Friday, December 31, 2010

2010... A Year in Review

I enjoy reading Christmas newsletters. How refreshing that the art of writing has not totally disappeared. In lieu of facebook and other modern ingenuities, this is one way we know and can see a summary of what friends and relatives, living far and wide have done throughout the year. Sometimes they include amusing anecdotes and family photos. I always appreciate the effort. I know it's not easy to do because I've tried. Yes, sure, there are the social networks, but many people, particularly the elderly are not as accomplished or literate in this form of communication...nor is it always the best, safest or most private option.

I didn't create a letter this year. I'm not even certain that I did one last year. I suppose it's partly because I didn't think there was much relevant to share that people didn't already know. Perhaps I didn't want to come across as a show off, or the opposite, pathetic and sad. So I am writing this now. I'll use it as a year in review for myself and a summary for anyone who doesn't already know about my/our year from the rest of this blog.

Taking a deep breath now. Well, as deep as possible in my current condition which continues to be a daily struggle for air. That's some of the pathetic and sad part. Done now.

January began with the hype over the Vancouver olympics. We posted ourselves in several of our small downtown locations and were fortunate to see the "flame" go through town not once, but twice. In fact, I must have been mentally obsessed with the torch (as per the book "The Secret") since over the next few weeks, it followed me incessantly...through streets of other nearby villages, as I drove home from work, and even to church. Later in January, I did it! Imagine, me, at age 60 going into a mini marathon run. I finished, wasn't fast but did it!

February I went to see Donny & Marie in Vegas with my friend Mona. I also squeezed in a conference at the Royal York Hotel. That was hard to take...not!

In March we celebrated dad's 80th birthday...a milestone. Who knew it would be his last? Since we had planned a Christmas trip to Oklahoma and were ice stormed out, we went for March Break instead. We celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year and Easter in one fell swoop. What fun we had with Matt, Sharita and the family and on the way home, drove through one of my new favourite places Frankenmuth Michigan.

We initiated "Saturdays with Dad" and although we saw him often, this gave us extra time. For the most part, I picked him up and made plans for him each week. How he enjoyed going to Heidelberg for pigtails and beer, Father's Day at the Makimono Japanese Restaurant, sitting in the sun on our deck, going down near the lake, and reminiscing about friends and family as I showed him old photos. I even cooked his favourite "camping fare". Yes, those canned Puritan pressed meatballs do still exist! Oh and the tins of cubed fruit with the half cherry...yummy. Arggghhhh! I learned so much about dad during those final months, something that can always be cherished.

Adam spent Easter in Vancouver with the Elyse, Grant and the girls. I stayed home, planted flowers, dog sat, entertained family and eventually worked for two weeks scoring grade ten provincial literacy tests. Family and friends visiting, birthday celebrations and the like continued. There always seem to be birthdays when a family is large. We enjoyed the company of Karen and John who visited from New York. Then in June, Adam finally did it! After 3 nagging wife years, he donned the red shoes and "walked a mile" for charity. It was a day that lives in infamy. I was soooooo proud.

During July, we had company. Sharita and Amanda stayed with us prior to our big lake tour and visit to Thunder Bay. We were hosted by the fabulous John and Aili....saunas, food, fishing, fun in the sun and of course fabulous photos. We then toured the northern U.S, saw lots of natural and unnatural wonders (Mall of America) and bid Matt's family adieu in Chicago. I couldn't convince Adam to join me in Nassau for Labour Day weekend, but did have a lovely time there hanging out with Ingrid and Phil. Not only that, I flew, in a plane, all by myself. Gulp! Later in the month, we went to NY and met niece Nancy's now fiance Doug. Lovely man...congratulations. Looking forward to the wedding.

October was sad. Dad and Marianne were out celebrating their 21st anniversary when my father was taken to hospital. He passed very quickly surrounded by family. The rest of the month saw a burial, a trip to Germany to sort out issues and a memorial service.

In November we once again had company. John and Aili visited from the north. What lovely friends. We played some games, had great chats, and quite a few laughs mostly over the joys of aging. Later in the month came our long awaited cruise. Fabulous is all I can say. I loved the weather and the diversity of climate and culture. I think Adam was most pleasantly surprised and often commented that he could easily move to the Caribbean.

Although we had planned yet another trek to Oklahoma for Christmas, it was not meant to be. Weather conditions were once again unacceptable for driving plus I became quite ill prior to Christmas. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Ingrid, Warren, Phil and Marianne and then on Christmas Day, I dropped Adam at the airport where he flew to Vancouver to be with the Beaton clan for the week.

So now, on this rainy and incredibly mild evening, I have retrieved Adam from the airport and created a light meal of mulligatawny soup, bread, brie and grapes. We are watching the mobs at "Times Square", discussing some of the new and old stars...BSB and NKOB, Ke$ha, Train, the eternal Dick Clark.

I confided in Adam, "Going there is not, nor has it ever been on my bucket list. "

"It's not going there, it's how to get out of Time's Square after it's all done," he responds.

"Good point." I answer thinking how nice it is to be sitting at the fireplace at home sipping Henkel Troken and looking forward to the new year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Pair Bites the Dust!

Today, as I went to purchase my children's very practical but necessary Christmas gifts, new glasses, I realized how lucky I have been not to have been saddled with this "gear" early on in my life.

I don't have good success in a few areas of my life and one of these parts is eyewear, glasses of any ilk. I am currently sporting a pair which appears determined to rip the last few strands of my ever thinning hair from my head, each time I try to remove them.

I didn't grow up wearing eyeglasses. I acquired reading lenses later in life when my enviable vision began to decline. I first noticed the challenge of sight in my mid forties while attempting to view a name and number in a book meant for use by those of an age where they aren't actually able to read the telephone directory. It was at about the same time that I realized why my jacket sleeves were always too long. It was these short arms! If someone could have only held the book a bit further away....

During the last few years, I have come to terms with wearing glasses for reading. I even had one favourite pair...plastic with thick blue frames. They were lightweight, comfortable and distinctive. Although I have acquired some new pairs over the years, none could quite take the place of my old standbys. They were usually found in one of several convenient locations. On top of my head...great for keeping hair out of face, hooked into the front of my shirt or sweater...easy access and held very securely in this particular spot close to my heart, or in my pocket...sometimes a challenge. Bulky hard glasses cases, with all the opening, closing, snapping, storage, into and out of purse activity just don't seem to work well for me. Besides that, I would need to have my glasses on in order to find them in a bag and I would always have to be sure to carry a purse, another one of my challenges.

My most recent glasses adventure occurred prior to a vacation while we were staying at an aiport hotel. In the morning, we packed up our belongings ready for the airport van. Since there was plenty of time to linger, we selected a fine dining establishment across 4 lanes of traffic. We would be able to sit, chat, read the paper and spend as much time as desired in this particular eaterie, McDonald's. Coats on, we went darting through the obstacle course of cars, trucks and airport limos. Actually, I exaggerate slightly since it was Sunday morning and traffic was unusually light. Once finished our meal, we returned to the hotel along with the unread portion of the newspaper and the crossword. There was still plenty of remaining time before our flight so I grabbed a pen and....my glasses?

I searched in all the usual places...head, bosom, pockets but found no glasses. Hmmm.....must have left them at the restaurant. So I put my coat back on, and off I went retracing my path. I was half way across the road when I spotted something....."NOOOOooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!" It couldn't be. Or could it? As I crouched down I saw evidence of a terrible hit and run disaster. I had to move quickly as truck traffic had definitely increased since our first trek across the road. I searched and searched but all I could retrieve was this. I picked them up and stared. I looked for the rest of the glasses as if I could somehow magically re-attach the appendages even if I could locate them. I felt a tear trickle down my cheek.
As cars honked, I determined that staying in the middle of the road was a futile if not dangerous sport, so I picked up the remains of my now deceased favourite pair of readers. The day had begun on a sad note. I had lost another close friend. I photographed the dismembered arm of my glasses and gingerly packed it in the side of my suitcase as I determined that the only appropriate thing to do would be to take it along on the trip and give it a burial at sea.

I accomplished that, in the Caribbean someplace near the lovely island of Puerto Rico, then returned to my lounge chair on the ship, prescription sunglasses and book ready to read, relax and ponder.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Fruitcake for All Seasons

I always thought there was a connection. There had to be. After all, how else could every season have a different version of the same offensive food item? I also found a country of origin, thus confirming all the stereotypical jokes and stories about the British and their lack of culinary skills. Apologies are added here for any of my "former" friends of British heritage, but alas, read on and you too shall be vindicated. Fruitcake was said to have been first served during Victorian high tea or served for Royal Tea as it were. If it was fit for royalty, can it be all bad?

I have always believed that the jokes about fruitcake were warranted. For example, "fruitcake is said to be loved by seniors whose tastebuds have long since worn out" or "there are only 11 people in the world who like fruitcake", "fruitcake lasts indefinitely and can be used as bricks for a house" and so on. There are derogatory terms such as "nutty as a fruitcake".

Last week, hubby announced that he was making a fruitcake.

"It's too late" said one of my friends. "It has to be made no later than November" so that it might soak in its....ahem....juices. Ah yes, the juices...a waste of perfectly good liquor I might add.

Hubby was not to be dissuaded. The bulk food store was visited, candied everything was purchased, the labour intensive fruitcake was assembled and placed lovingly into the oven for 3 hours. I noted that the contents were not only costly and calorie laden, but some were actually nutritious and loaded with fibre. I must also admit that it didn't smell too bad. In fact, it smelled pretty good.

After completing further research I decided I'd better ease off on the British...and fast. I have never liked the German stollen, different consistency but similar contents and apparently, there's some kind of Italian version of fruitcake called panettone. In fact, thanks to a recent episode of "Jeopardy" I have been set straight. Can you believe that they had an entire category entitled "Fruitcake"? Alex Trebek clearly stated that fruitcake came from the Ottoman Empire, was called "gugelhopf" and so it was actually a German delicacy. Alex is always right. After all, he is a Canadian. I am now imagining however, that since fruitcake has been around for such a long time, perhaps it was also used as something akin to cannon fodder.

This got me thinking. Are hot cross buns just and Easter version of fruitcake? What about spumoni ice cream....summer fruitcake? Connections were being made. The closest thing for autumn that my memory banks could retrieve was mince pie. I'm not certain that there's any similarity except in my mind and my taste buds.

On the other hand, I am currently consuming steroids and anyone who has had the pleasure will understand that any and all available food is fair game. I have eaten items that I have never enjoyed or even considered edible just because they exist. I have counted no calories, because it's futile to continue once I know I've passed the 3000 mark. I have even eyed the dog a few times as she's unsuspectingly walked by during one of my hunger binges.

I have tasted, yes, even eaten some of hubby's homemade fruitcake. I have asked for seconds. Today I say fruitcake is good. I like the fruitcake I do, I do. But ask me again in a week or two.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Southern Caribbean Cruise Highlights Part 2




BARBADOS

This was an interesting place. It was pretty and hot. It had evidence of some definite Canadian content. The food choices on the sign were interesting. If you say chicken three times is it still chicken?


GRENADA

We were greeted by a double rainbow in Grenada which went all the way from one ship to another. This was a tour, snorkel and beach day but first, we had to march through a tunnel for our excursion. Huge waves, warm turquoise water and white sand were turning Adam into a Caribbean convert.


CURACAO

Curacao is lovely. There's so much art and culture and buildings are being exquisitely and colourfully renovated. Besides seeing the floating fish market and the fabulous fruits and veggies, we wandered through downtown and went to a sculpture garden. We saw this bird close up on hotel grounds. It's looks like a Baltimore oriole and I have discovered that it's Curacao's national bird. We snacked at a local sidewalk cafe and the Dutch goodies were quite yummy.

ARUBA
This was the best surprise...a desert island with cactus, sandy beaches, palm trees, turquoise water, lava and rock formations and amazing animals. There were lots of lovely hotels and water sports. Human lifespan on this island is into the 90's and 3 bedroom houses cost $100,000 and up. We took a boat ride to see a sunken ship and then lava formations and some desert wildlife.


.......and so another adventure comes to an end.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Southern Caribbean Cruise Highlights Part 1


We went on this cruise at the end of November. The itinerary was fantastic. So many different islands, so much scenery, wildlife and culture in such a short time. There were a lot of unusual, unique sites too. Here are some of my favourites. (Click on photos to enlarge)

ST. CROIX

We started out with lovely weather and took our own little tour in St. Croix. We saw the oldest Lutheran church and a historic fort. Yawwwwwnnnnnn... With apologies to all the historians out there. I do like the sign on the background pillar of the church.








St. Kitts & Rainforest

On our bus tour we saw a tree that had empty bottles growing all over it. The baby monkeys were a highlight for me and I got to hold a couple of them. The trek through the rainforest was fascinating if not slightly gruelling. That's Adam crossing the river one of several times and me sitting in a ficus tree. I'm glad they provided us with hiking sticks.












DOMINICA & RAINFOREST

Dominica (pronounced Domineeka) was very rainy and the roads were winding. The school bus was donated by the Canadian government but soon after, met it's demise during a storm. It was pouring rain all through the forest but the waterfall was beautiful. Very scenic.
ST. LUCIA CATAMARAN RIDE

I had a great time sitting on the front of the catamaran as it dove down into the waves. A woman told me later that she loved watching me have so much fun. Adam enjoyed standing in back, keeping dry and taking videos. The Pitons (volcanoes) were magnificent and the day was terrific.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Steroid Insanity

We were recently on a trip to the Caribbean. There were palm trees, waterfalls, rainforests, iguanas, monkeys, cacti, white sands and best of all, turquoise waters. Soon after we returned, I learned that my lungs would have preferred to stay south. Lower back pain, difficulty breathing, coughing, all spelled out one thing...time for a trip to the doctor. Unfortunately, for an asthmatic this usually also means prednisone.

"Do steroids make you crazy?" was the doctor's first question. Since I have been drug free ever since my retirement a number of years ago and since my memory is waning, I couldn't really recall and had no actual documentation of my reactions.

"Hmmm...I don't think so," I responded wondering exactly what amount of weird behaviour he considered to be "crazy". I had heard stories on the news about about aggressive tendencies from prolonged steroid use, but since my children had in fact survived their teen years with me, I expected the rest of the world would be safe from my potential steroidal wrath.

Prescription clutched in hand, I headed home. As I drove, I did remember two unenviable side effects. I wondered which of my visible body parts would be sprouting new growths of unwanted hair and how much weight I'd gain this time.

I took my first pill without adequate water and soon made another delightful discovery. My tongue became numb and the taste in my mouth for the next several hours was nothing short of foul. During the night, I realized that I wouldn't be doing much sleeping. Insomnia. It was all coming back to me. I lay tossing, turning, thinking and recalled that some of the traits which I possess, whether good or bad, had in the past become exaggerated through the use of these drugs. My attention span and focus has never been stellar and I remembered that during my last encounter with steroids, I showered at 4:30 a.m. and went grocery shopping only to find out who actually goes shopping at those 24 hour stores. That was followed by a trip to McDonald's for breakfast where I read the paper for awhile hoping to bump into a friend who went there every morning. When she didn't show up, I sought out cheap gas but found none. So I headed to the dairy and bought milk and a low fat pudding cup. I was excited to see that I was given one of those old fashioned long handled spoons that I examined it for awhile. I went home and drove my daughter to school hoping that I had called at some point to book off work. Then, I went to a bagel shop to buy an "everything" bagel. I walked out staring, in awe at my one bagel in a little brown bag. I stared and I stared. I wasn't certain why I went there or why I bought a bagel. I wasn't working that day, so I guess I could. And so it went, on and on although I don't remember many more details except that at some point I decided it would be wise to cease driving for a couple of days.

So now, after 2 doses of the meds, here I am. I haven't slept much but, I have accomplished things. Laundry done, bedding changed, some strange cupboards cleaned out and rearranged on a whim, gingerbread houses assembled, dog dinners made and frozen and the dishwasher which I started up at midnight got emptied at 3 a.m. I feel like one of those cartoon characters with the little tornado spinning around her. Caffeine has nothing on this stuff.

When hubby suggested that I sounded as if I was getting sicker, I remembered something else. The last time I had this problem, I eventually realized it was time to stay home and in bed. Whether or not I could sleep made no difference. I could read, watch tv until I dozed, do crossword puzzles, talk on the phone. The point was to rest. It seems that since I've retired, I have forgotten how to do this. So it has taken me two days to figure it out and I am now headed for bed in the hopes of rest and recovery. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Trees of Life

When my children were very young, it became necessary to have two Christmas trees. The lovely homemade crafts and school offerings were so bountiful, that they deserved a separate artificial tree. Our other tree, the result of an annual hayride and forest trek, contained more traditional ornaments such as Mickey Mouse replicas, Star Trek space ships, spinning ballerinas and model ponies.

Although I enjoyed letting the little hands help decorate our trees with the aforementioned homemades and collectibles, I must admit, I admired and envied the beautifully trimmed trees in specialty stores. I looked forward to the day when I would be able to have a "grown up" Christmas tree. Eventually, that day came.

I always adored the sparkle, the shine and wealth that the colour gold represented, so I began to purchase my own beautiful ornaments. I had just one tree, my tree. It was fairly expensive, life-like but artificial. Each year, I added one specially sought out new glass ball. Sometimes they were simply extravagant indulgences but occasionally, they had a special meaning to my life. Before long, my tree began to resemble Fort Knox and as my son pointed out "could probably be seen from outer space".

I moved to a smaller home and I needed to purchase a more fitting tree. It was still quite large to accommodate my collections, but narrower and space saving. My now young adult children convinced me that it was time to add a little colour. My choice was red. The tree looked even better. It was classy. It was tasteful. It was spectacular!

Three years ago, I set up my tree for the first time as a married person. I spent hours decorating it in my annual loving fashion, admiring it and moving things around in order to make it look just right. As I prepared to put on the finishing touches of gold tinsel, I suddenly realized that I was not alone. Hubby appeared from our storage room having unearthed a box of his ornaments. He then proceeded to hang blue, green, silver, PINK and other assorted colours amongst my gold and red treasures. My mouth gaped. "There. Don't those look nice?" he remarked. He interpreted my stunned silence as approval and moved away, quite pleased with his efforts. Of course, I had to be fair and change my thinking. It was his tree too. Strange thing though, I noted that over the course of the next few weeks, the "odd" coloured ornaments gradually and mysteriously edged toward the back of the tree and under large branches.

This past week, we concluded that because of the nature and locations of this year's Christmas celebrations, we would downsize. I agreed to a small tree on a table in our living room window. It was easy to assemble, quick to decorate with small wooden carved people and angels since it came prelit with cranberries and pinecones. It's quite nice, but I look at this tree sadly, wondering how long before we are headed toward a twelve inch seniors' coffee table tree or possibly, no tree at all.

While staring at the red base of our new Canadian Tire tree and imagining how much better it would look spray painted gold, I have reached a decision. I'm not ready to give it up yet. Next year, it's back to two trees. The small one will remain in the window. The other will be large, glittery and auspicious in our rec room. After all, what better way to celebrate Christmas than with a sparkling artificial tree next to a blazing electric fireplace?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not So GR8PL8TS

A few years ago, there was a controversy over license plates belonging to Whitby clergy, Reverend Joanne Sorrill. It appeared that she had been given a gift of personalized plates for her 50th birthday some 20 years earlier. These same plates, acceptable in 1987 were considered offensive in 2007. Clearly, someone at the provincial motor vehicle license bureau was far more worldly than the rest of us. "Rev Jo" were the letters on the plate. These apparently promote speeding and drinking particularly when seen on the vehicle of a septuagenarian. Eventually, she was able to renew her plates and a story that appeared newsworthy became yet another folly of beaurocracy.

In 2008, Edward Johnston tried to replace his nine year old worn plates. They said "BILT4SPD". His application was denied. According to the Windsor Star, April 24, 2008, the personalized license review committee said "his plates could be considered by some members of the public as contradicting the ministry's mission to promote road safety as it could be perceived to denote speeding or racing." Apparently, rules for personalized plates have been revised since Mr. Johnston originally purchased his, so the ministry feels they are within their rights to revoke and cancel plates which a person has paid for and owned for many years.

The Ministry of Transportation now has a ten member review committee which meets weekly to determine whether proposed plates are acceptable or whether they fall under the guidelines of obscene, derogatory, racist or contain words about drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, criminal activity, politics, trademarks and religion. According to the Toronto Star, October 28, 2010, " more religion referencing plates were rejected than those that referred to sex, violence and alcohol."

I have inherited two sets of personalized license plates. One set has the letters "I E W" on it. They belonged to my mother and those were her initials. Should these letters be considered a short form for an offensive phrase at some future time, will I be forced to return them? My dad's former plates which now reside on my car have the word "Weinheim" on them. This is the name of the town where we were both born. Translated it means "home of wine". Does this not promote drinking? Will I likely be losing these plates?

I totally agree with a review committee for the purpose of looking at "new" requests for vanity plates. In fact, I believe that this is necessary since some people are unable distinguish between humour, creativity and impropriety. On the other hand, the committee should also use a modicum of common sense and I feel that they should leave existing plates alone.

Having said all this, I'm wondering where the review committee was when the plate that I observed today was approved. Perhaps, it wasn't a vanity plate. Maybe it was just one that was issued in sequence along with all the rest beginning with the letter "B". If that's the case however, what are the odds that it would be followed by the word "JOB"?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I Have Learned at Age 60

It's a well known phrase. "You're never too old to learn something new". My discovery may be obvious to many, and maybe I should not be admitting this as a revelation so late in life. Perhaps I've never had the occasion to really think about it before now. I confess, it came to me like a lightening bolt yesterday morning as we were driving to church for my dad's memorial service. I mentioned my new piece of awareness to hubby who simply replied, "That's right. You've got it."

I had attended funerals in the past, mostly those of aged family members. When my mom died at a relatively young age after a short illness, I was so absorbed in my own challenges, a husband who had undergone recent surgery and two small children, one with medical issues, that I barely remember the events. I was sad, overwhelmed and stressed and everything felt like a huge blurr. I do have a memory of large crowds of people attending the service and vehicles which lined Liverpool Road from south to north in what appeared to be an endless procession.

During this past week we have been planning dad's memorial, writing a biography, clipping and gluing photo displays, selecting hymns and bible verses, printing bulletins and everything else involved with organizing this service. Sympathy cards arrived daily as did condolence emails and telephone calls. I was amazed at how many of my friends had somehow learned of our sad news. I was also surprised and pleased when some said they'd be attending the service. After all, they barely knew my dad if at all.

So what did I announce on our way to church yesterday? Only this, "I think I figured something out. I think that a lot of people attend funerals and memorial services to support the survivors".

The memorial service was lovely. I held it together long enough to complete my reading of "I'll Really Miss Him" (blog Oct. 9, 2010). I was sad, stressed, nervous and yet happy to see the terrific turnout of people. In attendance were family members plus many of dad's friends, church members, people from his old neighbourhood and representatives from places he'd worked. Then, there were my friends...close friends, distant friends, former co-workers and even my eighth grade teacher! It was fantastic to see them and to realize that all these people had taken the time to attend.

Last night, I mentioned to hubby that perhaps I wouldn't have any kind of a church service or gathering when I die...maybe just something small and private. His words were, "Before you decide that, remember what you just told me you learned".

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Will Vote

Is anyone other than the family and friends of the candidates actually interested in municipal elections? I know that voting is a right and even a privilege. I also believe that it's a choice, not a duty. Having said that, it's a sad fact that the voter turnout at this level of government, depending on where you live, can be anywhere from 17% to 40% although tendencies are usually toward the lower end of this percentage spectrum. Even when people are informed about the candidates by reading newspaper items, door to door literature and so on, voting has not always felt essential or been very simple.

During the last municipal election, I was eligible to vote in Oshawa. I lived in a fairly dense community of townhouses, apartments and quite a few seniors. My little voter postcard arrived so far in advance of polling day, that when the election came, I had already misplaced it. Not only that, I wrongly expected ballot casting to take place in the area's clubhouse. Previous polling stations had been located there. I got home from a typical long day at work. There was about an hour left to vote. I parked the car, grabbed a bite to eat and strolled to the clubhouse. Not a person was in sight. When I finally saw someone, she said, "Oh, people have been coming in here by mistake all day. Voting is at (insert name of distant school here) ." Imagine my shock when I realized that this particular school was not anywhere even remotely close to my neighbourhood. In fact, it was impossible to reach by foot before polls closed without being a marathon runner and I was barely familiar with it's location. I had to make a decision. Would I get into my car and drive 5 km in order to make it on time, or would I give up? I chose the latter option. Then I sent a letter to the mayor's office wishing him luck and my regrets about not being able to vote for him. I received no reply. He won anyhow.

There is another municipal election coming up and I'm in Cobourg now. I have had little interest in voting particularly since I'm not familiar enough with the area or the candidates. I would also be away on election day. I recently saw an article in the paper about the mayoralty prospects. "Hmmm", I thought. "I don't really care for how the one person is presenting himself."

Another article compared the council candidates. I gave it a cursory glance, looked at the political rhetoric and noted that some candidates actually managed to speak plainly and honestly. Five are to be elected. Eight are running. I poured over the info a little more carefully and found that I was instantly able to delete two from the list of people I would consider. I easily found videos of all candidates on the internet thanks to COGECO. Then I happened to be in the library where I saw a bulletin board with answers to library funding questions given by the councillor hopefuls. "I thought there were 5 to be elected. Why do I only see 4 sets of responses?" I mumbled. (see earlier blog about talking to myself).

I walked up to the information desk and asked "Aren't there supposed to be 8 council candidates?"

"Yes" said one of the librarians.

"Did only 4 reply to the library questionnaire?"

"Yes" she answered yet again.

"Well I guess that tells me something doesn't it?" I said, and received a smile in response.

It was becoming easier and easier to decide how to vote if I actually chose to do so. Perhaps I was beginning to change my attitude. Two candidates then came to my door. I appreciated their obvious enthusiasm and desire to win. Now, I just needed to get some information on where voting would take place.

A letter came in the mail. "Municipal Election 2010, Town of Cobourg"..."E-vote now" with instructions on how to vote electronically using only my computer and a PIN number. Not only is this method available, but the option to vote by telephone was also explained. And all this is on the same document that allows me to vote in person and gives me choices of several locations. Computer and telephone voting can be done anytime between today and election day.

Finally, someone has figured it out. There are several methods for voting and no time constraints! E-voting, telephone voting or "in person" voting! I'm looking forward to seeing what the percentage is of voter turnout in my town this year.

I am informed. Voting is simple. I am opting to cast my ballot by computer today.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'll Really Miss Him

He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, ability, strength and determination. He lived a worthwhile and honourable life. He was kind and he was generous. His sense of humour was wry. He had a quiet nature. When he spoke, people listened. He accomplished much, saw much and appreciated much. He loved his family and his God.

My dad died today.

As with all people living in Germany in the 30's, childhood brought some difficult conditions. He was forced to give up his dream of teaching when he was a young adult. His residential school was turned into a barracks...WWII had begun. Students were immediately put out of the building and those fortunate enough to have names near the beginning of the alphabet received what coats there were to withstand their trek home in the harsh weather. He was out of luck.

He apprenticed at a radio shop in his hometown of Weinheim where he learned his trade. His official title was "radio technologist". These abilities coupled with his willingness to take risks would eventually elevate him into positions of respect in many companies where he would be sought after for his skills.

At the young age of 20, he said a temporary goodbye to his home, his young wife and child, his family. He went west...all the way across the ocean and across the great country of Canada where he knew nothing of the culture or language. He was sent to B.C. and became a lumberjack all the while carrying with him his dream of working in the technological field. Having ventured a bit too far west courtesy of Immigration Canada, he worked his way back to Ontario. Friends set him up in a mining town...McKenzie Island.

After 6 months, his wife and small child joined him. Besides working in a gold mine, he became the guitarist for the community's Saturday night dance band and repaired radios for the islanders. His workshop was a small shed beside the lake...Red Lake. During these years, he made friends. Some friendships lasted throughout his lifetime. Life was better, language skills were improving, but the intense and stressful working conditions, frequent accidents in the mine and desire to pursue his career caused him to pack up and move his family south.

He arrived in Toronto where his skills helped him gain an entry level position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. He worked, educated himself further and developed vast knowledge of the technical aspect of the television industry. He eventually moved his family to a new subdivision called Bay Ridges. It was during this time, that he became one of the founding members of Peace Lutheran Church. He also became a respected employee who often travelled for work. After many years, further opportunities presented themselves. He worked for a time at TVO and evenually became engineering manager at Sony Canada. This resulted in numerous trips to Japan. He continued to travel, work and teach training courses at various institutions including Ryerson. He was a member of church council and managed the church finances for many years.

He enjoyed his hobbies proudly displaying his train collections and his model railroad set. Home was full of music, electronics, books, Scientific American magazines and star charts next to his telescope. There was always plenty of good food and drink and lots of visiting friends. He saw much of the world. He loved the beauty of nature and camping gave him great joy. He admired people who could speak with anyone on any subject and yet, he himself was one of those people.

My dad died today...and he was smiling.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Please Don't Squeeze the Garmin

Some modern gadgets are so helpful to our daily lives that they have replaced our need, desire and even our ability to figure things out for ourselves. Schools are now required to teach the exact same thinking skills which excessive and mindless use of technology have in some cases taken away.

Having said that, I believe that many of the new inventions are brilliant. I can't imagine how we would have ever located a certain hotel in the suburbs of Chicago by night without our GPS. As with all technology, it needs to be used with some discretion and common sense. And, as with all technology, errors are a definite possibility.

A few years ago, I was riding in my cousin's car in Germany. I'm not certain where we were headed, but I recall that we were driving along side the Rhine River when the vehicle's GPS told the driver to "Make a sharp right NOW! Sharp right immediately." It kept insisting. There was no road turning right. We stared at each other, laughed at the absurdity as we realized it wanted us to drive into the river. We didn't.

Recently, I read an article in the paper. It was about a young woman who was rescued from the roof of her car after getting lost, thus driving into a swamp north of Kingston. She claimed that she was following the directions of her global positioning device. In light of the following personal story, I have no comment on this.

I am reminded of a road trip to visit family last year. There was an "incident" in the morning whereby our GPS device, was placed into the trunk for safekeeping. Also sharing the same tiny space were suitcases, Christmas gifts, an Easter basket, a pool cue, a couple of CPAPs, shoes, duty free refreshments, umbrellas, and more. By the time we remembered and retrieved it, the GPS was not only wedged, but semi permanently buried and squished into a corner.

Later that day, we drove past road signs mentioning the famed "Madison County". "I want to see bridges", I announced, stretching across the dash trying to programme the global position to create a detour toward Madison County. "I can't get this thing to work," I said in a whiney voice. (Whining is a handy skill I've learned from the dog). Sadly, it was quickly too late. We were well past Madison County or any roads likely to lead to this location.

My "nagging" curiosity about bridges resulted in hubby stopping at the next exit where I popped into a hotel to pick up some local attractions brochures. Excitedly, I located a "Bridges of Putnam County" folder. We programmed the GPS with the name of a town on the Putnam Bridge Trail. Despite the bicycle path appearance of the road, we faithfully drove the designated route.

My puzzled expression caused hubby to announce, "It doesn't always send you on the quickest route, often, it's the shortest one".

"Uh huh." I nodded as I looked at him even more quizzically.

The road took a turn, or should I say many turns, winding this way and that. Around it went, past broken down barns, piles of old wood and rusted propane tanks, past pick up trucks sporting gun racks, repossessed turquoise and pink trailers and the occasional horse or cow. Before long, we reached a forest trail which was in fact a continuation of our road. It was getting narrower and narrower and the towering trees were closing in. The GPS stood her ground and urged us on. Then the lightening began. Clouds dropped torrents of rain.

" We have to be getting closer. I see small concrete bridges," I said as we wove over several of these while crossing a small river. Finally, off to the side, a covered bridge! At this time we noticed through the downpour that the "Big Rocky Fork" bridge was not on our route. Besides that, it was shut down, in disrepair and desperate for a drink of paint. Disappointing.

The thunder and lightening cracked and flashed. "Make a right turn", she said in her programmed U.S. accent as we looked at each other skeptically. We did as we were told as the car wipers sloshed the water off the windshield at highest speed. Since we were now risking being washed away, we pulled onto a small abandoned looking trail where there were odd little buildings reminiscent of a resort town/spaghetti western mix...a historic mill, a chapel, fairgrounds, ice cream booths, gondolas but no people. Not a person in sight! There, in the middle of the fake store fronts we noticed it...another covered bridge! It was in a worse state than the earlier one, possibly even condemned.

We were told by "the voice" to take a few more roads we could not locate, so we decided to continue heading south toward our destination, where we finally saw the sun peeking through the clouds. Despite several hours of searching for dozens of bridges in Putnam County, we had managed to see two, just two very disappointing bridges, identical in their states of disrepair.

Shortly after we gave up, I was fairly certain that I heard a faint chuckle eminating from GPS 's suctioned spot on the windshield. I think I was also cured of my covered bridge curiosity...at least for a little while.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Independence Day, October 1, 1960.

As this new month has started, so has my reminiscing.

Fifty years ago today, October 1st, 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain. That's one of those pieces of trivia, and I have many, that is firmly etched in my brain. Why do I remember this? I was 10 years old, sitting in Mr. Footit's 7th grade music class at Essex Sr. Public School, not too far from the famed Christie Pits in Toronto.

To commemorate the event our music teacher decided we should learn the Nigerian national anthem. "Nigeria we hail thee, our own dear native land, though tribe and tongue may differ...in brotherhood we stand.." Sorry Mr. Footit, that's all I remember.

I do recall a rather different teacher though. I'm not certain how old he was because he always seemed ancient. But then, all teachers did. I can't even tell you if he was any good as an educator. I do know that he was severly handicapped by arthritis. His back was slightly hunched and his feet shuffled when he walked. His gray suit hung loosely on his ever shrinking body. On good days we could see the pained expression on his face as his gnarled fingers attempted to play a few chords on the piano. Other times, he could barely function and found it challenging to start the record player. Without fail, we ended every music class by listening to and singing along with a scratched up recording of *"Heart of My Heart". I wouldn't be surprised if it had been a 78 rpm. He told us he'd worn out many such vinyls during his teaching career. We wondered why.

I recall how one day, a brave student finally asked. " Sir, why do you always play that record?"

With moist eyes, I recall Mr. Footit's simple answer. "I want you to always remember me".

It worked.

*Excerpt from "Heart of My Heart"
....."too bad we had to part. I know a tear would glisten, if once more I could listen, to that gang that sang heart of my heart."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't Horn in on My Shoes

Recently, when my dad was visiting, I helped him put on his shoes. I like slip ons. Shoe horn goes in, slide foot forward and voila, good to go. Simple. No need for him to bend or balance. I was quite proud of my efforts and the rapidity with which we cooperatively accomplished this task. I hadn't lost my touch. All those years of inserting kindergarten feet into shoes certainly prepared me for this. It was then that my hubby asked "Why's your father wearing my shoes?"

It was that singular question and my stuttering attempt to explain, that brought back a flood of memories.

Every spring, the kindergarten teachers at my school held a student parent information night. While the eager new parents looked on, I would remind them of two things. Firstly, when there are 25 four and five year olds in a group, they can't always locate or identify their own shoes. Please write their name on each shoe. Secondly, shoes should be easy for the child to put on himself/herself; velcro closures, slip ons and elasticized pre-tied laces are best. It got to the point where I even brought and demonstrated samples of suggested types of shoes. It sounded obvious. Then in September when the children arrived at school, there would be only a handful of moms and dads who had considered my requests. The rest had to learn the hard way.

Children's running shoe styles are somewhat limited. Imagine a dozen pairs of girls' shoes sporting Dora the Explorer or Barbie and another dozen pairs of Spiderman or Transformers boys' shoes. Now add to this the fact that many four and five year old children wear size 11 or 12. Double the number of shoes because children had both indoor and outdoor footwear. On days when boots were added to the equation, the chaos that ensued was something akin to a riot at the G20 summit.

Each day, I managed to insert curly toed feet, tie, snap or velcro children into footwear. If they were lucky, they even ended up wearing their own shoes. Not once did I send a boy home in Barbie shoes or put a girl in lace up army boots, quite an accomplishment under the circumstances. That's not to say that there weren't instances of children heading home with two left shoes, while others sported two rights of the same style and colour. This occurred if they managed to dress themselves and leave without my careful inspection and it was not always a good thing, particularly if one of the children in question was absent on the following day. Once in awhile we even lost a boot or shoe. I would search and search while a child sat patiently on the coat room bench wearing one boot. Odd. It usually showed up as if by magic a day or two later.

I wish I had thought of the response that is clear to me now. The obvious answer to hubby after he asked the question "Why's your father wearing my shoes," should have been, "I didn't see your name on them."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Streetwalking Update...Bugs, Beanies and Bellydancing!

Today was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I took advantage of a shopping trip downtown, left the car parked and continued with my very behind schedule streetwalking. There are many areas adjacent to the lake and to this downtown area which I have not yet explored. The streets which I am now trekking are somewhat out of the way, not too close to home and definitely require a vehicle.

As I walked, I enjoyed the scenery, particularly the older houses in this part of town. Oh sure, there was the occasional falling leaf which annoyingly stuck to various parts of my hair and face and even a few clusters of flying gnats that attempted entry into my nostrils. Nonetheless, I had a lovely walk and lots of fresh air. As I marched along, I happened to notice a small green item on the pavement in front of me. It was the little guy pictured above...a beanie baby sporting the words "Baby Rocks!" on his t-shirt. I immediately recognized it as a favourite toy which was probably hurled from a baby stroller by a youngster practising his or her pitching skills. I have retrieved and lost many similar items when my own children were young. I looked around. There was a pair of elderly people sitting on a bench to my right. I saw a lady walking a dog slightly to the left. Then I spotted a young couple with a little girl and a baby in a stroller ahead. Picking up my pace, I got close enough to yell "Excuse me" and garner their attention. I was pleased with myself as I showed them the toy and asked if they had lost it. All the while I assumed the answer would be "Yes, thank you so much for finding it, but instead I heard the unexpected response, "No, it's not ours."


I wandered on disappointedly, trying to decide what to do with my new found froggy friend. I didn't want to toss him unceremoniously back to the ground. Besides, I had embarassing visions of someone coming up behind me and saying "M'aam, you dropped your toy". I glanced at a pillar in front of the local funeral home, but decided that putting a frog atop one of those would appear somewhat disrespectful. There was a coffee shop with an outdoor table and chairs. "Hmmm...." I thought. Cute, but no. Finally, I decided to bring the beanie frog home with me.
As I walked past one older style building I viewed a woman in an open doorway. She was wearing veils, a bikini top and bare feet with coins jingling from her shaking hips. Curiosity got the best of me and I hesitated, slowed down and briefly stared. She looked back at me at which point I said, "That looks like fun."


"It is. Come on in," she shouted. I did. After all, who was I to miss out on an opportunity to learn something new about this town? As it happens, I learned a lot. I was assured by the owner of the "Moksha Belly Dance Studio" that I too could participate in this activity. Much of her clientele is "mature" and the oldest person taking her class is in fact 89. Wow! After receiving many details about times and dates of classes for people of my...er...ability level, I thought I might give this a try in the new year. I will participate in a class called "Wise Women Introduction to Belly Dancing Foundations". I think the "foundation" part might be referring to clothing some of us have to wear in order to look respectable while attempting this activity.

So my walk today was quite eventful. From bugs to beanies to belly dancing. It really was as Mr. Rogers would say, a "b"eautiful day in the neighbourhood.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You say tomato and I say bleeachhhhhhhhhhh.....

I'm not certain where to start with this one except to say that most of the time, I hate tomatoes. Whether this is a genetic or learned dislike, is debatable. My children don't care for them and my mother did not ever eat tomatoes. Since this always seemed to be so shocking to her friends mom finally decided that it would be easier to say that she had an allergy rather than dare admit that she just didn't like them. Ironically, a year after her death, I visited the cemetery to find a tomato plant growing somewhat victoriously atop mom. There was something about that sight that made me grin before I unceremoniously yanked out the offensive intruder. The tomato was not going to win.

For me, I think it's the consistency, the slime, the ick factor of a raw tomato not to mention the lack of any great flavour that causes me to cringe. I will occasionally cut up a tomato into tiny specks, omit the seedy gooey part, then put the remainder on a salad. Sometimes, I even have a craving for a toasted BLT in which case, I will make my sandwich, adding thin slices, then whatever tomato gut droppings fall back onto the plate when I take bites, get left there.

I felt so affirmed the first time I met another person who disliked tomatoes. She was a co-worker who would refer to the offensive fruit as "poison". When we went for lunch together, she would order a sub sandwich "without the poison" pointing all the while toward the container of sliced Romas. We chuckled when I would order mine "same as hers...no poison." There was no exception when we had takeout Wendy's salads either. Luckily, there were lots of takers for free food in our staff room. The nasty cherry tomatoes which contaminated our luscious green leaves were usually in great demand.

I never made a fuss in front of my children. In fact, I don't remember ever disliking tomatoes in my early life. I didn't pick them off my food nor did I order anything without tomatoes so I have no idea where their aversion originated. Having said that, we all eat and enjoy ketchup and tomato sauces and since cooked tomatoes are the best source of lycopene, I don't feel a huge sense of loss.

In the last three years, I have discovered two things. One is that my new hubby is the tomato growing king. We have tomatoes in various shapes, sizes and forms of ripeness everywhere...on vines, in the fridge, on countertops, in the freezer and on the patio. He cooks, freezes, eats and gives tomatoes away. I am ready to gag if I have to look at another tomato. I must first admit though that I recently I tasted a bit of one of the Beefsteaks. It had a pleasant scent and actually contained some flavour. I remembered a similar sampling at the Kitchener Mennonite Market many years ago. This is not enough to convert me however. Secondly, I have learned that at least two of my newly inherited grandchildren detest tomatoes. Hurrayyyyyy...there are more of us out there...and part of my new family too!

Last week, I went to visit the cemetery. There I saw a giant green beanstalk growing. Odd. I like green beans. I have no memory of my mom and green beans, however, not being one to discriminate, I pulled the plant, beans and all and contributed it to the compost pile.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is It Better In the Bahamas?...the final chapter.

Alas, the time had come. Curiosity got the best of them and the lovely not so young couple and mom headed back to town to take the famed "Water Ferry" to Paradise Island. They wanted to look at the Atlantis hotel complex. After all, that most famous and sought after Canadian, Justin Bieber had performed there. Once on the dock, they were immediately accosted by a gentleman who said "Ferry to Paradise Island"? "Woohoo", said Ingrid's strange mom, "Yes, please". She went to the ticket wicket and purchased 3 return tickets. After being directed to a rather rickety boat, they sat.....and sat.....and sat. "I see fish," said Phil, while briefly enjoying the view into the water.
"It's getting hot," said Ingrid while wondering how long they'd have to wait.

"Boohoo," said Ingrid's strange mom, noting that there were only 8 people on the boat. "I have a feeling we have to wait until he recruits a boatload before we can leave." After only half an hour, they were on their way. They saw many lovely things...a cruise ship, a bridge, a nudist yoga camp and lots more fish. "I want to eat them," said Phil. "I love fish."

As they got near Paradise Island, they saw it! Atlantis. "Woohoo, I love it," said Ingrid's strange mom.
After a pole vault out of the ferry and a tour of the Atlantis hotel, it was determined by all that this structure was too huge, too ostentatious, too expensive and too crowded for their liking and they headed back to the familiarity of their own modest resort. (There's a long story involving a taxi and further water ferry adventures here but author is getting tired of continuing this blog).

The very next day, the mom, who had a fear of flying had several more of her favourite kamikaze drinks, left the lovely not so young couple on the beach for another day of vacation and headed for the exciting Nassau airport and home. (Note the wealth of activities below in aforementioned airport.)

Finally......THE END!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is It Better in the Bahamas...with mom? Part Four

When Phil returned from taking pictures of the ships, the shore and the shells, and found Ingrid and mom severely dehydrated, "super nurse" rushed into action. A quick trip into the "Drinks and Cigars R Us" store did the trick. He gave Ingrid water and mom a Kalik (beer of the Bahamas), cap removed, brown paper wrapper concealed, ready for consumption. "Woohoo", said Ingrid's strange mother, "I love it." The threesome finished their drinks then took the bus back to the hotel where they attempted to cross the street. It was the oddest thing. The traffic, such as it was, always appeared to be on the wrong side of the road. Soon, everyone learned to look the wrong way before crossing. Phil found this so entertaining, that he photographed it.
Once back at the resort, everyone sat on the lovely beach enoying the sun, the activities, the drinks and the scenery. Some sceneries were enjoyed more than others, especially by mom, who excitedly took photos of her legs (which were now returned to human form), the not so young couple, and a variety of other interesting sights. "Woohoo, I love it!" said Ingrid's strange mom.
Later that same day, the not so young couple and mom dressed up and went out for dinner at Martino's. Ingrid's strange mother took some artistic photos. "Whoohoo," she said."I love it." Then after an adventurous day everyone made plans for the next day's adventure. They were going to Paradise...or were they? Watch for the finale..."Is It Better In the Bahamas...when mom leaves?"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is It Better In The Bahamas...with mom? Part Three

After dinner, there was a show with a fire dancer and a limber limbo man. "Woohoo", said Ingrid's strange mother when the man tore off his shirt and pants, lit his pole on fire and edged underneath the bar toward the audience. Then, as if that wasn't exciting enough, at the end of the show there was a Junkanoo parade. It was very loud and boisterous much like Caribana. Mom and Phil enjoyed the show while Ingrid caught up on her beauty sleep. Meanwhile, Ingrid's strange mom located a costume of her own. "Woohoo," said Ingrid's strange mother "I love it! I love it!"

Bright and early the next day, with the temperature hovering at 107 F, the lovely, not so young couple asked the mom if she wanted to go into town shopping. "Woohoo," said Ingrid's strange mother. "I love shopping."

So they all hopped onto a mini bus, got stuck to the plastic seat covers which seemed to be the Bahamian version of seat belts and rocked to the reggae music...."yah mon". Once in town, there were many things to see and do. There were watch stores and diamond stores and watch stores and more diamond stores. The straw market was of most interest. Ingrid's strange mother tried on a dress over her clothing in the not so private, non air conditioned outdoor stall. She didn't need a mirror to reject this little little number. "Boohoo," said Ingrid's strange mother. "I don't love it."

Meanwhile, Phil had wandered off to photograph the cruise ships, Ingrid acquired a new boyfriend named Senor Frog and the mom finally found a look that she enjoyed. "Woohoo," said Ingrid's strange mother, "I love it."

Is this the end? Will they all live happily ever after? Has the heat adversely affected all three? Will they soon return to normal and go back to the beach? Could it be that Phil has had enough and tries to dispose of Ingrid's strange mother using this unique, antique and yet high powered weapon? Watch for "Is It Better In The Bahamas...with mom?" Part Four....your burning questions answered. Coming soon.