Lose Weight Fast

Great title, don’t you think? As soon as I click “publish” and put this post on line, it will join the queue of between twenty and thirty million bits of internet trash devoted to the subject of unloading ugly fat. Just how many sites come up on Google will depend upon how fat you are. If you want to lose ten pounds, fast, you’ll get 1.6 million hits. Fifty pounds gets just under a a million. But, if you are so large that you need to lose a hundred pounds, Google has over twenty million ways to help you. It is heart-warming how much the cyber-community cares about its larger members.

North Americans are obsessed with losing weight. And eating. If you spend as much time as I do at the grocery store, you are aware that every one of the better periodicals has, in every issue, a diet promise on the cover. While we wait to pay for our cartload of calories, we can learn the diet secrets that have worked for the Kardashians, the Jennifers, the Octomom. Who doesn’t want some advice on healthy living from the Octomom?  And we can read of the heartbreaking serial fat relapses suffered by Kirstie Alley, Janet Jackson, the Kardashians. Like all of us slobs in the checkout line, the famous and fabulous struggle to stay buff and beach-ready.

Cruelly, all the other magazines are about food.

Most of the media anti flab blitz is aimed at women. Men aren’t as concerned about their weight. When a guy gets up in morning – just a little fatter than he was the morning before – he can look in the mirror, suck in his gut a bit, puff out the pecs, flex the biceps and be convinced that he looks just great. In fact, most guys can skip the gut-suck and muscle-flex steps and go straight into “Oh man, I am hot”.

I don’t know why women can’t do this – they’re so sensible in other ways.

Guys don’t weigh themselves very often. Scales are misleading. That number on the dial lacks context, can’t deliver nuance and simply fails to provide the whole story. When we do weigh ourselves, we do so with the comforting knowledge that our weight just naturally increases with age as we “settle in” and become more gravitationally attractive. It’s just physics.

Guys also know that “muscle weighs more than fat.” We’ll often say this out loud while standing on the scale.  We’re not getting fatter; we’re getting stronger.

Guys also often claim to “carry it well”. Has that phrase ever been uttered with respect to a heavy woman? “Oh yeah, she’s heavy, sure, but, because of her build, she can carry a lot of weight.”

Finally, in popular culture, big heavy guys, fat guys, can get hot women. Fred Flintstone has Wilma. Ralph Kramden has Alice. The King of Queens has the Queen of Queens, whatever their names were. Jack Black’s corpulent characters get Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet in Margot at the Wedding and The Holiday, respectively. Seth Rogen? That guy always does well. Being overweight and ordinary looking is, according to tv and movies, no barrier to romantic/sexual success. Hot women like, maybe even prefer, fat guys. Never the other way around, however. Yes, you’re right; that’s not fair. But the sting goes out of this sexist injustice when you realize it is just a fantasy – the persistent fantasy of all those chubby fellows who make the movies. In real life, fat guys do no better than fat gals. When you see a fat guy with a hot woman, you can be pretty sure he wasn’t fat when they met. [I should pause here to note that, while fat guys typically don’t get with hot girls, really unlikable assholes do disproportionately well – an issue that ought to concern us all.]

We fight fat like crazy. According to the U.S. Food and Drug administration, Americans spent about thirty billion dollars in 1992 on all types of diet programs and products. [Relevant Canadian figures couldn’t be found without more time and effort than I was willing to devote to finding them.] By 2007, that figure was fifty five billion dollars and is now estimated to have reached sixty billion.

Sixty Billion Dollars.


In one year.

With that kind of money, you could buy nine and a half billion pounds of bacon. Had that money in fact been used to buy bacon instead of diet products, I doubt the results would have been much different. Because, despite spending close to a trillion bucks on the War on Fat in the past twenty years, Americans have been growing steadily fatter.  As have Canadians. We’re not as fat, and we’re not likely to close the fat gap, but we’re growing along with them. About twenty four percent of Canadian adults are obese. That is ten percentage points behind the Americans, but hardly a figure to celebrate.

So, what does this have to do with me?

I have always been a “big” guy. Then I quit smoking and gained twenty five fat pounds in what seemed like a couple of weeks. I was being layered in lard that was, apparently, just floating in the air. I had become a fat magnet. Fortunately, I carried it well and I soon adjusted to the new, more substantial, me.  Then, I turned fifty and and began to get bigger. And bigger, until I finally came to rest at a frightingly high weight. I guess I’d reached a point where I just couldn’t get any fatter. This is, I believe, the definition of “ideal weight”.

But really, I was too fat. I needed to lose some weight. Not a lot maybe. Ten pounds. Fifteen would be great. I needed some motivation. I decided to keep a Fat Journal – something to record my thoughts and my hopes and dreams on the fat front. It started like this:

Ross is Too Fat

Last evening, I was getting dressed to go out. I put on my new jeans. I decided to tuck in my shirt  [to tuck or not to tuck is a vexing fashion issue for me]. I was uncomfortable. The waistband of my jeans wasn’t too small. It fit around my waist easily. But my fat spilled over it. I looked in the mirror. There was no adjustment I could make to how my jeans sat on my hips or how I tucked or untucked the shirt or how I stood that changed the look. I am a fat guy.

I’m about two hundred and forty four pounds. Six feet tall. This gives me a BMI of 33.1. According to the charts, this puts me well into the “obese” category, represented by urgent “high risk” red on the graph. Dangerously overweight. I could lose forty pounds and I’d still be “overweight”. The normal weight for a guy my height, according to this very depressing chart, is between one hundred and thirty seven pounds and one-eighty-five. I could lose a hundred pounds and still be a normal, healthy weight. That’s forty percent of me, gone, yet that’s a normal me. I think that if I were to have all the skin and fat and tissue boiled off my bones, those bones alone would give me a BMI in the normal range. I’m going to ignore the BMI. It’s obviously designed for small, hollow-boned creatures. Like birds.

None of my clothes fit right- but some don’t fit at all. Because I’m too fat. I’m going to have to start wearing sweats. No one wants to see that.

The other day, at the YMCA, I broke a machine. I was trudging along on one of those fancy step/glide/stride things whent the bolt holding on the left step sheared right off. Clunk. The thing slammed to the floor. I believe those machines are quite durable, but this one could not handle Big Ross. My weight has made me a danger to myself and others. I’m worried I’ll be sent involuntarily to a fat camp for reasons of public safety. 

I eat compulsively, all day long. For example, I go through hundreds of jujubes a week. I keep then in a drawer in the kitchen. I prefer the red and orange, but will eat yellow and green if I have to. Never black. Did you know that six jujubes gives me one hundred calories? For a long time, I thought they had no calories. They actually have quite a few. Cookies? I love cookies. I buy them for the kids, but eat most of them myself. As fast as I can. Same with cinamon buns – well, baked goods of any and all kinds. Chips. Chocolate. My home has become a high calory crack house – I only leave the house to get more junk. 

If someone were to describe me, that person would likely not use the word “fat”. “Oh yeah, I know Ross, he’s that fat guy.” No. “Big” is the word most often used. So very Big. I have a big frame. I also have a large, perhaps unusually large, head, which helps. I’d hate to think how freakish my head would look if the rest of me was of normal size. For me, obesity is an aesthetic advantage.

It went on like that for a while. Sounds like a guy on the verge of making big changes, right? No. It’s just a guy hating how fat he is. Eventually, I  stopped writing in that journal. It wasn’t taking the weight off. In fact, I got heavier.

I did stop buying jujubes. That was, for a long time, my sole weight loss strategy. It reminded me of my drinking days. I was concerned that I was drinking too much beer. So I started drinking rye. It worked very well. In no time, I had cut my beer consumption in half. Obviously I was able to replace those missing jujube calories. At least I didn’t have all those black jujubes laying around anymore.

Will power is a tricky thing. It doesn’t take any willpower for me to not have a cookie, but, having had one, it takes a great deal of willpower to not have a second one. By the time I’ve finished my twentieth cookie, numbers twenty one through forty are beyond my control.

I did nothing about my weight for the next three years, other than whine and bitch impotently and curse my weak character, poor genes and bad luck. I wallowed in my flabby misery and felt sorry for my fat self. It was almost three years after that journal entry that, finally, I actually started to do something about it.

If you want to lose weight, it’s best to start out with a lot of it. I feel bad for those people who are just a bit overweight – they have so little to lose. I was able to lose twenty pounds in one month. Very satisfying. It was only when I had lost thirty pounds that I realized, “Jesus, I was more than thirty pounds overweight. In the end, I lost over forty pounds. I’m glad I didn’t know when I started that I needed to lose that much weight. It might have been discouraging. I felt great. I looked like a different person. Well, not a different person, maybe – the same guy but with a much bigger head.

People who hadn’t seen me for a while were stunned at my appearance. Without thinking, they’d blurt out praise to me for all the weight I’d lost, then have to add that they never really thought I was fat. Right. Sorry folks, but guys who are not fat don’t lose forty pounds, unless they have a major limb amputated. What they meant to say was “Geez Ross, I never realized until right now just how really fat you were.” It might have hurt my feelings when I was fat to be called fat, but it doesn’t hurt my feelings now for people to recall how fat I was.

“So Ross.” you are asking, “How did you do it? After twenty years of being too fat, what did you do to lose all that weight?”

You’re kidding.

Read this over again. Recall that Americans spend sixty BILLION dollars a year in a failing effort to lose weight.

And you want my secret for free?

Forget it.

Okay. A hint: It involves eating less.


I suppose I didn’t set out to raise my three boys to be “men”. I wanted them to be adults, eventually, yes. And, because they are boys, then, as adults, they will be men, by definition. Look it up – www.dictionary.com. Type in “man” and there it is: “an adult male person”.

There are certain characteristics parents want their kids to develop as they mature – honesty, integrity, independence, empathy, a sense of duty, self respect, reverence for their father. I like to think that their mother and I provide a fairly consistent example of what it means to be an adult; what it means to be a man if you’re male.

But no. There is, in our culture, actually a gender-specific thing called Being A Man – an array of personal traits that are found in real MEN. It’s not enough to be an adult and a male person. That may make you a man. It does not make you A Man.

I don’t know how the dictionary.com definition could have missed it. “Man”: an adult male person who kills his own food; uses tools; drinks beer, rye, scotch or bourbon but never a gimlet; changes his own oil, tires and timing chains; owns his own tux; is aloof and distant and has a narrow emotional range which includes, really, only cool indifference and anger. A Man barbecues [meat], sharpens the knives, takes pride in the shine on his shoes, carries cash, carves the turkey, sits at the dining room table on the only chair that has arms, and owns a boatHe is interested in hearing your problems only if you’re interested in hearing solutions. A Man fears nothing, but has many enemies – wild animals, feminists, political correctness.  See: Clint Eastwood, Ernest Hemingway, God [Old Testament], Gordie Howe, Hillary Clinton and, especially, Chuck Norris.

That is really only a sample of the manly essentials, as you would know if you spent some time researching “how to be a man” on the internet, as I have. There are a lot of rules, the breach of any of  which will put one’s manhood in doubt. There’s also a certain paranoia at play, an awareness of an external threat to the full enjoyment of total manliness.That would be women, of course, who have it in for men – especially the feminists, who won’t stop till men are breastfeeding and having hot flashes. The Manhood concept, then, is somewhat misogynistic. It is also deeply homophobic. In other words, men are wary of anyone who might have sex with them. But, paradoxically, in addition to being homophobic, it is also wildly homo-erotic. Real men are happiest with other men. Manly activity often involves, oh, let’s call it “rough-housing” and frequently includes group showering and hanging around in our underwear in places women aren’t allowed. The manhood concept is also more than a little auto-erotic. Men love being alone and, when alone, prefer to sit around without their pants on.

My three boys haven’t done the research I have done, but have a very firm idea of what it means to be a Man. For them, a Man is a composite being, a collection of characteristics pulled from Ultimate Fighting, professional football, gangster movies,  rap music videos, Don Cherry [what he says, not how he dresses], Jackass and video games. The resulting Man is tough and mean and violent, juiced up and muscular. And pissed off, always pissed off. This image combines with the more traditional Real Man concept to produce a creature that does not in the least resemble the only person in their household claiming to be a man. That would be me. I possess none of the attributes my boys see as essential to manhood and, in fact, possess a great number of characteristics that are scorned by real men.

A man is supposed to be serious. A man is not supposed to be making stupid jokes all the time.  A man certainly shouldn’t be making self-deprecating jokes [or self-defecating jokes, as I like to call them. Yet another example of my lack of manly seriousness]. Humour is fine, but jokes should have a victim and should be used only in aid of sibling torment. This is sometimes called bullying – a fact of life, the only remedy for which is to “man up”.

A man is supposed to teach his sons about about huntin’ ‘n’ fishin’ [and it must be pronounced just that way]. I have three problems with huntin’ ‘n’ fishin': firearms, sharp barbed hooks and dead things. The first two things are safety issues – my boys use humour to harm each other, god forbid they get their hands on guns and hooks. As for the dead things, this should be obvious. Once you’ve killed it, the fun is over. Gutting, skinning, plucking, filleting? Please.

I helped them with their piano practicing. Cleaner, safer. But not manly.

A man loves his car. I love my minivans. I especially love my very old minivan, a seventeen year old MPV that I haven’t washed, fixed or maintained in about ten years. Son #2 [not his real name] commented when I was driving him to school one day, “Dad, this thing is a piece of shit. A man should have a ‘choice’ car.” Yes, a man’s vehicle says something about him. Mine says, “I have kids and I run errands.”

Power tools. My father gave me a skill saw for Christmas a few years ago. Yes, a spinning, jagged wheel of death, loud enough to conceal the screams of the new amputee.  I will take it out of hiding when the boys are safely living in other cities. I have a normal male fascination with tools, especially power tools, but try to avoid having them in the house. Same with loaded firearms, crossbows, samurai swords, explosives or anything hard and heavy and small enough to throw. It’s the logical extension of baby-proofing the house.

Competitive sports – competition generally – is Very Manly, very primal. Triumph or defeat. The victor and the vanquished.  My boys have all played sports and we enjoy going to games. My eldest, Number One, took me aside in the gym one night and said “You can’t come to my games if you and Mom are going to do that ‘clap for both teams’ shit. NO ONE does that.” Yes, his mother and I appreciate a good play, whichever team makes it.  I suppose I was aware our conduct was unusual. Sports entails some contrived vilification, some “us – them” enmity that is manufactured deep within, where man-instincts reside. The fact that I can’t call it up without a reprimand is shameful.

My boys imagine themselves to be good fighters. The ability to deliver and to take a punch when necessary to defend one’s self and one’s honour is another item on the menu of manly virtues. Whenever my eldest would come home after a fight, I’d first fuss about whether he was hurt [of course not], then about whether he’d hurt the other guy [well, yeah, duh], then I’d deliver an anti-fighting lecture, thus removing any doubt that might have existed that I am anything other than a big weenie man with weenie man values. On one particular occasion, Number One had heard enough of this gender-traitorous talk.  “Most fathers,” he sputtered, “would be proud that their sons were tough. They’d wanna hear about how their sons kicked someone’s ass.”

I told him I’d never been in a fight, not even as a kid. Fighting, I explained, even when you win, involves getting hit. And hurt. Who wants that? Why bother?

Why bother? Why bother? Because fighting is what men do. O B V I O U S L Y.

My faint hearted, cowardly, conflict-avoiding advice for navigating the perils of  guyworld, is always met with disbelief, then frustration. At one point, during one of our Man-to-Not-Really-a-Man talks, Number One buried his face in his hands and lamented, “It’s like I’m being raised by a lesbian couple”, obviously not recognizing just how very hip that would be.

Years ago, I had Number Three and his best buddy Joe Nothisrealname out in the minivan on the way to do a bit of grocery shopping. The boys were sitting in the back, of course, to avoid death by airbag, and were chanting at me to change the music to something like rock or rap. I had on Jennifer Warnes’ great old disc “Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection of the songs of Leonard Cohen. They sensed its withering effect on their genitals and demanded a change. I resisted. “This is a great album,” I told them. I put on my favourite track “Song of Bernadette” – a song about regret and guilt and forgiveness. I was sure it would get to them. “Listen to this one carefully,” I said, “I guarantee it will make you cry.” [Perhaps I was over reaching? Still, worth a try.] They listened, unmoved. After we finished the shopping, we were back in the car, the song was still on. Joe said “Ross, I don’t get it. What’s so sad about this song?” I guess he was expecting the song would describe the violent death of a loved one or a pet, two things worth crying about.

“It’s not sad,” I said. “It’s touching.”

It was quiet in the minivan for a couple of moments, then Number Three piped up from the back, “Oh Dad, you are such a girl.”

Recently, I joined the church choir – which resulted in a chorus of horror from the boys. I told them I loved singing in a choir and was looking forward to it. This only deepened their sense of betrayal. I came home from my first choir practice and was met by a hand scrawled sign taped to the back door: “Choir. Dad. Really?”

Disrespectful? Of course. But the sign demonstrated remarkable clarity and economy, I thought. I was quietly proud.

The only movies I have seen in the last twenty-three years have been chick flicks. Wife Number Two [not her real name] loves rom coms. She also likes anything with subtitles, which she strongly believes will make me smarter and less coarse. To round out our movie fare, she also enjoys those English things, with tortured female lead characters and a lot of repressed sexual energy and elaborate costumes. The boys will be in the basement watching Russell Crowe severing limbs artfully and I’ll be upstairs with my love watching Love, Actually or anything else with Hugh Grant in it, or Colin Firth, Dylan McDermott or Dermott Mulroney, assuming they are not all the same person.

Maintaining a manly image in the eyes of one’s children requires a certain distance, something a stay-at-home Dad simply can’t manage. I’m too accessible, too familiar, and my role involves too many domestic duties and too much service to others. When twelve year old Number Three Boy was told that his father would be leaving his job to stay at home, he took his mother aside. “Won’t Dad feel emasculated,” he asked, “with his wife bringing home the bacon?” I’m surprised he didn’t ask who would now wear the pants in the family. Here’s a kid who can’t remember a time  when there weren’t iPods, but can readily call up attitudes from the 1950s.

Being a Man, it seems to me, is just another version of being “cool”, which I could also never carry off with any grace. Both cool and manly have strict, though utterly arbitrary, rules for demeanor and behaviour, the acceptable expression of emotions and the nature of relationships.

I have a story of my problems with cool that reflects the extreme non-fit-in-edness that also hampers my manliness.

When I was in the middle of grade nine, my Dad was transferred to Swift Current. I was enrolled in a “junior high”. I wonder about the thinking behind putting grades seven eight and nine in one building. Was it just to quarantine the kids undergoing the most toxic stage of personal development, so they wouldn’t infect the rest of the school system?

Grade nine kids in junior high have no perspective. They have a wildly inaccurate view of their status, their maturity, their worldliness. They have no humility. And they’re nasty. They’re obsessed with what is cool, though more focused on what is NOT cool.  Because my family moved around a lot [my Dad was a banker] I had a pretty good idea that cool was completely site-specific. There was no Platonic “form” of “the cool”. Plato would have hated junior high.

So, here I was, the new kid. And, in keeping with the normal drill, I was tried on by various groups of kids – obviously starting with the outcasts, who quickly rejected me and felt good doing so. Then, because I sat behind a member of the Very Cool Group in home room, and he thought I was a nice guy, I was given a tryout with the ‘A’ team. Major opportunity. Cool guys, good lookin’ girls, top of the junior high heap.

A couple of weeks into my probation period, we were hanging out in Mary’s family room. Being cool involves a lot of hanging out. Mary’s mother looked in on us and recognized me as a boy she’d seen at the music festival the week before. She suggested that I should play something.

At this point, there was supposed to be a little teen-aged angel on my shoulder, warning me of the importance of the decision I was about to make. I had no angel. I was on my own. Sure, I’ll play something. I sat at the piano and, with a room full of very cool teenagers staring in wonder, I committed social suicide. My mode of self-immolation on that particular occasion was a Chopin Prelude, “The Raindrop Prelude”. I love that piece. I played it very well, I thought. Mary’s mother was pleased. My new friends were stunned into silence. That was the end of my time with them. Chopin had written my swan song.

I told this story to Number Three as he approached his teens, intending that it would demonstrate the arbitrary nature of adolescent rules of conduct and and the importance of just being yourself. What could be more cool than that? So wise, I thought. Number Three knew better. He quickly told the others, who joined in his disbelief that anyone could be so out of touch with reality.

And that’s it, you know. My lack of manliness isn’t the result of weakness of character, lack of testosterone or gender confusion. Nor does it come from any strong sense of independence, a defiance of a societal-imposed norms, a determination to rise above it all.

It’s just that I don’t have a clue.

The Arts Section

I have a friend, Lori, who is a singer and a songwriter, among many other things. She recorded a CD this spring. Just after the CD was released, Lori was over for coffee and asked if I’d write a review of it. I can never say No directly to anyone, and certainly not Lori, so I said, “Yes, of course Lori, I would love to write a review of this CD, though I’ve never written a music review in my life and have no idea how to write one and, because we’re close friends, it really can’t be an objective assessment of the CD – so any review I would write, if I even could write one, would be virtually useless and no one anywhere would ever publish it.”

That’s what I said. What she heard was “Yes, of course Lori, I’d love to.”

And so I did. It hasn’t been published anywhere. This is why writers start blogs.

Let me reiterate, I can’t do a real review of this CD.  First, I’m not a musician or a music critic. If this were a review, it would be my first. And perhaps my last. Second, as noted, Lori is a friend. A good friend. I’m not sure good friends should write CD reviews for good friends. However, I’m a reasonably honest guy, if not objective, and I am  fairly musical, though no expert. So, I wrote a piece here about my friend’s CD and what I think about it. This may surprise you, but I liked it quite a bit.

Here it goes.

God grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

and Wisdom to know the difference…

Even those not currently engaged in a twelve-step program are familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is everywhere. On fridge magnets, coffee cups, medallions, greeting cards, posters. It is usually printed in heavenly cursive script and surrounded by some really awesome natural beauty – a sunset, a mountain, a large cloud. It often looks like one of those corporate “motivational” posters you see hanging on office walls and cubical dividers, encouraging personal growth through the pursuit of the goals of the employer’s strategic plan: Perseverance, Courage, Teamwork, Success, Achievement, Unpaid Overtime, Whatever.

But the Serenity Prayer, on its own, is inspirational and, unlike the motivational posters, it is not bullshit. It is cleverly expressed, poetic and economical. For recovering alcoholics and addicts and those who love them, it holds a central, hopeful place. The Prayer identifies the vexing dichotomy – the division of all the troubles in our lives into “the things I cannot change,” and “the things I can”. All we need is the secret of sorting one from the other and we’re away. Okay, not all simple truths are easy.

Of course, in our maniacally self-helpful society – emphatically displayed on the covers of magazines at the grocery checkout – we overload the “things I can” side of the ledger. Don’t be accepting things as they are. No way. That’s so powerless and pitiful. Accept being a loser? Are you kidding? You can change anything; and you should start by losing a few pounds, Lardass. In our new hypercompetent, have-it-all, control-freakish world, we have a necessary addendum to the Prayer: “But, God, I mean, really, just grant me the POWER to change anything and everything that needs changing.” That, of course, is a recipe for failure and frustration – and much worse. Alcoholism can’t be  defeated. Addictions can’t be controlled. That’s why we call them addictions. And you can’t change – can’t cure – your alcoholic or addicted loved one. The “recovery movement” is very big on the somewhat surprising notion that you change your life by finally accepting those things that you can’t change – by recognizing the limits of your power. The Serenity Prayer makes that point with simple elegance.

Recognizing and accepting the limits to our power – indeed our powerlessness – is the first step, the essential step. The end of denial and beginning of honesty. Acceptance of powerlessness is, paradoxically, empowering. Liberating. When you “get it” there’s a tremendous sense of discovery and a hope of recovery. Great news. We should be singing and dancing. Right?

Well, no. The SP is usually monotoned lifelessly, the flat mantra that concludes meetings. Despite it’s central place, it is rotely recited like an ecumenical Lord’s Prayer. And, it doesn’t get sung very much. You Tube has some samples. It’s like going to a church supply store. The renditions are dull, maudlin, pious. It’s either styled like an old time country gospel twang or it is laid on heavily, new-age and synthesizer-infused. In either case, it is accompanied by the ubiquitous sunset on the mountain, suitable for reproduction on a coffee mug. What is it about this Prayer that makes us so tacky?[editor’s note: I thought this was a CD review?]

Into this solemn syrup steps the gravelroadsongstress – Lori Erhardt – a prairie preacher from soggy south east Saskatchewan. The Reverend and her band, “Homemade Jam” treat this Prayer like the celebration of liberation that it is, or ought to be. In her newly-released CD “Opening Time!”, Lori gives us what sounds like a Jewish hora, starting slow, picking up speed and intensity with each repetition of the prayer, over and over and faster and faster until she and the band collapse laughing. Finally, a Serenity Prayer with some guts. “God grant me the guts,” – the unspoken premise of the whole thing.

The Serenity Prayer isn’t even my favourite song on the album, though it is the most ear-wormish.  “Beyond Oblivion” describes the pain of standing by and watching while someone spirals into addiction: “It hurts me to know you …”. It is a rich piece, musically and lyrically, and shows remarkable depth and intelligence [for those of us deep and intelligent enough to notice] Unike so many laments about self destruction, this piece doesn’t offer resolution or hope because, in fact, there may be none. Nor is this just a hurtin’ song. As a loving bystander, you let go, care for yourself. You maintain that love and connection but try hard not to get drawn into the spiral. You’ll be there when the loved one pulls out. Yes, it is just that easy. Easy to say. In fact, it is the most wrenching, difficult thing imaginable, and something millions of people touched by addicts struggle with every day. It’s a world of no easy choices, where doing the right thing just seems wrong. Lori gets it and delivers it with grace and beauty.

That’s it for the dark world of addictions and recovery on this album. The rest is upbeat, joyous, spirited and spiritual. Especially worth a listen is “As if We knew How”, a song that shows off two other voices of Homemade Jam: Leora Joy Godden, Lori’s daughter, a professional musician and actor in her own right; and David Morton, who plays guitars, piano and bass on the album. Both have vocal solos in this piece. If you can sing like this; you must sing. All the time.

Ross Nykiforuk, along with David, was the technical soul behind the project and also adds some keyboards and saxophone. Glenn Enns, the drummer, and the other half of glennross studios in Saskatoon, rounds out the group.

Lori wrote the music for all the songs on the album and the words for all but three songs. On those three, she worked with her frequent collaborator, John Wesley Oldham. John is a former minister, a long time obsessive wordplayer, hymn-writer and full time thinker and tinkerer. His lyrics, like everything he writes, emerge from deep within his theology, yet remain fresh and playful. You feel like a participant in the meaning of his message. He draws out of you as much as you draw out of the words.

This music is difficult to categorize. Lori gravelroadsongstress does actually live down a gravel road. When she sings “the weather’s bad, the crops are sad and we are feelin’ like hell”, it comes from personal experience. She’s partnered with a farmer. She is rural. She’s also dramatic and effusive and affectionate and passionate and fun. And the music is all of those things. So, that’s how I’d categorize it, which is why you may not see this CD at HMV, because they don’t have a Rural Dramatic Effusive Affectionate Passionate and Fun Section – something you might raise with them.

Lori completed work on and recorded these songs on “Opening Time!” while on a nine month leave of absence she fondly named her “singing sabbatical”. It was time well spent.

That’s it. That’s my effort at a CD review. If I had a day job, I wouldn’t be quitting it.



Lori tells me there are a number of ways to get this album. It is available on iTunes. You can get it at Sunset United Church in Regina, and all the money goes to the M&S fund. Or cdbaby.com, Bach and Beyond in Regina, McNally Robinson in Saskatoon, Coffee Comfort in Estevan, Calling Lakes Centre near Fort Qu-Appelle, or St. Andrew’s College on the University of Saskatchewan Campus. Proceeds go to a variety of causes, other than the one mentioned, though Lori has told me that some of the money has to go to pay the cost of recording the CD, which seems reasonable, I guess.

A Couple of Cold Ones

The year that sons numbers two and three were in grades eight and five – respectively [yes, thankfully, none of my sons has passed an older brother in school] – we had a new principal at our school.  My introduction to the new principal came the afternoon of the very first day. She called me at work. Second Son [not his real name] and his associates had been tossing a few grade fives around the playground. Our sons have different last names, so she perhaps wasn’t aware that this was, essentially, a family matter with some unavoidable collateral damage.

“Oh yes,” I said, “Number Two is a bad kid.” 

I thought she’d find my approach refreshing – a welcome change from the parental rationalizations, excuses, denials and evasions that are, I’m sure, the daily diet of school administrators. 

 “Oh no,” she assured me, “He’s not a bad kid. He’s just making some bad choices.”

“Ah. I think you’ll find that those are the kinds of choices he really likes to make.”

I told her she could be confident that Number Two [not his real name] would be dealt with harshly. I’m sure he was, though I don’t recall exactly what we did. It was a while ago. Whatever, it had no noticeable effect, which disappointed but did not surprise us. We’re not ineffective parents; we just make ineffective choices.

About a month later, I was at my desk at work when the phone rang. It was Madam Principal.

“Did you know, ” she asked, “that the grade eight boys, including your Number Two, are kicking each other in the private parts?”


“Yes. The boys are allowing each other to kick them, in order to prove their manhood or something,” she explained.

“It suggests to me that they haven’t yet reached manhood.”

I thought of explaining that remark – how much more it hurts to get kicked in the spools after they have become nominally functional – but thought better of it. Aside from the awkwardness of even talking about blows below the belt with her,  we would no doubt have become mired in the traditional debate about the relative intensity of the pain of injured man-jewels versus the pain of childbirth. As far as I know, that controversy has never been resolved.

She went on to tell me that an alarming number of the grade eight boys had been coming to The Office asking for icepacks to pack on their packages while they sat in class. This conversation wasn’t getting any more comfortable for me. The boys claimed that the ice soothed them where they ached. What could be more more soothing, I wondered, than iced testicles. [“Testcicles,” I thought to myself. That’s funny.]  Anyway, it was upon the fifth or sixth ice-pack request that Madam Principal began to question the packers and she learned that the boys were actually voluntarily submitting to these sackings.

We called it “flashing” in my day, though I decided Madam Principal didn’t need the benefit of my personal experience on this one. Sometime in early adolescence, boys discover an acute vulnerability that all boys have in common and, quite naturally, they exploit it for fun. And what fun! It can easily get out of control.  As we get older, however, the personal cost of this great fun becomes obvious even to guys and so men enter into an unspoken covenant that we will not kick each other in the nards for fun. By age fifty, it is very rare. [Of course, if even one of us were to breach the covenenant, who knows? It’s a fragile peace.] But, this business of willingly offering up the groin to the boot is an odd gloss to the old tradition. My recollection of the olds days is that we excercised considerable vigilance to avoid being the flashee. It hurts like hell. Maybe not as much as childbirth. But a lot.   

Madam Principal had been told by one of her cold-crotched charges that this “Go ahead. Make my day” phenomenon had come from Jackass, the television program and movie about very cool guys who do crazy dangerous things and hurt themselves for personal fulfillment and to entertain others. Our boys were failing to heed the “don’t try this at home” caution. This explanation made weird sense. Boys don’t always choose the role models we would choose for them. 

Madam Principal asked for my support and assistance in eradicating this practice.

“I don’t know. If being kicked in the nuts doesn’t convince them that this is a bad idea … I’m not sure anything I can say will be any more persuasive.”

“Good point.”

I assured her I would do my best. As I always do. 

I hung up the phone and got back to work. I was the provincial government’s human rights lawyer at the time. Coincidentally, the phone call had interrupted my work on a particular human rights file. A father complained that the Department of Education had been discriminating against boys by failing to adopt policies to address the underperformance of boys in school. For many years, according to this fellow, boys’ performance had been declining and they had been overtaken academically by their female classmates. Girls were doing better than ever. It’s an issue that is not unique to Saskatchewan. Across North America, boys are falling behind.

Well, I wonder why? Girls don’t face the barriers to academic success that beset boys. Girls read, study, do their assignments. Boys kick each other in the nuts. Girls sit quietly in class, pay attention. Boys sit in class with ice on their gonads. Who can concentrate with frozen testes? Frozen or not, for purposes of academic performance, perhaps it’s best not to have them at all. 

I raised the Jackass nutcracking thing with Number Two that evening. While he confirmed that everybody was kicking everybody else in “the boys”, he told me that no one was voluntarily taking one to the groin. “That’s just stupid,” he told me impatiently, as if to suggest that it was therefore out of the question. He had no idea where the Jackass story came from. I suspect that those who came to The Office, asking for ice to numb their nads, did not want to rat out the perpretrator and so had to come up with some reasonable, non-culpable explanation for their distressing condition. Like kicking one another in the nuts, never ratting out anyone is unique to boys – more than that, however, it is a universal guy imperative – part of the Code – what separates us from the animals. Or something. 

“Why are you kicking guys in the balls?” I asked.

“If somebody kicks me in the nuts, I’m gonna kick him back.” 

“Well, you know Number Two, if you kick someone back, he’ll kick you again. It’s not going to matter that you were just paying him back.” I explained that people who have just been kicked in the nuts don’t have a rational sense of justice. Retaliation leads inevitably to escalation.  So. While forbearing from sacking others does not guarantee that you won’t be victimized, it is the only strategy available for minimizing one’s nut pain.

“That makes sense,” he said. 

Free At Last

“This vote is a fundamental choice between shackling farmers or freeing them.” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, referring to the Parliamentary vote on the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.

“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains” Jean-Jacques Rousseau – yes, but he left it for Gerry to actually do something about it

“… you have nothing to lose but your chains” Karl Marx – pretty obvious what he was talking about

“Freedom’s just another word for selling to Viterra Inc.” Kris Kristopherson – from his original draft of Me and Bobby McGee. It didn’t fit the rhyme scheme, unfortunately, and was subsequently changed to something quite a bit less positive and hopeful for freedom-loving prairie farmers.

 “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire State motto. New Hampshire doesn’t have a Wheat Board. Duh.

Until now, I really have had no desire to grow wheat. Why? Because I would have to sell to the Canadian Wheat Board. That’s not freedom.

I’ve travelled across these vast, windswept prairies at harvest time and I have seen those sad, pitiable farmers, shackled to their tractors, traveling in ever smaller circles out on their wheat fields, their radios tuned to the state broadcasting system. I’ve seen them lifelessly delivering their crops of wheat and barley to the grim faced, sharply uniformed functionaries at the the CWB. I’ve seen them driving to town, anxiously checking their mailboxes, hoping to receive a cheque – in an amount determined by their oppressors, pursuant to some arbitrarily calculated average of the “world price”. Small compensation for the loss of their precious liberty. Yes, they provide for their families – but at what cost?

What if they refused? What if they asserted their God-given, but Government-denied, right to take their wheat and barley to the marketplace and sell it themselves at a lower price to the highest bidder like the free men and women they long to be? Well, those self-respecting, freedom-loving farmers would be tossed in jail along with all the law-abiding gun owners. The iron fist of the nanny State would crush them.

Dark times indeed. 

But out of this darkness…will the light of Liberation finally shine? Oh yes. After years of humiliating oppression at the hands of jack-booted, rat faced CWB terrorists, Gerry Ritz stood up for our downtrodden prairie heroes and said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall and Let Freedom ring,” or something to that effect. Bolstered by his sense of destiny and Godly mission and buttressed by the strong mandate of a majority government – that flush of democratic legitimacy that can only come from the overwhelming support of almost 40% of the 61% of eligible voters who cast ballots in the 2011 election – Gerry Freedom has slain the oppressors and cast aside the chains of We-Know-What’s-Best-for-You-ism that have prevented farmers from dealing directly with Cargill. No more of that “average world price” nonsense. We prefer the free market, thanks.   

No more will Prairie farmers be enslaved to the Freedom-Hating Commie Wheat Monopoly. No. They will be free to choose to whom they will be enslaved – like, say, a multinational corporation. Preferably a big one.

The End


Okay, that was a bit of a departure. I just wanted to show that, in addition to stupid little jokes and sweet little swearing kid stories, I am capable of hard hitting political commentary, with an edge. I yearn to be taken seriously.

Of course, I don’t really know what I’m talking about if I stray too far from my own personal experience. And, I don’t get out of the house much. More specifically, agriculture policy, the apparent subject matter of this post, is well beyond me and not something I’m terribly interested in, to tell the truth. Some of you keener readers may have sensed that.

It may well be that there are good arguments to be made for dismantling the Wheat Board; good reasons to believe that those who support the CWB are mistaken. But we don’t get good arguments from Gerry Ritz and his government. We get nonsense about “shackles” and “freedom”. Even the name of the legislation – “the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act”. Please. Can this government pursue a policy that can’t be described in detail on a bumper sticker?

In the Globe and Mail this weekend, Gerry Ritz is quoted as saying this about the Wheat Board: “It’s beyond Big Brother. It is the Nightmare on Elm Street on every farm across western Canada.” Really Gerry? Western Canadian farm life is both Orwellian and schlock horrific? I know, you Tories prefer Dickensian and Old Testament Epic.

I may not know much – well, anything – about wheat, barley, agricultural marketing or anything else having to do with this controversy, but I know when someone is begging to be mocked. That’s you, Gerry. You’re a minister of the Crown, not a cartoon super hero. You’re doing agricultural policy, not fighting evil-doers. Get over yourself.

For those of you unfamiliar with this issue, google “Smart things Gerry Ritz has said” and listen for the soothing sound of crickets. Whoa. That’s hard-hitting. 

Sut My Dit and other Stories.

[Warning: there are some bad words in this. Just a couple. Well, mostly just the one. Yes, that one. But it’s not gratuitous; it is essential to the story.You’ll be fine.]

Who doesn’t love to hear stories about other people’s kids?

Nobody, that’s who. We all love stories about our own kids, and we love to tell those stories over and over. And over.  Our kids stories are funny and interesting and reveal profound truths. Our kids stories demonstrate just how clever and special our kids are and what a stimulating, encouraging and creative home life they enjoy. Stories other people tell about their kids are boring, almost painful, and are only worth enduring because it will justify our telling another of our own.

How can we be sure that the stories we tell about our kids aren’t just as awful as everybody else’s? Easy. What makes for a good kid story is swearing, violence or anything that demonstrates parental incompetence. People love those stories.Those are the only kind of kids stories I have.

People love it when little kids swear. The younger they start swearing the cuter they are. If you can tell a story about your child’s first word being “fuck”, well, you beat me. But not by much.

Parents don’t really want their kids to swear. It can be embarassing – in restaurants, playschool, church. If you have only one kid, it’s pretty easy to stop it. Ignore it, stop swearing yourself, pretty soon it’s gone. When you have two kids, it’s a little harder, because the older one encourages the younger. If you have three, well, your home life is pretty much out of your power to control.  By the time our third guy was talking, his two brothers were in school. Forget it.

For many years, little Mister Third Child had a speech impediment which I now miss a great deal.  He said his hard ‘C’ like a ‘T’ – so “cookie cutter” became “tootie tutter”.  Cute? Oh my yes. Cuter still, was when he told his oldest brother to “sut my dit” and when he called his other brother a “mudder futter”. It is impossible to mask parental delight when these things come out of your baby’s angelic little face – so it escalates. Kids love to please. One evening, he lay in his bed, waiting for me to lie down with him and read him a book.  Maybe the Berenstain Bears. Or The Runaway Bunny. He smiled, propped himself up on his pillow and recited “There once was a man from Nantuttit, Whose dit was so long he tould sut it.”

Sadly, he lost his impediment, and his profanity became hard and mean. Less frequent were the “hey you shoulda heard the cute thing my kid said yesterday” moments. But I still like this one.  My parents were in visiting from Swift Current [yes, adding grandparents to a swearing kid story is so effective, it’s almost not fair].  They loved going to our church when they were in town. Sunday morning, all three boys were down in the basement, playing with little cars and watching NFL Countdown.

I yelled down, “Hey, who wants to go to Seven Eleven?”

This was a Great Idea, “I do, I do.”

“Okay,” I said, “But first, we have to go to church.” Groans of dismay. My parents thought this little scene was cute and funny. However, Mr. Youngest, now about four years old, was outraged.

“I hate Church,” he yelled as he stomped up the basement stairs, “It ruins my whole fucking day.”

Well, that brought a hush to the morning. My parents stopped laughing and quietly withdrew. They didn’t speak of it again that day, but within two weeks, the story had become a bit of Swift Current folklore. They had never been so popular. Finally, a doting Grandparents’ story worth hearing. They never tired of telling the story, or of people’s reactions to it.

And for the rest of us, including a wide circle of our friends and associates, we’ve found that the expression – “It ruins my whole. fucking. day.” – has limitless applications. He has enriched us all.

Eventually, they’re not just swearing. They’re swearing at you, and using swear words to describe you. That’s less charming and amusing, usually. However, one early evening in early winter, I came home through the front door and found our youngest sitting on the landing at the bottom of the stairs, which served as our young offender open custody factility. Obviously, he had done something his mother deemed deserving of punishment. Ever supportive of my wife’s disciplinary efforts, I dispensed with my usual friendly greeting and avoided eye contact with the convict. Then, he bolted. His mother yelled from the kitchen. She was busy with something and couldn’t deal with it, but the little guy had to serve more time. I pursued him successfully and placed him back on the landing to finish out his sentence. Of course, I had no idea what he had done, so I didn’t know what to say to him.  I thought I should say something to underline and support our family correctional policy. So, I settled on something generic, something Ward Cleaverish: “I want you to sit there … and … ah… think about why your mother put you there.”

“Because she’s a bitch.”

Hm. How to respond.I had my back to him at the time. Good thing. That was very disrespectful. Indeed. But clever and quick. I was pleased and proud, but kept it to myself. Someday, maybe, he’ll use his genius for good. No point in stifling it or him. I pretended I hadn’t heard him.

All three boys became profane little bastards, though ever larger. Over the years, my coworkers were horrified by my amusing stories about my boys’ bad language.  Many of them believed that a child should not tell his father to fuck off, or otherwise use the word “fuck” around the house.  Several suggested that their kids knew that they would “kill” them if they talked that way.  More than one told me I ought to smack the kids – though I knew they didn’t smack their own kids and it is not likely the threat of a smack that kept them polite.  They all seemed to believe that my kids’ profanity was a result of weirdly bad parenting. [Hard to believe.]

By now, the youngest was a ten year old. He was furious one afternoon about some stupid, bad, evil thing I had done.  His anger led to some disciplinary (though non-smacking) response from me, to which he responded “Fuck you Dad”.

I never once said that to either of my parents. Not Ever. Not because I was afraid that I’d be hit or otherwise punished. And probably not because I thought it would hurt their feelings. It just never occurred to me. And, had it entered my mind as a possibility, I likely would have thought it unwise. “Fuck you” is a conflict escalator if ever there was one, and I was, and am, very much a conflict avoider. So. I was mad at him and mad at myself for letting my life and my kids get completely out of control. I’d failed miserably as a parent; my most important job. I was defeated utterly. I had created anti-social monsters who wouldn’t be able to function in the world outside our crazily profane family home. So, I vented. Angrily, I told him about my coworkers’ view of his language.  “You know,” I said, “they all think you talk this way because I don’t hit you enough.  They all think I should kick your ass when you swear at me.  What do you think of that?”

“Well,” he said, “You tell them all they can lick my nuts.”