Category Archives: What I’m Up To

What I’m busy with or enjoying 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

Ethan’s Gift

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Some of the stone “castles” my grand-nephew Ethan likes to be the “King” of.

There is nothing more precious than the snuggling-in and holding-on kind of hug a three-year-old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain out of the blue.

Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his— a game he always delights in.

And then, I had willingly taken a seat on the too-small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared— somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.

Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table— a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway— collected for Daddy.

A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!”. This he accompanied with the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together beneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed their other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier— all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.

We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and berm around the three acre yard with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest my perpetual “dirty rascal” position, even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands while teetering four feet off the ground on slippery granite, his chubby little fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own.

Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all, but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Ethan’s Nest

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For a few minutes today I had a total out-of-body experience. While that was happening I was lying on the floor in the middle of the living room, inhabiting another body altogether. The thing was, my living room no longer looked like my living room at all either. I am usually such a “place for everything and everything in its place” kind of person, whereas this room was the total opposite.
The beautiful tree-embroidered throw pillows that I had taken so long shopping for, until unexpectedly finding them in a high-end consignment shop, the perfectly coordinated quilted ones that my daughter had just given me, and the two costly coverlets that were also treasured gifts, were all jumbled up on the floor in a tussle. Mixed in to the muddle was a scattering of multi-coloured stuffed toys, some worn-out crocheted throws that had seen better days, and the most special component of all— my little nephew Ethan’s treasured “blanky”.
I was no longer “Aunt Vonnie”. By some amazing feat I had somehow become a bird! A bird, not only in Ethan’s imagination, but amazingly, in my own as well. I had by some unaccountable surrender of my will become a rather large miracle of totally unexpected, late-in-life, fowl fertility!
The last thing I remember of my human existence before that fowl transformation was pecking away on my computer keyboard where I had only moments before— or at least I think it was only moments— been showing Ethan pictures, on face book, of all of his aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Then he got down off his chair and started playing away on the floor, behind me. I decided to answer a few emails, and the next thing I knew, I was being summoned.
“You, lay down here, Aunt Vonnie! You are a bird; dis is your nest. Now, you get in de nest! You are de Mummy bird!.” That’s when I turned around and caught my first glimpse of the newly constructed “nest”. It was a work of art! It was all that a three year-old’s beautiful mind would imagine a nest to be. It was…………..um……. it was um…..well…. After the shock of how much my living room had changed in what felt to me like all of thirty seconds, it was delightful!
I did as I was told. I lowered my rather inflexible creaky-kneed self to the floor ungracefully, and rolled myself into the nest. After that Ethan shoved the walls in around my awkwardly large form, patiently restacking pillows, and repositioning blanket mounds to form a rather free-form nest, shaped a lot like a giant amoeba. Then, suddenly,  he put his finger to his lips and said excitedly, “Shh! I hear peeping!…. It’s pecking!…Peep! Peep! Peep!”…… “It’s pecking! It’s getting out! Your baby is getting out!”
All at once, he handed me his stuffed doggy and said “Here it is! “Here is your baby bird!” I giggled under my breath. Apparently this was a rather near-sighted bird mid-wife who had come to my aid! What a “Switched at Birth” story this would make in Birdsweek magazine!
Just then, Ethan suddenly decided to become a mother bird himself. He squatted down and began to do what he thought would be the appropriate sound effects to accompany the laying of an egg…. a really LARGE egg by the sounds of it. Finally, he turned to me and said (as kindly as could be expected of any future bird-mother during a difficult labour, under rather over-crowded circumstances) “Aunt Vonnie, Get out of my nest! You are not a bird anymore!”
And so I cooperated. I surrendered my warm and cozy abode to someone who needed it more.

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.

On His Knees

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Rolly, on bended knees

Rolly, on bended knees

“I’m thankful if it hurts. That way I know it must still be there.” This is something that the mother of one of my good friends is fond of saying. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I just can’t imagine adopting that saying as a reflection of my own personal philosophy of pain. “I’m thankful if it doesn’t hurt and I can just forget about it.” is more like it.

My husband Rolly and I are in the renovation years of our lives. On second thought, the word “renovation” might only imply simple things —like changing the configuration of certain areas, or buying paint and a new rug. I get the feeling we’re way past the time for that now. There is more of a need for a little structural engineering at this point. And besides, no matter how thin it is on top, Rolly would be the last to purchase a rug.  And paint? Well let’s just say I never fell for that “Apply a base coat of yellow first to brighten the area up before you put on the top coat.” advice.

Mary Kay…She was likely quite a sweetie but she obviously had way too much time on her hands! Since when is it a good idea to tell a busy mom to put yellow makeup over the dark circles under her eyes and then later apply the skin coloured foundation makeup over top? Didn’t she realize how often the doorbell would ring and a courier would refuse to hand over his pen to someone looking like a victim of Yellow Fever? Obviously her kids never had cry baby friends who would wail like fire engine sirens if ever they got hurt. I’m sure if anyone ever got stung by a bee in her yard they wouldn’t have to be taken home “RIGHT NOW!” just because they might be allergic. “Old Yeller” is not a very flattering nickname under any circumstance; “Big Red” would have been preferable, but the Mary Kay lipstick I was wearing at the time wasn’t red, it was a demure shade of pink.

Oh, did I not mention earlier that the renovation years I was referring to for Rolly and I were  personal renovation years? And the structural engineering requirements are along the same bent—personal. Speaking of bent…that’s unfortunately the temporary state of my back just now. Maybe if I just apply a little heat and moisture I should get it to curve back in the other direction again. Apparently that’s how they shaped all the curves in those solid good old-fashioned church pews that curve around gently for a full twenty feet or more. I suppose it was so that the ladies on both ends of the pew could check out the hats of the ladies on the opposite side discretely, without cranking their necks. Those ancient craftsmen thought of everything!

But I digress. What does a church pew have to do with Rolly and I needing some “structural engineering”? Apparently something, I suppose, judging by the difficulty that Rolly was having at our neighbourhood Baptist church during their community Christmas Eve service. We usually alternate the hosting of services on special holidays between “the Baptists and “the Christians”. The Poplar Hill Baptists are not overly pleased when anyone from the Poplar Hill Christian Church smirkingly uses those one word titles for their members and our members side by side in a sentence. Perhaps it seems to hint at some sort of exclusivity, but such is not the intention. But then, who’s to know what competitive spirit ran through the minds of our church’s Scottish forefathers in naming it so?

The service was a beautiful combination of a very short reading from the nativity story, followed by the congregation singing the first verse of a related Christmas carol; then this format was repeated throughout the one hour service, perhaps twenty times. Each repetition was accompanied by a change from a seated to a standing position.  Even the Catholic church which I attended as a child had never required that much bending of the knees. Rolly was in real pain throughout, due to severe tears in both of his meniscus which had happened in early November.

So two weeks ago it was finally time for the first of his “structural engineering.” The left knee had part of the meniscus removed— simply to relieve the pain, but the tears are not repairable due to their depth. The surgeon says that Rolly will definitely have to have knee replacements when pain becomes an issue due to the advanced state of  osteoarthritis. I suppose that just like in old houses, the parts that get used most get worn out most quickly.

Rolly showing off one of his hibiscus.

Rolly showing off one of his hibiscus.

The three acres of perennial gardens around our property are a gift  that my husband has given to me over our nearly forty-five years of marriage. Although our house has only stood here for 37 of those years, bushels of Darwin tulip bulbs were moved here from an earlier garden as soon as we completed the house. Many of the ever-growing collection of perennials could only be weeded on hands and knees, including 120 different iris varieties which Rolly collected and multiplied over the years.

This dear man’s knees also took the brunt of 30 years of walking both forward and backward on concrete floors, as a relief man on the assembly line at the Ford assembly plant in Talbotville, Ontario. On top of that he roofed dozens of houses for friends and family, as well as a number in exchange for such things as a week in a cottage, a piano for the kids, and other rewards all of us enjoyed. I hope he realizes how much all that he has done has meant to everyone. As he looks ahead toward what will definitely be some complicated “structural engineering” we are both thankful that there are talented surgeons who are able to do such things and who will be there for him when the time comes.

Me by the wishing well  Rolly built me, with some the many roses.

Me by the wishing well Rolly built me, with some of the many roses.

And as for me, well what do you suppose would need some work for someone who has spent most of her life in hands-on pursuits? You guessed it. It’s the hands. As a daycare provider, as a professional baker, as a professional cleaner, and now as a nanny- housekeeper— everything I have done career wise has involved using my hands. Add to that my lifelong pursuit of writing and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that the thing that I need to give attention to now, for the third time, is hand contractures. The ring finger and its opposite on the other hand decide to go into a non –working mode every night and have to be pulled away forcibly from the palms of the hands, snapping like a bow-string when they get bad. But just a little nip and tuck and a short time of recovery afterwards for each of my hands in turn, and I’ll be able to do everything I want to do (except maybe play the violin). But then I suppose I shouldn’t expect that kind of a miracle, now should I? Perhaps if I had ever actually learned to play the violin…

Fireside Chat

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imgresAs we gathered around the fireside enjoying the ambiance of a warm room, dim flickering light, and amiable conversation, my daughter Carrie made note of the fact that the logs had burned quite low. Nobody did very much about it—neither my husband Rolly who usually likes to be in charge of such things, my son-in-law Phil who, at that particular moment didn’t seem remotely interested, nor my brother-in-law Bob who is much too polite to wrest control of the situation from his host.

It could have been remedied with such a miniscule effort, but I wasn’t about to get into a confrontation with my adorable spouse who, as usual, had the remedy to the situation close at hand but refused to give the control to anyone else.

When I couldn’t stand it any more— after ten or so minutes of his totally ignoring my pleas to remedy the situation, or at least let someone else do it— I yelled (well maybe not yelled, as I was trying to be polite.”For crying out loud! Change it to One Eight Four Zero, the French fireplace channel right now or I’m going to come over there and grab that stupid remote control right out of your hand and do it myself! French or English! It doesn’t matter—the sound is on mute anyway!”

Just then— as if in response to my agitation at the fact that the fire was losing the last of its pre-recorded, copyrighted flames to a bed of glowing embers— the screen momentarily faded out and then burst into new life again, with a blaze that would merit a call to 911 to get the Middlesex Centre Volunteer Fire Department over here immediately— if it had been real and not the big screen version of reality.

At least the larger than life hand that used to appear onscreen and clasp the larger than life tongs, to position new logs on the fire, had been wisely edited out since last year (on both French and English versions). There is nothing quite so disturbing when one is gently dozing off in a most relaxed mood, on a housebound pre-Christmas evening, than the shocking apparition of a disembodied arm! Especially when it’s clutching a deadly weapon (as defined by Perry Mason anyway). Heavy eyelids after too little sleep are a prerequisite for viewing apparitions I think.The disembodied arm should never have been there in the first place. It always ruined the illusion of reality in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock would if he were to jump up from behind the couch, during his movie Psycho, with a “You’ll really like this next bit!”

When we have agreed to let fantasy become our reality—if only for a little while— then any worm holes in the illusion of that perceived reality are really discombobulating. Just as using the word “discombobulating” right there, while in the midst of the illusion that I am an actual writer, is discomfiting (a much more noble word) for both my reader and myself.

When most of us are content (at least some of the time) to sit around the pseudo fireplace, what other compromises are we as a society willing to succumb to in the name of Convenience, in the name of Economics, in the name of …well, in all likelihood, in the name of Laziness?

Too much of a couch potato to bother with exercise? Maybe watching those young, fit, perfect bodies on TV, stepping, jumping and gyrating through their moves will improve your blood pressure. Too low? Watch Zoomba! Too high? Watch Yoga instead. All this is totally vicarious of course. But if the word vicarious contains the word “vicar” then surely this can’t be anything but a wholesome and well-adjusted approach to life (if PBS offerings on idylic life in Britain can be trusted.)

What about those of you who dislike any kind of spicy or adventuresome food experiences? How in the world, with such a limited exposure to jalapeños, are you ever going to mix in at parties? With such an untrained palate how can you ever hope to properly use the right terminology when interacting socially, on the odd occasion when you leave your hearth side? You, me, and your uncle are now expected to say things like “rich and full-bodied” “aged” “nutty” or “earthy” when describing ingredients for recipes— rather than potential blind dates! The remedy is equally simple here. You can easily acquire that talent from Chef Shows like Chopped, Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. Well, maybe not Hell’s Kitchen unless you only ever want to talk about Scallops, Beef Wellington and Risotto— a kind of savoury rice porridge nobody can get right, apparently, even though it seems to be all they ever make. Gordon Ramsey’s adjectives are rather limited too, or bleeped out altogether —even when he’s describing foods. Though I suppose you might learn the right  adjective from him every now and then when an earthy one is actually called for.

Moving on to other avenues of obtaining  culture— Have you heard yet that you can actually experience a Symphony Orchestra performance identical to one you would actually need to leave your home for, while going only as far as your own living room? Just get yourself a Bose music system and put on that new evening gown and that new tux and stretch out in your matching Lazy Boy chairs. Close to the refreshments and no line ups at the washrooms. Awesome!

Want a seat that’s just as close as the front row at the next big hockey game? Just order yourself a pair of Zoomies— the special glasses that you can now wear to actually live that experience— at only $19.99, (Second pair free! Just pay shipping and handling!) Wow! Two of you can watch from the equivalent of the first row, for fewer than fifty bucks and save at least a few thousand dollars! Even if you have a TV the size of a toaster the promise is that it will make your TV into a large screen and there’s at least another thousand saved!  And by staying home you won’t even have to fight your way through the snow. Now, on the other hand, if you love snow and can’t get enough of it you can still pick it up in a can at Wal-Mart and spray it into the corners of all your windows! Just like in the olden days! There really is a remedy for everything, if you choose to allow a little bit of illusion be your solution.

This morning when I got up bright and early (not actually bright yet, but definitely early) the first thing I did was turn on the bathroom light. For a few seconds I wasn’t sure who it was that looked back at me from the mirror— perhaps I was dreaming. It wasn’t the way I wanted to begin my day anyway, acknowledging that the hands of time had definitely been wrestling with and trying to reposition some of my favourite parts. I can identify now with how Mr. Potato Head must feel at the end of his day in a kindergarten class.

For a moment or two I thought about sorting through some photos of myself and scanning and enlarging a picture of my face that was taken on a nice sunny relaxing holiday— maybe about ten years ago. I could always stick it to the centre of my bathroom mirror.

But then, who needs reality anymore? After all, if I want the real thing I can always just open myself a can of Coke!