When old houses make new noises

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I consider myself very lucky to live where I live. Not only is my neck of the woods considered to be one of the most desirable and most beautiful vacation spots in Canada, I won the house lottery when I was looking for an affordable rental back in 2000.

I had just moved back from having lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a year and April is not the nicest month to be trekking through Central Ontario looking for a place to live. It was an unseasonably harsh winter that year and I received a tip from a friend about a little house that would be advertised for rent in the near future. My parents and I drove two minutes out of town and ventured down the snow-covered driveway to get a closer look.

The snow was piled high in front of the house but I trudged my way through the banks and climbed a mountain of snow to a window that looked into the kitchen. I was smitten. After making my way around the house to peer in the rest of the windows, I had surmised the kitchen was the biggest room in the tiny house and I knew I was meant to live here. I rented the house for four years before I finally convinced my landlady to sell me the property. She loved having me as a tenant so she agreed to deduct the rent I had paid from what was deemed a fair price for the property and I became a homeowner in 2004.

Fast forward to today. Although this six-hundred square foot gem has been my refuge and the place that has allowed my greatest amount of creativity, it is beginning to show its age. This tiny building, nestled into almost three acres of property, was crafted in 1940 and designed to be an out-building of a long-forgotten farm property. It has given yeoman service as a principal residence but lately it has begun to make noises I have not heard in my almost twenty years as a resident.

There are now creaks in places where once there had been silence. The clicks from the baseboard heaters have become much more pronounced and, when the mercury slips down below minus 30 degrees Celsius, the argumentative pops and bangs from the house are much louder than I remember.

Through no fault of its own, my house has aged. If I consider how much I have changed since I have lived here, I should not be taken aback by the deep wrinkles and age lines of the place I have called my home for almost two decades. Although it is tiny in square footage, it is a giant in its presence on my property. I can only hope its perseverance is as strong as mine and we can tackle a few more years together on this land we call home.

Let the sunshine in

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I had not realized I was suffering from the winter blahs until this past Saturday. I have successfully maneuvered myself through many winters and this one, although highly unpredictable, seemed no different. How wrong I was.

Saturday morning, I awoke to the sun beaming through my bedroom window. I was initially confused by the brightness in my room as I had become so used to the monochromatic mornings of December and January. I had not registered what the beautiful light represented.

The mercury reminded me the morning was frigid so I accomplished all of my needed tasks as the sun continued to warm the day. When I got home in the middle of the afternoon, the temperature was much more comfortable than the morning and all I wanted to do was sit in the sun. It was at that moment I realized I had nothing to sit on. I had sold my patio set last fall and had not thought about my winter sun tanning until now. I raced to the local hardware store and bought what seemed to be the only folding chair in stock in February.

I opened up my new purchase and set it to directly face that glowing ball of goodness in the sky, I closed the gate so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my dog, I poured a glass of wine and I sat. And I sat. And I absorbed ninety minutes of glorious sunshine.

The warmth of the sun was welcomed like an old friend we spent some time getting reacquainted. It is a long-standing tradition in our family to cover ourselves in layers in the middle of winter and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. I’m sure my parents were smiling as I carried on that tradition. The photo below is circa 1975 ish.

As the sun sank into the horizon, I reluctantly folded my chair and went inside. Besides the noticeable pink hue in my cheeks, there was an immediate change in my demeanor. I was invigorated. I felt happy, effervescent even. I went from feeling like I had been sleep-walking through the last few months to feeling recharged. My mood was elevated and I spent the rest of the day smiling for no reason.  At least now, I have the chair ready and the next time that sun is out all inside tasks take a back seat. You’ll know where to find me.

 

Music is good for the heart

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I was sitting at home on Tuesday night listening to Barry Manilow songs. Yes, you read that correctly, Barry Manilow songs. My aunt will be thrilled when she reads this post. I think she is one of Barry’s biggest fans and we were certainly caught in the vortex of her Barry mania back in the day.

There was one particular song of Barry’s my mother absolutely loved and I forgot I had downloaded that song on my iTunes. When I decided to shuffle all of my songs while making dinner, this song came on and, in a few seconds, I was back in the living room of my childhood home singing this song with my mom at the top of our lungs. My mom could hit a few notes here and there but her enthusiasm certainly made up for her lack of musical ability.

(image credit)

The song is called his VSM or Very Strange Medley. It consists of several television commercial jingles Barry wrote and he was sure his audience had no idea he had any part of writing. I was a teenager again dancing around my kitchen as Barry went through his advertising repertoire and, in my mind, I could see my mother ramping up for the big finale.

The McDonald’s tune started and, for whatever reason, I started dancing in my kitchen like I was on stage with Barry himself. My arms were keeping time with his Doo doo doo doo doo’s and when the song reached its crescendo I threw my arms in the air as my mom always did and I started to cry. They were such happy tears remembering how much fun we used to have singing that song together and I must have listened to the song another five times, throwing my hands in the air like bad seventies jazz hands each time because my mom could not listen to that song without doing the same thing.

The Musical Daily says music is good for the mind, body and soul but they forgot the most important thing. Music is good for the heart. After I stopped listening to the VSM and wiped my eyes for the last time, I asked my Alexa to shuffle more Barry Manilow tunes and I enjoyed my teleportation back to a time when everything was right in my world.

I ended my Tuesday night with a head full of music and a heart full of memories.

 

Stuffing all you can into the holidays

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There is much to be said about the joy the holidays bring – or any celebration, for that matter.  Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas or a reunion, the ease of the conversation, the steady flow of wine, the melodic sound of laughter and the joy of being with a close-knit group of people is unrivaled. There is an undefined comfort level that allows us to become absorbed in the festivities that surround us. The fact that we can gorge ourselves and have an excuse to eat everything in sight with only a few fleeting moments of guilt is sublime.

turkey

The molecules change in the room when family and friends get together for a holiday celebration. There is something intrinsically sacred about holidays and the memories that are created within those moments. Time has a way of strategically obliterating those precious seconds as it marches on at a frantic pace, but our shared memories have a way of stopping that clock, if only for a few moments.

Holidays are a portal. They can freeze time and create a vortex that allows us to travel back and relive certain periods in our lives. The memories wrap themselves around us like a blanket and soothe us with the warmth of the times that have engaged us and truly breathe a bit of life back into our frenzied existence.

Although many holidays have passed and are collecting dust on the books in the library of my mind, watching my brother “float” his dinner in gravy brings back a rush of nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to be at Thanksgiving dinner this year because I had to work, but I poured enough gravy on my dinner at the lodge to make my brother proud. That is what the holidays are truly about, the personal moments that any other person would find arbitrary but, to me, define my holiday experience.

Embrace your family, enjoy the moments and get stuffed with the memories your family helps to create.  We all have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Show, don’t tell

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I was introduced to the phrase “show, don’t tell” by a woman who runs a small publishing company in Arkansas. After she read the first three chapters of my novel, she gave me some extremely helpful advice. I have since edited those first chapters and am moving forward with much more knowledge about writing.

What she said to me made complete sense. In the first chapter, one of my lines ended with “the impending nightfall felt menacing”. It did not occur to me to show the reader how the night was achieving that menacing quality rather than just tell them. I was guilty of some rookie writing mistakes and rather than telling me my writing needed work, she showed me how to make it better.

This same phrase introduced itself to another realm of my existence, proving three words can pack a powerful punch. When new people join your work team, there are bound to be some adjustments, not only for the new employee but for the long-term team members as well. And when that new employee steps into a managerial role, some toes are going to be stepped on and some noses will be out of joint.

Once the employees aired their grievances, it was agreed that the new employee would show the team how his new ideas could improve the existing way of doing things instead of just telling them how he wanted things done. By showing them and not simply telling them, not only will he have his new ideas implemented but everyone will get involved and the team will become stronger.

Life gets in the way

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I made myself a promise that I would post a blog every day through the  month of November and, although I gave it a good run, I have failed.  Yesterday was the first day I didn’t post something and, although I feel slightly disappointed, I am not going to beat myself up about it.

Trying to find something to post about every day is difficult.  Sure, I could rely on old posts or memes to get me through but that would not be me and yesterday was a busy enough day without having to make time to create a meaningful post.

Having posted every day for 18 days in a row has been a blessing.  It has re-awakened my passion to write.  It has helped me to harness that creative flow within me and has given it a chance to speak again.

Life gets in the way of our best laid plans but, if we can keep the big prize within our sights, we can overcome any obstacle to make that plan a reality. I want to write.  I want to be published, and life is not going to get in the way of that.  Even if  I miss a day or two of blogging, it just means my creativity is being stored for the days that my words will have more meaning.

Me scribere.

 

The traditions of Christmas

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Each year, when my father was still with us, he would phone at 6:00 am to wish me a Merry Christmas and get the day started.  This year, I expect the lines from Heaven will be clear again Christmas morning and that phone in my head will ring just prior to that dreaded time in the morning.  But this, admittedly, is among the favorites of my Christmas memories.

There are many Christmas traditions we still follow and, although they become slightly modified as the years pass, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them.  After we moved to our tiny little town, Christmas Eve was spent bundled in our warmest winter gear standing at the end of our driveway.  The sirens could be heard before the truck was spotted and the lights would crest the hill by our house.   Santa Claus was atop the biggest fire truck and would pass all of the eager children, bundled tight like we were, waiting for a glimpse of the big guy before we were hurried off to nestle in our beds.  There were no visions of sugar plums, only the wonder of how he fit his ever-growing frame down our very thin stove-pipe. I pondered that thought until the weight of my eyelids became too troublesome and drifted into sleep with that unanswered query still nagging my brain.

Santa on a fire truck

As the years passed we began to give back.  We would faithfully wait at the end of our driveway with a case of beer for the jolly man and the rest of the fire department.  I mean, he had to have been freezing up there and what better way to keep him jolly than with some beer?  I’ll never forget the eve of one particular Christmas when Santa told us that he didn’t drink beer, but instead enjoyed a Rye and Coke.  I guess everyone has a Christmas wish and the following year we granted his with a tall glass of whiskey and carbonated syrup.  My gifts were fabulous that year!!

We almost missed him one year and I raced to the corner of the next street to catch him on his way back.  I stood in anticipation, forever in the shadow of the child I once was and with the smile of the child I hope to always be. Santa waved and wished me a Merry Christmas and I walked back home with a smile that went from one ear to the other.

Every Christmas morning we were allowed to open our stockings and then we were forced to stare longingly at the big presents under the tree while we choked down some breakfast.  That tradition should have been abolished but still remains intact. Paper flew, boxes were cast aside and we became buried in a pile of pure love.  Thanks to my mom, inevitably one or more of the presents would still have a price tag on them and that became a much-anticipated tradition as well.  My brother followed up spectacularly a few years ago by not only leaving the price tag on a gift for my sister-in-law but the price tag was hanging outside of the gift box and not wrapped up inside.

My mother was the David Copperfield of making presents disappear. She loved to start her shopping in June and would hide the packages where we would never find them.  She mastered her craft so well over the years that we would receive some of our Christmas presents in March when they magically appeared months after the festivities had ended.  There was always a competition between my brother and I to see who would open the last present on Christmas Day.  We would skilfully hide a gift or two and casually pull them out an hour or two after the mayhem had ended.  My mom changed the face of that contest and it was anyone’s guess as to whose Christmas present was going to appear at Easter!!

As I sit writing this, the gifts are waiting to be coated in the festive colors of wrapping paper.  The Shrimp Dip has been made by my brother, (hopefully there will be some left for the big day) and he is busy preparing his house for the onslaught of family, food and extreme commotion.  This is the best of Christmas.  It’s not the gifts or the decorations, it’s time spent laughing about the price tags, the long-lost gifts and the early morning phone calls. It’s watching my brother “float” his Christmas dinner in gravy.  It’s Santa Claus on a fire truck and being tricked by my nephews to play a Shepherd in church on past Christmas Eves. It’s a glass of wine with the people closest to me, the people who don’t care that I have to unbutton my pants after eating too much turkey or that I may just wear track pants this year.   Christmas is about presence and not presents.

To all of you and all of yours – a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays.