The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part I: The Pitcher Plant

Maybe not everyone who travels takes an interest in the local flora and fauna, but I suspect many people do.  As I mentioned last post, I was enthralled with the diversity of wildflowers as I walked each day on my recent trip to Newfoundland.  I noticed not only what seemed to be different from Ontario, but some interesting constants as well.   And, for fun, I thought I’d share my some of my trip photos of Newfoundland’s abundant plant life with you in some upcoming posts.

First up, the granddaddy of all Newfoundland flora (why save the best for last?) – the illustrious Pitcher Plant.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

The Pitcher Plant

The Pitcher Plant, provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I took this shot on my trip.  Sandy Pond, Terra Nova National Park.

The Pitcher Plant is the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  North American Pitcher Plants – of which there are 8 to 11 species – all grow in challenging environments, this particular one in the nutrient-poor, acidic soil of the Newfoundland bog, constantly wet (with the water, of course, carrying away all the nutrients), exposed to sun and weather (due to a dirth of tree cover on your average bog!), and dominated by the growth of Spagnum moss.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland's abundant wilderness.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland’s abundant wilderness.

Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant (S. purpurea) belongs to the genus Sarracenia.  These plants gain an advantage in their hostile environment by, in addition to their love of direct sunlight, their ability to gather nutrients from the insects they lure to their pitchers, drown, and slowly digest.

Yes!  In other words, Newfoundland’s provincial flower is a carnivorous plant.  I’ve always loved this particular little factoid.  :)  I feel sure a lot of thought went into the selection of this particular resident as an emblem of the province.

The insects are attracted by a nectar-like secretion on the lip of pitchers, as well as a combination of color and scent. Slippery footing at the pitchers’ rim, aided in at least one species by a narcotic drug lacing the nectar, causes insects to fall inside, where they die and are digested by the plant as a nutrient source.

- Wikipedia, under entry for Sarracenia

A close-up of the cup (or "trumpet") of a Pitcher Plant.  With labels, for the anatomically curious.  :)

A close-up of the cup (or “trumpet”) of a Pitcher Plant. With labels, for the anatomically curious. :)  The Operculum, btw, partially covers the top of the cup, preventing it from overflowing with rainwater, accidentally releasing any prey.

 This process is at once yucky and wonderful and I always feel a thrill of discovery whenever I come upon a Pitcher Plant during a walk.  It feels like I have stumbled upon a fascinating alien life form.  And their toughness and stubbornly creative determination to survive in this environment somehow mirror the hardiness of the people of Newfoundland themselves (the reason this “flower” was chosen as a symbol of the province, perhaps?).  So the very existence of these plants in this place makes me yet again proud to be a Newfoundlander (Seems to be a feeling I’m feeling a LOT this trip, huh?).

If you’re ever in Newfoundland, by the way, please don’t be frightened of these wonderful residents of the province’s unique ecosystem.  The Pitcher Plant’s mechanisms for both capturing and digesting the insects it feeds on are passive – there are no moving parts.  So don’t be frightened – Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant won’t bite you.   But be warned, however, Sarracenia in their natural habitat are a threatened species.  Please don’t disturb them.  Leave them alone, let them grow, and simply enjoy the priviledge of having observed this distinctive plant in the wild.

Sarracenia - they don't bite (at least, I don't THINK...).

Sarracenia – they don’t bite (at least, I don’t THINK…).


My New Habit

Well, despite the absence of regular blog updates, our trip has ended.  We are now back from Newfoundland.  I was so busy having a great time outdoors and with my family that I am only on Day 2 of the 20 day trip, as far as telling you all about it goes.  I know, I know.  Now that I am back to hum-drum every day life I am sure I will get caught up (or some semblance of it) soon.

One thing I did want to tell you about without further adieu, however, was the mileage this time away from home has put on my new sneakers.  Without a definite (accurate) tally, I’m guessing I added between 80 and 100 kilometres while we were away.  The main reason for this refreshing change in my activity level?  My nearly 69 year-old mother gets up at 6:30 every morning, slips on her sneaks, and walks nearly 4 kilometres from her little house to the shipyard at the very end of the community’s road.  Then she walks back.  For a total of 7.8 kms (“Dad took it off in the car for me” she says, by way of explaining her knowledge of her own daily mileage – she prides herself on her lack of charts, graphs, or pedometer).  This walk is how my mother starts nearly each and every day.

When I last saw my mom 6 years ago she did not have this habit.  She started about 3 and a half years ago and has been doing it faithfully ever since.  And so – to me – this transformed Mom is basically a new person.  One good thing I noticed about my mother this trip – perhaps because of all this walking – is how much calmer she is.   Somehow she seems more confident too. Another thing – this one because of the walking for certain – is that she’s lost weight.  Not that she needed to lose any.  But she is definitely looking fit and trim, and obviously in good physical condition.  I was sweating to keep up with her.  But – much as she prides herself on speeding past the odd male walker she encounters –  I prided myself on at least being able to (mostly) keep up with her.  After all, my mom is 24 years my senior.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous the first couple of mornings out.  I’d heard about the rapid pace Mom sets.  Also, she looked me up and down appraisingly that very first early morning and quipped something like “You’re sure you’re up to this?”  Obviously she’d been able to accurately gauge my physical activity level as of late (which was nada).  Inwardly I  gulped, but bravado forced me to pretend I thought I was.  And, despite all my trepidation and misgivings, I somehow still managed to feel shocked and surprised when Mom suddenly briskly marched down the driveway and set off at a merciless clip down the road.  Who is this drill sergeant and what has she done with my mother?

It took me a few minutes to accept that I was really going to have to walk this fast or be left behind by my mom.   It took me a few more minutes to accept that I was too stubborn, or proud, or both to make some excuse (“My fly bites are itching…”, “My laces are too tight..”, “I need to pee!!!”) and go home to Dad instead of continuing.   Soon my legs ached and sweat trickled down the back of my neck, giving me away.  Yet I surprised myself by somehow keeping up a somewhat acceptable speed for the hour and a quarter till we made it home again.  Throughout that time, however, I secretly suspected I was slowing Mom down.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, and by “home” in this context I mean Newfoundland the island.  You can take a Newfoundlander out of Newfoundland, but, somehow – no matter how long they’re away from it – you can never take the “Newfoundland” out of the Newfoundlander.   So it’s hard to explain what I was feeling as I walked in a place I’d once taken so much for granted.  A place I’d once so desperately wanted to leave.

It was astonishingly beautiful.  The bay, so sheltered that it is easy to be lulled into forgetting it is the North Atlantic Ocean, is surrounded by hazy blue mountains rising off  in all directions in the distance.   On perfectly still mornings, after rain, the sea was a blue mirror, reflecting the houses, wharves, boats, and trees.

The air itself continually delighted me with the aromas I’d only vaguely remembered until that moment – the “landwash” smell near the water’s edge at low tide, the smell of the fish plant, the smells of trees, wild roses, the pine-y smell of forest paths.   And – of course – the salty smell in the air when a stiff breeze blew in from the water.   Too, there were smells I couldn’t place but knew I hadn’t smelled since the last time I was home.  The sense of smell is so visceral, isn’t it?  Smells get you right in the centre of your very being, by-passing all the logic and resistance the rest of your brain has tried to set up to protect you.   Suddenly  I am six years old again.  And I want to dive into the ocean.  I want to be a gull flying high in the air.  I want to eat Newfoundland whole, like a rhubarb pie.

The pot-holed pavement we walked along was lined on either side with delightful vistas.  On one side of the road little old houses were interspersed with gorgeous new homes rising up the sides of the hills into the forest surrounding the town.  As well as having dogs for pets (Newfoundlanders just LOVE their dogs – many wandered free as we walked along), some people had barns and enclosures where Newfoundland ponies also grazed.  Beyond the meadows and eccentric gardens (brightly painted discarded tires continue to be somewhat popular as planters) tantalizing diagonal views of dusty dirty roads curving out of sight as they rose into the mountain beckoned for further exploration.  Yet I knew better than to mention these to my mother, who kept her up her relentless forward momentum to the road’s end.

On the other side of the pavement,  more homes, these with “da bay” in the backyard.  In some places, the ocean closed in to the roadside.    There were no houses here, simply a gravelly ditch falling away to the sea.  In other places, the ocean swept away low and far off, revealing sweet new (to me) dirt roads widening down country lanes where weather-beaten old homesteads met yet more new construction.

ICF (insulated concrete form) construction seems to be all the rage in my parents’ community right now.   Seasonal residents, as well as retirees – returning to the area after long years’ of absence – have built many of these new homes, but longtime locals are building too.   Most of these houses are clad with brightly coloured siding (red, yellow, and deep blue are popular colours).   Many also have design features such as being more stories on the back (ocean facing side) than on the front, with surprising levels of ocean-viewing decks connected by flights of pressure-treated wooden stairs.  My brother’s house (in “town”, meaning St. John’s) has a heat pump (much cheaper than the local alternative of electric heating), and I wonder what other forward-looking features these new places in Glovertown might have.

A lot of the new homes were gorgeous spots, with – for certain – amazing views of their own to be had out their own bay windows.   On the “bay” side, many also had their own little docks, some with impressive-looking pleasure boats waiting for their owners to take them out for a sail.

I got the impression there is more work around than there are people available.  There are many open positions nowadays, from work on the oil platforms to positions in mining and refining, with all the supporting trades in-between in demand as well.  Too, there is – to some extent – a fishery again.  The fish plant was open (they were processing capelin, I believe, while we were there) many days as we strode past.

But the main thing that caught my eye were the wild flowers.  I had forgotten so many of them, after years and years hiking and canoeing in Ontario.  And so, I was caught off-guard and astonished somehow by how different the flora of Newfoundland really is.

As I said, I haven’t been home in a while.  And I love nature.  I love water.  I love trees.  And I love flowers.  I want to stop.   For.  Every.  Single.  One.

It’s hard to do this walk with Mom without stopping and disturbing its flow.  Somehow I get that this flow is important.  Today the discipline is NOT stopping to take a bazillion pictures.  And so, I am not stopping to smell, photograph, or catalogue the dozens of old friends I am so delighted to see again (I do much of this later, at outings to places like Newman Sound and Sandy Pond).

All this walking, I forgot to mention, is made possible by the fact that my father sits at home in the morning, getting my children milks and watching cartoons with them till we return.    I am eternally grateful for this.  The walking soon becomes a lovely break.   Soon I genuinely look forward to this refreshing way of greeting every morning.  As well,  I notice that the morning seems longer now, and the day itself expands correspondingly – more hours, more possibilities, more promise.

And so – as the days in Newfoundland grow shorter and the date of our return flight draws near – I dread the thought of being parted from my walk.  I can’t imagine walking anywhere else.  I need the shipyard.  I can’t imagine doing this discipline without the motivation I get from my mom, or without the help I get from my dad.  I am in Newfoundland, a place I once was dying to get out of, and I can’t remember anymore why I stayed away so long.

That’s the great thing about travel, isn’t it?  It’s like a form of Reality Maintenance.  At home in Ottawa, I was in a funk.  I didn’t clearly remember my family or the place where I came from.  I couldn’t accurately recall Newfoundland’s beauty or unique-ness, even as I longed to see it again.  And, at the same time, I didn’t really see Ontario with fresh eyes anymore either.   So I couldn’t feel part of where I came from OR appreciate where I was.

I needed to go.  And I needed to come back.  Ontario is different from Newfoundland.  Yes, there are Dragon’s Mouth Orchids and Pitcher Plants to see in my native land, but somehow it feels great to be back in my adopted  home amongst Queen Anne’s Lace and blossuming Milkweed as well.

So how about that walk?  Well, it turns out my husband understands this need better than I ever could have imagined.  And so – between his own run and his heading out to the office time –  my “me” time is a snug fit, but it fits.  It occurs to me now that I just never asked for an hour of my own each morning.  I simply assumed I couldn’t have it.   And now that I have (at least for the moment) ditched the grumpy martyr routine I am genuinely content with my hour and fifteen minute walk along the Ottawa River bike path each morning.

And so morning for now finds me setting out in pink sneakers at the closest semblance of Mom’s spitfire pace that I can muster.   I walk down to the bike path and follow it to the beach.  For a while, the path follows the waters’ edge.  I see reeds in the water and watch the edge change from rocky, to mucky, to gravelly “sand”.  I long to dip my ankles in the river and contemplate that “learning to kayak” session I wanted to sign up for, as well as daydreaming about whatever we watched on tv the night before.  I avoid the “goose grease” as I stride toward the lovely northern red oak 37 minutes from my home  – the oak has become my walk’s goal.

Along the way, I see many things I’d like to photograph.  Yet my new Samsung camera “glitched” while we were away in Newfoundland, so I don’t have my toy along to distract me (it’s off to Samsung, where it will – hopefully – be repaired), and I’m okay with that.  Instead, I keep up the pace I’m setting for myself.  Some wonderful flow of energy from somewhere keeps me bopping along, even though I’m alone.

I reach the oak tree –  which I greet like a friend, but with rougher skin – then turn back, passing inuksuks in the water as I return home.   Today I paused briefly to check out Maple Lawn in its full glory, then I walked rapidly up my own hilly little street, feeling energized and looking forward to another glorious Ottawa day.

As I strode up my hill this morning, I felt a lovely breeze, almost as thought Newfoundland was with me still.  And I guess it is.  It’s in my heart, afterall.  Meanwhile, my own little street seemed to say “Welcome back, Mumma.”

It’s good to see you again, too, Ottawa.

All for now,




Postcards from St. John’s

Almost halfway through our Newfoundland trip and so much to tell you!  It’s amazing to be here, and we’ve been trying to make the most of every day we’re here.  I won’t have time to tell you everything, but I’ll try to share the highlights.  There’s so much to see and do here!!!

First up – St. John’s!

St. John’s is a surprisingly old city, argued by some to be the oldest city in North America.  In fact, its name is attributed to the arrival of John Cabot in the harbour in 1497 – he arrived during the religious feast of St. John the Baptist and some say he named the new harbour “St. John’s” for this reason.

St. John’s changed hands several times before it was decisively held by the English during the Seven Years’ War.  According to Wikipedia:

St. John’s, and the province as a whole, was gravely affected in the 1990s by the collapse of the Northern cod fishery, which had been the driving force of the provincial economy for hundreds of years.  After a decade of high unemployment rates and depopulation, the city’s proximity to the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Roseoil fields has led to an economic boom that has spurred population growth and commercial development. As a result, the St. John’s area now accounts for about half of the province’s economic output.

Today St. John’s boasts a population of over 200,000, and is greatly changed from the provincial capital I recall from my own childhood.  Water Street – the downtown’s main drag – features a poutine restaurant, a Lulu Lemon outlet, and a Great Canadian Beaver Tail kiosk.  Interspersed amongst the harbour front’s old fish premises and the colourful tilted houses of Jellybean Row, new buildings emblazoned with high-tech company logos give the city an air of new money and prosperity, with a renewed sense of optimism about the future.

My family had brought us all out to Signal Hill the previous evening.  Signal Hill – the highest point in the area, and overlooking the Narrows – is the site of the citadel, Cabot Tower, and a Parks Canada National Historic Site.   At Signal Hill, you can visit the Geo Centre (we didn’t have enough time to get to this!), watch the Signal Hill Tattoo, visit the Wireless Station (site of Marconi’s historic transmission), as well as the Heritage Shop in Cabot Tower.  Having had our Signal Hill moment on Tuesday, however, on Wednesday we headed for Water Street instead.

We found parking on Harbour Drive (one street down from Water Street) for our downtown adventure day.  After a stop by Pier 6, the day soon turned from a picturesque wander in McMurdo’s Lane to a salt sprayed adventure to Cape Spear by boat.  My cousin Shell and I made a last-minute decision to board the Iceberg Quest tour boat at 4:30 PM.


Onboard the Iceberg Quest boat. “Never get a more beautiful day,” the woman said. “Not many days of the year you can sail round Cape Spear in your shirt sleeves.”

The boat headed out into The Narrows.  As we sailed, we took in Signal Hill and the Battery area.  The water offered a new and charming perspective, and the captain told stories of the area as we progressed.

The St. John's neighbourhood guarding the entrance to the harbour is called The Battery.

The St. John’s neighbourhood guarding the entrance to the harbour is called The Battery.  The presence of the Union Jack is a reminder of Newfoundland’s days as a British colony.   It was also our original flag as a province of Canada (a new provincial flag was adopted in 1980).

Boo gained new perspectives on the Signal Hill hiking trail (he had so desperately wanted to “go on”) as the boat got farther and farther out into the channel.

The walk my son coveted our first night in Newfoundland.

The walk my son coveted our first night in Newfoundland.


Getting farther…

And FARTHER... (Kinda puts it in perspective, huh?)

And FARTHER… (Kinda puts it in perspective, huh?)

The North Head Trail is billed as  “a difficult 1.7 km trail on Signal Hill from Cabot Tower to Lower Battery Road.”  Along the pathway, which is interspersed with boardwalks and stairs, the trail drops almost 500 feet.  I doubt this trail is an appropriate walk for my 4 and 6 year-old children.  Not alone with Mumma, in any case.

The captain of the tour boat told stories over the boat’s sound system for a while.  Some of these stories were of  St. John’s Great Fire, and the building of the houses of “Jellybean Row.”  These candy-coloured row houses, colourful and tilted, were originally built as “temporary housing” in the aftermath of the disastrous fire, and are still occupied, leaning against each other and into the sides of St. John’s hilly streets, 120 years later.

St. John's after the Great Fire.

St. John’s after the Great Fire.

Today, "Jellybean Row" is an iconic image of the city.

Today, “Jellybean Row” is an iconic image of the city.

As we passed through the harbour and out into open water, the sound system switched to jaunty Newfoundland music (Great Big Sea and such), and the going got rougher, kind of like riding in a Jeep or Dune buggy with a sporty suspension.  It was choppy and wave-y, with the boat pitching and rolling a fair bit.  But – as the day was fine and the sky was blue – we took it all in fun as we lurched about the deck with our cameras.  It was a little embarrassing, as native islanders, to note we’d left our sea legs in our other pants.

Since we were now forced to sit or be tossed over the side, the bar opened.  Shell and I decided the sea was making us tipsy enough, however, so we opted to use our time to take some selfies instead.

Me and my cuz.  Gettin' blown away.

Me and my cuz. Gettin’ blown away.

"Right breeze-y, wha'?"

“Right breeze-y, wha’?”

"Mom!  LOOK!!!"

“Mom! LOOK!!!”

Yes, those ARE icebergs in the background.  Each year aircraft carrier sized chunks of glacial ice break off from coastal Greenland, and work their way south, passing the shores of Newfoundland as they are carried by the gulf stream.  And – as they go – they slowly melt like ice cubes in a drink.

Shell and I had a pact to venture out for a closer look at the ice off St. John’s during our time together.  Because of a wedding, however, my cousin arrived in Newfoundland 2 weeks ahead of me.  We joined her only at the tail end of her time there.  She’d been watching the icebergs shrink and disappear throughout her trip, and had messaged me mournfully that little hope remained there’d be any ice left for us to see together.

The icebergs were small and breaking up, but still appeared to me to be pure and majestic travellers in time and space.  I think my son in particular managed to be fairly gobsmacked despite th shrinkage.

We couldn't venture too close to the largest icebergs, of course.  Something like 9/10ths of an iceberg looms hidden under the water.  Aside from being large, this unseen mass is unpredictably shaped and may topple over (or "founder") at any time.

We couldn’t venture too close to the largest icebergs, of course. Something like 9/10ths of an iceberg looms hidden under the water. Aside from being large, this unseen mass is unpredictably shaped and may topple over (or “founder”) at any time.


An iceberg is frozen glacial (fresh) water.  As it melts, a bright turquoise puddle of fresh water appears around the iceberg in the surrounding salty ocean.

An iceberg is frozen glacial (fresh) water. As it melts, a bright turquoise puddle of fresh water appears around the iceberg in the surrounding salty ocean.

Some of what the captain explained during the boat tour was well-explained on Wikipedia:

When a piece of iceberg ice melts, it makes a fizzing sound called “Bergie Seltzer“. This sound is made when the water-ice interface reaches compressed air bubbles trapped in the ice. As this happens, each bubble bursts, making a ‘popping’ sound. The bubbles contain air trapped in snow layers very early in the history of the ice, that eventually got buried to a given depth (up to several kilometers) and pressurized as it transformed into firn then to glacial ice.

Getting in closer to a flatter shaped one...

Getting in closer to a flatter shaped one…

A good shot of iceberg ice, with all those little trapped air bubbles that snap, sizzle, and pop!

A good shot of iceberg ice, with all those little trapped air bubbles that snap, sizzle, and pop!

Soon we arrived at Cape Spear light house.  As we sailed ’round the cove there, the captain played with a frolicksome whale (they said a humpback, I believe, but it seemed to be a small one).  The passengers watched with delight for each breach and blow.


Lou enjoys whale watching from the bow of the boat.

As most of the others enjoyed the whale’s antics, I found myself staring off at the ocean beyond the tip of Cape Spear.  Cape Spear is North America’s Eastern-most point.  Across that vast expanse of cold North Atlantic, the next stop is Ireland.  I wondered how long the voyage by sea might take, as well as how many long weeks the crossing would have taken our ancestors when they first came to this land.

I suddenly felt quite small, but – at the same time – intensely proud to be a Newfoundlander.   And I grabbed some of that glacial ice the crew went “ice fishing” for.  Wicked.  Iceberg ice in my drink tonight.  Another bucket list item down!

More adventures coming soon,


"Da b'ys" from Iceberg Quest.  "Icefishing."

“Da b’ys” from Iceberg Quest. “Icefishing.”



With love, from Butterfly-On-The-Road.

Ode to Newfoundland

We celebrated Canada Day this year by flying over half the country.  We arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland at 4 PM local time on Tuesday.  Boo and Lou were super excited!  It was a huge day of firsts – first airplane ride, first visit to Newfoundland, first time with that many blood-relations in the same room, first time seeing the ocean.

They still haven’t dipped their tootsies in yet.  It’s comin’.

Cousin Shell met us at the airport.  Boo ran to her.  It was a joyous reunion.  Uncle Drew arrived a few minutes later, and – despite the travel glitches (throwing away the high-priced sun screen that wasn’t allowed onboard and gussling down all the milk I’d packed for Lou, which was not allowed on board the plane either…), and the joys and stresses of puzzling out how to load all our baggage in a sedan (I wasn’t prepared for that!) and then how to actually start a vehicle that has no actual physical key (I have an old-school car at home) – we were fairly quickly underway.  A small convoy of vehicles led by my brother, heading for Uncle Drew’s and Auntie Roxy’s house in Mount Pearl.

Best souvenir ever of a first day in Newfoundland.  This is my family together.  From left:  cousin Shell, Auntie Roxy, Lou, Uncle Drew, Boo, and Mumma (me).

Best souvenir ever of a first day in Newfoundland. This is my family together. From left: Cousin Shell, Auntie Roxy, Lou, Uncle Drew, Boo, and Mumma (me).

First things first.  I have to say this:  I just flew my kids over half the country to see my kin and the land where I was born, and what are they most excited about?  My brother’s dog, Hendrix.  They are in love.

It's puppy love!

It’s puppy love!

Hendrix is a bit of a rescued pup.  He had a number of owners in a couple of years before being permanently adopted by Auntie Roxy.  He was a little reserved at first, and adheres very strictly to my brother’s several rules.  In fact, he is bordering on anxious (for a dog anyhow).  So I was thrilled on Thursday morning to be awoken by his “kisses”, with his large tail thumbing loudly against the hardwood floor of the bedroom.  Soon he was trying to climb over me to get to the kids for more playtime.

The kids are loving him!

Drew and Roxy are in the honeymoon phase with their new home.   They were still lovingly repainting walls and moving furniture as our plane touched down.  When we arrived home with Uncle Drew, we could quickly see that Auntie Roxy was exhausted.  Still she enthusiastically insisted that we could manage to spend the evening at Signal Hill.

The view from the top of  Signal Hill.

The view from the top of Signal Hill.

According to the Parks Canada website Signal Hill was the reception point of the first transatlantic wireless signal by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, as well as the site of harbour defences for St. John’s from the 18th century to the Second World War.   During the final battle of the Seven Years’ War, the hill was taken from 295 French troops assigned to its defense by 200 British forces led by Sir William Amherst.  It has played a strategic role in battles from the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War up to (more recently) World War II.

Cannons overlooking St. John's harbour.  The only entrance to St. John's by water, the harbour is a narrow, defensible channel, known by locals as "The Narrows."

Cannons overlooking St. John’s harbour. The only entrance to St. John’s by water, the harbour is a narrow, defensible channel known by locals as “The Narrows.”

To me, Signal Hill means a brisk walk, a stiff breeze, and a breath-taking view in all directions.  I had planned to journey up with my kids, by way of introduction to the province, perhaps the following day.  What I didn’t know, of course, is that the road to Signal Hill is now open to traffic all the way to the top, with a small parking lot up there for visitors to Cabot Tower.

We drove up.  We spent our very first Newfoundland evening at the top of Signal Hill, on Canada Day.  As the sun faded behind the city, fireworks lit up like artillery all around the region.  The fireworks at Quidi Vidi (not so far from Signal Hill, as the crow flies) started at 10PM.   Our whole crowd sat together on a couple of park benches, oohing and ahhing at the display and cuddling two tired, wind-swept kids.  If you’re ever in St. John’s on Canada Day, I highly recommend snagging a perch on Signal Hill to take in the show!  Be prepared for a long wait to get your car down the hill afterwards, though.  St. John’s wasn’t laid out with urban traffic flow in mind.  It took a long time to get past the stop sign at the bottom of the hill.

I didn't take this photo of fireworks.  Too bust dealing with a tired Lou and a whiney Boo, who wanted to clamber down over th rocks and stick his fingers in the Narrows.  Next time I'll bring a tripod (and a babysitter!).

Okay, so I didn’t take this photo of fireworks. Too busy dealing with a tired Lou and a whiney Boo, who wanted to clamber down over the rocks and stick his fingers in the Narrows or something. Anyhow, next time I’ll bring a tripod (and a babysitter).

While I’m talking about traffic, I also noticed several lights on Water Street on the flash cycle.  Local drivers don’t seem to know these should be treated as four-way stops.  The main drag was moving.  Drivers on side streets may be sitting there still – stop and let them in, won’t ya?

St. John’s is the hilliest city I’ve ever driven, with steep and endless paved mountain passes they call “streets”.  It reminds me of the famous San Francisco car chase in the movie “Bullet.”  Yes.  It’s really that hilly.  I was driving automatic with both feet on Wednesday as Shell and I took the kids for a walk downtown in my fancy rental vehicle.

We celebrated Wednesday by taking Boo (sporting a new black “pirate” T-shirt that says “Bad to the Bone.  Since 1949.  Newfoundland and Labrador”)  for local fish and chips at The Duke of Duckworth pub on McMurdo’s Lane.   McMurdo’s Lane is basically an alley between Water Street and the next street up, you walk up all the way on a quaint but steep concrete stairway.  Just getting there was an experience.

McMurdo Lane - this is me discovering St. John's is a picturesque as any city on Earth...

McMurdo’s Lane – this is me discovering St. John’s is as picturesque as any city on Earth…

While the children, of course, discover it's monkey bars...

This is the children, discovering it’s monkey bars…

Boo.  At the Duck of Duck.

Boo. At the Duke of Duck.

Boo's fish and chips.  At the Duke of Duck.

Boo’s fish and chips. At the Duke of Duck.

I’m a bit of  a Club Sandwich and Fries girl, myself.  But I have to admit that Boos’ fish and chips were better.  The sandwich wasn’t bad or anything, just the fish and chips were awfully good.  The (possibly artery clogging) fries were excellent.  Decadent and delicious.  And there’s one thing for sure when you order a club sandwich in Newfoundland:  somewhere in the kitchen there’s a large, freshly roasted turkey.  They’ll be cutting a generous slab off of ‘er for you.  :)

Club sandwich and fries at the Duke of Duckworth.

Club sandwich and fries at the Duke of Duckworth.

Communicating via Facebook comments before the trip, Shell and I had agreed that – if any icebergs remained – a sight-seeing tour of St. John’s harbour would be in order.  From our plane, I spotted one lone berg, lingering in the harbour.  Hope!

We had a late start Wednesday (by “late” we’re talking lunch at 3 o’clock), so I thought perhaps we’d just check out where the Pier with the tour boats was.  Maybe, at most, we’d get some reservations and plan for an earlier start the next day.

We arrived at Pier 6 at 4 PM and were just in time to see an Iceberg Quest boat getting ready to cast off only partially loaded.  Awesome!  This was the boat trip we’d been looking at online.  They were keen for more passengers aboard for the lightly booked trip and offered to take the kids (normally $28 each) for free.  “Never get a more beautiful day,”  the woman said.  “Not many days of the year you can sail round Cape Spear in your shirt sleeves.”

Shell made a quick call to Drew, filling him in on the change in our day plan, and off we went!  Suddenly `Spontaneous’ is our middle name.

Stay-tuned for the story of our trip to Cape Spear, an afternoon at Bowering Park, and leaving the city for Grandma’s in Glovertown.  We’re expected a visit from Tropical Storm Arthur, too.  We’ll keep you posted how we fare through that experience.

All for now,


With love, from Butterfly-On-The-Road.

With love, from Butterfly-On-The-Road.



Mr. Blabby-Mouth, Rex Murphy, and How I Can Learn a Lot From Kids (Plus Some Notes for Concert Go-ers)

Yesterday was the musical.  I may get over it.  Eventually.  We’ll see.

It wasn’t my best day ever.  Not even close, actually.

Some days, the pressure just builds and builds.

Some days, the pressure just builds and builds.

In the more than 35 years now since I started playing the piano I have learned a few things.  One of these things is that successful musicians and actors operate in a peculiar zone between touchy narcissism and the happily oblivious land of the extremely thick-skinned.

In fact – leaving aside the folks who got shang-hai’ed into it in the first place and sincerely really don’t want to be there –  I’d say there are 3 basic kinds of people in amateur threatre.  Of course… “You read it here first, folks!”

For starters, there are the Touchies.  These genuinely touchy people tend not to do well, particularly when it comes to working with others.  At the first hint of conflict or criticism they get upset, pack up, and go home.  Perfectionists are often very touchy people.  The extreme see-saw that takes them from self-satisfied conceit to zero self-confidence or self-esteem at warp factor 13 is likely to blame.   Ironically, being touchy is what keeps perfectionist types from getting as close to perfection as we can hope to reach under Earth-bound conditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Happily Oblivious tend to always think their performance was just great.   They tend not to obsess about perfection (maybe because they think they’ve already attained it).  They generally ignore suggestions for improvement.  I get kind of annoyed by Happily Oblivious people, but – on the other hand – I kind of envy them too.  They’re sleeping well at night.  Another upside is that they are often the kind of people you can count on to tell you that YOU were awesome too (even if you weren’t).  They tend not to make good theatre critics.

The sweet spot in between is the Pros.  These professional types think highly enough of themselves (are just conceited enough) that they’d like to give a perfect performance, but they rarely think so highly (or with so little reflection) that they believe they’ve actually given one.  Sure, criticism bothers them.  But they suck it up.  They reflect that the criticism hurts because there’s truth in there somewhere.  Then they work harder than ever on their corrections.  And they never let on that the feedback (or anyone’s “bedside manner,” for that matter) ever really bothered them.  They’re always ready to go again on the next cue.

It’s just the right amount of ego for being truly functional really.  Lucky ducks.

And there’s more.  Professionals wait well.  While directors go over the blocking for the next scene, they sit (or stand) nicely with their water bottles.  They pay attention.  They are looking in the right direction.  They are good at keeping quiet, staying hydrated, and waiting for their next cue.  While they wait they maybe go over their script or discreetly make some costume adjustments.   Occasionally they may be seen silently doing dance steps.  Or running on the spot.  Sometimes they eat that healthy snack they always seem to have remembered.

Actually, you can learn quite a lot about professionalism from watching the best actors or musicians in rehearsal.  Even when those “professionals” are children.  And – when you work with kids a lot (like I do) – you get good at picking out who’s got the Right Stuff from early on.   You can tell a lot from those kids.   You may (rightly) guess that they have their own great teachers, parents, coaches, or merely something special inside themselves that reminds them how to be professional.  And that they have just enough of an ego to care about doing well.  That’s a goal for themselves, not to be anybody’s monkey, by the way.  Turns out that personal motivation is critical too.

I worked with a large group of very professional kids this week.

I worked with a large group of very professional kids this week.

Anyway!  Those professional kids make me want to be more professional too.  Problem is, I’m still working on this.  Then again, if I thought I was done working on it I guess that might put me in the Happily Oblivious camp somehow, so – I suppose, after all I’ve just said – that being “still working on” even this aspect of being a theatre person is somehow okay.  Perhaps even the “working on being more professional” itself makes me a Professional?  Is this circular logic?  An existential dilemma, perhaps?  But I digress…

Yesterday was a super day.  And a horrible day.  I played two shows for a gaggle of school kids (a cast of approximately 250 first to sixth graders from my son’s school).  After the first show I was euphoric.  After the second show, I cried.

The truth is, both shows went about the same.  But my expectations for MYSELF went up a lot between show 1 and show 2.   And I didn’t gage myself as really improving at all.

Usually, as an accompanist, you have to follow one kid (usually one scratching away on their violin or maybe a warbly young singer).  You sit so you can see them well.  You cover up for their timing errors, jumping ahead a few bars if they fudge an entry here or there, and just generally try to make them sound “okay.”  You only have them to listen to.  Generally, you have one rehearsal, then the “thing” (usually a concert or exam).   Two rehearsals is a super luxury.  And, honestly, the bar  is fairly low for these sorts of performances.  Try to make sure you end at the same time.  Perhaps get in a few fairly synced crescendos and diminuendos.  Depending on the kid, really.  With some kids you can do more.  With others less.

That’s one kid.  I got 250.  In a dimly-lit auditorium that was packed with people.  It was hard to hear everybody.  Seeing the director (the “conductor” who should be able to “play us all as one big insturment,” as it were) was even tougher.  I think she had to step up her conducting style to “super incisive” to accomodate my mid-life visual needs.

Right before the show began, a family of three squooshed into the seats right in front of me“Is it okay if we sit here?”  the mother says.  I look around the crowded auditorium.  What can I say?

Now the father (?), in the corner (pressed tight against the wall), has his big feet on the keyboard stand as well as the bases of the two music stands that are holding up my binder.  Throughout the performance from time to time all the equipment quivers alarmingly.  And I am amazed how little this adult man clues in.

Even worse, this man looks exactly like Rex Murphy, from CBC radio’s Cross Country Check-Up.  In fact, I suspect he actually IS Rex Murphy from CBC radio’s Cross Country Check-Up.

For those who don't know, this is what Canadian media personality Rex Murphy actually looks like.

Canadian media personality Rex Murphy, for those who don’t know.

Let me see.  How can I put this?  Oh yeah – this is extremely disconcerting.

Rex Murphy is staring me in the face.  He’s uncomfortably close, his feet are on my stands, AND (even WORSE worse!) he is craning his goose neck to stare at my sheet music most alarmingly, almost as if he is expecting at any moment to have to step in and play for me.

This man doesn’t seem to get that all this is rather disturbing to me.  In fact, it’s downright off-putting to me.  Instead of gathering this – to the contrary –  this man now says to me “Anything I can do?  Help out with?  Positive energy?”  He literally says this.  A little too sincerely.

Vibes would be great,” I say simply.  Oh brother.


“Can I HELP you?” says Rex…

I hope he gets I mean “vibes” as in energy and doesn’t start to set up a rack of anything.  It’s already extremely cramped here.

And then the kids sing.  Ensembles sometimes at two (or three!) different speeds.  Soloists with tiny voices or who (even worse) sing way off key.  Gaggles of kids wearing cardboard bear ears trying to do the “grapevine” as they burble along to “Do the Walkie Talkie.”  And – every so often- a superstar.  A kid who’s  really GREAT, has wonderful timing, a clear strong voice, and good stage presence.

I wipe my sweaty palms, wondering why these places are always SO hot.  Hanging on for dear life, I just try to keep up (not screw up!).  Because of the crazy LECO lights beating down on us, I think my glasses are dirty too.  Even right after I’ve cleaned them.

Now I need to back up briefly and tell you another thing I’ve learned in over 35 years of playing the piano:  Some people have a little “friend” who lives in their head, looks out at the world through their eyes, and provides a steady running commentary throughout any kind of public performance.  A student of mine who suffered from this affliction named her friend “Mr. Blabby-Mouth.”

Here’s a little secret about me.  I suffer, at times, from a case of Mr. Blabby-Mouth myself.  MY Mr. Blabby-Mouth likes to sit behind my eyes and say helpful and encouraging things such as :

  • “Ooh – look how many PEOPLE are here.  Isn’t that a LOT of people?”
  • “I wonder who they all are.  I’ll bet a lot of ‘em are a lot more smart and talented than YOU are.”
  • “Hey!  Isn’t that ____?  She doesn’t LIKE you, you know.”
  • “Dare ya to make a mistake!”
  • “Just a little one.  And see how fast you recover.”
  • “Ooh, you’re doin’ good…”
  • “Psych!  Psych!”
  • “Look again how many PEOPLE…”
  • “Aww, too bad – you screwed up…”

I figured out a long time ago that Mr. Blabby-Mouth is best off left sedated in the corner.  Or maybe in the pocket of my other pants (the ones I left at home).  My former student liked to duct tape the mouth of her “friend” and lasso him to a chair.

The trouble is, it feels a lot like Rex Murphy sitting there is my Mr. Blabby-Mouth come to life and staring me, quite literally, in the face as I play.  It feels like he’s breathing down my neck, willing me to screw up.

Copyright: schristina / 123RF Stock Photo

“That’s MS. Blabby-Mouth to you. And I’m comin’ to get ya, Butterfly…”

I manage to get through the first couple of numbers somehow anyhow, and I’m starting to relax.  Then something goes wrong.

It’s hard to pinpoint how it starts.  But I think Rex finally gets to me.

It’s a Gilbert and Sullivan-esque number, with a solo becoming a duet, then a trio, and finally a quartet.  The whole piece, in “four four” time, is based cleverly around the idea of chopsticks.  All I have to do is play chopsticks.

I get the first bar wrong.  The little girl does her entry at a funny time.  And we’re off to the races.  Disaster.  I never completely recover the piece.

For the next number my job is to shake off the chopsticks thing and not let it get to me.  This is very important now or I could go to pieces for the duration.  I am starting to wonder how I got into this and if I shouldn’t have taken the gig.  After all, I was only looking for work starting after Lou starts JK.  We’re still months and months before.  And I feel rusty.  Not fabulous in the way I hope to be once I get some daytimes back.

“Shit, shit!  I am blowing this,”  I think.

That’s about the moment when Rex, who is still gawking at me, decides to helpfully speak up.  During the show.  Yes, he’s literally decided to speak to the accompanist during the show.

“Are you okay?”  he says.  That’s great.  Just great.  Who IS this guy?

“Sorry, are we dating?  I didn’t get the memo.”

I don’t say that, I just think it.  What I actually do is sit very straight, with my hands in my lap, and try to completely ignore this audience member from hell.  And here’s what I’m wishing I could do…

"Dude.  Just. Stop. STARING!"

“Dude. Just. Stop. STARING!”

So here’s my helpful tip for well-intentioned audience members.  Just mind your own business and watch the show.  Please.  Don’t pick a performer, helper, or accompanist to stare at if you’re sitting less than 3 feet away from that person.  You will make them uncomfortable.  Don’t offer to sub in.  You’re not an understudy.

And – for Heaven’s sake – please don’t talk to me during the performance.  Just don’t.

If you feel you MUST do SOMETHING, try SMILING.  I know it'll make ME feel better.

If you feel you MUST do SOMETHING, try SMILING. I know it’ll make ME feel better.

I do get through the rest of the musical.  Somehow.  A couple numbers (the jazzier ones) go great.  There’s a rap with the Big Bad Wolf that I love playing.

There was that “Walkie Talkie” thing with the bears.  Okay, that was bad.  But I wasn’t entirely to blame there.  Even though the director stopped the show there and made me start the piece over after telling the whole auditorium that my tempo was too slow (she had a microphone, so I’m pretty sure everyone heard.  She addressed herself to everyone anyway…).

I mentioned you need to have a thick skin to do amateur theatre, right?  Well.  I rest my case then.

Thing is, you can’t take it too personal when Mrs. B, the director,  is that, umm, direct with everyone.  It wasn’t personal.  And it WAS a school show, after all.  And I liked Mrs. B.  I kind of got where she was coming from, I guess.

But embarassing?  Well, yes.  But I have to suck it up.  I have all those amazing kids – troopers to a man (and tiny mouse-eared girl!) – to live up to.

Would I do it again?  Hell yeah.  Will they ask me to?  Only time will tell.

In the meantime, how can I mentally prepare students for any future “Rex Murphy” moments they might encounter?

I'm thinking of putting something like this on the wall at the studio, so we can ALL rehearse NOT being intimidated.  What do you think?

I’m thinking of putting something like this on the wall at the studio, so we can ALL rehearse NOT being intimidated. What do you think?

At least Boo was proud.   His class attended the first show today.  “I clapped hard because you were great, Mumma,”  he told me as he lay in bed tonight with his arm around my neck.  :)

Big shoes to fill.  A son’s admiration is a lot to live up to.  And certainly worth a little humble pie once in a while.  After all, I want him to grow up to be a very Professional Kid.  Hope Mrs. B asks me back again next time!

All for now,




Copyright: eric1513 / 123RF Stock Photo

The Mystery of the Disappearing Yellow Raincoat

It has been a rainy week in Ottawa.  All week-long I have been sending Booba – who often declines to wear it in the morning – to school with his yellow raincoat in his backpack.  Most days he doesn’t even take it out of his bag, but – if he’s caught in a sudden downpour – at least it’ll be there.

Yesterday was no exception.  I put yellow raincoat in bag in morning.  All day long my son did not wear yellow raincoat.  Afterschool we played in the park (inspite of the rain).  Suddenly it started to come down really hard.  I whipped out the coat I had packed for Lou and got it on her.   I put on my own raincoat.  I opened Boo’s bag and took out the yellow raincoat.

Hold everything a second.  There’s something… funny about this yellow raincoat.  It’s one of those “Mom” things you can’t explain.  This is exactly “his” gender-neutral raincoat, the same Mountain Equipment Co-op model, colour, and size.

But I somehow know this is not his MEC yellow size 6 raincoat.  It’s not dirty where his is dirty.  It is dirty where his is NOT dirty.  It’s just not his.

I grab the tag (remember, we are standing in the pouring rain all this time).  Inside Boo’s real raincoat I have written on the tag in my (very tidy) “lab lady” printing his first and last name and our phone number with fine point Sharpie.  This raincoat says only “Butt”  (not our last name), and a phone number I don’t recognise.

I make Boo put the raincoat on anyway.  It does fit (of course), we’re getting soaked.  and we have friends waiting for us to catch up who are wondering why I am standing frozen in the playground, staring at my son’s coat.

Copyright: nerthuz / 123RF Stock Photo

Many kids – both boys and girls – have exactly the same yellow raincoat as my son.

Internally, I am gritting my teeth.  This coat isn’t his and his isn’t anywhere to be seen in the playground.  No one’s standing there waiting to trade back.  But at least he has a raincoat, right?  And the other kid has for sure gone home wearing Boo’s, right?  Fair trade, right?

I could have called this post “On Morality and a Little Yellow Raincoat.”  Because apparently the set of assumptions above are what this whole issue boils down to.  If you find yourself in a situation like this do you

A) say “Well, at least we’ve still got a coat” and leave it at that, or

B) Call the number in the coat and give the other person back what is rightfully their’s.

At about this point in your thinking it will occur to you that, if this other person actually says they do NOT have your son’s coat, now you are on the hook to at least GIVE THEM THEIR’S BACK (after all, you have just owned up to having it), in which case you will now suddenly find yourself with no coat at all for your own child.  Which hardly seems fair considering that your child didn’t even wear his own coat all day and you have absolutely no idea how his coat managed to jump out of his bag while another child’s managed to jump in.

Then you think (hopefully) of the other child who now has – possibly, through no fault of their own – gone home with absolutely no raincoat.  While you have their’s.  Afterall, this raincoat is not yours.

Hopefully by this point you have picked up the phone and are dialling the Butts.  That’s what I found myself doing anyhow.

The phone rang several times and then a pleasant-sounding voice answered.  I explained who I was and the reason for my call as quickly and succinctly as possible.

“My son, Spencer, is in Miss W’s JK class.  He lost that raincoat OVER A MONTH AGO,”  the nice-sounding Mummy replies.  It’s the worse case scenario, this lady does not have my son’s raincoat.  There is no chance we are simply “trading back” then.

I reassure her that the raincoat will be dropped off at Miss W’s classroom for Spencer tomorrow morning (I have just, in fact, been at the school and done this.).  Tonight Spencer will have his raincoat back.

“I hope you find your son’s raincoat,” the mom says, which is nice of her.

“Oh, I’m sure I will,” I reply.  “Knowing A it’s probably lying on the floor next to his cubby somewhere.”

Today I checked the cubby area of Booba’s classroom.  There is no matching yellow raincoat to be seen.  Not in the cubby.  Not on the shelf or on the floor.  Not obviously amongst the possessions of any of his classmates either.

I visit the school’s “Lost and Found.”  I hate this place, a land of grubby hoodies and gritty water bottles cast into several moldy-looking cardboard boxes.  The whole area stinks like gym socks.  Too, all the lost items give off the bereft look of things that are groady, truly unwanted.

I am glad my son’s bright yellow coat isn’t here.  I washed it recently.  WIth a final shiver I leave the terrible land of stinky unwashed clothes.  On my way out I run into Gilda.

Gilda (pronounced “JIL-da”) is an ECE, a teaching assistant in my son’s classroom.  She’s awesome – adjectives like “helpful” and “understanding” do not even begin to describe her.  I love her and – even better – I can tell she loves (and “gets”) my son.  She’s been amazing all year long.

Quickly I tell Gilda my tale of raincoat woe.

“A LOT of kids have that same raincoat.  The yellow MEC one, right?”

“Yup.  Can you keep an eye out in case one of the other kids has one with A’s name written inside?  I’m sure it’s some sort of a mix-up.”

“Oh yeah.  Will do.  Hopefully it’ll turn up today.”

Gilda is on the case!  This reassures me.

The only problem is I am certain that whoever has my son’s raincoat now is the same person who also had Spencer’s for a month or more and didn’t notice (or didn’t care) that it wasn’t actually their own son’s or daughter’s.  They either don’t see at the tag, see the tag and don’t care, or don’t get as far as I did in the whole “Morality and a Little Yellow Raincoat” line of thinking.  And – meanwhile – their own child’s lost coat perhaps languished in the Lost and Found for some time before being mercifully donated to the Salvation Army.  Or the trash.

Copyright: rrraven / 123RF Stock Photo

Losing a yellow raincoat in Senior Kindergarten is basically the kid equivalent of losing a black umbrella on Bay Street. What are the chances the person who’s got MY child’s raincoat will notice and give it back?

Realizing this pisses me off.  It makes me feel like some kid LOST their raincoat, basically stole my son’s (after having first taken Spencer’s) identical one, and has parents that either don’t notice, don’t care, or actively encourage such behaviour.

“Why does all of this matter?” you may ask?  “You live in a nice house in a spiffy neighbourhood.  You have new landscaping.  You can “afford” to be a mostly-stay-at-home mom who writes a blog.  So you can afford to buy my kid a raincoat.”

I know, I know.  It’s not actually “You” you saying this.  You’d never say that to me, right?  (Btw, good luck raising a nice kid if you would.)  But maybe someone did say that, or think it anyway.  Someone’s child has my child’s raincoat.  Maybe someone thinks like this.  And don’t tell me I would do the same thing in their position.  ‘Cause I wouldn’t.  And – in fact – I just proved that.  Little Spencer still has a coat.

We took Spencer’s coat to school in a clean milk bag this morning.  It was raining cats and dogs outside as we walked (Murphy’s Law again, right? Rainy-est day of the year so far).  My son wore his green polar tech hoodie.  He doesn’t seem to own a raincoat anymore.

We go to Newfoundland in 2 weeks now.  Newfoundland where it was 8 degrees Celcius last week when it was 32 degrees here.  Newfoundland where it rains every other day.  Newfoundland where I’d already fully intended on my son wearing his perfectly good size 6 yellow MEC raincoat.  The same raincoat I’d also planned on handing down to Ollie after Lou got through with it in another year or two.

Even though the remainder of my 2014 household budget is already surprisingly low (what with paying off debts, purchasing multiple sets of airline tickets and all), Lou and I are on our way out to MEC right now to buy her brother a new raincoat.  After all, he really needs it.  Maybe I’ll get size 7 or 8 this time.  And maybe red.  Or green.  Anything but yellow.

All for now,




Over to all you folks, by the way!  What would YOU have done in the same situation?  Ever lost an item in mysterious circumstances and tried to guess what could have happened to it?  Ever had a long-lost item mysteriously show back up?  Tell me about times you played Good Samaritan (or were on the receiving end), or not,  and why.

Copyright: clairev / 123RF Stock Photo

Toasters and Mikeys and Wi-Fi-Linked Beasties and Things That Go “Beep!” in the Kitchen

Everything makes a noise nowadays, or so it seems.  From the dishwasher in the kitchen to the dryer in the basement, it feels like everything in our house has a message it desperately wants to talk (or beep!) at us.

  • Beep!  “You are now pressing a button!”
  • Beep!  “Please add Rinse Aid!”
  • Beep, beep, BEEP!!!  “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
  • Beep!  “Okay!”
  • Beep!  Beep!  “Cycle complete!”
  • Beep, click!  “You’re welcome.”

Personally I am a big fan of all this auditory feedback.   If I don’t hear a comforting beep or click every time I touch something in the house I seem to get a little confused lately.  My husband – the Boy Genius – on the other hand, simply can’t stand all this… sound.  Funny how it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

My husband's attitude about appliance-related noise pollution reminded me of this ancient Scottish prayer.

My husband’s attitude about appliance-related noise pollution reminds me of this ancient Scottish prayer.

Chatty appliances leave my husband itching to whip out his Watt meter.  No better excuse in the world to get all these electronics to “SHUT UP!” than to implicate those noises in our monthly battle with Ottawa Hydro.  With anything new that comes into our home,  you will soon find BG speculating about how much less energy it might use if only those stupid sounds were turned OFF.

And – soon after that – you will hear the sound of my beloved Boy Genius returning from a trip to the basement.  That heavy, jangling noise is him lugging up his two tonne toolbox.

You see,  my husband – who has yet even to erect the clothesline in our new backyard (“Go ahead and use the dryer, honey!”) – will still find time to take apart our microwave simply to dis-able the “beeping” sound it makes.  Oh!  And the light.   We don’t need that, either.

Copyright: rastudio / 123RF Stock Photo

While I enjoy the reassuring “Beep!” of a good appliance, my husband prefers the toaster be seen and not heard.

The result?  I now own a brand new microwave that is completely silent.  It doesn’t produce any comforting noises as you press in the cook time.  Nothing as you press “Start,” either.  The only noise is the sound of the microwave itself once it’s going  [Dis-concerting for me!  One day I put a BPA-free plastic bottle of milk in, thought I pressed 22 seconds, and walked away while the microwave blasted it for 2 minutes and 22 seconds...].   There’s no sound when the microwave’s done, either.   Many times I’ve left my coffee or Ovaltine in for ages after it was hot and come back and had to wipe the machine all over inside due to the condensation produced by `the hot drink that sat.’

Of course, you can absolutely FORGET trying the “Timer” function now.  Oh well!  Linear time is overrated.

What I suddenly realised through all of this was that I was absolutely dependant on all those noises to remind me what was going on around here.  The “Start” noises were my indicators of function.  The “Stop” noises pulled me away from my computer screen long enough to grab my coffee before it started raining inside the microwave.   And a noise when I was nowhere near the thing meant I’d better check what the kids were up to.  So now – without my noises – I am kind of hamstrung.

As for my husband?  While he’s still grumbling about not knowing where to put the clothesline (ergo our ginormous electricity bills of late), he remains ever-so-eager to completely dis-semble anything new that comes into our home.  Just so it will not beep.  Evidence of his destruction (in the form of wire-cutters, soldering iron, rags, and pots of goo) lies strewn across our dining room table.

Be careful of your kids' fingers if your better half leaves one of these lying about!

Be careful of your kids’ fingers if your better half leaves one of these lying about!

The lesson?  Any little unnecessary NOISE now disturbs my curmudgeonly fella.  And SMELLS?  Don’t even get me started!!  That’s a subject for a whole other blog.

Welcome to my better half’s fifth decade.  It’s hard to imagine what his reaction will be – in the, I’m sure, all-too-soon future – when our Wi-Fi enabled refrigerator now automatically re-orders items we are out of (after cross-referencing consumption rate and nutritional value, of course) and then prints them right out into our overflowing fridge using its built-in 3D printer.  I shudder to think of the mess he’ll make “fixing” this.. !

Maybe we'll go with that biopolymer gel fridge instead.  Btw, you can check this refrigerator out at http://www.yankodesign.com/2010/06/21/bio-robot-refrigerator/

Maybe we’ll go with that biopolymer gel fridge instead.   At least I’ll be able to SEE everything for a change!  Btw, you can check this refrigerator out at http://www.yankodesign.com/2010/06/21/bio-robot-refrigerator/

Meanwhile, I sit (legs curled underneath me in my favourite posture) in my overstuffed armchair in our study.  I am lovingly cradling my new Samsung Wi-Fi enabled camera, which beeps and sings with every keystroke.

“Can’t you turn those noises off?”  my husband growls  from his own chair in front of a nearby computer screen.  Then, “Don’t you know how fast they’re wearing your battery down?  Here, let me have a look!”  He turns in his seat.

Yikes!  Not again!!

I bolt from my chair and quickly head for the living room, still clutching my beloved toy.  “It’s okay, hon, I can do this somewhere else!”  I smile over my shoulder as I run away.