NON-FICTION

NOT BY THE HAIR OF MY CHINNY, CHIN, CHIN.

 Some years back, as a young Mom in my mid-30s, I clearly remember how another Mom - just a few years older, confided in me about her chin hair and how she was going for electrolysis to help alleviate the problem.  Until then, chin hair was not on my radar screen.  I remember how surprised I was that at her youthful age she would be sporting chin hairs.  It is a peculiar phenomenon that as soon as we become more aware of something, it seems to be everywhere. Suddenly I became aware of her chin hairs, was looking at the chins of other women, and looking for (and finding) my own. 

 

I used to associate female chin hairs with very old women, or with women who had extremely dark hair.  How wrong was I!  There is the perimenopausal effect – chin hair is often one of the first telltale signs that menopause is just around the corner.   Women when broaching the topic of menopause often commiserate about chin hairs.  Women with chin hair, often get the first real wake- up call when they see a close-up photo of themselves, or look at themselves in a sundrenched mirror.

Women on the brink of menopause tend to confide in one another.  The conversation bits go something like this, “so do you think you are close to menopause”?  “Notice any symptoms”? “ How about the stubble?  Yes, just like a man’s beard.  They are so coarse.  I hate them.”

And the solutions. “So, have you tried waxing”? “ Laser”?  “At-home bleaching”? “ The best tweezers are made by Tweezerman.” “ No I prefer Revlon, red tweezers.” “Ah, but you are not supposed to tweeze.” And so it goes.  Women gain some comfort by knowing they are not the only one with these out-of-place stubbly hairs. As women stress about their own chin hair, studies show that women like (are turned on by) stubble on  men.  According to a recent study*, stubble is the way to win a woman’s heart.  Researchers found that women are more attracted to men with stubbly chins than those with clean-shaven faces or full beards.

Women participating in the research rated men with stubble as tough, mature, aggressive, dominant and masculine - and as the best romantic partners, either for a fling or a long-term relationship.

I am now in my early 50s. Chin hairs are a full fact of life - a grin and bear it fact of life.  They are so trivial in the fullness of life.  Or so I thought.  Events from this time last year made me reconsider how irritated women can be by their chin hairs.  Like a sliver in a finger or an eyelash inside an eye, they do not belong and our human instinct is to rid the body of mild or major irritants.

 

Last fall our 80 year old mother was living out her final weeks in the Victoria Hospice.  Her days were very difficult.  Those of us who surrounded her at this stage were distressed to witness her quality of life diminish so rapidly and to see her suffer through the final ravages of metastatic breast cancer.  She had lived with breast cancer for 12 years, so in many ways she was considered one of the success stories.

 

Mom never spent much time on herself.  She was always giving to others and so things like her hair, clothes and all other beauty-related regimes would fall to the bottom of her list.   Mom imparted lots of great gifts to my sister and to me – but rarely did these have anything to do with beauty.  Some moms and daughters go to the spa or go clothes shopping together.  That was not how we spent our time with Mom, ever.

In her final weeks and days she was confined to a hospital bed, not able to enjoy the freedoms of everyday living that most of us take for granted, showers, brushing our teeth, washing our hair.  We are not sure what she told her wonderful caregivers at the hospice, but she never complained to the family about her unkempt hair or any other things that would irritate most people, in sickness or health.

 

One day, her eternally beautiful hands rubbed weakly and slowly over her face and as they got to her chin, she frailly uttered some words through her mouth and communicated with her hands.  She had  stumbled across some chin hairs.  Her words were not at all clear, but my sister and I both clearly got the message – she wanted them removed.

 

The next day, my sister Sally brought tweezers, face cream and some soft face clothes to Mom’s bedside in the hospice.  She tried to brighten Mom’s day by playfully announcing, “your beautician is here to do your facial.”  No question, Mom loved having cream gently rubbed on her face, but the greatest satisfaction was having the chin hairs removed.  When Sally was finished, Mom’s hands rubbed smoothly across her entire face.  Her eyes were closed, but her facial expression told the story – she was content.

 

Sitting with death in the final weeks of Mom’s life, there were ups and downs and a few sweet surprises.  One surprise we will never forget is that Mom who had not been focused on many of the classic girly obsessions and beauty rituals throughout her life, was absolutely not going to spend her last days in bed, or move on to the great beyond with any annoying chin hairs.

 

No, “not by the hair of my chinny, chin chin go I.”

 

HAND-KER-CHIEF

ˈhaNGkərCHif,-CHēf/

noun

noun: handkerchief; plural noun: handkerchiefs; plural noun: handkerchieves

1.    a square of cotton or other finely woven material, typically carried in one's pocket and intended for blowing or wiping one's nose.

Have hankies gone the way of the dinosaur or will there be a renaissance for hankies?

 

Last week, my 90 year old father pulled a perfectly folded fresh handkerchief out of his pocket to tend to his runny nose. Dad has been a widow for five years. At 85, he had to learn to do laundry.  Admiring his fresh looking hankie, I asked, “do you iron your hankies”? He told me that he had discovered a fluff cycle on the dryer and the better quality hankies never needed pressing after the fluff cycle.

 

A hankie conversation ensued. So Dad, what is a better quality handkerchief? Linen? A linen/cotton combination? European cotton? Cotton hankies from China? The jury was out, but it seemed his older handkerchiefs (as in 50+ years) laundered and lasted better.

I got thinking about hankies. Who carries them any more? Who gives them as gifts? There was a time when monogrammed hankies for men made great stocking stuffers or Father’s Day gifts.  I have a stack of old girly hankies – some dating back to my great grandmother. The older ones have lace edges and embroidered flowers. I am in my late 50s and always knew to tuck a handkerchief in a purse – especially an evening purse. Now, curiously I only ever take one of those pretty hankies when attending a funeral or a wedding – a place where my tear ducts may need dabbing.

 

Within a day or so of my hankie conversation with Dad, I was cleaning out a box of mementoes from my mother. I came across 40 gift cards from her bridal shower in 1946. On the back of each card,  the gift item– nylons, nylons, soap, nail polish and then – hankie, hankie, hankie, hankie, hankie.  At least 5 of the 40 shower gifts for the bride, were hankies! And some of those are likely still in my drawers.

 

In another box, there was a postcard/invitation sent in 1906 from a woman in Norway, Ontario to my great grandmother in Toronto. As an aside,Norway was a postal village in what is currently, the Upper Beache(s) in Toronto. The invitation was to attend a Handkerchief Bazaar.  In quoting from the plea to send a handkerchief,  “To be without a handkerchief, You know is quite distressing.”  Given that Kleenex was not invented until 1924, I guess in those days to be caught without a hankie was distressing.

 

Though convenient and quite lovely on first use, seeing a crumpled hankie come out of a pocket at the end of a high-use day is gross. But that is marginally better than someone using a cloth table napkin as their personal hankie. I wonder if any part of the green movement will go after the “facial tissue” overloading in landfills and bring hankies out of the closet (drawers)? Somehow, I don’t think I would be advising a young person to consider starting a hankie manufacturing business.  Achoo!

 

THOUGHTS AFTER MOM DIED ~2008

As a child, I felt things in our home were spinning out of control at Christmas. I was one of five active kids.  Mom worked feverishly to make Christmas special. She made everything from scratch including cookies, presents, dresses for my sister and me. Even silk dressing gowns for my father.  At Christmas, there was an emotional bomb ticking in our presence - Dad.  I could not articulate it then as I can now, but it was an edgy time.

 

As an antidote, there were carols. I am a sucker for Christmas carols- one of few who don’t mind when stores play them too early.  I mourn when the carols abruptly escape for their eleven month hibernation.

 

By the 24th, the excitement and tension was palpable. Christmas carols blasting on our hi-fi upped the ante. By early evening, all presents wrapped, the table set, finishing touches done on our hand sewn velvet dresses, hair curled with rags and a plate of goodies strategically placed for Santa, I always felt jangled.

 

Gathered around the Christmas tree, the frenetic pace of the day slowly washed away. The shaking and guessing of gifts under the tree ended as each child selected one and only one, minor gift to open on Christmas Eve.

 

The playing of Silent Night signaled a wind-down. That carol was like tonic for my soul as I gazed at the tree. Even as a young child, the melody often brought tears, and a few of the lyrics filled me with awe and a child’s gratitude for the abundance, the beauty and the mystery of Christmas. Silent Night ushered in bedtime and by extension, Santa’s imminent arrival. The hustle bustle and inevitable bickering from the day was instantly snuffed out by that carol. When I heard Silent Night, I believed the entire world was momentarily at peace.  That poignancy endures.

 

December 2008, Mom died. Leaving the hospice on a cold, clear night I was distraught. The days leading to her death had left me in despair. Cold, teary and shaky, I turned on the car and by happenstance, Silent Night was playing.  At such a sad moment, the carol filled me with the knowledge that everything would be okay.  I felt it was a signal from my Mother Christmas – bathing me in peace and sprinkling my weary soul with the wonderment of the universe.

 

Silent Night. Equilibrium.

 

REMEMBER! JUST THREE MUFFINS THIS WEEK

For seven years, Monday was muffin making night. Though Dad lived in a retirement home where all meals and snacks were part of the plan, he wanted and expected homemade muffins and, I delivered. Tuesday mornings, 10 raisin bran muffins. I knew the recipe by heart. Sometimes to arrest my boredom, I would adjust the recipe. “What did you do to last week’s muffins”? asked Dad, not mincing his words. Toddler-like bluntness in his 90s.

 

At the start of the last week of Dad’s life, he called  to remind me that due to his Wednesday appointment (to die), he would only need three muffins. That was Dad, practical and depression-era thrifty to the end.

 

Less than one month earlier and just five months after Canada had approved medical assistance in dying (MAiD), during one of my weekly visits with Dad he implored me to find out more. The topic of “moving along” had been on Dad’s mind for a few years. Widowed for 8 years, the physical inability to not pursue his true passion – golf and feeling the sting of a few retirement home romances gone bad, Dad was not depressed but he knew he was on a downward spiral, with a neurological condition making mobility increasingly difficult and a nasty fall or worse, predictable.

 

Even on the dawn of my 60th birthday, when Dad asked for something to
be done, I (and my siblings) generally, DID. His wish was our command.

 

I immediately began my online research. The first inquiry I wrote,
made me feel like I had blood on my hands. After all, I was
writing to see how I could help my Dad, die. At that time,
it was all so new. There were no experiential stories in
the media. I knew none on a personal level to talk about
this approach. At that time of inquiries, with more questions
than answers, I could not even discuss it with my siblings.
In November 2016, looking into M.A.I.D or Dying with Dignity
(a term I prefer) it was a covert exercise. 

 

In a whirlwind 28 days, Dad(and I) met with two doctors, got
the approvals, spoke to immediate family, managed through the
10 day reflection period, rewrote his will, entertained final family visits
and edited his obituary. During this time, Dad was newly energized as
he worked on his exit. As odd as it sounds, planning his death gave him life.
He had a purpose and a mission to accomplish. This is a man who met Mom on a blind date, proposed the next day and within the month he and Mom were married. This is a man who was orphaned at 4. He knew something about forging his own path. It has been said, “you die as you live.”

 

In Dad’s last few weeks at the retirement home, the strain of acting became difficult for Dad. Typically, no topic was taboo for Dad. Some of his generation may have found him too open on more personal topics. And yet he had the sense to know to keep his plan quiet, but carrying that secret was a burden. He did humour himself with some of his quick wit and double entendres. For example, while I was with him an acquaintance at the home asked the standard, “How are you and what are you doing”? Without missing a beat, Dad gave a line he often used (borrowed from the TV series of the same name), “waiting to die.” He had a hard time holding his laughter on that one.  He knew when he was going to die, but in that setting in those early days of M.A.I.D., it was not something he could talk about broadcast. Dad did not want to be blamed for a mass exodus if others at the home followed his path. Dad asked the family to be very forthcoming in his choice of death after the fact. He felt our knowledge and experience could be helpful to others assessing their options. 

 

As “the” day approached, Dad never wavered on his plan or expressed any fear or misgivings. He did decide in the last few days to contact a few people near and far to explain his choice. Some of those phone calls made him feel like he was on the hot seat. Dad being Dad, tried to convince a few of his peers that this is a great way to leave and call my daughters if you need help! 

 

In the past 18 months, I told anyone who had an interest, about Dad’s experience and the poignant family experience. A few people have contacted me to help them better understand the process and the pros and cons. I was interviewed by the New York Times (though their approach to M.A.I.D changed). I believe that Dad’s courageous step into the unknown has been helpful to others. He was one brave man who never questioned his decision.

 

In the end, no matter what your views are on medical assistance in dying, there are some surprising positives for both the person dying and also for those in their inner circle. I have come to really understand these better in the last 15 months.

 

Saying goodbye is never easy, but at least with a fixed date, there is a timeline. If you have something to say, find the courage to say it. And if you have questions on your mind, it is now or never. This advice holds true for the person who is dying or for their friends and family who are “in the know.”

 

Depending on the person and their approach to life, they are able to organize their affairs in a way that makes it so much easier for those in charge of “tidying up.” The person can die knowing that things are the way they want them. In simple terms, they can prepare.

 

Be supportive and not judgemental if a friend or family member tells you they have opted for this. The person has likely done much soul searching and they do not need judgement, they need support and love. Remember this is about them and not about you.

 

Never refer to this as a form of suicide. It is not - full stop. There are checks and balances to ensure it is not – first and foremost, no one is approved for this choice if they are not mentally stable at the time of application.

 

Crass as it may sound, people who opt in are taking a tremendous burden off the health care system and the immediate caregivers in the family. It is a noble choice. Dad used to say that if he broke a hip or something else at his age, his time in hospital would be costly for the healthcare system and stressful for his family. He did not want that. For a man who oftentimes was selfish, this final choice was a selfless act.

 

Take some time to reflect on the lone wolf doctors who are helping to make this happen. They invest time, emotional energy, and compassion to allow people to die with dignity. Currently, their time and compassion far outweighs their monetary compensation.

 

Be at peace, knowing that anyone you know who chooses M.A.I.D. will leave this world in a gentle and dignified way. In the days after Dad died, elegant was the word we used. From our experience, it was gentle and tender and comforting for Dad and those of us with him. For some years I had worried about the middle of the night call to advise that Dad had become sick in the night or had died all alone at night. That was not his fate, mercifully.

 

It was many months before I made muffins again. Muffin making is not quite the same and curiously I need to follow the recipe. 

(Non-fiction written a year after my father died with medical assistance)

 

Please indulge me in a metaphor that came to me after Johanna Socha, Island Gals publisher, editor, cheerleader and chief bottle washer hosted her first ever Dinner Party Luncheon.

 

While most of us were likely overwhelmed looking after details for Thanksgiving weekend, Johanna was doing that and then more!

 

Johanna invited Island Gals’ contributors, past, present and future
to join together for an afternoon of meeting, mingling,
noshing, listening, dreaming and inspiring.

 

 

 

 

Johanna rose above various logistical issues including
several last minute cancellations, and decided that
the show must go on!

 

I knew very little about Johanna before October 12, 2013. In fact she was an enthusiastic, very busy “virtual” friend who received my musings with open arms and encouragement. I still do not know all the details about the who? What? Why? Where and when, but I do know there was some magic in the air for those lucky enough to attend the luncheon.

 

And here is where I am going with the metaphor.  The magazine Island Gals is the loom, the contributors (writers, photographers and others) are the threads and Johanna is the master weaver.

 

Every edition of Island Gals is a woven mosaic of womens’ words, wisdom, thoughts, deeds and photos that inspires and motivates through its depth and beauty.

MASTER WEAVER

Speaking from experience, the first edition of Island Girls that found its way into my hands was a chance stop on Denman Island. I devoured every article and was inspired to contact Johanna to let her know how much I enjoyed her magazine.

 

With so many of the magazines (how many?? Xx) being distributed for free, we never really know who is reading our articles. We can only hope that we are inspiring hundreds of others of readers with the quarterly magazine.

 

On October 12, for a few short hours, part of the weaving came to life, thanks to Johanna’s extraordinary efforts. She created an environment where the threads of multi-colours and multi-textures could get cozy and start to cross-pollinate. Post-luncheon dialogues have been fruitful.

 

A very deep message of thanks and gratitude to you, Johanna for bringing the tapestry to life that warm Saturday in October.  I bet you never knew that you were a master weaver!

 

A TRIBUTE TO KAREN TOMPA, A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN
WHO DIED AT AGE 32 (1976 - 2008)

As I pen my thoughts about Karen, my beacon is without a doubt the vision of her BIG, BEAMING smile.  I know that everyone here today can picture Karen’s contagious smile.  Karen’s smile in person or in memory brings a smile to my face and warms my heart.

Many here today had the gift of knowing Karen for years.  Some of you knew Karen for her entire life.   I have only known Karen for a few years.  In fact, it is mostly during the past 18 months as Karen fought the battle, that I really came to know her.  How remarkable that she had the time, grace and generosity to continue to develop relationships during a time when most of her physical and psychological energy was, out of necessity focused on getting better! 

I knew of Karen before I met her.  Helen and Frank and Charles and I bought beach houses on Lake Huron within a year of one another.  Walks along the beach gave us the chance to catch up on 50+ years of life and family and children. 

Fast forward to November 2006.  Helen was visiting us in our new locale on Vancouver Island.  On our last day together we were in a little restaurant before Helen was due to return to Seattle.  I am not sure what it was, but something possessed me to check my voicemail messages at home, while we were finishing lunch. 

 

I was shocked that there was a message from Karen for Helen.  In the most reassuring and enthusiastic Karen tone, she told Helen that she was going in for some exploratory surgery as a result of the breast lump.  I know Helen’s heart sank, but we were consoled by the fact that Karen was getting in quickly. 

 

At that time, I remember thinking of all the breast cancer situations I knew of and I just ASSUMED that all would be well for Karen.  We now know that was not the case.

I was delighted and enchanted when I first met Karen to see that she was an effervescent blend of both Helen and Frank. She bubbled and had a warmth and enthusiasm that made her instantly loveable.  Karen had that special and admirable quality - she was both so interesting herself and also so interested in others.  She was enthusiastic and she wore the Tompa trademark – an outstanding sense of humour so well.

 

One day the entire Tompa family sauntered down the beach and had a little tour of the work Charles and I had been doing at our spot.  Everyone was so kind in their praise and comments.  Karen in particular loved the choices we had made in terms of colour and design.  Also at that visit, through Karen’s questions and comments, we became very aware of Karen’s can do attitude and technical capabilities.  New shutters? New deck? – You name it, Karen would learn about it and then do it.  She made us feel so good about the hard work we had done, and she understood and appreciated it both technically and from a creative point of view.

 

Over time, I would learn more about Karen’s capabilities, whether it was in creative home improvement projects or ideas for Upper or Lower Beachwood, or how she would plan a trip and summarize it ahead of time in a great
power point presentation.  When Helen and Frank were looking for
opinions about a colour or another detail at one of the beach houses,
I always felt happy if I happened to vote for something that had been
Karen’s choice.  I so admired Karen and her taste and style.  Therefore it
was an honour to have something in common with Karen. 

In the 18 months that Karen battled advancing and aggressive breast cancer, she and I began to get to know one another better through letters on email.   During times of great despair for Karen, she managed to send out group updates. Many here received those poignant and brave notes. Even if she had to deliver a difficult message, she always did it with hope and grace and appreciation for those of us in her loving circle.  During this time she showed tremendous determination to not only move house, but to join along with Tom and beautifully renovate the home they moved to last fall.  Just last night I was looking at the photos that Karen sent and they filled me with awe.  To think of what Karen and Tom accomplished in the one significant reprieve of the past 18 months.  It is astonishing.  We too were renovating our home and I was delighted when I saw Karen’s photos and saw how many colours and other details we had chose in common. 

 

She asked for my before and after pictures and I told her that I would need her to teach me how to use the program to show the before and after photos so nicely.  She said she would, as soon as she got some details organized for her Mom’s surprise birthday party.   Here was Karen, master renovator, keen photographer and master of software (runs in the family?), now working with the rest of the family to plan a surprise party and looking forward to a well deserved trip to Florida with Tom. Unfortunately, Karen almost immediately had to face yet another hurdle with the brain tumour.

 

So time went on and things appeared grim, then more hopeful and sure enough, before the party, Karen was back on email leading the charge on collecting photos for a beautiful power point tribute to Helen.  Little did we know, the artist Karen was also secretly drawing a mother/daughter piece to present to Helen on her birthday!

 

In April, I was so lucky to be able to sit beside Karen at the surprise birthday lunch for Helen.  If someone had walked in the room and did not know any of Karen’s history, other than seeing one of her adorable head scarves, they would not have known what she was going through.  She was full of smiles and enthusiasm and love for everyone.  A few times she discreetly left the table to rest but other than Tom, most of us did not know and then she would reappear. 

 

Of course, Karen’s story and the Tompa story filled the room with an emotion that was palpable.  I have never felt so much love, a true testament to the depth of the relationships between Helen, Frank, David, Karen, Andrea and Tom and the extended family. Today, in this church, I am sure that you are all surrounded by a similar feeling of love and warmth, loss and hope as so many gather to honour this beautiful young woman who proved in her short life to be a wonderful daughter, sibling, spouse, niece, cousin, friend and colleague.

 

In recent months, weeks and days as I have tried to make sense of what seems to be a profoundly unfair situation, I have come to realize that in her abbreviated life, Karen actually had the chance to reveal the depth of her fine character to so many and impart gifts of creativity, love, compassion, humour, empathy and thankfulness that we will cherish throughout our lives.  Thank you Karen. 

 

May the memory of your beautiful ways and your larger-than-life smile remain with us forever.   When the profound sadness of these days begins to fade, may we all feel uplifted by our time together.

 

Submissions to Victoria Times Colonist Writing Contest – I made a few submissions to their contests; most often ones where you had to write something employing five words they provided. Once I won a $25 gift certificate for Bolen Books, I was happy. Here are two that required the use of the words: newspaper, impress, cosmos, and whale. Both are non-fiction.

Early morning sky dappled in sherbet shades, masquerading as a sunset – a delicious start to a late summer morning. I feel overwhelmed by the beauty. Please, make it last.

 

I tiptoe outside to retrieve my morning newspaper, appreciative at the predictably of some of the simple things in life. I can still count on my middle- of- the- night visitor who, by rote places the paper in the same spot - to the left of my prettiest flower bed.   I wonder and worry about how much longer I can count on paper deliveries to my door?  When will paper delivery be a thing of the past, like the milkman and typewriters?

 

I breathe in the beauty of the bed – a riot of summer colours, dominated by one hot pink, gigantic cosmos.  It is a beauty. Not sure if it is my secret fertilizer, or the soil, or the weather this year, but I still feel smug about the comment made by a neighbour who prides herself on her green thumb.  “That is one whale of a cosmos. “  I finally had something in my garden to impress her.

Summer morning routine

Newspaper in one hand

Straw hat on my head

Morning coffee on the deck.

 

Some days the vista

Is achingly beautiful.

Its wonderment continues to impress.

My good intentions
of reading

The paper coast to coast

Become hijacked by

Nature – the soaring of an eagle,

The bark of a seal

Or the arresting aura of

A blowing whale.

 

Contemplation of the cosmos

Is my religion.

 

What is my problem?  Every day, my long “to-do” list plants itself between me and what I would really like to do – write.

 

I retired from my paid job five years ago.  Every day, I wrote something for a living.  Under daily deadlines, it was my job to translate facts (often boring or highly technical) into bumph, suitable for the consumption of some audience – investors, business media, government officials or corporate suitors.  Straying off the facts was punishable by the regulatory bodies, a boss, or the increasingly vocal, general public.

 

Four years ago, I arrived in this paradise, Vancouver Island.  One of my dreams, propelled by my own desire and by mounting pressure from friends and family constantly telling me, “you should write,” was to shed my corporate style of writing, tap into my own imagination and start writing fiction.  It is easier said than done – it is like Jerry Seinfeld suddenly playing dramatic roles. I waste lots of time asking myself, does fiction really exist? My imaginative process must be a function of my life experiences.  Philosophical debates with myself have taken up more time than I care to admit.

 

Then there is my seducer – the entire online world.  Email took the sting out of moving so far away from my home province, my friends and my life.  With email, I have been able to stay in regular contact with close friends and ones who have become closer than before, thanks to email.  Since that time, my online world has become more alluring with places like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and more to distract me.  By the time I keep up with the email, I do not have much writing juice left in me.  Well-meaning suggestions - get a new computer( one devoted to writing) with no online hook-ups, no temptations; do not look at your email, other than at one set time a day – sound good in theory.

 

Then there are the inevitable life moments – moves, sickness and death of family members, health issues – all great fodder for wannabe writers, but more roadblocks for the less-disciplined.  C’est moi!

The magic of Vancouver Island – be it the blood-stained patches on our roads during blackberry season, or the mighty final run of the salmon, or the achingly beautiful places like Cathedral Grove, or the novelty of dissecting and devouring a fresh fig grown right here, or the endless explanations to other Canadians that we really do have drought in the summer bastes my mind with delicious raw material.

 

While bemoaning my procrastination, a writer I know recently shouted out in an email, “your house must be too clean!”  I need the good proverbial kick in the behind – the pressure of having to write for someone according to a deadline and I need to let house things slide. Give me dust and deadlines. I promise, I will not disappoint.

(and of course, I need an endless pot of coffee).

GIVE ME DUST AND DEADLINES

 

I AM NOT LYING. I DRANK MY WATER

Masking fear with a cheerful tone, the older woman asked the younger Asian woman, “Hello, how are you today?”

 

“No, no need to take shoes off.  Pull down your pants. Up on the table,” bellowed the younger woman.

 

Clipped, the stone faced younger woman dimmed the lights, gloved her hands and carelessly slapped lukewarm gel on the older woman’s tender tummy. 

Tension in the air. 

 

The older woman wondered if it was the end of the day/end of the week malaise eating the younger woman.

 

“You did not drink your water!” admonished the younger woman to the older woman.  “Your bladder is empty.  No test. Finished.” 

Humiliated and stunned by the accusations, the older woman, lying half nude on the table blurted – “I drank all the water.”

Silence. 

 

Younger woman mumbles under her breath, but loud enough to sting- “Hate people who do not follow directions.”

 

Protests from distraught older woman were not acknowledged.  Ultrasound appointments are hard to get.  She had been on a waiting list and had driven an hour for this appointment. In five days she would be seeing the surgeon who needed the results.  A replacement appointment would be impossible to get.  “I am not lying.  I drank my water.”

 

“Your bladder is empty.  We are done.”

Slowly zipping her pants, the older woman felt the worst of childhood again – being blamed for something she had not done.  Quickly, the worry about the ovarian cyst reminded her she was no longer a child.

 

GETTING THE SKINNY ON NEW ZEALAND

Here is one of a few travel reports from a three month stay in New Zealand in the early 2000s

 

Our little beach house in Ontario is not fully winterized, so we were “forced” to find a warmer place for the winter.  Not quite psychologically ready for the snowbird trek to the southern U.S.A., we decided to cash in our airline points and to adventure as far as we could – New Zealand.

 

We have been here for almost a week and we may not come back.  Author Jeffery Masson has captured the essence of NZ beautifully in the title of his most recent book, Slipping into Paradise, why I live in New Zealand.  In one week, everything we have seen and experienced is as close to paradise as we’ve tasted.

 

During our three months here, from time to time, I will send notes from the islands, both the north and south islands of New Zealand.  But first a few practical tips.

If you collect airline points, start saving them, book early and book off your maximum vacation time to travel this far.  From Toronto-area, the actual flying time is about 18 hours and from Vancouver, about 15, not including time for connections.  New Zealand is 17 hours ahead of Toronto.  If you are reading this on Saturday, it is already Sunday here.

 

Geographically, NZ is stunning.  There is so much to discover, so bring your hiking and/or camping gear.  Be sure any outdoor items are clean and easy to find in your luggage.  Admirably, NZ does not want to import anything that might affect their paradise, so all items that might carry unwanted bugs or germs must be declared and inspected.  In our case, they washed our hiking shoes and fumigated our tent.  We had not planned on this and after flying all night, fishing out our tent and then repacking in the middle of the airport was trying.  All bags are xrayed upon arrival and if you have failed to declare, you are fined and the goods are confiscated.  This is all done with a smile.  New Zealanders are not dictators, they are just wise and want to protect what they have.

 

Allow a few days to acclimatize. In fact, if you are renting a car, consider delaying that for a few days.  Driving is on the left side of the road and many cars are standard.  If you have never driven on the left side before, it is better to be rested.  We toured Auckland by foot and by bus for the first few days.  Bus drivers are so professional and are treated so.  Everyone, teenagers included shout “thanks” to the drivers as they exit.  How sweet is that?

 

For the first several days, we felt turned around in so many ways.  Being in the southern hemisphere, it is summer in January.  Summer sales, summer holidays, summer weather.  People talk about going north to find warmer weather.  When walking on the streets, look right, look left.  Sounds simple, but it is remarkably hard to change such ingrained habits.

 

Early impressions on the cost of living?  Most things are generally more expensive than we had thought, but what you see is what you get.  Taxes are always included.  Tipping is not common or expected and joy of joys, everything is rounded off, so a bill of  $21.12, becomes $21.10.  No pennies weighing down your pockets.

 

The choice in accommodation is vast and there is a great choice for every budget.  From $7.00 in a covered hut in a NZ park , to bed and breakfasts to a studio motel to a recreational vehicle, to camping in your own tent.  We are planning to try several of the options, including some housesitting.  This is high season and we had been warned to pre-book our places.  So far, we have found many places with vacancies and we prefer the freedom of seeing and deciding on the spot if we want to stay or go.  Many places offer studio kitchens and in the case of bed and breakfasts, many hosts will cook dinner for you for $30-$40.

 

It is wonderful to be in a semi-tropical and exotic country, where we can speak our own language.  However, similar to traveling to the U.K., there are some charming nuances in the language that can cause an immediate communication breakdown.  On my first day, I had the best latte ever.  I asked for non-fat.  I was given a puzzled look and then was asked, “do you mean a skinny?”  I said yes, and have since found out that non-fat lattes are also called thins and slims.  All pretty logical.  With that logic, my husband drinks a fatty.  Every day, I see phrases that charm me – the local café’s menu refers to “sammies,”  sandwiches or there is the “cattery,” a place to board your cat, or the “honesty box,” a place to leave money for the “avos” (avocados) or oranges just purchased roadside.

 

Saving the best for the last, the country itself.  Otherworldy, awesome, stunning.  We left Auckland three days ago and cannot believe how spectacular and varied New Zealand is.  We are traveling in the Northland, and have been on both coasts, the west or the Kauri coast and the east, or the   coast.  On our first day out of the city, we experienced such variety from the most gentle pastoral scenes, with sheep grazing on hillsides, to lush rainforests dense with the famous gods of the New Zealand forests – the kauri trees, to ocean vistas that rival anything we have experienced.  We ran out of superlatives.

 

There are so many places to stop and walk, or hike along the way, and they are never crowded.    While you are out in nature, you never feel unsafe on any front. As an aside, this is a country with no snakes.  Crime rates are low.  I should however mention that car break-ins are a problem.  Tourists are duly warned and every parking area has a sign to warn you about the problem.  In some places, for example in the parking area for the New Zealand’s largest Kauri tree, car break-ins were high.  So, you now pay $2.00 to have someone watch your car while you are off hiking.  Best peace of mind fee I’ve ever paid.

 

REAL LIFE TRIBUTE - SELF EXPLANATORY; REGRETTABLY NOT FICTION

Robert Tyler, 44 – loving husband, son, father, brother, uncle, cousin, friend and cabinetmaker and
Lori Tyler (nee Yachimec), 42 – loving wife, daughter, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend and determined battler of MS.
Died together instantly, September 3, in a car crash, Sherwood Park, Alberta.

 

Dear Rob and Lori,

After the initial shock of your deaths, who would have thought that in the immediate days there would be many silver linings in the clouds of sorrow?  In life and in death, you’ve done us proud!

 

Your extended families, the Tylers and the Yachimecs joined together and faced so many painful decisions as a fully united front.  There was never any quibbling or politics among the 20+ immediate family whose opinions counted on major decisions relating to your funerals and especially Heather and Evan, your children. Currently, lots of ink is spilt on how to be a “team” at work or in volunteer organizations.  Your families just naturally functioned as a model team.  By example, they taught us everything about “team.”

 

Thankfully, you had a will, reasonably current at that.  Your sister Melanie, your chosen executor was (and will be) a superstar.  Through her darkest days, she made wise and considerate decisions.  Your brother Fred, named as the guardian of Heather and Evan and his wife Lori and their family are lovingly making plans for Heather, Evan and your faithful dog Jasper to become part of their family.  Heather, in her grief had the presence of mind to know where you kept your will, and also the combination to the safety box.  Your example has many of us scrambling to either make or update our wills – thank you.

 

On September 6, the 700+ family, friends and working colleagues (record number for that chapel you should know) lined up on the unseasonably cold and bleak Edmonton day to bid their farewells to you and to comfort one another.  The silence of so many people gathered in your honour was palpable.  Silence turned to communal tears as your brave niece, mustered all her courage to sing Sara Maclachlan’s  Angel.  Comforted by the lyrics, we all hoped you were now both “in the arms of an angel.”

 

Tears turned to laughter as your good buddies Dave and Bernadette bravely delivered their tribute. They reminded everyone that you were made for each other for many reasons, but especially because of your great sense of humour Rob, and Lori, because you love to laugh!  You would have laughed and blushed as they regaled some pretty personal and funny moments and some of your familiar expressions (Geez Rob!), making us all laugh for the first time in days.

 

With your passing, your parents, Frank and Joan Tyler and MaryYachimec have both horribly lost their youngest, defying all anticipated order of the life cycle.  Most summed it up by saying, “it is not fair.”  Who would have thought that as the week passed, during your parents’ darkest moments, their actions and words would provide comfort to so many?  They opened their homes and hearts to anyone and everyone, setting an example that we’ll never forget.

 

Your beautiful children, Heather and Evan at their tender ages of 14 and 12 gave hope to the grieving adults.  Their resilience, their ability to still have fun – ride their bikes, tease one another, laugh and play with friends made us realize that they will be a source of so much strength. That said, we know that they will have many bumps ahead, and we will all be there for them.  Through them, we will remain so connected to you.

 

Through your untimely and profoundly tragic deaths, we have learned so much about life and love and grieving.  At the service, Rev. Tim Posyluzny gave us practical tips on grieving – it is okay to grieve, grieving is necessary and it takes on many different and complex faces.  His key point was that we must grieve and reach out to one another and in our grieving, we must never forget the two most important words – Rob and Lori.

 

Rob and Lori - in life and in death, you are loved and you have taught us so much.  You will be sorely missed.

 

Nancy Wood

 

THE ELUSIVE FRUITCAKE (CHRISTMAS/WEDDING CAKE) IN SEPTEMBER

About a month ago, my sister Sally was making special arrangements for her upcoming 40th wedding anniversary. She wanted to include some of the nice touches that were at their (Sally and Michael's) wedding in Toronto in September 1978. One of those goodies was traditional dark fruitcake. She and her husband both like fruitcake and even though fabulous, creative cakes and cupcakes are now in vogue at weddings, Sal wanted fruitcake for her anniversary.

 

So, the hunt was on in Portland and here on Vancouver Island, and places in between. I love the hunt, searching for things that seem impossible to find. Nothing like the joy of finding them. After getting nowhere, on August 10, I decided to post on a few of my Facebook community buy and sell groups - one in Cobble Hill and one in Sidney. They are great for buying and selling, giving away odds and ends -  even for seeking recommendations.

 

After a few days, I got a “bite.” I received the following message from a young woman in the Cowichan Valley:

 

"Oh man...you can HAVE mine when my mom goes to visit my grandparents in a few weeks lol...they give us so many fruit cakes and I am allergic to wheat lol...but you would have to pick up from the Cowichan Valley"

I was pretty excited that I had a lead on a fruitcake. But from that time to the anniversary party on September 7th, the trail went cold. I would send a private message on facebook messenger trying to get more information about when? where? etc. and nothing. I began to wonder if it was all a hoax. I kept messaging this young woman who finally surfaced. She said she had been on holidays. She was still not answering specific questions until I said that I needed it right away. Then the vagueness continued. It was never clear where her Mom (who had the cake from the grandma) lived. At one point it seemed she lived closer to Victoria. I assumed that in part because suddenly the cake that the daughter said she would just give away had a price, then the price jumped by 50 per cent, then if it was to be delivered it doubled in price. I was starting to really have second thoughts. Everything about the transaction felt flakey. Silly me wondered if I even would trust eating cake from someone who could not make a simple arrangement. In the meantime my sister found another fruitcake but it was not at all what she had in mind. It was more like a dry white pound cake with large pieces of red cherries. As I continued to try and get the scoop on this fruitcake, Sally purchased marzipan in the hope there would be a fruitcake. I kept telling Sally that it was hard to explain but we may or may not have a fruitcake.

Finally on the morning of the party I made contact with the mother who had the fruitcake from her mother (the grandmother who lives in Central B.C.). She was describing the fruitcake to me and at that point I did not care what it looked like, I was making the purchase. 

 

Her plans to meet me in a mall parking lot outside the gym where she was working out were as vague as her daughter’s communications had been. She did not want to get into car colours or clothing - rather she just said, “I will be the sweatiest one leaving the class!!”  I zoomed over to the mall and waited and waited. It was an odd place to wait so a few people asked me if I was looking for something or someone. I said, “Wendy.”  No one knew her name. I felt I was on a “drug deal gone bad,” or my cake deal had gone fruity.

 

10:09 a.m. as I was losing hope, a woman asked me, “are you the fruitcake lady”? We zipped over to her car. On the way she proudly told me about her mother (in her 80s) who was still making this cake every year for the family, soaking the fruit in rum. She said the ingredients are so heavy to mix, that the grandma now has to have her son come over to help stir.

 

She handed me a big brick wrapped in foil (could have been hashish of the 70s). She put it in my hands and said, “Happy Anniversary to your sister and her husband!” I thought I knew what she meant but did not want to be presumptuous so I handed her the cash I had ready and she steadfastly refused. “No no no - just pay it forward.” I was really moved at how this was ending up. I felt shivers of gratitude. I went to hug her and she said, “No, no remember, I am sweaty.”  I thanked her many times over and she asked me to just "pay it forward.” I was so moved, I called Sal on the way back and blurted out just part of the story - at that point she did not really have the back story. 

 

I delivered the cake to Sally who expertly went about rolling the marzipan and using apricot preserves to affix the marzipan to the fruitcake. She then wrapped each piece in saran, then centred in a lace doily and tied with ruby colored ribbon (ruby being significant for a 40th anniversary). 

After a fabulous catered dinner, every guest received a piece of cake to “dream on” (old school). The cake was one of the best fruitcakes I have tasted - it reminded me so much of what our mother made for every family wedding. Our youngest brother, a baker in his 20s had the fun of doing the finishing with the royal icing. My sister and I had both kept our wedding cakes. In theory they were to be opened, re-iced and served at a special anniversary. Somehow, I and maybe Sal forgot that we were to drill a hole in the hard royal icing and feed booze to the cake over the years. Sadly about 5 years ago, I opened mine and it was as dry as a very stale french loaf of bread.

 

I found a way to pay it forward by doing a shout-out on facebook to the girl who originally answered my post for fruitcake. I thanked her and offered to the first two people on that community facebook site who responded, a free book for kids. I am signing the books now and putting them in the mail and feeling so grateful for how sweetly it all turned out.

I wonder if it would be too much to ask for the recipe? 

 

OCTOBER 1992: BLUE JAYS FEVER & A THANKSGIVING TO REMEMBER

It was the Thanksgiving feast we will never forget: Sunday, Oct. 11, 1992.

Even though it was Thanksgiving weekend, Blue Jays fans in the Greater Toronto Area – and across the country – were likely more interested in the American League Championship Series nail-biter that was being played in Oakland, Calif., than in any of the turkey trimmings.

If memory and Wikipedia serve me well, the Jays – ahead by one game – were to play game 4 of the ALCS series that would eventually propel them into the World Series(or not) that afternoon. Make no mistake, this was an important game.

Now, 23 years later, with Blue Jays fever reaching a crescendo similar to what Canadians experienced in the early nineties, it is finally time to apologize for how my family spoiled that playoff game for our neighbours in Mississauga.

What happened to local baseball fans that day would not play out the same way now because of technology. But here’s what happened in 1992.

It was an overcast and still day. Most people were inside watching the game. Remember that detail, it is important.

It was not our year to host or roast the bird, so shortly after 1 p.m., with the game just begun, we backed out of our driveway and drove to a relative’s home about 10 minutes away.

When we got there we were greeted with panic by my sister-in-law. One of our neighbours (who by fluke knew where we were going) had just called and told her that the moment we’d pulled out of our driveway, one of our massive, 100-year-old oak trees had crashed down – across our lawn, across the road and into the yard on the other side.

We sped home (with many questions racing through our minds – was anyone hurt? Was there a fire?) and could not get down our street as it was closed half a kilometre east of our home and the road was filled with emergency vehicles.

We had a sinking feeling as we asked for information, and sheepishly confessed that the rogue oak had apparently fallen from our property. We heard what we needed to hear – that by some miracle (i.e. most people were inside watching the Jays game) the tree had not crashed onto any pedestrians or cars. Our neighbour who had made the call to my sister-in-law hadn’t been able to confirm that at the time because the massive foliage of the offending oak tree made it impossible to see who or what might be underneath.

With palpable relief and no possible way to get back down the street to our home, we returned to our family gathering and tried to collect ourselves and enjoy the turkey – as well as the end of a spectacular game in which the Jays took a two-game lead in the series.

Some hours later, we left for home, expecting things to be back to normal on our street. Much to our surprise, the street was still completely closed. We begged the emergency responders to let us walk to our house, and it was at that moment, seeing that the power was still off, that we began to understand the double whammy of what had happened in the ’hood. The tree had taken down the power lines.

We had a sinking feeling as we asked for information, and sheepishly confessed that the rogue oak had apparently fallen from our property. We heard what we needed to hear – that by some miracle (i.e. most people were inside watching the Jays game) the tree had not crashed onto any pedestrians or cars. Our neighbour who had made the call to my sister-in-law hadn’t been able to confirm that at the time because the massive foliage of the offending oak tree made it impossible to see who or what might be underneath.

With palpable relief and no possible way to get back down the street to our home, we returned to our family gathering and tried to collect ourselves and enjoy the turkey – as well as the end of a spectacular game in which the Jays took a two-game lead in the series.

Some hours later, we left for home, expecting things to be back to normal on our street. Much to our surprise, the street was still completely closed. We begged the emergency responders to let us walk to our house, and it was at that moment, seeing that the power was still off, that we began to understand the double whammy of what had happened in the ’hood. The tree had taken down the power lines.

In 1992, no power meant no game, no Thanksgiving dinner and no recording of the game to watch when the power returned. It also meant returning to a coolish home that would remain so throughout the night, and being the target of blame for spoiling the day.

Had there been social media in 1992 our family would have been Public Enemy No. 1 in our little burg.

I would like to apologize also to the crews (who also missed the key game) and had to work through the night to clean up the mess and fix the power lines. I am sure the overtime pay did not properly offset the disappointment for missing the game.

In the days that followed we were regaled with stories about the “disaster” and how some resourceful neighbours had listened to the game in their cars, not giving a damn if they drained their batteries. The fact that Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston happened to live in the neighbourhood may have added to local fans’ dedication.

We felt terrible about what happened, even though – as good stewards of large old trees, which we consider to be simply on loan to homeowners – we’d had the tree inspected and trimmed by a reputable company only a few weeks earlier.

Just like humans, trees sometimes topple over for no apparent reason, and their lives end then and there. We are forever thankful that neither we nor anyone else suffered any injuries.

If the same thing happened today, smartphones would not only be the place to watch the game, but also the place to get updates from Hydro, friends and neighbours about the situation.

In the big picture, the major inconvenience was overshadowed by the Jays’ win that day – and their first World Series title, won 13 days later.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will have charged your phones (just in case), and may both your turkeys and the Blue Jays’ success be golden!

COPYRIGHT 2018 NANCY SEAGER WOOD

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