Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween! Or as it once was called, All Hallow’s Eve. I know that for my American friends, the kick-off to the Christmas season is Thanksgiving—the day after that holiday being the biggest shopping day of the year. But up here in Canada, it’s the day after Halloween that seems to usher in the yuletide season—but not by a big black Friday sale. We have those the same day you do, the day after your Thanksgiving. I was referring to when the retailers here haul out everything Christmas and strew it every-darn-where. Yes, we get a few more days of seeing Christmas items in the stores, and decorations here and there than you do…of course, if I’m honest, I’ll tell you the habit of leaving the Christmas lights out all year around thrives here in the great cold north.

I’ve long associated the beginning of the true nippy and chilly weather with this fun holiday of Halloween. In my memory, there were more chilly and wet Halloweens than there were pleasant ones. Fortunately for me, it was my husband who, as the children really got into the trick-or-treat stage of life, gladly took them around to knock on doors. We’d usually go to my mother-in-law’s house, because they lived in a town and we lived in a rural community with few houses about. That, of course, was before we moved into the town we live in now.

I can recall being a child growing up in the country whose daddy drove her into the same town my in-laws lived in. He’d been born and raised in that town. There were cousins, and old friends of my parents whose doors he’d take me to. There wasn’t much more visiting than a quick hello. My father’s focus was on the task at hand. It’s one of the few solid memories I have of my daddy.

Once David and I moved our family into a suburban setting, I would hand out the candy while David took the kids around—until our oldest was about fifteen, when he would shepherd his siblings about for us. Of course, he would then come back, drop off his brother and sister, change his costume and go out again, this time with his friends. Fancy Halloween bags? Cute plastic pumpkins? No thanks, my kids insisted on pillowcases. And they darn near filled them, too. Fun times and nice memories.

Winter is coming, of course. I have a kind of a mental check list that I know I should make into an actual physical one—my short-term memory being not quite as strong as once it was. We’ve had the furnace inspected, and the filter changed. It’s only a couple of years old, and that maintenance was a free service, because the furnace is a rental. If anything goes wrong this season, I don’t need to worry about coming up with mega bucks to fix or replace it. Freedom from worrying about that is huge to me and worth the cost.

My beloved continues to work on his home-improvement project, which was to replace the drywall in the front entrance hall, and encasing the stairs leading to the second story. The drywall is in and has been taped and mudded and sanded to the best of his ability. He applied two coats of primer paint and one coat of really expensive (but found on sale) color. Yes, it’s beige, but I would call it beige with a very subtle peach undertone. This past Friday he applied protective tape and began paint to the trim. He did mud and then primer that, too, so he figured one coat on the trim should be good.

The accent color he picked out is called Rich Brown, and I was looking forward to seeing the finished product. As he was painting, he was grumbling. Not only was this paint not going on as nicely as the beige, despite being the same brand and type; the rich brown was more like reddish brown. He had the bathroom door frame completed, and I suggested he wait until it dried. Sure enough, the reddish hue was practically gone when dry. I thought we were set, and it would be all steam ahead.

Friday evening, he decided he didn’t like the brown. Actually, he said he hated it. When I asked him what color he wanted, he said he’d let me know. I love my husband, but I am fully aware of his foibles and short comings. One of them is knowing which colors compliment each other. I put in an emergency call to one of my granddaughters, the one who is in her second year of college, studying interior design. She suggested classic white for the trim. My husband got right on board with that and informed me he would get a semi-gloss to go with the satin finish already on the walls. His reasoning was that the semi-gloss would be easier to clean. One more emergency (and horrified) call to granddaughter, and he bowed to our granddaughter’s expertise—he’d keep that white trim a satin finish, too.

Neither one of us has an eye, really, for what goes with what—but only one of us knows that. Fortunately, the one who does has no problem “calling a friend”.

I’m just glad to have such a consultant in the family. Another bullet dodged.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 24, 2018

Autumn colors abound. The air holds a nip of impending winter, and displays of jack-o-lanterns, calico corn, and gourds both colorful and distinctive find their way to porches and decks, and even store fronts. Those first few really nippy mornings of fall always remind me of my youth, of donning a jacket and just walking until my cheeks were nearly stinging. Fresh air and sunshine, accompanied by the darkening clouds, or the dense grey clouds that I refer to as a “snow sky” paint a tableau of the changing season. The breeze in the trees whispers “winter’s coming”.

Squirrels are scampering to gather and save, to prepare for the lean months to come. I’ve already made my first bean soup of the season—I refer to it as “beanie goodness”—and I’m practically itching to imitate the squirrels, not by gathering nuts, but by canning. If the urge doesn’t pass I might see what I can make. But likely it will. Wanting to batten down the hatches and ensure there’s lots in the larder is an urge as old as time. It’s part of our survival instincts at work. My larder is full enough at the moment.

Our walnut tree had a great many leaves this year and almost no walnuts. I’m not sure if that is a harbinger about the nature of the impending winter, or just a cyclical event in the life of walnut trees. I’m not sure I recall the tree every yielding quite so few walnuts before, but then my memory isn’t as reliable as once it was. Honestly, I only saw three or four walnuts, total, and this is a big tree. Since I live in a kind of self-imposed bubble, I have no idea how the other walnut trees in town fared. I really should take a short drive and find out. There are so many of them in the area, and the walnuts leave such a mess on the street, it shouldn’t take me long to know if our tree is unique or a part of a natural trend.

The tree has already dropped all its leaves. For the most part, they’ve been seen to. My husband used his leaf-blower to amass them, and our grandson carted them by the wheelbarrow full up to the back corner of our yard, where we now have a compost pile. On two separate occasions. Now we’re awaiting the maple trees across the street from us to shed their foliage. I always tell my husband and grandson that cleaning up the maple leaves that end up on our property is the price we pay for having had the privilege of enjoying the view of them from spring to autumn.

We’ve already purchased our Halloween candy—mini chocolate bars consisting of 4 varieties that are popular here—one of which is not available in the U.S. (Coffee Crisp). They were on sale, and so I bought 2 boxes. No, we don’t get that many little Halloweeners, as I call them. But I am the wife of a man and the mother of a woman who both love their chocolate. I don’t mind an occasional taste of chocolate myself, but I eat so little of it, I buy it the rest of the year by the small bag that has little tiny servings—like the mini peanut butter cups. I go weeks without any cocoa-laden product passing my lips. So for me as well, having individually wrapped mini bars in excess for a time works.

I used to make all my children’s Halloween costumes, although I would never say my sewing skills were prime. I did well enough to please them, and that’s all that mattered. Both my daughter and my son have a fine hand at sewing and making clothes. My father-in-law taught my son and my daughter how to knit. Sewing from a pattern my son learned on his own. This allowed him to create a fine tradition with his daughter—he used to make her little princess dresses for trick-or-treat time. Their other tradition for the season is father-daughter pumpkin carving.

They take their competition seriously and produce very creative jack-o-lanterns.

When I watch my children being parents, I can’t help but smile. I see in their actions some of the traditions I passed on from my own childhood—and a desire, in them both, to discover brand new ones to hand down.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 17, 2018

I don’t know what to think of the fact that we’ve turned into one of those couples. You know the kind I mean. Their kids are all well and truly grown up, moved out, and off on their own leading exciting and busy lives. We—the older generation—are at home, alone, reportedly retired and in our September years. They probably would have been golden years if we’d done a better job of saving while we were working and raising our kids, but that’s another story.

So, as I said, one of those couples who no longer has children underfoot, whose grandchildren are also all off leading exciting and busy lives…and here we are, at home, just us…and the dog.

Our fur baby. And what do we do? Do I tell Mr. Tuffy to go and see David if he wants something? Does David tell Tuffy to go and see Morgan? No, of course not. Because he’s the baby, right? That means, he is told to think of us as mommy and daddy.

About the only point to our credit is we do not talk “baby talk” to him. Well, there might be a bit of a sing-song inflection in my voice when I tell him he’s so cute I just can’t stand it—but that’s the only time, I swear.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if it would have been better, right from the get-go, if we had referred to ourselves as grandma and grandpa? Or maybe, her/his majesty? Because I have to tell you, establishing ourselves as the “parents” of this little seven-pound, too cute for words Morkie of ours means that we are going through the whole child-rearing thing, all over again.

Complete with cheeky back-talk and a few nights of interrupted sleep when the baby is restless.

On the plus side, he doesn’t ask for money and hasn’t yet demanded the keys to the car. He might some day ask for those keys and then hide them, so I can’t find them, and we can’t, therefore, go somewhere and leave him alone, possibly never to return again leaving him to eventually starve to death! But that, too, is another story.

Of course, once you start this charade of referring to yourselves to the dog the way we have, there really is no going back. I’m his mommy, David is his daddy, and our daughter, Jenny, is therefore, his sister. He knows us by those names, too. The fact that Morkies tend to be devoted to their families is part of the mix. We are the only three people he loves absolutely. He’s happy when either of my two closest grandchildren, Emma and Gavin, come to visit. He gets excited and wants to be picked up and takes the time to sniff their clothes to see where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.

New people occasionally come to the house, but he doesn’t want anything to do with them. He doesn’t bark at them, he just stays away from them. It took our son (Mr. Tuffy’s brother) about four times visiting after we got the dog for the dog to allow him close and tolerate being picked up. I think he’d be like that with others, too, if they visited more often. My brother and his wife don’t come over often enough to make any kind of impression on him, so it’s no, thanks. I’ll just stay with my daddy. He is absolutely the happiest when our daughter is here, so he has all of his humans present and accounted for.

We love the little rascal, of course, even if occasionally we wish he’d be a little less vocal—a little less diligent in his job as “Tuffy on Guard” as he feels he must alert us to every passing human (with or without a canine) as well as every squirrel that dares to venture close.

He’s the first small dog we’ve ever had, and there are marked differences between him and our previous large hounds. For one, he really is a lap dog, and having him on me isn’t cumbersome at all. Being the breed that he is, he doesn’t shed. The last dog we had—and the last cat, too—were fur shedding machines. One had to vacuum daily to keep up with the fur. I don’t miss that. He also sleeps a lot more than the bigger dogs ever did, and he’s easier to exercise. Heck, sometimes he just has to run for the pure joy of running, and runs laps from the living room, to my office, into the kitchen, around the table and back again.

Mr. Tuffy, being the baby, is spoiled. This house has three actual puppy beds in it. One is in the office, on the floor beside me, and has a towel for a blanket and several bones in it. Being creative, we call that the bone bed. There’s another with a towel for a blanket on the spare chair in the living room. That’s his television chair. There’s a third one, with no towel, that we keep on a bottom shelf of a shelving unit we have in our entrance hallway. There’s only about a foot and a half between the shelf the bed is on and the one above it, and we call that his “little house”.

Of course, when it’s bed time, it isn’t to any of these luxurious beds that he goes to. No, when it’s bed time he stands stoically waiting for his daddy to pick him up so that he can then carry him into our bedroom and the big, high bed (so high he can’t jump onto it). Yes, he sleeps on our bed, every night. He’s a restless little sleeper, too, finding his place on top of the blankets—sometimes wanting to be close to daddy, sometimes mommy, sometimes at the foot of the bed, sometimes by our pillows—and sometimes exactly between us and under the blankets.

Awakening at night, I know the males in the family are sleeping well and soundly when I see them both on their backs, snoring away.

In case you had any doubt at all, I will tell you that is, truly, how I like them both best.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 10, 2018

This past Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I can tell you that the history of this holiday as I was taught in school was that at its inception, it was a uniquely American one. I know I mentioned that last year at this time, (and likely the year before that and the year before that). My childhood memories of the holiday, at least in school, were of coloring pictures of the pilgrims and the Indians, and pumpkins and turkeys—and learning, of course about the Mayflower.

I definitely recall, as we heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, no teacher ever informed us that pilgrims were not a part of the Canadian historical story—or indeed, that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578. I didn’t learn that until very, very recently. Apparently, our Thanksgiving is more closely tied to the harvest celebrations held in Europe, usually in October. No, I never learned that in school, where we had to set out our Thanksgiving decorations of pilgrims and pumpkins and such.

We didn’t, in my personal experience, begin to make a big distinction between the United States and Canada until we drew close to our own Centennial. Yes, we stood on Main Street for the parade on July 1st, Dominion Day, which later was named Canada Day. But that and standing for our National Anthem (as often as not, in those days, God Save the Queen), was the full extent of Canadian patriotism that I’d ever seen displayed in public.

I recall the great flag debate of 1964. In our family it was a battle of sorts between my Mother (wishing to retain some semblance of the Canadian Ensign and the Union Jack on our flag) versus my brother, who wanted that beautiful new white and red flag with the Maple Leaf.

The only Thanksgiving Day traditions this family has are all related to food. In my house growing up, and as a parent myself, generally speaking, we had turkey twice a year: Thanksgiving in October and Christmas in December. The other Thanksgiving staples are sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. New Years Day supper, both in my mother’s house and in mine, more often than not was ham. I should qualify that and say that for just the two of us these days, New Years Day hasn’t generally in the last few years come with any special supper at all. Who knows what this upcoming New Year’s will be like? I’m on an every-other-day supper making plan here. We have soups (sometimes home made ones) and canned pasta or stew or frozen one-serving entrees, and of course “L.O.s” (left overs) for the day in between. Even with this new schedule, David has put himself on a diet, because he knows he needs to lose quite a bit of weight. Retirement for him has been a mostly sedentary life.

This year we had the local gang as well as two guests here for our Thanksgiving supper. It was a wonderful time, and really special because our Sonja cooked the turkey, so she was here for most of the day. I like spending time with her—I like spending one-on-one time with both of my girls. They’re interesting and funny, and even though they are both in their forties, they still need a mom every once in a while. I’ve had solid evidence of this the last couple of years, and I am grateful to be allowed to fill that role for them both. Our guests for Monday’s feast were two of Sonja’s coworkers. They appeared to enjoy themselves and that always pleases me.

And that brings me to the message I really wanted to express in this essay: gratitude.

I’ve come to believe in my later years that an attitude of gratitude is a healing balm that can cure most emotional ills and bruised hearts. I try to take time every day to express my thanks-giving. I’ve come to appreciate that those things I once considered truly awful that happened to me in my early years were in fact blessings—and for that I give thanks.

If I hadn’t been through some really horrific things, my writing—whether in these essays or in my novels—would lack depth. I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She has always maintained that while you occasionally have child prodigies in many of the arts and sciences, you don’t have one in novel writing. The reason is simple. Despite the possibility of gifted prose, unless one has some of life’s kaka on them, they can’t really write anything that touches us, or that calls to most people.

I am grateful, therefore, for the adversities I’ve endured and overcome, for they have made me relatable, which in turn allows me to help those going through similar tough times.

I am grateful for the lean years where balancing the family budget felt like trying to juggle six balls in the air while standing with one foot on a thin wire, high above the crowd—and with no safety net below. If not for those times, I wouldn’t be able to offer counsel to others when asked, nor would I be as grateful as I am for our modest bounty today.

I am grateful for my family, whom it has been my privilege to serve and love—and for the chance to love our middle child, Anthony, for the few years we were granted with him. Loss has a way of helping to build bridges with others. And so, yes, I am grateful even for that loss.

I’m grateful that there are actually thousands of people who’ve read my words in the past, and fewer now, but still thousands who continue to read them today.

And I am grateful every morning to awaken to a new day—a day that if I choose to see it thus, can be as bright and full of endless possibilities as any new day should be.

I wish you all many days that are bright and shining and full of possibilities.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 3, 2018

I often feel that I need to perform a very delicate balancing act as I pen these weekly essays. I’m a Canadian, and so I don’t feel I have the right to comment on the affairs of a country that is not my own. I can’t imagine that many of you who are my readers and are Americans would appreciate my poking my nose into your politics, and so for the most part, I don’t.

These are very turbulent times in which we find ourselves. Looking at modern society here in North America, I have to say our social behavior has not been at its best, lately. The Internet and Face Book and Twitter have, in many ways, dissolved the borders between us, but they have also dissolved the norms of manners, civility, and veracity. When we’re simply writing words on an electronic device, we can pretend to be whoever we want to be, and we can also pretend that the rules of polite society do no apply to us. After all, there’s no one in our face to tell us otherwise.

The relative anonymity of the Internet has allowed people to leave their civilized self behind and let their inner savage flow. It would seem that sitting at home, with our fingers on the keys does something to dissolve our personal filters.

The truth is that human behavior is human behavior regardless of nationality or political affiliation. Good manners are good manners and truth is truth—oh yes, it is! And it doesn’t matter on which side of the 49th parallel one lives. There are core realities that apply to everyone, everywhere.

One day last week there was an “event” unfolding on television, a real “reality Television” event. I’ve chosen to call this event “A Tale of Two Testimonies.” It was, for many of us, a difficult spectacle to watch.

 Act one was heartbreaking, because to listen was to hear pain—raw, traumatic emotional pain that despite the passage of time has not healed. It’s a pain that will never heal completely. And for many, that testimony evoked memories of a personal pain that the viewer had endured. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed, or has a loved one to whom this has happened, keenly identified with that pain. Act one as it played out was real, visceral, and credible. For those with open minds—or as Another put it in a book I’m fond of, for those who had ears to hear—act one brought them, figuratively, to their knees.

Act two—for me—was the most shocking of the two. The level of anger and hate made me step back, emotionally. All I could think was, what would this hate filled, angry and belligerent person be like, drunk? Having, through the course of my life been at the hands of an angry, belligerent drunk, the image made my blood run cold. It brought back memories I didn’t want to remember.

The vitriol unleashed during act two spread out and became a contagion, infecting others, until the entire proceedings, at that point, devolved into a name calling, accusation hurling free-for-all, with the filth being aimed by angry men in one direction, and one direction only.

Now, back to that human behavior that is common to us all. There are norms of human behavior. Norms we all recognize and for the most part abide by. You wouldn’t walk down Main Street in your home town, naked; you wouldn’t defecate on the sidewalk. You wouldn’t hold a gun on someone and demand their wallet because you were short of cash; you wouldn’t try to haul another driver out of their car to punch them because they may have cut you off in traffic.

Oh, people do these things, and we see them on the news, but they are not normal acts, and they all have legal consequences.

You don’t sexually assault a person—you don’t kiss them or put hands on them without their consent. Whether you’re a student in high school, the box boy at the grocery store, the clerk at a cosmetics counter, a member of an elected body, or a member of the clergy or the judiciary, you do not do these things.

And if you’re a witness to someone behaving with as much anger, vitriol and partisanship as I witnessed in Act Two of “A Tale of Two Testimonies”, then the question you need to ask yourself is not, “is this anger justified”. Often, anger is justified, and it can even be righteous. As a mother I was on occasion moved to real, deep anger, anger incited by one or the others of my children (believe me, they all had a turn at that). Now, if in response to my anger I decided to do things to “get back” at them over the course of time, then I wouldn’t have been considered a person with the temperament to be a parent.

No, if you’ve been a witness to behavior as shown in act two, the question you need to ponder is whether or not a person possessing the kind of temperament we saw in that hearing room is the kind of person you want imbued with the responsibilities and privileges of being an associate justice of the highest court in the land.

And that’s before we even discuss if a documented liar is suited for that position. Long story short under that heading, lying under oath is a disqualifying quality, period.