Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

The Toe of the Stocking for 2010

"Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don't wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it's at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored."
Earl Nightingale 1921-1989, Radio Announcer

Well that's as good a resolution as any for 2010, isn't it?

Now if I want to beef  it up with some of the outrageous anti-resolutions recommended by Rob Breszny, what would I decide to do?

My mind doesn't work that way, I am afraid.  I have a daughter who could come up with a half dozen suggestions within minutes, but my style is to let life happen ... to say yes to adventures.  Lately I have been saying no ... so perhaps that will be #1.

Looking back over the past three years, all years of house building and meager money, I realize that I have allowed myself very few treats. (The house this year consumed 2/3 of my real income (including all those extra bits I've managed to make) and income taxes ate up over 1/3, so this year was obviously not a solvent one ... 2007 and 2008 were not either ... but then I used savings which ended up putting me in a worse situation financially because of the taxes.)  When I indulged in the massage the other day I accrued unexpected benefits that went well beyond the hour or so I spent in that dimly lit room.  I have been sleeping again ... and I walked twice as far yesterday as I have recently.  I feel better.  So #2 is going to be about indulging myself in something decadent that will have far reaching therapeutic effects.

Thinking of the things that have made me happy since I moved here, I would also have to include activities that consume me like writing and painting funky furniture ... art of some kind ...  and animals ... and the occasional teaching job.

So ... My List for the Toe of My Stocking

1.    Start saying yes again.
2.    Make a determined effort to pamper myself with one wonderful experience every month or so  ... a massage ... a special lunch at one of Wakefield's excellent restaurants where the chef is a gourmet cook ... a trip.
3.    Keep on painting and writing ... and make sure I keep growing by attending something like the Blue Heron workshop and taking some art courses locally.
4.    Continue to enjoy what this lake offers me ... peace ... solitude ... community.
5.    Pepper my life with enjoyable ways to make money ... dog sitting ... language teaching ... maybe make those bits of money my pampering money now that the major expenditures for the house are over ... or at least the ones that are essential, not choices. This past year I made $2500 by looking after animals, teaching and selling my funky creations.  If I made half as much this year I would have $100 per month to play with.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Am I the Only One ?

Do you get this?

The PC Government want to prorogue Parliament till March.  They've just had their Christmas break.  And now the people we pay big salaries to are told to stay home till March?  So that Stephen Harper can load the Senate?  So that the government bills that might be defeated will be shelved?

I don't really care about the politics right now.  But who the hell is running the country for the next three months?  We are paying parliamentarians to work but Harper is giving them a paid holiday ... a holiday paid by you and me.

The only bright side of that is that my friend and neighbour spends more time up here when Parliament is not in session.

But honestly, I really don't get it at all.

Do you?

My Massage

I feel as if I have been given a new body ... one that is limber and flexible and sleeps well ... had a great massage yesterday!

This morning's headlines were all gloom and doom as usual:

Study shows popular herbal supplement doesn't slow mental decline ... DAMN ... just when I started taking it.  OH WELL,  you can help yourself by downloading this memory enhancing game ...

UNFORTUNATELY, with my dial-up it took so long to load that I forgot what I was trying to do and wandered off before I got to experiment with Lost in Migration, the attention improvement game in the series.

US health official: "Woman with anthrax may have swallowed spores airborne by drumming."

DAMN AGAIN, I was just thinking I might take up drumming seriously now that we have a local teacher.

Trouble struck paradise this week when a British man who has the "Best Job in the World" as the caretaker of a tropical Australian island was stung by a potentially deadly jellyfish. NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT THAT.

A 12-year-old boy has been charged with second-degree murder in connection to the death of a 14-year-old girl in northern Manitoba, RCMP said late Tuesday.  OR THIS.

The guy who does horoscopes, Rob Brezny,  can always see the bright side:

His advice for me for 2010 is interesting:

"We should not think of our past as definitely  settled, for we are not a stone or a tree," wrote poet Czeslaw Milosz. "My  past changes every minute according to the meaning given it now, in this  moment." I suggest you make abundant use of this wisdom in 2010.  According to my reading of the astrological omens, you will have  unprecedented power to re-vision and reinterpret your past. Keep the  following question in mind as you go about your work: "How can I  recreate my history so as to make my willpower stronger, my love of life  more intense, and my future more interesting?"

Rob gives HOMEWORK every week.  This one is intended as a substitute for New Year's resolution-making:

Make a list of your anti-resolutions. What weird habits,  incorrigible vices, dissident uprisings, and controversial actions do you  promise to cultivate in 2010?

Maybe that's what I will put in the toe of the stocking this year.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Pair of Days

December 28, 2009 ...December 29, 2009
8 a.m. and no word from Mud Mama ...

Where are you, girl?  I've been reading about icy roads all along your route ... and I'm getting worried.

She is safe ... arrived after a long drive through the ice storm ...

Today is the last of the mild days for a while.  The temperatures are supposed to drop from right around the freezing mark to -15 tonight and tomorrow the range will be from -15 to -20.  Brrr!

I will run my car and scrape the back window today as I have a massage scheduled for noon tomorrow.  Mmmn ... wish the cold snap were coming on Wednesday so that the massage could be on a mild day when I had to go to the village for groceries anyway.  Today Kenya and I will go for a long walk ... the road-destroying neighbours are back ... hope the road is still intact.

Last night when we checked, their car was gone.  I wonder if they drove the kids up and let them stay.  I hope not.  These kids have rifles that they aim through the trees toward the road.  Kenya has been concerned all morning about their presence.  At least now she doesn't bark incessantly ... just sits and stares up their hill from our plateau and gives the odd woof to let them know she's watching from a safe distance.

Her attention was shifted for a short time by a small animal living below the snow.  She dug furiously, tail wagging madly, in the absurd hope that she would catch it and perhaps have a playmate.  The time she caught the mouse in her cone she had no interest in killing or eating it.  It was simply an interesting diversion.  Most of the dogs I've owned have been predators, one of whom caused a mouse to flee to safety under my skirt.  They were dogs whose intentions were not kindly.  Kenya really does like other species and seems surprised every time one of them shoots a quill or lashes out with a claw.

I bought Barbara Kingsolver's book as a Christmas gift and am intrigued by it.  She writes beautifully, of course, but that is a bonus.  It's all about food ... healthy, environmentally intelligent food choices.  It's called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  So far there is nothing startlingly new in it, but it merges science, history, and philosophy to create the memoir of a family decision to live in a place where they could know and trust their food sources.  It does not read like a harangue because it is written by a very good writer who cares deeply about her subject. Kingsolver's collaborators are her husband, a biologist, and her daughter, a teenager.

I have one mitt to finish before Mud Mama's kids arrive so will work on that today as well as dipping into the book.    It is finished and wrapped.

When Kenya and I came back from our walk we met a kid heading out with a suitcase.  I asked if he was up by himself ... no there were several of them ... he mentioned that the road was getting more solid.  I said I'd had the necessary road work done; that it had been a mess before that.  He muttered that he was sorry.  Kids don't usually apologize for parents.  Was he the drunk driver or was he simply incompetent ... and where was the car ???  Mysteries ... I usually like them ... but I really wish this one would disappear along with all the people staying at the cottage next door.

Tanya came over yesterday and had lupper with me.  We exchanged gifts and talked about Oberon's upcoming visit while she and her sister go to the Middle East.  (Oberon is the king of the fairies and a very nice cat.)

Kenya and I got less than three hours sleep last night.  She was having anxiety attacks because of the wind which was hurling ice at the house and doing other scary things.  I went through my entire repertoire of ineffectual attempts to soothe and exasperated reactions, and finally put her in her crate where she cried like a puppy for a very long time.  I decided at 4 a.m. to resort to drugs but by then she was too upset to even consider the gravol crushed up in tuna juice I was offering, so I let her out where she disappeared for fifteen minutes.  At that point I was thinking that even if she ran away it would be preferable to the weeping, wailing and shivering I had been enduring since 9:30. Needless to say she came back.  We live on a private road on a tiny lake after all. She finally settled down after pacing for another half hour.  I guess she deigned to look at the tuna water, downed the pill and it finally worked.  I will intervene with gravol much earlier next time.

Kenya is now catching up on lost sleep.  I am wide awake and exhausted. Good thing I have the massage scheduled for today.  I hope I will be able to get up my hill and out of here by noon.

Does anyone have any non-chemical solutions for acute anxiety in dogs?  (Or any kind of solution for a human insomniac?)

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Help! I am being held hostage by ...

December 27, 2009
Help!  I'm being held hostage by gremlins, and they are tickling me!

Gardens this past decade  have been accosted by such things as Sudden Oak Death, Creeping Charlie and Perennial Pepperweed, all new or increased in strength by global warming.  Last night I seem to have been dealing with a different force also caused by climate change: ice gremlins.

The ice gremlins have sheeted my road making it impossible to crawl out of my hermitage.  They have weighted down the birds' Christmas tree downing it across the back door sill. I could move the tree of course ... after all it is one I cut down and carried home myself, and even covered in ice,  it is portable.  The icy hill leading out of my place is another matter, but I am rather glad that I cannot leave home just now.  I like the peace of being isolated with Kenya.

But last night's invasion was really strange. It was as if they were playing tricks all night long.  The phone would give several blasts then fall silent.  Not real rings.  More like alarm buzzes.  Each time I was wrenched out of deep sleep.   I had no idea what time it was, because after the first time, the radio's clock kept blinking at 12:46. 

These days (and nights) I never  pass up an opportunity to pee, so I went into the bathroom and discovered that there were blinking lights in the laundry room as well.  The dryer had insominia.  I turned it off again and returned to bed.

At 4:56 they were at it again, and this time they had me up for the day.  They had turned my printer on.

I lost the first document I started when the power cut out again, so this will be a very short post ... I think I will turn off the computer, boil a kettle of water, get the wood stove going, grab my flashlight,  clamp on my crampons and head out with Kenya to see what's going on outside.  Even if we don't find the mischievous gremlins,  it should be beautiful.

Later ... not beautiful ... not icy ... just soggy .  And ... my neighbours (the noisy obnoxious ones who drink too much, have filthy mouths and  don't pay anything toward road maintenance)  had been up on the 25th and left on the 26th ... obviously drunk and driving erratically.  The whole road is torn apart and half the area on the sides where they careened from one ditch to another.  I was sorry I'd gone out!

Friday, 25 December 2009


I had a most unusual Christmas Eve this year ... but I have had less than three hours of sleep and have another Christmas dinner later today so I won't give the details now.  Just one hint.  Two visitors wearing blue gloves arrived at 4:45 a.m., bossed everyone around, ordered the dogs to leave and played with a cat.

More later.

In the meantime,




Thursday, 24 December 2009

Flower Pot Tree

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My Stocking ... not where it hangs

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The Toe of the Stocking

I have probably the most beautiful Christmas stocking imaginable.  It was crafted by a dear friend who loved me and believed the best of me.  I will post a photo of the stocking later, but for now, trust me; it is a superb piece of craftsmanship and artistry that pays tribute to our friendship and her awareness of the strength and beauty of women.

She gave me this stocking when I was feeling bereft.  Lucky children believe that everything is possible at Christmas; that they are gifted with an infinite amount of love from everyone from their siblings to their parents to some strange old man with a flowing white beard.  My Christmases were like that until I was fifty-five ... long after I should have outgrown such childish notions.

My father, who was a dreadful parent for 364 days a year became the perfect parent at Christmas, even after I was long past needing that kind of reassurance.  My partner of eighteen years continued to coccoon me at Christmas in that magical generosity.  When I was fifty-five, my father died and my "closest thing to a good marriage" broke apart.  And when I lost those two men, Christmas shattered too.

I was living with a decent  man when Linda gave me this stocking, but he didn't believe in Christmas.  In fact he did (and does) everything a little ass backwards.  He gives beautiful gifts of love to women when the relationships have drifted apart or once they have ended.  I own an absolutely beautiful diamond studded gold band that he gave me as I was leaving that relationship.  He gave me the money to see Pat in England years after we split up.   But he never gave me a Christmas or birthday gift ... not once in the seven years we were together.  And, even worse, he threw away any I gave him.

Every Christmas since I received that stocking I have hung it up by whatever was acting as a chimney that year in that place, but except for one year when the family got together at Christmas and exchanged stocking gifts, the only thing the stocking has held are pieces of paper.  Some of those pieces pre-date the stocking.

The earliest is dated January 1, 1993. I wanted to live simply and travel much.
1994 was the year Pumpkin, the groundhog we had over-wintered, awoke on New Year's Day and came into the house for a visit and a meal before returning to her hibernation for the rest of the winter.  It contained wishes for 1994, the last full year I was really happy and content in a good relationship.

I wished for enough money to retire ... and got it when my father died in early 1995.  I wished for interesting travel opportunities and went to Namibia for six months in 1995 .. and left my truly happy un-marriage of 18 years.  I wished for family togetherness (we are awfully far-flung these days) and a brother-in-law's recovery from cancer (he died).  My last wish was for a career opportunity that was un-threatening ... and I certainly have that now.  I guess overall the message is that you should be careful what you wish for.

1995's wishes were filled with plans to make money in fulfilling ways so that my partner and I could continue to be happy ... most did not pan out ... and I left him that year.

In 1997 I was with Roy but hadn't moved to the farm despite the pressure he was applying.  I wanted to lose 10 pounds, follow up on volunteer opportunities ... and move toward marriage.  Yes ... he had asked me to marry him.

The next year I wrote up one of these was 2000 ... I wrote an essay on world events.  This was followed by a treatise on how my life was changed by significant events in each decade of my life.  I stopped reading somewhere in page one and skimmed till I got to the last short paragraph on what I hoped to accomplish in 2000.

I wanted to finish the novel I was working on while we were in Eleuthera ... and I had great hopes for getting it published. I finished it but got nowhere with the publishing part.

I wanted a Project Overseas assignment ... and didn't get it ... but got other work with Mongolian teachers.

I had some ideas about doing some research on another novel set in Nova Scotia ... something about Springhill ... it fizzled.

In December 2003 I wrote about wanting my own place again, about returning to Mongolia, about helping the kids in Kenya, and returning to Kenya and to serious writing.  I have done all those things.

December 17, 2004
"Don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't be dreaming about.  You have bigger goals in life than some people realize.  What you need is someone by your side who has big goals too."  I have no idea where that originated but I kind of wish I had found him.

My goals included writing more, exercising more, getting a dog, and returning to Kenya.

There was a list of ten commandments about men ...  the most important ones: expect the best and don't settle for less ... and learn to rejoice in singlehood.

I wrote that I must become at peace with myself and my life; that I had to relax and slow down and be part of the natural world to get there.  I wondered if I had to discover what I needed and live my life as animals do ... simply ... following my real needs.  I cautioned myself to stop leaving so that I could arrive ... to stop dashing off to other places in the world and outside my life ... to come home to myself.  I was 64 when I wrote that.  Too soon old; too late smart!

In 2005, my son advised me to use my imagination and spirit of adventure to find my life partner.  I wrote that I was coming closer to the kind of inner peace I had written about the year before.  I wrote about how I liked living in a place that was easily accessible to my friends ... certainly Westboro was a lot handier than the hermitage is.  But I was beginning to think about moving out to the lake.

There was no toe of the stocking in 2006 ... I was a nomad that Christmas.

In 2007, I was living in my partly finished hermitage with Kenya.  I had met and finished things quickly with a man called Tom.  I hadn't loved him but he gave me hope that some day I might find love.

I was looking forward to the summer of 2008 when I would have to become a nomad for the summer.  I was planning how I might spend the two months. I thought of returning to Kenya to work with SAIPEH.  But what I really wanted to find was an all-consuming project ... I wanted soemthing that would grab me by the throat and not let go.

In 2008, I wrote that I still wanted that but that I would settle for a continuation of what I had right then ... a lot of little unimportant projects that kept me happily occupied ... my blog, knitting, felting, pottery, friends, family, dogs, this house ...   I ended by writing that I was pulling in the perimeter of my scope to fit my energy levels, and that I was discovering that I was happiest when things were simplest.

So now we are coming to the end of 2009, and I will be adding a new scrap of paper to the toe of the stocking.  I will be looking back on the year that included a creative interest that grabbed me by the throat, a 50,000 word marathon novel writing experience, and a trip to London to visit a seriously ill friend.  I am not sure what I will be writing, but I suspect that inner peace, and creative pursuits that don't tax my resources too much will be part of it.

What will you be putting in the toe of your stocking as this year ends?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


I had a good day but I am beat!

I bought the wine and other liquor I intended to buy for the holiday.  Did you realize that the only Grand Marnier at the SAQ warehouse is an enormous bottle kept behind the cashes which costs $61 after the discount of 15%  which you get when you buy 12 bottles of anything?  I need about one ounce of it for the cake.

Before crossing the bridge to Ottawa,  I dropped in at Tamarack's for a few minutes, and  then did my banking. I was early for my lunch date so I gassed up the car and spent half an hour buying children's books for the little 'uns.  (That was fun!)

Then I met my buddy and we had a wonderful lunch at a new restaurant on Wellington called Apollo Mezzes ... a whole meal of delicious Greek tidbits.  I had Arabic mezzes in London when Nolan and I went out to dinner.  These were better ... I would say as good as the ones I ate many times in Jordan.  And the wine was superb ... a gentle Greek red that is imported by the restaurant.  The manager turned out to be the son of a former colleague and he was at Philemon as a student.  I will go back.

After lunch I headed back up to the hills and stopped enroute to pick up a squash, berries, whipping cream ... and a tiny little tree that fits into a flower pot.  It is beautiful.  I dressed it in a half blind way ... and will likely have to make some adjustments tomorrow in daylight.

Tomorrow morning I have to cook the squash and bake the cake, and do a bit of shopping in the village.  I will finish wrapping gifts in Hull where I am going for the first of the Christmas celebrations with Tamarack and her family.  It will be fun.

I will stay overnight and, weather permitting, drive home early Christmas morning ... then head back into Ottawa in the afternoon to my daughter's for a turkey dinner with our family (or a good part of it).  If it is a stormy day Kenya and I will stay at Tamarack's and watch movies with her brother and daughter ... and then drive over to Zoom's.

Feeding Birds

Yesterday when I put up the chickadees' tree by the back door I decided to give them a special treat.  I took the bin of sunflower seeds outside and put a pile on the lid.  Then I attached apple quarters to the tree branches by red wool bits.  They were interested and dive bombed the tree several times during the afternoon, but they stuck with the tried and true bird feeder mostly.

At 3:30 this morning I awoke and realized that the bin was still outside. Expecting to find it ravaged by squirrels and emptied by  raccoons awakened by the party, I went downstairs and outside in my housecoat.

What I saw was utterly unlike the chaotic scene I had envisaged.  Snow wafted down gently and the scene could have been used to illustrate Silent Night.  I didn't stay ... just dusted off the bin and brought it inside ... but I am very glad I had even a brief encounter with this night here at this lake.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Count Down 2009 Festive Season

December 22, 2009
The On-going Journal of Christmas Eve Countdown

1.    I went downstairs to make tea to relieve the recurrence of this weird cold-flu thing that started December 8 and seemed to have run its course.  I didn't go to the Solstice party but I did burn the bit of paper I intended to burn in the bonfire.  Whatever I have, whether it is a recurrence or something new, is causing my lungs to feel clogged and heavy and I suspect my asthma is acting up.  Anyway hot fluids seem to help so I made tea.

2.    While I was waiting for the tea to steep I decided to feed Kenya.  I keep her food in the utility room and once again I smelled something disgusting in that room.  I had been getting whiffs of it for ages but today it was really strong.  I removed all movable items one at a time and sniffed each in turn.  Nothing.  I swept as I did and made some executive decisions about which things could spend the winter months in the porch. Then I decided to look behind the freezer.  Oh dear.  There it was.  A roast of beef rotting in the corner.  Yeech!  I pulled the freezer out as far as possible, dragged out the package, and filled a pail with hot water and cleaner.  Then I began swabbing away at the offensive blotch on the cement floor.  After a few good moppings, I changed the water in the pail and added vinegar and went back to work.  When I had finished, the room looked infinitely tidier and smelled truly clean.  Terrible waste of roast beef, of course.  And what are dogs for if not to alert one to the things their noses can detect long before they become high enough for a 69 year old nose to recognize.

3.    I have too many things to finish before Christmas I am afraid.  Five handmade gifts have been started or planned but may not be finished in time.   I will work as much as possible today, tomorrow and Thursday, and try to complete as many as possible.  They are all for people I love ... and so I may have to beg their forgiveness and ask some of them to accept promissory notes.

4.    Well ... just got started knitting ... not on one of the gifts hanging over my head but on one that is on my needles that won't have to be wrapped till after Christmas  ... and then Kenya came in with a goopy eye and needed first aid.  I suspect she may have been swiped by the unsheathed claw of the local feral cat she likes too well.  Good thing I had a goopy eye for half of last year and had the remedy close at hand ... and good thing she is such a patient dog, especially when I managed to treat the wrong eye first.  You would think that a dog with one blue and one brown eye would not be subjected to such things.  I put it down to feeling a little scattered because I am falling behind.

5.    One just needs polyurethane!  10 a.m.  It was one of those projects that started as one idea and then morphed into another because I didn't feel good about the first ... but in the meantime I was immobilized by indecision.  Now I have to find an image for the second one ... I think I know what I want ...

6.    2:30 and the dog has been walked, a Christmas tree cut and hauled down, mail picked up, and I have both gifts to the polyurethaning stage.  I decided after looking at the tree inside that I wanted it outside where I can decorate it for the chickadees.  I will start doing that tomorrow.  One of the nicest pieces of mail was a photo of Chelsea Katherine.  I know all women who are related to a new baby say this baby is beautiful  ... but honestly she is translucent ... she looks like an angel.

7.    Just received word that Mud Mama and gang will not be descending on the hermitage after Christmas.  I will of course see them all but this means that I don't have to put away my entire life for a week ... and that's a good thing because I really should start working on the two chairs I have promised for January because I am going to Deb's for a few days early in the month.

8.    It is now 8 p.m. and I have been knitting and thinking and polyurethaning ... and talking on the phone and realizing that I have some things to prepare for tomorrow, others for Christmas Eve, and still others for Christmas Day ... but nothing is impossible and everything will be fun.  Tomorrow I have to get cash and enjoy lunch.  The next day I am the squash lady.  Christmas Day I am the dessert woman.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah, Everyone!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Winter Solstice: Brighter Days Ahead

On Balance at the End of 2009

I awoke this morning in the dark, listened to Kenya breathing over on her pillow, and thought about how I could portray this year in a page of my sketch booking journal ... a balance scale was what I decided on ... a visual portrayal of just how balanced 2009 had been.  

Then I got up and turned on the computer to check my email, and found this: "When you develop your ability to balance your emotions, unexpected problems won't knock you off balance as easily, and you'll return more quickly to a positive outlook."

Coincidences like this always make me smile.

I decided to go back through my blog posts and jot down the important things that occurred over the past twelve months.  A great many bad things happened this year, to my family and friends, more than usual.  And my budget certainly didn't balance this year.  But I am ending the year feeling happy.  It will be interesting to see how it all weighs out.

I went in the hole about $15,000 as we finished this house.  But it is somewhat balanced by the fact that I was not forced to withdraw RRSPs so my taxes and medical costs will be lower next year ... and of course the house looks so much better now.

I continued to look after dogs and also began teaching at River Echo so while the drain on my finances was heavy, I was able to offset some of the losses.  And of course I made money on the funky furniture.

 I had a long bout with writer's block and felt as if I were wading through the tar sands as I worked on Lost and Found Summer, the novel I hoped to workshop at the Great Blue Heron workshop in June-July.  I ended up giving up the idea of the workshop for financial reasons, and I put the novel aside for reasons of sanity.  But then I began to find other creative outlets.

I did some felting.  I learned to knit socks.  I began to paint funky furniture and found that I could sell it.  And I even wrote that 50,000 word first draft in a month for Nanowrimo.

When I weighed the good against the bad, apportioning events a weight of 0-10, the good outweighed the bad. 

This surprised me a little because some of the really bad things that happened to those I love were especially heavy.  It was a year marked by several deaths and far too much illness. One daughter was very ill all year and is still not completely recovered.  She may have to live with chronic pain.  My oldest friend is still very ill.  A newer friend died this year. 

I had a long bout with my eye and the drug's side effects.

But this was also the year that Chelsea Katherine was born.  And so was Lucas. And Pat and Julie got married.

And my daughter beat the breast cancer.  And the health scares that my other daughter and I had turned out to be just scares.

It was a year in which I began relationships, found friendships, re-established connections, some of which continue to grow while others have withered from lack of nurturing.  This was the year I found someone I thought I could love, but it didn't work out.

It has been a year in which I did some real thinking about who I am; a year in which I discovered more than simply how to paint chairs and knit socks.  Some of the insights had to do with what frightens me, what makes me happy, what causes me stress.  I learned that I hate mazes but love labyrinths.

So it has been a year that has depleted bank accounts, stolen health and ended lives, but it has also been a year of growth and rebirth.  One of the messages I've gotten this year is that even great fear and sadness can result in personal growth,  so 2009 has, on balance, been a year in which the positive has outweighed the negative.

I am attending a Winter Solstice party tonight at the Mudpies Pottery.  We will be throwing something we want to be rid of onto the bonfire.  I think I will throw away ill health for all those I love.  I want my daughter to walk pain-free again.  I want Pat to get a bolstered immune system.  I want 2010 to be a healthy year for everyone I care about.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Meanderings of a Murky Mind in a Mad Mad World

I've always thought that truth was stranger than fiction but I just learned of a situation that makes my head spin ... and gives me an idea for a piece of fiction ...  Imagine this ...

A very old, very Catholic woman raised a large family of children in relative poverty in one of our poorest provinces.  For many years she has been in the care of one of her daughters. Now that she is at the end of her life, demented and bed-ridden,  her situation is deplorable.

The daughter could not stand living in the same house with her because of her mother's dementia so she moved next door and set up a baby monitor between the two houses.  Other family members have tried to persuade the care giver to get some respite care for the mother in an institution that is better equipped to handle  elderly bedridden patients, but she is adamant.  No mother of hers will end up in a home.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where the old woman is in terrible pain from suppurating bedsores and an allergic reaction to the renovation.  Oh yes ... did I mention that the caregiver, in order to find an income for her unemployed son, got a government grant for renovations to the old woman's house?  One of the family members has forced that renovation to stop and that has created a situation in which the caregiver now refuses to speak to her siblings.

Why don't the siblings force the issue of an old age home?  The caregiving sister has legal guardianship.  Probably the only way to effect a change would be for family members to put the matter in the hands of the authorities, and who wants to do that to a sister?

The caregiver is feeling martyred.  The family members are feeling helpless.  The old woman at the centre of all this is enduring the most horrible end of a life. 

If she were a child, no one would feel any compunction about calling Children's Aid.

If she were a dog or cat living in such conditions, the Humane Society would be contacted immediately.

But she is a ninety-three year old woman whose plight is being hidden away in a bedroom by an entire family whom she raised.

I wish I knew how to do something to help.  The family doctor visits by the way ... and has not forced the issue ...

Someone asked me the other day what I feared most.  This is it: being old and sick and alone.

Friday, 18 December 2009


It is cold this morning ... so cold that I hate opening the door to let Kenya out or in ... so cold that she wants back in within minutes ... so cold that I suspect her poop freezes before it hits the ground ... so cold that I am very glad I am not a dog wearing only my everyday clothing but a Canadian who has a sensible warm red housecoat for indoors, and silk long johns, undershirts, fleecy things and bulky down garments with hoods for venturing outdoors.

I have to go out at some point because I have promised to deliver the naked little rocking chair to the shop so that a woman whose little boy asked for only one thing to go under the Christmas tree will not be disappointed.  She called a week before Christmas Eve asking if I could do another chair like the one she bid on at the fund raiser.  We said it would be impossible in the short time especially just before Christmas.  She finally decided that she would like it unpainted for under the tree and then would return it to me right after Christmas so that I could paint it.  I kind of like the idea of painting a chair for a little boy who wants one this much.  I will ask her about his favourite colours and interests ... and get as much information as possible so that I can make it a very special chair for a special little boy.

I am also supposed to meet a good friend for lunch in Ottawa.

So I will be leaving my completed house today ... yes I said it ... the house is finished.  Peter worked here and kept his tools in my front hall and back porch for over eight weeks ... so for the first time in over two months I have the house to myself again.  And I can clean and get ready for Christmas!!!  And the house looks wonderful.  He did a beautiful job, not only on the cedar siding but on the installation of the outdoor lights and the little birdhouse box that encloses the hydro meter ... and the windows that he re-installed right way up have frames that are far superior to the original frames ... they are no longer 1/4 to 1/2 inch too long so now the 45 degree angles fit snugly. They look like real windows now.  Thank you, Peter.

Just some random thoughts inspired by my last few days ...

1.  Chickadees are very particular and aggressive about making themselves understood.  one of mine wants me to move the feeder back to its original place.  He dive bombed my ear a couple of days ago to let me know.  I was standing by the feeder's temporary location.  I think birds have more brain power than we give them credit for.

2.  Wild turkeys may not be as clever as chickadees.  I almost ran over one who was wandering in a daze along the 366 a couple of days ago.

3.   It is hard work to be with a deaf person for a couple of hours, even if they have the technology that allows them to hear.  I think it is because they have got into the habit of doing all the talking so that they are not forced to hear,.  Also, because they cannot hear their own voices,  they lack intonation and the other variations we get from a hearing person's voice.  I felt after a couple of hours as if a drill had been running non-stop.  I like my new deaf friend but it is exhausting to be with him for any length of time.

Bundle up today, or stay in by the fire.  I wish I could choose the second option ...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Post in Three Parts

Well ... I never thought I'd start a blog post with a quote from Norman Vincent Peale ...

But I guess those inspirational speakers, the oft-quoted folks, and the old cliched homilies are now trite and boring because so many people have quoted them ... and that must have occurred because there were little kernels of truth not too well hidden in the words.

I must say I prefer a little more subtlety, a little more respect for the recipient of these words of wisdom, a metaphor perhaps ... something that requires me to do some thinking ... but here anyway is Peale's piece of ponderous pontification:

"You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind. Your mind gets bored and therefore tired of doing nothing. Get interested in something! Get absolutely enthralled in something! Get out of yourself! Be somebody! Do something. The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have."

You will be pleased to know that the wise old owl, Le Hibou, has pulled me out of my self- absorbed blue funk of illness, and I am now working on other Zentangle adaptations.  I still have the cough, but I am working again ... and no longer bored.


I have decided not to go to my last class.  The cough?  Maybe.  But it is also the snow that is drifting down and making the hill out of my place slippery.  And the drive into the city.  And the fact that I haven't learned much, not because the teacher doesn't know much about art (she does) or because she doesn't care (she does) or because she is lazy (she is most definitely not).  No ... the problem is that she doesn't have any teaching skills. 

There is an old saw, "Those who can do; those who can't teach".  It is intended as a putdown of teachers.  Many people think that teaching is something anyone can do, not something learned, and not a natural talent that can be honed.  This class has shown me that teaching is an art, a set of skills, something valuable.  It is something that not everyone can do.  It requires more than a good heart, knowledge, and a willingness to pass on that information.

Our teacher can acquire those skills with further training and study, and when she does, her knowledge of her field, her good heart, and her enthusiasm will make her a good teacher.

I am disappointed because I wanted to learn more about art ... about how to take an interest further ... about techniques ... and tricks of the trade ... and mistakes to avoid.  I wanted to come away from this course armed with some tools to make my funky furniture making less fraught with technical mistakes.  Oh well, there will be other courses, and books and other sources of advice ... and that greatest teacher of all, trial and error.  It's just that I don't have enough time to learn everything by guess and by golly, by trial and error.  That's why teachers are so important; they speed up the process of learning.


One of the benefits of the marathon month long writing of the terribly bad novel is that I came to some conclusions about my life ...  and took some definitive action yesterday.  Not sure I should have ... but made the decision and acted on it anyway.  I know that is far too amorphous a statement to make any sense but this is a blog not a private conversation with an intimate friend.

One of the problems with being almost seventy is that you are no longer young enough to be blissfully blind and not old enough to have stopped wanting love. 

Happily married friends tell me that they would never marry again; that all relationships become dull with time; become chores to keep up; that men are boring once the children have been raised and sex is no longer a driving force.  They certainly don't make me want to find someone to love.

I asked a good friend what married life was like, and I thought, as the details came out, that I couldn't imagine any life I would like less.  They were bored by one another, imprisoned by expectations, responsibilities and jealousies, and one at least felt hard done by.  I look at Kenya and also feel I do the lion's share of the work, but she is still fun to play with and not at all jealous.

A very close friend who has what the world would see as the perfect marriage has accepted something I could never accept.  Her husband makes all the decisions and she has to work within those constraints.  She loves him very much and she accepts this element of their relationship.  I couldn't, no matter how much I were loved.

Oh I do see good strong relationships around me of course.  They are the ones in which the partners are good friends who like to work and play together, who have a great deal in common and seem to keep growing as individual people and together as couples.  The problem at nearly seventy, especially if you live alone on an isolated lake with your dog, is finding someone who could be that kind of friend.  And when you think you might have found him, you discover something that makes him an untenable choice.


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Is anyone else surprised by things like this?

Make your intruder insatiable, Supercharge bedroom performance  ... found in my mailbox yesterday ... "Intruder"???  an ad based on rapist fantasies?

Calian Technologies has seen the value of its contracts with the City of Ottawa skyrocket since the company's founder was elected mayor in 2006 ... on Yahoo news headlines ... does the man have no idea what the optics of his actions are?  Or does he simply not care?

Maybe I am just getting old ... but really!

I am still entertaining the foul bug and still doing too much so that it gets the upper hand too often.  I hope I am healthier by Tuesday.  I don't want to miss my final class.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Speeding Up Time ...

At almost 70, why would I want to?

"When you have a purpose in life, a vision for what you want to achieve, and know why you want to achieve it, work becomes fun, and the time you spend working seems to just whizz by."

This morning I awoke to find the above piece of advice in my mailbox.  I am not sure about the preamble (purpose, vision etc), but I do know that when work is fun, time flies.  It happened to me all the time when I was teaching full time.  It happens to me when I am engaged with a piece of funky furniture or with a piece of writing that is going well.

Time has dragged when I have been supply teaching or when I have been doing something that requires my presence but no real involvement, so perhaps the part about purposeful work is absolutely right.

Time also moves very slowly when I am too sick to do much, and when I have been writing something I think is patently bad.

I have a very messy kitchen just now.  It demands clean-up.  I know that if I could find the energy to deal with it I could create a decent work space to play with my Le Hibou carousel.  Then perhaps I could lose myself in the painting.

So ... going back to the original quote ... I have a purpose -- to create an inviting work space.  I have a vision of tidy cleanliness -- a table covered by newspaper, with all my supplies set out neatly.  I know why I want to achieve this -- so that I can complete this piece for Le Hibou ... and get on with some other pieces I want to complete before Christmas.  Now I am going to test the theory despite the fact that my right lung is clogged up and aching.  Keep your fingers crossed that time will whizz by!

Other news:
    1.    I've received word that Shea still has four legs and a good appetite; thanks for your good thoughts.
    2.    Gold prices are very high right now and I may try selling things I never wear to a local goldsmith.
    3.    The slate grey ice skin has re-formed in front of the deck.
    4.    The scaffolding goes back to Home Hardware today so the end of the construction is in sight.
    5.    Unfortunately the mess left behind is not; I will be faced with an unpleasant clean-up job next spring.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Perfect Storm

At my age, the perfect storm is beautiful, exciting and does not leave me stranded or exhausted.

This was the perfect storm.  It had a violent monochromatic beauty with no terrible repercussions.

Before the storm, a thin skin of slate grey ice had formed on the lake near the shoreline.  When I woke up on Wednesday the skin was several feet wide and pure white.

All day long the wind howled in the treetops sending Kenya scuttling in under my desk, swirling snow in fierce whorls that scudded past my windows.  It churned up the lake water and sent it rushing from one end of the lake to the other.  This was no ordinary wind.  It didn't seem to have a specific source or purpose but rather changed direction frequently, and paused for breath often.

The ice skin was torn away from the shore and shredded into fragments that were scattered over the lake creating islands shaped like crescent moons and boomerangs.

The boats which had, I thought, been carefully stored for winter, the canoe over the kayak, a chair leaning against both holding them against the railing, were now scattered all over the deck.  I made my careful way down the 22 stairs to the lake, pushing snow aside with each step I took.  The wind tore at my clothing as I  turned both boats over again, but did not attempt to pile them neatly this time.    Kenya, who is usually first onto the deck, hung back.

The quietest place during the storm was in the woods.  Kenya and I made the trek to the mailboxes twice.  Sixty feet above our heads, the wind shrieked as it buffeted groaning tree branches.  On the road we saw several dead branches that had been ripped from the trees: new sticks for Kenya to play with, but even so, there was a kind of peace as we walked in that white arched passage between the open parking area and Pike Lake Road.  I felt completely safe.  Kenya was likely more realistic as she cringed and cast baleful glances up into the treetops.  But then Kenya is always the one who barks and maintains watch while I relax and enjoy my hermitage safe in the knowledge that she is here, that the only people who venture in here are friends, and that our home is secure.

I shoveled the 39 steps once yesterday, and Leonard plowed the road once and then came in for coffee and banana bread.  Today, the finest possible dusting of snow is sifting down, and I will take my shovel and go out to play in the snow in a few minutes.

I hope your storms was as perfect as ours if you were experiencing your first storm of the season.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Random Thoughts While Home with the Flu

"The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present."  Barbara De Angelis

I read this today and was glad it was one of the truths I discovered a long time ago.  I think my profession helped me understand it back when I was very young, still in my early twenties.  If a teacher harbours grudges she will not be happy in her job.  A classroom is one of the situations in which a short memory is an asset.  Every day has to be a new day.

Oh, I have forgotten the lesson at times ... I'm still not very forgiving toward the incompetent doctor who misdiagnosed and mistreated my broken dislocated finger ... and I still do not trust the Hull and Gatineau hospitals ... but generally speaking I forgive easily ... and indeed, often forget as well.

Old spouses and lovers have long ago been forgiven.  As have my parents.  I think once I understand why an adult  acts as he does, it is easier to get over a hurt, a fear, or a bit of cruelty.

Thank you, Barbara De Angelis, for the reminder.

I am nursing a flu bug.  Well actually, I am treating myself very gently, and enduring the flu bug, swatting it with regular blasts of Cold FX which bolsters my white blood cells' ability to do the actual fighting.  I am also fueling my immune system with Vitamin C and drinking plenty of hot teas and water ... (and just a little wine).  As well, I am dressing in cozy snuggly bugglies and an old cashmere turtleneck I brought back from Mongolia ten years ago.The sore throat began on Monday and my choice of treatment seems to be working well, as I am already feeling better today than I did yesterday.

And now we have our first winter storm arriving so I will be snowed in until I have the energy to dig myself out.  This means that I likely won't be doing much besides resting and pampering myself until Saturday.

I do hope that we don't lose power.  These winds are very strong and gusty ... the kind that hydro poles seem unable to withstand.  And my wood supply has not yet arrived.  I have a few bags of logs ... but not enough for any lengthy outage.

If necessary I will get Peter to help me pick up more logs tomorrow.  I think he will be coming.  And now that we have snow I can get my big order delivered next weekend.

I think I will start my gift for Le Hibou today ... the base coat anyway ... and then it will become something to play with.  I am planning a Zentangle owl with just a single splash of colour.

Good thoughts needed by Pat, who is getting heavier doses of a stronger antibiotic to help her weakened immune system, and by Shea (Tamarak's dog) who is having surgery tomorrow.  We hope it will be to remove the lump, not the front leg.  Dogs are great at adjusting to three legs, but Shea loves to swim and that might be harder to manage than walking and running.  Maybe we could fit him with a small rubber flipper-like prosthesis if it became necessary.  Now there is a puzzle for an inventive engineer to solve!

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Weekend is Over

The last post was entitled "The Weekend is Upon Us" ... and it was a sad little post ... self pitying ... This one will, I hope, be a little more upbeat.

I feel all partied out and it isn't even Christmas!  On Friday I had company.  On Saturday I went to the Art de la Paix open house and straight from there to Rosemary's dinner party.  On Sunday morning I had tea with Erin and proceeded to the Honey House party/sale.  In the afternoon we met Quenty and his people and then went to a dinner party at Lise's house. 

With the exception of the Honey House experience, every single one of these events was fun.  The Honey House was PACKED ... so crowded that I couldn't see the products and I actually became claustrophobic.  I met the couple who own Zeke (the Nova Scotia Duck Toller) and they had some sad news.  Zeke had just been put down.  He had a growth on the spine that crippled him within a couple of days.  The only other option was an $8000 surgery that would have allowed him walk afterwards with a little sling type contraption.  Not much choice.

The open house at Art de la Paix  was happier ... good (free) munchies and wine ... and I met some old friends and a local artist I didn't know (Denise Coker) whom I would like to know better.

Both dinner parties were here at the lake.  I have very good neighbours ... who also happen to be very good cooks.   Comfortable old friends at the first one; interesting new folks at the second.

Erin and I were joined by Bailey and her mother who are book lovers and we all discussed Nanowrimo.  Erin and I both completed the marathon and have spent the past week getting over it.  We printed out our 50,000 words in the past couple of days and discovered that they weren't quite as bad as we imagined while we churned them out.

Today I am going to dig through snow to start cleaning up the yard.  Tamarak suggested letting the cedar sawdust and bits I have not salvaged rot in the woods.  Peter suggested burning.  I am afraid of fire and really don't want to burn without a burn barrel anyway.  Any other suggestions are welcome.  I would love to find a good use for the enormous pile of sawdust created.  Maybe sachets to keep moths away?   Or stuffing for dog pillows?

At any rate I better get started.  Have a great week.  Mine has a few more social oppotunities ... dinner at The Mill ... Open House at River Echo ... and a djembe drumming class on Saturday afternoon ... and ... of course ... my class on Tuesday.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Weekend is Upon Us ...

Once again I seem to be running on a treadmill.  Tuesday was my Ottawa class and errand day.  The rest of the week was spent dealing with things I'd left undone while writing and traveling.  The cedar siding is almost completely installed now and I love it.  But now I have an incredibly large mess to clean up.

Friday  morning I called Pat and learned that she will be released soon ... but not home as she had hoped.  She will be sent back to the Whittington Hospital as soon as they have a bed for her.  Her white blood cell count is very low.  Later I took my car in to have a number of small things done to it (small as in almost $800). 

Then I completed the little sweater and printed the Nanowrimo novel (I really have to start calling it something else.  Its working title was "Men of My Dreams".     Today I will start re-reading it ...  if I can.  A blog reader posted an interesting comment on the final Nanowrimo entry.

Friday evening Pat and Julie came bearing dessert ... and their wedding photos.  Before they left, Pat changed some light bulbs in my high ceilinged den so that I could see again while working at the computer.  I wish he'd arrived at the beginning of Nanowrimo month  instead of the beginning of December :-)

Christmas is coming ... I am not sure how I feel about Christmas this year.  One part of me still remembers how much I always loved Christmas.  The other part of me dreads it.  Christmas has not been a truly happy time for me since the Christmas of 1994 ... 15 Christmases ago. But I think it all began to unravel before that.

I remember it as a warm gathering together of everyone I love.  When everyone I loved was a small group of people it was easier to create that kind of Christmas.  As a kid, it was just my father and me.  Later it was my father, my Oma and me.  Still later my children became part of the circle.  And, when there were spouses, they joined the circle of love that surrounded me.  As my children made their own lives they created their own circles of love.

I have a feeling that once children grow  up and have children of their own who are not easy to transport, those Christmas circles become smaller again.  They shrink back to the original couples.  I hope that isn't true.  I would hate to think that Kenya and I will be toasting one another with tea and Dentistix on Christmas morning.

Good grief (she said with some asperity) get a grip!  December 25 is just another day on the calendar. And a few days after Christmas your house will be filled with Mud Mama's gang, and you will be wondering when they will finally leave so that you can hear yourself think again.

And, she went on, think about how lucky you are to be able to spend Christmas on Pike Lake with your dog.

Pat will likely spend her Christmas in a London hospital room with her partner, her sons and their families visiting.

Pat and Julie are planning to divide Christmas into neat little segments: Christmas Eve, Christmas brunch and Christmas dinner which they will spend in a variety of places. They are trying to reduce the amount of traveling they are forced to do on Christmas Day.  (The simplest way to do that is to have babies!)

Tamarak is not sure whether she will be in Trois Rivieres or Ottawa or Hull, and she doesn't know if  her dog will have four legs or three this Christmas.  She feels like hiding under a blanket till it's all over.

What are you all doing for Christmas?

You are all welcome to join Kenya and me for tea and Dentistix... or ... if I know in time ... for something a little more appetizing.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Another Day of Rest ...

Or ... another day of the rest of my life after Nanowrimo ...

I puttered all day ... it was one of those grey sodden days that do not inspire much ... so I organized a bit of my contact list ... and baked a sponge cake for Saturday's do ... and sorted out some financial stuff ... and looked at the baby sweater pieces I need to put together before Chelsea outgrows the sweater ... and pasted some photos in the book I am making to keep a record of my funky furniture ... and made a couple of phone calls and fielded a few emails ... and Kenya and I went for a walk.

But really it was a wasted day ...

I watched The Thin Red Line ... that is a tough movie ...

We are going to meet a new puppy on Sunday.  That will be fun.  This dog owner has a friend on the lake and is making sure she has a place for her new puppy to stay if she has to leave her without much notice.

The best news of the day is that Pat is due to be released soon.

And the very gratifying news I received today via Zoom's  blog  (see my side bar) was that we have both been nominated for best personal blog in the Canadian Blog Awards.  I am more than astounded ... and very grateful to whomever of my faithful readers nominated me.  Thank you very much.  If you go to Zoom's blog ... on the side bar, you can find out who else has been nominated and also how to vote. 

All the best to all the bloggers whose blogs have been nominated, and for all you blog readers, that's a good place to disover some new blogs you might want to take a look at.  I'm going to do that tomorrow when I have some energy to spare.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

New Header


Look what Tammy produced from my photo!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

First Snow: the Hermitage


December 1, 2009
November is over ...  TGNIO

The morning quarantines:
far glad bad
that there put
news right name

From Robert Genn's Letter This Morning:
Studies by neuroscientist Dr Ying-Hui Fu of the University of California indicate early risers may be living with a mutated gene. I can handle that. Familial Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (FASPS) is when people are early to bed and early to rise. They may also be healthy, wealthy and wise. Some FASPS folks like to get started in the middle of the night.

My To-Do List for the Day:
1.    Deal with bills that need paying
2.    Do my monthly report for November's spending
3.    Take bottles in for refund (because I need space ... I'm really not desperate)
4.    Go to the bank
5.    Go to my sketch booking class
6.    Buy a lens cap (I lost mine yesterday) and a cartridge for my printer (I want to print the whole damn ms)
7.    Buy two more cases at Ikea.
8.    Send off some important business emails
9.    Phone Nolan
10.    Find out about the possibility of visiting Toronto around Christmas.

Of course other things will be added (and some won't get done), but basically what I want to do today is get my life back on track after the marathon that November has been: 50,403 words; a trip to England with its concomitant stress; a physically grueling trip to Montreal; 3 sketch booking classes; 9 hours of teaching; my car's tire and oil change appointment; a few dinner guests, Remi's weeklong visit, and one overnight visitor; the retirees' luncheon; and a broken tooth that had to be fixed twice.

I wonder how people manage to fit in 40 hour work weeks as well.  I used to be a workaholic and still have a life.  It seems remarkable to me now.

I want to get back to my peaceful life of painting funky furniture and having fun for a while.  December is shaping up to be a pleasantly sociable month: three sketch booking classes left; a visit with pat and Julie this Friday evening; an open house at Art de la Paix on Saturday afternoon, and a neighbourhood dinner at Rosemary's on Saturday night.  I may also attend the Honey House's Christmas Open House on Sunday and the almost free buffet supper at The Mill on Monday.  Maggie, the nice Bernese Mountain Dog will be here from the 11th till the 14th, and Sharon and I are going to a djembe drumnming class on the 12th.  And then of course I will be gearing up for Christmas.

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Monday, 30 November 2009

Nanowrimo Day 30 The finished contest, the unfinished ending

Day 30 ... I made it ... 50,406 words ...

I am going out for a walk and then I might do something to tidy up this ending a bit ... I'm tired and hungry right now:

November 30, 2009
Day 30 ... Last Day

It is Mark

It was soon time to file into the pews set aside for family, time for the service to begin.  Mary Jane came over to me and linked her arm through mine.  "Come sit with us," she said.

"Oh, I couldn't," I said quickly.  "I've only just met you.  I'd feel like an intruder."

Sarah came up and said, "I understand how you feel, but don't disappear on us after the service.  We are awfully glad we've found a long lost cousin."

"Mary Jane added, "It seems almost all of our family members end up being long gone and lost most of the time."

Sarah asked me, "Have you met Andrew yet?"

I shook my head.  "I'm sure I'll meet him soon enough."  I felt a bit like squirming.  I wasn't at all sure I wanted to meet Andrew.  He and Mark could have been brothers — twins even.

The service was one of those non denominational ones.  Joseph's daughter and son spoke of their father with pride and love. He had raised them almost single handed after his wife died.  His sisters both told stories demonstrating that he had been a bit of a devil as a boy and a good big brother.  Andrew didn't speak.  Too shy maybe. 

Mark would have spoken if it had been his brother.  He'd have written poetry that expressed his love for his older brother, poetry that dealt with the universality of love and death and loss ... philosophical and poetic.  Nothing sloppy.  Good poetry.  And Mark was comfortable speaking to large groups of people. 

I wished he were here beside me.  I needed to feel the reassurance of his very warm, totally alive body close to mine.  I'd been too much involved with the dead of late.  The dead and the dying.  The ghosts from my past seemed more real than the people in my life these days.  I had no time for friends because I was writing, no time for much other than eating, sleeping and getting a few minutes of fresh air every day.  And life kept on interfering with the deadline hanging over me.  I decided to leave early and get in touch later, after I'd completed this manuscript.  I'd leave right after the service, tell Mary Jane and Sarah I'd visit another time.

"Oh no you don't," said Eva quietly.  "You are not going to sneak out the back door."

"Why not?  I'm exhausted and I have another five hours of writing to get in before tomorrow."

"Because it would be rude and unkind.  Your cousins want to meet you."

"I've met them ... and we'll exchange cards and I will see them another time."

"Now," said Eva.

"God, it's bad enough that Grandpa thinks he can order me around ... but we're not even related!"

But it was clear that Eva was giving me no choice in the matter.

Why was I so reluctant to stay?  I had another full day to work on the book, and I knew I'd get it finished.  What was making me want to run away?

Andrew's face swam before me ... how could two unrelated men look so much alike?

"Dopplegangers?" It was Grandpa.  "Didn't think there'd be two great marshmallows, did you?"

"Mark is not a marshmallow. He's just a gentle man."

"I'm a gentleman too, but I have a backbone."

I stared at him.  "Do you think he's a coward?"

"Don't you?"

Did I?  Sometimes.  He couldn't do the tough things like end a bad marriage.  But maybe that was because he was too caring, not too cowardly.  He was too easy on one of his daughters.  Was that because he didn't like confrontations or was it because he really did feel she needed extra leeway because she felt like such a loser in her family of brilliant or competent people?

"Maybe he relates to her because he's such a loser himself."

"Oh come on Grandpa.  He's not a loser.  Look at what he's accomplished."

"Does a competent man take so goddamned long to get things done?  My god.  He spends most of his time avoiding what has to be done instead of just doing it."

"I know," I admitted sadly.  "He doesn't seem to cope very well, but he's bright and funny and kind."

"That sounds like my youngest," said Wilhemina. "Have you met him yet?  You'd like him, I know."

"Not yet," I said.

"Have you seen your mother?"  Grandpa asked Wilhemina.

"Is she here?"

"I can't imagine she'd miss a good party.  There is going to be something to drink later, isn't there?"

"She's over there," Eva said.  "In the smoky blue."

I looked over to where Eva was motioning.  Velvet was beautiful.  A halo of blonde hair framed a flawless face.  No wonder her progeny were all so good looking.

"She sure ages well, doesn't she?"  Grandpa was leering.  "Like good whiskey."

"She looks too nice for the likes of you ," I said. 

"She is," said Eva. 

"One of your death bed conversions?" asked Grandpa.

Eva turned suddenly serious. "Velvet came into the home a hard little stripper.  By the time she went into confinement she had grown up.  She was ready to be a good mother ... one who would have raised her daughter well."

"I wish I'd known her," said Wilhemina.  "My foster mother was a good woman and I never felt I had a bad life, but I wish I'd  had a chance to know Velvet."

She turned to Grandpa.  "I wish I'd known you better and longer too.  I wish I'd had a chance to thank you for making sure I was okay."

Grandpa was beginning to look uncomfortable.  He obviously preferred his rakish reputation to one that presented his other side. 

"So you were a bit of a marshmallow too, eh?"

Grandpa scowled at me.  "Nothing of the kind," he said, and walked across the room to Velvet.

"Did I hit a nerve?" I asked Eva.

"Not too many people knew just how kind Paul was"

"Go over and meet Andrew," Wilhemina said to me.

"Will you introduce me?"

"He doesn't always see me," she said.  "Sometimes he's so knotted up inside and living in his own head that he isn't able to see anyone else but himself."

"That doesn't sound very healthy," I said.

"No.  I worry about him.  I wish he were happier.  He's awfully hard on himself."

"He sounds like someone I know," I said.

"Imagine  -- two poor lost souls with every good intention --- and too stuck in their own form of quicksand to grab a helping hand and climb out of the pit."

Yes, I thought, how could there be two of them ... especially two that looked so much alike?

"I think you will like one another.  Come on over and I'll try to get his attention.  He loved Joseph a great deal ... it may be hard just now for him to come out of himself."

It took a long time to make our way across the crowded room.  Little knots of people blocked the route, but finally I was standing just behind Andrew.  He obviously didn't see his mother although she hovered close to him and reached a hand up to touch the back of his collar to straighten it.  He shivered but when he turned around it was me he saw, not Wilhemina.  Good lord, I thought.  I hope he didn't think I'd touched him. I'd never have touched a strange man in that intimate fashion, and certainly not at a funeral.

I wouldn't have touched Mark in that way here in public, especially where he was surrounded by family who likely still thought of him as married despite the fact that he lived alone now.

As soon as he spoke, I realized that Andrew was no stranger.

They say that voices are a more reliable identifier than fingerprints.  And voices tend to be genetically linked.  I've talked to people who are related and mistaken one for the other ... but perhaps that's not genetic but rather the fact that we imitate the voices of the people who raise us.

The stranger spoke my name.  Had Mary Jane and Sarah told him I was here?  Had Wilhemina gotten through to him?

I somehow doubted it.  His next words were, "What in hell are you doing here?"

"It's a long story.  Have you got a month or so?  That's how long it took me to sort it out."

Mark put an arm around me and guided me towards an unoccupied couch.  "Start talking," he said.

"Eva insisted that I come to this funeral.  And Wilhemina too.  If I'd known you would be here I wouldn't have come."

"Wilhemina?" asked Mark.  "How could you possibly know Wilhemina?"

"That's all part of the story," I said.  "Where's your wife?"

"Oh, she didn't come.  I didn't ask her."

"Why not?"

"Too far to travel.  Her job.  You know."

"Did she know Joseph and your sisters?"

Mark nodded, and said, "She didn't like my family much."

"I like Mary Jane and Sarah," I said.

Mark looked a little surprised.  "How do you know them?"

"I don't really.  I just met them today.  But they were friendly."

"Why would they be friendly to you?  They don't know you and you suddenly turn up at our brother's funeral."

Because I'm cute?"

He grinned.

And then we were joined by Sarah who was accompanied by Wilhemina.  "I see you've met," she said.  "I've had the weirdest feeling all afternoon.  As though Mom's here."

"Funerals do that to people," Mark said.  "We remember all the other people who've died."

"Well," I said.  "The people we cared about, anyway."

"Are you coming back to the house?" asked Sarah.

Mark looked at me before responding.  "I have a meeting this evening with one of the Board."

"Can't you tell him you are with family; that your brother died?"

"Yes," I said, "You could take one night off from work.  You could see him tomorrow or phone."

"Where are you staying?" asked Sarah.  "There's plenty of room at Mary Jane's." 

"For both of you," she added.

"I've got a room booked at the Holiday Inn on the Lakeshore Road," I said.  "But thank you."

Mark dithered a bit and finally came out with, "I've told Derek that I'll be staying with them tonight." .I hoped that Sarah would not realize he was lying.

"Who's Derek?" she asked.

"The Board member I have to meet tonight."

"Surely you'll at least come to the house for the reception," Sarah said.

"I'll hang around for a couple of hours, see everyone, and then head over to Derek's.  Will that be okay?"

She nodded.  "Do you need a lift?"

"I rented a car at the airport," he replied, and turned to me.  "Do you have a car here?"

"No," I said.  "Could you give me a lift?"

Mary Jane came up to us and said, "Sorry I didn't get to talk to you sooner.  Are you coming to the house?"

Sarah told her about the arrangements and we all headed toward the door together.

"What's this all about?" Mark said as soon as I slid in.  "Did you know I'd be here?"

"Don't worry," I said.  "I wasn't stalking you.  I was as surprised to see you as you were to see me."

H pulled over and held me for a moment. "I'm glad you're here."

"Why didn't you speak at the funeral?"

"Sometimes it's just too hard to find the right words.  Words that tell someone how much you love them."

"And sometimes you can't tell the world what you weren't able to tell your brother while he was alive?"

"Something like that," Mark said.

"Now tell me.  Why are you here if it wasn't to see me?"

"I'll tell you tonight at the hotel ... it'll be your bedtime story."

"I won't be at the hotel," said Mark.

"Yes you will," I laughed.

And then we were at his sister's  house, and we didn't have a chance to talk again.  I kept hearing people call him Andrew and wondered why he was my Mark and their Andrew.  Their brother, Andrew.  Their Uncle Andrew.

Wilhemina appeared and asked how I liked Andrew.  "He's very nice," I said.

"You should ask him about his work in Africa," she said.  "I'm sure you'd have a lot in common."

I murmured something agreeable and then she was off again, this time to sit with Grandpa and Velvet.  I went over to join them.

And then I felt a warm very human hand on my shoulder, "Do you need a lift to the hotel?" he asked.  He was carrying my coat.  The red suitcase was in the trunk of the rented car.

"I'll be with you in five minutes," I said.  "I want to say goodbye and I need to pee."

I had hardly sat down on the toilet when Eva appeared. 

"For god's sake Eva.  Can't I have even a modicum of privacy?"

"I needed to talk yo you before you got to the hotel."

"To tell me that Mark and Andrew are the same person?"

"That too," she said, "but I didn't want you to do anything stupid."

I thought about what I could possibly do that was any more stupid that falling for a married man who lived a continent away ... a married man who turned out to be my first cousin ... well ... my first half cousin.  Cripes.

"I need to tell him the story," I said.  "The story of the last month."

"Surely he knows the most important parts of it.  You do talk to him, don't you?"

"We don't talk about ghosts ... and I just found out that I am in love with my cousin; that I've committed incestuous acts, for god's sake."

"You didn't commit those acts for God's sake," Eva said without a smile.

"So you were trying to make sure I stopped committing a sin.  Is that it?" I asked.  "Is that why you made sure I came to this damned funeral?"

Eva looked at me in disbelief.  "Is that what you thought?" she cried.  "Have you any idea how many stories about illicit sex I have heard, how many girls I've helped?"

"Did you think you would have become pure for me to forgive you?  For me to understand?"

"We wouldn't be allowed to marry in your church," I said.

"You wouldn't be allowed to marry in a registry office if you revealed your connection, either," she said.  "But why would you?"

"There are good reasons that the law forbids cousins from marrying one another," I said.

"Were you planning to have children with Mark?" asked Eva.  "It's a little late for that kind of thing, don't you think?" 

I emitted a shout of laughter, the same kind of laughter I had shared with Pat and Claire a few days ago.  And then I saw the twinkle in Eva's eye.

"Don't be stupid enough to send Mark away," she said.  "He needs you.  You need each other."

"I don't need a man to make me happy," I said.

"No but you need to love someone who loves you.  You need his friendship and his warmth." 

"And he has a wife."

"Do you see her anywhere around when he needs her?"

"He likely told her she didn't need to come."

"Would you have accepted that?  Did you with Pat?"

"She doesn't love him as much as any of you think she does.  She loves security ... especially financial security."

"He thinks she wants the family to stay intact for the kids."

"The kids are adults, now," said Eva.  "Adults who can see as much of both their parents as they like."

Okay," I said.  "I've got to go.  Could you leave so I can finish up in here?"

Eva looked at me long and hard.  "Don't be a fool.  This is your last chance.  Life doesn't go on forever."

I stared at her and then said, "You'd never know it to look at you and Grandpa flirting away eternity."

Her giggles echoed in the glistening bathroom after she'd gone.

Nanowrimo Day 30 ... the missing bit from yesterday's post

Day 30  November 30, 2009

I dreamed all night ... and remembered the dreams ... that's rare for me ... but I didn't dream about Mark even though we talked on the phone at about 9 p.m.

I dreamed about George ... Big George ... the incompetent worker who messed up a great deal of my house ... for some ungodly reason I had hired him again ... and he was busy making my life hell by setting my radio on some awful rock station with the volume on high ... and then when I protested, he turned on the television to something equally inane and just as loud ... and I don't even own a tv.  And he had not become more competent in the past couple of years either.

Bill showed up in that dream too ...sharing my house ... and giving me his laundry to do ... and then I found myself in a laundromat with former colleagues who were all more competent than I was.  I escaped with the wet clothing by car with two men and a woman ... we were all leaning against one another ... sort of like kittens in the back seat of the car ... and all the wrong couple members were cuddling ...

I am sure there is some deep important message in all this but I haven't time to figure it out just now ... maybe in the second draft ... I still have about 4000 words to write today. And this novel is about as coherent as that dream sequence was  ...  sorry.

This morning I cuddled for a while with Kenya.  her coat is luxurious in the winter ... thick and smooth and smelling wonderfully clean.  And she is building it rather than discarding the ratty bits now so the house is a little cleaner. 

It snowed in the night.  I love the look of fresh snow against the dark grey of the lake and the black skeletons of wintery trees.

I will have to pay Leonard soon.  Tanya gave me her share of the plowing yesterday and I offered to look after Oberon (her cat) for a month while she goes to visit Jordan and Egypt with her sister.  Kenya will be delighted.  She likes cats that like dogs, and she has lived with Oberon before and likely will again this summer when Tanya goes to Scotland.  Tanya came back to the house with me and picked up all my literature on Jordan including a huge scrapbook type report I created after my sojourn there.

CBC (no, the dial had not been changed in the night) was re-broadcasting an Anna Maria Tremonte interview with David McGuinty, the Liberal environment critic.  I turned it off partway through.  I hate being reminded of the stupidity of the Conservative government under Stephen Harper ... and therefore of the stupidity of Canadians who keep on giving him another opportunity to make Canada look like a totally uncaring country. 

The other day an American very carefully added his voice to the criticism.  He didn't want to dump on us because he wasn't Canadian ... but he pointed out all the occasions when Canada has been a moral leader in world opinion.  He emphasized that the weight of our positive influence has always been much greater than the power that might have been expected from the size of our economy or population.  Then he said that, in light of our history, it was particularly surprising that Canada under this prime minister would be so recalcitrant  on the issue of the environment.

So then I moved to the computer.  In my Quarantine Box were a whole bunch of those weird little subjects ... the ones that are just words strung together without meaning.  Two stood out: "ago finished gotta" and "really truly finished".  So I decided to stop procrastinating and get back to writing those last 4000 words.  I feel a little like the male lead in You've Got Mail" as I flex my typing fingers and set to work.  Remember the scene in which she asks for business advice and tells her to go to the mattresses?

Okay enough procrastinating preamble ... on to the night and day before the train trip to Toronto.

Oh ... I've almost got it written ... She drives to the train station dropping her dog at Tammy's enroute.

And now here she is on the train.  Nothing much happens here.  She plays with her journal.  When she was traveling to and from Britain she discovered how to use water colour pencils and a brush with a tank of water while traveling.  She discovered that it worked better on a plane than on a train.

"Damn," I muttered as the water made a jagged gash over the page.  I had been trying tp map out a schedule and was using the water colour to separate the itinerary from the rest of the page where I hoped to add little drawings to illustrate this first meeting with my cousins.  "You'd think they'd repair these tracks.  After all this is a well-used route.  Train travel used to be pleasant."

I thought about the trip from Ulaan Baatar to Beijing.  That was a dream of a trip ... but except for the beauty of the landscape and the very few signs of human or animal habitation, there had not been much opportunity to draw anything very interesting.  No, it had been a trip that reminded me just how vast and empty Mongolia was, and one that gave me a new insight into how rough Chinese justice could be.  No friendly faces when these customs officers boarded the train after we switched over to the different track system.  It took hours to re-fit the wheels so that they would work on the Chinese gauge tracks. Both sets of tracks, however, were superior to these Canadian tracks.  It really shouldn't surprise anyone that Canada is dragging its heels on the energy stuff ... they allowed the less polluting train system that linked all Canadians to wither away over thirty years ago.

I slept for a while and ate a snack.  Then I  knit several rows on the LONG foot of Tyren's second sock, read a chapter of my book (Iced Under) ... and soon we reach Union Station.

It took a bit of work to find out how to get from downtown Toronto to Mimico, but it was less wearing than traveling under London ... and not nearly as crowded.  Canadians use their cars far more than do Londoners so passengers on public transit in Canada tend to be poorer generally ... immigrants ... students ... the old.  Everyone takes the tube in London so you are likely to travel standing up in the midst of people of all ages, classes and colours.  It helps to be older there, though, because the young are still inclined to offer you a seat, especially if you hang over them looking pained.  Canadian youngsters are better at ignoring you.  Or maybe it never even occurs to them.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Day 29 ... almost home

November 29, 2009
40,915 ... 0,085 to go ...

I've just finished snacking on leftover, somewhat dark, pancakes spread with jam and drinking tea while I read email and looked at the past few blog entries containing this silly novel.  Before that I moved some furniture around downstairs in an effort to fit too many things into too little space while still allowing me to watch my movies from a comfortable chair.  And before that I finished washing the dishes from last night's chicken dinner with Tammy, Carlos and Mandara. I made the orange scented sponge cake for dessert but it looked a little more like an orange scented cookie than a cake this time ... still it tasted good and worked almost as well with the whipped cream and mandarin orange slices as it had with cream and raspberries.  I also spent a few minutes trying to re-use a dish detergent bottle before discovering that its top was melded not screwed.

Maybe that's the difference between a good relationship and a bad one.

Except that the best bottles have caps that screw on (and off), and the worst cannot be re-used because they are so tightly glued together ... and the opposite is true of marriages.

Well, not exactly ... at least not for me ... the best relationship for me is neither of those ... it's one in which I am not joined at the hip or any other way but linked in all ways .. head, heart and the nether regions as Grandpa would say.

"I'd never say that," scoffed Grandpa.  "I always called a spade a spade.  Give me a woman with a sweet pussy and a nice tush any time."

I laughed out loud.

"What are you doing here?  I thought I'd seen the last of you once you knew the story of the chain."

"I thought I'd go with you to my grandson's funeral."

"Did you know him?"

"No, but neither did you."

"I'm hoping to meet my cousins.  It would be nice to have some family even this late."

"I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of Velvet ... and they always serve good whiskey at these things, especially the ones that are held in funeral homes, not churches."  He smiled and then continued, "Although I must say the booze flowed pretty freely at some of the Catholic wakes I've been to."

"What do you miss most about life, Grandpa?"  I asked. 

"The women," he said.  "The women.  The scent of their perfume, the smoothness of their skin, the softness of their bodies. I always had a marvelous sense of peace with a woman.  It was like sinking into a feather bed."

"I get that feeling every night," I laughed.  "As soon as I snuggle in under my duvet and stretch out my muscles."

"You need to get out more," growled Grandpa.  "You've become a cold cold woman in your old age.  You didn't use to be."

"She needs to give Mark a chance," said Eva.

"That great marshmallow of a man?" snorted Grandpa.

"Don't listen to him," Eva said to me, and then directed a question to Grandpa.  "I thought you'd given up on funerals.  What's changed your mind?"

"Thought she ..." He jerked a thumb in my general direction, "...might need some help finding her cousins."

"Bull roar, old man. You smelled Crowne Royal."

"Well, I also wanted to see you, old woman," grinned Grandpa.  And he gave Eva an amorphous hug, one that revealed just how much he still cared about her.  It was a little like watching the smoke from two wood fires weave together in the air.

"So ... do ghosts get it on in heaven?"  I asked innocently.  "Or do marriage vows still count if you're dead?"

"Don't be fresh," said Eva. 

"There are other ways to connect once you've lost your parts," said Grandpa.  He turned to Eva.  "My god, I never thought I'd live to see the day I could say that and mean it."

"You didn't," Eva and I said in unison.

"So do you have your ticket?" Grandpa asked once the laughter faded away.

"Not yet.  I'll get it at the station tomorrow morning."

"Well, I'll see you on the train then," Grandpa said.

"I will too," said Eva.

"Wait.  Why did you come this morning?"

""Just wanted to be sure you were going tomorrow.  I think you need to do this."
"Why?"  I asked, but Eva was silent ... and then she was gone ... perhaps to follow Grandpa for some of that Smoke Gets in Your Eyes intermingling ...

I hated the thought of packing for a trip.  In fact I hated the thought of traveling again.  It was less than a week since I'd returned from that grueling trip to London.  Does a promise count if you've made it to someone who died years ago?

"Yes," said a disembodied voice.  "At least yours do because you're still alive."  I wasn't sure if I was hearing Grandpa or Eva.  But I guess it didn't really matter.

I pulled out the red suitcase and started throwing in underwear ... Marks and Spencer's ... and then I got side tracked again.  I had to do a laundry before I left.  Gathering dirty clothing led me to my plants.  They needed loving care.  They looked as if I had abandoned them, especially the one that Lucas pulled down, the one I had hurriedly crammed back into its pot before I left for England.  They needed some watering here, some snipping there.

I thought of Pat's rainforest of plants that created a green dimness in her flat.  Every window downstairs was filled with plants.  I wished I'd snipped a few pieces to start offspring over here ... just in case I never had the chance again.  Illegal of course ... I remembered  the movie about the vines and the sexy Frenchman.  French Kiss it was called.    I saw it in Namibia of all places.  Sitting on a folding metal chair beside the woman who was the NANTU accountant, one of the few competent people working for the union after the war of independence. 

Because the teachers' union had supported the guerilla war against South African domination of Namibia, they were bound by honour to hire the former freedom fighters.  These people had fought for all Namibians, well, for all right thinking Namibians anyway, and had been too busy fighting apartheid to get training or education in their youth.  As a result we had a secretary who couldn't type and a driver who couldn't drive.  I listened to a news broadcast one day and laughed out loud as the journalist said something about the former combatants now employed all over the country.  His accent was strongly British and what I heard was something about the incompetents working for organizations like the Teachers' Union.  It was not a politically correct thing to think, I'm afraid ... but every time I cringed beside Festus as he ran stop signs, sped up in tight situations, and failed utterly to recognize the importance of any of the rules of the road or the rights of other drivers,  I thought about it.  On the highways he was a far better driver than he was in the cities.  He should have been a guide.  He could distinguish all the deer species from distances so far away  that I couldn't even spot their basic shapes.  Our mutual love of animals was what eventually allowed us to bond as friends.  That and my colour blindness.  But that was a whole other story and I needed to prepare for this funeral trip.

One of the things I've noticed about getting to an age when my brain needs oiling is that my mind meanders in the oddest ways.  I feel at times as if I am in a great jungle with thousands and thousands of vines to make my way through.  Quite often the vines are far more interesting than the path and I find myself taking detours all the time.  And every scramble up a vine leads to another vine entangled with that one and so it is very easy to remain in the tree tops of memories rather than staying on the ground with my eyes following the pathways of the here and now and actually getting to my destination.  Whole days can disappear this way.

It's a little like the experience of going upstairs to get something and finding yourself wondering what you came up to do, but it's far more interesting.  I once  had a friend who said she slept around because she wanted to be able to sit in her rocking chair when she was old and have lots of memories to enjoy.

She never became an old woman. But I did ... and I find myself remembering all kinds of things, but few of them have anything to do with sex.

""Maybe that's because you don't need memories to keep you warm because you have the real thing."   It was Eva again.

"Don't you ever sleep?" I asked.

"One of the nice things about being dead is that you don't need food or rest because there is no body to look after."

Before I had a chance to respond, she said with a giggle, "And no brassieres or girdles either."

"Sort of like the relief you feel initially when you no longer have to worry about pads and tampons ... at least until your brain tissues start needing lube jobs," I said, and then added, "What are you doing here?"

"I just got tangled in your vines of memory."

Death was beginning to have some appeal.

Peter arrived to start another day's work and I returned to my keyboard.  Peter must be getting used to seeing me in my pyjamas and housecoat ... I get more writing done if I forget about such amenities as washing and dressing, something Grandpa and Eva would understand.  I doubted, however, if Nana would.  She still had not abandoned girdles and nylons, or lipstick and face powder.  She must think I am a complete slob.  I stopped wearing all of those things years ago.

"It might be a good thing to at least do your hair for tomorrow," Eva remarked.

"Do you think my cousins will care?" I asked in surprise. 

"Just do it," said Eva.

Okay I thought.  Respect for the family and all that.

But how?  I didn't have the time, money or inclination to go to a stylist before I left, and I am a total incompetent when it comes to dealing with dryers and curlers.

"Wash it and scrunch it while it dries," Eva advised.

"Good heavens," I said.  "The only time I ever do that is when I'm expecting Mark.  Most of the time I just pull it off my face into pigtails."

"Just do it," said Eva.

I headed off to the shower.

"In the morning," Eva called, "So it's fresh and bouncy."

How does she know these things?

"I had three daughters," Eva said.



As soon as I stepped down from the maroon and black vehicle and made my way to the curb, I realized I had been here before.  I was on Mimico Avenue heading north to the funeral home.  I passed a red brick house that looked familiar, and then I saw the garden.  This fall had been kind to gardens, especially in Southern Ontario, and pansies still bloomed in the long narrow plot separating Hogle's Funeral home from the house next door ... 59 Mimico Avenue. 

I was back on the street where I'd been taken when my father first placed me in foster care.  I'd been five.  I lived there for two years, and the Hogle boys, Glencoe, Morley and Harvey, had been our neighbours.  I wondered which of them had carried on the family business, and whether the funeral parlour had stayed in the family all these years or whether some big business just thought it was good business to keep a name that was trusted.

I was early so I went and knocked on the door to #59.  A pleasant middle aged woman answered and invited me in.  You can tell when you are getting old.  People open their homes and hearts to you more easily.  Old women are perceived to be safe.  Old men too, I suppose.  It began happening to me when I was sixty and I got my first pair of glasses.  That was also when I endured hot flashes and my periods stopped for good.  And, I presume that was also when the brain lubrication became less reliable.  No more regular as clockwork ovulation to squirt lubricant all over the brain's bits and pieces.  I was beginning to imagine it, not as a piece of grey dead coral, but as the workings of a grandfather clock.  But I digress.  The woman invited me in and offered me tea. 

I asked if I could visit the pantry.  She looked a little surprised, and asked why.  "That's the place I remember best," I said.  "That's where my foster mother administered our Scott's Emulsion every morning.  "Do you know it?" I asked.  "It was thick and viscous and pink and it made me gag.  Mom Hall became angry when I vomited it out."

"It sounds dreadful," she said leading me through the dining room into the kitchen and the adjacent pantry. 

As we squeezed past the dining room table, I said, "Oh ... this is where I got into trouble with my father for dumping my canned peas on the floor."  She didn't say anything.  Just waited for this strange old woman to finish her journey into the past so that she could get back to her own life.  "Clare put hers under her potato shell.  She didn't get a spanking."

The woman walked on wordlessly.  And then we were there in that dark little room where all medical procedures occurred ... vitamins ... Scott's Emulsion ... cod liver oil ... and urine testing.  Mom Hall was a nurse who worked at 999 Queen Street, the infamous hospital for the insane .  It had been built before the turn of the century, the turn of the 20th century that is.  Grandpa probably remembered it ... and Eva.  It's still there but it now has politically correct appellations.

I must have been speaking aloud because I realized with a start that the woman was glancing around as if she were frightened by my presence.  Thinking to put her at ease, I told her about Hallowe'ens when I was a child, when the Hogle boys snuck Clare and me into the basement of the funeral home.  That was where they washed the dead bodies, pumped in formaldehyde, and prepared them for their last showing.   We sang songs about hearses going by and how we might be the next to die ... songs that ended with pus pouring out like whipping cream and other lurid details.   The woman's hands began to flutter as she stammered something about having to get her laundry out of the dryer before it got too wrinkled.

"Oh, go ahead," I said.  "I'll be fine here with my tea." We were once again in the livingroom.  "I'm on my way to a funeral for a man called Joseph.  I don't know his last name but he's my cousin.  I have plenty of time."

By now the woman looked like a rabbit caught in the high beams of a car.  And then there was a gush of words.  "I'm sorry but you can't wait here," she said.  "My children will be home from school any minute."

"Oh," I said pleasantly.  "Do they go to Mimico Avenue School?  That's where I attended school from kindergarten till part way through grade two."  The woman was now ushering me through the hallway now, one hand on my shoulder, the other frantically turning the knob to let me out onto the front verandah.   So that's what the bum's rush is like, I thought, once I was outside again. 

The street was filled with children and I stood and watched them ashet dashed home to television sets and computer screens.  So different from my school days.  I heard the woman's voice behind me.  "They have a waiting room at Hogles.  They'll let you stay there."  And then she pushed past me, quite rudely I might add, to clasp each of her children by the hand and drag them indoors with a hissed, "I'll tell you why later."

They were more courteous and welcoming at Hogle's.  It had undergone considerable renovation since I'd last been there.  All funeral homes now aim for light and bright.  It's as if they want to put the living at ease rather than putting the dead to rest.  I sat down in a pleasant room with couches lining the walls, a room lit by many small stained glass lamps, and pulled my journal from my bag.  A young woman wearing a blazer and skirt brought me a cup of tea.  "I'm going to feel like a sieve if I drink much more tea this afternoon," I said.  She smiled and asked if I would prefer something else.  "No, this is fine," I said.  As she turned to leave, I asked if Glencoe, Morley and Harvey were her brothers. 

She smiled and said, "Harvey was my grandfather."

"So he's dead then.  What about the others?, I asked.

"Uncle Glencoe's still alive.  He's had a stroke and finds it hard to get around now, and Morley died in a car accident many years ago."

"Was his father driving?  Mr. Hogle was a terrible driver," I said.  "Once he nearly ran right off a cliff edge when he picked us up in Long Branch."

She smiled again.  "No, Morley was the driver."  Then, as if she wanted to be kind, she asked me to tell her about the time I rode in the hearse.  We'd just moved to Long Branch and still felt that 59 Mimico Avenue was home and that the Hogles were neighbours.  Mr. Hogle arrived just before dark on July 1 in the hearse and ferried us to and from the fireworks display he and the boys put on every year.

She waited till I finished the story and then she excused herself and I was left alone.  I still had half an hour till people would begin to arrive.

"Good God, woman.  You'll be lucky if they don't commit you to 999 if you don't stop spouting off like you're half daft."

"Was I that bad, Grandpa?" I asked.  "I just keep remembering.  And I forget that other people aren't interested."

"That's obvious," he said.  "But, as a matter of fact, I found it interesting.  I didn't know what happened to you back then."

"Not many people did," I said.  "When I met my half brother he had no idea.  He'd lived with our mother for twenty some years and she never told him anything about me."

"She was probably ashamed,"said Grandpa.  "Why is it so important for you to meet these half cousins of yours?"

"I'm not entirely sure," I said.  "But when I met Grant when we were already past middle age, I felt such a sense of security knowing I had a brother.  I didn't know him at all, but I loved him ... and I felt accepted by him.  It was the first time I've felt quite that way."

"You have children," said Grandpa.

"Your children love you in a different way. They have bones to pick with you.  You've made mistakes with them that they find hard to forgive."

"You feel judged ?"

"I guess you could put it that way.  Or maybe I just feel guilty that I didn't do a better job."

"Are they such bad people?" asked Grandpa.

I looked at him surprised.  "No," I said.  "As a matter of fact they're great people."

"Well then you couldn't have done everything wrong," said Eva who had just come into the room.

"Is it time to face the cousins?" I asked.

"Another fifteen minutes," Eva said. 

"Do you think you could be a little more invisible?" asked Grandpa.  He looked at Eva.  "She keeps drawing attention to herself.  People think she's dotty."

Eva smiled.  "There must be a lot of your grandfather in you," she said.

Grandpa snorted.  "I've never talked the ear off a total stranger telling her my life story in disconnected scrambled shreds and pieces."

"That's because you never lived long enough, Paul."

"Well, thank god for that," he said.  "It was embarrassing to watch her make a fool of herself."

"Thanks, Grandpa," I said.  "I guess if you didn't love me you wouldn't care."

"Hmmmph" was his only comment.

"Will they be able to see you?" I asked Eva.

"Only if they want to," she said.  "Some people are so sensitive they can see all kinds of spirits.  others are so imperceptive, they never know we are around, even when we are closely related and have important truths to impart."

"I know why Grandpa is here.  These are his grandchildren.  But why are you here?"

"I'm here because you are.  If your grandfather and I had married and had children, I think you are likely the grandchild we'd have felt the most affinity for."

"Hmmph," said Grandpa.  "Speak for yourself.  She has no respect at all."

Eva did that viney twisty thing and said, "She's just like you, and you know damned well that's probably why you love her as much as you do."

"What are the others like?  Mary Jane and Sarah?"

"A little more sedate than you are, but bright and friendly and funny."

"Funny?" snorted Grandpa.  "Hardly."

"Don't listen to him," said Eva. "Just be yourself and you'll see.  They'll warm right up to you."

"Should I tell them who I am?"

Before she could answer me the door opened and Grandpa hissed in my ear, "Now stop talking to thin air or they'll have you dragged out of here in a strait jacket."

I smiled at the doorway.  I couldn't tell who or what was standing there.  It was as if the light were all wrong.  Then two women about my age walked into the room and extended their hands.  "Were you a friend of our brother's?" the taller one asked.

I fumbled for the right words. "My mother and yours were half sisters," I said.   "I'm your cousin.  When I learned that Joseph had died and that the funeral was in Toronto, I decided to come.  I wanted to meet you."

"While we were still around," said the rounder woman with a smile.  "Hi.  I'm Mary Jane.  We'll have to have a really good chin wag after this formal bit is over.  Can you come to the house after the service?"

"I'd like that," I said., "You must be Sarah," I said to the woman beside her.

"The same.  I think my youngest daughter looks a lot like you must have at her age.  Same eyes."

"Are they here, your children?" I asked.

"No, mine are all over the lot ... I hardly ever get to see them any more.  One's in Nova Scotia, another's in B.C. and the third emigrated to Australia a few years ago.  I never get to see them or my grandchildren."

Our conversation petered out as people began to trickle in.  I heard some comments about closed coffins not providing real closure, and I thought about the difference for me between being with my dad until he was cremated and coming to a funeral service and seeing just a closed coffin for my mother.  I had always thought open coffins were morbid but I now think it's important for those closest to the person who has died to see the dead, to stare into those empty faces ... to say good bye ... and to know that the spirit has really and truly gone out of the husk.

I wouldn't need to do that with Pat.  We'd said our goodbyes in that hospital room in London.  And when my friend Claire died I'd already told her I loved her and said my farewell.  And I'd sat beside my father's bedside as the life seeped out of him.  But it was different with my mother and my brother ... and with Peter.  They just died without my knowing it was happening.  One day I just got a call telling me they'd gone.  I hadn't had a chance to say goodbye.  So maybe that's what the open coffin allows us to do ... say goodbye.

The only open coffins I've ever seen were those housing relative strangers ... John's mother ... Lyall's wife ... people whose funerals I'd attended because I cared about the survivors, not people I knew and loved.

My reverie was interrupted by what I was sure was a figment of my imagination.  There is no way I could know the man coming through the door.  He was tall and attractive.  Grey haired.  He headed straight over to Mary Jane and gathered her into his arms.  "I didn't think you'd be able to make it," I heard her say.

His reply was muffled because he was now talking into Sarah's hair.

The two women had their arms around him.  What the hell was he doing here?  No, it couldn't be.

I thought about the likelihood of both of us being connected to this funeral and realized it had to be someone else.  Someone I didn't know.

"Close your mouth."   It was Wilhemina.    "He's a handsome guy, isn't he?"

"Yes," I managed to get out.  "Who is he?" 

"My youngest."

I breathed a sigh of relief.  So it wasn't him.  Just a coincidental likeness.  I must have been thinking about him subconsciously.  Wishing he were here.  Wishing I didn't have to spend the night alone in a Toronto hotel room.