Daily Archives: November 6, 2006

A Beach Moment

It’s a cold freezing rain kind of November day,  reminiscent of our wedding day way back in the dark ages.  November is such a stupid month.  It should be stricken from the calendar.  Just double the size of December.  At least when it’s December there’s a reason for all this cold and snow.  I’m not a big fan of January either.  Maybe someday I’ll live in a country where it never gets cold.  Those kinds of places tend to have a lot of bugs though.  What a dilemna. 

W. has recently reconnected with some of his university friends and he had me scan some pictures from his early days at Brock U.  so that he could share them and they all could have a good laugh at how young and carefree they all once were. 

Before they met their current spouses and life as they knew it ceased to exist.  hahahahaha.   He didn’t ask for this one, but I did it anyway.  It’s one of my favourites, taken shortly after we met.  When we were totally bowled over by eachother.  Staring at a beach picture helps to take your mind off winter.  Sort of.

I look stoned.  How strange is that.  Because I wasn’t.  We were in our ‘let’s look like hippies’ stage of development, where we made an effort at some subconcious level to look like something we clearly were not.  Besides, the sixties were over.  This is circa 1970 or 71.  We are going to be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this month.  This freezing, frosty, wintry, cheek numbing month of NOVEMBER.    And moments like this one are what I want to remember – the reasons why we started this whole life together thing in the first place.   We’ve faced a lot of stuff together.  We’ve shared a LOT of moments.  This was a good one. 

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Walkin’ In A Winter Hinterland

September 17

The weekend we decide to head to northern Alberta (because it’s mid September and the weather should be fine) it snows.  Murphy’s Law, I think that’s called.  We get a phone call before we leave advising us to bring our winter coats and boots.  WHAT????

It’s a six hour plus drive to get where we’re going – the plus being made up by how many times we stop along the way.  Kenzie is a terrific little traveller.  She brings a back pack full of stuff to do.  She reads and colors and sings and asks how many more minutes before we get there only about every 45 minutes. Believe me, it could be much worse.  My daughter and I have no problem talking non stop for six hours.  We’re very agreeable about where to stop for gas or to get something to eat or take a bathroom break.  I don’t like how fast she goes or how closely she follows behind other cars, but when I’m with her she tries to tone down her driving a bit and I try to shut up about it.   The bad weather starts almost immediately with rain, and develops into wet snow when we’re about half way there.  The closer we get to our destination, the more of the white stuff there seems to be sticking around.  

We have been sent written directions for the last leg of our journey because my son and daughter-in-law moved in August to a spot that is somewhere between two small towns we have never heard of.  We find our turn off no problem.  Now all we have to do is drive until the highway ends.  After half an hour we think maybe it never will.  Of course as soon as we think that we bounce onto gravel.  It’s still snowing, and on either side of us are deep ruts in the mud.  We both wonder how a gravel road can seem to be so slippery and I’m hoping we won’t meet anyone and have to leave the middle of the road. But there doesn’t seem to be any other traffic, coming or going.  The next landmark is a little white house where we turn left, onto an even muddier and more narrow gravel road, and then take the next right and VOILA!  We arrive at the mansion in the boonies!   It’s a rather startling sight to see, way out here, a house just plunked down in the middle of a field, is what it looks like to me.  But the closer we get the more beautiful it looks.  My crocs fill up with snow when I get out of the car.  No, I didn’t listen and bring boots.  It’s September forgawdsakes! 

Kenzie and Kale have a great couple of days together.  When they get together they’re pretty much inseperable.  Kale will be turning five in a couple of weeks.  He’s a very serious little guy who has already started his own business.  He has a few vague ideas about it’s purpose,  but mostly he’s just enamoured with office supplies.  He has pens and pencils and papers and notebooks and keeps very careful records at his desk.  Kenzie is immediately thrilled to help him run his business.  They produce a lot of written material complete with crayon drawings and stickers and various letters of the alphabet, and a couple of times ask me to read what they’ve written.  In case it actually says something.   I am particularly impressed by a paper which Kale has divided into two columns, with headings at the top which say ‘sorry’ and ‘oops’.  Nothing else is filled in unfortunately.  Unfinished business, I guess.   When they aren’t taking care of business they’re outside playing in the snow.  Kale has a great big Newfoundland dog who is very happy with his new home and gallops around like a miniature horse. They’re talking about getting a Saint Bernard to keep him company.   There is a stray cat that they are trying to encourage to stick around to keep the mouse population down.  Kale has named him Coffee Cat.  And in the fields next to their property there is a lonely bull who wanders around all over the place.  Kenzie points him out to me and says ‘look grandma, there’s that moose again!’

This is a view of a very small part of the backyard.  That blue circular thing second from the right is a kiddie pool/dogs water dish!  The kids were picking up pieces of ice out of it to suck on while the dog was drinking out of it.  Yeccchhh. 

And finally, here’s our two little entrepreneurs taking a coffee break.   Even business tycoons get thirsty. 

There are also three foster babies in this home at the moment.  They never seem to have fewer than four kids around at any given time.  It’s a busy lively fun place to be.  We have a great time.  When we leave it’s sunny and cool – perfect fall weather.  I’m glad we’ve had a small taste of what it will be like there in the winter.  We have been given an open invitation to be there for Christmas.  Somehow I think the term ‘snowed in’ could take on a whole new meaning for us if we go.  But I’m willing to take the chance.  Because I’m also thinking it might be like stepping into a Courier and Ives kind of winter wonderland.       

I love a rainy day…

Early this morning I was awakened by the rumbling of thunder in the distance.  There was a cool breeze blowing through the window making the curtains billow, and it had that fresh clean rainy day smell that makes me want to take a huge deep breath, inhale it, soak it up and just embrace it.  I pulled up the covers and closed my eyes and just breathed and listened.  I love a rainy day.  The “raininess” gets absorbed into the pores of my skin.  It gets behind my eyelids and washes over my brain.  Sorry, I don’t usually get so weird and poetic.   How about this – when it’s grumbly outside, it’s because of the sky elephants.  Mostly they just shuffle along, but every so often they’ll put their feet down hard and make a big kerplunk or even a loud kaboom.  My grandma told me that.  Awesome grandma story.  I’ve never forgotten it.  Perhaps I should pass it on. 

So, there I am, lying in bed, listening to the morning thunder and the sound of the first drops of rain hitting the neighbor’s tin roofed shed, and thinking about some other great stuff I learned from my grandma.  She knew all kinds of ways to predict the weather.  Besides feeling it in her bones, of course.  And getting tinglings in her ears.  She had a barometer that she consulted religiously every day.  She was a great believer in ‘the calm before the storm’ and the fact that stepping on a spider would bring bad weather.  I always felt it was a good enough trade off, personally.    

Grandma said animals were better weather predictors than humans;  maybe they were and are, but there still has to be a human around to interpret their behaviour.  She was very good at seeing the signs.  Some things that I remember –

-when a cat washes it’s face, sleeps a lot, is restless, or plays with it’s tail….it’s going to rain.  Cat’s apparently are ALWAYS predicting rain.  I guess if it constantly predicts the same thing, even a cat is bound to be right at some point.

– when dogs are sleepy, eat grass, howl or bark at night, dig holes, or have twitchy dreams it means a change in the weather.  Dogs are so smart.  

– cows, ducks, geese, horses and ants all increase their activity before it rains.  Hard to argue with this one, and also hard to measure activity levels of any one of them, in my opinion.  And speaking of cows – if cream or milk turns sour over night, there will be a thunderstorm.  I think this might have been more accurate before the invention of refrigerators.

–  When donkeys get noisy and shake their ears that’s also a rain predictor.  Grandma used to recite this little poem:     When the ass begins to bray,
     Be sure we shall have a rainy day.

Or something like that.  It’s a wonder I don’t remember it exactly – we made her repeat it a zillion times, just to hear her say the word “ass”.  

  

– flies and other insects become more obnoxious and sting and bite more right before it rains.  Also a hard thing to measure.  The way gnats fly can foretell fair or foul weather, but I don’t remember how or what.  Sorry.  Hopefully you’ll never encounter a swarm of gnats and have to worry about that one.

Grandma also took note of the colors seen in the sky and told us what they were meant to forecast. 

     Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

     Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. 

I know there are many versions of that one, but that’s how she said it, and my grandma was rarely wrong. 

     An evening red and a morning gray
     Will set the traveller on his way;
     But an evening gray and a morning red
     Will pour down rain on the pilgrim’s head. 

It seems to me the color red had something to do with an east wind as well, but I’ve forgotten that one too.  Oh well, I think she might be proud of me for not forgetting the more important ones at least.

Just in case W. had a weather forecasting grandma that he never told me about, I decided to ask him over coffee if he knew what thunder in the morning might mean.  He told me it means it’s gonna rain.  Ahhh.   Husbands are just as smart as cats.  I’ve always suspected it. 

Pluto

August 24

Pluto Has Been Demoted!

I did not know if I was justified in feeling saddened by this ground breaking news.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I could not help thinking that astronomers just might have way too much time on their hands.  Being no stranger to that state of being myself, I decided to go directly to Pluto and conduct an exit interview with the demoted planet himself.  

Me:  Pluto, how are you feeling today about not making the cut?

Pluto:  Why, thank you for asking.  Not too many parties have been interested in my feelings about being stripped of my previous planetary status.  I’m actually used to being treated a little differently.  I was of course the smallest planet,  and I’m now considered to be a “dwarf planet” instead of a “classical”, so really, in the grand scheme of things, not much has changed.  I’m just surprised that 2500 astronomers were able to get together and actually agree on something. 

Me:  Were you taken by surprise by the announcement, or was this something that you expected might happen?

Pluto:  I always felt that this kind of thing might very well occur at some point.  It’s common knowledge in the astronomical world that no matter how hard I tried to bulk up, I never did have sufficient mass for my self gravity to overcome rigid body forces and assume a  nearly round shape.  I was unable to clear the neighbourhood around my orbit.

Me:  I have no idea what that means.

Pluto:  Me neither.  It’s all in the new definition, though.  I can comfort myself with the fact that I did nothing different and nothing essentially wrong as far as being a planet goes.  I did my best, but when you don’t know the rules are being changed it’s hard to prepare yourself for every eventuality.  If you know what I mean.

Me: Um, yeah.  So!  What kind of feedback are you getting from the other planets concerning your situation? 

Pluto:  Neptune has been telling me for eons to stay the hell out of his orbit, so he’s quite pleased with the outcome of the vote.  He thought I should have been demoted even further to maybe an asteroid, or even a lowly comet.  The rest of the planets have been very sympathetic.  Oh- except for Uranus, who, by the way, is very aptly named.  He mooned me.

Me:  Seriously!  That seems unnecessarily rude, somehow.  

Pluto:  Why?  You can always use another moon.

Me:  Oh.  I see.  Of course.  When you first heard about this conference, did you find yourself hoping at all for the alternative definition to be chosen?

Pluto:  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure.  If it had been chosen, it would have meant another 53 possible planets, and we’ve all seen what happened with the expansion of the NHL.  The original six have been swallowed whole.  I must admit, it might have been nice to have my moon, Charon,  join me in the old boys club.  The asteroid Ceres, of course, has been demoted once already, so this was sort of old hat for him.  Alas, no matter what my wishes, the alternate definition was not to be.  I can only say that I feel honored to have been a small part of this elite group, even for such a short time.  I learned a lot about myself.   I take with me a wealth of experiences and new skills into my uncertain future. 

Me:  You sound like an ousted idol contestant.

Pluto:  I was just trying to put it into some kind of context that would be easy for you to understand.

Me:  Thank you for that.   Pluto, tell me, what do you think this whole experience has been like for Xena?  

Pluto:  Ahhh.  Xena.  The new hot chick in the solar system.  So recently discovered, and so quickly disregarded.  She has been understandably miffed.   Watch the heavens for further developments.  A woman scorned, and all that kind of thing. 

Me:  That sounds rather ominous.  Can I consider this an exclusive scoop, or have you divulged this information to anyone else?

Pluto:  Funny you should ask, because yes, you are not the first one to interview me as a matter of fact.  The martians are generally always a couple of jumps ahead of you earthlings.   I expect they’ll handle Xena before you even realize there’s a problem. 

Me:  That’s good to know.  I guess.   So, Pluto, when all is said and done, do you have any regrets?

Pluto:  Regrets, I’ve had a few.  But then again, too few to mention.

Me:  Ummm – that’s song lyrics.

Pluto:  I KNOW!!  Aren’t they great?  I wrote them!

Me:  You wrote them…..

Pluto:  Yes!  I’ve been composing song lyrics for light years!  When they’re finished I beam them off to the various planets and see what happens!  The residents of Mercury and Venus are pretty much fried and nothing ever comes back to me from there, but people on earth as a rule have been quite receptive.  They just take my ideas and run with them.

Me:  So, you’re telling me that you have been a source of inspiration to the people on earth, as well as across the solar system?

Pluto:  I do hate to brag, but yes, that is quite true. Now that earth people have demoted me however, I feel decidedly averse to being of any further assistance to them in their creative musical endeavours.  Expect a sharp drop in the quality of song lyrics in the next millenium.  You have my permission to tell everyone that demoting Pluto caused this decline. 

Me:  I can’t imagine that anyone would believe that.

Pluto:  Lack of imagination has always been one of your biggest downfalls.  Look at that dreadful mnemonic device you people used to recall the positions of the planets from the sun –  My Very Eccentric Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas.  Or parakeets, or whatever it was.  Well, nix on the “P” word, and you’ll have to dream up a new one now because you don’t have me to kick around anymore……… 

YO!!!  XENA!!  HOLD UP THERE BABE, WE NEED TO TALK!!   …..Sorry, I gotta run.  I heard Xena has this thing for dwarves.  It’s been nice talking to you. 

Me:  Pluto, I can’t express how enlightening this interview has been for…..

Pluto:  You bet!  I’d love to discuss the essence of the cosmos again sometime.  Maybe at the next conference?  Catch ya later. 

Me:  Okay…. well, thanks!  <sigh>  He seems like such a nice guy.  Let’s see….Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (and no Pluto).  Somehow it just doesn’t seem right.   

All Hallows Eve

October 30

A Hallowe’en Point of View

My mother always hated Hallowe’en, and I only recently found out some of the real reasons why.  Maybe hate is too strong a word – but I know she barely tolerated it and always seemed to be rolling her eyes a lot at all the fuss.  Now I find out that costumes and masks truly scare her.  For this reason, clowns for her are never funny.  Deception is cruel.  Pranks are the least amusing thing of all, especially if they’re willfully destructive.  She never told me any of these strongly held beliefs until she was in her eighties.  She also related a story about two of her uncles coming for a visit one Hallowe’en, unrecognizable in costumes and masks, frightening her so badly that she had to be dragged kicking and screaming out from underneath the kitchen table.  She said she had nightmares for weeks.  Wow.  No wonder she went out of her way to down play the whole thing for us, and make it all just silly fun, the sooner over and done with the better. 

I think vintage postcards are a great way to get a feel for how people viewed Hallowe’en way back when.  There is some seriously scary stuff to be found here.  I can imagine my mother looking at these images as a young girl and being frightened out of her wits.

Talk about your mixed messages.  The fairies don’t look too threatening, but the background eyeballs are ominously disturbing.  This girl looks so beautiful and peaceful and serene and totally unsuspecting – not hiding her head at all.  I want to shake some sense into her.  Get under the covers where it’s safe, you silly twit!

This image is particularly disturbing,  and not just because of the kids deformed face.  It has more to do with the disappearing cat’s ass in the corner.  And not crying would be good because…… sorry, I don’t know. 

Were you once allowed to end questions with exclamation marks?  And refer to birds as ‘doctor’? And sit in trees wearing red tights?  Man, three truly terrifying things, all on one post card.  What fiend would send something like this to his worst enemy? 

This, surprisingly enough, is a constant recurring theme of old hallowe’en post cards.  From what I can gather, if you held up a candle to a mirror on Hallowe’en night, you would see the image of the person you were fated to marry.  Out of all the many depictions of this practice I found this one the most frightening.  I mean really, look at that face in the mirror and be VERY afraid of what the future might bring.

Now this one at first glance appears to be nothing but cute.  On closer inspection, you may notice at least one very scary thing, which is that unmistakeable zombie-like expression on the cat’s face.  Making us wonder if he knows something about this child that we might just possibly find blood curdling.  

 

On hallowe’en the thing you must do, Is pretend that nothing can frighten you.  And if something scares you and you want to run, Just let on like it’s Hallowe’en fun. 

Most EXCELLENT advice on how to make your Hallowe’en experience joyful.  Or eat a LOT of chocolate.  Either one will work.  Have a Happy Hallowe’en!

Preserves

October 27

Adventures in Canning

Our family always kept a garden as big as a field.  We had apple, pear and cherry trees;  raspberry bushes, grape vines, a huge strawberry patch.  We grew potatoes, corn, carrots, beets, beans, onions, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and God knows what else.  It’s taken me years to appreciate how much work that all was, and how much we depended on the preserves that were ‘put down’ for the winter.  When mom ran into town to ‘pick up a few things’ that is really exactly what she did.  There were no big grocery shopping trips – except for things like sugar and salt and flour, we were pretty much self sufficient.  We had our own milk, cream and eggs.  I can remember that we rented a ‘locker’ in town in a huge walk in freezer, and that’s where we stored meat. 

I remember having to help pick things from the garden, shell peas, husk corn, chop, peel, wash…. and I seriously don’t remember being happy about doing any of it.  When they “did chickens” I would get physically ill, although my sister would be right in there, up to her elbows, happily eviscerating.  Gah.  She certainly caught the food preparation bug, and I did not.  She and her husband still maintain a huge garden and every fall they do their freezing and canning.  My excuse is that we were in the north for such a long time that I forgot how.  But the truth is I never paid attention long enough to learn, and even when we moved south I just never had the inclination.  Buying stuff is just so much easier and less messy.  Our house and lot here came complete with a garden plot – but it took us quite a few years to decide how to use it.  W.’s father is a great gardener, but for him it’s a solitary hobby and he never asked for help.  You might say W. and I grew up gardening impaired.  Now we plant potatoes and tomatoes, sometimes onions, very rarely anything else. 

This trip east my sister took us to a garden market where we bought a huge box full of red peppers for $12.00.  Even I can appreciate that price as dirt cheap while still realizing that there’s no way we could eat them all in stir frys.   She found a recipe for red pepper jelly and we went to work.  It didn’t take her long to discover that if she didn’t give me very explicit instructions, we’d be in trouble.  I don’t do well following recipes or measuring, a fact that stems from not ever appreciating being told what to do I guess.  But how hard can it be, right?  Read the name of the first ingredient, throw it into the pot.  I was down to the certo when I glanced down at the ‘method’ part of the instructions, and realized that some of the things were in the pot way too soon.  Crap.  Previous things needed to be boiled BEFORE the addition of other things.  My sister thought maybe we could salvage things by just boiling it all together.  Then she picked up an empty white paper bag off the counter and said – what happened to all the salt?  OMFG!!  That was salt?  I thought it was sugar!  Who buys their salt in a white paper bag that looks exactly like the bag that sugar comes in??  Thank God my sister has a great sense of humor and doesn’t get too excited about debacle and stupidity.  When she finally got herself straightened up from being bent double laughing, she took the pot out the back door and dumped its contents in the field that borders their lawn.  Then she had the foresight to send me on a shopping trip to pick up more salt and more certo.  Shopping I can handle.  The next batches we made were completely successful since I was not allowed to initiate any tasks all by myself. 

I brought two jars of red pepper jelly home with me.  It’s the most delicious stuff to use to top a cracker spread with cream cheese.  And the whole canning thing is actually pretty simple when you do what you’re told.  I found myself gazing speculatively at all our green tomatoes that we never know what to do with;  then I was on the computer printing green tomato preserve type recipes, and the next thing I knew I had picked up a case of sealer jars and a bunch of ingredients not normally found in my home.  Let the adventure begin!  I found out in a hurry that organization is not one of my strong points.  Clean as you go is something I need to learn.  I kept losing kitchen utensils.  And it is absolutely impossible for me to do something without improvising SOMEWHERE.  I couldn’t decide which apple chutney recipe to use, so I ended up sort of combining two of them.  I love to court disaster.  Surprisingly enough, when the smoke cleared, I had a dozen sparkling little jars of brown goo and a pork roast cooked for supper to smear it on.  It tastes awesome!  I’m still in shock.  W. actually likes it.  The house did not explode.  The other day I made some green tomato relish.  I would not be totally embarrassed to give some away as a cute little homey Christmas gift.  And that is REALLY saying something. 

A couple of canning memories have surfaced from my childhood.  Mom once made something she called “Governor Sauce” which consisted of green slimey things in a jar – so disgusting only my grandmother would eat it.  She also tried adding green food coloring to her pickles once with startling and ghastly results.  I think I may be more like my mother than I thought.  As my sister has always known, that’s a good thing.  

Skiing

September 25

A Ski Blog

When we lived in Pond Inlet our family took up downhill skiing.  Not there on the mountains and glaciers of course, but on holiday in la belle province.    W. and I are so easily lead, so open to suggestion, so verging on insanity.  LOL.  Our friends the nurses, a married couple, asked us if we’d like to spend a week with them at Gray Rocks.  And having more money than brains at the time, we decided it was a great idea.  W. had done some cross country skiing at some point in his life, but the kids and I hardly knew which end of a ski to point downhill.  We rented a chalet and enrolled in ski lessons and purchased a LOT of alcohol.   

Kids are such naturals at stuff like this.  They also have no fear.  By the end of their first day they were all over the place, up the lifts on their own and snow-plowing everywhere.  Short people are close to the ground,  so they’re able to fall down and get back up all in one fluid motion.  Just watch any little kid on skis – their center of gravity is below their knees, I swear.  Sort of like those wobble dolls, they always land upright. 

  

This is the very first ski lesson class our kids were in at the Snow Eagle Ski School.  D. is top left, K. with his instructor’s (guy with the moustache) gigantic ski on the right.  He looks pretty darned serious, the youngest in the group.  We didn’t invest in any special ski clothes this first time out, not knowing how we’d all like it, so my kids are also recognizable by the fur on their jackets.  It was the start of what appears to be a life-long passion for them.  They have since gone on ski trips with their schools, ski trips with their friends, and now ski trips with their own families.  Kenzie and Kale are fast becoming enthusiasts as well. 

That first time out W. did really well, mostly because he’s determined to succeed immediately at anything he does and won’t accept anything less than perfection from himself.  I was determined too, but mostly just with my own survival.  

I’m not a big outdoors fanatic by any stretch of the imagination.  My skin gets red and blotchy from the cold and the sun and the wind.  I get gigantic cold sores that are ugly and painful.  I have been known to whine a lot.  What I liked most about skiing from the beginning was the ‘apres ski’ stuff.  Where you sit down by a roaring fire with a good stiff drink and rub your aching feet.  And go on and on about your incredibly hot ski instructor.  I don’t remember his name now, but I will never forget how he inspired me to learn how to ski with his dazzling smile and encouraging blather.  He was very French and very cute.

(sigh)…..  Where was I…..  OMG, that jacket!  It was downfilled and bulky and quite ugly.  He posed with everyone of us for these pictures – which most of us purchased later.  Good little money making scheme.  Gray Rocks was an excellent teaching ski hill.  The snow was hard packed and icy, so you were forced to learn how to edge properly or kill yourself trying.  The place was small, so there was no fear of getting lost, but there was lots of variety as far as the slopes go.  It was great preparation for the mountains, which was where we headed next and never looked back. 

We’ve been to Marmot, Big White, Apex, Sunshine – I can’t remember all the places.  Many times we went with other families in big happy groups.  You’re sure to find a compatible ski partner somewhere, and if you don’t, it’s a great solitary experience too.  I have a whole photo album dedicated to just our ski holidays.  W. is the kind of person who skis like a maniac to get his money’s worth.  He paid for that lift ticket, and he’s gonna use the lifts, dammit!!  He whips down the hills in a zig zaggy blur.  D. was always (and still is) a finesse kind of skier,  lovely to watch, smooth and light.  K. became a dare-devil power house – in and out of the trees or bouncing around on the moguls.  I don’t know exactly how to describe myself – lazy maybe.  I don’t like to hurry.  I like to use the entire hill in big long back and forth motions.  I like to stop and take in the view.  If I think it’s too steep I have no problem side slipping to get myself out of trouble.  I skied a bit with the kids, but they had more fun on their own or with their friends.  The few times I skied with W. we tended to have big arguments about where to go and which lifts to take to get there.  I’ve never considered racing around like a maniac to be a fun way to spend a day out on the slopes.  Mostly we just agreed to do our own thing as far apart from eachother as possible and meet later for lunch. 

I did one run with him that I’ll never forget.  He wanted me to be more daring and hit some of the black diamond slopes with him.  Maybe he just felt like showing off, who knows.  He started down one particular hill in a blaze of glory,  while I followed at my own chicken hearted pace.  Halfway down he stopped and looked back to see what was taking me so long.  While he was looking up the hill his skis slowly began to point in opposite directions until he lost control of them.  One went east and one went west and W. did a glorious face plant in the powder.  He was SO mad.  It was SO funny.  And all my fault, of course because he’d had to look back up the hill at me.  My hysterical laughter fanned the flames of his fury.  It’s one of my favourite ski memories. 

We had a friend who pinned signs to his jacket his first day on skis.  On the front it said WATCH OUT!!  On the back it said I’M SORRY!  We were kind of sad when his skiing improved and the stories of his death defying escapades dwindled.

I’m glad our kids have continued to ski.  It’s a great way for a family to spend time together.  I’ve had back surgery and was strongly advised to forget about skiing, so I’ve had to give it up.  But you don’t have to give up the apres ski world.  Our son’s mother-in-law has never skied, but she goes along on every all-family ski trip to look after the babies and enjoy the scenery.  Now they’re talking about spending some time at Kicking Horse over Christmas and I’m seriously considering joining her.  All the fun with none of the danger.  Sounds like a good time.

The Picnic People

September 15

Random Retrospectives: The Picnic People

Alright!  Time for another random photo.  This one is not in great shape, but have pity, it’s OLD.

 

I’m not sure if picnics were just a really popular thing in the the fifties, or if our many relatives had no money or imagination when it came to a fun day out.  My dad was the third youngest in a family of 10.  He was the only one of the siblings that took up farming, and our farm became the gathering place for all the relatives from all over the place every summer for as long as I can remember.  This picture is of a typical picnic on our front lawn.  We had them everywhere – at the beach, in provincial parks, and sometimes just out in big empty fields where it was safe to have a huge bonfire.   We had what seemed like a zillion aunts and uncles and cousins and although the members of the crowd varied, there was always a crowd. 

On the far left in this picture seated in an old white rocker is my grandma.  Next to her is an unidentified aunt with her back turned to the camera.  Between the two women in dresses (the second one is my mom carrying a pitcher) are the heads of another aunt and my dad, barely visible.  You have to look hard to even notice them.  Next is my grandpa, my cousin Karen (being such a “GIRL”), and my Uncle Colin.   Across the bottom are more cousins – Evelyn (heavy Evy),  a dog named Butch (not a blood relation), Karen’s brother Bryan, their dad, Uncle Howard (with some weird shaped stuff in his back pockets), cousin Margaret (Mugsy), another unidentified uncle;  and finally, tucked into the lower right hand corner,  some poor little barefoot waif.  That would be me, with my hair hacked off because I refused to brush it, a sandwich in one hand and a drink in the other.  I don’t know why we’re all looking more or less in the same direction.  Maybe grandma  just said something brilliant.

The nicknames for Margaret and Evelyn were my brother’s creation.  They started it by calling him ‘scrawny Ronnie’ and my sister ‘small fry’.  Feeling incredibly left out, I begged them to give me a nickname too.  They eventually came up with ‘chicken liver’.  So be careful what you wish for.   

That big bushy growth on the right was some kind of vine that grew up the side of the house all the way to the roof on a wire trellis which I suppose must have been attached to the edge of the roof somehow.  When we were a bit older and my sister and I occupied the front bedroom where this vine hid half of the second story window, we used to climb out onto the vine and make the perilous journey down to the ground below.  We tried to do it with a minium of tell-tale scratches and a lot of stealth.  We were in big trouble if caught and the vine would get a severe trimming.  The roof (which you can’t see) over this veranda was fairly flat and it had a window that opened up right over it – also perfect for climbing out of.  I don’t know why we never broke our necks. 

This picture shows only parts of five different families.  Who knows where all the rest of them were.  But variations on this theme were pretty much how we spent our entire summers growing up.  It was easy to get over-looked with all these people around, and to get away with doing all kinds of strange stuff that wouldn’t have been possible if our parents hadn’t been busy entertaining eachother.  Cousins from the city were always willing participants in whatever thrilling adventure we chose to instigate;  things that involved ladder climbing and beam walking in the barn, tree climbing, roof sitting, forest exploration, and self made variety shows in the upstairs storage area of our shed (where you had to be careful you didn’t fall through the floor boards.)  It’s amazing what we survived.   

It’s also amazing to me now how close the family members all were, and that there is still a MacArthur picnic held every July because there are still so many of us who would hate to see the tradition die.  They don’t look much like this anymore, but the feelings of enthusiasm and comraderie live on.   

The Red Room

September 14

Random Retrospectives: The Red Room

I’ve decided I suck really bad at this chronological order crap as far as writing about my life goes.   When W. asks me ‘what year was it when such and such happened’ I never have any idea.  I’m like – I don’t know, what year is it now?    I’ve been trying to recall things, and then searching for pictures, and I end up missing huge chunks of interesting stuff that I’ve already leaped years beyond.  So now I’ve decided to go about it all backwards and sideways.  To sort of mimic the way I live my life.   I’ll just pull a random picture out of an album and see what my brain comes up with.

Then one fine day when I publish my memoirs, I’ll hire a good editor to make sense of it all.  LOL.  I crack myself up.  I don’t know if my own children would even be interested in all this.  Right now it’s strictly for my own amusement.   When I’m a hundred years old maybe my grandchildren will find it vaguely entertaining.  My mom filled out a ‘grandma book’ for us several years ago chronicling her life – the longer I have it the more precious it becomes.

Anyway,  here we go.  Random picture number one. 

Aren’t we all just too damned cute for words?  Little sister, big brother, me – I’m guessing we were about 3, 9 and 6 respectively because the picture is taken in the red room of the second house we lived in.  I LOVED the red room, but my mom hated it, so it’s days were numbered.  This must have been a very special occasion because my hair has been curled.  It’s natural state was a poker straight bowl cut.  Fitting for the little tom-boy I preferred to be I suppose.  

There are very few things I remember about the first farmhouse we lived in.  I know we could run around in an unimpeded circle from the kitchen to the stair hallway into the living room and back to the kitchen.  Off the kitchen there was a woodshed where our dog Pluto lived.  I don’t know who named the poor thing – probably dad.  Once I dropped a muffin on the floor and he wolfed it down under the kitchen table paper and all.  My brother told me I’d likely killed him.  I remember watching him for quite awhile to see if he’d die, but he didn’t even get sick.  We had an old upright piano in the living room that was never in tune and a radio that sat on the floor and was taller than I was. There was a big over stuffed green chair that sat in a corner and was great to hide behind, especially when company came and you didn’t feel like being polite.  We had a water pump outside, and one at the kitchen sink.  Mom would give us baths in a big old round wash tub plunked in the middle of the kitchen floor.  We had a wood stove, a barn, some cows and some cats.  I guess we were poor. 

I know now that the only way my parents were able to afford a better farm was with grandma and grandpa’s help.  They sold their farm to their son and they moved in with us.  The original idea was for them to have a separate section of the house for themselves, but we all should have known better when it came to grandma – she was not someone who could be confined or restricted.   It was a big enough place, that’s for sure.  There were five bedrooms and a full bathroom upstairs (with a SHOWER!) and we had a front and a back stairway.  Downstairs  there was a huge living room with a hardwood floor, our famous red dining room, an enormous kitchen, a den, a bathroom, a laundry room and a room we called the ‘back kitchen’ which stretched halfway across one side of the house and led to the garage and the garden.  There was a big root cellar that had an inside and an outside entryway, plus a furnace room with an opening into the garage.  We had two big verandas, beautiful front and back lawns (one with a lily pond!) and gorgeous maple trees everywhere.  There was a red barn and a big old red shed.  I thought we’d ended up in paradise. 

Best of all, I got to start school that fall, in a little red school house with my new best friend – who had red hair.  My thing for the color red is really not all that surprising.  My mom dressed me in red from day one.  Because dark haired little girls look good in red.  Even if their skin is pale and freckled.  Apparently.   Then she had her little blonde Shirley-Temple clone, and dressed her in baby blues and pinks and browns.  Maybe my sister had to wear some of my cast off red stuff, but I don’t remember it.  I had red coats and shoes and boots.  Red everything.  That dress I’m wearing in the picture was red velvet and scratchy.  The picture’s colors have faded, but trust me, I DID match the wall. 

So there we were – one BIG happy family.  Grandma soon filled the house up with plants and had flower beds everywhere and big plans for the garden and the orchard.  She was an avid quilt maker and there were always scraps of material everywhere.  And she loved to cook.  Mostly with onions from what I recall.  We were certainly never hungry.  So far I haven’t said much at all about my grandpa. He was only with us for three years after we moved.  Grandma was always so in-your-face that grandpa just sort of blended in with the woodwork and did what he was told.  He helped me learn how to ride a bike, and laughed for a long time when I ran into the back of his car to stop before I got good with the brakes.  Once when I slipped and fell he showed me what I’d looked like – his flailing arms and legs and ridiculous faces made me laugh instead of cry.  He used to follow grandma around all over the house.  She’d be opening doors and switching on lights and he’d be closing them and turning the lights off a few minutes behind her.  He died in the spring of the year that I turned nine,  from a combination of things – cancer, a fall down the stairs, and grandma nagging him to death.  She really did not ever give him a moment of peace.  Even after he was gone she kept right on calling for him and talking to him (or herself, who knows) until my mother had a big freak out about it.  It WAS pretty weird.  At his funeral I stared at his face long and hard because somebody told me if you stared at something long enough it would move.  The smell of flowers was so over-powering it made me nauseous.  I felt very very sad for my mom because she didn’t have a dad anymore.  But I did believe that grandpa just may have gone to a nicer, quieter, more peaceful place.

That fall our baby sister was born.  I haven’t said a whole lot about her either, but I will soon.   She never got to see the red room.  One day I came home from school to find it papered beige.  I couldn’t forgive my mother for that for a long time and I vowed that when I grew up I would paint every room in my house red.  I also told her I would never marry a farmer.  Not that I had anything against my dad, I just wanted to stress to her what bad taste she had in important things. 

The former red room eventually got divided in two so that grandma could have a bedroom and a sewing room on the main floor and we could all stop being nervous wrecks about her going up and down the stairs.  That’s the set up my kids remember when they visited great grandma.  She spent a lot of time sitting in her room in her rocking chair reading.  My kids would sneak up behind her and (in normal voices) say “Hi grandma”.  This would cause her to hoot and holler and throw her book in the air, and them to fall down laughing.  I don’t know who had more fun with that, them or her.   

So far I’ve had three red rooms in places I’ve lived.  One was my daughter’s bedroom in Yellowknife.  The walls were white, but the carpet and the bedspread and the curtains and pictures and everything else we could think of was red.  Here we did a guest room all in red but it’s had a lot of makeovers.  Now I have an L-shaped wall in my living room painted a beautiful shade of red that makes me happy every time I look at it.  According to Feng Shui, you are supposed to love at least one thing about every room in your house.  Well I love this wall.   But I no longer own clothes that match it.  Some things you do outgrow.

Dreaming

August 19

Dreaming

In my dream, W. has his hand on my shoulder and is urging me to wake up. 

“Lin!  It’s seven thirty!  Wake up! You’re going to be late.”

The awakened me knows I don’t work today.  I try to think what I have to get up for, and nothing important comes to mind.

I’m annoyed.  “Stop shaking me!”

“What? I’m not touching you.”  I open one eye to see that this statement appears to be true, since he is facing away from me on the other side of the bed.  Still, I’m half awake and I don’t need to be, and I’m never so belligerent as when I’ve had my sleep disturbed.  The clock radio says 5:30 a.m.

“I don’t have to wake up yet.”

“Okay, so don’t.  You were talking in your sleep.”

“I was not!  I am not asleep!  You woke me up!  Stop talking to me!”

(Muffled expletives as the covers go over his head, followed by silence.)

The dream W. takes the clock radio off the shelf and starts pressing buttons.  The semi-conscious me considers stopping him, but the dreaming me has a bus to catch. Somewhere in the back of my brain I know that if I complain about the button pushing it will be me telling him once again to stop doing something he’s not really doing at all, except in my head.   A big yellow bus is coming down the street.  We are all going skiing.  A car goes by, and I wave to a dad friend I recognize.  The car is stuffed full of kids and skis.  I’m on the wrong side of the road to get onto the bus, so I cross the busy street in front of it lugging all my stuff; boots, skis, poles, duffle bags.  Cars slow down but nobody honks.  The bus stops so close to me that the front of it brushes the arm of my jacket.  The bus driver asks me where the rest of my family is, and I point out the front window down the block where my daughter is waving madly at us.  When we stop in front of her a dozen little kids who all look like dwarves crowd onto the bus while I’m trying to get off, all the while talking to my daughter over their heads. 

Now I’m driving my car on the way to a very important meeting.  (Dreams always have abrupt changes of scenery and scenario with no warning and no commercial breaks. It never seems odd until you think about it later. )  I’m on a country road looking for a farm, and I’m late and I’m pretty sure I’m also lost.  If I don’t find the right place soon, everyone will be leaving and I’ll have missed the whole thing.  Nothing looks familiar, so I decide to make a U-turn, spraying gravel all over the place, and when I get facing the other direction, there in front of me on the side of the road is W. with a hitch-hiking sign that says Colorado.  I tell him I’ll give up on the meeting if he’ll just please forget Colorado.  He says something that sounds like “The Knights of Columbus are all getting thinner.”  He makes me promise that I won’t forget about it.  He is crawling out of bed and heading for the shower.  I tell him I don’t know where I put my ski goggles.  He doesn’t understand what I’ve said (thank god) so I just say never mind because I realize that we seem to be back to reality for a brief moment.  And then I hear water running, and I’m in an automatic car wash, with soap suds all over the windows, drumming my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, trying to reach the meeting people on my cell phone, but no matter how many times I dial, I can’t make the connection, their phone never starts ringing.  Then the radio suddenly comes on.

Okay, I’m fully awake now.  It’s the clock radio.  W. has left for work.  There was no reason to leave the alarm for me because I don’t work today, but he never seems to remember what days I have off.  Maybe he really was pushing buttons while I was half asleep.  I have a weird feeling that I’ve forgotten something important.  There was something I was supposed to remember…..  While I’m making coffee the phone rings.  It’s W., just wanting  to remind me that ‘tonight Colin is coming for dinner’.  He wasn’t sure if I was fully conscious when he mentioned it to me this morning.  Of course!  The Knights of Columbus are all getting thinner!  I catch myself before I say it out loud.  It’s possible he’s been subjected to my dream world a sufficient number of times already today. 

I wonder what in the world we’re going to do as we get older and more and more daft.  Well, me anyway.  I’ll have to carry a tape recorder around with me and play it back to myself hourly to make sure I’m in the here and now.  Maybe hire somebody to listen to it with me so that I get it right.   Something tells me my old age will not be boring.