Tuesday, June 28, 2005

There she is...the third generation

There she is, full of energy, enthusiasm, and love for her mother. That's her mother, seated at the table, doing some beading, likely making a bracelet or some other piece of jewellery. The table Karen is seated at is one her father made for her years ago for one of her birthdays. The diamond point pine armoire behind her is one her younger brother made for her, a copy of a Quebec-type 18th century armoire. Beside the armoire stands one of the original Hoosiers made in the 19th century in, I believe, Indiana. We bought it about 35 years ago when we still lived in Toronto. Beside the Hoosier is a little pine computer stand that my husband made for me and which Karen now uses. The house we're in is in Hammond, Ontario, where Karen and her child Angelyne live with their seven dogs, four rabbits. Good grief.

Although it cannot be seen in the photograph, (the rabbit itself, that is) it appears (although I don't remember it) that one of the rabbit cages has been temporarily shoved under the kitchen table.

Almost forgot: that's me in the vermilion top holding Riley our toy poodle. Why'm I holding him? Because he'd like nothing better than to mix it up with Karen's little three-pound Pomeranian and he ignores my orders to cease and desist.

That's it folks, there isn't any more for the time being. Cheerio.

Advanced to Grade 4

She brought her report card home today. Along with a whole lot of other things. Students were asked to clear out their desks. After all, only two more days before school is over for the summer. One more day if she could have her way. Why did we think that Wednesday was a PD (Professional Development) day? Where ever did we get that idea? Did we forget to read the last school newsletter? Hmm, more likely, did she forget to give it to us to read? Much as she 'forgot' to give her mother notification of the school play she had rehearsed for, helped make sets for, then decided not to act in, as, after all, she only had a silent part - a tree, or something similar. She likely wanted to be a tree, as trees don't, after all, speak, and she too is reluctant to speak in public. She's not shy by any means, I mean a very public venue. She'd just rather not.

When her grandfather picked her up at the bus stop today, though, he realized, when speaking with moms waiting there for their children, that Wednesday, not Tuesday was the last day of school. Sweet little Angelyne has been informed, firmly, that Wednesday is the last day. "No!" she implored, "Mommy said Wednesday was a PD day". Mommy said so, I told her, because you informed her it was. Then I dialled the number for her school, and was kindly informed that no PD day was planned for Wednesday, it was a regular school day, albeit the last. "Parties!" she shrieked, it'll only be stupid parties, why did she have to go? Because, her grandfather told her, she'd be with her classroom friends and enjoy herself. Her response? "Humph".

She revealed her report card, and her grandfather read it through, while I prepared her after-school snack. She gobbled the strawberries, drained the chocolate milk, and popped her little pizza into the microwave. Then she waved the latest edition of chickaDEE in my face, and immediately introduced me to the monkey joke: How can monkeys fly? why, on a hot-air Baboon!, ha-ha, tee-hee. Then she asked could she read for me some of the entries in her schoolyear's daily diary and she proceeded to read. Mostly little anecdotes about her stable of animal buddies at home. Her printing is meticulous; wish I could print like that and tell her so. She is so like her mother. She emulates everything about her mother, including her mother's careful script (her mother is, after all, an industrial designer, accustomed to working up technical plans, embellished by a print-script anyone could read).

She showed me the two new silver bracelets her mother had given her for her birthday. One is a continuous loop of tiny silver elephants, the other a wide silver loop with a large elephant centred on it. It matches the third silver bracelet on her arm, a wide clasp bracelet with an intaglio elephant. Why elephants? Beats me.

Upstairs we go (at 32 degrees Centigrade, high humidex it's too hot to be outside now) for a look at the photographs I downloaded into the computer last night. She wants to see the ones her grandfather took during her running competition at the school, and she's pleased with them. Then we look at a few others in a folder I've named "Angelyne" and she remarks how nice her hair looks in the photographs. I'm pleased to hear her say something nice about herself, as she is not a vain child, and is more likely to be hypercritical about herself.

Then I go to our emails and show her the one her uncle sent last week and ask her to read it. She reads it and a confused almost fearful look crosses her face. Well? I ask. She turns away without responding and I press her for an opinion. Finally, her face dark, she says she hates camping. And, she emphasizes her unhappiness at her uncle's offer to pay for her airfare to come and visit with him for a week in Vancouver so he can give her a camping experience for summer fun, by slowly articulating: "I would be homesick". Which is exactly what I expected her to say. Tomorrow, I tell her, tomorrow, you will respond, you'll write him a return email. Panic city. What'll I say? Just what you told me, I sooth her, just relax.

When she leaves with her mother for their homeward journey she seems pensive. She knows she can't leave before kissing me, and remembers before getting into her mother's vehicle, to do so. Her mother, watching her, sighs. How was her report card? her mother asks me. Pretty good, I tell her, and it was. She's a bright child, a happy little girl, an energetic and kind little girl, although she is no stranger to pouts and disclaimers. And lucky us - she's ours for the summer....

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Natural Urge

From the time I was a child I can recall being pulled toward and fascinated by green space and trees. Parks, to a city child who knew, for the most part, sidewalks and stunted city trees. I can recall several visits to city parks with my parents when I was very young. One would sit on a blanket and contemplate the scene around one, sans sidewalks, sans buildings. In the shade, if one was an adult, in the sun, sans blanket, if one was a child.

I loved the ambiance. It was so soft, gentle, bright. The cityscape in comparison was bleak, hard, unwelcoming, alienating. I wanted always to be among the trees, in the grass, in the sunlight. The colours of a park fascinated me, comforted me. As a child I was unable to access parks without my parents and they were obviously not driven to take me to such venues, despite my continually asking them to.

I can recall, a little older, being in a park with a friend. At a fairly tender age, city children became relatively independent back then, more than a half-century ago. People seemed then not to be as conscious of the potential for disaster befalling children unattended. Likely it's not that such a potential was seldom realized; more likely that news of mishaps were less likely to be publicized. The friend with whom I was with, although I recall nothing whatever about her, alluded to the fact that old men often attempt to lure little girls. This information intrigued and also frightened me. I was curious. And sure enough, there was an occurrence; an old man tentatively approached us and began to behave in a most curious manner. My friend giggled, I laughed nervously and we both ran.

My mother's older sister, married to a Polish peasant, a very pleasant man who worked as a tailor for Tip-Top Tailors (she was a seamstress there as well) lived with him in a three-story house on Indian Drive, near High Park, a huge city park which, once I was introduced to it, became for me the creme de la creme of parks, and I would do almost anything to be permitted to go there. And I did, occasionally, with my parents. Eventually I was permitted to take the Queen Street streetcar and travel on it on my own, to visit with my aunt and uncle. Actually I wanted to visit with their two children, a boy one year senior to me and a girl two years older. My aunt and uncle would pick wild mushrooms in High Park, take them back to their house and set about frying them, the house quickly picking up the heady fragrance of the cooking mushrooms. Once, on such a mushroom-picking expedition with my uncle, he told me he would give me a purse (I had never had a purse) if I let him 'do something'. I made the connection between my long-ago encounter in a park and my kind old uncle, and I never did get the purse. But it wasn't the last time I had such an offer from him, and it wasn't the first time I encountered an odd proposition from him.

When my husband and I met we were both fourteen years old. He had an uncle and aunt who owned a farm near Bolton, and in the summers he used to spend some time on the farm, with his three cousins, working on the farm. I thought how much more worldly he was than me, as he'd had so many more valuable experiences than I had. We used to walk in various city parks together, and even go further, along to High Park. Such memories. When we were first married, at 18, we had a young Brindle Boxer and we took it with us to High Park, so it too could enjoy the pleasures to be had away from cement and concrete.

Now, after fifty years of marriage, we have incredible memories of the many green spaces we've seen and been, however briefly, a part of. There is a need we share, and which many people also do, to be within the confines of nature for however brief a period. It is as though we live in a kind of constant and perhaps required banishment from our original home, and we suffer pangs of regret for its loss, and a deep-seated need to return to it as often as we can. Not to return, however briefly, is to disregard a kind of spiritual need, a need to replenish the kind of resources which nourish our souls.

It's Saturday

Supposed to be the hottest day of this season, so far. 32 degrees (Centigrade), high humidity, plenty of smog. Yesterday was hot too, but in the morning I baked a strawberry cake. Reason was we had a surplus of strawberries. I'd bought imported berries when shopping, then discovered that local strawberries were being harvested and we bought two 6-quart baskets of those, one for us, one for our daughter. Thus, the strawberry cake. Sumptuous. Cut 4 to 5 cups of strawberries into chunks, dredge with 1/3 cup brown sugar mixed with a tablespoon of cornstarch and let it sit. Beat 3 eggs with a cup of sugar, add a tablespoon of orange juice, a teaspoon of vanilla, a half-cup of good quality cooking oil. Sift one and a half cups of flour with two teaspoons baking powder, and beat into the liquid. Spread half the cake mixture on the bottom of a generous baking pan, then the strawberries (I did drain off some of the strawberry liquid first), top with the balance of the cake batter and bake at about 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) until brown on top. Yummy, doesn't need anything else, not ice cream, not whipped cream. We had a serving each after dinner, then I carefully wrapped the cake pan with two layers of Saran, and placed it on one of the kitchen counters. We have, um, developed an ant problem. Noticed them several days ago, and put down a few ant traps.

Saturday morning while preparing our breakfast (of cantaloupe, banana, bacon and eggs, toast, orange juice, coffee/tea) I saw an ant on the counter top holding the cake. Then I looked closer at the Saran-topped cake pan and cursed a silent shriek. My husband carried the offending item from the kitchen to the table on the deck to be attended to, later. Here's the funny part: I thought the ants were on top of the Saran; they were not. They were scurrying happily about under the damn Saran, congratulating themselves on their good fortune. Into the composter, dammit.

My Saturday morning appetite was slightly dampened, sad to say. But despite the impending heat with all its attendant miseries we thought why not go up to Gatineau Park to hike a trail up there, instead of our daily ravine walk, as we hadn't been there since early spring. We did just that, drove up to Gatineau, not a long drive. On the way we saw brilliant spikes of purple Lupin adorning the sides of the highway. Once into the park almost at our destination we wondered at the sanity of bicyclists churning their tires under the pitiless sun, sharing the road with us. Then - at the side of the road, a beautiful fawn-coloured doe, placidly grazing, ostensibly unaware, or at least uncaring at the traffic whizzing past her.

At the trail head we noted the proliferation of Cornflowers in full, startling-blue bloom, and thought how early it seemed for them this year. They were companioned with cowslips, fleabane, and yellow/orange hawkweed. In amongst this wild colour was the delicate pink heads of tiny wild geraniums. And there, further along the trail was two mounds of that wonderfully leafed plant I always admired, and vowed I'd one day dig up a piece of, for our garden. It's a large, dark green leaf, deeply cut, similar to Ligularia.

There was a slight breeze, and as long as we were shaded by the deep woods canopy the temperature was not bad at all, allowing us to really enjoy our walk. Our older, female dog is always permitted to go along off leash, as she stays with us. Our younger, male, testosterone-loaded little toy wears a harness and stays leashed, lest we encounter an elephant and the silly little bugger decides to demonstrate dominance techniques. When we'd been on the trail long enough we offered them fresh water, and they were tepidly receptive. When, some fifteen minutes later, we finally descended to a full creek bed, they displayed considerably more enthusiasm, dibbling and dabbling in the fast-flowing water, and relishing their freedom to drink at leisure. (Guardia? hope not.)

By the time we completed our trek, having laboured up two more very long slopes, we were drenched in sweat (that's my husband; perspiration for me) and Button and Riley were in full tongue-lolling mode. We thought how nice it was that the car was still in dappled shade and its interior wasn't a blazing oven, then settled in for the pleasant drive home. How fortunate we are.

It wasn't until we arrived back in the city that the true depth of the skin-drenching heat hit us. For we had several stops to make. The first at a ceramics-painting and handicrafting shop where we registered our granddaughter, who turned to the ripe old age of 9 this very day. She will attend a half-day, full week summer day camp. First three days (9:00 to 12:00 p.m.) will be painting ceramics, the fourth day will be devoted to mosaics, the last day to painting fabrics. That should prove of interest to her and entertain her for a small fraction of the summer. She is still resisting our blandishments in describing how wonderful a time she would have, attending full-day swim camps. We're working on her.

Her uncle, who lives in Vancouver, suggests that we ship her out to him for a week. He will pay the airfare. No problem, he says, having her fly over is little different than her taking the bus daily to school. I've told him she would never want to go so far and for so long, away from her mother. I've told him he has no real idea based on past experience how difficult it is to look after a (now) 9-year-old girl (especially this particular 9-year-old girl who, as sweet natured as she is, is also hair-pullingly stubborn). He scorns this as being over-protective, and that we're instilling in her a fear of adventure rather than encouraging her natural sense of curiosity - and, he's quite capable of looking out for her, and after her. Could be, but on the basis of her mother's fearful reluctance to join us in Japan and her near-hysterical behaviour just flying out to be with us for a while in Atlanta, I'd say the child comes by her lack of enthusiasm for adventure quite explicably.

Now, how did we get from there to here, then from here to there? Is this tangential or is it not? Are you still with me? Am I still there? Was I ever there?

Did I yet mention that just as we were entering the video store (not my husband, he went elsewhere for some bubbly) there was a terrific clap of thunder, followed shortly after by rainfall of the torrential variety. So heavy was the rain that, looking out the large plate window of the shop one had the distinct impression of being under water.

And the day's not over yet!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My Baby

When our youngest child was born we felt that with two older children he would likely be the last, and he was our baby. Over the years he's never been anything else. No matter that he's a responsible adult over forty years of age, a scientist, a homeowner, an environmentalist, a vegetarian, a social activist. He's our baby. Coincidentally, he's also the only one of our three children who never needed help from us. He made his own way, through scholarships, and hard physical jobs to take him through to his doctorate.

He it was who spent time with us, when he was a young adult. We three went on endless canoe-camping expeditions to Algonquin Park, sharing adventure after adventure. With him we did a nine-day circuit of the Bowron Lakes in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia. With him we snowshoed wintry scenes in North Carolina and Tennessee, in Georgia and New Hampshire. We began to slow down as we got older and he began to hit his stride. When he was a teen, and as a family of five we spent hours hiking trails or clambering up mountainsides and we rarely turned back because of fatigue simply because we hated to disappoint his sense of adventure. One had to reach a summit, the end of a trail.

When he was a baby, I used to sit him in a jumping chair in the backyard of our little bungalow in Richmond Hill. Like his brother and his sister before him, he exercised his little legs by pumping up and down in the chair. His tiny legs were stout as oak trees, brown as nuts from the sun. One day years later, when I'd left him for a few moments to do something inside the house, he wandered out of the backyard and up the suburban sidewalk-less street, and a neighbour speedily scooped him up and brought him home. I cried, stifled him with hugs and spanked him simultaneously.

When he was in elementary school he had some really nice little friends, and they used to build little model airplanes and then fly them. For years we kept some of those models, their lightweight bodies suspended from the ceiling of his bedroom by a nylon thread, whirling in any breath of air. He made an interesting transition from paper-covered airplanes to butterflies as he became interested in biology. Equipped with a soft net, he sat motionless until a butterfly afforded him the opportunity to capture it. He amassed a wonderful collection of butterflies, carefully labled and pinned to a presentation board. Then he developed an aversion to killing such beautiful creatures, and he began netting fish. In the local greenbelt's creek he netted dace and kept them in an aquarium. At Lac la Peche in Gatineau, he netted small-mouth bass and learned tragically that they should not share aquarium space with dace.

He once brought home a jewel of an insect. It was the voracious huge black waterbug. An ugly killing machine, but a real coup to find one. He placed it in a deep pail, covered it with netting, planning to study it and placed it temporarily in the backdoor closet. I found it wandering menacingly about the kitchen and my hysterical remonstrations caused it to be returned whence it had come. He was quicker in movement than the many small garter snakes we came across on our hikes and insisted that we touch it so we could experience its dryness, it muscular strength.

As a young teen he persuaded me to start a compost heap. Anything that was leftover in the kitchen could be dropped into it, a wire-mesh square. I was amazed, over time, to find within its confines green gold to be spread on the gardens. Once, he came home from school and found me in the backyard, raking up the multitudinous leaves that fell from the three mature maples there. Could I, he asked, do him a favour? Could I please touch my toes? I did better, I laid my palms flat on the ground before me, knees straight. Funny, he said, his gym teacher had bet them that none of the children's parents would be able to touch their toes.

He took a one-year sabbatical between his initial degree (Bsc) and his Master's, then his Master's and his Doctorate. $0,000 NSIRC grants gave him the luxury to take time off, then resume where he'd left off. Oddly enough, he did research work on his year's "time off", and that too gave him additional opportunities to amass experiences that were so vital to him.

Now he lives in Vancouver and although we find the distance painful, it is as it should be. This is his life. British Columbia offers him adventures that cannot really be replicated elsewhere. In the summer he hikes, mountain climbs, canoes, kayaks. In the winter he skis, camps and makes the most of his surroundings, and he loves every minute of it. Those old-growth forests so approachable in that venue are breathtaking and he's close to the portals of pure nature.

For our 50th marriage anniversary he sent us a lovely piece of porcelain pottery he'd made. We have many vases, teapots, bowls, platters, dishes, cups of every description and colour, all inscribed on the back with his name and the date he made them. What a baby, what a man.

What is wrong with you?

Look, I'm serious. I want to know. Why would supposedly intelligent women let themselves fall into this quagmire, welcome a bill of goods as having any real meaning to their lives? Sure, I understand we live with a cult of celebrity, a cult of youth, and a general disaffection with everything that surrounds us because it just doesn't measure up to our expectations. Well, tough. That is, after all, life. Your life as it happens.

You are blessed (or cursed) with intelligence, some measure of wit, some sense of the adventure that life holds out to all of us. For the most part for all of those, including physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) we all have our genetic inheritance to thank. We have curly hair and prefer straight, while straight-haired women agonize with envy over curly-locked women; fashions come, they go. You have a nose you'd prefer to have narrower, shorter, a chin that recedes a bit too much; a hairline that seems to shout out lack of cerebral agility. Conversely, as it happens, you may have lovely facial features, a good strong and shapely physique, an intelligent sense of humour, a facility with languages, so aren't you lucky? No? You think not? What's missing? I see, you wanted to study law or medicine, but fate intervened somehow. So sad. And your back end is too broad? Gee whiz, I thought you looked pretty good.

Where was I? Oh yes, this article is about entrepreneurial medicine. It is about the power of persuasion. It is all about lack of fidelity to one's identity, an insecurity of self. Ripe pickings. We are accepting the newly minted medical facts and conditions that assail womankind. Menopausal women require constant medication (thank you, pharmaceutical giants). Women are suffering, en masse, from sexual dysfunction. We are, in fact, not nearly as beautiful, as slender and toned as we could be, should be. If you don't believe me, look at all the advertorials, the focus on our inadequacies (purely public-relations-perceived).

Plastic surgeons know no shame, and do their utmost to persuade vulnerable (sadly stupid) women that their lives can and should be enhanced by their ministrations. Once they get that facelift, tummy tuck, liposuction treatment their lives will turn around and at every corner there will be a Prince Charming champing at the opportunity to make their lovely acquaintance.

Sex life lacks vigour? There's a treatment for that, too. Testosterone isn't only for men, after all. Menopausal symptoms keeping you awake at night? Like selling the Brooklyn Bridge, doctors acting as mouthpieces for the pharmaceutical industry will sell you youth, ardour, peace; these attributes are yours naturally at various stages of your life, but hey, they'll be extended infinitely. In the meantime, hormone replacement therapy isn't delivering the goods without great risk, but why be picky, right?

Every natural stage of life's wonderful journey is now fraught with worry because the medical/drug industry has convinced us that normal conditions that mark life's milestones are diseases, illnesses that can be cured. Why buy into this nonsense?

We have painted ourselves into a dreadful corner having accepted modern lifestyles with no amelioration to express our individual needs. It's become routine to have children, give them into the care of people who don't love them and then try to make up for one's lack of time with these children by offering material replacements for irreplaceable time and emotional support.

Women are bedraggled attempting to be everything that both tradition and modern life expects of them. They're cheating themselves out of the true quality of life. Introspection, learning opportunities, raising well adjusted and happy children have become unreachable goals when the pressures of two full-time jobs create an impossible pressure-cooker out of life. We're so weary because of the guilt and pressures that we don't seem to be capable of critical thought, and so we accept the outright garbage that's tossed at us, posing as medical science.

Give it a rest. Have a good hard look at your life. Make an honest attempt to select those qualities that have real importance to you, and ditch the remainder. Everyone can be beautiful without additional artificial enhancement; your character can make you so. Stop this destructive industry from trifling with your life and driving you to distraction.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Half a Century

When we were young we wanted always to be together. Me, I think, more than him. In the sense that I wanted him always to be in my view, close, so I could reach out my hand and touch him whenever I wanted to. Is it always the female whose attachment is so fierce? I wonder. It was I, on first sight, who felt I had always known him, that those years were just a waiting time until he came along. In the context of the fact that we were both fourteen years old when we first met that's nothing short of absurd. But I felt that way then, I feel that way now. I can only speak for myself.

When we were married we were eighteen. Now, from the great and venerable height of sixty-eight, that too seems absurd. Too absurdly young for anyone to commit to a life of together foreverafter. Do eighteen-year-olds know what they want? Well, we wanted to be married, but we certainly did not want a wedding. We viewed the social aspect portion of the tradition as not really relating to what we wanted, what we felt we needed. Both were true; we neither needed nor wanted a formal social event to which countless people would be invited. We agreed simply because it was the only way to achieve what we wanted. Our parents would have their wedding; we would have our marriage.

I wore a borrowed wedding gown. I felt awkward, uncomfortable and decidedly unlovely. The ceremony in the synagogue was fine. It was tradition after all, and we respected tradition although neither he nor I was religious. It was a custom to be respected; standing under the chupah together, the rabbi intoning his words, and my husband, my husband, my lion of Judea, stamping on the goblet, shattering it. Everything that followed was agony, an exercise in celebratory excess which only patience would bring to an end.

We bought our first house, a little semi-detached bungalow of undistinguished design and pale grey brick, in Richmond Hill, for $12,900. By then we had been married for two years, had lived in a flat consisting of bedroom, small kitchen and shared bathroom. This house was ours, ours alone. We commuted to work daily. We learned to do things together. I wanted to learn how to cook and bake anything and everything. My first attemps were so pathetic that my poor husband went out and bought my first cookbook,
The American Jewish Cookbook, which I still own. Ragged and burnt, it doesn't look like much, next to the many and varied other cookbooks I own, but that one has never, ever let me down.

Two years later, our first child was born, and although fearful that we would be able to manage financially, I became a stay-at-home-mother/housewife. Two more children followed at year-and-a-half intervals. Their father was as attentive to them and as capable of looking after their needs when he was home after work, as I was throughout the day. Playtime was happy and joyful, and we considered ourselves to be unbelievably fortunate.

There were so many times when we ran short of money for the most basic of things. We had milk deliveries; a tiny cubicle at the side of our house where the milkman left milk, sour cream, eggs. Occasionally I ended up 'owing' on the daily deliveries and ended up saving the occasion 25-cent coin the children might receive as gifts from grandparents to pay the milkman. We struggled but we managed. Our greatest splurge was probably gas for the Volkswagon we drove, but every week-end we would drive to a park, to regional conservation areas, for picnics, walks in the woods, swimming expeditions with the children.

Our older boy became a Cub Scout. Our middle child, a girl, became a Brownie. I was involved in both groups, and also volunteered at the children's Elementary school, reading stories to groups of children. Our younger boy, in his turn, attended one meeting of the Cub Scouts and told me without equivocation that that was also his last meeting, and we didn't press him. We moved soon after I became the Brown Owl of our daughter's group, to a two-story house in northern Toronto, and lived there for two happy years before my husband's job took him to Ottawa. Where we bought another two-story, four bedroom house in the greenbelt, surrounding the city.

Shopping at community second-hand shops we all acquired bicycles and my husband taught me how to ride a bicycle, as I'd never had one as a child. We all soon had skis and ski boots through the same source, as well. Same for ice skates, and we skated on the Rideau Canal, loving the atmosphere, the views. We soon discovered the fun of snowshoes and learned to accept the sound of cracking ice, snowshoeing across frozen lakes in the Gatineau Hills. We acquired a 17-ft canoe and all of us learned to paddle, not without some pretty frightening experiences in the process. We hiked in Gatineau, picked wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, even rose hips and made jam out of all these fruits; those, that is, that weren't eaten fresh.

That was a long time ago. Our children are grown, flown the nest. It was so dreadfully difficult for the first ten years accepting that they had moved on to form their own lives. I missed them dreadfully, we both did. But in 1986 I accompanied my husband to Tokyo and we lived there for a truly magical year. That was an experience never to be forgotten, always brought to mind with glimpses into the past of finding surprises, exotic locales, surprising adventures wherever we went in that fabulous country. We lived elsewhere as well, but nowhere else that we loved as we did Japan, its people, its culture, society and tradition.

Well, haven't I gone on? When we returned eventually to Canada, we joined our younger son in British Columbia where he was by then living. We climbed mountains, hiked in old-growth forests with him, canoed a nine-day adventure in the Cariboo Mountains, on the Bowron Lakes circuit. What adventures, what enormous enjoyment, what a monumental store of memories. Those, on top of the many camping/canoeing trips we had taken with him in Algonquin Park, and in the Great Smokey Mountains. When our children were still young teens, we used to go yearly to New Hampshire for climbing vacations in the White Mountains; a moderate climb one day, an ambitious summit the next; we had energy to burn and a curiosity that would not be sated.

There's fifty years in there. Fifty years. Isn't that a half century?

We're in fine fettle, all the same. I've never ceased to be amazed at the depth and breadth of my husband's interests. His literary tastes, his interest in history, geography, the arts, science. And his ability to construct things. Everything from furniture to mechanical contrivances. This man does quite acceptable oil paintings, landscapes mostly, many reflecting places where we've been. We've got enormous stained glass windows all over our house. He has laid exotic wood floors in this house, ceramic floors and walls and reconstructed kitchen counters. The same done in bathrooms, using marble tiles. Three years ago he excavated a quarter of the lawn in front of our house, laid down gravel, sand, more gravel, pounded the hell out of it, then proceeded to construct stone retaining walls for our front gardens, and finally laid patterned brick for a set of two courtyards. The tools he used to cut the 'stone' and brick were fairly basic; a stonecutter's chisel and hammer. The result is stunningly beautiful, practical and laid the groundwork for our wonderful gardens. He never stops.

For company we have two little dogs; a female miniature poodle, a male toy poodle. She's smart as only a female can be, my husband says, and the little male is as dumb as you would expect a male to be. Well, we could certainly argue that thesis. But they are sweet little companions and we do have a lot of laughs with them, as well as adventures of one kind or another.

Life is good. Fifty years!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Whether in the Ravine

It has been miserably hot for the past five days. I mean hot, as in plus-30-degree (celcius) for five days. Some overcast, some sun. Some wind too, thank heavens. Some smog, and that's not good. Evidently lots of particulate matter shifting over the Ottawa Valley from forest fires in northern Quebec. Not that this area didn't have a kind of forest fire too, yesterday, which 75 volunteer firefighters responded to. And didn't they suffer, garbed in protective gear in 31-degrees, determined to confine the fire to the fast-consumed area, keeping it from nearby forests.

Despite the heat, we've continued to enjoy working in our gardens, our wonderful gardens full of flowering perennials and bright annuals. Our roses are fragrant white, blushing pink and red in various shades of both. Alas, our tree peonies with their dish-sized blooms are gone, but right behind them are the bush peonies and they're ablaze with colour and scent. Right on cue our French lilac is in rampant bloom, its fragrance wafting through the house from its backyard perch. This is the flower of our wedding anniversary. Leopard's bane is flourishing, the bearded Irises are blooming, the fragile-bloomed Siberian Irises also, as well as the orchid-headed Columbines. We have huge, pink-spired Lupins in bloom, small blue-flowered Jacob's ladder, one huge Delphinium ready to bloom far before the others, the nodding blue and white bells of Canterbury bells, and all of the various Heucheras with their long-stalked dainty bells. Good heavens, even our many and varied Hostas are sending up their sturdy flower stalks. Clematis is doing well thank you, and so too baskets and large clay pots flush with begonias, ipomea, ivy, petunias, geraniums, New Guineau impatiens, bacopa, verbena. All, all a blaze of brilliant colour, a burst of lush growth and perfect form.

We enter the ravine with the expectation that we'll not see anyone else rambling about in there. It's as though only we are aware that the forest is cool in comparison to the street scene above, out there. But the birds know, and everywhere we tramp we see robins busy practising their funny-walk alongside the trail. A hairy woodpecker is busy knocking fragments off a pine trunk. A whitethroat, good heavens, here again, so glad to hear its vibrant, trilling song again. The trees canopy us from the sun's fire, and the breeze, though muted still does its work cooling us despite the moisture-laden, over-heated air. Although hard on people and dogs, this combination does wonders for green growing things.

Dogwood bushes are in flower, as are the ground dogwood (bunchberry). As we dip into the ravine, the creek burbling below, we can still see the outgrown trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits, foamflower and Solomon's seal. What's new is the flowering of mauve-pink clover, purple cow vetch and white/yellow daisies, buttercups and blackberries, and oh yes, bedding grasses, with their white, starry little heads. Their scent is almost overpowering in its sweet fragrance; little wonder these grasses were used to stuff mattresses in earlier days. Fleabane is in flower with its tiny pink daisy-like heads, and bright orange hawkweed, whose presence signals the ripening of wild strawberries.

Because it is so hot, so humid, our little dogs lag behind, tongues lolling, panting in our wake. Not that we're proceeding in great haste, not by any means. We take the rises slowly and surely and whenever we see that Riley, our aggressive little toy lags too far behind, we call out a bright "bye-bye" and he races quickly to catch up. Or Button, our black female (ten years old, oh Button!) sees a squirrel rustling in the underbrush, and races along in a half-hearted attempt to catch up will cause Riley to suddenly switch on high gear and jog determinedly alongside her. Cresting the penultimate hill in our circuit we come abreast of one of the many large old pines in this forest. Because we so often see them in this tree, we look up into its thick twisted branches and sure enough, there is a raccoon family. Mother sitting really high in the uppermost branches, and two young ones opposite one another in the crook of lower branches, their bandit little faces turned toward us, bodies splayed on the branches, heat-exhausted like the rest of us.

It's early for this kind of treat. Usually we experience the dawgdays of summer in late July, early August, don't we? Here we are, not even half-way through the month of June and we're wilting. Still, it's not all that bad, truth to tell. Whether in the ravine slipping into its valleys, rising through its many hills, meandering the meadows, or in our garden relishing the kaleidoscope of colour and form, it's good to be alive.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Childbirth; a breeze. As in nothing to it. I'm a physically small woman, almost slightly built. We were visiting my husband's grandparents who were in the process of selling their home. A young Italian couple was looking at the house and we somehow began talking. They couldn't believe we were married, Irving and I, as we both looked like little kids. Not only were we married, but I was pregnant and the man in particular looked me over with the most incredulous look on his face. Turning to his wife, he said, shaking his head with disbelief, that it just wasn't possible, I hadn't the bodily width to conceive, much less deliver. We were both 22 then, and of course heard all manner of horror stories about difficult pregnancies, dreadful birth experiences. None of which fazed me, as I felt that giving birth was the most natural thing in the world, and we'd just do it. We did, and experienced no problems whatever.

He was, for my size, a big baby, just over 7 pounds, and we were incredibly excited, so happy. My husband took a week off work in holiday time and we managed, together, to acquaint ourselves with the little stranger in our midst. He was as adept as I in changing diapers, burping, bathing, but only I was able to breastfeed our child. Like everything else we did in our long married life, we did this together, both of us in perfect concert. Our baby thrived, and so did we, watching him grow, become aware, react. Everything our baby did was a matter of delight and exploration. This baby grew happily and contentedly. When, one and a half years later, a little sister came along, our little boy used to take his favourite stuffed toy and breast feed it while I fed his baby sister. Another year and a half, and our little boy had a baby brother. He took it all in stride. He was a placid child, curious about the world about him but also cautious, despite his penchant for exploration.

When he was nine or ten years old, he somehow became fascinated with Astronomy. Aside from taking our children, as they grew, to area parks and conservation areas around Toronto, we also took them to the Royal Ontario Museum, and of course, to the Ontario Science Centre among many other places. It was the new Planetarium that inspired our little boy's interest in Astronomy and he soon became a member of the Ontario Branch of the Royal Astronomical Society. His father would take him downtown every Saturday to attend meetings and lectures and telescope-making workshops. We thought perhaps that that would be where his future would be. The large telescope we bought for him around that time sits, boxed, in our basement, so many years later.

When we moved to Ottawa, he was about thirteen. He and his sister were introduced to playing recorders in their school music class, and they both took to the instrument. Our son had been introduced to music in Toronto (we'd taken them on occasion to the O'Keefe Centre) and he lugged home from school an euphonium alternately with a viola. His interest in Astronomy waned as his interest in music waxed, and he began acquiring musical knowledge and sheet music and books as rapidly as he had formerly done with Astronomy. He took private lessons for viola, and for recorder, acquiring throughout the process his own instruments. Our house became a concert hall in practise, and we chauffered him about from one orchestral practise to another, one concert presentation to another.

When he became 16, he was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes, and our lives were turned upside-down for a while. Some of his friends visited him in hospital, bringing along their own musical instruments and impromptou concerts took place in the wards, children hanging off their beds wheeled out into the corridors so all could appreciate the music. The books he asked us to bring him while he was in hospital were history books, particularly those relating to the Middle Ages, and he devoured those books.

When he was 18 he decided that Ottawa wasn't able to offer him the kind of musical education he wanted, and he opted for the University of Toronto. We travelled to Montreal, hired a piano accompaniest, and he performed Vivaldi pieces for his entrance qualifications. He moved in with his grandmother in her Toronto apartment and attended U. of T. We spent a lot of time travelling between cities, missing him dreadfully. After three years in the Music Faculty, he decided to switch to Medieval History, so he changed campuses to the Centre for Medieval Studies. He's still there, but he's now 45.

He had the great good fortune to meet a young woman, some 16 years ago, whose interests, talents and intelligence, values and concerns echoed his own as closely as could be possible. She too studied early history. She too played a variety of musical instruments. She too had an enquiring mind. Fact is, we were dazzled by the breadth and depth of her intelligence and interests, and felt he was fortunate beyond belief. With some friends they began a music group and played music of the Medieval era. They produced a few tapes, went to England to produce a CD, performed regularly in an old Toronto church, were invited to various venues to perform, throughout Canada and the U.S.

Our daughter-in-law is soon to become our daughter-in-law. They have lived together for some 16 years, it is true. But they are now also to be married, formally, although both eschew such social convention. It is necessary, however, as she will be ascending the pulpit shortly as an Anglican minister.

Isn't life strange?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Despondency of Dependency

In a country as wealthy and as socially progressive as Canada what could be more dispiriting than the news forever being reported in the media of the miserably stark conditions under which our Aboriginal communities live? Canadians are pained and guilty by the knowledge that Aboriginal children have an inordinately high rate of suicide, that they are driven by the conditions of their lives to so despise themselves that they willingly surrender their futures, their lives. Canadians feel shame and guilt at the fact that Aboriginal families live in sub-social conditions, that young women commonly walk the streets on hire, that young men are over-represented population-wise within the prison community.

Government after government, both Conservative and Liberal, have appeared to do their utmost to establish commissions of enquiry into these dreadful living conditions, circumstances and outcomes, and have sought to bring legislation to bear which might have the effect of turning things around. Nothing seems to work. The Canadian public has long become accustomed to hefty portions of government allocations going to Aboriginal communities for a variety of initiatives and projects, all designed to alleviate the living conditions of our Aboriginal communities.

Think of a family and among the children in the family there is one, or perhaps there might be two, whose genetic endowment predisposed them to socially- and personally-destructive activities like alcoholism or an inability to discipline themselves to learn how to live within society, to become personally responsible adults, capable of looking after their own interests, and interacting with others in their community in a communal manner. The parents in this family feel obligated to love and support their children regardless of the circumstances and to continue encouraging these children to find their rightful place in the order of things. The children continue to engage in activities destined to be their undoing, and the parents continue to despair. Whose fault is this?

Who can deny the fact that the North American Indian population was historically done ill by? That European settlers and their eventual governments took away from the existing populations all that they used for their existence in their native land. This historical fact can never be changed. It cannot, though, continue to be the basis of co-existence between the interlopers and the displaced. There is no good reason why the two groups, historically opposed, and continually at loggerheads, cannot live together in harmony.

Time changes all things, and while at one time it was feasible to live off an unspoiled landscape, we now live in another time and place and nothing can ever be as it once was. To willingly continue to languish and to sacrifice one's future and that of one's children is nothing short of insane. Handouts never made anyone self sufficient, they only ensured that dependency continued with all the frustrations and self-destructive impulses that result from a sentient being understanding that maturity has brought no plausible future, but rather a universal blight upon the community.

Aboriginal leaders must stop playing the old ancestral drum, and begin the slow and painful, and long overdue measures required to bring our Aboriginal communities into the community of communities, to take their rightful and long-due place as equals among equals. And that will never happen as long as the leaders enjoy their current unearned positions of trust within their communities, and see no need to pull their communities out of the cycle of dependency.

Why Marriage?

Why marriage, for heaven's sake, why marriage. Yet to question is to place oneself squarely in the ranks of the religious conservatives, and dammit, I'm not religious, nor am I conservative. Marriage if necessary, I feel, but not necessarily marriage.

We do, after all, know what the convention of marriage connotes. A secular, and a religious commitment between a man and a woman for the purpose of enjoying connubial relations, ostensibly for the purpose of begetting. Personally, we married, my husband and I because, when we were children, we wanted to be together, always, under any and all circumstances. To achieve that end we would have been happy to marry at an absurdly early age, but were persuaded to wait until we both became eighteen years of age. Still, we were male and female, gender counterparts, still children too young to vote, too young to drink, but of sound mind. Our idea at that time was to go away together and have a civil ceremony, much to the horror of our parents who managed to disabuse us of that very quaint notion.

I've always thought of my husband as being an iconoclast of modest proportions. Neither of us particularly conventional in nature, although nurture did its best not to embarass itself. We've always been accepting of the variations in human nature. And, since it is within human nature to rear alternate sexualities in contrast to what is considered to be 'normal', a disposition toward gayness or lesbianism never really bothered us as why should it? I never wanted to be smacked in the face by it, but then other peoples' 'normal' sexuality was to be kept out of my face, too. Private business, period.

You may have gathered that I'm less than thrilled, but not too bothered all the same, by this move toward the legalization of gay marriage in Canada. I can accept it, and will even support it, but with a bit of puzzlement. For, as far as I'm concerned, what on earth is the point? Other than the fact that it appears to me to be a bit of acting out, of demanding that which society at large would prefer to deny any whose habits go against the grain. Fair enough, I say, but for heaven's sake, grow up. Gays and lesbians have suffered at the hands of the smug majority who traditionally denied them social acceptability, who took offensive steps to demonize them, to deny them their place in a civilized community. It was ever thus, for in most societies (with some exceptions) the odd-one was out.

However, having finally gained acceptance after a long and miserable struggle, why not settle into place without these childish demands. To demand something simply because convention (or for any other no-good reason) denies it to one, is singularly doltish. Because, having gained acceptance and the tolerance one deserves, it is not really all that civil to continue lashing out and demanding complete and total capitulation from an often-grudging group who will simply, as a result, begin to assemble the exclusionary principles once again. Why embattle people who feel they have already surrendered as much as they can bear to?

If two people have established a sound, loving monogamous relationship, regardless of gender, why insist on advertising it to the world? Is this not a very personal thing? To be shared of course, with friends and families. In the instance of a mono-gender relationship of long standing why not accept a civil ceremony along with the fact that one's government has agreed that all rights which would normally accrue to a marriage such as is conventionally recognized would also accrue to them?

What, pray tell, is the point?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Wot! Climb Everest?

Not quite, but alpine camping nonetheless. I'd been in the car with our younger son, Jordan, his father driving our car behind, pulling the trailer with the old yellow whitewater canoe in Tennessee, driving up a fairly narrow, steep grade, when suddenly over the top of the hill, careering toward us, some madman, headed directly for Jody's Subaru stationwagon. Jordan took evasive action, so we weren't hit head on, just grazed and dazed. His father's response? To immediately turn our car to pursue the idiot, forgetting all about the trailer, which handily jack-knifed. That was then; now, years later, same car, some older, chugging along a steep, rocky logging road in British Columbia. Chugging slowly along - until the courageous old car could go no further. We hoisted all our gear and began backpacking it up the narrow road, the sun beating relentlessly down on our hatted heads. What a combination; heat, weight and ascending height.

Sure enough, we'd done our share of mountain climbing (not the cleat-and-rope type) when the children were younger. We'd take regular climbing holidays in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and we all loved the Presidential Range, determined to get in as many climbs as possible year after year. This was somewhat different. This was, after all, British Columbia where climbing in the vast wilderness took on a different aspect altogether. After driving out from Vancouver we pitched a tent that night at Lizzie Lake, and left early for our continued drive, then our initial ascent. Pearl-everlasting sided the logging road, and shrill little picas scampered into the brush siding the road as we clambered, bushed even before reaching the trailhead.

Once into the dense forested area we speedily reached the trailhead and began our ascent in earnest. I marvelled at times that Jody was able to discern where the hell the trail was, truth to tell. Narrow, socked in on either side by lodgepole pine and rocks we scrambled, did we ever, all the more so when the trail became steeper and steeper yet. I wondered how the hell we'd ever manage to get back down again. The trail seemed so elusive and eroded at times, stones and dirt shifting, falling under our feet it seemed to me that it might somehow disappear entirely before we descended. At times the trail wound steeply around the mountain side, necessitating that we hug any available trees or rocks to keep from propelling off the mountain, yet at times the height of the back-pack threatened to push off on its own, taking us with it. Or so I imagined. That close-to-the-edge feeling reminded me of a climb we'd taken with the Friends of the Earth Club in Japan many years previously, on one of our many climbs when I thought then too that one false step and it would be game over.

Jordan had been on this trail with friends on an earlier occasion and knew what to expect, telling us the landmarks we'd come across, and encouraging us to persevere. His father needed no such encouragement, his mother certainly did.

When we finally reached the Gates of Shangri-la (a rockfall of tremendous proportions, creating a valley of huge, tumbled rocks over which we had to edge and manoeuvre ourselves) I was reminded of one of the most miserable trails we'd even taken in New Hampshire, called the Ice Gulch, where we also clambered over piles of rocks, although they were not as large and we were in a gulch, clambering horizontally, not perpendicularly. We persevered there too, and finally came out on a sloping mountain meadow, climbing steadily through tall grasses until we reached a fair-sized hut. Inside was an iron stove and chairs; upstairs bunks. A visitors' diary revealed the most-noted aspect of their stay-overs for visitors to have been a persistent pack-rat who was here, there and everywhere, accused of purloining many small, bright, indispensible items, their loss mourned by previous owners.

After a short rest we continued up the mountain side and soon left the 'meadow' far behind, beneath us. I was experiencing real difficulties by then, finding my legs feeling like lead, my breath hard to gasp and my chest tight with the effort. But we climbed, and we climbed. Jordan kept up his encouraging patter, telling us it wasn't too far to the place where we would set up camp. Finally, we pulled ourselves up over a kind of ledge, fording what appeared to be a creek dumping into a waterfall to the side. I looked sideways and yelped: "eek! a bear!" at the furry creature peering curiously at these silly ascending beings. "Oops, Ma, relax, it's a marmot" said my young son, the doctoral candidate in biology.

As we rose we'd reached an alpine lake, its wonderfully blue, clear and cool water spread out in the rock declivity, and at the far end, a large white, roaring icefall, dripping endlessly in the day-time August heat. I felt I could go no further. It's wonderful, though, what a little rest and encouragement can do to get one going, and on we climbed to an area on the mountainside which Jordan deemed sufficiently 'shelf'-like to pitch tent. And so we did. Ever rest in a sleeping bag on an incline? It's a challenge. Bigger challenge for me was to scamble down the mountain side to scoop up water to cook and wash in, and hauling it back up to the camp. Good thing I didn't have to do it too often, since Jody usually obliged. And Dad was the cook. After all, he'd been taking it upon himself to be the chief cook and bottle washer during each and every canoe camping trip we'd ever taken; this time was no different. I was freed from all domestic-type chores. And I appreciated it no end. From where we were camped we were able to see the mountain tops directly across and Jordan told us that we were looking at mountains in the Stein Valley and he planned to do trips there eventually. After all, he was living in Vancouver and all this vast, frightening beauty was his to experience at leisure.

Good weather the following days, and I wore shorts and sleeveless tops, as we did a few day-trips up Long Peak. We'd come across small alpine lakes, as blue and beautiful as the large one below our camp. We picked our way up one trail after another, clambering over huge rocks, seeing vast panoramas spread out before us. We came alongside another large glacier, this one pink in the distance, and close up we recognized pink lichens growing on top of the slowly rotting, dripping ice. There were alpine plants, and stunted trees, and everywhere we looked it seemed as though we'd been dropped into an unfamiliar, fascinating world, a world we had the greatest respect for, as alien visitors. At one juncture we sat atop a slender summit, a rather worrisome seating arrangement for a 58-year-old, moderately adventuresome female who couldn't help cautioning her husband and son on the precariousness of our position. As Jordan sat on his aerie, cheerily biting into an apple (his father snapped that shot and it sits on a desk in our family room) we looked skyward at thunderheads in the distance, and could soon hear them advertising their intent. And so began our descent as we attempted to short-distance ourselves down to our camp, making it just before the heaviest of the rain dumped. And dumped, and dumped. Hey, just another experience atop a mountain. The tent maintained its integrity, although the thunderclaps had me worrying whether the giant claps themselves might deflate the tent and haul it off the mountainside.

Who needs Everest?

Hey, today is our 50th wedding anniversary. But that's fodder for another time, right?

Friday, June 03, 2005

These Your Kids?

Yesterday morning as we headed down the first long hill into the ravine for our usual ramble, we saw a tree across the path leading to the left. It isn't that unusual to see trees fallen across any of the trails, since age and the weather conspire to cull the forest from time to time. This, though, was a lovely 30-ft tall, very bristly-green fir. Didn't take long to ascertain cause: axe marks four feet up the trunk. From time to time we see things like this in the ravine. Usually such incidents correspond with high-school kids freed for the summer, and already bored out of their skulls. Strange that anyone could equate chopping down a tree with any kind of thrill, but then you never know.

A few weeks earlier, on the last quarter of our hour-long loop we came across the charred remains of a bonfire just over the last of the bridges fording the creek. Strewn around the burned logs was further evidence of a really fun evening. Fast-food bags and beer bottles. None of the bottles were intact, as all had been tossed into the creek with the obvious intent of targeting logs and rocks, and we could see the predictable results. When our little black dog Button was a few years old we used to let her run about to her heart's content in the creek on hot summer days. That's how she got one of her back legs cut badly enough that it required an emergency visit to the veterinarian. We warn other dog walkers but they have big Labrador Retrievers and Golden Labs and German Shepherds and those dogs just cannot be persuaded not to have a good time in the cool creek on hot days, other than being leashed and having their freedom completely curtailed.

A few years back a very rough shelter was put up, hidden in the wealth of trees, obviously put up by teen-agers looking for some privacy. Because they love the woods? I guess not. No one is ignorant of the odour of pot and that's where they felt secure enough to dabble, dibble and puff. And so what? Well, how about this: last year the younger children on our street erected a wooden shelter with discarded wood (from one of the children's father's shed-building efforts) and about four boys were proud to call it their hideaway. Not that secret that they didn't want to show it to us. Although it had no roof, it had a door. A birdhouse that one of the boys made at school hung from an overhanging tree branch. It's no longer intact, and when I asked the boys why, they said that teen-agers had destroyed it. Pity.

This ravine is a truly priceless place, beloved by most people who walk its trails, and whose companion dogs look forward to daily ambles. So, it's with a bit of sourness that we see some kids have been busy with their parents' long-handled shovels and spades, digging up the heavy clay on the trails and depositing it carefully in the centre of trails to form ramps. Takes some determination to dig up the heavy clay on these well-trodden trails, let me tell you. But what fun it is for these egotistical little slobs to race their bicycles down the hillsides over these ramps. How irritating it is, if not downright dangerous in the frozen winter months for hikers to negotiate these ramp-hills and depressions. When we can, we try to restore the integrity of the trails.

Can't help but wonder what the parents of these children were teaching them in their formative years. Respect for public property? Sound values? Ethical behaviour? Did it all fall on deaf, bored ears, or did these parents forget about the need? What a busy world we live in. Too busy to ask what's going on, kids? Why're you taking the axe into the woods? How about those shovels...what do you need them for, huh?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wotta Nice Day

It really has been an extraordinarily nice day for us. After breakfast, a romp in the ravine with our little dogs. I've been feeding our toy poodle too much, it seems; he dawdles and backs us right up on our walks. We've taken of late to letting him off the leash and just urging him on. The miniature poodle is different, she trots on before us very nicely and only hangs back when there's a special occasion for her, something really tempting, like a ripe old turd or a poor dead animal - in which she thinks she can roll to her heart's content. But we've got her number, catch her intent and let her know there'll be no such display of indifference to our distaste for washing offal of any kind off her curly black coat.

The trilliums are just about finished, their flowers fast fading. But the foamflowers are up, as are the bunchberry flowers, the strawberries, and now even ground blackberries. There are lots of jack-in-the-pulpits raising their shy purple-green striped hoods, and false Solomon's Seal as well. We're delighted to see the occasional bluejay. We used to see them so often, but now see them only in spring or fall, in these parts now. The robins appear to prefer the woods, rather than peoples' lawns, and who can blame them, considering the herbicides and pesticides being used so commonly now, as though a pristine lawn is the heart's desire of every idiot on the block.

Later, we head out for our local community centre because we want to pick up their brochures for summer daycamps for kids. We have to do a detour through the library because of construction ongoing at the community centre, and we're thrilled that we did. For there's a book sale going on, and how would we have known otherwise? Alas, we no longer attend the library as we did formerly, since we now own so many books, lining our personal library walls, all of which we aspire to read, and do our best to achieve that aspiration. But a book sale, good heavens, let us in. We load the dogs into their shoulder bags and haul them with us, while we look through the offerings. They behave wonderfully well, after their walk, and people hardly notice them slung over our shoulders. Except that Riley reacts rather enthusiastically if someone does notice him, and would, if permitted, launch himself into any admirer's arms as though to declaim "take me, I'm yours"! But, the books, would you believe it? hardbacks, four for one dollar, and softbacks, ten for one dollar. Most of these books are in excellent condition, some of them de-acquisitioned from the library shelves, others donated for the sale. The books represent the classics, biographies, history books, novels of every description. We pick up a nice book for our granddaughter, on Louis Pasteur, and for us, just about as many books as we can possibly carry, crammed into double re-used plastic bags.

Where to now? Should go back home, but my wonderful husband had suggested earlier in the morning that we drop by a local greenhouse and nursery and that's just what we end up doing. It's a bit of a drive, isolated between a country stretch and the Ottawa River. Too hot to stay there long, but we've taken water with for our little dogs, and we take the time to look at the annuals, perennials and unusual plants of all types. We get a white-and-green-striped Heuchera, a big-leafed yellow-tinged Hosta, a Stella d'Oro Lily, a stone-crop red-tinged groundcover (for the rock garden), a Bellflower, a Digitalis, and a flat of Zinnias (even though I've sown Zinnia seeds; these have had a month's head start and will begin blooming before long).

At home, I go across the street to speak for a little while with a coffee-clache of neighbour women, while my husband makes himself another pot of coffee. Then I begin weeding the garden a bit, figuring out where I want to plant these new offerings. Irving brings his coffee outside and sits on the stone bench in front of the big pine, while the dogs pant their way to some shade and I begin, slowly, to plant. A hole, some bloodmeal, water, then insert the new plant, taking care to give shade to the Hosta, and sun or partial sun to the others. Irving ambles down to the bus stop and comes back with Angelyne. Mohinder comes down the street and he and Irving chat, while I go in with Angelyne to prepare her after-school snack. A bowl of blueberries, a glass of chocolate milk, and one of the little pizzas we'd baked for her on Saturday night. A popsicle of her choice to bring outside, and back out to continue planting.

Despite a few tentative little raindrops, nothing more develops, so our plans for a steak dinner done on the barbecue are right on cue, so to speak. A nice big fresh salad to go with it, baked potato for Irving. After dinner he goes out to chat with some neighbours. I also go out, intending to drop by the last two houses to finish up the CNIB canvass, but stop to speak with a neighbour who said she planted the seeds I'd given her (from last year's garden), and I ask if she'd like some plants I could divide. I give her a small piece of Hosta I'd divided earlier, tell her in a day or so I'll give her a divided Bergenia, some Lilies, and more Hostas. I love Hostas!

Nice day, isn't that a nice day? For heaven's sake, our daughter Karen even called to apologize for her ill humour when she picked Angelyne up, after work. She was grumbling about the old beater she was driving, a courtesy car given her by the garage performing tune-up work on her Honda SUV - they'd ordered the wrong parts and need another day. She's had a difficult time of it lately; one of her dogs had been ill, and needed, she felt, a veterinarian's care, and since it happened to be a holiday Monday, she had to use the emergency veterinarian service, and the entire thing cost her a hefty $670. Then she had to get heartworm medication for all seven of her dogs and that's another $400. Now the car repair was not the $1,200 she had anticipated but $2,200 instead. She had been out of work for four months during the winter, and that had eaten up her savings. Employment Insurance Commission had 'lost' her file, and despite her having contacted them repeatedly only to have them assure her everything was fine, it was only once she had another contract and returned to work that they informed her that her file had been lost and she had to refile her claim. No wonder she's a little off colour.

But didn't we have a grand day?

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