Two Christmas’

This week I decorated the Christmas tree.  I wasn’t sure if I would.  Who’s to see it during this Covid Christmas?   My internal struggle has been real. On again, off again. Should I bake Christmas cookies?  Why bother.    I repeatedly ask friends and compare their plans to what I hear on the news.  Our kids both live in Toronto, which authorities have declared a red zone.  Red zone people are not supposed to travel outside their zone.  Adding more risk to this situation, both Matthew and Sarah are single and still seem to be mixing it up with their other single friends.  I’ve told them not to come this year.  Am I being too strict?  What is everyone else doing?  Christmas 2020 – the year of Covid.   A confusing, contradictory time.  

I go through the motions, preparing for a normal Christmas in spite of the news reports and medical statistics.   Gifts are purchased, wrapped and now its time to decorate our Christmas tree.    Warren drags the massive plastic tote boxes of up from the basement.   I put on my favourite CD of Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas and go about the task of unpacking a mound of boxes – each carefully nesting my old ornaments.   One by one I finger the hooks and satin loops and lift the decorations up, freeing them from their storage.  Each holds a sweet memory of when the kids were young, or as retirees when Warren and I travelled and bought Christmas ornaments as souvenirs.       Here is the little clam shell from Shediac New Brunswick and the miniature PEI Anne of Green Gables.  I reminisce upon that summer RVing in the Maritimes. My Santa on snow shoes was picked up in Skagway Alaska on my 60th birthday.   Aww, the green clay alien from Roswell New Mexico deserves a place of distinction on the tree – front and center.  I place a tiny Nashville guitar to its right.   Finally, I come to my favourite.  It is a hand-painted antique.  The last ornament left from my parent’s collection.  It is very beautiful, soft pale greens with silver.  So fragile.    I’m definitely feeling; feeling … in the moment.  I’m not exactly happy but I’m entertained and keeping busy. 

Decades from history will still be measured against the fatalities recorded in 2020.  Never in my lifetime have I witnessed anything like these times.  I think back and appreciate how stable and safe my life has been up until this year.   Warren is older.  Seventy-six years ago when he was a baby, Canada was still waiting to get out of World War 2.    There is a comparable time.  I take a moment to imagine what Christmas might have been like in 1944.

I did some research.   Did you know that on December 11th in 1944, Toronto experienced its worst single-day snow storm?   They got dumped with 22 ½ inches.  Apparently, there were gale force winds and huge drifts making travel impossible. No home deliveries of milk, fuel or ice.  Ice!  These were the years before the electric refrigerator. So hard to imagine! There are news clippings with photographs of expectant mothers walking to the hospital.  Of major concern was that the factories producing war ammunitions had to close temporarily.   In total 21 people died in Toronto on December 11, 1944 because of this storm.  Thirteen of those deaths were caused from over exertion.   I think about this odd fact for a moment.   At this point Canada is already five years into World War two.  Almost all of the young able-bodied snow-shovelers would be serving in a war somewhere overseas. Five long years of desperate times.  Praying and wondering if they would ever be reunited with their sons, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands again. So bleak.

 At least today we have an abundance of world news.   In 1944 there was a great void of credible, current news.  I read that on the average soldiers wrote six letters per week and these often took over two weeks to make their way home.  Even then, they would be heavily redacted.   Hmmm.  Censored news.   That sounds oddly similar to our current “fake news “situation. 

I read further and learned that the ideal Christmas gift in 1944 was handknit socks and mitts, or a can of Spam or perhaps a flat 50 of cigarettes.

Seventy-six years ago, when Warren was about to experience his first Christmas, the whole world was twisted and locked in a unimageable horror.  Everyone waited for it to finally end.  In December 2020 the world waits too.   When will our world return to normal and our families be reunited again?

Oh, how times have changed.  Or have they really?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Toronto City Hall

Note: This week our little writing group “the Bloomfield Circle” was assigned a topic:  CHANGE.  

Upon reflection, I determined that there is not  much change in my life since I retired.    Aside from the weather, each day is much the same as the next.    That got me reflecting back on the crazy twenty odd years I spent working out of Toronto City Hall.  Change was a constant.  It was addictive.  We craved the adenain rush of last-minute projects, adjustments to a report, the final additions just moments before a presentations.  The whole building pulsed with swirling energy, speeding up and bouncing off its powerful walls.  It was a privilege to be a witness.                                                               

 Toronto City Hall                                         

The design of the iconic Toronto City Hall is bold and domineering.    It brands this metropolis.  Massive and in-your-face, this building provokes and demands an opinion.  The public have called it The Alien; a massive mushroom, and a space ship.    Others see the two uneven towers as white hands tenderly cradling a white orb which represents the people’s will or democracy.  It is the center of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.  It is the head of the beast.  A living changing hive of humanity that reflects back its residents’ values, wants and needs.

In time, everyone comes to City Hall and you can tell a lot by the door they use.  Toronto City Hall has four doors.  Each attracts its own:   the powerful, the wealthy, the ambitious, the curious, the worried, angry and the hopeful. 

Stretching broadly cross the front south façade are the main front doors. Coincidentally the Mayor’s office looks out onto the square from the windows directly above these 28 massive teak doors. Each door is fitted with very sculptural curved handles made of laminated wood and echo the distinctive ribbing of the buildings double curved towers.   Their warmth is welcoming as if you are about to enter a Finnish ski chalet.    These are the very public main front doors.

This is where the general public enter.  The homeowner looking to pay his taxes, buy a dog’s license or a street parking permit.  This is where the contractor comes when seeking a building permit.  A bridal party congregates before proceeding on to the wedding chapel.   There are swarms of foreign tourists pouring in from a string of waiting buses parked along Queen Street; teams of male cyclist dressed in spandex riding shorts looking to find a washroom and giggling swarms of school children excited for a day out of the classroom. 

Pass through the two rows, inner and outer doors and it hits you – a direct contrast.  The inside rotunda is austere and shiny, built of grey and white stone. 

There was always something newsworthy happening in the rotunda:  A sudden protest, a Red Cross blood drive, a politician giving a scrum press announcement, cameras flashing.    Watch now.  There are eyes following you.  Security within Toronto City Hall is strict.  There are camera everywhere.     You can’t get far off the rotunda without having a computer activated security clearance card to access any interior doors or to operate any elevator.   The counter to your right is the outward face of the City Hall security team offices.  Ever on guard.  Poor City Hall is a continuing target attracting the angry and the delusional. 

Front and center inside the rotunda is a large marble stair case leading down to the underground PATH, to the subway, union station and underground parking.   Most of City Hall employees enter by these stairs, preferring to slip past the masses as quickly, quietly as possible.  Here are the clerks, analysts, inspectors, auditors, accountants, consultants, managers and office administrators.  90% of the City’s 32,000 employees work elsewhere – within libraries, fire halls, community centres, arenas, work yards and former civic center offices. Most entering now are visitors for the day, here for a specific meeting.    

Running east and west from hallways leading to the tower elevators is a long information desk and discretely hidden behind that counter is a large two-sided brass elevator.  This private elevator provides direct discrete access from the executive parking garage up to the second-floor offices of the Mayor and Counsellors.   This entrance is frequented by the elected.

In direct contrast, all the way around to the north side of this building, hidden in a shaded back ally is a final small door for employees only.  It provides a quick quiet escape – out to China town for lunch, or to visit a shop in the nearby Eaton’s center.  Shrrrr   you use this exit when you don’t want to be noticed.  The City Hall press offices are located just inside. 

Café on the Square is the name of the popular little restaurant located inside of City Hall.  Everyone wants to pick up a coffee or salad to go.  It’s the whos who of city life.  The Mayor or Counsellors come here along with other urban decision makers and lobbyists.  This restaurant is also favoured by the legal profession.  With Osgood Hall as a neighbour and four Superior Courts immediately beside City Hall this restaurant is a handy spot for barristers to regroup.   It is also favoured by big city developers, friends of criminals waiting for their trials, the press, police officers, foreign dignitaries, union reps and at time Local 416/79 picket line strikers.

Outside the building is the massive Nathan Phillips Square which has its own personality and draws it’s own visitors. It is always a shock to leave the temperature-controlled building and step outside onto the square.   Bright glaring light reflects off the white concrete.  The square is always windy and exposed.  Nathan Phillips square was designed to hold mass crowds.  It was always a lonely intimidating walk across its vastness.  

At any hour, seven days a week this square is occupied by a slice of humanity.  It’s hot air vents and accesses to the underground parking provide warmth for the homeless. and toilets. Avoid the gardens.  All shrubbery smells like urine.   The winter brings the skaters.  On Wednesdays in the summer the square holds a farmer’s market.   In July – the Toronto Outdoor Art Show. Nathan Phillips Square is the end destination of most parades, protests and rallies. For five and a half decades it has housed New Year Eve celebrations, held bands on stage, speeches and welcomed home winning sports teams.  It is the heart beat of its residence.

Toronto City Hall is a giant white mirror ball in the center of the city; reflecting back, showing us ourselves and what we value. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fog in the Northumberland Hills

My mind is on a loop
Revisiting that day
Our drive to Warkworth
Replaying, replaying that excursion  through the hills

There was fog – remember?
We could barely make out the rolling vistas
Wrapped in a wet loamy shroud, it was very spring like
We were suspended in water droplets, cocooned behind the windshield

There were lots of lilacs

Remember those?

Pushing through the new green, touches of mauve in a silvery gauze

I got to know you to be sweet, yet brave
Kind of shy – trying your best
I sensed you were eager to be liked.  Aren’t we all?
Looking back on this day it is a mobius loop in my mind

It was a day of sharing – finding commonality, friendship
Safe within the car, within the fog, with those lilacs.



Dedicated to my dear late friend:  Maie Ilves

RIP: November 18, 2019

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


(I wrote this little piece to help me remember a difficult but useful word. Hopefully if I research the topic and type it out a half dozen times it will stick.)


Three years ago, when I was in the market for a new vehicle, I wanted something fun which reflected the image I wanted to project.  After some thought – I selected a car that had a long history of making a statement. I wanted to be associated with that brand.   I selected a JEEP.

Driving off the dealership car lot with my new silver JEEP, I felt bad ass. Gone were the days of vacuuming out my car. I wanted to drive through muddy puddles and splash my fenders. I wanted people to assume I off roaded on my weekends. Laugh if you must but this Walter Mitty was an all-terrain renegade. I was a youthful adventure seeker.   Nothing could hold me back.

Up until that point I had always thought that Jeeps were kind of rare – limited to World War Two medics and safari tour drivers. Oddly enough, over the next few days I started seeing them everywhere. Two old jeeps passed on 33. There’s one in the Home Hardware parking lot and another at Metro. Coincidence?   No…. this is an example of our Reticular Activating System.

Are you familiar with the Reticular Activating System? RAS for short. It is a difficult name to remember. Trust me.   It is the system that wakes me up from a deep deep sleep every night to let me know that I have to go to pee. Remember last fall when Cynthia told us she was traveling to India? Immediately after that I ran into three other acquaintances who were also going to India. Wow. India sure has become popular. Serendipitous?

Another example. Someone mentions they are reading a particular book. That very afternoon I pick up a magazine and read a book review about that same book. Weird.   A happy accident? Not really. It is our Reticular Activating System at work.

The RAS is actually a physical thing in your brain. It is a bundle of nerve pathways; about the size of an almond and situated at the top of your spinal cord.

Its purpose in the brain is to filter out unnecessary facts and observations. Our brain can’t process all of the information being received at any given moment.   We are flooded with hundreds of thousands of insignificant pieces of data starting with the cries of the blue jays at the feeder, shadows of light on the floor, the feel of the key board, the colours and furniture, and the taste of stale coffee on our tongues. We are bombarded and it would be overwhelming if our bodies didn’t have RAS.

How does our minds know what is important?   Thanks to the RAS the large percent of that data is filtered out. The RAS notes what we chose to focus on and masks the rest. Have you ever driven home and realized that you don’t remember a thing about the trip? Not to worry. Your RAS is resting your poor overworked brain. It knows to alert you if a light suddenly turns red or the car ahead of you signals it is turning.. Your eyes are still open. The brain is receiving. Related data is pulled forward for our review if required.  Brilliant, no?   One final example. Have you ever set your alarm clock for a really early wake up call and been surprised that you woke naturally a few seconds before the alarm was to go off? Now you know why.

The RAS does more – much more.

My reach into Reticular Activating Systems led me into Cybernetics and Psycho-cybernetics. There is tons on the net about this stuff. The RAS can be used to influence our life choices and establish patterns. Have you ever heard someone say they can’t lose weight and they don’t; or state that they are always late and they are always late? With these ingrain beliefs your brain goes about identifying and highlighting every incident that supports this understating. It becomes a self-fulfilling. You don’t lose weight and you continue to be late. The more proof you see that supports this belief the stronger that belief becomes. A vicious circle.

Phycologists, sports coaches and self-help guides have tapped into the abilities of the brain’s RAS and learned how it can improve our performance as human beings. It is called resetting a positive RAS to believe in positive goals and beliefs. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins are two examples of using RAS to our advantage. “I am confident.” “I am good with money.” “I will be successful.” “I can visualize every gate on the slalom course and will break a new record today”

There are now thousands of books and videos available dealing with the brain’s ability to steer the mind to a productive, useful goal. It is based on solid science.   Imagine that.

Now because I have resorted to using the RAS acronym eleven times, I probably still won’t remember the longer true name.

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System ……


(got it)



Posted in Things my mother taught me | Leave a comment

An Appreciation of the Colour Purple*

Purple. What can you say about this colour? It is rarely seen and often overlooked; yet it has a long prestigious history and is truly a lovely colour when seen in nature. Oddly, it has slipped from fashion over the last decade or two. Why is that?

Going back through the centuries the colour purple held a very lofty regal significance. In antiquity purple dye was very expensive. It was the go-to choice for any royal ceremony. Not just European kings and queens but also heavily used by eastern imperial courts and worn by Roman magistrates. You couldn’t beat it for making a powerful over the top statement when purple silks are trimmed in gold thread and ermine furs. Wow.

Purple robes worn in the church imply that one clergy is more senior than another. It also represents repentance. During Advent and Lent seasons, purple reflects sorrow and suffering.

Royalty have a love of purple in their DNS. Just research images of Queen Elizabeth and count how many times she has favoured to appear at the Royal Ascot horse race gracing a silly purple hat.

Purple was hip to the LSD infused psychedelic 60’s. Swirling violet swatches of tied dyed hues were the norm to this mind-bending generation. Remember Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster whaling out “Purple Haze”?

Little girls – usually between the age of 4 and 8 just love the colour purple. It pairs so nicely with pink and accessorized with lots and lots of glitter. Mattel and Disney capitalized on this fact churning out billions of purple  stuffed cuddly Share Care Bears and unicorns with purple saddles. The evil Sea Witch Ursula was purple, as well as a singing dinosaur named Barney. They mass-produced trillions of tiny pieces of purple plastic, Polly Pocket dolls, miniature plastic shopping carts, tidy up vacuum sets, tea services and purple Dora the explore plastic backpacks.

Sports teams sometimes use purple. It is an energetic hue. The Colorado Rockies baseball uniform and the University of Western Ontario school colours are just two examples.

I believe Mother Nature’s sees the colour purple as one of her special children: a daughter; the quirky artist one with a dynamite sense of humour. Why else would she paint an ugly eggplant the richest sensuous aubergine hue. She has also chosen to disguise the horrid turnip in deep winey mauve. Let’s appreciate the beautiful colour of ripe plums, juicy grapes and even blueberries (although inaccurately named) are all blessed with a long-lasting purple stain.

Purple is mysterious and magical. She is found in the satin lining of a magician’s cape and the chosen sock colour for most witches.

Purple can be melancholic.  Catch a hint of her in the final wispy cloud after the sun has slipped below the horizon. She can be moody with a temper blowing up in a dark stormy sky.   Fierce and dangerous.
Odd that the month February has been assigned the amethyst birthstone. Odd that this gem is not assigned to June in recognition of the fragrant lilac bushes and tiny violets. We all love our purple tulips and great bearded irises. Nature gifted the colour purple to her lovelies of flowers.

There are very very very few purple animals – birds rarely, animals no. Even the purple finch is more a reddish pigment. Sometimes the blue jay can have faint shades of purple in his crown. I’d be stretching it to include the ink of the octopus. Even that is more a mauvy black. Let’s include starfish because they sometimes are purple with a little violet. Done. That’s it.

Research says that the colour purple signifies faith, hope, wisdom, courage and admiration.

As you can see Purple is rare. Purple is unique. Purple is mysterious and moody, youthful and fun. She is plucky and funky, beautiful and assertive. At times she comes with a power temper not to be overlooked. She is my kind of girl.

  • Silly piece – prepared in a panic when I had no inspiration and desperately needed a topic for my writing group meeting


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Wrists At Once…. Survivor’s Guide

A handy guide for the unfortunate soul who managed to break both wrists, at the same time.


Leaving the Hospital Blues

Cheer up.  The worst is now behind you.  Surgery over.  Pain under control.  It might have been your head or your spine. In seven short weeks the casts will be off and life will resume.

Fun and Interesting Fact #1

We are all born with a natural instinct to fling our arms backward to stop a fall.  This is known as the Moro Reflex. Babies are born with it.  It is our bodies automatic response to a sudden loss of support.  Nature intended our arms to reduce the likeliness of serious impact thus protecting our brains and backbone.

Fun Fact #2

The arm is the second most common bone to break (after the collar bone) and the wrist is the most common part of the arm to break.


You are now at home having been given this basic medical advice.

  1. Don’t lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee
  2. Don’t get your bandages wet
  3. See you in seven days to get your staples out
  4. Take tylenol 3s for pain.

Your arms are wrapped up to your knuckles and those swollen fingers pointing out can’t grasp or hold a thing.


Immediately get yourself a caring, compassionate and very patient caregiver.  This is a 24 hour job, especially if you have a small bladder and require middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.  This treasured caregiver will be your hands for the next four/five days for EVERYTHING.

Just some of the countless caregiver job duties:

  1.  Undo your fly; pull down your pants and underpants; wait for you; pull up underpants, pants and zip up fly.  Repeat 10 – 15 times per day, depending on liquid intake.
  2. Brush your teeth
  3. Comb your hair
  4. Open all doors
  5. Hold the damn coffee cup which you are suppose to be able to hold
  6. Hold the too drippy wet facecloth to wash your face and under arms
  7. Manage all cooking, cleaning and shopping
  8. Be courteous in the middle of the night when you are cold and the sheet/blanket has slipped off your shoulders and your poor fat fingers can’t grab hold of it to pull the said sheet/blanket up over your cold shoulders.


First Week Complete – Staples Removed 

Fun day #1 activity:

You get to stylize your new fiberglass casts.  Be ready for this.  The nurse will ask you to choose the colour of fiberglass you want to wear.  My hospital choices: dark and light green, pink, red, purple, mauve, yellow, dark and light blue and brown.

(Side bar topic – I would love to know the type of individual who would select a brown fiberglass cast.  Really?  Are they depressed?   goth?   a civil servant who wants it to match their sweater vest?

I imagine this brown loving individual to be very steady and reliable with a keen sense of duty and responsibility.  They probably take their obligations very seriously….. hmmmm…. Further note to self – Look into brown loving individuals as potential back-up caregivers)

Fun day #2 activity:

Get a manicure and consider coordinating your new cast to match the nails.

Living With Two Fiberglass Casts

Fiberglass is murder to wear. It is extremely rough- like a nail file or rasp.  It cuts into your poor skin.  It snags delicate clothing with sweaters and lingerie. It is like living with an angry cat.

Extremely Valuable Tips that no one tells you:  

  • Purchase some Coban self-adherent medical wrap and secure this dressing around your thumb where it meets the fiberglass.  Chafing reduced.
  • Run to Home Depot and purchase a bidet insert for your toilet.  Do this before day two and you and your treasured caregiver will have averted  a very nasty experience.  (Note – – this tip may save a marriage)  Fortunately those Tylenol 3s are mildy constipating with is a blessing in disguise.   For only $69.00 CDN you can purpose a small insert for your toilet which gently sprays water and cleans your anal area. No plumbing is required.  Brondell – “PureSpa” is the brand name I personally am familiar with.   Yabba dabba doo!
  • Purchase lots of hand sanitizer and sterilized wipes.  It will be seven weeks before you can thoroughly wash your hands again.  (Think about that, will you)
  • Purchase dry shampoo.  Showers and washing your hair is beyong exhausting without the use of hands.
  • Spend the money and purchase two thick plastic cast covers from a medical supply store.  They are outrageously expensive and have no design features.  Mine were not even tapered nor did they have any thumbs or fingers – just wide stump endings, slippery as heck when wet and soapy but seven weeks is a very long time to not enjoy a thorough cleaning.
  • Purchase several rubber gloves in size extra large and cut slips on both sides to allow them to slide up over the casts. These are handy when applying moisturizer on your face, or doing other messy wet jobs.  (See point 3 above and cringe again)
  • Purchase some reusable straws for your beverages until you can lift a cup of tea/coffee.
  • Wear loose fitting elasticized pants for quick accident-proof pull downs.
  • Save all thick elastics and use these when showering with your stupid plastic cast covers.  You can create a thumb which is necessary if you want to hold anything like soap, shampoo or a face cloth.
  • Before entering the shower and donning your thick plastic cast covers with no fingers – pour shampoo onto a facecloth and have this waiting for you inside the shower.  Rub the soapy cloth over your wet hair and use as a body wash.  It is much easy to hold when wet and lighter.  Also when it slips repeatedly out of your grasp and falls onto your toes it doesn’t hurt as much as a shampoo bottle.

Positive Outcomes About this Whole Experience

You will meet a tons of friendly super-talkative strangers who will laugh and want to talk about your situation.

Lots of neighbors and friends will step forward with concerned good wishes and prepared meals.   You will feel loved.

Negative or Not-So-Fun Facts About this Whole Experience *

  • Over 80% of all fractures in people over 50 are caused by osteoporosis.
  • 1 in 3 women will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime.
  • 2 million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis
  • Women are 4 times more likely to have osteoporosis than men

* taken: from


Post Script – for posterity

These dates are being included here because shortly my personal experience will largely be forgotten and I will fumble over what year it even happened

  • Broke wrists: Canoe Lake, Sat. May 11, 2019
  • Surgery on both wrists with hardware: Sun. May 12
  • Staples removed:  May 22
  • X rays and first fiberglass casts: June 12
  • Casts off:  June 28
  • Last day of physio:  August 16
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Like gathering up

the scraps of pastry dough

I make a little tart of words


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sugaring Off – 2019


March 12th was opening day, so to speak. First, we dragged up our supplies from the cellar; took inventory and rewashed thirteen blue plastic sap buckets, matching lids and spiles.  The yard is glare ice as we shuffled out into the cold sunshine arms wide and filled with blue plastic.   Warren handled the drilling: thirteen holes, half an inch wide and two inches deep. We only needed six mature maple trees. Previous experience from two past seasons had taught us not to tap the linden trees by mistake and to not bother with the crimson king maples. Our star performer has been the wonderful old maple that towers over our driveway. This majestic beauty can take four sap pails.


I suppose you could now refer to us as ‘experienced’. My parents produced maple syrup for years at the farm. I have always found it thrilling – another sign that we are not ordinary retired folk. I proudly give away our syrup to friends. It is also a regular ingredient in my kitchen, added to salad dressings, stews and sauces plus my yogurt of course. I love our abundance of maple syrup. All it takes is good spring weather. Above freezing by day. Below freezing each night. But grab those precious few weeks while you can. Once passed the opportunity is lost for another year.


Every morning before breakfast Warren heads out to gather sap. Some mornings all that is waiting is a thick slab of ice inside the pails. Throughout the day, Warren keeps a watchful eye on the pails ensure the sap doesn’t brim over. Some days when it is really flowing he has emptied them three times.


April 1st. We have fifty orange Home Depot buckets lined up inside the garage waiting. That’s enough. 200 gallons in all. We dissemble the sap pails and hammer wooded dowels into the tapped holes.  It is too windy and cold today to fire up the stoves. We delay the boiling.


Tuesday April 2nd, we start the sugaring off. Two stoves are assembled on our kitchen stoop. Each stove burns 150,000 BTUs. That’s a lot of power. Warren hammers together a wooden frame and hangs a tarpaulin tarp to provide shelter from the wind and dust. Inside our makeshift sugar shack we can barely hear each other over the roar from the propane stoves.


Sugaring off operation gets underway each morning around eight am. Warren lugs out ten great sloshy 5- gallon pails from the garage into the kitchen. This is our daily supply of sap. Our goal is to boil this down all day letting evaporation reduce the volume to a ratio of 30:1. By 7 p.m. every night we shut down the operation.  Before the cold sap hits the stoves we give it a good straining to remove any impurities such as leaves or bark. My job is to hold the filter wide over a spare empty bucket while Warren wrestles control over the flow of sap pouring into the filter bag. This operation is not always easy.

“Slowly now, wait wait. Oops”

The filter slips through my fingers, folds on to itself and we splash sap down our legs onto the kitchen floor.       “Damn”


We have two 12 x 18-inch stainless steaming trays set up on top of the propane stoves.   All day long we hang close, regularly checking the level of the boiling sap. Whenever the levels drop, we top up with new sap. Hour by hour it boils away. By 7 p.m. all of the day’s orange pails are empty and we have two noticeably brown boiling trays left to cool. We store this semi syrup product in the garage until day 5.


This is our routine for the next four days. Constant vigilance on the boil. Topping up the levels. Empty pails need washing. A major scrub down every evening: boiling trays, oven mitts and filter bags. Our social calendar is kept clear except for the daily trips to town to buy more propane. We push on.


Saturday April 6th.   We have four – five gallon buckets of brown semi syrup to finish off today. We now want to reduce this by half. It shouldn’t take too long. Warren wants to rely on his hydrometer but I prefer my tried and true candy thermometer. The final syrup comes off the flame when the boil reaches 219 degrees.

Same scenario – we start the day with a final filter and then wait around to watch the boil. I test the heat. 210 degrees. We top up and gradually the heat climbs again. 211 degrees. Another top up. We only have one half a bucket left to eventually pour into the boiling trays. Almost done.


Eleven a.m. and the boil is still only at 215 degrees. I start to question if I shouldn’t pop into town now to pick up some groceries. Warren assures me that he’s got it. I’m back in half an hour and take the temperature again 217 degrees in one tray and 216 in the other. This is taking all day. I go in the house to clean. I can see Warren hanging around outside, waiting.


Approximately five minutes later I look through the kitchen door window but can’t see Warren. Surely, he can’t have gone far? I head out to the stoves and check the boil. At first, I can’t understand what I’m looking at. One tray is still boiling but the second tray is …… well its gray/brown foam.

“What the hell?” Realization explodes in my brain. “Oh my God! Warren!”  I scream. I grab at the control dials and shut the flame off. In a quick dash I head down the walkway to his garage. Where else would he be – working on his cars.


Moving on….. The two of us stand together and assess the burnt mess in the one tray.   Obviously, the boil had obviously reached 216. At that point the consistency of the liquid changed. Tiny, tiny bubbles erupted like a volcano and boiled over the sides of the pan. We can see black char burnt into the pan and a great puddle lies under the stove.  What a mess. We probably lost a quarter of our entire intake of sap. Inside the tray it looks like foam insulation except its dark gray/brown and cracked dry.


With nothing more to lose, we decide to take the last few cups of semi-syrup remaining in the bucket and add this liquid to the foam mess. We give it a stir and surprising it comes back to live – more or less. We stir the concoction a little more and pick out some of the larger pieces of burnt charcoal.


We decide to give it just a little bit of a boil to blend the new liquid with the old foam. Just a short little boil and then we remove two trays from the flame.


That is, it. The boiling phase is over.  No one is pointing fingers about what happened to the last tray. I feel as much to blame as Warren. We both knew we were at the end stage so why did we both goof off? So discouraging. Such a waste of resources, time and energy. But what is done is done.


On to the bottling assembly line. We have two batches. The good stuff and the burnt.

I used a permanent black marker to label the jar lids with the year and descriptive name. “GS” obviously stands for good stuff and “Old English” is our code word for the much darker burnt toffee flavoured batch. This one is an acquired taste.


Now begins the big sticky clean up. I dawn plastic gloves protect my hands from the scorching water as we sterilize the thermometers, hydrometer and sap pails. The stainless-steel boiling trays are garbage. At least one is for sure.


Once we air dry everything, it is hauled back down to the cellar, cover and stored.

I washed that damn floor yet again. It wasn’t until I thought of washing the soles of Warren’s running shoes that I started to make real process.


Meanwhile Warren has hoses run up from the utility sink in the basement and is power washer the kitchen stoop. Hot spray blasts the sugary glaze coating the propane stoves, tanks and flagstone porch.  The green tarpaulin tent is dissembled and folded away.


Fifty-five glass jars of maple syrup are our take away, all stored in the cellar pantry. Job done.  I’m done in. I don’t recall feeling this worn out in previous years. It may have been our last year for sugaring off.

Posted in Things my mother taught me | Leave a comment

July 1st – Camping in Compton, Quebec

Ten pm and the RV campground is still humming with activity

There’s a general reluctance to move inside. Bedtime is put on hold

The scorching heat of the day has finally cleared leaving behind a velvety soft breeze perfumed with wood smoke

Most unusual is the number of young children still up

bicycles are abandoned in the grass

Now into a different game: flashlight tag

Foot soldiers on reconnaissance shining their torches, squeals and protests

retreating troops escaping through a labyrinthine of motorhomes and trailers

free in the warm evening air


Lawn chairs are pulled around and bonfires spring up at every site

Low voices and laugher float – neighbours silhouetted in the glow

embers explode

wild sparks burst out

free in the warm evening air

The dog and I head out to escape this mini metropolis

straining our eyes, we follow the dark outline of a path leading to the edge of a large meadow

stillness except for a chorus of peepers, white noise in the calm

More flickering lights, smaller this time

Hundreds of blinking fireflies dance just above the grasses.

free in the warm evening air

Posted in Memior | Leave a comment

New Beginnings

With an inflatable plastic cushion positioned under my tender stitches and our freshly born son safely strapped into his new car seat, we headed east. Goodbye Toronto. Hello Ottawa, my new home. The year was 1992. I was 39 years old and the Jays were just about to win the World Series. The next nine months – my maternity leave, would turn out to be the happiest time of my life.

It was complicated. We had been married for some time but Warren had been transferred to Ottawa and I had not followed. I had a great career in Toronto. I owned a home. This maternity leave, while not a permanent solution, was offering us a chance for the first time to live under the same roof as husband and wife. Our new baby. Matthew – well that was just a wonderful, wonderful bonus.

Doubting friends and family were greatly relieved we were finally together. That summer they literally showered me in pastel little sleepers, tiny socks, and receiving blankets.    Every weekend I would pass these along to Warren. It was entirely his responsibility to set up the new baby’s room in Ottawa.   While my belly expanded, Warren filled his nights with “nesting” activities; assembling the crib, hanging teddy bear murals and washing all in-coming with Ivory Snow. He thought of everything right down to the zinc cream and baby wipes. The room stood perfect and waiting; a testament of Warren’s love.

Life in Ottawa as a new mother; and as a wife, felt like dress up / playing house. With few distractions Matthew and I settled into a comfortable routine. Matthew’s morning bath, selecting his outfit for the day, a walk up to Bank Street and shopping in their lovely boutiques and food stores. It was all fantastic.   On Tuesday we did a mom and tot class at the library. I learned to cook that winter. Most days at noon, I would switch on the TV and catch a half hour program called: “The Urban Peasant” James Barber factored large in our life at that time. I copied most of his suggestions and felt very grown up and gourmet.

Our apartment was on the ground floor of an old mansion in the Glebe. Our front window faced out onto the Rideau Canal and a grassy parkway with paved sidewalk that went on for miles. It was in this beautiful setting that I witnessed my first hoar frost. Ottawa was frozen under a thin coating of ice; a jewellery box of sparkle in the morning sun.  There was tons of snow that winter but I don’t remember it ever snowing. Every day seemed sunny and bright.

One of our favourite activities was skating. It was so convenient. I could tie my skates on the front steps and just pick my way across to the frozen canal pulling Matthew in his red sled. The poor little guy looked like a sausage in a blanket buried under multitudes of scarves, and woollen covers. He was definitely protected from the crisp winter air.  It was a glorious season of beaver tails, poutine and hot chocolate.

Little memories now mean so much. I was so content even ironing my husband’s white business shirts. I recall enjoying setting up the board in the kitchen. Beside me in his squeaky swing-on-matic my son would watch. The clock ticking away the late afternoon minutes while we waited for Warren to return.

Yes, it was those quiet, private times I cherished the most. Just Matthew and me. Our days were filled with rings on our fingers and bells on our toes; or blowing kissing on tummies and bubbly bright smiles. I’d pull up a chair beside his crib and just sit there watching him sleep. I’d study at his eyelashes, his fingernails, his little twitches and sighs.

Those blissful nine months were all ours.  I treasured my solitude and the opportunity to bond with my little man. Never again would life be so simple or defined just by love.

Posted in Memior | 1 Comment