In Remembrance, In Love

Such a long, slow slide from winter to spring this year.  I still haven’t washed or put away all the heavy sweaters yet; the cotton ones don’t seem to be enough!  The winter jackets are in the cedar boxes, but the scarves and even a toque still wait for washing and blocking before hibernating.  The afghan rests on the back of the settee as one’s ‘toeses may frozes’ when watching Netflix.  And while the bedroom window is permitted to be open, an inch or two, and the heat most definitely has been turned off until October, I am not allowed to change from flannel to percale sheets yet.

IMG_0705Some of my bed mates like to be cosy!

Perhaps it is because spring has only inched her way back into our lives.  Perhaps it is the weekly notes and phone calls I receive about another friend, another family member facing accidents, illness, dying.  Perhaps it’s simply another and more obvious sign that I am growing older, much against my will, but there is a wistfulness to this season I don’t remember in other springs.

The hyacinths were lovely, the tulips are slow in developing.  The magnolia trees and cherry blossoms have been brilliantly showy.  The children are thrilled to playing in the streets again.  We are planning our first weekend at the cottage on wheels.  But I am still wistful.

I feel the day zoom to a close even as the early morning robins beat the rising sun to wake me.   I am watching the minutes rush by even as I look for the chestnut tree to finally come into all its leafy glory.  I watch our young neighbour gleefully zip down the sidewalk on motorised scooter even as my mind’s eye sees him pedalling his so-much-smaller ‘race’ car.  I am still wistful.

I look across the breakfast table at my husband of 42 years today and remember every detail from 06:45 to 01:30 of that day and night.  I remember my father knock, knock, knocking on my door and telling me to get up, I was getting married and he was pretty sure my mother, who was still sound asleep, needed me to do something.  I remember running around all that afternoon, doing last minutes errands, nearly being smashed by a truck as I left a parking lot, going to the hairdresser on my own (which was oddly lonely).  I remember arriving back home to find a refrigerator and even the service porch full of food for the reception that was to come in a few hours but absolutely nothing for the bride-to-be (I was told the pizzas were particularly yummy).  I remember a phone call, just before running upstairs to bathe and dress, from US Customs, assuring me we were really were going to be allowed to bring all our wedding gifts into the country, and then asking me when the happy occasion was.  “In about two hours.”  “Oh.  Well, then.  I’m glad I didn’t put off this call until Monday morning!”  I remember every single person who celebrated with us there that evening, and especially those who are not ‘there’ any more, and I remember some who were not there then that I wished then and now could have been, and I remember every single one of the funny and odd and sweet things that happened or were said to me, to us, that day and evening.  And perhaps it is these memories I should credit the most for why I am still wistful.

This spring has made me feel time is moving too fast, even as it moves so slowly to bring sunshine and flowers and fully-leafed trees back to us.  I truly am enjoying what is now, which brings pleasure and even moments of joy.  But I am missing what was then, and so I am, and perhaps in some way will always be, still wistful.

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because I carried white roses that evening….

 

 

 

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Dear David Lebovitz

Mother’s Day is coming up and my in-law family is gathering for a late lunch/early dinner.  Not as many people as there have been; two branches from the 3rd and 4th generations have other plans, but there will be enough people at my sister-in-law’s home to have fun and, as always, good food.

I tell you this because I am in charge of dessert.  Well, I volunteered because I had just finished a pot of coffee when I consulted with here, and I thought beating and whipping and baking would be fun.  Also, Paul Hollywood & Mary Berry.

When I recovered from the caffeine hangover, I realised I had no idea what to make.  My stand-bys have stood-by often for this group, plus I was already on tap for baking up a batch of my husband’s new favourite cookies.  The batter has many ingredients, and makes a lot of cookies (5 dozen plus, which for two people is A Lot of Cookies) so I needed something that wasn’t going to demand a great deal more of my time, and further empty my baking cupboard.

You don’t know this about me, David – you don’t mind if I call you David, do you? I feel we’re already intimate friends because I follow your blog assiduously – but I was not myself for about 18 months.  I fell ill and in the course of the treatment, I was injured. Recovering from those experiences, plus regaining my strength, and getting my mind back, I wasn’t me.  (Just as an aside, once you hit the Swingin’ Sixties, general anaesthesia is a bitch; avoid it if at all possible, and especially in repeated lengthy doses.)

Not being me for 18 months meant not a lot of time in the kitchen, and what time I was in there was limited.  And so were the cooking choices I made.  Having strength, the ability to read and remember, and just plain joy in being back in the kitchen has lead me to try things I never had before.  I mean, I made a Bara Brith!

So, as I’m trying to convince myself I can do something swish for eight people for dessert for Mother’s Day, your latest blog post crossed by in-box.  It wasn’t about dessert, as you probably know, but it reminded me of where you’re rooted – in the chocolate bar.  Kidding…but I really did love “The Sweet Life”.

So I look up what dessert-y things are archived and I see ‘ice creams’.  And I think about this past Sunday when we went to Churn, which is the ice cream shop attached to Lloyd’s Taco Factory (not really a factory, just a great walk-up restaurant. Also, ‘Lloyd’, for tacos? Loco name, great food.). One of the ice cream choices was a sandwich – homemade cookie, their ice cream – and they looked so good.  I had had my heart set on a cup of coffee ice cream and a churro so I went with that, and it was a delicious choice, but I was already plotting to come back for the sandwich.

Which I still may do but… not until this homemade batch is gone.

Are you bored yet, David?  Sometimes my stories get a little long and meander-y.  When I’d be on the third or fourth detour in my tales, my father used to imitate Archie Bunker when he got frustrated with Edith’s story telling.  Just as funny when my dad did it.  But let’s get back on track.

I found a recipe, your recipe, for the Easiest Ice Cream Ever.  It really was easy to make, and because it doesn’t need an ice cream maker, I could put off worrying about the noises mine is making.  Sort of like a chorus of teeth grinders accompanied by a small cement truck.  So that alone would have lead to me to give this recipe a go, but the combination of chocolate and banana made me smile before I even began.

I bet the ice cream would have been even easier to make if I had thought a little about bowls and cups and booze before I got started.

This is why I brought up being ‘out of it’ because I never would have just started a brand new recipe Before Illness without reading it all the way through and creating the mise en place (which I only do for new recipes & Chinese food).  However, After Illness (B.I. & A.I.), different story.  Sometimes.

For example, the small matter of Bailey’s.  Don’t have it.  Rarely have it.  Also, don’t have dark rum; husband drinks the light stuff.  And I decided to double the recipe because I had two bananas that were perfect for blending, which meant I needed even more of the liquids.  Given that this is supposed to be the Easiest Ice Cream Ever, and given that I was still wearing the t-shirt from yesterday I threw on this morning when the doorbell rang at 8 o’bloody clock and it was spotted with vodka sauce (I make a nice one) from supper last night, and given that ‘Easy’ did not include showering, changing, and going to the liquor store, I decided the creme de cacao leftover from the pear, ginger, and creme de cacao jam I made last fall would work just as well.  Except, of course, I didn’t have 180ml of it left!  I did, however, have a bottle of Grand Marnier hiding in the back of the cupboard so I filled up the required amount with that. And then I thought “…but Bailey’s is creamy, and he’s calling for milk”, so I decided to use table cream, 18% butterfat content, for which I have to go back home to Ontario (Canada) once a month or wait for family to come visit bearing litres of cream, rather than milk.

So I’ve combined the cream and the creme de cacao and the Grand Marnier into a measuring cup, and I’m melting dark chocolate chips (also from Canada because, and don’t tell my American friends, the chips in stores here just aren’t that wonderful), and I’m smooshing bananas in a medium bowl with a fork.  And then I look at the recipe again and see that I was supposed to melt the chocolate in the milk/cream whereas mine is sitting in a measuring cup with the booze.  Sigh.  So I carefully, slowly pour the dairy/booze into the warm melting chocolate, whisking as I go to make sure it blends and doesn’t leave chocolate lumps.  Now it’s time to mix this chocolate mix with the bananas which, I gotta say, David, aren’t willing to just be mixed.

The whisk isn’t doing the job, so I get out the hand mixer, and after putting the beaters in, twice because I never get them in the correct side on the first try, and using the low setting – let me emphasise this, ON LOWEST LOW – I try to ‘mix’ the soft, pre-smooshed bananas in the bowl with the chocolate liquid deliciousness.

Now that I’ve changed my shirt, and wiped off three cupboards and the counter top, and prayed there’s still enough mixture left for the all the ice cream I need to make (eventually) 8 ice cream sandwiches, I still didn’t know how to blend this stuff together.  As I was wiping chocolate spray off my 25-year old immersion blender hanging above the work area, I said “merde”.  I use the damn thing almost every day but today I forget I have it?

Worked a treat.  Leaving me with one measuring cup, one fork, two beaters, one immersion blender, one double boiler, one medium mixing bowl, and a t-shirt to wash up.  Not quite as easy as I might have thought, given the name, but my husband thoroughly approves of the taste.  Even if I did forget the rum.

The mixture is in the freezing now doing it’s freezing thing.  And as soon as I finish this letter to you, I’m going to bake the cookies (seriously, the best-tasting, more-work chocolate & toffee chip cookies ever; the extra time is worth it) so they will be the right temperature for assembling and wrapping the ice cream sandwiches for Sunday.  If you’re interested, I’ll post pictures of the completed goodies.

In the meantime, thanks for your wonderful blog.  I have longed for Paris all my adult life, and you make it seem to close, so vivid, so delicious, I know I must get there. Someday.

 

 

 

November Has 30 Days. Sigh.

It’s two-thirds gone and I can hardly wait for it to be over.  November is not my idea of month.  It’s more like a jail term for the infraction of loving blue skies and colour.

I have a friend who LOVES November.  In part because his birthday is in November, but also in part because where he lives (Australia), the weather is warmer and sunnier and the cricket season is underway.  I think it’s why we broke up; well, complete opposite ideas about November and the fact that he was a cricketer.  (If you can’t explain how a game is played in three sentences or fewer, including how scoring happens, however much I love you, we have a relationship challenge.)

Anyway, to return the to dull greyness that is November here… I stand at the kitchen window and look out at the sad piles of leaves, sunk down by sleet and rain, and remember what they were once, hanging on the maple and oak trees in the neighbourhood.  I watch clouds, heavy with precipitation, scudding across the sky, hiding any hope of sunshine, thinking they seem very satisfied with their gloominess.  I watch the barometer fall, almost as fast as the thermometer, and wonder if it’s actually possible to sleep for 29 days.

I would wake up for (American) Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin pie, doncha know??  Plus, eat enough turkey, and you just fall right back to sleep again!

My girlhood hero, Anne Shirley (she of “Green Gables” fame) agrees with me, but Lucy Maud Montgomery puts it so much better than I:

“November is usually such a disagreeable month as if the year had suddenly found out she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it.”  

Some might think I’m railing against November because it means another year is slipping to an end, and as I grow older, there are fewer and fewer Novembers to come to me.  But if that hypothesis were true, I would feel the same about December, more so perhaps, because it is the end of the year.  December, though is bright.  Even if there are snow squalls and icy roads, bone-chilling temperatures and outrageous heating bills, there is a brightness to a month that encourages us to put out and turn on our brightest lights.  We fill our homes with the smell of pine and gingerbread.  We spend our time and money looking for ways to please our family and friends with gifts, not to mention a little something or two for ourselves.  We eat too much and drink too much, and love every mouthful.  And even if we think we can’t stand the holiday season, there is always, always, one moment, one sight, which makes us think… ‘so this is how the Grinch’s heart grew so big’.  From the movie:

“I’m all toasty inside. And I’m leaking.”  

I think we’re all looking forward to becoming toasty inside… As soon as we get over November.

 

And just so you know…  this is a month and a vista I could live with always… Thanks for sharing it over (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Michael & Rita.

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Oh, God. Yes, Christmas.

I am thinking about Christmas.

Yes, I know Hallowe’en was just a few hours ago – I still have bags of Swedish berries and gummy bears to prove it.  Give us until Saturday and they’ll be allll gone.  Unless, of course, we stock up on half-price Hallowe’en chocolates and candy.  Which we have been known to do.  Sigh.

Anyway, I have now seen three different major retailers’ first Christmas shopping ads on television.  The first (Best Buy) I actually saw on the 29th!  Different kind of sigh.  I know that businesses often live and die by the holiday season, I get that.  But seriously, unless you sell things that can be given away as Hallowe’en loot too, I don’t think you’re doing your corporate image any good by starting the commercial Christmas season so early.

Beyond the advertising, a facebook friend posted a notice last week that there were only 9 more Mondays to Christmas.  Like Mondays didn’t have enough issues….

However, all this was a good kick in the butt to remind me that annual Christmas letter has to be done.  You’re all going, no! no!  not a Christmas letter! but yes, we do have one. This is because we are incredibly lazy sods who don’t do a better job of staying in touch with friends and family during the year.  To our credit, I think, we don’t do a lot of bragging about our achievements through the course of the year, which could be in part because we don’t actually achieve that much any more, what with getting older and all the stuff that goes along with that.  I mean, no one really wants to know we both managed to sleep through the night without visiting the head at least 10% of the time, do they??

It also reminded me that I need to do a “Dear Santa” list.  I’ve been doing these every year since Year One.  I don’t remember actually mailing any letters to Santa, but I knew then, and I know now, that the spirit of the letters would reach Father Christmas just fine.  I also don’t remember having extravagant lists as a child, but I have veered into fantasy on my adult lists for quite awhile.

For example, for about 20 years, I would ask for Al Pacino for Christmas.  Just for Christmas, or maybe Boxing Day, but not any longer than that.  I didn’t want to keep him, I just wanted to play with him for a while.

(And no, not that way.  Jeez, my friends have prurient minds.  I wanted to talk about acting and life in New York and “Dog Day Afternoon” which movie I will never get out of my mind.)

I often ask for Paris now, and one year I wanted Marc Anthony while just recently I was hoping to find Dame Judi Dench’s phone number in my Christmas stocking, so I could call her and we could chat about the diversity of acting in the UK, about riding elephants, and does she think ribald English humour translates well to America (I think we Canadians get it, but I’m not sure about Americans; I’d like to hear what she’s heard).

However, on the more practical side, my gift list is about books.  There cannot be enough books in my life, and this year there seems to be an even larger pool from which to choose.  I just saw Charlie Rose’s interview of Nancy Koehn and her book, “Forged in Crisis”.  She’s a professor at Harvard and not only did her interview with Charlie inspire me to seek out her book, but I want to audit her classes!  She was so fast in her responses, so well-spoken, thoughtful, erudite, and not a ‘you know’ or ‘like, um’ in the entire 20 minutes!

My twitter friend, Hope Dellon, who works at St Martin’s Press is away from her desk for a little while, but I hope she’ll be back in time to search her brain for other book ideas… not all necessarily from St Martin’s!  She and I share a taste for crime novels, especially written by women, which makes sense as she’s Louise Penny’s editor.  And there’s another bunch of books I want – to fill out the gaps in my Penny/Three Pines/Armand Gamache collection.  Hope and I also enjoy Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels; I only have three in hand and could stand to round out the collection.  Anyway, keen to. hear what she thinks should be on my list.

I also want to find a copy of “Winnie The Pooh” that DOESN’T have the Disney illustrations!  I’d like every book both David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin have written, even the ones I’ve read.

I’d also like “The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro” which is edited by my (older) cousin, David Staines, as opposed to my other cousin, David Staines, or even my brother, David Staines.  She is a favourite author, but I don’t want this particular book just because  David edited it; if someone asks me about it, spotting it in my hands or on my bookshelf, I will have a chance to tell my ‘how I met Alice Munro’ story all over again.  Good story, that.

Anyway, it’s a balmy 63/17 degrees right now, so I’m hard pressed to get into Christmas thinking… maybe if I make some gingerbread men… or put on some carols!  Giant sigh….

How many Mondays now until Christmas???

 

 

 

 

So Many Candles, Matches All The Love

Today is my birthday. It’s also one day short of the anniversary of “when things went wrong”.  Let’s focus on the birthday for a moment.

I love birthdays, I always have.  A birthday in summer, away from the city and school friends, meant I never had a kids’ birthday party except for the year I turned 8.  That was the year I decide to invite all the kids along the beach where our cottage is.  Mostly that was family or my “summer” cousins, and all but three of them were boys, but I wanted a party!  It wasn’t until my aunt called my mother and asked if she “could help with Dia’s party, there were going to be so many children there!” that my mother knew anything about it.

Won’t lie to you… Mum was mad.  But she was also actually kind of cool about it.  I don’t think she’d ever understood that out of all of us, I was the one who didn’t get that kid birthday event, or even birthday gifts (other than, and thank goodness for, grandparents’).  Our summers were tied up in swimming and games on the beach and just having the usual kid fun, that my birthday, MY special day, just sort of… slipped away.  Aside, of course, from always having hamburgers and angel food cake with my grandparents; god, I love angel food cake, especially with whipped cream and bananas, like Gram used to make every year.

So, going back to the party, the kids all showed up, we ate copiously of corn and potato salad and hot dogs, and there was watermelon, and a chocolate cake (knowing that angel food cake was coming on the weekend with my grandparents and father).  We played silly games I didn’t know my mother knew, we went swimming (of course!), and I got real life birthday presents from kids.  That was so important to me.  None of them were big or expensive, but they were fun or silly or sweet (Cam, I still have the elephant!).

I have had other lovely birthday parties and surprises since, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them immensely.  And I’m looking forward to a whole lot more – I hope!  But last year… not so celebratory because I couldn’t drink and wanted to eat very lightly before going into hospital the next morning.

I was facing surgery (hysterectomy) for suspected uterine cancer.  Two uterine biopsies were inconclusive (bloody painful but inconclusive), although an ultrasound did show a couple of polyps/lumps.  Combined with a few months of bleeding, my age, and the ‘best by’ date having expired some years since on my uterus, my gyns and oncologist and I decided surgery was the best choice.

Oy veh.

Good news first.  Although I did have cancer, I do not now.  The operation removed the tumour, and other than a Pap smear every six months for four years, and an annual chest x-ray (when uterine cancer does metastisize, it is almost invariably in the chest; this is how my angel food cake baking grandmother died) for the next four years, I’m not living with a fear or shadow of cancer.

I am however, living with what happened during and after the hysterectomy.  First my bladder and/or kidneys were nicked in the surgery, which meant 24 hours after the first surgery, I went back under general anaesthesia to have stents put into my kidneys, where they stayed for just over a month, four weeks of which time I was catheretised. Having the stents removed was my fourth experience in the O.R.; the third one was the scary one.

Number three is when I almost died.  Not going into all the details, but if I say that basically my abdominal muscles blew up, no one noticed for maybe 36 hours, and the fact that I was septic (dangerously infected) when they finally did, will you understand some of what was going on? What was supposed to have been four or five days in hospital turned four rounds of surgery, three of them in four days, one of them in the middle of night because I was so injured/ill.  I was in ICU for four days, hospital for three weeks (lying immobile for most of that time, post surgery three) and prison for a month.

The facility prefers I call it rehab; I don’t.  I was so angry, so distraught at being sent there rather than home after so long in hospital, I thought I was going to cry myself to death that first night.  Except I couldn’t really weep hard because of the wound.  The surgery that was done to save my life didn’t leave enough of me to suture close so a “wound vac” was used, and that gizmo was part of my life from August 23rd to the end of December.  With it, amongst other challenges, I couldn’t bend over – and I still can’t, really.  The damage to the muscles was so severe my doctor says I cannot lift or push anything more than 5 – 10 pounds (less than 5 kilos) forever.

In hindsight, and albeit still grudgingly, I understand I needed some time to learn how to move with Giz (as he was fondly referred to in our house) and to re-gain some of my completely depleted strength.  I also know that Jeff also needed time to figure out how to take care of me at home, because when I was finally! released at the end of September, I really needed care.  Three times a week, wonderful nurses came to the house and change the dressing in the wound, keeping Giz doing his job of “sucking” me closed.  As a result, my scar isn’t an “outie”, it’s an “innie”, making my abdomen look like my butt.  Seriously.  Cover up the other bits and you can’t tell the difference.

It was early this spring that I finally felt I was getting my mind back.  The body healed a whole faster than my head did, although I don’t consider five months so fast!  A combination of some 10 hours of general anaesthesia, shock from having so much go wrong, discombobulation at being away from home for so long, and a near-complete lack of remembering what had happened to me, has given me a form of PTS.  Mild but disconcerting, and it lead to some severe sleep problems (once I was off the meds – those kept me sleeping a lot!), and most disconcertingly, kept me from reading books.  I could manage magazines (over a few days) and newspaper (slowly, through the entire day) while I was in prison, but I couldn’t do books again until November.  Me, without books. It’s just so… wrong.

I live a belly button free life now, but I’m living.  I’m cancer free.  I’m getting, slowly slowly, back to who I was and, with the continuing help of my docs, and a huge amount of love and support from Jeff and extended family, not to mention a wonderful and surprisingly large group of friends, I’m working on being even better than that.

Birthdays are about celebrating life.  This birthday is going to be especially celebratory. Here’s hoping I can blow out all the candles!!

 

Ever look at someone, waiting for them to say something intriguing or informative, and all you can think is, “I know what her favourite hobby is – sucking lemons!”  Or maybe you’ve endured lunch with the friend of a friend who will not stop talking about something that is so wrong, so untruthful you just want to stick your fork in their tongue, pay the bill, and leave for Costa Rica (assuming you’re not already IN Costa Rica, in which case you leave for Singapore).  Perhaps you decided to get together with friends you haven’t seen in five years or more, haven’t had much contact with them at all, and over drinks you start to wonder if you hadn’t been drinking enough before when you all hung out or are you not drinking enough now to get through the evening.

I’m asking these questions because of The New York Times and their second most stupid act ever.  They started a column called “Say Something Nice” in which people are supposed to say something nice about 45.  I sometimes call him “Buttercup”; former Mexican President Vincente Fox calls him ‘the President of the Electoral College of the United States’; now that he’s begun to refer to himself as – and this just slays me ‘ ‘T’, that may be another choice for me.  In any case I will not ever use his name or his supposed title (although I might go with President Fox’s choice, if forced).

And I cannot find anything nice to say about him.  I can’t.  One should respect the office, and one does.  One cannot, and does not, and cannot see a time when one would,  respect the man.

The previous occupant had many, many faults and while I think he did some amazing things, he also made some real blunders in doing the job.  Don’t we all??  However, he never once made me feel that his blunders or mistakes were about greed and avarice, about denigration and disrespect, about lying to save his ass.  And never once did he make me feel the whole world was going to hell in a hand basket.  He made it easy to respect the office and the man.

So when I heard about The New York Times wanting us to say something nice about 45, I laughed derisively.  Then I thought about that lemon-sucking woman, and the lying lunch companion, and the friends who seem to be drunk when I am not, and I realized I’m not saying nice things about them either.  And maybe that’s what I should be focusing on. Finding something nice to be saying about those people who seem honestly to be giving a crap.

The fact that it’s about a crappy man, or some of his crappy programs, shouldn’t be the point, or at least not the entire point.  They’re doing things, working on thing, promoting things that I believe they believe.  And what they believe (aside from the terrible lies they’ve heard and re-told about both 44 and 45’s opponent, and on which I call them out every time) is not… well, it’s not what I believe at all, but it’s also maybe not so completely wrong either.

There is a true disconnect in the western world right now.  It’s happening in the U.S., in Canada, in Australia, and through pretty much all of Europe.  If you’ve read any history at all, you know it’s nothing we haven’t endured before, although this time it’s with 24 hour media, fake or not, and with some really ugly weapons of destruction.  Is it possible that if we really worked at it honestly, this time is nothing we can’t move beyond?

Not fix.  We can’t “fix” this.  Some of us believe in a living minimum income, universal health care, universal family leave & child care, a shattered glass ceiling, that black lives matter, that industrial agriculture is slowly killing the earth & that processed cheese slices are not actually food, and that both table manners and cursive writing are essential to reasonable public discourse and subsequent follow-up.  Some of us believe 180 degrees differently.

What we seem to be unable to do is work beyond those disagreements, to find ways to support human beings and not throw them on the trash heap.  And, personally, as I’m not prepared to throw too much more on the trash heap, I’m going to try to say something nice about my 180 degrees people.

Don’t ask me what right now.  I’m trying to be nice, not saintly.  But maybe, just maybe, if more of us can take a deep breath and be nice, for just a moment, the moments will come easier to us, and maybe those moments will start coming to those who are at 180 degrees from us.  Fewer sucked lemons, and fewer ugly lies, and fewer nice people being pulled into ideas not thought through would be very nice indeed.

And if all that happens, maybe I can quit my over-consumption of solacing butter tarts cold turkey.

 

 

Light the Candles, Feel the Love

It wasn’t my plan to take so much time off blogging.  Some time, yes.  This much time, no.  I have reasons – no excuses, but pretty good reasons – but they’re for another blog.  This one is about family, and specifically two members of my family who are celebrating birthdays today!

Let’s start with the oldest my sister Andrea — although she will quickly point out in her comment that she is younger than me.  In this context, she is the older of the two birthday celebrants.  Andy Pandy.  Andrea Joy.  Andrea with the string of last names we won’t go into here.  She’s also known as Mom by three amazing kids, grown up kids now, who adore the hell of her, as they should.  To me, she’s my hero.

The hands she’s been dealt in the past couple of years, the work she’s done to try to get back on her feet, the support she continues to give other people even as she needs a lot for herself… that’s a kind of bravery I’m not sure I have.  Not without a lot of things being thrown at walls and a lot of single malt being consumed anyway.

Andy made a great attempt at living and working out a dream, and it turned into a bit of a nightmare through no fault of her own.  This forced her to make other decisions that I think she’s been happy with, but have also put her back at the starting line again.  The cool thing is, she’s up for the race.  She relishes having challenges and takes them on like nobody’s business.  But she would be great for somebody’s business (Hello, Calgary!!  Are you paying attention??) and I want things to work out for her.

But in the meanwhile, I hope she is having a great, happy, delicious birthday.  I hope she knows that she is loved and admired.  I hope she knows that some art thief is going to lose his balls someday for what he did.

Love you, sis, for all 60 years and I hope many more.

As for the other birthday… my daughter (who has a mother but who lets me share).  Durita and Andy never met, which is sad, but perhaps also good, because I think they might have stories to share I’m not sure I want shared!  They would like each other though, having the same sort of “yes, I’m going to do this!” attitude.

My Darling Girl is in law school in Copenhagen, living with her “man” Toki (I’m still not prepared for this), surrounded by a circle of wonderful friends (two of whom, Maria and Gunn, we were thrilled to meet last summer), and still and always loved by her ‘original’ family in the Faeroes.  And by me.

We met on my birthday, which makes  her the best gift I ever received, and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about her and how she’s filled my life and heart.  Of course, the fact I have a photo of her in every room in the house probably helps me keep track of that but still…

The sun sets very late in Copenhagen this time of the year, and I hope she & Toki and all their friends are taking advantage of a summer birthday eve.  I hope she knows I would love to spend a birthday with her again.  I hope she knows how valued and missed she is by Jeff, and by me.

Happiest Day, Darling Girl.  And many, many more.

 

 

 

Summer Wanes…

This summer has been filled with so much and yet at the same time, I feel as if nothing has happened except the rush of time.  Can both things be true?  Perhaps.

I have been so fortunate to have had time with family and friends this summer.  It started in May, really, with a work reunion of sorts.  How wonderful to see so many people with whom I had enjoyed working at the radio station, and meeting so people who still remembered me!  That was a shock – pleasant, but still a shock.  That same weekend, we were entertained by someone who really didn’t know me, only in a few passing meetings of a book club I helped organize several years ago and of which i was a member just a year.  That was a lovely afternoon and early evening, drinks and nibbles and lots of “remember??”.  I treasure time spent with old friends, re-inforcing bonds with new ones.

Time at the “cottage-on-wheels”, at Oliphant, followed over several weekends. So wonderful to see all my brothers, never together sadly, but one by one, sharing food and drink and much laughter, all in pretty much equal measure I think.  I love my brothers who could not be more dissimilar in so many ways and yet they are all fierce in their family ties.  They show it differently and they may sometimes resent it, but the bonds are there.

Labour Day weekend, still more family.  My cousin Judith and her husband Ross, her brother Stewart and his wife Mary — family I hadn’t seen in so long I am embarrassed.  All of them were exactly as they have always been — do I seem so to them? I’m not sure if I want it to be so or not!  We were at Michael & Rita’s cottage, “The Point”, the cabin that once was our grandparents, and then our parents, and now belongs to them (and Michael’s siblings’ hearts too, I think).  It was the first time Judith had been back there since our father’s death and she was a little teary, a lifetime’s worth of memories of that place flooding her heart.  I so understand.

This place is magic.  Judith and Stewart’s cottage is just up the beach from The Point, and From WhiteCaps, brother Max’s place, and a little further away from Belle Mer, which will be our cottage name when we finish building.  We were children together who had golden summers of sunshine and fun.  We were let loose onto the beach and into the water from sunrise to sunset and we flourished in it.  I know bad things happened then, accidents and illnesses, difficulties for our parents, periods of boredom for us when the sun would give way to rain, but I don’t remember those things, not the way I do the joy.

And once more we were at The Point for a couple of days, invited by Michael & Rita to enjoy a couple of days quiet and work, a place to stay that had running water (not the cottage-on-wheels, that’s for sure!) while Jeff worked out taking out trees and putting in more gravel.  It was so perfect… so… well there are no other words.  In the afternoons, I sat on the dock and I listened to the water and I let some tears flow in both remembrance and pleasure.  In the evenings, we drank wine with supper and watched the moon dance on the waves.  I lived again a whole lifetime of summers these past few days, as a very full, very sweet, summer rushed to a close.

The last afternoon of summer... the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of... childhood one more time.

The last afternoon of summer… the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of… childhood one more time.

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves... Such peace...

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves… Such peace…

DWTS – or – how to use a box of tissue in one evening

I do not watch reality television as a general rule.  I’m a writer.  I like my television (and movies) to have story lines that are performed into something interesting, not edited into highly manipulative states.

That being said, I am addicted to Dancing With The Stars most seasons.  I add “most” because there have been two or three celebrity contestants who simply by breathing made me crazy-itchy-nutso and I couldn’t watch for fear I’d see them or, in one instance, hear her speak.  With that contestant, as bad as her so-called dancing was, her speaking voice was worse. Blech.

Sometimes, the complete opposite happens and every one of the contestants thrills me with their background stories and their hard work, the bond they develop with their pro- partner, even how the goofiness of Tom Bergeron plays off them.  This season, DWTS’ 20th season, is one of those ‘must-watch’ ones for me.

Tonight, one of the four semi-finalists will be eliminated.  This after a show last night that brought out great dancing (even a two-left footed bumbling boob like me could see the dancing was superior) and more heartfelt, heartwarming stories, not to mention a very simple and sweet marriage proposal!  The four celebrities remaining are Nastia (a former Olympic gymnast), a pop singer named Riker, a war veteran-model-motivational speaker named Noah and Rumer Willis, the daughter of Demi Moore & Bruce Willis.  Rumer, Ryker and Nastia came into the competition with performance backgrounds of one sort or another, an understanding of how to create an atmosphere, a story in the dancing.  They also started out a pretty good amateur dancers and have become much, much better as the weeks have gone by.

Noah is a different story because he’s not just a war veteran, he’s a double-amputee.

He lost is left arm from just below the shoulder and his left leg above the knee in an IED explosion.  He wears a prosthetic leg and foot, but not an arm.  His partner, Sharna Burgess, has had to choreograph to his skills, his desires, his challenges and still make us think, make us see that Noah is a dancer.  That Noah deserves to be a semi-finalist in this competition. Honestly, I’m not sure who is the braver one of this partnership — Noah for exposing himself to a world he never knew before his injuries and then needing to work around and with them to succeed in that world, or Sharna for going into a whole new place in dance to make it work.

Carrie Ann Inaba, who is one of the judges, said the first week, amongst her tears after watching him dance, that Noah had helped her see beyond her own images, her ideas of what dance is, what dance should be.  Not that she marked  him that way often but at least she was moving forward.

Without a knee, Noah cannot be as fluid in his movements as he might like, indeed as he should be, in dance.  It’s bloody close to impossible for him to do “rounded” floor movements although the choreography in both routines he did last night were so mesmerizing, so true to his strengths, so close to ’round’, they were brilliant.  There was one moment, at the end of one of the routines, I hoped everyone who was watching noted and remembered as they were voting — Sharna and Noah walked up the stairs together using his gait, where his left leg swings out a little to compensate for not having a bendable knee.  Matching his step in every way, from exactly how high his left leg swings up to how much bounce gets from his “good” leg, Sharna made that could-have-been-awkward walk up the stairs completely, utterly beautiful.  They made it a dance….

If I’m honest, Noah probably shouldn’t win this competition because he is not, yet, the dancer that Riker and Rumer and Nastia are, but I still gave him every one of my votes last night (and he’ll get them next week if he moves on). I gave him those votes not because I feel sorry for him, and not because he proposed to his girlfriend (who said ‘yes’, btw), and not because he’s a drop-dead gorgeous war hero.

I voted for Noah Galloway because he really has opened up the world of what dance is and should be.  He is a walking, breathing, strong reminder of why we all need dance and music and art and theatre in our lives.  We are enriched by the arts.  We are humbled, stretched, encouraged, enlightened, saved by the arts.  We are better for dancing, we are smarter for music, we are more aware for theatre, we are educated by art.

Thank you Sharna, for helping to make that happen with such brilliant routines.

Good luck Noah. I hope the journey continues in the world of dance for you forever…

Here’s The Thing We’re Not Prepared For…

We’re prepared for a lot of things as we roll through middle age.

Thanks to Madison Avenue, we have our wrinkle creams, our hair dyes, our botox injections, our medicines for things that can’t get up and things that won’t go down.  We take longer vacations to Florida or Arizona in the winter and spend more time in the summer at the cottage.  We don’t camp in tents anymore, but we love to have the grandchildren or great-nephews in pup tents in the backyard.  We go to 35th high school reunions and 40th university reunions and remark on how great everyone looks!  We gather for the weddings of our best friends’ children and send christening gifts when we become honourary grandparents, kidding our friends about being “Grandma and Papa” now.

And  yes, we think about our mortality a little, just enough to do some estate planning maybe, certainly write a will, definitely think about how long those retirement dollars will last.  But what we’re really not prepared for is other people dying.

It’s the natural order of things that our parents die before we do – at least, that’s what parents want, to go before their kids.  Of course we know that that’s what’s going to happen.  But when it does, we’re still shell-shocked.  And then, slowly but surely it’s not just our parents, but our godfather and our uncle and our cousins who are dying, and suddenly that close, expansive, joyful world of family and friends-who-might-as-well-be-family is smaller, tighter, sadder because people are dying.

And it’s not just that we’re aging: our children and nieces & nephews are growing up and bringing new partners into the circle and it’s not what it was.  It’s not who we are any more… it’s who we were.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot through the winter.  My cousin Jeff died just over a year ago, my dear father-in-law died late last fall, and just a couple of months later, my cousin, my father’s much-loved cousin, Janet Stewart Prince, died from the complications of Parkinson’s.  Ross would have been the first one to mourn her, after her children, Judith & Stewart, of course.  They were buddies all their lives and I know she felt his loss deeply when he died 11 some years ago.

 

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

 

Aunt Janet, as we called her, and Uncle Walter are woven into the fabric of my life.  They dominate memories of my childhood at the cottage in Oliphant, along with Uncle Walter’s brother’s family (Uncle Jack & Aunt Elaine and their boys, including my first ‘fiancee’, Cam), Aunt Janet’s sister, another cousin, Aunt Margery & Uncle Jack and their boys, and the Bennett families (Uncle Cam & Aunt Mary and their children, Uncle Jim & Aunt Patsy and their children), and in later years, we were thrilled to also welcome to every day life at Oliphant my Uncle Bruce (Dad’s ‘baby’ brother) and Aunt Patty.  When I think of beaches and swimming and fishing and sailing and boating and water-skiing and softball and picnics in the dunes behind the cottage, I think of these people and the Dixon boys and Dougal Robertson (another cousin!).  Eating wieners on a stick and burnt marshmallows and I think of them.  Playing games of Red Rover and British Bulldog and I think of them.  Biking down to the general store for ice cream cones and I think of them.

Just as a little aside, I have story Aunt Janet used to tell on herself which I never fail to think of when baking.  She didn’t. Bake, that is, but some occasion called for her to do so, probably a tea, or maybe a funeral.  In any case, she bought a box mix for brownies, thinking that these had to be easy to do.  And they were!  She followed the instructions for pre-heating the oven and prepping the baking pan, and then adding eggs and oil to the brownie mix.  Then she got to the next part.  Which she read twice and said, “Oh well….” and went to roll up her sleeves and wash her hands thoroughly because the instructions said: MIX BY HAND.  It took her a sticky, chocolatey moment or two to realize that perhaps they meant stir, WITH A SPOON, by hand and not a mixer.

They were all of a kind, these adults who filled my childhood.  They worked hard and contributed much.  They raised pretty large and fairly happy families for the most part, they loved good martinis & Oliphant just about equally, and they asked for very little back except to enjoy a good life.  I think most of them got it, most of the time, and if things didn’t always turn out the way they might have hoped when they were children and teenagers, I hope with all my heart that they know that the one thing that did turn out was giving us the very best of childhoods.

There will be a memorial service for Aunt Janet on Saturday, the day before Stewart celebrates his birthday, the day before what would have been my father’s 82nd birthday!  My joyful heart is aching that I cannot be there — sad to miss the people I love, happy to share in heart and mind so many, many wonderful memories.

Dear Judith & Ross, Dear Stewart & Mary… I hope your hearts and those of  your children are also joyful this weekend especially, even as they ache.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.