Category Archives: books

Summer Time

Guilty as I might have been back in the day of raising my own son as a single mother, of providing special summer activities for him to keep him from getting bored, I feel the need to reminisce on my own childhood summers.

For the sake of transparency, I wanted to provide things for my son that I didn’t have so he had soccer, baseball, swimming lessons, drama camp…and oh yeah..I rented a cottage for a week, and I took him up north to visit my cousin’s cottage and he had sleepovers with his cousins and play dates with friends…(oh dear, I did  too much too didn’t I?…but I had my reasons….).

Today parents, the same generation of my mentioned son, are perhaps overdoing it a bit.

I’ve been observing carefully.

It isn’t just the parents at fault in this area. Some grandparents seem to be going above the call of duty as well.  Also, for the sake of further transparency ,I am not a grandmother yet except for the distinction of being a grandma to a six year old bulldog (or is she seven years old?…I’m not keeping track very well aren’t I?)

Back to me.

I was a farm kid so my summers were mostly farm based.  I was invited to my brother’s rented cottage when he had one, I stayed once with my aunt and cousin in Toronto for a couple of weeks and I often hung out in my early and formative years with my grandpa at his place when he retired from the farm.

Summer holidays were spent quietly working in the garden, playing with my dogs, puttering around, going to church regularly and spending long periods of time on my own, just doing ordinary farm things.

As a very little girl I recall the excitement of my cousin’s summer wedding being held at my brother and sister -in law’s farmhouse as it was a special and beautiful place for such a special country event. I even sang at the wedding and received a tiny fancy golden teacup that is presently displayed, after all these years, proudly on my fireplace mantel.

When I was about ten years old my grandpa passed away at our place in the summer and we had a large turnout of family at the farm for the garden funeral reception. This event both saddened and frustrated me as I was very angry about losing my very good old friend. I didn’t understand the pain.

At the moment I can’t think of anything else done for my sole entertainment  during the summer months except for family trips that my dear sweet Dad and Mom took me on when they had the chance to do so.

These trips were to the States for visiting with my brother away at school and then working there, a trip out east once to see another aunt and uncle and a family trip to Montreal for Expo 1967 .

My sister’s wedding was a fun summer memory but mostly planned around the farm lifestyle. The birth of my little niece was a pretty exciting summer event too. Playing with and supervising my baby brother as well as my nephews and niece during summer breaks were wonderful times and treasured moments of my formative childhood.

Finally a summer family trip out west in 1969 that came to a crashing and tragic end upon our return when we were given the saddest news imaginable that my oldest brother and a friend had passed away in an accident . We didn’t know until we walked in the door. This was before cell phones  and internet.

At this point, life changed completely for us but we carried on, somehow.

Much of this time is so painful I have blocked it out. Things I should remember like popular music or other events I have little recall of except in vague terms.  I was included, after the tragedy in another trip to California to visit my  brother and sister in law  and other family. A few years later, when I was almost eighteen my parents let me go on a special school sponsored trip to Spain, again I suspect as a way to help me overcome some of my grieving.

My parents didn’t go on any  trips though, not anymore.

So when I see today’s parents and grandparents overdoing things and trying to entertain the kids too much I just want to say that I understand why you think you need to do all these elaborate and expensive things but maybe reflect back on a simpler time.

Spend time talking to your children, tell them your own stories about your childhood, bring good books into the home, visit the library together, visit the older folks in the family and community, sit under a shady tree together, work in the garden, play with the pets together, make a picnic and go to a local park , teach them some important skills such as swimming, cooking,photography or managing responsibilities. Sing together, tell jokes, play games, walk in the woods, share your faith and beliefs, hug your children, love them joyfully and just be there for as long as you can be.

 

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What Goes Around Comes Around

The idea of a labyrinth was discussed a few weeks ago at my church during an informal service in the Sunday School room. We had coffee, activities, games and a discussion, Afterwards, we had lunch.  There was a Biblical reference to being guided to understanding in the worship part of the gathering.

One of my soulful neighbours often walks a labyrinth on her outings to the university and another ambitious one is hoping to create one in her garden. I have instead experienced a form of labryinth on my country drives, searching for inspiration and motivation for my writing.

I noticed the sameness of my path and that the circuit  chosen was repetitive. Often it seemed I ended up where I began.

As a writer I am a gardener, going here and there, digging at things, ignoring some monumental tasks, pulling a few weeds along the way and scattering some seeds of ideas and hoping for the best. With the seasons, my writing changes and I don’t quite know what will root and grow and what will dry up and wither away. Usually, I end up wondering ,what on earth do I want to say?

Slightly changing the path and broadening the scope of my travels still well within local communities I have encountered new people and struck up conversations about a range of things.  Connections with past experiences and familiar names and places came up. Sometimes new notions and sensations stirred the day and shook things enough that I felt I could write freely about my observations.

Landscapes of small rural villages have opened up into more complex backstreets and hideaway spots. Large swooping connections of country roads revealed some flat farmland giving way to rolling hills and valleys. Houses of all descriptions and rural business endeavours have suggested the thousands of stories of hopes and dreams available to a perceptive writer. However, bulldozers and construction crews were sometimes found inconveniently ripping up sidewalks and main streets discouraging my path in going any further off the beaten path. Dark storm clouds overhead reinforced the merit of turning around and navigating along familiar roads.  The labyrinth had enlarged itself but directed me home once more, back to safety.

Signage along the way home sought to encourage the wayward traveller to take advantage of what was offered. Two handmade signs, along the same village roadway were of special note. One sign outside a rural antique store said” We Have It All” and just around the bend another sign read “Jesus Lives! Roosters and Bunnies”. Both signs made me smile. I didn’t stop at either place although I did slow down and consider their messages. They are probably of no use to me whatsoever, but I will plant these ideas somewhere, wait and see.

 

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One Hundred and Fifty One Years Later at Narin Pickers

Slowly our  weather has become increasingly more springlike. A couple of weeks ago events were cancelled due to an ice storm. Yesterday we turned on air conditioners. Snowdrops were the only brave flowers for about a month and now the daffodils are nodding in the warmth. Last week, on one of my off the beaten path trips it was grey, wet and cool enough for a warm jacket and I almost made it to the lake. I usually pick such a day for visiting the lake because I now avoid crowds. People are fine, just not crowds.

About half way to the lake I decided it was far enough on a drizzly day and decided instead to further explore some small villages along the way. This is a very quiet way to explore but entirely on my own terms. With a supply of snacks and a half full tank of gas I drive around tiny places, browse the shops, soak up the atmosphere and have very random conversations with the locals. When I’m often asked what I do now that I am retired from teaching I often say….”oh, I do artsy things now, just artsy stuff…” The reaction is often puzzled.

 

Along the soggy way that particular day, I stopped in at an old place that was once a tiny country restaurant and is now a vintage store called Narin Pickers. Walking in, there wasn’t anyone visibly there among the aluminum teapots, feathered hats and concrete gnomes. At the back, behind the original lunch counter, a friendly owner on his computer called out and welcomed me.

I made two circuits around the store just looking at old postcards, ancient books, assorted bead necklaces, bracelets and bakelite dinnerware. Lots of other stuff beckoned as well. Two amazing grand gilt chairs that immediately made me think of King Louis sat in the middle of the shop covered with others things that paled by comparison. A hand carved walking cane and a collection of old pipes called out to me for some reason and I was transported back in time to being my Grandpa Walter’s constant companion on his porch steps.

All the time during my visit, Billie Holiday was softly singing…”I’ll Be Seeing You” as the wonderful music was coming from the owner’s computer. He mentioned that he and his son were musically inclined and that his daughter was an avid reader.

At that point of the conversation, we discussed what wonderful things might be found in old books such as postcards, photos,souvenir programs etc. Behind the counter, stored away in a jewellery box under cotton batting, the owner had his treasure of four leaf clovers which he had carefully salvaged from the brittle pages of old books. He had felt it necessary to gently treasure them this way as otherwise they would just break up and go to dust if left in the handled books. He shared their sweet old beauty with me and we spoke together about good luck wishes and these long ago people who had found the clovers.

As I prepared to leave I was drawn again to the postcards and selected only one. It had caught my eye earlier but wasn’t exceptionally beautiful or valuable. The message on the back had hooked me in. It was a message to a student from a teacher.I made my little purchase and left…thinking all the while…”Maybe I should buy that gnome?”. Oh well, another time, perhaps.

When I was finally home for the day I took a long shot and looked up the obscure information on the card in hopes of finding these long gone individuals and learn more about them. With one click, the information of the student was there right in front of me. It was a record of his wedding date and also some information about his community.

This information was from at least one hundred and fifty one years ago. Nothing was available about the teacher  who had written the card so long ago. I can assume though. This teacher was kind, thoughtful and without a doubt searched for four leaf clovers.  I’m also sure this teacher hoped to be remembered in all those old familiar places.

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The Barracuda Grill, Lucan, Ontario, Canada.

An hour to wait until the Lucan Library opened and I had several options. I could wait in the parking lot, browse the village or go for lunch. As usual, lunch won.

Instead of the drive thru place which is my usual routine in this village, not all that far from London Ontario I found myself having Today’s Special at The Barracuda Grill.

Land locked Lucan is far from Margaritaville but the decor suggested that theme possibility. As it was close to the 2pm lunch closing time for today I decided to have something quick and be on my way.

Another customer, a nattily dressed older gentleman quietly enjoyed his soup and sandwich while following the news on the wall mounted screen.

Over my shoulder was another television screen and also the framed portraits of a couple of The Donnelly folks.  I took this to be a good sign of local approval and continued with my meal with them kindly looking over my shoulder.

My special was well presented, hot and tasty. The service was ideal and welcoming even though I had walked in rather late for lunch. The grill is one of those small rural village places but prepared to service at least ten tables of four. The pleasant server told me the tables are often pulled together for full breakfast action on Saturday. I’m forgetful so I can’t remember what the hours are so you should check them out before going.

It is a breakfast and lunch style place and today, a Tuesday, it closed at 2pm.  I imagine it really would appeal to the locals year round and be a comforting stop for the fun events that go on, Lucan style at the arena, Baconfest and such. Today, at the late lunch period it was perfect for a pleasant and quiet meal before my literary visit to the local library.

I enjoyed reading my writing magazine , had some time to jot down a few sentences in my journal, person watched this older dignified fellow peacefully enjoy his good lunch and then have a tiny cat nap when the newscast didn’t fully hold his interest.

After my second cup of coffee and getting ready to pay my bill another customer arrived for her takeout order and with this active turn of events my fellow grill patron woke from his little nap and we all went on our way.

However, I keep checking over my shoulder , just in case . It feels like a strange energy followed me home but most likely it is all in my imagination.

 

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Long Standing

A long time ago, in this land of sandy soil, evergreen trees and old houses, I started to write some posts. Stories began to appear sprouted from little word gardens scratched into the keyboard. Sometimes poetry surfaced, usually with a reflective tone, sometimes with a satirical voice and occasionally with a slight edge of humour.

Life at that time carried on quietly and some attention given to my writing was most appreciated.  With the passing of time I wrote a little less and then stopped. Blow sand covered my work.

The land of sandy soil, evergreen trees and old houses remained the same and quietly waited. Wet winters and hot humid summers, fast windy springs and stunningly golden short fall days swept by. Snow fell once for days and days and days.

Slowly seized and creaking passages of time lengthened my reading and I found it challenging to find the right book to fill my escape. Searching for the right book to inspire, uplift and relax with proved to be an all encompassing goal and yet it was never really found.

Oddly enough, a lover of books, a devoted reader, a timid writer and an occasional speaker I found myself tossing aside some very well thought of books and not feeling the inclination to finish the work in front of me.

With a weariness in mind and body surging into atrophy fortunately some small and sustained healthy efforts took hold and gave me a good shake. Further details here are not necessary and perhaps just as well kept to myself as that is a long standing family trait.

Something that can be shared is the renewed search for the perfect book, a sudden burst of interest in creating something visual which could be considered spontaneous joy art, continuing the quest for the perfect quirky coffee shop, settling down to a quiet journalling time, dignified writing and living life in an artful and kind way ,another long standing family tradition.

I missed you.

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Half Done

The book is well written and poetic but it doesn’t appeal to me.  I will finish reading it because it is for book club. It is the kind of book I have to take to my reading hideout in the market parking lot and finish as I eat an oversize sandwich on whole wheat with choice of pickle, celery or carrots and drink dark roast coffee. I can’t read this book at home.More to the truth, I won’t read it at home. The afternoon sun will fade. Grey nothing best described as late afternoon surrounds the car and I drive home. It is the way this book is tolerated. In a few days there will be a meeting and we will have a good time as usual for this is the book that has brought us together. A well written, poetic book,complicated and thoughtfully done, it has merit. Historical, educational, sensitive and bluntly graphic with images of sunlight on the feathers of geese and the flight of a terrified child falling into defective net,a flag held by other children,breaking both arms and no one coming to help. It has become a chore and most likely worth finishing to get the full benefit.  My book, which I’ve never written glints in the moonlight. No geese.

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Creative Differences

Snow whipped into a frenzy piled up past the ledge of the kitchen window and I still thought we would go to the concert. Even after the telephone chain call originating from the school trustee I thought there would be a chance that we could still go. I had the lead in the school Christmas pageant….as least in my mind I was the lead! My eight year old self suffered terrible disappointment that night. I never got my chance to perform as Mary and have the one goose necked reading lamp “spotlight” rigged up by the teacher shine reverently on my white and silver headscarf illuminating my blonde ringlets. All I had was the one  rehearsal and the approval of the young teacher. Oh, so long ago and the pain goes deeply.

At the one room school, S.S. # 7 Bear Creek we had a stage platform with two side entrances. Those entrances and exits fascinated me when we did community concerts for our parents. The visiting health nurse also used the stage area for eye examinations and giving vaccinations. She would take off her high heeled shoe and pound the eye chart into the wall. With the curtain closed it was made medically official. We carried on with our lessons and waited our turn.

One exit led to the boys cloak room where they kept their coats and lunch pails. It always seemed grubby and smelly in there. The other exit led to a small teacher’s room with another door exiting to the outside.This little room was for the teacher’s stuff and there was a  wall mounted crank telephone. The teacher let the Grade One kids play in there when she was busy with the older kids and I fondly remember wearing her coat, scarf,gloves,boots and going through the contents of her purse.

 

My sister was with me there for two years and then she left me to fend for myself while she went off to high school. Fortunately she was there for the horrible day in Grade Two when I sat on an ant hill under the maple tree to eat my lunch. She was the one to deal with my terror of having big black carpenter ants bite my tender little body in every conceivable spot. To this day I can recall the ants creased into my armpits and in my underpants. Another recess event I recall with some significant dramatics was when my sister diagnosed my raging out break of measles as I erupted  one warm spring day into blotches and  blistering bumps and informed the teacher to call home immediately.

When I was in Grade three with no sister around, Elveretta, a neighbour girl claimed me as her charge.She didn’t suffer fools gladly so I was basically protected from harm. She let me help her keep score for our baseball games and let me sit in her lap. The boys at bat would make it a point of honour to hit the ball over the top of the huge evergreen trees and send the ball into the orchard across the road. There were good girl players too like Elveretta and impressed me big time as they could hit the ball just as well, run like the wind and slide into base while wearing billowing knee length skirts .

I played as little baseball as I could and maybe hit the ball a total of two or three times. I preferred being off in the corner of the school yard telling stories and organizing plays about elves,fairies and trolls and delegating roles to my friends Julie and Irene, who just happened to be sisters and artistic types like me. They were real artists and could draw anything, even horses.Their creative input was invaluable.

I would visit Julie and Irene at their farm and they would visit mine. We had lots of fun together. Their parents were good to me and fed me Ukranian food. I remember turkey suppers, cabbage rolls, borscht, the best ever  dill and garlic pickles and apple pies. There were some special pictures, painted trinkets and darkly coloured floral scarves draped around them in a tiny parlour which we were supposed to stay out of so we wouldn’t damage anything in there. Outside the  barnyard geese would chase us, honk and spit, knock us down and trample us.  That was terrifying and extremely noisy especially when we provoked the geese repeatedly despite being told to stop by both parents in English, Ukrainian and maybe Estonian or Latvian.

Back at school it was the simple little readers and sparse few textbooks that held my parched interest. No extra literature or media was available except for an occasional box of films from the National film Board.When the box of films arrived that is all we did for a couple of days. The classic poems from the readers soothed my poetic  little soul but left me wanting much more. Basic knowledge in print form, limited text material ,barely fed me a starvation diet of information. The only books for extra reading available where a set of old black and yellow atlases , Gideon New Testaments,  battered dictionaries and High Road to Song books.

It was a bit grim creatively. Exceptions were the times when the teacher would plan an art lesson such as painting the school windows with seasonal art or read aloud for a few minutes on a warm afternoon from her own book or request everyone to write an composition based on a a selected picture from her file of clippings. Possibly, I was the only kid who really loved this writing exercise. I recall others groaning when we did this task every Friday afternoon. A calendar clipping of a fall tree or a cute kitten in a basket or a dark and stormy sky set my imagination free. When selected ( without fail) to share my composition with the class I would deliver it with all the impact I could muster.

From Grade Five  until the end of Grade 13 I was always selected to say my “speeches” . Not once did I win a speech competition. However, for thirty two years I taught kindergarten and other primary grades and loved the creative opportunity to play, read,write, tell stories, act things out, laugh, listen, draw,paint,dance around, sing and share what I love about communication. Retired now, I read every darn obscure book that interests me that I can order from the local tiny library and write a little and sometimes I write more. It all depends on me.

 

 

 

 

 

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