Reaching for the Silver Bells

It’s the holly jolly season of brightness and light. But my family and my extended family have lost too many of our elderly this year – the chiefs of our tribes, my dear mom one of them. Mom loved Christmas – and like so many moms she created it – vintage Christmas cards hanging on a string, the favorite decorations glistening on a fresh cut tree, the gifts shopped for at sales throughout the year, and closer to the day – the table top lined with shortbread and nanaimo bars and those Chinese noodle chocolate cookies chilling on the porch. So all of it is hard this year, but Mom would want us to find the joy, to gather together and hold each other tight on a snowy night. (Mom – we’ll give it our best shot.) In her honour I’d like to share a favourite excerpt from my book Text Me, Love Mom that speaks of the joy, chaos and excitement of a family in transition at Christmas time:

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – The Queen, Alice in Wonderland

For part of a bright, but snowy December and into early January, our home was crowded with our kids and their friends home from university and jobs – along with snowboards and old skates in the porch, left-behind scarves draped over chair backs, and take-out Chinese containers leaning against eggnog cartons in the fridge. Once our two sons and their dad had completed their December twenty-third and twenty-fourth shopping mall blitz, adding to their two sisters more timely forays at artisan shops or framing their own works, the gifts had spilled out under the fresh scotch pine Christmas tree. The deluge of snow lent to the holiday other-worldly atmosphere.  Every outing required boots, or at least high tops, sought out from the heap at the door.  We’d all developed the technique of backing down the sloping road instead of plowing forward through icy drifts, and the sidewalk shovel-ers worked with the risk of a friendly-fire snowball being tossed at them from the front deck.  There was always someone trying to find a sibling, or the truck keys, or else they were noisily trying to locate the contact lens solution over another person calling out to see if there was milk in the downstairs’ fridge. 

For most of their long break we skipped family breakfast – as pre-Christmas I was out using the mornings to finish gift shopping, and post-Christmas I used the early hours to bring in provisions for the household.  I’d almost forgotten how so much of my life had revolved around trips to various grocery stores for two decades. A few days before our kid’s departures were going to begin – I located them in the evening, in person or by text, “Breakfast together tomorrow at 10:30, okay?”

Zoë, our eldest, was more interested in the stacks of pancakes then previously.  It had been a marvelous new holiday season for our family – because it was growing again.  A few months ago, just before receiving her Masters degree twenty-five-year-old Zoë and her dedicated boyfriend of the last five years learned that the IUD Zoë used for birth control had failed them.  “Got one past the goalie,” they were able to jest once we all passed the initial stress and concern of the IUD being surgically removed without interfering with the tiny new being.  Zoë’s guy would touch her rounding belly and we would all grin like Cheshire cats.  He was finishing a degree in architecture and was madly planning a renovation of their Vancouver home to accommodate a new baby.  It was the twenty-first century – we were all okay with them transitioning to being parents before we helped plan the fun and romantic ocean-side wedding of Zoës dreams.

While brushing the snow off the car before driving our sons to the airport, a blur of white skidded past the hedge and across the road. It was a snowy white rabbit, running parallel to me. This was an unusual lucky omen – a white rabbit running parallel to you, but only if it was Sunday. And Sunday it was.

Our youngest, Lily, flew back to Montreal for the start of classes a few days later. She called me her second day ‘home’.  “It’s so cold, Mom.  I can’t even hang onto my phone – it’s so cold.”  She was rushing to a grocery store to buy ingredients for my meat sauce.    “Tell me exactly what you put in yours.  I want mine to taste like yours.” She was quiet. Then, “What are you and Zoё doing?  I wish I was still there hanging out.”

      Zoё had been commissioned to paint a mural for an art show, but was free to hang back in Calgary for another day and return when the price of flights weren’t as inflated, promising me some mom and daughter time together.  We were returning a maternity shirt that didn’t fit her, going out for a peaceful lunch and because, unlike the Montreal deep freeze, Calgary was being treated to balmy Chinook weather, we planned to take a walk along the reservoir.  After all the lovely chaos of Christmas, a day of activities devoted to Zoё and I, seemed like bliss, but I was aware of the new hush Lily had returned to in her small Montreal studio.

“We’re not doing much, Lily.  It’s quiet here.  Make your sauce, and call if you need help.”

But Lily hadn’t been ready to disconnect. “Hey Mom.  How will we work it when Zoё has the baby in June?  We’ll be there right?  How will we make sure that we’re in Vancouver?”

            Funny, her brother, Cole, had asked me something similar.  He had no interest in being around the delivery room but he wanted to be close by, “to film the kid as soon as it arrives.” 

“We’ll work it out,” I told Zoё’s little sister, “It will be summertime.  That’ll make it easier.”

              The following day I took my eldest daughter to the airport, gave her blossoming body a firm hug, and handed her over to those security personal before driving back to this too quiet, too calm house.  But imagining our first little grandchild, I feel less lonely.  The baby’s other grandparents live in Calgary as well – and the bright bigger bedroom that was Zoë’s before a recent renovation, now has enough space for a queen bed and a tiny crib when they visit. Suddenly, the renovated house was beginning to make sense again…  Despite the miles that separate us, our family was growing and this house, halfway up the hill, is still home. 

Sweet, my kids would say.  And so I’ll type to them all in their far away places, “Text me. Love mom.”

If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, and would like to read more or know someone who will be captivated by this tale of a family sorting out this new stage of life Text Me, Love Mom is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

It’ll Be Okay, Mom – Fingers Crossed

It’s a different sort of summer. For months (years) we’ve been encouraging (harassing) my parents to change their living situation. I sugar coat all the words to make the struggle easier. And I can’t stop myself from thinking about myself and my husband, and our same age peers – what living situation will we choose in our ‘golden years’?

Without doubt we will all want to stay in the houses that we’ve renovated and refitted with carefully chosen granite and then more fashionable quartz , where we’ve taken down walls making great rooms as great rooms became the fashion. But when the time comes, as it has for my mom and dad, when that big yard, the staircases, even the meal preparation and bringing in food, has just become too much – where will we land?

It’s taken a while for my four siblings and I to all be on the same page agreeing that, as proud as we may be that these people that raised us have managed to keep their own household going for all these years, (65 years in fact) but now it’s time for them to have an easier life. My dad has various health issues now and simply put – they need a supported living situation.

I could write a book on the journey involved in searching out the right – what I call – ‘retirement residence’. I call it that because it sounds nice and (fingers crossed) hopefully it will be. My parents will have their own apartment- we are not talking about a nursing home or the dreaded ‘long-term care facility’ that one might need some day. They’ll have a bedroom, living room ‘kitchen area’ and the oversized bathroom these places feature.

It was that tiny kitchen that we all wished was something more. They’ll have room to bring the dining room table we’ve told our stories around, but there are just a very few cupboards. Where to put the platter that’s held the turkey for decades of Christmas’s , or the collection of vases from years of bouquets, what about the big bowl for popcorn with a movie on tv, or the big lemonade pitcher for drinks when family arrive with thirsty little ones?

Because of that tiny kitchen ‘spot’ we took my mom and dad to view a higher end retirement residence this week. No question that it was attractive and, despite it not being necessary – with three meals provided in the first floor dining room- it featured an actual kitchen, complete with full fridge and dishwasher. This brand new building, with residents moving in for the very first time was lovely, but when we returned to the place more comfortably within their budget we saw folks already friendly with each other chatting on a Sunday afternoon outside, and in the dining room an elderly woman was playing the piano loudly and with spirit, for whoever cared to listen.

We went up to take measurements to see if perhaps the china cabinet might fit, to hold special treasures and more practical items (it will) and I stared down the mini fridge.

I know my parents will only need to keep a quart of milk, or a few refreshments for when they don’t want to walk down the hall to the ‘bistro room’ that is always open, but it is the idea, that after a lifetime of taking care of themselves they don’t need their own butter or mayonnaise or a dozen eggs, that is bothering me.

That will be okay, mom, I think. We’ll go out to shop for what makes you happy in that puny fridge. In the next few weeks we’ll get busy choosing how to make this home. We’re putting our trust in the good we see here – the supportive kind staff we’ve met, the opportunities to socialize with your peers around new tables, and that wonderful woman playing the piano.


……To read about another sort of leaving home click here for My book Text Me, Love Mom on Amazon

September Takes My Breath Away

The leaves start to drop. The air is fresh. A school playground fills with shouting kids, and pick-up soccer games – and I feel melancholy, but on the edge of excitement, too. More than January, isn’t September the time of new beginnings? New grade school? College and university? Parents and kids fill backpacks with crisp notebooks and coloured pencils, then head to the malls looking for squeaky new runners? There are anticipatory trips to Ikea to deck out tiny dorm rooms or studio apartments full of furniture with funny Swedish names.
But there’s boo hooing all across the country too, for all those kids heading out the door with hockey duffles converted to super suitcases, and back packs hiding that favourite worn out stuffie, or that last  pair of sandals hopeful for another month of warm weather?

I have four young adult children who are just now getting used to my having written a book about this next stage of parenting, about all those Septembers – those goodbyes until Thanksgiving.  When Zoë, the eldest, left home, her copies of Love In the Time of CholeraHarry Potter, and Dragonquest gone from the shelves, her colorful collection of shoes gathered from the closets, and her vanilla-scented products stripped from the bathroom, I searched the self-help sections for a manual on how to let go. Now that I’m a true empty nest-er, it seems a bit odd. After all, I still had three hyped-up teens in the house. One of them leaving home should have given me a little more room to breathe. But it didn’t. It took my breath away. photo

I was able to relive it all, writing Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two boys, One Empty Nest.  (Hey kids – I gave you pseudonyms – relax.  Nobody knows who this Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily that I write about are.) If you’ve been following my erratic blog, I’d love it if you check out my book.  It’s been one hec of a ride. And if one of yours has packed up and will be spending winter and spring in another part of the country, or maybe another country – it’ll be okay.  Really.

 

 Honouring the Mother of A Good Man

How in this Mother’s Day week could I not mention the mother of my husband – the woman who raised him and his siblings and taught them to be the good, kind and strong people that they are. My mother-in-law has an ultra-adventurous spirit and unlike me, who has called the same city home for most of my life, she has followed her urges to shake things up and change – if not cities and provinces, at least houses. Yesterday I spoke of the gardening gene passed from soul to soul from my grandmother. My husband’s mom is a brilliant artist and this talent has come to life in my daughter and even my small granddaughters. From the three-year-old to the eighty-year-old you can’t hold them back from their creativity, bent over their canvases  all of them can fill an afternoon creating vibrant and wildly imaginative masterpieces, comfortable to focus completely on their muse. thumbnail_FullSizeRender (1)

 

So the question for the Text Me, Love Mom quiz today is:  Where has Zoë moved to when her nervous mom thinks, “What I feared, of course, is that she would move in with a shoddy bunch of eccentric artists who had gone far beyond body piercing, wouldn’t even have parents, and would hardly let me darken their doorstep.”

Answer in the comments section.  The person with the most correct answers this week will receive a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom, Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – available from Amazon and other online book sellers.

 

Gardening in the Dark

You know how it goes, you’re making a nice place in the soil for the Sweet Pea seeds you’re going to pick up tomorrow, while your husband plays the banjo on the deck (mine anyway), from there you decide to clean up the delphiniums shoots, imagining their bright blue flowers as you go, and then it’s on to placing the metal rings into the ground that will soon support the fancy big peonies.  A little bug has slipped into your tall glass of water where you left it beside a yellow tulip, and when you step into the house for your pruners to clear the old wood from the raspberries you glance out and see that dusk has fallen over this spring night. And now you are gardening in the dark just for the love of gardening.

It was Nanny, my Grandmother, who graced us with these gardening genes. Her offspring feel her presence with our desire to slip our hands into warm soil, and arrange fresh new shoots, to imagine the future of lacy blossoms, letting go of our worries and losing pieces of time creating green spaces and bright bursts of colour.  So it is that in this Mother’s Day week I’ll dedicate the second quiz about my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys; One Empty Nest, to Nanny.

For you smarties that answered yesterday’s question so quickly I’m making this one a wee bit trickier.  The reader who gets the most questions correct this week gets a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom sent to them.  So – can you tell me where teenage Lily was when her mom sent her this message, “I do it as much for the brief (in this country) results, as for the relaxing pleasure I get from the work.  It’s hard to explain …but playing in the garden does feel, in the same way that writing does, like a time away from time.”

If you haven’t read Text Me, Love Mom – it’s a great Mother’s Day read about that stage of life when kids leave home and families get their balance again – available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Happy Day. thumbnail_IMG_1227

For My Mom: She Said, He Said Mother’s Day Quote Quiz

Text Me, Love Mom – Mother’s Day Week:

This blog is dedicated to my mom, aka Gramma or GG. In her honour it’s high time for some fun, some merriment, some exuberance even. My wonderful 86-year-old Mom just settled back into her home after 4 weeks of rehabilitation from knee replacement surgery.  Along with all sorts of health care professionals my four siblings, my daughters, and I have been mothering the mother, and even more than that we’ve had all hands on deck taking care of our dad (Grandpa) whose whole world was rocked not having Mom in the house they still abide in.

grandmasteeple

But hey, it’s the first week of May – Mother’s Day approaches and I’ve decided to have some fun with my book Text Me, Love Mom in celebration of Mama’s everywhere.  Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest is about that time in a family when the kids are leaving home and the folks are striking a new balance with them. But kids do come back, like my fifty-something siblings and I are doing, and the mom is always and forever the mom.  So let’s have some fun ….

If you answer all five quiz questions correctly (there will be one a day until Saturday) I’ll send you a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom. So drumroll for Tuesday’s question:

Which of the book’s eccentric characters is the narrator referring to in this line in the opening chapter:

“He didn’t even like it when we got rid of an old couch, let alone his sister?”

And this one’s for GG, an avid gardener- Anyone know what type of pink blossoms Text Me, Love Mom is nestled up against in this photo?

You can answer both questions in the comments section.  Happy Mother’s Day Week!!

IMG_9688

Text Me, Love Mom is available at all your favourite on-line book sellers and right here print or on-line:

http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Whenever I Want You, All I Have To Do Is Dream

– Everly Brothers, 1958

For years I’ve harbored a dream that I recently imagined I was unbelievably close to executing. Not a word had been posted on my facebook (didn’t want to jinx it) until hours before I was to relish the experience.  When I was a little kid, probably about four years old, my mom, busy with five children, had my older brother and sister take me to the local outdoor rink – back in the good old days when kids could take kids someplace fun. Big Sis got my skates on me, tugged me onto the ice, and directing my brother to take my other hand, they coached me, “One, two, three, glide. One, two, three, glide.” It’s all brilliantly sharp in my memory because I loved it. I mean, I really loved it.

Living in a land where winter snow and cold stretches on and on, I made absolutely certain that my own four kids, Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily could skate, so that swishing around a rink with red cheeks and cold toes was a joyful part of the long season. They’ve  left home now, but I’ve continued to lace up and pleasure skate, sometimes with family, sometimes with a good friend, other days just as happily alone, delighting in that push, push, glide across the ice on a crisp winter’s day. And I had a skating dream – the nation’s capital, in Ottawa, Ontario, attempts each winter to maintain the Rideau Canal that runs through the city as ‘the world’s longest skateway’ – how amazing – skating almost eight kilometers through the heart of a metropolitan center.

canal site

It was late in the skating season, but I’d travelled east to assist my sister after she had surgery on her knee, the same sister who had helped teach me to skate. Opting for another traveling ‘first’ I took the train from her home in Toronto, and journeyed four and a half hours north to Ottawa. When I arrived it was cold and dark, but still the weekends possibilities stretched out before me. My husband had flown in to meet me, and sharing a meal in the hotel lounge, where guest’s chatter blended with nostalgic tunes from the piano bar was first on our agenda. I only briefly considered slurping down a bowl of soup, dawning my warm clothes, casting off my sleepiness and hitting my stride with my man – who’d reported seeing hardier skaters gliding over the ice beneath a flurry of new snow.

Waking the next morning so ready to pursue this ice skating dream, I recall feeling sort of jittery. Looking out the window and seeing that snow had turned to rain didn’t squash my anticipation. Even as my husband and I ate our quick breakfast we both imagined that, though it would be less comfortable for us to skate wet, a little water on ‘frozen water’ couldn’t squash our skating trip down the winding canal. We’d been informed that to add to our skating comfort there were warm-up shacks every two kilometers and booths selling hot chocolate and warm Beavertails (squashed cinnamon-y doughnuts).

beavertails

It wasn’t until we walked, skates in hand, to the first entrance to this world’s largest skate way and saw the closed black iron gates and signs warning against going onto the canal did it dawn on us that the canal – open to skating the previous evening was now closed up. Below us the canal looked a sorry state with water puddling over the slushy surface, and piped-in music still playing from somewhere near the empty change shack and closed hot chocolate booth.  A helpful citizen directed us to something grandly called, The Rink of Dreams, a small outdoor rink, kept frozen in some mechanical way. We took a few slushy circles around it as a poor consolation along with a half dozen other disheartened skaters. It just wasn’t the same swoosh, swoosh, swoosh over a long distance of discovery that I’d dreamed of. My good husband stayed cheerful buoying my soggy spirits. “Don’t despair,” he said, buying me a warm Beavertail. The temperature is dropping to nineteen below tomorrow. You’ll get your skate in.”

IMG_9216

Let’s face it, you’d have to be in that situation to be holding your breath and hoping for the temperature to drop to freaking nineteen below – I mean, seriously. We shared a meal with charming friends that night and hey, I know what a lucky woman I was to just be so far from home with my supportive man and good people we care about. Still when we came outside again to icy sidewalks and had to tuck our hands deep into pockets I grinned at the cold night. By now we were well acquainted with the City of Ottawa’s website detailing the conditions of their famous canal.  I even got chatty with a staff member that told me, quite honestly, that it was touch and go at that time of the year, though he added, just the previous season the canal had been open a record long sixty consecutive days.

 

We explored the city in the deep chill, following our friends in out of the cold to browse international art collections in Ottawa’s stunning National Gallery. My husband, still eager for me to do this, encouraged me to stay another day while he went home to work obligations.  I kept my chilly fingers crossed, indulged in another sweet crusty Beavertail, thought about dreams and how we feed them, and with enough hours to skate before my flight the next day checked the city web site again – damn. I’d missed the season, the ice conditions had deteriorated too much to rectify it so late in the year.  My canal skating dream was dashed.  Before hailing my cab I texted my four kids with the big lesson I had learned, “When you have a dream that is weather dependent and you arrive in the place to pursue the dream, you should pursue it immediately.”  Such is life, I came home determined not to pout, and immediately bought a basket of bright spring flowers for the kitchen – blue, pink and yellow primulas.  Winter was ending. It was time to herald spring.

primula 2

 

To read Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – Candace Allan’s book about the crazy and chaotic launching of her four artisticly inclined kids – Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily into the wide, wide world – click here  http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712