Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Portrait of Motherhood


Last week at our house, we had the double-whammy of my first child’s twelfth birthday, combined with a(nother) stomach bug. The bug wasn’t so bad that it knocked us all off of our feet for days and days on end, but it was enough to make us feel greebly, headache-y, and affect our moods in a negative way. Although we tried to celebrate the birthday with as much joy as we could possibly muster, there was one family member who was somewhat less than enthusiastic: the seven-year-old younger sister.

Seven is a difficult age when you’re a little girl. It is right around that time of life when you’re realizing that you are not the centre of the universe, and that you will not always be able to wangle your own way, just because you’re little and extremely cute. Seven is the time when people start to expect a little more from you… some expectations of a certain amount of maturity and responsibility begin… And, it is at about this time that it becomes all the more important for a little person to be able to think of others before herself. Like, an older sister, for example. Specifically, an older sister who is TRYING to enjoy her special day.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Child Number Two is, as a rule, a wonderful, optimistic, empathetic and generous little soul. She goes out of her way to help others, and likes to see people happy. But, these sorts of characteristics don’t always “shine through” easily when one is feeling kind of crummy. It was clearly difficult for Number Two to watch her older sister be showered with attention, and open her gifts. She started needling her sister a bit… tried to get a little of the “spotlight” for herself. It was clearly an attention-grab, and we gently tried to remind her that she herself had been the “star” of just such a celebration, only a few short months ago.

Eventually, the annoyance became a bit much for The Birthday Girl, and some sisterly tempers flared…

It was not a very good scene. And it was not an easy one to diffuse, since the girlies were in a weakened state, and not very responsive to attempts of parental guidance.

The next morning, Child Number Two was again home from school, but was feeling well enough to accompany me out on some errands. We dropped her sisters off at their respective learning establishments, and then I steered the loser cruiser towards the nearest Mecca of Canadian Coffee: Tim Horton’s. I figured we both needed a bit of a treat… and a bit of a heart-to-heart.

After we had purchased our indulgences, and were settled down at a table, I took the opportunity to bring up the topic of the shenanigans of the previous day. I explained how her older sister was entering into that highly volatile, confusing, emotional maze called “puberty”, and how it would be very important over the next few years to try and be a little bit sympathetic to her wildly fluctuating emotions. But, paramount to that, I reminded my second child how incredibly important it is to value other people’s needs and feelings… especially the needs and feelings of our own family. I tried my very best to explain to her that being “family” is a life-long commitment, and takes a tremendous amount of effort: probably even more effort than any other type of relationship. After all, you can’t choose your siblings-- and siblings often turn out to be complete, polar opposites: people you might never think to strike up a friendship with, were you not “forced to”.

I would love nothing more in the world than for my girlies to grow up as close friends. However, that is something that only they can decide. I can encourage and guide them, but any attempt to force a "close" relationship would undoubtedly backfire… What I CAN instill in them is a sense of respect for one another. No matter what their similarities or differences may be, I try very, VERY hard on a daily basis to teach my girls to treat each other in a respectful way. Hopefully, the closeness and friendship will further develop from there.

By the end of our chat, Child Number Two was her old self again. We both pledged to try a little harder in the future, and moved on to different topics of conversation.

While Number Two and I had been talking, an older woman, her adult daughter, and a little baby boy came and settled down at the table next to us. The daughter set off to the counter to purchase their snack, leaving the older woman to mind the baby. Although she busily showered the little boy with attention, I was aware that the older woman could hear what I was saying to Child Number Two, even though she was clearly attempting to avoid eavesdropping.

Once we had finished, I allowed Child Number Two to take our tray across the shop to the garbage and recycling bins, and it was then that the older woman met my eye.

“I couldn’t help overhearing…” she began, apologetically. “I know where you’re at. I know how hard it is to try and deal with sibling rivalry…”

Then, she smiled warmly at me.

“When things seem really bad, just remember that someday, you’ll be the GRANDMOTHER, like me. And you’ll look back, and realize that overall, these were some of the happiest years of your whole life.”

We shared a “moment”, just then: two women, separated by years and years of experience, but both of us MOTHERS.

And when my little girl hoppity-skipped back to our table and asked me why my eyes looked funny and kind of “wet”…

I told her that it wasn’t anything that one of her good, loooong hugs couldn’t fix.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Soup to put a "spring" in your step.


I love soup. For me, it's one of those "perfect foods". Easy to make, easy to eat, easy to freeze and store and take out again when you're feeling low, desperate for a little comfort.

It's also a fabulous vehicle for some of the things you like to eat best: and for me, that list would have to include tomatoes and fresh pasta.

We've just gotten over some relatively serious germs in this house (again). And today, I am finally ready to return to the kitchen for my own pleasure. There are few things more challenging than having to cook well planned, balanced meals for people who are NOT feeling greebly, when YOU, the Chef, most certainly ARE. But today, I finally woke up (at the crack of dawn... thank-you, three-year-old) feeling as though I actually WANTED to concoct something yummy to eat... something warm, on this slightly chilly day, something nutritious that would replenish my energy... something GOOD.

And so, soup it is. With fresh pasta. And tomatoes. And spinach, actually, since I'm one of "those people" who doesn't cringe at the thought of a few slightly wilted leaves floating around. I feel a bit like a weakened Popeye, today, and so spinach, it is.

Now, if you've been reading this blog over the past year, you will know that I am a tomato fanatic, and that I am enough of a "purist" that I tend to pontificate about fresh produce-- the more locally grown, the better. But, at this time of year, there are no fresh, locally grown tomatoes to be had, and so for this recipe, I use the canned variety. But believe it or not, canned can be GOOD. I've found a brand that does a diced tomato very nicely-- with a little bit of Italian seasoning-- and the results are pretty good. Still not as good as fresh would be, but remarkably, pretty damn close.

Here is the recipe for an easy soup. Easy, and delicious. Ab-so-lute-ly perfect when eaten while sitting on the patio with your feet up, in the spring sunshine.

Enjoy.

I sure plan to.

Spring Soup

4 or 5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
1 28 oz can of diced plum tomatoes... juice and all
1 can of black beans, rinsed
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 package of fresh pasta-- I have found a lovely whole-wheat medaglioni with chicken and rosemary at our local grocery store... There's another with sun-dried tomatoes and cheese... whatever floats your boat!
A few handfuls of baby spinach, if you like
salt and pepper to taste

Throw everything but the pasta and spinach into a large soup pot on the stove, and heat to the boiling point. Toss in the pasta and cook 'till done, then add the spinach, and allow it to just wilt-up a little bit.

Serve, sprinkled with romano, asiago or parmesan cheese...

(Or, all three, if you're hungry and greedy like me.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Twelve.


"I'm heading to Superstore to do the grocery shopping this morning... Are you SURE you're feeling okay??? Because, if you're not... if you THINK you might need me... just say so, and I won't go."

Thus spoke my best girlfriend, on this day, at nine o'clock in the morning, exactly twelve years ago.

I was sitting up in bed, nursing a cup of tea, and contemplating heaving my enormous bulk downstairs for some breakfast.

"Of COURSE I'm okay. The doctor saw me just yesterday-- this baby is high, and in her exact words, I'm 'tight as a drum', even if I AM nine days overdue... I'll meet you at the doors of Labour and Delivery tomorrow morning at 8am... They'll start the induction just as soon as we get the paperwork done. I'll need you then, for sure. Go and get food for your family!!"

We hung up, and I thanked my lucky stars to have such a friend: one who would leave her nearest and dearest at six o'clock in the morning, and struggle through two hours of nasty rush hour traffic, to support me through the birth of my first child. My husband is the "squeamish" type-- the type who freaks out and demands I take antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle-- and I wasn't entirely sure he would make it through a long, hard labour in a fully-conscious state. Sandy would be there to support BOTH of us-- the "green", newbie parents-to-be.

I felt a twinge as I waddled down two flights of stairs for the kitchen, and breathed through it. Several more rapidly followed as I munched through my cornflakes and toast, but it wasn't anything unusual-- I had been having those pesky Braxton-Hicks contractions for WEEKS... and for what?? For the doctor to proclaim me "high and tight" upon each and every examination. As my due-date drew nearer, and then passed altogether, I began longing to actually BE "high and tight" in a completely different manner... Surely a few pain-relievers and a glass of white wine were IN ORDER once you had passed the forty-one-week mark...

I puttered around, and planned out my day. I had one day of work left. One matinee performance of "Showboat" to get through, with all the various crazy costume changes and typical disastrous malfunctions. The cast and crew had been wonderfully supportive during the run, and cheered me on enthusiastically every day I actually turned up at work. Apart from the stage hands making air-traffic-controller-type motions with their flashlights every time I crossed the darkened backstage (it was all in good fun, really... even though they WERE supposed to be ensuring that I didn't trip on all the damn lighting cables rigged across the floor), everyone seemed quite thrilled to have a heavily pregnant woman around, and by no means felt they had to make "allowances" for me... well, apart from letting me go first-in-line in the cue for the only ladies' room in the back of the theatre, that is.

I would have one more half-day on the job, and then would take the evening off, in order to rest up for the next day's delivery. Husband and I would enjoy a leisurely dinner together-- the first one in WEEKS, because of our conflicting schedules-- and then settle down on the couch to watch one of my favourite movies: "Some Like It Hot", with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

At about eleven o'clock, I called to my husband breathlessly, "I'm going to take a shower. Then, could you drop me off at work?"

Husband noted that I was slightly red-faced, and puffing a bit.

"It's nothing, I promise. I've been having these contractions for weeks now. YES, they're five minutes apart, but they always stop. This baby is coming TOMORROW. I've got a matinee TODAY. I'll be ready in half an hour..."

And I trailed off to the bathroom.

LUCKILY... My husband had the sneaky foresight to call our obstetrician while I was out-of-earshot. Because had I been within earshot, there would have been NO WAY I would have let him call. And then call my boss, and tell him that I would not be "in" for the performance that day.

When I emerged from the bathroom, I discovered my husband standing at the front door, my little suitcase in hand. I was told that we were heading for the hospital. NOW. No questions.

And thank goodness for his insistence... because once I got over the fury of being usurped by my spouse, I was doubled-over in the passenger seat of our Volvo, huffing and puffing away, praying that the twenty-minute journey to the hospital could be just a little bit faster... and the date with the anesthesiologist could be arranged, oh, say, AS SOON AS WE HIT THE PARKING LOT??!!

I'm certain the nurses thought I was just some melodramatic first-timer, when I had to take breaks every minute or two to put my head down on the desk and breathe through excruciating contractions, while I was completing the hospital sign-in process. No one seemed in much of a hurry to call a doctor, either. But mercifully, my own OB was on call that day, and came hurrying down as soon as he heard we had arrived.

"You're seven centimeters. SEVEN!! That's great!! Amazing!! You slept through most of your labour!! How about that?? It won't be long now..."

My husband was IMMEDIATELY on the phone to Sandy-the-best-friend, who lamented that she likely wouldn't make it to the hospital in time...

But I was too busy discussing a Very Serious Matter with the doctor to be much panicked about that. I knew Sandy would arrive eventually... but WHAT OF THE EPIDURAL???

I had been taught from a very early age, that when making important decisions, or choosing a life-path, one should always allow for some "wiggle-room", just in case. "By all means, choose what door you want to go through," a former guidance counsellor used to tell us, "but for goodness sake, make sure you leave a window open."

And so, when I was told that "the window was closed" on the heavy-duty, effective pain-relief, it did NOT go over well with me, the She-Lion-In-Hard-Labour. It didn't go over very well with my semi-hysterical husband, either... Even as they were tucking me into bed and making all the weird adjustments to the end of it, and shining that blasted light DOWN THERE, I could STILL hear him shouting, "But I'm supposed to be HER PAIN ADVOCATE!! I PROMISED HER!!!"

To which my blessed doctor responded with soothing "clucks", like "Yes, yes... It's hard, isn't it? I have four children, myself... There for every one of them.... It's hard to watch your wife go through... But it's the same for everybody..." And then, when my poor, distracted husband threatened to go off the deep end, altogether, I heard a nurse say firmly:

"MISTER B!!! It is TOO LATE FOR THE EPIDURAL.
THIS IS YOUR BABY'S HEAD."

And then, everything went a bit fuzzy for me after that... It was a "blessedly" quick labour, but a truly shocking one. Not frightening, exactly, but I do remember being completely amazed when a sort of "animalistic instinct" took over, and suddenly I understood exactly what to do, and how to focus...

My first memory of my newborn daughter is the sensation of the weight of her tiny little body being placed on my chest. And while I was so exhausted from the hour-and-a-half of hard, HARD labour, that I couldn't even open my eyes to look at her... couldn't even really "hear" her first cries... I remember the feeling of her... of the two of us, separate, and yet, together at last.

My husband cried. And I confess, I took advantage of his completely flabbergasted state-of-mind to ask to name our baby after my much-loved great-aunt, and after his mother. They were beautiful names-- perfect for the perfect little dark-haired angel they had gently swaddled and placed in his arms.

It's been twelve years, today. It feels like only a moment ago, but in so many ways, it has been a lifetime. Forever.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful, sweet, twelve-year-old girl. I'm so proud of you. And happy birthday to me, too, because on this day, a dozen years ago, I became a mother. We are a pair, you and I.

Just the sound of your voice,
The light in your eyes,
We're so far away from yesterday
Together, with a wink and a smile.

We go together like a wink and... a smile.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Mama, can we watch..."

"ELFIN JOHN???"

Okay, that's got to be one of the best malapropisms EVER...

Better than an alarm clock...


I was lying in bed this morning, semi-awake, and feeling sorry for myself, when from downstairs in the kitchen I heard a little voice say:

"HEY!!! Look at all those squirrels digging in Mama's garden!! Aaaaawwwww... How evilly CUTE!!!"


It is amazing how fast one is capable of moving, when provided with appropriate enticement... Look out you little furry buggers, 'cause Mama's feelin' better, and she's back on the warpath again!

En garde! Or, should I say, "En GARDEN"...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For Earth Day.

"The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there."
~George Bernard Shaw

Monday, April 21, 2008

From Paint-a-palooza to Barf-o-rama...

video

This is the kind of thing that happens when Mama gets sick...

I'll be back as soon as we've been released from the grips of The Grippe.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paint-a-palooza, part 4.


Colour me tired.

This painting kick I've been on rivals any work-out at the gym I've ever done, including the kick boxing classes. Which is great-- don't get me wrong-- because not only am I getting in shape for the hell that is Bathing Suit Season, but my house is starting to look better, too.

Today, the dining room was finally checked off the list. The walls have cured, the base-boards and wood work are a fresh, sparkling white, and we've moved the furniture back in. Tomorrow, the living room "goes down", and then I'll be moving on to the upstairs...

I know I've been gassing on a lot about all the changes going on around here, without providing much detail. However, it's difficult to take photos that do the work justice, until all the "little things" in the rooms are just right, you know? I've got to have some pictures framed, run up two new pairs of drapes (for which I have not yet even chosen fabric), and re-configure some furniture... And all of it is going to take time.... most likely a LONG time, because gardening season is right around the corner (**suppresses glee**). And, so long as I don't fall down dead from exhaustion after all this pallooza-ing, THAT'S what I'll be attending to next. So, with apologies to those of you who have very kindly emailed and asked me questions...

I've got an idea. Here is a "representation", if you will, of some of the new colours I've chosen for our home. This'll have to tide you over until I get the remainder of my act together!

Our mud room is muddy no more! After a thorough (and much-needed) ceiling-to-floor scrub, I painted the walls a lovely, fresh china blue. All of the doors and wood-work received a coat of my favourite white, Benjamin Moore's "Decorator's White", which is a great all-purpose shade, and compliments everything you can possibly imagine (except maybe my hair). All the wood-work in my house will soon be this colour, and it will be easy as pie to just whip a can of paint out of a closet and do any little touch-ups that inevitably need to be attended to, without worrying about "WHICH WHITE???" I had previously used. The interiors of all of my closets are now Decorator's White, too. God, how I HATE painting closets... And, barring all disasters, I will never have to paint one ever again. Well, maybe not for the next few years or so, anyway.

The kitchen, which we gutted and re-modelled a few years ago, is a yellow ochre colour, called "Artists Studio" from the Paint Cafe line of paints. Our appliances are all black, which makes a nice contrast to the cream-coloured cabinetry, and helps to "ground" the room, a bit. I have always loved having a bright, sunny kitchen, and this ochre colour is a more "grown-up" version of the butter yellow I was partial to in my younger days.



Our main hallway is a soft grey-green. Our entrance way faces north-west, and so it's a good colour to make the space look light and airy, even on a dark day. It's more grey-ish in the light, but mellows to a lovely green in the evening. It also makes a good transition colour, when you look in towards the other rooms that branch off of it. The colour is (rather horrifyingly) called "Sharkskin", from the old Benjamin Moore colour deck.





Now, brace yourselves. I have broken with my long-held belief that it is best if the colours in my home all figure around the same value (the strength of a colour-- the "lightness" or "darkness"). I went slightly nuts this week, people, and painted the dining room "Pomegranate", from the new, more environmentally-friendly line of paint from Benjamin Moore, which is called "Aura". It's a spectacular colour... I love it. Child Number Three wandered in while I was rolling it on, and said she "liked the OLD room better..." But, when I asked her what colour the room had been before, she couldn't tell me. Hah. MORE proof that a dramatic change was long overdue. The former room had been the exact colour of chocolate milk... which sounds delicious, but in actual fact, was rather a bland pinkish-brown. I always felt the room was a bit cavernous, whenever we ate in there... But not anymore. The space has warmed right up, and become more elegant, but a bit more "intimate", too. I'm thrilled, even if my family members are still a bit scared. One good meal in there, and I figure I'll have them converted...




This week, the living room is set to "go down". Currently, it is the same shade as the hallway, but it will soon be a lovely robin's egg blue, accented with light brown. This is the paint that was inspired by those cushions I found, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. This is also the room in desperate need of two pairs of drapes... I'm going to have to "suffer" a trip to my favourite fabric warehouse downtown (!!!!) to find some lovely raw silk... Whether I'll actually get them sewn up before Christmas is another matter altogether.



The last project will be the girlies' bathroom... and they all want purple. I've settled on a pale, fresh version-- much like this wisteria-- and then I'll have to turn "handywoman" and replace a few light fixtures... This is a bathroom in desperate need of a complete renovation, especially since we've got one child teetering on the brink of adolescence, and two more following up the ranks... but until I've got the bucks to re-model and put in some MAJOR storage space (and a few more sinks-and-mirrors), a quick-fix will have to do.


There you have it, folks. Paint-a-palooza Plan for Spring, 2008.

The weather has been so gorgeous, lately, it's been haaaard to keep my mind focused on the INSIDE of the house... especially when little green shoots are starting to jump up out of the ground outside... but so far, it's been well worth the effort.

And, when it comes right down to it, it beats the hell out of spring cleaning.

THAT job will DEFINITELY have to wait till fall.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Whymommy? Your shirt, Madame.



"No Evidence of Disease"


Go and congratulate Susan, on this most wonderful news... and then please, go and do your BSE, or tell someone you love about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sisterly love...


My two youngest children have hit that delicate point in their relationship where Child Number Two becomes the object of envy, because of all the "big-kid" things she is now allowed to do. It used to be that my eldest daughter was the one swanning off to school and classes and events. Back then, it was easier for the youngest two to handle being left behind, because they still had each other. However, now, it seems, there is usually just one little chick left in our family nest. I now have two "fledglings" who are out and about, testing their wings.

Last weekend, Child Number Two was invited to an "Almost Sleep-Over" birthday party. The event was held during the day, and although no-one would actually be "sleeping", the guests were invited to wear their pjs, and bring stuffed animals and sleeping bags. It was a highly anticipated event-- Child Number Two has not yet felt comfortable enough to spend the night at a friend's house, and she figured that this daytime shin-dig would be good practise, as well as good fun.

Her little sister trailed after her as she assembled all the "equipment" she'd need for the festivities... Poor Wee Three had started out being thrilled at the prospect of a party, but became considerably less than enthusiastic when it dawned on her that she might not be invited, too. The full extent of her distress occurred when I had to confirm her suspicions, and said that she was simply too young for the party-crowd... Not even the promise of lovely alternative activities (baking, gardening, crafts) could convince her to stifle her angry yowls of protest.

That is, until Child Number Two began searching for a suitable stuffed animal to take with her.

Wee Three stopped crying immediately, and piped up:

Wee Three: (in-between sobs) You can take SMARTYPANTS, i'you like...

Child Number Two and I immediately stopped what we were doing, and spun around to look at her. Because Smartypants is Wee Three's most beloved stuffed hippopotamus. He is absolutely gorgeous-- soft and squishy, with beautiful eyelashes and "teeth" and everything... and he's nearly as enormous as Wee Three, herself.

Child Number Two: (incredulous) Wow. THANKS.

She took Smartypants and crammed him gently into an oversized plastic bag, before her little tyrant sister had a chance to change her mind.

Once we had delivered Child Number Two to the birthday party, Wee Three and I were alone in the Loser Cruiser, and headed to Dairy Queen for a treat.

Mother: (catching her youngest child's eye in the rear-view mirror) Well. That was a REALLY nice thing to do, loaning your best stuffed animal like that. You made your sister SO happy. I'm proud of you, sweetie... What made you change your mind, and decide to be nice?

Wee Three: (nonchalantly) Oh, I just knowed there would be cake at the party. And Smartypants LOVES cake... it's his best thing...

Suddenly, an evil, Grinch-like smile began to spread across the face of my youngest child.

Wee Three: (all but rubbing her hands together with glee) Smartypants loves cake SO much... he's going to eat Sissy's cake all up, so there's NONE left for HER.

Sisterly Love, Part Deux

Tonight at suppertime, we were sitting around the table, chatting about the day's events, when the resident seven-year-old piped up:

Child Number Two: Timmy cried today at school. Some of the girls were being mean to him.

Timmy is a delightful little boy... I took an immediate shine to him on the very first day that he and Child Number Two started junior kindergarten together, three years ago. All you have to do is say the word "Timmy!", and his entire face breaks into an enormous grin-- the effect is like turning on a lightbulb.

Mother: (grimly) That's terrible. Poor Timmy! He's such a nice little guy. Did he find a teacher to help him?

Child Number Two: (delicately balancing a chicken nugget on her fingertip) Oh, no. I went over and said I'd play with him. Then he felt better.

Father: Good for you, sweetie. I'm proud of you for sticking up for your friend. And did the other kids join in, when they saw you having fun?

Child Number Two: Nope. They kept right on being mean. They said I should come and play with them, and stay away from Timmy, because he's "odd". I told them that Timmy's fun, he's not odd, at all.

Mother: (smiling) Oh, all the best people are a bit odd in our own little ways...

Father: If we weren't, we'd all be as dull as dishwater, just like those mean girls.

Child Number One: (putting in her "oar" as Older, Wiser Sister) Being a little bit odd is a good thing-- it's what makes people interesting!

Child Number Two: (pinning her sibling with a glance, and arching one eyebrow) Well, Timmy is sure a LOT less "interesting" than YOU are, that's for sure...

Monday, April 14, 2008

A confession. And, a list.


Spring is upon us at long friggin' last.

And in the springtime, a woman's thoughts turn to... Bathing Suit Season.

Yessir. The most stressful time of the whole. damn. year. is right around the corner.

Back-to-school? Tough, but I can handle it. Christmas? Fa-la-la. But one mention of Bathing Suit Season, and you'll find me spewing an entirely different "f-word", altogether.

The idea that one of these days-- no doubt, much sooner than I'd like-- I'm going to be forced to don my summer wardrobe without being labelled obscene, has made me do something different this year.

I've become a "closet cyclist".

Well, actually, a "basement cyclist", if you want to know the absolute truth.

Every night, after my girlies have been bathed and read-to and kissed goodnight, I don my "sweats" and head down two flights of stairs, for my trusty stationary bicycle.

We've had Old Klunker for about a decade, now. I actually laughed at my husband on the day that he brought it home and set it up... right in front of a television set, which was supposed to be "motivation" for him to use it. When that failed, he bought a sort of "music stand" attachment, and screwed it onto the handlebars, so that he could catch up on reading annual reports while he was getting a little exercise.

Needless to say, it was a fad that didn't last long. Poor Old Klunker wound up gathering a fair bit of dust... until the girlies discovered that if they sat their Barbie dolls on the pedals and wound them around, it made for an extremely pleasing ferris-wheel ride. From then on, Old Klunker was regarded more as a toy, than as a piece of fitness equipment.

That is, until I returned from vacation last month. For, a rawther dismaying thing occurred while I was down south this year. It turned out that, once freed from the restraints of my usual winter uniform of jeans and a black turtleneck, certain parts of my anatomy did not always stop moving when I did.

Oh. The. Horror.

Of feeling the tops of one's arms still waving "bye-bye", even after one's hand and wrist have ceased. Of one's rear-end feeling more than slightly gelatinous. Of one's thighs... Well, we won't go into the thighs. And all while wearing summer clothing. Which does not cover up and hide nearly as much as the winter wardrobe does-- so effectively, that even I, myself, was almost completely unaware of the situation.

This, people, must be the ONLY reason I can think of for not liking Spring. Everything else is heavenly... except for the shedding of all those layers and layers of protective clothing, which, as it turns out, had become a sort of "disguise" for my physique.

That's not to say that I was packin' on the pounds, exactly. I'm a proud lifetime member of Weight Watchers... You name me a food, and I can tell you from memory how many points it is worth. I love to cook, and my family and I eat healthily.

But it turns out, that is no longer enough for me. Nor is it enough to constantly chase three small children around, and call it "exercise".

I needed to do something-- FAST-- and it had to not only fit into my schedule, my budget, but most importantly, into my lifestyle.

I am not really a "gym" person. I tried, for several years, to be a member at Goodlife Fitness, and I actually did pretty well when the girlies were tiny babies. Once older children were safely ensconced in school or nursery, I would take the sleeping infant along with me, and she would sleep peacefully while I took a class. I started with yoga, and progressed to some weight-lifting. Eventually, I got so into it, I started taking kick-boxing classes... It was great. So great, in fact, I even scared my jock of a husband.

But then, the baby started to wake up, and need attention. Considerably more attention than the gym's child-care staff were prepared to give, it seemed to me. And there was no way I could take a class, knowing that my child was not being well looked after.

I quit pretty quickly after that, and replaced my gym membership with long walks in the countryside. All three of my children enjoyed that activity with me. But, long walks are really only possible with small children when both they, and the weather, are co-operative. And, since I live in a place where weather is an "issue" at least half of the year, the ol' routine really started to slip once the temperatures began to plummet.

I got careless. And although the bod still seemed to weigh the same, the shape gradually began to change. And in reality... as one ages... it becomes aaaaaaallll about the shape you're in.

Or, should I say, the shape I WAS in.

As soon as we returned from holidays, part of my massive household-clean-up blitz included pulling Old Clunker out from under all the Barbie accoutrements down in our basement. I dusted him off, and investigated the controls... It turned out, he wasn't such a bad specimen of an exercise bicycle, really. He may not have all the fancy-schmantzy controls to set up a "route" and allow you to pedal along, mindlessly, while different pre-programmed settings adjust the tension for you... But he has a digital timer, an odometer, and a speedometer. I am perfectly capable of taking my own pulse, thankyouverymuch, and actually, I prefer to adjust the tensions settings myself, during the workout.

I've been riding every night, for over a month now, and depending on the music I listen to while I cycle, I usually manage to "rack up" between 12 and 15 kilometers. And the shape I'm in is changing for the better, more quickly than I ever thought possible.

It has been pleasantly surprising how much I enjoy pedalling away every evening-- I actually look forward to the half-hour of time where I can close my eyes and not think about very much at all. I love the fact that I can just put my head down and not worry about following a route, or how deep the next pot-hole in the road might be. There's no traffic or farm machinery to dodge. I REALLY love that I am no longer having to pay for a gym membership that I hardly ever used. And my children? Don't need to stay with a babysitter, or suffer the former-gym's "child-care facility".

Of course, the REAL key to my home-based exercise plan is my trusty ipod. Because truly, setting a good pace, and making it up all those imaginary "hills" (when the bike's setting is cranked up around 7 or 8) is aaaaaaaaaaaalllll about music.

Over the past several weeks, a few of my blog-friends have written posts about their own exercise regimes, and listed some of the music that they listen to, in order to get motivated. Kim, of The Merits of the Case, who beat her breast cancer with such style and grace last year, is now running marathons. And Leann, of The World Through the Eyes of Me, is a self-proclaimed gym addict, and has just celebrated achieving another fitness "personal best" this week. Both of these gorgeous, strong women posted some of their favourite music, and so, in response, I'm going to "show you mine", so to speak...

With apologies to my parents... Who, no doubt, would love me to be listening to all of the Mozart Piano Concertos (in order, of course)... I give you:

CGF's Spinning Tracks: Spring Edition

"Serendipity" by John Mayer
"Beautiful Day" by U2
"Walk on the Ocean" from the OC Soundtrack
"The Bitch is Back" by Tina Turner
"A Change Will Do You Good" by Sheryl Crow
"Anything but Ordinary" by Averil Levine
"Please Don't Stop the Music" by Rhianna
"Send Your Love" by Sting (the Dave Aude remix)
"Sexyback" by Justin Timberlake
"Never Coming Home" by Sting
"My Sharona" by The Ramones
"Higher Ground" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Mississippi" by Sugarland

and, of course:
"Bicycle Race" by Queen

Bathing Suit Season's right around the corner, people...

What's on your list???

How I spent Sunday...

Daniel Weyman as Nicholas Nickleby, and David Dawson as Smike

Yesterday, my parents came into town, and swooped me away from my little family, so that I could spend one. entire. day. drenched in the most spectacular theatre that any of us has seen in many, many years.

Right now, at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, the Chichester Festival Production of "The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby" is playing... And if any of you have an afternoon and an evening when you could go and sit through all six-and-a-half glorious hours of this play, I assure you, it will be something that you will remember for the rest of your lives.

My bum may still be completely numb from all that sitting, but my heart is full with the memory of a splendid production, and a wonderful day.


The form moved, rose, advanced, and dropped upon its knees at his feet. It was Smike indeed.

'Why do you kneel to me?' said Nicholas, hastily raising him.

'To go with you--anywhere--everywhere--to the world's end--to the church yard grave,' replied Smike, clinging to his hand. 'Let me, oh do let me. You are my home--my kind friend--take me with you, pray.'

--Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 13
by Charles Dickens

Thanks, mum and dad... for taking me with you.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

CLEARLY too much tv...


Have you all caught up with my friend Shauna, of Up In The Night, lately?

That girl rocks. my. socks.

She's making some changes in her household these days, and she's got me to thinking...

The other day, she wrote that she has cancelled her cable, and of the peace that has settled upon her family (once she got over her own prime-time cravings, that is). The atmosphere is quieter, her kids are using their imaginations more, and have stopped begging for the latest plastic toys, now that they are no longer able to view endless streams of commercials.

"Yay, Shauna!!" I say.

And once the weather improves, and Paint-a-palooza is over at my house, I am very tempted to do the same... For I, too, fight a losing battle with the "voices" in my house. And I'm not talking about the little people who are constantly underfoot. THOSE little voices are the important ones; the ones worth listening to. I'm talking about the voices of Dora and Diego and (**WORSE STILL**) those smarmy, smart-alecky ones found on Teletoon and Family Channel. Those are the voices that set off involuntary reactions in my body, and cause me to catapault myself across rooms, reaching desperately for the "OFF" button.

Yeah. THOSE voices.

One of those voices eminated from the mouth of one of my children today, at the lunch table. But it caused me to have an involuntary reaction of an entirely different sort:

Father: (placing a perfectly-prepared peanut butter and banana sandwich down in front of his third child) There you go, sweetie. One p-b-and-b, no crusts, cut diagonally, on a pink plate, just like you ordered. Bon appetit!

Wee Three: (solemnly) Thank you, Oh Man Of Steel.

There was a brief moment of silence, as we digested what our tiny little girl had just said...

THANK GOD my husband fell down on the floor laughing before I did.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

50 Ways

If the situation arose, who would it be more difficult for you to leave?

A) Your hair dresser
B) Your lover
C) Your veterinarian

Well, in my own case, my hair dresser happens to be one of my best friends. I didn't even leave her on the day that I accidentally fell asleep while she was cutting my hair (in my own defense: I was about two weeks post-partum after my third child was born). While I was snozzing, she razor cut my chin-length bob to a snazzy little pixie cut. It was a shock to wake up to, and certainly NOT what I would have chosen for myself... but man, she made me look HAWT, even in my feeble and exhausted condition. She's downright magical, people. I would never leave her. I DO understand that some people have trouble when they leave a hairdresser, and would rather confess an infidelity to their spouse than to their stylist. Especially if they are forced to go crawling back to have a bad hairdo fixed...

As for B, well... I won't go into it. Paul Simon has already given us fifty different options.

My own answer to the question, therefore, would be a resounding C) the veterinarian.

Yesterday morning, George (the Fierce, Vile Cat in Residence) came hurtling out of the basement, as she usually does most mornings, in search of her morning kill... er, um... repast. She wound herself around my legs, and gave me an "affectionate" slash-to-the-ankles to get my full attention. I looked down at her sharply, and she met my gaze... while furiously winking one of her enormous yellow eyes. Upon closer examination, I was dismayed to find that her right eye was actually quite swollen and irritated. Indeed, she looked like an angry pirate in desperate want of a patch.

Ram-pag-ing conjunctivitis.

*&%$!!!

Not so much because the poor wittle animal was suffering... but because it necessitated that I, the long-suffering owner of poor wittle animal, would have to take her to the v-e-t.

I have a relationship with George's v-e-t that would, at best, be described as "uneasy". Not that she isn't a very thorough doctor of animals-- she is. She is extremely attentive, and a meticulous diagnostician. Hell, I've got the bills to prove it.

The problem I have with this animal expert is the GUILT she attempts to lay on me during each and every visit, whether my cat is ailing or not. She is the Mother-in-Law of all Veterinarians, if you will. Yes, even at WELL-CAT CHECK-UPS, she manages to make me feel as though I've been "shirking" my duties as owner. That I'm flunking out on her feline attent-o-meter, and I'm just not doing enough to ensure that my ferocious, sixteen-year-old black monster--who is normally as healthy as a HORSE, I might add-- will live forever.

Example #1

Sanctimonious Vet: The cat is overweight! What are you feeding her?! And how are you ensuring that she is getting adequate exercise?!

The vet recoils in horror when I tell her that I buy George's tinned food at a major grocery store chain, rather than purchasing million-dollar tins of specially-medically-formulated morsels that meet all of the feline's delicate nutritional requirements. And, I tell her, if I could pry the animal off of the hot-air vent in my kitchen and actually wake her up during the day, "regular exercise" might be a possibility. Apparently, suddenly and frighteningly leaping onto one's owner while she is asleep during the wee hours of the night, in order to beg for food, doesn't count as "exercise". Even if the height of my mattress IS on the tall-side.

Example #2

Sanctimonious Vet: The cat has gingivitis! Why are you not brushing her teeth?!

Well, because I'd have to catch her first, quite frankly. And the idea of roaring around the house, wielding a specially-designed toothbrush that costs more than the electric job I use on my OWN chompers, after an animal that is foaming at the mouth, does not appeal to me, for some reason. The only thing that would appeal to me LESS, would be actually catching her, and having to endure the mauling I would receive if I ever DID attempt to brush her teeth.

Example #3

Sanctimonious Vet: The cat has a bad attitude, and bit me.

If you'd quit shoving things up her backside and forcing her mouth open to a degree that makes it look as though she could turn inside-out and accidentally swallow her own head, I assure you, the cat would PROBABLY be a lot calmer.

Yes, a trip to the vet clinic is NOT on the list of My Favourite Things. And it sure as hell isn't on George's top-ten, either.

It was clear to me that we'd both had enough. And so, I decided to try and screw up my courage and take the cat to a different vet. I decided that I would attempt to find a vet more like the ones I remember from my small-town childhood. A low-maintenance, James Herriot-y sort of vet, who lives in the REAL WORLD and doesn't expect me to treat my cat with even more TLC that I show to my own offspring.

So, I called around. I called four or five different clinics, and you know what? Not ONE of them would see my cat without having her medical records transferred from Sanctimonious Vet's office first.

Fine and fair enough. Having a thorough knowledge of the case history IS, undoubtedly, What's Best for The Animal.

However, the trick in each case arose when I mentioned that it was Sanctimonious Vet's office that they would have to have the records transferred from. There was a pause on the other end of the telephone line... and then I was asked if I would like to phone Sanctimonious Vet and make a personal request to transfer the file.

It turns out that the entire vet community in this town is just as tripped-out by Sanctimonious Vet as I am.

One receptionist even said to me, "Just so you know. She's not going to take it well."

Another one encouraged me, "Don't be scared!! Just phone her!!" To which I replied, "Hell, woman, YOU don't have the guts to call her, either!"

Eventually, I caved. The angst was just too much for so early on a week-day morning. The thought of having to REASON my way out of Sanctimonious Vet's practice was even MORE excruciating than enduring the lashings of laid-on-guilt. Even though I knew I was in for a grilling, I phoned Sanctimonious Vet and made an appointment.

Even after I hung up the phone, I could hear her voice in my head, as I trudged down the stairs to the basement:

Sanctimonious Vet: The cat has ram-pag-ing conjunctivitis, and needs MAJOR SURGERY! We'll be resecting her eyelids as soon as we can get an imprint of your platinum VISA card! Of course, I'm assuming you DO HAVE a platinum VISA card...

For her part, George the Fierce, Vile Patient heard the faintest rattle coming from the depths of the downstairs storage room, and took off like a black streak of lightning for the furthest corner of the house.

Because she knew what was next.

The Wrestle. Into. THE. BOX.

Now, I am aware that many people have nice, gentle, NORMAL cats who will ride in a car quite happily. Some like to perch in the rear window, and peer out at passing traffic. Others like to cuddle in a towel or blanket. Some, like our Little Cat, years ago, like to curl up on the passenger seat, and pretend to be a Person. Our former Big Cat, on the other hand, liked to cower under the back seat, occasionally howling tides of "WOE!!" at various intervals during the ride, because HE knew what was coming next, poor fellow.

However, NONE of this prepared me for the Grand Production that is "George In The Car". I attempted to drive with George, without the benefit of a restraining device, precisely once. And never again. For the shrieking howls that rang out during the short journey, punctuated by the loud THUMPS that were George, pinging off of the ceiling and walls of my hatch-back as she hurtled 'round, searching desperately for an escape... nearly did me in. What DID do me in was the moment that she made contact with my head... and she proceeded to wrap her furry self around me, like a strange, live "turban", sunk her claws, and HUNG ON.

THAT was a trip that will never. be. repeated.

Now, we use The Box, which is equipped with a double-action lock, and special slots to slide a seatbelt through. Yes, we need a seatbelt restraint, too.

Once I have managed to grab the howling, spitting cat, the next trick is to somehow compress her puffed-up self through the door of The Box. Before the door can be closed, however, I must manage to contain all of those hysterically flailing furry arms and legs that keep popping out 'round the sides... and only then can I safely double-bolt the lock... George is usually SO beside herself with rage by this point, that The Box actually continues to bounce up and down on the floor. Hence, the seatbelt in the car. It keeps George-in-The-Box from bouncing off of the back seat during transit.

Trust me, people, I would give her tranquillizers if I could administer them using a dart gun. Because I have discovered the hard way over the past sixteen years, that the only thing I would rather do LESS than attempt to brush this cat's teeth, is to try and get a pill down her throat.

And anyway, if I were given tranquillizers to get her through these trips to the vet, the temptation to take them MYSELF would be almost too great to resist.

After much pomp-and-circumstance, George and I made it to the appointment. And we now have some lovely viscous eye drops that I am supposed to attempt to administer to the cat, three times a day.

Ahem.

I can't complain, really.

Sanctimonious Vet was actually on her "best behavior", as the appointment turned out to be fairly low-key, and went without much incident.

She thoroughly examined the cat, as she always does, and then turned to ask me about my inadequacies.

And THIS ONE was a doozie of a question, people. One that I had to bite my tongue till blood was coming out the sides of my mouth, to keep from answering...

THIS is what she asked:


"Has the cat been under any stress, lately?"


Ooo slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just listen to me
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Paint, part 2. (And 3... sssshhh!)


Since I last wrote, I have managed to complete the kitchen, the first-floor hallway (which is HALF WAINSCOTING, people, and very, VERY boring work) and a bathroom. The wallpaper has been stripped from our not-so-lovely mudroom, and the walls are awaiting a fresh coat of robin's-egg blue (yes, I clearly have Spring Fever). After that: the living room.

Ah, the living room. The living room is not making me very popular in the marital department today, because the "deal" I struck with my long-suffering husband when I embarked on this little redecorating kick WAS... that I would use up all the paint I have in my enormous basement storage room FIRST, before purchasing anything new.

If you had any idea the size of my paint "wardrobe" downstairs, you would know how completely ridiculous, and therefore "meaningless" this silly little deal was in the first place. We both KNEW I wouldn't be able to do it. Because over the past decade, the number of paint cans I have managed to accumulate in that storage room has swollen to rival the size of my fabric-swatch collection (because She-Who-Redecorates... also Sews).

My point is this: We both knew I had my fingers crossed behind my back.

So it really didn't make sense to me when he reacted with dismay, when I staggered through the back door this afternoon, laden with a box-ful of Benjamin Moore supplies, and several large bags from Winners.

Yes, I broke down and went to Winners this morning, too. It was just supposed to be for a few minutes-- honest, I was running a bunch of very sensible errands, in such a responsible and efficient manner that I actually got finished a little early... there were a few minutes before I had to whiz over to the nursery to collect Wee Three... and so I just decided to stop in and peek around the shop for a MINUTE.

Well, wouldn't you know it, they had a sale. On cushions. And these cushions contained the exact colours that I have been looking for, for our living and dining rooms (SSSHHH! We don't want him to know about the DINING ROOM... Yet.) I saw the lovely fabrics, with the colours combined SO perfectly, that I had to have them. Did I mention that they were on sale?

After picking up Wee Three, we hied ourselves over to the paint store, where the Crazy Egg Cup Woman earned herself the new moniker of The Crazy Cushion Lady. Yes, I found the gentleman who had mixed up that paint to match the colour I had found in the pattern of that antique egg cup a few years ago, and asked him to make me a colour that was identical to a swirl in one of my newly-purchased pillows.

Yeah, yeah. I'm nuts.

But the "new" living room is going to look GREAT when it's done.

(And so's the dining room... SSSSHHH!)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

For Mrinz...

"In the Arms of an Angel"
sung by Canadian Sarah McLachlan

Go over to "NZ Links", and see Mrinz's beautiful blog entry today.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

I could use a little Pep...


I spent a long day yesterday on my knees, hunched over, painting all of the "white-work" in the main hallway of our house. It has been since before Child Number Three was born that I last gave it the works. For the past several years, three young children have been bashing into the wainscotting and baseboards with various toys, and casually wiping grubby little hands down the walls as they have walked by... Yeah. The place has been gradually becoming a bit dingy. This was alarmingly brought to my attention when we first walked in the door after returning home from our vacation last month. You know that horrible sensation you feel when you've been away for awhile, and have become less "conditioned" to the condition of your home? Well, let's just say, between the sight of immense snowdrifts piled up against the OUTSIDE of my house, and the rawther shockingly shabby state I discovered on the INSIDE... Well, I was hoping that the taxi had actually delivered us to the wrong house, quite frankly.

But, alas, that was not the case, and so this week I ventured back to one of my most favourite places in the whole-wide-world, our local Benjamin Moore Paint Store.

I am a confessed paint-a-holic. But, the way I justify my obsession is to say this: The winters are LONG here. Long, and COLD. Gardening season only lasts four or five months out of twelve... And so, what the heck else is there to do around here during those long winter months?? Without doing MAJOR DAMAGE, that is??? (My husband came up with that stipulation a few years ago, when he discovered me at the end of one looooong winter's day, weilding an enormous sledge hammer and threatening to "re-model" a very ugly brick fireplace. Actually, come to think of it, winter wasn't the only reason I came up with a mass-destruction-as-distraction-project that day... I'm pretty sure hormones must have had something to do with it, too...)

But I digress.

To say that they know me well at the paint store would be an understatement. I have been known to bring my own lunch on forays into that place, when I have had a difficult colour scheme to dream up. The bonus of getting to know the owners well has been that they provide me with exceptional customer service... There is one gentleman there who is so good at the art of colour-mixing, he once made me up a tin of paint that was the EXACT colour I pointed out to him... the reference I gave him was a small dot in a Wedgewood china pattern, on the side of an egg cup I had purchased at an antique show the week before. I don't actually collect antique egg cups. I just liked the blue dot, and knew I'd probably never be able to find anything in that exactly perfect shade again.

Needless to say, I developed a reputation in that place pretty quickly. I think it was the "happy dance" I performed, when they handed me that pail of egg-cup-coloured paint, all those years ago... And now, those wonderful people go the extra mile me. I have bought so many cans of paint over the years, they give me the "designer rate". Not only that, they will take my orders over the phone. They are SO GOOD, if I happen to make a mistake with the paint numbers, THEY CALL ME ON IT. One day, I had reversed two numbers in a particular paint code by accident, and rather than just mix up the erroneous colour and try to sell it to me, they said, "This is an unusual colour choice for you... Are you SURE it will "go" in your house???" EGAD!! And they crisis was averted.

Best of all, however, the Benjamin Moore people DELIVER. PAINT. TO. MY. DOOR.

I just make a phonecall, and within about a half hour, the paint arrives on my doorstep.

They are fuelling a serious sickness. They know it, and I know it.

And my husband knows it, because as well as seeing the bills, he regularly comes home to rooms he barely recognizes, not to mention a wife and three children covered in mysterious coloured splodges.

Oh, the painting of walls is BIG FUN, and more than slightly obsessive.

The white-work, however? Not so much.

Boring, yes. Pain-staking, certainly. Mind-numbing, absolutely.

But yesterday? Ab-so-lute-ly and un-doubtedly necessary. Because the brilliant shine of a glossy white sets off all of the other colours I have lovingly and enthusiastically applied around it, and makes them "pop" (to use a term I loathe, but can't think of anything that describes the effect better).

I crawled around on the hardwood floor, brushes in hand and an enormous can of "Decorator White" in a nice, shiny semi-gloss latex... from eight in the morning, till five in the afternoon. With only one coffee break in-between.

At five thirty, as I was finally extracting myself from the long, hot shower I was rewarding myself with before dinner, Child Number Two came bursting into the bathroom waving a small, shiny package.

Child Number Two: (excitedly) Mama!! MAMA!! Daddy just took us to the corner store, and LOOK what I brought back for YOU!!

It was a Pep chocolate bar... a delicacy that many of you American readers may not know... It is a large, round disk of chocolate, filled with the most divine, slightly crisp white mint filling... It is one of the only candy bars that I will pay good money for, because unlike so much of the other commercial chocolate out there, it is rich and delicious and NOT filled with all those waxes and chemicals that prolong shelf life, but considerably compromise taste.

Child Number Two: (proudly) I knew it was your favourite. I bought it with my OWN MONEY, because of the nice job of painting you did today, and for all your hard work.

(Insert sound of my heart swelling here... Because greater love hath no child, than to spend her hard-earned allowance on chocolate for her mother.)

Mother: (grateful beyond words) Sweetiepie. Thank-you. I appreciate it so much. But you know, you don't have to do that. Just the fact that you thought of me, and brought it home for me is enough. You worked hard for your allowance this week. Let me pay you back, okay?

Child Number Two: (eagerly) OKAY!!

Mother: (locating her purse in the closet) How much was it?

Child Number Two: (eyes rolling towards the ceiling) Ummmm... it was... TWO DOLLARS.

Mother: (turning around and attempting to look her fibbing child in the eye) TWO dollars?

Child Number Two: (still gazing upwards) Ummmm... yeah. I'm PRETTY sure... Yeah.

I located a toonie in my wallet, and handed it to her. She hugged me 'round the knees, and scooted off in the direction of her piggybank.

Okay.

I know what you're all thinking.

My child just made a 100% profit on the chocolate bar she bought for me, supposedly out of LOVE.

But you know what else?

THIS is the child who will be able to afford to put me in a NICE retirement home someday.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Freedom


"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."

-Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April 1


What we have once enjoyed we can never lose.
All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.

-Helen Keller

Today is April Fool's Day, which is a very special day in my heart. Not just because of all the Serious Silliness that tends to erupt within my family during the morning hours. But because it is also a date that marks a very special occasion; one that I will always remember. Nearly seventy years ago, my maternal grandparents eloped on April 1.

They completely duped their families, who knew they were engaged to be married, but certainly never expected them to sneak off like that. My little Great Auntie used to tell the story of being asked to press a sharp crease down the front of her "baby" brother's best trousers that morning. But, she delighted in telling me, he was such a gentle, innocent young man, she didn't even think to ask him why. She just did him the favour, and never supposed that he could possibly have been "up to something".

It was quite a coup that they were able to pull it off. My grandfather's people were relatively boisterous and headstrong, and they were closely-enough knit to know one another's business... To top it off, my little Great Auntie and my Grandmother-To-Be were best friends, and worked together as top-notch nurses at the brand-new local hospital they had helped to found. Indeed, my Auntie had been responsible for my grandparents meeting in the first place... There couldn't have been many secrets between them.

But those were years when money was scarce, and the idea of throwing even a modest wedding seemed frivolous beyond comprehension. Even so, when the Happy Couple arrived back at the family farm and announced their news, the Folks' first instinct was not to believe them. They were soon convinced of the truth, however, and welcomed the new bride to the family. The April Fool's Day anniversary was never "lived down", however...

The newlyweds settled into what would be a long and happy life together, taking up residence on the floor above the general store that they owned for many years. I never actually saw the store while my grandfather was the shop-keeper, but the old photographs I have make it look like a magical place, filled from floor-to-ceiling with tins and boxes and barrels and packages, all in apple-pie order... There was a big, jingly old cash register, an enormous grocers' scale, a big roll of brown paper and a long strand of twine dangling from the ceiling, ready to tie up customers' purchases. They also tended an ice cream counter-- ice cream being one of my grandpa's favourite foods (he was famous for his "sweet tooth", and always in search of "good stuff" to eat). The store had an area with a few sets of tiny wire-backed tables and chairs, just as one would have found in any soda fountain of the time.

It wasn't long before they started a family, and my mother was their first-born child. Although motherhood seemed to come easily to my grandmother, the actual carrying and bearing of children proved difficult. Their second child, a daughter, was born prematurely, and Grandma suffered a terrible post-partum infection that she contracted during the delivery. She was dreadfully sick, and very nearly died, herself. One afternoon, when I was visiting her just after my grandfather passed away, we were looking at old photo albums, and she told me about her little lost daughter. Even in her delirious state as the result of the infection, she said that she had been able to hear her baby's cries growing weaker and weaker, and suffered the agony of being unable to save her. Grandma was the only local specialist in nursing premature babies, and tragically, there was no one else in their tiny community who had the training to be able to help. The baby died, and although my grandmother lived, she was unable to attend the funeral. Indeed, I understand that she was never able to make the trip to the tiny cemetery to view the gravesite-- her intense grief was simply too overwhelming. It was one of the only burdens that my steadfast grandfather bore without his wife by his side.

My grandparents went on to have more healthy, bright, boisterous children, however, and the family soon swelled to include three daughters and a son. The family continued to live in the rooms above the store, and although it was crowded, and no doubt very cold in the wintertime, with a wood-stove as their main source of heat, but they were a closely-knit, hard-working and happy brood. Money was tight during those years after the war, but my grandmother told me that it was partially because my grandpa was such a tender-hearted, generous soul. There were many citizens of their area who were considerably less fortunate than my grandparents, and Grandpa could never turn down a request for a little "spare change", or a few provisions to "tide over" anyone who needed help.

They raised their four children, and did their very best to educate them and see them off into the world. Once "empty nest-ers", they eventually retired to a home on an island-- the home that I'll always remember. My grandfather had a wonderful garden, in which he grew beautiful flowers, and trellises full of the tastiest sugar snap peas that I have ever eaten. They had a pretty little patio to sit out on, and the most enormous, brilliant-blue hydrangea bush that bloomed a riotous display every summer. Their neighbours were very kind, and I have a vivid recollection of being hoisted into the air by my grandfather when I was about four or five, and passed over the tall, dark wooden fence into the arms of a lovely old lady who had a granddaughter just-my-age, who needed a playmate...

Grandma and Grandpa's basement was my "wonderland" when I was a child, because they had carefully kept most of the toys, books and games that my mother and her siblings had played with years before. I remember the long plane and ferry-boat rides that it took to get to their house... and even though my brother, sister and I were exhausted and cranky by the end of the journey, the thought of being allowed to snoop through the boxes down in the basement storage room THE MINUTE WE ARRIVED kept us going. For there were old barbie dolls and play-dishes and a croquet set and stacks and stacks of "Archie" comic books... I remember the sensation of the smooth wooden stairs under my feet... They were polished to a high-gloss, and were particularly treacherous if you attempted to descend them at top-speed, in stocking feet... They led down to the "rec room", where the piano, marimba and other musical instruments were kept. We sneaked through my grandfather's painting room, and slipped behind a curtain in a doorway... I can remember the sweet, slightly-damp scent of the boxes, which were stacked so perfectly, and held childhood treasures within...

They were wonderful grandparents to us, and although we lived far apart, we never really "felt" the distance. Grandma was always sending us packages-- every Easter, she mailed us little chocolate chicks, and one year I remember being sent the tiniest pair of white gloves to wear to church. They sent "random" parcels full of toys during the wintertime, which my mother kept on a high shelf in our hall closet, and took down for us to open on days when storms kept us house-bound, stir-crazed and out-of-school. They never forgot birthdays, and indeed, my grandmother was "in residence" when my brother and sister were born.

I knew them from our frequent childhood visits, but didn't really get to know them well until my husband and I moved closer to them, when we were first married. My grandfather's health was starting to deteriorate, then, and I was glad to be able to jump on a ferry and go over to provide some "distraction" for them, every week or two. Getting to know them as an adult, and truly appreciate the people that they were, was a "gift" for me. It was wonderful to have the time to sit for long periods at their kitchen table, nursing numerous cups of my grandmother's lethally strong, percolated coffee, and talking with them. We spent hours pouring over photograph albums, and I was fascinated to hear the stories of their lives. One day I stayed home with my grandfather, who was suffering from Parkinson's and congestive heart failure, while my grandmother nipped out to the store. We chatted about weather and the upcoming winter, and the preparations that would have to be made around the house. I was confused by some of the details my grandfather was describing... until I realized that the house he was planning to ready for winter was actually his old childhood home, long-ago and far-away. He had such a happy expression on his face, talked so matter-of-factly, and looked at me so intently, that I didn't try to correct him, but just listened. It was fascinating to me that he could just slip-back-in-time in his mind for a few moments, and then all at once, be perfectly at ease in the present.

He was hospitalized several times before he passed away, but my grandmother visited him three times a day, to nurse him and help him with his meals. I accompanied her whenever I could, and remember one particular lunchtime when she was chattering away excitedly to me, and rapidly shovelling food into my poor grandfather's mouth at the same time. Unable to keep chewing and swallowing fast enough, he finally caught her by the hand to get her attention, and gently said, "What makes you think I want MORE???" We all fell about laughing.

But in actual fact, it was hardly a laughable time. We all knew that Grandpa was fading. Later that afternoon, Grandma went firing off down the hospital corridor to ask the doctor a question, and I sat down on the bed next to my grandfather and patted his hand. His soft brown eyes met mine, and he whispered, "So tell me... How is The Boss?" His heart was giving out, but he was far more frightened of leaving the love of his life alone, than of his own impending death.

My grandfather passed away at home one morning, quite suddenly, as my grandmother was stooped over, tying his shoelaces for him. She had lovingly nursed him for nearly two decades, even though her own health was far from good. Grandma chose a final resting place which is shaded by the boughs of an enormous cherry tree, in the local cemetery. Once the burial was over, I told Grandma that I though it a beautiful place to spend eternity. She looked down at the spot where he lay, and said reassuringly, more to him than to me, "It won't be long before I'm here, too."

At the same time that my grandpa was dying, I discovered that I was expecting my first child. It was wonderful to be able to give my grandmother the happy news, and I do believe it helped to ease her grief a little bit. That evening after I had returned home, I stepped out onto the balcony of our little house, and looked up. It was the very first time in my life that I ever saw a shooting star-- brilliant and sparkling and streaking a long arc across the sky. I was sure in my heart at that moment that my grandfather was happy for us, too.

Grandma lived alone for many more years, and continued to be the steadfast matriarch of our family. She was wonderful about keeping in touch, and we spoke often by telephone, after my husband and I moved to Ontario with our new baby daughter. During my second difficult pregnancy, when I was on long months of bed-rest, she called me every single week from the retirement home that she had moved into, and willed me to "hang onto that baby". She understood the worry and the risk better than anyone, and her loving encouragement meant the world to me.

When she quietly passed away several years ago, the clan that assembled to pay tribute to her memory was formidable. I made the long trip with my (then) two little girls, and my brother brought his Scottish dress uniform and bagpipes, to "see her off properly". I had a difficult time holding myself together while reciting the lines of the poem I had chosen for the service, and marvelled at my brother's beautiful composure, as he walked slowly back and forth at the front of the church, playing traditional tunes that he felt she would have loved.

"How did you MANAGE it?" I asked him afterwards... He had played so steadily and perfectly, and reduced most of us to tears.

"I just 'put' her in a chair... right over there," he replied, nodding towards an empty seat up on the platform near the altar. Clearly, we all felt Grandma's "presence" strongly, that day.

And we all feel it still. Both of them. They are wonderful memories, and guiding forces in our lives.

April Fool's Day is undoubtedly a day of Serious Silliness in this household... But for me, it is far more than that. Every year on this day, I think of my grandparents, and the incredible family they created for all of us.

Happy Anniversary.

Always.

 
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