Sunshiny Day in the Neighbourhood

“Thirty-five below,” I’m told in the morning when the phone rings. I go out and take this picture of the thermometer next to the back door, thinking of how it will make Aunt Reta shiver and be glad she’s in Phoenix.

Later there’s a call while I’m in the can and I return it, mistakenly, to a neighbour whose first baby is overdue. Maybe she needs a ride to the hospital or something. Never know.

“Did Shirley tell you to check the furnace exhaust pipe outside? Sometimes it gets plugged up with ice and snow.” She didn’t, but I’ll go out right away and make sure it’s clear.

I figure out Shirley’s phone and find Karen’s number on the call display; she’s made a stew and was calling to invite me for lunch. Emil’s still in bed and hasn’t eaten yet today, so I decline. Besides, Little Green’s not plugged in; she likely won’t start at this temperature.

It’s a bright beautiful day and once I’ve checked the exhaust pipe and plugged in the car (realizing that when I plugged it in on Monday, the other end of the cord wasn’t plugged into the wall socket. “Dummy,” say I to myself). I can’t force myself back indoors. I head past Grandpa’s shop and down the back alley to another alley and then cross the main street.

It feels good to stroll here again after so many years. I’ve driven down these streets but not walked them for a long, long time. Many buildings that I remember are gone, leaving empty lots. Some that were boarded up even when I was small enough to need to be babysat are still standing, their lines strong and straight.

Someone has bought Grandpa J’s house and made a snowy driveway on the lawn beside the front walk. Next door is the home of a lady I mean to visit (but not when it’s almost noon); she’s lived there since before I was born, though the house that was there has been replaced. Her son was my tricycling buddy at “Stubblejumpers Cafe.” I’d gazed somewhat sadly, while crossing Main Street, at the place where their little diner once stood.

There are houses that haven’t been lived in for decades, and several that haven’t been lived in for two or three years. There are a lot of tracks in the deep snow around the yard of one unoccupied residence and I peer closer, wondering what might’ve made them. A moose and her this-year’s calf are laying behind the trees on the other side of the yard. The calf gets up and stares at me while I stand there, thrilled, cameraless.

I don’t wish to disturb the sunning pair further and carry on, footsteps crunching on the white road. Familiarity and memories pull me forward. I stepped out without my scarf and am sorry; my neck’s cold. I want to keep walking over the entire village, all five blocks by three blocks of it (if that). It’s home and it always will be. I learned to ride a bicycle here, play ball, climb trees, go rafting.

Emil needs to be roused anyway. There is a file to work on, and a deadline. I make my way “home,” promising myself another walk tomorrow if not later today, even tonight.

Little Green, all plugged in with no place to go.

After Lunch

Emil, leaving the table: Mom. What if ceiling fans could talk?
Me: I wonder what they’d say.
Emil: But they don’t talk do they.


Companions: Emil, Lucky, Earl


Emil prepares to hang up his jacket at Grandma’s Aunt Shirley’s.

When I went to Wadena on Monday to drive Emil home from his brother’s, I was met at the door by a young man with pressing news:

“Mom. Mom. I have a cold. I think I’d like to come to your place instead of going to Aylesbury House.”

So I have company here after all, besides  Lucky and Earl. Which means I have to cook more than toast for meals.

Actually the cats are better company because Emil went straight to bed. He’s been up for breakfast and suppers, but that’s it. Lots of coughing and blowing of nose, poor bugger.

“Sometimes people like to be with their mom when they’re sick. That makes sense, right?” Right.

Reta, when did Mrs. Grand pass away? Emil is 30, and he says he remembers the little house across the street and a lady living there.  Was she still alive when he was a child? I wouldn’t have thought so; she was pretty old when I was a kid. I remember her well though, with her unique voice and French accent. Her house has been gone for a long time already.  Maybe some other person lived there before the house was demolished, and that’s who he’s thinking of?

Lucky the one-eyed boy and his playmate Earl are curious about everything I do.




Gag Me With a …

Nice out there today

It’s getting ridiculous.

I’ve changed diapers, for heaven’s sake! I’ve cleaned up kids’ puke! And now I can’t handle the sight of yellow snow (dog urine) or feces of any kind without it bringing on a serious bout of gaggage if I have to deal with it, i.e. shovel it up. Last winter when I stayed at Karen’s to look after her dogs and my niece’s cat, I couldn’t complete the task of cleaning the cat’s litterbox. Karen may have to come into town and help me out when it’s litterbox time. Thank goodness for sisters; they’ll do pretty much anything for each other.

Certain scenes on TV do it to me, too. Poop, puke, various bodily fluids … blood, though, and cutting into skin, just make the nerves behind my knees go crazy … but other fluids make me gag and look away and sometimes gag some more. The HBO channel likes to throw all that in your face. Otherwise it’s a pleasure to watch its programming, except for violence and the brutality to women. After the first couple episodes of The Deuce, for instance, I chose not to watch anymore.

Cleaning bathtub and bathroom sink drains fits into the gaggage category. I will be in trouble if this begins to extend to kitchen sink drains, which already make me a bit squeegy. I wonder why no one has invented a self-cleaning sink-stopper yet. I’d invest.



You Can So Go Back

frog meditates It’s been two hours since I rolled out of bed at the insistence of my neck.

“Get up, fool! Otherwise you’re going to feel even worse than you do right now.”

Thanks to my neck, I sleep eight hours instead of ten. Perhaps I should be grateful, because I feel noble when I don’t sleep in.

In other dull personal news about my body, my arm has stopped aching and whinging. I stopped pinning it under my pillow all night, and that seems to have fixed it.

It was still dark when I walked around the house, looking out the windows, discovering the back doors had been slightly open all night as I hadn’t been careful enough while locking the inside one before going to bed. Oh well, it’s not like there’s any danger of intruders here in my home town, though I suppose one never knows. Anyway, I felt safe through the night with my aunt Shirley’s two cats occasionally hopping onto the bed to see if I was breathing.

Across the street at 7:30, the light was on in the neighbour’s front room. Another neighbour came out of his house at eight. At 8:30 a vehicle was warming up next door, and at nine it roared past my aunt’s house here. There’s life in the old town yet! It’s 10 o’clock now and someone’s out with a small snowplow or a bobcat or whatever it is.

The sun’s shining, the snow’s sparkling, the sky’s blue, I’ve had two cups of coffee, two slices of buttered toast, two mugs of fruit smoothie, and the day is stretched out in front of me. It’s pretty cold out so I’ll plug in my car in a few hours so I can drive to Wadena and chauffeur Emil home from his brother’s. That may be the extent of my out-and-around, today.

I await incoming files to work on for the three weeks I’m here, cat-sitting. As a kid I spent a lot of hours in this house so I feel right at home, not even two blocks away from the site of the cafe, now gone, where the imaginary Stubblejumpers Cafe is located.

The Quiet

At 7 o’clock this morning, he said “It’s 30-below.”
“UffDa,” said I, reminded of my Scandinavian heritage.

Y’all know that I love music, but do you know that I don’t listen to music very often?
You know that I’m interested in many topics, but do you know that I rarely turn on the TV or radio during the day, when I’m usually here alone?
I have a Smartphone, but I don’t check it too often for texts or incoming mail.
I have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but recently I decided to check them only on the weekends.
Yes there’s a point to all this. It’s coming.

I discovered podcasts, which means I can listen to my preferred radio programs when I want to, as opposed to when they are aired. I like to plug in my earbuds sometimes while out walking, and before going to sleep.

There was an interview with an actor who had quit a successful TV series in order to take a year off and then see what else was out there. The interviewer thought this was very risky for someone in the acting profession but, since the actor had soon been offered another juicy role in a series, the interviewer thought perhaps there was some wisdom in the actor’s approach. Would she have any advice for other actors?

She would not, she said, but she could say what had worked for her so far. One, she’d been “smart with my money” over her years on that first series. Second, she made sure she had plenty of quiet in her life. She wasn’t constantly checking her phone or her email. She wasn’t always turning on the TV. These are distractions, she said, that we become addicted to, when what we need is quiet so that we can clearly hear our own inner voices and understand our own lives.

This explains in simple words why I don’t need or want constant noise, why I’ve set aside my phone and computer somewhat (and will do more, too). They do distract me from my authentic needs and my own power, and I’ve recognized the danger of allowing that.

As I’ve discarded some of my own thoughtless habits, I’ve noticed how some others are still caught in them. I see people who do not sit for even one minute without reaching for their phones or tablets or the TV remote. I’m glad I wasn’t afraid of the emptiness these devices are so poor at filling. By choosing to give myself plenty of quiet and space, I’ve learned that there isn’t really any emptiness at all.

Elfin Child

I always ask the parents for permission before posting a photo of their child, and along with the thumbs-up for this one came the promise of an even cuter one tomorrow, for Valentine’s Day.

“Is it possible,” I exclaimed, “for this baby to be any cuter?!”

And so, even though tomorrow’s photographs may show off Little Eva’s adorableness even more, I give you:


Making me want to kiss her 1000 times

Her first name is Kali, but one of her two middle names is Eva, and that is how I think of her.

Land of Plenty


In Auschwitz and other prison camps during the Second World War, when prisoners arrived, most if not all of the few belongings they came with were taken from them and stockpiled in a warehouse. The SS and guards would take what they wanted and sometimes prisoners living in the camps could get stuff from there, like a piece of clothing they could take apart and make into something else. Usually they had to steal the items, but they didn’t call it stealing, they called it “organizing.” For example, they “organized” a tablecloth from old fabric taken from “Canada.”

They called the warehouse “Canada” because Canada was thought to be a land of openness and abundance.

If you can read A Train in Winter without shedding a tiny tear even once, I don’t know about you. Having personally never encountered, to my knowledge, a heartless, cruel or psychotic person, the stories seem so horrific as to be more imagined than possibly true, though I know they are true. What was done to babies and small children … what was done to young women, without anaesthetic … how prisoners were beaten, cold, starved, humiliated, tortured … for months and years and yet some survived it all … the brutality of those guards and their officers disgusts me. Sadists exist, and I pray never to meet one. It’s bad enough knowing they’re out there.

Not Worth Killing For

I can understand being angry when a carload of strangers drives into your farmyard and tries to steal your stuff.

As a woman often alone on a farm, I can imagine being afraid too. I’ve thought having a gun handy might be smart, except for the stupid things ordinarily sensible people sometimes do when there’s a gun around and they’ve lost their minds in some ridiculous domestic dispute, often drunken, and aren’t thinking straight. It happens all the time, and not always to someone else. It happens to you — it happens to me — or at least, to people just like us.

I can imagine pointing a gun at someone threatening me or mine, and telling them to get the hell out of my sight or I’ll blow their balls off.

But I hope I’d never, ever aim at their heads and if I did fire a weapon, it would be at their lower legs. I wouldn’t be shooting to kill.

And I’d never, ever hope to be believed if I claimed the gun went off accidentally — unless I was a white person and the intruders were First Nations. Then, it seems, you can get away with damn near anything.

I’m pretty sure there are people all over this province who are thinking Boushie got what he deserved, that he and his friends shouldn’t have been there in the first place, shouldn’t have been thieving. They shouldn’t have; that’s true.

But no one deserves to lose their life over a piece of machinery.

bathroom window

bathroom window, early morning

So Very Fortunate

A-train-in-winter-caroline-mooreheadA Train in Winter, by Caroline Moorehead, is a difficult book to read. I’ve set it aside many times because the stories it contains are too painful to take in all at once.

It describes the German occupation of France during the Second World War. It details the incredible French Resistance efforts, the courage of those risking their lives to undermine the Nazis and their collaborators. It credits the friendship and mutual support of French Resistance women imprisoned in Nazi labour and death camps with helping some to survive.

In spite of the heroic bravery of so many in the Resistance, overall it remains a horror story, to me. What a reminder of how lucky my life has been, though.

The first thing I do upon opening my eyes each morning is roll over and look at the bedroom window. Is it light yet? Is the sky grey or blue? bedroom windowBut rather than a sense of happy anticipation or even appreciation that I’ve lived to see another day, I feel a slight drop in spirits. Immediately I repeat several times the silent words “All is well in my world.”

And oh boy is it ever, compared to the lives of so many, then and now. I have been blessed a hundred-thousand times over, just by being safe and healthy, warm and fed. This book has reminded me to keep my piddling problems (really, do I even have any?) in perspective.

The worst I’ve had to cope with over the past few days is the noise and sawdust coming from the basement. Earbuds and the CBC Music app have helped a bit with that.