Category Archives: Family

Memories of My Mom, Lillian

She hated that name, and always went by her middle name, “Ruth”.  ­­­Lillian is what you called her if you wanted to make her mad. She would have been 90 years old this week.  But instead, she died one day after turning a mere 69. It was her birthday, and then her “death day” and her funeral and Mother’s Day all within a few days. We buried her on May 8th. It was the worst possible week, back in 1995.

It all comes flooding back this time every year.  I remember driving her to the hospital for the “preventative” and also elective surgery that ultimately took her life.  I had settled into the role of being a child who knew better than the parent.  I scolded her when she expressed doubt about going through with it.  Of course she was going to go through with it.  Dad had died just one year earlier – we needed to do everything we could to have her around for a very long time.  Even after more than two decades, writing this fills my eyes and I get that familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that is like no other.  It’s the one that means your mom is gone.

She didn’t have an easy life.   She came from a large family, one where – and this is a direct quote that would rival anything Frank McCourt could offer up –  “the early bird got the socks.” She was smart as a whip, and loved school.  Nevertheless, one day in Grade 8 Grandad showed up at her school all excited because there was a job “going” at the brickyard.  That was the end of her academic career, a sacrifice for the family

She married at 15.  FIFTEEN.  Dad was much, much older.  And if you’re thinking sugar daddy, think again. Kind of the opposite.  I now believe that my dad suffered a form of PTSD from living through the depression, and he lived very “frugally” for all of his life. (eg, didn’t splurge on niceties such as indoor plumbing or a  furnace until the early 1980’s) Lived off the land, if you will. This was WAY before living off the grid was cool.

She didn’t have any kids until she was a ripe old 21, and eventually had six.   In 1947, 49, 51, 53, 59, and 66,  having the last one when she was 40. Three boys and three girls.  It was a tough life.  Imagine raising six kids.  Now imagine it without running water and a wood stove for heat – when your family is the only one in the neighbourhood living like that.

But through all of the years and the hardship of raising six wild children, she never lost her “edge”.  She was a firecracker.  She always possessed a wicked sense of humour, and razor sharp wit.  In spite of the lack of a toilet you could flush, our place was the place to hang out.  Our friends who visited used to say we should have our own show, the quick witted insults and constant banter was rapid fire and would outdo any of the lame laugh tracked sit-coms of the day.

The late sixties were a little messy at our house, with all those teenagers, and eventually some weddings and a combination of menopause/postpartum/doctorsgaveyouvaliuminsteadofrealtreatment, but thankfully we all survived and came out on the other side with lots of great inside jokes.

Mom was a smart aleck, to the end.  Below are a few of my favorite mom quotes that we heard as we were growing up.  You won’t find many of these in “Today’s Parent”:

I thought she invented the ever popular, “Do you want me to give you something to cry for ?” (These were almost always empty threats)

Often followed by a firm, “The more you cry the less you’ll piss.”

If you were bugging her and trying to get her attention repeatedly you would get, “Call your ass ‘Mom’ and you’ll have one with you.”

“He went for a shit and the crows got him.” (This was the standard answer when you asked where dad or a brother or really anybody was)

“Screwing the dog and selling the pups – you wanna buy a bitch?”  (Standard answer when you asked “what are you doing?”)

“Sick in bed with my feet hanging out the window.” (Standard answer when you asked how are you doing?”)

“Hot tongue cold shoulder.”– Standard answer when you asked what was for supper.

“Crazy, and you’re driving.” – Standard answer when you asked “Where are you going?”

Or the “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

Sometimes she was “Busier than a one armed fiddler with the crabs.”

She didn’t limit her wisecracks to immediate family.  I remember once she asked the doctor about something that she had that was a bit abnormal and his response was “I wouldn’t worry about it.”  She said, “Frankly Doctor if you had it, I wouldn’t worry about it either.”

Nothing much phased her.  One time my brothers and brothers in law were re-roofing our house, and one of them flicked a cigarette butt that rolled into a vent and was now sitting in the attic and very likely to start the house ablaze.  My youngest brother raced down the ladder and into the house, past Mom who was rolling pastry on the kitchen table.  He ran upstairs into a closet and then walked along a beam to get to the smoldering cigarette butt.  Except he slipped, and fell so that he was now straddling the beam, having busted through the kitchen ceiling, and his legs dangled very near to Mom’s head as she continued to roll pastry.  “Nice of you to drop in”, she said, without looking up.

My dad was in the hospital for some months before he died.  The cashiers at the grocery store used to ask about him.  But then he died, and in a relatively small town, everyone knew fairly quickly.   Mom hadn’t been in the store for awhile and one of the forgetful cashiers asked her as she was bagging her groceries, “How’s your husband doing?”  Mom didn’t miss a beat, continued piling bags and answered simply,  “Still dead.”

She had a wicked sense of humour, and while it was never measured I’m sure a very high IQ..  In this day and age of opportunity and equality, she could have done ANYTHING.  She was a voracious reader, understandably her preference ran to escapist type novels and thrillers.  She loved to solve mysteries – if you watched a whodunnit with her, she always knew whodunnit way before you were supposed to.

She was an unconventional mom, but there was never any doubt that she loved you and would be there if you were in need.  When as a teenager I had back surgery and was in Sick Children’s Hospital for 3 weeks she never really left my side.  She watched my toddlers when I was in hospital having babies, and filled our freezer with home-made food.

She was good at bluffing at poker.  She never learned to drive.  She made amazing pies.  She would lend you her last dollar. She loved Cribbage.  She never stayed at a hotel.  She never traveled beyond Ontario.

Nothing gave her more pleasure than having all her kids together.  At the end, when the same doctor who strongly recommended the procedure and performed the surgery, informed us that the reality was that “Lillian” was now at the end of her life, we all six offspring gathered in a small hospital room in Hamilton and held her hand and watched her leave us.  She wasn’t conscious, but there was no doubt that she was going under protest.

She was witty and funny and human and humane and did her very best with what she had and what she knew. She lives on in her kids and her grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. I and my siblings miss her every day.  Our mom – Ruth – would have been a kick-ass 90 year old.

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Memories, Mother's Day

Sometimes it takes 2 to DIY

English: Logo for The Home Depot. Category:Bra...

English: Logo for The Home Depot. Category:Brands of the World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some things never change – like, for example, the simple satisfaction from a job well done. When there is a problem with something, and you are able to fix it and make it better again, or build something from scratch, that is some powerful sense of accomplishment right there. I can think of only one thing better than being a successful “DIY”er. It would be being a “DIYD”er – or a “Do it Yourself – Director”. I’m awesome at that. Our new place is great, but, let’s face it – there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We tackle things as a team. My contribution is as follows: Identify projects. This can be done in a number of ways, but I tend to go with:

Conspicuously staring at imperfections while subtly shaking my head and with an occasional heavy sigh thrown in. For effect, this is best done while spouse is trying to point out something unrelated and usually pleasant.

“Hey, Darling” he says. (He sometimes calls me ‘Darling’, and I figure – hey, if the shoe fits.) “Look at that crazy dog!” He points at our pooch, laying upside down, sleeping adorably on the floor.

BUT I of course, can manage only a fleeting glance at the right-upside-down-dog, but then my gaze drifts over to a missing piece of wall trim nearby. I adopt a sad, melancholy face, not at all what he was expecting when he pointed out the cute pet … and then BOOM, fixing piece of trim just moved up the priority list.

When that doesn’t work, another subtle tactic is the unnecessarily loud phone conversation with my sister that lists all the things that need fixing/are unbearable, and always hinting that I would be much happier (and some might even think, nicer) if only these projects were done.

Sometimes I perpetuate the myth that “we” do jobs, by accompanying on a trip to Home Depot. Once there, I usually

a) Complain that I’m hungry because I can smell Subway.

b) Fill the cart with a bunch of stuff we didn’t intend to buy, like plants and mops and organizers.

c) Lose him at least 3 times, and zoom around up and down the aisles like a crazed mall walker.

d) Act bored, possibly even climbing a rolling staircase to the top, or laying on some plywood stacks just to pass the time while he does tedious stuff like “calculate” and talk to old guys wearing orange aprons and shorts and workboots, during which time I’m trying not to laugh when they say stuff like “caulking”.

We get out to the truck and I sometimes have to sit there for 10 minutes while he figures out a way to fit everything in and on top of the vehicle. During this time I play with the radio and creepily stare people watch. I always perk up on the way home, with the truck loaded down with mysterious ingredients like concrete and wood and “caulking” (too funny).

“How long do you think it will take us to get this done?”, I inquire, eagerly.

He always plays along … and goes into a Mike Holmes-esque recitation of all the things that have to happen:

“Well, first we have to sand and then I’ll cut out those old pieces of wood and cut news ones and put them in and then it will all have to be caulked (I’m dying!) and then we can paint with the primer and then paint with the nice new paint that you picked out…” , but by then I’ve glazed over so badly there’s no coming back. AND – we both know that I’m not doing any of that. He will do it, and it will be perfect, consistently way better than I could have imagined. I will wander into the room where the work is going on and cheerlead, “That looks AWESOME! I love that colour I picked out!”

(It’s always some variation of beige.) I may even deliver a well earned beverage.

When the job is done he will call me in to admire it. Sometimes I take before and after pics. It is without exception, done equal to or better than if we had hired a professional. His talent at doing absolutely everything never ceases to amaze me. I’m always impressed. However, sadly, my satisfaction is always fairly short lived. If for example, he tries to bask a little too long in the warm glow of accomplishment by a couple of days later by saying something like, “Remember how that room used to look?” I usually say something sensitive and motivating like, “Yes, but … have you SEEN that laundry room? Let’s not live in the past”.

Here’s a pic of OUR latest DIYer project. I heard it was going to be an exceptionally hot summer, and phoned him on my way home from work a few weeks ago. I didn’t mince words:

“We need one of those pools from Canadian Tire.”

“Aren’t they expensive? Where will we put it? Aren’t they ugly? Do we have enough water?” Sometimes he’s very inquisitive. And, obviously, none of these things are my problem. He picked one up.

There was a slight delay with the installation, when he read the assembly directions and it said “you need 3 people” to set the thing up. When 2 hot weekends passed and he realized that at no point was I going to lift a finger, so the chances of getting a third party were akin to the snowball’s chance in hell, he got fed up and did what he does best. Did it himself. I arrived home from work, it was installed on a spot where he had painstakingly and perfectly prepared the ground. He called the water delivery service and got it filled up, and by the next day we were swimming.

A recent and fairly effortless project

Now was that so hard? Best part is, the kids keep raving about what a great idea I had, as they lounge in and around this pool.

Well, I can’t take all the credit. It’s just not my nature. I’m a team player. And, it may sound corny, but in my case it’s especially true … there is no “I” in team.

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Filed under Family, Home and Garden, Marriage, Thats Life

New Home-ward Bound

The maple lined driveway of the farm on a frosty morning

Well, we can relax.  We found a house on Kijiji. And today we get possession of it.  Thankfully we have 2 weeks to move, which is great because it turns out I’d rather do other stuff – like write blog posts – than help move.

*Disclaimer – the pics in this post are kind of random – photo albums are already packed so not much to work with.

This major life event, causes me to reflect on our other homes of our married life.  All three of them.   When we got married, I moved half a block away from my parent’s home, into a cute little house we had rented. We thought it was a palace.  It was tiny, without a basement, and had two little bedrooms. When I put stuff away in the cupboards, I could also do a weather check, because there were huge cracks where I could see outside – that is unless they were too iced up.  Our castle had a “portable toilet”, which was especially pleasant since we hosted lots of parties with our 20-something pals, where mass quantities of beer were consumed.

We stayed there 3 years.  Hubby had always wanted to have a bit of property, so we found ourselves looking ½ hr north, at a 10 acre piece of land with a cute little bungalow.  It had no basement, but the toilet wasn’t portable so it had me at hello. The young couple who were selling it had built it themselves, and we were young and naïve enough to think that was a good thing.  In hindsight, Mike Holmes would have been apoplectic.  The young couple was extremely good at staging and had really nice furniture.  We were dazzled by the charming décor, and so excited at the prospect of our “hobby farm” that we failed to notice that the house itself kind of resembled a double-wide, and that parts of it were held together with fence staples.   The reason I know this, is because fast forward a few years, when we had 3 little kids, and those 3 little kids had 2 little friends over to play. It was a windy afternoon, and they were all 5 playing in the living room, and the drop ceiling got real literal and “dropped” on top of my happy little toddlers.  After that, helmets were mandatory as we searched for our new home.

By now my hubby’s appetite for land had become insatiable. He wanted a farm, and he had a list of attributes it had to have – bank barn, maple trees, creek, etc, etc.  We started looking another ½ hr north, and looked at so many places that I eventually stopped going with him because it was too hard to haul all the kiddies along.  One day he came home and said he thought he’d found the place. It was a January day, and I remember riding in the car to look at it and driving for what felt like hours through frozen tundra.  The house had been empty for a year, so the staging was a little less inviting than our first house.  Each room had a charming little pile of dead cluster flies under the window.  And there was a decided “hill” in the floor of master bedroom.

Winter morning view from the barn.

On the bright side, this place had two toilets of the not portable kind, and it had a basement.  So what if it was the kind of basement you don’t want to go into unless under threat of a Wizard of Oz category tornado.  I had chronic fatigue also known as numb-y mummy syndrome in the 90s, so robotically signed the papers, and we moved in on June 26 1992, with a 1, 3 and 5 year old.  My biggest concern was how I was going to keep them all safe, with a pond and a creek, and a barn with a ladder up to the rafters. I had visions of a well-worn path down our driveway from emergency vehicles, and being on a first name basis with all the 911 operators.  Hubby was enthralled with all the fields and dirt and trees that we could call our own.  He saw past the insulbrick and the long grass, and fell deeply in love with the maple lined driveway and the white board fence and the big red barn and the bush out back. He thought this was a great place to raise the kids.  Turns out, he was right. (I can admit that, because he hardly ever reads this.)

Move in day, June 1992. Note the well manicured lawn and my future fashionista sporting the toga look.

The hard farm life

After 20 years, we’re moving on.  It’s bittersweet – it’s a small town and most people have lived here FOREVER.  The folks in our community who eyed us suspiciously for the first 10-15 years, have started to warm up. (Mercifully we didn’t realize at the time how sorely we stood out at our kids athletic and school events.  We thought we were anonymous, and really we might as well have been wearing sandwich signs that screamed “stranger danger”.) Now ironically, we will  be making trips back to the old hood to visit. We will miss our pals.

Even though we’re empty nesters now, the kids are having a hard time with saying goodbye to the old place.  I tsk tsk them and tell them how great the new place will be … but secretly I’m dealing with flashbacks of 3 little curly headed imps fishing through the cracks in the bridge at the creek, or all 3 sleepily listening to Tom Petty songs while crammed into a tractor cab with dad as he plowed fields, or 3 teens huddled behind the driveway trees waiting for the bus, or countless family barbeques with spectacular sunsets.

I can’t think about that too long.  Instead I choose to focus on the fact that the place we’re going to has an unprecedented 3 normal toilets, and a basement that I will willingly spend time in, even without weather network alerts.

And the best part is, the family moving in to our old house has 3 little kids under 5.  The dad is visibly excited about the fields and barn and trees and bush.  The mummy is not at all numb-y, and is thrilled about calling our old farm home.  They think it’s going to be a nice place to raise kids.  They have no idea.

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Filed under Family, Farm Life, Home and Garden, Memories

Time Marches On

"Totes" - not just an expression of agreement, but a sophisticated filing system for borderline hoarders

This has been a long span between blog posts, but I have a good reason.  We’re moving … for the first time in 20 years.  No more farm life for us.  When we signed the deal way back in September it seemed like a great idea.  “On to the next chapter”, we agreed, and high-fived to seal the deal.  But as our closing date of March 15th looms, a few troublesome realities have cropped up.  Like for example, before cutting us a cheque, the people who bought our place expect us to leave … and to take all of our crap.  Did I mention we lived here 20 years?  We have accumulated a lot of crap. 

We’ve always lived by the tried and true “let’s keep it and decide later” school of organization, and we have a giant barn, which served as great storage for innumerable Rubbermaid containers full of papers.  Each year we socked a few more away.  Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, being classic helicopter parents, we thought everything our kids ever created was brilliant and we kept every single piece of paper they produced from nursery school until roughly, yesterday. Believe me, they were quite prolific.

We’re now trying to get it down to one tub per offspring.  We can be found each night, rummaging through the dusty totes. We had a lot to get rid of , so did get progressively more discriminating and established new ground rules.  All school worksheets – gone.  All the math notebooks and tests – gone (It didn’t stick anyway).  All “that doesn’t even look like a horse” drawings – gone.  Can’t tell which kid did it – gone.  Anything in French – gone.  All “participant” ribbons – gone.  Assignments with any teacher comments that contain feedback that resembles criticism – gone.  I prefer to remember the happy times of enthusiastic and unbridled achievement…. so pretty much anything the boy did between grade 10 and grade 12 (both years) – gone.  

In the “keep” pile, are multiple, multiple “Lifetouch” sheets with 24 school pictures in the same pose with each kid, for each year.  Not sure why we always went with the “25 prints” package, when we only had one set of grandparents.  Also, not sure WHO dressed those kids and did their hair on picture day, but it was someone with a cruel sense of humour for the most part.  Also “Keep”:  any piece of paper/macaroni craft/tissue, that says “You’re the best Mom/Dad/Parents …  we do need that  validation and we’re not above digging through a dusty tote to get it. Plus, I want that evidence handy, and strategically on display when they are making our elder-care decisions.

Our ticket to the "Good" old age home

Something else I kept were multiple copies of the local newspaper if our kids made it in.  Cleverly though, I kept the whole paper, so have spent a good portion of my time this week thumbing through 10 – 20-year-old newspapers looking for likenesses of my kids or their names in small print, so I could reduce bulk and just rip the page out, which apparently I was just too busy to do in the 90s, because then it would have been too dangerously close to scrapbooking.   This has proven very time-consuming though, as I am easily distracted and inevitably end up poring through the classifieds, and beating myself up that I didn’t buy EVERYTHING at those prices.

There were other Rubbermaid containers too, filled with fun facts, by way of receipts. My wedding dress cost $279. Our honeymoon for two weeks to Bahamas all-inclusive cost $1080, for both of us.  Fuel to fill up our oil tank was 39 cents a litre when we moved into this place.  We got our septic system pumped for $70 in 1989.  Additionally, we had the good sense and foresight to keep a little brown envelope with somebody’s extracted teeth in it.  Also, I worked with someone somewhere whose name was Pat(?) who was sooo “sorry to see me go” that she/he bought me a card.  I have no memory of this co-worker, but ironically, I was able to name  every kid in a yellowed and ancient looking photo of my grade 1 class.

Yes, life has become a fun-filled, time consuming, teary eyed meandering trip down memory lane. Because we’re easily distracted  procrastinators by nature and we have to examine each piece of paper thoroughly and play the arguing remembering  game about the timeline of events of our lives thus far, we haven’t had time to exactly hammer out some details, like exactly where is going to be our forwarding address.  But we’re not too worried about it.  We don’t have to be out until March.  And luckily, it’s a leap year, so we’ve got that extra day in February. 

This year March may come in like a lion, and go out like a middle-aged couple and a dog  and 3 cats living in a van, down by the river.

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Filed under Family, Humor, Kids, Memories

Marley Schmarley – Timber was Golden

Our firstborn, Timber.

Saw a bit of Marley and Me over the holidays, and it makes me sad + mad.  Sad for obvious reasons – I always hate it when (spoiler alert) the dog dies.  And mad because I didn’t listen to my dear friend Charlotte back in the early 80’s when she urged me to write a book about my firstborn son who just so happened to be a Golden Retriever. My Timber was equally if not more interesting and a lot less messed up mentally than that Marley critter.  I could be the rich author raking it in instead of John Grogan (plus isn’t he busy enough singing  “You Raise Me Up”?), and Jennifer Aniston could have played me in the movie, since she’s basically my Doppelganger. My book would have been called Me ‘n Timber, because grammar wasn’t my strong suit in the ‘80s. 

We got him as a pup in June of 1981, and we did that obnoxious thing that people who love dogs do, of going to see the puppies at 3 weeks of age at the breeders, and picking one out and then going to visit him until it was time we could take him home.    I remember picking him up and putting him in the back part of our “Scout” truck, but he didn’t like it there so I had to stop and get out and put him on my lap, where he rode the rest of the way standing up on my lap looking out the side window.  That set the stage for how he was going to be brought up.

The beautiful run and house hubby built for Timber. We didn't ever have the heart to lock him up in it. This was a staged photo-op.

The first day that we left him alone while we went to work, he didn’t really like that either.  So every day after that, he came along to work with me.  I worked at a vet clinic and he basically became the clinic greeter.  He would sit by my desk in the back, or hover outside the surgery, depending on where the action was.  He would run out to the reception area whenever anyone came in and wag and look behind him as if to assure them that somebody would be right out.  Sometimes he slept out in the reception area, and would be too lazy to bother greeting anyone but would just lie there thumping his tail instead.

We used him at the clinic shamelessly.  He was in charge of keeping yappy dogs quiet who didn’t like to be left alone.  We would put him in the kennel room and he would lie there like an annoyed babysitter.  He was our in-a-pinch blood donor.  If a dog came in that had been hit by a car and was dangerously close to death, we would borrow some blood from Timber, tapping right into his vein in his neck and he would sit there still as a statue as we let gravity help us gather.  (Apparently matching blood types isn’t a must do if it’s only happening once.) He would let us place orphaned kittens or cotton-tail bunnies on him for warmth, in between the times when we would feed them with tiny bottles.  He would let them snuggle in to his furry belly, and he seemed to quite enjoy it, although if you made a fuss he always looked embarrassed like he wanted to stress that it wasn’t his idea.

Babysitting a lonely kitty

Doing candy striper duty, walking a patient.

Dr. Timbers, ready for surgery

He was a seasoned commuter, and our family of 3 would set out together each morning. I had to drop hubby off at work and then Timber and I had another 20 min. drive to the clinic.  We drove a big old 1967 Ford Galaxie, and he had the whole long bench backseat to himself.  He would sit leaning super-casually against the door, gazing out the window – he never did that dog thing of sticking his head out.  I expect he thought that was way too unsophisticated and dog-ish.  Occasionally he even used the armrest.

The Galaxie, our sweet ride

 Not that he was perfect.  He got into trouble sometimes.   One day hubby was driving us along in the a.m. and I was having my usual breakfast of a banana, when we both smelled something horrific.  We could barely breathe, and then looked in the back seat and a rather sheepish looking Timber had just yacked up an impressively sizeable cat turd, still coated in litter.  It was disgusting.

Another time he helped himself at home in the morning to an entire pound of butter.  Strangely, it didn’t agree with him, and though he held off his nausea until we got to work, he hurled up a pale yellow oil slick about 15 feet wide right beside my desk.  I couldn’t even clean it up, it was far too gross – the paper towels just slid around on it.  My co-workers cleaned it up while I gagged helpfully in the corner.  In spite of mopping, people were slippity-sliding past my desk (which held an abacus and a lot of carbon paper, because it was the 80’s) the whole rest of the day.

PLUS he once consumed an entire cheeseball that I had slaved over.  It was Christmas Eve, and we were entertaining and we went to the door to see our guests out, and he joined us a few minutes later, but couldn’t stop licking his lips.  We discovered that the coffee table now held crackers only, with a big gaping hole where the beautiful crushed-pecan coated cheeseball used to be.  (In his defense, he may have mistaken it for a giant round cat turd coated in litter.)

Timber loved every person he ever met, with the exception of one man, who unfortunately was someone we had to see regularly.  He turned into a whole different canine when the dead stock guy came to clean out the freezer of all the dead animals. As the guy would go up and down the stairs to the basement, carrying out the dearly departed “petcicles”, Timber would growl and back up, as if to say “You’ll never take me!”.  The guy was kind of a creepy ghoulish character – I mean who does that for a job, especially in the 80’s when the economy was booming? He could have been doing something awesome like pumping gas or renting out beta movies.  But I digress …

Timber was a remarkable boy and enjoyed all the privileges that went with being an only child, at least until we got some offspring of the two-legged variety.  Then there was a bit of a power shift and he begrudgingly took on the role of family pet. I always knew he was acting though.

Timber Darling, 1981-1988

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Filed under Animal Stories, Family, Humor

Take my turkey leg torch already

The Turkey Is Done

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas dining 2011 has now been put to bed, and I singlehandedly reinforced the great lengths a mother will go to for her children.  I will stop at nothing to preserve my offspring’s feelings of self-esteem and confidence. So, now that my children are getting some of their own culinary experience and interest, I simply didn’t want to dazzle them tooooo much with my amazing kitchen and cooking skills, and run the risk of leaving them feeling like they could never measure up.  I don’t want them to feel intimidated when the official Christmas duty kitchen torch is passed and they are responsible for preparing all the special festive fixins.  Consequently for our holiday dining I did things like this:

  1. Put out a last minute call to daughter Christmas Eve to pick up water chestnuts for Spinach Dip.  Replied confidently and firmly in the negative to her inquiry as to whether or not we needed anything else.  All was good until we went to make said Spinach dip and I had no — nor had it even once occurred to me to think about getting …. Spinach.
  2. Pre-made the sweet roll dough on Christmas Eve for our Christmas breakfast sticky buns, and instead of “lukewarm” as instructed, added milk cold enough to evidently deactivate the yeast, consequently waking Christmas morning to completely flat plasticene like dough instead of gently risen puffy beginnings of deliciousness.
  3. Undaunted I started over, remaking the dough and forming the little individual buns.  Also pulled out a little known “expert” trick of placing the buns in their greased pan on top of another pan filled with warm water, so that buns would rise faster.  They rose quickly and efficiently and doubled in size, at which point I knocked the pan sideways so that all the gently risen buns slid into the warm water, and bobbed around like cinnamon buoys in a lake.
  4. Cleverly bought a much bigger turkey than in past years, and put it into the oven later in the day than ever before.  As we played a board game and smelled the delicious turkey cooking, we then heard a small explosion in the oven.  We were baffled upon examination – there were thin shards of glass on the turkey breast, but none of the glass casserole dishes appeared to have broken.  In an obvious attempt to make me look like I’m losing my mind (possibly brought on in part to the fact that I lost one of his presents that I bought him 2 DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS and hid, and at the time of this writing has still not been located); hubby asked if I might have inadvertently inserted a wine glass into the turkey, because that’s what the glass pieces resembled.  I was justifiably outraged, but just then with tensions rising, the mystery was solved.  It was the meat thermometer that exploded.  Picked shards of glass off the turkey skin and after much arm twisting I reluctantly agreed not to use any of the drippings for gravy, for fear of glass shavings.  My arguments in favour of roughage fell on deaf ears.

Spontaneous Combustioning Thermometer

5. Then inserted the new meat thermometer that I had received in my stocking.  It’s digital and very high tech, and we anxiously waited for it to announce that the required internal temperature had been achieved. This much anticipated declaration was not made until approximately 10:00pm.  As happy hour extended well into the early evening, I slurredly protested periodically that the turkey was going to look like the National Lampoon one, but dammit, I’m goal oriented and metrics driven, and we had committed to this new piece of technology and we were going to see it through to a 180° reading, come hell or high water.  I was not far from wrong, National Lampoon wise, but on the upside, if you make people wait long enough for dinner they are still extremely complimentary and effusive with praise about the meal.

Now, everything has gone according to plan and the bar is set quite low, and in future years when one of the kids hosts,  even if they invite us over  and have us pick up Swiss Chalet on the way, as long as they spring for the festive meal special, they will have one upped me and can feel like the winner of one of those reality cooking shows.

I also let them win at board games.

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It’s a Wonderful Mom, for a couple of days anyway

Golden Retriever ChristmasIt’s almost Christmas, and as per usual, I’m not sure that ours is going to measure up to the ideal.  I always feel a bit inadequate at this stage of the game.  There’s been a noticeable absence of cool stuff like Rocking around a Christmas tree, or dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh. The yard is mostly mud this year, not snow, so the whole sleigh thing (or snowmobile equivalent) is going to be out of the question.  Plus how can I rock around a tree that isn’t up yet?  We are still in denial about our offspring having grown up – we remain locked in the past where they all fought over putting the star on the top so we had to do it 3 times.  So, we’ve been holding off putting up said tree until at least 2/3 of them are home. It’s getting closer and closer to the big day as they; some would say selfishly, insist on living their own lives and delay arriving “Home for Christmas” until the last possible moment. A couple even went so far as to get their OWN trees, which some would argue is actually cheating on our family Christmas, but of course I’m not one to judge.  Heaven knows I don’t want them to worry about me….

 I haven’t done anything Martha Stewart-esque, (like securities fraud, OR  adorning the house with any homemade crafts.)  I  hauled out the same old tired decorations I’ve been using for the past few decades, and just made some essential touch-ups (example:   ripped off a ribbon from table centerpiece that looked too wrinkled and stained due to careless storage and sloppy wine drinking).

I have purchased all the requisite stuff that I will in early January throw out, such as egg nog, fruit cake, nuts that you have to crack, and hard candies.  I bought a lot of other ingredients to make stuff that let’s be honest, I’m probably not making. So come July I’ll have the usual 3 cans of Eagle Brand Milk, butterscotch chips and graham cracker crumbs that will have expired.

I did make some of my standard delicious treats, like shortbread, which I now eat instead of breakfast so there definitely won’t be any of those left by the time any actual company arrives.

I spent last night at the mall, and holiday spirit was a little bit in short supply.  A few things that rubbed me the wrong way:

  1. Home Outfitters – I have 15 items, some of which weigh as much as a small child. … YES I WANT A BAG. 
  2. So SORRY Sears, to inconvenience you and the giant lineup behind me (since you only have one checkout open in your whole store) because I got all “difficult” and refused to let you  charge me $40 more for a sweater than the sign said you would.  Thanks for taking the time to prove that I was right and then processing my sale without so much as a “Sorry we thought you were lying”.
  3. Hey trendy clothing store – my email address is none of your beezwax when I’m doing nothing other than picking up a gift card for my kid.
  4. Yo – grocery store … I thought “Utility Turkey” meant it might be missing a wing – not that it would look like it stepped on a landmine.

I was also mildly annoyed by some downright cranky staff ignoring me or treating me like I was an idiot for having the gall to ask if they actually have something that they advertised in their flyer the day before.  Adding additional insult to injury, these gum chewing eye rollers were often wearing Santa hats.

It’s 2 days away and I’m officially sick of “So this is Christmas”  “Do they know it’s Christmas time?” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”.  One song that doesn’t grate on my nerves is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” – unless of course it’s the Jessica Simpson version, which makes me downright nauseous.  The “Santa Baby” song is kind of fun too, but a little slutty and I worry about my impressionable young daughters.  That songstress is clearly exchanging favours for presents, and we’ll have none of that.  I would rather encourage my girls to set their sights on something worthwhile, like front teeth or even a hippopotamus.

Intermittently I do my wrapping, and never ceased to be surprised by stuff that I bought a few weeks ago and completely forgot about. 

But in spite of all my whining, I’m really not the Grinch.  On the contrary, over the next couple of days I will do a complete transformation.  The things that I preach to my family about all year like fibre, portion control and reduced fat will all go out the window, as I do a complete 180 and get into Holiday mode, and start doling out toxic delicacies like cinnamon rolls, quiche, cheeseballs, truffles and pies.  I will slack off on other rules, like the dog not being allowed in the living room, and not indulging in alcoholic beverages at breakfast.  Hubby may even be allowed to sit and read a magazine without being peppered with reminders about things that need done. Prolonged lazing on the couch is completely acceptable, in spite of how nice it might be outside.

So, enjoy “Christmas Mom”, family.  She is my gift to you.  Remember, “January Mom” is just around the corner, and we’re back to the norm where every sentence she utters begins with: “You should ….”

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My Multiple Breakdowns

Car Repair

My better half is good at working on cars.  But it’s a double-edged sword, because we never buy new – we always buy used vehicles – ones he knows he can breathe life into long after their best before date. Which means that on occasion we’ve been left stranded.  Like on a Monday morning a few weeks ago.

When my city dwelling daughter comes home now for the weekend, it’s like the Amazing Race come Monday morning when I have to get her into the train station an hour away to get her to work on time. We sped out of the laneway in the pitch black, just before 6 am.  Not far from the house we both heard a noise – a clunk. 

“What was that?” 

We made up female type explanations for it:  

“Sounded like we ran over something … but we didn’t.  Something must have fallen over in the trunk.”

A few more feet down the road, then CLUNK

“What was THAT?”  my daughter shrieked.  

“I don’t know.  Call your dad.” 

I came to a stop and threw it into park.

“He wants to talk to you.”   

Him:  “What happened?” 

I gave him a clear and concise assessment of the situation:

“I don’t know, we heard something clunk.  She’s going to miss her train.  Come right away.”

“What did it sound like? I need to know what tools to bring.”

 “I thought I had a flat tire but I don’t think I do. But I might. Hurry up.”

 “But what did it sound like?”

 “It sounded like I shouldn’t be driving it.  Why are you still home?”

Cue the rain.  We sat on the side of the road in the now hurricane force rains, awaiting his arrival.  It felt like an eternity, but it was really only about five minutes.  When he arrived, we wasted no time.  We leapt out of our car, flinging luggage, purses and lunch bags into his truck with all the care of Air Canada baggage handlers.  There was no time to waste. We jumped into the truck and zoomed off, leaving him to either find a way to drive the crippled car, or walk home in the rain.

But, that comes with the territory of being head mechanic.  We’ve been stranded so many times it’s hard to count.  Like many years ago when we were on our way to the babysitters to drop off our youngest while we went to my uncle’s funeral.  Once again it’s torrentially raining.  We’re on a country road … suddenly the rear wheel falls off.  It seems that when hubby was changing tires on the weekend, he forgot to tighten that one up.   Did I mention he was supposed to be a pall bearer at this funeral?  He tried to put the tire back on but couldn’t … this was pre-cell phone days, when you had to walk to the closest (usually creepy) house to use the phone.   We ended up taking our babysitter’s van to the funeral, where my bedraggled, sweaty and soggy husband joined the other five impeccably groomed pall bearers, reminding me of  the Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the others”.  (In the 90s I always thought in terms of Sesame Street songs.)

Wheel falls off?  I see your wheel and I raise you one axle.  That was the year when the kids were little and they were going on their annual Christmas shopping trip with dad down to the mall, on December 20th. They were in our 1990 Suburban, which we bought in 1996.  As they cruised along my husband heard a little bang and then suddenly the kids in the back seat kind of “dropped”, like they were in a low rider.  He looked out his side window to see his left rear wheel zooming up past him, picking up speed, veered in front and then jumped into the ditch and about 100 feet out into a farmer’s field. He managed to get the Suburban stopped on the roadside.  A pick-up truck pulled up behind him, presumably to offer assistance.  The guy ambled up to the window and casually asked, “Are you going to put out that fire?”  It seems that when the rear axle broke, the friction caused a small fire under the vehicle.  One of his biggest regrets is putting that fire out.  The thing was insured, we would have been much better off than the $2,000+ repair bill.  Side note – I think that’s the year my Christmas gift was a ShamWow.

You may think it’s always raining when we’re stranded.  Not always.  Sometimes it’s a blizzard.  This brings me to our 1994 Astro Van, which we bought in – you guessed it – 2000.  This was a “luxury touring van”, which had its upside because it had cool things like drink holders and reclining seats for everyone –critical when you have teenagers who are constantly thirsty and exhausted from being sullen.  The truck had its down side though – a sliding side door that required secret handshake treatment to close. You had to lift up and a hold the handle just so – or you were screwed – it would fly open when you turned corners.  Whenever we were transporting other people’s kids – which was constantly because teenagers also have to bring a friend everywhere in order to make family functions tolerable … there was always a chorus of “DON’T CLOSE THE DOOR”.  Only family members knew how … and if you did it wrong, then tools had to come out, sometimes accompanied by colourful language that we would rather our children’s friends not know that we know.

Anywhoo – It’s the blizzard of all blizzards, and hubby and I making our way home from work.  The Astro Van decides it’s only going partway, and strands us a good 18 kilometres from home.  Try as he might couldn’t get it going.  Along came a police man who we happened to know through hockey, and he loaded us into the back of the cruiser and gave us a ride home.   I thought the kids would be worried sick.   Interesting to note that teenagers are way more okay with it when parents come home in a police car than vice versa. Their main concern was whether we thought the school buses would be running tomorrow.

Those are really just the tip of the iceberg.  There were many more incidents. But in spite of all the breakdowns, I’ve come around to his way of thinking. Who needs new cars?  Warranty Shwarranty.  All these adventures on the side of the road keep things interesting, and I figured out how to spend some of the money we save by him doing our car repairs.  It’s called CAA.

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Causing a Scene Up on Aisle 3

Ah, the grocery store.  There once was a time it was my happy place.  I remember starting out as a newlywed, getting all decked out in my makeup and pearls for a trip into town to buy all the chips & dip, pop and cookies we would require for the next week.  Then seven years later, I was the one with no mascara, and the carseat in the cart, stacking groceries all around the kid, making more responsible purchases like Similac and Arrowroots.  Then I became the one with the unbrushed hair and big dark circles under my eyes, pushing two kids in one cart and dragging another cart behind me loaded with stuff like organic apples, diapers, Cheerios and Clamato Juice (hey, a mom’s gotta live).  Then before long, we were up to three kids, and I was the yummy mummy scraggy frump pushing just one cart again, with one kid sitting in the top part (that was always fun – trying to hold a squirming kid up high enough to get the legs in the cart holes –akin to putting a worm back down the hole), and two kids hanging off the side. Or sometimes one of them would be scrunched up where the cases of pop should go, and the other one would be racing around a few aisles over, annoying other shoppers.

We have lots of fond memories from shopping with the kids.  Like the time our youngest was sitting up in the cart, when she was about two years old.  Another lady pushed her cart up close to us, and she had a little baby about three months old.  The cute little baby was staring at our little Laura, and the mother and I exchanged smiles and nods, sharing the glow of motherhood.  As we both examined the bacon, I saw my daughter lean closer to speak to the baby.  I thought to myself, “Aww,  precious”….  then she said, in a growly, Clint Eastwoodish voice:

What are YOU gawking at?”  I scurried away

Kids or no kids, grocery shopping is a lot harder than it looks.  You are expected to make a lot of decisions, plus perform some fairly complicated math calculations.  At the front door is the first major decision – push cart or hand basket?  Let’s be serious – they should completely get rid of those hand baskets.  On the rare occasions that I have convinced myself to use one, I can be found moments later, one aisle over, staggering under its weight.  It’s like they conspire to put all the heavy things on sale the day I use a hand basket.  I’m the queen of the heavy impulse buy. Potatoes , juice, beans.  I then have to alternate carrying it with two hands between my legs like a toddler learning to bowl, or casually dangle it off my forearm like a purse – ignoring the excruciating pain and increasingly deep dent in my flesh.   I ran into a friend shopping recently and she had a hand basket that she had stacked so high that she couldn’t even lift it, and had resorted to leaving it sitting in the aisle and bringing purchases back to it, stacking it higher and higher.  Thank heavens I arrived with my push cart – I did my good deed for the day by giving her 200lb hand basket a ride to the checkout, while she walked alongside with her hand atop the highest items so it wouldn’t topple.

And speaking of running into friends – is there anything worse when you’re just trying to get your groceries and get out, than getting to a section where you need something and two other shoppers — apparently long-lost old friends– are blocking the aisle and have pushed their carts together and are playing catch up with all the news in each other’s lives, and all you want is to find the spice that you need and be gone?  They make half-hearted attempts to move their carts closer to the shelves, but inevitably you need something that they are blocking entirely.  Those inconsiderate people piss me off.

Yes – come to think of it there is something worse.  Occasionally when I see somebody at the grocery store that I haven’t seen for a while, and we’re trying to have a conversation – maybe she’s showing me some  pictures on her cell phone or something – and other shoppers look all aggravated and make “tsk” sounds and try to ram their carts by, or reach past us to get stuff.  Those ignorant people piss me off.

One sure-fire way I know to make sure I see everyone I know in town is to go to the store without any makeup on, dressed like a slob.  Guaranteed all my friends, enemies, and the ageless cheerleader from high school will be all up in my business.  Those are the days that I’m forced to shop without my glasses on, and operate like Mr. Magoo and can’t see anyone, least of all that slim, well dressed do-gooder lady with the cute haircut whose kid used to hang out with my kid.  Sometimes might have to skip a few aisles to avoid an encounter, and go home without a few items I really need, but hey – priorities.

However, should I have just come from the hairdresser and be wearing one of my business suits that is from this decade, in full makeup complete with lip gloss, I guarantee that I will not see a single soul I know.  If I should see someone familiar – I won’t be able to catch their eye, despite whistling, waving and full on jumping jacks.

Plus, regardless of how much time I spend shopping.  Once I’m officially trapped in the checkout line, I always see something in someone else’s cart that I meant to get.  And I want it.  Bad. I weigh my options … create a distraction and just grab it?  Offer to buy it at a premium?  None seem feasible, so I say “back in a minute” and then walk-run through the store trying desperately to get back before the checkout person has finished running all my stuff through.  Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t.   Sometimes I get distracted, and keep shopping and have to be paged.  So what, who cares.

A recent grocery shopping trip was a little hair-raising.  I completed my purchases, paid and then was on my way out with my cart loaded with bags, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a huge candy display that I had missed on the way in.  How is that possible?  Candy is just about my favorite thing! There were a couple of other people browsing, which added to the sense of urgency.  Could this be the candy sale to beat all candy sales??? However, good sense prevailed (I am after all, in the words of my daughter, a grown-ass woman) so I decided not to buy any candy and instead I pushed the cart in a most dignified manner, out to my truck in the parking lot.  Once I got out there and opened the back of the truck to begin loading my bags of groceries in, I made the unfortunate discovery that I had actually pushed someone else’s cart out to the parking lot, full of unpaid for groceries.  I raced back inside,  and mine was still stalled beside the enticing Fuzzy Peaches and Licorice display.  Nearby there was a bewildered looking man with his arms full of fruit and vegetables who appeared to have lost something.  His wife looked irritated.  I dropped their cart off close to them, then grabbed mine and headed back out the door as they stared.  I quietly muttered the only thing I could think of …

What are YOU gawking at?”

Yes, I realized I have come full circle. Once again I shop alone. And I may be a grown ass woman, but I can annoy other shoppers even better than my kids ever did.  And there’s still so much to look forward to in my shopping career.  Next milestone at the grocery store – the driving carts, and bad parallel parking in the Polident aisle.

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Criminal Minds – Canine Edition

I’ve been getting some requests for an update on that DOG my family brought home without my knowledge, blessing or input.  (Okay,  maybe nobody asked – but tough, I’m going to report it anyway.) His name is no longer “Murphy”.  We discovered that he’s a bit challenged intellectually, and he likes to run and run and run … so then he became “Forrest”, as in Gump.  But that’s where the similarity ends. We’ve had him for three months, and he’s got a rap sheet a mile long.

 Top 10 Crimes over the past three months:

  1. Vandalism – Ate ½ of nice black leash as rebellion against having to stay in the porch because he was wet, and smelled like – you guessed it – a wet dog.
  2. Theft and destruction of property – within the course of ten minutes and (while in full view of hubby who did not notice either deed) he both:
    • Dug up/pruned with his teeth, my only surviving,  non-holey Hosta
    • Stole black bra from clothesline and paraded it about the property like he was at a Victoria Secret fashion show
  3. Destruction of more property – Over the course of a couple of days, systematically, knowingly, and sneakily chewed the little leather piece that goes between your toes from THREE separate pairs of #1 daughter’s flip-flops. To add insult to injury, the shoes looked normal until she went to put them on, and they became anklets.
  4. Vagrant-like behaviour – Rolled in something disgusting, requiring an immediate bath, even though it was nighttime and hubby was home alone with a migraine and had to perform the bathing all by himself.
  5. Repeat vagrancy offense – Morning after emergency bath, rolled in cat poo and presented himself at the door to be let in with full turd still intact behind one ear.
  6. Trespassing – he decided to accompany a group of Mennonite children home from their bus stop as they walked past our house.  By the time hubby noticed he was gone, he had been absent for a while.  Had to jump in the car and drive down our side road to their farm, where the one-canine crime spree was gleefully chasing their horses around the paddock, barking like a lunatic.
  7. Indecent exposure and lewd, inappropriate behavior, unbecoming a dog –  Whilst wrestling on the kitchen floor with the girls, he knowingly or unknowingly released what they call the “red rocket” and one of them full-on grasped it by accident.  There was much screaming and hysteria, and then talk about being a “pet-o-file” and then finally,  “show me on your doll where the bad lady touched you.”  None of us will be recovering from that anytime soon.
  8. Terrorism – Singlehandedly banished our beloved the cats into exile.  He eats their food, and poses menacingly in the doorway.  My three little feline friends are officially feral now.  Sometimes they sit in the window when he’s in another room and stare in at me with tearful yet wild eyes, one paw held up against the window pane, longing for the days when they ran the house.
  9. Grossness – Self induced bulimic behaviour whilst traveling in the vehicle, so not only can we not leave him alone, we can’t take him anywhere unless we want to end up on the side of the road scraping warm, half-digested piles of puppy chow flecked with pieces of wood off the upholstery.
  10. Conspiracy leading to slander – He’s running with the wrong crowd. At precisely bedtime on a Monday night when he was let out for one final bio-break, he purposefully had a secret rendezvous with the stinkingest skunk in the county.  Of course it was 11:00 p.m. , and we had to wait until morning to get him cleaned up. He had to sleep outside, tied up like the common criminal that he is quickly becoming.

The good news is that having worked at veterinary offices for many years, I know that a foolproof remedy to remove skunk scent from a dog is a good soaking in a feminine hygiene douche product.  That’s right – Summer’s Eve.  Massengill – that sort of douche.  The bad news is that this is a small town and it doesn’t go unnoticed when your husband is waiting at the door in the morning for the drug store to open, and hastily purchases as many douche products as he can carry. 

However, he is still technically a puppy and we are trying to keep in mind that we didn’t give up any of the children during their youthful escapades (almost doesn’t count).  Plus,he’s also skilled at one other thing that means we’ll probably keep him around – occasionally he does a convincing impersonation of a good dog.

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