Monday, 29 December 2014

So Many Books, So Little Money...

Wonderful Son Number One and one of my bosses both got me gift cards to Chapters for Christmas, so Saturday I went on an excursion. I rarely buy new books, because it's hard to justify $20 or $30 for something that takes me one day to read. Usually I prowl through the library or haunt the used book sales. But with gift cards, you can shop without guilt, because the money has already been spent on your behalf.

Walking into a book store is like entering a fabulous country, or a deli packed with delectable treats. You want to throw out your arms and sing. Such delicious covers, such intriguing titles, a collection of knowledge and entertainment at your fingertips. Even the people are interesting to look at, and you can tell in a glance if you share a common interest with someone by what they are browsing.

Chapters is slightly annoying in that they are not logically organized. They spread books on one topic all over the store, forcing you to scour every aisle...which of course is their marketing ploy...and the alphabet seems to meander from shelf to shelf in unpredictable directions. The shelving is so tall you can't gaze out over the vast room and orient yourself. And they don't stock an author's earlier works, only their later ones. It's whatever is hot at the moment plus a few stalwarts like Dickens and Hemmingway. Try to find an old Rosamunde Pilcher or Barbara Michaels. But there's still lots to tempt.

I went armed with a list of books I've been wanting to read for ages. I set a couple of rules for myself-- it would have to be something I would read and re-read, and it needed to be something I likely couldn't get in the library. I pre-ordered the latest Susanna Kearsley (trying to squash little twinges of envy that no one would or could pre-order my books). I love her work, and I like supporting local authors. I bought two Alan Bradley books (Flavia forever! Must get caught up), and debated long over the Charles Todds and Alexander McCall Smiths (but finally decided to search the library for those first). I like authors who don't keep you waiting long, but keep churning books out at a rapid pace. I once wrote to Laurie King to ask her to hurry up...well, not in those exact words. I said I was so eager to read her next one. She wrote back a very gracious reply.

The store didn't carry some of the other books I was looking for, including Anne Lindbergh's Gifts from the Sea (yeah, I know, I admit I've never read it). Some on my list they had but I couldn't justify the price. (Gee whiz, how can they justify that much money for a book? Yes, it's probably really well written, and yes, they have to pay for marketing and everything, but seriously, this isn't a 15th-century illuminated manuscript we're talking about here.)

I also selected The Distant Hours by Kate Morton just because I've enjoyed her other books. I got The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, and, lastly, a lovely little gem called Home: chronicle of a north country life by Beth Powning. Gorgeous photography and poetic prose that makes you feel as if you're taking a luxurious bath in warm honey as you read it.

This lovely stash will keep me happily occupied until I return to work on Friday. And the best thing is, I still have $54 on the gift cards to fantasize about. I would rather read than eat or sleep. And often do.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Quiet Life

The house is quiet. Son Number Two is at work and everyone else is asleep. As usual, I'm the first one up (if lying on the couch reading a book, covered in puppies, counts as being up). Outside the air is balmy and a mist has obscured the street. When I open the door to let Brio out, there's the smell of rain on autumn leaves.

There's only one thing left to put on the advent calendar. Tomorrow is Christmas, and two days after that Son Number One and his family will be heading back home. It has been a joy to have them here, to see my sons joking and playing card games together. They went out and got haircuts together, and went to dinner at the Mandarin. It's all right that they aren't staying forever; they have their own family unit, their own paths to pursue. But it has been nice just for a few brief days to be complete again.

This is the time of year when we all start thinking of goals for the coming year. The last few years have not turned out quite how I anticipated. One year brought nothing but hardship after hardship, so I followed that with a "year to recover," when I didn't expect much of myself but ended up accomplishing more than I'd expected. Then my purported "year of health" actually brought more health struggles than I've ever had before. My subsequent "year of being nice to myself" was more peaceful, though I've walked a fine line between being kinder to myself and being completely indolent. I've been learning to accept things as they come, even if they're not what I would have wanted. I've had to learn to limit my expectations of myself at times and ask for help more than in the past, and I've even said no on occasion. And I'm just beginning to accept that I may not do everything I had hoped to do in my life, but that what I have done is pretty okay too. I guess it's something most people hit at my age -- the realization that life is not limitless, that my life might be small or at least lived on smaller terms than I'd once thought, but that small can be a good thing. A quiet life lived in contentment and gratitude is a valuable thing and still contributes to the universe.

So here I am, granted with the beginning of another year. What do I focus on this time?

I recently read a posting on line by a woman who has had or adopted twenty children. She said some days she gives 10% and some days she gives 90%, but the Lord always makes up the difference and has her back. I feel a tug at my spirit along similar lines---I am still facing health challenges and need to be patient with myself, but on the days I can give more, I need to. And then I need to trust in the Lord to make up the difference. Trust. Patience. Contentment. Gratitude. I think those will be my watch-words for 2015.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

It's a Boy! The Dilemma of Naming a Baby

We found out the new grandchild, due in April, will be a boy (provided the scan was read correctly). I am purposely staying out of the flurry of baby-name suggestions. After all, I had my chance to name my kids, and now it's their turn to name theirs. But that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion, of course!

Growing up, I could always think of tons of boy names I liked, but very few girl names. And I ended up having all boys. I could never have enough children to use all the names I liked, of course, so now I use them in my writing, cheerfully giving my characters names I always wished I could use. I have snuck my children's names into my books, as well...though I doubt any of them have read any of my books and so they aren't aware of it. With fictional characters, you can slap names on them with mad abandon, not having to worry about how they will be treated by kindergarten peers or how difficult it will be for them to fill out government forms later in life. So you can end up with characters named Calliope or Lavender or Carscadden or Lysander without compunction. My son is threatening to name his child Beowulf, just because he can. 

I purposely didn't name my children after family members, though I do like that tradition. I was afraid I wouldn't have enough kids to honour as many people as I wanted to (and who would I leave out?). And my favourite person in the universe after whom I'd want to name a child was my grandfather, but his name was Arvid, and you just can't name a modern child that with a clear conscience. Though I have noticed that some of the older, traditional names of yesteryear, like Alice and Henry, are coming back into fashion.

A lot of the names I liked didn't go well with McKendry, which is so Irish it limits your range of options. I love Biblical names, but Gideon or Issacher McKendry would have been just over the top. My boss's daughter is having a similar problem trying to find baby names that reflect her Celtic heritage but go well with Rodrigues, which is her husband's name. She should have thought of this dilemma before she married him.

Whatever name this child ends up with, I can't wait to meet him. I have so enjoyed playing and snuggling with his older sister. It's funny how life changes you. I never thought of myself as the cozy grandmotherly type, but it turns out -- astonishingly -- I am.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Animals have a variety of ways of avoiding detection and staying out of harm. Chameleons camouflage. Deer run. Birds take to the air. My dog's ears go back and he slinks to his bed even if he's not the one in trouble. And the rabbit I saw this morning apparently believed that if he held perfectly still, bolt upright in the middle of a flat lawn, I wouldn't see him.

Maybe that would work for me in my cubicle. Maybe if I hold completely still, without a twitch, my boss won't see me...

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lava Soap and other Portals to Nostalgia

I was looking through the website, just musing through the hand-cranked clothes washers and cheesemaking supplies on a lazy Saturday morning (i.e. putting off cleaning the house and filling my own clothes washer), when I stumbled across a page offering Lava soap for sale.

Instantly I'm six years old again, standing in my grandparents' bathroom in Meridian Idaho, washing my hands before supper. On the sink ledge is a bar of rough, green Lava soap, like sandpaper, worn thin in the middle and grimy in spots. It was the best thing for removing engrained dirt -- ideal for gardeners, farmers, mechanics, or anyone else who gets good and dirty. Isn't it funny how a bar of soap can zing you straight back forty years? I can smell the sloppy joes, feel the texture of the shag carpet, and hear the sound Grandpa's recliner made when it was laid back.

On another page of the website, I found for sale a wooden marble game much like the one Grandma let us play with when we visited. We would send the glass marbles shooting out over a layer of ceramic tiles, adding music to the cacophony of the rattling train of marbles. It was a simple pleasure that kept us entranced for hours, every time we came to visit. I'm dying to buy one for my granddaughter. Would such a simple thing still enchant a child raised on princess cartoons and video games? Can today's children still appreciate non-plastic toys? I certainly hope so. If she doesn't play with it, I will.

In this world of plastic and glitz and flashing lights, I am deeply comforted by the thought that there is a company still promoting wooden pound-the-peg-with-a-mallet toys and kerosene lamps and high-wheel cultivators. Someone somewhere out there is a kindred spirit.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Retrospective Look at Dogs

My sister reports that her new dog has knocked over the Christmas tree and sent broken glass, water, and pine needles all over the floor, breaking a cherished favourite ornament in the process. The dog has jumped fences, broken into the chicken coop, and otherwise caused mayhem in the six weeks she's been with them.

As I read my sister's account, I reached down and scrubbed the ears of my own furry terror, Brio, and reflected on how much he has changed in the two years we've had him. He is finally starting to mature into a calm, obedient, and ---well, at least less frantic dog than he used to be. When we first got him I despaired of ever surviving the experience. He can ---and does--- leap over the couch in a single bound without touching it. He can stand for five solid minutes on his hind feet, watching me cook, his nose just at the level of the counter, like a fuzzy inquisitive toddler. I still don't sleep much---he has this set-in-concrete habit of wanting to go out at 4:00 every morning---but in so many ways, we've finally adapted to each other and figured this relationship out. He is by far the most loving, gentle dog I've ever owned (and I've owned a lot of dogs). All he has to do is lay his head on my knee and give his little contented smile, and all is forgiven.

I have only vague memories of Sugar, who died when I was probably two or three. I remember her as black and curly and that's about it. Nutmeg was a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix who barked at everything and put up with the rough play of three little kids pretty amiably. I remember driving in the car, coming home from Idaho, with Nutmeg in a box on the floor of the back seat and thinking there was nothing so darling as this curled-up brown ball of fur. After Nutmeg died, I swore I didn't want another dog, until I got Caspian, a black lab who escaped or was stolen not long after I got him. And then I swore I never wanted another dog until I got Myrff (whose full name was Honeybunnyduckydowneysweetiechickenpiel'ileverlovinjellybean). Myrff was a pug mix who was so tiny I had to smash up the dry kibble with a hammer so he could eat it. Myrff was also an amiable little guy, and lasted to the age of 18, when he had so many health problems he had to be put down to be kind. He might have gone on forever otherwise.

Our first dog as a married couple was Barclay, a shepherd-lab mix who ate my record collection. I would put our newborn son on a blanket on the lawn, and Barclay would stand over him like a sentinel, alert, daring anyone to go near the baby without permission. I never needed a baby monitor or intercom. All I had to do was watch Barclay's ears, and if they went up, I knew the baby was awake upstairs. We had to give him away when we moved to Canada, though, which was a tough decision. (The dog, not the baby. Though there were probably times I wanted to give away the baby too.)

While we lived in the log cabin, we briefly had a German Shepherd puppy named Hobbes (yes, after Calvin and Hobbes) who turned out to be just too much of a handful while I was pregnant and unwell. He refused to be trained and had a vicious streak in him, so we gave him back to the people we got him from. We moved from the cabin to a townhouse, and when Son Number Two was born, we got Barney, a cockapoo who would not stop barking unless you locked him in a dark bathroom (like covering a parakeet's cage). He was sweet with the boys, though, but when we moved into an apartment, there was no way noisy Barney could accompany us, so he went to a neighbour who had five loving and energetic kids. After Barney there was a beagle named Heidi (let's just say a beagle was a mistake for an apartment--what were we thinking?! I blame the post-partum for that decision), and then Kiai, another shepherd-lab cross. Kiai was wonderful, patient and calm and beautiful and perfectly trained, but he died on Thanksgiving Day at age eleven of a ruptured tumour. That was a difficult Thanksgiving, having to come home and tell my children their friend had died.

After Kiai we took a year's break and then got Maple, the Shih Tzu. Maple is still with us, as playful and spunky as a puppy but nearing age ten and starting to show his age a little. He's just a little bit hesitant to jump high, to run after toys, and he gets tired after a walk to the park and back. Like me, he prefers to curl up on the couch and watch Brio play.

Ah yes, full circle back to Brio. As I type this, he is splayed across my feet like a throw rug, and every so often he opens one eye to make sure I'm still working, gives a long, bored sigh, and goes back to sleep. One paw over his nose, the other protectively placed over his favourite chew toy so Maple doesn't sneak it while he isn't looking.

I have loved all of my pets---and there's been many more besides the dogs---but for some weird reason Brio has a special place in my heart. Maybe it's because of the fight and challenge, trying to live with this bundle of pure energy. Maybe it's because of his keen intelligence and the laser-beam way he has of staring straight into your eyes like no dog I've ever had before. Maybe it's because he came to me when I was at a low point physically and emotionally and we needed each other. He has soothed my spirit and warmed my heart. Someday he too will grow old and I will lose him. It's a cruel thing that people live so much longer than dogs do. But I don't let myself think too far ahead, because there's no point in feeling loss in advance. That just ruins the present. For now, it's enough to be here with him, warm on my feet, watching his paws twitch as he chases balls in park dreams.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Flea Market Magic

It's been years since I went to a flea market, so yesterday hubby and I went to prowl for three hours through the one at Dixie Value Mall. There are roughly 100 vendors, though some booths were vacant or closed up. I have no interest in the ones selling DVDs, jewelry, dried flower arrangements, stuffed animals, or clothing. But I adore the antiques and "old junk" booths. They remind me of my grandpa's old red shed, full to the brim with interesting bits and pieces, half of which I couldn't recognize---thick chains, tractor bits, horse collars, kerosene lanterns, horse shoes, buckets, tools I will never know the use of...

The booths yesterday held the collected evidence of people's lifetimes, some organized and displayed neatly, welcoming perusal, and some jumbled into impervious masses you could only tiptoe around and poke hopefully. It was all probably mostly gathered from estate sales and emphasized the old adage that you can't take it with you. And when you don't take it with you, it becomes someone else's trash or treasure.

I've always been interested in history, and I enjoy thinking about the story behind each item. My husband pointed out that when he sees something, he's looking at the object, thinking about what it could be repurposed for or how it could be fixed up, or where it would fit in the house. But when I see a thing, I'm looking at the associations attached to it, not the thing itself. What memories does it awaken? Who do I know that owned one in the past? How does it make me feel?

He's probably right. As I poke through the 1970s Mickey Mouse plastic record-players and the Royal Daulton china tea cups, my mind is actually quite far away, lost in stories. These china figurines were valued and collected and carefully dusted by someone, somewhere. Did these get sold off when her old-age pension ran out? Did she tire of them and go on to collect old Coke bottles instead? Or were they passed down through generations until someone finally put them in a garage sale? Whose grandmother used that rolling pin? How did that German book make its way here? Who on earth would ever have purchased that stretched-glass amber centerpiece to begin with? How did Kewpie dolls get their start? Why did Barry Manilow go out of style? And more importantly, whenever I need a new set of glasses or a casserole dish, why do I head to the nearest WalMart instead of coming here, to this Aladdin's Cave of recycled items? Surely it's better to re-home these things that someone once loved and that still have a lot of use left in them, rather than going for the shiny and new all the time.

Having said that, in all my years of prowling through antiques, I've rarely bought anything. Once we bought a circle of Bavarian lace, which now stands on my mother-in-law's antique wash stand. And once my husband surprised me with an 1870's commode I keep in my front hallway. But that's all I've ever gotten from an antiques store. I like to touch and envision and daydream, but I rarely spend money. Yesterday, however, I scored a lovely old pottery bowl that was brushed in such a way that it looks like cork. It was beautiful to touch, hefty in weight, and just felt like part of my home. A wabi sabi sort of bowl, you know? Five dollars. That I can do. I wrapped it in a bag and put it in my closet and will bring it out at Christmas as a present to myself.

Of everything I saw yesterday, just two items made me wish I were rich and had a cottage. One was a beautiful old green metal stove, a sort of chiminea, dusty and rusty and quaint, that would look perfect in the corner of a log cabin. And one was a golden-hued spinning wheel, perfectly restored and functioning, which would revolutionize my life, give me a home industry that would provide for my needs, and suddenly inspire my husband to leave our suburban backyard to move to a sheep farm., probably not. In reality it would probably languish in a corner of the living room and be nothing more than a conversation piece...except I never have company over to converse with. There's no point in purchasing things for a life you don't have. So I left both spinning wheel and stove behind, and came home happy with my bowl, which will fit perfectly in the centre of my dining table.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Rudeness and Compassion

I've been making a conscious effort lately -- since my last blog post, actually -- to try to meet other people with a smile and to think compassionately about others. I think it's starting to pay off. Today as I was getting on the bus, a woman from another country shoved her way in behind me, in front of the other passengers, without waiting in line. One of the disgruntled people behind her started up an argument, and the queue-jumper told her, "Leave me alone, woman. I've been waiting in the cold!" As had we all. They continued to natter at each other back and forth a few times as the bus got underway. I was sitting behind the queue-jumper and got to listen to all of it.

As I got off the bus at my stop, a gentleman, who had been beside me waiting for the bus and who had witnessed the whole exchange, called to me. I turned to see what he wanted and he put a hand on my arm and apologized for "that woman." I don't know why he did, or why he felt he needed to make the apology to me. I guess he had seen her push in behind me. He was also from the same country she was, and maybe he felt a sort of shame for her behaviour. I guess it's possible to feel a sense of responsibility for one's fellow countrymen's actions. Anyway, I shrugged it off with a smile. And realized that rather than feeling irritated with the mouthy woman, I instead felt rather sorry for her. If she thinks this is cold, she ain't seen nothin' yet, and she is not going to survive this winter. Someone ought to warn her...

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Book of Mormon Musical and Thoughts about Intolerance

There has been a lot in the newspaper and on TV lately about tolerance and racism, especially with all the stuff that's been happening in Missouri. Son Number Three and I saw a recent segment on the news that ended with an appeal for viewers to send in their experiences with racism or intolerance. My son and I got to talking about it afterward. And he posed some good questions I couldn't really answer.

If someone made a foul and disrespectful musical about the Quran or the Torah, there would be protests and riots. It wouldn't be tolerated. But someone produces such a musical about the Book of Mormon and it wins Tony Awards. Why do we insist on courtesy toward other religions but say it's okay to poke fun at Mormons? My boss got tickets to attend the show and said she wanted to go because she'd heard it was foul. And she told me this with a grin as if she had no idea that this could possibly be hurtful to anyone. She's an intelligent and extremely educated woman who spends much of her life volunteering in an impoverished country. Her heart is good. So what's going on here?

Growing up LDS, and especially living outside of Utah, we've always been taught to just let it roll off our backs, to be peacemakers, to answer disrespect with genuine caring and kindness. We're told to laugh it off and say snappy things like, "Now that you've seen the musical, read the book!" We're to love our enemies. This has been engrained in us since our ancestors were forced out of their homes by armed mobs, since the pioneers trekked across the continent, since great-great-great-grandpa was shot in the back. And I completely agree that getting angry or belligerent is not the solution. I want to contribute to the peace in the world, not detract from it. For the most part I'm able to shrug it off, ignore it, don't let it get under my skin. I'll just quietly be who I am. I'm tough, right?

But when people I know and work with and respect, people who know I'm LDS, don't even realize they're doing something that belittles my religion -- any religion -- I admit it does hurt. How much more, then, does it hurt my child?

So I told my son to go ahead and write to the TV show and share what he was feeling about it. His response? A small smile, a shake of the head. Naah. Don't stir it up. Don't make trouble. What's the point? It's not a big deal.

I'm afraid he's been a good student.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

While we are on the subject of languages...

I was remembering an example my linguistics professor gave years ago of how you can string prepositions together. Some boys were playing in the basement under the stairs, and their mother called down to them, "Come on out from down in under there!" Seven in one blow! It can still make me smile.

There is an article in today's Metro newspaper about the advantages of learning other languages and how it exercises your brain. It used to be thought that your brain stopped developing or changing much after childhood, but it appears that, in fact, you can enhance your brain physically at any age.

My great-grandmother studied a little German when she was in her 80s. She did it, I think, because my brother served a mission for two years in Germany and she wanted to be able to share some of that experience with him. At the same time, her roommate at the nursing home - in her 90s - went back to school to study criminology and psychology with the idea of becoming a private investigator (most likely after reading too much Miss Marple). I had a friend who began med school at age 59. You're never too old to learn something new.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Learning Languages

There's a new girl in my office, and she...drum roll...speaks Welsh! I haven't had anyone to speak to in years, and it is very gratifying to be able to call out a Bore da! Croeso! and have someone call back Diolch yn fawr! There's a funny thrill that goes through you when a) someone understands you, and b) you get to put into use something you've been hauling around with you for decades. It's like carrying around a key in your pocket and finally locating the lock it fits into. All that work to learn the language in the first place finally justifies itself with a greeting.

I suppose it's an apt simile. Language can unlock doors, after all. Entire vistas opened in my mind when I started learning Biblical Hebrew. Suddenly the things I'd read since childhood took on new and intriguing meanings. (Just as a quick example, the word for a long loose-sleeved robe leading to the idea that angels have wings.)

When you can draw parallels between words in different languages, you have a new avenue for entertainment and humour, too. Words are fun to play with. Like handschu for "glove" in German (literally "hand shoe"). Or you can mix up the "Shma Yisroel" with Welsh "sut mae" (pronounced almost the same), and suddenly instead of the great call to the nation, you have "How ya doin', Israel?!"

My husband was once waiting in line at a government office, and the elderly man in front of him was having difficulty making himself understood. My husband stepped forward and offered to translate. In a few moments the man was happily on his way. I asked my husband what language that had been, and he replied, "Hungarian."

I blinked at him. "You don't speak Hungarian."

"No, but I knew what he needed -- he was in the same line I was in, after all -- so I just helped things along." So there you go. No words even needed.

I have studied a lot of languages over the years to varying extents and for different reasons. Some were entirely to meet school requirements, others out of interest, and Welsh I started so I could do geneaology. All have made my brain an entertaining place for me to hang out in (there's another fun thing for you--stringing prepositions together willy-nilly) even if they haven't been overly practical. My children all started off in French immersion school, and even though they haven't gone very far with the language, I do believe it has enriched their experience so far. If nothing else, it has taught them awareness of other people and cultures.

I kid you not, someone once came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish, and when I answered, "Welsh, actually," he honestly replied, "Close enough. They're both foreign!"

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

First Sticking Snow

The snow hit on Sunday and has obscured the unraked leaves, the untrimmed roses, the un-dug onions. We're back to having to take twenty minutes to layer on all the clothing before being able to step outside. Thermal long-johns under your trousers, gloves inside mitts, sweatshirt under coat, scarf, hat, hood, double socks, boots... You feel like an Arctic explorer heading off on a month-long expedition just to waddle down to the bus to go to work.

And then there are those suave city men you see breeze onto the subway wearing just their suit and polished shoes, and you know they live in one of those expensive condo buildings where the subway runs beneath the building, and they work in one of those expensive places where the subway runs right beneath their workplace...These are the people who never go outdoors. No boots and earmuffs for them, oh no. They pop on and off the transit system without having to put a toe out in the cold.

It would be like being a mushroom, never seeing the sunlight, never feeling the cold slap your cheeks. Never breathing fresh air. All in all, I'd rather be the multi-layered Arctic explorer, thanks very much.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Food Memories

Last night Son Number Three had a couple of friends over for dinner, and for dessert I made gingerbread (the cake, not the cookies) with custard sauce. And my son's friend got teary-eyed and told me that her grandmother used to make wonderful gingerbread, but she died two years ago, and she really missed her. I wished my gingerbread could taste exactly like her grandmother's. I wished I could take this girl in my arms and say "Let me feed you."

It's interesting how certain foods ingrain themselves in our memories with specific associations. Christmas means egg nog. Thanksgiving means sweet potatoes with brown sugar. I can't eat sloppy joes without thinking of my grandma, or chocolate-covered orange sticks without thinking of my great-grandmother. Mint and black licorice will always be my grandpa. Lemon Jello salad (fluffy with fruit and whipped cream) and blueberry cheesecake and clam chowder mean Mom to me. With my dad, it's waffles with homemade warm maple syrup. With my neighbor Sister Gill it was roti and golden pancakes the size of the plates. My husband makes wonderful homemade pita and hummus, and I love his strawberry lemonade. And his meatless meatloaf. And his chip buddies. And his lasagna. And...well, that list could go on for a while. Everything he makes is my favourite!

What will my kids associate with me, I wonder? Lavender cookies? Taco won ton? Homemade pizza? No, probably my caramel popcorn. I maintain that if I were hard up for cash, I could stand on a street corner selling bags of caramel popcorn and make a good living for myself. That stuff is treasure.

Food can have all kinds of associations with it for different people, but for me, it brings up cozy thoughts of home, a warm kitchen, and love and laughter. My son has one friend who just doesn't like to eat, has no interest in it, and doesn't like to try new things. I simply can't imagine it!

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Value of Friendship

Yesterday I had sudden sharp chest pain while I was at work, accompanied by shortness of breath and nausea. I have a history of minor heart troubles, so I mentioned my discomfort to my colleague, who is a nurse (okay, I went bawling to her in a panic), and she whisked me down the street to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.

And she stayed with me. For hours.

She sat knitting calmly and talked me through it and kept me laughing, and even when they took me away for ECGs, x-rays, bloodwork, and monitoring, she stayed in the waiting room knitting until I finally came flapping out in my hospital gown to tell her I'd be a long while and she should go home. There was no point in both of us getting home late. She put up a fight but I prevailed.

My examination was thorough and prompt, though I can't say much for the bedside manner of two of the nurses. One took me down to xray and was walking quite fast, and I was having trouble keeping up. I told her I was walking slowly today, and she said, "That's okay. I'm a fast walker," and kept on going until she was about fifty feet in front of me. Now if you have a potential cardiac patient wobbling after you in her backless gown, wouldn't you stay close to make sure she doesn't topple over in the hallway? After the xray she shooed me back to my room unaccompanied and it took me a while to find the right place (thanks to the janitor who steered me right!). And then they forgot to hook me back up to my monitor and left me abandoned for about 45 minutes. The doctor finally came in and did her assessment and said it was costochondritis (inflammation of the chest wall, thanks to the virus I've been fighting. Not serious, just painful). You can only address it with anti-inflammatories and painkillers.

And then she left and I didn't know if I was supposed to go home or what. I flagged down a nurse and asked if I could take off the little sticky tab thingies from the ECG and get dressed. She said sure and left again. What she didn't hear was that I was really saying, "Please take these sticky tab thingies off of me." So I did it myself, giving myself a pat-down to make sure I got them all without the benefit of a mirror (no doubt I'll find more as the day progresses). Anyway, I got home by 7:30 last night and I'm all right. I'm glad to have this pain diagnosed, I'm warmed by the attentiveness of my colleague, and I now have an excuse to pamper myself a little this weekend.

When one's life flashes before one's eyes, one's thoughts naturally turn to chocolate, so I brought my colleague a little gift bag of Godiva truffles this morning as a thank you for her kindness. She came to me to tell me, "You didn't have to do that." To which I replied, "Neither did you. But I'm glad you did."

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Still on a roll

No pun intended. But after the baking spree on the weekend, I'm still in the mood, so last night after work I baked whole wheat bread (which was lovely) and an experimental low-fat low-sugar pumpkin-raisin-walnut bread. Which, as it turns out, didn't. Let's face it--if there's no fat or sugar, there's no joy either. I did what I could to salvage it, gave some to the dogs, considered giving the rest to the birds, and decided it would just attract rodents, so unfortunately the rest went into the green bin. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. A sad end to a cup and a half of pumpkin.

What shall I make next?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

On Watching the Giller

Last night we watched the Giller prize being awarded. I have to confess -- don't shoot me -- I've only read one of these authors, and I didn't like any of what I heard last night. Granted, we only got to hear snippits and couldn't be drawn gradually into the story the way we're meant to be when we're reading. But what I heard won't incite me to run out to buy the books.

I admit that I never end up liking the stuff other people like. Somehow the books that make the Oprah List or win the big awards always leave me rather cold. I hated Remains of the Day and was bored by Life of Pi. I can only take Margaret Atwood in small doses. I think the prose always comes out sounding like dough that has been over-proofed and is now making its way out of the pan onto the counter like a great white slug. Every word has been so carefully chosen and thought-out and molded that it all ends up sounding terribly pompous and self-aware. Even the way they read their own work is self-conscious. There's no spontaneity, and certainly no joy.

Now you may say that this is just sour grapes, because my books will never win the Giller. But you know what? I wouldn't want them to. I fully acknowledge I don't belong in the "literary" group. I don't take my work nearly as seriously as they do. Not at all, in fact. I don't write to create "art." I don't think about what I'm creating at all, really. I just want to tell a story, to have fun, to make people laugh. I splash words out like a kindergartener using construction paper and glitter glue. It doesn't make a Rembrandt, but it isn't meant to. My son, who also likes to write, commented last night that he likes to make people dream. That is a terrific aim, and I'm proud of him for it.

My silly little stories are for entertainment, and I have no delusions about them changing the world or impressing anybody. My books are styrofoam boogie boards in an ocean of big steamers and sleek yachts. And I'm okay with that. My kind of people are the kind who play with boogie boards. Personally I think words are meant to be gobbled down and flung about, treated more like a big Italian pasta dinner than three French beans artfully arranged on a plate. That may be pretty, and it may have its place in the world, but I don't find it satisfying or filling or even nourishing.

Words can serve all kinds of purposes, of course. Books of every type please someone somewhere, and certainly we don't all have to have the same likes or needs. Obviously somebody liked the stuff I heard last night. But all in all, I think I'm content with my writing's place in the world. And with my place too. I may not win $100,000, but the small joys are everything.

Though I could use a pair of winter boots...

Monday, 10 November 2014

I love it when my husband is home

Hubby is off work at the moment, and he spent the last couple of days making homemade biscotti (cranberry almond), a lovely non-meat shepherd's pie that you would swear was beef, and pita and hummus. I got into the swing of it on Saturday and turned out two kinds of biscuits, some white bread, and homemade Wheat Thins (which turned out great if anyone wants the recipe).  The house smells great!

I love it when my husband is at home. I come home to a clean house, walked dogs, dinner cooking, washed laundry, and often rearranged furniture. I feel I can just walk in and feel at ease and not have to panic about anything or worry that something went undone. I am aware I am highly lucky. I listen to the women at work gather in the staff room and grouse about their husbands, who apparently can't do anything and can't be trusted to look after the gold fish, much less the children. I can't join in the gossip. I sit quietly with my leftover shepherd's pie and just smile.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Childhood ain't what it used to be

Son Number Three had a dance in Brampton last night, and youth from all over the GTA showed up in a great turnout. He reported it was great fun. He danced with about seven girls, and then he and a group of friends went into a side room to play Magic (the card game). Some people brought food, others dropped in to say hi, and a good time was apparently had by all.

While I'm delighted he had a good, wholesome time with a group of well-behaved kids, it threw me off a little when he reported how it had gone. When I was young, I hear an elderly voice whisper in my mind, you went to a dance to dance and that was it. You didn't leave halfway through to make your own fun. Even if you cleared it with the adult leaders first. Even if the adult leaders came into the side room to cheer you on. You didn't strike out and do your own thing; you followed expectations, even if they were just your own expectations.

It got me thinking about expectations in general, and how life is very different for my son than it was for me. I lived within walking distance of everything and everyone, and I knew every person in every house in my neighbourhood. My son, on the other hand, has to bus to seminary, bus to school, and his friends all live a distance away, some even in different cities. "Game" to me meant board games, jacks, or maybe playing Four-Square in the driveway with my siblings. "Games" for my son means a solitary activity played in the basement wiggling one's thumbs. When I wanted to do something with a friend, we got permission, made arrangements in advance, and carried out the plan. Now kids just sort of fall into things, making only vague plans and letting things develop as they will. I would come home from school confident in the fact that my mother would be there, sewing or cooking or painting or reading or doing one of the million other things she did. My son usually comes home to only two anxious dogs waiting for him. (Well, not so since my older son returned home and my husband was laid off work--now he's likely to walk in to a kitchen smelling of freshly-baked biscotti. I love it when my husband is home...but that's another topic for another day.) I remember being responsible for daily chores, animal feeding, and Saturday jobs. I admit my third son has managed to slip under the radar a bit and--though perfectly willing to help out--has to be asked. His room is kept how he likes it, food manages to make its way into the basement, and even though he has known how to do laundry since he was eight, I still somehow end up doing it. (How did this happen? I blame his older brothers for wearing me out and wearing me down, so that by the time Number Three came along, I'd lost the energy to enforce anything.)

I have had to come to terms over the years with the knowledge that my children's childhoods will not be the same as mine. They will have their own memories, their own ups and downs, and their own experiences. But even while I know this, there's that persnickety part of me that says "But their childhoods won't be as good as mine! They should be like mine! That's the only really valid way of experiencing childhood that there is!" Does anyone else find themselves thinking that? How can my kids possibly be happy or turn into proper adults unless they follow the exact path I did? How can they have meaningful lives if they don't grow up on the steady input of sloppy joes, summers on the farm, games of Nertz, and boisterous family reunions that I did? I mean, really....

And then I look at them and how they are turning out--responsible, intelligent, hard-working, funny, and personable, with eclectic tastes and a wide variety of interests...and hair colours...and their own distinct style for doing things--and I think they must be turning out okay after all. I like who they are turning out to be. I genuinely enjoy their company. I guess maybe that's the best measure, even if they got here by a different route than I expected or wanted. Against all odds and in spite of having me for a mother, they're turning into fine young men. I can't quite fathom how that's happened.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Top Scholar

Bragging time! Last night we went to an awards ceremony at the high school, where Son Number Three got a medal for getting a 98% in math last semester. Only four kids in each grade were honoured in each subject, so it was a nice accomplishment. It was a fun and inspiring thing, to see these awkward, gangly kids all dressed in their finest, walking across the stage to shake hands with the principal, trustee, and various other important people. It's great to be able to cheer for your kids and publically acknowledge them. How often do you get to do that? My son was a handsome figure, tall and lean in his black suit. With his flaming pink hair standing out above the rest.

The moment has been captured for the Yearbook, pink hair and all. I couldn't be prouder.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Twenty-five years ago today, I came to Canada. I crossed the border at Sault Ste Marie in the middle of a snowstorm, at midnight, with a crying nine-month-old. From that inauspicious start, it has been a good journey all in all.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Long-Distance Grandparenting

When my oldest son was nine months old, hubby and I packed up and moved across the continent to Toronto Canada. There was reason to this madness which I won't go into here, but the result was that, though we were now surrounded by my husband's family, my kids were 3,000 miles from mine. I have explained in other posts how important my family is to me, and how I wanted my kids to grow up with the warm feeling of having family around them. But I don't think I've ever told you about how my mom responded to this new situation.

She is the best long-distance grandma ever. She came up with innovative ideas for how to stay close to our kids. She recorded herself reading Dr. Seuss, with Dad ringing a bell when it was time to turn the page, and then sent the recording and the book to our boys so she could "read" them bedtime stories. She sent tapes of children's music. Every Christmas brings a box of presents, wrapped in her distinctive old-fashioned paper and carefully selected for each child's interests. She mails cards with money on birthdays, and she and Dad call on the birthday to sing. Halloween and Easter she mails boxes of treats -- including homemade -- with cute little notes and stickers. (The kids pounce on these and painstakingly divvy everything up evenly between each person -- and of course there's always just the right number in the box.) Mom also made sure she had the email address of each grandchild and keeps up to date on what is going on in their lives. She cheers over their successes and prays over their challenges. She often sends messages of her hopes for each of us and expresses how important each family member is to her. Even though my kids lived in closer proximity to my husband's family, I think they have felt closer to mine.

Thursday my husband and I went to the pharmacy together, and as we were returning home, I realized I hadn't done anything for my own grandchild for Halloween. I want to start sending boxes of goodies and carry on the tradition my mom started, so that I can be a great long-distance grandma too. I have a great example to follow. Then I added that of course, now that our kids are grown and Mom has so much on her plate, and she just got back from a year in England, and...well, I didn't expect her to keep on doing the treat boxes and everything forever. Just as I said this, we pulled into the driveway, and there was a box sticking out of the mailbox. My husband said, "There's your Mom's Halloween box." And of course it was. Right on time, as always. The boys' reaction? "Grandma's come through again!"

I know it's silly to cry over a box of rice krispie treats and mini chocolate bars, but I nearly did. In a rush, my mom was there in the kitchen with us, watching the divvying up of the loot. You could feel the love pouring out and filling the room. It was like opening up a box of home.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

First Snow

November 1st, and it's snowing. And my onions and gooseberries are still out there in it.

I can feel myself drawing inward, curling up like an armadillo in a tight, armored ball. Keeping out the thought of another long winter. I am torn between huddling inside and not moving for the next seven months, and running shrieking down the street, waving my arms over my head.

I'm sure the neighbours would find the latter more entertaining.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween Costumes

Today Son Number Three dyed his hair (permanently) pink, put on a cow costume, and went to school as strawberry milk. As I type this, thirteen teenagers are eating candy in my basement, arrayed in a bewildering selection of unidentifiable costumes and sporting a rainbow of hair colours. When I was a little kid, we were either ballerinas, clowns, ghosts, or cowboys. I remember my little sister wearing a paper dog food bag like a dress, with a bone through her hair, and going food. But that was about as wild as it got.

Now the costumes are as unlimited as your imagination. Ninjas and pirates are passé. Now it's animé characters, video game characters, and downright witty inventions. A coworker covered herself in paint swatches and went as Fifty Shades of Gray. The fun thing is that most costumes I'm seeing this year are homemade, not off the rack, which is creative and took some thought and effort.

I'm not a great fan of Halloween, but I'm all for creativity and I like seeing hordes of teenagers enjoying themselves in wholesome ways. So every now and then I open the basement door and throw them food, and from the noise level it sounds like it's a successful party.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Lesson in Perspective

This past year seems to have been all about teaching me to be patient and let go of the need to be constantly busy and accomplishing things. The universe seems to be conspiring to teach me to just be in the moment. This past week is a prime example; never in all my life have I missed an entire week of work because I was sick. But I just can't seem to shake this horrible, uncontrollable, hacking cough and laryngitis. (Today, though, my voice is deep enough that I could sing "Old Man River.")

As luck would have it, the weather has been idyllic -- clear cold crisp sort of autumn days that ordinarily would spur me into action. I want to be out in that fresh air under that blue sky, digging in my garden or walking my dogs along the lake. I want to be finishing the list of a million things I need to get done before winter comes. Instead, I'm flopped on the couch with a three-inch thick book (mysteries, translated somewhat stumblingly from the Italian), surrounded by cough drops, hot mint tea, and rolls of tissue, and I have accomplished zilch. It is depressing, and humbling, and irritating. It would be better if the weather was sullen and rainy. I wouldn't feel I was missing so much. Here I am with a week off work and I can't DO anything. It's very frustrating.

Brio, poor chap, can tell I'm not well, and his distress mirrors my own. Every time I launch into another violent coughing jag, he presses against me and whines. He follows me to the bathroom door, wedges himself between me and the kitchen cupboards as I stand at the counter, stands sentinel when I'm in the shower. Whenever I sit down, he lies with his head in my lap and watches me worriedly. I try to reassure him with my hand on his head, and the warm little furry weight leaning against me is a comfort. That's love, right there, pouring out of those big brown eyes. Better medicine than any cough drop.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Putting the Yard to Bed. Wish I could go too!

Fighting a glorious cold this week, and laryngitis has taken my voice completely. The children rejoice that I can't yell at them, only whisper pointedly. But I can't take time off work because it's a frantic time and I have no back-up to cover me, and I can't take time off gardening, because it's the height of harvest and winter preparation. So I carry on (as my husband would say, oh, how I carry on!) and somehow it will all get done.

He and I had a conversation yesterday (albeit a whispered one) about how when women get sick, they seem to just keep going anyway, while men curl up in bed and succumb to it. Why is that? I know a lot of other people I've talked to have noticed the same thing. And at least the females in the group generally resent it. But I see it as a blessing. Someone has to keep going, to care for the children and keep food on the table. If I'm the one given endurance, I'm not going to complain about it. Maybe women are given better tolerance for pain, too, just due to our role as child-bearers. Who knows? I won't look the gift in the mouth, in any case.

So while my husband hacks and coughs on the couch, I'm out in the chill wind with shovel and yard bags (which keep wanting to take off on adventures down the street), doing the last few chores of the season. I love being out in stormy weather, with the clouds scudding fast overhead and the romping dogs churning around my feet, blending in with the fallen leaves. The gooseberries are plump and plentiful, but I fear they will freeze before they ripen. The little round pale-yellow flowers keep coming, though, without sign of frostbite. The lavender is still blooming, too. The radishes and Swiss chard are almost done, and there are a couple of dozen onions and green onions left to harvest, and then that's it. Ready to be weeded and mulched for the winter. I've cut down the peonies, planted the potted roses that have summered beside the front door, stored next year's seeds, and beheaded the catalpas. And I think I've given the lawn its last haircut of the season (I hope, because the mower is now buried in the back of the shed behind lawn chairs, tomato cages, and bean poles). The yard can rest soon...and maybe I can too.

My autumn-coloured dogs:

Scenes from the garden:

Friday, 24 October 2014

WWII - a Bit of History I hadn't Known

I read yesterday that during World War II, thousands of German soldiers were brought to Canada and sent to six POW camps up by Lake of the Woods (not far from where I was last week). I had known about this, but what I didn't know was what life was apparently like for the German soldiers emprisoned there. It appears they spent their days logging and chopping wood, canoeing, fishing and...get this...sometimes they borrowed the guards' guns to go hunting in the woods. Many of them ended up falling in love with Northern Ontario and stayed after the war, and they and their descendants settled in that area.

So I think Canadians have a long history of expecting to live in peace. Our guards and police aren't always armed, and our border is largely unpatrolled. I learned last week that people paddling canoes across Rainy River from the U.S. side are expected to just wave their passports in the direction of the guard, who apparently has camera surveillance but doesn't really require anyone to come see him/her directly. All very relaxed and polite and trusting. Canadians tend to be laid back and put their best face forward, and they expect other people to do the same. So it is all the more shocking when someone turns around and shoots us in the back.

In spite of recent events, I sincerely hope Canada can remain laid back and imperturbable. That's what I like about this people. Their humour, their charm, their down-to-earth way of looking at things, and how it takes a lot to rile them up. As Prime Minister Harper said, we can be vigilant and prudent, but we won't run scared. I might add, We won't run, period.

Next week marks my 25-year anniversary of immigrating to Canada. I have not ever regretted that choice.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Awful Events in Ottawa

I am alarmed at what happened today. I am saddened for the family of the reservist who was shot. But I am also saddened for the family of the shooter, who also lost a son today. I can't imagine their horror. I am even more alarmed at the spewing of hatred I'm seeing on Facebook. Meeting hate with hate is not the way to bring about a peaceful world. We are being perhaps too hasty jumping to conclusions about who and what the shooter was. We don't know if he was a terrorist or if he was mentally ill. We cannot judge the situation so soon with such little information. And if we run around getting militant about it, or start hiding our uniforms in public, or painting everyone with a "foreign" name with one brush, then the terrorists will have won regardless.

My two cents.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Getting back into the groove

I've been home now for, what, five days? And it feels like it's been ages already. Swamped at work, teaching on Sunday, getting the garlic planted, trying to dig the garden so I can mulch it for the winter, trimming roses...well, and I read three books in the last five days...but still, I can't believe only such a short time ago I was so far from home. It felt like another world, really, being on the road, just me and my husband, and carefree in a lovely setting. I find myself missing the fresh cold air coming off Rainy Lake. I miss the traffic-free streets of Fort Frances. I miss my cuddly grandkid and yacking with my son. I miss the freedom of hours to do nothing but walk along the river.

I know some people find it hard to fill their days when they stop working, but I don't think my eventual retirement will be a problem for me at all!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

There and Back Again

We just returned from a zippy trip to Fort Frances to visit Son Number One and his family. My heroic husband drove the whole 20-hour stretch in one go, both ways, so we could maximize the amount of time we could spend actually visiting. This is what it looked like going up:

Signs kept warning us of moose on the road, but we didn't see any. We passed a lot of lakes, with fun names like Fungus Lake and Rabbit Blanket Lake. We went through a town called, I kid you not, Tarbutt and Tarbutt Additional. Indeed. How it got that name, I have no idea. It sounds like a law firm. We ran into all kinds of thrilling names I couldn't pronounce, like Nicickousemenecaning and Mishkeegogamang, and Mitaanjigamiing. I mean really, what do you do when faced with that?

Halfway there, we passed through a little town called White River, which was the birthplace of the real Winnie the Pooh. So I can truly say I've been Beyond the White River!

Fort Frances was a pretty town, on a lovely river. Our hotel was right on the shore of Rainy Lake, and we saw deer one night on the lawn.

We took long walks with the granddaughter in the stroller and enjoyed a wonderful time with our family. We truly have much to be thankful for!

And this is what it looked like coming home again:

Though a lot of the time it looked like this:

Truly a spectacular trip!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Lunar Eclipse

I've been buried under a mountain of work and didn't hear there was going to be a lunar eclipse. So when I stepped out the door at 5:30 this morning and saw a nibble had been taken out of the moon, it was an exciting surprise. I'm fascinated by anything to do with space and astronomy. By the time Son #2 and I had walked down to the bus terminal, the moon was half gone, and by the time the bus reached the subway, only the thinnest of slivers was left. By the time the subway reached my office and I returned above ground, the sky was too light to see the moon. (Yes, the commute is that long.) But it was cool to think it was still going on above me, even if I could no longer see it.

The thing that struck me most was, while I was constantly craning out the bus window to watch this neat phenomenon, no one around me so much as gave it a glance. They either didn't notice or didn't care. I wanted to stop in the middle of the street and just stare. I wanted to throw my arms wide and declaim on the smallness of man and the amazingness of the universe. Our bustling and busy-ness seems insignificant in comparison.

These days we can predict eclipses and other astronomical events down to the hour or even the minute. We understand what causes them and we can measure and probe everything. But I think it's good to stop and just let nature dazzle you once in a while. We shouldn't lose our sense of wonder. Even if science can explain the things that used to astonish our ancestors, they're still wonderous.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Perfect Day

Wild, blustery weather. A romp in the park with my dog in high winds under amazing clouds. Four hours of LDS Conference with messages full of comfort and hope broadcast from Salt Lake City. And two bushels of grapes steadily turning into juice in the steamy kitchen. What more do you need?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Over the Top - What do we really need, anyway?

Someone I know made an offer on a house in Toronto. Now this was a pretty large house in a good area, but it needed major updating, and there was knob-and-tube wiring and asbestos that would have to be dealt with, which are not inexpensive things. It had potential but it wasn't absolutely amazing, or even unique. Well, she didn't get the house. It had multiple buyers interested in it, and eventually went for $400,000 OVER the asking price. My jaw hit the floor when she told me.

I knew Toronto was expensive, but that is just plain ridiculous. Beyond the fact that someone could afford that, there's the fact that someone would be willing to pay that. I mean, I adore looking at real estate, and I have seen many, many houses I would love to buy. But even if I were fantastically rich, there's no way I'd sink that much money into my home. Even in my most dramatic daydreams, I'm nowhere near that end of the scale. When it comes right down to it, it's a shelter, with walls and a roof and drywall and hopefully heat and water. You need somewhere to sleep and eat and stay dry and warm. Really, you don't need much more than that. Our ancestors raised bundles of children in small, modest homes.  Some lived in soddies, some in log cabins. I've seen Italian women churn out fantastic, amazing meals, course after course, on a hotplate in a kitchen not much larger than an Easy-Bake oven. What percentage of our income are we willing to spend on just this one basic need?

There are so many other places to put our funds, so many other causes, and so many people around us who are in need. It doesn't hurt to check our priorities once in a while and justify our financial decisions to ourselves if to no one else. I would rather live in one of those Tiny homes with my belongings in a cardboard box than to live somewhere over-big and over-priced, or to spend that kind of money just for the sake of saying I live in that location. Nowadays you just can't justify extravagant living, not when you're thinking on a global scale.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


I got notice this week of my thirty-year high school reunion. Oh my! Am I really that old? Have I been out of high school that long? I don't know what I want to be when I grow up yet! I won't attend, because it's a continent away, but it was fun to pause and think about the people I used to know and grew up with. Because of the way community worked in Utah, a lot of the kids I went to school with I also went to church with, and my 5th Grade teacher was also my Sunday School teacher (I used to play with his daughter in their sandbox). I've gone to the temple with my old French teacher. I babysat for my music teacher. A lot of us were together from kindergarten through university. And now here we are, graying and slightly pudgy and flashing grandkid photos. Imagine!

I recently reconnected with a long-lost cousin on Facebook, and it opened up a world of other befriended cousins, most of whom I haven't seen in nearly thirty years. It felt like Christmas, scrolling through the list of names with accompanying photos and remembering my absolutely enchanting childhood, filled with family. Rollerskating. Sleeping over. Singing around the piano. Playing Beckon and Nertz. Picnics and plays and Aunt Linda's pies. I remember my grandpa demonstrating tap dancing he'd learned in college. My uncle in his pin-striped suit, taking all the kids in the station wagon to cruise main street after my other grandpa's funeral. Learning to use the automated milking machine. Chasing rabbits turned loose in the yard. Hunting for Easter eggs and chocolate in a two-acre orchard. Trampolines and clinging in terror and joy to the back of the tractor as it reared to turn around.

I'm happy with the life I've chosen, and I love where I live. But it saddens me that my kids won't know what it feels like to be surrounded by a jillion cousins. There was always something going on, and instant friends only a car drive away. The memory of those days warms me, makes me want to scurry back to my childhood and the embrace of family. Hey, you jillions of cousins! I love you! Come and visit me! I'll pitch a tent in the backyard and make sloppy joes. I even have a few of Grandpa's mints left, squirrelled away in my dresser drawer.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Burdens and Opportunities

Someone recently posted the thought that God gives you mountains so you learn how to climb, and he felt he was scaling Everest this week. I sent him a quick message of encouragement, but it got me thinking. Today is what we Latter-day Saints call Fast Sunday. Once a month we go without meals for 24 hours and donate what we would have spent on food to charity, to feed those who go hungry on a frequent basis. It not only helps others financially, but it helps us to focus on the inner spiritual self while subduing the outer physical self.

Each month, I find it helps me to fast if I am thinking about and praying for a specific person or a particular need. But this month there seems to be so many people around me needing special help. A friend with cancer. A baby about to be born in the family. Another baby due in the spring. Someone's uncomfortable financial situation. An acquaintance's recovery from a difficult surgery. Someone waiting for news from their doctor. Someone looking for work. Loneliness. Loss. Pain. Disappointment. And it seems like a feeble cop-out to fling a generally-worded prayer heavenward for "all those who need Thy blessings." After all, we all need blessings of one sort or another. Everyone has a particular sorrow or challenge, sometimes visible and sometimes hidden. It's part of the human condition. And it seems a bit presumptuous to tell God, "You decide who needs help the most this month." As if He doesn't know already.

One of my bosses dislikes the word "challenge." She substitutes the word "opportunity" for it, instead. She's right, of course; every obstacle and disappointment presents the opportunity to grow or learn, and that is, after all, what we're here for. Someone else's problem provides us with the opportunity to reach and stretch and help and increase in compassion. But positive spin or not, the fact is that life can be incredibly hard. We need each other's prayers and outstretched hands. Even if we know the plan and see the bigger picture, we still have to get the occasional boost from someone else to make it through the day. So I think this Fast Sunday, instead of telling God to do all the work, I'll ask instead to be shown where I can be of most help, and then I will commit to doing whatever I'm shown.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Really Great Idea

For those of you who like to hike, walk your dog, or ride your horse in the countryside, you need to check out this brilliant (literally) idea at  -- a line of high-visibility apparel and animal accessories to protect you and your animals from hunters. A friend's wife came up with the idea, and I think it's terrific.

We used to live out in Hillsburgh on fifty acres of forest, and one day men came to the door and told me, "Keep your kids inside. We're hunting wolves on your land."

Well. What is the proper response to that? I packed up the two-year-old and moved to Guelph.

Not all hunters are polite enough to ask permission to go on your land, and a lot of the time you may not know they are out there. And not everyone is as careful as they should be. It is just a smart idea to take precautions. A horse can look like a deer through the trees.

Even if you aren't in an area where you might encounter hunters, I like the idea of putting a bright orange vest on my dogs just to walk them down the street. It makes them more visible to drivers, and if Brio dashes off into the woods by the park, it will be easier to see him. Right now he blends in with the autumn leaves. And considering how many times my kids were hit by cars when they were younger, I probably should have considered putting a bright orange vest on them before letting them out on their bikes, especially at dusk. They may not have liked it, but I gotta say it's a great idea.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Home Again

My parents returned home this week from serving as missionaries in London for the past year. I'm sure it was a time of conflicting feelings for them -- happy to be home, especially with a new grandchild about to be born, but sad to leave friends and places that have come to feel like home after so long. We are so proud of them and the example they have set for their family.

I know how weird it feels to return home after years away. You expect everything to be the same, or you fear it will all be different, and in reality it is a mixed bag. Things have changed just enough that you feel off-kilter, a little disoriented. Familiar objects in different places, or familiar places filled with different objects. People whose faces have altered just enough to make you realize time has passed without you there to watch it. I should know this, you say to yourself. But you don't. You know just enough to realize you don't. You end up not being quite sure how to react, how to function, where to find things. You forget now and then that you are no longer away, and you find yourself looking for people and listening for sounds that aren't there. It doesn't take long to fall back into the groove, though, and after a while you forget you've ever been gone. But for that first while, it's like wearing someone else's shoes. Functional, even comfortable, but strange.

When I first moved to Canada, I had little idea what to expect. Oh, I can do this, I thought breezily. I know this. They speak English here, after all. How hard can it be? So I went about acting as if I were at home, expecting all to be, well, normal. And then I spent the next few months putting my foot in my mouth, because it turned out there were hidden differences and unanticipated quirks and I didn't understand as well as I thought I did. I ended up making a lot of mistakes based on faulty assumptions. (By the way, when Canadians tell you "Oh, it's okay. Leave your shoes on" when you go to their home, take off the shoes!) I sometimes think it would have been easier to move to a completely different culture, like Japan, because then I wouldn't have assumed anything. Of course eventually I molded to my surroundings and now it all feels perfectly ordinary. Now it's when I go back to the States that I feel as if I've stepped through the looking glass. I feel like twitching my shoulders and adjusting my head, à la Adrian Monk, trying to settle.

I picture my parents now, back among the beautiful mountains of home (which mercifully never change). I envision them touching familiar things, unpacking, finding forgotten treasures that they hadn't realized they'd even missed. Happy, sad, and feeling -- just for a while -- like tourists poking through someone else's house. Remembering, reacclimating. Getting the shoes to fit.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

I want to live here

Found this on the Internet. Soooo me.

Dearly Depotted...

We gather in remembrance of autumn-emptied gardens--
stirred soil, dry vines, leaning stakes
Wheelbarrow overturned, tomato cages stacked
like dunce caps in the corner
Hoses coiled, tools cleaned and sharpened.
Seed pods shatter, sending next year's life
into clod crevices, between pavers.
All green has turned brown and black
A blanket of mulch drawn around earth's shoulders.
Like the garden, I will bide my time,
sleepy, covered, and calm for winter
until with the touch of sun and shovel
I explode back to life in springtime.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Son Number Two hits the ground running

Well, my son slept until noonish, went to go see a friend, and came home at 6 p.m. not only with a job, but with a carpool lined up so he can get to the job. Wow! And on top of that, he has a friend who has been trying to find some gardening space she can use, and she's coming over tonight to check out my garden. So I might have help maintaining the space next summer, which would be terrific. Lots of problems solved in one day. Has been home just 24 hours, and he's off to work at 7:00 this morning. I see my work here is done.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Dog Memory

Son Number Two has moved back from Manitoba -- he arrived at about 6:00 this morning. The dogs had been asleep on the couch, and when he walked in the door, at first the reaction was to perk up and bark. "Who's there?" And then recognition followed by joy. I wasn't sure Brio would remember him, because he left a year and a half ago, when Brio was only about seven months old. But Brio launched himself at him, licking his face and wriggling like mad, more than he usually does with strangers. And then I brought Maple down (he can't do stairs), and Maple went into the most funny rapturous dance. Twisting, squirming, pressing his head down to be rubbed, and then jumping up to lick my son's face (and let me tell you, Maple never licks people). But he slobbered all over my son, bathing him with kisses, and it brought tears to my eyes.

The poor fellow obviously missed my son, but he wasn't able to say so, or to ask questions about where he'd disappeared to and why he wasn't around anymore. But he certainly made his feelings known this morning! It took him half an hour to stop jitterbugging.

And then once the dogs had worked him over, it was my turn to do my happy dance.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Westie Walk 2014

The St. Andrews Pipes and Drums played for the annual Westie Walk  for the rescue society this week. A great cause and a lot of fun with about 400 dogs.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

On the couch

So I was stupid and picked up a heavy box of paper at work while trying to hold the door open with one foot, and I hurt my back. I'm more or less used to living with a constant, underlying pain, like a low grumble just out of earshot, but this was rather more than that. I spent most of the weekend lying down and taking muscle relaxants, went back to work Monday, and then made it through work on Tuesday until midday before having to go home and lie down again. I'm back at work today and will see how it goes.

Lying on the couch unable to do my usual routine made me ponder a few things.
  • If I don't walk the dogs, no one else will. This means I spent the weekend with Brio draped across my chest, staring me in the eyeball, while Maple wrapped himself around my feet with a resigned but martyred sigh.
  • My favourite thing on the planet really is reading, and luckily I can do this lying prone with my feet up. And luckily I have a lifetime supply of books in the house. Should I never walk again, I'm covered.
  • I really can't read without eating, or eat without reading. I bet if I stopped reading I'd lose weight.
  • As soon as I hear a neighbour start up his lawnmower, there is something in me that feels it has to jump up and mow the lawn too, even if it doesn't need it. How dare I lie here being lazy when there's work to be done? But there's a corollary to this:
  • The world doesn't end if you don't get the lawn mowed.
  • I like my living room. The walls are a textured gold, like Venetian plaster only matte, and when the morning sunlight comes in the window, the room glows. And I can make a shadow puppet of a panther.
And I suppose I must admit there's another point, too:
  • If I didn't have my job to drag me out of the house every day, I'd likely turn into a very contented but useless blob.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Where did the week go?

I posted on Monday, and lo, it is Friday, and nothing memorable has been accomplished (to paraphrase Thoreau). Seriously, when I was young, summer seemed to last forever, days stretched to infinity, and there was always time for everything. I spent great swaths of time playing on the swingset in the backyard, rollerskating with Janice Gill, and curling up with Tolkien and Jane Eyre. And there was still time in the evening left over to play with the kids in the cul-de-sac and watch endless episodes of "Gilligan's Island." Now it seems like the days zip by, summer is over before I can get ready for it, and the person in the mirror is looking more and more like my mom. (Which is a good thing, mind you, but still startling when I still feel about fifteen.)

I once took a class at the U of Toronto, and our wonderful professor died of a heart attack right in the middle of the semester. I remember being stunned---How could someone die in the middle of the school year? He was in the middle of writing a book. He hadn't given us our mid-term exam yet. We were just about to discuss Isaiah, the best part of the Bible! After all, that was the whole reason I'd signed up for the course--because I'd heard he was an excellent scholar on Isaiah. Now I'd never know what he could have taught me.

Somehow (stupid as it sounds) I had just assumed that death would come when you were sort of geared up for it. During school break. After the paperwork was done. Once all the ducks were lined up obediently in a row. When the kids were grown and independent. It started me thinking about all the half-finished projects I have crammed in my closet and basement that someone would have to clean out when I keeled over mid-stride. What was I leaving behind? More importantly, what was I spending my time doing?

These thoughts could make you refrain from starting any big project. Not plant the garden. Not get a mortgage. Not start a journal (What if I don't have time to burn it before I die?) Or they could have the opposite effect and make you jump into a fever of activity, trying to squeeze all the happiness and accomplishment out of life that you can while you can. I'd rather they make me seek a middle road: calmly carrying out the activities at hand, but paying more attention to the journey and getting less hung up on the destination. That destination isn't guaranteed, and even if it were, the only way to reach it is present moment by present moment. When it's my turn to leave behind the half-written book and the astonished students, I want to be at peace with the future, content with the present, and satisfied with the past.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Adventures of Son Number Three

My son went to Fan Expo this week in Toronto. This is a four-day event spread over the entire Metro Convention Centre, where there are vendors and displays and activities geared around video gaming, animé, comics, sci fi, etc. He had a blast. He reported each night on the excitement of that day. He got to meet Elijah Wood and Jon Heder, Stan Lee (inventor of Spiderman), the cast of Murdoch's Mysteries, two of the actors from The Walking Dead (whom he deflated somewhat by informing them he'd never watched the show), and he even got to chat with William Shatner. He also got to play Pokémon on his DS with the person who does the voice of Ash (lead Pokémon character), which was a thrill. He met a bunch of new friends, including some other LDS kids from New York, played hours of Magic cards, and got a job of sorts helping with the development and promotion of Terraforge's new card game. So all in all a successful week.

He reported also that on the long, boring bus ride home last night, there were only about five people on the bus and the ride was interminable. After a while his friend Zack started quietly singing "Bad Apples," and Gryffin joined in. And then the lady across the aisle started singing with them. And before the end of the ride, the entire bus was belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Apparently Zack can hit that high note.) Only in Toronto!

Labour Day and Elizabeth Gaskell

I think it's funny that we commemorate Labour Day by resting from our labours. It has become a day for back-to-school sales and picnics and closing up the cottage. But I delved further into its actual roots by reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was dense reading, but it gave me a better understanding of the impact of the formation of unions, and a new appreciation for the relative ease of my job and fairness of my work environment. Not to mention indoor plumbing and inoculations and all those other perks that come with having been clever enough to have been born in the 20th century.

One aspect of the book that was interesting to me was how an organization ostensibly formed to benefit the worker ultimately became a Master itself. The labourers founds themselves crushed by both their employers and the union. The theory was good but some of the initial attempts at unionization had their flaws. As I suppose all big enterprises can. Human personality sabotaged some of the otherwise hopeful efforts. Nothing great can be gained without some errors being made along the way. The question is, can the greater good justify the harm done to individuals who get caught in the path of progress? And has unionization today proven worth it? I suspect the responses to that question would be a mixed bag. I've had limited experience with it myself, but the one time I had to turn to my union representative for assistance proved to be useless. Ah well, the theory remains good.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Margaret Halsey

I am rereading a delightful old book my sister once sent me, called With Malice Toward Some by Margaret Halsey. It is a delicious and witty account of an American moving to pre-WW II England for a year, and her observations of the differences between the English and Americans.

I love her descriptions of the countryside, the people, the buildings, the weather. Her metaphors and similes are fresh and original. My favourite is when she is watching a cricket player wind up and throw the ball in that strange overhanded manner they use. She says it puts the startled foreigner in mind of a ten-year-old girl quitting the neighborhood baseball team in a towering huff.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Counting my Blessings

For some weird reason, I woke up this morning humming an old tune my great-grandmother used to sing. I don't know all the words, but it's about a girl named Belle, and I only remember snatches of it... "it blew Belle...We know that she's in heaven. She was too green to burn." Anyway, whatever the strange little song is, I've had Grandma's voice in my head all day. It has had a calming effect, has flooded me with nostalgia, and somehow has eased everything back into perspective for me. After the last two days of moping, I now find myself counting my blessings instead of feeling sorry for myself. I have kind friends who have sent me encouraging words. I spent a breezy hour playing ball with Brio at the park, where we met two darling little boys who joined right into our game with seamless confidence. Zucchini bread is in the oven and tomatoes are steaming on the stove...both tomatoes and zucchini being from my garden. I'm watching the Property Brothers on TV with my husband, whose paycheque did not bounce as feared. All in all, life is good.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Coping with Disappointment

What do you do when something you have counted on fails to materialize? What do you do when your original incentive for doing something has fallen flat and you can't get up the enthusiasm to do it anymore? How do you cope when your ego has taken a kick in the teeth?

These aren't idle questions; I'd really like to hear from my readers. My sales statement from the publisher arrived yesterday, and I am sorry to report that Desperate Measures has only sold just under 2,000 copies, which is pitiful. With the returns from the bookstores, the publisher actually lost money on it. Which means they took that out of the money from my other sales and so I didn't earn a penny with my writing in the last six months. Now I know writers tend to be overly dramatic people, and we weep and wail and gnash our teeth a lot on a regular basis, but this was a particularly nasty blow. I have always earned at least something. I had gone so far as to formulate fond plans for the money (stupid me). Secretly I think Desperate Measures was my best work, and it was certainly the most fun to write. My confidence is shaken. Maybe I'm not as good at it as I smirkingly thought. That's humiliating.

I write because it's a part of me, and I can sooner think of stopping breathing than stopping writing. Writing will always be in my life, but maybe the time has come to alter its role. I started promoting my work to publishers because it was fun. But the initial zing of seeing my name in print has gone long ago, and now I find myself caught in the race of deadlines and promotions, and the fun has lessened. I am writing what they want me to write, not what I feel I want to write. I have come to expect money for it, however pathetic the amount. And I feel I need to justify, somehow, the amount of time I'm spending at it to the neglect of other important things (like, um, housecleaning and sleeping and interacting with humans). I look back at the hectic past months, the writing sessions crammed in at 3:30 in the morning, the angst, and wonder if I've lost focus. So now I have to sit back and ask myself some questions about my motivations, my expectations, and my ability to sustain this. My desire to sustain this.

I'd welcome your thoughts. Which I'll read just as soon as I get back from Baskin Robbins. It's really the only answer at times like this. I might have to make it a double scoop.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Last night Jan came to help me bottle peaches. Her intent was to learn the process, but she was immensely helpful and we were done by 10:30. Usually peaches are a slog, involving an aching back, a sticky floor, and a bitter heart by the time all is done, but with someone new to chat with, the time zipped by. I am rewarded this morning by a counterful of gleaming golden jars, the contentment of the prospect of cobblers and pies for the coming year, and the knowledge that I have a new friend.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

I think not...

Well, I should have known Brio wouldn't tolerate not being walked today. I managed to finish the tomatoes and salsa by 3:30, after hours of standing at the kitchen sink, and all I could think of was sitting down with a good book and vegging out for an hour...but no. Who can sit and relax with those laser beam eyes boring into yours and that big tongue lolling out in a doggy grin? You could see what he was thinking. It's time to go! Of course we're going! Are you ready? Ready to go? Why are you sitting? Out out out! Whee!

So we went, and the air was lovely and cool, and the sky was pearly blue and the grass was so green it hurt to look at it, and there went my amber and white dog, sailing over that expanse of green with his ears flapping and exquisite joy radiating from every hair. It's funny to hear him try to bark when his mouth is filled with a large fuzzy orange ball. He sounds like someone sneezing into a jar.

I have learned a trick to tire him out more quickly; I stand on a hill at one end of the park and throw the ball as high and far as I can. He races to get it like syrup pouring down the hill...but he has to run uphill to return the ball to me. So it wears him out faster. He collapses at last on his side, panting hard, the ball still in his mouth, and he rolls his eyes at me as if to say Just give me a minute. I'm not done yet! We sit and watch the clouds bump into each other for a moment. And then he's dropped the soggy ball at my feet and raced off again.

All in all a lovely and productive day. And there was still time to get home to that book and a bowl of cinnamon popcorn. Not chips and salsa. I've seen enough salsa for today.

                                                                       Lisandro Rota

Teeth and Tomatoes

Not much time to write this weekend, I'm sorry. Son Number Three got all four wisdom teeth out yesterday, and today I'm bottling tomatoes and making salsa. A bushel of peaches waits in the basement. The writing is on hold. The dogs will not get walked today. And I highly doubt much of anything else will happen anytime soon! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Real Joy

A roller coaster this week! A good friend and member of our pipe band got his mission call for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week. He took a video of him opening the envelope and brought it for us to watch at band practice. When he read out that he was called to serve in Costa Rica, you could see a surge of delight run through his body, and he started jumping up and down. And when he got to the part about having to teach in Spanish, he danced right out of the camera frame.

It's a real treat to see honest joy, excitement, and goodness in an 18-year-old kid. The grin on his face will stay with me a long time. He's about to face the two most difficult years of his life, far from home, cut off from frequent contact with family and friends. He's putting school and career path on hold. He'll have to fend for himself, struggle with a new language, and learn a new culture. He'll have to be responsible for laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and getting along with his assigned companion while keeping tough hours and working with the people he's teaching. He'll grow and learn and discover a lot about himself over the next two years, and he will come home an adult, not a kid. He's footing the bill for all of this with thousands of dollars he has diligently worked for and saved throughout his life.

And in the face of all this, he is overjoyed. And so am I! I couldn't be prouder that he is eager and worthy to serve, and I can't wait to go through the same experience with my own son in just a couple of years.