Monday, August 28, 2017

When you need help, we always come


Let’s see, we left off with our new TV hung on the wall waiting for the cable guy to hook it up. A lovely, personable young man came out, installed the new cable box, did the magic with the TV and our computers so they all worked with the new service, and left. The next morning the remote gave me the side-eye and refused to even turn the nice new TV on. 

After a long chat with the cable company they said we needed a new remote. They said, “You come to our nice office and we’ll give you one.” I said to them, “I am old and tired and am paying an unholy price for this service and you brought me defective merchandise. When are you going to bring me a working remote?” They asked, “Will Tuesday work?” And it did. They sent a service man, and all was well on the home front. 

At least it would have been if I could be content with the new beds and mattresses still in their boxes, and boxes and boxes of books, painting and doodallallys everywhere. And I just *couldn’t* be. I’m just wired that way. Never content with nothin’.  

I’d been trying to hire someone for almost a month to help unpack and move the beds, get rid of the furniture we needed cleared out, etc, but had no luck. Our friend Mohammed left for Ethiopia the day the painters Karim and Sayid (who are his friends) started painting our place. He was due back on the 7th but we didn’t expect to see him for several days. That’s a long trip. However on the 8th there was a tap-tap on the door and in comes Mohammed, glowing and burnished as a chestnut at Christmas. 

Oh I have *missed* you guys!* he said, and the feeling was mutual. 
He looked around and said, “Still everything in boxes?” and I explained our plight. “I’ll find someone to help you, by *Tuesday*.” He said. 

On Saturday morning he called and asked, “Can they come now? Karim and Sayid are at my house and they will come now and help you. They will do whatever you want.” 

Karim and Sayid are Lebanese. Karim has the most intense blue eyes I have ever seen. He’s been in Canada 12 years and is very proud to have his Canadian citizenship. Sayid is a recent arrival, and is not yet comfortable speaking English but he is very funny. Both are small and quick and energetic. 

They got to work immediately and within about two and a half hours had the furniture we were getting rid of gone, the double bed from our room taken apart, moved and reassembled in the new ‘guest room’, the new twin adjustable beds out of their boxes, assembled and set up, and other pieces of furniture moved around to accommodate  the new arrangements. Karim also replaced a blown out light bulb we can’t reach.  

They also took away the huge amount of cardboard and plastic packing material all of this new furniture required, including the TV box and packing. And they swept the floors after. Good gracious. 

Karim said, “You should have called us when you need help. We said to you, when you need help, we always come.” 

Who knew they meant it? 

Now I am emptying boxes of books and DVDs one by one. (It might go faster if I quit stopping to re-read the books) Mohammed is taking the boxes away for me. The wretched little cat has ripped gaping six-inch holes in the boxes, sharpening his scimitars of death. I fear for the health of the new sofa once the boxes are gone.

But the new adjustable beds. They Are Heavenly. Seriously. Get yourself one. I may write an entire post singing the praises of my adjustable bed. But for now that’s it. We’re on our way to a redecorated condo. Hurrah for us and all those who have helped us on our way.     


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Hoarding; the hobby that will drive you insane


I’m waiting for a TV crew from “Neat” or “Hoarders” to show up at the door, because six weeks in we’re still navigating around a maze of boxes. Boxes of books, paintings, beds, mattresses, new linens, towels, and ironically empty storage boxes which are destined to go under the new beds, once they are out of *their* boxes and set up. 

Smokey, self-sacrificing chair tester 
This is not to say we haven’t made progress. We have new living room furniture in place, sofa, two new chairs and a new storage unit - all beautiful. The living room looks pretty great. The chairs have the feline seal of approval. I admit they are mighty comfy. (Covered to protect from gobs of cat hair) 

Ian went shopping with me to buy the sofa, and he put the chairs and the heavy and somewhat tricky-to-assemble storage unit together. And he went with me to buy the new TV and wall mount. (Damb, those things are expensive!) He hung the TV on the wall a couple of days ago. The cable installer comes tomorrow. Our old TV turned up toes and died this past week. Actually the TV works perfectly well, it’s the remote that died, and the TV has no controls on the unit, no off/on switches, no volume controls. (What’s the extra cost of adding that people? A nickel?) We’ve been turning the TV off and on with the power bar for months, but this last week the volume control went, and Ian didn’t know we were turning the TV off with the bar, and unplugged the cable, and now we can’t get it to turn on again.   

In the end Zak and Nicole postponed their trip until October, which is probably just as well, as they’d have spent their time moving furniture rather than relaxing and visiting. Meanwhile I’m trying to find two people here in the building to hire to help me migrate the big bed into what will be the guest room, set up the two new beds in our bedroom, move the other furniture which needs to be moved, put up curtain rods and hang curtains, hang paintings, put books in the bookshelves, wash the big patio window doors - something my floppy shoulder girdle muscles won’t allow me to do - and in general restore this place to sanity before I need professional help.   


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

No "Greige" Here, Thank You Very Much

In the two weeks since my last post a carload of stuff - clothing, dishes, books, household decor, paintings, has been either been placed on the freecycling table downstairs or carted off to the Sally Ann. The china hutch, dining room table and chairs, sofa and book table have gone to new homes, either to a friend or to a Syrian refugee family.  

Ian came over on Friday and Saturday, despite not feeling very well, and gave us an enormous amount of help. We went sofa shopping on Friday. On Saturday we boxed up several large boxes of books and small paintings, everything off the kitchen counter, and cleared out the pantry so it could be moved. Ian finished a glass-fronted sideboard I’d bought months ago, installing the shelf and hanging the doors. 

The sideboard is teal in colour, and I’m building my colour scheme on it because I already have most of the elements I need. The new sofa is light grey, the walls are white with a pinkish undertone to warm it up. One wall is painted pale aqua. I'm planning on buying red chairs. A pillow or two or a throw in the right colour(s) should pull it all together. Here’s a picture I pulled from Pinterest with my accent colours. Obviously I’m not going for this eye-popper, but I’ll use these saturated colours in small doses as accents against the greys and whites "bones". I'm not one of the "greige" school of decorators. 
  
Our friend Mohammed recommended a painter, Kamir, and we hired him. Kamir and his helper Sayid finished painting the place a couple of hours ago. Painting took them two days, and the difference in the rooms between dark walls and light is astounding! It almost feels as if we’re floating! 

The cats spent yesterday freaking out because of the noise and mess; clanking ladders, the snapping of plastic drop cloths, and a very nifty but noisy machine which simultaneous dispensed and taped a 25 cm (10”) wide strip of brown paper to the top of the baseboards. Smokey settled down after a couple of hours but Hobbes spent the entire day screaming murder and running from place to place to hide. Smokey tried to comfort him, and had some success, but we couldn’t get near him. It took a couple of hours after the painters left for the day yesterday for Hobbes to quit hyperventilating and slinking around like a furry snake. They were a little more laid back about the whole thing today. Hobbes took up a hermitage under my rocker, Smokey spent the day sleeping next to me on the floor. 

Now we are left with stacks of boxes and undifferentiated piles of household rubble on the kitchen floor. It’s staying there for now. I am too tired to spit. I mean it, I just tried. It went nowhere. 

I still have to buy shelving for the living room, new chairs, ottomans and a few odds and sods. The new beds and mattresses are bought and are to be delivered, hopefully they arrive before our guests or we bunk on the floor, which is not as much fun at 71 as it was when I was five!   

Despite the very hard work it will be worth it when the place is finished. Or so I keep telling myself.  Please someone tell me that your decorating re-dos turned out well and you didn't just want to commit arson afterwards. 

Film at 11:00 (of July) or maybe a picture or two. We’ll see, the camera’s been acting up recently. 


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What is So Rare as a Day in June?


June has been so good to me. First we made the decision not to move to BC yet. There was not a single suitable property come up for sale in the small town where we wanted to live in the year we’d been watching the market. So we’re going to hang tight, pare down and redecorate here so the place is easier to keep clean, and wait until the time is right. 

Second, I’m finally able to access the amount of medication I need for my muscle disorder. I had access to some for the last couple of years, but it was the last bit of the supply, and no one was making more, so I was taking only enough to keep me out of the hospital. Suddenly a new company has picked up the patent and begun to produce the medication again, and I can take the amount I need. This means I am strong enough to have a life! I can hardly tell you how that feels. 

Third, our younger son and his wife are coming to visit from Switzerland for almost three weeks in July. We are so happy, because we haven’t seen him since February 2013! Last summer he married a beautiful Swiss woman we have come to love. We can’t wait to meet her and spend time with the both of them. 

Referring back to number 1 on this list we are redecorating. When we moved here we set up the living room in what is called “the den” on the floor plans. It is an inside room and has no windows. We soon regretted our decision but by then the furniture was bought, yada, yada. Well, thankfully the furniture was all found at a bargain, and after six years we feel no pain at moving it along free of charge to those who can use it. A friend has bought a new house and is taking the hutch, table and chairs for his basement. I’ll call the Syrian Refugee Committee to see if someone can use the sofa and book table. 

We are moving the living room into the room adjacent to the kitchen, buying a new sleeker sofa, building floor-to-ceiling shelves between the end of the kitchen cabinets and the outer wall, and buying a couple of new chairs. Mr. Hobbes is not at all pleased that we put his wheel on the balcony, but it’s huge and he mostly spends his time ripping the foam running surface off and carrying the pieces all over the house. It has a sticky side, so I have to scrape it off the floor, every dambed day.  

Anyway, we will hire a painter and have the place repainted, white, chalk paint, maybe one pale aqua wall, behind the shelves in the living room. I’d love to replace the kitchen cupboards but no time now. Later maybe. In the meantime I am going through and pitching everything we don’t use or need. I can see from the space left to store things without the open shelving in the bedroom that I have not been ruthless enough. Second round pruning coming up. I do not plan on putting honking great boxes of files in the floor-to-ceiling shelves in the living room. Husband, being in his former life a bookkeeper-accountant, or as he likes to say, an “account ant”, feels every receipt for the past seven years is a vital document. Warranties are sacred covenants, sometimes long after the appliance has expired. 

We have four large 10” x 20” boxes of paper files which at the moment have no home, unless we sleep on the floor tonight. I admit one of these is mine, documentation of dead ancestors gathered over the last 40 years. I need to go through it, but as much of it was gathered with my much loved sister-in-law June, and my cousin Brenda, and in it are many letters from family members who’ve stepped beyond the curtain love cannot draw back, I always end up in tears when I try to sort it. Best left for now. But we will go through the other three boxes and try to consolidate them. 

And Fourth, I have reconnected with my beloved girlhood friend, whom I had lost track of after her mother’s death. Her mother and I corresponded once I was married, until she died of ALS in 1991. All these years I’d looked for my friend, didn’t remember her married name, and then in yet another Google search her maiden name popped up, I wrote and that was that. It’s as if 50+ years have rolled away. Three hours on the phone and almost daily emails, and we are school girls again. It’s been absolutely wonderful, and capped off this June as being unexpectedly brilliant! 

So there’s the ree-port. Now I best get back to ruthless pruning (before I lose my nerve). 


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Descending into political madness



DJT’s Propagandist Kellyann Conway scolded Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this morning, saying press secretary Sean Spicer presented "alternative facts" when he sparred with the press over the number of people who showed up for DJT’s inauguration. On CBC News this morning Trump, Spicer and Conway’s behaviour was described as ‘bizarre, seeing as how many people showed up at the inauguration is a triviality’, and seeing that how many were there is easily documentable, and has been done so by several non-political agencies, and the number pegged between 200,000 - 250,000.     

Kim Jong-il, former “Supreme Leader” of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea died in 2011, but he was as bat-shit crazy as DJT, and his propaganda people were as nuts as he was, or more than likely too terrified to stand up to him, but you simply must know a bit about Kim Jong-il to get a taste of what we’re in for if the media allows Trump to get away with this delusional “alternative facts” business. 

North Korea's official record of his birth says that, "In 1941 a magical hummingbird visited the People of North Korea foretelling the birth of Kim Jong-il."  This prophecy was allegedly fulfilled on Mount Paektu, "the highest mountain ever" when Kim Jong-il  "emerged, walking from his mother's Patriotic and Revolutionary Vagina six months early and without the aid of a physician, thus rendering the Korean medical community irrelevant.  In shame, all doctors fled our Great and Innovative Nation never to return."  

And for the record, at 2,744 m (9,003 ft) Mount Paektu is 20,002 feet too short to be the tallest mountain in the world.  Other than that it his alternative facts seem totally almost but not quite believable. Trump might say they are the best facts, the greatest facts, but we know they are only alternative facts and not worth the energy it took to defend them. 

But take note, DJT might try to use this tack to rid the USA of meddlesome physicians. If only he supplied a bit of alternative history and walked from his mother’s patriotic and revolutionary vagina six months early, comb-over in place, and grabbed the nearest nanny by her 🐈  then all US physicians would get the hint that they are superfluous to needs and flee the country in shame. Obamacare problem solved. Kellyann needs to get on this one, with photos. 

Since Kim Jong-il felt, illogically, that he was a supernatural being,   (he hadn’t gotten the memo that he was delusional because no one was brave enough to deliver it) he believed that he had the Midas touch at any sport he decided to play. At one point the North Korean Press reported that the very first time he played a round of golf he shot 38 under par, making him the very best golfer the world has ever known.  S’truth!  

Makes you wonder how they did it. I imagine he made the shot, then gazed off into the distance while his lackeys applauded, kissed his feet, cried tears of joy and admired the magnificence of his body and praised the perfection of the shot, while someone ran and dropped a ball into the cup and screamed, “OH, SUPREME LEADER! MAGNIFICENT! ANOTHER HOLE IN ONE!” and burst into tears of joy. His lackeys must have been a somewhat anxious bunch, owing to his notoriously unpredictable nature. 

His official birthday celebrations consisted of huge parades, tanks, missiles, and 100,000 starved but smartly dressed soldiers  and slender North Korean ladies who would march by and pause to bow and cry out their birthday wishes and undying love for Supreme Leader before the dais holding him and his family and generals. 

At one birthday celebration Supreme Leader took out his pistol, turned and shot the general (a family member) standing next to him in the head, turned back and said, “He was not smiling broadly enough when troupe 72 cried out they loved me. I suspect he is not loyal.” No one dared move, not even the man’s wife or brother. The body lay there until the parade was over. Court life went on, his name was never mentioned again, his family is said to have been killed. 

So if, on the golf course, if Kim wanted to make 38 under par, and you were there to help, you did everything with a joyful countenance and your heart in your throat. 

One reason Kim was so “great” at every endeavour was because he didn’t have to take time out to crap, because according to the North Korean State website their beloved leader, unlike other men, did not defecate. I guess that would be a time-saver. 

I might mention another political prevaricator of note, China’s Mao Tse-Tung.  In the summer of 1966, China was experiencing turmoil and widespread famine due to Mao’s irrational policies, and his leadership was being questioned. Mao had been in hiding for months. On July 16 he suddenly resurfaced in Wuhan where he took a vigorous and well-reported swim in the Yangtze River by the Wuhan bridge. This was covered by the news worldwide and I remember it well, Mao’s bald head with its fringe of hair bobbing up and down in the water, and his fat belly as he emerged from the water. Although he was in his early 70s, party propagandists claimed that he had swum upstream against a strong current nearly 15 km (9.3 miles) in 65 min. that day - besting the world’s Olympic records. The claim drew incredulous laughter from foreign observers, who took the claim as a sign that China was descending into political madness. 

“Alternative Facts”. Something tells me that like Kim Jong-il, and Mao Tse-Tung, DJT is going to try to convince us of even more terrifying “alternative facts” than inflating 250,000 to 1.5 Million. The difference is, he doesn’t have the power to kill people and their families in order to make them create and disseminate propaganda for him. Time will tell if Conway and Spicer are as delusional as Trump, or if in the end pitching his alternative reality is too much for them to stomach and they pull back like slugs who have been salted. 


The Chinese Curse has descended on us: We live in interesting times.    

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Smacked Upside the Head by the Clutter Fairy

Although I didn’t make a resolution of it, we’re looking down the barrel of an upcoming  move, with a great many things to do between now and then. 

I woke up about a week ago with the Clutter Fairy hovering menacingly over me, threatening to whang me in the head with the toaster, like the Ghost of Christmas Present did to Bill Murray in “Scrooged”. She looks all gossamer wings and pixie dust, but she’s as mean as a junkyard dog, so I have finally put shoulder to wheel and begun the clearing out, moving along, pitching and purging process.

It is amazing how much clutter two people can accumulate in six years. But I am packing anything seasonal that we won’t need until after we move as I purge. 

Clothing, anything stained, hole-y, tired, too small, uncomfortable, outdated, not worn in two years - out the door. I had *35* pairs of socks. Honestly, I don't hoard socks, I just bought four packs that said, “non-restrictive tops” because my ankles tend to swell. Well, they *did* restrict and I can’t wear them. Off to the recycling table. Bathing suit I haven’t worn since we left Oliver in 2008, perfectly good but no one needs to see *that* much of me! Off to the recycling table. Anyway, my dresser drawers are now in great shape, no longer a jumble. 

I also cleaned out and organized the top drawer in the kitchen, moving the cutlery from the drawer to a cutlery caddy I bought a year ago now. Tea towels and hot pads in that drawer. Much better. 

And today I tackled the fridge and freezer. It’s a side-by-side, otherwise known as Narnia for frozen items. I had no idea what was in that thing. If there’s a worse design for a freezer I haven’t run across it yet. I emptied everything out, and in the process solved the mystery of, “What happened to that five pound bag of masa I bought to make tamales with?” In fact I found two five pound bags of masa in there, and enough meat to feed us until we move, which should be around April, if things go as planned. I was able to cross several items off my shopping list, as I already had them in the freezer.  

Tomorrow (well, later today as it is almost 3:00 am) I will take the broom and shovel and dig the car out from under the snow so I can go grocery shopping. I haven’t left the house since Dec. 23rd. I think that’s about two weeks, but I’m not counting. It’s been so blooming cold I haven’t wanted to stick my nose out. But unless we want to live on meat, frozen okra and masa - lots and lots of masa, I have got to bundle up and brave the cold and snow this afternoon.  I’ve got to keep my strength up and keep purging, or that Fairy will skin me, tan my hide and use it to cover her new leather sofa. 

I have no idea how to say “See ya,” in polar bear, but you probably don’t speak polar bear either, so I’ll just say it in Canajun English. Bye, and wish me luck.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

We Have Never Seen a Year Like 2017

Reblogged from Ronni Bennett's Blog for American Seniors:  'As Time Goes By' 
There are ceremonies tomorrow at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. At noon or thereabouts, the 115th Congress will be sworn in. All the of 435 members of the House of Representatives will take the oath. In the Senate, the newly elected and re-elected one-third will do so. It goes like this:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Would that every member of Congress took that oath seriously. But honestly, when in recorded history have all politicians lived up to their oaths and obligations?
Last Friday, at a lunch I attended, the conversation at my table of six turned to the president-elect. Every one of us expressed fear at what might be coming this year and the concern that we – individually and as “we the people” who are aghast at the terrifying proposals – are up to the sustained effort of resistance that is required.
I like that word “resistance”. It brings to mind the brave members of the World War II underground in the occupied countries. At their start, it took awhile to get organized but over time, the resistance forces grew in size and number and were amazingly effective against an overwhelming war machine.
With the entire federal government now held by a Republican majority, that is how we need to operate – to resist in every manner we can imagine and create.
By the way, I have ordered my “Resist!” teeshirt. I'm not saying you should do that too – at $40 it's expensive – but if you are interested, it supports Think Progress, an important and well-established progressive institution that will certainly be of help in the coming months and years.



Between the new executive administration and the Republican Congress – both so full of themselves - it won't be easy keeping up with number of outrageous changes they will throw our way: environmental, nuclear, border walls, taxes, deportation, public education, poverty, Wall Street de-regulation and of course, what they like to falsely call “entitlements”.
In fact, according to Robert Pear in The New York Times a couple of days ago:
”Within hours of the new Congress convening on Tuesday, the House plans to adopt a package of rules to clear the way for repealing the health care law and replacing it with as-yet-unspecified measures meant to help people obtain insurance coverage.

“Then, in the week of Jan. 9, according to a likely timetable sketched out by Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the House will vote on a budget blueprint, which is expected to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”
These are procedural moves and neither repeals Obamacare (yet) so I don't want to waste our ammunition by asking us to call our Congress members yet. But you see what it's going to be like - one damned move after another and we will need to be alert to keep up.
No single person, website, political organization can handle all the issues Congress and the Trump administration with throw out way and because the focus of the this website has always been ageing and elders, TimeGoesBy will target and resist the already announced threats to repeal, privatize and/or voucherize Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security.
Right now, there is an explosion of resistance plans on the internet from old and new organizations. So far, they are scatter shooting their resources, each with individual plans for this march, that petition, those visits with representatives and various other public events as they request donations from you and me.
And god bless them. We, America, need every protester and resister we can mobilize but what I'm looking and watching for is are two or three well-organized coalitions where people like us with targeted concerns can share resources and support one another as events from Washington require us to speak out and to act.
Here's what worries me (not counting the frightening assault on our institutions): my energy. I will be 76 in a couple of months and in the past year I have felt more acutely than ever before how much my stamina waxes and wanes from day to day and how much I need to pace myself.
Tiring more easily is a fact of ageing life and I'm working to devise a good plan to keep going in what will be a completely unpredictable 2017. We're facing a frightening new world and we must do our part even if our physical gusto isn't quite what it was in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of links you can set aside to use for the coming campaign:
 Indivisible: The Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda that we have discussed here before
 List of the freshmen members of Congress

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Sun, a Bird and a Green Glass Pickle


It’s only a few days to Christmas now, the gifts are bought. The parcel of small gifts for “the kids” in Switzerland has finally been mailed. Alas, it won’t arrive until mid-January, but that’s what comes of having -20 to -25 C daytime temperatures since the last week of November. 

I still need to wrap the very few gifts I bought for us. I even wrap the stocking stuffers, since it’s so much more fun to have a half-dozen surprises to unwrap, even if they are only a bar of hand-made soap or a tin of foot creme.  And it’s fun for me too, because once I’ve wrapped something I immediately forget what it is. Surprise!

Hobbes at eight weeks meeting Smokey
And Hallelujah! Hobbes the Ripper is four years old! (Where did the time go? Only yesterday he was this big!)  At any rate, because he is now grown and behaves minimally less like Attila the Hun I decided to try putting up the Christmas tree. He poked about in it a bit, but when I threatened him with the water bottle he shrugged and said, “It's not all that interesting anyway. Not enough to get wet for.” 


To tell the truth I unpacked the old tree, which I bought in Dec of 2006, to find the lights didn't work. It was one of those trees with fibre-optic lights. I always strung lights on it, because the fibre-optic lights were so wimpy, but I'd been stringing the lights on the stick tree I'd been using and they packed up and died last year. And when I plugged in the tree the other day, the fibre-optic lights didn't work either. I set off to buy a new string of lights and couldn't find any - all the trees these days come pre-strung with lights. I guess when a light-bulb burns out you toss the tree! Since the fibre-optic tree was 10 years old and distinctly down at heels and I couldn't find a string of lights I bought a meter (40") tall "porch" tree. It was pre-installed in a pot and had a strand of lights pre-strung. It was that or a two meter (seven foot) white tree. When I opened the box I found I had two porch trees! Since I have no room for two trees I left one in the box and put the other on the end of the big bookcase/entertainment unit. Up top you see a cloth doll, a replica of a 17th century homemade doll with a painted face, made by my late friend and doll artist Judi Thomson. Next to her is my sock monkey 'Bimbo', circa 1951, made by my greatly loved and missed sister-in-law June, who passed away in 2010. June made sock monkeys for several of us kids that Christmas. I have a picture of us, standing at attention, clutching our new dolls and sock monkeys, solemn as a row of little judges.  

When I was decorating the tree and saw that Hobbes had jumped into Tony's easy chair, rolled over onto his back and was sound asleep I felt brave enough to unpack the blown glass suns, birds and fruit. In addition to a flock of birds there are strawberries, grapes, pears and an astonishing green glass pickle. At the top, in lieu of a star, is a leaping deer, for our Deer Clan roots. 

Even with the dining room table awash in wrapping paper and ribbons and the 1st  Christmas tree up in the living room in four years, I’m still not in much of a celebratory mood. The news, here and abroad, is enough to break the stoutest heart.  

Still we must have hope that good will prevail, though darkness seems to gain ascendancy for a time. As I was checking out my groceries a couple of days ago I commented on the unique way the cashier wears her hijab. It's quite lovely, and I told her so. We chatted a minute or two and I learned she was from Persia. I told her that my father-in-law spent quite a bit of time in Persia in the 1930s, living and traveling with the Bedouins. He said they were the most wonderful, hospitable people in the world. He brought back a beautiful copper-tray table with a folding base, engraved with figures of people and with Arabic script. I described it to her and said it is a family treasure. As I left I wished her a good day and she did the same and then she thanked me, for saying her hijab was pretty, but most of all she said, 'for saying kind things about my people'. It must be difficult to come to a new country where so much suspicion is aimed at you. Most Canadians are more accepting of Muslim immigrants than are Americans, but not all. 

We continue to pour our wee drop of oil on troubled waters - and what a decidedly antithetical metaphor in these days when 'oil on water' means disaster and not peace! But we made our monthly KIVA loan (our 81st) to Martin’s Group, a cooperative of nine farmers (Martin, Kusesi, Joshwa, Keneddy, Julia, Wafwana, Richard, Philmon and Patrick) in Sirisia Kenya. Their $500 loan will allow them to buy seeds and fertilizer for their fields for this coming season. Martin's Group is part of the One Acre Fund whose clients are subsistence farmers who grow corn, beans, and other food crops to feed their families. Kenya suffered a terrible drought this past season and crops were reduced by an average of 68%. Farmers in the One Acre Fund program did, on average, much better than those not in the program. 

This is Martin, the group’s leader. He is 40 years old and has five children. He has been a farmer for 18 years and is a very hard working individual. He started working with One Acre Fund in 2011 because he wanted to increase the quality and amount of food he was able to raise. The One Acre Fund provided him with seeds, fertilizer and training in how to maximize crop yield through improved agricultural practices. Since then, Martin has been able to consistently feed his family. This year he decided to represent his group because he wanted to help other farmers.

Martin’s Group will plant a total of 4.5 acres of land this season. Additionally, some of the men in the group will be purchasing a solar light. These lights allow children to do homework since it grows dark at 6:00 pm in equatorial Africa, and it is difficult to do homework by candle light or lamplight. 

On Christmas morning I’ll sit and think about Christmases past shared with loved ones who are now far away, or gone, and think about how lucky we are in the scheme of things. Of all the important things in the world, we have what matters most, love and peace, within and without. Oh, were that true for all who walk this earth. 

May you and yours have a peaceful and blessed Christmas. 



Monday, November 07, 2016

What Sparked Childhood Memories

For Dia de Meurtos I bought a six pack of the little six ounce size Cokes, in the same kind of green glass bottles Coke came in when I was a kid in the 1940s. 

Having a soft drink was a real treat in those days. Soft drinks weren’t kept in the pantry or fridge, and they certainly weren’t considered appropriate for a child under six years of age, and soft drinks containing caffeine weren’t given to children at all. What we were allowed was 'Kayo', carbonated chocolate milk which cost five cents a bottle, which we purchased at the laundry across the street and up the alley. 

The laundry was a big building with high ceilings and doors that opened right up on both ends. It was always hot and steaming and smelled of lavender soap, scorch and hot starch. The floors were rough, and always wet, cement, cool to our bare feet.   

The square galvanized washtubs were arranged in sets of four with a wringer that swung between them. Four or five women took care of about 30 sets of these tubs. It was like watching a dance, as the women in their aprons moved between their groups of tubs, endlessly moving laundry through the four tub sequence that took it from dirty to clean. 

By the time the laundry reached the fourth tub it was nice and clean, and the woman might add starch, or if the laundry was white shirts or sheets or table linens she might add a bit of bluing from a bottle in her apron pocket. 

At the end the clean clothes would have the water wrung out and they’d go into a big basket and a man would carry the basket outside so the clothes could be hung on the clothesline. In one corner several women worked over ironing boards, and it was from this corner that the bewitching smell of scorch and starch arose. 

I would hang over the edge of a tub to see the agitators churn back and forth and watch the clothes rise and disappear again in the dark water,  but my friends were far more interested in the soda machine, and would pull me away. 

The machine that dispensed the sodas was magnificent. We discussed at length how it knew when you had inserted your nickel, because my friends Tommy and Leslie knew boys who had actually tried to remove a soda from this very machine without paying and the machine would not let them!  Tommy said it had to be a thinking machine, a scientific marvel such as only seen in our Flash Gordon Comics. 

The marvellous thinking machine was an ordinary-looking enough box. It was red in colour with “Drink RC Cola” emblazoned across the front and it had a thick lid you had to lift. Inside it was lined with galvanized metal with a series of channels from which soda bottles hung by their tops. The channels ended in a single channel which allowed you to bring your bottle of choice to the front where there was a gate apparatus which could be lifted. You inserted your nickel, slid the soda bottle you wanted along the channel to the end, brought it to the gate, and lifted your bottle out. 

Of course there was first the difficulty of obtaining the required nickel. To do that we collected bottles, raked leaves, pulled weeds and picked bugs off plants in gardens and did all manner of odd jobs. A week’s worth of work, or several days of looking for bottles might net us the nickel needed for a Kayo. All the sweeter for the effort. 

In retrospect, while childhood seems to last several lifetimes to a child, it is but a fleeting moment in retrospect … but it can all be brought back more than 60 years later by a little green glass bottle.  


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Celebrating Dia de Meurtos (Day of the Dead)


George Eliot said; Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. 

― 
Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of pre-Hispanic origins which honours loved ones who have passed  away. It is held on the 1st and 2nd of  November. It is celebrated in Mexico and Central America, as well as in communities around the world where there are populations of people with Indigenous Mexican, Mexican and Central American heritage.

The origins of Dia de Meurtos go back 3,000 years to the Mexica, Maya, Purépecha  and Totonaca Indians, who prior to the arrival of the Spaniards memorialized their ancestors during the month of August with candlelight processions, flowers, incense, puppets and statues of gods, heroes, mythological figures and painted skulls which told the stories of death and rebirth.

After the colonization of the Americas, when the church outlawed many indigenous practices, these Native rituals and celebrations were folded into the Catholic holidays of All Hallows Eve on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on the 2nd, with Christian saints replacing the Native figures.

Families still remember and honour their departed loved ones, their “Meurtos”, by setting up an ofrenda (altar), at home, by making a trip to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of their Meurtos, and going to church. Friends and family will gather for a meal and, stirred by the photos and mementos on the ofrenda, reminisce about beloved family members who have passed.

Our ofrenda is set up, with the four elements represented,  earth by the food, wind by the papel picado, water in the sherry glass and fire by the candles. Plus there is salt and painted skulls and skeletons that serve as reminders that death and rebirth are a great cycle.

Of course, no ofrenda is complete without flowers. The marigold is the basic must-have flower which forms the arch on every ofrenda. It may be augmented by any flower but it is well-known that the favourite flower of the Meurto is the marigold.  I have added spider mums, peonies and carnations. While copal is the traditional incense I couldn't lay hands on any so I burned pine incense because most of my Meurtos came from areas where the pine is the dominant tree.  A pine log fire was the very scent of home.

The ofrenda honours those loved ones who have passed, so we have photos of family members on the shelves; my parents Charlie and Mattie, Tony’s parents George and Kinette, my paternal grand-parents, Josie and Fred. There’s my maternal grandfather Henry and Tony’s maternal grandmother Marie Theresa. Then there’s a photo of my grandfather Fred’s parents William and Susan Ann, and grandmother’s Josie’s mother, Kizziar. My brothers Hall and Harrell and sister Ruby are also there, and second parents Midge and Barney. Barney was one of my high school teachers, and they became like a second family to me.

Nov 1st is called "Dia los Angelitos" (Day of Little Angels) and the Spirits of the children who have passed are said to visit their families, so on Nov 1st ofrendas are decorated with toys and sweets, for the children in the family who have passed. We have no photos of Isabel, the baby girl we lost in 1971. I found an angel card which I’m letting represent her. I added some small toys, a teddy bear, Babar and Celeste, a doll and cradle (miniatures made by much-loved friends years ago) and of course candy and colourful cupcakes. To her left are Ixchel, Mayan Goddess of women, and her Rabbit companion.

On Nov 2nd the Spirits of the infants return to Heaven and the adults' Spirits come to visit.  On the 2nd items which belonged to the Meurtos are placed on the ofrenda, to make the Meurtos happy to see familiar items.

We have placed a smooth green and grey egg carved from agate, the size of a robin’s egg, which belonged to Tony’s father George on the ofrenda as his memento. George brought it back from Ecuador in the 1930’s. He was a geologist, and he loved shells and stones.

I never saw Tony’s mother without the small golden hoop earrings that are clipped to her photo. She took them off and gave them to me before going into the surgery she did not survive in February 1990. There’s also a tiny pair of wooden Dutch clogs, carved in 1901, which belonged to her. They are empty in the photo above (Angelito Day) but on the 2nd I placed a cigarette in each clog, one for George and one for my Dad.

Also on the ofrenda are some of our Meurtos’ favourite foods. Grandma Josie adored chocolate, as did Kinette, so there is chocolate for them. Dad's favourite candy was lemon drops. I couldn't find any so I bought the closest thing, which were citrus jellybeans. Traditionally cooked red (pinto) beans, cornbread, cheese enchiladas, rice and tacos were all favourite foods of my Meurtos, so a plate of these go on the ofrenda, along with fruit, cupcakes and a cinnamon bun (for my mother), and some fancy cheeses for George and Kinette.

A beer and a Coca-Cola, in the small old-style bottle, complete the meal. While the Meurtos can’t eat, drink or smoke, their Spirits are said to enjoy the “essence” of the food and drink on the ofrenda, and if they were smokers, one is expected to put out a cigarette for them - after all they no longer have to worry about smoker’s cough, do they?

My mother’s watch is her memento. She was a tiny person, and the wristband of the watch is so small it appears to be for a child, and a small child at that! I also have one of her aprons in the kitchen, so if her spirit wanders into the kitchen she'll see it there.

Tucked onto the edge of Tony’s grandmother’s picture frame is a teeny gold Crusader’s Cross with “Jerusal__” on it. The the last letter(s) are worn off. This little medal was one of the gifts her brother Albert brought back for her when he went to Jerusalem in 1901. She wore this tiny medal and a an equally tiny crucifix on a fine gold chain around her neck. Her brother died in 1929, so I’m guessing she passed this tiny Crusader cross through her thumb and finger as she prayed for him for 30+ years after his death.

My Dad's memento is a plastic coin case which holds a 1979 John Kennedy 50 cent piece. How many times have I seen him fish that coin purse from his pocket and dig change from it? It says, “Forget Not All His Benefits”. Of course it’s a Bible reference, but I remember the benefits of being raised by such an honourable and decent man.

The skeleton bridal couple represent my mother's grandparents William and Angeline, who died age 21 and 20, leaving my grandmother Molly orphaned at age two.  I don’t have a photo of my mother’s mother Molly, but I put her tin box which originally held dusting powder on the ofrenda. It was a Christmas gift from my Granddad Henry 100 years years ago. Mother used it as a button box all the years I was growing up. You can see it just beyond the vase of pink peonies.

It is in the preparation that we call our loved ones back, buying the ingredients for the meal, seeking out the chocolates, cheeses and beer they liked, going through the family albums and pulling out photos, bringing out keepsakes freighted with memories. Buying flowers, bringing out dishes, candles and the decorative skulls and figures, and at last combining all of it on, or into, the ofrenda. It is an ancient ritual, one that ties us to hundreds of generations of our ancestors. We eat traditional foods, and we remember our Meurtos, and hope they linger to hear our laughter.