Category Archives: memories

My Little Brother Turned 50 Today…Memories of a Big Sister…

I was three when I came home from a trip to my Grandma Shoots’ house to find that I was no longer an only child.  The usurper was ten lbs. of trouble topped by a giant head which had torn my petite mother stem to stern when it passed through (that was all from the Shoots side)…they told me his name: Jeffery Layne…we called him “Jeffy”.  I thought he looked like a little old man!

Jeffy wasn’t much fun for me the first year…he slept too much!  If I caught him asleep, I’d give him just enough of a poke to wake him up…unfortunately for me, Mommy caught me doing it more than once!  Later, he repaid me for disturbing his slumber by sinking his teeth into my upper arm: “Mommy, Jeffy bit me!” was a common complaint thereafter…

Jeffy was very cautious…I was walking at eight months, but it was well after his first birthday before Jeff was brave enough to take his first independent steps.  I remember him getting down on all fours and turning around backwards to negotiate any small change in the terrain.

My brother was the noisiest kid I’d every encountered in my short life.  He screamed constantly, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because he seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice!  It’s a wonder I lived through the summers of 1964 and 1965…our poor mother used to keep the windows closed (in our 95-degree Ohio weather) so the neighbours wouldn’t think she was beating him!  Luckily, by the time he was two, Jeffy replaced screaming with singing (which he would often practice randomly at church, during Daddy’s sermon).  We have an audio tape of Jeffy singing his version of the theme from Batman: “Batman! Wah, wah, wah, wah.  Batman!”

Jeffy had curly brown hair, which endeared him to everyone who saw him in my parents’ arms:  “Oh, what a pretty little girl!”, they’d say.  Wanting to put an end to the confusion, Daddy took my brother for his first visit to the barber when he was two…Jeff never had curly hair again!  I think he must have been inspired by the experience, because when he was five, my dad asked Jeffy what he wanted to be when he grew up: “I want to be a barber,” he answered.  “I got REAL scissors!”

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

The year Jeffy turned five was a particularly memorable one: We moved to Canada that summer, and for his birthday, Jeffy got a brand-new metallic green bike with a banana seat, monkey handlebars, and training wheels (which would stay on for the next three years…did I mention Jeff was cautious?).  Jeffy also was sent reluctantly off to kindergarten, which in hindsight, I don’t think he was ready for…almost every day, I was summoned from my Grade Three classroom to come to the kindergarten, because “Jeffy’s crying again”.  He missed about half the school year due to tonsillitis, which was lucky for me…I had just enough time in my own class to pass!   I remember being jealous when Jeffy came home from having his tonsils out…he got to have ice cream!

Jeff with his brand new bike.

Jeff with his brand new bike.

That first year in Canada was also the year that we had our first cat named Tripper…Jeffy was particularly fond of him (and a decade or so later, named a second cat “Tripper”).  We started attending church in Trenton, where Jeffy and the minister’s son, James, became best friends, and engineered many wild adventures, which you can read about here: http://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/our-first-year-in-canada-part-1/, and here: http://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/our-first-year-in%C2%A0canada%E2%80%A6part%C2%A02%E2%80%A6/.

In 1970, our family moved to Rednersville, where we met our friends, Jimmy and Dougie.  Jeffy and Dougie were the same age, and Jimmy was a year older.  I used to organize plays and musical productions in our back yard, which the boys would ultimately get roped into.  When I was ten, I had mastered Bob Dylan’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” on the guitar, and recruited my seven-year-old brother to play the part of the girl picking the flowers.  I made a “wig” out of paper cut into strips, and plopped it on Jeffy’s head.  I played my song and sang, while he skipped around the back yard collecting the paper flowers I had carefully coloured.  The audience loved it!

Our dad built us a tree fort, and had purchased an old VW van, which he parked underneath it…the four of us spent hours playing in the van and the tree house.  We also had a path to ride bikes around the house, since we weren’t allowed to ride on the road until later.  One of our other favourite activities was a modified form of kickball, which we called “Running Around the Bases”.

When Jeffy was eight (and I was eleven), I suggested we get a paper route together…we had about 50 customers between us.  Jeffy did the closer houses, and I did the ones farther away.  Sadly, Jeffy had all the good tippers on his part of the route…jealousy reared its ugly head again!  The little bugger saved most of his money too, which I had great difficulty doing (although I did save enough to buy myself a ten-speed!).

We spent every nice day outdoors, which wasn’t always the best thing for my brother…Jeffy had inherited our mom’s hay fever in a big way!  I remember hearing him sneeze and sneeze and sneeze all summer, especially later on when he was picking vegetables for a living.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

My mom had gotten a job by the time Jeffy was eight, so we were left to our own devices after school, which often led to bickering…one time, he was chasing me, so I ran into the house and shot the little slide bolt on the door over (our only lock).  Somehow, the lock ended up getting broken!  Another time, I thought it’d be funny to put icing from the beaters onto Jeff’s nose…he apparently didn’t share my opinion!  He chased me upstairs, and pushed me backwards into the bathtub!  We rarely fought physically, but that incident has always stuck in my mind.  Usually, I’d claw him with my nails if he started hitting me (he used to bite me, remember?)…our parents were not impressed!

When Jeff was thirteen, our parents gave us some money they’d saved for us, probably about $1500 each.  Jeff bought himself a lawn tractor from Sears, and soon had lawn mowing customers from all over the neighbourhood (I started a candy store).  He was a hard worker, and earned enough money to buy his first car from the proceeds, a Renault that he’d drive around our fields because he wasn’t old enough to have a license yet.  Jeff tried to teach me how to drive it, but I never mastered the art of letting the clutch out slowly enough not to stall the car!

Jeff got his driver’s license soon after he turned sixteen…I didn’t have mine, so my brother became my new driver…I think our parents were glad to get a break!  We took a memorable trip to Ohio in a borrowed Honda Civic with our mom one summer: http://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/the-kilbourne-vine-caper/

In the summer of 1982, Jeff was working for a market gardener picking produce, and got me on to the all-male crew…that was one of the funnest jobs I’ve ever had (and a lucky break since I’d been laid off from my job at the photo lab because I’d had to take six weeks off for my college internship!).  It was in those cornfields that Jeff had some of his most spectacular sneezing fits!

Jeff on his way to work on the farm...

Jeff on his way to work on the farm…

I left home in 1983 and moved to the Maritimes…Jeff stayed at our mom’s house for several years and helped look after her (she and our dad had divorced in 1985, and she was chronically ill).  Later, he took a soldering course at Loyalist College.  Jeff’s first job after finishing school was at Leigh Instruments in Carleton Place, where he met and later married my sister-in-law, Bev (I like to think he picked her because she’s a lot like me).

In 1994, my niece, Taylor Dawn, was born.  Jeff was a doting dad and taught Taylor useful things, like how to fetch beer for him and play golf.  She inherited his love for classic cars (and beer), but she turned out all right anyway!  Jeff, Bev and Tay visited my family in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the summer of 1996.  We took them to the Magnetic Hill Zoo, which featured a small train to transport visitors around the property.  We were all riding on the train, and Jeff stuck his head out the window to look at something behind us…he pulled it back in, just as we came to a signpost along the tracks, which was disturbingly close.  When Jeff realized that he might have been decapitated had his head been out the window for another split second, he freaked out: “I could have been killed!”  He talked about it for the rest of the afternoon year..I don’t think he appreciated my uncontrollable laughter at the situation…it made for a good story, though.  Jeff’s always been a master storyteller!

Today, Jeff is still working at what is essentially the same company in Carleton Place (its third incarnation is called “DRS”).  He spends his spare time riding his motorcycle, working around the house and yard, and fishing small dead animals out of his back yard pool.  Jeff has also organized a regular summer “Cruise Night” for the other classic car lovers in the area, which has raised several thousand dollars for the local children’s hospital over the years.

Jeff and Bev on the bike...they wear helmets when it's moving!

Jeff and Bev on the bike…they wear helmets when it’s moving!

Happy 50th Birthday, Jeff!  I tease you a lot, but you’re still my brother and I’m very proud of the man you’ve become!

 

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Memories of Loyalist College – September, 1982 – October, 1983

*Note: This is a special blog post written in honour of what would have been my graduating class’ (I didn’t graduate) 30-Year Reunion, which I am unable to attend.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who decided she wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist. This was due, in part, to a much older ex-boyfriend who had done exactly that, and partly to an admiration for female journalists of the day such as Barbara Frum, Hana Gartner, Adrienne Clarkson and (*whispering) Pamela Wallin.

The application process was fairly straightforward: fill out the college application, and send it along with an audition tape (there may have also been an essay, but I’m not sure) and the application fee. I was lucky that my parents lived near Loyalist College…I was spared the whole student loan nightmare that many of my fellow students were subjected to (surviving on Kraft Dinner…aaack!). I was accepted, and started the course with about 19 other students in September of 1982.

At 21, I was one of the oldest students in our class. I felt infinitely more mature than the mostly 18 and 19-year-olds in the rest of the group! I remember feeling sorry for the kids who had come from the Maritimes…they were so far away from their families!

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Me and some of my Broadcast Journalism classmates…that’s me in the bib front blouse…

Within the first month, I had (unwillingly) earned a nickname: “Wendy Shoots, She Scores”. This was courtesy of our journalism prof, Phil R., who thought it was hilarious…he also teased Lisa M. mercilessly about being from Dingwall, Nova Scotia! I took a lot of flak from other students for my homemade tape recorder case…it didn’t occur to me when I made it that putting “Wendy B.J.” on the side in big letters might be a bad idea.

Classes that year were a bit of a blur (although I did go to them)…I remember the soporific quality of Len A.’s Broadcast Journalism and the Law class, and struggling to pronounce Russian names in Ken B.’s Foreign Language Pronunciation class. I was happy to get an exemption from Typing…I passed the test with flying colours…the test machine was a far sight better than the 1940’s Underwood I had learned on at home!

The school had its own radio station, which was staffed by the Broadcast Journalism and Radio Broadcasting classes. There were more than a few pranks played: one time, a fictitious story about The Flintstones was inserted into an unsuspecting newscaster’s copy. There was at least one instance of news copy being set on fire while the news was being read on the air (glad that wasn’t me!).

I was always nervous doing radio news…somehow, seeing the mike in front of me was intimidating! I always did well on airchecks though…my voice was naturally low, which I supposed made it easier for me than some of the other girls!

One of my favourite things was producing radio documentaries…I spent hours in the studio editing tape with a razor blade! I still have some of them somewhere…

The heart of our school life was the Radio Lounge…all the fun happened there! That was where my classmate, Steve S., got his nickname: he was playfighting with his cousin, Kent Mo. one day. One of the Broadcast Journalism students, Brad S., hollered: “Look…it’s “Chunk” Norris!” From that day forward, no one ever called Steve by his real name again.

Chunk was the oldest in our class at 26…he was one of the few students who had a car: a Mercury Comet, which became known as “The Chunkmobile.” A bunch of us used to bum a ride back into Belleville after school with Chunk…I was the only girl, and often ended up sitting on someone’s lap (I’m sure my mother would have been upset to know that I was usually not wearing a seatbelt!). Later on, the Chunkmobile became “The Vomit Comet” on account of the powerful smell that erupted one day and never went away, even though Chunk made his best effort to get rid of it…

Another fun part of Loyalist College for me was the “Pubs”: I loved music, and saw many acts live that I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to: Lee Aaron, Matt Minglewood, Murray McLaughlan, etc. I was probably one of the few students who didn’t go to Pub just to drink…

I spent a lot of time hanging out with the folks from the Radio Broadcasting classes…they seemed to be closer than my own classmates, and had way more fun! I went to several parties at various students’ apartments…I remember at least one Toga Party, Tequila Sunrises (didn’t drink them…just watched them being made and consumed), and dancing to Stray Cats rockabilly. There was the M*A*S*H* party on John St. where I started dating my (now ex) husband, Radio guy, Kent M. (we were introduced by Radio girl, Becky W., at an earlier gathering at the Doc’s Hotel).

One party stands out…it was the one and only time I was ever drunk in my life: this one was at Broadcast Journalism guys, Ed L. and Greg V.’s apartment on Front Street. Ed and Greg were two of my “Chunkmobile” buddies…the day of the party, I got dropped off with them at their apartment since I lived in the country and didn’t want to have to get my mom to drive me back into town for the party later. I planned to just “hang out” until the party started…Kent had to work that night, so he would come and join me after his shift was over at 11 p.m. We got to the apartment around 4. I remember somebody asking me if I wanted a drink. “Do you have any rye?” I asked. They did, but no ginger ale, which is what I usually mixed it with. Greg had gotten a large root beer at McDonald’s on the way home, and still had a lot left…he offered me the rest to mix with the rye. Stupidly, I agreed.

It was about 8 p.m. when I started feeling really sick…I spent the next three hours in and out of the bathroom. When Kent arrived, I was ready to get out of there. We had to walk several blocks to the rooming house where he lived…some of the sidewalks were under construction…my arms and legs were not cooperating at all! We went to Kent’s room, where I lay on his bed as the room spun around, and wished for either death or my mom to come…she came at midnight to take me home. Lesson learned…I never got drunk again!

Beside the Doc’s Hotel, we also liked to go to Dolan’s, and Copperfield’s. Songs like Laura Branigan‘s Gloria, Men at Work‘s Who Can It Be Now?, Alan Parsons Project‘s Eye in the Sky, and J. Geils Band‘s Freeze-Frame all remind me of that time.

When summer came, I went off to Ottawa for six weeks and did my internship at CFRA Radio. It was there that I got the first inkling that perhaps I didn’t have the personality to be a journalist…I was a basket case nearly every night…I was wrapped up in all the stories I’d had to cover…a lot of them were upsetting! I did get to see Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their visit to Canada though…I was told by my News Director to get some tape of the Princess’ walkabout. I was having difficulty controlling my boom mike in the wind…Diana was saved from a possible concussion by a burly RCMP officer swatting my mike away from her head! Needless to say, I didn’t get my tape!

The second year of our course was mainly television. I loved doing the newscasts! However, dragging heavy video equipment around to get stories was not my cup of tea, especially when it was very likely you could arrive at a venue with a completely dead battery pack! Editing videotape electronically was not my forté either…

In October of 1983, Kent got a job offer from a new radio station in St. John’s, Newfoundland: CKIX-FM…I was sure I couldn’t live without him, so I quit school and moved to the Rock (we were married less than a year later, and have two daughters together).

I’m grateful that I went to Loyalist College…it was the first time that I ever felt I “belonged” to a group…I was very much a loner in high school! I made many wonderful lifelong friends (including my future husband), and the skills I learned in our course came in handy later on in my writing/non-profit communcations careers. If it weren’t for Loyalist College, I would probably not be living in the Maritimes, my adopted home of the last 30+ years!

Have a wonderful reunion…wish I was there to see you all!

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Sweet Sarah…

They’re having a memorial for Sarah in Port Hope, Ontario on February 22nd.  I wish I could go.  I can’t.  Instead, I will write my memories of Sarah…

I first met Sarah some time in the summer of 1983…I liked her the minute we were introduced.  She was a year younger than I was, and had the same birthday as my brother, September 13th.  I was dating my first husband, Kent, and Sarah was Kent’s brother, James’, live-in girlfriend.  James and Sarah had gotten together in high school, and had been inseparable ever since.  At 6′ tall, James towered over 4’11” Sarah!  She was small but mighty!

One of five children born to artist parents, it makes sense that Sarah would get together with an artist whose father was also an artist.  While James went to the Ontario College of Art, Sarah was studying social work and psychology at university.

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James and Sarah…early ’80’s…

Kent and I moved to Newfoundland in late 1983, so didn’t see James and Sarah again until our wedding in 1984.  James was an usher.  We spent our honeymoon in Port Hope at the family cottage, and got to hang out with James and Sarah a little bit there.  After we were married, Kent and I moved from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Moncton, New Brunswick.

The next time we saw James and Sarah was at their wedding in 1985.  They were taking care of a huge old farmhouse in Port Hope for a family friend, and the wedding was held outside there.  It was a casual summer wedding…lots of people and lots of food!  Sarah made sure everyone was having a good time.

James’ dad and his wife lived in Kelowna, British Columbia…Sarah and James moved there soon after they were married.  We visited them with our baby, Kaylee, in the spring of 1987.  Sarah was about seven months pregnant with her first child, Dylan.   James and Sarah took us on a tour and drove us to a local petting zoo.  I’ll never forget the sight of little Sarah with her big belly, surrounded by pregnant pygmy goats…it’s like they knew she was pregnant too!

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Sarah, 7 1/2 months pregnant with Dylan…

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James, Sarah and Dylan…

Sarah and James returned to Port Hope after a couple of years in British Columbia.  They bought a house next door to Kent’s best friend’s.  This was the end of their nomadic existence…Sarah and James were putting down roots.  

The house was old and comfortable.  James’ and other family members’ art decorated the walls.  There were books and record albums everywhere.  The fridge door was covered with family photos and Dylan’s doodlings.  The television was hidden away in the office…when you went to visit Sarah and James, you talked!  I remember late nights with wine, music, and laughter…

It was soon after they came back that Sarah opened a day care at the house.  Sarah was a natural caregiver…she loved kids and they loved her!  Likewise with animals…I don’t ever remember Sarah and James not having a dog or two.   When she didn’t have a child or a dog in her arms, she was knitting.  I still have the sweaters Sarah made for the girls when they were little.

James and Sarah’s daughter, Rachel, was born in 1992.  I had given them a crocheted baby blanket as a gift.  A couple of years later, we were visiting one summer.  I remember Sarah telling me how they had to wait until Rachel was asleep, and then sneak the blanket away from her to wash it…I hardly recognized it!  It was well-loved…

Sarah and James were vegetarians, and belonged to a food buying co-op.  It was at their house that I first had “TVP” (texturized vegetable protein) instead of hamburger in spaghetti sauce!  I still make one of Sarah’s pasta salad recipes (macaroni shells, broccoli, carrots, whole almonds, mayo with a little lemon juice and dill, if you like).  They didn’t force their lifestyle on the kids, but allowed them to choose what they wanted to eat.

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Rachel, Sarah, and Dylan, eating spaghetti…

Kent and I split up in 1997.  With very little money, I was unable to make the trip from New Brunswick to Ontario very often.  The last time I saw James and Sarah was in 2003.  I had gone to Ontario to my college reunion, and had arranged to spend a few days in Port Hope so my daughters could see their dad and his family.  We stayed at Sarah and James’ house…it was one of the best visits I’d ever had with them!  Sarah treated my youngest, Hope, like all the other kids, even though she wasn’t technically related.  Sarah told me about being “carded” at the liquor store (she was over 40 at the time).  “I told them I had a 15-year-old son at home!” she laughed.  The rest of the family came over one afternoon for a family reunion…I remember Sarah giggling as hard as our middle school daughters when 75-year-old Nana did an impromptu rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” (complete with barking).

James’ dad passed away in 2009.  Sarah was there to comfort him.  James returned the favour when Sarah’s younger brother succumbed to cancer last year.

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James and Sarah at James’ dad’s memorial service…

 

Last fall around Hallowe’en, my daughters got a message from their aunt that Sarah was very ill…cancer.  Despite aggressive treatments with radiation, the cancer spread to Sarah’s brain in January.  She died February 5th with her beloved James at her bedside…he’d been there around the clock for three days…

Sarah was the first to laugh, and the first to cry.  She was the first to hug…all children felt safe in her embrace, and adults felt comfort…

I can see Sarah in heaven surrounded by children whose time also came too soon…maybe they’re fingerpainting…

RIP Sweet Sarah…

 

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“Girly Things”…

Here’s one of my favourite posts from the archives…it originally appeared on April 17, 2010.  I’ve added some newer photos.  Enjoy!:

 

Recently, one of my single dad friends was looking for ideas for “girly things” to do with his daughter, who was coming to visit for the day…it made me start thinking about what that term even means…

My dad used to cook breakfast for us every morning.  I remember a couple of times we made pies together.  He also took us tobogganing, built us a go-cart and a treehouse, and took us fishing.  He taught me how to throw and catch a softball.  When I was eleven, he taught me how to drive our 1948 Ford farm tractor!  I’ll never forget the yell he let out when I “jumped” the front by letting the clutch out too fast (considering I only weighed about 60 lbs at the time, it was amazing I could push it in at all, let alone let it out slowly!).  We planted seeds in the garden, and picked apples together.  He encouraged us to climb the horse chestnut tree in the back yard.

Uncle Mal, Grandad, and Dad Doing Dishes...

My mom would put stuff back together after my dad took it apart.  She also painted the exterior of our two-storey house!  In addition to sewing a lot of our clothing, she used to design and build furniture too.  She taught me to cook and bake, and how to drive.

I have three daughters, a stepdaughter, and a granddaughter – I should be an expert on “girly things.”  Our downstairs kids’ bathroom is a mess of ponytail holders, hair dryers and straighteners, and nail polish!

I’ve always told my girls that there are only three things men can do that women can’t:

1. Father a child.

2. Pee standing up (we can do that too, but it’s messy).

3. Show somebody their Adam’s apple.

My children know that there’s no such thing as “girl toys” or “boy toys.”  Hope wanted a firetruck for her fifth birthday, and we got her one (she also had lots of baby dolls).

Instead of thinking of “girly things” to do with your daughter, why not come up with activities which will strengthen her self-esteem, and her bond with her dad?

1. Take her to the library.  Show her some of your favourite books when you were a kid – she might like “The Hardy Boys.” I did!

Scott reading to Elise...

2. Take her for a drive to a place you like – tell her why.

3. Take her to a movie that both of you will enjoy – Pixar has come out with some excellent 3-D movies lately.

4. Play computer games with her.  Jim and Brianna play WOW together.

5. Go to the park and swing together.

Hope on the Swing...

6. Go for a walk on the beach and look for pretty stones or shells.

7. Think of an art project to do together – maybe a present for a grandparent.

8. Take her to the driving range or the batting cage – my niece, Taylor, goes golfing with my brother.

9. Cook or build something together.

10. Teach her to do something you’re good at.

11. Go to a concert or a play together.

12. Take her to a go-cart track, and let her drive.

Hope at the go-cart track in PEI, August, 2010...photo by Anna

Your kid doesn’t care if you do “girly things” with her…she just wants to do stuff with her dad!

Uncle Neal and Cousin Caryn on the Unicycle...

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Rooting for the Underdog…

This is another archive post originally published April 13, 2010…enjoy!

 

At our house, we love the sitcom “Big Bang Theory.”  On last night’s episode, Leonard told his girlfriend, Penny, that he loved her…Penny seemed shocked at his rather premature confession, and replied, “Um, thank you.”  Poor Leonard…it took him two years to “get the girl,” and that’s how she treats him?  Move on, Leonard…you can do so much better than that…

Leonard Drops a Bomb on Penny...

I’ve always rooted for the underdog…there was even a cartoon called “Underdog” when I was a kid!  I could watch Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp” movie over and over, and I love Rowan Atkinson as “Mr. Bean.” (one of my favourite skits is when someone mistakenly picks up his credit card from the counter, and Mr. Bean tries desperately to get it back without being detected).

Mr. Bean at the Checkout...

I’ve been an “underdog” most of my life…I’ve always been smart (modest, too!), but “pretty” and “athletic” counts for more in junior high…my thick glasses kept me out of the “pretty” category, and I was always the last one picked for sports teams (coordination was, and still is, a big issue for me).  My parents didn’t have the money to buy me the “cool” clothes, so I didn’t fit in that way either.  I ended up doing things kids in junior high don’t normally do:  I used to write plays and make my little brother and his friends to perform them in the back yard (whether they wanted to or not!).  I started a weekly community newsletter for our little village of 150, “Rednersville Review,” and produced it for two summers – I got a story in the local paper out of that.

When I hit high school, I played flute in the school band, but that was the extent of my social interaction with my peers (except for a couple of close friends).  At 16, I opened my first business, “The Candy Bar.”  I ran it for a year-and-a-half…I made no money, but had a great time, and ate a lot of candy!  I also met my first serious boyfriend, who I ended up moving in with a couple of years later (BIG mistake!).

Wendy the Candy Magnate...

In college, I took Broadcast Journalism: after my 6-week internship at an Ottawa radio station, I realized that I could never be an objective reporter…I was always sympathetic to the underdog.  I remember coming home devastated every night by what I had witnessed at work during the day…there was a guy who, after a court-ordered child support settlement, was left with $5 a day to live on!  How was that fair?

The Subjective Reporter...

In the early ’90’s, I was given my first paid opportunity to “root for the underdog” – a job as assistant to the Fundraising Coordinator for a regional Children’s Hospital.  I spent the next ten years working for various non-profit groups – I loved it!

I also joined a local residents’ association which was trying to prevent a pool hall from opening in our Moncton neighbourhood…we were unsuccessful in that, but we did get the city to do something about lead in our neighbourhood’s drinking water, a problem which they had known about for almost fifty years…

After moving to Saint John, I joined the planning committee for the Saint John Women’s Conference.  At a “getting to know you” event, I discovered that I shared a common trait with one of the other committee members: neither of us could make piecrust!  Later that evening, when discussing the theme for the conference, it was decided that “Piecrust and Power: Women Together,” would be an excellent theme.  A month or so later, I was at the mall, and saw a book on sale called “The World of Pies.”  I picked it up, thinking it would make a great door prize for the conference.  When I brought it to our committee meeting, my co-chair suggested we try to get the author of the book, Karen Stolz,  to actually come to the conference!  People thought we were crazy!  I sent a letter to the book’s publishers – they advised that Karen lived in Austin, Texas.  After several phone calls, we had our answer: Karen was coming, and her publisher was footing the bill for the trip!  All we had to do was get her a hotel room for the night…Karen came, and we had a lovely time…

World of Pies book...

In 2001, I started a community newsletter for West Saint John, called “West Side Story.”  Many residents of the West Side have felt that other areas of the city have received more attention than their neighbourhood (they’re probably right!).  So those “underdogs” were thrilled to have something just for them!  I ran the paper for five-and-a-half years on a shoestring, until the shoestring broke!  People loved it, but I wasn’t making enough money to feed my kids…

After years of being an underdog, I realize that I let other people’s expectations of me dictate my own feelings of self-worth…that’s wrong!  Give me a cause – I will continue to “root for the underdog,” but I am really a “top dog!”

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Island Getaway for Two…

Here’s another post from the archives…it was originally published March 31, 2010.  Sadly, Jim and I haven’t been on a “couple’s trip” since this one (we used to go away twice a year, but the kids’ busy schedules have interfered).  We plan to go to Prince Edward Island some time later this year though.  The ferry we travelled on was involved in an accident a few weeks ago, and is currently being repaired in Halifax…a smaller, older boat is doing the run now, much to the chagrin of those who depend on it to get back and forth regularly.
Although I’ve lived in New Brunswick for 25 years, I had never been to Grand Manan…until Sept. 25, 2009.

Last July, I celebrated my 48th birthday (yes, I know that’s difficult to believe…ha!). My fiancé, Jim, took us all out to the Mediterranean Restaurant for my birthday dinner, and presented me with a handmade card detailing my birthday present – a romantic trip for two to Grand Manan that we would take in the fall.  With three teens and a tween, couple time is limited and valuable for us!

Sometime in August, a couple from Lubec, Maine (Daphne and Gerald), was in our bookstore, and mentioned that they were in Grand Manan quite often. I explained that we were going there, and they gave me the names of a couple of places they liked to stay on the island. One was the Inn at Whale Cove Cottages.  Jim made the reservation almost immediately.

We set out for our trip early on Friday morning, leaving our home about 7 a.m. Knowing there were cooking facilities available at our destination, we brought our cooler filled with food, enough for two nights away. The weather was grey and windy. Our trip to the ferry at Black’s Harbour was uneventful – we stopped for gas, and picked up some apple fritters nearly as big as my head at Robin’s Donuts. We got in line for the ferry…this was only my second time on the ocean in my life…I was a bit nervous!

Finally, the ferry arrived, and we drove onboard. We went upstairs, found window seats in the cafeteria, and settled down with tea and the Telegraph-Journal. The water was choppy that day, and we soon found ourselves getting headaches from staring into the waves, trying to catch sight of whales or dolphins. Jim felt a bit queasy, but I just felt unsteady, preferring to stay seated as we made the hour-and-a-half crossing.

North Head from the ferry as we arrived...photo by Jim...

We arrived at 11:30 a.m., and began looking for a suitable place to stop for lunch. We discovered Galloway’s Family Restaurant, quite close to the ferry terminal. Jim had the taco salad, and I ordered a chicken burger platter. Both dishes were excellent, reasonably-priced, and very filling! The fries were crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside…yummy! My coleslaw had apples in it, and was dusted with an herb that I couldn’t identify…but it tasted good, and disappeared quickly!

After lunch, we started exploring the island. We were fortunate to stumble on Zelda’s Bookroom, a small store I had heard about from friends where you leave the money for the books you buy on the kitchen table. We met the owner, Zelda Foote, who was a friendly lady in her 70’s, and her granddaughter. We bought four books, including “The Pilot’s Wife,” which Zelda recommended, and invited her to visit our store when she was in the Saint John the next time. Then we were off to find our accommodations.

We found a sign pointing the direction to Inn at Whale Cove Cottages at the end of Whistle Road. The Inn was about a mile up the road. A forested gravel lane led us down the hill to a group of unpretentious old buildings sided with cedar shakes. We headed for the door marked “Office” in the main house. A note under a paperweight signed “L.” advised that someone would be “Back at 3:30.” Since it was just past two, we wandered around the corner of the building toward the dining room, hoping to find someone there. The lounge leading into the dining room was an antique living room, complete with fireplace, cozy furniture, and a huge bookcase filled with old books, bestsellers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I was HOME! In the dining room, we found tables neatly set for dinner, but no one in sight. We decided to do a little more reconnaissance of the island while we waited, and aimed the van back towards North Head.

For those who don’t know about Grand Manan, here’s a little background: Located in the Bay of Fundy between southwestern New Brunswick and Lubec, Maine, it’s an island of some 2500 people who live mainly on the eastern coast (the west coast is known for its 300-foot cliffs and high winds). There is no mall, no movie theatre, and not a sign of Tim Hortons anywhere. The only signs of the mainland are the Irving (gas bar)/Save-Easy (grocery store)/Greco Pizza located in one building, and the NB Liquor outlet down the road. The remainder of the businesses on the island are privately owned and operated. The local economy revolves mainly around the sea – fishing, dulse (dried seaweed that some people find tasty), and tourism. There is a community centre (which had a sign outside advertising a dance with a Saint John area band), a library/school, and Christian churches of nearly every denomination. One of my friends who comes from the island told me that the favoured evening activity for young people is driving, sometimes at high speeds – she advised that we stay in after dark.

As we drove around, I saw a sign for a used clothing store. We looked around for a while, but did not buy anything. The next stop was Save-Easy, where we got a tray of a dozen day-old Danish (half-price), some fresh mushrooms, some chips, and a carton of orange juice. After a stop for “necessities” (beer for Jim) at the liquor store, we went back to Whale Cove to find our host.

We got back to Whale Cove about 3:20, and Jim went into the office, hoping that someone would be there. No luck…he returned to the van shaking his head. We turned on the radio, and waited in the parking lot…3:30 came and went, and still no cars joined us. Finally I said, “Maybe they were just in another part of the house, and are back in the office by now.” Jim tried again. Five minutes later, he emerged smiling and victorious. “Our room’s up there,” he said, pointing to the hill behind the van. Back up the laneway we went, and found the driveway for our building. The sign on the front of the house read “Coveview.”  We parked at the side of the house, and went around the back as per the instructions. The door to “John’s Flat” was unlocked, and we entered our island paradise…

The entryway into the living room was keyhole-shaped, with the pattern repeated in the ceiling – the architecture of the house was amazing…not an edge anywhere, everything was rounded off! The living room consisted of a sofabed, coffee table and two end tables, two antique chairs, a wooden table along the wall with chairs at each end and a bench at the side, a small TV with basic cable, a portable CD player (next time I will remember my music!), an old radio, two shelves of quality books (mix of new/old), magazines, and some tourist literature. The room was decorated perfectly: calm colours accented with tasteful lamps, a beautiful rug in the seating area, antique blue and white plates mounted on the wall, and good local art. Three large windows and two smaller ones allowed light to flow into the room.

Next was the kitchen: modern appliances (stove, fridge, microwave), and a stacking washer/dryer pair tucked into a closet. There was a toaster, blender, and even a cappucino/espresso machine (which I didn’t use because we’re not coffee drinkers – and I was a little afraid!). Open-concept wooden shelves were equipped with plates, bowls, mugs, glasses (drinking and wine), and serving bowls. The lower cupboards were stocked with various pots and pans, and the drawers held silverware, cooking utensils (even a rolling pin), dish cloths and towels, aluminum foil, etc. The shelf near the stove had some kitchen staples: olive oil, sugar cubes, some spices, and even a couple of cookbooks. A large clock was strategically placed over the stove – handy for those of us who don’t wear a watch!

Dinner the first night, salmon and scallops cooked by Wendy and photographed by Jim...

The bathroom was medium-sized and spotless. The same rounded lines of the rest of the house were repeated there. The low sink/vanity had a stool where one could sit while doing one’s makeup, and a handy shelf underneath which held three rolls of toilet paper. This was much appreciated, as I can’t count the number of places I’ve stayed where there was only one extra roll, and you end up worrying about running out before you leave (there were also ample supplies of tissues and paper towels provided – thank you!). There was a sit-down shower in the bathroom, and a temperature control that allowed you to control the heated floor tiles! There were lots of fluffy towels/washcloths on the rack, and extra hooks to hang the wet ones.

On to the best room – the bedroom! We saw a king-sized bed with nature-toned linens, covered with lots of big pillows and a fluffy duvet. In the corner in front of three large windows was a jacuzzi big enough for two, that one had to go up steps to get into. A basket stood nearby with more soft towels, and there was a Ziploc bag with bath salts provided. An antique dresser, two bedside tables (one shelf held an oral history someone had compiled about Whale Cove Cottages – delightful reading), old lamps on doilies, more art and more books also occupied the room. On the wall was a portrait of the room’s namesake, John Buckley (the owner’s brother), inked in 1965 when he was a young boy.

The Jacuzzi tub in the bedroom...

Our time at Whale Cove went very quickly – we enjoyed having nothing pressing to do! We ate good meals (salmon/scallops the first night and steak/mushrooms the second), and read in the sun on our deck on Saturday (I even went to a yard sale that morning – didn’t find anything, but had a great walk!). We picked our way down the path to the beach (suggested that this walk be taken in the daytime – path has lots of roots to trip one up), and saw small dorys tied up. We drove to the ferry terminal on Saturday to pick up our ticket for the next day – thanks to Holly for the tip!

Reading on the deck...photo by Jim...

Our last day, Sunday, arrived before we were ready…we packed up the van, and went to the office to check out. We thanked our host, Laura Buckley, who promised to visit the bookstore next time she was in Saint John. We headed for the boat, making a small detour at the Swallow Tail Light Station to take pictures. There were lots more people making the crossing back to the mainland that day – we were glad we got there early. We stopped at a small gift shop near the terminal, and Jim bought me some silver shell earrings as a momento of our trip.

Jim on the bridge to the Swallow Tail Light House station...photo by Wendy...

When it was 11:15, we were back in the van in the ferry lineup again. The crossing was calmer this time, but I still did not have my “sea legs” and spent most of the ride looking out the window in the lounge. Jim went out on the deck and took farewell pictures of our cottage as we headed out to sea…

We hope to go back to Grand Manan in 2011…can’t wait!

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Yard Sales…The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of The Feet…

Here’s an archive post originally published March 30, 2010 (if you’ve received two notifications of this, I apologize – I’m reposting it for the second time today, because I don’t think the e-mail notifications worked the first time):

The best yard sale ad I ever saw was in a Moncton newspaper many years ago…it gave the pertinent details of the sale, followed by this: “Early birds will be ignored.”  My kind of vendor!  There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a sale at the advertised start time, only to find that vultures have picked all the best meat off the bones!

I’ve been going to yard sales/house sales/flea markets/auctions since I was small…we’d get up many Saturday mornings, and head for a nearby farm auction.  At one of these, my brother and I decided we’d really like to have a calf, but Dad convinced us that our mom would have a COW if he came home with one!  On Sunday drives, I remember us sitting in the car as Mom looked angrily at her watch waiting for Dad to stop talking to some stranger who had something to sell (my mom caught the yard sale bug much later in life, after she started collecting and selling Sherman jewellery).  In the late ’70’s, Dad started setting up his own stall at flea markets (he collected sealers and pretty much anything to do with farming, as well as books).

Forty years later, I still like calves, but don't really want one any more...

After I was married and had kids, going yard-saling was an inexpensive outing for a Saturday…we lived in Moncton and didn’t have a car then…we walked to all the sales we attended.  I’d set the alarm early, pack up the kids, and off we’d go, with a carefully-planned list of sales we wanted to get to and their start times.  I mostly bought books, clothes and toys then, although I would keep my eyes open for bells/wooden boxes for my mom’s collections.

We moved to Saint John in late 1997, and continued our yard-saling habit…since opening the bookstore in the summer of 2000, we also started looking for old/local books on our Saturday mornings.  We go to the Sussex Flea Market every summer, where over 1000 vendors set up outside to sell everything from antlers to zinnias.  I started training my middle daughter, Anna, how to “pick” old books at age 8, and today, at 15, she definitely has “the eye”…she knows what to take and what to leave behind!

I picked up this little book "Mary Queen of Scots" for 10 cents...it's listed online for $20!

I even yard-sale on vacation…I was in Belleville, Ontario for a college reunion, and went to a few sales in the east end where the beautiful old homes are.  Lying on the grass, I spied a beautiful Native Canadian print that I wanted as a gift for my best friend, who is of aboriginal descent.   As I leaned over to pick it up, someone with faster fingers snatched it out from under me…after shooting her a look that should have caused her to at least feel faint (it didn’t seem to have any effect), I let her have it…

I was tramping around the West Side of Saint John, when I found a gorgeous pen and ink drawing of a farmhouse – I liked it because it reminded me of my grandma’s house.  The problem was that it was huge – about 2′ x 3′, and I was on foot.  It was also in the most hideous frame I’d ever seen, with floral wallpaper acting as a homemade mat.  I asked the woman how much it was – $8!  I told myself that I would go to one more sale around the corner and then come back…if the drawing was still there, I’d buy it and call a cab to get home.  I was lucky that day…I forked over the money and took my prize home.  The next day, I called my friend, Amy, who has a frame shop on the West Side, Amy’s Custom Framing.  We made a barter deal for a proper frame and mat – $150 worth.  Amy did a beautiful job on the artwork, and I hung it over the fireplace in my living room.  I’ve never been able to determine the artist’s name – I assume it’s local though.

Since moving to Hammond River a little over a year ago, yard-saling has been more difficult…I don’t have a driver’s license, and Jim doesn’t like getting up early.  However, I was able to make the rounds at the Quispamsis Community Yard Sale last spring.  He even started to get into it, especially after one lady started giving us stuff!  I was buying a computer chair ($10) from her, and Jim had two routers ($2 each).  She pointed out the “free pile,” which contained a dehumidifier and two boxes of computer network cable that Jim said were sold retail for about $1 a foot!  We grabbed them!  Other finds that day were an apple peeler for $3; a gooseneck pole lamp for $5; two non-stick muffin pans for $1 each; a laptop bag for $2 for my stepdaughter, Brianna; a pair of Robeez baby shoes for $5 and a nursing pillow for $4 for my unborn granddaughter; and several books.  My daughters, Anna and Hope, got a High School Musical dance game.   Hope even picked up a stuffed teddy bear for our dog, Jake, which he wasted no time destroying!  A month or so later, we went to the Hampton Community Yard Sale, and got a good haul of books, but not much else.

"The best apple peeler ever!" according to my stepson, Devin...

I’m looking forward to the sales again this year…it will be a lot easier getting our purchases into the back of the van instead of the Corolla!

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Filed under memories, shopping