Sunday, 29 December 2013

Smashing Plates

In the middle of the night I heard someone out in the street smashing china plates. I swear that's what it sounded like. Followed by some sharp bangs that sounded like gunshots. A domestic altercation? Had one of the neighbours finally snapped? The holiday pressure and one too many visits with his in-laws and he was taking it out on the Royal Doulton?

No, it was a thaw. The coating of ice that has encased the trees for the past week was finally sliding off, shattering down through the branches to the ground, bringing the ice below it with it. It was a glorious, frightening sound that went on all night, but this morning the trees are bare and water is dripping from the eaves. The storm has lost its grip, and we are free.

Everywhere lies evidence of the storm's destruction. Trees split in half, great limbs lying on the snow, some broken branches snagged and dangling high up in the air, ready to fall when the wind blows (which makes walking the dogs a bit scary). Bits of twigs are scattered everywhere.

Our yard seems to have been spared the worst of it. A couple of larger tree limbs will have to be sawn off in the spring, but on the whole, we got off lucky. Now comes the Big Tidy-Up, when neighbours who possess chain saws will become suddenly popular. On the news it said city crews have been going around trying to clean up the broken trees, but they have found that, in general, the citizens have already cleaned things up themselves. Canadians are a hardy lot, and I am discovering that friends I'd never suspected of it own chain saws and wood chippers. I should stock up better. I own an axe and a hatchet, a pick-axe, four sets of secateurs, a limb lopper, and three heavy-duty electric hedge trimmers the size of claymores, but I think a saw and a generator would be good to add to the arsenal. I'm sure this won't be the last storm.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Attachment to Stuff

Well, after my last post, where I said we shouldn't get too attached to things, someone tried to break into my house last night. At least, that's what I surmise from the two sets of boot prints going around the side of my house, stopping at the back door, and then taking off across the snow-covered garden and over the fence. The people tromped my lavender on their way and apparently took with them the snow shovel that was leaning beside the back door, because it's missing. Their tracks get lost in the general slush on the other side of the fence.

I suppose whoever it was didn't get the memo that we'd already been burgled a few years ago and there's nothing good left to steal. I never replaced all the jewelry (including wedding rings) that were stolen at that time. Our electronics are outdated and the most valuable thing I have is an 1869 edition of the Book of Mormon in the Deseret Alphabet, which I imagine would be difficult to pawn or mail in to Cash for Gold.

Still, I'm glad I had the deadbolt on. Maybe the dogs heard them and barked, frightening them off. I'll never know. Just as I'll never know what happened to my snow shovel. I admit I was attached to that snow shovel. It's hard to find a good tool, and when you do, you latch onto it. It was sturdy and efficient and shaped just right, with the perfect length of handle. It's annoying, especially since we're currently having a snow storm/ice storm, and a shovel would be handy about now.

The trees are encased in ice this morning, as if they'd been dipped in paraffin, and the branches sound like wind chimes against each other in the breeze. Lacy little icicles line every horizontal bar in the wrought-iron fence like some Victorian embellishment. It's pretty and magical and cozy. When the sun comes up it will be like being inside a diamond. Canadian winters are lovely, if you don't go out in them.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It's been one of those days for a week now

A lot has been happening at the McKendry house the past few days. We discovered mice, for one thing, whooping it up in our crawlspace. We've been finding evidence of them everywhere -- in our box of Christmas ornaments, in boxed-up baby clothes and fabric, books, suitcases, the tent, folding chairs, rolled-up carpets, bags of beanie babies, and of course in the food storage. So we've been hauling everything out of the basement and doing a thorough cleaning and using this as an opportunity to pare down. I don't know how long they've been down there - it can't have been long - but they've made the most of our inattention.

And then while we had the basement torn apart, the furnace quit and we woke to a 17-degree (Celsius) house and the dogs curled into teeny balls trying to keep warm. My husband skipped work to wait for the repairman, who got the thing going but told us it will need replacing soon.

While he was testing things, the repairman apparently unplugged the chest freezer, and didn't plug it back in again. We didn't discover it until last night. A lot of the food couldn't be saved, including most of the produce from the garden that I'd put up, the freezer jam, and the boxes of meat pies, spanakopita, and sausage rolls (i.e. the expensive stuff). But some of the larger meats were just starting to thaw and were still frozen in the middle, so my husband spent the evening cooking hams and a turkey, spare ribs, beef stew, and curry chicken, in order to rescue what we could. I turned the melting tomatoes and hamburger into spaghetti sauce and set aside the thawed berries to make huckleberry jam and strawberry shortcake (which I did today), and I think the rescued pumpkin will become bread I can freeze again.

My noble husband let me go to bed and stayed up so he could mind the oven and crock pots overnight. At two o'clock this morning I could hear the electric carving knife as he carved up the turkey. Such a thing, to fall asleep to the mingled smells of turkey and curry! And to wake to find the fridge full of about ten meals' worth of food, as if elves have been visiting the kitchen in the night. My husband got to bed at four o'clock this morning, which is about the time I get up.

And that is why, in the midst of disarray and loss, I find myself feeling extremely lucky and grateful. Not every woman has such a husband! Not just heroically hard-working and self-sacrificing, but a talented cook who can whip out multiple meals at the same time and still remember to set aside the little picky bits of the turkey for the dogs. And beyond that, I woke to a spotless kitchen, all dishes done, crock pots scrubbed, and meals sealed in containers awaiting the freezer -- once it's cold again.

So what did I learn from all this? 1. Check your freezer every couple of days. 2. Watch the repairman. 3. Huckleberries make the most beautiful violet juice...such a pretty contrast to the white bottom of the freezer. 4. Don't store stuff, lighten your load, and don't get too attached to things. 5. I've married Superman.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Family History

I sat down to work on some sewing the other evening with the idea of finishing off a Christmas project and then making cookies afterward. I relish having free evenings like that, because they don't happen often. Usually there's piano lessons or band practice or somewhere my son needs a ride to. A few minutes after I sat down, my husband's music student arrived and my husband, who was trying to slip in a little genealogical research online, went to teach the music lesson and asked me to please just finish looking at this one Web page for him and then shut the computer down. So I set aside my sewing and went to finish the little research task for him.

About two hours later I realized I was still online, cookies unmade, sewing abandoned, and bedtime approaching. I had gotten hooked instantly and had spent the evening plowing through buckets of stuff on and filling pages and pages with notes. I managed to find the maiden name and parents' names of my husband's great-great-grandmother, something he'd been hoping to find for a long time. I might have found her husband's immigration record, though that still has to be verified. And I had unearthed a family puzzle: a Theobald marrying a Theobald. Cousins, one assumes...

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, family history was my passion. I spent hours at the library looking at microfiche and copying down the research my parents' families had already done. That's about the time when I developed a love of bagpipes and all things Celtic. I ended up playing the pipes, doing a semester in Wales to learn Welsh, and marrying a piper. If you think about it, the whole course of my life was affected by my interest in genealogy.

I've found some interesting stories along the way. There's the ancestor who got hit by a train and wasn't found for three days. There's the one who sang for Queen Victoria, and the one who sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now why didn't I inherit those genes?). On my husband's side the stories are a bit wilder. There's the man who fell off a hay wagon onto a pitchfork and took two agonizing months to die. There are the illegitimate children, the orphaned Bernardos children, the grandmother who chased away a bear with a broom, the grandfather arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, the one who got drunk and shot holes in the laundry with a rifle as his wife was hanging it out on the line to dry. Boy, life seems kinda boring nowadays in comparison, doesn't it?

Over the years I've tried to make time to follow the family history passion. My office is next door to the Provincial Archives, so I can fit in research on my lunch hour. We've spent many a weekend poking through old cemeteries around Ontario while our children ate fried chicken and played Frisbee among the headstones. We put together extensive books about the family and organized reunions with long-lost relatives. I even wrote a fiction novel based on my husband's great-grandmother (The Ties that Bind). Now that my kids are older and I have more free time, I hope to do even more. My family is out there waiting for me to find them. And finding them teaches me more about myself.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013