Wednesday, December 30, 2015

WYL #19 - Time to Brag A Bit

You'll have to excuse the glut of posts today - I just realized that I hadn't posted a few writing projects and want to get them into my 2015 book. I get my blog printed out into a hard-copy book every year as it is fun to refer back - yesterday I looked at the December 29 entry for 2010 - the day we retired! A fun recollection.


I don't have trophies or certificates to brag about. There was nothing particularly noteworthy in what I did in my job. I don't have hours of volunteer work to feel good about. I live an average life, so when asked to brag about something I could only think of some of my work with animals.

My first mare, Dora. had it all: temperament, looks, conformation. Taking advice from my mentor, Pat Wolfe, I sent her off to be bred. It was a long 11 months of gestation, but it gave me time to study foal training techniques. It also gave me time to to worry about doing it right. When Uvaer finally arrived I was as ready as I could be (and maybe a bit of a basket case!).

The golden mare with a black stripe down her back lay flat (as flat as a beached whale can be) on the bed of straw, her great body shuddering with each contraction. I knelt behind her, ready for the big event. Push, push, push. A foot, still encased in the amniotic sac, emerged from the birth canal. Another contraction and the next hoof was visible. My heart pounded. Would its nose be presented properly or would I have to call the vet? I breathed a sigh of relief when two nostrils, followed by a forehead with eyes emerged onto my trembling lap. I ripped open the thick sac covering its nose, and rejoiced at the first shuddery breath. Dora took a moment to gather her strength and then with a giant push the shoulders were past the narrowest point of the birth canal. Hips and back feet arrived with less of a rush. I slipped my hand down his wet belly to find out his sex. A colt.

After peeling back the birth sac, I rubbed him with a thick towel, then got to work imprinting him. This is a technique where the foal is handled extensively as soon as it is born. My hands, shaking from cold, excitement, and nervousness, started gently rubbing his whole face until he was relaxed. Relaxation is the key for a calm horse. If you stop too soon, you'll sensitize instead of de-sensitize. My fingers slipped into his mouth where a bit would sit, then I rubbed up to his ears and cupped each one, gently rubbing up and down and inside, being careful not to tickle.

Stroking from his head down to his neck was easy, I'd already rubbed there with the towel. I put my hand on one side of his head and gently bent his neck each direction until there was no resistance. Next my hands traversed his body and down each leg, rubbing and flexing as I went. A little tap, tap on each foot readied him for the farrier. I pulled his tail through my hands.  Every inch of him had been stroked, from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail.

After he was comfortable with me touching his body I moved on to the trickier stuff. I rubbed crinkly plastic bags over him, and ran clippers (blade side up of course) over his body. The noise and vibration caused an initial tensing of his muscles, but he relaxed with repetition.

I slipped out from underneath him and stood back. It was time for him to learn how to stand and walk. He floundered and careened about the stall for minutes before he could wobble on unsteady legs to search for Dora's udder, the source of life giving colostrum. Standing close beside his mother, almost underneath her, he pulled on her teat, greedy for the warm nourishment. Dora nuzzled his still damp fur, her eyes half closed and her own body still damp with the exertion of birthing a strong colt.

I gave Uvaer a chance to rest, then started up with the rest of the imprinting. When he was on his feet again I stood by his side and pressed one finger against his side. After a moment he stepped away from the pressure. What a smart boy! We practiced on both sides until stepping sideways (as well as his wobbly legs would allow!) was an automatic response. Leading was next. I slipped a tiny halter over his head and attached a lead rope. His first reaction was to pull back but gentle cohesion showed him that stepping forward would release the pressure. We had to be careful that he didn't pull back too hard or he could injure his spine. A press on his chest sent him backwards. Like a teeter-totter we went - back and forth, ingraining lessons that would last a lifetime.  

There was one more important lesson for this fluffy foal: lifting his feet. I supported his body against mine as I lifted and handled each foot. By this time he was used to handling.

With lessons over he fell into an exhausted sleep. At less than 2 hours old he already knew the basics of leading, giving to pressure (when I press on his side he moves over), backing up, and lifting his feet. This sweet, fluffy foal was well on his way to becoming a trusted partner.

Every day we practiced the initial lessons and added to his skills. He could walk over tarps, drag a bag of cans, have things flapping all around him, have a rope tied around his middle, and stand still to be brushed. I loved the time I spent with him, and he seemed to like spending time with me. At an age when normal foals would be clinging to their mothers, he would leave Dora in the field to visit me at the barn. He was friendly with strangers. He was biddable.

He was also confident, but not pushy, and a bit of a spaz. He would gallop around his mother at breakneck speeds, then screech to a halt for cuddles.

Pat Wolfe came to see him in those early days and was impressed. Not just for his confirmation, which was excellent, but for his desire to please and work with me. Getting a compliment from Pat is high praise as he is a well-respected trainer who has won National titles in driving. By the time Uvaer was ready to wean Pat had purchased him as a stallion prospect.

High praise indeed!

I applied these techniques to six more foals, every time fine-tuning the training as I learned more. Our foals were lovely horses to be around and their new owners appreciated all the work that had gone into them. Towards the end of my time with horses Pat Wolfe again complimented me on my skills with training foals saying that I was the best foal trainer that he knew.

I loved working with baby horses!

CW #7 Rosa Parks

Our final exercise in the creative writing workshop was to write a FICTIONAL account of a famous person's day. It was meant to give us practice researching as well as writing. I wrote mine about Rosa Parks. I hope I've done her justice.


Rosa's feet hit the floor with a thud. She shuffled through the dim light to the washroom where she washed her face, and combed her thick black hair back into a tight bun. She put on the starched navy blue uniform that was on a hanger on the back of the door. With a final check in the mirror she went downstairs, gripping the handrail and taking the steps one by one, thinking about what she was going to say at the NAACP rally the next day.

She filled a kettle with water and turned on the stove. A bag of 'Red Rose' tea, she always bought this brand because of the name, was waiting in a heavy white mug. While her tea steeped she walked over to the calendar hanging on the wall beside the fridge and flipped the page to the next month. December, 1955. Oh my, only 25 days till Christmas, she thought, I'll haf'ta pick up gifts for the nieces and nephews soon. Sipping her tea she wondered what life would have been like if they had children, if she would have had grandchildren by now.

Rosa turned on the radio in time to catch the news and weather forecast. Twenty seven Fahrenheit, I'll have to wear a coat, she thought as she sipped her tea. She pulled a bag of bread from the cupboard and laid out two slices, a thin layer of butter and a slice of bologna finished the sandwich. With precision, she folded it in waxed paper and stuck it in her purse, along with a shiny, red apple. Her tea finished, she walked upstairs to brush her teeth, after rinsing her mouth she smiled at the dark face staring back at her.  The clock downstairs on the sideboard chimed 7; she went back downstairs to finish getting ready to leave. Sitting on a straight chair beside the front door she put on her sturdy black shoes, then stood to put on her coat. The dark grey wool coat was scratchy against her neck as she fastened the top button.

From the bottom of the stairs she shouted up to her husband, "Raymond, don't forget we have the NAACP rally this weekend. I'm stopping at the drugstore on my way home, do you need anything? Okay, I'll get some aspirin. Wear a coat when you go out, it's below freezing this morning. See ya later!". The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People was an organization dear to her heart so she never missed a chance to help out.

She stepped out the door, an ordinary start to what would be an extraordinary day. Her feet seemed to know the way to the bus stop on their own, they'd travelled that way so often. Rosa stood straight as she waited for the bus to come, her large black purse gripped in front of her. She stepped on, paid, and walked to the back of the bus, careful to take a seat after the 'coloreds' sign. Every time she got on the bus it was the same thing and the unfairness angered her. At least this bus driver didn't make her get off after she'd paid and re-board at the back of the bus. She refused to be degraded like that and often waited for the next bus.

The bus rolled to a stop in front of the Montgomery Ward department store. With a resigned sigh, but shoulders back, she stepped off the bus and walked to the employee's door at the side of the building. A pile of men's trousers at her workstation waited for hemming and pressing.  Steam rose from the presser causing tendrils of hair to be released from the bun on the back of her head. Beads of sweat peppered her brow as she leaned over the sewing machine, meticulously hemming each pant leg. A bell rang, signifying break time, so she finished sewing the leg she was working on and rushed downstairs to see H. Council Trenholm to finalize plans for the NAACP workshop she was giving at the college that weekend.

Rosa hemmed and pressed more trousers before lunch, humming 'this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine" under her breath as she worked. At noon, she picked up her lunch from the employee fridge and walked down the street to the office where her friend Fred Grey worked as a lawyer. She was proud to call the second black lawyer in Montgomery her friend. Seating herself in the chair in front of his desk she unwrapped her sandwich and between bites proceeded to fill him in on what she planned to say at the workshop. Fred listened without saying anything, he was used to her enthusiastic mutterings.

As the afternoon wore on, Rosa's shoulders ached from the tedious work. At 5pm the pile of pants had evaporated and she was free to go.  Her coat unbuttoned, she walked a block to Lee’s Cut-Rate Drug and with a basket in hand walked the aisles. Aspirin, toothpaste, not the heating pad - too expensive. I'll try Rub A535, it's a lot cheaper than the heating pad, she thought. She set the basket beside the cash register and paid. Her purse in one hand and shopping bag in the other, she walked down the sidewalk to the bus stop. She couldn't wait to get Ray to rub the A535 on her shoulders.

A bus pulled up, and without looking at the driver she paid and walked down the centre aisle to the first non-white seat and sat down beside a man. Crammed onto a seat barely big enough to seat one adult, let alone two, she balanced her load on her lap and kept her eyes straight forward. The bus started. Three times it stopped for passengers until the front was full. The only seats left were the middle section where she was sitting with three other blacks. The bus driver, James Fred Blake, noticed a white man standing and shouted back for the 4 black people to move to the back of the bus even though there were no empty seats. At first nobody moved. Blake walked back and told them again. Rosa moved her legs aside to allow the man sitting beside her to leave then, gripping her parcels, slid over against the window. The other three moved to the back, where they stood, waiting to see what would happen.

Rosa sat firm, her jaw jutted out and head held high, tired, not from the physical work she had done that day, she was tired from years of racial injustice.

Blake threatened to get the police and still she did not move. She stiffened her body and in a firm voice said "No. I will not."

Blake left the bus to find the police. While she waited her resolve strengthened and although no other people stood beside her, she knew that she could not give in.

After a few minutes, two police officers accompanied Blake when he returned to the bus. The two officers walked to the back of the bus and confronted Rosa, ordering her off the bus.

“Why do you all push us around?” said Rosa.

The police officer replied, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

The officers escorted Rosa off the bus, one stopping to pick up her purse, the other to pick up her shopping bag. One opened the back door of the cruiser.

Rosa Parks stepped into the car and onto the pages of history.

I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.”
― Rosa Parks

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

remember you will be with me

We are socked in with snow as the first snowstorm of the season bears down on us. The wind is up a bit so the snow is drifting like a lace curtain past the window. It looks cold... brrrrr! It will soon be time to take the dogs out again, but I'll bundle up in my new parka and pull the hood over my head. It will be the maiden voyage for the puffy garment. Do you ever get something new and hope to never have to use it? That's how I felt buying my big down parka a month ago on that rainy Black Friday... (later: it was like slipping into the middle of a teddy bear with dense down padding me all around.)

We had supper last night at my mom & dads. Our family, plus my sister's husband, Shawn, and his sister, Kenda, joined together for a merry feast of turkey and all the fixings. My mom is the queen of making delicious dinners and handles a crowd in stride. I get stressed out if we are more than just Carm and I. It was wonderful to all gather around the large table and have the conversation flow, although it flowed more voraciously for some people.

Quiet descended as plates of food were placed on the table and everyone picked up their forks. Turkey and stuffing were accompanied by mashed potatoes, turnip, brussels sprouts and green beans. The gravy was a silky sheet over everything. Slowly, as people's gnawing hunger was appeased, the conversation resumed. A few people slipped from the table to load their plates up again - it would be a long time till the next turkey dinner and they wanted to get their fill. When the plates were all empty, except for a few green beans on one, and small scraps of turkey for the dog on the others, they leaned back in their chairs and looked around smiling at the blessed gathering. In everyone's head was the wish that 6 more people were crowded around.

Carm was in and out of the garage this afternoon trying to get the snowblower running. It wasn't even coughing… He tried removing and cleaning the spark plug to no avail. Desperate, he called the place we purchased it and they suggested removing the spark plug and putting a capful of fresh gas in the reservoir. It was a struggle with the spark plug again, and then voila! A throaty roar echoed in the garage. Verging on glee, Carm wheeled the snarling beast out into the white winterland and like an arctic dragon, white snow blew out its snout.

We had around 30cm (12in) snow by the end of the day! Can't pretend we are in Vancouver any more :-(

I may not always be with you
But when we're far apart
Remember you will be with me
Right inside my heart
~Marc Wambolt

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's night before it's afternoon

This morning the sun glinted off the gilded grass and trees. The ice from Saturday night has broken away in place, but enough remains to reflect the welcome sun. A cold wind blew in overnight the setting the temperature at -10C. A big difference from the previous balmy few days. This is more seasonal, but honestly I didn't mind pretending that we lived in Vancouver!

The rain had continued into the morning  yesterday, but by mid-afternoon the roads were dry enough for a trip to Sol d Acapulco for supper with friends. It would have been nice to spend the evening hunkered down with a book, or maybe Dr. Who's Christmas special, but since Eleanor is only here for another day or two we ventured out. A bonus of the journey are the coloured lights adorning many houses and trees along our route.  I love Christmas lights.

Today I started reading one of the books I got for Christmas. 'On Writing Well' by William Zinsser is a well recommended book about, yes, you guessed it, writing well! It's not about grammar (I could use one of those), nor is it about creative writing (I could use one of those too), but is about non-fiction writing. I think that many of the suggestions hold true for fiction, such as simplifying sentences and reducing clutter.

A huge flock of snow geese took off from a nearby field yesterday and I saw a big flock of Canada Geese. Today's cold weather will surely let them know it is time to fly south.

"How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"
~Dr. Seuss

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Climb Every Mountain

Santa's sleigh would have made deep gouges in the muddy green grass as he was making his rounds. The temperatures stayed well above zero for all of Christmas day blessing us with dry roads for travelling. Christmas night the bright full moon guided us home from our activities. The golden orb in the sky accompanied us on what would have been a dark voyage.

Our Christmas morning started like any other morning: dogs out, Grace fed, dogs fed, check email… you know, the regular. Once all of that was done we got ready to go into the city to have lunch with my parents, brother Graham and his kids Erik and Juliette. Traffic was light. We visited for a while then opened stockings: Santa had stopped off and left some packages for us at mom and dad's! My eyes lit up with joy when I saw the package of Ginger Nuts from New Zealand. Hurrah! Hurrah! I love ginger nuts and am slightly ashamed to say that I won't share them… with anybody. How greedy! There were a few more treasures from Santa - he always knows exactly what I'd love.

We had a leisurely lunch with my family and then it was time to visit with Carm's folks at his sister Maria's house. We saw his nephew Paul just before he and his partner whisked away to Montreal, only giving us a moment to lay our eyes on the sleeping great nephew.  Rocco, his other nephew, stayed through supper so we got to admire his son for much longer. Carm's mom was there, looking slightly overwhelmed by all the commotion, but happy to see all the babies.

As anyone with dogs can appreciate there reaches a time when they have been away from home too long so we had to take our leave. The dogs greeted us with crossed legs and shot out of the door like jets.

Once all the beasts were fed, we cuddled up on the sofa to watch 'Sound of Music'. Even after seeing it countless times there are still songs that move us. Carm's favorite is 'Climb every Mountain'. I love them all.

After a long winter's nap, we got up refreshed and ready to take on the boxing day crowds. There wasn't much we wanted, but it is fun to get out into the crush and pretend we are normal people. Best of all though, we stopped for Vietnamese noodles at our favorite hole in the wall. The warm meal gave us enough energy to tackle Costco, which was surprisingly empty. No good bargains there to draw people in.

Our day didn't end there. Once home we got a phone call from our neighbors Trudie & Leo. Their daughter Elinor is visiting from Australia and they  had a few hours that they could drop in for a visit. The dogs love Elinor as she is a pretty good petter. A few hours turned into many hours and the clock had passed the witching hour by the time we wound things up. I slept in but still feel pretty groggy today. Good though.

Freezing rain overnight has put a slick glaze on all the surfaces, but it has changed to light snow now. Not sure what that means for our day, but I suspect that we'll be watching the last of the Christmas movies today!

Lyrics from the uplifting song from 'Sound of Music'.  'Climb Every Mountain' is sung by the Mother Superior:

Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
'Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life,
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wisps of white cloud raced across the bright blue sky. Santa will have a hard time tonight if the wind keeps blowing at gale force strength, but at least he'll be warm. Very warm. When I got up this morning it was 15C and by noon it had crept up to 16C. It is warmer today (heaps warmer), than it was on our last day of camping. In fact, the last several days have been warmer than our last few nights in the villetta. Very strange. I guess I don't need to tell you that there is no snow this Christmas!

The little patch of mint that I planted this summer is still green. And I've been outside a few times in just a t-shirt. It is a tantalizing taste of what Christmas would be like somewhere warm. I like.

Poodles might not be as crazy about it though as they haven't had a haircut since mid September! Except their faces, they get those done often. I like to keep their faces clean just in case they get lost, I hope they won't look neglected or 'thrown away' if they are a bit tidy.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

may the force be with you

The dreary weather is still lurking around outside. There is a fine drizzle or mist hanging its grey shroud over the sun, obliterating most light. I have a few lights on, but it isn't enough to banish the gloom. I did have some cheer in the morning when I meet with friends at the bakery - a nice way to start the day.

We went to see Star Wars Tuesday. We were late booking our tickets and ended up sitting in the first section, just a few rows back from the screen. I tipped my chair back to take in the enormity and was glad that Star Wars isn't particularly gory. Blood and guts in my face would be hard to take. As it is, IMAX 3D really brought the action right into my lap; there were a few times I would have jumped back if I wasn't trapped in the theatre seat with people equally trapped all around me. We were truly immersed in the movie as we had to turn our heads to see the sides of the screen. I like that! Good movie, true to Star Wars.

Who remembers watching the first movie 38 years ago? It was the summer after grade 10 and I was 15. I was grounded, but Mom & Dad let me go with Jeff Charter and Olaf Verhoufen who were trusted friends from school. I can still picture the words scrolling across the screen. Oh so long ago.

We celebrated Solstice Monday night with Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding. And a bottle of bubbles. I was going to save the meal for Christmas Eve but felt that the return of the light was worth celebrating. I don't cook meat very often, maybe half a dozen times a year, but a prime rib at this time of year has been traditional for years. I'll talk about my aberrant oven in a minute, but what saved the day as far as the meat was concerned was a remote meat thermometer. It sat on the counter and beeped when the meat reached the desired temperature. I removed the beast from the oven and covered it with a bowl to let it sit while I made the yorkshire pudding. The roast turned out perfectly: melt in your mouth tender and evenly pink. Oh heaven. Remind me again why we don't eat meat all the time… I vote for the Sunday night roast dinner to return.

Merely the thought of the first returned second of light brightened my life.

Speaking of the oven, it has gone rogue. The temperature can vary 150F in a tiny turn of the knob. From a setting of 300F the temperature fluctuated wildly. 325 to 475 was within an 1/8 inch variation on the dial. Super frustrating. It required opening the oven door constantly to check the oven thermometer (remote one is already ordered). This of course varied the temperature more. Cookies cooked too little, then too much. Yorkshire pudding didn't rise. Good thing I wasn't making a souffle - that would be a disaster.

"It's true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They're real."  ~Han Solo

Monday, December 21, 2015


This morning the rain drizzled down from low, grey clouds, dimming the light. It felt like I was being pulled under water, a hand on my ankle dragging me down into the murky depths. It was depressing and I don't like to play with those feelings in case they get a grip. No fire was blazing in the fireplace and no lights were twinkling. It was time to turn on some lights, time to bring a warm cheer to the room. It doesn't take many to chase away the gloom, a few overhead and two by the fireplace. Their warm yellow glow cheers the room and drives away Harry Potter's Inferi.

It is a bit like the potluck day - dreary. But without the bright company of friends.

I'm not sure if you noticed, but it is December 21 and it is raining. While we've had dustings of snow, there has been nothing that requires a shovel, not even close. The mud season is still raging strong… I'm keeping the mop near the front door…

It wasn't raining much when I took the dogs out first thing in the morning.  I had my hood pulled over my head, but Kabira was content to run around outside for several minutes. She thinks she melts at the first droplet of rain. Of course the poodles weren't bothered - they had important smells to smell. Like intrepid hunters they traversed the hayfield, noses to the ground and ears deafened to my calls. Sniffing must take a lot of brainpower. Spike dilly dallies, distracted by anything and everything. It takes much urging to get him to do his business and come back inside

Last night we were at Trudie and Leo's for supper. We had some pretty good laughs as we'd occasionally stop our conversation to trace the origins. How did we get from discussing the restaurant's staff party to mental illness to big b**bs. What was the thread that wound all these words together. Sometimes it was obvious, but the others? That required a bit of thinking. And then whoosh, one of us remembered! We did this a few times and it made for a good laugh. A party game with no supplies needed.

Butter, sugar and flour came together to make another batch of shortbread. Oh yeah. Butter and sugar. What other ingredients pair in so many delicious ways? I’d done a batch a week ago but somehow the tin is getting lighter… I’ll tuck this box away so I have something to bring when we go visiting over the holiday.

Ginger and cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The rich, dark gingerbread dough rolled easily and the flat, brown men leaped from their disguise onto the waiting baking sheets. Oh my. Nothing compares to the smell of this cookie. I baked half the recipe; the other half is saved for when we are expecting guests. I'll quickly roll out some dough and bake it in the toaster oven for a welcoming smell.

I found the recipe with my index cards but I'm not sure where it came from. It was basically a list of ingredients, no oven temp, nothing about order of ingredients, just a comment about rolling it out. I couldn't believe how much spice it called for: 3 tsp cinnamon, 2 of ginger and cloves, 1 of nutmeg. Carm loves the result, I'm not so sure… but at least it smells good!

Sunday, December 20, 2015


As we rounded the last corner before home, I felt the familiar sense of relief at seeing the house still there and in one piece, and not burning down. Dogs and Grace would be safe and sound. I suddenly wondered if I was the only person who was that happy to be home so I asked Carm if he had similar feelings. It was the same for him. Is it the same for you? It's not like I worry when we are gone, at least not consciously, but there is always a lessening of an invisible burden and a whispered sigh of "we made it."

We had a multi purpose trip into town today: Carm visited his mom; I visited my mom & dad, Graham & the kids; Carm did some shopping at Costco. It was lovely to catch up with my parents, I don't see them as often as I should. Today mom got out her camera to share her NZ photos with us. It brings a tear to my eye to see the nieces so grown up. Carm ventured into Costco by himself on his way to pick me up. I would have run screaming from the crowds. And for sure we would have gotten separated and hopelessly lost. I find a busy store overwhelming and disorienting.

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

mind-numbing afternoon

A faint dusting of snow caressed the grass this morning. It wasn't much, it was like someone had taken a box of baby powder and give it a light shake. We've been lucky so far this year - there have only been a few mornings like this and none needed snowboots. In fact, the temperatures have been well above freezing so what precipitation we do get is wet. The sun has been noticeably absent. With thick cloud cover every day it is easy to slip into a funk, but through some good luck and the right activities I have avoided that pitfall.

Geese have still been flying overhead, huge flocks of them.

It looks like we'll have a green Christmas which won't have me crying in my eggnog. I'll be rejoicing the dry roads as we do all our holiday driving!

I got the second and third Christmas presents the other day. They came in a box from Amazon that UPS had wrapped in a plastic bag and tossed over the gate. It was raining. By the time we figured out they were there the box inside the bag was soaked and so were my books. Hummm. I unpacked them and set them to dry, first taking photos of the packaging just in case they didn't dry well. It took some patience, but I think they are okay. I've got them stacked on my desk but won't crack the cover until Christmas day. "How Not to Die" and "On Writing Well" will keep me occupied into the New Year.

I spent my Saturday afternoon lazing around on the sofa with Christmas movies playing. None of the good ones, just mind-numbing mumbo jumbo. I don't think that any of them had Santa's stamp of approval.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  ~Charles Dickens

Friday, December 18, 2015

Writing group friends

Thursday morning I stood in the center of the living room and looked around. It was a grey, rainy day but the house, with lights twinkling and candles flickering, seemed festive and welcoming. The lights from the Christmas tree and fireplace mantle added a warm glow. The table, actually tables, were set with silver chargers and matching cutlery - since we were going to be eleven people I was happy we'd picked up the extra set of silverware this summer. Cut glass water glasses caught the light of the candles. Christmas music rang through the air. The dreary December gloom was banished like the wolves around a fire.

I had just said "I guess that's everything", when the dogs started madly barking from the front bedroom. They were banished from the festivities - their pokey noses and insistent nudges were not welcome today. I peeked out the front door and saw that my first guest had arrived. Nicole, in true French Canadian tradition, had a platter of ham, a crock of beans, and a bottle of wine, balanced in her arms. I ushered her over the threshold and relieved her of the bounty.

No sooner had I gotten her settled when another flurry of barking drew me to the door again. Don, looking remarkably like Santa with a hat to match, handed me a crock pot of bubbling meatballs. Ummmm. I was starting to get hungry.

Guests started arriving in groups, having car-pooled to our slightly remote location. Our laneway was muddy and the rain was coming down. No dirty footprints on the floor Carm had carefully washed the day before!

It was a blur of arrivals: Helene, Marnie, Judy, Diane, Mona, Mary, Marthe, Della. All arrived safe and sound bearing copious amounts of food, and right on time. Shoes were piled by the garage door and coats laid out on the spare bedroom (no, not the den - that is still filled with stuff from the camper, cages, and other detritus). That taken care of, drinks were distributed and we got down to the important activity: visiting. Oh, but first Grace had to be admired. Of course she didn't say a peep with all those eyes on her!

It was soon time to eat. Platters of food were arranged along the counters of the kitchen - they stretched over almost all surfaces. With plates piled high we took our seats at the long table - 12 1/2 feet long! - and started new conversations with our neighbors. I think everyone had seconds.

Coffee and sweets ended our time at the table. Mary had brought a game so we split up into groups and tried to guess the Christmas carol from the amusing sketches. Some were obvious, but others were tricky. Our group came 2nd. We migrated to the sofa area, crammed onto chairs and balanced on the futon for the next game. Diane passed us each a card with a 5 word writing prompt written on the top line. I wrote 5 more words of the story then passed it to my neighbor. The cards travelled around the circle, with everyone adding their 2cents worth to the story. When our own card was back in our hands we read out the results. There are some pretty bent people in this group!

It wasn't long after the stories were read out when the party broke up. I was sad to see everyone go - it had been such a lovely time. No rest for me though - a mountain of dishes, silverware and glasses had to be washed. The dishwasher swallowed the plates (all 22 of them), and water glasses (11) and finally the coffee cups (11). Wine glasses and silverware had to be done by hand. I did the silverware while on speakerphone with Kirsten in NZ and Carm helped me with the wine glasses. Our world was back together (mostly - the extra table was disassembled, and the extra chairs were disbursed around the house today.)

Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home, sweet home
For there the heart can rest.
~Henry Van Dyke

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

scrub a dub dub

It was past the witching hour when we got home Saturday night from our neighbor's Christmas Party. We don't often see the neighbors on the other side of the river so it was nice to catch up with the bunch of them. We were at Laurie & Kevin's place last year so I'm sure I told you then about the picture frames hung from the ceiling around lights, and all the other amazing decorations. It’s almost Tim Burton. I like quirky but sadly my house is plain vanilla. Except for Grace's cage area in the livingroom. Some might call it downright weird.

It’s all tiled with a drain in the floor. A cold water tap is installed in one of the cabinets so I can spray the whole area clean. Strange enough for you? It never ceases to feel weird using a hose in the livingroom!

I leafed through the fliers on Sunday morning, paying special attention to the Pet Valu one. On the back page the Bully liver treats were $10 off! The dogs haven't had these for over a year and they love them. I got on the phone to find a store with some in stock. None of the country stores had any but the closest one in the city had 4 bags. The kind sales woman put a bag aside and we rushed to get in the car.

Sniff sniff. Oh, that smells good. Nothing like the smell of cooking meat to fire up the hunger. We were in a crowded parking lot walking towards the pet store and looking around to see where the smell was coming from. There, way up in the far corner was 'The Works', a burger joint that is known far and wide. We'd never been and gosh we were hungry…

Two bags of liver treats and some beef treats for under the tree were rung up, just treats - no new toys for Spike and no new sweater for Kabira.

We walked over to the restaurant to look at the menu. They gave us a take-out menu and a specials menu to take away with us. I poured over the specials menu and was surprised to see a lunch special. I'm sure you can see where this is going. We dashed over to my brothers for a quick visit then slid into the restaurant just in time to catch the special. No cooking Sunday night!

I scrubbed and scrubbed on Monday, visions of Cinderella danced through my head. No glass slippers and ball gowns for me though, just thick wool socks and old clothes - I never made it to the ball. It is amazing how much dirt becomes invisible until you look at it through a visitors eyes. I guess it isn't that bad but it doesn't hurt to scrub.

Speaking of scrubbing… Carm got Spike into the shower this morning… he still stinks of skunk when he gets wet. Really stinks. I've poured the miracle stuff on him a few times, but either I'm missing the really bad spot, or it has lost effectiveness. Carm bathed him again today - he's a mobile air 'freshener', obscuring the smells in our house…

Are you listening to Christmas music yet? I've got carols blasting on the stereo right now. I love choir music, but my favorite song is Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Peace on Earth and Little Drummer Boy. Amazing. Grace loves the  music too and is inspired to whistle an accompaniment. Oh, and offer me a beer. The way she carries on you'd think we were heavy drinkers. We are not.

The house was clean, scrubbed and immaculate, curtains washed, windows polished, but all as a man does it - the ironed curtains did not hang quite straight and there were streaks on the windows and a square showed on the table when a book was moved.”  ~John Steinbeck

Saturday, December 12, 2015

silver and gold with a bit of blue thrown in

Gosh, where has the week gone? It is like my fingers and brain have departed from my body for more fertile earth. You'll have to bear with me as I do a boring blow by blow of my week. I like to read what I did three years ago!

Monday… humm.. a slow start (very slow) before meeting with Christina for another walk at the conservation area. We had better luck with not getting lost as we were both paying more close attention. I did note that the path wound north, south, east and west keeping my internal compass in constant flux. The sun behind the clouds was the only indicator we had to keep us oriented. Never-the-less, we had a lovely walk!

Tuesday… dogs at the vet for their annual and rabies vaccines. The usual chaos of taking 3 dogs that don't get out much into an emotionally charged environment. Kabira balks at the door, Spike rushes forward to see if there are other dogs to menace. Bella is keen to get into the waiting room. The new leashes are slippery and slid through my fingers like snakes. We had zero control. But at least they were good for the doctor and got their jabs without a fuss.

Wednesday… oh yeah, trip to the city for a doctor appointment, me this time, and a dash into Costco. All boring stuff that didn't inspire any great revelations. I shouldn't really say that as my time with my doctor is often enlightening. I really like her, but she's retiring in 2 years - hopefully that gives me enough time to find someone new. She's the third psych doctor I've had in 10 years.

Thursday… last WYL meeting for this year. Mona brought decorations for the table and some treats that she'd made. The music boxes chimed out Christmas carols (Don may have wanted to run). Next week we are having a potluck lunch at my house. I may already be freaking out a bit…

Friday… we had planned on visiting Graham but he wasn't up for company so we had lunch at Ikea and did some shopping. I got two packs of european style wine glasses - the are short, stemless glasses that could also be juice glasses. Six glasses for $4.99! I got a pack for the camper too. When it is just the two of us we generally use a short glass rather than stemmed ones. I don't know why. Even though we were out for much of the day we joined Trudie & Leo for a glass of wine after supper. I was exhausted when we got home, too tired to sleep.

Which brings us to today. I've got Christmas music buzzing in my ears. Crates of decorations are piled in a corner in case I decide that one more trinket is required, that one more angel or santa needs to be resurrected. I have a mixed feeling about the decorations placed all over my home. On one hand it is pretty, but on the other, it is more stuff lying around and that sometimes gives me anxiety. As I've gotten older I have pared down on what's sitting about collecting dust and impinging my vision. It makes me feel claustrophobic and a bit panicky. But I won't focus on that, instead I'll delight with the crystal bowl filled with pretty gold and blue balls lit with tiny led lights.

Carm was outside cutting down some tree, so with him out of the way Grace got into full-on conversations. Primary question: ‘do you want a beer’. She learned that in 2013 when we left her with friends, and ever since then we use the same phrase to reinforce her hilarity. She must have thought I was thirsty as she asked me a dozen or more times. Come to think of it, if eggnog had been in the fridge I might have poured myself one of those instead of the beer Grace was so graciously asking me about.

You'll laugh about the tree. It's just a small one - 3 feet or maybe 4 - when it is time to put it away I wrap it in a sheet, decorations and all, and carefully carry it down to its corner in the basement, where it sits, ready to be revealed again the next year. Crazy eh!

I might do a crowd funding for a ticket to NZ this Christmas (joking of course, but why do tickets have to be so dear this time of year?)

Christmas always rustled. It rustled every time, mysteriously, with silver and gold paper, tissue paper and a rich abundance of shiny paper, decorating and hiding everything and giving a feeling of reckless extravagance.  ~Tove Jansson

Monday, December 7, 2015

I like to walk

The sun played peek-a-boo with us all afternoon and since it was a balmy 7C we decided we had to get out of the house. The age old question haunted us: where. We could go for lunch in Morrisburg, the club sandwich there is excellent. We could drive around with no place in mind. In the end we decided to see if we could find a conservation area that we heard about.

We drove down roads that we don't normally travel, turned left at Canamore and drove for a few minutes. We found it! We got out of the car but there was a sign saying the trails were closed. Oh drat. Got back into the car and were starting to drive away when another car came in and rolled down their window. They were the caretakers and said to go ahead and walk the trails.

The trails were mowed & cut and 'reasonably' easy to follow. We got lost a few times but in the end made it back to the car without having laid a trail of crumbs. It was an interesting walk, through rocky areas, shrub, tall forest and back through grass. We will definately go again.

In fact, I went again on Monday, this time with Christina. I had a bit of an idea where the trails went so we managed to not get lost! The trails do loop around: east, west, north and south, mix up and repeat. Next time we'll bring some crumbs. If I had a smart phone I'd be able to call up a walking app that would at least show us where we'd been.

The previous few days (Thursday and Friday) I dragged myself around, exhausted and feverish. I think it was still side effects from the vaccine, but it could have been a touch of the flu. Regardless, I'd still get the vaccine. Saturday Carm visited his mom while I spent some time with my Dad and brother. It is nice to have a few hours to connect with family.

"I like to walk, touch living Mother Earth—bare feet best, and thrill every step. Used to envy happy reptiles that had advantage of so much body in contact with earth, bosom to bosom. [We] live with our heels as well as head and most of our pleasure comes in that way."  ~John Muir

Friday, December 4, 2015

CW #6 An Unfinished Song

You may recognize this story as I posted a version of it a year ago. The creative writing assignment for class #6 was to write our own story. I liked this story the first time but knew it would be better once I applied some of what I learned. It could still use work, but here it is re-written and with critique results incorporated.


Larry stood outside the restaurant door his shoulders slumped. He almost didn't recognize the ashen face staring back at him in the glass door. He hitched his jeans up and tightened his belt one more notch, then ran his hand through his grey hair in a vain effort to tidy it. He tried to remember when he was a normal, happy man, what he had been like before the depression descended, before the dense grey fog had taken over his mind obliterating all recollection. Staring at his wounded reflection he examined his life to try to find the reason for his condition, hoping to find a trigger that could be reversed, but there was nothing he could pinpoint. His doctor told him that he'd get better, but it would take time. With a shallow sigh he pulled open the door and stepped inside.

"Larry, we haven't seen you for ages. I've missed your cheerful smile and all your crazy jokes, where have you been?"

"Around." was all the response he could muster.

"I'll put you in your usual seat." The waitress gave him a quick hug before leading him to his table, "Are you having the tacos?"

"Please." Larry answered back with a wan smile. His thin body collapsed into the chair and for a moment he clasped his hands in front of him and lowered his head as if in prayer, his breathing became deeper and slower as he gathered his will to continue his charade.

He took a deep breath and sat up, letting the noise and commotion wash over him like a warm wave. He felt a stirring of life, like a seed getting ready to emerge from sun warmed soil. He needed this. His meal appeared before him and with unsteady hands he ate, a cloth napkin tucked under his chin so he didn't spill onto his favourite concert t-shirt. He hadn't eaten much this past month: canned soup and saltine crackers had been his mainstay, anything else was too much effort.

He lifted his head from the last of his meal and noticed people moving to tables on the patio. Someone started singing with a karaoke machine. Larry felt his pulse quicken as the familiar sounds of the Hollie's 'Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress' caught his ear. His foot moved to the beat of the music.

They've never had music here before, thought Larry, the new owner is really changing the place.

With strains of music wafting through the restaurant, he gathered his energy and walked over to the patio door so he could see what was happening. As he stood there, a woman in a bright pink t-shirt came inside, squeezing past him on her way to the bar.

"Is this a private party?" Larry asked her. He wasn't sure why he cared, but there was something inside him looking for a life preserver.

She shook her head, smiled and invited him to join in.

He stepped through the door and felt a stirring of life in his chest. Colour flushed his face and his heart beat a little faster. Visions of singing in front of the mirror in his room as a teenager flooded his memory. Piles of albums had littered the floor, driving his mother crazy. Simon and Garfunkel's 'I am a Rock' became his anthem and he sang it until the album was worn out. He thought of his guitar sitting covered with dust in the corner of his living room and strummed his fingers as if it were in his arms.

He stood by himself against the side wall of the patio listening to the music. Slowly courage welled until, at a pause in the music, his hesitant legs carried him to the entertainers with the karaoke. He bit his lip then blurted out his request: a chance to sing. With trembling hands he took the list of songs and made his choice.

He grasped the mike with sweaty palms waiting for the first notes to play. A gentle breeze cooled his sweaty brow. Closing his eyes he started to sing,
"A winter's day
In a deep and dark
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island."

His long given up dream of being a rock star played in his head as he belted out 'I am a Rock'. For a few brief minutes he felt more alive than he had for months and the confusion in his mind lifted a bit. He stood up straight, with his shoulders back and head held high, swaying to the music. It was his saviour.

Abruptly, it seemed, the music stopped and he opened his eyes. Where he had imagined cheering crowds, sat tables of people immersed in their conversations. Barely an eye had turned his way. Deflated he handed the mike back and turned to walk away. His shoulders slumped and his legs felt like they were walking through a vat of molasses. Feelings were stuffed back into a leaden suitcase.

Suddenly exhausted, he went back through the patio door, the possibility of salvation left behind, and trudged to the door to the parking lot. His arm trembled with the effort of opening it. Just as he was about to step through a voice called out to him.

"Hey! I really liked what you sang. I love Simon and Garfunkel. I wish you'd sung more. Maybe next time." A bright smile lit the woman in pink's face and she turned away.

Heat flushed Larry's body, and he walked out the door, with a slight smile on his face and a bounce in his step - not quite as alone as he was before.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


I was relaxed and sleepy as I sipped my Camomile tea. It was almost time for bed so Carm had the dogs outside for a minute. Carm came barreling through the door shouting "There's a skunk out there!" Too late, one of the dogs got skunked. Not Kabira this time - her turn was about a month ago. Spike was rubbing his face all over the loveseat so I knew he was the one that got bombed. I scooped him up and ran to the laundry room where we keep the Skunk stuff.

So much for relaxed… I spritzed and sprayed, sponged and drenched, in an effort to cleanse. I got some of the smell off, but until he dried I wouldn't know where to add extra effort. Into his crate he went. He sat there with the door closed,head hanging. There was no wagging tail, just a cringing body. He settled down and started to shiver - I couldn't just leave him there so got out one of his coats and dressed him up before scooting him back into his kennel.

My heart cried for the poor little guy - he hasn't had to spend the night locked up since he was a little puppy - I couldn't leave him alone in the living room shivering and cold. I got out a blanket and settled on the futon so he wouldn't be alone. Late into the night I did let him out to snuggle with me and yes, there was still work to do on the de-skunking.

Of course we had company coming the next night. Skunk makes a pervasive 'air freshener' but at least there were no other smells in the house! Sadly it will take another month for the smell to totally dissipate…

Tuesday I met my new GP and took the opportunity to get a tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough booster. No big deal right? That evening I started chills - I was freezing - two pairs of wool socks, a big fleece sweater, scarf wrapped around my neck, the hood of my sweater pulled over my head and a blanket on top of everything could barely keep me warm. A headache started. I was exhausted. I was no better Wednesday morning so I called my friend to cancel lunch as I thought I was coming down with something…

Internet search to the rescue (well, not exactly rescue cause it didn't cure me). It seems this was a fairly common reaction to the vaccine. I was relieved that I wasn't getting sick because we still had a bunch of people coming for supper.

We were celebrating Marie's birthday and everyone was making a contribution. We sat down at a table groaning under the weight of Chinese food. We ate and we ate, everybody stuffing themselves till they nearly burst. Then the two cakes came out - one with candles of course. The mocha mousse was light while the cherry cheese cake was heavy with a delicious, creamy base. All of us had one of each kind. We pushed back our chairs and groaned. Too much food! I had luckily recovered enough to keep up with the crowd. Then we talked and laughed until late into the night.

Pepe Le Pew: This little love bundle. Now she is seeking for us a trysting place. Touching, is it not? Come, my little peanut of brittle. I will help you. Wait for me. Wait.