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Walked or stalked? February 29, 2012

Filed under: What's Up? — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 10:58 AM
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A grown woman peeing her pants in fear is the worst possible way to start the day, so let’s just say it was almost a very bad day. I was steps away from it being the worst day since toddlerhood.

I walked the dog yesterday – it was a mild, gorgeous day and we’d gone the long route. Something caught my eye  – a white-tailed deer perhaps? I’d had five of them cross my path the other night while I drove home and I wondered if this was one of the same.  But it was walking funny – something about it was un-deer like. Then I realised – it in fact was no deer – but a wolf. A massive, scary, stalking wolf.

Let the peeing of pants commence.

He was about 200 metres back from the road – which may take a minute or two to walk on human legs, but I figured it would only take about 24 seconds to a huge wild animal to run it. Especially towards a tasty breakfast of meaty ol’ girl and a side of canine companion.

My first instinct wasn’t fear – it was wonderment and awe. Other than the zoo, I’d never seen one that close. We get put to sleep many nights with the howls of coyote packs, but we don’t’ actually see them much. A few times in the car – which is, incidentally – the only other time I’ve seen a wolf in the wild – while driving in my car. It was just as mesmerizing, but far less scary protected by glass and steel. Once the amazement of seeing this creature so close wore off, I snapped into reality. What the hell would I do if it ran towards us?

We were downwind, which I guess is why he was walking away from us and not paying us any attention. Maalik, on the other hand, was sniffing the air like he was going to go nuts. When he finally spotted the wolf he stopped in his tracks (except his nostrils which now did triple time).

“Bad doggy. That’s a bad doggy out there, he’s bad, stay with mum. ” I used my best “don’t go there” voice and kept my eyes fixed on my dog – willing him to come to me instead of run out to the field to make a new friend. I had nothing to use to protect him or me. It’s bad enough I have all these stupid Easter Crème Egg extra pounds padding my body, now I have to have a big scarred face too? (that was the writer in me, taking things to the extreme which often happens in life and art for me).

Maalik got right in step with me and stayed next to my side. We had no choice but to walk towards home – houses are far apart out here, my neighbour’s house sits on almost 400 acres, so it’s not like I could run up the driveway and be safe faster than the wolf could get to us and tear our heads off. We had to push on past and hope he didn’t notice us.

That’s when he turned and stared us down. That’s also when an incontinence product would have come in very handy. I literally almost peed my pants – and for those of you literary watchdogs out there – I DO mean literally.

He kept his eyes trained on us for several minutes. He stood perfectly still watching us as we passed the house and the barn before turning and heading the other way. Both Maalik and I walked at a steady clip, but kept our heads turned back towards him as well. I was too afraid to look away and apparently, so was my dog. The same can’t be said for the farmer’s cattle – every single one of them had shuffled into the safety of the barn.

I was never so glad to get in from a walk on a beautifully warm winter day. I may never leave the house again. At least not without my Depends.


New dog, old trick February 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 4:18 PM
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Each week, I watch and listen as my kids take their music lesson with the fabulous Albert. I thought perhaps I’d pick it up myself just from watching. After all – I hear what they hear. I watch their finger placement and direction that he gives them, so why wouldn’t I pick it up too?

It doesn’t work that way – or at least not for me. It’s likely my ADD, although I can say with absolute certainty that many, many (and I’ll give it one more in case you didn’t understand the numbers I envisioned here) MANY musicians and artists do in fact have some form of mental illness. ADD, ADHD, OCD, depression…the list goes on and on. In fact, having some form of mental illness in the arts community just makes you more interesting. Adds that “quirky” factor. So maybe I can’t use my lack of concentration or focus on the teachings as an excuse for why I’m not learning a darn thing when I eavesdrop in on the lesson. But I can tell you this – when he starts to talk about frets and half notes, chords, timing, blah blah blah, it’s only the blah blah that I catch.

I’m immensely impressed with both of my children. They know something I don’t know and I find that amazing. Considering how shocked and amazed I am about it, I guess I’m a know it all, but it feels bizarre all the same.

When Albert rambles off rules or whatever you want to call them, he asks – “Does that make sence?” Yup, they reply. But in my mind, I keep thinking – they don’t know what he’s talking about. And that’s because I don’t know what he’s talking about. He lost me after the second blah. They’re bluffing. Telling him what he wants to hear. Full of bull ka-ka.

“Okay, so show me,” he’ll say. Or, “so, what would come next then?” And in that moment, I always feel a little sorry for them. Their cover is going to be blown. Egg on their face. I ready my sympathetic smile.

And as it happens, I end up with egg on my face, because they get it. Every time.  It’s like they’re speaking a different language that I didn’t teach them. Truly bizarre.

Last night, Lainey asked about the pedals at the bottom. She asked last week too, and at that time Albert had said he’d show her later. So she asked again this week. Albert pulled the lid (I know, music lovers are probably going to say “a baby grand doesn’t have a lid!”) But whatever. He takes off the lid and spends five or six minutes explaining how the pedals work with the keys and the strings. She is engrossed, takes it all in and then gets back to the lessons, curiosity satisfied. In the moment I thought to myself – she’s wasting his teaching time on this instead of practicing – but shame on me. She was learning. And to boot – Albert went five minutes past her lesson time in the end so she got her pretty little fingers worth of ivory time too.

Did I tell you how much I adore him?

The best part of last night – when Lainey played “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” on piano, he picked up the guitar and accompanied her. When Sam played Ringo’s Theme on the guitar, he accompanied on the piano. It sounded amazing and the kids beamed because it actually sounded like music. Good music. He also had them run through the songs they composed themselves because “he really loved those ones”. Which = kids beaming again.

The lessons may sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher – all blah blah blah to me, but it’s still music to my ears.


Gimme the white stuff… February 21, 2012

Just when we thought winter was over, the snow came down and created another white wonderland this weekend. Not that I mind. I enjoy the snow much more than the slush, and even though the wet mess that leads winter into spring is inevitable, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

Besides, everything looks far prettier white and billowy. It covers the leaves I didn’t rake in the fall, and the mess of twigs that my husband cut down from the pine tree but didn’t dispose of (great at starting jobs and using machinery, but the clean-up…not so much). Snow makes our place look like a postcard for a charming home sweet home rather than a DIY gone wrong advertisement.

Since we haven’t had the winter one might expect living up north, we haven’t done our share of snow activities either. The kids snowboarding – not once. The family snowmobiling – only William, and it was just around the property to see if the machines still had juice in them. We didn’t try snowshoeing which we’d hoped to do, or attend the winter carnival. We haven’t even had a skate around an outdoor rink or frozen pond. Somehow the winter escaped us and has left us feeling remorseful for not enjoying it more.

More snow also means I have that much longer before bathing suit season rolls around again. Summer – that blasted enemy of my addiction to all things sugar. Everyone, including me,  looks comfy in big bulky sweaters, but I look bulky and do not feel comfy in the itsty-bitsy-teeny-weenie-yellow-polka-dot-bikini department these days. So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  At least another month so I can right the wrongs that those damn easter creme eggs have done to my curves. Cadbury has somehow made me look like an easter creme egg. On legs of course.

So I know there are those of you who are calling for spring. I know you won’t be sad to see the last of the snow melt into slush, and that you welcome April showers and May mud. But as I sit here looking out across my front lawn at the newly fallen snow, I’m crossing my fingers for a few more weeks of the white stuff. You may think it’s to squeeze in those few almost-missed opportunities for family fun. You may think it’s to avoid the wet, damp days of the changing seasons. You’d be wrong. It’s just that I have a 3-pack of those damn eggs hidden in the cupboard with my name on it, and I need a bit of time to brave the sunshine and the lack of coverage it brings.

I may have a problem with my creme filled insides. I may need to seek professional help. Until I do though – I’ll just say – yum…gooey creme filling, surrounded in chocolate goodness. Cadbury, how I curse you so.


He hit a chord… February 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 8:54 AM
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My father got a guitar for Christmas when I was about nine. I only have a few snapshots of memory surrounding his guitar phase though, as it was a short-lived passion. I recall his over-the-top joy when he opened the guitar case. Months later, my sister and I stood in front of him waiting to be dazzled and amazed with the song he’d learned to surprise us.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!  S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the seventies – it was the Bay City Rollers  – my day’s version of a boy band. I remember being thrilled. My dad had that Donny Osmond look that women and girls alike went crazy for. As his daughter the swooning sort of attention he got used to drive me crazy, but in our living room as he serenaded us with what in the day was very cool stuff – well – I swooned a little myself. Guitar does have that impact on girls it seems.

My parents did a house overhaul recently and my dad decided that 35 years later it might be time to let the dusty guitar go (because even though it hadn’t been played in 33 of those years – you can’t throw out a perfectly good guitar). My son, who also demonstrates similar hoarding tendencies, claimed the guitar as his own. (My daughter claimed the 60-year-old accordion). We figured since the kids were tuned in to music, we would sign them up for lessons.

Finding a teacher is easy – you can google music lessons in your area and get a few dozen local teachers, probably hundreds if you live in the GTA. No problem. But finding a good teacher – that comes from word of mouth or luck. We don’t know anyone who takes private lessons up this way, so we had to go with luck alone. Lucky indeed – we hit the jackpot.

Enter Albert. I couldn’t have tailor-made a better teacher for my kids, though I wasn’t quite sure upon first meeting him. He’s young  – about 23 and lives with his parents. He’s a little odd – wears mis-matched socks and finger-less gloves and is about as off as most artists are. He’s a little shy – almost socially awkward, that is until he starts to teach. It’s true when they say people come alive with their passion. When he starts to teach and play music – he completely transforms and the interaction between him and the kids is moving and almost magical. The kids both love him – Sam says he feels like family, and I think it’s because it feels familiar and comfortable in the music room with Albert running the show.

Sam takes guitar, Lainey insisted on piano. Albert is equally adept at both instruments (though his preference is piano). The unique part of his teaching style is this – he treats them as fellow musicians in a jam session. He lets them write music. Most people who have taken lessons or have their kids enrolled tell me that they endure weeks of Mary had a Little Lamb and endless scales. That’s what I was expecting. Both the kids started the first week with Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, but by week two and three, they’d both written their own songs that they come away and practice each night. They compose the song in class and practice it as he plays along with them, the whole time saying things like – “yeah, that’s cool – it sounds awesome, right? ”

A few weeks ago, I watched my daughter wiggle and jiggle on the piano bench as she struggled to answer a question about a note or chord, and Albert waited patiently – he seemed almost oblivious to her anxiousness at getting the wrong answer. When she stayed silent for a long time – too long – he prompted her again.

“I don’t know.” she admitted.

“Take a guess.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Just guess then,” he said. “But if you get it wrong, there will be dire consequences.”

And the room broke out in laughter, and she took a guess, and sure enough she chose the right answer. And somehow in this, she lost her fear to make mistakes with him. It was mesmerizing to watch. The kids now take his “pop quiz” portion of the lesson as a fun challenge. Both of my born-to-a-perfectionist kids who don’t like to make mistakes, plunge right in devil-may-care. It’s quite delightful.

I sit in the music room and witness each of them take their 30 minutes to learn music with someone who is teaching them passion. It is almost overwhelming to see, and certainly heartwarming. My kids have found a passion, and so far, I have Albert to thank.  Bringing my kids to a teacher who insisted on repeating scales, or chastised a rendition of chopsticks, or was impatient with my son’s meticulous positioning of fingers on the strings – that teacher would have been sudden death to their interest in music. What a sad thing that would have been.

So, I’m grateful for many things, but today, I’m grateful for Albert – a teacher who just gets it, and who is making a difference.


BRRRRRRRRR….. February 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 11:48 AM
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I’m frozen. Somehow it’s sunny and warm outside but like an ice chest inside my normally lovely little farmhouse. My arms and legs are stiff and my fingers tingle each time I hit the keyboard. Even though I’m writing today in layers of fleece pajamas and an oversized robe, I’m still cold to the bone. I’m a human ice-pop.

We heat our place primarily through the wood stove and our last cord of wood was heavy and wet. It’s hard to tell when you’re loading it – heavy is good – dense wood burns long. And wet wood doesn’t always look wet. It looks just like dry wood. So how were we to know that we’d spend the next few weeks spreading the wood out around the wood stove in hopes of a dry hunk of wood to burn. My heart sinks a little every time I load another piece in and hear the sizzle.

Before you start feeling to sorry for me and start knitting mittens and slippers to send my way, I have to admit – we do have electric baseboard heating. We even use it when all else fails. But somehow I’ve gotten so cheap that I’d rather freeze my behind off than turn the baseboard on. I don’t know how it happened. I used to laugh at people who lived like that – stubbornly tossing on an extra sweater, or walking around with blue lips all for the sake of saving a buck. But it’s more than that – it’s the fact that with a wood stove plunked in the heart of a little farmhouse, you shouldn’t need the electric heat on. And yes, we have the energy efficient ones. It still is like burning money. Literally. And I can say that, because yes – you can picture me holding money over a flame and watching it burn. It makes me crazy, and I hold out as long as I can. I like to boast that we got through all of last winter and only turned them on once. We did have dry wood though.

Sometimes I have to wonder if it’s just me. After all, both my husband and daughter walk around in short sleeves all the time. They have boiling blood it seems, and always run hot. In the coldest of weather, you’d be hard pressed to find my daughter wearing socks or anything for that matter on her feet. And my son comes home from school and immediately strips down to his underwear. It’s a phenomena I don’t really understand, but from watching ABCs “The Middle” (which along with Modern Family  is my favourite family show to watch) I’ve come to realize it happens to be a thing some boys do, even in the dead of winter. So I walk around this house bundled in fleece and flannel and microfiber, and still – I freeze.

As I was writing this, feeling very sorry for myself I might add, I decided to walk over and check out the thermostat to see what kind of cold I was really dealing with today. Maybe I was just a total whiner and seeing a number would snap me out of my shivering self-pity. 16 degree Celsius, which for those of you who need a conversion is 60.8 degree Fahrenheit. Are you kidding me? That’s what my parents turn their heat down to when they go away for the winter so the pipes don’t freeze! And I’m sitting in this?

Screw it. The baseboards are a blaring.