Feelin’ Fine 🌻

When staying small becomes way too big to handle…

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It has been two years since I started on Lithium Bicarbonate for my mental illness: Bipolar 1.  If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.

Well, it has done just that.  I am larger now than I was when I was eight months pregnant.  I have gone up in size from a 4 to a 14.  Gasp!

Yes. Just, Gasp.

My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares.  So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine?

Confused yet?

Well, I have changed folks.

It started when I hit rock bottom this time two years ago.  I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die.  I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand.  All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand.  I have the best husband in the world.  If you had seen me then you would not recognize me.  I was barely able to look up.  I was debilitated.  The stress in my low back was like a knife jabbing me.  Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied.  I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days.  I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry.  That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.

This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.

Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.

img_1594
By my amazing sister Eva*

 

This has not been an instantaneous transformation.  It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking.  I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio.  These people have helped me immeasurably.  As has my husband of twenty-five years.  He is truly my best, most supportive friend.

It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees.  From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal).  I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.

Scan10100

I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small.  I eat when hungry, whatever I want.  I drink when thirsty.  I move when it strikes my fancy to do so.  No schedule.  No goals.  No competitive work-out sessions.  No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for.  No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness.  It was like going to a Fat Farm for me.  Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).

dancer on the fallen tree

I look back on my previous life and shake my head.  But it is all part of my path.

And, who cares if I am not small in size.  I am still ME.

My being is still here.  My me-ness.

You know me?  That person who loves an adventure;

a good doubling-over belly laugh;

a deep talk solving the problems of the world, including what to do with your hair;

a great beach walk or rainy-day stroll;

a carefree dance around the living room or in a random cafe to some good eighties tunes,

a pint and a good cry????

That person is still here and that person is doing okay.  She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.

prospect-handstand

One last one for the memory bank.  My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’

Right on Buddy.  Gotta love kids.

+++++++

I would love your comments…

(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)

The Case of the Shit-Breath 🐺

A Magnum P.E.I Mystery

Lady Jane is our ten-year old black shepherd mixed-breed dog that we rescued when she was ten-months old thanks to an ad that Dean saw on Kijiji (which is like ‘Craig’s List’).  He fell in love with her picture instantly and asked me could we go see her.  By then, our two big Northern dogs had passed away, each in their thirteenth year and buried in our back yard with collars hanging from an overhanging limb.  They had been good dogs but, sadly, their day was done.

Normally I would have jumped at getting a new dog but at that time, I was feeling pretty over-worked with the house, the yard, the business and the various students we would take in for months at a time.

I would hear other moms saying that the dog care always came down to them.  That’s how I perceived it.  It was me who worried about them.  Me who made sure they were walked, or who got after Leo or Dean to walk them.  They had been a lot of work that I felt relieved to be rid of.  However, the look on Dean’s face after seeing the picture of that black tapered snout and high, pointy ears.  Well, I could not disappoint. (That’s how he used to look at me, I realized).  I told him I would go see the dog but, ‘no promises,’ I said.

Lady Jane on hike
Go?  Let’s Go.  D’wanna Go?

She was gorgeous.  Dean couldn’t stop patting her and saying sweet nothings in her direction.  I said we needed to give it a tiny bit of thought.  What I actually wanted was Dean to promise to take a more active interest in her.

So the sales pitch began by Dean: ‘I promise I’ll do it ALL for this one!’ he pleaded.

Next we went to the Farmer’s Market and met up with a friend from across town.  Dean told Wayne all about the dog we had just looked at.  Wayne wondered what there was to think about.  I chimed in that having a dog again could be rather inconvenient.  Wayne says, without skipping a beat:

‘The best things in life are inconvenient.’

We looked at him.  We nodded.  We turned and went to get our new dog.  That was nine years ago.

Lady Jane, 2 years old
Lady Jane, 2 years old

Besides running off several times as an adolescent, sometimes being nasty when meeting other dogs while on leash, and an awful patch of killing chickens that nearly cost me a dear friend, she has been the best dog ever.  She has never been sick.  She rarely makes a mess.  She doesn’t steal food.  She doesn’t chew and she doesn’t over bark.  Get this: she bites her nails.  We have NEVER cut her nails, and they are fine.  Of an evening, we will hear her surreptitiously biting them while laying on her mat.

But lately…there had been this mystery of the shit-breath that we could not figure out.  And when I say shit-breath, well, that’s an understatement.  I would have to roll all the windows down if it happened while out in the car and spray lavender water at her.  And it would seemingly come from nowhere.

I decided to take a good look in her mouth.  Perhaps it was an abscess?  What I thought I saw in there, and it wasn’t easy to keep Lady’s jaws wide open, was a broken top molar-type tooth at the back.

Off to the vet we go and wow, were we impressed with this vet who was as high-energy as a boarder collie.  She got right down on the floor with Lady and really checked her out well, while asking us various questions.  She told us that Lady was in fabulous shape.  Great teeth.  Good pulse.  Good eyes – no cataracts.  She asked us what we fed her.  Our answer: kibble and plenty of table scraps like meat, potato, cheese, carrots.  Fresh water with a bit of organic apple cider vinegar (which instantly pretty much cured some piddling that was occurring after a run).  She asked about vaccinations.  We don’t do them, we said.  We do get her seasonal tick and flea treatment though.  (The thought of a dog being crazed by itchiness saddens me).

Then she asked about when the shit-breath occurs, because at that moment, it wasn’t there.  We said it’s odd.  It just happens seemingly out of the blue and lasts for a few hours.

‘Ahh’, she said.

‘Ahh?’  we asked.

‘Has she ever had trouble with blocked anal glands?’

‘Yes.  We would sometimes see her scooting.’  And I knew from reading James Herriot in my teens, that scooting was a sign of blocked anal glands and that what would come next would be REALLY gross.  And, by the way, what the hell are anal glands good for?

The vet took a look (with gloves on) and sure enough.  Blocked anal glands.  She explained that Lady would be licking at them to release the blockage.  At this point we almost hurled, but, held it together while the Vet squeezed them for a few minutes to drain them…I’m almost sick as I write this.  Just a sec…

Mounds of grey gunk came out on her paper towel.  She showed it to me while I turned green.

‘Lady should be fine now.’

Lady?  I’m pretty sure she meant we.  We should be fine now.

Mystery solved.

I know I'm pretty. Ho Hum
Don’t hate me for being beautiful

Sister Sanibel 🐚

This poem is by my little brother and is based mainly on our shared memory of a day on an idyllic shell beach in Florida, when we were teens.

Smell of fresh coffee

Ephemeral dawn
Birds of all colours chirping a tropical song
Fresh fruit on the front lawn
The juice of the juiciest grapefruit
On our tongues
Scent of jasmine and palm dates
Oh, blessed turquoise sea you have melted
our cold northern souls once more

PLOVER

Our Florida fortnight held real adventure
You were everything to us
Finally winter brain washed clean
Feeling of warm sun on warm water days
Swim strong under glorious rays

Fresh fruit, date palms, blooming flowers, sand and warm sun
The world the way it should be
We got rolling early
Along lands of the ethereal Apalachee

We felt infinite explorations of Ponce De Leon
He was pure adventureman
Seize the day down from contrived, cold Orange mountain
We acted on salubrious ways
Real 20th century cult of youth fountain
Running young and under an equatorial sun
Digital craze foreign to our eyes and ears

SHELLS

We rolled along coastal roadways
Simple objective no one needed to sell
To find a shell beach called the Sanibel
We stood humbled by Seno Mexicano
As we thought of golden dreams
That time America right, happy with inner peace
Oh, nation of the free wake again to your divinity

SHELL

Collecting tiny shells as sun kissed us
By a mouth swiftly flowing freshwater river
Do you still see the eternal confluence my sister?
La Florida you return Hope once more
Dynamic, proud Sister Sanibel with a solution
You a quaint 5 foot something with a 7 foot constitution

As warm air blanketed us for a fortnight in feelings of glee
Our new converse on
Sister Sanibel on the foul line swishing and swishing
Along a coast played out tragedies of fate
This flare to travel made a forefather desire
Could they rub out the spirit of Calusa and Karankawa?

Sunshine State I feel you on the air tonight
10,000 miles from your shores
You return to me on warm Andaman breeze
Across a troubled world of such need
In an ancient land of graceful Buddha, spicy smiles of honesty
I thank La Florida and the Mexico inland sea
White powder sand of mystery
Our internal buoyancy
Sister Sanibel and me

meditate on beach

~Written by Luke Player*

May 2018

*Pseudonym. For Full Name of Author, please email: playinwiththeplayers@gmail.com

My much less eloquent story here: Fort Myers Memories (age 16) 🌴

Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋

A Friday night visit to the video store ends in mortifaction…

I originally posted this a year ago but am re-posting because this story takes place in my wee town’s video store.  Said video store has since been closed and re-opened under a new name by one of the original, amazingly talented employees.  It then moved twice and now, several years later, it is about to close for good.  It seems there is no longer a market for videos and DVDs, no matter the incredible collection.  I was saddened to read this story in our local paper and then to hear the owner speaking on CBC Radio about her ideas and aspirations for the future.  So, this re-post is a tribute to our closing video store.

***

When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes  and netflix.  For entertainment, we would go downtown to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called L&S Video.  L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.

video-store

So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed.  It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.

Nick was working that night and he was en forme .  We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies.  I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy?  And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly.  Nick was amazing.  He knew all the movies, plot lines, actors.  It was as if he worked there or something.

At some early point in the better-part-of-an hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm.  My lips had been pretty dry and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on.  Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good.  I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure.  My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling.  I loved it.

I stood up with my selection: I, Robot.  (I LOVE Will Smith).  I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though.  There were so many friends to talk to and banter with.  As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong.  I was getting some looks and double takes.  Hmm.  Strange.  Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night.  I was wearing my new jacket and my hair.  Well, it was a good hair day.  That must be it.  So, I stayed a bit longer.  It was busy in there.  I was on fire!

At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face.  I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.

Off I drove home.  Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.

AND

THEN

I

SAW

MY

LIPS

THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS.  Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake.  I had used my dark brown-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.  Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the dark lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips.  Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.

‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me????’ I shouted at him.

Pause, muffled chuckling.

‘I thought you were trying something new,’ he said.

EXTREME MORTIFICATION ensued.

twirl

(Credit for this photo goes to the ever talented T.M.B. Renaissance Axe Woman )

The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔, Part 2

Lightning crashes a new mother cries
Her placenta falls to the floor
The angel opens her eyes
The confusion sets in
Before the doctor can even close the door
~Live

Continued from The Loss of Dane, Part 1

Warning…this part is graphic…

 

The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — or practice contractions that prepare the womb to deliver in the future.  I had had experienced them with Leo’s pregnancy.  I knew that this was NOT that.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called from three provinces to the west and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.

The next day, I found blood on my underwear.

“DEAN!’ I screamed.

“WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL !!”

The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends whom we had known for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together.  We knew each other very well.

I did not want our little Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up.

It would not conclude that which it should be concluding.

Nor did the Radiologist then tell me that which he should have told me.  Thinking back to the exhausted state I was in with very little sleep over the past two days, I remember that I glanced at his face and he just looked at me, then away.  He didn’t explain anything.  (Later, he apologized for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, I was touched that they were here for this. Here for us.

I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.

Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back, as my johnny coat was open and allowed it.  It felt like heaven. At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop. They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed. I pushed again.  One more time…

 

Then,

I

looked

down.

Dear God,

there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.

“What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.  My red, sweaty face a question.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something of size came out.

It was not tubes.

It was Dane.

It was not tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of it perfectly.

Little eyes never to open.

Tiny hands never to hold.

I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision streaming down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking. Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good woman.  A good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby (which was stupid since my body had already made Leo).

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last years, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.

It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.

I wonder about the lesson in this loss.

Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings? I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this:

I love that little soul

that was in that little body

that I held in my womb

and then in my hand.

I wish for him to be forever at peace.

 

highway

 

Please consider leaving a message and telling of your loss.

(Thanks Google images and creative commons licence for the pics).

Let the Games Begin ~ Part 3 🐭🐱

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge.  One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones.  Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June.  One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce.  It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it.  I’ll never forget it because I ate most of it so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings.  Years later we broke it to her that it was awful.  By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say:  Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?

Hedgeman

The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark.  It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty.  Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me.  I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.

One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room.  Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.

He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock.  He had me there.  I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.

woodstock

Hedgeman was irate.

How could I not know about Woodstock?

He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history.  He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing.  He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.

Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it.  Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man.  I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of.  I was eight.  I may have mentioned that.

One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement.  Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us.  Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed.  Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us.  He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.

He walked into Amy’s basement room.  She was fast asleep.  However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed.  He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman.  It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill.  Dad called the police and told them, “There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”

One time, Mark and Job had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I.  It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house.  The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.

Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholicand a professional.  The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street.  I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying fully down of the grass.

At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break.  At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home.  I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.

Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.

I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that.  Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away.  Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.

To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family.  It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings.  We counted on each other to get through tough times.  We cried, we sang and we laughed.  We laughed a lot.

Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them.  Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.

 

(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)

 

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Let the Games Begin ~ Part 2 🍭

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
~Cat Stevens

Continued from Let the Games Begin Part 1

The MacNeils Next Door

We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Walden, Ontario on Hallowe’en day of 1970.  An auspicious day.  I was four years old and extremely excited!  Our next door neighbours, The MacNeils, were a big family of eleven and Ben McNeil was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door.  And buddies we were.  Within seconds of arriving Ben and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow.  I was gonna like it in this house.

From that moment, Ben and I spent almost every waking minute together.  We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek.  Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeils’ huge back yard.  One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet.  We played it non-stop for days.

In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house.  It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight-story apartment building that we imaginatively called: ‘the apartments’.  Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path.  At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.

sliding

We always had lots of fun and thrills.  Afterward we usually had hot-chocolate at our house, the kind made with milk, and Mom would put a marshmallow in it.  Pure bliss.

The MacNeils lived in a mansion of a home.  They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured.  Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen.  We would often do our homework at that table.  I would marvel at how neatly Ben did his assignments.  I aspired to be just like him.

There was also a piano in there.  We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine.  He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together.  He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.

Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs McNeil wasn’t aware, even in the Attic.  There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere.  Ben’s room had a secret room inside his closet.  We spent hours in there.  Their house was so much fun!  During one game, we looked high and low for teen-aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark.  No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found.  Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room.  There he was.  I could never understand how he had managed to get up there.  I was impressed.  Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun!  We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time.  We would hear Dr. McNeil shout:  ‘It’s time for the Players to go home!”  We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.

The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals.  At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard.  They were hidden.  The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or shredded wheat.  Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.

After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then CornFlakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2%. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder (blek!) which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk.  When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream.  That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim.  When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.

Mom bought groceries on a tight budget.  We had simple but good meals.  Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert.  Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us.  Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!

At least once per week, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought.   We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable.  All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot.  The rest was left to the imagination.  One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 8 o’clock that night.

Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table, sometimes pounding the table with his fists – an indication of his hunger.

We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, ‘Mom, while you’re up, can you grab me a glass of water?’

Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers.  We would all laugh.  Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk.  Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:

I HAD NO BREAKFAST, A LOUSY LUNCH AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A DINNER!

The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon.  (It wasn’t until some years later, when I was living alone with Dad and doing the grocery shopping, that I found out that anyone, not just the MacNeils, could have their groceries delivered from IGA).  Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door.  I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life.  They even had a freezer full of popsicles and fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.

In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out.  Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find.  Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it!  Then we’d really get upset to think of the best food being lost in the house somewhere.  Mom would say something like, I must be nertz!  I now understand that Mom likely pretended that she didn’t know where it was, just to get us to stop.

At Christmas time we had special food in the house.  We always got a crate of tangerines.  They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper.  Mom would keep the carton under the couch.  She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff.  We would also have a pound of real butter.  Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner.  Wow it was good compared to the bright yellowish margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper and could have blocked the arteries of a racehorse.

charlie brown

Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida.  Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree.  I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that.  We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays.  Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard.  Often the door was locked and we were forced to stay outside and make our own fun for two hours or so.

There were always so many kids roaming around, it was easy to find something fun to do — climbing the snowbanks, rolling or sliding down hills, making a snowman or a snowcave.  In all those years though, I can not remember one adult being outside with us to play.  We were completely unsupervised and it was only if we were bleeding that we would venture home to Mom who would take us in her arms and help us with our troubles.

Continued at Let The Games Begin Part 3

Final Frontier Running (age 29) 👟❄️

‘Nobody puts Baby in the Corner’
~Johnny, Dirty Dancing

While living above the Arctic Circle in the town of Inuvik for a couple of years in the 90s, I got into running.  Yes, running above the Arctic Circle folks.  No corner.  No Baby.  (Not that I’m Baby or anything.)

Dean and I were living in a huge apartment above a Skidoo store (what else would it be?) and we were both working full time: Dean as a Director at the local college and myself as Manager of the medical clinic.  We were out to work by 8:30 each morning, walked home for lunch, and then finished at 6 every evening.  There was very little physical exertion in our days of mostly sitting.

Soon, new friends Mitsy and Byron moved to town and they were into running in a big way.  The way they talked about it, it got me intrigued to possibly start again.  I hadn’t run for a few years.

My first time out, I ran for ten minutes only.  I gradually increased my time.  Before long, I was running 10Ks, except during the very darkest winter months.  The month of December was basically twenty-four hour darkness.  Hibernation or vacation time.

Our first Christmas up there, we flew down to Vancouver and rented a car.  We went to visit my brothers Job and Mark in Sooke, took a peek at Royal Roads Military College (yep, the peacocks were still there, and still distinctly smelly and noisy), tried to have a plate of nachos at the Six Mile Pub (‘Sorry we don’t do them during supper anymore’  I nearly cried at this) and then drove all the way down to Los Angeles over the next two days.  There, we stayed in a small hotel in Hollywood.  So, from the quiet dirt roads of Inuvik to a dozen lanes of traffic on a jammed freeway. Extreme.

We walked around Rodeo Drive, saw the stars in the sidewalk, did some window shopping and from there drove through the desert to Palm Springs.  Circling back through Ojai, we stayed a night with our runner friends Mitsy and Byron.  We had a fun supper with them and marveled at the citrus trees in the backyard, and then we were off north.  First to San Francisco, then to a little town just north of there where we enjoyed walking on the beach in December.  Next, off north again to Vancouver where we stayed in a nice room for New Year’s Eve.  We walked around downtown a bit, then back to our room to watch an in-house movie while lying in a very comfortable bed, feeling like a million bucks.  We then flew back to Inuvik where reality struck hard.  Vacation over.

Inuvik/ Tuk Iceroad
Canadian Geographic

To exercise the dogs, we would get on our snowmobile and drive on the ice-road toward Tuktoyaktuk.  Every year, to facilitate travel and transport of goods from Inuvik and points south, the 150 kms to Tuk, the Territory would build an ‘ice-road’ on the frozen MacKenzie River.  In the most basic sense, it was the plowing of snow to build guard rails and delineate the pure ice roadway.  The scary thing about the ice-road, which was completely dramatic and beautiful, was that if you ever got into a spin out there, it would be a toss up as to which way you had been driving.  It looked exactly alike on both sides of the road – stunted, drunken trees so it was just a guess unless you were smart and traveled with a compass.  Anyway, the dogs would run, full tilt, beside our skidoo for a few kms and back.  They loved it.  Happy lolling tongues the whole way.

Soon enough, there began to be a bit of daylight and then a full twelve hours by March, we would be out running almost daily.  Granted, it was still cold, and it would take about ten minutes to get dressed for the run with layers and layers of athletic Lycra and polypropylene and wool toque and neoprene balaclava, wool mitts and socks, then trail runners.  We would always figure one layer on our legs for each ten degrees below zero and then one extra layer up top.

Next, a drink of water and slathering of exposed skin with Vaseline, leash the dogs and hook them to the coupler and off we’d go.  There were almost no music-playing  devices back then, so, the only real sound would be the funny random noises of the huge ravens, sometimes clucking, gurgling, popping or cawing, depending on their mood or message to be conveyed, and there was our own breathing and foot falls, of course.

raven in flight

We would often do a loop around Inuvik that was about 10K.  It would go along the back road and then a right turn and a gradual hill and we would be on this spectacular ring road.  It was the final frontier, – so, running along it, one could imagine no one else existed at all.  Look left and there were literally millions of acres of wilderness with those black, stunted trees growing every which way and half drunkenly falling down.  PINGOThese were the final trees before the tree line, after which there would be a stark switch to tundra and pingos (dome-shaped mounds consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice).  Snow or frost was on every surface, every spruce needle, every power line wire.  It was spectacular and we had it to ourselves until a right turn onto Main Street and back to our apartment.

These days, I don’t run anymore due to sore knees, just a lot of walking.  But, it was a great pass-time while living above the Arctic Circle and I will always fondly remember those days and the final frontier feel.

Focus Kids. It’s Only Tuesday! 📆

Play is the work of childhood.
~Mr. Rogers

This is a quick little story which is set at our humble home on a quaint street in our wee tidal town.  We have lived here since August 2010.  Shortly thereafter, due to the stress and strain of a kitchen renovation which may have but then didn’t include asbestos poisoning, I landed in the hospital.  The stuff of nightmares.  And, to think, we had said to each other, Dean and I, ‘let’s not start any renos until we have owned our home for at least two years.’  Ha!  We lasted four months such was the atrocious state of our new-to-us home. (Every time I see the previous owner, I strangle him in my imagination).

So, our new reality found us painting our kitchen ceiling on Christmas Eve (which is also our anniversary); having had our kitchen gutted, rewired and replumbed; having re-painted and re-positioned cabinets, having had new appliances and fresh drywall, not to mention a shiny new double sink and formica counter-tops, flooring and windows. There is a lot involved in kitchen renos.  Trust me! And ours had the added bonus of a psychotic break for me.  Lovely.

Anyhoo, after we all recovered from that, come spring we were laughin’.

That was the year that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday and this being a small University town, with nearly as many students as full-time residents, well, when the students decide to get out and make some noise… we all hear about it.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our students.  My comment here is that the day was an incredible early Spring day.  It was twenty-two degrees Celsius on March 17th (~72 F).  Unheard of.  And, it was St. Patty’s Day.  So, many folk were just OUTSIDE and havin’ a ball.

I will never forget that day because I spent the whole day out in the garden, raking, picking up sticks, splitting off lilies, vinca-vine and ferns.  Just any excuse to be outside.  Any Canadian can relate, I am sure.  And the whole time I was out there, I could here the ruckus happening downtown.  I had no desire to join in or to even see it, but, it was hilarious and just one of the many oddities about being Canadian.  When Spring springs, we CELEBRATE it, baby, and we GET OUTSIDE.  It was so nice, we were able to plant our gardens a month early and therefore had huge growth.

So, a few weeks later, my raised garden boxes with tall sunflowers, scarlet runners, tomatoes, kale and asparagus bed were doing very well.  It was the best, warmest Spring in a loooong time.

One of the unique features of our property is that the town tennis courts are right on the edge of our back yard.  Also, we are sandwiched between two parks, one with pitches.  So, that means a constant stream of frisbee, soccer and tennis players.  Also, students of tennis, including young kids taking tennis lessons with a hired tennis coach.  So, when I am out in the back yard, gardening or hanging a load of clothes, there is almost always banter and pock-pock, pock-pock sounds going on, not to mention the highly annoying and obnoxious exertion grunt (which drives me WILD.  Don’t they know we can HEAR them?  What the hell people? Shut up and hit the ball.)

For a few seasons in a row, the tennis coach was this big young guy with a wild head of curly red hair: Conrad.  He was very patient with his young students and consistently gave good clear instruction, over and over again followed by ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘great’, kinds of adverbs.  It was a pleasure to be weeding the garden and to overhear his patient, deep voice working with his young charges.  There is nothing like the sounds of children playing actively to bring a contented smile to my face.

It was this one weekday in mid-summer that I will never forget.  I was bent over my garden boxes just quietly working away.  I could hear the young tennis students running around on the hot court, whapping the balls around and asking for a drink about every thirty seconds, it was so hot!

Then Conrad’s voice in this slow, understated yet exasperated deep tone booms:

‘Come on kids FOCUS! It’s only Tuesday!’

Oh my god.  I was silently laughing so hard I almost inhaled top soil.  I looked over my right shoulder to see a few of the kids looking up at Conrad with a quizzical squint on their freckled faces.

‘Who cares if it’s Tuesday?? We’re playin‘ here.’ they seemed to be thinking.

Exactly, I thought.

(Thanks to Google images for the picture.)