’tis the season for…less and less stress

Yes, it’s that time of year again when humankind goes berserk.  It’s the season of gift giving and life stressing.  What used to be simple days of praise has now become the merchandise mecca of the year.  It’s all about the gifts and the gift giving and the gift receiving.  Or is it?  Besides the present factor, there is the presentation factor.  Oh yes, the hosting of the feasts or the attending of the feasts.  Are you one of those who finds this time of year especially stressful?  Even better, don’t you enjoy all the tv shows and the radio talk shows and expert magazine articles telling you how to survive the holiday season?  Yeah, I can’t stand them either.  So I have decided that I am going to share with you MY way of surviving this wonderful time of the year.

PLAN A:

LEAVE TOWN!  If you can, go and hop on a plane, a train, or leave in an automobile.   GO! GO FAR FAR FAR AWAY!  Why?  You don’t have to deal with any of the visiting drama or the hosting drama.  There is NO drama, except for crowds at the airport, but who cares?  You aren’t related to anyone.  Oh…leaving is not an option?  Ok, plan B

YOU ARE THE HOST

KEEP IT SIMPLE:  

The invite:  If you are the chosen one hosting the get together, send out your invitation in July.  That way everyone has time to book their trip abroad!  Or, sadly,  they can decide to spend time with you.  I feel bad for them.  Well, if you are the hostess with the mostest (like me!), here is your holiday survival plan.

Menu plan:  it’s all about the list … ahem … lists.  Your menu is one list.  This will include the items you are planning on making.  Sub-divide your list into the following categories:  Appetizers / Main / Dessert.  Further sub-divide that list into when to prep each item and what you have to buy at the grocery store.  Example:  vegetable tray: grape tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, cauliflower.  This list will become your cheat sheet for the next list – GROCERY LIST.  Oh, then there is the list of what platters / bowls utensils will be needed for each dish.  See!  Super easy!  Oh, as the days progress you might find that you cross things off your list because they are either going to take too long or you’re too tired to attempt making them.  Your 5 page list will suddenly wither away to one sheet.  There…NOW it’s easy and manageable.  So, if you started off with apple pie, pumpkin pie, cherry pie, chocolate cake, you might find that by December 24th your pie kingdom has morphed into “I’ve got ice cream in the freezer.”  Yup, who doesn’t like ice cream?  Someone will bring you chocolates or cookies and voila!  Your dessert is taken care of.

Seating:  Don’t worry about getting too fancy with your seating arrangement.  As long as everyone can sit and eat it doesn’t matter what they have to sit on.  Plastic stools, lawn chairs…who cares?  It’s about family and being together right?

Gifts:  Buying gifts has become a true tragedy.  If you watch every commercial and try to buy the kids what they want, you will find (especially if there are divorced and/or remarried parents involved) that there will be quadruplicate same gifts!  Avoid this catastrophe.  Go for the stuff they aren’t expecting.  Nothing trademarked.  Nothing Disney.  Nothing Star Wars.  Nothing that anyone else can buy.  Surprises are way more fun and they MIGHT even like it.  Huzzah!

Decorating:  No need to go over the top with decorations.  Yes, it’s nice to make your home feel Christmasy, and a visit to the dollar store or your Goodwill store will have enough to make it ho ho hopefully good enough.  A green garland, some red bows.  Ta-da!

Drinks:  Sure it would be nice to have every variety of booze available to your guests, but even restaurants draw the line.  “Can I get a Pepsi?” you might ask only to hear, “Sorry, we have Coke is the ok?”  Well, it’s not really ok but you take what you can get.  Keep in mind that you are actually paying for getting what you didn’t really want.  So, when guests come over (and they are not paying for anything), they can sip on whatever you have on hand.  Newfie Screech?  By golly why not?!  It’s Christmas!

Clean up:  Wow…look at those mounds of dishes that piled up because it was more important to be with your guests than hanging out washing dishes in the kitchen.  In the old days the women would congregate there and gossip while washing and drying dishes.  Gone are those days.  There are now dishwashers.  Sure it might take you 4 days to cycle all those dishes through the magic washing machine, but who cares?  No one else is coming over so you’ve got lots of time.

Now, if you are…

THE GUEST:

KEEP IT SIMPLE:  

Driving:  Give yourself time to get to your destination.  Parking is what it is.  Don’t wear your nicest shoes as you might have to park in knee deep snow.  Just saying.

Host(ess) Gift:  I find two gifts work out best.  Booze or sweets.  Wine or hard liquor is a win!  If you aren’t sure then chocolates or baked goods work (as they double for dessert at your destination).  Note:  Buy what you like to eat/drink since the hosts usually share whatever they have received.

Don’t overstay:  You may be having a good time, but keep in mind that your host(s) have probably been losing lots of sleep planning the perfect soiree.  If they keep mentioning how late it’s getting, that is a definite subtle clue that it’s time for you to pack up your sorry drunk ass and get on home.

There!  That’s all there is to it!  Sure, you may think this a bunch a hogwash and some are saying, “Well, you don’t know MY family.”  Maybe not, but think about it, the less effort you put in the less people expect of you.  Keep the bar low so no one can limbo under it. Low expectations will keep you off the high expectations list.  Each year will bring less and less stress as you continue to regress.

YOU’RE WELCOME!

 

Die Dancing…

Remember when you used to do dumb things?  Perhaps I should elaborate.  With more life experiences, do you find yourself taking the safe route in life?  Don’t leave the job you hate because you have bills to pay.  Don’t go dancing because people will laugh at you.  Don’t try new foods because you might not like them.  Don’t take up a new hobby because you’re too old to start something new.  Now, what if you decided that you wanted to try something new?  What if you decided that being happy and really living your life is what mattered more than anything?  Can you imagine what your new version of life would be like?

When I am in a super happy mood I find that I want to try new things.  I might experiment with cooking a new meal (yes, I am an avid cook.  You’d think I would be posting more recipes).  I might seek out new restaurants (hmmm…food again).  I might start drawing pictures (yes, you have seen some of my phenomenal artwork here).  However, when I get in a “reality” slump, I find my creative juices are suddenly bone dry.  The flow has ebbed and disappeared.  I cook the same boring meals.  I would rather stay home than venture out in public.  Nothing seems right.  How do I get out of this funk?  I literally wish it away.

I will actually say something like this out loud, “I wish I would get out of this funk.  Please help me out.”  Yup, it sounds silly but it works every time.  Suddenly, something or someone will cross my path to pull me out of my boring world.  I become invigorated!  It could be a funny little piglet video.  It could be a child doing something so silly that it reminds me not to take life so seriously.  I recently experienced this funk and I was lucky to have someone put things in perspective for me.

I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, but my hubby has wonky knees.  He has fine chicken legs (haha), but his knees are really only being held in place by the skin surrounding them.  This is the sad news.  His knees will sometimes buckle and down he goes for the count.  This past Saturday, a knee gave out, my man fell down hard, his knee swelled like a balloon.  We were planning on having a lovely evening at a family wedding with the hopes of dancing.  Bad knee = no dancing.  Right?  I, apparently, was wrong.

When the music began, Wiseguy looked over at me, raised his eyebrows in the universal signal for, “shall we?” to which I replied:  “NO!”  Not once.  Not twice.  I refused him 8 times!  So, he got up and went to ask someone else to dance.  I sat in my chair and steamed and stewed and grumbled.  Why?!  His stupid knee was busted and now he was going to make it worse!  What an idiot!!  Oh yes, that was the nicest word I used of the choicest I had for him at that particular moment.  I did not want to hear about the pain for the following days and weeks because he had decided to dance.  After a few turns on the floor he left the hall and his cohort in crime came over to me and, with a grin, asked “Who died?”  At this point I spewed my anger about his absurd desire to dance and wreck his knee even more.  I thought she would agree with me and my logic.  Nope.  She had a different explanation.

“Let me tell you a story,” she began.  “About 10 years ago I recall being at a banquet and everyone was dancing.  One man suddenly collapsed to the floor.  Someone tried resuscitating him, but it was too late.  He was gone.”  My eyes bugged out, my mouth dropped open.  “So, you see,” she continued, “we love to dance and will die doing it.”  Then she got up and went back to her seat at the table.  That was the moral of the story?  Die dancing?

Hmmm, that got me the thinking.  Hubby wasn’t trying to make his knee worse.  He was looking to enjoy dancing while he still could.  How long would his knees last?  How long until he would no longer be able to bust a move?  My foul mood was changing.  The clouds were lifting and my happy disposition was returning.  I went in search of my dance partner.  We danced the rest of the evening and part way into the morning.

How were his knees after all the festivities?  Not good.  There was a hospital visit in there too.  Does he regret dancing?  Never.  Would he do it again?  In a heartbeat.  Why?  He loves to dance and he will keep tearing up the dance floor no matter what the consequences the next day.

We are told to live every day as if it’s our last, but plan as if we shall live forever.  We seem to get the latter part right, but the first part seems too unreal for us to even consider.  Living life to the fullest oftentimes means leaving our comfort zone and trying new things.  Go on a trip where you have never been before.  Take classes in stuff that interest you.  Even better, think about things that people used to say you weren’t good enough to do, but you loved, and go ahead and do them!  You will be so happy that you did!  Don’t look back on your life with regret.  No matter how foolish you might think you look, you will know in your heart that you were brave enough to break out and really live!  Worst case scenario?   If it’s your thing…you could die dancing.

 

 

The Daily Grind…

My love of cooking knows no bounds.  When I see new kitchen equipment advertised I get all jittery and excited!  New electric can opener?  That’s for me!  New santoku knife?  Gotta have it!  Rice cooker, slow cooker, pressure cooker, any kind of cooking cooker…they are all something I NEED!  Right?  Wiseguy can you tell you that I drive him bonkers with my explanations and sales tactics on why I NEED this culinary equipment.  With all my kitchen (toys) supplies, there is definitely one thing I have never regretted purchasing and Wiseguy agrees it was, and is, my best purchase.  It still works as well as it did 20 years ago and we use it every day.  Not just once, but sometimes two to three times a day.  My luxurious kitchen splurge was a simple, yet elegant, and EXPENSIVE  pepper mill.

What is so special about a pepper mill you may ask?  If you use pepper like we use pepper, you will notice the flavour difference between pre-ground pepper and fresh ground pepper.  To give you a better understanding, compare it to coffee.  If you have fresh coffee beans that you grind up with each cup of coffee and compare it to pre-ground coffee that as been getting air time, you will notice the difference in the smell and the taste.  Pepper to me is like fresh brewed coffee.

I first recall having fresh ground pepper at a restaurant.  The server came around with a grinder for parmesan cheese.  Being a cheese-a-holic I had my plate blanketed in cheese (it was a lovely snow-top on my caesar salad).  I was ready to dig in when she came back and asked if we would like fresh ground pepper.  After our replies of “yes please” she whipped out a large baseball bat from behind her back, faced the end toward my cheeserific (from my dictionary meaning very, very, very delicously cheesy) salad, then began twisting the top in a clockwise motion.  I could smell the pepper as it floated gently through the air and landed sporadically over my white, fluffy parmesan cheese.  It smelled good.  It tasted even better!  Seriously, if you have ever used a pre-filled pepper shaker, you will notice that you need A LOT of pepper in order to get some sort of peppery flavour.  Not so with the pepper mill.  That fresh ground goodness is incredible.  It might make you sneeze, but it’s still incredible.  After that, I yearned for the flavour of that freshly ground spice.

My desire was fulfilled one day whilst I was working at the mall.  I was on my lunch break and I ventured into an area of the mall that I had not frequented before.  I came upon a store that had a mandoline displayed.  No, not a mandolin, but a mandoline; a food slicer.  New kitchen toy!  It was shiny, stainless steel.  It looked incredible!  It was also almost $200.00.  My hourly wage was $8.35 so that was quite a lot of money for a new toy.  I couldn’t come up with justification for purchasing that glorious item.  Suddenly, something gleamed out of the corner of my eye.  The track lighting was shining down on something.  I moved in for a closer examination and I saw that it was a smaller version of the baseball bat (a.k.a. pepper mill) from the restaurant.  The day of reckoning had come.

The sales associate came over to explain the benefits of this particular pepper mill.  Benefits?  I had worked in retail sales long enough to know a sales pitch when I heard one.

She:  This is a Peugeot pepper mill. I’m not sure if you knew or not, but they are made in France by renowned mills and grinder specialists.

Me:  *smile

She:  You will love this particular model.   At the bottom there is a dial so you can choose what size grind you would like.

Me:  *blank stare

She:  You can go from a coarse grind, which is great to make peppercorn steak, or a fine grind, good for soups and salads.

Me:  *look of shock.  Mouth drops open.  Say wha-what?

She pulled out a nice, white sheet of paper and proceeded to show me how each of the six grinding levels ground the peppercorns.  Hallelujah!  I was in pepper heaven!

Me:  How much is it?  (I had just cashed my paycheque and could splurge a little.  My brain guessed it would probably be expensive…like $30.00 or something)

She:  It’s $82.00 and worth every penny.

Me:   *Eyes bulged out, mouth dropped open, speechlessness, catatonia.

She:  *continues to extol the virtues of the masterpiece. Blah blah blah…lifetime warranty…blah blah blah… “and restaurants use Peugeot pepper mills because the grind is always perfect and they last forever.”

Me:  Restaurants????  Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!  Wrap it up!

Yup, I bought my Peugeot pepper mill 20 years ago (and withheld the actual price of it until about 4 years ago.) Even after the great reveal, Wiseguy agrees it was one of the best purchases I ever made.

Since he was so impressed with that purchase I decided to wow him on his 50th birthday with A PEUGEOT PEPPER MILL!  Not just any pepper mill, but the lazy man’s battery operated pepper mill AND salt mill.  But that’s not all!  How about lights? Yes, as you hit the magic button to grind your pepper (or salt), a light shines down.  Oh yes, it’s the Peugeot Elis Electric Salt and Pepper Mills. Hallelujah it’s Pepper Heaven!  A match made in heaven.  The old and the new living happily to grind another day.

It’s days like these that I don’t mind the daily grind.

Pass the pepper please…

 

 

Guilt…be gone!

I am a believer that you should be happy with what you have.  So often we look at what others have and we forget about all the wonderful things that we have in our own lives.  I like to “preach” that even though you might not have a brand new car, you do have one that takes you where you need to go.  Your home decor might be stuck in the 1970s, but you have a roof over your head; a shelter from the extremes of cold and heat.  You have food to eat even though you might oftentimes say, “I’m starving” if you haven’t eaten in 4 hours.  This is also why, sometimes, when I hear that I am so lucky to have everything I have or if someone says, “I wish I had that” pointing to something I own, I actually feel guilty.  Why do I feel this way?

I look around at family and friends and see things they have.  I do not covet those items.  I am happy for them and for their acquisitions.  These “things” make them happy.  If they are happy then I am happy for them.  I never say, “I wish I had that.”  Maybe I’m weird.  Having wanted stuff does create joy in your life, but there are those that once they get that remarkable thing they are still not happy.  These are people who do not actually love themselves or their life.  They can collect things forever, but until they find that inner peace, they will never be satisfied with anything they own.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a lover of shopping and acquiring new things.  I have even delved into “new to me” items.  They are gently used items because we have such expansive wardrobes of clothing that we don’t get a chance to wear anything out.  It also makes me feel thrifty and supportive of local charities.  Yup, all these thoughts will go through my head and then I’ll buy a totally new item of clothing.  Meh…it happens to the best of us.

Now, having someone say, “it must be nice,” in a snarky tone, is what gets me feeling guilty.  Yes, it is nice that I can buy nice things for myself and my family.  It is nice that we can do some renovations in our house that have been the bane of our existence since day one.  It’s wonderful that I have such beautiful things in my life.  Yes, these “material things” do make me happy and make my smile.  Why do I feel guilty?

The guilt doesn’t last as long as it used to.  It is with age and experience that I have learned to get over that feeling.  You see, after sacrificing my wants and giving to others instead, I had gone through many a bad experience where none of it was appreciated.  The recipient would thank me and praise me for I had done for them.  After a few months passed, none of it mattered.  It became, “what have you done for me…lately?”  Giving to those who always greet you with an open hand for taking, will never appreciate what you have done for them.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you learn from it and move on.

I also remind myself, that even though everything seems like it happened yesterday, it didn’t.  Wiseguy and I have spent years and many work hours to accumulate the goodies we now have.  I now like to say that I have earned these things.  Children were raised to the best of our abilities.  There are now grandchildren that we can spoil and pamper as we could not afford to do with the children themselves.  The foods I prepare to make everyone’s taste buds happy are incredible and that is because I finally can afford to do this.  Whenever I get happy smiles for the food selection I am beyond ecstatic and grateful for everything that is in my life.  I could easily cry all day long with joy when I compare where we started our life together and where we are now.

IN THE BEGINNING:  a one bedroom apartment in a not-so-ritzy part of town.  We had a newly purchased bed.  I had moved out of my parent’s house with my clothes, my VHS Disney collection, and my books.  The furniture stayed there except for one metal shelf that had housed my book collection.  This was to become our kitchen pantry for 4 years in that apartment.  We, Wiseguy and I, had received the following as charitable gifts:  an old motel tv (that lasted a few months before the colour tube busted), a round banquet table, and two metal banquet chairs.  Our friends at work decided to donate to our cause.  We were gifted a pull out couch and a swivel chair from a Native Indian fellow we worked with who had 7 children.  Yes, we were more destitute than a man with 7 children.  After a couple of months, my mother-in-law and father-in-law took us to a lovely store called Sears (which is now closing down forever) and they bought us a lovely forest green couch and matching chair.  We still have that couch and chair.  We can’t bear to part with them even though they are now 22 year’s old.  We shopped at Value Village (a thrift store) for ourselves and for the children.  We didn’t have much, but we were very wealthy in the happiness department.  We loved each other, we loved the children, we loved our life.

NOW:  After almost 22 years from that single bedroom apartment we have progressed and donated that old furniture to the same place where we used to shop.  We have given that store dining room sets, clothing, small appliances.  We live in a beautiful home with 5 bedrooms and two spare rooms.  My kitchen appliances are a professional chef’s dream and I enjoy cooking and baking and having people’s faces light up with the goodies I serve.  We have an abundance of things and we worked hard to get them.

Do I feel guilty?  I did for many years, but have finally decided that it was with hard work and patience that I now have what is in my life.  Most importantly, I still have my Wiseguy and the beautiful children in my life.  I am also grateful to now have 5 grandchildren who can enjoy all the fun things that are now part of this abundant lifestyle.

Now I forcefully and emphatically say:  GUILT….BE GONE!

 

The Real Boo Boo Cure…

Recently I went to my local drug store to buy some health and wellness items.  Bandages, eye drops, headache medicine, burn ointment…you know, the stuff that seems to disappear all too soon in my house.  Me?  Accident prone?  No, I consider myself more of a survivalist.  As I wandered down the aisle I noticed all the kid friendly stuff.  Bandages with cartoon pictures.  Toothpaste in tubes with Disney princesses all over it.  That got me thinking about the tried and true methods of our parents and grandparents to heal our boo-boos and other hurts.  It also made me laugh at my fanciful methods.

My cabinet at home is full of items that will help unclog my intestinal tract and if that gets too expunged then there is the one that will help stop the migration south.  There are little pills for so-so headache days and there are the extra strength ones for those dismal air pressure headaches.  There is the liquid pink potion to help with stomach pains and the fruit flavoured tablets for heart burn and indigestion.  There are the tablets to be used in case one of us has an anaphylactic shock.  It hasn’t happened yet, but one never knows right?  Add to this menagerie the cold fighting liquids, the herbal remedies, and the muscle and joint ointments and you have a cabinet full of illness fighting goodies.  Thinking back to my childhood my parents did not have such a full cabinet.

My childhood home’s main bathroom was where the “medicine” was kept.  Here is an inventory of what was in that cabinet:

  • bandages (Elastoplast brand because my father said these were the only ones that adhered well enough).
  • the everything pill – Aspirin – both children (little pink pills) and adult (yucky, chalky white pills)
  • iodine – used on any scraped knees, elbows, or puncture wounds.  It was red and had a little eyedropper for application.  Once applied it burned and burned and then tinged your skin red.  If the wound refused to clot then (and ONLY then) you would be given a bandage.  (If you ever had an everlasting-Elastoplast bandage ripped off, you would never, ever want a bandage again).

That’s it.  Nothing else in the cabinet.  There were no special kiddie bandages.  Nothing with cartoon pictures at all.  How did our generation manage to survive without the special first aid items that are out there now?  I have put a new spin on first aid making me more of a Witch Doctor than your regular mommy-type doctor.

I do not buy the special first aid bandages.  Also, my bandages are not to be applied to invisible or internal wounds.  Yes, they make a child feel better because now they have a memento of their boo-boo.  Everyone can parent the way they like, but I find this to be futile.  You give them one bandage and suddenly they’ll be returning asking for more until you have more of a mummy than a toddler.  I prefer the dramatic approach.

EXAMPLE:  CHILD FALLS WHILE RUNNING:

METHOD 1:  The wailing begins.   He/she is in unbelievable pain.  No doubt about it.  The tears are streaming in big fat drops and rolling down his/her cheeks.  Usual first aid is the Mommy Kiss:  Mommy kisses the boo boo and all is well.  My method:  “Come here sweetie,” I coo.  “Is it this leg?” I ask, pointing to the left leg.  “Shall we cut it off?”  Little boys LOVE that one!  Totally in for it!  They rest their leg on my thigh and I pretend sawing back and forth with the side of my hand.  The giggles erupt and all is well.  And no bandages were used.  Little girls usually give me the glare of death and skulk away.  Again, no crying and the irrefutable pain is suddenly forgotten.

METHOD 2:  The crying begins.  He/she is suffering like no other human being ever has.  “Oh my,” I say with hands on the sides of my face, staring in astonishment, “I guess you won’t be able to take the dogs for a walk with your broken leg.”  “I can walk the dogs!” comes the determined exclamation as child gets the leash and heads for the dogs.  Being able to do fun stuff will cure what ails them.

METHOD 3:   The sobbing begins.  He/she will not survive this wound.  If I have tried the sawbone solution or the distraction method and neither have worked, then I pull out the big gun.  The tried and true sure fire way to heal them.  Magic.  I put my magic wand on the injury and with some flair and dramatics I “heal” their injury.  They look at me shocked, stunned, and very silent.  They are also miraculously cured.

Now, some may say that I shouldn’t lie to children.  I don’t think it’s lying.  I tell them I will cure what ails them and I do.  That isn’t a fabrication.  It’s true.  They were there and watched me and they felt better.  WIN WIN if you ask me.

What makes my magic even more special is that MY wand is a Harry Potter wand.  I bring the special box out of hiding and have the child watch me slowly open it and reveal its contents.  The wand sits there, magically of course.  Also, no child is allowed to touch it because it is MY magic wand.  Eventually, when they are older, they can get a wand that magically selects them.  This way, no one fights over who gets to play with my wand and my wand will be safe for future use when fatal child injuries occur.

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I am hoping that one day, when they are grown up, they will recall these fanciful things I used to do.  Maybe I’ll be the crazy Baba which is fine with me because it makes me unique and memorable.  Childhood goes by too quickly and I love letting them live in a world of magic and fantasy while they can.

Bandages or Harry Potter wand?  You now know the real boo boo cure.

Hello? What’s new? The Phone Call…Part II

It was another one of those weekends when I had decided that enough time had passed for me to perform this one simple task.  It’s one that I used to try and perform every second weekend, but my self-preservation kicked in and I decided that my mental anguish was unnecessary.  A good four weeks (wow…a month) had passed and I was ready to take on this challenge.  I took a few deep breaths…breathe in [count to six], breathe out [count to six].  I was ready.  Time for The Phone Call.

I punched in the phone number.  I listened and heard the ringing on the other end.

Mom:  Hello?

Me:  Hello.  How are you?

Mom: OOOOOOH!  It’s you! (loud piercing voice to ensure I can hear her in Canada).  Is everything ok?  Is there something new?  Why are you calling?

Me:  Just called to see how you were doing.

Mom:  Everything is wonderful!

JACKPOT!  I hit the “Happy Phone Call” Day!  Woo hoo!  Woot woot!

“We were so lucky,” she started, “they had flooding in the next village, but we didn’t get any here.  God definitely heard our prayers.”  Oops.  I got excited too soon.  She was happy to hear from me, but now this conversation was spiralling into one of those other dimensions.  Oh no!  Hopefully no funeral talk.  I had a feeling the “litany” might be involved in today’s catch up phone call.  I continued to breathe in slowly and exhale slowly.  I could do this.  I could keep it positive.  I was feeling empowered!  No matter what she threw at me I could weather the verbal onslaught!  Hit me with it Mom!  I challenge you!  And she did.

After 4 weeks of being incommunicado with my parents, I was mentally and emotionally prepared.  I could handle a little rumble and wrestling in the pit of antagonism and negativity.  I’d chalk it up to “Fun Folk Times” and knew that after hanging up I would have another 4 weeks to boost up my auto-negativity immune system.  It started with the horrible weather and then moved on to ALL the other non-good things in her life at the moment.  If you read my previous post you would know that I am speaking of The Litany.

I did manage to bring up some things that were happening in my end of the world.  Although we are doing a major renovation in our home, I did not bring up this jubilant part of my life.  Why?  We hired people to do the work.  We did NOT wait for my father to return and have him do it.  So, best not to reveal happy things that would definitely sour quickly.  She spoke of the “miracle of the vineyard”.  When they had arrived in Croatia, the vineyard had been a disaster.  The blossoms had been blown away by high winds and there was no chance that there would grapes this year.  Looks like God decided they needed wine and now there was an abundance of juicy grapes.  Ok, I paraphrased, but that’s basically what her version boiled down to.  We spoke of children and grandchildren.  We conversed about my siblings and their lives (short story as I hadn’t spoken to anyone in awhile).  We chatted about the weather, about their return home, about my aunt and her recovery after surgery.  Yes, we covered many topics and I managed to keep the conversation mostly upbeat.  It was a pleasant catch up session.  Then, my mother informed me that my father had sauntered into the room.  Things changed quickly.

“Hey!  Hey you!”  she hollered at my father.  Yes, hollered, because…well, he was in the same room right?  “It’s your daughter!”  she laughed out loud as she yelled.  I waited a bit and as my father said “hello” into the receiver I could hear mom yelling in the background.  “Don’t talk too long!  It’s long distance!”  To which he replied (yelled back) “I just got on the phone!”  This is where my usual interjection comes in:  “What’s new?”   I do this in the hopes of distracting him from her verbal onslaught.  This most recent conversation was one that had me LOL-ing afterward for days.  It also had me talking to myself and shaking my head.  I am sure I looked strange, but all I kept thinking was Please don’t let me end up like them.  Here is why.

Dad:  Oh boy.  We are so tired now.  We were just making wine.  You would not believe what…

[shouting in background] I already told her about the vineyard!  Don’t waste time.  It’s long distance!

Dad:  Ok, so you know about the wine.  Your mother and I are ok.  We are..

Mom [bellowing]:  She knows that!  I told her!

Dad:  Well for heaven’s sake!  Fine!  [grumble grumble].  What’s new with you?  How is everyone over there?

Me:  We are all….

[shouting voice]:  She told me everything!  I’ll tell you all about it.  Don’t waste time.  It’s long distance!

Dad:  [harrumph with head shaking and an exasperated chuckle].  Although I was not in the room, I could visualize it.  I’d heard that sound before and know the head shake that accompanies it).  “Okay then,” he says resignedly.

Me:  I guess I’ll let you go.  We can talk another day.  Bye.

Dad:  [click]

Done.  Task performed.  An hour on the phone with my mother and 45 seconds on the phone with my father.  I sometimes wonder what happens after he put the phone back in the cradle.  Does he just walk away?  In this particular case,  I imagined her starting to tell him everything I said.   Then I remembered that today was a litany day for her so she probably didn’t hear anything or remember anything I said.  Oh well…4 more weeks until we do it again.

 

The Phone Call…Part I

My parents are…unique.  Yes, that’s a good and ambiguous word to describe them.  My mom and dad depart from Canada every year in the spring and do not return to Canada until fall has begun.  Where are they?  They have a humble mansion-like home in Croatia.  So, what is a good daughter to do in order to keep in touch with her parents?   Why, she phones them regularly to ensure that all is well and that they are having a happy-go-lucky life.  Well, that is what a daughter with non-unique parents would do.  Me?  There is a bit of a process to ensure I can keep my sanity intact.

Whilst in Croatia, my folks reside a mere 15 minute drive from the grandiose city of Split.  My father is an avid vegetable / fruit gardener and bee keeper.  My mother is right there by his side.  Not willingly.  It’s kind of a wifely self-imposed prison sentence I think.  She prefers to cook and bake.  Sadly, there is only so much baking you can do if everyone around you is on a diet or diabetic.  This is the Croatian village life.  I felt this was important to mention so that you could more clearly understand my need to mentally prepare myself for … the phone call.

It’s Sunday in Canada.  Morning has passed.  It is now 2 pm.  I debate on whether it’s a good day to call.  Am I feeling happy?  Am I feeling energetic?  Could I handle a barrage of negativity?  Can I be supportive?  If my questions result in a sum of 3 out of 4 then it’s NOT a good day to call.  If I’m super-hyped and feeling supremely happy, then I take a few deep yoga breaths and dial the number.  I close my eyes and mentally prepare myself.  I never know what type of conversation I might be subjected to.

A typical phone call would start as follows:

[phone ringing.  Mom picks up]  Hello?

Me:  Hello.  How are you?

Mom: OOOOOOH!  It’s you! (in a piercing, ear-splitting voice).  Is everything ok?  Is there something new?  Why are you calling?

Yes, every single conversation begins this way.  Her highest hope is that there is some life changing news that she can share with everyone in the village and/or the rest of Croatia.  This standard call can then morph into one of the following sub-conversations.

MORBID.  With my parents, being part of the elder generation, there is a good chance that there was a funeral, or few, that they had to attend.  My mother provides me with the obligatory synopsis of the deceased’s life, what illness they ailed from, and how lucky that they no longer need to live in pain and suffering.  Her voice is sad and verges on tears.  From funerals she might proceed to discussion of the poor surviving family members, especially if someone else is ill.  In most cases, I have no idea who these people are.  I am obliged to listen intently and ask NO questions.  Questions only lead to attacks of my person and “how can you not remember them?!”  DEFINITELY no questions.

ONE-SIDED.  This is always an interesting one.  After the “anything new?” question, she will go on a diatribe about…almost anything!  It could be a person or people, or a group of people.  It could touch on the government and its uselessness.  Which government?  Why…any government!  They are all crooks.  It could segue to taxes and the exorbitant price of food.  Maybe the weather is uncooperative.  Too much rain.  Not enough rain.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too many bugs.  From bugs to things bugging her like her aching back and sore legs.  Why is it one-sided?  I could say something, but she doesn’t hear me.  I have actually put her on hold, picked up my other line for about a minute, gone back to her and there has been no pause in conversation on her end.  She hadn’t even realized I had put her on hold.  These are the days that I don’t mention anything on my end.  She either won’t hear me, and if she does, she won’t remember it.

THE LITANY:  This type has some of the elements of ONE-SIDED, but is mostly a regular list of complaints, usually dealing with the unbearable actions of my father.  It would include, working long hours in the field, the amount of food he consumes, his argumentative behaviour, his self-righteousness, his loud voice, his deafness, and lastly, his method of breathing.  Yes, my father does not breathe as a regular human should.  Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t hear it the way she does.

HAPPY:  This is my most cherished type of phone conversation.  I find this one usually occurs if I haven’t called in over a month.  My mother is happy that I had called.  She is happy that I am healthy.  She is happy that everyone is doing well.  She is happy with her life.  The torrential rainstorm is no longer a scourge, but a great nurturer of the vegetables.  The sweltering heat of the sun is helping everything grow better.  My father is an amazing person.  He is so helpful and kind.  She just can’t do anything without him.  She has visited with family…or better yet, family came to visit her and she cooked and baked and everyone loved it!  They had so much fun!  Yes, this is my all time favourite exchange.  It is also usually the shortest one.  There is only so much good news and “happy” thoughts one can sustain.

As you may have noticed, I have only mentioned my mother in all these phone conversations.  This is due to two facts:  1)  My mother likes answering the phone or 2) My father has answered the phone, said “Hello [blah, blah for 2 seconds]” and then “here’s your mother.”

And….everyone together now…deep breath in…exhale…

Prepare yourself for:  The Phone Call – Part II.