Friday, December 31, 2010


Deb: Don’t you love that New Year smell?! A brand new year ripe with possibility. It’s a
Champagne glasses with confetti and streamers
second chance to fix the bad things in your life and watch the good things blossom.

How long does it take for your New Year smell to wear off? If you break your resolution just once, do you still keep going or does it get bumped to next year’s crop?

Many people I know don’t even bother to make resolutions anymore. I do though and always will. Because succeed or fail at my intentions, I have to. For I am of Scottish descent. New Year’s is huge with my peeps. The Scots call it “Hogmanay” and to dyed-in-the wool Scots, it is more precious than Christmas. Certainly more important.

Scots do have the most devastating sense of humor. The Brits are hilarious too, but the Scots have something different. They are dark. Funny and tragic all at the same time. “Merry Go Sorry” is the expression that springs to mind, which means the height of hilarity and the depth of despair––all at the same time! This is what makes their humour so unique and this is what makes Hogmanay so important to them. It’s a time to laugh and celebrate and it’s a time to wallow. Oh how the Scots love to wallow. Their minds are never far from the grave. Anyone’s grave. Those who have died, those who are about to die, and the rest who will die eventually. Scots were the first people I ever knew who photographed the graves of loved ones. Yes, they did. They’d put it in their photo album and say, “Auchhh, there’s ooour wee Jamie” and “Accchhhh, that was a cold day when we buried ooooorrrr Meg.”

The Scots love an opportunity to wallow. And there is no better time to have a good wee wallow than Hogmanay. And conversely the Scots are second to none at celebrating and welcoming the New Year!

Traditionally the New Year’s celebration starts with something called “First Footing”, and it gets its name from the first person who crosses your threshold after 12 midnight. The most desired “first footer” is a tall dark man (let’s face it, isn’t that what everyone wants?!!!) A redhead first footer could mean chaos and uncertainty in your new year. When the first footer enters your home, they bring a gift to mark the first footing. Salt was an old tradition, but now it varies from whisky to a black bun (a very rich fruit cake) intended to bring luck to the householder. The party begins after the first footing and goes until the morning when the guests are treated to a sumptuous breakfast before leaving. However, many Hogmanay celebrations go into the 2nd of January, which is a bank holiday. In the modern world, the whole of January is filled with these New Year’s celebrations in Scotland.

So, although it is a universal “out with the old, in with the new”, it is never thus with those of us of Scottish heritage. Hogmanay is a time to hold in our hearts those who have gone before us and to conjure up memories of years past when we all celebrated Hogmanay together, laughing, eating, and holding each other so dear.

And I will do the same as I have done every year and my heart will soar with joy and sink with melancholy, and at the stroke of midnight we will kiss and salute the New Year and sing. And on the last verse we will clasp crossed arms ... and remember.

circa 1786:  Scottish poet Robbie Burns (1759 - 1796) in his cottage composing 'The Cotter's Saturday Night'.   Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, the son of a farmer. In 1786 he published 'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect' with a view to raising funds to emigrate to the West Indies. The success of the volume induced him to stay. He married Jean Armour, the mother of his children in 1788. Burns farmed at Ellisland until 1791 and also worked for the Excise Service to supplement his income. Most of his later literary work consisted of songs and he wrote many of his most famous works for 'A Collection of Original Scottish Airs'  which included 'Auld Lang Syne', 'A Red, Red Rose' and 'Scots Wha Hae'. Burns died on July 21st 1796. His life and work are celebrated on Burns Night, 25th January.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Writer Robbie Burns
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guide-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Barbara: Auchhh, Deb, I want a wee New Year’s celebration like your Hogmanay. It sounds like just the perfect way to honour the past and look ahead to the future, while merrying it up in the present like nobody’s business.

When it comes to celebrating New Year’s, we’re usually of the “less is more” variety. Usually it’s just a few close friends (Deb and Colin as often as not—although not this year as relatives on both sides take center stage), eating a cozy meal, playing games like Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, then getting in jammies sometime after the champagne and playing some more. We’ve tried the fancy shindigs—which are schmancy and all––but they don’t fit us quite as well as the intimate tête-a-têtes in our own home.

That said, there’s always a little resolution-ing going on. I like the idea of the clean slate and the new beginning and the boundless possibilities. As for a Hogmanay-type hootenanny, that sounds like the best of all worlds (minus the whole night of revelry, which sad to say, I am pretty unlikely to be able to manage anymore …. hmmm, could I ever?) Thanks, Deb, for pulling me into your Scottish tradition and making that celebration so very palpable and real.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne!

And let’s not forget our new acquaintance! Thank you for all your lovely Christmas wishes and for sharing your own festivities with us. See you bright and early in the New Year and for the whole of the year to come. May all your resolutions be merry and may your dreams come true! Happy New Year!

And for your viewing pleasure, here's an apropos New Year's card from Deb and gang!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Magic

This year's Christmas photo
Barbara: It’s Christmas Eve Day and I am comfortably ensconced in my Christmas cozies with my family around me, ready to enjoy much food, laughter, camaraderie, (possibly some libations ;) ), and even some prezzies. It will be a celebration that marks Christmas for my family, but as far as celebrations go also shares a lot with any number of non-Christmas and non-Christian festivities enjoyed by people around the world. It is a coming-together of nearest and dearest, which can (under most circumstances and with the right mind-set) kindle a sense of abounding love and wonder and magic.

The other day, in honour of the season, I hosted one of my favourite holiday parties. Over the years we’ve had to pare down our annual Christmas party. Our house just isn’t big enough for large numbers. At first, we were sad to do it, but now we revel in the party that’s taken the big one’s place: our closest friends and their children (who are all around the same ages as our own kids) come over for chili and we squeeze into our living room and sing carols while Phil and our friend Pierre jam on guitars, Stefanie plays the piano, and several tambourines and shakers are passed around and abused flourished.

Deb and Luke at our party
It is fantastic. No, truly, it is FANTASTIC. Music is indeed a balm like no other, even for those of us with no musical talent (never mind voices like strangled cats––and I speak only of myself on that one).

While we jammed the other night, we ran through a gamut of songs, from overtly religious carols, to odes to winter, to pop songs about love and friendship. When we found ourselves singing John Lennon’s Imagine, it wasn’t hard in that moment to imagine a future world full of love and universal support. And when we got to “Imagine there’s … no religion”, someone called out, “Well, then we wouldn’t have Christmas!” True, technically speaking. But even Christmas was appropriated from a Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. So we may not always agree on what to or why we celebrate, but we will obviously always agree that we need and want to celebrate. And we also seem to agree on how we want to celebrate: taking some time off, gathering together, and sharing love, goodwill, food, and music.

Tonight, my family and I are going to dress up in our finery and we’re going to enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve dinner: soup and cold fishes and meats and cheeses. Then we clear the table and Santa comes—yes, on Christmas Eve, when it’s dark and candles and flickering lights abound. And the next morning, we sleep in until the kids come to our bed and the four of us take turns opening our stocking stuffers, where we’ve each got twelve items representing the twelve days of Christmas. The rest of Christmas day, we loll and play games and at dinner we eat turkey with all the trimmings. Can you see why it’s a favourite celebration?!

I’d love to hear how you celebrate your favourite festivity.

Merry Festivities to everyone everywhere!!

Deb: Our Christmas starts with a 30-year-old tradition: a friends-lunch and martini’s downtown. Over the years it has gone from multiple martoonies to one each. Ahh, the passage of time, huh? We then go to my Mom and Dad’s dressed in our best bib-and-tucker for a 60-year tradition, their annual drop in. The numbers have diminished and we host it now at their home, but it remains one of the great traditions from my childhood. It calls back a time when my family was just them and brings it right up to the present! It is an evening of many homemade hors d’oeuvres, cheeses, wine and scotch. Then we come home, put the stockings in place and fall asleep excitedly with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.

Christmas morning begins with the arrival of Mom and Dad at 9am. We have chocolate croissants, tea and coffee, and open our stockings. Then we dive into the gifts and, at the end of all that, usually noonish, we sit down to a formal breakfast complete with blueberry pancakes, eggs to order, bacon, sausage toast, tea and coffee. The breakfast table is all silver and I use my 200-year-old tea set for the table centre, filling the polished pots with fresh greens.

After this we settle in for Christmas movies, my Dad and I enjoying mid-movie naps. My husband starts the bird cooking as he flips through his new books. We all relax through the day with baked brie, fruit, rum and eggnog and Christmas baking. My brother and his family and another friend of ours who does not have family arrive around 5 and we have our big Christmas dinner at the red and green table. Those of you who have followed our blog may recall that setting a table is one of my great pleasures in life (see: The Cooking Club). Our Christmas china beams up at us, thrilled to be featured on this very special day. We laugh and eat and bask in the glow of traditions old and new. At the end of this most glorious of days, we fall into a long winters nap, and linger just a second before sleep to count our blessings.

PS Deb and Barbara will be back on New Year’s Eve Day—that’s one week, from now, folks. If you’re enjoying the holidays and catching up on some blog reading, may we recommend any of the wonderful blogs that our blog-friends write, or some oldies but goodies from our own list. Like:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Deb: I am not a thief and I won’t be treated as one. There is a new “solution” that some
Different shopping bags in store
retailers have embraced to stop theft in their stores. The store Over the Rainbow in Toronto takes your bags and puts them behind the counter until you are done shopping, causing you to have to wait in line until a salesperson is free so they can return your packages when you want to leave. This is particularly annoying if you’ve only been looking and have no purchase to wait in line for. I have hated it since the day they started it. It reeks of unfair and insulting.

I am not a thief and will NOT pay the price for those who are.

The chain store Aritzia has gone one step farther in their witch-hunt. They take your purse and lock it in a drawer. THEY TAKE YOUR PURSE AND LOCK IT IN A DRAWER.

First time they did this I was flabbergasted, but like a good polite little Canadian I took it on the chin and surrendered my purse. SURRENDERED MY PURSE even though I AM NOT A THIEF. A friend said to me recently that after being asked to surrender her purse she said, “Well, how do I know I can trust the employees with my purse? How do I know you are not going to steal from me?” Well, the young girl looked at her like she had been struck and said defiantly, “I don’t steal”, and my friend said, “Well, neither do I, and I will NEVER set foot in here again.”

The other week I had to go in there and get a gift certificate for my niece for Christmas. All I wanted was to go straight to the cash and receive said certificate, but I was informed that to do so, I would have to first SURRENDER MY PURSE. To which I replied that I would need my FUCKING PURSE to make said purchase. She got the manager who didn’t even have the decency to be red-faced about it. She said that taking my purse was a precaution in case I wanted to “look around”. I said that I did not and that I would never “look around” in this store again. I purchased my gift card, shaking and fuming and marched out, never to darken their doorstep again.

I understand that stores are having theft issues, but that is NOT my problem. I may have mentioned this before but I AM NOT A THEIF! Hire security, put those wiry ropes on merchandise or ask your staff to watch for theft instead of chitchatting.  YOU DO THE WORK. IT’S YOUR FUCKING STORE!

And one more thing ... get your hands off my purse!

P.S. I am now officially boycotting any and all stores that do this and I am taking my letter to the papers, minus the “fucks”. This has gone too far. We are far to accepting of these insults. I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. Hmmmmmm–catchy phrase!

Barbara: Wow. I’m glad I never went into these stores this mad season. That is abominable! And shocking. And just plain wrong. I will join your boycott.

Satellite view of an eclipse
PS on a happier note: my younger daughter woke me up at 2:45am last night so we could go out on the front step and watch the lunar eclipse together. It was magical. The sky was completely clear with crisp points of starlight, and in the centre, the big, high moon, blushing red from solar shadow. First full-moon lunar eclipse on a Winter Solstice in over 300 years!!

We sat and stared for 10 minutes before we got too cold (and tired) and went back inside. There’s the goodness of this beautiful world. And no one tried to steal anything from us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Parting Of The Seas

Barbara: This is a phenomenon I notice all year long, but I notice it particularly at holiday time
(is “phenomenon” the right word?) and I couldn’t resist asking if you’ve ever noticed it yourselves.

First, let me set my phenomenon-question up: I have this thing I do whereby I “ask” for a parking space if I need one and it never fails: a parking spot appears where and when I most need it (I remember discussing this phenomenon on one of your blogs recently, but dang it if I can remember which one). Anyway, I’ve become rather “famous” in my little circle for my Parking Fairy miracles. Don’t ask me who I think I’m asking. It’s not God. If I believed in a super-deity, I would NEVER waste his/her time on my parking dilemmas. But whoever/whatever it is, it/they are kind and benevolent enough to grant my parking wishes. (Okay, I totally remember comparing parking fairy stories with Hollye, am I right?—and her question, which is another of my own, is why don’t I feel entitled to ask the Publishing Fairy or the Casting Fairy or the Producing Fairy for their help. Anyway, I digress…)

So, this Parking Fairy goes around sprinkling her fairy dust and I believe with all my heart that she/he manifests some kind of universal control. Which brings me to my actual question:

When you’re out and about, rushing to and fro, trying to get chores done, trying to get home on time, knowing there are a million things at home that also need tending, have you ever noticed that sometimes the seas of cars or people around you either part to make your journey easier, or they merge in your path to make you stop, hesitate, and wait? I notice this happening all the time and it kinda freaks me out.

Let’s say I’m grocery shopping. I’m wheeling my cart down and around aisles like a possessed amasser-of-goods, and everywhere I turn, someone appears out of NOWHERE wheeling their own cart which they stop RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME so they can examine the plethora of cereal boxes with fixed and determined concentration while their cart blocks the ENTIRE AISLE and I have to “excuse me”, “uh-hmm”, and “do you mind” for a seeming shopping-hell eternity before they realize I am fumbling madly, which causes them in turn to (absolutely mortified and apologetic) finally scoot themselves and their cart out of the way. And this happens not just the one time that day, but literally every aisle I need to navigate.

Or conversely, I am in the same grocery-shopping-mode, but the opposite happens: every person around me elegantly and magically moves out of the way. Like we are part of some elaborate, synchronized shopping choreography. Every item that I want and need is in stock and, on my drive home, every light turns green as I approach.

Both scenarios require effort and work on my part, but some days are satisfying, effortless-effort and some are maddening, frustrating, slow-me-down challenges. And just as I noticed this phenomenon, I began to wonder if those “frustrating” days aren’t somehow a good reminder that I might need to slow things down a bit and welcome the hesitations and waiting. When you think about, there’s nothing essentially wrong with “slowing down”, is there? Especially in these crazy times.

So what do you think? Grand scheme or random luck?

(And what if this same question was applied to life in general? Sometimes every light turns green and things roll along smoothly, and sometimes, seemingly apropos of nothing, everything blocks your way and nothing happens the way you want or need it to. So when your way is blocked, are you being guided to slow down, take a breath, and reassess?)

Deb: When I was a “younger” girl, my Dad and I would be driving from, say, downtown and he would announce that we were going to make every single light. And I would marvel. How I would howl with laughter when my Dad would start to slow the car down to a snail’s pace from a mile away if he saw that the light ahead was red and even if we were going one millionth of a mile an hour he would not actually have to stop. I thought of how difficult that would be today and how people would be all over our asses honking and cursing. I have to honestly say that I have not thought of that in 35 years, Barb, and your story prompted the memory, so thanks.

Me, I think I have mentioned before that I have great shopping karma. It always works out for me. Parking lot karma has not been granted. I am out there with the rest of the slobs taking my chances. Sometimes I get the best spot and sometimes I drive in circles, desperate and searching.

And if I am frantic and hurried, do I slow down and take a breath and let fate have its way with me? You bet I don’t. I use every dirty word strung together in the most imaginable way. Get’s me through it, yes it does. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Photo Families

Deb: When I was growing up my parents always sent Christmas cards. Most people did. It was the thing to do. They had their list of the usual suspects and an extra box waiting nearby in case some lesser friend or neighbour sent an unexpected card. Receiving an unexpected card would send my Mom into a frenzy. The second the surprise card was out of its envelope, my mom was––with split-second timing––signing, addressing, and running to the mailbox to do the Christmas card payback.

We do the same thing now. The little box of cards waiting for their chance to say to someone, “Hey, we didn’t really forget you and it’s not that we don’t like you, it’s just that you weren’t on the list”. After someone sends a surprise card they are on the list forever. They may never send us a card again, but from our end, they have joined the Christmas Card Club.

This year, as every year, we have to update the list to accommodate death, divorce, and relocation. It is an ugly reminder as the year comes to an end of all the changes that have occurred in the past year. But we do it dutifully and we send. We are senders of Christmas Cards, a tradition that is quickly going the way of the 8-track. I know that we should be “e-ing” our cards, but I just can’t break the tradition. I know how much I love getting cards in the mail ... the actual mail. I think it shows that someone cared and made an effort. And for no other reason, it is keeping an old and lovely tradition alive. Hell, we kill enough trees with other stuff.

When I had my own family, it was my turn to indulge in a special part of the Christmas card world that always eluded our family when I was growing up. The photo card! Love the photo cards! When I was a kid I would always look on with envy at people who sent the photo cards. By what Christmas miracle did they pull that together? The family seated around the fireplace all buffed and polished, decked out in their red and green finery, sporting festive smiles. I would stare and stare at the picture, scrutinizing each family member and thinking how I wanted to be in a photo card just once. Because I imagined, it wasn’t just the photo itself that was wonderful. It was the day surrounding it. I would envision them finishing the photo, then gathering around the buffet table for brunch still dressed in their red and green, eating perfect food and looking all the world like the definitive Christmas family.

We never did the photo thing in our family and I don’t know why. It might be because every time a camera rears its lens in my mother’s direction, she screeches, “For Godssake, don’t get me in the picture!” Despite her camera shy demeanor, I did think to myself, “Gee, my brother and I aren’t too horrible to look at, what about us?” Clearly I was deceiving myself. For example, 1966 was a particularly ugly Christmas for me and my brother, so if by some chance that happened to be the year my parents considered making a photo card, our awkward skinny, bad hair, pimply presentation nixed it!

But since then, with the aid of photo retouching and superior acne cream, I have picked up the photo card tradition. We don’t do it every year but we do it once in a while. This year was not an ugly year per say, but it was an ugly hair year for me. I was growing my hair out from very short back to a bob. The photo day in question was NOT a good hair day. Under most circumstances I would have forgone the photo for this year. But ... new puppy trumped my hair and we did the photo. So ...

 From our Family to Yours
 Pee’s on Earth,
 Love, Colin, Deb Luke, Fanny and the Bairn

Barbara: Oh, my beautiful Deb—first of all, I think you look GORGEOUS in your Christmas photo, “bad” hair and all. And I know you know this already, but I LOVE these photos, period. So frickin’ cute I could stare at them all day. Luuuuuuke! And puuuuuuppies!!!

That said, I am a notoriously bad letter and card writer/sender (1. Ask my grandparents, and 2. See this post from June). So Christmas cards, sadly, are not on my list. BUT I love love love getting them (my selfish side on display for all of you).

Luckily, my husband has taken it upon himself to make sure we have a yearly festive photo that he will email out with good wishes. We haven’t done ours yet this year (he’s been crazy-busy), but I hope we can finagle something on time for the BIG DAY.

Beauty is, for the sake of playing fair, I can include a fave here. Stefanie has wanted us to do a really cheesy pose for ages now––which we may yet do––something in the vein of fifties sweater-sets and far-off gazes. But then one man’s cheesy is another man’s super-classy, so it might be tricky…

We will be blogging next week, but I still want to add to today’s cardly sentiments:
Christmas Card 2005

Our family wishes you all the best
Happy Holidays and Much Love and Joy
Barbara, Philippe, Stefanie, Michele, and Chaplin

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Party Performance Anxiety

Barbara: I bet almost all of you know what I mean by this, right? I can’t count how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who admit to suffering from some form of it. People that would surprise you. You know, super-outgoing people, easily conversant people. Yes, people like me.

Why me, you ask? Why would I worry about Christmas party banter when I usually­­––and so obviously––have a great time at get-togethers?

I have almost never met someone I HAVEN’T liked at a party (and if I don’t like them, usually it’s because they’re rude or mean-spirited). I LOVE meeting new people, or catching up with people I like but who I don’t keep in touch with, or, best of all, seeing dear dear friends who I haven’t seen in ages.

And there is absolutely nothing like a good ‘ol Christmas party to give ample opportunity to enjoy all of the above.

And yet, before I go to parties (particularly larger, casual ones), I succumb to the usual performance anxiety. What if I can’t think of anything to talk about? What if I can’t find anyone to talk to? What if everyone just stares at me blankly as I struggle with awkward silences and banal patter? And with my husband traveling a lot, I often go to these parties on my own—so no “safety net”.

Then I realized that these concerns are mere hiccups in my insecurity blanket. There is one foible that trumps all the others. I realized yesterday that it’s not the actual talking to people that I fear, or even the not-knowing-what–to-say thing. I am (as I said) an outgoing and chatty reveller. But I am a notorious question-asker. I truly love hearing about your life. Which is great if your questions are meaningful, apropos (ie, you haven’t forgotten major personal information, like a parent’s death (!), a recent illness, or a child’s accomplishment), and personal but not too personal.

I ask stupid questions all the time. I am embarrassed to say the forgetting of deaths and illness has trumped me from time to time. Or someone will tell me a personal tidbit and, in my rush to ask my next question, I miss a key detail that they’ve JUST told me: 
Them: I’ve been really busy working on my next novel.
Me: Oh, that’s wonderful! Is it fiction or non-fiction?

Pause. Awkward pause.

Them: Um, aren’t all novels fiction?  
Yes. Yes, they are. Oops.

But stupid questions aside (strangely, I’m okay with those; they’re like my signature or something), the real trouble-spot for me is in the “personal but not too personal” department.

Did you notice that one on my list? I discovered that this is the very crux of my performance anxiety. Before I head into that next festive and delightful party, I am worried that I will somehow bruise you with my questions. That I will infringe. Or extricate. Or impinge. It worries me. Lots of people are way more private than I am, so I don’t have the same barometer for where that line might be.

So, I’m begging you: help me, please! Please tell me what I can ask you at the next party … and what I can’t.

Deb: Barb, the mere thought that you do not see yourself as this shiny sweet guest is killing me! I love your questions. Bring them on. More people should ask rather than tell. It’s always lovely to see that someone is genuinely interested. But if I must, here are some guidelines.

- How are you spending the holidays?
- Are you hosting or being hosted?
- Did you do all your shopping yet?
- Cold enough for you?
- What are your Christmas traditions?
- Do you do turkey, goose, or tofurky?

-       Help me out here. I know someone in your family recently died, but I don’t remember who? Parent? Dog?
-       Oh, go ahead, have another cheese puff. You’ll lose that extra weight you’re packing in the New Year!
-       I saw your husband Doug at the Marriott. He was going up the elevator and I didn’t get a chance to say hi before the doors closed. Did you guys have a little romantic getaway? ... Oh ... sorry ... I … you know, now that I think of it, maybe it wasn’t Doug. (big gulp of wine)
-       Wow, Joanne, (loud voice) GREAT FACELIFT!

Monday, December 13, 2010

What The Hell Is THAT?!

Deb: Flu season is upon us and my husband and I have both had what I would call “flu light” for the past week. It has not been a picnic but neither has it been too invasive. We have eaten our meals, had our wine with dinner, done our work, Christmas shopped and decorated. Our symptoms have amounted to a combination for each of us of the following: nausea, sore throat, coughing, headache, fever, achy body.

But as I get older and things change in my body I am hit more and more with the “what the hell is that?” syndrome. You know the drill. You are going along with your flu, everything is status quo and you have the checklist of symptoms running through your mind. Tight sore throat––check! Stuffy nose––check! Itching? What the hell is that? How does itching fit in?

In the summer I had a cold with all the usual old cold symptoms and I woke up one day and couldn’t touch my face as It was puffy and tender. What the hell is that?

Last night we were going out to a festive gathering at a friend’s home and the only symptom I had left was my cough. On the way there I was overwhelmed with nausea and had to get out of the car and walk in the cool air. What the hell is that? Nausea was supposed to be over. Once a symptom has reared its head it should have the decency to go away and stay away, am I right?

Then at the party the area of my kidneys started to ache like mad and cause me no end of panic. What the hell is that?

And now when I get a cold, somewhere between the Otrivin and the Buckley’s my tongue becomes covered in cankers. What the hell...

There was a time when I knew where I stood with my flues and colds. I could rely on them for their orderly escalation. Sneeze. Oh, here we go. Tight dry throat. Makes sense. Totally stuffed up with tired itchy eyes. Yes I was expecting that. Starting to cough, tight and dry. Yep. Loosening up. Okay. And done.

But as I lay in my bed at 4:30am last night pumped on Buckley’s, I thought, “Well, at least the damn ITCHING is taking my mind off my cold." What the hell is that?

Barbara: This reminds me of the time when my husband and I were driving somewhere together and I was complaining about these weird, allergy-like symptoms I was having.

Phil has always suffered from allergies and I’ve watched him sniffle, sneeze, wheeze, and itch for hours. I’ve waited while he searched in desperation for his Zertec or whatever medication he’s using at the time. And I’ve sighed with relief when his symptoms finally abated and he could breathe freely again. Man, have I been happy I don’t have those awful allergies, the bane of “normal” life amongst the ragweed, dust, mold, and pets of this world.

Then this one weird day, I was feeling strangely coldish without actually feeling I was getting a cold. It suddenly occurred to me that I might be getting allergies—after all, I was manifesting just like Phil does on any allergy-ridden moment, add to which I’d just heard that apparently people can develop allergies in their older age. Had I succumbed to this unfair and random suffering?

Phil asked if I had a slightly stuffed nose––check. Did I have itchy skin––check. Were my eyes sore––check. He kept listing symptoms and I kept getting more and more distressed. I didn’t even notice when he segued to rather more … unusual shall we say symptoms: could I feel my root follicles, was my back warm, did my chin hurt. When I check, check, checked them all in abject dismay, he got that wicked twinkle in his eye … and suggested I was a little too gullible for my own good. My CHIN hurt … really?! I relaxed and accepted the fact that I was NOT the victim of later-in-life allergies (if ever the victim of my husband’s good-natured teasing and probably some––to Deb’s point––more unusual cold).

Now, Deb, I am NOT saying your symptoms here are imaginary or sympathetic, but your post did remind me of my little tap-dance with hypochondria. What the hell is THAT?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Disneyfy Me!!!!

Deb: Last week, we were in NYC, our adopted home. For my money, there is nowhere like New York during the holidays. Everything is shiny and festive and larger than life. And that’s just the people.
Cartier 5th Avenue
I won’t lie to you, I did some shopping. So filled with the festive spirit was I that I felt buying gifts for others would just be too cliché. So I shopped for me. Just me. All me. Me.

It was glorious. Not just because I had brand new things that were coming home with me to live in my house, but because of my shopping experience.
Fendi 5th Avenue
Ahhhh, American service. I have been serviced in the U.S. from coast to coast and it is always a delight! But New York service, are ya kiddin’ me? Crazy great!

Now I know that some people find the “Disney-have-a-magical-day” service to be fake and or tedious at best.

But I say to them ... What? NO! COME ON! You can Disneyfy me, baby. I’ll take that magical day and raise you a “thank you!”  Thanks for the greeting and the smile and the help. Fake, you say??? So the fuck what? I am spending my hard-earned money here and I would love it if you gave a damn, so yeah I will have a nice day, you betcha!

What’s that you say? Thanks for shopping with us?  You are SO friggin welcome.

Did you find everything you were looking for? Yes, thanks for caring!!!

We hope to see you very soon. You bloody well will!

It is perfect service. American’s have honed it. They greet with a smile and then ... THEY LEAVE YOU ALONE ... until you are even maybe thinking of maybe needing help ... and they appear as if by retail magic.

May I start a fitting room for you? YES, YES YOU CAN!  And THANKS.
Me in New York heaven, Barney's bag in hand
 Then they reach into your laden arms, take your possible purchases and hang them up.

I start to tear up at the very thought of it. “Thank you, Becca, my arms were starting to hurt and then you came––at just the perfect time!

And how did I know her name was Becca?? Because she introduced herself, that’s why! What a concept. The woman gave me her name like I was a friend or a dinner guest. 

Are they there to take your money? You bet. But they and their employers have got a grasp on the otherwise precarious notion that being in a service industry means service.

And did my service end after the exchange of currency?  No, no it did not. I made my purchase at Barney’s and my associate, Taj, wanted to make sure that I knew that I could also wear my new skirt as a top (don’t ask) and proceeded to walk me over to the mannequin to show me. Why? Because he gives a damn. Fake? I don’t think so. But even if it is, WHO CARES? And yeah, okay he was gay so of course he cared. I promised to send him a photo.

I think that the first lady of fashion, Lady Liberty, said it best when she stated:

Give me your shoppers, the rich and the poor,
Your hurried masses who search for size four.
Send me the Homesense, their quest I’ve seen before
I lift your lamp to your car, as you walk out the door.

Barbara: I don’t get to shop a lot in the States, but I have to say that I’ve noticed this very thing. It’s beautiful.

Service me, baby, and I’m all yours.
Window at Bergdorf's

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way With Kathy

We met her as My Kateness, our very first follower. We were delighted to discover her own wonderful blog, Stubblejumpin’ Gal (formerly Life on Golden Grain Farm), even as we got to know her better through her funny, insightful, and endearing comments over here. Welcome, Kathy, to our latest 3-way!

Kathy: I knew only one thing: it was a sign.

The house was closely surrounded by trees, and although the wind swayed their highest leaves, in our tiny yard the air was calm. So it was a shock when, as I stood washing dishes in front of the kitchen window, the top half of a young poplar tree snapped off and leapt toward me.

Could the forest be irked? The day before, I’d brutally pruned back the wild raspberry bushes along the narrow path between house and garden. It was the only explanation I could come up with.

My mother was 63 years old and, aside from the all-day “morning” sickness that lasted right up until she went into labour on the day of my birth, had hardly been sick a day in her life. Lately she’d found her bra too tight and, when undoing the clasps provided no relief, had gone to see her family doctor. He’d found a growth on her kidney; surgery and follow-up treatment would resolve the issue and the prognosis was good, he said. I’d received that news, gone out for my usual walk around the farm and found myself weeping. Why? I wondered. Mom would be okay. She had an MRI scheduled, but didn’t seem worried. When the tree snapped in half, I didn’t connect it to her.

The following afternoon here in Saskatchewan it was mild and sunny. I had been over to our neighbour’s country greenhouse, loading up trays full of leafy green nurslings for my flowerbeds, visualizing the beautiful blooms that would grace our yard over the summer months. I’d been smiling all day. When the phone rang, it was my dad with Mom’s test results.

“It’s terminal cancer,” he said immediately, bluntly. “There’s nothing they can do for her. She could last three months; she could live for a year.”

“Fuck off!” I said; then hopefully, though it would have been the most despicable humour ever, “You’re not joking, are you.”

“No. Can you handle it?”

“I’ll have to. I’ll call back later.”

I hung up the phone and dropped to my knees on the carpet, arms across my belly. Not wanting to scare my young son in the next room, I made my way outside where, again, my legs went out from under me. On the grass, I rocked back and forth, groaned; but nothing could alleviate the intensity of this unbearable news. I stood and, tears running down my face, headed for the trees as if some comfort might be found there. Now I knew what they had been trying to prepare me for.

My sister’s omens of death came via birds. After Mom’s diagnosis, a robin persistently pecked at her kitchen window for several days as if trying to get into the house. When our uncle went into the hospital several days before his death, a white dove—something she’d never seen around here before— flew past her windshield when she was on her way to visit him.

Has Nature ever spoken to you?

Deb: Kate, I felt your devastation in my gut as I read this. It’s those moments in life that we are sure will kill us, but don’t. What they do however is weave their way into the fabric of our soul and protect us and remind us to prepare for the next gut-wrenching moment life will dole out. For those of us who have lived long enough, we know this to be all too true. But we survive, don’t we?

Nature has spoken to me in this fashion only once, but it has stayed with me like a comforting friend all my life.

My Auntie Isabel was only 52 when she died of breast cancer. Her doctor misdiagnosed her, telling her that because the lump in her breast was painful, it was not cancer.

Her four grown children struggle with this still, knowing she might have lived otherwise. I loved my aunt very much. She was my Mom’s only sister in a family of six kids and we grew up very close to her family, geographically and emotionally. We lived down the street from one another, went to the same schools, spent all holidays together. Basically her four children grew up to feel like siblings rather than cousins and we are lovingly close to this day.

My Auntie Isabel was one of the great lovers of life. Nothing was too small to miss her loving attention. One of her great passions was birds, and in particular cardinals with their fiery red coats and curious demeanor. She always had her binoculars on the back window ledge and lived for sightings. I was never much of a birdwatcher at all. Took them for granted.  My Auntie Isabel died when I was 21. That winter, I noticed my first cardinal. Mainly because it seemed to take up residence outside my window. Even if I moved toward the window, it remained unflappable. The bird would sit, staring at me and me at it, then fly off after it had enjoyed my company to its satisfaction. There was nothing subtle about this cardinal stalking and I knew in my heart right away that it was Auntie Isabel visiting me. At that point, so soon after her death, I needed it to be true. And it was painful. Every time I saw the cardinal it would break my heart a little. 

Since then, wherever I have lived, I have become a cardinal magnet. I am lousy with cardinals. I could have a cardinal habitat and charge admission. We had two young lovers nesting in our cedars this past spring and it was glorious. I cannot begin to tell you the joy these little birds bring me. Over the years my pain has turned to joy when I see them. I don’t need a sighting to prompt my memories of her, but their visits sure give me hope that I will see her again some day.

Barbara: Wow, these stories are killer. Kate, you brought me to tears. Deb, you brought me to beautiful memories of my own. Like being surrounded by birds after Phil’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My father-in-law was a retired architect for whom any surface was ripe for sketching. A little black bird was one of his signatures. Seeing birds after he died gave all of us comfort, however brief.

One of the most memorable stories like this that I’ve ever heard––although it didn’t happen to me––was told to me by an acquaintance at a funeral while we both mourned the death of one of our best friends. Our friend had just died of cervical cancer … she was only 39. We were all devastated, as you can imagine. She had been beyond beautiful. And brave and gentle and wise. It didn’t seem possible that she was gone.

As we exchanged stories of our friend’s life, the woman I was speaking with suddenly became quiet and introspective. When she spoke again, it was to describe an incredible experience––an experience she could barely understand––that she’d just had. Before she found out that our friend had died, she’d been walking with her husband through the remote woods where they live. They got caught in a bit of a snow squall and were trying to make their way back home. They rounded a bend where the woods opened up to a clearing. Just then the sun broke through the clouds. Up ahead in the clearing on a small swell of a hill were some letters carved into the snow surrounded by hearts. As the couple drew nearer, they saw that the letters spelled out the name of our friend. At first they smiled, remembering their own friend with this same name––and then it hit them: who would have spent time in a snow squall carving a name into a hill when one’s only thought would normally be to get home as soon as possible? And how recently could the name have been carved if it wasn’t yet obscured with snow from the storm? And who was the mysterious name-carver if they hadn’t seen a soul in the woods? And then it struck them how odd it was that this snow-graffiti would be the exact same (moderately unusual) name as their dear sick friend. They raced home through the woods … and found out our beloved friend had died.

I didn’t get a nature call-out from this dear friend, but I did receive what I consider another little sign. My friend’s ex-husband gave me a piece of her jewelry as a keepsake inside a small cloth bag on which he’d penned my initials. The letters BR soon melted into … a heart.

On another day, I’ll tell you the story of another of the mysterious gifts my father-in-law left us after he died…

Kathy Johnson lives in the Saskatchewan countryside, freelances from her home office as an editor in the subjects of architecture, dance, film and theatre, and has replaced her life-long letter-writing habit with a personal blog, Stubblejumpin' Gal, at

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Grateful Alive

Barbara: I’m just back from my wonderful holiday and asked Deb if it would be okay if I just wrapped things up before we continue to our planned posts for this week (we have a new 3-way coming up, yay!! And some great pics and stories from Deb’s own adventure). Deb said she is more than happy to accommodate me, so this will be my last “solo”. 

First of all, I want to thank all of you for sharing my vacation with me, with special thanks for all the comments and well-wishes. I just loved reading them all when I got home. And an extra-grateful thanks to Erica and Christy over at erica and christy for their recent award to us. Thanks, ladies!!

Now here are some answers to your questions last week: yes, Hollye, it was a Sandals resort (Grande Ocho Rios). Our first ever Sandals—and we chose it because of the 65% off deal (apparently the best off-season rates are the last weeks before the Christmas rush, ie, November, first week of December). Not only did they throw in the substantial spa credit, but all the diving and snorkeling tours are included. Phil is an avid diver and dove every morning and afternoon while I snorkeled or read (remember, I tried diving long ago and am sadly too poultry-esque). So that was another huge savings.

At first we were disappointed with the smallish beach and, of course, the fact that half the resort is on the other side of a busy road (which is why we upgraded to the ocean side—for a relative pittance, again because of the low season). Then half the beach was under renovation in anticipation of the busy season, making the beach options even smaller. This also ruled out any chance of our skinny-dipping, Tannis … unless we’d chosen to do it in full view of the dining patrons. (I’ll let you all in on a little secret: not nearly that adventurous!) But any misgivings we had soon faded in the light of … well, the light. We saw it. And it was good.

We can't say enough good things about the service and people and cleanliness and attention to detail. They spoiled us, but they also "spoiled" us. We’ll probably start whining now for butler service and heated towels and hourly massage-applied suntan lotion the next time we travel. Phil already grumbled this morning when he opened our fridge door that “the buffet here isn’t very good”. This is how the monster is created, people!

On the last day of our vacation, I discovered something interesting about the Jamaican people. I found myself among a large group of resort workers who were gathered on the pier. We started chatting and they told me that Sandals was taking the housekeeping staff on a catamaran party to thank them for all their hard work. It was a well-deserved trip of Gratitude. And they appreciated the gesture.

I asked them if they would also be going snorkeling or swimming out on the reefs. They looked at me askance—it turns out that 95% of the Jamaican people DO NOT SWIM. I was gobsmacked. I asked them how they could live in that paradise surrounded by that healing, soothing water and not swim. They said they had no desire at all to go into the ocean, never mind learn to swim. The very thought appalled them. Apparently the Jamaican mothers in all their protective glory (and they seem an incredibly maternal people) refuse to allow their children to go into the water for fear of drowning. This fear stays with them their whole lives. I raved to them about the curative powers of salt water, how it makes you float, how there are several shallow, protected areas ideal for cautious first steps. They kept balking, but then seemed intrigued by the thought that maybe the water would be good for them. I admit I pushed a bit—like it was my mission to convert this little group to the ways of the ocean. And maybe out of polite courtesy, maybe out of piqued interest, or maybe out of desperation to get this mad white woman off their backs, they started to express interest in trying it one day. I could feel my latent missionary rise up stronger within me as I began to preach and advocate. I found myself wishing I could stay longer and physically coax this gang of hardworking women down to the shores and into the sea, just to its turquoise shallows, and encouraging them to just lie back, just suspend themselves in the viscous water, and release their tensions and worries into the warm salt water like I did mine. I can’t help hoping they will find the courage to actually do it one day.

One last rumination that ties our vacation with the “compliments” discussion from last week: I can truly say that my gratitude at being so looked after at the resort just made my heart full to bursting, which in turn unleashed an unprecedented barrage of compliments. Even though I knew that people were getting paid to pamper us (ie, it’s their job), it still affected me greatly that they were doing it and doing it so well. I know the difference between a service rendered with indifference and one infused with warmth and dignity and pride and goodwill. The people who worked at the resort had all these qualities and more. And I praised them profusely. I thanked; I raved; I patted backs. And you know what? They didn’t compliment me back and they didn’t tell me it’s simply their job, but they did smile and say thank you. And you know what else? I felt even more heartwarming gratitude.

Gratitude is an amazing feeling. It is wholesome and cozy and uplifting. As good as a resort getaway. Please, please, don’t take it away from me!

So let me finish by saying: you guys are utterly awesome and super-beautiful!! Take that and a bag of chips.

Deb: If I was an enterprising Jamaican––and some of you may know some (word in their ear)––I would start a swimming school: “Own the Ocean!” and make a bundle turning it around, teaching people of all ages to swim and love it. Change a fear into joy! I have been to Jamaica three times and have never realized this fact. Wow.

Irie, mon, and float!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Postcard from Jamaica, Part Deux

Barbara: Well, here I am, on the eve of our last day, getting ready to post my second postcard to all you guys. I’m happy to tell you that it’s been just perfect in every way.

And PS, these are still my crappy iphone photos (no camera cord, remember?). Phil hates himself here, but I think he looks adorable.

 Here are a few benefits to traveling in the “off season”:

The not even half-full resort means that you can partake of any activity at any given time because there’s always space (like on the gratis snorkeling excursions––where you might find yourself memorizing every underwater phenomenon in case you never see its like again).

You can always find a primo beach spot (Phil and I favour a gazebo that is perched over the ocean on a boardwalk––actually you can see it behind our heads in the photo. Normally, we’re all about the sand, but here the sun and shade are available in equal measure under the gazebo, whereas the beach often loses sun or broils under it—not so good for my pale skin.). It feels like we have our own hoity cabana.

Not only does the resort lure you to it through cheapo half-price sales, but it even throws in spa credits (yes, you heard me: spa credits!! Imagine if you will a couple’s massage on that same gazebo perched over the sea as the sun sets.).

You always get a table overlooking the ocean (if you want one).

And there aren’t nearly as many drunken partiers overestimating their ability to ingest the all-you-can-drink offerings.

The downside? My empathetic nature inclines me to worry for the poor half-full resort and its staff: how will they survive without legions of revelers as fewer and fewer people seem to have the time or money for this kind of indulgence? Anyway, just wanted to point out that my husband and I are doing our part in the all-important save-the-resorts campaign. We are selfless people.

So, it truly is lovely and relaxing and beautiful. And I am grateful beyond words for all of it. Not only that I’ve been able to come here for my own indulgence, but grateful that the world even has such bounty to offer. I never take for granted my home landscape, but there is something powerful about meeting a foreign landscape for the first time. I am always moved by how the world feels both majestically hardy and heartbreakingly fragile.

And maybe a vacation between a husband and wife offers the same magnifying glass to the hardiness and fragility of relationships. I have seen couples here bring all the petty grievances and tribulations of home to this paradise, and couples who sit side by side in complete and utter silence, maybe for lack of common ground or maybe in communal comfort, and couples who seem to see and hear each other with fresh (windswept) eyes and ears.

 Phil and I haven’t had many issues with honesty and communication over the years, but there’s nothing like throwing off the shackles of responsibility to give us a burst of refreshed and renewed romance. Luxuriating on our loungers between naps and reading, or bent over candlelight and under evening stars, we’ve been talking a lot about our joys and hopes and ideas and, of course, our daughters. We talk about them a LOT. Some things you don’t want to leave behind.

I’ve told Phil a few times already how grateful I am that he is as good a listener as he is a talker. It seems I need both.

But my favourite moment with my husband so far? The other night at the resort show, they were having a “Newlywed” type game where couples on stage were asked about their relationships while their significant others were sequestered. Phil and I played along privately in the audience, telling each other the answers we would have given had we been up there. The men were asked what was their beloved’s most annoying habit. Phil––who never misses a chance to tease me mercilessly (it’s his “thing”)––was stumped. I mean truly stumped. I couldn’t believe it (especially since I could name half-a-dozen habits I thought annoyed him). He insisted he couldn’t think of one. And then something came to him: apparently I gasp. Surprise, delight, fear, shock, empathy: all of it makes me gasp. And me gasping scares the bejeezuz out of him. I'm proud to say I took that one on the chin like a man (and kissed him for it like a woman ;) ).

Not bad for a comfortable old couple with miles of experience, huh? It’s good work when you can get it.

See you back at home!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Can't You Take A Compliment?!

Deb: I know very few people that can take a compliment well. It is a skill to be honed and one
So fine candy heart
that I strive to conquer. Not that my days are fraught with compliments, but when I do receive one I feel it would be nice to respond in kind.

Historically, my responses have been self-deprecating at best, self-loathing at worst.

“Gee, Deb, your hair looks nice” ...  “Oh yeah, well you should have seen it before I washed it, it looked like a rats’ nest”.

“Deb, you look great in that outfit.” … “Yeah, well, thank God for the jacket, it hides a million sins.”

Yes, indeed, as you can see, I was the picture of grace. And worse than that, I realized that it makes the person who dispensed the compliment feel like an arse.

What is it about a compliment that makes us immediately self-conscious? Shouldn’t it have the opposite affect?

Why does my face go red and my palms sweaty?

I have always had the twisted idea that if I accept the compliment, it would look like I expected it. It would appear that I am fully aware of how charming, groomed, talented and well dressed I am. It’s like I am thinking, “Took you long enough to bloody well compliment me. I have been this fabulous for YEARS! I mean look at me! I am all that and a bag of chips!”

Accepting the compliment just seemed so narcissistic. I would receive a compliment and immediately I would be looking at the ground, so ashamed was I. I never wanted to be elevated above the other humans even if it is just for one second. I was so afraid that during the course of the compliment, the person bestowing it on me would discover that I am unworthy and snatch it back leaving me to stew in my own flop sweat. At any rate, I knew in my heart that this was totally illogical and counterproductive.


So why, I ask you, was I spending copious amounts of time choosing an outfit and doing my hair and makeup if my intention was not to look swell? Why was I working on my craft night and day if my intention was not to look like I was competent? Was I doing all this to look untalented and hideous? No, of course not.

When I was a kid we’d say, “That’s for me to know and for you to find out!” But as far as the compliment goes, I was employing the theory that, “It was for me to know and NOBODY to find out”. We all make efforts in our own ways to do and look our best. But for Godssake, don’t friggin’ tell me, I thought. Don’t you see that just WRECKS IT?????????????

We all do it. I have seen us out there shunning the compliment, disparaging the compliment. That is no way to treat a kindness, I thought. So I decided enough was enough. I cannot live in fear of the compliment. And neither can you.

I set out to learn the art of gracefully accepting a compliment. And I will share my knowledge with you. It’s not too tough.

It goes like this. “Thank you”.

Barbara: You speak to one of my own weaknesses here, oh Yoda/Deb (well, “Yoda” if you changed all the verb agreements: Take compliments I cannot. Give them I can. Feel good I do when accepting them. Accept them graciously more often I must.) (…or something…)

Anyway, I have also been trying to learn and stick to this 1-step program. “Thank you” is really remarkably easy when you get used to it. And simple. And quick.

And it’s so true that if someone is trying to say something nice to you and you let them, it’s clearly a win-win for all involved.

We’re funny creatures, aren’t we?!