The most magical night of the year…

24 12 2013

It’s silly, I know it. I mean, I’m a grown up, Santa Claus is very busy with the young ones and can’t be expected to come my way, me, a round grey-haired weary parent of three grown children.
And yet, some part of me clings to the belief in a Santa Claus, not the jolly red-suited Coca Cola one, but the innate spirit of goodness that springs from somewhere.
I believed in the red-suited guy for way longer than most kids, thanks to an acutely accurate dream of him in our living room. I can still conjure up that dream (and another less sweet one of being chased along the kitchen cabinets by giant robots, but never mind), and I held onto it until my older brother in a fit of cruel to be kindness demonstrated that my violet doll was actually in the laundry room well before the day. It stopped the mockery at school, anyway.
But it didn’t stop my belief in goodness. The surprise goodness of strangers, the more familiar yet still delightful goodness of friends.
The source of that goodness, whether a deity or the part of ourselves that craves the lift that doing good brings, I don’t know.
But in a corner of my heart, I have a belief in angels I can’t square with my scientific mind.
Many years ago, when I was in university, I came home to the notice that my mother had urgently been trying to reach me – when I contacted the university authorities, they told me my father was in the ICU, not expected to live. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment and was overwhelmed with infection.
I panicked, arranged to take the night bus through Montreal where I would meet my brother and travel through the wee hours to Boston and Mass General. I was glad he’d be travelling with me because I was terrified at the thought of losing my dad, and didn’t want to spend eight nighttime hours obsessing over things. I knew I’d be needed once I got home.
But when I arrived in Montreal, it turned out my brother was on duty and couldn’t get free til the next day, so I boarded the greyhound alone.
I plopped into a seat near the window so I could look out and hide my tears and pulled out a book so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Meanwhile I watched the others boarding the bus, hoping no one would sit near me.
A man wearing a patch cap and aged hippie vest and coat stepped onto the bus. He has a drooping moustache and looked like a talker. I dropped my head, urgently praying, “Not him! Not him!”
But sure enough, he sat down beside me. And started to talk.
And he talked and we talked and we talked.
I don’t remember the conversation, except that anytime it turned toward my dad, he steered it away. He never let me say why I was going to Boston or anything about my family at all. I don’t remember him shutting me down, or being rude. He merely redirected.
At White River Junction, he bought me a coffee and that simple kindness was almost my undoing.
We re boarded the bus and the conversation continued. He was never inappropriate or flirtatious, was kind without being solicitous, funny without being bawdy. We talked the night through.
Finally we arrived at Haymarket station just as the sun was rising. I stood up and gathered my things, realizing that I didn’t feel at all tired, that my mood was light, that I was ready to greet the day and all it could hold. As I stepped off the bus, I looked for my companion to thank him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The bus station was almost empty at that time. I should have been able to spot him.
My family picked me up and we raced to Mass General, where I saw my father, on a ventilator and scarily pale. He was both happy and alarmed to see me. I stepped into my family persona, swallowed my tears, and joked with him. He laughed, as well as he could on a ventilator. The mood lightened, as it was meant to do. He drew me back little jokes on a scratch pad. Because I was able to laugh, so was everyone else.
And I was only able to laugh thanks to the kindness of my bus companion, whoever/whatever he was.
My dad survived that scare. I went on to become a nurse. I try to pay back some of the good that was done for me and my family that awful day.
And always I am on the lookout for an oddly dressed man with a patched cap, and always believe in that spirit of goodness. Red suit or no.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Be grateful.

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Volcanos, James Bond, Mountain Chickens, and Montserrat

10 01 2013

I now feel totally ignorant. Hands up those of you who thought Montserrat was somewhere in the Mediterranean? Or near Spain?
I was one of those. You smarter people can all stop sniggering now.

300px-Topographic-map-of-Montserrat-en.svgTurns out that what is left of Montserrat is in the Caribbean!!! West Indies. I feel perfectly ridiculous. I say “what is left” because there’s a huge honkin’ volcano on Montserrat that covered half of the island with ash and lava. It’s still simmering now, and the population has wisely moved to the other side of the island. The economy has been decimated, and much of the island lies in waste. Note the size of the “Exclusion zone”. Note the location of the previous capital city.

It has a mixed history. Discovered on the second of Chris Columbus’ jaunts, it became a slave state for a while, producing sugar and yes, rum…captured by the French briefly, returned to the British, eventually turned into a small holders’ lime production place. Limes go well with rum,

Caipirinha - yum!

Caipirinha – yum!

but I digress.

Then the island was decimated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and covered with ash in 1995. Life’s been a bit grim ever since.

Emontserratense_flower_crop (Main)

orchid shivering in Kew

I am concerned about the Leptodactylus fallax. Otherwise known as the Giant Ditch Frog, it’s apparently critically endangered and the Brits are trying to keep it alive, along with the orchid native to the island (Who is no doubt suffering some transition shock hanging out in Kew).

The frog used to be eaten, probably because it would make a hearty meal. Apparently it grows to 21 centimeters long. (Over 8 inches, says my trusty ruler). That is one big frog. It lives for up to twelve years, and has big and apparently delicious hind legs. According to the “Save the mountain chicken” website, it’s the largest native predator on the island.

How can all these bad things happen to a place where a frog is the biggest predator? It seems wrong, and sad. Like paradise destroyed.

250px-Leptodactylus_fallax

Mountain Chicken (tastes like frog)

Eating it isn’t the only reason for its endangered status. A fungus is helping. The volcano killed off a lot of insects that the frog usually eats. And rats have been introduced to the island and they eat everything. Or just bite it and leave the fungus to take over.

Much like the rest of the world, where rats and their human metaphors destroy whatever paradise that may remain.

Sigh.

montserrat-monastery-wc-cc-gyrofrogOh, and I feel better now. There’s ANOTHER Montserrat, a mountain in Catalonia, Spain, home of the monastery where lives the famous Black Madonna. That must be the one I know from the movies.

 

There’s even one near Bolton, UK (shudder), which I am CERTAIN James Bond never frequented.





The perils of Valentine’s Day

10 02 2012

 

And Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and all those Hallmark made up holidays that are created to cause you to go out and overspend on gifts and/or feel guilty that you haven’t…

I hate these days. New Year’s fits among them. I don’t know why my animosity is so strong. But it is. I start to get hostile when I see the massive displays appear.

Valentine’s day at our house meant heart-shaped chocolate boxes for all the kids and maybe my mum got dinner out. At my “married” house, I don’t have a lot of memories associated with the big VD. I probably didn’t do much for my hubby, and so he didn’t do much for me. And when dating – well, it’s just horrid. I am always afraid someone will expect me to do something or will do something himself that I have to react appropriately to and I just know I’m going to screw it up.

So, I preemptively mess things up to avoid the need to ruin things among the tension.

I have a poor friend who knows this. Not only have I told him to not ask any questions of the serious variety, not give me anything, not bring flowers, last year I even fired him and then ate his Valentine’s chocolate

This year I haven’t even bought him any, poor lad.  I’d just eat them myself. I know it.

It’s all about the expectations. I went looking for a Valentine’s card and stood helplessly in front of them (with a few puzzled men, I might add). They all seemed to say either:

a. I love you more than life itself and I cannot exist without you and you are outstandingly special and I am overwhelmed with the glory that is knowing you. Ergh. This sounds sick.

b. I think you’re hot and I want to spend Valentine’s Day horizontally (well, and maybe vertically and other ways, depending on our mutual energy) These seem a bit trashy, especially the cards with the springs making body parts wiggle.

c. I am hateful and feel tied down by you but I’m sending a grudging card anyway.  Backward compliments cards, like “You still look almost as good as when we met”, or  “Of course I love you! Who else would put up with all my issues?” Ugh. Who wants it?

d. The religious ones. Now I’ve got no problem with God, but I doubt very much (s)he has taken time off from the situation in Syria to worry about my adult accompaniment, and if (s)he has, I’d like it to stop. Others have more need of direct intervention. I am quite capable of messing up my love life on my own.

I was left going to the kids’ section. There the love seemed pure and simple and of the affectionate variety without the extra expectations spread on top. Although “I love you cos you’re cuddly” isn’t quite what I wanted, either.

I’m probably destined to live my Valentine’s Day’s alone. But that’s not so bad. At least I don’t have to pretend to like being swamped in a crowded restaurant charging twice what the regular prices are, watching other couples do the uncomfortable dance of “Do I love him? Do I love her? Why do we have to ask this on this one day? What do we talk about that seems significant? Do we have to buy furniture from Leon’s?”

Why can’t love be year-round?

For me, I prefer the lower-tension every day love. The kind that makes you a cup of tea when you’re ill, who holds your hand unexpectedly, who puts his hand in the small of your back when you need extra courage. The kind that sneaks up behind you when you’re cooking and gives you a hug and a kiss, no immediate sex required. The kind who can be silent with you, or boisterous with you, who can argue with you or agree with you or just discuss with you.

I’ve been lucky enough to know that kind of love now and again. But I don’t need a special day to appreciate it. Chocolate is, of course, welcome anytime.

being forced into things with a spork





Oh Holy Night

24 12 2011

It’s half past midnight on Christmas Eve, and I am awash in contentment, despite the somewhat sinister flowing scent of cooking fish in the apartment.

My boys are here with me, and one boy’s sweet girlfriend, and we’ve just had the screamingly funniest night watching a horrendously awful rendition of the Jungle Book at the Neptune Theatre – so bad we will, I’m sure, be quoting from it all week. “My friends are my friends from the jungle…”

And then youngest son and I went to 11 pm church, and sang our guts out at the carol parts and were asked to light the advent wreath and got more hugs from everyone in the church at the handshake of peace than you could shake a stick at.

It’s been fabulous already, and Christmas has just begun. I am so lucky to have these wonderful kids here, to know that I have friends and family here and there and that I live in  a place where I am safe and warm and have food and a comfy bed.

I’m sending my thoughts out to those who are struggling, who wish for the hugs and laughter I’ve had, who are working away from family or sailing the seas or in conflict zones and just wishing they could be home for Christmas or Hanukkah or just home just because, for that part of the 99% who could use just a little bit more. I vow I will do more for them, somehow, whether by writing or donating or helping or even just smiling.

God knows I owe her something.

And as for that daughter of mine, wherever she is tonight – for you I wish peace and love and harmony within yourself and without. I hope you come to realize that it isn’t important who you are, but what you do. You owe God, too. Whatever he or she may be. Life is meant for the giving.

Sending much love to all who give so very much to me, every day. And Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Joyous Solstice and more to you all. My heart is full to bursting.





A freshening…

28 12 2010

It’s time for either a cleansing rain or a sprinkling of snow here in Ottawa.  The ground is no longer white, but covered instead with the little black flecks of air pollution that we all inhale on our daily rounds in our fair city – the grit of urban breath that clogs our lungs and environment. It reminds me of things that I would like to be rid of, things that I should clean up.

Like the Christmas wrappings, unacceptable gifts, old things that were replaced with new shiny ones. My apartment is full to the rooftops with books and magazines and papers and dog toys half chewed and clothing I no longer wear and appliances I no longer use. (And yet none of this suffices to hush the squeaky bedsprings of the overly and persistently amorous couple upstairs. Perhaps if I took that container of  Jig-A Loo and wrapped it and left it outside their door, with clear instructions as to use in case of misunderstanding…)

It’s the time of year we tend to look around at our situations, our homes, our relationships, our bookshelves, and our pantries, and try to do some cleaning out.  It’s time to start fresh, wash away the dirt or sprinkle some new shiny stuff on top of it to make it all look bright again. To that end we try to enhance our family closeness – sometimes that works and often it doesn’t. We give things away to charity that we no longer need, or can spare. And we gently purge unwanted things and perhaps people from our lives.

I’ve been so lucky.  I’ve met wonderful people as I’ve moved here and there. I’ve been fortunate enough to be born into a large and loving extended family, and even luckier to have been enveloped into one by marriage that refuses to shut me out despite the end of the marriage, bless ’em. I’ve met a lovely man who cares about me. But over my travels I’ve also picked up some burrs – people who consistently exhaust me, who bring me down, who are distinctly NOT there when I need them, or who are there too often when they need me. How long do I keep these burrs attached? How long do I try to maintain relationships with people who are using me, while not providing anything in return? Is it time to put them, like the unwanted purple sweatsuit or silk flower arrangements or strange objects d’art, in the bag for the Goodwill, and shuffle them off to someone else’s embrace?

We all have some of these folks around – sometimes they are even family members, since blood relation doesn’t always mean good relations. Sometimes we are trying to be kind, or we are lonely ourselves, so we surround ourselves with people who really only want us to use us.  Sometimes that even feels good, for awhile, feeling useful at least, needed, desired. The question is, how much is necessary for kindness, how much is too much for sanity? How much do we lose when giving to these people who take without giving, who neglect gratitude.

It’s easy to slip into neglectful patterns – and perhaps a great deal of the freshening needed is within ourselves, to make sure we aren’t the ones on the demanding side, that we keep things balanced, that we are grateful for the gifts of friends surrounding us. Maybe we need to be the ones to clear the dark shadowing in the snow, to sprinkle fresh brightness on those relationships we hold dear.

There’s only so much energy to go around. As with our homes, clutter of unwanted acquaintances  is exhausting. It makes it impossible to spend the energy on the good in life, those things and people that give us joy.

So maybe this week, it’s time to take out our metaphorical brooms, sweep away the detritus, and focus instead on the sparkling of the things and people we love.

 





the ins and outs of the post-modern Christmas

20 12 2010

Well, I can’t tell you just exactly how much I am looking forward to this next week. Back when I was a kidlet, Christmas was so fun – I knew I’d get more than I received, I could laze about and be provided yummy food, and I was pretty well guaranteed I could curl up with a good book for hours.  Then there was church, which was both banal and beautiful – I love singing the carols, and usually found the sermon tiresomely boring, but sympathized with your average minister who must try and find something clever each year for the same holiday. And everyone wore perfume, which clashed with the incense and was both irritating and entrancing, as the different perfumes passed by.

But that was in the past, along with those Christmases with young kids whose eyes sparkled wide open at their stockings and such stuff and who made the whole day worthwhile. We had real Christmas trees that smelled lovely, as versus my current “tree of broken hopes” as my son calls it – an artificial $15 WalMart special made of asbestos and lead exported from China.

Now it’s just me, and my post-modern holiday, which involves a fairly deadly combo of driving, teenage sons (who I adore but who always have to argue in loud voices over the state of the world), a daughter who is missed but still isn’t speaking to me, and a wonderful family of ex-in-laws who insist that I’m still a member of the family and invite me along to share their gaity and song and dance (and really excellent meals) with them and with my ex and his new wife. Well, not so new, as they’ve been married for some months now. So I guess you could call her a slightly used wife. But probably shouldn’t.

It wouldn’t be so bad save for the fact that I have a true Sagittarian mouth, given to saying things out of turn and that don’t come out quite the way I want them to.  Add to my MS brain (a convenient excuse, I agree) and some wine, and the things that come out of my mouth – egad. Dear Mrs. Ex is quite civilized and all, but we originate on two completely different planets and we don’t speak the same language and when I try to speak to her my voice comes out either very sharp (a.k.a. bitch goddess) or in a tone of salt-dry sarcasm.

I try to be friendly but it doesn’t read true even to me.  I mean, let’s be reasonable.  How friendly am I supposed to be with my replacement? How am I to respond to tales of them reading in bed together and doing cooking classes together and all those things he would never have been seen doing with me?  I’m glad he has improved his relationship skills and all, and I’m so happy for Mrs. E that she got the new, trained up version of my ex, but I can’t help feel a bit miffed as they detail the delights of their lives together – the delights that were not offered to me.

But be that as it may, I’ve gotta buck up and smile girl smile because I want to encourage the kids to be pleasant to their dad’s new sweetie, just as I expect them to be so to mine. Life does move on, and there’s no reason why we should live alone for the rest of our lives. It’s nice to love and be loved in return – in fact, it is really the only thing that matters.

But in the midst of the turkey and the wine and the gravy and the wine and the wine, I may forget my resolution to try and be sweet. I’ve never been good at resolutions. Or in being sweet.  And my kids have never really been that sweet to ME, so I’m not sure how I’d feel if they fell in love with Mrs. Ex and started wanting to spend more time with her than with me.

On the other side, my sweetie has an ex who is probably feeling much the same way as I do.  And, like that old shampoo commercial said, “and so on and so on and so on”. As our marriages break up we recombine in uncomfortable new relationships that have prickles. The poor kids have to tumble along the best they can as new people stumble into their family.  Of course, we have to as well, as the kids meet new loves. But that seems easier, somehow.

So, mum’s the word as I go a holidaying. Perhaps I will develop a convenient laryngitis and just refuse to talk at all. Nah – I’d only end up making hand motions, and those?  Those could be much worse.

Ho ho ho and best wishes to all as we wander through holidays, po-mo style.

 





The joys of decrepitizing, or how to avoid pit toilets

22 06 2010

I trotted off to the CAA today to pick up some travel books for my long-suffering sweetie (LSS), who is planning a trip with his gang of hoodlums (GOH) Picked up a Campbook for the Eastern Provinces, and two things immediately occurred to me.

First, it’s way thinner than it used to be – the whole of Eastern Canada, including Quebec and Ontario, fits within a mere 159 pages. Are campgrounds vanishing? Are they just degrading to the point where they can’t score a spot in the guide? Do people just not camp anymore? Will I eventually be expected to stay at some of these places?

And so to the second point. I glanced over the listings, and even the very “swish-iest” (as my mum would say) sound absolutely dreadful. How fun can they be when the biggest thrill they offer is “lawn games”? There seems to be a choice in quality, between:

1. places with dubious access to toilets and no showers, in swamps or deep dark bug-filled forests, and

2. places named after cartoon characters with all mod cons and 500 sites on a two acre lot, many of them “pull-through”.

I can’t help but imagine hundreds of screaming, yelling, ice-cream-sticky children racing around, many of them from the GOH. The last time I stayed at such a place I woke up to the sound and shadow of a young lout peeing against the side of our tent. It was in a place with the best aspects of types one and two, so I couldn’t fault him.  The toilets were fifty miles away across the tarmac, which was simmering in the heat. The lineups ended thirty miles away.

That was a different family and a lifetime ago, but I can’t help but flash back to endless camping trips, always in the rain, always involving way too many insects and burnt hotdogs and charcoaly marshmallows (okay, I liked the marshmallows), and usually some construction site that hadn’t been mentioned in the guidebook.  There were other parts I loved – the tranquility of the early morning before the construction started, nighttime campfires when the wood wasn’t too wet to burn and the smoke blew away from our faces instead of right into them, the closeness with the kids as they rolled their sleeping bags over my face, those marshmallows.

The kids?  They remember the marshmallows. So we figured out how to do them at home and put the gear in the shed, where the insects could camp merrily, undisturbed.

When I picked up the guides, the frazzled woman at CAA asked me, “You mean camping?  Like…in tents?” She pulled up her lips in horror.

I smiled and said, “Well, what’s a girl to do when her guy has kids?” (I didn’t mention the size of the GOH, which is considerable, not including electronic appliances that talk.)

She snorted. “Find another guy, that’s what!” The she paused, considered that perhaps that wasn’t the caring approach….”Or at least, separate holidays for a start!”

And here is where the joy of decrepitizing comes in. I’m a wee bit older than the LSS, you see, and I have a couple of health problems that get me easily out of the camping scenario.  A little whimper about walking being too hard, or the need for good rest or air conditioning, and I’m off the hook. So, instead of having to smile bravely at the hordes of children and their ice cream smiles, I can shrug and say, “oh sorry, just can’t do that…” and then go and book my escapes to inclusive “every whim catered to” resorts, or to B&B’s filled with delicious antiques that just wouldn’t survive a GOH assault, or even to a humble cottage that at least has a roof and a fully functional bathroom and a place to store food where it won’t get suspiciously warm and sweaty.

It gives me such guilty pleasure to have this out, to be able to avoid the uncomfortable beds, the bug scratchies,  and those cold walks to the toilet late at night, pushing through spiderwebs and listening for wandering skunks. Been there, done that, still have the scars on my legs.

Now I camp at coffee shops, sipping hot liquids, listening to adult chatter, watching people.  It’s good stuff for a decrepitizing old gal.








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