There is a type of person who aspires to live in weird places.
Like, a lighthouse, say.
Or, a converted barn.
Yes me, but not just me. There are other weirdos about.
Behold the Tiny House movement.
Naturally, I would love a Tiny House.
Of course, a vintage Boler is really a kind of Tiny House.
Arlo Guthrie memorialized the cool, weird house back in the 1960s with his song, “Alice’s Restaurant” in which Alice, Ray, and Potcho the Dog lived in an old church.
My dad introduced me to the song when I was about 12. As an adult, my friend and fellow Alice’s Restaurant fan, Bamboo Guy, even owned a church that was very swoon-y. Bruce Cockburn lives there now and how cool is that?
I’ve wanted to live in a church ever since.
And, even before.
In fact, my fascination with weird houses manifested itself as a child when, with every snowstorm, I attempted to build a house made from snow.
Unfortunately, I never learned the Inuit tradition of igloos (although I tried to build one many times!)
Usually, it was just me and my sister with shovels and soggy mittens, making a hole in the snow bank at the end of our driveway and trying to pretend that the result was a cozy as a Hobbit house.
In a melty, collapse-on-your-head kind of way.
My mother was concerned (as all Canadian mothers were) that the snowplow driver would kill us, by accident, with all that gallivanting at the street side.
That meant, my other option was an old margarine container in the back yard.
I would pack the snow in the container tightly, then tip it out carefully on the ground.
Sometimes, it was that dumb sugary snow that wouldn’t hold together.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
Other times, it was close to Spring and my “bricks” had a lot of leaves and twigs in the mix.
It marred the pristine, crystalline, margarine beauty I was going for, but I tried to just pretended it was mortar.
I wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright ever had these kinds of issues?
I’d lay out the floor plan: kitchen here, library here, secret passageways there.
My projects always seemed to cover the whole back yard.
Not one able to keep to minimalism even then, no siree.
Which meant that either I got discouraged, or the snow melted before my margarine-tub-formed walls were more than about ankle height.
As an adult, I drag Practical Man around to look at every weird building I can find.
Yesterday’s schoolhouse was very fun.
Built in 1847, it counts as “very old” among buildings in Canada.
It was kind of in the boonies, of course, since that’s where country schoolhouses tend to spring up.
It still had slate chalkboards.
Be still my heart.
There were tin ceilings in what used to be the girl’s and boy’s entrance foyers. Oh yes, they were of a time:
And the original schoolhouse lights (SIX!):
Swoon-y swoon, swoon.
As you may have observed, it even had a bell tower.
Ding, ding, ding!
Minus the bell, but I’m sure we could remedy that.
Alas, it had a bidding war planned for Monday and about 10 years of hard labour involved after purchase.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
One of the things stopping me from buying some of these weird buildings (besides a usefully-practical Practical Man) is their one-room schoolhouse size.
Since we can’t usually afford the life-size ones that don’t have 10 years of hard labour, I’ve been collecting small buildings.
Fisher Price vintage ones.
I’m sure you guessed that’s what I meant, since I have no children and I’m pushing 50.
They do take up a bit of space, as you can imagine.
So far, I have a castle:
an A-frame Cottage:
and perhaps best of all,
the School house:
This Schoolhouse was the perfect price and size.
It even has a bell in the bell tower.
Last week, I had my first bath in over a decade.
Why so traumatized, you ask? Because, this, my friends, was not a good bath, with bubbles up to your neck and your favourite Ernie-and-Bert-inspired Rubber Duckie.
No, no, no.
There was no lovely book or glass of wine (although I’m really not coordinated enough for any of that kind of nonsense).
Not even the sort of lovely BAWTH that one of my favourite literary characters, Eloise, likes to take.
This was the kind of bath that your mother tells you to take.
Or rather, MY mother.
Because, I’m in my 40s, dontcha know.
You’re never too old for a little vintage, motherly, health advice.
Or, for a bath.
“With oatmeal”, she said.
“Or baking soda”, she said.
“Maybe some Epsom salts”, she said.
Possibly a cocktail of all of the above.
Yessiree, I am officially a geezer.
No Bath and Body Works jams and jellies for me.
I get to bathe with breakfast cereals and baking products.
I’m like Wilford Brimley, with hair.
This was the kind of bath you take because you have been itchy for nearly a month FOR NO GOOD REASON.
And, all the icky sticky goo and chanting of OM doesn’t make it stop.
OMMMMMMM…I’m so itchy!
And not only that but, this was the kind of BAWTH where you had to decide which third of your body to dunk in the water at a time, on account of, you are possibly eleventeen feet tall and your tub is a shallow, five-foot long, jetted, vintage relic from the late 1980s.
It was a complex dance of toes-ankles-calves for a while and then knees-thighs-abdomen for another while and then chest-shoulders-neck for an encore.
Slip sliding away. It’s not as exciting as it sounds in the song.
Who, among the regular old, pre-every-bathroom-must-be-a-spa-thing-that-we-seem-to-have-going-on-now, bathtub owners, finds this fun?
You must be blessed with some short-ness, is all I can figure. Me and my eleven-teen feet of tall-ness are jealous.
Anyhoo, this was the kind of bath where Practical Man had to set a timer in order to get me to stay in there for 20 minutes, because someone–possibly me–kept yelling, “Can I get out YET?” approximately every 32 seconds.
I am a delight to go through life with, as you can tell.
This was the kind of bath where, when I scrunched down so my shoulders could get a little of the water action–and my toes were creeping ever so elegantly up the wall towards the shower head–I was exactly eye level with the toilet.
As my friend Pippi has said, “Bathing beside the toilet is not my idea of luxury.”
Toilets figure prominently in 5-star resort brochures, I’m sure.
Um, yes and this was more of a long-term-care facility kind of bath.
Nessum Dorma is the key to life, really.
Honestly, just close your eyes and listen. You don’t need to be in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bathtub for it to be magic.
But, after a million-zillion torturous hours, when I was finally allowed to get out, I was victorious.
I had a few hives.
Nearly a month of scratching and complaining about invisible sensations and I finally had something to show for my efforts.
I’m a little Type A that way.
Stay with me. The hives mean that maybe, possibly, I’m not imagining the itching–just having some kind of allergic reaction.
To what, I don’t know.
Or maybe…don’t you think…it might be…Nessum Dorma beside the toilet?
The basic treatment for hives is, YOU WILL NEVER GUESS:
Take a bath.
Or as I and Eloise prefer it: BAWTH.
Or baking soda.
Possibly some Epsom salts.
So says The Google.
And my mom.
Can I get out yet?
Every year, when we take the tree and decorations down, I am startled.
I don’t think I have reached the Griswold level of festive decor, so that can’t account for the Disturbing Disappearance of Decor.
Triple D – that’s a thing, right?
Yet, take away the seasonal dressing and everything suddenly looks bare and forlorn.
I guess it’s to be expected when you remove a giant conifer and acres of greenery and glittery things from your Not-So-Great Room.
(Our house was built at a time when Great Rooms were not yet a thing, so we only have an ordinary living room or as realtors probably think of it: a Not-So-Great Room.)
Our Not-So-Great Room looked perfectly fine in November.
In early December, it suddenly got bulge-y with a seriously extraverted Tannenbaum and all its festive friends.
I think we might be kindred spirits, me and the Not-So-Great Room.
I feel quite bulge-y in December myself.
“Deck the Halls with crates of Toblerone“…isn’t that how that song goes?
Every year during the time when the Not-So-Great Room is still looking seriously festive, Practical Man and I head out to admire our neighbourhood lights.
First, I admire the heart he stamped in the snow of the front lawn, with our initials in it.
Then, we cruise around for a while (we used to walk when we lived in town but we’d have to be Santa to make any time, now that we live rurally), surveying the crop of Griswold-esque specimens.
I’m not really keen on the blow-up thingys, so I haven’t photographed those.
Nor the keel-over-inducing light shows (even when coordinated with music).
Give me a loaded, over-the-top, plain old, static light show any day.
Or night, as it were.
Once we have oooh’d and aaah’d for a good while, then comes the hard part.
We have to choose.
We each get one thank-you card, that we filled out before we left the house:
“Thank you for your beautiful lights. Your house was our favourite!”
We don’t sign our names. We simply slip the thank-you card into their mailbox.
It’s seriously festive and fun.
Then, we return home to our own festively-adorned, albeit slightly bulge-y Not-So-Great Room and cuddle up.
Even though I don’t think I’m quite at Griswold level of festive decor, I can still love those who are.
I’m just too lazy for that sort of outdoor, holiday hulla-balloo.
Forget the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m all about the 12 Days of Pajamas.
Happy New Year to me!
Except, that after all the Disturbing Disappearance of Decor, our Not-So-Great Room will soon look like the Nearly-Naked Room.
Naked, I say, in January.
Please agree with me that naked in Canada in January is sometimes not such a good look.
‘Tis the Season for down-filled puffy coats, thank goodness.
But, having no such down-filled puffy coats for the Not-So-Great Room, it has to spend the first parts of the new year standing around, naked.
Naked in the season of diet and exercise commercials galore.
Naked in the season of resolutions and recriminations.
After a little while, we get used to our naked, Not-So-Great Room again and can see it for all the beauty that it holds.
Unadorned and lovely, in its year-round state.
Perhaps, a lesson for us all.
Die Hard is Practical Man’s favourite Christmas movie.
Maybe you didn’t know that Die Hard—the Bruce Willis/Alan Rickman shoot-em-up extravaganza—was even considered to be a Christmas movie.
Oh ye of little festive imagination.
We have a broad definition of “Christmas movies” at our house, partly on account of the fact that one of my favourite things to do during the Christmas holiday break that I’m lucky enough to have, is to lie around all day wearing my PJs.
Wearing PJs, as I mentioned.
Preferably brand new, cozy PJs that Santa has brought me because I’ve been SO good all year!
Or, maybe, because they were On Sale (Santa is a bit of a coupon clipper) and he knew they would make me happy and cozy for a week of lolly-gagging around.
Yes, that’s it.
When it comes to Christmas—as in many things—I don’t act my age. Give me some stickers and some gold, coin-shaped chocolates in the toe of my stocking and I’m four years old again.
Many four year olds get new PJs for Christmas, you may have observed.
Ah yes, it’s days and days of PJs and Turtle chocolates for breakfast (and maybe some Toblerone triangles and Christmas movies like:
- Elf (I love it, even though it has Will Farrell).
- The Holiday (makes me homesick for England and old movies).
- Love, Actually (possibly the best Christmas movie of all time, except for Die Hard, of course!)
Oh, I know I should be all Joy to the World and Peace on Earth about the festive season and the prospect of getting together with family and friends. I do love all the “goodwill towards men” (and women) stuff but if I’m honest, at the twilight of each year, it’s kind of more about the PJs.
Who says we can’t have good will towards men (and women) and PJs?
And, good will toward movies like:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (I have a crush on Linus).
- While You Were Sleeping (I have a crush on the whole family).
- Prancer (I have a crush on Sam Elliott).
And, I can’t forget that whole extravaganza that is: Chocolate For Breakfast (totally legal)!
It’s a Christmas thing.
Maybe you haven’t heard about it, but I BELIEVE.
At this time of year, that counts for something.
Haven’t you seen It’s a Wonderful Life?
But, with limited number of days available for such indulgent loafing about, I have a hard time deciding. Should I watch:
- Miracle on 34th Street (the Natalie Wood version, although I cry at the new version, too)?
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Boris Karloff version, although I cry at the new version, too)?
- Home Alone or The Santa Clause (the #1 versions only, because those are the only ones I cry at)?
Then again, why choose favourites? Someone always feels left out, like:
- A Muppet Christmas Carol (Muppets are awesome but I’m not a Dickens fan).
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Mickey’s voice bugs me and I’m not a Dickens fan).
- A Christmas Carol (the scratchy, slightly sinister Alistair Sims version that my dad liked to try to make us watch every Christmas eve and I did it sometimes, because I love him, but, really, I’m not a Dickens fan).
Yes, with only The Twelve Days of Sloth at my disposal and the requisite social events sprinkled throughout, it’s sometimes hard to choose which movies will grace this year’s Christmas season.
I feel the same way about Christmas socks. If I choose the red and white stripe-y ones, the green and red stripe-y ones might feel left out. Try as I might, I just can’t quite reach the level of equal opportunity movie watcher and tacky Christmas sock wearer.
As they say in that not-Christmas, famous, book/movie (although if I ask Practical Man, he may be able to put a festive spin on it):
As you would expect, Practical Man has no difficulties carefully choosing his (restrained) festive touches at this time of year.
He eschews the gregarious socks and opts for the plain grey sports variety, thank-you very much.
And, once Die Hard has been watched, it’s on to his next favourite Christmas movie:
Do you not recall the snowstorm outside the plane on the runway? It’s a Christmas movie, plain and simple.
Yippee Ki-Yuletide, everyone.
Practical Man often says I was born in the wrong time–that I should have been a hippy. Maybe he’s right. Case in point:
- I love Volkswagen anything (as long as it’s pre-1980).
- I have a tendency to decorate everything that doesn’t move (and even some things that do) with bohemian prints.
- 95% of the guitar music I play is 60s and 70s folk.
I would have liked being a hippy, I think. Except for the straight hair and no bangs thing.
Let’s just say that I have forehead issues.
So, I can’t truly be a hippie, now can I? First of all, I can’t even spell it. And I’m sure that hippies were more about peace, love and all that good stuff and not so much about the forehead vanity.
I know I should be thinking about pilgrims and injustices perpetrated on aboriginal peoples and green bean casseroles, but at this time of year, I can’t help it. I think about the dump and VW microbuses and a strange and mythical place called the Group W Bench.
It all started 32 Thanksgivings ago, when my dad introduced me to Arlo Guthrie’s iconic Vietnam protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“.
I learned to love it–and now, I’m learning to play it on the gi-tar–with feeling.
So far, I’m pretty terrible but, in my defence, I’m a lot older than Arlo was when he first came up with the concept of an 18 minute and 34 second song.
My fingers, not to mention my will, are weak.
What can I say, I’ve been wasting my life, obsessing about my forehead.
But, I can play the chorus:
I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain it for 5 minutes though, let alone 18 minutes +.
The point is, I’ve also been inflicting Alice’s Restaurant on as many people as possible, since I first fell in love with it as a teenager:
- In 1996 (after I was old enough to know better), a friend and I attempted to write the lyrics (all 18 minutes and 34 performance seconds of them) in black magic marker on his bathroom walls.
- I met my friend, Bamboo Guy, partly because we bonded over the fact that he lived in a church, just like Alice and Ray and Potcho The Dog, from the song.
- My dad and I saw it live in 2005 during the Alice’s Restaurant 40th anniversary tour.
And, I’m not alone in my quasi-obsession. My uncle Putt reportedly played and sang Alice’s Restaurant to countless Inuit listeners, while he was working in the Canadian North in the early ’70s. He and my aunt recently gifted me with something I’d never seen before:
The Alice’s Restaurant book!
It doesn’t have “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us”, but, it does have groovy sketches.
Soooo very groovy. I wish I could show them all to you!
Yep, as many of our southern neighbours are sitting down this weekend to what we up north call “American Thanksgiving”, I can’t help thinking of Alice and her restaurant and how one young guy took his peaceful protest on the road, way back when.
Protests go so much better with a gi-tar, don’t you think?
Although the Vietnam War and Alice’s Restaurant came about before I was born, I feel as though the past couple of weeks may have felt a little bit similar to what things felt like back then.
People feeling strong feelings.
Neighbours worried about neighbours. Or, angry at neighbours. Or, bewildered by neighbours. Or, disappointed by neighbours.
Something about neighbours.
Kinda tense, as I said.
But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about giving thanks.
That’s why I called the post, “And now, for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”
Thanks–to Arlo (may I call you Arlo?), for showing me that we could believe in something and deliver a message to people in a way that made them smile, while also making them think.
Thanks–to my dad, for sharing Arlo with me and Uncle Putt for giving me his long-treasured book. Thanks–to Practical Man for driving all the way to Stockbridge, Massachussets to visit “the scene of the crime” and for listening to me squeal my way around the countryside that led to The Church. Thanks–to Fairy Godson’s parents, who went to the ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale (accidentally) on Cape Cod and got to talk with ACTUAL Alice and then they brought me back a Christmas ornament from ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale that ACTUAL Alice used to have in her living room on her Christmas tree!
Thanks– to Arlo again, for being a role model in the never-ending sentences and segues that have become his (and, okay, you may have a point here: MY) trademark style.
And, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” and I also hope you walk into the shrink wherever you are,
Just walk in and say, “Shrink,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”
and walk out.
If one person, you know just one person does it, they may think she’s really weird and they won’t pay attention.
But if two people do it…in harmony, they may think they’re both Canadians and they won’t pay attention to either of them.
And if three people do it…can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!
And, can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day…walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?
Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT.
And, that’s what it is.
The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the gi-tar.