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 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


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?


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 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.

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)


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 (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.

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?