Category Archives: memories

A Premature Passing; Pecans, Pesto, and Pizza; and the Plowman Pops In…

The past week was pronounced…no matter how I persevered, people persisted in being a pain in my patoot:

1. A Premature Passing.  On Wednesday night, I was poking into the family photo albums, looking for the prized pictures of phenom puck-passer, Wayne Gretzky, for the post I published for his prestigious birthday.  As I perused the pages, my dad was peering over my shoulder.  “Oh, was that when Anna was cremated?  You looked good there!” he proclaimed.

Taking pains to prevent the peals of laughter that would probably provoke my pop, I parried with “I think we’ll wait until after Anna dies to cremate her (my very much alive 16-year-old was standing next to me at the time).” 

Putting on a pained expression, Dad picked up on his mistake.  “You know I meant christened,” he pouted.

Anna...not quite ready to be cremated...

 

2. Pecans, Pesto, and Pizza.  Thursday, the “powers that be” proclaimed a snow day for public school pupils.  My “pets” pronounced it “Piss Off A Parent Day.”  Anna and Hope passed the day at the bookstore with me, plundering my purse for every penny.  They prevailed that they were “parched” and might “perish” if their pleas for payment were pooh-poohed.  When not pestering me, they picked at each other.  Anna proposed patronizing Pomodori for supper.  Jim and I permitted it, since I had no prior plan for our evening meal.  I ordered the Spinach Salad with Sugared Pecans, Feta, and Figs, something I’d been pumped to partake of.  The progeny both had Chicken Pesto Pizza, and Jim got Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza with hot peppers.  After paying with pre-purchased gift cards, we polished off our plates, and the girls took some pizza home in a package.

3. The Plowman Pops In.  I preach to people I know that I’ve got “the best plow guy in the world.”  He was that every other day but last Thursday.  On our way home from Pomodori, my phone rang.  My dad called to tell me he was stuck partway down the driveway…he had tried to power his way through the plentiful snowdrifts…the plow guy had not been there at all that day.  As we approached, we saw Dad shovelling behind the paused vehicle.  That was when the plow guy made his appearance, approaching from the other direction.  Jim parked by the side of the road, and the girls and I plunged through the knee-deep snow towards the house to get more shovels.  When we got there, we were exhausted.  I changed my socks and was at the door putting on my boots, when the plow guy came to the door.  He asked if I wanted to pay him!  I was more than a little peeved, thinking I’d be more inclined to pay him if he’d shown up before my dad’s car got buried up to its rims in pesky precipitation!  I wrote him a cheque (a preposterous amount, since he hadn’t asked for payment all winter!), and then waited as he plowed near the house so that I could get back out to where Dad’s car was.  I made it just in time for his car to be freed, and for Jim’s battery to die at the end of the driveway.  Dad parked his car in front of the garage, and then helped me push Jim’s car until it started again.  It was after 8 by the time we got in the house!  We plunked down on the couch.  We were all pooped!  Our pooch was pleased to see us…he parked himself on my chest and pushed his head up under my chin.  After a few minutes of “puppy love” the pains of our predicament were forgotten…

Puppy Love...(photo by Hope)

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I Was a Gretzky Groupie…Happy 50th, Wayne!

As a girl growing up with a younger brother in Southern Ontario (and two young male friends that lived nearby who we played with), I definitely wasn’t a “girly-girl.”  I rode bikes, played cops and robbers, rolled oil barrels across the back yard with my feet, kicked a soccer ball around, threw (and caught) baseballs, and played floor hockey.  I also had a pretty respectable collection of hockey cards, which I would “pitch” at school to win more.  My favourite hockey players when I was a kid were Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson (because they were “cute”…maybe I was a little bit girly)…my team was the Boston Bruins!  My brother was a Montreal Canadians fan (poor, misguided soul).  I would have played league hockey if I’d been able to skate and my parents could have afforded the equipment!

By the time I was a teenager, my love of hockey had cooled somewhat.  But then Wayne Gretzky came along!  Before he owned the Los Angeles Kings, he was part owner of the Belleville Bulls, our local Junior B hockey team.  And we just happened to live right across the road from the other co-owner!  Of course, Wayne would come over to socialize with his business partner, and I would be happy to get any glimpse I could of my teenage crush (even if it required binoculars to see down the incredibly long driveway…can you say stalker?)!  He was six months older than I was…I planned to marry him!

The eighteen-year-old me...probably daydreaming about Wayne...

One day, I found out that Wayne would be signing autographs at the Quinte Sports Centre, the arena where the Bulls played.  I borrowed my mom’s Pentax camera which was equipped with a zoom lens (she was a professional photographer) and got her to drive me into town.  I took my place in the long lineup, rehearsing what I would say to my future husband as I shot picture after picture of him.

"Man, it's hot in here..."

Finally, there were only two people between me and my skate boy…that’s when his handler announced to the unfortunate people still in the lineup that there wouldn’t be any more autographs signed that day.

"Really? I have to go now? There's still a lot of really cute girls in this line!"

It took me a while to get over Wayne…five years later, I married a radio guy who was an excellent golfer but didn’t play hockey!  Fifteen years after that, my husband and I were separated, but by then, Wayne had married that Janet girl…wonder what he saw in her? 

Happy 50th, Wayne!

*Sorry for the photo quality…these are pictures of pictures!

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My Favourite Place in the World…The Bay of Fundy

Since my posts this week have been in the “tourism” vein, I thought that rerunning this post from last April would be a fitting way to end the week…feel free to vote…we need all the help we can get:

For the last 26 years, I have lived within half an hour of my favourite place in the world: the amazing Bay of Fundy!  On the CBC news this morning, I learned that the Bay has made the finals of an international contest to designate the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  It’s the only Canadian nominee in a prestigious list of 28 tourist attractions which includes the Dead Sea, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest.  I’ll put “my Bay” up against those places any time…

Located on the east coast of Canada, the Bay of Fundy stretches some 170 miles between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (http://www.bayoffundytourism.com/).  It has the highest tides in the world: 50 feet (time between low and high tide is 6 hours and 13 minutes).  There’s even a blog about the Bay of Fundy: http://bayoffundy.blogspot.com .

My first experience with the Bay was when I lived in Moncton – we had relatives visiting from Ontario, and we took them to Hopewell Rocks to show them the huge flowerpot rocks carved by the powerful tides of the Bay.  I remember going down the many steps to the beach (and then huffing and puffing all the way back up!).

Hopewell Rocks at Low Tide...

After moving to Saint John in 1997, the Bay was literally five minutes away…this is where I discovered my beloved Bayshore Beach – the place I have already instructed my loved ones to scatter my ashes when I’m gone.  Bayshore was a “happinin’ place” in the early part of the 20th century, but fell out of favour when West Side residents started travelling more in cars.  The water at Bayshore is bone-chillingly cold a lot of the time…you wade in, and by the time you get to shin-depth, you’ve lost all feeling in your ankles – the kids still swim there though!  The beach is sandy, but also covered with interesting stones and seaweed, as well as driftwood.  The kids love looking for “beach glass,” small pieces of glass that have been worn smooth by the action of the sometimes violent waves of the Bay.  There are a few shells on Bayshore, mostly clamshells, and the occasional hermit crab.  A few years ago, I remember sitting on the beach for at least an hour, watching a small bright green beetle crawl around on my arm (people think I’m strange, but I happen to like insects that don’t bite me!).  Fog can roll in from the water at any time – the West Side is known for its natural air conditioning!

Bayshore Beach...

A few miles from Bayshore, the Irving Nature Park offers a picturesque mix of nature trails, beach, marsh area, and cliffs.  Each trail (varying lengths) is named for an animal found in the area: Squirrel, Seal, Deer, Heron, Frog, and Chickadee.  All trails are groomed with cedar chips.  We have spent many happy hours at the Nature Park…I remember seeing the biggest porcupine I’d ever seen there…he came lumbering out of the tall grass as we walked by, and then waddled off on his way.  Periwinkle shells, as well as pretty stones can be found on the beach at the Nature Park.  We also like to visit the park in the winter and toboggan down the big hill.  More athletic types bring their cross-country skis and use them on the trails.

Irving Nature Park Coastline...

If we want a change of pace, we hop in the van and travel 45 minutes to St. Martins.  There are caves there that we enjoy exploring at low tide.  Fishing boats equipped with lobster traps bob in the water nearby.  There are some beautiful nature trails on the Fundy Trail as well – in August, we take buckets along to harvest wild blackberries.  I’ll never forget my oldest daughter’s stricken expression when she found out after walking for an hour that the trails there weren’t circular like at the Nature Park – “You mean we still have to walk back to the van?!”  One of the most challenging trails is the Hearst Lodge Trail – I would recommend it only to people who enjoy fear!  After starting out on what we thought was a nice little walk, we arrived exhausted, muddy and traumatized at the Hearst Lodge some 2 hours later – not for the faint of heart!  I wondered why we saw people walking with ski poles on the way up, and I soon found out (note to self: flip the map over next time to see the level of difficulty before starting on the trail)!

St. Martins Caves at High Tide...

Another pleasant drive is in the other direction to St. Andrews (about an hour).  This charming little town was originally settled by the Loyalists – many of the original 18th century structures survive.  St. Andrews is known for the century-old Fairmont Algonquin Resort, the Kingsbrae Garden, the Huntsman-Aquarium Museum, and the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre.  Its main street is lined with boutiques and cafés…I enjoyed a lovely cup of blueberry tea there once.  We have also visited railway magnate William Van Horne’s 50-room mansion on Ministers Island – the island is accessible only at low tide.   

It would be awesome if the Bay of Fundy became of the official Seven Natural Wonders of the World…please place your vote here: http://www.new7wonders.com/en/index/.  Winners will be announced next  year.

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Remembering Haiti…One Year Later…

My friend Kathy at Reinventing the Event Horizon, asked her blogging friends to post something for Haiti on the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake there.  Kathy and her partner, Sara, currently live in Haiti…Sara works for one of the aid organizations providing help to the survivors.

Back in 1967, my dad was a minister at a small Methodist church in Oregon, Ohio.  I was six at the time…I asked my father to write this post, but he felt that I hadn’t given him enough time to do a proper job of it…this comes from a short interview I conducted with him:

Some of Dad’s friends from seminary were making a trip to Haiti in order to experience the abject poverty they’d heard about there.  They invited he and my mom to go with them.

My younger brother and I were sent to stay with some family friends, and my parents set off (with 3 or 4 other people) in our 1965 Chevy for Miami.  They survived their first-ever plane ride, landing safely in Port-au-Prince at the tiny airport.  Before the trip, the travellers had contacted local doctors and dentists and solicited donations of their free samples, and collected cotton clothing from whoever they could hit up…the goods were loaded on to an Air Force plane for delivery to Haiti.

The 13-person delegation (mostly couples and one single) was met by its host, a man from Indiana who had been doing relief work in Haiti for a number of years.  While they were there, this man was summoned for a meeting with “Papa Doc” (the Haitian dictator) – this caused a fair amount of concern among the visitors, but it turned out all right.  Papa Doc’s secret police, known locally as the Tonton Macoutes (from a Creole term for bogeyman), patrolled the streets in their WWII army fatigues, their sidearms in prominent view.  Dad reports that there was no trouble with them while he was there. 

The group was taken to a hotel, which would be its home for the next week.  According to my dad, the hotel was “nothing fancy”…he grew up in rural Ohio without indoor plumbing…I would imagine it was fairly rudimentary if that’s how he described it!  He said that the electrical wiring was just attached to the walls of the hotel rooms (there were flush toilets, however!).  The group was warned not to drink the water, or eat local fruits and vegetables.  They ate all their meals at the hotel, and were surprised at the end of their stay to find that a young man who looked about eighteen had been their “chef” for the week!  Sleeping was challenging…the locals would carry on vodou (the Haitian national religion) rituals late at night…my parents would often hear the chanting and the drums, something they’d never been exposed to in Ohio!

Dad and Mom travelled with the others when leaving the hotel…it was the only safe way.  There were kids begging everywhere, and young people with pencils or chalk and paper who offered to draw a picture for money.  “You could get anything for a dollar,” says Dad.  There were open air markets where my parents purchased a large drum, two smaller ones, a small wooden statue, a large wooden mask, and wooden figurines of a Haitian man and woman to put on the wall (I still have those today).  These items were all handmade.  Most Haitians they encountered were very dark-skinned and very poor…they lived in “whatever they could scrabble together”.  The average income at the time was less than $200 annually.  The mulattoes (mixed black and white) are the privileged class in Haiti, and live in neighbourhoods with houses similar to what you would see in Miami.

One of the group’s excursions was touring the new Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince, which had been opened by International Child Care that year to treat children with tuberculosis.  My mom was shocked to see three babies sharing a bed.  My dad says the smell in the facility was unbelievable.  There were also a couple of scary trips to the rural areas around the city on a rickety bus.  Dad recounts that they visited a house where one woman cared for about 70 orphans.  “She had a couple of women there to help her.”  The group attended a church service conducted in a three-walled structure: “There was no fourth wall…it was so warm there, they didn’t need one,” says Dad.

While they were in Haiti, my parents took more than a hundred slides, and made tape recordings of some of the things they’d heard.  The experience was life-changing for both of them.  When they came back home to Ohio, they presented their “Haiti Programme” to local people, who were moved by the photos of children with pot bellies and insects crawling on their faces, to donate money to Haitian relief efforts (many children did not live until their fifth birthday because of malnutrition).

Fast forward to 2011…it doesn’t seem that much has changed in Haiti since my parents travelled there more than 40 years ago.  The people there are probably worse off now…they are still dealing with corrupt politicians, natural disasters, haphazard infrastructure, high unemployment, low literacy, malnutrition, and now AIDS and cholera epidemics. 

I don’t have the answers…I hope this post will move my readers to think about what they can do to help alleviate some of the suffering in Haiti.

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They Call Me “Typhoid Wendy”…

It’s the story of my life…just when I get to love something, it gets taken away…I’m the kiss of death!

This weekend, one of my favourite live music venues is closing after eight years: The Blue Olive in Saint John, New Brunswick.  The owners have decided to put a new restaurant in the space.  We loved going to shows there because there are very few places for people like us in the city…when I say “people like us,” I mean folks who like to be home by 11 after enjoying a fine evening of entertainment accompanied by a couple of drinks (maximum).  I also enjoy exiting with most of my hearing, unlike other venues populated by somewhat younger patrons, where the thumping of the bass remains in your head like a piledriver until the next morning.  The entertainers who performed at Blue Olive were high-quality acts and reasonably-priced for those of us who have hungry teenagers to feed.  The Blue Olive helped fill the void left by the closures of venues such as Tapps, Melvin’s and Sessions Café, other places I used to hang out in before…it’s all my fault!

Jim and I had one of our first dates there...we saw Lenny Gallant...

Bands have broken up shortly after I’ve discovered them: Madrigal, Modabo, and Vetch…all fine regional acts from the late 90’s and early 2000’s which are now defunct, thanks to my adoration!

Oh, Modabo...Where are you now?

I’ve also been the cause of many restaurant closures in Saint John…sometimes the restaurant didn’t close…they just took my favourite thing off their menu!  Do you remember Wendy’s beautiful thick Chicken Wraps from the late ’90’s?  Gone.  I must have bounced too many chunks of chicken off of Hope’s head as she slept in her Snuggli while I ate lunch there on Saturdays!  Also gone from Wendy’s are their wonderful Spinach Salad and the Mandarin Chicken Salad…why?  I liked them…it’s all my fault!  When was the last time you saw the Mushroom Swiss Burger on their menu?  I killed that one too!  You’d think I’d get special consideration since they named the restaurant after me (sorry…that’s a lie…but Dave Thomas, the guy who started Wendy’s, is a fellow Ohioan)!  I dare not try their Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt…

My restaurant let me down...

Every Tuesday at the Saint John City Market, I used to go to Yogel’s for vegetable pie.  One day, they told me they didn’t make it any more…”not enough demand.”  Apparently, a customer travelling on a bus every week from the West Side to get their pie wasn’t enough.  I never ate there again, and sure enough, they closed within six months! 

Other eatery demises I caused were Keystone Kelly’s (club sandwich with sweet potato fries), Boilerworks (California pizza), Café Soha (Flipwiches), D’Amico (spinach salad, thin crust pizza and amaretto chocolate mousse cakes), Ming’s (Chinese food), and Barton’s (chicken burger platter).  I hope nobody finds out I like the spinach salad at Urban Deli or the chicken pesto pizza at Pomodori!  Oh, no…now I’ve done it!

I love their chicken pesto pizza...I mean, it's okay...

 

It happens with TV programs too!  I’ve lost track of the number of sitcoms I’ve killed.  Jenna Elfman rebounded from the end of Dharma and Greg to star in Accidentally on Purpose (cancelled after one season).  David Hyde Pierce of Frasier was a cast member on The Powers That Be, a satire about the First Family in the early ’90’s which had only a 20-episode run.  Before he hit it big in Modern Family, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell) was in a smart, funny sitcom called The Class, another one-season wonder.  His “sister” in Modern Family, Julie Bowen, appeared in Ed, one of my favourite defunct dramedies.  [whispering] I love Modern Family!

Jesse and Julie in a scene from "Modern Family"...re-enacting a childhood ice skating routine...

They’ve cancelled dramas I love from every setting…Cop shows: The Commish, The DistrictThird Watch  and Hill Street Blues…War shows: China Beach and Tour of Duty…Hospital shows: Chicago Hope, St. Elsewhere…School shows: The Education of Max Bickford, and Boston Public.  Even my favourite soap opera, Another World, was cancelled!  I love Kyle Chandler…he’s survived two dramas I loved: Homefront, and Early Edition.  I’m afraid to watch him in Friday Night Lights!

Kyle Chandler...I hope he doesn't strike out a third time...

So, to all the fans of the above places, bands, foods, and TV shows, I extend my humble apologies…maybe if I pretend not to care, the things I like will stick around a little longer!

DisclaimerThis is a satirical piece.  I’m pretty sure I’m not responsible for any of these things disappearing.  But I would be really happy to have some of them back!

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Still Learning in 2010…

Taking the lead from my blogging friends, Todd Pack, Izzie Darling, and Lady Justine, here’s a list of the things I learned this year…if you want to read the full story on any of these lessons, search a keyword or click the appropriate tag in the sidebar:

1. Our dog thinks porcupine poop is dessert.

2. Hope loves Jake enough to share her toothbrush with him.

3. Homemade rolls don’t have to be “pretty” to taste good.

4. Egg cartons are not good containers to start plants indoors in.

5. Dogs love to destroy egg cartons with seedlings in them.

6. Jim’s parents are our biggest supporters.

7. Bleachers are hard things to sit on for more than a couple of hours.

8. I am really out of shape.

9. Seeing a toy from your childhood 40 years later brings you right back to that time in your life.

10. If the winter is mild enough, spinach from last year can survive.

11. Maple vinaigrette makes spinach salad a beautiful thing!

12. There’s no such thing as “too many bird feeders.”

13. Squirrels can do amazing tricks to get to a bird feeder.

14. Some people keep their toilet paper in the breadbox.

15. Mothers-in-law are often right.

16. More people in Saint John knew when the new Costco was opening than were aware of the city’s 225th birthday this year.

17. Rhubarb runs amok if left to grow unchecked.

18. Orthodontists make more per hour than most of us.

19. Sometimes plants get a lot bigger than the seed package says they will…my five-foot sunflowers ended up being seven or eight feet tall!

20. I like portobello mushroom/swiss veggie burgers.

21. Our dog enjoys eating Popsicle sticks.

22. Cosmopolitan was a literary magazine back in the early 1900’s.

23. There is only one kind of hummingbird which frequents New Brunswick: the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

24. I love Mint Crisp M&M’s.

25. I learned what a “fisher” was, after seeing one cross the road in front of our car.

26. Before you construct a really big birdhouse, figure out where you’re going to put it and how to get it up there!

27. My dad’s a good singer, and I’m not the only one who thinks so!

28. They sell live ladybugs at Home Depot.

29. Right after you purchase twenty tomato plants, the forty you started from seed will rally.

30. Ladybugs aren’t always red with black spots…sometimes they’re brown with cream spots.

31. As long as they’re under warranty, Vogue Optical will replace glasses which have been chewed by a dog!

32. We have a cherry tree, and eight high-bush blueberries I’d never noticed before.

33. “Beaver Tails” are too expensive to buy now.

34. Hope really likes getting muddy.

35. Wallpaper is nearly impossible to find.

36. Hummingbirds are fearless.

37. The Chinese cabbage I planted is not the “head” type.

38. How to make good piecrust…the secret is lard.

39. Some people will ignore a sign that says: “Danger – Do Not Touch.”

40. Deer can be aggressive.

41. Organic broccoli often goes to seed faster than I can harvest it.

42. I love rutabaga!

43. I found out what “purslane” looks like.

44. It’s never a good idea to put a chicken burger into a toaster.

45. I don’t hate all sci-fi…I enjoy “Eureka.”

46. You can purchase a sailboat on the Internet.

47. Ripe canteloupe is not a good lunchbox food.

48. Picking things from the garden in the dark is really difficult.

49. I suck at “Musical Chairs.”

50. The blogging community is full of incredible people…I am so happy to have made their online acquaintances!

I’m looking forward to learning more in 2011!

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Charming Cherubs, Ghastly Greenery, and Other Holiday Highlights…

Christmas, 2010, is history in Hammond River…here are some highlights (and lowlights!)…you might want to pour yourself a cup of tea and grab a cookie or two…this is a long one:

1. Christmas Cabaret.  On Wednesday, Anna went to her high school’s Christmas Cabaret at the Lily Lake Pavilion at Rockwood Park.  She insists that she didn’t dance with any boys while she was there, but claims she had fun!

Anna before Cabaret...my little girl is growing up!

2. A Visit from “New Orleans Nick.”  Thursday evening, I came home from the bookstore with a killer migraine…I went upstairs to bed.  While I was up there, Jim’s cousin, Nick, stopped in enroute to Nick’s mom’s house in Fredericton.  Jim had bought a router for him to give to his mother as a Christmas gift along with a new computer Nick got for her.  Nick’s plane from Louisiana had landed in Bangor earlier that day, and he was driving from there to his mom’s.  I’m sorry I missed Nick…he has a pretty tight schedule when he comes home to visit! 

3. Ghastly Greenery.  I managed to kill my 2-year-old poinsettia by overwatering it, just in time for Christmas…this is how it looked before it went to the big compost bin in the back yard (note to self – look in the pot before watering…don’t just pour water on it blindly!).  The Christmas cactus (you can see the buds in the lower left corner of the photo) is doing fabulously, though:

Dead poinsettia in the kitchen window...

4. A “Touch”-ing Evening.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at Jim’s parents’ house, followed by opening presents with Devin and Brianna before they left for their mom’s house.  I let Anna and Hope unwrap one of their presents too…all the girls got iPod Touch’s (I wonder if the bank will give us a mortgage on a house we don’t own?).  Jim told Hope to turn hers over after she opened it…we had them engraved with the girls’ names.  “What does it say?” Jim asked.

“iPod!” Hope answered.

Hope with her new toy and her fleece sweater from Grammy and Grampy...the brown sweater behind her is one she gave Jim...

Devin’s big present was driving lessons, but we also got him a new chair for his computer desk.  I got him a new sandwich maker that doesn’t require a twist tie to hold the two sides together…nothing but the best for our boy!

5. The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas,

And all over the floor,

A creature was puking

And leaving piles galore…

Jake had been the recipient of the ham bone from our dinner at Grammy’s house…he wasted no time in attacking it, much to his later regret (and ours).  Jake threw up all night and half of Christmas Day…during a somewhat hysterical holiday phone call, our local vet managed to talk me down out of my (Christmas) tree, assuring me that Jake was “a victim of his own excess” and that he would probably be fine.  The doctor didn’t see our water-hating dog climb into the bathtub (twice), or fall asleep standing up while desperately trying to find a comfortable position!  The vet ended up being right, though…thanks, Dr. B.!  Thanks also to my dad, who did most of the cleanup duty! 

6.  Operation Stocking Complete.  I managed to finish Elise’s handmade crocheted Christmas stocking at Jim’s parents’ on Christmas Eve while the kids were opening presents…considering I completely made up the pattern (except for the snowflakes), I think it came out pretty well!

Elise's one-of-a-kind crocheted stocking...snowflakes on other side too...

 

7. Our Green Christmas Came Early.  About 7 a.m., Hope opened our bedroom door and called up to Jim and I that it was time to open presents…I was grateful that she’d gone to bed late (otherwise, she might have had us up at five!).  We stumbled downstairs in our jammies, and sat on the couch while the kids piled presents in our laps as fast as we could open them (they did open some themselves, in between).  I got lots of chocolate (just what I need…not!), gift cards (yay!), and a promise of a trip (without kids) to Prince Edward Island with Jim sometime in the early season (can’t wait!).  Jim and Devin also did an upgrade and installed a new flat-screen monitor on my home computer (the old one was on its last legs!).  Thanks, Honey!  I think Jim liked the dress wool jacket I got for him (sometimes procrastination pays off – 40% off two days before Christmas…score!), and the tickets to The Who tribute concert in January at the Imperial Theatre.  He’s also planning to buy a snazzy new lens for his camera later on…I’ll kick in some funds for that too!

I had just nicely finished my breakfast about 10 a.m., when I realized how many presents were still under the tree awaiting Kaylee and Scott’s arrival…I thought it would be a good idea to suggest they allow extra time to stop at home and drop off presents before proceeding to their next destination after our house…Scott’s car is rather small!  I was talking to Kaylee on the phone when it suddenly went dead…they walked in the door two seconds later, a full two hours before we were expecting them!  They’d been on the go since 5:30 that morning, but hadn’t had breakfast…I switched into “Mommy mode” and started a bagel/toast production line for everybody who was hungry…

Elise had already had some practice opening presents at Uncle Sean’s that morning, and Grampy Paul’s the night before…she was starting to get the hang of it.  Jim took this photo of Elise opening her Etch-A-Sketch/Magna Doodle combo:

Elise opening her presents Christmas Day...

I think Elise’s favourite presents were the soft baby doll I got her, the Potty Elmo from Auntie Anna, and the Little People Farm from Grandad.  I think Kaylee and Scott were happy to have the portable highchair Grandad got for them…it even goes into the dishwasher!  Kaylee liked the tickets for the Great Big Sea concert Jim and I gave her, and Scott seemed to like the lined hoody I got him (plain black, of course).  He wondered if the shaving cream in his stocking might have been some kind of hint…

Elise was exhausted by the time she was finished…they took her home for a nap about lunchtime.  I started making my rolls for our Boxing Day/Christmas Dinner the next day.

About suppertime, we got ready to go over to Jim’s parents for Christmas Dinner with them and Jim’s sisters…unfortunately, Jim’s sister, Kim, wasn’t feeling well.  Her husband, Chris, came and picked up plates for them to take home.  We had another scrumptious dinner with turkey and all the trimmings, and apple pie for dessert!  Yummy!  Jim’s sister, Tracy, played Santa Claus and passed out presents.  Jim’s parents got me some more gift cards, a beautiful set of three bracelets, and a long-sleeved top.  Jim got a nice sweater, a shirt and a pair of pants.  Jim’s mom and dad liked the printer we got them, the Sears gift card, and the shaped 1000-piece dragon puzzle Anna and Hope gave them.

We went to bed soon after we got home…it was a busy day!

8. No One Was Punched on Boxing Day (they waited until the next day).  In Canada, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday the day after Christmas…pretty much everything is closed.  It was after I made everybody a sausage and scrambled egg breakfast that I discovered I hadn’t left us enough eggs to make my stuffing and Jim’s dressing later in the day.  I started making my stuffing and getting the turkey ready to go into the oven (I used my new food processor to cut the celery and onions), while Jim made an emergency egg run to Shoppers Drug Mart (thank goodness they have eggs!).  Devin and Brianna came back from their mom’s…before she left, they showed us their new chihuahua puppy, Azul, who was a lovely shade of gray-brown, very unusual colour for that breed. 

The snowstorm started soon after that, and continued through Monday until we had about a foot of snow. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon peeling and cutting vegetables for our dinner: carrots and rutabaga from the garden, squash from our garden (from the freezer), potatoes, broccoli, and corn.  Jim made his dressing, and the gravy…we danced around each other in the kitchen…it’s not my favourite thing having people there when I’m cooking!  I tried unsuccessfully to find my Christmas tablecloth and placemats…no luck!  My stuffing got soggy in the top of the potato pot because I had so many potatoes in it…I tried to dry it out in the oven a little bit.  Everything took longer than I thought it would, and I ended up serving it about 30 minutes later than I intended to.  The kids were all sitting around the table waiting by the time I brought the food in (I think Elise was already eating carrots!).  The buns were delicious…

Buns, fresh from the oven...

 And so was our blueberry/blackberry pie I took out of the freezer for dessert…remember this?

Blueberry/Blackberry pie I made this fall...

After a day of doing dishes and finally getting around to making a couple of loaves of lemon bread, I’m back at the bookstore today…glad to get back to my routine!

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Winter Tales…

Long-time readers of my blog know that I was born in Ohio, and spent the first eight years of my life there.  Winter in Ohio is kind of “hit and miss”…sometimes you have snow, but not very much, and sometimes it gets cold, but not very cold (at least, not by Canadian standards, where I live now!)…

When there was snow in Ohio, my brother, Jeff, and I would put on our snowpants and boots, and take out our sleds, which had metal runners…generally, they didn’t work very well because more than three inches is a lot of snow in Ohio, and doesn’t happen a lot!  We had better luck with our red “flying saucer”…which looked a lot like a giant Frisbee with rope handles.  Our back yard in Oregon (a suburb of Toledo) had a big hill which was fine for “flying.”

We moved to Ontario when I was eight…Jeff and I were ecstatic to live where there was snow pretty much continuously from mid-November through February (and sometimes March)!  Our parents bought us a big wooden toboggan, and we also had Crazy Carpets to use by ourselves.  We had lots of snow the winter of 1970-71…my dad would pile the snow he shovelled out of our driveway at the end of it, where there was a deep ditch.  With the snowpile being about ten or twelve feet high, we had a great long run from the top of the pile down into the ditch…often we didn’t even bother using vehicles…we’d just slide on the bums of our snow-encrusted layers of jeans (we’d outgrown our snowpants by then – we’d just put on 2 or 3 pairs of pants and play until we were soaked to the skin!).

Here's a picture of Jeff and I standing on top of our snowpile in the winter of 1970-71...yes, those are power/phone lines beside our heads!

We had great fun sliding behind/beside the Rednersville house too!  I remember at least one occasion when my brother and I were on the toboggan together and going very fast, when suddenly, we stopped dead and we both flew off the toboggan landing face-first in the snow.  We weren’t hurt, and couldn’t stop laughing because when I emerged from the snowbank, the snow had packed itself into my glasses!

There was a big field beside the house.  One winter, we’d had freezing rain, which had created a beautiful crust on about eight inches of snow…it was so slippery, you could barely walk on it!  Our family decided to take advantage of the excellent conditions and got out the toboggan.  That was the only time I recall my mom actually going out sliding with us (Dad came out quite often).  Mom sat on the toboggan by herself, and Dad let go when she was ready.  A minute or two later, we heard a thump and a blood-curdling yell: “Dave…I think I broke my back!”  My mom had “found” the one apple tree in the middle of the field!  Dad made his way out to the scene of the accident, loaded Mom back onto the toboggan, and pulled it to the car.  After we were all in, we left for the emergency room.  Mom’s back wasn’t broken, just badly bruised!

We were lucky at the Rednersville house to have 43 acres of land with a big hill behind us.  With our friends, Jimmy and Dougie, we could go to the top of the hill, and slide several hundred feet, almost all the way back to the house.  Crazy Carpets were the best vehicle for that, once the trail was established.  One winter, there was a friendly dog around which we christened “Wolfie” because he sort of looked like one.  Wolfie used to like to jump on our backs as we hurtled down the hill on our stomachs on our Crazy Carpets.  The worst injury we ever got was ending up in thorn bushes!

A couple of times, my best friend, Angela, took me out “Skidooing” in the woods behind her house.  We were about eleven, I think (snowmobiles were a lot smaller then).  That was always fun!  My dad hated it when snowmobilers trespassed on our property…he’d go out and yell at them until they left!

I moved to New Brunswick in 1984…winter was different again…you could have snow in late October, right through April sometimes!  There is also not much of a spring…you can literally go from wearing your parka to wearing shorts (and back again, sometimes several times).  There is no gradual warming like we had in Ontario.

I lived in Moncton in February of 1992 when an all-time snowfall record was broken…Moncton had a total of fourteen feet of snow that month in THREE storms.  The biggest storm was on February 1st.  At the time, I worked at a non-profit agency which was about a 10-block walk from our apartment, and we didn’t have a car.  Buses were off the road.  I walked to work, wearing a skirt (I was wearing other clothes too!).  When we got to the building, there was a snowbank about twelve feet high in front of it!  I met one of my co-workers outside, and together we decided to go around the corner and get a coffee, in hopes that our boss might arrive soon, equipped with a shovel to dig a path to the front door!  We had our coffee, and went back to work…everything was as it was when we left.  Since it was already past time to start work, I decided to bite the bullet, and climb the snowbank!  I probably didn’t resemble a mountain goat very much in my long black wool coat, and knee-high boots as I clambered up the hill.  When we arrived in the office, there was our boss, clad in a snowmobile suit…she had come in the back door, and hadn’t thought about us trying to get in the front!  I never liked her!

I tried to find public domain photos of the big Moncton snowstorm on the Internet, but failed.  I remember a paint store on St. George St. cutting “windows” in the snowbank in front of their store and setting paint cans in them to let people know they were there!

Winters in Moncton could be very cold too…I remember one year that we had three solid weeks of windchills between -30 and -36 C. (which is almost the same temperature in Fahrenheit).  School was never cancelled for cold weather, and every day I walked Kaylee the three blocks to her elementary school.  It’s a wonder we didn’t turn into Popsicles!

I moved to Saint John, New Brunswick in November of 1997.  Winters are milder in this area due to the proximity to the ocean.  There are a lot of freeze/thaw cycles, and a lot more ice.  We had some freezing rain in November of 2007 when my dad was undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer.  About 6:30 a.m., he was walking to the bus stop to go to the hospital, and ended up flat on his back in the driveway two doors from our house.  He got up, and continued on his way.  While Dad was having his treatment, he mentioned that he’d had a fall and that he might need an X-ray.  The X-ray confirmed that he’d cracked five ribs.  I didn’t find out about the accident until several hours later…when I asked Dad why he didn’t just come back home, he said, “I didn’t want to mess up their schedule at radiation!”  Sometimes, my dad’s so stoic, I just want to shake him!  I was glad he wasn’t more seriously injured though!

We moved to Hammond River the following year…there’s a little more snow here than in town, and it gets a little colder, but we love it!  I’ve got the best snowplow guy in the world, which is a good thing because our driveway is a quarter mile long…way too much to shovel!  He always has us plowed out by 7 a.m.  When we can get them off their computers, the kids go out sliding, or skating at the little pond down the road.  Here’s a photo of Jim and I taken in January of 2009…not much snow then:

Wendy and Jim beside our house in Hammond River...that's the back yard behind us, and the view of the hills on the other side of the river...

 It’s been raining all week, with more to come…I hope we get some snow before Christmas!

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“No, Virginia…There is No Fruitcake Fairy”, and Other Holiday Truths…

Well…here it is…December 6th, and I am being struck by some harsh holiday truths:

1. There is no Fruitcake Fairy.  Somehow, Jim and I completely forgot about making his Grammy Clark’s fruitcake this year (usually a project we undertake while others are getting ready for Halloween).  I remembered it this weekend…too late!  Our kids won’t care (fruitcake haters, all!), but I’m sure Jim’s relatives who we normally give it to might notice its absence!  I happen to love fruitcake…I will miss it!

2. Times have changed.  Gone are the days when I made all my own Christmas gifts (1970’s), sent a Christmas letter every year (1980’s), or had all my Christmas shopping done by the end of October (1990’s).  Crap!  I’ve got to buy the stuff to send to relatives in Ontario – mail service has also gone downhill!

3. I’d rather have a real tree.  Artificial Christmas trees shed worse than real ones…allergies prevent us from having a real one.  The poor thing looks more decrepit every year…

4. Decking the Halls is fun “De-decking” is not.  I think it was March last year before we took the lighted candy canes off the outside of the house.  They have yet to reappear.

5. Gingerbread men have lost their charm.  Children lose their enthusiasm for holiday baking as they get older.  When asked if they wanted to help make Christmas cookies this year, the girls’ response was the equivalent of “Meh!” 

6. They should sell Scotch tape equipped with a homing device.  Finding tape to wrap presents when one needs it in our house is something akin to locating the Holy Grail.  Our tape ends up in young Justin Bieber fans’ bedrooms holding up posters of their heartthrob…(and no, Hope…you can’t have JB for Christmas!  We have enough teenagers, thanks!).

7. The cost of the present the kids want is directly proportional to how much money is in your bank account.  The less you have, the more expensive the present.  Teenagers find it so much easier to spend their parents’ money than their own!  On a related note, you are obligated to spend the same amount of money on each child, down to the penny (they keep track!).

8. I still cry when I hear “Silent Night”.  No matter where I am, this song still makes me burst into tears…it reminds me of my grandparents, who died many years ago.  My family members stiffen when they see “Silent Night” in the programme of any Christmas concert we’re at…”Oh, man…get out the Kleenex!  They’re gonna sing that song!”  It’s even more embarrassing when I turn into a basket case listening to Muzak in the mall!   

9. Christmas cards are passé.  I used to send out about 40-50 cards every year.  That was back when stamps were 6 cents each (okay, I’m exaggerating…I’m not that old!).  This year, I will probably send them to elderly relatives who don’t have e-mail yet (I should probably pick some up soon – cards, not relatives).  I will also use the opportunity to get rid of the approximately 187 wallet-size school photos we purchased. 

10. Taking a decent family Christmas photo of 10 people and a dog is really difficult.  This is the one we settled on yesterday after about 20 takes (Elise was watching the Garfield Christmas special on TV):

Hammond River Holiday Photo. Front: Hope, Anna with Jake, Brianna, Devin. Back: Jim, Wendy, Dave (Grandad), Scott with Elise, Kaylee.

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Chimney Sweeps, CDs, Cinnamon Buns, and Curios…

On Monday night, I got a call from the company I’d called about cleaning the chimney last week…was very pleased because I’d expected to be waiting a lot longer than three days to get an appointment!  Here’s the history:  The first year we moved into the house (Nov. 29, 2008), we had a guy come and clean the chimney…he came just after Christmas (about a month after I called him…he was “backed up”).  I called the same guy in September of 2009.  He was still “backed up,” and also having some sort of surgery soon.  He said he’d put me “on the list.”  He never showed up!  I took him off my list this year…I called another guy (I’m a big believer in “getting a guy” to do things we can’t do, despite my dad offering to do it…I love him, but he doesn’t know anything about chimney cleaning!).  Even though he was listed in the Yellow Pages under “chimney cleaning” the guy told me he’d given it up: “too much liability” and “people don’t want to pay enough.”  He suggested the third company I called last Friday.  The man I talked to on Monday told me they would be in my area on Tuesday afternoon, so I stayed home from the bookstore to let him in.  It was a nice bonus…the house to myself for most of the day…yay!  I would use the time to listen to my music, make cinnamon buns, and play on the computer.

I got up on Tuesday morning, and got Jim and the kids out the door before having a shower…I debated getting dressed, but thought I should have clothes on for the chimney guys (as opposed to pyjamas)!  I skipped makeup, though, and never touched my hair again after brushing it when I got out of the shower.

I put on the first CD while I made myself tea and Toad in the Hole (with a bagel) for breakfast: Richard Shindell‘s Courier.  Wonderful!

I ate my breakfast, started the dishwasher, and started making the cinnamon bun dough:

Dough after mixing, before first rise...

An hour later, it looked like this:

Dough after first rise...

I punched it down, and covered it to rise again.  I put Meg Hutchinson‘s The Living Side on.  Her favourite of mine is Come Up Full.  I played on my computer some more.  Here’s the dough after the second rise:

Dough after second rise...

In the meantime, the guys arrived to clean the chimney…I put the baby gate up in the family room to keep Jake from terrorizing them.  On his way down the basement stairs, I mentioned to the head guy that the stovepipe might need to be replaced.  “You didn’t tell me that last night,” he muttered.  “I don’t have parts with me!”  He took his vacuum cleaner down to do the cleaning.  I took my dough in the dining room, and rolled it out, spread it with butter, sprinkled it with brown sugar and cinnamon, and then rolled it up.  Then I sliced the roll for the cinnamon buns:

Cinnamon buns before third rise...

While they rose, I ate lunch and listened to Rose CousinsThe Send Off…here’s what the buns looked like before I put them in the oven:

Cinnamon buns after third rise - ready to go in the oven...

The chimney guys finished their work within an hour…poor Jake spent the time running from one end of the house to the other, not sure which direction to bark at: Were the bad guys outside, in the basement, or by the back door?  I wrote them a check for $96 and change…the head guy told me they had used foil tape to patch the stovepipe (the same thing the other guy had done two years ago…foil tape must be chimney guys’ duct tape!).  After the workers left, I put the cinnamon buns in the oven…keeping with the “cinnamon” theme, I played a tribute album to Neil Young called Cinnamon Girl.   About 35 minutes later, the buns were ready to take out.  Hope came home from school, and we’d eaten three of them before I realized I’d forgotten to take a picture of the finished product…Hope took this one:

Finished cinnamon buns...yummy!

One of the hard parts about being a working mom is that I rarely get time with my kids “one-on-one.”  I took advantage of the hour-and-a-half Hope and I had to ourselves before Jim and Anna would be home for supper.  I took the opportunity to show Hope the dollhouse furniture my mom and her sisters used to play with in the late 1940’s…I had loved it as a child, and she had never seen it.  Hope is the only one of my kids who was really into dolls!  She had a great time arranging the furniture and tiny dolls:

The Bedroom (twin beds, of course!)

 

The Kitchen...

 

The Bathroom...please avert your eyes while the baby finishes up...

 

The Living Room, complete with piano and hi-fi...

While Hope played with the dollhouse stuff, I put on a pork roast and rice for supper.  By the time Jim and Anna got home, we had picked everything up…

It was a good day at home…

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