Tag Archives: musings on life

Staying Put

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Washington DC – Atlanta – Chicago – Calgary – Toronto – ? – ?

This is the map of my life thus far.  To me, it seems kind of boring – especially considering my husband’s roadmap.  But to some of our friends, we’re freaks.  For our vacation this summer, we’re visiting some of the places and people we’ve left behind.

Mind you, those people will not want to be called “those left behind” because that implies that they’re stuck or stagnant or stubborn or scared or…settled.

I will be packing plenty of gauze and Band-Aids – the tongue-biting will be epic as these “more stable” friends ask their age-old questions:

“Why do you move so much?

“Wouldn’t you rather just stay put?”

“Why do you insist on raising your kids in a big/dirty/dangerous/busy/foreign city?”

“Why do you live in Canada?”

Just for fun, I’m thinking of starting a rumour that we’re moving to somewhere really bizarre, even for us.  Like, Uzbekistan.

I can practically hear the howls and screeches now…ok, no.  I’ll behave.  Maybe.

Four of five Atlanta friends said they’d be gone after the 1996 Olympics were over.  Their roots are so deep now you’d think they were born and bred there.  Our Atlanta years were the years we “grew up”: got married, bought our first house, had kids.  To hear some tell it, once you have kids you have to settle down, put down roots.

My youngest was five months old when we moved to Chicago.  One whole box shipped (and lost, somewhere in Texas) when we moved to Calgary was full of Costco diapers. Kids are portable to a certain age.  Once they’re in school, moving gets harder on them.  That is why we’re stuck settled in Toronto  for the time-being.  Moving again – especially to Europe – while the kids are in high school would just be too cruel.

I’ve never understood that philosophy of settling down (geographically, anyway). I practically break out in hives at the mention.  I have friends in a certain city who don’t travel outside their zip code.  Upon hearing that we were staying in a hotel downtown, they told me “we don’t go downtown.  Ever.”  I have trouble keeping my furniture arranged the same way two weeks in a row.

Other friends have traveled abroad for business or pleasure only to scurry home bemoaning the fact that everywhere they went was so different.  Isn’t that the point? This time last year, I was sobbing as we left Barcelona.  If I’d had enough Euros, I’d have snapped up a flat in the Barri Gotic right then.

My wanderlust is evident in my writing.  For whatever reason I have a very hard time writing about where I am.  None of my stories are set in Toronto even though I live here.  My writing goes where I want to go.  This makes the travel itch even worse.  I would gladly fly away in the name of research.

I think of myself as forward-looking (as opposed to “unstable”).  I do not shed tears over places left behind.  I don’t think I’ve ever said “Let’s go back there to live!”  I reminisce about certain things of course – favourite parks, restaurants, and people.  Then I close my eyes and think of where to go next.  I want to be the eccentric old dame with “no fixed address,” hopping from Continent to Continent on a moment’s whim.

I do not blame my children for hiding the suitcases from me.  Not one bit.

Crankypants

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It’s been one of those days.weeks.  One of those weeks where I’m off-balance, off-kilter, off my friggin’ rocker. Some would say every week is like that with me and they might be right but this week feels worse than most.  Solar flares?  Dodgy planet alignment?  PMS? (re-named Perpetual Menstrual Syndrome)

A sampling as to why I might be nicknamed Madame Crankypants lately:

  • I can’t hear.  Seriously, my hearing is kaput, done.  I think.  I can’t be sure because my entire family mumbles and/or is plugged in headphones all the freaking time.  We could have been invaded by a family of howler monkeys yesterday my kids were so oblivious.  As it was, I stood in the kitchen talking to them without realizing for about 5 minutes.  WHAT?
  • I can’t see.  I tried to paint my toenails this morning.  I got more nail polish on the cat than I did on my toes.  In my defense, I have very small toes.
  • I had to go to Wal-Mart yesterday.
  • I lost my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  I nearly had to call my husband (not sure what good that would have done but he might have been able to make me laugh about it).  I had to pretend for 10 minutes that I was just casually strolling the pavement with my bag of melting frozen goods.  Tra la la…up and down aisles of cars…just out for a stroll, where the HELL is that car.
  • The Novel.  ‘Nuff said, y’all have heard enough whining about that for now
  • I can’t drive.  I used to be extremely competent behind the wheel.   Not so anymore.  I’m tentative, hesitant, distracted.  Awful.  I scraped the front bumper on the retaining wall of my own driveway.  With husband in car & neighbours watching.  AWFUL.
  • New stories are percolating in my brain.  They pop their little heads up at random times, distracting me – like when I’m trying to paint my toes.  Nothing strung together, just random bits.  They buzz like flies around my head.
  • The thought of a summe road trip down South.  SMACK! That’s the sound of the realization that I CANNOT, SHALL NOT go back to the land of my early 30’s in the shape I’m in now hitting me upside my head.  Working out makes me pretty; the thought of working out makes me cranky.

That’s just a sampling.  I could go on.  I’m just “off.”  Time to sign off and have a quick power nap.

 

The Age of Perfection

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Shameful Confession #1: I wasted a mind-boggling 45 minutes in the skin care aisle of the local drugstore yesterday, mouth slightly agape, trying to figure out which cream, serum, paste, or potion would make me feel better about my  aged, haggard face.

Shameful Confession #2: I walked out nearly empty-handed, carrying only a bag of Two-Bite Brownies even though I’m relatively sure they will do nothing positive for me.

Seriously, what the hell?  Every product claims to be a miracle, every product claims to have the perfect cocktail of ingredients to produce a mathematically “proven” percentage of wrinkle eradication.  What worries is that female consumers (like me) now consider anti-aging products as necessities.  Twenty five year olds are having work done – and not just boobs – so it is no wonder that veritable relics like me wander the drugstore aisles in search of salvation.

My Man and I were watching mindless television recently when an advertisement for anti-wrinkle cream appeared on the screen touting the latest miracle ingredient as “fruit stem cells.”  I looked over at our fruit bowl, eyeing a pear with a long stem still attached and wondered how to extract a few fruit stem cells cheaply.  Could the fountain of youth really exist in my fruit bowl?  Well, more likely there than in the bag of Lay’s potato chips that sat in my lap…

In comparison to some of the really weird stuff out there, fruit stem cells sound quite reasonable. I scanned In Style magazine’s website in my endless search for  a foundation for “mature” skin that doesn’t slide off, cake on, or feel like I’m applying some sort of epoxy.   I encountered some interesting products.

#1:  Something called a “Skin Prepping Tool” that resembles a paint roller with “teeny medical-grade needles.” Roll over your skin “create tiny openings” that will allow the serum to sink in faster.  As I read this, I had two thoughts:  Isn’t that what pores do? and Is punching tiny holes in my face really safe? This blurb actually quoted someone claiming to be a dermatologist who, amazingly, said nothing about the stupidity of aerating one’s face.  Price of this gem?  $200

#2: A device that delivers an electric charge (“painless”) to deliver hyaluronic acid to the skin.  The device looks like a mini-defibrillator complete with adorable little paddles.  Do I shout “CLEAR!” before I zap myself?  Can it be used to restart the hampster’s heart? $129

#3 A cream containing “optical diffusers” and “micronized ruby crystals.”  I want to know if the ruby crystals were nicked from Dorothy’s magical ruby slippers…Hold on, I’ll just go out back and squeeze the unicorn until it farts and get some magical glitter.

#4 According to an expert at In Style, it’s the hollow, sunken look that makes us look older, not wrinkles.  Of course there is a cream available that employs hyaluronic acid to plump up the whole face.  If delivered via the device above (see #2), I’m sure it will happen much faster.

I understand completely wanting to look good.  Sure, its a drag when I look in the mirror and see wrinkles, creases, folds, and assorted other things that weren’t there 10 years ago. I dread the onset of warm weather for the first time in my life because I believe something truly awful happened to my thighs this winter.  Most of all, I want a do-over where I can bathe in a vat of sunscreen before leaving the house every day.  I want to erase the fact that I used to use baby oil and delight in the sizzling and freckling of my pale Celtic skin.  Always a bit delusional, I called it a tan.

It’s hard to avoid the hype – ads shout at us from magazines and the television.   All I can do is drink 8 glasses of water, get my required 9 hours of sleep (ha!), eat healthy (double ha!) and apply SPF 30 or higher every day.  Oh, and exercise (I always forget that one – my bad).

To those of us out there NOT zapping, aerating, or bankrupting ourselves in the name of youth, stay strong.  Eat a piece of dark chocolate every day not because of its anti-oxidants but because it’s freaking delicious.

The Cruelest Season

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Spring:  season of rebirth, renewal.  Season of Hell.

I know, funny coming from me, the girl who wishes more fervently for warm weather than I wish cash grew on trees…well, almost.  But my house right now is not awash in joy.  We are awash in…how to put this…nasal secretions.  It does seem to be a never-ending constantly renewing natural resource.

I imagine the sounds coming from all three bedrooms in the morning must be akin to what London sounded like during the Great Plague.  I check the front door every morning to see if a city official has marked our house with a red X.

Don’t get me wrong folks – Spring is beautiful and bountiful – and I feel great.  It’s just that the other three members of my family are: hacking, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, scratching, blinking, and complaining.

Mind you, since we got Mad Alyss last August, The Man has been making all of these noises and more but oddly, without complaint.  Because he loves the cat.  He has been stoically enduring allergy and asthma symptoms that would have sent me to my grave long ago.  I’ve gotten quite used to checking his pulse in the middle of the night…

The other members of the clan are not so stoic.  They peer at me with red, bleary eyes and declare themselves unable to cope a minute longer.  I have bought out local supplies of:  Benadryl, Claritin, Reactine, and Mentos (a placebo that works quite effectively at shutting up the complaints).  I have injected sea water nose drops, rubbed Vapour Rub, and I have smelling salts on stand by (joking).  The vodka is for me.

Mother Nature mocks the sufferers with beautiful sunny weather.  Outside our bedroom window, our maple tree looks about to explode, its green buds fat with yellow-green pollen.  We keep the curtains drawn so as not to cause undue mental distress along with the respiratory.

It pleases my housemates not that I fail to suffer with them (although I do a little – but shhhhh).  I can’t say I let it get to me as I walk outside and gulp deep breaths of air without rushing for a kleenex.  They can still shoot daggers with those bleary eyes.  Ah, Spring….bring on the relief of hot humid weather (and a new chapter of complaints)!

 

Different Plants, Different Roots

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I”ve been pondering roots for several reasons lately.  One is because it’s spring (allegedly) and I’m considering this year’s attempt at a garden.  Another is because I have The Itch.  No, not the Seven Year variety; with me, it’s more like the three-year kind.  The itch to change locations, to move.  I sit on my hands and bite my tongue, scrolling through real estate listings for distant cities only when I am alone…

I know a man, nearly sixty years old, who has never lived more than ten miles from where he was born. Our neighbours across the street have not lived more than five blocks from where they grew up.  They’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years.

My husband is living in his 22nd abode. I can’t compete with that number, but I lived in four houses before I left home.  One of them came to mind as I read a novel entitled, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom which chronicles the lives of slaves and indentured servants on a plantation in Tidewater Virginia.  Google, I bow down to you; I found pictures of it yesterday (which are not mine so I dare not post).

My house, while no plantation, was located in rural Maryland. Built in 1785, it too, had a “kitchen house” and one slave house.  The buildings had seen battles – pieces of musket ball were preserved in a wall and local legend had it that a Civil War soldier had been shot in the dining room.

When my father bought it he nicknamed it “Fran’s Folly.”  Uninhabited for over 30 years when my mother discovered it in 1968, all that remained of the main house was piles of stone, rotten timbers, heaps of chicken feathers and discarded snake skins.  The first time I visited the “house,” I wasn’t allowed out of the car – it was too dangerous.

I remember my mother getting into the car, lighting a cigarette and saying, “We’re going to live here one day.”  I craned my neck as we slowly descended the steep driveway, not happy about that idea at all.  I was seven; to me a house had walls that stood upright, a roof, window shutters, and azaleas around the front.

It took two years – and teams of artisan stone masons, specialty carpenters, bricklayers (who were versed in 18th century brick work), and some snake wranglers – to restore the dwellings.  Acres and acres of jungle were cleared by my brother and his trusty bulldozer. My mother’s vision included painstaking attention to historic detail married with 20th Century conveniences like decent wiring and indoor plumbing.  The property became a showcase on historic home tours in the area and was my mother’s pride and joy.

However, the house was a far cry from “family” homes of today – there was not one inch of informal space.  If anyone wanted casual, one went to the enormous timber barn and lounged on a hay bale to commune with the pigeons, chickens and horses.  Or, one could wander fifty-five acres of rolling pastures and river meadows.

Scrolling through the realtor photos yesterday, my former home seemed largely unchanged although I am glad my mother can’t see the absence of historically accurate paint colours. I noted the property was for rent, not for sale.  I wonder about its circumstances and of its history since we sold it in 1976.  I am grateful it is still standing because I know that area is now prime subdivision territory. I wonder does my house on the hill stand like Mont St. Michel – an island surrounded by a sea of new homes?

My children are living in their sixth house.  We’ve had houses we’ve loved and houses we’ve hated (sometimes they’ve been the same one).  Unlike my mother, I’ve managed to avoid giving too much of myself to a house. My mother poured herself into her home, the restoration. They were inextricably linked.

After she died, my brother and sister asked the owners if they could scatter my mother’s ashes in the river meadow.  Of course, they said yes.  I didn’t go.  I had already moved away.

Who’s That Girl? Oh S#(*, It’s Me…

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Ever walked by a shop window or a big mirror, seen the reflection in the glass as you pass and wondered for a split second, “Who is that?” For once, I’d like to do it and think, “Who is that lovely, pulled-together, chic creature?”  and then realize it’s me. 

That exact scenario hasn’t happened yet.

Usually, what happens is I catch a glimpse in the glass and stifle a scream…or, at the very least I groan and quicken my pace.  But during my mini-writing retreat the reflection in the glass was inescapable.  I walked by a gigantic mirror in my hotel room between the sleeping area and the bathroom (hence the inescapable-ness); I then caught a glimpse of a grumpy looking stout woman in really bad clothing (in my defense, there was a draft in the room and I am a devout layerer.)

I stopped in mid-stride and did a double take.  Holy shitballs, I exclaimed out loud.  That’s what I look like.  I peeled off my bulky wool sweater and still the image refused to slim down.  I looked like a pear with pink and green mold growing on it.  Not a pleasant vision. 

When did this happen?  How did this pear-shaped creature take over my usual svelte self?  It dawned on me that I had perhaps taken the “fatten up to survive a Canadian winter” thing too far.  Sadder still is the realization that we had a really mild winter…

The really bad clothing problem can be rectified but the shape of me – well that’s another problem altogether and given the state of my idling  metabolism – it won’t be so easy to fix.  There are several very serious obstacles standing in my way.

Obstacle #1:  I am severely allergic to exercise.  Just the thought of planned physical activity can throw my back out or bring on a migraine.

Obstacle #2:  Exercise allergy notwithstanding, I have an unreasonable fear of fitness clubs.  I hate the music, the overabundance of spandex and sweat, the judging (bullshit, you know it happens). 

Obstacle #3:  Severe lack of funds.  Even if I could overcome #1 & #2, I can’t afford to join a gym.  I do have an exercise bike in my basement…somewhere…

and finally, we come to Obstacle #4:  Me.  As we all know, #4 is the only one that really counts and the one who drives all the others.  I see runners, joggers, and cyclists every day – I feel pangs of jealousy when I see them out there no matter what the weather.  They are better than me.  I run like a three-legged water buffalo.   I’m scared to death to cycle on city streets and that leaves walking.

But will walking be enough?  I think I will enlist my soccer star daughter as my personal trainer.  She is trained by a fairly maniacal coach who is a believer that fitness wins the game.  She can teach me some mat exercises, some core workouts, etc.  The problem is, who is going to make me do it?

I know – that stout woman in the hotel mirror.  I am finally at the point where I will do anything to avoid seeing her ever again.

 

In Praise of…Holding the Door

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I’m going to take it down a notch from saving the world to basic manners…

When did it become acceptable to walk through a door (of the swinging variety especially) and not look behind to ensure that it wasn’t slamming in someone’s face? Worst offenders:  teenagers and believe it or not, older men.  Not elderly, infirm men but just-past-middle-age men. 

 I was behind such a man recently; both of us were heading for the same place:  Starbucks.  He was far enough ahead to get there first.  He pulled the heavy door open and cruised right through.  To make matters worse, he knew I was there.  He was old enough to know better. 

Since my kids could toddle through a doorway, I have harped on them about holding doors.  If they know there is someone behind them, they are pretty good.  If they forget, they usually turn around and apologize, as do I.  

Sure, distances can be tricky.  No one likes to wait, especially me, for dawdlers.  There’s a judgement call to be made when the distance might be too great between you and the next person.  I try to wait; usually the slow mover will say “Go on, don’t wait for me but thanks.”   If they don’t say anything, I will still usually wait unless I’m in a mad rush.  When they don’t say thank you I will still say, “You’re welcome.”  Cuz I’m just cranky by that stage.

Earlier this week I witnessed the worst infraction I’ve seen in a long time.  A woman with one of those strollers the size of an aircraft carrier was struggling through side by side doors.  The stroller, filled to capacity with screaming little ones, was wedged.  A couple actually stood just beyond reach of the door without helping; finally losing patience, they pulled open the other door and walked right past the struggling mom.  I was across the flipping street and rushed to help her.  She and I had great fun berating the rude couple at the top of our lungs.  They stood, backs firmly to us, ignoring. 

I wonder sometimes at the inattention we humans pay to each other even on the smallest of levels.  How can we save the world if we can’t even hold a door for someone?