come to land at the foot of the trellis. Janis stepped right on the nest!
I had my back turned when I heard her screaming! Buzzing, dive-bombing insects were swirling about her leg and she was shrieking at the top of her lungs. She ran away from the trellis, but they were following her. I steered clear of her path and ran to the back door and pulled the old wooden screen-door nearly off its hinges. Racing into the house, I cried, “Mom! Janis stepped in a bees-nest and they’re stinging her.” We could hear Janis wailing in the yard.
By the time we got to her, the wasps had retreated, but my cousin was in a sorry state. Her face was red from crying and her legs were covered in wasp-bites. I was petrified.
When we went back to East Bay and the cottage where they spent the summer, Janis lay on the couch in the living room with ice, wrapped in towels. She was in rough shape for a couple of days. Fortunately, she wasn’t allergic to bee or wasp-stings as is so often the case these days. There was no need for epinephrine; if there had been, I fear we might have lost her.
Although I, myself, was not stung in the incident, witnessing the horror was enough to traumatize me for life. I developed an absolute phobia of anything remotely resembling a bee, wasp or hornet. Horseflies on a lake when we were swimming terrified me, large mosquitoes put the fear of God in me and even the common housefly caught at just the right velocity and in a certain light could dupe me into believing I was being pestered by a malicious stinger.
This fear, generated on the east coast, followed me back to Southern Ontario and our suburb of Mississauga. No more relaxed days in the back yard, swimming in the 3-ft. deep above-ground pool or eating bar-b-ques at the wooden table on the patio. No more leisurely roadside picnics with the Coleman stove.
coleman
My outdoor days were forever to be hampered by this inner terror.
The worst thing for me, was if something landed on me. I would freeze, clamp my eyes shut and begin saying the “Hail Mary”, only peeking every few seconds to see if the killer bug had flown off. (I still do this, actually.) I hated when my mother would send me out to take clothes off the hoist-clothesline because inevitably a yellow-jacket would be sunning itself in the folds of a sheet and catch me off-guard. I would release the sheet into the wind with a yelp and go tearing off around the side of the house. This was a drag because the folding part of this exercise really appealed to my type-A personality.
clothesline
So, my life from that point was lived mostly indoors, avoiding the spitfire aces that dove in my backyard or anywhere else, for that matter. No, I did go out in the summertime, but I had my eagle-eyes trained for whatever might be lurking on plants or in the skies, or even on the sidewalk.
One of my most terror-filled encounters took place while on vacation in Florida, in July. (I know. Who goes to Florida in July, in a non-air-conditioned, dark-blue vehicle no-less?)
It was at a theme park in Orlando. We had got tired of Disney World, I guess, and my dad got the bright idea that we would love a trip to The Gatorland Zoo. Yeah, right! Never mind the fact that in the 70s safety regulations must have been pretty lax, because those gators were in a 3-foot deep pool surrounded by rubber matting and we were allowed to walk around it as long as we “steered clear of the snappers”. What?!!!
gatorland
For me, that was not the worst of it. The matting was framed by a cement walk and at each corner was a large tin trash bin. To get around the pool you had to go around the walk and to get around the walk and make an escape you inevitably had to pass those bins, every one of which was surrounded by a battalion of bees, wasps…all my nemeses! I was paralyzed with fear and although I was 14 at the time I cried until my dad rescued me and we got the heck out of that death-trap!
Fordash
Another fear that I had was of being confined in a small space with one of my adversaries. We were driving along in our Ford Galaxie 500 (undoubtedly en route to NS) when a bee flew in the window and onto the dash. Panic ensued. My mother reacted in her usual fashion with an “Ooh, Bill! Stop the car!” I thought about jumping out onto the highway, but realized my chances of survival were probably better with the bumblebee. Instead I just shrieked and tried to get under the seat. Eventually, my dad pulled over, we all got out and my dad opened all the doors until it flew away (this despite my vote “Kill it, Daddy! Kill it!” which fell on deaf ears).
Unfortunately for my younger sister, a couple of encounters with hornets and wasps were to add to my entrenched phobia.
We were sitting at the dinner table in the cottage at East Bay, Nova Scotia. We were having a lovely meal, prepared by mom’s sister, Joan (Janis’s mom). My sister, Nancy was sitting across the table from me and we were all just carrying on as usual—you know, “Pass the potatoes.” “Would you like more gravy?” “Who wants pie for dessert?” -–that sort of thing. Suddenly, somebody (I can’t remember who –it’s all a blur from this point except for the yellow and black thorax, the striped abdomen and the stinger resting on my poor unlucky sister’s forehead); somebody said, “Don’t move, Nancy!”
My sister was still as a corpse, BUT (and here’s one of the reasons why I live in terror to this day) the wasp stung her anyway! She had a huge red swelling on her head that looked like an Easter-egg –okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but it was big!
With this in mind, is it any wonder that a few years later when we were driving home from somewhere and my sis and I were in the backseat, with my folks up front and ANOTHER wasp landed on her head, that I actually opened the car door and jumped out without any hesitation? Granted, we were in a research complex near our neighbourhood and the car was only going about 30 mph, but that did nothing to ease my parents’ minds when my sister shouted, “Kathleen’s jumped out of the car!” and they turned around to find me not only out of my seat, but also standing about 100 feet back down the road on the grass verge. I got in trouble for that, let me tell you, but it was worth it. Admittedly, my sister did not get stung this time, but she could have.
I have spent the bulk of my life-to-date, ducking out of class-rooms when errant wasps entered transom windows, excusing myself from the middle of church services when bees flew about the congregation, absolutely putting the kibosh on any camping trips or cottage weekends at the height of the summer and avoiding back patios where the chance of an encounter is likely. I did really well at that for a very long time, but one time we made a fatal error that we will never repeat.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I moved to a small town north-west of Toronto. We got into the habit of checking out local yard-sales in the hopes of accumulating some decent furniture (we were not very well off) and we did pick up a few treasures.
We were living in an apartment above a century home and had a gorgeous space with an original stone wall, a huge bedroom above the garage and a walk-out through sliding doors to a wood-framed balcony. It was a gorgeous place to be.
Kevin had just landed a job with a soft-ware firm in Guelph and I was at home in the apartment, looking for a local job and doing a bit of writing. We had only 3 cats at the time.
One day, I happened to notice there was a wasp on the back glass door leading out to the balcony. This, for me, was a disaster! I can not go near the creatures. A sheer terror rises in my gullet and my adrenaline pumps at an alarming rate, telling me one thing: FLEE!
It got worse. No sooner had I noticed the wasp, then I heard another buzzing behind the woven burlap-style drapes and then another!
I raced into the kitchen and grabbed a few things: my sandwich that I had been eating, a big metal spaghetti pot and some cat treats. Luckily, we had trained the cats to respond to the word “treats” and when I called it out they came after me like rats after the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
piper
I guided them into our bedroom and shut the door. Then I stuffed a sheet under the opening at the bottom of the door. Fortunately, I had a phone in the bedroom, so I called my husband. Bear in mind this was his new job—I think he’d only been there for about a week, but when I told him I was trapped in the bedroom with the cats, a tin pot to pee in and the wasps were taking over our apartment, he understood my fear. He left work and came home to my rescue.
The problem was that the wasps kept returning and, to quote my husband, they were “tough buggers” to kill. After a few days of trying to despatch them only to have them show up on the window time and time again, we called our landlord in to see if he could get rid of them. He determined they must have been coming in the front window above the computer desk, so he sealed it off with some pink foam. That didn’t work either!
I was living in sheer hell. The only time I felt safe was after Kevin had killed off the daily crew and it was dark, when presumably they were sleeping anyway.
One day, I happened to notice one fly out from near my computer desk (I was going nowhere near this space as you can imagine). I called to Kevin to come and take a look. The Ikea desk was one we had picked up on one of our yard sale jaunts. It had legs with peg-holes running down the front and back. It was from these that the wasps were appearing! It seems with our $15 purchase, we had got a hive of activity in the bargain. Wasps were coming out of the woodwork. Literally!
yard sale
It was with delight that I watched that desk being sprayed and then hauled out onto the back deck where Kevin took it to pieces. We cleaned up all the little carcasses and my life finally went back to normal. Well as normal as it can be for a phobic.
I’ve had other nasty dealings with my foes. The Hyggehus has been taken over by both a troop of fuzzy bumblers and more gravely, by an infestation of wasps. I don’t know how I survived that one!
Can you really blame me for doing all I can to avoid any contact no matter what people think of me? If you have a phobia, you’ll know what it feels like—that panic that envelops you until you can’t function. It will not let go!
Tell me, what are your greatest fears?
Kathleen Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape