Old School, New School

The Digital Abrasion on kitchen table 1.

The Digital Abrasion on kitchen table 1.

When someone asks what I do for a living, I love to reply, “I pull weeds for friends and — ” here I blow on my nails and polish them on my shirt — “teach doctors.”

For a number of years now, the Saint John Regional Hospital has held twice-yearly workshops to teach doctors in Eastern Canada to understand and use ultrasound equipment.

For a shorter number of years, the University of New Brunswick at Saint John (UNBSJ) has had a medical school.

Dandyknife works at both institutions.

At the med school, I’m a Simulated Patient (SP). The job of an SP is to act out a role and then supply feedback in order to help the students learn to deal with various emotions that patients bring with them to a check-up. Depending on the character, I’ve yelled, I’ve wept, I’ve sat rocking with depression or stock-still with distrust. The med students learn through these sessions to see a patient as a whole person instead of just a presenting complaint, to show concern instead of coldness, to heal instead of cure.

Across the parking lot, I am a pork chop with a functioning circulatory system. I put on a johnny-shirt, get squirted with cold blue goo, and let strangers pass a four-thousand-dollar probe over various body parts.

The ultrasound machines have evolved to the size and shape of laptop computers. Having started work at the patient-centred medical school, I must admit words failed me at my first ultrasound gig when my station’s teaching doctor, rearranging the bedside stand, momentarily balanced the ultrasound machine on the small of my back.

But it seems to me that attitudes are changing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if these new attitudes are due in part to our new med school, and the graduates who are now interning on the other side of the parking lot.

The second-last time I helped at an ultrasound workshop, the teaching doctors actually asked me and the other four live models our names. And this last time, not only had the room temperature been raised to humanly tolerable, but we rentable bodies each got a name tag!

And near the end of the day, one of the erstwhile old-school doctors spoke to me by name and asked me politely, “Dandyknife, could you be my neck? I’ve lost my other neck.”

“Yes, I’ll be your neck,” I replied with a smile, as I hopped up on the gurney.

Rainy Day Puppies

This weather has been something.

Arctic temperatures one day, opaque downpours the next. The Federal weather blurb writer for the Saint John area has actually used the word “torrential” in the latest weather warning. Really, with all this talk of pipelines, why don’t we skip the fuel business and make our millions funneling rain to California?

I mean. FOUR INCHES over the next two days. Garden plants appreciate one inch per week, and that’s in summer when it’s hot. And when plants are alive. Now that the ground is frozen, those “torrential” (sic/sick) rains will have a hard time running off. Moira, if you’re reading this, I would suggest staying in Florida an extra week or so before flying up this way.

What to do?

This morning, I’m thinkin’…

...cover the furniture, wrap up in absorbent clothing and dog towels, and listen to Christmas music...

…cover the furniture, wrap up in absorbent clothing and dog towels, and listen to Christmas music…


...do my homework...

…do my homework…


...and study just how long the boys will "hold it" between their hundred-metre dashes outdoors. Cai has an iron bladder, but Fergus despises the rain.

…and study just how long the boys will “hold it” between their hundred-metre dashes outdoors. Cai has an iron bladder, but Fergus despises the rain.

When “Good Enough” Is

Hope and her sister Joy, stretching their limbs.

Hope and her sister Joy, stretching their limbs.

Thursday was not pretty.

A day before the concert at church, my Nova plastic alto recorder and I had Gounod’s half (the Bach half was up to E.g.’s harp) of “Ave Maria” memorized, or almost. At each run-through, my imaginative brain staved off boredom by choosing a different note to play wrong. How considerate of it.

But really, “Ave Maria” was nothing next to “Arise, Shine” and “Angels From the Realms Of Glory” (AFTRGLO).

I was handed AFTRGLO on September 19, and have practised it daily ever since. It’s due tomorrow, as the sole accompaniment to an SATB quartet. Three of those singers, imported from the larger music community for the Christmas season, have never heard my recorder playing, and at both rehearsals of this piece I’ve shown that I can’t play it. “What a loser,” they must be thinking.

“Arise, Shine” was to be played at last night’s concert, along with Merrilee at the piano. We had aced it together two weeks earlier, and I was ready for the choir rehearsal Thursday night.

Or so I thought. Already more overwrought than a pretentious piece of funeral home fencing, my sick brain forced my hands into a string of fingerings having nothing to do with the printed music. Then, like a pair of dying spiders, those hands ceased their frenzied throes and remained paralyzed, refusing me entry into any subsequent measures.

I left the choir room, slumped into a chair in the narthex, and quietly sobbed. I couldn’t decide which was worse: the ages it was taking to learn those bloody pieces (I’m so stupid!), the fact of letting down Tucker and the team (I’m such a disappointment!), or my utter lack of professionalism (I’m such a drama queen!).

Fast forward past the nocturnal pity party. E.g. and I took our instruments to the church Friday morning to acclimatize them and practise our pieces — a medley of three U.K. Christmas pieces as well as “Ave Maria” — and were asked by the church secretary if we might be interested in playing some medieval dance music, and miraculously, E.g. said yes! Something to take my mind off this week’s Endless Embarrassment.

That afternoon I slept for two hours.

And that evening, Mother Mary answered my petition: Please let me get all the notes right. My nervous fingers occasionally shook on the holes they were supposed to cover, resulting in sounds like the last of the dishwater draining from a sink, but the “ethereal” (Tucker’s word) high notes gave Lillian “the shivers” (her words).

And on the medley E.g. and I played in the second half of the concert, I showcased what a soprano recorder can do, with legato, slurred, detached, and marcato notes, grace notes, a turn, a trill, and some Loreena-McKennitt-starts-and-stops-her-vacuum Celtic sounds.

And then Merrilee’s daughter Ella, the emcee, got six of us onstage to play a game that resulted in a small gift bag for each of us.

Each bag contained a marshmallow Santa and an ornament. E.g., having promised the church secretary to work on some medieval music, received Joy. I got Hope.

Pulling It Off At the Ladies’ Pot Luck

"I was only kidding, Dandyknife. How can I make it up to you?"

“I was only kidding, Dandyknife. How can I make it up to you?”

Never, gentle readers, never has Dandyknife been so devious. Weeks of planning, writing, arranging, rehearsing, shopping, and passing the right message to the right person at the right time without spilling any beans at the wrong time. And by jingies, it all pretty much worked!

A lot of labour for fifteen minutes, you say? Yeah, well, Mr Warhol, unlike your quarter-hour, mine is comical, warm-hearted, and shared, plus which I get to experience it four times a year! So, nyah.

I’m referring, of course, to yesterday’s church ladies’ pot-luck luncheon’s entertainment, provided by Merrilee, Tucker, and yours truly, with special guest Lillian.

Tucker and I began with a dialogue in which I attempt to introduce our first number while he keeps interrupting me with lauds and magnifications of E.g. and all her talents. Tucker has already winked to the audience behind my back to let them know he’ll be getting my goat. When we finally sing the first song, it’s a riff on “I Remember It Well” focusing on “how happy I am (sob) since I first (whimper) joined the choir,” wherein Tucker gets all the details wrong and then innocently asks why I’m becoming angry with him. To which, after barely managing not to haul off and thump him one, I shrug and reply, “I forget.”

"Well... why don't you help me with this next song?" And so he did.

“Well… why don’t you help me with this next song?”
And so he did.

The first two photos of this post explain how we transitioned to the second piece, “Rise Up Shepherd”, the lines of which we passed back and forth to each other and occasionally chimed in on together. I handed him his music to naturalize that verbal exchange.

Lillian at the piano. Dandyknife on the phone.

Lillian at the piano. Dandyknife on the phone.

Next came the surprise piece. Tucker and Merrilee had known nothing about it until the day before, when I (a)secretly gave Merrilee a Rocky Mountain Chocolate confection shaped like a reindeer’s face, with a red smartie on the nose to identify it as Rudolph, and (b)secretly notified Tucker of an upcoming bouquet, asking each of them to hand it to the other “after Lillian plays a piece.”

Once Merrilee and Tucker had seated themselves, I announced, “And now, Lillian will come up and help me tell you about two people who have given me so much encouragement –” looking at Merrilee — “and so many opportunities –” looking at Tucker — “to make music, that sometimes I actually forget to be jealous of E.g.”

The tune used was “A Capital Ship.” The second verse (of three) is the funniest one:

Our Merrilee is my champion, and Tucker is my boss.
[She*] roots for me, and makes me see I’m not a total loss.
When Tucker gives me work to do, he knows that I can do it,
Or that I’ll try and try and try, before I say, “Ah, never mind.”

*Merrilee’s real name scans here, but her pseudonym doesn’t, so I’ve written “she” here instead.

"On the FIRST day of Christmas..."

“On the FIRST day of Christmas…”

The final piece of the show was conducted by Tucker, while I wandered off to sit with E.g. and give her a tiny plush penguin with a tinier card that thanked her for being a good sport, because of course she hadn’t been informed ahead of time that so much of the comedy — compliments, actually — would be aimed at her.

Anyway, Tucker led the audience in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Strips of paper had been given out during dessert, and Tucker oversaw the sequencing as two or three people each sang a line and the room chorused the gold rings and the treed partridge.

Merrilee's million-dollar smile.

Merrilee’s million-dollar smile.

But before the Twelve Days began, Merrilee remembered her part of the secret. Holding out the chocolate treat, she said, “I’ve got something for you, Tucker.”

And whether he had intuited that part of the enjoyment of this moment hinged on the difference in size of the two gifts, or whether this was just his real sense of humour, Tucker said exactly the right thing.

Looking at the gift in his hand, he queried with as flat an affect as he could muster, “An all-day sucker? You’re giving me a dog-head sucker?

Then he handed Merrilee the gift bag containing her bouquet.

Getting Butter

Door to cellar canning shelves looks on, biding its time.

Door to cellar canning shelves looks on, biding its time.

A short post this morning, gentle readers. This past week has mostly been a waste of clock juice with the pain and dizziness I’ve experienced from taking it on the chin a week ago. Yesterday was the worst. Exiting down a side aisle right after we’d sung the anthem, I scrawled a laconic note — Too many drugs, not enough breakfast. Gone home. — on the choir room blackboard and left.

I am happy to report, however, that last night the unbearable (yes I’m a wimp) swelling finally abated. So let’s get out of the sick room and into the breakfast room!

A few weeks back, having finished some Willa Cather stories about Nebraska homesteaders, I decided to take some “handwork” with me for my weekly visit to Merrilee. Said handwork consisted of twenty-five pounds of apples, which the two of us prepared while we blethered on for two hours before proceeding to the piano room.

Once home again, the quartered apples filled my big stockpot to the level you see in the first photo.

But not for long. After a few hours they were reduced to three litres, half of which I placed in a deep bowl and smoothed with the stick blender.

When I mixed the two textures together, the Apple butter had just the consistency I was looking for. Adding ground cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, along with a dash of salt and one cup of sugar, I scraped it into a three-litre pot and set it in the fridge till the next day when I heated it up and canned it.

A spoonful of apple butter on a bowl of plain yogurt is a luscious thing, especially when chewing is not on the menu.

Don't worry, Merrilee got a jar of it too.

Don’t worry, Merrilee got a jar of it too.


(Photo by David Galbraith.)

(Photo by David Galbraith.)

We had come to say goodbye.

The church was packed. Sounds of sniffling and nose blowing and grief coughs pricked the air like the lights of fireflies.

Just think what it’ll be like at her funeral someday.

No, God hasn’t called Jennifer home, he’s just shuffled her down the street to work in Ontario. After the church of her also-a-minister husband closed, he found a calling (aka a minister job) at a church there, and now Jennifer’s search has also succeeded. Our congregation would’ve liked to have kept her till after Christmas, but we’re happy that Jennifer and her husband and their children will be back together again in one household (and maybe even unpacked) for the Yuletide season.

Now Jennifer has made it very clear in Council meetings that ten years is pretty much the maximum length of time any clergy should stay at one church. After that, just like fish or houseguests after four days, things start to go bad.

And Jennifer spent ten years at our church.

And during that time, she fulfilled — nay, she aced — the task set before any fresh clergy: she shook out the dust of stodginess, opened the windows of generosity, widened the picket fence of inclusion. (She may have even loosened the screws on the gate hinges, to make its falling look like a happy accident.)

E.g. and I were married at that church, with about half the congregation in joyous attendance. That would never have happened before Jennifer’s incumbency.

The anthem chosen for Sunday, Jennifer’s last day, was one that she and our choirmaster, Tucker, had agreed summed up her basic message. The piece is called “Christ Has Broken Down the Wall.” It begins and ends with one of our sopranos singing those words alone.

Jennifer stood on the far side of the chancel, facing the choir, as we sang it. We knew why it had been chosen, and we sang it with all our hearts. We held up fine until the very end, when our soloist’s voice caught halfway though her final line. Christ broke down the walls; the choir broke down, period. Sheila tore her kleenex in half to share it with me.

Four Walls Up and One Wallop

October 28. Camera-shy Carl applies the final piece of strapping to keep Maud plumb.

October 28. Camera-shy Carl applies the final piece of strapping to keep Maud plumb.

During the fortnight after Carl’s last visit, I worked about 20 hours before ridgeboard and rafters were finally fastened into place.

Testing, testing... (Photo by E.g.)

Testing, testing… (Photo by E.g.)

This morning, as a fine granular snow fell, I was outside before 8:00 to tarp those rafters and attach as much plywood as possible against the two inches of rain due to begin before lunch.

Long shot. Note red ridge cap. The rafters are under there, honest.

Long shot. Note red ridge cap. The rafters are under there, honest.

Before all that, though, I gathered up the sides of the tarp that protects the floor, pulled it to the doorway, and poured the snowy puddles out onto the ground. Being very pleased with the grey old chunk of 2×4 that had held down the tarp on the windward side, I lovingly set it back in the same place.

Never underestimate the gratitude of weathered wood.

The floor re-tarped (just in case) after today's work. Note the piece of grey wood.

The floor re-tarped (just in case) after today’s work. Note the piece of grey wood.

Having laced together two large tarps down one of their short sides, I hauled them up the tall ladder which was still inside the building after the ridgeboard’n’rafters job. Spreading the tarps with their laced edges running along the ridgeboard, I put a screw through them at the windward end and and another in the centre, and tacked one ridge cap over them. Then I moved the ladder, keeping it inside the building, to lean against the lee-side wall so I could tack down the tarps and second ridge cap at that end. I stood on the ladder with my back to it, facing into the building.

That’s when the ladder slipped.

There was no time for fear, only a gasp before I hit the rafter, sixteen  inches in from the leeward wall.

Hurricane clips withstand high-velocity winds and chins.

Hurricane clips withstand high-velocity winds and chins.

Once it was clear that the ladder would slip no further, I climbed down and stepped outside. My jaw wasn’t broken; my teeth were fine; my skin wasn’t even grazed. The only damage was a gash at the base of my inside lower lip.

Holding a handful of snow to my chin, I wondered how much worse the accident might have been if that silvered piece of 2×4 hadn’t been there to prevent the ladder sliding a further three and-a-half inches. Then I brought the ladder outside the building, finished fixing the tarp, and one by one attached the five remaining pieces of plywood.

Lee side. The doorway hasn't yet been cut from the right-hand panel. And yes, I moved the plastic "wicker" seat into the building before finishing this wall.

Lee side. The doorway hasn’t yet been cut from the right-hand panel. And yes, I moved the plastic “wicker” seat into the building before finishing this wall.

By 11:30, the flakes were large and damp, falling quickly under their own weight, transitioning towards rain. I tarped the doorway, called the dogs, picked up my coffee cup, and headed into the house.

"Say g'night, Maud."  "G'night, Maud."

“Say g’night, Maud.”
“G’night, Maud.”