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Mimi and Me

My aunt Mimi, 89, the one with the family stories, the keys to the vault, has passed. Mildred. Mil.

SHE got a nickname. She was special.

My family of origin, sadly, was not one for nicknames. My late husband, Hugh, and I generously sprinkled nicknames all over our kids. Jetanne was Ta-baby, then Tan, Tanneo, now Jet. Randelle was Delly-Dew-Drop, Delly-Dum, Delle, Ran, Randy. Jay’s name was too short, so Jaybird.

It’s similar – and rhymes with – my older brother’s name. Ray. Three letters. So simple. I recall Dad checking him in to the hospital one time, probably after a fight in which his coke-bottle-thick glasses got split at the bridge again. He was a nerdy, but scrappy guy.

“So, Raymond?” the triage nurse said.

“No, George,” Dad said.

The message? Do not mess with my kid’s name. Not much you can do with Rita. Retard was a grade school favourite. And then when my sister – aka “the mistake” – came along almost a decade later, she was named Jana. Not much you can do there either, except maybe mishear it and call her Janet. 

Mimi. I remember coming into consciousness, hearing Ray say that name and thinking, Neat. I liked how easy it was to say. I liked the feel of it on my lips. Mimi.

I learned later it was Ray that gave it to her. The firstborn often does this right? Our mom, Jeanette, Mildred’s sister, had gotten off the island of Cape Breton first, travelled around eastern Canada, then ended up in Scarborough. Mildred followed a few years later. Ray was born soon after and Mildred snuck in to the hospital to see him under the description of “grandmother”, as aunts at the time had no visiting rights. “Youngest grandmother I’ve ever seen,” remarked one of the staff.

By the time Ray’s wee mouth, unable to pronounce those hard “d”s, came out with “Mimi”, Mimi was smitten.

So, no nicknames in my original famjam, and few formal manners. Jetanne’s kids – my grandkids – go around “Aunt” and “Uncle”-ing Randy and Jay all the live-long day. For us? Mimi was Mimi. 

She married a Jamaican-British man almost twenty years her senior, whom she met at a gathering of friends of my parents. Errol offered her a drink. “I’d love a ginger ale,” she said. It was hot day. He poured her a generous glass of the amber liquid from a ginger ale bottle in the fridge, not noticing that it didn’t fizz. She took a big swig from the sweaty glass, then promptly  spit it out, all over her lap. It was malt vinegar, disguised in the wrong bottle!

They had a son, David, then lived at 245 Confederation Drive – notice how that rhymes – in Scarborough for the longest time. This is where we got to see Mimi’s interior design style, another thing we sorely lacked, on display. French provincial furniture in the living room, funky orange chairs in the 60s kitchen, a formal dining room. I got a glimpse of Mimi’s fine china the other day and was startled to realize that, subliminally, I’d picked a similar floral pattern, of the same pastel colours, for my marriage to Hugh in ’79. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Mom about the style thing. We were flat-busted broke. How could she afford such finery? Hahaha. Brainwashed is what we were. I found out years later Dad got a vet mortgage on our $24k side-split in Kilworth, west of London, and was paying like, what? Maybe $90/month! Even in the 70s, I’m pretty sure that was not a hefty mortgage payment.

Interior decorating wasn’t Mom’s thing. Hell, wasn’t really a thing for many back then, pre-social media. Mom often worked – she was a stenographer like Mimi – and kept the house spic-and-span clean. She loved to bake and we loved to eat it.

But visiting Mimi’s was epic. Her home had all the special touches we did not AND there was an in-ground pool and a colour TV, with cable! Every Saturday night – think Mad Men – the basement would fill up with neighbourhood couples, smoking, drinking, and dancing to LPs by guys with unusual names, like Engelbert Humperdinck and Harry Belafonte.

Dad was a bank manager with RBC – back then, no acronyms, you had to say the whole mouthful, the Royal Bank of Canada – and I think it was through connections of his that Mimi started working as a stenographer for RBC as well. She told us the story of the time they were robbed. The “gangster”, in his shiny suit, walked right by her typing station. Her first thought? By golly, that pistol he’s holding matches his suit jacket so well.

Do you still have an aunt? Ask her as many questions as you can think of, stat. Us kids knew Mom had an old flame, Syd. She’d swoon. Ah Syd. Syd this and Syd that. I’ve seen the black and white pictures, handsome guy. They were in Young People’s, a youth church group, together. (You’d not catch Dad, a devout atheist, in such a group.)

What ever happened to Syd? The parents aren’t likely to explain these things to you, but the aunt might.

So, Mimi told us. Syd from Sydney (Cape Breton) worked at the RBC in Sydney. Syd was transferred to Halifax – the bank was always moving people around, on-the-job training – making he and Mom suddenly long distance at a time when long distance wasn’t that feasible. And guess who took Syd’s job? Dad from New Brunswick.

Mom’s future sister-in-law, dating her brother, worked at the bank then too (seems like a trend in our family, huh?) and was so anxious for Mom to meet the handsome new employee. I’d feel bad for Syd, but then again, if not for RBC and its employee relocation program, I probably wouldn’t even be here to contemplate all of this.

And if not for Mimi and her great storytelling? I wouldn’t even know.

Mimi’s husband Errol died in the early aughts, then a couple of years later, her sister, my mom, died suddenly. They loved playing games together – Scrabble, cribbage, Bingo, slots – and Mimi was lost without her sister to share this passion with. She created a board game, the Berry Patch, to play with her grandson.

When my husband died later that same year, Mimi, like the rest of us, could not comprehend it. I do think, in some way, Hugh had kept the Mad Men era going for her. When she’d walk in the door, he’d say, “I know what you want.” He’d mix her a rum and Pepsi.

The years went on, people kept leaving. Her mom at the impressive age of 106! Her older brother, her younger brother, both still “down home”. She’s the last of the siblings; it’s the end of an era.

The last time I recall the four of them being together was here in Ontario in ’98 for Jana’s wedding. You never heard so much knee-slapping laughter! They were standard siblings, with all of their disagreements and differences, but they were in town for some fun and fun was had. They’d piled into a car to go from point A to point B, a side-of-the-road pit-stop was needed and afterward the four of them couldn’t even tell us what happened as they were laughing so hard, tears streaming down their faces, almost peeing their pants!

Where does it all go? The flesh and bones and love and laughter? Poof. A dream.

Mimi and I stayed in touch over the years, she in Orillia with her son, me in London. We needed phone calls at least an hour long to stay caught up. We always ended with, “I love you”. Then she’d add, “And may God bless you.”

I visited recently. She was in a home; she’d been having issues with her memory, issues falling. She was stick-thin. I didn’t know if she’d remember me, but I asked about Jeanette and she immediately pulled out the trinity necklace with the pearl that Mom had given her.

We sat outside in the sun, Mimi, her son, David, Ray, and his partner Hilary. We yakked away about the old times, for Mimi as much as ourselves. David pointed out how he always wanted to live our lifestyle. And Ray and I? Had always wanted his. The grass is always greener …

After an hour or so, it was dinnertime, we had to go. We wheeled Mimi in to her table. She looked at Ray, said, “Hey you. Come back.” She didn’t want us to go.

After Ray said good-bye again, I hugged her frail form. Said, “I love you.” 

“I love you too,” she said. She looked right into my eyes, hers a sincere blue and so serious. “And I know you. And may God bless you.”

Mimi and Me 2024-04-29T16:26:50-04:00

Begin Again

Guest BlogPoem by Jetanne DiCola

I came here to write the truth about the human experience in a time of excess
Lately I’ve been letting go
Unlearning myself

I am not a woman
I am not a mother
I am not a sister
I am not a daughter
I am not me

I let myself travel to the inky black space
     to the red-yellow heat of the stars
          back down to the vast blue ocean and its immense creatures
               particularly the great whales 

How small I am next to a whale 

I open my heart to the jagged grey mountains
     and the rolling green hills
          the golden fields that touch the horizon

The older I get
     I long to lay down on the soft neon green moss at the base of the beech tree
          in springtime

I keep a stack of books on my children’s bedside tables
     0f fairy tales,
          mermaids,
               the stars,
                    the universe,
                         magic

My hope is that they will open them again when they feel insignificant,
     uninspired,
          lost . . .

The earth is louder now, faster
     it pulls our attention away from what we need most 

Yesterday we touched frogs,
     saw the muskrat scurry into the creek,
          marvelled at the seed pods

You can always come back here
     to the stack of fairy tales,
          to the red-yellow heat of the stars,
               to the base of the beech tree

You can always come back here and begin again.

Begin Again 2024-03-20T15:41:36-04:00

Dreams of Slumber

When I was young, I’d say my claim to fame was being a superior sleeper. From birth until I had my first child at 24, I could sleep anywhere, anytime, for an inordinate amount of time. In a coolish waterbed, on a hard floor, as a passenger in a car with no head rest zipping 120 km/hr down a gravel road. Zero anxiety or guilt, deep sleep.

Perhaps this was a response to the reality of existence: constant wants and needs sprinkled with random pinches of suffering. Did I subliminally long to return to the safety and ignorant bliss of the unborn?

I recall a writing project in high school. My protagonist was an older woman, say 65-ish. Me, now. Haha. The woman wakes in the morning, looks out her window onto another grey Southwestern Ontario day. She listens. There is no sound in the house. The children are grown, gone. The husband is gone. What’s the point? she thinks. No one needs me. There is no reason to rise. She rolls over and returns with ease to dreamland.

Now that I could be the fictional woman I once imagined? I find several flaws with this scene. First off, what person, at 65, has NO thing to do? Even – especially – without a job to go to? No news to catch up on, walk or bike or workout to enjoy, breakfast/coffee luring them down the stairs or hallway, no project to start or finish? “What’s the point?”! Where is your gumption woman?!

What comes to mind is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The old man is up early, thirsting for the sea, the day. The teenager, with so much future available, lolls in bed, late and lazy.

That’s where the what’s-the-point-ness came from back then: a sullen hard rock 70s teenager with raging hormones when raging hormones weren’t understood or discussed. Now that I am that aging woman AND know more about hormones? I know that woman is not drifting back into sweet slumber anytime soon.

Aging and sleep do not good bedfellows make.

Why? We have an internal clock in the hypothalamus comprised of 20,000 cells that form the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. As we age, it ages right along with us. The SCN controls our circadian rhythm, releasing certain hormones, telling us when we’re hungry, alert, sleepy. The SCN is now damaged goods, disrupting circadian rhythm, secreting less melatonin. 

Despite doing all the things – exercising, eating healthy, having a regular bedtime, doing quiet things like reading before bed – merely drifting off can feel as futile a task as Sisyphus rolling that damn boulder up the hill, over and over and over. Hmmm. Maybe picturing that boulder rolling back down, over and over and over, would secure a visit by the Sandman?

The faulty SCN has me waking up more often. Says medlineplus.gov, “The transition between sleep and waking up is often abrupt, which makes older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper than when they were younger.” I woke up, with a hard jolt, the other night at 4 am, awash in dread. Would you not say dread is one of the most dreadful emotions?

Dread can have mental origins, or physical ones – I experienced it when my thyroid malfunctioned – but you have to have a pretty convincing debate with your inside voice(s) to a) tamp it down and b) acknowledge that perhaps you didn’t put it there yourself. 

All the decades I’ve lived line up in the dark, like a row of evil geniuses, reminding me of every mistake I ever made. Is this really conducive to going back to sleep?

My husband B and I recently went to see an incredible musical, The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare. A main character, Evelyn Ash, modelled after real-life Vera Atkins who trained women to work undercover behind enemy lines in France during WWII, has a fantastic dialogue about aging toward the end of the play. It’s about how as you get older, the years pile up and up, all of those memories polished by time, the could haves and should haves, until your brain is flooded. You get drowned by your personal history.

The experts say that after 20 minutes? If sleep does not return. Get up, do something quiet, like read a book, listen to soft music. I got up, sat on the couch with Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco. When B gave it to me he said, “Here. You should read about a good presidency.” Mastromonaco worked for Obama and she has a great sense of humour. And she’s open and honest too, sharing her issues with travel and IBS, and also how she got feminine hygiene products into the White House restrooms. While the book did not calm me back into slumber, it did disrupt my negative thought patterns and put a smile on my face.

It makes me wonder, though. Do I feel my past can roar back somehow? Hurt me? Why? Is it because I’ve been keeping journals for 24 years and there’s physical evidence of transgressions? Should I burn them? Or, perhaps, just review and revise history where necessary?

And then, there’s also death looming on the horizon. A nearer horizon than when I was that sullen teenager imagining a future fictional self.

I guess, at 65, I’ve really gotten into the hang of life, so being unborn has lost its appeal. I often recall a shocking observation one of the Sisters-Sisters (nuns and also sisters) who were friends of my mom made after her death. I thought she’d console me, with scripture perhaps, talk of an after life. Hell no! She was older than my mom, in her 80s I believe, and she said something like, “I don’t want to die. I’ve got this great life. And all of these wonderful friends. And family. I’d miss them too much.”

I try to remind myself, in the dark night of the soul, that yes, death will come. Eventually. Hopefully, if there is pain, it is minimal and fleeting. Until then? May I continue to reside, in peace and comfort, in this beautiful country, in this great life. With all of these wonderful friends. And family.

Dreams of Slumber 2024-02-20T14:30:26-05:00

Born to Walk

Humans were born to walk. We’ve been doing it for millennia; there’s a trail of skulls marking various human species’ exodus from Africa. 

(Did you know, depending on your source, there were anywhere between eight and 21 other human species? Most were so vastly different from us, it’s like aliens have already visited. I’m currently watching Unknown: Cave of Bones on Netflix, which deals with homo naledi, estimated to have existed some 250,000 years ago.)

I’ve been fascinated about our migration since randomly asking my husband B the other day, while walking, “Why did we lose all our hair? So that now we have to wear all these clothes, which makes us so separate from nature? I mean, we are just animals after all.”

“Because we left Africa all those years ago,” he pointed out.

Then I listened to an Emergence Magazine podcast interview of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek. Calling his walk Out of Eden, Salopek is years into retracing, on foot, that migration pathway of our ancient ancestors.

Have you noticed how our modern conveniences – computers, smartphones, vehicles, etc – rev us up, make us feel like we’re moving at warp speed? We walk at an average of 3 mi/hr, just under 5 km/hr. What better way is there to slow things down, commune with nature than by slipping on a pair of sneakers and stepping outside?

Salopek calls it “sacramental time”, where “the boundaries between the physical and metaphysical begin to blur into an expansive experience of timelessness”.

Of course we’re all not prize-winning journalists with a gift for observation and writing – and enough time and money – to spend years wandering the globe. But as you ponder your New Year resolutions, if a daily walk is not on the list, why not add it right now? The benefits are tremendous.

Physical:
*increased heart and lung fitness
*reduced risk of heart disease/stroke
*improved management of blood pressure, cholesterol, joint/muscular pain and/or stiffness, diabetes
*stronger bones
*improved balance, muscle strength, endurance
*reduction of body fat

And if you walk with a friend or relative? You’re adding the social piece we all need to keep our lives full and happy.

You could walk in a mall, I suppose, if the weather is inclement. But if you walk outside you’re bathing yourself in the great outdoors. Mother Nature. Wherewecomefrom. Wherewegobackto. Reconnecting to nature isn’t such a bad idea, huh, as we stress about climate change?

B and I have started a habit of walking after dinner. The length of walk varies depending on how active we’ve been throughout the day, but we find it aids in digestion. The “evening constitutional” is what I think the couple in Disney’s 101 Dalmations called it. It also sets us up for a good night’s sleep.

I’ve never done this before, but this year I bought an annual provincial park pass so that we can check out the various trails in Ontario, take in some new scenery.

There is a meditative quality to walking, which is good for the soul, yes? Salopek says that he’s had times when he’s been in such a trance-like state, it feels as though it’s not his feet moving, but rather the Earth turning under them. And walking in rural spaces, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, is different than large cities. Salopek has felt ghost-like when making the transition, feeling invisible, with people moving so fast, buildings so vast. Could he walk right through them?

He’s been walking so long, seen so much, talked to so many people, spent so much time outside, that he says you begin to accept the impermanence of both the natural and the manmade. Pondering thousands of years of various human migrations will do that too. Mountains rise up, exist, crumble. Cities too. Layer upon layer of life. And death. Our abundant Earth is always ready to give … and receive.

The thing that I love about walking is that, while you can get all technical and go out and buy new equipment to do it, most of us have what we need kicking around the house. A decent pair of shoes or boots, comfy clothes. Oh, and the other thing I love about walking? It’s not running! LOL.

Born to Walk 2024-01-16T15:47:48-05:00

Gnome Sweet Gnome

They’re pretty sneaky, so perhaps you haven’t noticed gnomes vacating gardens to infiltrate the Christmas season. Last year, I absolutely had to have one. It was made of fresh evergreen boughs; I christened him Mr G as I placed him in my squat, square planter box. He was so darn adorable, I couldn’t help but smile every time we crossed paths. Sometimes I even LOL’d, gave him a high-five, said, “Merry Christmas Buddy,” then imagined him saying, “Back at ya!” in his tiny voice.

I can’t really put a finger on why he tickled my fancy so. Perhaps it was his shyness, hiding his eyes and mouth like that. Was he spying on us through that red felt cap? Sleeping? Was he smiling? Frowning? Bored? And then there was the open way in which he held his red-mittened hands, like he was game for anything.

There he stood all season – shaped much like a stout Christmas tree – through rain, sleet and snow, brightly and spritely decorating my front stoop.

Having never been much of a fantasy or sci-fi reader – or gnome owner – I thought it was high time I got some history on these mythical creatures. They go back, way back, to the 16th century and Paracelsus, the great Swiss alchemist, one of the forefathers of modern medicine.

According to faena.com, “Since time immemorial, paganism and esoteric philosophy have sustained the existence of elemental beings that coexist with us on astral planes or in a dimensional superposition – these are only perceptible to some people, generally children, shamans or the initiated.”

Hmmm. Perhaps as I age I’m returning to the wonder of childhood and notions of “elemental beings”?

Paracelsus classified these beings in accordance with each element of Earth: gnomes/earth, mermaids/water, fairies/air, salamanders/fire. faena.com goes on to say, “Each thing is the result of contest between the elements – balanced or unbalanced, the dance of the complements – and from each thing and each relationship we can obtain fire, water, earth, air as needed. This understanding brings us closer to a vision of nature as a complex entity that expresses itself in different forms, but that keeps an order and a secret language – that, if we access it, it promises to hand us a treasure (the jewels that elemental beings keep).”

So, since gnomes are of the earth, it makes sense that you tend to find them in gardens. And because I’m a realist, always aiming to be grounded in reality and truth, it makes sense that I’d be attracted to such a creature.

It’s good to be reminded that nature – from which we arise – is complex. As much as we try, all can never be known. But, if one stays open, perhaps secrets will be revealed, gifts received?

Here’s a description of gnomes, by Nicolas-Pierre-Henri de Montfaucon de Villars, 1670: 

“The Earth is filled almost to the centre with Gnomes or Pharyes, a people of small stature, the guardians of treasures, of mines, and of precious stones. They are ingenious, friends of men, and easie (sic) to be commendded (sic). They furnish the children of the Sages with as much money, as they have need of; and never ask any other reward of their services, than the glory of being commanded. The Gnomides or wives of these Gnomes or Pharyes, are little, but very handsom (sic); and their habit marvellously (sic) curious.”

Gnomes represent good luck, protection, nature, fertility and abundance. Says paloverdespulse.com, they “… can serve as a reminder of the importance of these values and the role we play in protecting and appreciating the world around us.” Put that way, the gnome makes a good symbol for promoting a greener, more sustainable way of life.

Whether you’re home for the holidays or not, whether you have a gnome for the holidays or not, I hope the image of a wee creature who has your back – and could pop up from under your feet at any moment to offer you a precious stone or two – fills you to the brim with holiday joy this season.

Website image: Mr G, a Rita Hartley watercolour

Gnome Sweet Gnome 2023-12-11T14:53:39-05:00

Betwixt and Between

It starts hitting in eclectic pieces strewn trailside. A large empty bird seed bag. A shopping cart beside Bruce’s bench, half-full of random items: an empty Huggies box, a red and white knit scarf, Monopoly money (as if consideration was given to purchasing a way out). Further along, a couple of white rectangles that turn out to be pillows, some of their stuffing in clumps that look like ice on the other side of the trail.

I picture the pillow fight between unmoored humans, their half-empty paper cups of Tim Hortons tossed aside as they embrace this fun way to keep warm.

A little further and there’s an empty laundry basket beside a white plastic bucket labelled “DEV” barfing – among other things – more Monopoly cash, empty pill bottles and Elivis Lufungulo’s high school soccer MVP plaque from 2011-2012. A small encampment with just one green tent sits beyond, camouflaged well by leafy green bushes adorned with red berries. Could anyone still be sleeping here on these cold cold nights?

Emerging from the bog, where the burbling, gurgling black waters soothe my soul, I’m jolted into the awareness that this is it. Fall colour is gone. Trees are black skeletons. Once tall weeds droop, dead brown.

Death. That season.

An unbelievable nineteen years will soon be marked without that person. Husband. Father of my children. Years and years of one-sided memories and conversations and love … 

I like to think that we’ve grown. I’ve tried so hard to, as “they” say, “stand in your power”, but I’m a passive person, a go-with-the-flow type. Perhaps I’ll never find my power? 

Snippets tumble back. Life’s debris. Strewn. A peck good-bye at the front door of a house I no longer live in. A failed attempt to get into the Christmas season; I was not ready. And the next night his family telling me news I couldn’t possibly fathom. “He did not make it.” What? Did he not make?

I stand on the high walking bridge and study the Thames River. I watch it flow, hear and feel its rapids. I see the ghosts of Indigenous people on the trail down there, talking, walking, hunting. Being. In peace with nature, time. Living in the flow.

Ah. Sweet peace. Is that not all we truly ever want?

Enough to eat. Shelter. Love.

I think about my high school friend’s daughter. She’s expecting. And her new husband just died in a car crash. Another November tragedy. Her grief journey is just beginning, with new life on the way. Is there anything more heartbreaking, unimaginable?

It’s our unfortunate bargain with life that there will be death.

I make my way back past the silent tent, pill bottles, abandoned pillows. Seasonal debris once unseen, unfamiliar on my trail. Past Bruce’s empty bench … Bruce has a daughter on Bowen Island, BC like me. I haven’t seen him for a while. I think of it as his bench; he often gets his coffee from Tims around 9 am, then sits, has great convos with passersby. I hope he’s good.

I pick up the bird seed bag, toss it in the trash can at the trailhead, wondering who was feeding birds out here, but also thinking I should come down with gloves and a trash bag before the snow flies.

Perhaps I’ll set up the Christmas village when I get home? The grandkids are coming for US Thanksgiving; they’d probably enjoy it. I suppose Christmas can be considered before November ends. It is only a few weeks away.

But, like Dr. Seuss’s Sam-I-Am, I emphatically do not like the rotten things November tends to serve.

Betwixt and Between 2023-11-22T14:43:38-05:00

Visiting (H)ours

Of course we know it happens. It happened to us, for goodness sakes! Then, if we had children of our own, or became aunties or uncles (blood or otherwise) it happened again. And then, if we were lucky enough to become grandparents or great-aunties/uncles? Well, dammit, it happened all over again.

“Gonna have to put a brick on your head,” my late father-in-law used to say, sizing up a grandkid after another growth spurt, another birthday.

You want them to have the birthdays, but geez, do they have to have them every few months?!

We start off as adorable babies that adults can’t get enough of. Then we turn into gangly humans that eat all the food, leave mounds of dirty laundry everywhere, and have strong opinions – backed by tremendous mood swings – that we’ll share loudly with anyone caring to listen.

Here’s where my maternal grandfather Arch might’ve offered this insight: “I should have raised pigs. At least I’d have pork in the fall.” Apparently he loved pork. Another appropriate Arch-ism: “Kids today aren’t raised up. They’re dragged up.”

Way prior to the dragging? That’s where nostalgia lives. The good old days; we want them back. They’re like precious images of Christmas, yes? Visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, sweet and sticky. The best thing we ever tasted.

I know all about this. iPhone serves up the old pictures on the regular. Oldest granddaughter Simone, 3, in her red coat on the beach, arms open to all possibilities, excited for her first Canada Day fireworks. Her sister Naomi, 3, at their old house, hands clenched, smiling like crazy, short blonde hair all wispy. (My daughter and son-in-law thought they had some radical accepting to do when she told them she was a boy named Tom. Turned out Simone told her she was a boy, named Tom, because her hair was so short she must be a boy.) And there’s my grandson Beau, 4, cheeks kissed by the sun, smiling so hard his eyes are slits, with me and his older sisters in front of one of the gazillion birthday cakes I’ve enjoyed over the years.

The good old days.

To get this feeling, back in the good old days, you’d have to peruse old photo albums, or clean a room. I remember when my kids were about the grandkids’ ages – 11, 9, 7 – I decided to tackle our messy home office while the kids were at school. There were the old pictures of them as toddlers. Where did the time go? I sifted through them – Jetanne with her whimsical curls, Randelle with her red cheeks and wicked grin, Jay all pudgy and cuddly. I stopped cleaning to reminisce, cry. I wrote a poem about motherhood: “A picture is found amid the refuse . . .”

But are the good old days ever as good as those sugar plum memories? For one thing, my three toddlers would never have let me attempt to clean that room, peruse pictures, shed motherly tears. Those days were a hectic blur of showering as fast as I could with the three of them playing/fighting, locked into the bathroom with me. Diaper changes. The “L” word – laundry. Very little sleep. Hearing “Can’t she control her children?” behind me as I plunked groceries on the belt, three kids hanging off of stanchions they always used to have there. Why the stanchions? Me, hair wild, red-faced, turning and admitting, “No. I can’t.”

Perhaps this is why babies must grow up? So their mothers can eventually get some sleep, cobble together some sort of a second life for themselves?

But you have these moments, mostly when the house is quiet, when they’re not around. And it felt like something different, something bordering on perfection. The pitter-patter of wee feet. The beautiful, happy, playing children.

And even though my grandkids are older now, I felt it when I arrived at the cottage recently. Evidence. They were here. A sign, hanging on a door. “Visiting ours!” In purple marker. The “H”, to make it “Hours” is in black pen, as are three decorative hearts. The “H” proves they still need us guiding them. There are two meanings behind this word that sounds the same. One is “belonging to”. One denotes time. Visiting ours during visiting hours.

They are ours, in all the various shapes and sizes their bodies will inhabit throughout life. And the hours zip by so fast, we must treasure them all – loud and quiet, chaotic and still.

On the back of the sign? “Stay out!” No problem with the spelling – or meaning – there. They’re growing up, gaining independence, needing us less and less as they race toward a time when nostalgia will seek them out.

Visiting (H)ours 2023-11-06T14:27:23-05:00

Fall into Crabbiness

Fall makes me crabby. I’m picking fights with my husband B for no apparent reason. 

Example 1) Tuesday is my day to cook. Yes, I’m spoiled. He cooks – or takes me out – all the other days. He says he enjoys it, finds chopping meditative; who am I to steal this pleasure from him? Anyway, I have everything ready: a fresh spinach salad, roasted potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and sweet peppers. The kitchen smells wonderful, I’m starving (translation: hangry) and I’m waiting for him to work his magic on the leftover turkey. Where is he? I dump some oil on the turkey, shove it in the rapidly cooling oven, scowl at him as he comes in.

“I didn’t think you’d ever get here,” I say.

“It’s 5:30,” he points out. 

And it’s true. He generally comes home from work between 5:15 and 5:30. Geez Reets! Relax a little.

Example 2) The other morning, spliced in between obnoxious and ancient rock from FM96 Taz and Jim (we listen in case they have something to say about B’s building that he runs), B’s smoothie-making machine and the Barista express coffee maker, I find an opportunity for conversation. 

I share with him what I was writing in my journal, about Harry and Meghan, how it makes me so damn angry that nobody likes them anymore. Their love story on Netflix was so sweet, so romantic, moreso than I expect the David Beckham doc to be, and so what if Harry bashed Camilla to Charles? He was cheating on Diana with her! Harry reminds me of Diana so much, he has that same charismatic energy.

B endures my tirade. Pretty sure if I was just talking about Diana, he’d have something to add. He saw her once on a crowded street in real London, actually felt her star power from a distance, thinks they locked eyes, had a moment. Anyhoo, he just shrugs, shakes his head, says, “I have no comment on this.”

Hmmm.

Of course, it’s not about Harry and Meghan. Or Tuesday cooking. Perhaps I’m upset because I can no longer drink coffee outside on the porch; the house suddenly got way smaller, darker and colder. I’m wearing socks for cripes’ sake!

Oh and, despite many experts positing that modern warfare will be fought differently, perhaps on screens rather than on battlefields, there has been yet another horrific incursion. As the morbid details of that Saturday get revealed and retaliation begins, we see that people – as they’re fully entitled to – have varying points of view.

Thinking about points of view can drive one absolutely insane, huh? I try to put myself in other shoes and minds. To some degree I must succeed because I ran into a blog-reader recently who said, twice!, “You’re so compassionate.” I take that as a huge compliment.

Palestinians in Canada celebrating what Hamas did in Israel? I can’t wrap my head around it. 

I know it’s a complicated issue. Discussing the Middle East with my sister-in-law the other day, she brought up the bible story her mom shared with her. Here it is from britannica.com: “Ishmael was born and brought up in Abraham’s household. Some 13 years later, however, Sarah conceived Isaac, with whom God established his covenant. Isaac became Abraham’s sole heir, and Ishmael and Hagar were banished to the desert, though God promised that Ishmael would raise up a great nation of his own.” Isaac became the forebear of Jewish lineage, Ishmael of Arab.

So, if you peel back a couple thousand years and millions of people? It seems you have a couple of brothers vying for a father’s love and land/wealth while adopting different beliefs about religion.

Will we ever be able to accept people, as is, regardless of what they believe? Will we ever be able to share the land?

On a smaller scale (and aside from badgering B), I’ve been experiencing and witnessing the evolution of friendships. They change over time, yes? People grow, or don’t. Of course, I think I’m the enlightened one, but the other thinks so too. Mind-bending stuff. Like in that old Eagles song “The Best of My Love”: “You see it your way, I see it mine, But we both see it slipping away …”

Maybe she’s just not that into me … 

Listened to a great Mel Robbins podcast about it – there’s a podcast for everything right? The “Let Them Theory”. Your friends left you out of a Toronto getaway? “Let them”. Your kid and his friends want to go to McDonalds in their tuxes and gowns before prom? “Let them”. Your gf wants to date another loser? “Let her”.

The bottom line is, who can we control? Numero uno. You gotta do what you gotta do from your point of view having endured your own past with all of its excruciating highs, lows and in-betweens.

Your friends left you out? Perhaps you haven’t been keeping in touch? Invite them to something. Your kid didn’t make a reso at a fine restaurant? Well, this will either be a great lesson in planning, or incredible memories will be made. Your gf has ongoing dating issues? It’s really none of your business. Unless, of course, she asks. But do not fall into that trap! She’s still gonna do what she’s gonna do.

Battles, both big and small, need an adversary. B has given me good advice on this in the past: “Sometimes it’s better to just be dumb and happy.” In my daily meditations, I’m taking my strongly held beliefs, molding them into rectangular shapes, like books, and setting them on shelves, so I don’t have to hold them so tight, defend them so forcefully.

I actually like living where there are four distinct seasons. It just takes a bit to adjust; the temperature shift was swift this year.

I can’t control what any other person on the planet thinks, says or does, but I can certainly plunk my crabbiness on a high shelf, way out of reach.

Fall into Crabbiness 2023-10-12T16:14:12-04:00

That’s a Wrap

Summer ’23. Over and out. How was it for you?

A lotta rain in Sowesto, huh? Random torrential downpours. I guess we’ve had it pretty good here compared to the catastrophic flooding in Nova Scotia earlier this summer and now what is happening in places like Greece, China and Hong Kong.  Images I saw from Hong Kong showed streets that resembled fast flowing rivers after a major spring thaw.

Meanwhile, the rest of Canada – and the world it seems – was dry, hot. All that mercury busted the thermometer and everything in the vicinity spontaneously combusted. If you were lucky enough to be exempt from fire and flood? Well, you were likely breathing in bad quality air “Blowin’ in the Wind” from those wildfires and not finding any answers at all.

Doomscrolling this summer, I’d flip quickly past catastrophic headlines about the climate crisis we’re in and my stomach would roil up. I’d have these brief moments of joy, teaching my three grandkids to water ski on a calm and tropical blue Lake Huron in early July for instance, and all would be right with the world. Then reality would rear its ugly head and remind me: we’re all doomed! And it’s our own damn fault!!

The late great tropical troubadour Jimmy Buffett might offer this option: “When reality looks too ugly, fantasize.”

Unfortunately, the fantasy would need to birth a family of fast-growing fantasy babies to get us out of this mess: gigatonnes of CO2 vacuumed from the atmosphere, tens of thousands hectares of forest regrown, glaciers refrozen, coral reefs unbleached . . . the list goes on and on.

My BC daughter gifted me Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast by BC writer John Vaillant for my birthday. It’s about the Fort McMurray fire in May 2016. But it’s also a well-researched book on fire and the origins of the Canadian west and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

When Vaillant gets into the origins of Fort Mac he describes the complexity – and humongous expense! – of extracting a valuable product from the tar sands, explaining that bitumen (pronounced bi-chuh-muhn) is to a barrel of crude what a sandbox full of molasses is to a bottle of rum.

Like other experts in the field, Vaillant observes that the warming of Earth by 1.3 degrees C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) has resulted in wildfires that burn hotter, faster, higher, and further than previously experienced, while also creating their own monstrous and unpredictable weather systems, like fire tornados. In a 2019 article for e360.yale.edu, Ed Struzik wrote, “Scientists are tracking an increase in a little-known phenomenon in which intense wildfires can spawn their own thunderstorms, known as pyroCbs. Lightning from these storms can spark additional blazes far away and send plumes of smoke and aerosols into the stratosphere.”

Oh and Vaillant points out that we’ve known for a long long time, since the discovery of oil in North America (1858), since the invention of the car (1886), that burning oil, coal and gas is bad for us. According to Energy Post, “The history of evidence of CO2-driven climate change starts in the mid-1800s”. It goes on to say, “In 1895, Swedish Nobel prize winner Svante Arrhenius had suggested that – over hundreds of years – the build-up of carbon dioxide released when humans burn oil, coal and gas might trap so much heat as to melt the tundra and make freezing winters a thing of the past.”

Us humans are hard to convince, and scientists, due to the nature of their constantly evolving work, tend to be unemphatic in their speech. Short-sightedness might be an issue too?

Throughout the summer I listened to a few of David Suzuki’s radio broadcasts from the 80s being rebroadcast on CBC’s Ideas podcast. He worked with Indigenous peoples and found that their way of tackling any big decision for their tribe was to reflect on seven previous generations and then look forward to how it might affect seven generations into the future. 

Climate doom and gloom had me thinking perhaps my grandkids’ kids wouldn’t have an inhabitable Earth. And even if I might not be around to experience this personally? It’s immensely depressing.

Then, I heard Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, say this: “Fatalism is a sign that someone is trying to steal your power.” Fatalism is no good, gets us nowhere. Look at what Greta Thunberg has accomplished by not succumbing to fatalism.

(As an aside, my daughter found a teachable moment this summer when her kids came across a bumper sticker that said “F Greta Thunberg”. She talked to them about how Greta is an activist for climate change, her Friday climate strikes inspiring school children worldwide to pay attention to climate and environmental issues. My grandkids ended up feeling bad for the uneducated – and/or perhaps hurting – person who felt a need to put down a young woman making positive change in the world.)

Thankfully, two recent podcasts have left me feeling almost as light as a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about climate change. Sam Harris did a PSA with US scientist and researcher Chris Field on his Making Sense podcast, asking him such questions as, Washington Post says less of Earth is burning now, is this true? Field says yes, but it’s because there are less brush fires occurring in Africa. Keep in mind, wildfires have always existed – the boreal forest actually relies on wildfire to reproduce – but a combination of poor forest management, climate change and a higher population building in the Wetland Urban Interface (WUI) has exacerbated their impact.

David Wallace-Wells interviewed Kate Marvel, a senior climate scientist with Project Drawdown on the Ezra Klein podcast. Both Field and Marvel are optimistic about the positive effects of the Paris Agreement (even though China’s Xi Jinping has backed off on it lately and also elections in Canada and the US threaten it every few years) and the progress of green technologies. (Biden just cancelled seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.) The fact that we’ve kept the warming to just over 1 degree C is good. Some areas will suffer greatly – unfortunately we’ve been witnessing this all summer – but they don’t predict an apocalyptic global collapse as some might have you fear.

Fear is often a good motivator, but a bad companion, hijacking your pre-frontal cortex where rational solutions reside. 

In Fire Weather Vaillant writes about Fort Mac’s “dogged loyalty to business as usual” even after the fire. It had me recalling a person’s response at a party years ago to the question, “How’s it going?” 

“Maintaining the status quo.” It stuck with me because it was such a warm, feel-good answer. A safe place. Comfort. We all want that. It was shortly after that that my husband died and zwhipp went my status quo for a long time.

New habits. These are the thoughts I have as I walk a vacant wind-swept beach after Labour Day, an abandoned black and white soccer ball reminding me of recent days watching my growing grandkids kicking a ball, romping in the waves and dig, dig, digging with their numerous beach friends.

A threatened environment requires a fresh approach. Like summer’s end.

That’s a Wrap 2023-09-11T14:25:33-04:00

The Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper stalks, relentlessly, as he pursues his unwilling victim down the endless corridors of time, allowing respite from the agony of the inevitable as only he, in his sometimes questionable wisdom, may determine. The prey, in his cunning, unwisely considers evasion within reach, but as he grasps at the flimsy whisp of that possibility, the future rewards of his dreams vanish, as the mist of dawn must give way to the unyielding pressure of the day to come.

V.C. Hartley

One more day! is asked of him. If he could find one and give it generously, there is no guarantee it would be a good one. Is he to be blamed? Should he greedily be begged for another?
The Grim Reaper knows, he has seen, he will see. And he urges that the prophecy be understood. The Grim Reaper must walk on, alone, forever.

Rita Hartley

Death, as an imagined personified force, was wordily bandied about between my father and myself after his early retirement in his mid-50s. He took the side of a “Young Man”, but “30 years later”, so most likely himself. And I rebutted, taking the side of the poor “Sickle Bearer”, doomed to an eternity of siccing death on humans, in an expected manner or otherwise.

Death has been on my mind a lot lately. My friends are dying. A female friend last month, then a male friend this month, both in their 60s. And I know. I lost a husband in his 40s – he was most assuredly a friend that died – but somehow that was different. His death was a weird and sudden cataclysmic slice of the sickle. I was pretty sure then that it would be a long time before anyone else in my friend group died.

I turn 65 this month. The Grim Reaper stalks, ever closer, with each passing day. I can run madly from him, but he’ll always be there, lurking.

Many experts posit that the fear of death underlies every human fear. We conquer that one? True peace of mind?

While his ominous presence is condoned with reluctance, his unquestionable wisdom will, in the end, have to be accepted and understood, if ever eternal peace is to be the reward of the Sickle Bearer and his companion.

Rita Hartley

Serendipitously, a death doula has been making the rounds on my podcasts. I heard her first on a TED Talk, then on my Ten Percent Happier podcast. Alua Arthur.

What is a death doula? The opposite of a birth doula. A person aiding the transition to The End.

She starts off her TED Talk by having you imagine your 800-something birthday. Say what? As attached as I am to this body, this ego, this person I think I am, I cannot imagine being Rita for another 700-something years!

Arthur insists that facing your impending death head on is crucial to fully experiencing the here and now. Unfortunately, our society is death averse. We don’t want to talk about it, as though it’s contagious. You will die sometime. It’s a fact.

For some reason, I found this tidbit of information so soothing: the body knows how to die. Hmmm. It did know when and how to be born, right? Although so much of life seems governed by thought, language, remembering that the body holds vasts swaths of nonverbal intelligence that it relies on every moment to keep the machine you’re in humming is reassuring.

Arthur also suggests always having your affairs in order. We’ve heard that one before, and it sounds dismal, but do you want family and friends not knowing your wishes and/or fighting over your stuff? Make it clear. Finances. Treasured belongings. Funeral arrangements.

Apparently thirst is an analgesic at the end, so if you’re ready to go? Die thirsty my friends!

If you’re up to it, you could do a meditation on all systems shutting down.

Arthur suggests fully fantasizing your deathbed scene. It sounds morbid, yes, and I’m uncertain of its potential likelihood because of the sudden way my late husband died. I mean, how much control do we have over how we go?

But picturing it isn’t such a bad idea. It’s all part of facing death head on, right? What are you seeing when you die – Arthur pictures a spectacular sunset. What are you smelling? For me, lavender instantly comes to mind. It’s a comforting, relaxing scent, yes? What are you wearing? What colour is your blanket? Do you hear music? Wind in the trees? Who is with you?

Consequently, I’m working on the most pleasing scene of my own personal death as possible, then I figure if I die in some horrific way? Hopefully I’ll have a moment to imagine it so my last thoughts are peaceful.

And so, out of the depths of despair this now aged youth may find himself in the glory of the present with the promise of the unknown beckoning.

V.C. Hartley

The Grim Reaper 2023-07-20T16:11:35-04:00