Only in The Valley 🐷 Episode Reid’s Meats

One of those moments that I have come to cherish in this big valley we now call home…

Part 1. Reid’s Meats 🔪

I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year.  Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.

I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).

Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop.  It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day.  When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat.  Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats.  And, you’re about to read a good example of that.

Anyhoo,

Michael Reid asks me if he can help me.  I tell him I’d like some ribs.  He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’

K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option.  I decided to stick with pork and told him so.

‘How much do you want?’

‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.

‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’

Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.

A few seconds later…

a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling.  Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.

‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination.  It wasn’t.  Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this.  I had been told this was fresh meat.  Got that right.

What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook.  He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.

In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad.  No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.

My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground.  Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands.  The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful.  The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose.  Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling.  The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin.  Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.

More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…

I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile.  I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.

Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades.  This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.

PIG

Coming soon: Part 2, Dabro Farms honour-system farm market

(Pictures found on google images…thank you.)

The Best Job in The World – Mom 🧸

Our son, Leo, came into this world in a bit of a nightmare situation back in 1999 but, regardless, he was one of the easiest children ever to raise and to love.  He challenged us a bit with court-room type drama once in a while but, it seemed it was mostly for good reasons.  He ended up being our only child, even though we hadn’t planned it that way, and funny, since both Dean and I come from large families.

Baby Leo (2)
I took this photo when ‘Leo’ was 10 months old.  He was excited to be going swimming in the pool at Quiet Bay Lodge Pool.  The water was freezing but he didn’t care.

He never once got into anything or made huge messes.  Never opened the cupboard under the sink or dismantled the chandelier like his Uncle Jobe. He would ask me daily for his nap time saying, ‘Nap now, Mum’ as he put his chubby hands together by his right ear and tilted his head as if it was his pillow (the American Sign Language sign for bedtime).  He would then sleep for about three hours.

So, this one crisp autumn day, we were running around on a country soccer pitch with our two big Northern dogs, Delta and Grizzly.  Leo was wearing his blue hooded, hand-knitted sweater from Nanny in Newfoundland.  We had this old soccer ball that Dean was eager for Leo to fall in love with, soccer being Dean’s passion.

The dogs were racing around.  Leo was racing around.  I was watching Leo’s every move (as was my normal then).

Suddenly, from about 50 feet away, Dean passes that soccer ball to Leo.  Let me rephrase that.  Dean hauled off and belted that soccer ball toward Leo.  There was 2-year old toddler Leo.  Watching that ball sail toward him.  It became slo-mo for a sec, and then WHAP!   Leo caught it right on the middle of his smooth, baby,  forehead.  His blond head snapped back slightly and then forward again.

I screamed, ‘YOU ASSHOLE’!  At Dean for doing this to my baby.  We raced to him.  I picked up Leo expecting major tears.

He didn’t even cry.

Dean was mortified.  He hadn’t expected the ball to fly at Leo’s forehead.

***

After our move to the Annapolis Valley, our Leo being about four years old then, we started off in a duplex up on Pleasant St as was told in this story: A Simple East Coast Life.  So, at the time, Leo was usually getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink and to pee.  He would routinely wake me up to let me know what was going on with him.  This one day, I kindly explained to Leo that it would be perfectly fine if he were to get up and do his thing without disturbing me and also without tripping over the dogs where they would inevitably lay in the doorway of our bedroom (the bathroom being across the hall).  The power of plain language is going to be highlighted here.

That night, middle of the night, Leo gets up and taps me on the shoulder, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to disturb you but, I am going to get a drink and go pee’.  I claw myself out of a deep sleep to acknowledge my mistake (he didn’t know what ‘disturb’ meant!)  While I’m at it, I remind him not to trip over the dogs.

Well, he stepped successfully over the fur-heads enroute to the bathroom.  I hear him do his pee.  I hear him fill the water cup, sip, then, step, step, step…

OOOOOPH…

splash!!

Scurry of large dogs away from the wet spill.

‘Sorry Mommy.  I tripped and spilled my water.’

All this time, Dean is still snoring.  Men.

***

First year of University, in our same town.  Leo is eighteen now and in residence.  One day, early on, I get a text:

‘Mom, I’m gonna need another towel asap.’

Leo was always a pretty confident guy.  Always pretty sure that every need and necessity would be met.  Living on his own was going to be a bit of a curve.

***

Leo to his dad by text, ‘hope I’m not pushing my luck with this one but could you get mom to give me some new linens for me to put on my bed?’ (Keep in mind that I have asked him to bring his linens home to wash each week.  He did it once in six months.)

***

This year, in a house with five guy roommates:

‘mom, can I cook this frozen pizza in a microwave?’

Me: ‘no honey.  In the Oven.’

Leo: ‘I don’t think there is  an oven.’

Me thinking, how does one not notice an oven?

***

‘ok so keven and I left a bunch of dishes in the dishwasher for way too long and now they’re all moldy, what should we do?’

***

‘the lightbulb in my bathroom stopped working, any tips on the fix’

***

He had this way of hearing and observing me and drawing conclusions.  Like this one day when he was four, we went to a friend’s house who had just been brushing his teeth, with the residual paste on his lips.  I asked, ‘did we catch you at a bad time?’

A few days later, a canvasser comes to our front door.  Leo and I go to the door together, as was our way then.  We open the door to find a man with a tie and clip board but, he also had a bit of white toothpaste on the side of his mouth.  Leo asks me: ‘Mommy, did we catch him at a bad time?’  It was weird, but I knew instantly why my little guy would ask that.

***

One final one for ya… this one day, Leo was very disappointed because he wasn’t allowed to go for a play with a friend because something else was going on.  He began to cry pretty hard in disappointment.  His face red.  I said, ‘Buddy? Are you going to be okay?’  Leo looks at me straight on and says: ‘I’m having a hard time’.  He had overheard me say this to a friend who was sad.

Make no mistake about it.  Being a mom is the best thing I have ever done.  The best gift I have ever received was a precious little guy to raise and love and form a family with.

 

 

 

 

(Photos taken by Martha Valiquette)

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

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).

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.

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish 🌸

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. ~Dalai Lama

After exiting the Arctic , where we lived for three years, give or take, I applied for a job from an ad in the Globe & Mail Newspaper.  A recruiting firm was looking to hire a House Manager for a wealthy family; let’s call them The Roses in Toronto’s Rosedale.  Eagerly, I applied for the position thinking that I had the attributes mentioned in the ad.

I made the cut.

At the end of the first interview with Braun the hiring manager, I asked him why they picked me out of the three hundred applicants.  He said they liked both my creative leaf-art at the bottom of my resume as well as my military experience.  Both sides of the brain.

Braun had spent the better part of a dozen years working for the Beaten Family and he knew the kind of person that would do well in this job.  Detail-oriented, strong work ethic, well-spoken, able to foresee disasters and their solutions, appreciative of wealth but not themselves wealthy and, let’s not forget, approval-seeking.  Yep.  I had all of those qualities.

After the second interview with the agency, I was told I would next be going to the offices of Mr Rose to be interviewed by him.  I made sure to have a sturdy note pad, and a good pen.  I donned my navy blazer, blouse and skirt.  For the first time I was missing my military uniform which made wardrobe decisions so easy.  In my mind, I was a Captain heading to a meeting with a General.  Just putting it into perspective.

It went well.  I could tell Mr Rose was happy with my confident eye-contact, my note-taking and my questions.  My seriousness but also my quick smile.  I even managed to negotiate my salary up to the next notch, which I could tell both amused and impressed him.

He told me that the next step would be to visit with his family.  Meet them, tour the houses and property.  Get an idea of the scope of the job.

I had been told they were a Jewish family.  Knowing nothing about the Jewish faith, I sought the opinion of a Jewish acquaintance.  He said my visit would be during one of the Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah.  I was nervous about being the House Manager for a family with a completely unfamiliar faith to the one I had known growing up.  I was bound to make mistakes, even subtle ones, just because I had no idea.

At the time, I was reading a book by Deepak Chopra.  In this book, he advised to always show up with a small gift when going to someone’s house.  Wise advise, I thought.  I picked up a small box of chocolates and made sure they were kosher.  I donned my conservative atire and grabbed my sturdy note pad and reliable pen.

I drove into their estate in my 3-cylinder shit box I called ‘Puny’.  The same one I had bought before leaving Comox in 1988.

The house was modern and grand.  I knocked on the door and smiled gently as I was met by Mrs Rose.  I passed her the little box of chocolates and made nicey-nice while she showed me the huge kitchen and writing nook where she wrote her cookbooks.  Then Mr Rose took me to the other house which backed onto theirs.

His 4000 square foot Man Cave.

The door opened to a dining room with a chandelier bigger than me and a table which sat twenty-two.  Enough said. The place was perfect.  A lot of brown and beige tones with the odd hint of deep burgundy.  Very mannish.  He told me, and this was important, ‘I want this place to always be absolutely sublime‘.

K, I didn’t even know what sublime meant back then.

The first thing I did upon getting back to Scarberia (North Beaches really but, whatever) was look it up.

Sublime: Perfect, without blemish.

I was sweating.

I knew I could do this job, but, did I WANT to?  It sounded like a lot of bullshit to me.  My mind imagined my days on that property.  Worried about every little thing.  I was completely stressed just thinking about it.  When Dean and I had traveled to Australia, we had seen the movie: The Remains of The Day.  Was I meant to be a glorified Butler / House Keeper; a combination of both Anthony Hopkins’ and Emma Tompsins’ characters? Was I to walk around with a feather duster and white gloves?

Then, the call came.  Braun the Hiring Manager was dressing me down for bringing a box of chocolates to the interview at their home.  He told me it was inappropriate.  Mr Rose had mentioned it and said it was like I was trying to ‘butter’ them up to hire me.  Geez.  This guy was a freak.  I wasn’t even hired and he was already disappointed in me.

phone boothI remained silent when Braun stopped speaking.  I was in a phone booth in the village of Maggie River on Eight Mile Lake, near The Camp in Cottage Country of Ontario.  It was a gorgeous early summer day.  I looked at the shiny water near the locks.  I looked at the nodding heads of the wild flowers growing in every possible crack or fissure.

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.

flower

I took a deep breath and told Braun that I was no longer interested in the position.  I said, ‘If Mr Rose is that worried about a proffered tiny box of chocolates, I don’t think I can work for him.  I don’t want to work for people like that.  Sorry.’

Braun was speechless.  He had invested a lot of time in me.  He would have to start over.

‘You mean, you don’t want to work for The Rose Family?  At that salary?  Maybe I can get you more money, Morgan.’

‘Sorry, Braun.  I can’t do it.  It’s not for me.’

I walked away from that phone booth feeling a massive weight lift off my shoulders.  I felt like I had dodged a bullet.  Next, I went for a swim in the shiny waters of Eight Mile Lake.

Sublime: Perfect. Without Blemish.

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(All pictures come from Google Images.  Thank you!)

The King of Korea 🇰🇷

For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother.  Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow.  Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors.  They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us).  We certainly could never do that with our son Leo.  The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English.  Worth it to them.  Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.

At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life.  Charlie loved math and studying.  Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego.  Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much.  Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch.  He was a maniac.  Leo was pretty chill, usually.

The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby.  Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby.  I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that.  Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’  So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel.  After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month.  Canadian kids play every chance they get.  Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’  Charlie took my advice.  The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying.  So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study.  Oooookay.

Pond Skating 5

When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’  Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy.  He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change.  I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night.  Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning.  I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello?  At 2 in the morning?”  Something like that.

skating with king of korea

Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls.  Quite a big difference.  One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility.  That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic.  Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?”  He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.

dark highway

One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk).  Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard,  by Linda Sue Park.  Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read.  We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish in Virginia when we lived there and when Leo was born.  I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff.  I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.

Bedtime Story

Charlie really liked his food.  I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side.  Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie.  He was inspecting.  He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently.  A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup.  We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’.  He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them.  Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’.  We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end.  He cottoned on.  We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home.  He was a visitor in our home.  He got it.

IMG_1094

Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the school yard to pick up Leo and Charlie.  Charlie was nowhere to be seen.  I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea.  Suddenly, there he was.  He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.

Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times.  This always made Leo laugh.  Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school.  Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back.  One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up.  When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’.  We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.

To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends.  It was a lot of fun.  We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again.  From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days.  We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea.  Maybe he is?king-sejong

TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥

My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story.  He wanted the action figure very badly.  We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one.  The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time.  I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one.  Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much.  He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years.  He was much loved.  I just didn’t want to spoil him.  There’s a fine line.

BuzzOne day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch.  Thrift shopping is so much fun.  The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.

We were wheeling our way around the store.  Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…

NONE OTHER THAN…

CAN YOU GUESS???

YES!

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!!  The one and only.  And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.

Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down.  There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were.  The boy was looking at Buzz.  My hand was reaching.  His hand was reaching.  I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…

the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!

My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section.  I held him up.  He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.

Leo didn’t care.  He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight.  ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked.  ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’  He was one happy little gaffer that day.

Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days.  It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’

One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill.  There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile.  When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.

I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM.  I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days.  They would see what they could do.  We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs.  After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.

The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz.  The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’  Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz.  The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm.  He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean.  No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study.  Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.

Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what?  Buzz is all fixed up!’

buzz2
Leo’s drawing of Buzz Lightyear.  Age 5.

The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When my son, Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time.  We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999.  It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast.

My husband, Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time.  Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.

While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!

Public GardensIf we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house.  It was a hell of a market.  A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.

Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week.  They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up.  The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove.  The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with our two big dogs, Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).

When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish.  We all wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs. I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’.  I say the words aloud to Dad and Wendy, it was like, well, music to their ears. Golden, simply golden.  We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wendy’s hand.  It was the music of their age. From their day.  They began to dance.  When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.

‘Back in a flash,’  I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away. Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse.  Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wendy who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence.  They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet.  Imagine.

Peggy's cove village

The next day we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach. For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather.  The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth.  Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.

‘Back in a flash’.  I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food.  I marveled watching Dad and Leo who were obviously enjoying their cones the most.  We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea.  The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold.  Of course.

Bayswater Beach

For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal.  I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day,  while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’.  When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.

Then it was back to just the three of us, with now a jumbo-sized peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger.  Hearing our baby’s heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon.  His name would be ‘Dane’, after the great soccer player, Zidane.

Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend, I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly.  It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.

‘Ah oh’, I thought. ‘Can’t be.”

Continued at Loss of Dane, Part 2

 

 

 

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Crane photo courtesy of an old high school friend with the initials G.B.

All other photos from google and pinterest

Leave a comment. It tells me you were here and also, tell me of your experience of loss.