So: ode to my in-laws


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Some people make jokes about their in-laws or complain that they aren’t liked or appreciated by their spouse’s parents. Not me.

From the moment I showed up at their house on American Thanksgiving 20 years ago, I knew I was welcome. Ed cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, even though Canadian Thanksgiving had been the month before and everyone had already enjoyed the fall turkey dinner together. Marge invited Cathy, Linda, Peggy and their spouses and kids over for another feast and to meet Bruce’s new girlfriend from California.

It was an overwhelming day for someone who spent very few holidays with a big family. My ears rang and my head hurt when Bruce and I finally left that night. My family’s Thanksgiving dinners were tiny, sedate and quiet by comparison. I realized quickly that I’d have to speak up or never get a word in edgewise. It was the first of many excellent lessons, useful in many situations.

Maybe that’s why Ed was always so quiet. With all those females talking at once, there was no space for his words.

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After Bruce and I got married, I always looked forward to Canadian Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. While I really didn’t have to do anything since Ed did all the cooking up until he was not well enough to do it, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping however I could. He taught me how to make his “secret” stuffing recipe. He taught me how to make gravy the old fashioned way with drippings, flour, and plenty of stirring. He made me brussels sprouts because he knew how much I liked them. So I became his helper and dishwasher (up until Marge and Ed got their first dishwasher in the early 2000s).

And I learned that while he had a recipe for his secret stuffing recipe and many other treasured family favorites, he always improvised and added new things. So try as I may, it will never be quite as good as his. The same goes with his potato salad. I have the recipe for that too. Ed liked to tinker and adjust, but he knew that perfection was a never-ending quest and it was through striving that he got satisfaction. Raising the bar each time on the task at hand was an another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Ed gave me more than cooking tips, great food, and recipes. He taught me about other things he loved like Canada, cottaging, boats, and fishing. He gave me tips about plants. He told me about the company he retired from. He told me stories about long gone stores where he and Bruce went when Bruce was a boy and other bits of trivia of the area. He insisted that I visit the historical sights. He showed me things that he treasured and kept around just in case.

He didn’t even mind that one summer day he took Bruce and me out in his boat on Lake Ontario and I fell asleep because my allergy medicine knocked me out. He knew that I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience—and the pollen. Ed taught me that being still and quiet was ok, that I’d learn a lot if I just watched and listened. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Marge and her mother Marie Antoinette

I knew I was loved every time Marge bought me socks and underwear for Christmas. Or a gift card from a store that she knew I liked. She gave me chocolate for Valentine’s Day and Easter. She’d press Coffee Crisp bars on me like I was one of the grandchildren because she knew I loved them and she enjoyed giving them out. She was very kind to me and extremely generous with what she had. She threw me a bridal shower even though Bruce and I got married on a beach in St. Lucia because she wanted people to meet me and she wanted us to have a good start in married life. And while she may have considered the things she did to be expected, they’ve stuck with me. Small gestures can be mean a lot. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

As a newlywed, I also learned about the huge wardrobe in the bedroom that was Bruce’s as a kid. It was crammed full of toilet paper, tissues, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, bandaids. You name it, if it was for personal hygiene, it was stockpiled there. She did the same thing with towels. You see Marge grew up poor and even though she and Ed weren’t exactly rich, she knew that a family of six went through a lot of that sort of stuff. But after the kids all moved out, Marge never really scaled back. While I don’t stockpile on the same scale as Marge did, our pantry is perpetually full. So is our freezer. And our linen closet too, though it’s not all about towels. We always have extras, just in case. Having a backup is another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

But the way I really knew I was loved was that Marge repeated her most treasured stories to me, over and over again, because she wanted me to know them and know how much those memories meant to her. While her kids may have thought the repetition was tiresome, I didn’t. I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with her as we drank cups of the retched instant coffee she favored, she with her little cup and me with a big hand-warming mug so I could put milk in it to cut the taste (and that is why I drink all coffee with milk to this day). Marge just waved the bag of milk over the cup and added the tiniest drop. (A note to non-Canadian readers: in Canada milk comes in a big bag with 4 smaller bags inside. You put one bag at a time in a plastic pitcher and cut off the corner of the bag to pour the milk. The first time I saw one, I accidentally poured milk all over the table.) Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: if something is unfamiliar, ask how to use it.

IMG_4909Marge was sentimental and knew I’d appreciate her words—and just listen quietly. Each time, the story came alive in a new way with additional characters or a layer of detail that wasn’t there in previous tellings. That’s why I treasure having a porcelain tea cup that was part of her mother’s collection—I knew that her mother collected them one by one as she scraped together a little extra money. This collection of cups was one of the only nice things that Marie Antoinette LaPointe Glover had (and yes, Marie Antoinette was French Canadian). I heard family stories, stories about Ed’s Scottish farmer family and their big reunions, stories about the people on the street that didn’t live there anymore, stories about Bruce and Sweet Feet the cat (also known as Toes), stories about waiting up for teenaged daughters breaking curfew to come home. Stories about the grandchildren when they were babies. All of it was very useful to a new person to the family—it was because of those stories that I could follow mealtime conversations and comments made by Bruce and his sisters. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: get the new person up to speed as quickly as possible, then fill in the details after.

I could go on and on with Marge stories. One of the sweetest memories I have was how she would talk about the one place we had in common several times a year. Marge and I bonded over her memories of her trip to California, the day she went to Disneyland, how much she enjoyed seeing Palm Springs, how beautiful she thought the state was. The trip was not especially long, but lingered years later as an important milestone and a common ground with her daughter-in-law.

It’s why sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Hey, I should call Marge and see what she’s up to.” Then I remember, I can’t.

While we said goodbye to Marge in January and Ed left a few years earlier, today, Cathy, Linda, Peggy, and Bruce along with the rest of the extended family will watch as they are put in their final resting place. They’ll be in the cemetery’s mausoleum in the Ontario town where they spent their life together. Whether you call it an “inurnment” or “interment,” it’s not important. After today, instead of the two story brick house with the big yard, we’ll have a new place where we can visit them.

But for me, they won’t be in the carved wood box or behind the marble plate at the cemetery. In my mind’s eye, they’re hanging out on that bench on their porch with our bulldog Daisy beside them. It’s one of my favorite photos (you can see it below) and I hope the happiness that all three of them felt in moment never disappears from my memory.

My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with them. But I believe that we all made the most of the time we had together.

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Today’s gratuitous dog photo is in honor of Marge, Ed and Daisy, our bulldog, may they all rest in peace.

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Daisy, Marge and Ed

Daisy spent a chunk of the later part of her life living at Marge’s and Ed’s house. When Bruce and I decided that I should accept the opportunity to move to Texas, our house sold quickly—to the first couple that saw it. Bruce and Daisy were supposed to join me in a matter of months when Bruce got his Green Card. But that process ended up taking about a year. So Bruce and Daisy moved in with Marge and Ed. And while Bruce’s commute was awful, I think Marge and Ed enjoyed their time with Daisy almost as much as Daisy enjoyed her time with them. I’d like to to think that they’re all together again, Ed throwing the ball for Daisy, Marge feeding Daisy dog treats from the stash in her pocket.

 

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So: throwback thursday

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This is Daisy, a week after we got her (9 weeks old) The kids in the photo are Bruce’s nephew and niece. They are now in their 20s.

Lots of people do Throwback Thursdays on their Facebook pages where they share funny photos or stories of their long lost youth. I’m a little tapped out in the writing department tonight, so it’s time for plethora of gratuitous dog photos for your Thursday, the Gateway to the Weekend(™) enjoyment.

I hope you enjoy this quick a glimpse into life with a bulldog. Like many of her kind, Daisy was a old-man style snorer with farts that cleared rooms. She didn’t realize she was a bulldog and played ball like a maniac until she was about 11. She drooled when she smelled oranges (her favorite fruit) and ate fruits and vegetables with great gusto. While she spent most of her life in Toronto, she moved to Texas as a senior citizen and enjoyed sunning her self by the pool.

We were lucky to have her with us until she was 12.5 years old.

Here are a few of my favorite Daisy photos:

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This photo was taken in Toronto when Daisy was only a few years old. We are in the park next to our friends’ house doing a little photo shoot for our annual Christmas card. 

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Another Christmas card. This one was taken after we were on an HGTV show called Get Color (US)/Colour Confidential (Canada) and designer Jane Lockhart and her crew overhauled our bathroom.

Daisy was a good sport

Daisy was a good sport, especially on her birthday.

She liked holiday photos

She liked holiday photos

And squeaky toys! But any ball was her favorite toy.

And squeaky toys! But any ball was her favorite toy.

Daisy was a great dog.

Look how big her noggin was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

So: preparedness

Today’s the day in the U.S. when everyone remembers what happened on 9/11/01.

I know exactly what I was doing (getting ready for work and watching the Today show) and where I was (in our condo in downtown Toronto) when the first plane crashed. I remember going to work in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core not really knowing what was going on.  I remember getting called into a conference room and watching the tv. I remember getting told by our Managing Director to go back home, not realizing at the time that he hadn’t been able to reach anyone in our agency’s NYC headquarters.  Once I got home, I remember Bruce and I pulling our blinds shut and watching news channels all day with our bulldog Daisy snoozing on the sofa, not really knowing what was going on. I had friends and family in D.C. and PA. I had friends in NYC. I remember planes getting rerouted to various Canadian cities and people taking the frightened and passport-less Americans into their homes, giving them their bedrooms and making them part of the family without knowing when they’d be able to leave. I remember the chaos.

No one was prepared for it. How could they be?

Well, friends, one of the themes for 2013 for the Mortroski Mid-century is to be prepared. We’ve optimized and checked systems. We’ve gotten important paperwork in order for both ourselves and the 4Gs. Bruce and I attended a Pet First Aid class and now know how to do CPR on the dogs, muzzle them in an emergency and do some basic first aid.

And I’ve been building a dog first aid kit and a people first aid kit. To get it done in what I thought would be the most efficient manner, I ordered everything online from Amazon. Well, the mailroom at my office must be wondering what’s coming in all the boxes.  Amazon (and their various suppliers) have been shipping everything in bits and pieces, despite my checking of the “ship in as few boxes as possible” box.

Still, by the end of the week, I will have a very comprehensive kit for the Gs, a smaller kit to bring to work, and plenty of materials to expand our human first aid kits. Then I need to work on the emergency supplies: food, water, tools, etc.

It’s a wonder I’ve never put these emergency kits together before. Before adulthood, I lived through tornadoes in Indiana, hurricanes in Georgia, and earthquakes in California (including the big World Series earthquake in the late ’80s where the Bay Bridge and highways fell down). I remember going to the hurricane shelter and I remember being without power for a week. I remember staying with my friend Elaine as we watched San Francisco burn from across the bay in Berkeley, not knowing whether or not her dad and stepmom who lived in the Marina neighborhood were ok. She wouldn’t hear from them for full day, but luckily they were ok.

In Toronto, I should have had an emergency kit for the big eastern 1/2 of North America power grid blackout in August 2003. Instead, our bulldog Daisy and I went for a walk (Bruce was on a business trip in Quebec City and would find himself being driven back to Toronto in a day or so since it was lights out for several days). We visited with our neighbors who were all sitting outside on their stoops, drinking wine, beer and cocktails and chatting. We made our way to our friend Jeanette’s townhouse.

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Daisy and me

Glamorous Jeanette was (and still is) the hostess with the most-ess. Not only did she have a fridge full of food that she was turning into an amazing meal cooked on her BBQ for a full house of friends and neighbors, she had more wine, beer and candles than anyone I knew. It was an amazing and fun night on her back deck—a beautiful party under the stars with a huge group of fascinating people. If I remember correctly, she sent us home with plates of food, for “Daisy’s breakfast”, she said. (Her big black mutt Wade was Daisy’s pal and it was a contest to see who was the most spoiled canine.)

Daisy and I hung out with Jeanette and Wade until 1 am, going home after realizing like everyone else that the power wasn’t coming back on any time soon. Since it was August and still hot and humid outside, we slept on the sofa in our basement that night since it was the coolest place in our townhouse. And since it was so dark, we slept way past when we should have woken up.

But I didn’t make an emergency kit afterwards. Or gather up food and bottled water. Life (ok, work) got in the way and it went to the bottom of the to do list and finally just fell right off.

Maybe it’s Texas, the land of extreme weather, flash floods, tornados, lightening that burns down houses. Maybe it’s just age and realizing that with each passing year, time’s slipping away. So I’m getting prepared for the unknown.

It may not be enough. But at least I’ll have something. So if we need to help the neighbors, we can. If we need to bandage up neighborhood dogs, cats and even chickens, we can.

So on this 9/11 anniversary, I’m taking action. I’m planning ahead. Don’t worry, I’m making sure there’s wine in the kit. And candles for ambiance. Of course, there will be dogs.

And because around here, dogs are everywhere, here’s a photo from last night:

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“So, where will the 2-leggeds sleep tonight, George?”
“I don’t know, Guinness. Maybe they could both fit on the extra dog bed that Gidget and Godiva aren’t using.”

 

So: calm

Barter Books in Alnwick Station, Northumberland looks like the kind of place I could lose myself for hours, days even. It is a secondhand bookshop that looks like so much more than just a bookstore. It’s a destination with wifi, a restaurant/cafe, fireplaces, and big comfy chairs. Heaven. If you’ve been, please tell me about it—I’d love to visit one day if it’s fabulous as it looks.

I found out about it today, thanks to my friend Clare when she posted this video to Facebook:

Encouraging messaging is very important to me because sometimes when things aren’t going right, all I need to hear is a few words to get my head on square and my courage in the right place. And when the going gets tough or I have to do things that I’m really not sure that I know how to do (or that I’m brave enough to try), I often think of the words on this poster:

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Image from Barter Books

It was my avatar on Basecamp (a workflow system) at work for a good long while and seeing it every time I logged in worked wonders for me when the workload was extremely heavy and the pace was hectic. It reminded me that others were watching.

You’ve heard the phrase “fake it ’til you make it”. There’s a bit of that in here. By keeping calm and carrying on, you don’t have to say a thing. By just doing what needs to be done, you calm yourself down, you give yourself purpose. And when others see how you are reacting, they realize that maybe it’s ok to do what needs to be done too. But most of all, it gives you focus. And breathing room to think while you do.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you lie on your back in the face of adversity or challenge. You should know me well enough by now that I’m not passive. And I’m opinionated. But there’s something to be said for collecting your thoughts, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, putting nose to the grindstone, and moving forward positively, verses wasting energy getting angry and not completing what needs to be done. There seems to be a lot of that in the world right now and maybe if we all just calmed down, things would be better.

Anyway, after yesterday’s beastly rant, even with the gratuitous bulldog photos*, I wrote this post to remind myself that my silly first world problems need to be addressed as such. And I am, as Fransi reminded me, I was overly tired and that made Monday worse. Still tired, but Tuesday was significantly better. But tonight is a “bye” from the DIY. We are focused on keeping Guinness calm so he can carry on tomorrow and feel a lot better than he has.

Guinness is a great, but seriously dopey patient

Guinness is a great, but seriously dopey patient. He is spending the evening bonding with the sofa and so are we.

Guinness is doing great. His fractured and abscessed tooth was pulled and the rest of his teeth were cleaned. I’m not poking in his mouth tonight, but I bet his smile is dazzling. His skin tag by his eye has been removed via cauterization so he may not have to wear the comfy Cone of Shame after all. Apparently a thorough pedicure was our free gift with purchase—definitely a bonus for a black dog with black nails. He’ll also have to eat soft food which as you might guess will be such a hardship. He ate an entire packet tonight no problem. I only hope we can ween Guinness back to his usual mostly dry stuff with a touch of wet!.

Godiva and George each reacted to Guinness’ leaving for the vet this morning in different ways. Godiva got mopey as expected and refused to hang out with me while I watered the veggies. When Guinness and Bruce were leaving for the vet, George tried to squeeze out the door, just like he did when I took Guinness to the vet last week. He stood at the window and watched Bruce’s truck roll out, but unlike Godiva, I think George just wanted to go wherever Guinness was going!

waiting for Guinness to return

waiting for Guinness to return

There were lots of sniffs all around when Guinness came home, especially Godiva. Both George and Godiva are extra tired tonight, as if they stayed up all day patrolling, waiting for Guinness’ return.

 

*Yes, Daisy was ours. That bulldog was the first dog Bruce and I had together and came into our lives when she was 8 weeks old. We lost her nearly 4 years ago and a month later we got Godiva.

So: beast

I noticed that I had 666 comments as of today. And today was exactly the kind of day where all of the best laid plans get cast to the wind. All efforts are futile. Obstacles abound. The devil’s in the details.

Coincidence?

Doubtful.

(It’s just Monday.)

The weekend’s not to blame, although it was one of ups and downs. Ups since the bamboo floors have gone in and we can start installing trim and putting things back where they go. Weeds are gone. Lots of veggies need to be harvested. Magazines got read, though not enough to make a dent in the pile saved up. Downs because everyone was a bit crabby yesterday since trim work takes time and we really wanted to be done and move on to errands. George is very scared of the air compressor and other loud sounds so he needed lots of attention.

I had very strange dreams last night and woke up a lot. Sleeping was uncomfortable since my hands, wrists and back were sore. And I woke up very grouchy and still tired. But I chugged some caffeine, pushed through, and before work, I did a bunch of laundry, moved more stuff back to where it goes, took care of a bill, washed dishes, harvested some veggies for our lunches, folded the pile of laundry, emptied the dishwasher, tried to get back a feeling of normalcy.

our sweet Daisy looking like some kind of alien-beast (photo by James Scott)

Our bulldog Daisy playing ball, but looking like some kind of alien-beast in this action shot (photo by James Scott)

It didn’t work.

We’re moving at work too so everywhere things are not where they should be. I’ve been trying to make peace with the chaos—and the irritation of not being able to find something quickly in either place where I spend most of my time. That is, if even know where it is.

While many things went right at work today, one did not. I’m still sitting at my desk, waiting for something that was very simple and straightforward to be completed and shipped out. (just trying to be productive while I sit here an drive everyone crazy with my “are we done yet?” comments). So unfortunately, the DIY plans for tonight turned into Bruce taking care of it himself and hauling more heavy stuff by his lonesome. The Urban Farm will also have to wait until tomorrow morning unless I get the headlamp out, but I think I’ll have other inside stuff to do.

Tomorrow is also Guinness’ tooth extraction. Not sure how George is going to take Guinness’ absence, but we know from past experience that Godiva is a bit of a wreck when Guinness disappears for an extended period of time. Bruce has tried to help her by taking each dog somewhere by themselves quite frequently (they are all big fans of the dry cleaner, Home Depot, and Lowes). But she knows when something’s up. Even George has been wondering why the big boy gets special cheese treats twice a day.

I could use some quality dog snuggling time. Some ball throwing. Even if they end up eating half of my dinner.

So I’m ready for this day to be done. I’m ready to put my head on the pillow and wake up with a clean slate. I’ll go back to being sweet tomorrow, I promise.

Daisy (photo by Mike Nowland)

Sweet Daisy (photo by Mike Nowland)