It's That Time Again!

Call me a slow learner, but every year I'm surprised when the last few days before Christmas happen! Up until last week, I had soooo much time. Look! There's still 2 weeks to go! Look! There's still 1 whole week! Oh no! There are only a few days left. Oh well. We survived dust  and unpolished silverware last year so I'm sure it will be OK this year, too.
I'm just glad that we are not suffering from "cat in tree"  this year.
A remarkable thing, the Christmas tree. Begun by the Druids, adopted by the Germanic tribes, brought to America by immigrants, brought to England by Prince Albert, brought to Chinese factories by heartless capitalists, brought to Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz and leaving a trail of fairy dust and happiness wherever it goes.
I simply love department store Christmas trees, so stately and untouched by commoner type ailments like scratches, mismatch and age (too young to be antiques, too old to be just "well used"). Things like grubby little fingers and wildly waving dog tails just don't happen in better stores!
But - you should never begin a sentence with but - a home Christmas tree has soul. All those kids to whom the grubby fingers belonged, all those long gone wild dogs, and tree climbing cats, all those memories, some good, some downright awful, are imbued in my tree and yours. All those decorations, some gorgeous, some just plain crappy, stuff to look at and think about, maybe cry a little.
That's why, all you old people, who are feeling weak and tired and thinking nobody is going to visit you anyway, so why make an effort? should do it anyway. Someone might come over and your tree will be the story, or maybe no one will and you can reread your own story made new every year by the magic of a tree.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my tree to your homes!


This Break was too Long!

It's a good thing I don't try to write a book; it would take me years! After a few months of scribbling, I'd take a break of that many months and so on and so forth. It would probably take more than just years; it would take decades! Ergo, no book.

At least no book as in the traditional page after page of writing with "no peechers" as my small grandson says. After all, I am only in my early 60's; there's plenty of time to create something outstanding.

Ah, the arrogance of the early 60's. Still able to do everything with only the odd twinge to remind us that whoa! no longer 40! Still working, still under 5 medications a day, still able to wear those high heeled street shoes. There are losses, though. Whether we want to admit it or not, even now our numbers are lessening. Parents bury their children. Without being disrespectful, it's really really weird to see old people at their (let's face it, not so young at all) child's funeral. It seems such a skewing of the generational flow. It's like watching a row of dominoes fall except they don't because a whole section in the middle gets skipped over. Defying physics, somehow.

I know parents lose children all the time. At a certain age we can all say with heartfelt sincerity, "What a tragedy, such a terrible waste of a young life." When the old, old die, we say with equal sincerity, "It is not a tragedy, sad, yes, but so and so had a long life." It's that middle death that has me stymied. Too old to be tragic, too young to be old,.......... too close to home.

In fact, having reread this blog, I'm going to get in touch with my good friends at Shutterfly and see if I can't do something memorable after all with a minimum of writing and a folder full of peechers.


Sticky Fingers and Shrill Voices

The house and the pets have breathed a sigh of relief but oh my, the house is empty. A two- and a four-year old have a way of using a lot of space, both physically and vocally!
Our backyard looks like a shanty town; a plastic shack, teeny tiny chairs, myriad trucks and toys as well as a collection of small green rakes grace the lawn. A miniature picnic table in the centre of a (trying to be) grove of apple trees actually looks as if it belongs. Well, the trees are miniature, too!
The patio door is decorated with chocolate cookie finger and/or tongue marks; who really cares? That's why they invented Mr. Clean and Scrubbing Bubbles. They are great for plastic food. A dash of SB in a sink full of hot water, add plastic food, and one forgotten crayon (boy, the melting point of crayons is low!) and all is cleaned up for round 2.
This is such a nice role for us to play. We are not parents, so we're free to indulge a bit. It's our house, so we get to make the rules: no eating in the living room. We can play the 'old' card: Oma needs to go to sleep, so you do, too!
How lovely to be admired: you got a haircut, Opa.  How fortunate to be well enough to go to the park or bike riding with our little fans. How lucky we are that Opa can afford to be the go-to guy for shoes and sandals and that Oma & Opa can treat everyone to the zoo.
My growing up circumstances were just different enough that I remember life without a telephone. Our grandchildren will never remember life without Skype or Facetime. The inventors deserve every penny; they have given all long distance relatives great joy. Although, nothing can replace actual hugs and kisses. Blessed are grandparents and their connections to the future!


Dead Streets

I miss the sounds of summer; our streets and sidewalks are practically dead. All May long weekend I waited for someone, something to go by and really, nothing happened. We have had lovely evenings and it's a gorgeous Saturday again. Zip and nada for foot or 2 wheel traffic.
Remember Saturday mornings? Everyone who could, was out washing a car and the sidewalks were full of little kids learning to ride their bikes.
When my own children were small, the 'big kids' were busy showing off, to each other as well as the adults who looked askance at such recklessness. When my son joined the 'big kid' ranks, he became young Mr. Fixit, always fixing the bike he was busy demolishing by using it as a steeplechase horse. My daughters also lived on their bikes; it was how they got around. Their friends lived more than a (gasp!) kilometre away.
Summer meant outside: building forts, going for walks (watch for the bears), planting gardens, sleepovers in the tent trailer (come in if you think you hear a bear), playing at the school playground at 4 in the morning (just because you can, and it's getting light out), swimming and fishing. Tons of outside.
I've experienced summer in the city and in the bush. As far as kids go, there was essentially no difference. Everyone was sun starved and everyone went out.
I think we are still sun starved but now we are fearful. Fear has a way of gripping us by the throat and stifling everything. I do not believe that electronic devices are to blame for the epidemic of inside. Electronic devices are opiates; they quell our natural desire to do any thing other than use them and they have made our children more manageable. Fearing outside and its dangers, parents have turned to computers and their spinoffs to engage their children believing this keeps them safe.
I do not believe that the world is full of depraved people whose only mission in life is to kidnap my grandchildren but neither am I willing to send them out unsupervised just to test my theory.
Canada's children are so inactive and yet we have so much to offer. Should we then reverse test "Build it and they will come" meaning our parks and sidewalks, by "Demolish and they will scream."? Perhaps there is nothing so precious as the tree in the tree museum unless it is a bicycle mounted on a piece of sidewalk in the Outside Museum.


A Pain in the Ass

First I was, then I wasn't, then I was, so here I am - writing about a pain in the ass. Ah, you all say, "Here it comes, things aren't as blissful as she would have us believe. She's going to tell us her true-love is really a pain in the ass." Or conversely, I'm supposed to tell you that I can be a pain in the ass. Which I can be, sometimes, but not now.
Well, you're wrong. I'm going to tell you that I had a pain in the ass. No, I did not get a divorce or otherwise poison my relatives. I actually had such a pain that I thought I would faint. I had this pain while sitting on the sofa, by myself, all alone at home and it lasted and lasted about 5 minutes. Five minutes is a very long time when you're, say, in labour or passing a kidney stone or being bitten by a dog or smashing your fingers with a hammer. By now, you know that 5 minutes is waaaay too long for a pain.
It went away.
I thought it must be that most unladylike of complaints: hemorrhoids.
It is not...........always.
Google is great. You can actually ask it: What are some causes of a pain in the ass? Just like that. No fancy medical terminology. Just calling a spade a spade.
Google says it is either PROCTALGIA FUGAX or LEVITOR ANI SYNDROME. So I had to look up all these words and parts of words and it is so much fun! ASS PAIN FLEETING or PELVIC MUSCLE PAIN SYNDROME. Can you believe it? Calling a pain in the ass an ass pain. Why not call measles 'little red dot disease'?
Imagine meeting Prince Charles and Camilla. "How's life been treating you?" "Well, I have proctalgia fugax." "You do? Congratulations!" as opposed to "How's life been treating you?" "Well, I have this huge pain in my ass..." and being whisked away by the protocol officer before you can warm up to your theme.
As much as it lends itself to not so tasteful jokes, not very many people admit this kind of pain to their doctors. Actually, there are a lot of sufferers and sometimes very good reasons for it. Still, it would have to get pretty awful before I'd tell my doctor; he's not always as serious as I'd like.  In the meantime, all the articles say that once everything has been ruled out, it is quite a little mystery. Ass secrets. Proctalgia fugax everyone!


Exercise, bah!

Everyone who knows me, knows that I hate exercise. Absolutely loathe and despise it. I'd rather go to the garden and pick worms. I do go to the garden and pick dandelions.

Everyone who knows me also knows that I like to be on top of my game, mine and my true-love's. I know that exercise is good for us. Do I not send my true-love to the gym twice a week? Do I not send my true-love on the dog walk everyday?

Alas and alack! The benefits of his exertions do not extend to me. However, his dog's pleading eyes do not leave me unmoved, so I do, occasionally, whirl the beast around the block as fast as we can go, reaping something positive along the way. I hope.
The difference between walking inside the house and pretty much any where else, is truly amazing. In the house, you never really stretch; it is the breeding ground for 'the old person shuffle'. Yes, the mall is inside, but it's such a roomy inside, that it might almost be outside! Granted, the mall is smoother than the sidewalk and flatter than a hillside, but I'm more and more convinced that it's all about the stretchy walking. Just letting those legs move along without being tripped up by carpets and furniture appears to be the thing.

I see this on family members, so I'm not talking through my hat. Having admitted as much, you will be seeing me on the dog walk more often. Except when it's cold and then I shall be at the mall.


Observations & Flying

So, I just flew from one place to another place, and there are a few things I want to say.
Hey, well groomed mature guy with your nose so high in the air you can't see the 100 year old woman in front of you DRAGGING her bag: jerk.
To the middle aged woman in front of me: it's OK to comb your hair even if you did have to get up at 5. You do not look like a free spirit; you just look as if you have been in the spirits all night.
To the legging wearers who should take a look at their butts: look at your butt.
Skinny girl with the 6 inch heels: no, you cannot walk in those shoes. What you are doing is not walking; it's creeping, kind of, mixed with shuffling, with bent knees. The shoes look nice, though.
Woman in the beautiful blue top: all the clothes in the world are not going to improve the look of someone chewing gum with their mouth open, just chewing, chewing....
All of you carry-on carriers: it's carry on for God's sake, not a weight lifting contest. Trying to jam 2 weeks worth of stuff into 1 small(ish) suitcase, and wrestling it into the overhead bin isn't fair to the rest of us trying to make do with the 8 cubic inches left over.
No thanks to airport security. When I am really old and much braver, I'm going to organize an old person flash mob stripping down to their underwear....at security. What do you want to bet that line starts to zip along at speed!!!!
Also no thanks to an airline that flies around with no potable water, they say, so there is no tea or coffee. But wait....isn't that water being served? So, why, why? Never mind, it's just too confusing.
Thank you to my seatmate for doing his laundry and saving me from fainting fits brought on by BO. (That nearly happened once, no word of a lie.)
Thank you to the nice young family which did not cry the whole time. Just a teeny, tiny bit right at the end and I think, by that time, we were all ready to do the same.
Thank you to all the various people who make, you guessed it, people watching so interesting.
 I am now ready to enjoy a city full of strangers and good food!


One Year Ago

Yesterday was the first anniversary of our father's death. I called my mother in the morning and she was surprisingly calm. Perhaps the rest of the day was different; I don't know. The call was uneventful, though, so I'm thankful.
Our father's dying was also uneventful, and, for the most part, calm. There had been one evening of confusion, of disorientation and extreme restlessness. That was the night he was hospitalized.
There was no lingering for days and weeks, no frail mother trekking to the hospital day after day. There was no agonising pain, no bedsores, no wailing in fear. Just tiredness and fading. Some response went to no response. In five days he was dead.
The manner of his death was a gift. There were no soul searching decisions to be made as there were no life support systems involved. No switches to be turned off, no plugs to be pulled. There was just him in the bed, just a person, no equipment, with his family. There was breath and then there was none. There was life and then... gone.
Actually, we were all a bit surprised. It was almost anticlimactic. When you've braced yourself for drama and it does not come to pass, well!
So, we stayed for a while and marvelled that the shell which had served him for 91 years now no longer contained him.
Last year, we welcomed a new baby into the family. Now there are 5 great grandchildren; they all have little bits of him in them. I think it's marvelous.


Junk vs Stuff

When does 'stuff' morph into 'junk'? When, indeed, do 'things' devolve into 'stuff'? Let's see.
We buy things which we either
1) need
2) think we need.
Then we either
1)use them
Using them means we either
1)break the things
If we break the things we either
1)throw them away
2)put them in the closet or basement and plan on fixing them.
This becomes 'junk'.
Not using the things means we either
1)put them in a closet
2)put them in the basement.
This is 'stuff'.
If we do not break the things and keep on using them we either
1)get sick and tired of looking at them
If we are sick and tired of looking at them we either
1)put them in the closet
2)put them in the basement.
I believe this is also 'stuff'.
If we are still using original things then either
1)it's really good quality and we're really careful and we're cheap, cheap, cheap
2)it's really good quality and we're really careful and we love, love, love ....our  dishes, for example.

If all this 'stuff' has been in a closet or the basement for 2? 3? years it, too, becomes 'junk'. If, however, it stays in the closet or basement for 20? 30? years it becomes 'vintage' and if your family can stand it and has space AND can hang onto all this old....old  ???? for 100? 200?years  it all becomes PRICELESS ANTIQUES. Unless the rats have got at it, and then it's just 'junk'.   


The Gift of Food

There must be a gazillion words already written about the gift of food but I would like to add my few.
On so many levels, the gift of food satisfies like no other. I think the original reason, in most cultures, was the sharing of a very precious commodity. The production of food, in many places, is a risky business, no guarantees. For a few years, I attempted to grow my own vegetables. Ha! Growing edible things is not quite as easy as the seed companies would have us believe. Thank goodness for grocery stores.
There was a time, however, when grocery stores didn't exist. There was a time, in England, of ONE HUNDRED YEARS of bad weather. Lots of disease, not a lot of food.  Famine makes food the greatest gift of all. So, even here and now, no famine, we have this ancient memory and so preserve an ancient appreciation of gifts of food.
Giving a meal is so cool; the host or hostess has a chance to show off his or her skills without verbally bragging. What feeling can compare to that of presenting a platter full of deliciousness? If I had a million dollars and employed an army of caterers would I get the same thrill? I think not. The thrill would be of a different nature, pride of organization, pride of being able to afford professionals, but not the same thrill of hands-on creativity and, when you think about it, the sacrifice of time.
The giving of time is a big part of the gift of food; the shopping as well as the doing and the cleaning up after the doing. All this is a part of the gift and if the recipient of the gift does this as well, the more the gift will be appreciated.
I love the whole thing, including the hot, sweaty, panic-stricken moment when, for a wee bit of time, I think it will be a disaster. I have done this long enough that I can recognize the signs, and even warn my true-love that "I need to boss you around for 15 minutes!!!" It's all good. All part of the gift. All part of saying, "Hey, I like you. Let me give you food to prove it."


The Funeral was Lovely

When I was a young mother I disagreed with my neighbour's practice of taking her children to funerals. I have since changed my mind.
The funeral we attended on the weekend was lovely. The guest of honor was beautiful. She had chosen her own going away outfit, her daughters had arranged her hair, and her face bore no marks of pain. There was nothing to be repelled by, or frightened of. Au contraire, she looked better than she had in years.
The priest said traditional, comforting things. There were tears and laughter and much saying of nice things. There was a terrific turnout:  youngish, middle aged, old, oxygen-toting nursing home residents, family et al. There was lunch.
There were children at the funeral; I applaud their parents' decision to bring them along. After all, the deceased had had a special relationship to the family and it was time to say goodbye.
If a kid is old enough to watch murder and mayhem on TV and play shoot 'em up video games then that same kid is old enough to learn to say 'farewell' properly. The deceased is not going to arise to do it all over again for "Take two!" This is death for real. Children need to learn that 'The Circle of Life' isn't just a song by Elton John.
The rest of us, too, need to be reminded that there is nothing grotesque or macabre about dying. The actual death, itself, may not always be kind and gentle, but the last act of our being with our loved ones is suitable for younger audiences, despite what some people may think.


We Move Along

'Finally, there is nothing between you and God.' This is not original; I read it somewhere, sometime and it has never gone away. Always lurking. Moving closer. Not just an intellectual exercise any more.
In life, my mother-in-law had a close and true friend. My mother-in-law is already long gone; her friend is recently so. As well as sympathizing with the family's loss, this person's death bothers me more than I care to admit.
We are moving up; we are moving along. Remember 'needle day'? Every one lined up for the health nurse and we moved along. In my experience, there was no way of getting out of that line; even the fainters got their shots. So, we moved along, then it was my turn and sometimes it wasn't so bad, after all. Move along, move along.
In a properly ordered world, the young, the middle-aged live. The old who live provide us with a measure of youth. Finally, reluctantly they die.
The entire preceding generation has provided, for my generation, a bulwark against The End, as we do for the following generation. For our children, there is a pretty solid wall between them and it. For me, every death of someone I've known is a small dismantling of the wall; every death of someone close to my family makes that dismantling just a little bit quicker.
For those of us who have lost a parent, a whole section of wall has come down. For those of us who have lost both, there is now no longer anything between us and old age. The illusion of youth has been totally stripped away. There is nothing between us and the void? the abyss? the rapture? 
It is not as easy as I thought it would be: this getting comfortable with my aging. Actually, I have seen an abyss, and there is a river running through it. Rivers go somewhere. This will be my wishful End.


Spring is Springing! (at last)

There's a fair bit of action in my back yard, but of course I should say 'our' back yard because that's only fair and right. I say 'my' because I do most of the work, excluding mowing. I have not mowed since 1988 and I see no reason to start now.
Getting back to the yard and the action thereof. The squirrels have been chasing each other around quite madly, providing huge excitement for the dogs on both sides of the fence. They, the dogs, have been sunning themselves on the deck or the last patches of snow depending on their levels of previous exertion.
The first grackles are back; the males are strutting around, puffing out their chests, "Look at me; I am so cool." while the ladies titter behind their fans.
The mourning doves have paid a visit to the decorator fence, just checking. Soon there will be a row of them sitting there, pretending to be minding their own business and when next I look up there will be a ball of feathers, as in a ball of feathers. This ball will disengage and separate into 3 birds. The one in the middle always gives herself a shake and says, "Well, that was exciting!"
A pair of robins are twittering at each other, one fly-dashing at the other, then he interrupts the courtship to chase away the competition. They resume their springtime dance. "Baby, baby, I love you." ♫ ♫
Astonishingly, the crocuses are peeking their brave little heads out. I want to shout, "Hurray, hurray!!!" but it wouldn't do for the neighbour children to hear a middle-aged lady lose her marbles (they think). So, I whisper, "Hurray, hurray!!!" and it's almost as good.
A few other green leafy things are poking their heads out, too. Being just a 'pretend' gardener, I haven't got a clue what they are but at this time of year 'Green is Good'. When the dandelions are threatening to take over, I will try to forget I said that!
The snow is disappearing rapidly; soon I will find out if the rhubarb survived. If it did, I'm changing my designation and dropping 'pretend'. I will henceforth call myself a Gardener. It will be the same as old actors finally getting the Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Well, almost the same. I'm much younger than Peter O'Toole.


I am a Snob

I confess: I am a snob. Not an everything snob, just a few things snob.
I love clean grocery stores. I will pay extra just to go there. I tried, I really did try to do my regular, everyday, basic-staples-in-the-pantry in a cut price, bargain store but it didn't work. After a few weeks, my eyes fastened on the dirty floors instead of the price tags and I just couldn't do it any more. Bring on the clean! bring on the bright!
My other snobbery is the Folio Society, a publishing house based in London (UK) specializing in beautiful books, the kind that could be passed down as heirlooms.  It actually is relative to aging because it is relative to my aging. It's only in the last few years that I am comfortable spending that kind of money on a book and only then because I don't spend on other things. I don't 'do' clothes. I petted a $2000 dress several years ago but owning one is not on my bucket list. I don't 'do' jewelry, either. A few pretty things, mainly gifts from my family  and my collection is complete.
So, that brings me back to the book. The Folio Society ships from England; that Royal Mail insignia is my first little thrill! Then, there's the wrapping. Those books are so safely cocooned for their trip across the Atlantic, I swear you could ship fine china in their boxes. Not only are the books not just overwrapped in paper, they are boxed and bubble wrapped and paper wrapped and that's before the shrink wrap which protects the slipcase.
Am I there yet?

Just one of many treasures 

Sometimes, the book is not revealed for days. Why not enjoy that Christmas present feeling for a while? When it is finally opened....what joy! what fun! Ah, the aroma of fine paper and quality ink! Or is it the aroma of quality paper and fine ink? All I know is that somehow a beautiful book embellishes even a really good story. The Hobbit was never so exciting in paperback.
It's possible that my snobby hobbies may come to an end soon but at this moment in time, I'm enjoying every trip to the clean, well-lit, superbly stocked grocery store and reading my members-only literary catalogue with my hand firmly on my credit card.


Some Small Things of Loveliness

There are large things of loveliness like the Aurora Borealis, the enormous flocks of Canada Geese during migration, or the doctor telling you that you don't have cancer and then there are the small ones. The small ones are so plentiful, and sometimes so fleeting; we just have to remember to value them.
A bouquet of flowers a propos of nothing, just arriving out of the blue.
A manila envelope full of fridge art, from faraway grandchildren.
A sticky kiss embellished with runny nose from a sick toddler.
Being told by a complete stranger that you have magnificent eyebrows.
A bed filled with pets on an ice cold morning.
A freebie from the photo book people.
Finding a 5 times folded twenty dollar bill in the laundry.
Having a rhubarb harvest after 5 years of nothing.
Going for lunch with really nice people.
Holding hands with your true-love after 100 years of marriage!!!
(And so on....)
Your list won't be the same as mine and that's OK. However, please make a list even if you keep it only in your head. Just make sure that you can pull it out periodically and look at and add to it. You might be pleasantly surprised at the number of treasures you actually have. 


Rilla of Ingleside

I'm reading a WW1 book called 'The Middle Parts of Fortune" by Frederic Manning. I'm reading it very slowly because I really don't want to know who dies in the end. It is a very slow, sad book and I'm so glad I discovered it.
There are now three and a half WW1 books in my library. This one, 'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich Maria Remarque, parts of Ernest Hemingway's 'Collected Short Stories' and 'Rilla of Ingleside' by LM Montgomery.
'Rilla of Ingleside' is quite possibly the most understated Canadian book ever written. It remains half hidden as young adult fiction for girls, or obscure Canadiana, never shouted from the rooftops as wow! reading.
When I first read it, in 1974, I was already a huge fan of Montgomery's Anne and only 23 myself, not too old to turn my nose up at a teenaged heroine. My gain.
This book should be on reading lists everywhere; it is the face of civilian stoicism and unremarked upon heroism in a time of war. It is a chronology of maturing. It is without flash and dash. It could be a companion to 'Gone with the Wind', it's flip side, so to speak.
Just as Pearl Buck (The Good Earth) spoke for China all those years ago, so LM Montgomery spoke for small town Canada and though her focus was Ontario and points east, I don't think that small towns differ all that much. Where there is adversity, there is a rallying spirit.
Where there is a challenge, there are hidden depths.
True, Rilla will always appeal more to girls and women, but if boys and men read it they might find girls and women easier to understand. If young people read it, they might find themelves beginning to understand sacrifice. Not the obvious kind of shattered bodies and minds but the silent kind of growing up too fast and grieving for one's parents grief.
I do believe I've read this book 10 times, and in this year, the 100th anniversary of that war, I will read it again.


That Damned Grocery Bill!

This is not a food blog! However, periodically, it could be a blog about food. Like today.
When the today grocery bill for 2 people is higher than the 4 people bill of 15 years ago, and the 2 people involved are gong to retire soon, I think it's time to be bold and start looking at different ways of cooking. The funny thing is that an awful lot of old becomes new again.
My hobbyhorse has become legumes and pulses. Legumes are the plants and pulses are.....the little bits that we eat. You thought I was going to go on about perfume points!

Pulses include peas, beans and lentils, and we have been eating them for 13,000 years! Isn't that exciting?
As a tidbit, the Lebanese introduced lentils to Canada around the time of the depression. While the drought was killing off our wheat, it was providing some very good growing conditions for this little nutritious powerhouse. As a result, Canada is now the world's leading exporter of lentils and Saskatchewan (the province that's so easy to draw and so hard to spell) is the leader of the pack.
I'm so surprised that the legume/pulse section of most grocery stores is so small. I'm also disappointed that there isn't a recipe section close by to teach people what to do with all that lusciousness lying around, practically free.
As an FYI, there's a website for lentils: lentils.ca which has all kinds of recipes, and some great blogs: onehotstove.blogspot.ca , for example.
We need to be bolder and take our tummies to places they have never gone before....vegetarian cooking, back to Lebanon and Asia. Actually, older German cookbooks have generous numbers of pea & bean recipes.
Not to forget homemade pork and beans and the recipe for that is on the back of the haricot bean package.
I don't deny that some of these recipes are a little bit fiddley but that's the beauty of retirement; we're supposed to have more time to spend on the important things. In my life, cooking is a fun activity, so it's not as challenging to seek new food worlds as it would be for someone who sees cooking as a chore. So, realigning chore↓ and cooking↓ to cooking↑ and fun↑ might be one of the first priorities of retirement.
Let's cook great things and share them with our friends and family and talk about people who have way too much spare time and spend it blogging.


Dentist Day

Today was dentist day. It is (a tiny bit) thrilling to be able to say that I am no longer terrified of the dentist. While going to the clinic is not something I would rather do than, say, go out for lunch, it is now something I would rather do than shovel manure.
Everyone there is very friendly. Of course they are all fixated on flossing so we have reached a small agreement; no one asks me if I floss daily and I do not  lie. The dentists have adopted a cat; it makes for nice easy conversation.
The dental office of my childhood was the stuff of nightmares...the black chair, the mysterious drawers full of torturing instruments, the gigantic needles. My childhood dental visits were not 'a good time'.
Things improved somewhat when the old dentist retired but unlike him my fears did not; they grew into a nerve bending phobia. Visits to any DDS were preceded by days of emotional upheaval.
Things change. Suffice it to say that the most horrible happened and I survived. Tada! Cured! Fears banished!
My favourite dentist movie is 'Little Shop of Horrors'. Remember Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist? Remember Bill Murray as the masochistic patient?  My favourite dentist question is: Who would you rather marry? A dentist or a hairdresser? I don't believe there is a dentist song.
The good thing about the aging mouth is that there aren't as many cavities. The not so good is that there is always maintenance. At least now my visits are calm ones.


Pioneer Moms

Since it was International Women's Day on Saturday, I started thinking about the women in my life, especially my mother and mother-in-law. Both women emigrated from Europe in the early 50's, completely unprepared for their new lives.
I used to think of those young wives as brave because they left their native countries but for most of them it didn't take bravery at all, just a mad faith in one's ability and immortality; hadn't they survived the war?
The bravery comes after; the brave act was in the staying. Both these women, by the time the 50's rolled around, had been living in modern homes with running water, flush toilets and electricity. There were buses and trains for everyday travel. There were surfaced streets. There were a lot of people around and those people were all close together.
The brave act lay in the fact that those two women and countless others did not run screaming into the night. The brave act was, after shedding the tears or even while shedding them, they carried on. My mother-in-law was a city girl and while she told a funny story, it could not possibly have been fun to arrive in a Western town and sink past the entire suede high heeled shoe, right up to the ankles in mud. From cobbles to mud. From brick to log home. She became a pioneer without in the least expecting it.
Halifax, Immigration entry
My mother had a bit of respite and started her new life in a city but that lasted not even a year and then she, too, began pioneering. Wood stoves, no bathrooms, no potable water.
Their big advantage was their youth. They were both too young to have accumulated many worldly goods, they were healthy, they were resilient with youth's elasticity. There was always tomorrow and there were enough tomorrows for them to be able to make something of themselves. Lucky youth!
Not so lucky for the people our age, the ones who at 60 had lost everything and had to move to a new country. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been, is still being for so many. No, I do not know how you feel; I just know that I am probably not grateful enough for my untumultuous life. The next time a bus is late, I promise to be happy that there is a bus at all!


I Just Do Not Get This.....

There are things I just do not understand. Most of these non-understandable things, I accept. Cash registers, quantum theory, sines and cosines. They work; they are; fine.
There are things that I disagree with, oppose, celebrate that they no longer exist, but I understand. Women as the weaker sex (just because they didn't do those dreadful broadsword wielding exercises, yeah, they were weaker), illiteracy and innumeracy (keeping the chosen few up and thumbs down on everyone else), public hanging, (it was supposed to be a deterrent), and so on and so on.
There are other things, though, that rattle around and refuse to go away. They pop up in insomniac moments.
What's up with debtor's prison?
A plan of Newgate, London
Why would you put a guy who owes you money into jail? Wouldn't it make more sense to get the guy a job so he could pay you back? If the idea is punishment, the place was a town; the whole family could live there. Maybe that was the punishment....your wife on your case 24/7! "OMG look at the size of those rats! Charlie's got a nice place for his family, why can't you get a bigger cell? Check out those fleas, yada, yada, yada."
By all accounts it was a terrible place, but I still don't get it......
Long skirts. Why would you wear them all the time? Especially if you're poor? You could make 2 pairs of pants out of one skirt. The Chinese women wore pants, in fact, high born ladies wore them. Very sensible. Not only are skirts more expensive than pants, they collect dirt, and vermin, and water when walking around the unpaved streets of a medieval town. Who thought of this?
All I can say is: Lamebrain. But really, almost as much Lamebrain to all of us for putting up with this nonsense for so long.

These troubling things, on a scale of 1 to 10 rate about .0001, I know, but they, among other curious thoughts, keep me amused and harmlessly occupied in my sleepless bed. They obviously also keep me occupied when I should be dusting!


A Paul Bunyan Kind of Day

Most of my friends are old enough to remember Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. They have drifted out of popular culture these days but I think that this winter has been cold enough to reprise them.
Paul Bunyan was a giant of a man, an amazing lumberjack, always accompanied by Babe. He lived mainly in Minnesota but had travelled extensively throughout the northeastern States, probably causing havoc with that gigantic beast and huge ax of his. 
My favourite story is the one of the very cold winter. It was so cold that when people spoke out of doors, their words froze. When the weather got warmer, no one could even hear themselves think, all because of the thunderous noise caused by all those words thawing out! Like this morning.
I shake my head at those 'good old days', remembering the wood stove, icy feet, inadequate winter wear. It was cheaper to heat than insulate way back when. A lot of houses were insulated with newspapers; no wonder they burned down so quickly! Conventional wisdom decreed that our coats should be heavy; I'm sure a lot of you remember those 50 lb. garments. And boots! Rubber galoshes with not a warming particle in them. There are days when I secretly worship at the altar of Enbridge; do people really know what it's like to heat with wood? Chopping aside, what about the dirt? the bugs in the house in January? and last but not least, the burn injuries? Never considered that, didja? An MD in the North did a study......lots of burn injuries.
A realistic compromise must be out there, somewhere. What if we pay just a little more as long as the money goes to infrastructure? Safer pipelines and all.
I like to be warm; I like my water lines to not be frozen and I'll bet all of you do, too.


Regrets (Part Two)

There are always regrets; I simply do not believe that we are capable of making perfect choices. Is there not a poem about the path not taken....and the not taken one, even if the other is a gorgeous path, is the one we regret?
My big regret is that I don't have a degree. It's not that I didn't have the university experience, or that I lack an education.  It's taken a while but I finally realize that is, quite simply, that I don't have that piece of paper hanging on my wall.
My favourite mathematician, Blaise Pascal, says we build big houses not for ourselves but mainly to impress other people. It's very probably for the same reason that we hang things on our walls. I know I would! I would go to a professional framer, put down my money and say, "Fly at 'er." which is ungrammatical and terribly idiomatic and means exactly what I would want it to mean at that moment. Then it would arrive back at my home, and I would take a selfie with the framed proof of my accomplishment right next to my smiling, albeit, somewhat middle aged face and send that off to all our friends. That would be in the future.
If I would have gone to university as a young woman I probably wouldn't have had all those children. Which ones would I not have had? Would I even have met my husband? Would I be healthier? Would I be better off financially? Even that is a maybe.
At 60+, I am realizing
that all life is a maybe. Every path taken moves us along to another crossroads, another choice and ultimately, to another decision. We need to remind ourselves that for the most part our decisions weren't terrible ones and we still have time to remedy one or two that we really, really regret. Or we could just sit down with ourselves and have a little talk and come to the conclusion that what we thought was so important, turns out to not be that big a deal after all.


Regrets (Part One)

I confess to a certain envy of my mother-in-law's mild tyranny. She was utterly convinced that we would hop to it when bidden, completely lacking in doubt about our unflagging obedience when summoned! Naturally, as adults , we found this to be unfair and selfish, over-entitled, as it were. Also naturally, we did not always 'hop to it'. This was met with either wrath or martyrdom. Both good weapons, designed to make you feel guilty or more guilty. Take your pick.
Not a Christmas Eve went by that did not see us all assembled, in our finery, AT HER HOUSE. Nor did we often refuse coffee and cake for birthdays, feasts at Thanksgiving and Easter, champagne lunches on Sunday. If our beloved mother/mother-in-law so ordained, it was almost always so.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one to deeply resent this infringement on my adulthood. I resented so bitterly that I swore never to inflict these behaviors on my own children. Now check out the title.
How could I have better managed things, so that there would be a bit more of 'snapping to attention' but without the resentment? Is such a thing possible? Will our own children ever regret not seeing more of us? Will they, in a weird logic-defying twist, blame us for not insisting?
In one of my Russian short stories, the family is gathered after church, in the daughter's garden, and the visitor asks, "Is it a party?" One of uncles turns to him and replies, "No, it's Sunday."
How lovely, how unrealistic. Our family lives so far apart, is busy, has no servants, cannot just jump on a plane at a mother's whim but believe me, there are moments when I wish......

circa 1949


How Do We Get From Here to There?

It's always sad to hear of friends' marriage melt-downs. It should be beyond the power to shock; this is a modern world but it is, nonetheless shocking. They seemed so normal, so loving to each other, so attuned to each other's lives, supportive of each other's careers....etc. etc.
I'm old enough to remember Ann Landers' breakup. Jules had left her a note at the breakfast table. Basically it said: Dear Ann, found someone, gotta go. The guru of failing marriages had, herself, failed.
We start out so optimistic; so naïve and happy.
This is not the place to get all statistic-y; we all know them. But how is it that some of us are married forEVER? What is it about our relationships that is different? I know that we are not better, kinder, saintlier. If we're not, why do we deserve to be luckier?
My sister and I have long discussions; on one thing we are agreed. 'Love' is a ridiculously overworked, misused and misunderstood word. 'Loving someone to bits' is not the same thing as having 'love'. Being in love is an emotional state. Loving someone is an attitude. Love is a working term; it means all the things the Biblical verse says and that is not easy. However, as much as I have to suck up all my true-loves flaws, so does he suck mine up.
There are days when I am so weary of compromise that I think we're all whores....trading this for that. Is it worth it? Then there are the exciting moments when I glimpse this man from a new angle and my breath catches  in my throat and my legs go wobbly. The fact that we don't give up compromising is 'love', the other is 'in love'.
Do we give up on our marriages because we expect too much? Do we expect to be euphoric all the time? Is it misleading advertising?
Should a new spouse go about in fear of her/his marriage? When is it safe to bask in some security? Are we idiots to feel safe?
Luck, luck, luck. And stubbornness. Maybe.


If It Happened to Us.......

The Olympics are over; the fife and drum, the razzle and the dazzle, the furs and limos have moved on. For a moment the adrenalin is on pause; the recipients of shiny objects are 'basking in glory' and marketers everywhere are determining the long term value of their new commodities.
How can you tell I'm not a big fan? Medal winners make enormous amounts of money selling endorsements, hockey players make enormous amounts of money anyway, approximately one third of $50 billion (NO ONE can count that high in their lifetime) has been siphoned off in questionable fees? and still everyone went home happy.
There's the rub. Not everyone went home. The people of Russia have to pick up the tab and pick up they will....for a long, long time. Somehow, going in to the Olympics, the paying never seems as long as the coming out. Fifteen, twenty years down the road a lot of people will be sincerely pissed. Much like Ontarians with Hydro's debt reduction, or the good folk of Montreal and Expo. What about the Vancouverites? Well, there's a fair bit of money in that lovely city, you may say, but there is a fair bit of hardship in the parts of the province as well.
Not everyone went home. A certain little village has been all but destroyed. For the building of a shiny new highway and a glistening train, the people now have no local water supply. A middle aged man has lost his fig trees and can no longer sleep at night because of the noise. In Beijing, thousands were displaced so the city would look good.
But that's OK. As long as we are away from all of this, it's OK. Let other people suck up the sacrifices for the glitz that disguises itself as 'Games'.
How would you like to be in a bulldozer's path? How would you like to lose your water, your yard, your home? Please, please use your imaginations. About war most of us can do nothing, but about ego stroking, greed fueling, czar building......come on.


The Deep Magic

When I was a young mom, spring meant new runners, new splash outfits, new jeans...in short, a lot of unwanted and sometimes, hardship causing expense. It was not a time for deep reflection and there was no time for meditation. Just a lot of kids and sheddy dog and cat creatures with all the turmoil that goes along with that sort of life.
This is not a complaint; for the most part it was a good life - I liked my kids and they still like me. It was, however, a very busy life, and that may not be such a good thing. If you keep it up forever.
The last few years I've begun to notice the rhythms around me. It takes a few moments out of my day. It means I stop what I'm doing and look or listen. Sometimes I run to the door; other times I just need to look out of the window.
We live under a flight path of sorts, not sure what it's called and the geese don't care. They just ARE and have been for how long?

Northern Cardinal

This little guy sits on the top of the tallest tree in the neighbourhood announcing spring; his family has been doing this for years.
I find the goose migration absolutely moving, the cardinal perfectly charming. To think that this has been going on for millennia, that it will continue without any of us now alive on the whole planet is simply awesome. That is what awesome means....to be in awe of.
Perhaps it takes maturity to notice the deep rhythms, the immutable laws, the Lion's 'Deep Magic'. Perhaps it is a grandparently duty to point these things out to our grandchildren as it is their parents who are now leading the busy, busy lives.
Stop, look, listen is not only for intersections.


How Good are They Really?

I was at the beauty salon today, getting beautified and waiting for inspiration! (LOL)  I did walk out with two thoughts.

Could I live in the goldfishy-bowl existence of celebrities' lives? No. So, that was thought Number One.
Thought Number Two took a little more thinking, which is what I'm supposed to do, right?  It occurs to me that perhaps it isn't the skill so much as the amount of attention paid to the patron that really matters. The hairdresser who listens is valuable. The hairdresser who listens is more easily forgiven for cutting too much or scorching your ear than the one who chatters with her friend or worse yet, chatters about him/herself.
Is that true for everyone who touches us? I do mean physically.

The doctor, the dentist...anyone who handles any part of our bodies. Seeing that most of us aren't dentists, how do we determine 'good' or 'bad'? Most of us aren't diagnosticians either, so how do we know FOR A FACT that our doctor is
 'good' or 'bad'? Maybe, he/she just has a terrible bedside manner. Or, scarier, maybe he/she knows crap and could charm cobras!
It's easy to tell with accountants; either the tax man cometh or he doesn't. Same with a lawyer; it's either in jail or out.
Cashiers? Some may be fast and efficient, but don't you just hate it when a super-dooper young pair, barely legal to work, are having the time of their lives around your stuff and never even looking at you? Whose money is it, anyway? "Mine, mine," you want to shout, and maybe, be just a little bit graceless.
Skill vs. stroking.  Thinking about it makes me realize that I can be on the stroking side; not crabby to crabby service workers, smile at grumps, bite my tongue at the checkout and make nice to my true-love even when I don't want to!!!


How Many Baskets.......

I consider myself happily married. Yes, I do. I also consider myself very married which, I must confess, leads occasionally to a misleading degree of complacency. Take baskets, for example. My true-love mentioned he is desirous of one. This is a basket.
Full of goodies type basket

I have several other types in my "What kind of basket can my true-love bring me today?" mind.

Book storing basket

Well mannered and obedient pet holding basket
Alas and alack! This is not what my true-love meant at all! He wanted an inbasket. "An inbasket?" I cried. "Whatever for?"
"For in things." he said.
I was disbelieving. "You don't have anything to put into an inbasket. You don't print out your e-bills."
He got snarly. "Once, just once, I forgot."
"So the inbasket will help you remember." I confess I scoffed. I am a good scoffer. I put feeling and tone into my scoffing. It is not unrecognizable. At which point he yelled.
"Why can't you just say yes? Why do you always have to be in control?"
Why do people ask dumb questions ? "Uh, that's what controlling people do; they like to be in control."
My poor true-love. I promise to practise. "Yes dear, buy as many baskets as you like." By God, that first part is hard to say.


I have a Hero!

Now that all the sappiness of Valentine's Day is behind us I can tell you about my hero (really heroine but it just doesn't sound catchy as a title!). Here was a woman who knew how to love. She had 3 husbands, no divorces, just sad, sad deaths, but kept right on living and loving.
Cecile at 22
 This is my godmother; she was first widowed in her early 40's. Heart disease.  Then she met a man. He was still married so they lived in sin for awhile. Tut, tut! The Catholic Church AND the Anglican Church refused to marry them after the man's divorce became final. You would think that the churches would be all happy that a pair of middle-aged people had found love and happiness again and wanted to "make it right". You see, they were both old enough (and she was Catholic enough) that they really did feel they were indeed living "in sin". Hurrah for the United Church which blessed them and sent them on their way.
Poor Godmother...they were hardly married at all when he died.
Very sad but undaunted, she took up the business of living alone again. This time she took a lover! Naughty, naughty. But the lover proved to be a good, good idea. Because of the lover, she took Spanish lessons. Because of the lover, she went on cruises.  Because of the lover, she didn't become dried up and crusty. She was a vibrant, alive woman .....and then she met a man.
The man had been widowed for 3 weeks when he proposed. She laughed and sent him away. But not for long, just 6 months or so, and then at the age of 70  they married. Hurrah for love!
So, they were together for 20 years. One husband had built her a house, the second left her a great deal of money and the third helped her spend it. In the nicest possible way, of course. They travelled the world.
It took me the longest time to understand what I so admire. She was not always nice; in fact, in her old age she was selfish and manipulative. She was the kind of old lady who yelled insults in restaurants because she was so deaf she'd forgotten how to whisper. At the store, she piled strawberries onto her pint basket and sailed through the checkout even though everyone knew she had 2 pints worth! She was so ambivalent about children. She was childless but had mothered her second husband's. One day, she was so sad that she didn't have any and the next, so happy because all kids did was break your heart! Godmother, godmother....you didn't rest on your laurels and that is what I so admire. You just kept on going and doing. Forward looking, that's what you were. My hero. 


How is a Raven like a Writing Desk....

How is a raven like a writing desk or better yet, how are Blaise Pascal, Ingrid and cedar waxwings connected?
Think of it as a triangle ▲ with Blaise Pascal on top. He was the amazing mathematician who invented the first digital calculator, opened new fields of study in atmospheric pressure, hydraulics, projective geometry, probability theory, invented Paris' transit system and a ton more as well as becoming a philosopher of note. Right now I'm reading  'Pensees'; it is hard work but worthwhile. It is full of little brain jerk-awakers; they may not make me rich but keep me on my mental toes.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

 On one of the other sides, there are cedar waxwings. They are cheery little birds which eat mainly berries, are very social and handsome . They are yellow and grey with little red markings on their wing tips. Their numbers are stable or even increasing due to the fruit trees homeowners are planting. Courting birds feed one another. A gang of them eat my ornamental crabapples nearly every day.

Mature cedar waxwing

Then there's me. On the last side of the triangle. (My hair colour which used to be Tacky Tucker blonde is now Waxwing Wannabe.)

M. Pascal theorizes that man is chronically unhappy because he/she lives either in the past, looking back to a perception of happiness or in the future, always planning on being happy and working toward that end. There is no happiness in the present because WE MISS IT. 
I love it because it's true! Busy, busy people even on vacation, always racing around on tours, shopping, dining and always, always connected somehow to something disruptive. There is hardly time to savour the moment.
This has been described variously as ecstasy, bliss, joy or just the moment.
At our age, we need to be way more conscious of this. Some of us don't have a lot of future in our future, and none of us have a guarantee that there will be any at all. Today, now is all we have.

So, M.Pascal has given me thought and I am his fan; the waxwings give me joy and I give them food; because of M. Pascal, I don't let the cats out when the birds are in my tree and the birds? Well, M.Pascal believed, so perhaps, wherever he is, the waxwings give him joy, too



Those Sneaky Symptoms

Aside from the obvious bits that are not as perky as they once were, the sneakiest thing to creep up on me in the last 2 years has been cold feet. I used to run around barefoot all year even dashing across the road, in the dead of winter, unsocked and unshod. I embraced cold feet. Really, snow is not that cold.  Hot feet make me fidgety. Imagine my shock when my pleasantly cold feet became painful. What? what? what?
Did I own socks? Ah yes, there they were in my discard bag, remnants of my work boot and factory days. Time to buy new ones. The first year, I wore them only on very cold days; now I wear them every day. This is also the first year that I have ever worn slippers. Not here, mind you, just on an unheated floor while visiting.
As in all things: when it becomes personal, it becomes interesting. Gluten intolerant? Let's google that. Bad dog? Let's google that. Socks? Hey, socks are research-able,too.
From Egypt, circa 500 AD but not true socks

This medieval hose was attached with ties to a garter belt-like thingy.
Sixteen hundred years ago there were no socks, just these long things called hose. Making hose involved lots of sewing as knitting hadn't been invented yet. So now we can segue into knitting which is incredibly modern. The first knitting guild was begun in 1527 in Paris. All knitters at that time were men! (Segue is such a cool word; two years ago, I didn't know what it meant then I saw it everywhere...segue, segue. I think words are stylish too, like midi skirts, here today and practically gone next year.)
Linen hose, tied around the legs

I am making a point, albeit in a roundabout fashion. Can you imagine figuring out knitting? Someone had the time to try and try again to loop yarn around a pair of sticks, over and over, sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other. Talk about 10,000 hours. Maybe it was a group thing...a bunch of unemployed guys, high on mead, with their hose wrapped around their knees and freezing (because hose was separate, not joined like pants and the average person did NOT wear underwear), and they couldn't smoke because Sir Walter Raleigh hadn't been to America yet, so one of them started to fiddle around with his hose ties and a stick or two. "Hey, Gaston, I'll bet I can make more loops than you can between Nonce and Vespers." This theory can use some work of course but in the comic strip part of my mind, I am seeing it. In the dark part of my mind, I don't think  people have enough time to be truly creative. We just copy and copy again and tell ourselves that developing a video game is life-changing. I also think that I could dislike the dark part of my mind. Anyway.... 
Once knitting took off, socks became the things we wear today, except for the heels which were detachable, therefore, replaceable.  One of the small things taken so for granted but life improving, protecting us from frostbite, insect bites and foot injuries. And providing cuteness and cheer.          

One third of all this cheer is produced in a single city in China. 8 billion pairs a year!!!!!!
I now know more about socks than is necessary, so do you and if cold feet is all we have to complain about today, let us give thanks.       


Is My Nose Broadening?

The protagonist in a certain play laments that she's getting noticeably older. "My nose is broadening!", she cries out in despair.
Apparently, Florence Nightingale, in her 80's, was almost unrecognizable as the woman who had gone to the Crimea. 'Her nose had broadened' writes one of her biographers.
 Has mine? I quite liked my young nose, and still do. As a matter of fact, my mother's nose has thinned out a tiny bit and I would never have described my Father's as 'broad'. Not as aquiline as it used to be..... It is what it is, and if I really don't like it, there's always rhinoplasty. Graceful doesn't need to mean natural!
It's interesting how people's faces change. Some of us look so much better in middle age than childhood. It's also wonderful to see so many well-postured people. Terribly stooped and even 'hunch-backed' old people were such a common sight in my youth; that has all but disappeared. I fear though, that the next generation will be round shouldered. Too much time spent hunched over a desk or a devise! Straighten up, you young things; take a lesson from your grandparents and throw those shoulders back!
We need to read more, to become more aware of just how lucky most of us are to have been born in the now and not the then.
In 1850, you had to live with your nose.