Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmases past...

As I write this post,  I think of my parents, who I love very much. I think of all they have done for me during my life, the experiences I have had, the opportunities offered to me. I recall the first 10 or so years of my life, in a home that I thought we would live in forever. 

I reflect on my ingratitude at going camping, fishing or boating almost every weekend. The lack of appreciation for time spent with my family, good food straight from the sea, forest, nature. 

My father was big and strong, so tall and he could do anything. He could go hunting with my brothers and bring down a deer for our winter food. He would take us fishing on his brand new sail boat, trolling for salmon, crab fishing, catching perch on remote docks with my brothers. I remember a time when we could camp on any island, fish, hunt, collect berries in the forest that Mom would then bake into a pie in our camper with the full oven. Ever had huckleberry pie?

The nights playing Uno at the table in the camper or Yahtzee. Sitting by a camp fire with the  OFF old mosquito coil's burning, fire going, Dad eating raw or barely baked oysters right off the shell. Clam chowder made with the clams we picked from the beach that day, little bits of sand and everything.

Mom handing over bags of marshmallows for us kids, me and my two brothers to eat in copious amounts until we felt sick. Crates of Pic-a-Pop taken on our trip. Mom's homemade bread (how I craved store bread like my friends got to eat!) next to a pot of stew or more likely a big fat steak, the way Dad liked it.

Weekends of going to Naesgard's U Pick strawberry fields and eating our fill until we couldn't manage to swallow any more, then heading up to pay with our barely filled buckets, while Mom had enough berries for strawberry shortcake and jam for the rest of the year. We would head home, Dad would light up the BBQ, enormous well cut steaks grilling with lots of salt and pepper, giant baked potatoes with loads of sour cream and real butter, followed by the promised strawberry shortcake. My mouth waters now just thinking about it.

Days of fresh prawn feasts. Mom would make a quilt for a neighbour who had a husband who was a prawn fisherman and once a year it seemed we would get boxes of fresh prawns. Mom would deep fry them and we would eat nothing but fresh prawns for dinner. Mom would use a beer batter recipe but because she didn't drink beer we used 7-Up. I remember the flavour, prawns don't taste like that any more, fresh, pure, local, melt in your mouth .... amazing! Dad would come home with crab traps filled with  crabs and I would complain, "Oh no! Not crab AGAIN!" What a silly child I was!

We would eat so much fresh caught salmon, same day fresh that after I was 11 years old I don't think I ate salmon or crab for at least ten years, too full, over indulgence. I say over indulgence, but nothing went to waste. We ate it all and had no clue how much others paid for these treats in the store.

I recall late nights of listening to the sewing machine rattle and turn as Mom stayed up late sewing us our Christmas gifts. New dresses for me, shirts for the boys. She could make anything! We got new knitted scraves, toques and mittens with the string to hold them in our coats. 

She was so gifted and skilled, she made toys that were as good or better than those from the store. (That is saying a lot too since not everything was made in China in the early 1970's, toys were still made in North America.) Mom always felt   bad that we didn't have all the store bought toys that some of our friends had, we probably did too, but I remember getting the new hand made quilt, doll, dresses and a bag of candy and an orange in the foot of my Christmas stocking.

Santa always had a store bought gift, well not from the store, but the elves had hand crafted it and it came in a store package. Santa never forgot us. No matter how hard the year was, how many months Dad had been laid off work, locked out or on strike, Santa always came and brought us something we had really wanted. The biggest gift at the front of the tree in the largest box with the brightest wrapping was from Santa and somehow, he always got it right! A BB gun for Owen, an Easy Bake Oven for Sarah and a remote control car for Chad. We never went without, we were always happy and most Christmas' we spent alone with just the five of us. 

There were years we travelled on Christmas afternoon about an hour and a half away through the snow or rain to visit family in Nanaimo and share the meal with them, but we virtually never,  (with the rare exception of being in Alberta for Christmas) spent Christmas morning anywhere but in our house.

The old Bing Crosby Christmas carols would be playing, Mom had something baking in the oven to eat hot and fresh, we had a variety of meats, cheese, crackers, nuts, oranges and a giant punch bowl of home made egg nog. I would sing, loudly, often out of tune and Dad would say "Toot, are you going to sing all day?" as I smiled and said "YES!" and he would often join in with me. Dad had a very nice singing voice when he was young.

Mom was in her element, surrounded by her family, us happily playing, her preparing a 30lb turkey for us with all the trimmings, stuffing made with her special spices and turkey liver and onions, at least three types of vegetables, smashed potatoes swimming in butter and topped with paprika, gravy glistening with the slick grease on top from the turkey fat and juice and us, all in heaven. 

Inevitably someone would get upset, cry, fight, Dad yell, send us to our rooms and Mom sigh, however, this passed fairly quickly and things would settle down again. How could we not be distressed and tired? We never fell asleep before midnight, straining to listen to Santa arrive and we were always awake by 5 AM although not allowed to get up until 6:30 AM and we could only open our stockings until Dad had stoked the fire, Mom started coffee and we were all assembled, in our places, space around us to stack gifts and then let loose! 

First, we would read the Christmas story from the Bible while we munched on chocolate and consumed items from our stocking and finally by 7:00 AM we would open presents and the frenzy began! Dad always read the names and handed out gifts and we were surrounded by packages and wrapping and squeals of excitement and the occasional sound of disappointment or faked enthusiasm as we opened that package of underwear and socks for the next year. 20 minutes later it was all over.

Now that my parents are ageing, live six provinces and 5,000 km away from me, resettling in a new home, new life after almost 45 years in the same community, I think of them and their history. I thank them for the years of being there for me and my siblings, for their sacrifices, dedication and love. I appreciate and cherish the memories of the years when I had no clue they were suffering financially or emotionally, when I always had all that I needed or wanted. I am overwhelmed at what they offered me, even though I was a child that thought this was all normal, I am amazed at the life they gave me.

Life has changed, they are older, sicker, less in control, not big and strong any longer but they are always my Mom and Dad. As I reminisce the words thank you aren't enough to express my emotions. Life changed as I became a teen and we moved away and our family grew, no one can ever foresee the future and we do the best we can. 

Mom, Dad, Owen, Chad, we lived, we loved, we shared, we played, we had lots, we had little and we always had each other. This isn't what I planned to write today but the memories flooded my mind too much and being a parent now, I know how hard life was for them. I am now older than they were then and as I look forward into my future, I hope that my children have some of the same fond memories that I had.

So many things have changed, roles have reversed, children starting to become "the parents", parents starting to "become more like the children" or at least we feel that way sometimes. As life gets shorter I think there is all the more reason for us to remember what was, what we had and how we were loved. It is too easy to get caught up in the moment, what is happening today or things that happened in the past that we wish hadn't occurred and forget, that like we do now in our parenting, our parents did their best then and only ever wanted us to be happy.

As November starts to draw to a close and Christmas shopping is well under way, with the harried shoppers and stressed out parents, think about what your child will really remember in the future... Will they remember when they are almost 50 years old the latest toy or electronic equipment? Or will they remember how you made them feel, the love they were surrounded with and their family? Have a great day!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Post Apoplectic Halloween

If there is one thing I do know, I will always screw up when it comes to changing my clocks. I just about always forget and I do think that is why we do this on the weekend not during the week. This morning the alarm rang as it does every Sunday morning at 8 AM. I go upstairs wake up Jess to go to church, she asks for ten more minutes, I leave the phone next to her head, walk back downstairs, crawl back into my warm bed and cuddle up to Len for a few more  minutes of sleep. The alarm rings, again, I reach over, call Jess on the intercom and she begs for more sleep, after doing this one more time at another ten minute interval, she says, no, she will stay home today. I don't push it, I don't go to the church and it is her option at almost 11 years old whether she wants to or not. So, I call the neighbour, her Sunday School teacher at about 8:25 AM and tell her Jess is not going. I then roll over, to try to grab a few more minutes of sleep, I like to stay in bed until 9 AM on Sunday. Of course then Jess does get up and crawls into bed with me to cuddle since Len has now left  with the alarm ringing three times and me up and down to wake the girl up. After about ten minutes my back is sore and I decide, I may as well just get up. (Do you want to know why my back was sore? Please, continue to read!)
My morning routine consists of a walk into the kitchen, turn on the old laptop to check out what is happening in the world since I went to bed 7 hours ago, turn on the coffee, head to the bathroom, back to the kitchen, hit the next button to finish loading the laptop, get my coffee, add milk, place my cup next to my arm chair by the wood stove, get the laptop from the table, sit on my bum, click the Facebook icon, sip my coffee and see, first status update "Don't forget to turn your clocks back an hour!" I then look at the clock on the stove which says 8:50 AM and glance to the right hand corner of my computer screen 7:50 AM and laugh. Yes, did it again! Never fails! Of course since I tend to run on the late side of life, sliding into places as they have just started, to be running an hour ahead for a change is a novelty! 

Of course by now Jess is up, on the other laptop, loading up music to practice singing the song she wants to learn for the talent show and I call to her to let her know my faux pas! "Jess, guess what?" I say. "What Mom?" she responds. "Are you still interested in going to church today?" I ask. Her, "Yes, but now it's too late, Louise would have left." Me, "Well, here's the funny thing, I forgot to change the clock! Poor Louise, I woke her up extra early on Sunday, I am sure she is VERY impressed with me right now! It is actually only 7:50 AM NOT 8:50 AM and if you want to go, you can...." I laugh a little self consciously... Jess, now that she is awake, does want to go... so for once, messing up on the "turn back time" was in our favour! Dear Louise, I AM SO SORRY to wake you up early!

Since today's blog seems to be about my misadventures, I must share the fun I had on Halloween day. Yes the spirits were lined up against me and mocking me, although my friend says it was just because Mars was in retrograde, but I figure the combination made for a discouraging disastrous day for me.

Daytime Blue Bunny?
Night time - gangsta!
 Ten days before Halloween I had been given an Amish Cinnamon Bread starter - this consists of milk, flour, and a variety of other baking products that sit and ferment in a plastic one gallon ziploc bag. Now, I am going to premise this essay about the bread with the following assumptions I am making about the Amish people 1) they probably don't use plastic ziploc bags 2) it is also doubtful that they use boxes of vanilla pudding in their mixes 3) and they are probably calm and peaceful while baking up the mess IE: do not swear, curse and throw things in the compost bucket in disgust 4) absolutely MUST laugh because we call it Amish bread! I would also like to apologize to the Amish for a) making idle frustrated threats and b) using the lord's name in vain!

So the theory behind the starter mix is you get one bag, you mush it daily for 5 days, on day 6 you add more ingredients to promote further "growth", you then mush again daily until day 10 when you add even MORE ingredients, then you divide it up into another 4 bags, keep one to bake that day and give the rest away. Something like that... Anyway, two days before the mixture was due to be baked up, I woke up in the morning to find a bag had exploded on my side table and seeped under my fridge. Yes, a nice bag of mixture growing on my floor under the fridge, you can imagine how fun that was to clean up! ICK!

As if that was not enough the day that I was to mix it all up (yes, enter Halloween!) The first bag spilled on the floor, clean up, not so bad... Then bag two, well, I have a container of sugar and a container of gluten free bread flours , yes the containers match, no I didn't look first, just scooped it in .... yuck, waste of expensive flour and wrecked my batter, but then I thought there is still hope for this... until, yes, you guessed it, I look and notice the bag has slipped sideways and the yucky gluten free mix of starter was seeping down my counter and cupboards... bag number two for the compost!

Two bags left... now what to do? Well, I am now almost out of milk and oil so that doesn't help... I only have one box of the famous Amish vanilla pudding and not sure what to do... so... I combined things, added, mixed, mashed and came out with a double batch of bread and yes, four new starter bags... So far so good, the loaves were a success, finally, and I had starter for next time.

Since things are improving and I am now on a roll, maybe I should make my first ever attempt at donuts? Wouldn't the kids enjoy hot, steaming, sugary donuts when they got off the bus? MMM! I know I would. Of course we are now at 3:30 PM so I better start coffee for Rachel and I and get those donuts going and ...zap! Apparently the deep fryer and coffee pot on the same circuit = no power! Donuts are off!

OK let's try to make sense of the rest of my day and get it right. Move coffee pot to another circuit, then have a quick shower before the kids come home. We have been invited for drinks after Halloween'ing at a friends and I may as well clean up. So, I shower, get dressed decently to leave the house and start to prep dinner. The kids get home and I sent Jess out to get Len because we are going to have dinner early, mmm home made lasagne, that's a good food base before junk from All  Hallow's Eve!

Well, Jess and Len start to visit, so it appears that I have to go get him. I walk outside into my porch, put on my rooster boots, tuck my pant legs in and then go outside, first I place my right hand on the door knob, twist, then my left foot lands on the front step and as my right foot follows, I slip, slide, crash, head bangs onto the small deck, bounces off the ground, right arm slides underneath me as  I push the planter pots away and the decorative pallet with Halloween surprises lands on my head. Just writing this I can feel it again, my right knee slid, road rash, arm twisted and face on the pavement, my eyes centimetres away from a wet pile of chicken crap, my teeth scraping each other and grinding in my mouth. I tried to call out for help, everyone was busy, too far away and I was hurting and couldn't call out loudly. I whimpered, yes, it's true, I tried to cry but it took too much energy and as I lay there, looking at shit, literally, I had to wonder what spirit did I piss off today?

I managed to twist, turn and pull myself up, not happy or in good cheer and limp out to Len's new building, afraid to walk on his wet deck and fall again I yelled into the building and Jess opened the door, I winged and whined, told them what happened and then carried my now bruised and battered body away, knowing I was sure to look like a giant piece of candy corn the next day. Happy Halloween? 

I was glad to see November enter my life! (NB: I did not get bruises, but did get some swollen and sore back muscles that are just now starting to go away...)