It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Happy Groundhog Day!

wiartonSo, let me get this straight… The groundhog pops his head out of his burrow, and if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter? Or is that if he doesn’t see his shadow? I can never remember.

Probably because it’s a moot point. Six weeks from February 2 is March 17. This is Ottawa. Will it be winter or spring on March seventeenth?


Who even needs to ask?

So. If he sees (or doesn’t see) his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter. And what if he doesn’t see his shadow? Obviously, I am woefully lacking my cultural folk knowledge. Woefully.

Thankfully the Internet — Wikipedia in specific — Knows All. Here’s the straight dope on the prognosticating rodent:

Groundhog Day is an annual holiday celebrated on February 2 in the United States and Canada on which if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.


If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter, and if he doesn’t see it, winter will end SOONER???

Well. No wonder I can’t keep it straight. The year that spring arrives to Ottawa before March 17 is the year I will be dancing in the streets, celebrating this unexpected upside to global warming.

Sooner than six weeks.

Pfft, I say, again.

I have my own personal First Day of Spring. I actually write it on the calendar. My first day of spring is April 15, because by April 15 I know that the snow will be gone, finally, finally gone, and that there will be no further freak snowfalls until at least October. There are currently 72 days until spring here in Ottawa, folks. Seventy-two days before we can breathe a sigh of relief, put the damned snow shovels in the shed and pack the salt away for another year. Before we can truly enoy the sunshine and start planning the gardens.

You think that’s late? (Not you, Tammy. I know you’re laughing down your fur-trimmed sleeve at the softie southerner whining about her April springtime.) But for those of you south of sixty, who think April 15 is a tad late to rely on spring? You think I’m exaggerating?

I wish.

My own personal first day of spring used to be April 10. Until that year we had 10 cm of snow on the 12th. So there.

SO. Happy Groundhog Day everyone, the most pointless date on the Canadian calendar.

February 2, 2009 Posted by | Canada, commemoration, Ottawa | , , , , , | 9 Comments


“Why are you crying, Mary?”

“Because I’m so very happy, sweetie. It’s okay.”


January 20, 2009 Posted by | commemoration | , , | 11 Comments

I hereby resolve…

I have not made a New Year’s Resolution since I was a teenager. (Longer ago than some of you, my sweet readers, have been alive…)


This year, however, I’ve been doing a lot of very interesting reading, most recently The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan. They are fabulous, and I strongly recommend you all read them. (I hereby need to give copious and public accolades to my long-suffering, ever-supportive husband, who almost never sighs in exasperation at having his own reading interrupted by yet another “Hey, love! Listen to THIS!”)

Both books highlight, in a most tangible way, the fundamental interconnected-ness of life on this planet we inhabit. What, after all, is more basic than sunlight, soil, water and food?

And with that notion of interconnectedness, I decided to make this my year to consciously and systematically work to tread a little more lightly on the planet.

By North American standards, my family does pretty well already. We don’t own a car. We don’t own a dryer. We live in a significantly smaller-than-average (North American) sized house. We bought locally-grown, organic vegetables last summer, and will certainly do so next year. We eat meat only once or twice a week. We recycle, we regift, we re-purpose. We carry our own shopping bags for errands, our own mugs for coffee, we use re-usable bins, not bags, for our groceries. We have a single room air-conditioner, which gets used a handful of nights in the heat of summer.

There are more I could list, but you get the idea. None of these things have reduced our quality of life one bit; many have increased it. (Those organic veggies? Oh, MY, they were good! And what better way to escape the unending grind of being the household chauffeur than by simply not having a vehicle? It’s the inarguable ‘out’ in transport negotiations with lazy demanding active teens.)

(Before people launch into reasons why they couldn’t possibly do a, b, or c? I’m not suggesting you should. There are probably things you do that I don’t. That’s fine. Just so long as we’re all doing something.)

And me, I’m seeking to do more.

So my New Year’s Resolution, my first in decades…

In order to tread a little more lightly on the planet, I resolve to make one permanent, planet-healthy change each month.

Anyone care to join me? If so, please leave a link in the comments. I’d love to have company! On the first Monday of each month, we can all post about our change for that month. Won’t that be interesting? (And, potentially inspiring: we can steal each other’s good ideas!)

This month?


I am beginning a herb garden in my kitchen. I’ve ordered a few packages of seeds, which I’ll set up in pots under the nice, west-facing window. Fresh herbs, all year round! And by so doing, I reduce the number of little glass (or plastic) jars in my cupboard, I improve the quality of food my family eats, I need that teeny bit less truck-shipped produce (and all its associated carbon costs). And I’m sure the tots will be interested in this one.

The seeds should arrive within ten days. I can hardly wait!

January 5, 2009 Posted by | commemoration, food, health and safety | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments



(You can have my champagne. Really.)

January 1, 2009 Posted by | commemoration, holidays | , , | 4 Comments

Infertility Awareness Week: Guest Post

It might seem odd to highlight infertility on a blog that focusses on toddlers and parenting. However, who among us doesn’t know someone who has had difficulty conceiving, or who has even been told they will probably never bear a child? When a friend shares their sad news, it can be hard to know how to respond. One of my readers, Amy, writes poignantly of her struggles on her blog, Finding My New Normal. When she mentioned that this week is Infertility Awareness Week, I asked her if she would guest post.

Here’s what she has to say.

This week (October 19-25, 2008) is National Infertility Awareness Week®, a movement to raise awareness about the disease of infertility which affects 7.3 million Americans including me and my husband Bob. We have been trying to get pregnant for nearly 7 years. Our efforts include 5 tries involving medical intervention with an intrauterine insemination. We never got pregnant. We’ve never been pregnant.

There is no real medical reason for us not to get pregnant. I’ve had procedures to remove endometriosis and non-cancerous polyps. After each procedure we were told we would probably get pregnant now. We didn’t. When we started trying I was 33 years old and Bob was 39. Next week Bob will be 47 and I will turn 41 in December. Needless to say, as we age, our chances of conceiving become lower and lower.

As we age and our married life continues on without children, I find myself getting more and more desperate and more and more despondent. This isn’t what we imagined our married life to be. One of the things we found attractive in each other when we were dating was our mutual love of children. We even agreed on how many kids we wanted to raise and on our first daughter’s name (Grace). Our first years as a married couple were difficult due to an unrelated disability of my husband’s but we tempered the difficulties with dreams of raising a family. We talked of how we would teach and discipline our kids and what fun we would have during the holidays.

As it became apparent with each passing year that we wouldn’t get to spend our holidays with our own kids or travel with them, we began to find ways of coping. We joined RESOLVE, an infertility support group, and we tried surrounding ourselves with friends and family who would encourage us, spend time with us, and occasionally lend us their kids. Still, there are times when nothing really helps stem the tide of hurt that comes from being infertile. One of the most difficult times happened just recently when one of my best friends had an unplanned/surprise pregnancy and felt it best not to tell me right away. We worked through it and as happy as I am for her and her family, I can’t help but feel twinges of jealousy and wish it was me instead. This is common in women who can’t conceive.

Our story does not yet have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happily resolved for the other 7.3 million people struggling with infertility. We are finding our way and as we grope our way through this pain, we are finding things that help.

One of the things that helps is our RESOLVE infertility support group. Once a month we meet with others who are as familiar with our struggle as we are with theirs. We also share email addresses and phone numbers so we have contact the other 29-30 days of the month.

Another thing that helps is having friends who care. None of my closest friends have struggled with infertility but all of them have had some other kind of life pain and know how to offer a shoulder to cry on. They all offer prayers on my behalf, and if they don’t know what to say, they just say that. Sometimes all I need is someone to listen to me and give me a hug. Sometimes it even helps to hear my friends say they don’t know why we have to bear this burden and it just doesn’t seem fair. They are echoing my own sentiments and it makes them seem more normal to hear others give voice to them as well.

Something else that helps is having friends and family call us to watch their kids or to spend time with them during family friendly times such as holidays, birthdays, etc. Bob and I like to got to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, theme parks, zoos and the like but sometimes we are looked upon as odd because we are in family-centric areas without children. (Adults without kids are eyed suspiciously when they are spending time around a lot of children.) So we jump at the chance to take our friend’s and family’s children to the zoo, library, mall, etc. This gives us fun time with kids we love as well as giving our friends and family much needed time alone together.

So, please take some time this week to consider those around you who may be struggling with infertility. Consider calling them and asking them over for dinner to spend time with your family. Consider asking if they would ever be open to watching your kids. Consider asking them to spend time with you during the holidays. Consider just asking them how they are coping and if there is anything you can say or do to help. They may say no today, but just by acknowledging their struggle, you will have given them the greatest gifts…care, concern, and friendship.

If you’re interested in more information, Amy suggested the RESOLVE website, which lists “Specific ways to help/not help infertiles.” You can also check in throughout this week at Finding My New Normal for resources available to infertiles and those who love them.

Thank you, Amy.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | commemoration, parents, the dark side | , , | 5 Comments

Super Seven, week one

A great idea, stolen from Martinis for Milk. Seven things that brought me joy this week.

Like the originator, I will make a half-assed attempt to make this a weekly event. No! I will make a Sincere and True attempt … but it likely will end up half-assed. It will not be lack of desire that prevents me. It will not even be lack of happy events. It will be lack of memory.

“Maternal amnesia”, a common effect of pregnancy, is, so I was assured by authorities who could be presumed to know this stuff, a temporary thing. It lasts for pregnancy, and maybe a few weeks beyond, as the hormones settle.

When mine didn’t go away immediately, I attributed that to sleep-deprivation. When the child was sleeping through a few months later, it was still happening … but by then I’d forgotten it was supposed to go away.

My first baby is 22 years old now.

Pre-publication update: I just found this in my draft file, whipped it out and finished it off, even though it’s really supposed to be published on a Friday. I’d, ahem, forgotten about it…

Monday: I woke to the sound of rain, rain, rain, rain. I would not ordinarily be woken by mere raindrops, but it’s clear that there’s a tin can RIGHT UNDER a rather large drip. So it’s not a sweet pitter-patter of rain, but a sleep-vanishing CLANG! CLANG! CLANGCLANGCLANG! THWAK!!!

This does not make me smile. What makes me smile is that a) I was woken when I should be getting up anyway, so no sleep lost and b) last night before going to bed, the air smelled damp, so despite the cloudless and sunny skies we’d had ALL DAY LONG, I pulled in my daughter’s laundry off the line in the back yard. Ah, the satisfaction of a crisis averted. Joy 1.

My daughter was delighted. She came downstairs this morning with an anxious scowl, saw her laundry basket sitting on the dining table, and thanked me very prettily. Unsolicited gratitude, from a fifteen-year-old. Lovely child. She’s very gratifying that way. Joy 2.

Tuesday: My kitchen has moved from a drab pinkish-beige to a lovely crisp pale blue, with bright-white trim. I smile every time I see it.

Wednesday: The bathroom wall also makes me smile every time I see it. It’s too much colour for such a small room, particularly a small room that is overbearingly ROBIN’S EGG BLUE (hellooooo, 1960’s), but the wall treatment itself? I smell wafts of salt air from the breezes off the Mediterranean every time I see it. (Makes peeing a veritable virtual holiday. Six, eight, ten times a day!) Joy, joy, joy.

Thursday: A lively table of teens and twenty-somethings. My son (in college, living at home), his girlfriend (same college, living in residence), another friend (university, in his own apartment), my youngest (high school), all sitting in the dining room, scarfing down chicken pot pie, beans, and salad, and talking, teasing, laughing — joyful. I loved it. Maybe I’ll make this a weekly event. “Feed a starving student.”

Friday: The advice given by the nice fellow in the pet food store is working! 24 hours into a white-rice-and-turkey diet, the dog’s diarrhea is gone. Yes, this DOES bring me joy, and anyone who lives in a poop-and-scoop city can understand the bliss.

Saturday, Sunday: Long, long walks with my sweetie. (And the dog, also a sweetie.) Chiller on the patio of the coffee shop one day, while sitting on the monument commemorating the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (drafted by a Canadian) the next. Enobling sentiments. Long, gentle, summer days. Lots of sun. Blissful blue sky. Footpaths by the canal. Congenial people. Conversation. Lifts my spirits. Joy.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | commemoration, holidays, memes and quizzes, my kids, Ottawa | , , , | 4 Comments

Earth Hour, my house


A quiet, peaceful hour, spent talking and reading, mostly. A normal evening in this household, in other words, only dimmer. How was yours?

March 29, 2008 Posted by | commemoration, my kids, Ottawa | , | 11 Comments

Merry Christmas!


December 24, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, commemoration | 11 Comments

The way a tree is meant to be

This post is inspired by this post, particularly point #8, over at Parenting Without a License.

Christmas trees are not designer statements. They are not intended to accessorize your living room. They need not — should not! — be an artfully constructed and carefully coordinated piece of seasonal sculpture.

Christmas trees should be a riotous and meaningful mish-mash of bits and pieces lovingly accumulated over the years, including, but not limited to:

coloured lights, not white. (I am in complete agreement with Kimberly on the supreriority of coloured lights.);

wooden cranberry garlands with teeth marks in them from when your oldest was two and thought they were real berries;

miscellanious salt-dough stars, covered gloppily in red and gold acrylic paint;

multitudes of candycanes made by twisting lengths of red and white pipe-cleaners together;

fragments of felt hand-stitched into a six-inch garland;

and a few cut-up credit cards for the anti-consumer message.

Because Christmas trees, you see, are not created overnight, or even in one season, with a trip or two to the correct stores for this year’s hot items. No, Christmas trees are the slowly-accumulated repository of family history, your family’s seasonal history, down through the years. Each ornament should have a story behind it, should provoke a “remember-when” conversation. Each chip, each rip, each slight smudge and blemish brings a smile, not a frown, for they are evidences of the passage of much life, living, and love.

Some of those best-beloved items are no longer on my tree, but have been taken by my eldest (who made them) to grace her tree in her home. And while I miss them, and notice the empty spots on my own tree, I am glad, for thus the gloriousness of the chaotic Christmas tree is passed on, generation unto generation.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, commemoration, holidays, individuality | 15 Comments

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming …

I was going to tell you about making gingerbread houses with the tots, which we are in process of making, and we are having SUCH FUN!!!

But something even funner happened this morning, and I just had to share. We will start at the beginning …

I get up early. Really early. Five, give or take fifteen minutes, generally. I do this because I like the quiet, the peace, the solitude. I could, as so many people do, get that at the other end of the day, but that doesn’t work for me because a) I have teenagers and b) I fall asleep.

The younger teen is in school, so she has lights-out at ten, but I’m well gone by then. Staying up later would be work, a monumental effort probably involving toothpicks in the eyelids, not to mention copious amounts of caffeine — which sort of takes away from the “peace and tranquility” aspect of it all.

So, morning it is. It’s dark, it’s quiet. I get some reading done, I might catch up on a couple of emails, but mostly, I think. About my work, about my goals, about challenges to overcome, about things that give me pleasure and satisfaction. I think and take notes, and write to further the thinking. An interactive process between me and the paper, because yes, this form of writing is always done with pen and paper. Much as I love my keyboard the rest of the day, the glaring white glow of the monitor is an affront to this very quiet time; the blanket of stillness around me is best suited to — no! requires — the soft scritch of pen over paper.

The feeling that the whole world sleeps while I have this hour or two of solitude is immeasurably precious to me. Which is why the sudden loud hum from the kitchen came as such a jolt. Why, when it escalated into a choppy screech, I found myself standing staring at my wailing fridge. A sharp vending-machine smack to the front didn’t help. Nor did the swift kick to the side.

Clearly fridge abuse was not going to help. The noise was the fan. Of that much I’m quite sure. Not from the rear, but from the freezer compartment at the bottom. The compressor?

The noise is growing louder. Were I upstairs in bed, I’m sure I’d be hearing it, and I briefly wonder if the whole house is about to be woken by a screaming appliance. But no. No because while it increases in volume, it decreases in tempo. It’s getting slower. And slooower … and now the noise is lower, more grind than squeal … and s.s.s.l.l.o.o.o.w.w.e.r.r.r.r…

And …

it stops.

The fridge gives one final, convulsive shudder, and is no more. Silence thuds against my eardrums. It has given up the ghost. Let us have a short moment of silence for the faithful, if leaky, refrigerator.

Everyone else in the house is still sleeping. It’s just me and the corpse. I can’t leave it like that. It’ll soon start to stink.

It takes five minutes to unload the freezer compartment into the basement chest freezer. Another five to put two plastic grocery bins full of produce and condiments at the chill end of the unfinished basement. They should last a few days down there. Certain dairy products are on shelves in the back porch, where I hope they won’t freeze solid.

It is only as I turn to head back upstairs for the seventh and final time that I notice, in the velvet early-morning silence that I so treasure, a semi-regular drip … drip … dripdrip … drip. There’s water dripping into the laundry tub! And it’s coming from … the ceiling. The unfinished basement ceiling.

Look at it! A steady rivulet, about a foot wide, a glistening swath along the underside of the kitchen floorboards along which pulsate half-formed droplets, sparkling domes of water gliding along the stream, which, when they reach the joist about the laundry tub, accumulate sufficient weight to form into a drip… drip … dripdrip …. drop.

It appears to be coming in from the outside wall, but that’s crazy. It’s well below freezing out there. There’s no ice dam, just a huge mound of snow. I know, because I was out there, at ten to six in the half-lit morning, digging. Just to make sure.

At a more decent hour, I call the contractor. The very wonderful contractor who fixed our porch last summer, the man who earned my undying gratitude for a) doing it quickly b) doing it mostly on budget, (even my pathetically small budget, which had caused other handy types to stagger away in fits of derisive laughter) and c) dealing with the eight-seven gazillion carpenter ants that emerged when a rotten board was removed. (Said carpenter ants being the little surprise that caused the “mostly” in the “on budget” sentence.) AND, I particularly love him for doing this all while I was OUT OF TOWN. I didn’t have to actually see one single carpenter ant. And that, my friends, is a GREAT way to spend your honeymoon: NOT seeing a seething, pulsating swarm of carpenter ants dripping from the ceiling and onto the porch deck.

So when I hear his voice on the phone, later that day, AFTER dawn has broken, I am instantly reassured.

“Turn off the water to the house,” he tells me. “Open the lowest faucet and the highest ones in the house. Wait an hour. If the drip stops, we know it’s a pipe that’s probably frozen and burst.”

As indeed turns out to be the case. Mr Wonderful Contractor Guy will be around tomorrow morning, with his friend Mr (we hope) Equally Wonderful Plumber Guy to find and repair the leak. I am hugely relieved. Faced with the choice of a few hundred dollars for plumbing versus ten thousand dollars a foot for foundation work? I’ll take the plumber. Well, yes, really what I’d like is for the leak to magically fix itself, free of charge. But I don’t think that’s one of my options.

So, you can see it’s been an eventful day here at casa Mary. With no water (which means no water and also NO FLUSHING) and no fridge, I think I’ll be cancelling the party I had scheduled for tonight.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have some phone calls to make. Because tonight? Tonight I won’t be hosting a party — I’ll be buying a fridge!!

December 19, 2007 Posted by | commemoration, random and odd, the dark side | 6 Comments