Turn Yourself Around...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

It's New Year's Eve and I just can't help but string through a long list of resolutions in my head.

It's a sickness.

I don't drink or smoke -- so quitting those vices is not an option. I eat pretty well and don't pack many extra pounds -- so dieting is not on my list. I'm really very nice to most everyone I meet and I volunteer for lots of good causes -- I just can't get any better. And, I'm modest and extremely humble (to a fault).

Yet, every year end, I find myself thinking the same thoughts.

Next year I will [fill in the blank] and I will definitely make sure I [fill in the blank] before next new year's eve. But alas, time marches on and things happen as they happen. So, this year, instead of the usual list of unattainable goals, I have come up with a doable set of resolutions. Feel free to steal it. 

If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.
If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.
If I'm happy and I know it (and I really want to show it) If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.

I will also stomp my feet and nod my head.
I will draw the line at shouting Hoorah. I'm much too classy for that.

And, if I have the time...

I will put my right foot in.
I will take my right foot out.
I will put my right foot in.
And I will shake it all about.

I will not put my left foot, hands, shoulders, legs, hips, or whole self in (or out) - except perhaps on a weeknight in May.


I will do the Hokey Pokey.
And I will turn myself around.
Because, that is what it's all about.

Happy New Year!

No... Really.

Art is Smart - Part Two

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of teaching art to children (of all ages). Now, I will talk about how you (as a parent or teacher) can help the young people in your life, learn about the arts...

Take Field Trips
Visiting a museum or art gallery is imperative when teaching about art and art history. Looking at art in a book, magazine or on the Internet is a good start, but it just isn't the same as seeing the work up close and personal. Most museums and galleries offer tours - specifically for school-aged children, especially if there is a special exhibit on display. Contact the educational department of the museum or gallery and ask if they have any resource materials you can share with your students prior to the trip. Once there, take time to look at works of art that interest all of your students.If it is impossible for you to visit a museum or gallery, do look through art books or view works online. Encourage students to pick out their favorite painting, drawings and sculptures. Discuss the materials the artist used and compare them with those your students have used in their own work.

Talk About It
When looking at art, encourage children to say what they feel about the art that they see. Remind them that there are no wrong answers. Some questions to ask might include:

  • Why do you think the artist might have chosen the colors he did? Do they make sense?
  • How was the paint, pencil or pastel applied? Could the artist have used a palette knife or perhaps even fingers? The texture of the paint will help you determine this.
  • What kinds of lines do you see? Are they straight, or wavy? What shapes do you see?
  • What parts of the work are your favorites? Why?
  • Does the painting make you think of things in motion? How does the artist show movement (through line or color for example)?

Above all else, when looking at or talking about art, children should not be made to feel discouraged because they have difficulty analyzing a work. Tell them that the more they look, the more they will see.

Research suggests that early exposure to visual art, music or drama promotes activity in the brain. As you integrate art into your lessons, remember, the aim of art education is not to turn children into professional artists, but to teach them to live fuller lives. Through an appreciation of the arts, people gain a greater understanding of a variety of human experiences. They will then extract more from their own experiences -- whatever they may be.

No... Really.

This article first appeared in Classroom Leadership, a newsletter for K-12 Classroom Teachers, published by the American Society of Curriculum Developers.

Art is Smart - Part One

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

As one of the creators of KinderArt.com, I often receive letters from teachers who work in public school systems where the arts are not a priority. Faced with dilemmas like how to raise test scores and how to stretch budgets as far as they can go, school board officials need to make tough decisions.
It is always disturbing to hear of yet another set of district policy makers doing away with arts education in the schools. Trouble is, many hold the misconception that art is a superfluous, isolated subject when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth...
Art helps children understand other subjects much more clearly - from math and science to language arts and geography.

Art nurtures inventiveness as it engages children in a process that develops self esteem, self-discipline, cooperation and self-motivation.

Participating in art activities helps children develop the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapt to and respect others' ways of working and thinking, develop creative problem solving skills, and communicate thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways.
It is important to remember that teaching children about art is not just about showing them how to recognize a van Gogh or a Picasso, but also about preparing young minds for a future of invaluable experiences - art related or otherwise.

Am I preaching to the converted? Good. But now comes the tricky part... where do you begin?

Incidentally, the following tips apply as much to parents as teachers.

Create Creative Space

Try as much as possible to introduce your students to a wide variety of art media. Create an area in your home or classroom where youngsters can have unlimited access to art materials. Use the resources at your disposal to engage students in a variety of art-making activities. See if you can find a local artist to visit your classroom (a local gallery can help you). Begin to introduce your students to the styles of certain artists. Vincent van Gogh created many self-portraits for example. Discuss his work, look at some examples and then encourage your students to create their own self-portraits. Remember to always discuss a child's work with her. Ask questions and never criticize her attempts. Be supportive and listen carefully.

Quick Tips:
  • Designate an area of your classroom as the "Creative Corner". Encourage your students to spend free time in this area. Keep the corner stocked with costumes and games for younger kids, and clay, pencils and sketch paper for older kids.
  • Allow time for non-representational drawing, even with older students.
  • Don't insist that students reproduce images exactly. Allow for alterations and additions, see what develops.
  • Organize group projects in the classroom. Children can learn new problem-solving skills by working with others.
  • Integrate art with other subjects such as science, geography, math and language arts. Hands-on-science experiments can be as creative as art projects, and students can make connections to geometric shapes and measurements through drawing.
  • Play music when appropriate. Introduce students to many different styles of music. Have students discuss which styles are their favourites and why.
  • Initiate a storytelling or daydream session whenever possible. It's a great way for you and your students to relax and create.
  • It is incredibly important that each and every student sees their artwork on display. This creates inspiration and shows your students just how important their expressions really are. Having your work on display does wonders for self-esteem. Try it. You'll see.
No... Really.

Next - Part Two:  Take Field Trips and Talk About It

This article first appeared in Classroom Leadership, a newsletter for K-12 Classroom Teachers, published by the American Society of Curriculum Developers.

Gobble, Gobble, Gulp

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

At our house, we empty the freezer once a year – right around the Christmas holidays -- partly because, as the months wear on, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick through the ice formations but mostly because we have to make room for turkeys.

Now, when I say freezer, I’m not referring to one of those puny, attached-to-your-fridge jobs. Our freezer is a monster – lose-your-best-friend-Larry-if-you’re-not-careful freezers. I estimate it is around 10,000 cubic feet (or something close to it).

Our freezer, despite its size, does little else but store turkeys – free-range, caged-up, young, old, stuffed, grease-injected... you name it – we’ve got it.

Why so many? It’s simple. My family is cursed. We receive turkeys as gifts. We win turkeys at the gas station. Turkeys follow us home. We answer the door to find please-take-care-of-this-turkey turkeys. So, every year, around this time, the turkey storage unit (freezer) needs to be stripped, chipped and hosed down, to make room for more birds.

This year, we decided to make good use of each and every one of the turkeys that have been taking up space in the bowels of our freezer and create wonderful Christmas gifts that the entire family could enjoy. Here for you now, are my personal favourites. Fee free to steal my ideas. Your family will thank you. Trust me, I’m an artist.

Without further ado… (Martha, eat your heart out).

Turkey stuffing earmuffs – to keep you warm during those chilly winter outings.

Turkey fat bath oil – guaranteed to make even the roughest skin smooth and supple.

Turkey liver lip balm – because winter winds can wreak havoc on the lips.

Turkey centerpiece – just add evergreen sprigs and you’re done.

Turkey feather duster – better than a Swiffer®.

Turkey wishbone sculptures – no explanation necessary.

Turkey feet candle holders – so chic.

After we were finished in the craft room, we collectively made the decision to scrap the Christmas turkey and cook a Tofurky vegetarian feast instead. The box claims that each feast is 100% vegan, cooks in about an hour, serves six and tastes fabulous!

Tofurky dinner is on Boxing Day.

No… Really.

Ka-Ching - It's Christmas Eve

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Waited until the final hour again, did you?

For all of you who still need to pick up a gift for your uncle Ken, a little something for your husband Frank and a turkey for the dinner you are preparing for your entire family, I have a little present...

Here are the top five ways to make last minute Christmas shopping more enjoyable for everyone (yes, even that big-haired woman who stepped on your head while successfully grabbing the last Xbox 360 from your sweaty palms).

As an added bonus, if you follow my advice, you might just clear a path around yourself large enough to actually get your shopping done. You’re welcome.

5) While at the mall, jump on Santa’s lap and refuse to get off.

4) Hang jingle bells from your ears and shout, “Sleigh bells ring --- ARE YOU LISTENING?”

3) Sing , “Santa Claus is coming to Town” with an emphasis on the “You Better Watch Out” part of the song.

2) Place a “Hello my name is Santa” sticker on your bum.

1) Attach a fake Santa beard to your face. Ask everyone you see to give it a yank.

Merry Christmas Eve shopping everyone.

No… Really.

B is for Banana Bread

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

Anyone who knows me knows that beyond the coffee maker, I’m not real handy with the tools that can be found in a kitchen. Sure, I can load and empty a dishwasher and yeah, I have been known to fry an egg or two. Once, I even made a roast beef dinner, complete with potatoes, onions and – gasp – gravy.

It’s not so much that I can’t cook – it’s that I hate doing it.

However, kids (it would appear) have a way of changing our attitudes. So it was when the littlest one and I decided to bake banana bread this week. She LOVES the stuff and I’m rather fond of it as well. But baking from scratch is just so much work!

Instead, I was spurred on by a fun find at the grocery store. Simply Organic Banana Bread Mix, according to the company’s marketing department, is, “A Gluten-free Simply Organic Banana Bread Mix that combines cinnamon with the intriguing warmth of allspice and wholesome brown rice flour to create flavor that never loses its appeal. The rich, fruity flavor of Banana Bread will make consumers … go bananas.”

And go bananas we did.

The recipe called for water, eggs and two ripe bananas. Check, check and… pause, pause, pause, check. We had to wait three days for our bananas to ripen enough but as soon as they did, Jannique and I got to work and I have to say, the results were really great.

She loves the taste as much as the wheat filled variety and I loved baking with my girl. No, it wasn’t real sift-the-flour, knead-the-dough baking but hey, Grover from Sesame Street almost become part of the bread after being encouraged to take a nosedive into the mixing bowl.

As the kiddo always says, “It happens.”

No… Really.

Don't forget to remember (or maybe you should)...

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

“It snowed again last night.”

Geoff already had the coffee on when I stumbled downstairs in my housecoat. It was Saturday morning – a nice day to sleep in.

“Yeah.” I said, peering out the window into the semi-darkness.

The truck was covered. So was the car.

“That’s weird.”

“What’s that?” asked Geoff.

“The van – it’s completely clear.”

Not a flake of snow had settled onto our burgundy van…

We all forget things.

My mom regularly leaves her sunglasses on random retail store countertops. My dad once forgot to pick me up after school, returning home instead with a container of milk and a newspaper. Geoff has, on more than one occasion, positioned coffee cups, wallets, and garage door openers on top of any one of a number of vehicles, over the years. Some items we’ve found back – others (like one garage door opener) were snatched by a gaggle of droll teens who delighted in opening and closing and opening and closing our door at all hours of the day and night… until we moved.

Me? I’ve forgotten more than I can remember. At least I think I have. Once, I arrived at the grocery store (a 25 minute drive from my house) to plenty of points and whispers. “Where’s the rest of him?” asked a gentleman while staring at the front of my vehicle. My heart pounded heavy in my throat – my head full of dark imaginings. I was more than relieved when I saw my jacket – arm whipped up on the hood - positioned “just so” on the front fender of my jeep. The wind was with me that day.

The afternoon before the night of the snowfall, the battery in our van died. It was around four in the afternoon when we discovered that we had left an interior light on – the day before. We had arrived home late and had done a last minute sweep for soothers, dolls and goldfish crackers – so as not to forget anything. Except to turn off the light.

“I’ll give it a boost and let it run for a while.” Geoff had said as he headed outside to jump-start the van. It sputtered and spit and came to life. It was dusk and the headlights were shining directly into the neighbour’s window. So, Geoff turned them off… at 5pm, Friday night.

Saturday morning, back in the kitchen, Geoff and I were both at the door – puzzled by what was in the driveway. “How can that be?” I asked. “This is so weird.” Geoff maintained. Was it a freak of nature? Did our van have a special snow shield we weren’t aware of? Was it a Christmas miracle? Could this all be explained by my ninth grade physics teacher?

“It’s almost like it’s running...”

It’s not everyplace where you can forget to turn off your vehicle and leave it running – keys inside, door unlocked - mere yards from the street, for fifteen odd hours. All that was missing was the “Take Me, I’m Yours” sign. Fortunately for us, we live in a small town – a place where folks haven’t forgotten what it means to be neighbourly.

Timothy Brady, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “Forgetting is important because it makes it easier to recall new memories.” This makes me feel better. I figure, if forgetting helps me to remember, then I’ve got lots of great memories ahead of me.

No… really.

A Poem for a Monday - Cold

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

If things were different... they'd be different.


I drink my coffee.


The 125 year old kid at the hardware store

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

As a youngster, nothing was more exciting than watching Harry the hardware store man divvy up flat headed nails.

Moving with the grace of a newborn calf and the speed of an earthworm, Harry, who was approximately 125 years old, would spend his days counting, sorting and color coding his nails. "Yeah it's a good day, no rain coming soon." he would say whenever anyone entered his happy hardware emporium. Of course, he also said that when someone asked him where to find the sand paper.

Harry was a smart man, known to all the neighborhood children as, "that crazy guy who cleans his glasses with paint thinner". Harry was our hero, mostly because he was the only grown-up we knew who enjoyed Silly Putty as much as we did.

Hanging on a peg, between the electrical plates and the washers, were always three packages of the wonder goo. It didn't matter what day you went into the hardware store or how many times you bought it, Harry always had three packages of the stuff ready for resale. "Now whatever you do," he would say, "don't stick that junk in your mouth." Then he would proceed to do just that... pop a wad in his cheek, chew for a while and pretend as though he was about to empty his stomach right there between the paint rollers and the floor cleaner.

Harry taught me the many uses of Silly Putty such as making impressions of comic book characters and removing remnants of dog poo off the bottom of my shoe.

Silly Putty, Harry would later tell me, was first sold in 1950 by an out of work copywriter named Peter who referred to the stuff as gupp. Now gupp had actually been discovered several years earlier by a fellow named James who was at the time trying to develop a new sugar substitute (or maybe it was synthetic rubber). However, it was copyrighter Peter who sent Silly Putty into space. No... really. In 1968, astronauts on the Apollo 8 moon mission - this is for real - carried globs of silly putty into outer space to... ease the boredom. 

So I was thinking about Harry today. Partly because I'm writing about him , but mostly because I miss those Silly Putty days. The days when my eyes lit up at the sight of a comic book page imprinted on a wad of the pink Dow Corning 3179 Dilatant Compound. The days when Harry would tell me stories of his nephew Dale who once shaped a ten pound ball of silly putty and tossed it off a 35 foot building to watch it bounce 12 feet in the air...

But mostly I miss Harry, the 125 year old kid who ran the neighborhood hardware store.

No... really.

A Poem for a Wednesday - Streetcars

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

The man looks to the sky as the smoke rises from his pipe.

I look at you and you say to me,

The world could sure use





New Works

I've posted some images of my latest "Paper Paintings".

Click HERE to see them...

A Poem for a Wednesday - Why?

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I'm afraid

Afraid of what? You often ask me.

Of loneliness - I answer.

Don't be ridiculous, you tell me.
You'll never be alone, I hear you say.

As you quietly leave me.



To shut the door behind you.


by Andrea Mulder-Slater

If you don't want to see life drawings (nudes) then just don't click...

No... really.

That Figures...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

On a day, just a day, quite like any other, Geoff was taken to hospital with pain in his lower back.

Thinking it might be a form of arthritis, a resident doctor, training to become a rheumatologist, performed an examination.

After carefully feeling each joint and calmly commenting on the absence of inflammation in the knees, ankles, wrists and fingers, the young doctor suddenly became visibly puzzled after she asked to see my husband's palms.

She left the room and returned with another physician who also appeared mystified as both inspected the skin located at the base of my husband's fingers. Cautiously, the resident explained that she and her colleague were perplexed by what they saw.

My husband glanced down at his hands and smiled.

"Those," he said, "are calluses".

No... really.

Cuttin', Pastin' and...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

My dad and I shared a love of words… especially flowery, elaborate words. Though his vocabulary was far, far greater than mine, he always appreciated the bits of stuff I came up with and I always endeavored to understand the things he wrote.

It was quite by chance that I decided to incorporate my father’s words into my latest works of art. Paper, canvas and glue are the media of choice for me at the moment, and as I began to work with these materials, the pieces begged for words.

My dad wrote - a lot - and upon his death, left behind, oodles and oodles of words. I kind of like the idea of keeping his memory alive by, in a sense, illustrating some of his sentences. I plan on (at some point) using my own words in this new series I am working on – but for now, his just seem to fit.

Galileo Galilei pursued an interest he had developed in natural motion and the behavior of bodies of water.
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

On the other hand, Johannes Kepler did conclude that tides were somehow caused by the action of the moon.
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

I have a great deal of admiration for the patience and fortitude of people working the soil.
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

I like the rain. I've always thought it to be quite cozy.
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

Where did early man get the courage to climb into a hollowed-out vessel and trust that it would float on water?
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

As we see the Sun traveling across the sky from sunrise to sunset, we automatically apply our theory about the Universe...
Words by Henry Mulder, 1939-2009 | Art by andreams (Andrea Mulder-Slater)

A prince among men

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

My father Henry (Hank), was born Hindrik Mulder, in the Netherlands in 1939.

He immigrated to Alberta, Canada in the 1950s with his parents, sisters and brother. As a young man he was lured by and lived in the hustle and bustle of large cities like Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto. He spent his 20s and 30s, climbing the corporate ladder. His 40s and 50s were spent running a successful small business. He attended university, built his own house, designed computer programs and wrote fascinating articles.

However... these were things he did – this was not who he was.

I’m quite convinced my dad knew everything, regardless of the topic. My mom and I often referred to him as our walking encyclopedia. He read, all the time, and he sought out every opportunity to learn more because as he often said, “A true sign of intelligence is admitting that you don’t know it all.” And, he could fix or build anything. Literally.

At the age of four, I already knew how to get his attention with questions like, “Dad, what’s infinity?” He would patiently answer all my questions, even after my mind started to wander off…

As a young girl, I often went to him for help with my homework or to find out the meaning of a word. He would always challenge me to find the answers by reading through textbooks and dictionaries with me even though I would repeatedly say to him, “But dad, there are so many words!”

As a teenager, I remember my dad as the man who, when I became a little too self involved, would repeat the words, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” This is how he lived his life.

As an adult, I knew my dad as someone with a wonderful sense of humor. We all loved the opportunity to share our own humor with him with the goal of seeing him laugh so hard his eyes watered.

My dad hated injustice and he loathed those who made others feel inadequate. He always said that a true gentleman never made those around him feel uncomfortable.

He had unending patience - a trait that was not shared by my mom, my husband Geoff or me. But it didn’t matter because Hank told us our impatience was endearing. My mom and I would always tease him about his “checking questions” – midway through conversations he would stop and ask us something – just to make sure we were listening.

He was an honest man – which often got him into trouble when we would ask him how we looked or what he thought of our artwork. He just couldn’t bring himself to lie! But when he gave a compliment or handed out praise (as he so often did) we knew it was real. That was the beauty of my dad – he was consistent.

My dad was a very private man, yet many who only met him casually knew immediately the kind of person he was. After his death on February 25, 2009, people used terms like honest, kind, selfless and brilliant, to describe him. He would have been overwhelmed to be thought of so highly.

Our family was closer than most living literally each day together, which has made dealing with the loss of my father all the more difficult. He loved his wife of 45 years, my mom – his Janey – more than anything else in this world. He loved her spontaneity, spirit and mind and he often thanked her for allowing him to be himself in this life. He loved my husband Geoff – even before I knew I did – and he admired his creative spirit and gumption. He loved his newborn granddaughter and was convinced of her intelligence from the soulful look in her eyes. He loved me with an unending devotion, always full of pride.

To summarize my dad’s life, I will always recall the words my mom often said of him.

"He was a prince among men."

I miss you dad.  Happy Father's Day.

A fear of microphones, flower girls, and tiny pieces of fruitcake wrapped up in tin foil

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I met Geoff at art school – me in my first year, he in his last. Although it was most certainly not love at first sight (he was otherwise engaged, I was blissfully unaware), we did hit it off and became part of a group of friends who regularly shared time together. When he left school to discover other, more distant pastures, it laid the groundwork for a pattern, which would last for a period of several years.

Every six months I would hear from Geoff, whose points of contact seemed to vary with the seasons. “Hi, I’m calling from a payphone in Smooth Rock Falls…” soon changed to, “Hey, I’m calling from my house in London...” to, “Hello, I’m calling from my cell phone… in your driveway.” Eventually, one thing led to another and at some point, I agreed to ride shotgun in his 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco.

When the two of us eventually decided to be married, we had no delusions of grandeur. Let’s face it; two artists heading into the world together do not a giant wedding make. Not to mention the fact that the both of us shared a little known disorder, which manifested itself in a fear of microphones, flower girls, and tiny pieces of fruitcake wrapped up in tin foil. An agreement was set. If there was any way for us to join together as husband and wife, while at the same time avoiding a sea of silverware brandishing guests clinking forks against crystal goblets -- we would find it.

Driven by our desire to escape amplified relations revealing embarrassing childhood secrets, Geoff and I started to plan our “civil ceremony”. The first step required a trip to city hall where people like us could acquire and sign the appropriate pieces of paper. Then came the rub. Apparently, half of the city’s populace was keen to get hitched in city hall. We were faced with a decision; wait out the 10 months as names were crossed off a list, or… find another way.

Billy Rolf* was a criminal court judge who had some casual dealings with my uncle, which did not involve solitary confinement. No really. “Call Billy”, said my uncle. We did.

The ceremony took place in Judge Rolf’s chambers. His executive assistant wrote the vows. Standing there with my parents and grandmother behind us, Geoff and I couldn’t help but notice the countless bits of sports paraphernalia, which decorated the shelves. If memory serves, I’m certain there were at least a few bobble head dolls. It was a casual ceremony… no doubt about it. It was also perfect, for us. No pomp. No circumstance… just the law.

A few weeks after the ceremony, note cards with the big, bold print phrase, “They Did It!” were sent out across the land, inviting loved ones to a simple garden party to celebrate our wedded bliss. The cards might as well have said, “She’s Knocked Up”, considering the reactions of many near and dear to us. Several relatives made the trek to our party, strictly for a chance to scrutinize my belly. My new sister-in-law, who was mother to a one-year-old daughter, telephoned me to inquire (delicately) if she should save any of her baby items and send them my way, should she begin clearing out her attic. (I later learned that she was, at the time pregnant with her second child.)

To be fair, when Geoff and I got hitched, we surprised most everyone. His friends and relatives couldn’t believe he had actually (willingly) settled down. Mine couldn’t believe anyone made it beyond section one of my ever-so-strict dating checklist. As far as they were concerned, the only possible explanation must have been an unplanned pregnancy.

Recently, I was asked if I regretted the way in which I became a wife thirteen years ago. I thought for a moment… Was I disappointed at the lack of bridesmaid’s frocks, personalized stationary, party favors, garter belt, dj and Sears’ registries in my life? Did I miss not having a pre-wedding day skincare regime and one week fast in order to fit into a dress that was three sizes too small? Nope. Not even a little bit. And to those of our casual acquaintances who are convinced that we must certainly now have a teenage child… you’re off by a little bit. She’s just turned 16 months.

*No, Billy Rolf was not his real name.

Black as hell; sweet as love; strong as death

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

Some time ago, I came to the realization that my life is a Folgers® commercial. In order to wake up every morning, I not only have to smell the coffee, I have to imbibe several litres of it, and I'm not the only one.

Coffee, the sweet elixir of life, is the world's largest commodity (next to oil, and the Snuggie) and is produced in more than fifty countries at a rate of over 8 billion pounds annually. Wow... that's a lot of java.

It's no surprise really, when you consider that our society revolves around the dark liquid. Coffee breaks, coffee tables, coffee cake, coffee houses...

Ahhh, the aroma. Ahhh, the taste. Ahhh, the caffeine. Yes the caffeine, that's what we're really talking about here isn't it? An ordinary cup of joe contains about 150 mg of caffeine. That is roughly the amount that physicians regard as a therapeutic dose. Therapeutic? Yes. That's for all of you who think the roasted bean juice is bad for us.

Caffeine's proper name is trimethylxanthine, a natural substance that is a result of photosynthesis within the coffee plant. Taken in beverage form, the super-swell substance begins to reach all tissues of the body within five short minutes giving us all much-needed swift kicks in the pants.

The caffeine found in just one cup of coffee is enough to elevate neural activity, postpone fatigue and enhance performance of simple intellectual tasks (like breathing for example). Similar to amphetamines, the drug stimulates the brain, causing increased cerebral activity, clearer thought and quicker reaction time.

In other words, it knocks the stupid out of you.

So you see, in moderation, coffee is actually a healthful natural beverage. I suppose it should be said however, that there are some people who experience insomnia, stomach irritation, hand tremors and fits of depression if they toss back the hard stuff. But did I mention it improves sperm mobility?

According to legend, in the year 850 A.D., an East African goat herder named Kaldi, began noticing that his goats became rather excited after chewing on the cherries of a certain plant... the coffee tree.

Once Kaldi realized his discovery, one thing led to another and trendy coffee houses started sprouting up all over the African continent... or something like that.

No, really what happened is that word of the coffee tree (native to Ethiopia) spread throughout the Middle East until the 17th Century when the Dutch Merchants expanded cultivation to the East Indies. It wasn't until the early 1700's that coffee agriculture began in the Americas (which is of course when Maxwell House® got involved). Today, the coffee tree, which requires a warm climate with plenty of moisture, is grown within a belt extending around the world between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

By brewing the roasted and ground beans of the coffee tree, we end up with the beverage that we know and love. In North America, it is most often served as a clear rich brown liquid to which a sweetener or cream or packet of talcum powder by-product is added. In France, they delight in cafe au lait, in Argentina they enjoy cafe con leche and in the Middle East, heavily roasted coffee beans are ground down to a fine powder, water is added and a thick black fluid (grounds and all) is swallowed - up to thirty times a day. Now I know where I need to go for a pick-me-up.

No... Really.

Note: I posted this article strictly for nostalgic reasons. Truth is, I haven't had a good stiff cup of caffeinated coffee since before I became pregnant. And to think, I used to make fun of decaf drinkers...

A year and a day

Like most sayings - Time Heals All Wounds - is rooted in truth.

Although my emotions are not nearly as raw as they were a year ago, the feeling today is as surreal as the day I watched my father pass away.
My cousin, who experienced the devastating loss of her younger sister, was my pillar a year ago. She gave me such sage and sound advice, not the least of which included, to not turn special days into miserable ones. To put it bluntly, she said, "He was dead yesterday, he is dead today and he will be dead tomorrow." This helped me tremendously in getting through this year of "firsts".
I don't want to create some sort of sick anniversary to commemorate his death. I think of him daily, not just on birthdays, New Years Day or the day he died. Friends and family, with the best of intentions, called, emailed and spoke about "it" - the elephant in the living room - yesterday, while others looked at us, painfully - without comment. I spent the day repeating my cousin's words, like a mantra...
So, I made it through. We all did. Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Okay, we've proven we can do it. Now, just bring him back...

I miss you dad.


Gonna Wash That Foam Right Outta My...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Straight from the Who-the-Heck-Thought-of-This-and-More-Importantly-Why? files we have Foam Dancing - a groovy craze which originated in Spain.

A throwback to the days when those wacky Romans indulged in the odd before-dinner orgy, a foam party involves lining a nightclub dance floor with something akin to rubber pool toys, and dumping ten thousand tons of frothy suds on scantily clad patrons, who I might add, pay for the privilege and sign I-will-not-sue-you-if-I-slip-and-die forms. No really, club owners from Houston to Detroit take their establishments, throw a plastic wall on the floor and using a modified artificial snow machine, blow foamy bubbles all over the place.

Club Amnesia - an incredibly trendy bar in Miami Beach Florida - was one of the first North American clubs to offer "Foam Nights". One such evening (it was a Thursday) was detailed by a party go-er, "Within minutes, they were up to their waists in a sea of bubbles groping each other." Gives new meaning to laundry day hmmm?

But, foam dancing is not all fun and games because as we all know, a direct result of doing anything that feels good is death... or something like that.

It seems that when this whole soapy trend was just taking off, some young lads in Houston, Texas sustained some rather serious injuries after an evening of dancing in several feet of foam.

According to the doctors who treated them, the men had various degrees of keratoconjunctivitis (eye injuries of a serious nature).

The revellers were treated and all was sort-of OK in foam dancing land once more. However, from that point on, fellas were slightly concerned with the fact that they might leave their house with a fully functioning wee willy wonka, but come home with alkaline chemical burns all over their fairweather johnsons.

It doesn't take the intelligence of dish detergent to understand that if you hopped into an industrial strength front loading washing machine wearing nothing but a smile and writhed around for three to ten hours, you might experience some not-so great effects, like a tummy full of Tide, missing socks and an overwhelming urge to... rinse.

Image: Patrons at a Foam Party. Taken at "Tequila Nightclub" in Calgary, Canada. Source: Carl Roett / HyperLight Research

The Junior Suite

By: Andrea Mulder-Slater

The Junior Suite in the Hotel Napoleon was like nothing either of us had ever seen before. Well, not in real life anyway. The bed was piled high with pillows, the heavy velvet curtains reached clear up to the 14-foot ceilings, and the marble bathroom was large enough to house three small families. It was twenty minutes before we were able to locate the toilet, which was tucked neatly away between the gold plated shower and the walk-in closest, which, we later discovered, was just off the sitting room.

How my husband Geoff and I (artists accustomed to sleeping in budget motels with the numbers 6 or 8 in their name) ended up in a luxury suite in the hotel Errol Flynn once referred to as, “The Place,” was thanks, in part, to nicotine.

We were on a European art vacation, involving visits to four thousand museums, in three countries, over a period of ten days. After a memorable train ride from London to Paris, we checked into our main floor, standard, non-smoking room at the Hotel Napoleon. As I soaked in the elegance of our art deco surroundings, Geoff, within seconds, unpacked his bag, stuffed his underwear into a drawer and placed his razor carefully on the marble vanity. “This,” he beamed, “is living.” He was about to try on one of the two monogrammed hotel robes when… I smelled it. It was subtle at first, but after a few minutes, not even Geoff (now wearing nothing but a terry cloth robe and socks) could ignore its presence.

We stepped outside our room into the lavish hallway. It was there we discovered a group of young men, talking, laughing and smoking up a storm. Geoff instantly recognized the look on my face. “No!” He begged me not to make a fuss; concerned that we would be kicked out of the only place we had ever stayed where the bed had its own halo with yards of fabric spilling out of it like syrup around the headboard. “Don’t do it,” he cautioned, as he ran his fingers over the gold embroidery on his robe. I couldn’t help myself. We may have been in a fancy Paris hotel, but I was ticked off.

I stomped to the front desk, running the only French phrases I knew through my head. “Bonjour, je m'appel Andrea.” “Quel temps fait-il?” “Parlez vous Francais?” These expressions along with dozens of French ingredients I remembered seeing on cereal boxes, (none of which were particularly relevant to my situation), all came to mind. In the end, I politely spoke to the bilingual young man behind the counter, “There are people smoking,” I whispered, “in the hallway.” He stared at me expressionless. “Over there…” I gestured delicately. He did not appear shocked. I thought this was a bad sign. I explained that we were supposed to be in a non-smoking room. He scratched his ear. I thought this too, was a bad sign. He pushed a few random keys on his computer and said, finally, “You are in a non-smoking room.”

Before I had a chance to interrupt, he finished, “On a smoking floor.”

Huh? What kind of logic was this? Putting guests in a non-smoking room on a smoking floor was like offering someone a sugar-free soda served in a glass full of sugar.

I must have appeared sufficiently puzzled because then, it happened. The manager was called in.

When I saw him, I experienced first hope, then panic. What if, I wondered, involving this stranger in my conflict was in fact, not a good thing? I thought about how Geoff would react when I went back to the room to explain how I had, in a few short minutes, succeeded in having us moved from our posh quarters to the rat infested hostel down the street. “Ditch the robe honey,” I would say, “pack your things. We have to go.”

Discussions with the manager typically take place well out of earshot of the griping customer, but in this case that wasn’t at all necessary, as I couldn’t understand a word the two men in charge of my immediate fate, were saying. Several lyrical phrases and a few quick glances later, the manager walked over to me with a look that brought back memories of my childhood doctor’s face right before he stabbed me with a needle. “This will feel like a little pinch,” he would say, while pursing his lips and sucking in his breath.

The manager held out his hand, and asked for my room key. I knew it was too good to be true. Geoff and I really didn’t belong in “The Place” and really, who needed it? Who needed the chocolates on the pillows, the tiny French soaps, the moisturizing hand cream, and the 4000 thread count sheets? I felt a tear come to my eye. I needed it - all of it!

The manager spoke. “Please, do accept our apologies,” he said with a smile. Then, he handed me another key. “We are moving you upstairs.” Upstairs seemed like a good thing. Either that or it was hotel code for, “We are sticking you next to the maintenance room.” I decided to take my chances, thanked the manager and headed back to our now smoke-filled room, with the new key.

Geoff was not happy to hear the news that he was about to become uprooted, but that was mostly due to the fact that during the time I was away, he had become somewhat engrossed in a rather open-minded European television program. Even so, he packed his things, uttered a few well-chosen expletives and headed with me, upstairs, to... the Junior Suite at the Hotel Napoleon.

Who said smoking was bad for you?

A very virtuous and moral saint

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Valentine's Day has long offered many the opportunity to make up for a year's worth of neglect. It’s the one occasion where a few gooey chewies and a single red flower will make your sweetie swoon like there's no tomorrow. Give her a gift - for no reason - any other time of year and she wonders what you're trying to make up for.

Am I right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for this Valentine's Day stuff. Flowers, candy, cupids, hearts… it’s all so very special. But, have you ever sat wondering, hoping, that someone - anyone - would tell you how this whole ritual got started? Sure you have - and that’s why I'm here. So go ahead, put on something red, drink something warm and cinnamony, curl up on a fluffy pink chair, and read on.

First off, lets clear one thing up.

Valentine - a very virtuous and moral Saint - the man after whom this day is named - really had absolutely nothing to do with love and all things mushy. The only connection he had with February 14th is that in the year 270, it happened to be the day he died in a pool of his own blood. Poor bugger. Good old Valentine, was executed after being thumped with clubs and having his noggin chopped off on the evening of what we now call Valentine's Day.


However, there is a small connection between the headless one and all things passionate.

In Rome (where the Saint lived and died) there was a festival of sorts that took place every spring - every February 15th to be exact. It was known as Lupercalia, a feast of "purification" and believe you me, it was a very singular, very strange ceremony.

In a nutshell, it involved sacrificing goats and dogs, smearing blood, the cleansing power of milk, and running around the streets naked (except for teeny, tiny thongs made of dead goat skins). And, as if that wasn't carnal enough, the young women of Rome would, well, offer themselves to the naked men, otherwise known as helpers of conception and delivery.

Now there's a pick up line.

Seriously people?
All of this went on for years and years and years and, well Rome wasn't built in a day and all that. But then, the Romans invaded Britain and all sorts of  history-type stuff took place.

The Romans, hip as they were, were kind enough to introduce the British folk to their religious ceremonies and in this way, the festival of Lupercalia was established there. Eventually however some Fathers of Christianity with all of their immaculate conceptions, busied themselves by obliterating pagan superstitions and dates by substituting those of the Christian belief. Names of many of the martyred (slaughtered) Saints were used to replace old festivals. In this way - St. Valentine having bought it on the eve of the Lupercalia (February 14th - remember?) was to perpetuate forever the memory of this orgy - excuse me, festival - that celebrated the return of spring when "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thought of love."

Quite a legacy.

Speaking of love,  it does make one do strange things doesn't it?

I'm not talking strange as in dancing around the streets wearing goat flesh. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of giving you're one and only a gift that screams I love you. A gift like - a pair of gloves. That was the thing to do in the 16th century. In the 17th century, things turned raunchy as silk stockings and garters were gifted.  In the latter part of the 18th century, things simmered down a little. During this time, young women would give their one-and-only a piece of silk with an embroidered message which said things like, "I dig you the most" (or something like that.)

One particularly odd Victorian Era custom, inspired by Lupercalia, involved the names of young women being dropped into a box. Then, young men - guided purely by luck - would draw a name. A seemingly harmless pastime until you find out that the one you chose would be your Valentine for that ENTIRE year. Most certainly, there were occasions when chance was unfortunate in providing the wrong sort of partner, and to have to endure this kind of Valentine as one's "special friend" for one whole year must have been trying, to say the least.

Needless to say, not many participated in such recreational activities, especially those who's intelligence rose above it.
Valentine's Day rituals and customs evolved and experienced both declines and resurgences in popularity throughout the years. One practice that has more or less stayed with us is the sending of valentines to the ones we admire. The forerunners of today’s valentines were love knots - decorated hand written and coloured letters with sets of verses and sentimental messages of love.

Today, things are much simpler. Just pop into the corner store, grab anything with a heart and voila, the deed is done.

 No, really.

Fame... What's Your Name?

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

When I began interviewing musicians, I never expected to be propositioned by one.

I was 21 years old and had just graduated from art school. Full of confidence, I stepped through the doors of a local entertainment newspaper, looking for an opportunity to write art exhibition reviews. The scruffy editor sitting behind the desk reeked of cigarette smoke and sarcasm. He thanked me for my interest, gave a quick sideways glance at the essays I had arranged on his desk, and informed me that he was in need of a CD reviewer… and a good stiff drink.

It wasn’t the first time I would see him hung over.

Though it was not what I was looking for, the promise of free music in exchange for a few words of criticism seemed like a pretty decent deal to me, so I told him I would give it a try and I left the office with a Gary Clail disc in my portfolio case.

It took some parental coaxing to convince me I could actually write about music, but once I got the hang of it, I was hooked. I listened, absorbed and summed up, in 100 words or less, the sounds captured on shiny round discs. Issue after issue I religiously picked up my assignments and delivered the goods and my efforts did not go unnoticed. Bands sent me thank you letters and singers sent me free tickets to their shows. It was exciting but… I wanted more.

I wanted to interview the musicians.

At first I started by calling up local independent artists. It was easy. They were in the phonebook. I had questions… they had answers, and by the end of each telephone conversation, I had enough material to put together half decent articles. By the time I made it to my first face-to-face interview, I knew what I had to do.

It was time for the next step.

After nearly a year of writing for the local entertainment newspaper, I took my published articles and reviews, placed them in envelopes and sent them off to national magazines, asking for a chance to freelance for full color periodicals.

Within the year, I was given the title of senior writer at a national Canadian monthly while my feature freelance pieces regularly appeared in several other glossy magazines. I was wined and dined by record company A&R people and I regularly sat in fancy hotel suites across from rock and pop stars including Alanis Morissette, Gavin Rossdale and the Barenaked Ladies. It was a special time. I owned a voice recorder, carried a briefcase, dressed exclusively in black and collected backstage passes like pennies. I was… a music journalist.

It was the lead vocalist of a lesser-known band, who introduced me to a darker side of the music business.

It was my second interview with the group, who were touring the country with a number one single wedged firmly at the top of the charts and groupies at every venue. The motel room location wasn’t glamorous but the band was traveling in its own luxury tour bus and their rider included colorful fizzy beverages, several comic books and large platters full of oranges, kiwi fruit and chocolate bars… so it felt pretty big time.

With the Q and A complete, I began to say my goodbyes, but it was the bassist, guitarist and drummer who coyly offered farewell gestures, as they exited the room, leaving me alone with the singer who headed into the bathroom.

“I’ll be right back - hang on one second, ” he said to me, “I have something I want to ask you.”

He was not a particularly good-looking fellow. I suppose his fame made him appear more appealing than he was. What could he possibly want to ask me? I wondered. Was he interested in my hair care products? Did he want to take me on a date? My thoughts were interrupted once he reappeared, wearing little more than a smile. “Is it too soon for us to take a shower together?” he asked me in earnest. I looked at the wallpaper, the lampshade, the oranges... everywhere, but him. I was a naïve girl from the country. I was still a virgin. I had no idea how to respond. And then it came, to this day I don’t know from where.

“Honey, it will always be too soon for me to see you in your underwear.”

With that, I headed for the door, careful to grab a few kiwi fruits on my way out. It seemed like a fair trade for the little piece of innocence I left behind.

Years later, I gave up the thrill of interviewing celebrities, finding many of them far to high-maintenance for my taste. More than a few of those I wrote stories about were wonderful and several have gone on to big things. But as for the nearly naked singer in the motel room… his 15 minutes are up.

No, really.

Hit the Hills

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I don't ski... not downhill anyway. I have been known to strap a pair of cross-country skis on my feet, but really, that's not much different than slipping down the driveway on the way to the mailbox.

As a downhill skier, you are expected to obey certain rules like: "Please do not remove our trees with your face" and "Please refrain from skiing with one of our shrubs stuck to your head". These rules are put in place to protect you and others like you. Some resorts refer to these rules as "Your Responsibility Code" which makes sense, since you and only you - as a skier - are responsible for personal injury or property loss resulting from say, a mid-air collision with any natural or man-made object, including but not strictly limited to your best friend Larry.

I can't ski for one very important reason... rule number one of the code. This rule states that you must remain in control and proceed in such a manner that you can stop or avoid other people or objects. Control on an incline. Right. I have a hard enough time remaining upright while walking on level ground - which isn't to say that I don't make a fine dance partner.

Recently, my husband - who is able to control himself not only on level ground but on 90 degree inclines as well - decided I should really go to a ski resort and test out the hot chocolate they serve there. My husband is not stupid and he realizes that even if he had a million dollars waiting for me at the bottom, I would not send myself willingly down a cliff. A new pair of leather boots? Now that's a different story.

Arriving at the resort, I noticed armies of people in red suits who I thought were cub scouts but as it turned out were ski instructors. Once I located the washrooms and the coffee pots, I sat and inspected the colour-coded signs. The signs were there to let the skiers know where the hills were (HINT: Look Up!!) and the level of difficulty one could expect once they reached the top. From what I could make out, green = steep; blue = steep; black = steep and a black diamond = steep with trees. Orange = steep for snowboarders only, while pink = steep for slow skiers - no knee bends allowed.

While I sat next to a fireplace sipping hot beverages, my husband and assorted family members - two on skis, one on a board - went up and down and up and down and up and down the runs, which had names like Big Baby Danger and Easy Street Look Out (or something like that). You know you are in trouble when the hill you are descending has been designated Calamity Lane or Elevator Shaft!

After an afternoon of watching the action from inside and talking to a surprisingly cheerful gentleman in a full body cast, it was time to leave the safety of the ski lodge. Later that night, soaking in a hot tub with my daredevil hubby and friends, I decided skiing wasn't so bad after all. Next time I might even eat popcorn.

This article appeared in an issue of Our Canada magazine some years back. I still like it so I'm sharing it here and now, with all of you.

You're welcome.