Category Archives: Memories

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

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

Regrets … I’ve had a few this year

an old post card

I don’t understand those people who say “I don’t regret anything because everything I ever did got me here.”

 What if “here” could be better, were it not for some of the stuff you did or didn’t do? For example:

Top 10 Things I regret from 2011

  1. Not using all those coupons that I’ve been carrying around that expired Dec. 31st.
  2. Kim Yong Il, I hardly knew ye. But now that you’re gone, looks like you were hilarious and I wish I had learned more about you or at least followed you on Twitter.
  3. The Groupon haircut at an obviously way-too-trendy-for-me salon that had/has me looking like an aging elf.
  4. Signing papers that mean my house is sold, because now apparently I have to get all my stuff out of here and find somewhere else to put it.
  5. Accumulating so much stuff. On a related note, using “Hoarders” as a compass as to how much stuff is normal.
  6. Worrying the whole time my daughter was travelling.  She’s home safely, but there is no coming back for my perma-furrowed brow and irritated bowel.
  7. Every second spent spying on my children just looking at pictures on Facebook. I vow to stop doing that this year.
  8. Turning down the offer to join Seal Team 6 early last year, because the practices conflicted with my Zumba schedule.
  9. That time I forgot my sports bra and went to Zumba anyway. Again –  no coming back from that.
  10. Most of the time I spent online…. yes, I’m looking at you Perez Hilton.

Lets hope 2012 has way fewer regrets.  According to the Mayan calendar I got in my stocking, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be racking up my top 2012 regrets on Jan. 1st 2013. 

To steal a line from numerous Facebook friends of my children this morning – “Happy New Year, Bitches”.

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Filed under Humor, Memories, Thats Life

Side by Side – Practically

Well, time sure flies, because once again this week it was our wedding anniversary.  And while this one passed without major “incident”unlike some of them, in reflecting, it seems that it was evident early in our life together that romance was going to take a bit of a back seat to practicality. 

For example, back then, who got married on December 1st, except of course people who were putting together a quick wedding and couldn’t wait until June because they would be a family by then?  We did – for the romantic reason that back in those days I worked in an accounting office.  In 1979 the tax laws were such that a husband only had to claim the wife’s income from the date of marriage – so he actually got to claim me as a dependent for the whole year, meaning that our income tax refund paid for our 2 week Bahamas honeymoon.  Now that’s Amore.

Even as we departed the next day on our honeymoon, our dreamy, romantic resolve was tested.  In an ironic twist, we were the only married people on a plane load of “PWPs” – Parents without Partners.  And man, THOSE people could party.  It was the one week a year they got away from their kids. We weren’t even off the tarmac and they were  sitting on each other’s laps lighting up smokes (you could do that then), blasting music and conga-dancing down the aisle  – and making snide comments about how we were sure to become “future members”.

 Then fast forward a couple of years to an anniversary that we decided to celebrate by going to a romantic lodge in Haliburton.  We made our way to the quaint destination, and when we booked in, we were informed that we were the only non-members of a family reunion that was taking place at the lodge. They had booked all the rooms plus the cabins.   We both got dressed up into our nice evening wear to go have our anniversary dinner in the dining room downstairs, and found it completely full of the very loud, very boisterous “Mc-Something” clan.  We attempted to hold hands and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, but it was somewhat diminished by the fact that the family reunion people had selected this night to hold a “funny hat contest”.  It’s hard to sustain that come hither “look of love” glow when you’re interrupted and asked to pass the salt by a man wearing toilet paper roll antlers at the next table.  We finally adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” attitude, and instead of spending the rest of the evening reminiscing about our wedded bliss, we cleaned up at their Euchre tournament.

One downside of a December anniversary is that you are also competing with the Christmas party crowd.  Another time – our 10th , we went to a very nice upscale restaurant in our town, and it was SUCH a big deal because by now we had a couple kiddies so we usually only dined out under golden arches.  This night, with Grandma babysitting, once again we’re all decked out in our finery, and they sat us in a room at a cute little table for 2, right beside a long table that sat about 24 people from a local firm celebrating their Christmas party.  There were non-stop speeches and service awards all night.  (It sounded like a nice place to work.  I made a mental note to send them a resume.) Ever impressionable, I found myself wishing I had thought to get hubby a 10 year plaque. 

Of course there have been lots of anniversaries since that one – and this year we took practical to a whole new level.  I stopped at the drug store the other night to pick up an anniversary card, and lo and behold, found my beloved in the same aisle, on the same mission.  But he had already been to one store and come up empty handed.  He explained that there were none that expressed his feelings.  I completely get that.  He likes to get the sentimental cards, and couldn’t find any that said “I love you, moreso when you aren’t being a bitch”.  And as per usual, the ones I looked at for him all had me gagging and laughing out loud, – not because he isn’t wonderful, but I’ve just never been able to pull off a “You complete me” with a straight face.  My go-to card usually mentions something about stealing the covers, or pictures of a couple of cute dogs snuggled up together, and the sentiment is implied and unspoken. So in this instance, instead of actually purchasing cards, we just pointed out to each other the ones that we would have purchased. (I went the high roller route and chose the pricey “sound” one that blared Shania Twain’s classic “You’re Still the One”.)  Then we spent the $10 on lottery tickets instead, and left the store.

Then yesterday, on our actual anniversary, we very practically went to a restaurant where we’ve accumulated a substantial number of “VIP” points, and we need to use them up, because we think we won’t be going there much in the future.  First we had to wait at the bar because neither of us even thought of making a reservation. The romantic ambiance was established almost immediately, as they had an Ultimate Fighting show on the bar tv, and there were numerous scenes of heavily tattooed, bald and buff fighters with cauliflower ears and blood coming out of their mouths.  Romantic AND appetizing.

The hostess then sat us in a booth beside the entertainment (that’s new), a 70 ish Scottish man with a guitar who started up the minute we were seated, singing loud mournful ballads, with the odd Jimmy Buffett and Roger Miller thrown in for good measure.  Conversation was out of the question.  So, not wanting the evening to be a total bust, in my mind the evening focus shifted from romantic dinner to mouth-full sing-alongs of “Those Were the Days”, and “Trailer for Sale or Rent”.  Hubby was unphased by my impromptu booth-side Karaoke. After all these years he knows that if there’s music and I know the words, I can’t resist.  And truthfully, knowing the real words isn’t a deal breaker.

At the end of our day though, we carried out our ritual of getting out the wedding album and looking at the skinny bride with the sausage roll flipped hair, and the dress that copied the one in the Rocky movie, and the lean groom with the jet black hair, mutton chops and Magnum PI moustache.

Those Parents Without Partners may have been half right.  After all these years, we may be a bit lighter on the romance – but we are PWPs. Partners who are Practical.

 

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Failure is a Gift… and My Gifts Are Failures

Well, it’s about a month until the big event, and time to start the nightmare that is Christmas shopping.  Trying to buy other people something they want.  What a concept.  If they want it, and are over 16, and they have the means — or even if they don’t have the means but have a credit card — chances are they already bought it.

This makes shopping even harder, because now I have to think like a marketer, and identify an unmet need, and then fill it.  I need to buy people something they don’t even know they want, but that will delight them, ideally beyond their wildest dreams.  This is a tall order, and one that I have been known to take very seriously.

I’ve failed miserably at this in the past.  I used to be a sucker for gadgets. My first gift to my then boyfriend back in 1974 was a “hot lather machine” for shaving.  Seriously.  And I couldn’t WAIT for him to open it. He was barely old enough to shave, and somehow I thought that the only thing lacking in his life (now that he had me, the ultimate prize) was the foam that he put on his face before scraping it with something sharp, was too cold.  Life altering indeed.  Even more staggering is that he used it, but I think that’s just because we were in the early stages of relationship training where he still did what I said.

And I distinctly remember presenting my sisters with such technological wonders as nail dryers.  Because what girl hasn’t suffered  through the cruel hardship of having to wait for her nails to dry, or heaven forbid “wrecking” a freshly polished talon (which we all sported in the 70s) before it was sufficiently hardened?  Much like Dr. Drew, I was able to act as a Lifechanger and bestow upon them these nifty gadgets that would actually blow on your nails FOR you. Talk about luxury.  Ivana Trump had nothing on us.  I think that these gifts would have been more meaningful if my siblings were asthmatics or something, and blowing on their own nails presented more of a problem, but sadly these ladies have always enjoyed perfect health so I wasn’t able to have quite as dramatic an impact.

What other useless gadgets have I gifted, you ask?  Well, I’ve attempted in good faith to transport my sisters and girlfriends from their kitchen tables to luxurious spas, by providing them with the rare and coveted facial steamer.  So what if you can accomplish the same thing by leaning over your boiling kettle, or opening the oven door during broiling – at the time I was almost exclusively shopping at the high-class “Consumers Distributing” store, and from the picture in the catalogue it seemed like a definite  life changer, in an  elegant  “Calgon take me away” sense.

And remember back in the seventies when everyone smoked?  Well, everyone except my dad.  My mom chained smoke (God rest her soul – not a coincidence ).  So I was able to find the perfect gift to solve the problem of my dad’s constant bitching about secondhand smoke.  It was of course to buy her a ‘smokeless ashtray’.  I expected to win hands down the favourite child of the season award that year.  But surprisingly, turned out not to be a big hit.  Mom was annoyed because the thing basically smoked her cigarette down to the filter in seconds, as it was powerfully “inhaling”  the whole time it sat in the ashtray.  Consequently her number of smokes per day skyrocketed.  And while Dad was hard of hearing, the industrial sounding hum that this thing emanated seriously impacted his enjoyment of Bonanza reruns.  Conclusion:  total bust.

 And sometimes, without intending to, in my zeal to dazzle I guess I could be downright insulting.  But, keeping in mind that I aspired to improve lives in a similar fashion to Richard Simmons and  “Oprah’s Life Class”, when my dear friends complain about cellulite, naturally I take that as a challenge to come to the rescue.  The quizzical (disbelieving?) expressions on the face of recipients whom you’ve just (at no small expense, might I add) gifted with an anti-cellulite product is something that must be seen.  Never mind that in my head I visualize them, because of me, now being able to rock their Daisy Dukes, and not in a “the People of Walmart” kind of way.  It’s true what they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

But I am not always on the giving end of crappy gadget gifts.  My husband gave me something for Christmas early in our married life, that signalled that indeed the honeymoon was over, and had me seriously questioning our compatibility.  My feelings were hurt and I couldn’t believe that he thought that this was a suitable gift for me, his trophy wife.  It has gone largely unused, but I’ve kept it over the years, just for spite. 

It’s Black Friday and I’m hitting the mall.  Let the games begin.

 

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Filed under Aging, Fashion, Friends, Humor, Memories, Thats Life

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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Our Old Yeller Cat

I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with living out on the farm.  When job hunting as I am now, I always take the address off my resume because it could be perceived as a disadvantage, and employers will think I won’t be reliable because I live in the snow belt.  They don’t know that I will drive through anything, and that I’ve come to terms with spending at least 5 years of my life in my car.  Which explains things like my “travel chips” tucked under my seat, and my door pockets that resemble a medicine cabinet.
 

But I have had to deal with issues that none of my urban based co-workers have.  There was for example, the great Rabies scare of 2006.   We had a cow that was sick and bawling, and hubby had the vet come.   He checked it out and eliminated a bunch of stuff, and then said that one remaining possibility was Rabies.  By the next day he was fairly sure that was the case, so we had to put the cow down, and when the test results came back the diagnosis was confirmed. 

I am a bit of a hypochondriac at the best of times, and learned a long time ago that ignorance is bliss in the area of ailments, as I immediately begin to observe the symptoms in myself or the kids the minute I read about any disease.  We’ve had everything from Malaria to  West Nile to Lyme disease to Meningitis, and that’s just from news stories that I couldn’t turn off fast enough.

The vet said as long as our cats were up to date on their shots there was nothing to worry about with them.  Except that I had let that slide a tiny bit … and they weren’t exactly up to date.  I’ll never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach as hubby was reassuring me that it was probably very unlikely that we would need to worry about the cats, and that we should schedule them immediately for their shots.  As we chatted, our cat Furbert appeared, purring and rubbing as per usual.  Furbert innocently looked up at me, and he had one single long strand of spit dangling from his lip.

Well, that did it.  I was full blown hysterical, in Old Yeller mode.  Hubby was reassuring me once again, saying that he saw that the cat had pine pitch (sap from a pine tree) on his fur earlier and that he probably just licked it.  That wasn’t good enough for me though.  I called the emergency number of Rabies Control and shrieked into the phone calmly informed the guy  that our cat was foaming at the mouth and demanded to know when I should expect that we were all going to succumb.  Since they had been vaccinated in prior years, he thought we were okay, but suggested we isolate them for a couple of weeks, just to be sure. 

We gathered up the bewildered felines and unceremoniously locked them in the basement, where they all huddled on the top step, protesting loudly. (I understood their outrage though – our house is over 100 years old, and the basement is pretty creepy.  I refuse to go down there, even under threat of impending tornado — I’d rather take my chances going with the house, Dorothy style.)

I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and I had a work meeting in the big city the next day.  I remember groggily sitting around the  table in the glass office tower with my co-workers and agency partners, thinking about how they would feel if they knew that they were sharing a working lunch with a Rabies sufferer.  I avoided looking at the pitcher of water on the table just in case I was already in full blown hydrophobia. I wondered if and when I would be overcome with the urge to bite my colleagues.  I thought about how bad that was going to look on my Performance Review.

As it turned out, hubby was right this one time and we didn’t have to worry.  The cats endured their basement banishment, and got their updated shots and were fine.  We didn’t have to shoot anyone, and none of my co-workers had to get a bunch of needles in their belly because of their proximity to me.

But it sure confirmed one thing for me.  Cats are demented and have very warped senses of humour.  I’m almost sure this is how it went down: Our three cats were all lounging it up in an adjoining room, trading stories about tormenting rodents and licking butter.  Suddenly, Furbert’s pointed ears perk up as he overhears the conversation where hubby is informing me that the cow Rabies test is positive.  Then Furbert probably stretched and said, “Watch this” … and proceeded to work up that single spit strand, then casually sidles in to where we were and was all  like,  

“Purr, Purr, What’s up guys?”  

Of course, he couldn’t have known that it was going to backfire and he was going to go into lockdown for three weeks, or he would never have done it.  He’s not a genius – just a smart aleck with a wicked sense of humour and occasional mean streak .  If he were a person he would be Ricky Gervais. 

Furbert, always the comic, ready to go play Squash

I’m almost sure that’s exactly what happened. Or, I guess there is always hubby’s far fetched theory for the infamous strand of spit – the  “he licked pine pitch” scenario. (Sometimes I think he has an overactive imagination.)

 As always, life on the farm has provided lots of valuable life lessons. Now the kids haul out the old “Time we had Rabies” story as an example whenever they are trying to make the point that I may be just a tad overprotective and perhaps even mentally unstable. And they may be right – I saw a public service announcement about that recently. I  have many symptoms.

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Memories of Mischief and Mayhem

Took a little trip in a time machine this week. I found a journal that I used to keep when the kids were little. Below are a few of excerpts, from the early nineties. This is very timely, because sometimes I get melancholy about missing my little ones. A quick trip down memory lane takes a bit of the sting out of empty nest syndrome.

May 1993 (kid’s ages 2, 4, 6)

When we were going to town this afternoon, I put on nice clean white pants and a nice top, and felt not too hideous. I get out of the car at the school and the whole pocket of my pants at the front is covered in chocolate. Nobody even had chocolate. When I asked where the chocolate came from, Laura  does this very exaggerated shrug and says, “I don’t know. Katie bad.” So that explains that. Also just for a treat, somebody left about 12 crayons in the back seat and they melted all over the upholstery of the new Mazda.  I had to clean it up as best I could, using a blow dryer to melt it and a spoon to scrape it up.  Tonight I was making muffins and I turned my back for a minute. The next thing I knew Laura was carefully spooning dishwater into my batter. 

And then another one from about a year later …

The girls are going through a stage now where they love to listen to Alanis Morisette. I had a nephew tape songs for Richard, and he was supposed to edit out the suggestive songs, but guess he forgot. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen 3 year old Laura lustily belting out, “I don’t want to be your mother, I didn’t carry you in my room for 9 months”. (18 years later SHE makes fun of ME for getting song lyrics wrong)

There will be blood …

Took girls into town to Foodland and Best Buy, thought about picking up Richard but didn’t know when school got out. (What kind of mother doesn’t know what time school gets out???) Took girls to park and came home. Richard got off bus, tried to ride his bike to house, fell and put a big hole in his face. Was bleeding all over, and screaming that he didn’t want to go to the hospital. Away we went to Emerg, with Kate and a very cranky Laura in tow. For an encore Laura wiped out on the floor of the waiting room and put her bottom teeth through her lip. More blood. I’m thinking I’m in hell. Richard was very brave getting his face stitched up – even though the whole time he was getting stitched up Laura was kicking the gurney he was laying on, so basically the Dr. had to stitch up a moving target.

And more blood

We had a classic drive home from Milton tonight, where the kids fought the entire trip in the back of Mazda, and then it rained from Rockwood on. About Arthur it turned to hail, and shortly after Richard got an incredible nosebleed and the next thing Laura was bawling her head off because Richard got blood on her blanket.

Oct 2, 1995 – And even more blood …

For Richard’s birthday we gave him a Sega game and dad gave him some homemade arrows that he could use with his homemade bow. He was pretty good with it for days, but the other night when I was preparing for a small dinner party we were hosting, he made one shot straight up in the air that was quite spectacular I guess, because Kate watched it all the way up and then all the way down, until it hit her right between the eyes. We heard the most horrific screams coming from both of them outside and Kate came running in with blood streaming down her face and all over her sweater.  Took her to the hospital and they taped it so it wouldn’t scar. By the time I got home our guests were here, and I had to say “Let me get out of this bloody shirt and then we’ll get dinner on the table.”  Nice. On the upside though,  I think they’re considering giving me my own parking space at Emerg at the hospital, and the doctors call me by my first name. (And in our defense,  how could we have possibly known that arming a seven-year old walking sibling rivalry complex with a bow and arrow might end badly?)

And the barfing

Yesterday morning I was awakened at 6:00am to the sound of someone puking. It was Kate, hanging over the top bunk. Laura was oblivious, asleep in the bottom bunk. When she woke up she told me that she was dreaming that it was raining lasagna.

Oh, good times. I guess I do have revisionist recall, because in my memories everyone is very cute and adorable and well-behaved.  I guess I just have a fairly high tolerance for all the  people  I carried in my room.

P.S. – I wasn’t the only one having fun in the nineties.  In my journal I also reported on my sister’s life…  My nephew (6 at the time) “… was playing with his mom’s new speed dial phone the other day and phoned her work and left a message saying things like “Arsehole” and “I hate you”.  It was on the machine when her partners came into work. She was so proud.”

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