July 20th & 21st

Days 202 and 203 —  Yesterday — rainy and cool so decided to do more housecleaning.  Took on the main living room.  Got up close and personal with the upper windows and am looking at some re-caulking work and painting before winter.  Those window really need to be replaced, but. . .

Am continuing on my clean and purge routine.  It’s such a great feeling!  The wall unit in the living room where I keep just about everything under the sun was a big job.  I threw out a a TON of outdated manuals and junk that had accumulated over the past 23 years.  I can’t believe how much crap we stick in drawers!  I also packed away some things that just didn’t need to be collecting dust anymore.

When I got to the bottom cupboards I discovered the photo albums we used to put all our pictures in.  Looked through them quickly, got a little teary and though my intent had been to pack them up, I just couldn’t.  It’s wonderful to look back on all those pictures and see the young us.  Tim, fresh-faced with a look of eagerness and excitement in his eyes; Landon, so young with all those beautiful red curls he had as a baby and toddler — and always with a big, beautiful smile.  And, then, there’s the young me.  Looking, I thought, often far too serious, and much, much thinner.  I had smiles too, though, and it made my heart ache (just for a moment) for all those years gone.  I love my family.  I love that I have these pictures of us.  I now have a pile of pictures that need going through and placing in those albums.  Another rainy-day project.

Today was quiet.  Tim had to work and I just putzed about.  At noon I went and picked up my youngest grandson and had him come visit for the afternoon.  We worked in the yard and then I made us strawberry milkshakes.  After we played UNO and he beat me.  Four years old and already a card-shark!  I loved having that one-on-one time with him.  Doesn’t happen very often with any of them anymore.  I’m going to have to work on changing that.

I chose a new book.  It’s Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.  A summer just isn’t a summer if I don’t get at least one SK book in.  He is my writing hero.  This book is a collection of short stories — novellas, really — and I just finished the first one.  1922 is a grim little story about being careful about what you wish for.  Vintage Stephen King.  I loved it,  though some parts were a little squeamish — but then, that’s why he’s the master.

And now, it’s off to bed.  Hope I don’t have nightmares.

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July 4th – July 17th

Day 186 – 199 — Wowza!  199 days blogged about.  NOT — to clarify — 199 blogs, but 199 days recounted in my blog.

I’ve been busy with summer and holidays, hence the break in writing.  I left on July 7th to go have a little mini-holiday with two of my sisters.  We went to my one sister, Lori, and her husband’s cottage in Northern Ontario.  Near Kenora.  I may have written about it in the past.  It’s a lovely place.  We spent the better part of a week just sitting on the dock, drinking various cocktails and beers, playing Scrabble, and jumping in the lake when it got too hot.  I am proud to say I got a tan.  Some have even said:  “you look great — all tanned and relaxed” so that made me feel pretty darned good.

Prior to leaving for my little holiday I had spent time trying to get my house in order.  Cleaning, gardening, making sure the bills were paid, etc.  Boring, but necessary stuff.

I had high hopes that Tim would have the pergola finished when I got back, but alas, it was not to be.  He has got the main beams up, so now I’m just praying that he gets it done before the end of summer.  If we have a nice autumn I’ll still be able to enjoy it for a bit.  In Tim’s defence, I have to say that it rained a lot the week I was gone.  It rained only once while I was at the lake, and only for a little it one afternoon.  And it was warm rain.  Not like the cold rains of Alberta, at all.

When I arrived in Calgary Monday night for my connecting flight I was very disheartened when the pilot came on to tell us that the temp was 15 degrees.  I nearly gasped.  For the past week I had been enjoying temps in the high 20’s and low 30’s.  Talk about a shock.  Still, when I stepped off the plane in Edmonton, where it was a wonderful 2 degrees warmer, it felt good to be home.

As much as I always dream of getting away, I’m always grateful and happy to get back home.

With so much of summer still stretched out before me I’ve got lots of plans and lots to do.  I’m going to make the most of every moment and be joyful in the moment.

A few shots of my sister’s place in Ontario:

February 13th

Day 44 — Well, I got the blizzard I was hoping for, but it wasn’t what I had imagined.  I was at work and so the all the comfy, cozy memories I associate with such an event were wasted.  I’m just glad everyone I know and love got home safely yesterday — because while it was raging it was a doozy.

Day 4

A couple of things for today — a lovely lunch with my sister-in-law Michelle — we don’t often get time to just spend with one another, so that was a treat.  Then, as a Christmas present from my sister Jennifer a travel mug that she had engraved with this saying:  Blessed is Knowing the True Love and Joy of a sister!  The capital K, T, L and J are the initials of our names.  Very sweet.

Menial Chores, the luxury of

So, yesterday, I got up close and personal with my kitchen and bathroom floors.  For the first time in over 10 years I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed them.

Now, don’t go thinking I’m some kind of slovenly pig — I do wash my floors quite regularly — at least once a week, but I usually do it with a mop.

My husband owns this horrible pair of black-soled shoes that leaves awful scuff marks whenever he tromps through the house with them on.  I’ve asked that he cease doing that, at least in those shoes, but, he’s a man and he forgets.  So, I’m forever stooping down to scrub them away and cursing him while I’m at it.

Yesterday, I decided it was high time to wash the floors and I noticed that there were scuff marks all over the place.  I would be stooping and cursing a lot, it seemed.

It would, I thought, be easier to just stay low to the floor.  Out came the mop bucket, a good rag, one of those miracle sponge thingys and a scrub brush — and a towel for my knees, which I didn’t think of getting until I was nearly half-way done.

I enjoyed the exercise.  Honestly.  While I was down there scrubbing away and wiping off the scuff marks I had a great conversation with myself.   I thought about the Christmas just past and how much I’d enjoyed myself, I envisioned my afternoon with friends and the movie we were going to see.  I mumbled and muttered away to myself about all kinds of little, forgettable things.  Yes, it took twice the amount of time it normally takes me to wash the floors, but, it was time well spent.

My floors are old.  They’re pushing 30, I believe, and need replacing in the worst way.  But, they’re going to have to last for a couple more years, at least.  I took my time while scrubbing and wiped the baseboards down, I dug into corners and scrubbed grimy spots under the cupboards. I was horrified to discover just how much hair I’d lost — my god, it was everywhere!

While I was down there I thought about how much use these floors have seen:  the years my son spent growing up here and the thousands of footsteps he’d taken upon them; the scrabble of our two dog’s nails upon them as we tossed balls or played catch-me! with them; the hushed footsteps of my husband and I as we traversed the cool linoleum on early mornings trying not to wake each other as we begin our days; the untold number of friends and family’s footsteps during visits and holidays; and now, the constant patter of my grandchildren’s small feet as they run and dash through the house whenever they’re over.

They are old floors, they are battle-scarred and worn, and as I washed and scrubbed and scoured I felt thankful that I had such wonderful floors.

Still, when I was done, when I stood up and slowly flexed my aching knees and stretched out my crooked back I took an appraising look at my handiwork and declared loudly that that was the last time I’d wash a floor on my hands and knees.  Ever.

Oh, and lovely memories or not, those floors gotta go.

Life and the Concept of Clutter

Sounds like I’m writing a philosophical thesis, doesn’t it?  But, I’m not.  It’s just a few thoughts on a subject that bugs me — and millions of others, I suppose — the dreaded ‘c’ word, clutter.

My husband and I have fought many battles over what I call clutter and he calls history. It’s a collection of stuff that we’ve accumulated over our 35 years together.  Some of it’s good stuff, most of it is not.  There’s a lot of stuff we inherited from his parents and that is a particularly touchy area.  There is all the stuff of Landon’s, our son, that I’ve kept.  Our home is packed with bits and pieces of holidays, photographs, art (the kind we could afford), old toys, china teacups, pottery, glass, miniatures, cigar and cigarette cases, rocks, kitsch, junk.

Ah, and there it is: junk.  That’s what usually causes the fight.  (And just so I’m clear about this — no, Tim and I did not have a fight about our ‘junk’ — I woke up this morning thinking about clutter and what it means to each of us.)

Tim’s idea is that our clutter is a form of history.  And I’m beginning to see his side.  My idea is that it is a lot of useless stuff that needs to be gone through and gotten rid of in case we die in a fiery car wreck and our son gets stuck with the onerous job of dealing with it all.  I’ve tried pointing this out to Tim numerous times, because it is what he and his brothers had to do after their parents died (not in a fiery car wreck, though).  He says that although it was tough he was glad they did it.  It brought back a lot of memories of their lives as boys with their parents.

Landon won’t have that because he is an only child, and so, I guess, my reasoning is to protect him from the loneliness of such a task.  But, who knows?  Perhaps he would include his children and share with them some of the memories he had of growing up with us.  It’s impossible to know.

In thinking about my need to clean and purge I’ve come to the realization that it was born from the influence of magazines and television shows.  I love to pick up home decor magazines and leaf through them oohing and aahing over the gorgeous rooms and sparkling bare countertops.  I eye photos of polished wooden tables bare except for lavish bouquets of designer blossoms, and bedrooms with vast expanses of floors bare of anything save  hand-woven, rough-spun cotton throw rugs and I swoon with desire.

I read about ideas for taking treasured mementos and turning them into space-saving crafts — like making a collage of family photos on a wooden tea-tray, or decoupaging your children’s art onto a lamp base, or making mobiles out of old silver place settings handed down from Grandma or old Aunt Dottie.  These are fabulous ideas, and I tell myself that they would work, but then, I mention them to Tim and he gets a horrified look in his eyes.  You want to destroy our pictures?  And then, I get to thinking:  what happens if the project doesn’t turn out as nice as it should.  (This happens, trust me.)  Tim’s suggestion is to take the pictures, make copies and use them.  So, I’m then left with the prospect of still having the original photo clutter and a nice tea-tray that I won’t use, or having the original photo clutter and a tea-tray that gets shunted into a closet somewhere.

Which leads to my next big fear about clutter:  that we become hoarders.

I watch the television show, Hoarders.  It scares the bejeezus out of me.  It’s disturbing to see how out of control people can become when it comes to their stuff.  Could that happen to us, I wonder.  Already our basement is like a maze (even without the couple dozen boxes of my son’s family belongings, stored while they wait to move into their new home).  We have shelving units crammed to the rafters with junk, piles of wood and coffee cans filled with nails, screws, bits of this and bits of that.  Tim has at least a dozen different tool boxes and bags, none of which are full.  His workbench is a complete disarray of everything that just gets plunked there.

In the upstairs, just off our living room, is a closet where I keep my craft projects.  A couple of years ago I went through it and got rid of a bunch of stuff — but it is still crammed with projects I haven’t touched in years.  Beading, knitting, embroidery, calligraphy, painting, weaving, sewing, candle making — it’s all there in the dark, hidden beneath a dozen or so of our unworn coats.  Every year I say I’m going to get rid of those coats, but every year I hang them back up thinking there might be a need for them.  I do this with a heavy heart, knowing that there are plenty of people in our province who could use a nice warm, though slightly dated, coat come winter.  Still, I place them back on the hangers and close the closet door.  Out of sight. . .

. . .but not out of mind.  No, never out of mind.

Getting back to my slowly changing opinion about whether our stuff is history or junk.  I get where Tim is coming from.  Having a houseful of clutter is like having a houseful of interesting.  Those rooms that I so adore, the ones devoid of clutter?  Those would be boring after a while.  Especially to children.  With nothing to look at, touch or play with in such rooms, why would children even want to be in them.  Our rooms, though filled with clutter, and completely lacking any sense of design or decorating taste, are interesting.  When my grandkids come they always find something to ask about or to play with.  And Tim and I both enjoy sharing little stories with them about whatever it is they hold in their hands.

And, when we have visitors, people are always intrigued by some ‘thing’ we’ve got hanging around or sitting on a shelf.  It often amazes me what people notice, but I’m always happy to share a story with them.

And, so, that is why when I woke up this morning thinking with despair about having to dust my kitchen wall unit and the chore that it would be because there is so much junk in and on it, I remembered Tim holding Timothy up to the cupboard and taking out a small, painted metal horse that was part of a game he had when he was a little boy.  And I remembered the look of delight on Timothy’s face as Tim placed it in his hand, and how he listened so carefully while Tim explained how he used to play with it.

Someday, all of these things that have been a part of lives — the trivial, everyday bits and pieces — will be tiny reminders of who we were and that we were.  They are, in a sense, part of our history.

Still the question remains:   How do I achieve balance between history and clutter?  I’m going to leave it for a while; think about it while I dust and hold in my hands some of the past 35 years of my life.

The Dresses

When the urge strikes. . .

The Dresses

When I was a little girl I remember, vaguely, some dresses that my grandmother Evelyn bought for my sister Tracy and I.  One was pink and one was blue.  They had full skirts with crinolines underneath.  The tops were black (I think) with short, cap sleeves and a round neck-line.  The skirts were large print gingham with black silhouette cutouts around the bottom.  There were ladies, men and poodles as I recall.

My sister and I loved those beautiful little dresses.  Grandma even bought us matching white patent leather shoes to wear with them.  I remember feeling so pretty and so special when I put it on.  I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old at the time.

My parents were dirt poor.  My father was a private in the army and was gone a lot of the time.  My mother was left at home by herself to take care of us.  There was barely enough money for food at that time, and certainly never any money to buy us pretty things like dresses or shiny white shoes.

Of course, I knew none of that then.  All I knew is that my beautiful, tall and elegant grandmother had descended like a fairy godmother to bring my sister and I fancy dresses, like those a princess would wear.

My grandparents had come for a visit and they were taking us all out for dinner or lunch.  Sadly, I don’t remember if we ever wore those dresses more than that one time.  We wanted to wear them all the time, but of course, were not allowed. Shortly after that my father was posted to Manitoba.  Whether the dresses came with us or not is a mystery.  I certainly don’t remember ever wearing mine again.

And then, our house burnt down.  It was a ramshackle affair in a town called Wheatland.  It was situated on a dusty prairie road alongside some train tracks.  I recall that most of the people living there were poor, like us.  I don’t believe we had running water; the house was heated by a pot belly stove.  That’s why it burnt down, in fact.

My sister and I saw it happen.  We had gotten up to go to the bathroom and came down to use the toilet beside my parents bedroom.  We saw that the pile of newspapers next to the stove had caught fire.  We were afraid to wake my parents up and so we just ran right back up the stairs to our bedroom, which was right above the stove, and crawled back in to bed.  We laid there, awake, scared, crying and not knowing what to do when suddenly we heard my mother and father screaming and shouting.

My father came up the stairs and got each of us (there were six of us at that time, including my infant brother, Shawn).  The stairs were on fire already and he had to throw us through the flames to our mother who was waiting to catch us at the bottom of the stairs. Thankfully, I have blocked all that out.   Tracy and I were put in charge of our siblings, including Shawn, (we were 5 and 6 at the time) while my parents did their best to salvage what they could.

The next day, or maybe it was many days later, when we came back to see the house I remember Tracy and I crying and asking what happened to our dresses.  My mother, obviously stressed to the breaking point, screamed at us that we were selfish little girls and said something about “those goddamned dresses” .

I know now as an adult that there were some big issues between my mother and my grandmother.  Probably the fact that we were so distraught over something trivial like a pretty party dress reminded her of all that she had given up for the kind of life she had.  We had lost everything, and we didn’t have much to begin with, we were homeless, we were poor and we were alone, thousands of miles away from ‘home’, Ontario, where both my parents had grown up.  I can’t imagine the kind of despair they must have felt.

Still, when ever I think back on that time I wonder about those dresses.  And I have mixed feelings of joy and sorrow for those little girls who got to feel so pretty and so special for such a brief moment in their lives.   There never was another pretty dress for either of us, until we grew up enough to afford them ourselves.

©Kathy Larson, 2012
All rights reserved.

 

View from the Side’s weekend challenge — Dance

My entry for this week’s challenge:

Once, We Won a Contest

Somewhere, in a box, tucked away out of sight, is a medal with the likeness of Elvis Presley on it.  Every so often in a fit of de-cluttering or a demented desire to relive the past I’ll stumble across it, and when I do the same thing always happens.

I think back to the night we went to the theatre and wound up winning a dance competition.

We were so young then!  Still in our twenties.  A young child at home with a babysitter while we went out on the town.  With some friends we’d decided to indulge in a little culture.  I laugh now at how absolutely foolish we must have seemed.

But, we sure looked good.  All of us thin and in our primes.  New shoes, new outfits — all on credit of course, because we could only pretend to afford the lifestyle we were stepping out in to.

I don’t recall much about the play, it had something to do with a black, female blues singer, and was fairly light-hearted and full of toe-tapping tunes.  Afterwards, there was a dance being held in the theatre with members of the cast.  Maybe this was the final night of the play’s run, I don’t remember.

Well, we got into the drinks pretty quickly and soon all of our nerves and inhibitions were out the window.  When the organizers announced that they were going to have a dance contest I grabbed my red-haired darling’s hand and pulled him out onto the dance floor.  He resisted at first, but I wouldn’t be denied.

We jived, we gyrated, we twisted, we did the hop.  We kicked, twirled, dipped and walked like Egyptians.  And in the end, we won.  I can remember laughing and gasping for breath as we were handed our medal.  My husband and I were clinging tightly to one another, partly to keep ourselves from falling over, but more out of a sudden and compulsive need to keep touching.

At some point during the contest I remember a feeling of total abandonment coming over me.  Our friends did not exist, our child at home was forgotten.  The debts, the worries, and the squabbles that had come to define our relationship and our daily life seemed to be being ground into the floor beneath our feet as we danced.  When I looked into his face I saw the love he had for me, the desire, the need, the want, and it was all I wanted.

We’ve never danced that way since, and this past Christmas when we attempted the Twist, we both just laughed, shook our heads and agreed not to try.  Hand in hand we made our way back to our table, where we told our son and his wife the story of how once we won a medal for dancing.

© 2011 KathyLarson
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 8, 2010

It’s been a good day.  I took the day off to get some Union stuff done — and I got it done.  Yay, me!

Heather and I went for a walk in Gibbons this afternoon.  It’s lovely along the river path — slippery as hell in some spots, but very nice.  Spring really is just around the corner, but not before we get blasted with cold and snow one more time. 

March came in like a lamb, so you just know it’s going to go out like a lion, right? 

That old saying has stuck with me since Grade 3.  I remember doing some little craft in school with cotton balls.  One side of the picture was a lion roaring and blowing icy cold breath all over, and the other side was lambs and sunshine and flowers.  Why that’s stayed with me, I’ll never know, but when ever I think of March I think of that picture that tiny little me made all those years ago. 

Speaking of nostalgia. . .

I kept lots of Landon’s school work — something from every grade.  Every once in a while I pull it out and look through it, just to remind myself that once upon a time he was small and he made things that brightened my day, my life. 

Now he’s all grown up and he (and his lovely wife, Jennifer) have made me three beautiful grandchildren.  Like he once did, they make me smile and give my life purpose.  I’ve started collecting little things they make, tacking them to the fridge and putting them away in notebooks and albums.  Someday, not all that far from now, I’ll be able to look at those things and remember the joy they gave me.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to share them with them, and the things their daddy made, too. 

Having these little connections to the past, to who we were, who we believed ourselves to be, is so very important, I think.  My husband goes on about history, as it pertains to family, and sometimes I get frustrated with him, because he’s always lamenting that it’s dying. 

I don’t think that kind of history ever dies, as long as you hold on to the little things, the things that make you smile, make your heart ache when you think on them.  Whether it’s a tiny little hockey coat, or a Christmas card made of construction paper and coloured crayons, these are the real artifacts of the life we live, the life we share, the life we celebrate as family. 

Family, as if you couldn’t tell,  is it, as far as I’m concerned. 

Once upon a time, in my wilder, misguided days, I didn’t think so.  In fact, I was often heard repeating what a very good friend of mine often said:  Family is over-rated. 

I didn’t understand then, just how stupid that was.  Now, when I look at those words I can’t believe I ever said them.  Because, to me, my family is what defines me.  It places me in the world, gives me a reference point, it roots me, stabilizes me, makes me feel I matter. 

And mattering, that’s what life is really all about, isn’t it?  Some are lucky enough to matter on a grand scale — think the Olympics, or the Oscars, or Pulitzer prize winners.  But most of us, including them, matter on a much smaller, far more intimate scale. 

Knowing that there is a group of people to whom your existence matters is like winning a prize each and every day of your life.  And collecting all the tiny bits of stuff — the pictures, the handprints in plaster or play-dough, the scribbled pictures, the favorite story and the stained sleeper — all these are the very best kind of trophies. 

The history of family never dies as long as you keep it out, keep it visible.  We have a cupboard in our kitchen filled with a bunch of old toys, and bits and pieces of stuff that came from Tim’s parents’ house after they died.  Whenever the kids come to visit they always want to look at those old, faded, chipped and broken toys.  I take them out and let them hold them, tell them a little story to go along with each one. 

Or they go to my collection of miniatures that Landon and Tim have been buying for me since Landon was little.  “I want to hold the bird bath, Grandma.  Why did Daddy give you a bird bath?”  “I like the puppy.  Can I hold the puppy?  What was the puppy’s name Grandma?”  

I never get tired of showing them, or answering their questions.  I just hope they never get tired of asking them. 

History, family, it’s what you choose to make of it.