Somewhere Over the Rainbow

IMG_2816

Four months ago my father died.

Quickly and unexpectedly.

Dad was 82 and yes, he’d had a good life, but we all wanted more; after all, he was the healthy one, the caregiver for my mom. She’s the one with breast cancer and brain tumours and mobility issues. Dad was the blue-eyed jokester, the daily walker, the outdoors man, the artisan woodworker, and the artist.

fullsizerender-4

self-portrait Sad Clown

He taught me how to paddle a canoe silently and slowly, quickly and powerfully, forward, backward and side to side. He patiently, over a long period of time, taught me how to ride a bike. He attempted to teach me how to drive a car, but finally sent me to a professional for both our sakes. After many hours of instruction and practice I eventually passed the driver test, although to this day my husband and children don’t quite understand how that ever happened.

worlds worst driver

courtesy amazon.com

He tried to teach me to fish but had much better luck teaching my son as I wasn’t fond of worms, his preferred form of bait. dad&alec.jpg

He taught me how to make the World’s Best Fudge from his super-secret recipe, much to my daughter’s everlasting delight – of course now she makes it better than I do.

Dad was the curious one, the one who read the newspaper all the way through, the one who watched the nightly news and discussed world events.

peruse2

courtesy iclipart

He was master of the game – solitaire, bridge, cribbage, rummikub and more. grandpa-kids_0005-2

He was also the organized one who assembled  all of the pertinent legal and financial information, listed and annotated it and placed it in a small wooden box for safe keeping.

Dad was the magical dog-whisperer long before Cesar Millan claimed that title. When I was growing up in small town Ontario, Dad trained Sam and Piper, our two black Labrador Retrievers, to heel off-leash on either side of him and walk that way for miles. And when they came to a park or a field, he’d let them run but they always came charging back when he called. No treats were required – they simply wanted to please him. And there was no barking unless there was a darn good reason, like a stranger entering the house unannounced. Sam and Piper were followed by many other wonderful dogs over the years.

1a6832ee83675ac187cb8cbc0e22a2d6

Photo by Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Dad was the careful one who lived within his means and saved money for retirement and beyond. Way beyond. Yet he and my mom thoroughly enjoyed their lives together,
img_2278
img_2266

and their many lunches and dinners out (neither one liked to cook).Tim Hortons was their favourite spot for coffee. And of course doughnuts. While money was never plentiful, they never ever complained about not having enough.

He was the one with the musical ear, who could tell whether the piano was in or out of tune when Mom’s piano students plunked and struggled their way through scales and exercises and sonatas.

pianoteacher

courtesy iclipart

But now when I just won’t can’t do something – like clean up after my dog or move a heavy box  – who will call me Helpless Hannah?

And when my temper gets the better of me and I become cranky and angry – usually with one of my children for a very good reason – who will quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

fullsizerender

 

Or when I’m out walking dodging dogs and kids, who will say to me for no reason whatsoever,

fuzzy_wuzzy_by_gh_mongo

Fuzzy Wuzzy drawing by GH-MoNGo

I suppose this rhyme long held a special place in my dad’s heart as he himself didn’t have much hair after the age of 30 or so. Same with my husband…who knows what will happen with my son?!

Perhaps my husband and kids will  read this and perhaps they’ll take up Dad’s mantle. After all, somebody needs to keep me on the straight and narrow. Somebody needs to remind me to have a little fun every now and then.Somebody to tell me that this too shall pass.

In the meantime, I know that Dad is Somewhere Over the Rainbow, throwing sticks and balls for Sam and Piper and the other dogs, who are all ecstatic to be reunited with their friend and master.

Really!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Green Eggs and Ham

17w41cnkwakxigif

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

After several days of massive Tokyo crowds, illegible city signage, non-stop neon lights and those high-tech multi-functional washlets with heated seats, we escaped to the countryside. As mentioned in my last post, Oh the places you’ll go my husband, The Original Obnoxious One, made all the travel and accommodations arrangements for this trip to Japan – or rather his people did. After speaking with friends and colleagues he decided we should stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are generally located in scenic areas, near mountains or water, and feature tatami-floored rooms with foldaway futons, communal and private baths, elaborate multi-course meals and multiple rules and regulations.

ryokan

Our first stop was the Aura-Tachibana in Hanoke, an easy two hour train ride from Tokyo. And the Japanese train system is amazing – clean, efficient and relatively affordable. But once we arrived in that tiny town and started to look for our ryokan, we couldn’t tell left from right or up from down. Yes, we had detailed instructions multi-coloured maps but…

jeg

courtesy iclipart.com

After bumbling around for an hour or more we dragged our bags and carry-on items up the steep hill, around a couple hair-pin twists to the Aura-Tachibana. By the way, our Japanese is almost non-existent despite what The Original Obnoxious One likes to believe, and the receptionist’s English was very, very rudimentary. After 30 minutes of trying to communicate, the most we could understand was that we could leave our bags at the front desk but couldn’t check in to our room for several hours. We even phoned our super-duper problem-solving incredible travel agent back in Vancouver. She yelled at the local ryokan rep in English with a heavy Mandarin accent  (we could hear her across the lobby) but was ultimately unable to convince them to let us stay.Why? We never did figure that part out.

What to do and where to go?!

We meandered back down the hill, through the town, to the river where we had a lovely view of a couple of homeless guys washing and urinating. 018b36c0ceaa3289a8d94304340fc9a61f4615205c

Of course it was Sunday so very few stores or restaurants were open. Apparently Hanoke’s claim to fame is its hot springs, natural beauty and view of Mount Fuji. We couldn’t find any vistas in or around town of Mount Fuji and the homeless folk  were not exactly naturally beautiful. Maybe our hotel accessed the hot springs for its communal baths?! But Hanoke is close to Tokyo so it provides a quick and easy get away for families and couples. Especially couples. 😉

Basic RGB

courtesy clipart.com

After walking around in circles for a few hours we climbed back up that mountain and were shown to our room. We were one of the lucky ones there, with our very own private hot tub and view of that same river we had now come to love.015389d32a64abb9823faea18f36cc8d0f4e615f8f

My husband was a little more adventurous and actually ventured out of our room in order to soak in the communal hot springs and baths.

DSCN0763

The Original Obnoxious One heading to the baths – doesn’t he look cute?!

Somehow the thought of parading around naked, with my (mostly) blond hair and mottled menopausal body towering over of a bunch of cute little Japanese ladies did not fill me with joy and pleasure. So I stayed in our room and studied the official instructions of how to behave and what to do and not do.

But the fun was just beginning. As the only non-Japanese folk at dinner and breakfast the following morning in the large dining room, we weren’t the least bit nervous or uncomfortable until we were presented with this and this.ryokan breakfast

Okay let me confess something right here, right now. I will generally try most any food most any time most any where except at breakfast. Yes, it’s true – I am a wimpy cowardly breakfast-eater! Give me cereal and milk or yogurt and fruit or eggs  but that’s it. Plus of course a latte. I will travel miles and miles for a latte in the morning – just ask my most patient parents.  A regular boring cup of coffee just doesn’t cut it. I know, I’m spoiled but I blame it on the never ending rains here on the wet coast, November through March.  The Original Obnoxious One is much more accommodating – if its edible he’ll eat it, regardless of colour, texture, etc. Imagine my unmitigated pleasure upon gazing at this adorable delicacy at 8am :

014379acdc5375b3c8af706931dcfe8d8b3f154a65

Dried Horse Mackerel – even the name is “interesting”

Those eyes hypnotized me and not in a good way. But  I did take my chopsticks and attack  this fishy fish and made it look like I sampled the delights when in reality I tried to remain calm – I only screamed and gagged in my imagination! In fact, at that moment I sympathized greatly with this character:

i do not like

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Just exchange green eggs and ham for fishy fish and jam .

I survived only to relive much of the experience again in our ryokan in Kyoto, the Hiiragiya, minus the delayed check-in and homeless absolutions. At least in Kyoto breakfast and dinner were served in our room by our very own geisha-girl/butler,

014d09ab23e392493c35853ec8760738821eec22b3

Ahhh…where to begin.

so no one else had to observe my attempts at poking, prodding and fumbling with chopsticks. There were a few more choices so I could avoid the fishy fish for breakfast. And I could find a latte close to our hotel without too much trouble. Plus our dinners were absolutely exquisite in appearance.

018664c79bbb8c6b84b2f306fe18dd16fb4cdf6aa1

and tasted pretty good.

i will try

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

The Original Obnoxious One was in heaven – he loves this kind of stuff. But he was most proud because the staff congratulated us several times on having the best room in the ryokan –  the best because it had the largest private bath.

Hiiragiya-Ryokan-copertina-5

There was also another large room with a long counter and double sink.

Of course the beautiful views of the private courtyard  and gardens didn’t hurt. In fact the Hiiragiy Ryokan was quite a special place – small and intimate, run by the same family for six generations, beautifully maintained and centrally located.  And it has even been updated with modern amenities like wifi. Once I got past the morning menu terrors, I really enjoyed wandering the street and lanes of Kyoto – lots to see, especially in the old part and even the most touristy sections were gorgeous and fascinating.

01864606c0e2b4792bf933ad39bf600e397cb246f4

But I will say that I was rather relieved to leave Japan for Hong Kong and then Thailand, where I could anything under the sun for breakfast, including eggs!

i like green eggs

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Really! 

 

 

 

 

Come on, it’s NOT that difficult…just make a decision!

So how many times have you said that to your parents? Me? Well…I’ve probably said it a couple of times (although usually a bit nicer) but I sure have thought it many, many, MANY times. I mean really, how many times do you have to discuss dinner plans, travel plans, or moving plans, or…? Actually quite a few with my parents.  Like maybe a billion.

As a case in point, let’s consider their cottage.

Russell43

My parents live in Southern Ontario and they have always either owned a cottage or had access to their parents’. Or they owned a piece of property on a lake where they had plans to build a cabin. Note that when I say cabin, I really mean cabin, as in perhaps 500-600 square ft. total. For four people. Well actually 3.5 as my sister was just a baby at that place.

So yeah, my parents (who are not quite eight decades old, but almost) have been cottage goers since the dinosaur ages, but the last several years have been worrisome, and we know how much I like to worry . Although picturesque, their cottage was on a northern lake (north of Muskoka and Parry Sound) that had a fairly small population of cottagers, especially regular cottagers.Half the time their land-line phone didn’t work, and they never quite remembered exactly how that new-fangled cell phone worked. They’re not quite as agile and nimble as they once were,

Top-5.bmp

we’ve all changed a bit over the years – gotta love that 80’s hair!

so getting down to the beach became a bigger and bigger issue, and the boats were used less and less frequently. My father is not the superb driver he once was and my mother can no longer drive the car at all. (she now has mobility issues) . So my sister and I were rather concerned and we chatted with them several times, numerous times, a gazillion times about selling. But they are stubborn…especially my mom!IMG_2278

My parents just could not make a decision.What would they do instead? Who would they hire to list the place? How much should they charge? Would anyone buy it? The list of questions to be considered and debated was endless.

Finally after many years, and a bazillion conversations, they actually put their cottage up for sale! And guess what…low and behold they had some interest… AND A BUYER. Well, let me tell you, this sent them into a major tailspin.

It happened too soon!

We weren’t expecting this quite yet!?

What do we do now???

Thank goodness, however, they did sign on the dotted line.

But then the real work began, because they had to deal with all the things they had acquired over the years and years and years of cottaging. What to do with all the dishes, and towels and sheets? What about the dishes and glasses and mugs and cutlery? And don’t forget the games and photos and pictures. Once again, my sister and I had an infinite number of conversations with them  –  especially my dear darling mother. Did we want the salad fork/silver spoon/blue mountain pottery mug/macrame hanging/picture???

Don't take this spoon!

Don’t take this spoon!

 And on and on. During a weak moment  I offered to go and help them sort through their crap junk  very important stuff…luckily they did not accept my kind offer.

Fast forward a year and they are happy that they are finished with the entire process. Thrilled actually.

Similarly my husband and I also own a cabin – not in Ontario, but up Indian Arm, a wild and magnificent fjord adjacent to Vancouver. We’ve owned this place for over 15 years, but have not used it much recently.IMG_0290_resizedWe’ve had some technical difficulties – like having to replace the cement pilings that were falling apart, and then the rotten lower deck. Out place is water access only and the boat doesn’t always work. Lately the kids never want to go,DSC01834 cuz they want to spend time with their friends in the city, where there’s electricity (rather than a generator), computers and T.V.’s, (we have neither up there), shopping (the cabin is literally in the middle of nowhere) and warm swimming pools (as oppose to freezing cold, extremely deep, salt water).

But when we arrive on a sunny day, it’s absolutely magical. And it’s less than an hour door to door.IMG_0273_resized

So here’s the thing: a real estate agent contacted us a couple of weeks ago to say that he had a client who was very interested in purchasing property up Indian Arm. My husband responded immediately and showed them around. Meanwhile, I was – silently – freaking out! I’m just not ready to sell…I don’t think. I mean, we had so many great times there over the years, and so much fun. IMG_0309-1_resizedAnd even though we haven’t used it lately doesn’t mean we won’t go there in the future. Both kids have expressed interest in hanging out there this summer, with their friends...and without us. My son just turned 20, so has been “legal” in BC for a year and my daughter will be 18 very soon.But still, the thought of them going there with their friends with no real adult supervision...gives me the heebie-jeebies. Not happening.

But do I really want to sell the cabin? I mean, we have our house up for sale, but what if it doesn’t sell? The kids don’t want us to sell the house. And we do have a ton of amazing stuff at our cabin – photos and books and games and pictures. And since the cabin is water access only, it’s always challenging to transporting anything up and back.  I just don’t know what to do! I can’t make a decision!

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

But I’m so not like my parents...really!

Would you believe…the weather is the culprit?

Yup, I blame the weather … it’s just been too fabulous to do anything. Well, almost anything…except hike in the alpine at Whistler and the canyons of the north shore of Vancouver and hang out at the doggie park on the ocean. And swim.

For the past week or so the Pacific Northwest has been at its most glorious. But don’t tell anyone.We wouldn’t want the world to move here.

Really!

P.S. I actually have been doing some work rewriting The Trouble With Queenie, my Middle Grade novel, with the help of freelance editor extraordinaire Sylvia Taylor. My goal is ito have a polished manuscript ready for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October.