We Say Merry Christmas – 2011

How Our Non-Religious Family celebrates Christmas!

We aren’t all practicing Christians, but we say Merry Christmas, and we sing Christmas Carols. We decorate our house, and eat turkey. We visit friends, and we exchange gifts. We believe in the miracle of the birth of all children. We hope for Peace on Earth, and we extend our hands to all in Good Will.  We don’t think you have to belong to any particular religious denomination to accept and celebrate all that is good about this holiday – this holiday we call Christmas.

Some of the most wonderful things have to be believed to be seen. Like flying reindeer and angels. Like peace on earth, goodwill, hope, and joy. Real because they can be imagined into being. Christmas is not a date on a calendar but a state of mind.
– Robert Fulghum –

Our Family Grows Up

The family.  We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.
– Erma Bombeck –

A Dad, A Mom, and Three Daughters – our little family in 1978.

For us, the family idea means not only kin but kinship. Not only distant cousins but also close friends, neighbors, the special people in your life. In fact, everyone who feels like family.
– CP/RA – Recreation and the Family 1980 –

A brother-in-law, the nephews wife, the nephew, the brother-in-laws best friend and his wife, a son-in-law, a daughter, The Car Guy and meour Biking Family in 2008.

In Flanders Fields – Canadians in World War One

Canadians in WWI, 1914 to 1918

When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, Canada, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically at war. Canada’s troops were called the Canadian Corps and they fought on the Western Front in trenches that stretched from the Belgium coast, through France, to the frontiers of Switzerland. 65,000 Canadian military personnel lost their lives when they ventured beyond the trenches and into No Man’s Land. One of those men was my Grandfather’s brother, Henry William.

It is said Henry joined the military because a woman approached him on the street and presented him with a White Feather, signifying she thought he was a coward. He was only 17 years old, too young to enlist, but he wasn’t about to be called a coward.  He lied about his age, and signed his Attestation Papers for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on September 8, 1915.

252-Victor and Henry WWI
Victor and Henry William

Henry arrived on the front in France on March 26, 1916. He was wounded in  June and again in September of that year. His next encounter with the enemy was his last. He was reported missing after action on The Somme on October 4, 1916. His body was never found, making him one of just over 11,000 Canadian soldiers with no known grave.

My Grandfather, Victor fought in France too. Only two weeks after Henry was killed, Victor was wounded in the face and neck. One eye was removed, and he was sent home,  forever scarred by the memories of life in the trenches.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McRae, December 8, 1915

Poet’s Eye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
– Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004) –

How to throw a Beer Tasting Party!

I always do my best thinking over a glass of beer. Two heads are better than one.
– From the Best of Bridge –

Now and then I like an icy cold beer. Not a whole icy cold beer, because it is never icy cold when I get to the bottom of the bottle or glass. I just like the first few icy cold ounces.

One of my son-in-laws, perhaps (but highly unlikely) thinking of his mother-in-law’s fondness for those first few cold ounces, devised an ingenious way to taste the beers of the world without having to drink an entire bottle of each. He hosts a Beer Tasting Party.

He invites lots of people, and assigns each couple a country. The guests buy a half dozen or so bottles of beer that  represent that country. They pre-chill the beer, and when they arrive at the party the bottles are nestled into coolers of ice that are set out on a long table on the patio.

Each person is given a glass with his or her name on it and the tasting commences! A few ounces of this beer, then a few ounces of that beer. Icy cold, just the way I like it! Some munchies, then some more munchies!

There is an established protocol for a sophisticated Beer Tasting Party. This involves score sheets and detailed discussions. This isn’t that kind of party.

But it also isn’t the kind of party where the guests would have to be reminded to remove the bottles from the six pack carton before trying to read the bottom panel of the box!

24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.
– Stephen Wright –

Grandchildren – Herding Cats at the Cabin

For twenty four days there had been a constant flow of people coming and going from the cabin. For several  quiet days, just 3 people were in residence. On one busy long week-end there were 14 family members (and 22 for dinner one night). People, groceries, beds, beach towels, bug spray, transport vehicles, freezies, beer, golf clubs, fire wood, marshmallows and with any luck, at least one adult around at all times to make sure the little kids didn’t eat all of grandma’s dark chocolate in one go. It was an exercise in Herding Cats.

On the last Sunday night, Five Survivors were left for one last night of frivolity before the Exodus back to the city. Me, and four young grade school children were the last ones standing. There was one lone escape pod left in the driveway. Me, and an Army of Cats were good to go. My little army – they had been on cabin time for 24 days, which meant they had no sense of urgency, if in fact they had ever had any. Late nights and late risings had shifted meal times to mid morning, mid afternoon, and mid evening.

Bath time had been replaced by the occasional swim at the lake or a dip in the hot tub or by pointing the garden hose at each other on the trampoline. At least one child had not used hair shampoo the whole time. What didn’t wash off with this water became the base layer for the next day. Bug spray, sunscreen, campfire smoke, dirt… as one grandson noted on the last day, “The mosquitoes don’t seem to bite me anymore…”

So when the last child rolled out of bed on the last day, I announced that we were going for “lock and load” at 4:30 PM. That gave us exactly six hours to gather up belongings, hoover up a week or two of dirt, eat two meals (and thus empty the fridge), eat one last freezie, and close up the cabin.

The children, thinking 6 hours was forever, had other plans – one wanted to go bush wacking with sharp pointed tools, one wanted a trip to the beach with the dinghy, one wanted to go looking for frogs and snakes in the marsh and one wanted them all to go to the playground. All good ideas, but grandma couldn’t be four places at once. I needed a diversionary tactic, so I said they could have a three Movie Marathon. Each child could pick two they wanted to watch. During the time they weren’t watching a movie, they could help me pack their stuff. Then they could do anything else they wanted, as long as it was outside and it didn’t need adult supervision. (And nothing that was already packed got unpacked…)

At 4:23 PM I made a last sweep of the yard. I gathered up the things the kids had “lost” on the trip from the house to the car, locked the cabin door, and turned off the water. At 4:29:19 PM (according to the Grandsons watch), I loaded the last of four children into the Jeep for the trip  back to the city.

From what I have told you, I would imagine you are surprised that we made it on time. So I’ll divulge my Secret Weapon for Herding Cats. Their electronic games had been confiscated a few days previously (by their parents) and I had promised them that they could play with these games during the 2 hour drive home…

What form of bribery do you use to Herd Cats?

Guests and Family – My Labour Pool

Eldest Daughter (The Cooker), Son-in-law (The Fisherman), and two Grandchildren (Lego Kid and Wild Child) will be arriving soon for a month of Summer Holiday. Everyone is gearing up for this event. A master list of activities is at the third draft stage, with three families still to provide input. Canada could launch a takeover of the USA with less planning!

When visiting family first walks in the door of the Red House, they are treated like Guests. They are invited to use the hand towels in the Half Bath:

But after the first beverage has been poured, and the first meal has been served, all Guests at The Red House are expected to morph into family, whether they are blood relatives or not!  In other words, they can pitch in and act like they live here – which I make very clear with the signage at the front door:

The Cooker will have no problem with taking over some of the meal preparation. She is a far better cook than I am, and for the most part would rather eat what she cooks than what I cook, I believe. I explain the discrepancy between her skills and mine by reminding her that I am of British Isles stock, while she has inherited that plus Slavic and Nordic genes. Genetically then, she must have got her cooking skills from her father’s side of the family.

The Red House is a perfect place to host guests. Three guest bedrooms, two guest baths – lots of room to gather or be apart. But it won’t be long before everyone heads out to The Cabin on Antelope Street, and that is where they will stay for most of the month. The cabin – one guest bedroom, only one bathroom, a couple of holiday trailers. The little kitchen will never close once six to twelve people settle in for the summer!

In mid August the cabin will suddenly be quiet. No children will whoop and holler as they hunt each other down with nerf guns. (This game has a hiding component, and a rock whose purpose I don’t understand…) The bicycle rack will silently hold all the faithful two wheelers that have traveled back and forth between our Cabin and The Car Guy’s Sister’s Cabin. The freezer door will close and stay that way, all the icy Freezies gone except the blue ones:

There is no known navy-blue food. If there is navy-blue food in the refrigerator, it signifies death.
– Erma Bombeck –

But that is a month away. Today I can only ask for a month of good weather and hope a boatload of mosquito spray is enough!

Picking up the Pieces – The Puzzle of Life

I don’t have a “Big Picture” of  where my life is going – no overall plan that says I have to be doing a certain thing by a certain time. I kind of just live day by day, picking up bits of this and that as I go along. What kind of bits? Puzzle bits. I think my life is like a Jigsaw Puzzle. It started with no pieces, and had no picture on the box lid. My job is to collect the pieces I either want or I am obliged to take, put them in as best I can, and see what picture emerges.

I don’t know how many pieces are in my puzzle. I think that depends on how long I live. The last piece will go in the moment before I die, I guess. I do know, though, that I look for a puzzle piece in everything I do and everyplace I go. I seldom know where the piece is going to fit in the puzzle, and it may just languish in the box for some time before I find a spot for it. But that is okay. I’m in no hurry to finish the puzzle.

puzzle shape

Now and then I fit a piece into the puzzle and discover that the picture I thought I was working on has shifted somewhat. Sometimes it is a big shift caused by something like a death in the family, or relocating to a different country or having a sick child. Sometimes it is a small shift, like the discovery that I’m not going to have enough mushroom compost for all the flower beds. Sometimes it is a really small shift, like today when I recalibrated my monitor and all the colors moved a few shades south…

I don’t know what piece I’ll find tomorrow, or the day afterward. I don’t know exactly what my puzzle picture will look like a week or a month from now. What I do know is that I was pretty happy with it the way it looked last year, and I’m just as happy with it today.  Hope you are too!

A Fiery Birthday Story

It would be quite all right for me to take the day off today and not write in my blog. It is my Birthday, and I believe a birthday should be a day of indulgence.

But I enjoy writing and I like my blog. It is akin to having a child that isn’t ever going to be a teenager. Or owning a cat that doesn’t shed or claw the furniture or choke up fur balls. Or a job I can do from home in my pajamas. Or a car that never needs gas… (Actually, I have a car like that. My  Spousal Unit, The Car Guy, is very good about keeping my car clean, serviced, and gassed up.)

So what else have I got planned for the day? I’m not sure yet, but it certainly IS NOT going to involve a birthday cake. The candles are getting so numerous that they pose a fire hazard.

I’m not going to talk about getting older either, because, there is no upside to thinking those kinds of self defeating thoughts. As Bernard B. Baruch said, “To me, old age is 15 years older than I am.”  Helen Hayes echoed that idea when she said: “Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.”

Most days, if I didn’t look in the mirror, I would be the same person I was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. Except I am more sure of my opinions. Although, as Dave Barry points out: “I’ve been hanging around with people roughly my age for the bulk of my life, and I frankly do not feel that, as a group, we have acquired the wisdom and maturity needed to run the world, or even necessarily power tools.” So, although I might seem confident, you should be wary around me if I’m holding anything that is plugged into a wall socket.

Well, enough of that. I’m off to indulge myself on the next thing that pops into my head. I believe it might involve chocolate… 

Easter Dinner – Signage For When the Guests Get Here

Today is our Easter Dinner and we’ve invited lots of people.

When the guests arrive, there is always a bit of general confusion and milling about while coats are hung, hugs and handshakes are exchanged and food donations are sorted out. (A dinner party at the Red House is rarely a free lunch…) At recently past functions, very small children have been ushered outside to play, or put into closets if there is a chance they will take a header down over the edge of the stairs where the railing is not yet a railing. Except this year – I’m much more organized than in the past. I have Signage for the parents!

The First Sign will make it clear how very small children should be monitored:

Pets Welcome children must be on a leashAfter dinner, we’ll bring out some treats. There is a sign for that:

My soul's had enough chicken soupWe like to end things with Coffee. It is the signal to our guests that it is time for them to perk up and get ready for the long drive home. I have a sign for that:

I'll have a caffe mocha vodka valiumIn a few days I’ll let you know how it went!