Oh – For the Glory Days of Halloween

 

We grumble about change. Who likes it? But damn, I miss the glory days of Halloween in our neighborhood – which takes me right back to being a kid, and what the great spooky candy-fest was all about back then. WE never had store bought costumes, except maybe for those horrible hard masks with the cheap elastic on the back – who cared though? Our mom would haul out black shirts, and tights, and rip up sheets and voila – the five of us would be a rag tag team of cats, witches, hobos and ghosts. My folks never followed us into the dark scary night – they kept the youngest inside and let the rest loose, but Holy Cow Batman, we weren’t ever alone. We tore through hedges and across lawns following a band of trick-or-treaters hooting and hollering through the night, stomping our feet on door steps where someone’s dad was insisting we sing before he would drop caramels or suckers or candy corn into our pillow cases. Yep pillow cases, always pillow cases.

pumpkin face

 

Halloween got more la dee da for my four kids. I bought them big plastic orange pumpkins for their loot (pillow cases held more). l encouraged them to fashion their own costumes but was a sucker for buying green make-up and shiny witches hats. And admittedly, for as long as they’d let me I tried to keep up to their scampering feet, but not for safety, more for camaraderie  with the neighbors and because – Dang it! – I delighted in the excitement of Halloween.  I shared the thrill of the kids running through the dark, costumed as something they imagined as scary or comic, trying to decide should they go this way or that, amid rumors of haunted houses and neighbors giving out unheard of amounts of loot.

My kids have grown up and buy elaborate costumes at ‘Halloween Stores’ to wear to parties on the Saturday before the 31st. The kids have grown and flown but a lot of us parents in this community have stayed put. It gets referred to as ‘an old neighborhood’ especially the day after Halloween when we lament the small number of trick or treaters, and talk about all the leftover teeny-weeny chocolate bars we have to eat ourselves. The afternoon of the 31st I was in a local mall and as dusk descended parents were bringing their tiny kids, dressed as mice and princesses, to the brightly lit shops to get free candy. Okay, it was cold and raining – I’ll give those moms and dads that, but parading through the malls just isn’t the spirit of trick or treating outside after dark, with pumpkins all aglow. It galls me to think that while Halloween gets steadily more commercialized the old-fashioned fun of it is being destroyed by overly anxious bubble- wrapping parents, though friends assure me that out in the new neighborhoods, stacked with children, you can still experience throngs of trick-or-treaters.

creepy house

Part of our Halloween gig is for me to pick up my costumed granddaughters (this year they’re Batgirl and Gotham’s Harley Quinn) and whip them over to their great-grandparent’s house – even at age eighty-seven my mom would never dream of turning out the lights and hiding when there were ghosts and goblins outside looking for treats. On the way we stop to stare and shiver at one of those houses that go all out – bearing witness to the most devoted display of Halloween spine-chilling hair-raising dare-to-come-up-the-path to-our-house fun. Watching this couple adding dry ice and flickering lights to their freaky yard restored my faith in the occasion, and I doubly felt my granddaughter’s urgency to get home to trick-or-treat.

bat girl and harley quinn

My daughter brought little batgirl and Harley Quinn to our house after they circled their own block, still revved up enough to come visit lonely neighbors with me. Like I said, it’s an old neighborhood, the streets are far too quiet and we all want to bend down and regal Batgirl and Harley Quinn with stories of the glory days on the block when there were gangs flying down the street calling out into the night, “Trick er Treat. Halloween Apples.”  But the girls, sleepy eyed and contend, and just the right amount of scared, don’t seem to be missing what they never knew. And hey what’s with the apples anyways?

PS. I’d like to engage with my readers – please leave a comment or tell me, what was your Halloween all about? If you’d like to read more about my own four monsters and their journeys into the wide scary world check out my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. 

 

Ah – Summertime – Sweet, Sweet Summertime.

It’s June 23rd. The days are long but we’ve past the very longest day of the year – which might make me melancholy – accept I’m forever mindful of that schools out schedule, and so feel that summer stretches before us still, in all it’s short sweet Canadian glory.  apple blossoms

The apple blossoms have faded but the peonies are still blossoming and hanging their lovely heavy heads. yellow peony

It’s disheartening to know they will droop and scatter their generous petals soon but in a few days the garden vegetables will be ready and my favorite – the raspberries – will follow.

 

One of my earliest memories is of picking raspberries beside my grandmother in a magical patch of juicy red sweetness that absolutely enveloped me.

raspberry summers

And there will be days and nights at the lake – kayak and canoe trips sliding over the still water, swims at sunset and campfires after dusk. rose swims

 

 

Evenings with family or friends gathered around an outside table slurping up the sweetness of peaches and cream listening for the call of a loon on the lake and seeing flashes of fireworks on another shore. girls play

So the longest day has come and gone but summer is only just begun …

A Magical Backyard Garden – My Inherited Mom’s Day Gift

Mother’s Day and the Gift of the Backyard Garden

Vibrant little green peas, the smell of carrots with specks of soil still clinging to them, earth with the aroma of green onions – the promise of the backyard feeds my soul. Every May the calendar days around Mother’s Day and my internal genetic calendar push me to turn over my tiny plot of soil, buy a handful of pretty seed packages, and tuck their contents into rows ready to water.  It’s a tradition passed on to me from my mom and her mother, like colouring Easter eggs around Good Friday, and picnics on a blanket on a warm summer day.

nanny's yard picnic

On Mother’s Day when my four kids were little and excited to make me a tray in bed with the most delicious passion-filled luke warm pancakes, overcooked eggs, and bowl of Captain Crunch, I would elicit their dad to help me sneak pass them because always at that time of year the empty garden spots among the blossoming trees were just begging me to prance around on the dewy lawn and be lifted up by the best work I know. I’d run back to bed for my tray of child-love when it was ready.

My mom taught me the simple beauty and deep satisfaction of the vegetable garden. It was her favorite work too. She has five children and I have four. Raising a family is chaotic and chore-filled, and raising a garden takes you into another space for a short reprieve from groceries and laundry, meals and cleaning, ferrying little ones from here to there. Somehow in the garden you find time to dream a little dream while kneeling in the soft grass with seeds in hand, pushing aside an earth worm, thinking about how the summer might go, of people standing barefoot picking peas, or biting into the strawberries the squirrels don’t steal. It’s time away from time.

nanny and roses

I joke with my family that, “It’s all going to be okay. I’ve got the fall harvest in,” when in reality my eight by six foot bed of vegetables only supplies a few colourful meals and delightful raw snacks, not like my grandmother’s farm garden that was needed for survival ‘in the early days’. Still after retiring to the luxuries of town, my Nanny, an image of independence, planted a back yard garden; hills of potatoes and squash, rows of beans and peas, carrots and beets, circled by cornflowers and raspberries, and she did that until she was ninety-four-years old.  It’s my inherited Mother’s Day gift, from my mom, and her mom to be drawn outdoors with a reverence for the sun and the soil and the magic ability that nurturing the earth has to calm and sooth us, to take us to a sweet spot every May of hope and inspiration.  (Discover more at Amazon.com )

seeds in garden

Was There More Daydreaming?

real letters

Do you remember that time?  The time before ‘this time’ when we were somehow more free to be alone?  If you are a young reader here – you won’t recall it, as it never really existed for you.  Let’s see – do you recall calmly sitting at a bus stop after school waiting for your ride, and just staring out, maybe thinking about needing to call a friend from home so the two of you could pick a spot to meet at the mall, say the frozen yogurt stand at the food court or the bench beside the phone booths in the middle?  And if your friend wasn’t there when you arrived you would take out that letter to your cousin that you started in math class, and finish telling her about the new guy you liked, but you couldn’t tell her to look up his grinning mug on facebook,  or send her a selfie of you waiting for your bus home – still glowing with your crush on.

I’m not being holier than thou.  I love, love, love my phone and all the way it connects me to the world. I tell myself to leave it behind on occasion, but then I quickly think– “Oh no Self, what if I need to take a photo, something that I immediately have to post to my friends or tweet to strangers?  Come on. Really?  I could send them one of the 628 photos currently in my magical phone?   I wrote my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest when I realized with my kids going off into the wide, wide world I was feeling more than a little jittery.  And then ca-pow, I managed, as parents do now, to be connected  to them in a way that I was never connected to my mom. When I flew away to university and was terribly homesick for my big family, she splurged on pricey long distance encouraging phone calls, and we wrote letters that involved pen, and paper and stamps – and hey, if we could have texted each other (for free), I know we would have. So it isn’t that desire for connection that I am being slightly forlorn about today.

No, I’m reading a  captivating book called – The End of Absence – Reclaiming What We’ve Lost In A World Of Constant Connection, by Michael Harris, a writer from Vancouver, Canada.  Harris says, that “the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp is the end of absence – the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.”

rope swing

He makes me aware that I am part of the last few generations who will remember that other time, a time when it was easier to hang out with yourself, to be alone and okay.  Do you remember those days when if you walked to the corner store or the library it was just you, without a phone in your hand – or maybe you might have run ahead to catch up to a neighbor you spotted to talk to, because that’s how you ‘shared’, not by posting share?  (Though of course, the irony is that I’ll soon finish this post and share it.) Will my four kids, who launched themselves in the world and at times ignored the tether of my cell phone – probably because I was bugging them like crazy, or they were up to deeds I wouldn’t approve of – will they recall the time when there was no little beep, beep and ding, ding in their purse or pocket, and how if they were out with a person, say me or their dad or each other, they were really just with them.  Was there more daydreaming back then?  Do they daydream between texting, and checking facebook posts and watching YouTube videos?  Do I?

To read Text Me, Love Mom – the book – go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712 or http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

May Your Hearts Be Merry and Light

Two of our four children were born at Christmas time.  Despite the deep fatigue and life changing chaos, those were extra special holidays – with sweet teeny babes in floppy elf sleepers, snuggled in a grandparent’s eager arms while tree lights twinkled in the background. Eighteen years after those births, when our first ‘child’ had been away for the first time to university for three long months of not-enough-communication, those holidays times were extra special again.

elf baby

I remember so clearly the anticipation of Zoë coming home to sleep in her bed again at the close of first term and how giddy that made the rest of the household as we searched for the tree stand and the rice krispee roll recipe. I wrote about that in my book Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – and I’d like to share a snippet of that here in a holiday blog.

“Zoë was different after being at university.  I noticed that the first evening she was back as we lingered around the table after dinner, bombarding her with questions. It was a look on her face, a quality it was hard to put my finger on, except to say that she had drifted away a little bit.  I had gazed around the room at her siblings, her brothers Cole and Hudson, and her little sister Lily, and imagined us all reuniting after future ventures.  Zoë swore that she would travel to the far north someday, being captivated by the notion of a trip to Yellowknife or even Inuvik.  Cole insisted he was going to snowboard in the southern hemisphere.  Hudson was harder to pin down –I think he aspired to travel back and forth in time, and back then I wrongly viewed our youngest,  Lily, as a home body.

paper angel

During the holiday season I would be happy to imagine them all simply staying put.  I was going to pretend for the three weeks that Zoë would be home that she had never left.  We would decorate a too tall, slightly lope-sided tree together and my husband would insist once more on putting up the goofy looking angel Zoë made in kindergarten.  I wanted it to be a holiday season full of my kids dog piling on top of one another, and watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, all of us singing aloud to the Sisters’ song –

All kinds of weather

We stick together 

The same in the rain or sun 

Two diff’rent faces

 But in tight places

 We think and we act as one[1]

I intended to encourage Zoë to humor Lily and I, and come skating with us on the lake near their grandparent’s property, after which we three would go for lattés, before coming home to whip up a batch of butter tarts for Christmas Eve.  I knew Zoë would be impatient to go hang with her friends, but I hoped to convince her to indulge us with a skate around the lake first.  I’d ask, but I promised to be a grown-up about it myself and not harass her to join us – just to ask.

shea skating

She needed time to reconnect with her same-age peers.  At ages eighteen and thirteen my daughters couldn’t really act as one, but I knew that on Christmas Eve they would raise their voices with Bing Crosby’s and happily sing about it.”

New babies and growing up children – both added loveliness to the holidays.  May this season bring tranquility to you and yours.

christmas bird-1

[1] Berlin, Irving. “Sisters.” Lyrics. White Christmas. The Movie. 1954

Oh Baby – Let’s Swing

“How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down! ”

The Swing –   Robert Louis Stevenson

Up at our cottage there is a small clearing in the trees, with a view toward the lake.  It is a place some of us (probably the girls) always looked at as if it was where you would slip off to with a new boyfriend when it seemed you had been inundated with aunts and uncles, and cousins or other lakeside visitors –  to get away and whisper, or steal a kiss without being observed by dad.

It is a place to go when you are feeling like a moment, or being contemplative, or are in love, or out of love – a place away from the other places, a place to steal a kiss, or tell a secret. IMG_4581

 

 

 

And then our eldest had a baby who has a love of swinging, and we’d drive for twenty minutes to the park beside the local baseball diamond.  At last I knew what the spot in the trees needed – a swing – a swing for a toddler, but a swing for a long-legged kid or a grown up, too.

Lucky for all of us my son-in-law, the toddler’s daddy, is a recently graduated architect with a passion for building – no pre-packaged swing set kit for us.  On three of the hottest days of last summer he happily constructed the perfect, simple baby swing and a ‘big’ swing, and a place to climb and slide – with awe struck assistants from those of us eager for the finished product.

It was a hot summer with the lake temperature invitingly warm, so swimming and boating and floating we’re so much of what we did – not much swinging at all.IMG_4641

But it’s British Columbia, Canada and there are long crisp seasons where the lake is the backdrop for more quiet pursuits, times when there will be a fussy baby that needs to be soothed or too many folks will be crowded inside, and two others will have to slip out to that spot in the trees and take turns simply swinging.nest painting-2

It’s January now, the ground is icy white, the still air promises more snow and cold.  But hey, it’s time to dream of  spring and going “up into the air and down”….

Santa – please come take back ‘walking doll’

doll lights

When I was a little girl, four or five, I asked Santa for a ‘walking doll’. I don’t remember sitting on the old guy’s lap – maybe my mom had written a letter for me, but clearly a request had been made. I woke with a start on Christmas Eve, and thinking it was already morning, I ran down the hall in my pajamas, stopping short at the entrance to the living room and peeking around the corner. Nothing can erase that moment, even now all these years since, for what I saw was my dad arranging presents under the tree and there front and center – was the unwrapped wonderful ‘walking doll’. I slid back into bed unnoticed, but absolutely delighted – not at all traumatized that Santa had blown his cover. Surely it was the jolly old elf who left the doll for my parents to display, and now I would be able to play with her in the morning, and all the mornings after that.
My mom wanted us kids to use our imaginations so she didn’t want us to have any of those crazy high-tech battery operated toys. The beauty of the tall hard plastic ‘walking doll’ was that her arm bones were connected to her leg bones by some mysterious inner wires, and so when you lifted an arm and moved it, her lovely flat footed leg took a step – no batteries involved.
‘Walking doll’ hasn’t fared too well over the years – at the hands of my two brothers and umpteenth male cousins she’s somehow suffered damage my sisters and girl cousins wouldn’t have inflicted. A blinking eye has been pushed into its socket ,and some horrible boy shot her right foot with a BB gun (back in the day when boys shot BB guns).
Since my own kids left home I’ve kept a few cuddly baby dolls for visiting little ones to play with and even a soft plastic one that never loses its sweet soft- plastic smell. And of course, I’ve kept ‘walking doll’ on a shelf in the basement  – beside my own grown daughter’s fancy porcelain faced Anne of Green Gables doll.
Recently, seeking order before the house fills with family for Christmas, I did another  overhaul of great magnitude of the junk stored in the basement and vowed ‘walking doll’ needed to go. It was rule #1 in the decluttering handbook – if you are not going to use it or display it, let it go.  Those anti-clutter gurus dictate that I’m supposed to accept that even special gifts have played their role and to be content to hang onto the memories, but not the item taking up space and gathering dust.   So I was determined to give ‘walking doll’ up, to tuck her into a bag of used kid’s clothing and take it all to a local charity. (Now I don’t actually believe a charity will want to pass along low tech walking doll with her matted hair and busted eye and foot, but I could never pitch her into the garbage myself.) Somehow the bag of clothes went and walking doll is still here.

doll treeDusted off, with her hair fluffed up, she sits bleary- eyed on a bench in the front hall. I have a fuzzy plan to let her sit under the Christmas tree one more time amongst the glitter and lights.  It must be the magic of the holiday season, that makes me hope that maybe Santa will hop out of the chimney (if we had one), pop her into his sack and take her back to where they take the broken toys, and I won’t have to play a guilty hand in letting dear  ‘walking doll’ go.