Sunday, October 31, 2010

Confessions of a Closet Halloween Dreader

Image Credit: Biro-Art
The trick or treating was fun – a one night chance for a candy haul of a lifetime – or at least a year. In a time when our parents did not routinely disperse or buy candy for no apparent reason, Halloween was a fantastical free for all. The goal was simple – fill your pillow case as many times as possible before your parents made you call it a night.

My anxieties over Halloween started when I was a little kid, first centred on the costume we were expected to wear to the mandatory classroom party, year after year. We were a household of homemade costumes, fashioned from the odds and sods from our tickle trunk: billowing velvet church hats, cast off shirts from Dad’s closet, glittery belts, scarves and the occasional remnant from the school play. The pressure was on to look as least as good as my classmates.

One year in particular my mom came up with the ingenious idea of dressing me like Aunt Jemima ... no doubt inspired by our breakfast of frozen waffles. She showed me how to apply black shoe polish over cold cream and tie a red bandana around my head. She sent me proudly off with pillow in hand (to stuff under my apron) and the promise of a great get-up. All hopes were dashed though when the teacher gave the announcement for the students to get into costume for the party – and she added that make-up was not allowed. Cr@p! My heart sank as I stuffed the pillow up my “dress” and tried in vain to tie the kerchief around my head.

“What are you supposed to be – a hobo?” Damn those “best costume” contests!

As a working mother of three, Halloween was a frenzied night of racing home from work to feed the kidlets, carve the pumpkin, and get them painted and dressed up before heading out into the cold night. The night costumes were different of course from the ones I sent them to school with -- they had to be able to fit a winter coat under them for trick or treating. Ideas! I usually ran out of them but like my childhood, we used the contents of the tickle trunk to create a costume.

Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing the kids dressed up – eyes dancing and squealing with excitement. Truth be told, I enjoy it a whole lot more from the sidelines as a dispenser of treats than I did as a mother of trick or treating monsters. The pressure is off and the battle scars are almost healed.

Remind me to tell you about the disastrous homemade ghost costume (KKK to the neighbours) calamity...

HAppY HAllowEEn everyone ... on this 600th post!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baby Steps

Just a short note to say that the little "talk" I had with myself is working. I have a renewed zest for Bran Flakes and exercise. I went to the gym this week for the first time in 4 months! Do you know what work out clothes smell like when they have been in the bag that long? And maybe, just maybe I forgot to wash them the last time I wore them; and maybe, just maybe I forgot to open my bag since then. Yikes. But it's a great strategy to get alone time on the treadmill. I cleared the joint out fast. I felt like Pig Pen on Charlie Brown, with a little cloud of mustiness following me around.

Anyway, the good news is that I think I actually lost one of my rolls! And I was surprised at how long I could run on the treadmill without becoming breathless ... although it always helps when you are trying to get away from yourself. Every once in a while I would spritz a little of that cleaning disinfectant into the air to disperse the "cloud".

I have a lot of work to do to tone up these sagging "muscles" but when I stand in mirror. I swear I see the shadow of six pack struggling to be freed. Then again, I wasn't wearing glasses ...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Friend requests. They’re popping in like crazy: school chums, co-workers from as far back as my first job, college pals and distant relatives. Being Linked in, Facebooked, and blogged has its perks. With each special person I add, I feel another connection to my past – to my whole. Every meaningful relationship I have had in my life has served as a tether, anchoring me to my memories and the events and milestones that shaped me; each one owning a different piece of my history.

What happens when we start to lose those anchors? I have always said that it’s no wonder a lot of old people are cranky. Imagine the losses they have survived. They have buried grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, friends, spouses and many – their own children. Most of their tethers have been severed. There is no one alive who remembers the young version of themselves; as a baby or youngster full of spirit; as a fresh faced teen full of dreams and in love; and the dancing, laughing, vibrant, playful version of themselves.
We look at the faces of our elderly, wrinkled - their experiences mapped into deep creases, eyes that are slightly recessed and droopy – and I wonder if we are fooled by their appearance. It’s easy to miss the beauty, for now it is found in different places. It is no longer in the sway of her hips, or the glisten of her hair, nor in his commanding posture or strength of his hold. It is in the tone of her voice, softened with time; it is in the wisdom born of accumulated experience; it is in the endless hours they spend sharing what they have learned; and it is in the unconditional “thank you” they whisper in your ear when you have listened to them. It is in the tightest of hugs, embellished with sincerity and the disbursement of unencumbered advice. Our elders are free from the shackles of perception; they live authentically in the knowledge that nothing is gained by nor does time permit, reinvention.

I was fortunate in that I was raised in the safe, nurturing bosom of a large extended family. Some of my favourite memories are of nights I spent at my grandma’s apartment, drinking coffee (and later on – beer) when I wasn’t supposed to; learning the fox trot and cha cha; playing cards for pennies and interrogating her for hours about her girlhood. She answered freely – how she dealt with her first period; her wicked obsession with playing baseball in Sundays (long pants concealed under her dress); about the love she didn’t get from her mother; how she found love; and provided juicy details about the advice her mother gave her on her wedding night. As she would talk, she would transform before my very eyes … I could see the dark haired beauty swinging the bat and standing nervously at the altar … I could see her as a girl and a woman, not so different than myself.

Now with half my life lived, I have lost some important tethers and I feel my anchor fraying. But in our family, we are blessed with the love of conversation and sharing. We keep our memories alive and vivid with each recount; with each famjam. Watching my girls, nieces, and nephews chatting with my Dad, T and Doris, listening to their stories, asking questions, debating issues - warms my heart. They know there is much to be learned - the juicy stuff – and all they have to do is ask - and listen. And THAT is what lodges the anchor permanently.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fog and Faith

I drove into work this morning in fog so dense that I could only see the tail lights of the car in front of me. It was surreal; the towers of lights that line the highways wore halos and gave off a soft glow and everything else was shrouded in white thick mist. Perfect for Halloween. Happy to have my new glasses.

It occurred to me that driving in fog is alot like living - with only the road directly in front visible to us. We are aware that there is more, that other roads and possibilities are within reach, sensed but not seen, and they become revealed to us gradually, in their own time with shifts and changes. I suppose that is what faith is … the confidence in knowing that if you stay the course, life will be revealed as it should. And it has.

How exciting is that?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Eyes Have It

It's quite an adventure, driving to work in the dark. It's a crap shoot guessing which lane the cars in front are driving in and it gets really "thrilling" when I can't discern if the oncoming traffic is in my lane or on the other side of the meridian. But it's time to quell the daredevil inside me and face the truth -- I need glasses.

I don't know why I haven't dealt with it sooner; maybe I didn't want glassed permanently perched on my already less than attractive nose, probably looking more like a senior than I want to. Maybe I don't want something else to misplace (after all, I burned through 3 pairs of sunglasses in 10 days this summer in Kenya). And probably I am just plain lazy.

Tonight I exercised due diligence and went in search of glasses. I had my eyes examined and the news wasn't all bad:

Doc: Wow - they're really nicely shaped
Me: Really?  Haven't heard that in a while
Doc: Your retinas are fantastic looking.
Me: Gee thanks. **blushing** No one's ever said that to me before
Doc: You've gotta be pleased with yourself
Me: Well ... I guess I do OK...
Doc: Seriously -- FIFTY and you still have a great pair.
Me: Excuse me?
Doc: It won't take much to help those FIFTY year-old eyes see the highway better.
Me: You lost me at FIFTY ...

So tomorrow I will pick up the sturdy but inexpensive (pulled the frames from the "limited" selection in the clearance bin), glare resistant, shatter proof, UV coated glasses that will help me see the road. The highways just got safer ... and that's a good thing!

Actually - it was good news; although I struggle to read the microscopic print on the back of pill jars, my eyesight still did not warrant bifocals (per the Doc). My weak drugstore cheaters will do just fine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Self - With Love

Dear Self,
I have been wanting to write to you for a while now, to remind you of a promise to made to yourself. You have been fifty for more than six months now and you had wanted this to be the year you got fit and healthy. I noticed that you have been complaining alot lately about your stiff and sore joints. You had been on the right track, exercising regularly, eating healthy and things were really looking up. You almost found your waistline ... but I hate to break it to you -- you are way off course.

Let's start with the obvious ... do you like your chin? Which one? You are sporting a collection! And those extra flaps around your arms will come in handy should you become airborne - you'll surely land safely. Your waistline is once again MIA and you have muffin toppers on top of your muffin toppers. You have to suck in two big breaths to button up those jeans of yours -- and don't even think about exhaling. Belly fat has congregated around your middle and is holding a rally! I know how you hate the way your back cleavage rivals your front ... but what are you going to do about it?

You used to go to the gym three times a week and take noon hour strolls. Now you have planted your posterior in your seat for hours on end at work, and filed exercise in the bottom drawer. The result -- other than an a$$ flatter than a pancake -- is a general sluggishness about you. You are looking bloated, are experiencing pain, and I can tell that you feel stuck in a rut.

But I have known you all your life and I know that once you set goals for yourself, internalize them and then take those first steps towards them, you can achieve anything. I think you deserve to have your outside reflect your youthful, energetic, optimistic spirit. You will need your body for years to come to take you where you want to go, and to live the life you are creating for yourself. It's time to give yourself a gift of health and fitness.

So Self, I hope you don't mind me being direct with you; I thought you needed a swift and sturdy kick in the behind. But hey, it's all because I love you. Keep in touch.

Until next time, with love,

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Women for Women

I just got word that my Women for Women sister Monica will be graduating from the program at the end of October. It is hard to fathom that a year has passed already since that first glimpse of her in the black and white picture sent in the WFW sponsorship kit. I can remember thinking that her stare was that of someone who harboured alot of pain and her face bore evidence of hard living.

Monica is from the Sudan - mother of seven children at age 23. I wrote her many letters as recommended and although we are cautioned that the women may not be able to reciprocate, I had hoped to hear from her -- how her life was going. No matter. It is my deepest hope that the year spent being loved by a far away sister and supported by Women for Women has given her stable legs and renewed strength to go forward with her life. I have to write her a final letter that will serve as our goodbye -- and then -- I can look forward to learning about my new sister.

Women have been supporting one another forever as long as I can remember. My mom once likened her "coffee dates" with the neighbourhood ladies to a support group. I would hear snippets of their conversations as they stirred their instant coffee as I wandered through the kitchen - invisible. Brainstorming ideas -- how to afford night school; who could babysit the kids; birth control issues; how to meet the demands of husbands and kids. They would clean one another's houses, watch each other's children and pool together to sew curtains and paint bedrooms. Women supporting other women -- and that is what I love about WFW.

I just hope Monica has someone who loves her enough to wrap their arms around her weary shoulders and tell her that they love her. I hope Monica can feel the love and power of half of the planet's population pulling for her-- yearning for her survival and sur-thrival.

Stay tuned for future introductions to my new sister ....

My other posts about Women for Women

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beautiful Weekend

When last I was at the cottage, the cooler autumn air had moved in however the leaves were still decked out in lush green finery, save the odd crimson maple leaf. Something I have been thoroughly enjoying is the endless array of photography opportunities and as I lay stretched out on the dock, I imagined how great it was going to be to capture the colourful autumn splendour. It was not to be.

During the weeks that have passed since that notion on the dock, autumn arrived along with high winds and was pretty much out the door by the time we landed back up North this weekend. The trees lining the lane way were mostly bare with only a few tops dusted in burnt orange and yellows. My dream of experiencing my favourite season at my favourite special haven will have to wait. But there was still beauty to be found.
Dock in Hibernation

Designer Wood

Autumn Skies

Birches in Waiting
So I went up North hoping for something - and getting something different - but it was all good. The weekend served up two perfect days of clear, crisp sunny weather; for the first time ever we had hot water (yippee) and I even managed a shower in the claw tub. Hubby kept the fire burning and we even got the temps up in the cottage up past 9 degrees Celsius -[translation] we couldn't see our breath. Lots of hard work chopping and piling wood and lots of time to reflect, read and be with Hubby and Fritz.

Hope wherever you are, that your weekend was filled with the beauty of the season - even if it wasn't quite what you expected.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Migrating Parents

Tonight I am staring yet another long weekend in the eye - with mixed emotions. It's migration time for my snowbird Dad and his wife; they leave for their Florida home tomorrow. That means I'll beep at a dark empty house as I speed by on my way to work. There will be no afterwork impromptu drop in visits and no hugs for the next two months. Debating the upcoming municipal elections with my Pops long distance will have to do.

It's the classic "you don't know what you have til it's gone" syndrome; only I know what I have and I miss it when it's gone. At my age I realize what a blessing it is to still have at least one parent alive and thriving. And as he so often reminds me, our relationship extends past that of father-daughter and has become one of close, dear friends. No mandated, obligatory relationship here ...

So we had our "last supper" of sacred meatloaf and communal wine tonight and said our farewells. Pops and I do the good bye dance really well -- NOT! We embraced tightly (but briefly) and kept it light. I hugged the ladies and we all agreed that time will fly and that they will be home before we know it.

Let's hope so. Travel safe my dear snowbirds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spirit Triumphant

There are barely words to describe it ... the emotion that is swelling in my heart and overcoming my very being. The last Chilean miner finally reached the surface; finally released from entrapment; finally free.

Is the whole world glued to this miraculous ending to a story so incredible, it wouldn't fly as fiction? God bless each and every one of them. That is the thought that pops into my head.

Apparently the miners were more intent on being the last one rescued, that being the first to exit; their caring for one another remained paramount; not a shred of selfishness. As the last miner emerged and embraced the Chilean President he commented, "That was a 70 day shift!" Humour intact. There are lessons to be learned here ...

In times when we are long on tragedy and disaster, the courage and resolve of these miners and their sterling spirit are balm for the soul. Their solidarity and determination in the face of adversity inspires and restores our hope.

Tonight there are at least 33 families on the planet who will slumber more peacefully - and the rest of the world will breath a collective sigh of relief.     e x h a l e

Monday, October 11, 2010

Moments in Time

Her eyes sparkled and she smiled as she sat propped up with pillows on the sofa. We hugged her tightly as we greeted her and she tentatively touched our arms, polite in her non recognition of us. She is a short little lady and I couldn't help but notice how much less of her there was to hug. Mr Tibbs the rambunctious Sharpei sat vigil at her feet, never taking his eyes off her.

We chatted about pleasantries; we told her that she had just had a birthday and that she was now 98 years old. Her eyebrows lifted  in surprise and she exclaimed, "I am turning into an old lady", She laughed along with us. We complimented her on her crimson coloured finger nails (yup - blazing red) and she explained that a very nice lady had put them on for her. We told her that it was Thanksgiving and that we were about to sit down to a scrumptious turkey dinner. She simply smiled.

MIH worked hard to lift Nana up onto the high perch at the table. Nana looked down at the flowered china plate that had once graced her own table and commented, "This is very beautiful, isn't it?" Eureka! The flicker of recognition that MIH had so hoped for.

She said she wasn't hungry but proceeded to methodically clear her loaded plate of turkey and fixings. She didn't stop until it was scraped clean. She smiled across the table; she was clearly enjoying the moment. And that is what her life has come to - this is where Alzheimer's has taken her. She lives in the moment with little to no recollection of what has been and who is who. She knows she feels loved and she knows that she loves the sweet lady that is her daughter, who is now nameless.

We are generous with our hugs, snuggles and I love yous. She giggles and smiles and then momentarily breaks away to say "God bless you". After an hour and a half she starts to squirm in her seat anxiously. She stares out the window and comments that it will be dark soon and it is time to go back. MIH comforts her and rallies the family to help get Nana and her walker out to the Jeep. Kisses and hugs all around. As Nana stands she says, "I'll come again, OK?" I could feel the lump in my throat forming.

It is difficult beyond words to watch Nana suffer the ravages of Alzheimer's and even harder to see the pain that her daughter, my MIH, endures as she watches her mother slowly slip away into an unreachable abyss.

Who knows what the future holds? I just know that no matter what, MIH has the right idea. We don't worry if she needs yet another sweater or if she'll remember the hour drive to the house for dinner, or if she will even remember the good feelings she shared while she was in the cocoon of her loving family. The focus is on giving her moments of love and respite from her loneliness ... special moments in time. And no one does it better than my MIH.
Phew - what a Thanksgiving it's been. And I didn't even mention the new blue highlights our white bathroom sink is sporting courtesy of Kidlet's adventures in hair dyeing. OK .... maybe I just mentioned it ....

Rich Beyond Words

The remnants of our Thanksgiving feast still linger - unwashed pots and uneaten pie litter the kitchen table. My hurried attempt to convert the turkey carcass into soup is stashed in the back of the fridge in a Tupperware container.
Am I tired? Yup. Am I full? Yup - and not just of turkey and pie. I am overcome with reasons to be grateful:

  • stained tablecloth documenting countless festivities
  • a long table of feasting people who I love - and who love me
  • laughter and debate instead of silence and loneliness
  • leftovers
  • full heart
  • a father who is not only alive - but living fully
  • a weekend of perfect autumn weather
  • a husband who supports my awakening and efforts to give back
  • my children and family -- it always comes down to that, doesn't it?
  • my freedom and my country
  • my friends - my chosen family
Today we will celebrate Thanksgiving with my other family and best of all - our Nana's 98th birthday. See? A handful more reasons for me to be thankful. I am rich beyond belief.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Colour of Contentment

Perfect. That was today. I had been feeling out of sorts this past week; the trees were shedding their colour so quickly with more and more crimson and oranges every day - and I hadn't captured a single shot.

That changed with our outing today. The sun was brilliant; the skies were clear and deep sea blue. The air was crisp with that autumn sweater weather and when you breathed deeply you could pick up just a hint of wood burning. Like I said - it was perfect. Thank you for this gift of perfect weather.

Hubby and I hit the road and headed north to the Erin Fall Fair - or should I say we ate our way through the Erin Fair! Gargantuan pumpkins; goats, cows. horses, stretchy pants, trucker hats, local entertainment (guitar pickin, tie dyed sweat pants wearing, jovial singers belting out country tunes), hand stitched quilts, bratwurst, ferris wheels and homemade maple walnut fudge! We bought half a pound and devoured most of it as we strolled the grounds.

We walked the quaint main street of the village soaking up everything autumn. By then the fudge was starting to crystallize in my tummy.  I wondered if chanting "bran, bran, bran" silently as I chomped would help neutralize the effects? Mind over matter to the test.

There is nothing like a Fall Fair to get me in the mood for Thanksgiving. And nothing more romantic than sharing a block of fudge with someone you love. Tomorrow we will cook a feast for the family I love so much and our house will fill will the clatter and chatter that only our famjams can muster and then the next day, we will count our blessings yet again over turkey with MIH and the rest of my other family. So much and so many to be grateful for.

Colour me contented! Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving my friends.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cough, Sputter and Spit

Oh yes - tis the season whilst while out and about, sounds of coughing fill the air. The only problem is - I am the one doing the coughing. It's going on two months now. I am driving my co-workers and hubby nuts with the persistent hacking and sputtering and the  "pardon me" and "so sorry" that follows.

I've done the responsible thing and sought medical attention. Today I managed to read half a novel as I sat sentry in the clinic waiting room, waiting to see my family physician. The room was packed with wheezing, sneezing, nose blowing, choking patients. Tis the season.

Finally  they called my name and escorted me to the inner sanctum of my doctor's office - a small gesture of hope and escalation. There's not much to do as you wait. The room is devoid of reading material except for the posters on the wall touting the benefits of being vaccinated for traveller's diarrhea and the medical complications of diabetes. My eyes scanned the walls, and the shelves; there's nothing to do but stare. The office looked a little tired. My stare fixed on the metal stirrups. Inhumane and undignified. Cold and sterile. They looked like they belong in a metalworks shop - not a medical office. So glad I wasn't there for that ...

Finally the doc breezed in and whipped out the tools of the trade; questioning me as he looked in my ears, up my nose, in my mouth and listened to my breathing. He commented on my nose debris - to which I responded with "well that's romantic". I explained that my sexy hoarse voice was not my own and his eyebrows raised. "It's not? hmmmmmm"

Prescription in hand and yet another $50 out of pocket and I am on the road to being hackless. Hopefully. I'm bringing sexy back.   : )

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Holding onto Fall

As I drove up my tree lined street I couldn't help but notice how many leaves have already fallen. The huge amount of rain and wind we've had lately has prematurely pulled them from their branches. Instead of the gradual transformation from a sea of green to brilliant crimson and oranges, most of the trees are jaundiced and wilting as if suffering from a severe case of stage fright. Autumn seems to be shirking backwards towards the door rather than sticking around after a brilliant show for the curtain calls.

This is my favourite time of year, especially for shooting photos, yet I haven't had time to snap a single shot. This weather channel is promising clear skies and sunshine this weekend so hopefully I will steal some time to take a wander with my camera and capture some colour.

Actually we are going to try to squeeze in a fall fair ... pigs, goats, fudge and horses. And if we are really lucky, the smell of wood burning will fill my nostrils; I will bite into a crisp sour apple for a taste of fall; and the sound of brittle leaves crunching beneath my feet will make me smile.

Like I said - it's my favourite time of year, so please hold fall, just a little while longer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A We Day Weekend

Where to start? It's been an amazing, exhausting, fantastic few days.

Thursday was We Day - the Free the Children's bonanza of inspiration with world class speakers, funky musicians, and enough youthful energy to power the planet. My excitement had been building for weeks; I couldn't wait to reunite with some of our Kenyan trip friends and after some scheduling, we figured out how to share Megz. I had her with us for three nights and, in a nutshell, I don't have a voice left!

Kenyan travel mates: Denise, Me and Megz at We Day
I could go on endlessly about the experience of attending We Day with 20,000 hyped, crazy-motivated school aged kids committed to changing the world; but simply put - it was yet another beaded jewel of inspiration on my string of life shifting episodes.

What a dream to see the "gang" again so soon after our trip. Kidlet and I were thrilled when we spotted Jackson and Wilson in full warrior garb in the hallway at We Day. Their smiles sparkled in the crush of eager fans waiting to hug them. They greeted everyone by name and when I asked them how they could remember everyone's name, they said, "it's easy, because we know them".

Wilson, Kidlet and Jackson working the room.
We wrapped up We Day with an evening reception and a chance to see our warriors in their fancy dress up clothes. In the midst of celebrities and big wigs they were definitely the toast of the town; we managed to squeeze a little alone time with them to catch up and get their impressions of our country and culture. Their joy was contagious and they had Kidlet and I in stitches with their recount of going up the CN Tower and standing on the glass floor - amongst all of their other adventures. I am impressed with their adaptability; these young men had never travelled outside of their country let alone on a plane. Yet they were dropped into a completely foreign culture and immediately immersed into doing TV media, public speaking and participating in all sorts of fundraising and social events -- like seasoned pros.

Megz and I walked the streets of my little town and the big city and over a steady stream of wine, tea and coffee we talked; we reflected; we brainstormed and we reveled in the enjoyment of our time together. We reconnected with Denise and Laura from our trip and for a few hours we were reminded of what made it so special.

The weekend was full to overflowing and I admit I am a little tired and hoarse. I am also full and content. Lucky me.

P.S. Last summer as we worked on the school in the Mara we taught Jackson the Waving Flag song. Now, two months later, he was backstage with the actual artist who performs it. He told us that he sang his version for K'naan, who closed the show. You just have to watch this and be prepared to be blown away.  K'naan: Waving Flag