Saturday 11 June 2016

I Really Liked You Gordie Howe!

Yesterday, Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey passed away at the age of 88.

I was lucky enough to get to know Gordie and have some insight into what makes a truly great and memorable athlete. He was one of the finest examples of commitment and dedication to a career, a sport, a team and the fans that made it all worthwhile.

His accomplishments as a hockey player and pride of Canadians are well known.

We met when he was retired and came to my recording studio to do the voice overs for some commercials. I was used to working with stars of the music world, television stars and film producers. It was all in a days work.  But, for a girl who grew up in Northern Ontario, the chance to watch a hockey legend record was awe inspiring. These players were the idols of kids, especially those growing up in out of the way, economically disadvantaged areas. If you could play like Gordie Howe, you could get out of going miles underground to eke out a living in the nickel mines and young boys collected hockey cards and dreamt of the day they'd wear a Stanley cup ring.

I snuck away to a phone and called my dad. "Guess who's in the studio? Gordie Howe!!!"  I only called my dad about a client one other time and that was when Johnny Cash was there.

The studio control room was overcrowded with anyone from the advertising agency or business hiring him for the commercial who could possibly find an excuse to be there. I went to my office and carried on answering phones and doing the boring business side of things.

During a break for editing, there was a tap on my open door. It was Gordie. My assistant had directed him to my office a place to get away from everyone. He was a shy man and not comfortable with all those business types. Many a rock star had hidden in there to escape record company executives.

I told him to make himself comfortable and carried on with work. He picked up an acoustic guitar and ever so quietly picked out a few notes. I told him the sound wouldn't carry to the control room and it certainly wouldn't bother me if he played.

"You don't want to hear me play with these awful old hands."

I looked at them and saw how deformed they were from arthritis and broken bones.

"Go ahead and play. I bet I've heard worse. You hear music after we've fixed it up for them."

That's the moment when we became comfortable with each other. Over the next few days, he stayed in my office as much as he could. We chatted about growing up in a large family, his childhood in Saskatchewan and my relatives in Alberta and all that prairie life entailed. We talked about sports and the entertainment business as the dream for so many kids as a way to live the good life.

Artist James Lumbers did a painting of Gordie showing his mom helping a neighbour out by giving her a bit of cash, she couldn't spare, in exchange for a gunny sack of used items. Inside that sack was Gordie's first pair of skates.

We talked about my home in northern Ontario and how I loved the forests and rivers and all the wildlife that had surrounded me. In the early days of radio and television, players didn't benefit from all those advertising dollars that hockey games earned. They didn't make enough to live on and had to work at something else during the down time. Most played other professional sports. Gordie worked at a fishing lodge in the summers as a guide and pro angler.  He loved fishing but hated being away from his family for months on end.

A few months later, Gordie was back to record another commercial and back hiding in my office. While we talked he glanced over at a hockey stick sitting in the corner. He picked it up tried it for balance or whatever players test sticks out for. Halfway up the stick was electrical tape wound around to make a barrier to the stick flying out of the players glove.

Gordie frowned.

"Who's stick is this?"
"My grandson's."
"You better break him of that habit."
"What habit?"
"That tape part way up the stick. You start in with bad habits like that and you'll never play well. You tell him I said so!"

"Um, Gordie, he's only two. the stick is going to be cut off above the tape."

We laughed and he asked if I wanted the stick autographed.

The year was 1997 and Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, was signed to play one shift for the Detroit Vipers, making him the only player to officially play NHL hockey for six decades. He was 69 yrs. old.

The signed stick was never cut. My grandson still has it. And, I never forgot that modest, shy and genuine man that played a game he loved and made it better than it had ever been before.

Sunday 1 May 2016

I'm Too Busy Studying Anthropology To Blog!

Where has the last month gone? Gone to KIDS is where!  My one day a week babysitting two toddlers job got somewhat expanded when the original babysitter quit. It's going to get much easier next month. The kids turn 2 and 3 in May and I'm expecting their birthdays to turn them into rational human beings.

Then, I'll be back to blogging full force. Do not wake me from this dream! I haven't been spending much time online for two reasons. First, I only to want to fall asleep or drink wine and fall asleep or pretend I'm watching a movie and fall asleep when the girls go home. On the days, I'm not babysitting and my special needs grandson isn't staying with me, I vacuum. All three generate enormous amounts of debris. The second reason I'm not online is that only toddlers can hear a laptop cover being raised. That sound penetrates their super sonic hearing from two rooms away and makes them rush in to start helping me. They can even hear the laptop lid while totally engrossed in the most riveting episode of the
With a whole weekend to myself, I was excited to do some writing. Hmmm - what to write about?

My blog trendy framed chalkboard in the dining room has degenerated into an ever changing piece of modern art. ~

I don't think the new decor look will get many Pinterest pins.

The course I'm taking in anthropology. The Study Of Humans Under The Age Of Three 101, is fascinating. My minor is Pokemon And The Fifteen Year Old Boy.

I'm making great progress in learning the language. Occasionally I speak the language to adults.  I'll call a granola bar a Bobby Boke, a cat a Tzsee tzsee or a butterfly an applefly

Applefly was Thursday's lesson. No matter how many times the youngest one asked me or how many ways I tried to get her to explain what she wanted, the word was escaping me. She buried her head in her blanket, cried huge crocodile tears and said, "I just want the applefly".  I carried her around the house asking her to point to the applefly. At the fridge we hit paydirt!

Their mom has been reading her an alphabet book. A is for apple. B is for butterfly. She seems to have mixed the two pages up in her mind. When studying the Under Age Three Human be aware that they do not appreciate hysterical laughter at their expense.

Their society has complex rules of etiquette and social mores. Most of these revolve around ownership.  

The traditional toddler foods are well received unless said child has specifically asked you to make that food. Then, it will be rejected when it arrives on the table. ~

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you allow another under age three human to eat the rejected food. Do not think repeated assurances that the first tot doesn't want the food actually means they are willing to give up ownership of the food. The result is inconsolable crying. The second tot doesn't care if the first one is crying and will make a great show of eating it in front of them. By now, they have ownership of the food and will not give it back. Forcing a return of the food results in inconsolable crying. You may, however, give the unwanted food to the chickens. Perhaps they have a pact with chickens where they return unwanted eggs to the original giver.

Do not believe advertising that says the members of this society will play with new toys. They will ignore them and go back to playing with a wooden wagon full of blocks that you paid $2 for at a thrift shop. ~

Or, make you draw the same picture of a cat over and over again on a $ store magic writer. They will return the favour by drawing you a monster. ~

This society worships repetition on repetition (and Bubbleguppies).

The human under the age of three does not like to follow directions in craft kits. They do like to be amazed at helping you make a dolly bed out of a tangerine box and a scrap of flannel. They are, therefore, free-form artists. They are not willing to share the dolly bed with each other but happy to let the cat sleep in it, carefully covered with the blanket. 

So much to learn and so little time! In the blink of an eye, they will change entirely and I'll be on to studying the next phase.

They are learning too. They know I won't give them sugary foods. They've learned they are hidden in the house somewhere and they can access them by using the potty. They've learned that any transgression or tantrum is instantly forgiven if they climb up on my knee and smile like a cherub. Even the cats will forgive a poke from a plastic dinosaur if they give them a pat and a kiss.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting the hang of this thing.

But why, oh why, did I retire from interior decorating!

Tuesday 8 March 2016

It's International Women's Day & I'm A Women's Libber!

International Women's Day is the perfect time to look back on our gains and losses in the last few generations.

I'm amazed when someone tells me they've never been one of those Women's Libbers.  Are they telling me they believe women should be chattels, unable to vote and their property passing to their husband on their marriage? Are they saying they don't believe in equal pay for equal work, equal education and equal opportunity in employment?  Are they saying they don't care about violence toward women?

It's easy in 2016 to forget the path cleared by the courageous women who went before us; the novelists who brought the plight of women to the general consciousness, the suffragettes who endured scorn and imprisonment to gain the right to vote and to forget the tireless lobbyists for women's rights.

I was reading Marilyn French's last novel written before her 2009 death, The Love Children. Amid the nostalgia of my era of coming of age, is the realities of North American society in the 60's. I was struck by the things we didn't know were wrong with our place in our society at the time.

You can thank the Women's Liberation Movement for coining the term sexual abuse. It didn't even exist before then. Although all the women from my generation have our stories, at the time we didn't really know how wrong it was. An example is a friend of mine who tells of being a young woman in her first office job at a manufacturing plant.  Her boss would sit behind his desk fondling himself while looking at her through the window into her office. Did she take a complaint to management? Of course not. When she was forced to go on the factory floor, she endured men saying the slogan from a fast food restaurant, Hot & Juicy, as a play on her name. Did she put in a complaint to their superiors? Of course not. We didn't even know we could complain.

We were so used to cat calls walking by construction sites and holding our books in front of our chests so the boys wouldn't make rude jokes in the high school hallways, that this didn't seem all that bad. We wrestled with groping boys on dates and tried to give creepy uncles a wide berth at family gatherings. We didn't even tell our parents any of that happening. It was somehow shameful and we felt we brought it upon ourselves in some way we couldn't understand.

It took women to start talking loud and long and often for mainstream media to focus on women's issues. It took marches and slogans and placards and, yes even an attempt to burns bras at a beauty pageant, to begin to make changes.

We could now openly talk about how uncomfortable men made us feel. In fact, we were afraid of men. Not monsters of men, just ordinary fathers, brothers, husbands, sons.  No one told them their actions were hurting us. It was all in good fun, right? It was a compliment to a girl to whistle at her or pinch her bottom, wasn't it?

No, it wasn't fun or a compliment. We were afraid you would force yourselves on us sexually. We were afraid you would beat us. We were afraid you would leave us with children and no one would make you pay support. We would have to manage on our own, undereducated, at low paying jobs.

You were our doctors, ministers and teachers and yet, at some level, we were afraid of you.

By the time I was raising my daughters, we talked about these things. I could tell them they were equal to any man and must never allow themselves to be abused in any way. I could encourage them to enter any field of employment they chose.

But with all the gains, there is a very long way for the Women's Liberation Movement to go. In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, women earn 72 cents for every dollar men earn for comparable work. Higher levels of education for women has not closed the gap. A traditionally male occupation of truck driver pays an average of $45,000/yr. Early Childhood Education, traditionally a female occupation requires a college degree and earns $25,000.  Women put in 3 to 6 hours daily of unpaid work in the home compared to men's 30 mins. to 2 hrs. of unpaid work. This has to affect job performance between the sexes.

Violence toward women is increasing and will continue to do so until the courts hand down stiffer penalties for these crimes and our attitude toward them encourages change in how we raise our boys.

I am a Women's Libber! I'm proud of it. It doesn't mean I don't like good men. I love them! Without good men, we women could not have achieved any basic, human rights. After all, it was and remains, men who hold the balance of power in the world. Good men listened to what we had to say and passed legislation and laws that empower women. Good men passed good values on to their sons, students, and employees. Good men enforce our rights.

As women of 2016, let's be proud of being part of a movement that extends around the world; free and equal in every way. Let's raise a cheer for the good men who will carry the banner alongside us!

My granddaughters are counting on all of us!

Sunday 6 March 2016

This Is Awkward

It's hard to know where to begin when I haven't done a post in over a month. A simple thank you to those of you who sent messages asking if all was well with me seems like a good start.

I'm fine. It's been a busy time for me the past few months and each day I thought I would write about what I was doing. It just never happened.

It all began after Christmas. I was turning sixty-four, winding down my home decorating business and wondering, "Where do I go from here?".  An answer didn't pop into my mind so I decided to open the door, figuratively, and see who or what walked in. I know the universe abhors a vacuum and something was bound to present itself.

Well, kids walked in. Lots and lots of kids filled the void.

One day a week I was minding one and two-year-old girls for a young mom, newly returned to work, who's regular sitter couldn't take them that day for a while. It's been many a decade  year since I've had to chase around, feed, bath, diaper and entertain toddlers for a 12 hr. day. I have tiny grandkids but their parents do all that stuff. I just do the fun Grandma things and pass them back when the stinky part happens. It took me quite a while to get back in the swing of it!

You can't really write a post about the girls picking the flowers off the geraniums and teaching them that the flowers and herbs in the house have to be treated nicely.

They're getting pretty good with leaving them alone as long as I let them do the watering. We put one of the broken blossoms in a jar of water and they saw new roots form. We planted it and they were excited that they would soon have a whole new geranium to take home with them.

Well, they will have if I can ever get the youngest girl to stop pulling the plant out of the soil to see how the roots are doing!

My 15-year-old grandson has been coming here to stay for 4 or 5 days at a time. Outside of the usual mounds of food to cook and dishes to wash that come along with teenage boys, he is a little more work in that he has to be under constant supervision. 

He has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and it gives him a wide range of problems from learning difficulties to impulse control issues to the poor self-image that comes along with living with disabilites. He panics if he thinks he is alone.

When his younger sister, suffering from FAS as well, became very difficult to handle, and with six kids in the family, my daughter and son in law were happy to have my grandson spend some time with me. I can keep things quiet here and he loves having my undivided attention, not to mention being able to order up whatever he wants to eat. I come from a big family myself and know that never, ever happens in a big family. He isn't disturbed by his sister's outbursts here. All is calm. In fact, last time he stayed here I heard him tell his sister he might bring her along next time and she could get calm, too. Ekes! What have I got myself into!

The good news is, the school had been discussing having to let him go before graduating because of his unruly behaviour. I use the term graduate loosely of course. Since he has been coming here, he has turned that around. His special ed. teacher is thrilled with the progress and feels he will make it through. It's not that I'm doing anything wonderful, it's just that I have the place and time to be of assistance to my daughter and her family.

In the middle of all this, daughter #2 was having child care issues of her own. She has a daughter in kindergarten and a one-year-old boy. When she returned to the workforce, she hired a nanny and thought all would be well. She lives in a large city and there is a shortage of daycare spaces. That also means nannies are in high demand. As soon as she got one worked in, the nanny would quit for a better paying job. Even shelling out most of her paycheck for babysitting wasn't holding them. She lives an hour away from me and did her best to not call me in, except as a pinch hitter, so when she called I knew she really needed it.

At one point, I felt I was juggling an awful lot of balls and trying to keep them all in the air! One week the girls I mind had to come an extra day in the week. The next day my grandson arrived. He stayed for four days. Daughter #2 called to see if I could go mind her son for two days. I couldn't do the first one because I already was babysitting but I could leave the house at 6:30 in the morning to do the second day. Have I ever mentioned that I am not a morning person?

The good news is, things have settled down for me. Daycare spaces have opened up and I'm not pinch hitting anymore. My grandson will continue to come for respite care and I'm getting quite good at chasing toddlers around again.

Spring is coming and I'm catching my second wind!

The ice went out of the river. I breathed a sigh of relief as I stood and watched it crack and groan and race away carrying all kinds of debris with it. ~

We made it through the winter!  We stuck together and helped each other and everything turned out fine. I even got a little more physically fit from the toddler workout sessions!

Although .... I may be a little more careful next time I say I'm going to throw the doors open and see what comes in. Maybe I'll install a peephole and take a look at what I'm getting into first!

Sunday 24 January 2016

Be Odd If It Makes You Happy

You know it has been the best of Sundays if you find yourself smiling at nothing in particular. ~

I can honestly say I never thought, at the age of 64, I'd be hanging out with chickens. It certainly wasn't any part of my life plan. But, hanging out with those girls does make me happy.

Today I cleaned the ashes out of the woodstove ~

and took them out to the coop to add to the dirt bath the girls have made under the quarantine coop. Clever girls to find a place that will stay dry all year!

It made me happy to see they had a great time fluffing their feathers in the ashes. ~

If you have a fireplace or woodstove, put your ashes out for the wild birds to bathe in. As long as there is nothing but clean firewood that has been burned, it's good for them to be able to clean their feathers in the winter.

It was a cold day and, in the afternoon, I made some oatmeal for the girls.

Who wouldn't be happy to see them all lined up, making little hops of excitement when they know I am coming? ~

I didn't even mind staying out in the cold to see if they liked their treat and to make sure old Vivian gets her fair share. ~

I know it is odd to prefer watching chickens to shopping or travelling or fine dining but I've done all those things. They were fine for their time. For the present time, hanging with chickens is what makes me smile.

The sun was setting and I looked at the tracks crisscrossing my yard. Tracks from my feet and the two-year-old girl who is so excited about being able to identify her prints, mine, a squirrel, a raccoon, a cat and a rabbit. They are the prints of life going on all around me.  They are my life.

I take my fair share of ribbing over being a Chicken Lady. I really don't care if I'm a little to the left of centre. Orrrr - even a lot to the left.

Be as weird as you like this week and soak up all the happiness you can! Sing marching songs at the bus stop, wear your hair in pigtails, dance down the hall at the office, eat chocolate cake for breakfast; whatever sets your sails, just do it.

I'll be here, hanging with a cool bunch of chicks!

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Collecting Vintage Napkin Rings

Napkin rings are ideal to begin collecting. They don't take up much display room, are functional, plentiful, affordable, useful and the design variations are endless.

They first appeared on the dining tables of the upper crust sometime in the 1830's, probably in France. Throughout the Victorian era, they were widely in use on all but the poorest dining tables.

The beauty of collecting rings is they don't have to be matched sets. The original purpose was to identify who the napkin itself belonged to. Each member of the family had their own ring, with a distinct design or engraved with their initial.

At the end of the meal, the napkin was folded and put back inside the ring. Table linens were only washed with the once weekly laundry and you used the same napkin all week.

Place setting purists only use napkin rings for informal dinners, the theory being that the ring denotes a used napkin and that's probably not going to make your guest feel all that comfortable. I take the liberty of assuming my guests know I gave them a clean napkin and go against the purist rule.

My rings are silver plate but you can find them spanning all eras from the 1830's on, and in a wonderful range of materials. From the Victorian era to Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts era to the 21st century, they have been made in everything from sterling silver to glass, bakelite, French Ivory and wood.

Foral designs were popular with the Victorians and in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras.

I've picked up most of my napkin rings for around $5 each. Figural rings are more expensive unless you find one like my horse ring that has had a tragic tail bobbing.

Some appeal to me because of the shape.

Some commemorate a special event, such as a world fair or coronation. I snapped up this one from the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for $6.

My favourite ring has the crest of the SS Duchess Of York set with enamel. The ship was part of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. fleet. She was one of three sister ships named after duchesses and nicknamed The Drunken Duchesses for the rather rambunctious handling of the ocean waves. Someone brought this napkin ring home as a souvenir before WWII saw the Duchess Of York pressed into service. She made two trips from Britain bringing evacuated children to safety in Canada.  Then, she ferried Canadian troops overseas, brought injured service personnel and German POWs back to Canada. Sadly, the Duchess of York came under enemy fire and sank off the coast of Spain in 1943.

If you are my guest and I give you that napkin ring, you will know you have a favoured spot at the dining table.

I just realized all the napkins are in the rings upside down in these photos. The pointed end of the napkin goes toward the guest. We're already breaking one etiquette rule by using rings at a formal dinner so let's not compound our offence!

I have eight vintage, silver plate rings so far and on the hunt for many more just to seat my immediate family.

Each one will come with its own story and I hope our happy gatherings around the table will add much more to their history.

Happy collecting!

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Saturday 16 January 2016

My Simple Life Got A Whole Lot Simpler

There I was all geared up with all kinds of Christmas projects completed, photographed and ready to blog about when two things happened to take my deliberately simple life and turn it positively pioneer.

The first thing that happened was I blew the brake lines out on my car. It's an old car and not really worth putting any significant money into repairs. Since I opted for semi-retirement last year and discovered I didn't have nearly enough money to get by on comfortably, I had to go without a vehicle until I could find a good deal on another used car. Have I mentioned I LIVE IN THE COUNTRY! That freed up a whole lot of time I would have used for last minute Christmas shopping.

The second life altering event was getting caught between internet providers. I cancelled the original service only to discover that the new provider was at capacity for customers and I would have to wait and wait and wait until they could determine whether they could get me enough signal, send someone out to test and set up an appointment for installation. Did I have any options to waiting weeks for service? No, because I LIVE IN THE COUNTRY!

I decided to zen out about it all and assume this was a sign that I should slow down and reassess my daily life. What did I want to keep and what did I want to let go? What did I enjoy and what did I do out of habit? What makes me happy and what has become a burden?

I discovered things I had no idea were going on in the house. The mystery of why the onions I planted weren't growing was explained by seeing where Clara Jane chooses to take her afternoon nap.

 The unseasonably warm weather we've had here in Ontario gave me a third harvest of lavender on the 23rd. of December! ~ 

Now, there was time to take the lavender buds off all the bundles I had drying and the fragrant stems are in a basket by the woodstove to add a little something special to the evening fire. ~

I'm minding two little girls, one and two years old, each Monday for a friend. Their regular babysitter can't take them that day for awhile. I'm sure it was a shock to them to discover they were in a house with no cable TV. But, the age old things that have entertained children for generations still work.

We baked Christmas cookies. ~

They taught me there is no such thing as too many sparkles. ~

Clara Jane learned that the safest place in a house with two toddlers is the top of the fridge. The one-year-old learned to say, "Tzee tzee (kitty) is high! ~

Serves Clara Jane right for killing my onions!

There was time to devote to a grandson that chose to come for a five-day visit. This is a big step for him for, although he is a teenager, he has many developmental and emotional issues and has not stayed away from home before. It was quiet here and no car meant no running around to entertain him and that stopped any chance of sensory overload for him. We did fine together and he was making plans for a month-long summer visit before he left. In fact, he decided it would be best if I left the house to him in my will and he could move in and take care of my cats and chickens. I kind of like that plan. He's an old hand at chicken keeping and the cats love him.

They say nothing ever really happens by accident. I think I had this enforced slow down so I could spend some time on things that matter a little more than what I was doing.

I'm glad I've had this time to gather my thoughts together and begin the new year in a more conscious way. One thing I know for sure is I'll block out lots of time for whatever kids need me.

And, I know you'll still get lots of chicken posts because slowing down reminded me of how much I like to go out into the dusk and see the trees silhouetted against the sky as I put my girls to bed for the night.

Nothing calms the soul more than the cooing of happy chickens as they settle down for the night.

I think this past month I have been cooing in the evening myself!