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...