Category Archives: Things I’ve Learned

My Best Mothers’ Day Gift Ever

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My beautiful daughter came into the world, foot-first, on Mothers’ Day. She arrived two weeks early, as if to say, as she has so many times in the decades that have followed since then, “Come on Mom! Let’s just get on with it!” She has been my cheering section ever since. Never one to dawdle, she still approaches life with her best foot forward, and at break- neck speed. No matter what difficulty the task ahead encompasses.

I had no labour pains on the afternoon of her birth. Just a little snap as my water broke, minutes after a bountiful Mothers’ day supper at my Mom and Dad’s. We left our two-year old son, Steven, in the care of my younger siblings and headed off to the hospital. I made my husband stop the car at our home on the farm next door. There I hastily removed my mascara (I didn’t want post- labour racoon eyes; I was twenty-one and vain), and I grabbed my hospital bag.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing alone and naked in a small room in the maternity ward,in Strathroy Hospital, putting on the gown the nurse had just given me. Meanwhile my husband Rolly was at the front desk, signing the admittance papers.

Suddenly I felt a strange sensation and glanced down in shock, to see a loop of the umbilical cord in full view. Shouting ensued! Me, shouting for the nurse! The nurse shouting for a second nurse! That nurse shouting for someone else to summon the doctor!

That was when a little foot made its appearance. The first nurse knelt on the floor and sprayed the cord and the little protruding appendage with antiseptic.The second nurse attempted to push the foot back up where it belonged. Then the two of them hastily assisted me onto a bed, where I was told I was to attempt to stand on my head to avoid the baby pressing down on the cord.

After a few agonizingly frightening minutes I was transferred to a gurney which began rolling down the hallway. At this point I was unable to see anything but the white sheet under my forehead, in my imitation of a “Downward Dog” yoga pose a humbling position, but one obviously very conducive to prayer, as it was prayer that I was frantically engaged in at that particular moment. Meanwhile, Rolly was shocked at being handed a surgical consent form, on the very heels of the admittance form he had just signed.

And that was how I met the hospital’s surgeon. He came running up beside my breathless entourage and said “I’m Doctor Hoffa. We are going to do a Caesarean Section.” I asked him then if everything would be alright. His answer was honest and brief. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

I woke an hour and a half later, in the middle of a booming thunderstorm, aware of my husband’s soft hair against my arm as he rested his head on the bedside. “We have a baby girl” he said quietly. “Is she alright?” I asked. “She’s perfect.” he answered.

Much like the circumstances of her birth, it seems that Carrie Ann doesn’t have any speed but fast when she begins a task. Sometimes I have jokingly said that even before her arrival she just put her best foot forward and got on with things. Albeit there were a few people who were determined to try to put that little foot back in that day.

As an adult, Carrie has also been the one to take the lead in most situations involving the two of us. When I started up a bakery in the village of Komoka, when she was still a teenager she took a keen interest in perfecting her already notable culinary skills. She began training under the mentorship of some extremely skilled pastry chefs and instructors, while also working with me and very soon I passed the management reins over to her. She just knew how to say “Come on now, let’s just get on with it.” so much better than I ever could. After ten years of working together and successfully bringing our bakery to a key milestone we made a mutual decision to sell it and move on.

Carrie moved on up in the food services industry. At Western University, she trains and teaches others, and motivates them to do their very best. She is very successful in her profession because she gets actively involved in the process of making good things happen, rather than just standing on the sidelines waiting for things to happen.

She is also very loved and treasured by all of her family and friends for those same reasons. In all areas of her life she is always putting her best foot forward, and bringing people joy.

That is why, Carrie Ann, you were and always will be my very best Mothers’ Day Gift ever, Happy Birthday, dear daughter!

For My Mom, The Best of Them All

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wharf1905

My Mother has just turned 87 years old, and in honour of that special occasion, I am posting this poem that I read at our family celebration, here on my blog. She is the best German, Hungarian, Schwabian, Austrian, American, Canadian you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Yes, She’s all that! The verses describe the time both before and after she was born:

To Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the land of the USA,
Where the Ohio, the Allegheny, and Monongahela wend their way
Through a place once known as “Iron Town”, for the strength of the people there,
And the industry that drew them, they came with a hope and a prayer.
They came for the chance to “make it”, to pull their own weight and more;
In the year of our Lord, 1906, they knocked on America’s door.
The parents of a daughter (as yet, unborn) Gisella and Louis came,
With their feather ticks, and their pots and pans, and barely a cent to their name.*
Their’s was a people in need of a home, in a country filled with strife;
Like all Schwabians* living in Hungary, they hoped for a better life.
These German speaking Marath’s, were Austrians* in their hearts,
But the borders had changed, and fortunes had changed;
What they needed most was new starts.
New countries, it’s said, are built by those hewing wood and hauling water.
Louis hauled that water as blocks of ice, for the sake of his sons and daughters,
Who all were born, with the passing years, as he tried to put money away,
To return again to his shoe-making trade, before his hair turned grey.
Silver dollars could buy his freedom from ice blocks, and cart and horse,
But the best laid plans of mice and men oft come to naught, of course.
A thief broke in, one fateful night, and stole their nest-egg away.
The shoemaker, bent by the weight of his load, must wait for another day.
Then finally it came, that longed for time, when dollars exceeded their need;
So leather was bought, and shoe-making lasts, and in his hand was a deed.
When Gisella was forty-two years old and Louis was forty-five,
And ten other siblings were already born, the eleventh one did arrive!
Her oldest sister had children by then, who came right over to meet her
And hold their aunt, and kiss her, and whoop round the house, just to greet her!
Her parents called her Regina; in Latin her name means Queen.
She was Queen of their hearts from her very first cry, but most people called her Jean.
Which very soon became Jeannie, of course, to those who loved her best;
That was all that she would answer to; she chose to ignore the rest ―
Be it the priest on Holy Communion day, or the nuns at Catholic School,
So her parents enrolled her in public school, breaking a family rule.
All that whacking of pointers on their desks, and other nun-approved habits,
Had been too much for this sensitive child, friend of pink Easter chicks and rabbits.
So the doctor made her eat brewers’ yeast to clear up her itching skin,
(Which was most likely caused by the nervousness of helping do Easter chicks in,
When they had grown tall and gangly− like the one sister Mary had caught.)
She had tried to kill it with a very dull knife, which proved to be all for naught,
For it still had plenty of stamina to chase Jeannie round their yard,
Wings down, and severed head flapping, with total disregard!)
After fleeing from zombie chickens, she was under adrenaline’s spell;
She would spend her leisurely Saturdays jumping over an open well!
She and her girlfriend would bet one another, about who could make “The Leap”.
If nobody fell in the well, to their death, their allowance they got to keep.
Jeannie also rode tandem down “Suicide Hill”, ’til her cousin knocked out her teeth,
And stole ribbons from the graveyard next door, from every funeral wreath!
The gold foiled “Daughter” plaque, over her bed, sure gave her mother a start!
But the one thing that Jeannie never did, she never broke a heart,
Unless there was a secret admirer on that day that Jeannie left
For a brand new home in Canada, where she arrived, completely bereft,
On the day of her sixteenth birthday, at a house near the township dump,
Where the horse was huge, the cow was crazy, and the rats were well-fed and plump.
The winter they spent there they nearly froze, as the house had no insulation.
They had no car, so she rode her bike to the store by the reservation.
When spring arrived they got to move when the farm-buying terms were complete.
Then Jeannie started going out a bit, with neighbour friends she would meet.
One special night, at a town hall dance, she met a man named Bill.
The stars shone bright on that fateful night; and their very first kiss was a thrill!
Soon wedding bells were ringing, as he took her for his bride,
And she lived happily ever after, with William Peter at her side.
They had a lot of children; she was such a wonderful mother,
That as soon as the crib was empty they filled it with another.
(Well, sometimes not exactly the crib, sometimes the bassinet!)
When Marsha was not quite one years old, she needed her’s longer yet,
So they got themselves a second crib, and later two little beds,
For Vonnie’s, and little Keithie’s, and little Jeannie’s sleepy heads.
And soon enough, they bought bigger beds, as the bigger kids grew and grew,
Then there was one for Kathy, one for Janice, and for Jimmy and Donny too.
(Well, sometimes kids got to share a bed— whatever the room size allowed.)
And they all grew up on a farm so neat that it made every one of them proud.
Mom and Dad worked hard to give us all that any family needed.
They both tried hard to teach us right, and Mom, I’d say you succeeded.
We’ve not leapt over any open wells, or caused any missing teeth;
Nor have we ignored any nuns before, or ripped ribbons from funeral wreaths.
We have tried to make you proud of us, and followed your example,
Except for us having lots of kids. (One or two seemed more than ample.)
But we’re glad that you thought differently, and that you took a gamble.
We’re glad that we’re all here because you and Dad chose to take a leap,
And your parents did too, or they wouldn’t have had you,
And moved near that garbage heap,
Where no one else great would have taken you out, for fear of lurking vermin.
And then you met Dad who would love you so much, Hungarian, Austrian, or German,
Or Schwabian, or American. Well, who could ever determine?
In the end, only one thing matters; this one thing I know is true.
You are a part of the people we loved. And we are a part of you.

 

*The Schwabians are the German people who settled in Hungary, at the urging of the Habsburgh monarchy of Austria, during the eighteenth century, after it was wrested from Turkish occupation.  Although these peasant settlers were from places such as Baden, Bavaria, Alsace, Lorraine, and Schwabia, eventually all of them were being referred to as Schwabians. There were two million of  them in Hungary by 1900, a few years before Louis and Gisella emigrated to the USA. in 1906, seeking, as did many of their countrymen, a place of greater opportunity.

*Louis Marath identified himself as Austrian on his draft registration for the U.S. Army in 1917.

*Our grandmother, Gisella, was a member of a poor peasant family in the early 1900’s. She worked in service as part of the kitchen staff at Apponyi Castle in Lengyel, Hungary, which belonged to  Count Apponyi of the Hungarian royal family. The roof of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1905. This likely led to her loss of employment and subsequent emigration in 1906. The castle roof was  later reconstructed, and the site is a tourist attraction today.

The Word Father Is A Verb

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Steven is in the back row on the right.Note how many small cousins there were, and more were on the way!

Steven is in the back row on the right.Note how many small cousins there were, and more were on the way!

The following post is one I have chosen to repeat in honour of my son Steven’s birthday today.

My son Steven loves babies and toddlers and children of all ages. He enjoys engaging infants in interactions that provoke smiles and gurgles of delight, no matter how uncool his behaviour may seem to any macho type guys in his vicinity. Toddlers give him a great deal of joy too, as he plays their games, with the give and take of surprise that most of their fun is based on. Big and small giggles and smiles, and even rolling on the ground silliness often transpire.

For most of his growing up years, until he began high school, there were babies in our house, as we had a home Day Care for many years. With new little ones coming in each year at the same rate as the older ones started school, there was generally a baby in the mix, and a range of ages among the preschool children. Steven was my parents’ first grandchild, followed closely by his sister Carrie, and several years later by a dozen cousins. Because of the age gap, his role was more of a young uncle than a cousin to them. With older kids, he enjoys challenging them, with good humour, to show off what they already know, or even what they don’t. That way he can get on with the task of teaching them to learn those things in fun ways. He would make a great teacher. He is one of the few people I know who has thus far shown himself to be nonjudgemental of other peoples’ mistakes, not their deliberate wrong-doing of course, but their mistakes. In that, he has shown that he has the most necessary qualification for fatherhood.

Steven is a bachelor, but not by choice. If the right woman were to come along, I’m sure he’d be delighted. He does, however, have two girls in his life, two girls that he loves dearly, Amanda, and Samantha. He has loved them both for a very long time. They call him Dad, because that is what he is to them. He has been there for them since they were little, since the very first time they came to sit on his front step to have a visit from their neighbouring house. When things were not going well between these two sisters, and they would argue, as very close siblings often do, he would encourage them to get along, as any good father would. He was a friend to their mother, and he would often take all three of them out shopping, and even help out at times when they struggled to make ends meet.

Their mom was on her own with them, having tragically lost both of their fathers, in turn, when they were very young. So Steven gradually became the father figure that neither girl had and that both of them needed, giving help with homework, taking them fishing, or bringing them to family events. He made himself accessible and available as their protector and counsellor, and even acted as a disciplinarian if behaviour sometimes warranted a withdrawal of  any privileges that he had given them, and therefore was in charge of at the time.

This is a role that is hard to take on in today’s culture. We live in a society that is totally suspicious of even the most honourable of intentions in all interactions between men and girls, particularly when the man is not in a relationship with their mother. Simply caring about their well-being and their futures, justified to Steven his presence in their lives, no matter what anyone else might think or say about it. The first time I ever heard one of the girls call Steven “Dad” I was taken aback, and then I realized that that’s exactly what he had become; in fact in looking back, it was what he had been for a very long time. I mentioned it to Steven, who told me that for quite a while the girls had been giving him the Dad cards normally given for birthdays and Fathers Day too. I was thankful that he had remained steadfast in his determination to be there for them, no matter what, because having a father figure means so much to a girl.

On an early fall day in 2010 the girls, who were by then in their late teens, lost their mother. It was sudden, unanticipated and overwhelmingly tragic. Neither of them has a surviving birth parent now, and we still feel great sadness for them both. We are, however, incredibly thankful that God deemed to put into place for them, long before the tragedy happened, a man who chose to be their father. We know that his own life had prepared him to have the empathy and compassion to help them through.

The Word Father Is A Verb

To father is to care; to father is to share.

To father is to give, and to always just be there.

To father is to listen, to father is to know

Just what will make things better, and then to make it so.

To father isn’t always just what  matching genes support;

To father doesn’t always lead to adoption files in court.

To father is to care enough to love, and just to be

Where you are, and who you are, for the ones who need to see

That they themselves are valuable enough for you to care

To give yourself, to share yourself, and always just be there.

 

Your father and I thank you Steven, from the bottom of our hearts.

We are so proud that you are our son. Love, Mom and Dad

My Own Personal Annus Horribilus

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I still remember the Queen’s 1992 yearly Christmas address, when she let down her guard and referred to her “Annus Horribilus”. Not to make light of such a serious thing or to make it the butt of jokes, but it certainly did have the ability to bring one to attention.

Those not schooled in Latin could be forgiven for misunderstanding, for thinking at first that the term meant something else entirely. Suffice it to say, the Queen had been having a terrible time of it. There are some situations for which no preparation ever seems adequate, not even Preparation …. Well, I’ll just let you finish that train of thought yourself… if you are cursed, as I am, with a train that always stops somewhere near Redneck Humor.

At a certain level, I do realize that an annus horribilus should never be a laughing matter. “Never!” (So say the voices of Wisdom and Decorum.) Unfortunately for me, when I hear voices (which I do on occasion) they are not always reasonable or polite.

Heck, let’s just own up to the fact that when I hear them in the middle of the night they sometimes say things that a decent Bible believing Christian lady should never listen to… stuff like “Kill him!” or “Just hide the stash under the mattress!” or—- Heaven forbid that I  should allow these last words to subliminally affect me— “Nobody flips mattresses anymore!” (Everyone knows that the flippable need to be flipped every so often, in order to maintain some kind of balance in your life! Otherwise you will experience far too many hills and valleys!)

Fortunately, some steps that I have recently taken have almost entirely eliminated those night-time voices. Now I only hear them if the earplugs I use for sleeping fall out, at the same time that the batteries die in my spouse’s earphones. These he uses for TV viewing after I’ve gone to bed. If the batteries die he turns the TV’s volume back on, but only to its lowest setting. All is well until he dozes off..

That’s when the soothing voice of David Attenborough, softly narrating in a gentle whisper about the secret life of the silver-back gorilla, suddenly morphs into screaming and cursing. Somehow two rival gang members are always fighting a turf war, or the Kardashians are at it again. So it is, whenever a recorded show ends and the programming on the channel that was previously on resumes. Meanwhile, my domesticated Canadian silver-back snores away in his comfy Lazyboy chair. Who can blame him? He is tired. He has had his own personal experience with an annus horribilus, one every bit as trying as my own.

If you are going to have to endure an annus horribilus which literally translates “horrible year”, a year of great adversity, then you are indeed wise if you take it with a hefty dose of laughter. Otherwise it is too difficult a thing to cope with. As my wise Mom, aged 86, often says when reflecting on some of the difficult situations she has gone through in her own life “It was so hard at times, that if you didn’t laugh you would have cried.”

For myself and my beloved spouse Rolly, the beginning of our difficult year actually began a short while before New Year’s, on December 23rd of 2014. That day I went through a surgery for a minor ankle problem, the removal of a benign cyst. Mine was the hospital’s last surgery of the year and the doctor seemed extremely rushed to get himself elsewhere. He actually yelled at the nurse in attendance, who had bent down to ask if I was comfortable: “Why are you talking to that patient!?” Loud enough to make me want to answer him back from my mildly sedated, but still  quite aware state: “Because she thinks of me as a person, you dolt!” But, as he had a scalpel in his hand at the time, I restrained myself.

After the surgery, much to the recovery room nurse’s dismay, he left the hospital, forgetting to leave any post-op instructions or even a prescription for pain medication. She did her best to remedy the situation and even called later to check on me at home. By the next day, due to excessive bleeding it was obvious that something was very wrong. This turned into a marathon of long grueling visits to the ER. at the most understaffed time of the year, the Christmas holidays.

On Christmas Eve day, after a seven hour wait, I finally saw a doctor. He discovered that some of the sutures had not held together, but doing them over again was, by then, out of the question. He taped things back together and requested a return visit. That visit took three hours, another one, four, and on New Year’s Day it was five hours more. In a crowded waiting room full of coughing patients, it was inevitable that I should pick up a bad respiratory virus which, unfortunately, lasted for several weeks.

A deep infection of the incision, which developed at the outset, took three months of nurse’s visits for wound care. Despite their expert care I suffered nerve damage to the right side of my foot. The upside is that it has reduced the pain of stubbing my toes by 20%. ( I no longer have any feeling in the “Roast Beef” and the “ Wee! Wee! Wee! All the way home!” digits.) Try telling that to your physician some time. If he writes it in his notes you should probably get another doctor!

Because I had not healed sufficiently, a vacation in the Azores, for our first off-the-continent holiday for a Valentine’s day get away had to be canceled. Due to its bargain price our flights were, unfortunately, not refundable. But, also due to its bargain price, it was not as bad a financial jolt as it could have been either.

Rolly had gone through a knee surgery several months earlier which initially  helped with his knee pain but then the pain returned again. He was on the waiting list for a knee replacement. The redeeming factor in missing our holiday was that an unexpected opening became available for a surgery at that time, several months ahead of schedule. If we had been in the Azores then we would have missed that opportunity.

The operation was done by a very competent surgeon on February 12th, in the afternoon. The morning after surgery a big blizzard began to move across South Western Ontario. As it was expected to localize over Strathroy, and the hospital was already short-staffed, they requested that Rolly go home a day early. So it was, that only 14 hours after surgery, the poor man was already at home on the couch, heavily medicated, with his leg propped up on several pillows covered in ice bags. There would be no shortage of ice— even if the power should go off; there was plenty of it outside!

Our calendar was quite cluttered for a while with my wound care appointments and Rolly’s, for physiotherapy. He worked extremely hard to regain his mobility, but unfortunately he turned out to be one of those people who builds up a lot of scar tissue around the replacement knee. He required a second hospitalization for three days, for another procedure a few months later. This was followed by more physiotherapy appointments at the hospital. He requires a replacement for the other knee as well but wants to postpone that one as long as possible.

One day, when I tagged along, we went to visit my mother in Strathroy. This was the day I discovered what it is like to break a bone. In all my scurrying around to help her with a few tasks, I took a flying header towards the floor, right where the carpet and the tile floor meet. Unfortunately, the carpet in her Senior’s apartment is laid over cement and so I had a very hard landing.

My mother gave me a bag of rhubarb to hold over my throbbing wrist– not because of some quirky folk healing notion— it just happened to be thawing in the sink  (she was making pies.) Rolly rushed me off to the hospital and I dripped a long stream all over the floor and down the hall to a cubicle. No…not what you are thinking! When they finally brought me some ice I surrendered my punctured bag of drippy rhubarb ( much to the nurse’s amusement.) Perhaps it was the rhubarb juice, or perhaps the ice, but in any case, there was very little swelling of the wrist when the cast was applied.

Unfortunately the swelling set in later with a vengeance. It became so severe that the cast began to hinder my circulation and eventually had to be cut off. The exact same thing happened with the second cast, which then had to be cut in half and bound together with elastic bandages. This eventually had to be replaced by a third cast when it began to fall apart. So, for almost eight weeks I stayed plastered, until finally it was over. What a sobering experience that was! I was totally shocked at my complete inability to write, to type, or to use my right hand for the simplest of tasks, even stirring a pot! The fingers had lost all their ability to grasp anything.

It was certainly difficult, but with the help of an excellent physiotherapist, over many weeks, I finally regained my independence– enough to return to the kitchen to resume my duties as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (as my dear old Dad used to call it.) And so it was that I immediately gave myself a bone-deep incision on my left thumb knuckle, while attempting to cut up a semi-frozen turkey. Back to the Emergency Room for three sutures, and then home again, where I received a lecture on knife safety from my chef daughter, who is also the safety instructor over several kitchens at her workplace. In two weeks I will have what I hope will be my last visit with my physiotherapist for my wrist fracture. This would have happened sooner if I had not needed to postpone. It seems I picked up another respiratory virus  in, (Surprise! Surprise!) the doctor’s waiting room while waiting to get those sutures!

Sure, Rolly and I have had a difficult year, but there wasn’t much we could do about it, and so we laughed… Mind you we didn’t laugh in the moment as each trial, difficulty, or pain bowled us over, but when we got through it we did.

It’s kind of like what happens when you go into rough water at the beach, and you fall down and get washed in and out with the surf, as you try to get back up again. And then your swim suit gets so full of gravel that the stones clog the drain at the cottage and your son-in law asks you “What the heck happened here?” You can only laugh. At least that’s what you do when you finally get your breathing under control again and can see the humor in the situation.

“Imagine that! Almost drowning in a foot of water!” my mother said to me. And we laughed together at her tale of her “near-death experience.” Because both of us know that the water doesn’t have to be deep to drown you. You just have to lay down and let it. But even with her pants full of rocks she didn’t!

And then we both laughed until we cried.

Husband Hazing And Other Confessions

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Caught up in Nature

Caught up in Nature.
Birch you can’t guess who.

The phone just rang…. “Was that today that we decided on? I thought we decided on tomorrow morning!” (high-speed thoughts shuffling through the previous afternoon’s discussion…immediate rise in blood pressure… brief moment of mental denial). “Well, I…Well, I… Well, I…, I guess I forgot.” My stuttering attempt to explain to my friend Carol, (and to myself) the reason why I was not where I was supposed to be was futile. It quickly subsided into laughter, as we commiserated over our shared affliction—”Church Pie Lady Syndrome.”

Only a short time ago (or perhaps it was several months ago. Who can really be sure of anything anymore?) the two of us played our roles as Beula and Edna, the Church Pie Ladies. This was at an actual event, a pie-baking competition that we called “The King of the Pies”* as it was only participated in by the men in our congregation. The panel of three judges decided to lighten things up a bit by acting out what we thought would be behaviour typical of ladies named Beula, Edna, and Velma.

Velma, understandably, seemed a bit more reticent about shedding the dignity of her alter ego, Dianne. Dianne is the pastor’s wife most of the time, after all, and so Velma hemmed herself in a little more, out of respect for Dianne’s position. On the other hand, Beula’s “Moderation In All Things” needlepoint was pretty close to falling off the wall that day, and mine was certainly unravelling as time wore on. We two were as changeable as the weather vanes in St. John’s, Newfoundland. There’s such a lot of clattering and groaning as the salty, somewhat rusty old things do their best to communicate the possible outcome of an afternoon.

As the years pile on, the need for humour in a person’s life increases exponentially. It’s a simple survival mechanism. So Beula and I weren’t about to miss an opportunity for some comic relief. All that excess sugar, chocolate, and Red Dye Number 2, (that some of the amped-up pie fillings so obviously contained), gave us the perfect excuse! Consequently, we were on our best, less-than-stellar behaviour.

Hey! If red food colouring could cause me to sit bolt upright during a sound sleep and yell “THERE’S RABBIT SH*T ALL OVER THE TV SCREEN, AND IF YOU THINK I’M GOING TO CLEAN THAT UP YOU’RE CRAZY!” then I’m sure it could be responsible for negative effects on my waking behaviour as well! This inadvertent “husband hazing”,this uninhibited somniloquy, happened many years ago, in the middle of the night, after I  foolishly consumed a handful of red Twizzlers shortly before bedtime.

Several months previous to this, Rolly and I witnessed a “mini tornado” decimate a rabbit hutch on our little three acre farm. As we watched from the house, the shed actually lifted up into the air and spun around, full circle. Then it suddenly blew apart! Cages full of mama bunnies and their babies, bales of straw, torn off shingles, broken 2 by 4’s, and lengths of bent siding went flying through the air. After only a few seconds everything came to rest again, strewn over a long narrow swath, visible across the property and into our neighbour’s field. Amazingly, all of the bunnies survived their flight! Unfortunately,to date, no one has ever promised to give me my heart’s desire “when rabbits fly”.(Unfortunately, no pigs were involved in that particular incident.)

Just lately, a lot of what I need to keep track of in my life appears to have also taken on a direction of its own. Some days I’ve been as forgetful as a bus full of kindergarteners, leaving my own personal swath of debris as I go. Jackets… too light or too heavy for the weather. Shoes… their mates lost at the back of the closet. Purses… their contents dumped on the counter for a hand bag switch-over. Slacks, sweaters, skirts, dresses…too small, too bright, too boring, too tight… thrown across the bed, over the shower rod, or on top of the dryer. Appointments, likewise, have sometimes flown the coop, not to be found penciled in on anyone’s calendar, or in my appointment card stash which usually migrates from purse to purse, not even amid the message machine’s groaning overload of undeleted messages.

Perhaps it was art imitating life on that particular day, that we had so much fun playing the Church Pie Ladies. Our forgetfulness, as we struggled to remember whose pie was whose, and our changeableness, as each new taste brought a reversal in our opinions as to which was “The best one ever!” had us all topsy-turvy. We seemed to be spinning in circles like tops, perhaps feigned, or perhaps real. Judging by the trail of scattered items I leave in my wake these days, I really may not have had to do much acting! But then again, I do have a very strong background in drama. Nothing formal, of course, something better. Growing up with four sisters… Now,that will usually do it for you! But those are stories to tell another day.

*If you would also  like to read “The King Of The Pies* it was published on wordpress Jan.14,2014 and it will give you a little bit more to smile about.

Oh The Long And Dreary Winter

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March view to the South from the front window.

March view to the South from the front window.

You know it’s a long winter when the conversation goes like this:

“What do you wanna do?”

“I don’t know. What do you wanna do?”

“Go out maybe?”

“Naah, I’d have to put my boots on.”

“What’s on TV tonight? Anything good?”

“I don’t know; I can’t find the remote control.”

“What day is it?”

“I don’t know; I can’t find the newspaper.”

“I didn’t bring it in; it’s still in the mail box.”

“Are you going out to get it?”

“Not if I have to put my boots on.”

“Oh for goodness sake! I’ll go get the mail.”

“Can you fill the bird feeder while you’re out there?”

“Only if you look for the remote control.”

“I don’t feel like watching TV anyway.”

“What’s the stupid remote control doing in my boot?”

“I don’t know. You were the one watching TV last.”

“But I wouldn’t put it in my boot then, now would I?”

“How should I know why you put things where you put them.”

“Maybe we should go out tonight. I think maybe somebody’s a little grumpy from being cooped up too long.”

“Not if I have to put my boots on.”

It is March 14, in Poplar Hill, Ontario. This is not that other Poplar Hill that mistakenly shows up as my Face book location in the far north of Ontario. Rather it is the one that is found in that serendipitous place in Canada that dips southward to approximately the same latitude as Northern California. In our Poplar Hill, it is usually spring, or at least very close to spring, by now. It has been twenty years since we have had to endure being booted and bundled up by the weather for so long. There has not been the usual brief preview of spring-like weather in January or February, where we gleefully strip down to shirtsleeves and defiantly rake out the flowerbeds. There has not even been an excuse, like midwinter yard cleanup, to light a bonfire of fallen branches and sit around it with our cups of cocoa, feeling joyful at the prospect of Spring on our doorsteps. It doesn’t feel as if Spring is on our doorsteps. It doesn’t feel as if Spring even wants to return… Sometimes we are anxious that we have done something wrong, something that has changed the way things used to be. As we pore over our seed catalogues until they are pitifully dog-eared and wait, as we cook our marshmallows dolefully over the front burner of our propane range and collectively sigh, something catches our attention over the clattering of the range hood fan.

“Is that geese I hear? Is that geese?”

“I don’t know. Maybe! Open the window!”

“I can’t! It’s frozen shut!”

“Hurry! Get your boots on! Let’s go outside and see!”

“Hey! You forget to put your coat on!”

How Much Can An Elephant Pee?

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imagesHow much can an elephant pee? I imagine that’s something most people never think about. Unfortunately for me I did— at four o’clock this morning actually. The problem is that I’m the kind of person who just can’t leave a thought alone once it gets into my head. I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I had an answer. “Somebody must know this.” I thought. Actually, somebody did. Typing away as quietly as humanly possible while Rolly, on the couch just a few feet away, snored away as loudly as humanly possible, I Googled hither and yawn. (Did I mention yet that it was 4 a.m.?) Finally I just typed in “How much can an elephant pee?” and the answers came in like a flood. It was a virtual deluge!

If Rolly had not just had knee surgery and decided to sleep on the couch with his leg propped up on the pillow-draped sofa arm in order to stay safely out of my bed-hogging, blanket tugging way, then my tap-tap tapping away in the middle of night would not have mattered an iota. Had I a bladder the size of an elephant’s I would not have wakened at such a ridiculous hour to ponder such a piddling question either. I think I may have been dreaming too and the thought likely arose from my subconscious, from that same place that a nightmare I recently had emerged. That night I woke with an aching pain in my jaw, from clenching my teeth for all they were worth. I was in the midst of a battle worthy of a Wild Kingdom episode, a mother wolf fighting all the other wolves over a Swiss Chalet Chicken dinner for my hungry babies. So? Was the dream the cause or the consequence of the teeth clenching? I’ll never know. And was my contemplation on the capacity of a pachyderm bladder a mere coincidence? Hardly likely.

There is, in fact, one memorable occasion filed away in the recesses of my mind, which may have triggered my early morning thoughts upon waking. It was the occasion of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary many years ago. Rolly and I had decided to take a trip to Las Vegas, which would seem a rather odd choice for two non gambling, non smoking teetotalers celebrating twenty-five years of marital fidelity. It would seem out of character altogether except for the fact that it was cheap, ahem, I mean economical. It was the best way to be able to see the Grand Canyon, a dream destination for both of us.

On the evening that we decided to celebrate, by going out to a special dinner and then off to the Mirage to see Siegfried and Roy perform their magic show the theatre was packed. Rolly discretely passed some bills to the waiter who seated us at a table way back from the “catwalk’’. This projected out into the audience above the area where the most privileged of the Vegas high rollers were seated on either side. There was a lot of Liberace style glitz, and over the top behaviour going on— both on stage and also in the audience pits below.  Heavy gold chains overflowed like booty from pirate’s chests. These guys looked like pirates anyway, with their shirts half unbuttoned to display their loot amidst overly bountiful chest hair, and they were talking as loudly as rowdy deck hands in a rising storm. (Of course I don’t mean Siegfried and Roy. They appeared to be meticulously manscaped and behaved with as much dignity as could be mustered while wearing bedazzled spandex jumpsuits.)

Many of the women in the area of the catwalk were dressed in evening gowns that looked like two silk drapes hanging from their shoulders but closed for the evening from their navel on down. The drapes were complimented by the glittering chandeliers that hung from their ear lobes and the larger matching ones that lit up their amplified bosoms. A few of the women hid their assets behind leopard or tiger printed throw pillows (or rather, just enough fabric to make one from if they were ever so inclined.)

Perhaps I sound a bit harsh here, but we also were dressed in our finest attire— it just didn’t resemble the Vegas version of what that was, any more than a hill does a haystack. Besides that, it seemed to me that my husband, in his attempt at influencing the waiter, had given him a very generous tip. That was in advance of our being given less than optimum seating. “Wow! It sure would be nice to be down there a little closer to the excitement…” I moped.

As the show proceeded, we got caught up in the performance, amid all the smoke and mirrors— and some really spectacular illusions. The beautiful white tigers appeared and disappeared and magically changed places with people in what appeared to be time and space defying switches. There were pyrotechnics, a mechanical dragon and music and dance performances to amuse even the most jaded. But the most memorable of all was when a 6000 pound elephant was brought out to the centre of the stage and made to disappear. After a suitable amount of time for us all to be awestruck had passed and we finally closed our mouths to sip our complimentary drinks again it suddenly reappeared.

Then, as Roy rode out into the middle of the catwalk astride the elephant— presumably so that she could take her final bow she paused only half way out to the end. She slowly backed her rear end toward the audience members sitting in the lower area to the right of the catwalk. They perhaps anticipated, as I did, that she was preparing to do a tricky choreographed move, a special curtsy — perhaps to leave a more lasting impression. Maybe it only seems so in my gleeful memory of that moment, but all of them seemed to lean forward a bit in their seats just as she let loose with the full contents of her bladder. It was as if someone had turned on a fire hydrant full blast for nearly half a minute.

People to the right of the cat walk screamed and fell backwards over their chairs as they attempted to escape from the splash zone. Women screeched as they threw their hands up to their faces and men knocked one another out of the way in the panic that ensued. Siegfried looked horror struck as he reprimanded the elephant in his thick German accent. “Bad elephant!  Bad elephant! Zeese eez not ni-eese! Not ni-eese!’  Quickly the costumed handler led the insolent elephant away, with a humiliated Siegfried on board— off the catwalk, across the stage and out of sight. “Vere eez dere a disappearing trick ven you really need vun?” he must have been thinking.

Simultaneously a throng of uniformed theatre attendants rushed to the assistance of the urine soaked patrons, no doubt with stacks of tickets to other shows, coupons for free dinners and maybe even wads of cash to assuage their anger. Meanwhile as the house lights began to dim, someone said over the microphone. “Don’t worry now folks. Don’t worry. We’re going to take care of all your dry cleaning for you.” I remember thinking at the time “Dry cleaning! That’s never going to do it for them fella! Just what does elephant urine do to your hair? And who is going to clean all those ladies’ glittering chandeliers?”

So whether it was a dream that roused me or not this morning I can not say, but the memory of that twenty-fifth anniversary when the elephant toasted a momentous occasion in our lives in a most unique way has never been forgotten. The thought set my brain in motion, luring me to my computer before dawn. I have sometimes wondered  since then, “What if it had been Rolly and I sitting in those seats that I had wanted so badly that night?”

This morning I learned that a full grown elephant’s bladder is the size of three large trash bags and that it holds over forty-two gallons of urine. This it usually releases in a mere twenty seconds!

So what is the moral of my story? After all that, shouldn’t there be a moral? Well, maybe it could be that if the other guy seems to be getting all of the advantages in life don’t envy him. After all. you will probably never know what it is like to walk a mile in his shoes—his soggy elephant urine soaked rhinestone studded alligator shoes on the long long walk of shame down the lonely Vegas strip.

“Sorry Buddy! Not taking anymore fares tonight. Business stinks.”