Being a Grandmother

Having had no expectation of ever being a grandmother – my other two children had made different choices – when my youngest daughter had her first child I was thrust into learning about the meaning of ‘Grandma.’ With her enthusiastic assent I began finding ways of seeing Baby Tait every two, at most three months. Whether they came to me or I traveled there, each visit revealed new information and insights on his character and personality. Without that frequency it would have been easy to lose our comfortable relationship.

Now Tait has two sisters, Tessa and Tori, within a very busy household and I look forward to being with them whenever I can. Sometimes it has been to give Grandma-care when there are just too many priorities in their parent’s lives, other times the family comes here, or we vacation together.

Each visit has been precious time spent as I learn more about the developing personalities and interests of each of the children. We have fun together in new-to-them ways, like the ritual I showed them of hosting a tea party with real china and fabric tablecloth, puzzles and games they teach me, time spent in pool and ocean water learning of its powers and delights. I have enjoyed seeing them as they participate in sports and club activities. More recently they have been educating me on the merits and ways of using my iPad.

Immigrant Grandparents

Whenever I consider how fortunate I am to be able to come to know these children at all, I am reminded that my own grandmothers had no similar grandparent relationship available to their children. Both sets of my grandparents had a tremendous influence on me and taught me a great deal. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Norway as a young couple and their three children had no connection with the ‘old country’ where they had come from. My maternal grandmother came from Belgium as a child, with a similar result.

I find myself agonizing about how sad it is that both of my parents and their siblings did not have benefit of shared experiences with any grandparents. The loneliness those mothers felt in their new country without the familiarity and support of family members must have been dreadful. I salute them for all they endured, and although they have passed on, I thank them again for their gifts to me.

Women and Male Friends

In the last chapter of the third book of the Floathouse Series, Lifelong Learning, I wrote of the importance of women having male friends.  Over a few short months I had lost some of them. My male friends had all been working with the public; we had been on the firing line of public opinion. “All five of these men supported me in my efforts and since the loss of four of them, I value my husband as a friend, even more.”

My husband is gone now but I have discovered some other male friends. Two of them were my husband’s friends who make a point of checking in and offering assistance should I need it. There is a tree man for tree advice, a gardener to do what I cannot do, and several men my husband relied on for financial investment ideas. I also have my book printer and my website designer, whom Dale had never met. These men are all happily settled in their own lives and I can count on them for the male perspective on many topics.

I Believe

            In my book I wrote, and still believe, “Men friends have much to teach and women can be well rewarded by respecting and enjoying those relationships. They can enrich our lives and provide a different perspective from the intimate male-female one that so often is the only view visible in a marriage.

            A male life partner can’t be expected to provide everything in that one relationship, and while women friends are desirable and to be cherished, they do not offer all the same aspects that friendship with a man can, and often does. I have been exceedingly fortunate.”

I repeat, women benefit widely by having a few male friends.

                  

You Lifted Me Up

During this time when Canadians are confined to their home, or home office, with many unemployed and most suffering in some way from loss of income, to say nothing of Covid 19 virus illness, yesterday I heard an inspiring conversation that could benefit each of us.

The radio station was CKNW, Vancouver (980 on the AM band) and the interviewer between 3 and 4 PM was their Lynda Steele. Lynda’s guest was Commander Chris Hadfield, who now resides in Vancouver. She asked what Chris remembered most of his experience of being in space. Answer: Primarily the view, being continually surrounded by windows and having that spectacular view-scape to look out on, the whole time he was up there. He commented that even on our worst days on earth we can look at the sky and think of that.

Other Questions

Lynda’s other questions were around size of the capsule, number of space occupants with him and how long he was in space. Chris had taken three trips, each a bit different but he estimated upwards of 140 days away from earth altogether. He compared the quarantine period some of us are experiencing now, to the time the astronauts spent in preparation for each mission.

Asked about the fear factor we have over the virus, he explained that once departed earth and into the mission, each of the astronauts knew what their job was, they had trained for it so well that any fear disappeared, to be replaced by all that knowledge and experience.

Like a Compact Car

The space in which 3 of the astronauts worked was small, “about the size of a compact car,” were his words. Sometimes there were 6 people working together in the larger craft, other times 3 team members would return to earth and be replaced by 3 others.

Referring to being in the compact car capsule space, Lynda remarked that she needed to work at home now in her condo, with her husband, and they usually got along well together. She asked if Chris had any advice for her, or for others in a similar situation.

Valuable Advice

Having heard him speak publicly before, and knowing of his music and singing in space, I thought Chris was brilliant with these particular answers. He referred to having his wife and a son at home. With a small group existing in such a small area together, he explained that on each day of that confinement in space he made a point of doing something nice, that was unexpected, for one of the team. Additionally, he made certain he said something pleasant, every day, to each of the others on the team.

It left me close to tears, and I can only assume that such policy continues in his home on earth. Let us each try on these difficult days to incorporate those thoughts and considerations from one great astronaut. Thank you for them Commander.

Giving A Good Reading

Last week I posted a blog about my process for learning to speak in public. This is a good opportunity to follow up with some suggestions about giving a good reading of your written work. There are only a few guidelines, but if they are carefully followed you will find success. There are ‘what to do,’ and also ‘what not to do,’ instructions.

A lot of the success depends on your preparation, of the material you plan to read, and then at the location, of being comfortable with the room setup.

Preparation

Your own preparation includes deciding what you want to read. Know the time being allowed and try reading parts of your work that might provide that time allotment. Play around by trying different passages. Read different parts out loud a few times, timing each of them, then try a composite of excerpts that may meet the time. Choose pages that will be interesting, and if you want your audience to buy the book, don’t read the most important ending passages.

Choosing Pages

Never read from the pages of your book!       What instead do you do?

Input the words in your computer. (I have each of my books on computer so I can download the parts I want to work with.) Choose a font that is easy to read, like Times New Roman, and then increase the font size to at least 14, but preferably larger.

Practice Timing

Once you have decided the pages from the book you will read, and have prepared your copy in a font you can easily read, it’s time for practice! I recommend you stand at a raised counter or in front of a high bedroom chest, preferably where you can look through the window at your pretend audience as you read. I use my kitchen serving counter and imagine that my audience can hear and watch me from their boat that’s bobbing in the bay.

When you are standing comfortably with space to discard used pages, set the timer (I use a simple kitchen timer) and belt it out, with appropriate emphasis. Adjust material, try again and again, to get the correct time. Then practice some more.

Arrive Early

At the event site, arrive early enough to:

  • test the microphone sound
  • check the/on off button
  • speak into the microphone while holding it in your right hand
  • place your large print paper in the left hand and see how light affects the page
  • seek a place to put aside each paper after you have read it
  • seat yourself where you can relax until called; review first words you will say

Learning to Speak in Public

There is a well-known saying, “I can’t think of anything worse than having to speak in public.” This was never the case with me because I had my first speaking experiences at university in my third year, having to speak before my classmates and my instructor. For this quiet shy student, describing how to make or do something that I knew how to do well, it seemed an easy slide into my career as a teacher. So, because it was part of my training, I demonstrated how to mix and cut biscuits with a mirror positioned overhead so other students could follow the method used while I gave instructions.

I obtained my home economics degree and a permanent basic teacher’s certificate after other such performances. Then came practice teaching at the front of a full class of students in a Vancouver school where I had been assigned so-called, practice teaching, which is sometimes called a practicum. The following years provided plenty of practice in three different school districts, each class regulated by the sound of a bell that controlled the time when students left my classroom and another group trooped in.

A new Home

When we moved here from Nanaimo in 1991, my daily life changed from having assorted community volunteer responsibilities to choosing suitable fixtures, floor coverings, fabrics, wallpaper, colour schemes and paint for our new home, and creating its new garden setting.

My Promise

After all those years of timing my classroom presentations by the ringing of bells, I had made a promise to myself that as soon as we were settled, I would learn to develop an internal timer for knowing the length of a speech. At a gathering of businesswomen in the city soon after my arrival, I met members of International Training in Communication (ITC). They welcomed me to their next meeting and my long-held promise was under way.

ITC was my route for the next 10 years. Each meeting had an agenda and every person who spoke was allotted a time length. At my very first meeting my name was on the agenda with a one-minute time limit. The assignment was to stand and introduce myself to the group. Not a difficult step for me but for other new people who joined our group we could see the stress as it passed through their body. Some stuttered, some grew red in their face, some uttered their name and just sat down with 45 seconds left on the timer. It was the beauty of this group that each new member was encouraged to stand, and when they “had their butterflies flying in formation,” speak clearly stating what they had come to say.

By careful increments of difficulty each of us proceeded toward proficiency. As we were assigned longer presentations, members were eventually asked to make their first real speech. Time allowed for that was 5 to 8 minutes and all of the members were there to provide ‘feedback’ a much gentler way to “give evaluation.” We were encouraged to challenge ourselves and eventually I learned how to make longer presentations and give workshops, some of them using PowerPoint, complete with word outlines and pictures. It was such regular practice that allows me to make a good presentation within the time allowed.

What’s in a Scholarship?

At our CFUW Victoria club annual meeting I was honored to speak in celebration of the all the young women awarded a bursary or scholarship. These were my words to those assembled:
“Hello members and friends. I have a story to tell that I hope you will tuck into the back of your memory, and recognize the appropriate time to bring it forward.
This is the story about a child who grew up on the remote coast of mainland British Columbia, living in a small wood house pulled up on to a float of logs and surrounded by water. It was called a floathouse.

The few people living in the area, or passing through, were hand loggers, beach combers, and fishermen. Early schooling was taught by the child’s mother because there was no school, or even other children to attend one. The mail and groceries came by boat every two weeks.

Logging Camp

When she was ten years old her family moved to a logging camp. There she was able to walk to a one-room school, typical in many rural areas of Canada, where the teacher taught twenty-eight pupils. High school wasn’t available here so instead of the family moving, she was sent to town by herself.At age thirteen she went to board with a family she didn’t know. She was able to visit her parents only on occasional weekends.

Four years later, near the end of her Grade 12 year, a favourite English teacher approached her to say, ‘You need to write the government finals anyway, so maybe you’ll think about filling out this application for a scholarship.’ In 1955 the 400-student school was not yet accredited, and writing finals in all senior courses were mandatory.

Her school principal called her to his office later, and told her basically the same thing. The scholarship was a gift from Crown Zellerbach Corporation, the largest employer in their small town,. The winning applicant studying at university to become a teacher, would receive $500 for each year, for five years. He asked if she wanted to be a teacher, something she hadn’t ever thought of it. Her mind whirled but she signed the forms, wrote the exams, and then secured a good job selling ladies clothing.

She had a steady boyfriend, as most of her girlfriends had. Her family had assumed the two would marry soon, and she would become a homemaker and mother as both her mother and grandmothers had been.

A Winner Announced

It may come as no surprise to those who know my history, it was my picture in the local newspaper when a scholarship winner was announced. With that, everything seemed upside down. Here was a logging-camp, mill-town girl, going off to try her way in a big city. Arrangements were hastily made; space in the dormitory secured and registration at the University of British Columbia completed.

Upon arrival, culture shock set in: sorority girls wearing cashmere and pearls, dances called “mixers”, afternoon science labs held in cold, drafty, army huts. There were Saturday morning lectures, bus schedules needing transfers, heavy cafeteria food and line-ups for absolutely everything. For her, it was all so new, and such fun.

The girl went home for that first Thanksgiving weekend and broke off with her boyfriend. From that time onward she didn’t really fit in at home. She had discovered a whole new world that she had never been aware of, and had decided to be a part of it. She had already learned new ways of looking at life. She obtained a university degree from UBC, met lifelong friends, including a best friend who became her husband, and developed a satisfying, varied, career that also included motherhood.”

Life Changing

So now, after all those years since, I can tell you it has been a very good life–one beyond my wildest expectations. Winning the scholarship did all of that for me; it was indeed life-changing. If you remember nothing else about stories of award winners, please realize that even small amounts of money can provide approval, and encouragement, to any student. Never underestimate the change that can result in the lives of students who receive our CFUW trust money. If they are ready to make the change, it has the potential to create a very different and much improved life.

Freedom of Wheels

The return trip from Campbell River last weekend placed me in a contemplative mood. Have you ever considered the importance of wheeled conveyances in our lives? When I was a child I lived on a float that was tied to the rocky shore and partly surrounded by water. On the beach side the trees and undergrowth came down nearly to the high water line. Unless it was low tide even walking outside was restricted.

Then we moved the house on to land! That summer when I was nine my parents bought me a bike. Not an ordinary drab boy’s bike but one with a low slung bar to accommodate a girl’s skirt. My bike was a bright green colour and had modern balloon tires to give it a smooth ride. And that was the way I began to know the beautiful feel of wheels under me that could take me farther and faster than my quickly growing feet.

The big problem about all of this was that we now lived in a large truck-logging camp where gravel roads were rough and dusty. On weekdays loaded trucks came barreling down the hill on their way to the log dump across the creek from our house. It was dangerous for me to ride on the road leading out of camp. What I did enjoy was the smooth ride on the rough board deck of the pier that ran out to the wharf. It was a good opportunity to be away from my sister, who wasn’t allowed to take her trike there. I could be alone to watch all the boats coming and going.

The summer I was 16 years old my parents moved to Campbell River. Thankfully they agreed I should learn to drive and since they owned two vehicles it would not be any inconvenience to them. For 10 days at a time my father was working away, having taken a ride with his work partner, so his half ton stick shift truck was available for my use.

But what a disreputable looking vehicle it was! Its dull blue colour wasn’t noticeable but its bashed bumper and fenders certainly were. Dad had been fortunate to purchase the current year model at a very good price because by some reason never revealed to us the truck had been rolled into a ditch. The marks were not put there by him, or me, the student driver, but it certainly elicited second looks when I drove by.

Thus began my driving lessons with Mom as the instructor. She had only been driving for a few years herself and had taken paid lessons at the time so she knew the rules and the route I needed to learn to pass the driving test. Better yet, she was clear in her instruction of parallel parking, which we practiced on Sundays in an empty parking lot until I could do it proficiently. Thanks to her patient instruction I still can do it well.

Oh the freedom of having a driver’s licence! I had a summer job and being able to get myself there on time was a feeling to be treasured. The next summer I obtained employment at the Campbell River Lodge located on the Campbell River itself. The work was varied: serving guests at mealtime, typing and copying daily menus, occasionally shopping and picking up mail at the Post Office. For the latter chores I was allocated Mrs. Painter’s elderly Mini Minor car. Such fun it was after sitting up high in Dad’s truck, to be bombing around the familiar roads in that little stick shift vehicle!

At university in Vancouver I was without a vehicle and relegated to the tired and slow bus system if I needed to leave the campus. During those years most students had no vehicle, borrowed or otherwise, to get them to and from the university location. It was just the way it was and I eventually found my way easily on buses to the places I needed to go.

During my year of teacher training the time came to practice my teaching techniques at the assigned Vancouver high school. Once more I felt the freedom of wheels when my current ‘boyfriend’ and now husband, lent me his car. Unfamiliar as I was with the Vancouver streets I was able to find my way following the bus routes I had already learned and travelled on. Again I was on my own, that wonderful feeling of being independent of other systems and able to plan my own way.

I can still remember the different cars I’ve driven, some of them his, some my own. But the most powerful euphoria came from deciding which brand and year and colour of automobile I wanted to drive, and making the purchase myself with money from my own bank account.
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I make fewer long trips these days but over the years there have been many “road trips.” I recall a significant trip, perhaps it was a first of its kind, when the destination was Kelowna for a CFUW BC Council conference. I packed up and picked up three other Nanaimo Club members, leaving three children at home with their father.

Such freedom there was to be able to get away for a long weekend with adult friends to discuss adult issues. Many of the women I knew, for various reasons, were not able to go away on their own, and they considered me fortunate. Yes, I was fortunate but always there had been that need to travel along my independent road, as long as it did no harm to others.

Some years later when the children were grown and gone I made a lengthy trip through British Columbia. The car was new and of my own choosing, and this was the beginning of a new volunteer role. Once again I felt the power of independent choice, of creating my own route map. Each stop along the way had its own significance and I remember the people and the places still.

Some of those memories came back to me last week on the road from Campbell River. Five hours, including stops, alone in my own car to contemplate the power and freedom that wheeled vehicles have provided. It has been a great ride.

The Garden Continues to Call

Part II
It’s a sunny warm autumn day, one of those bright September days. Although I’m tired from fertilizing and weeding the privet hedge, and trimming some of the hebes yesterday, I remember clearly the first September 30th we spent here twenty-four years ago.
Compared to what we observe now – I have photographs – the shrubs appeared as tiny mounds in freshly tilled soil. There was a big space between each of the Alberta spruce trees that have survived mite infestation; presently they are so close together to have created an impenetrable hedge between driveway and lawn. The grass then was freshly laid rolls of sod.
We have a thorough and willing garden team now to do the heavy chores. One man employed a few hours each week used to accomplish what we needed to have done. Everything has grown so much even trimming the hedge is a big chore. Over the years we have continued to make changes. When an entire bank of hardy rose bushes became overgrown and difficult for anyone to get in to remove the grass and thistles, we pulled out the whole mass. Then we replanted with an array of purple and white heathers interspersed with yellow cedar. Now other than pulling a few of the invasive morning glory weeds and other weeds that travel, annual trimming care can be done efficiently with wide saws by our garden team.

2014 Phone Pix 072 These days I’m less willing to dig weeds, my husband too has trouble getting down on his knees to plant or pull. The lawn, vegetable garden and berry patch is still his responsibility. Regular massage therapy helps me, but for one who enjoys writing so much, even a left handed mouse is not the complete answer.
Fortunately when we built the house we chose to finish the full basement while work continued on the rest of the house. Once we had the occupancy permit we installed kitchen appliances in a one-bedroom suite down there. It was the first place we positioned furniture from a former rental unit. It became our cool retreat away from the continued pounding and painting ongoing above and outside.
The basement rooms continue to be a much cooler place to sleep on the hottest of summer days. Twenty-four years ago we agreed on a serious plan to remain living here through our mutually declining years and on into old age. Those days are approaching now, when we both notice aches and pains that were not with us before. Over the years the basement suite has been used by variety of single women – students and women separated from their significant others. It’s left empty now, having been refreshed, sound insulated and ready for the time we decide that having live in-home and yard help would be beneficial.
I continue to be determined to deadhead every flowering plant annually, as I’ve always done. If I need to find a willing young worker to “fine-tune” those rhodos to do it, so be it! We will remain living here, and our enjoyment of a well-tended garden is one of our primary pleasures. If the cost of living here includes having more paid help we’ll figure out a way. It is still a better solution than down-sizing or choosing a retirement residence where we could be separated. Besides, we need room for the grandchildren to visit.
I will have lunch with friends today, followed by a short massage and then a visit to my chiropractor. On any sunny day life is good.

Frozen Raspberry Cheescake

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It is important to have a light dessert that can be brought out at short notice and served on a day when dinner preparation time is at a minimum or guests have not been expected. I adapted this recipe from one that featured a ‘brand name’ frozen raspberry juice, although these days the best I could find was a frozen juice labelled as ‘berry.’The gelatin keeps the dessert firm when it is thawed and addition of fresh raspberries exaggerates the natural flavours.

Ingredients:

24 chocolate wafers, crushed or 1 ½ cups (325 ml) graham wafer crumbs

100 ml             butter, melted

1 pkg               unflavored gelatin

1 can (150 ml) undiluted raspberry juice (comes frozen)

1 tsp. (5 ml)    lemon juice

1                      egg, separated

250 ml             whipping cream

250 g               cream cheese, softened

150 ml             fine berry sugar

Method:

1. Place wafer crumbs in bowl, blend in melted butter. Spread on the bottom and up sides of 10 inch (25 cm) spring form pan. Pat firmly into place, place in freezer as you prepare cheesecake filling.

2. Assemble remaining ingredients before beginning.

3. Mix part of sugar with gelatin in a small glass bowl or measure. Add half of raspberry juice concentrate. Beat in egg yolk. Heat in microwave until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add remainder of raspberry juice. Place in refrigerator or freezer to cool, stirring occasionally until partly thickened.

4. Beat egg white until stiff. Beat whipping cream until thickened. Set both aside.

5. In a very large bowl beat cream cheese, gradually adding remainder of sugar until smooth.

6. Beat in cooled gelatin juice mixture and lemon juice.

7. Fold whipped cream into cheese mixture, then fold in beaten egg white. If available, fold in a few fresh or thawed raspberries.

8. Pour into crust and spread to edges. Freeze until firm – at least 4 hours – or overnight. Keeps well for several weeks if covered with plastic wrap.

Serves 8-10.

Variation: Spoon unfrozen mixture into purchased chocolate cups, then freeze.

 

A Springtime Scavenger Hunt

If you have a young family or even a birthday party group needing directed outdoor activity here’s an idea I tried last month. For each child I prepared a flat cardboard box with their name and a list of the items to be scrounged. Because at 7, 6 and 5 years old, they couldn’t be expected to read all the words I attached a sample of each item beside its name on a large piece of cardboard.177

My instruction to the children was to place a small snipped sample of each listed plant in their own box and sent them off. I had listed commonly known plants from my garden but any list you create would work. Here is my list:

1. Cedar tree branch
2. Primula (primrose) flower
3. Ivy leaf
4. Parsley
5. Heather
6. Plant with yellow and green leaves
7. Privet (Boxwood) hedge
8. Alberta spruce
9. California redwood
10. Rhododendron leaf
11. Azalea leaf
12. Pine cone
13. Laurel leaf
14. Hydrangea flower
15. Camellia bud
16. Heavenly bamboo
17. Pine tree branch
18. Fir tree branch
19. Holly leaf
20. Bird’s nest

The last item was a trick question but one of the children rose to the bait and came indoors asking if anyone had seen a birds nest. My husband opined he had seen one lying around in the mud room. There they were in plain sight, and she found them – three nests that I had kept from last summer so each child could have one.

There are plenty of other ways to use this idea depending on your location beach, forest, garden, and of course the time of year. Whenever you have a group of active children needing a change of pace, and perhaps you need one too, give it a try.