Archive for May, 2008

“Time Out…” I’ll show you how!

May 30, 2008

Being Grandmother to an engaged and busy 22 month old toddler is far superior experience to winning a multi-million dollar lottery, I’d wager. At least, such has been my experience up to date. This past Wednesday, my big treat was to spend an extended five-hour period with Mousey while Glasgow Girl went to her afernoon job, and Renaissance man was to go to an after work meeting. GG and Mousey came to pick me up from home, and there was Mousey, perched in her car-seat, madly grinning and waving as I walked to the car bearing the black bag which she has to inspect as soon as we go into her house. What goodies are in there, what surprise?

Once we arrived, Mousey led me into the living room and inspected the contents of the black bag. Sun-glasses (check), wallet (check), umbrella(check) keychain(check), comb(check) and what’s this? Small cardboard boxes of mysterious stuff? (“Later, Mousey. Grandma will show you what these are.”) There is also a brown paper wrapped bottle of wine, as a treat for GG after she gets home from work, to sip with exhausted Grandma. (“This is for big people. You wait, Roxy will come and have a visit with us this evening before you go to bed. This is for Momma, Grandma and Roxy.”)

Glasgow Girl shows me what to feed the Mouse for dinner and then leads me into a section of carpeted hallway. “This is the spot for “Time-out”. We have been doing this for when Mousey hits us, something we want to discourage. She hates it and will scream and yell. You’ll have to hold her down for two minutes.” Mousey pays us no attention; she is busy pulling on her pink rubber boots, muttering “Go outside” under her breath. She drags me by the hand to the back door, and waves a distracted good-bye to her mother. She is fixated on an outdoor adventure. Glasgow Girl leaves.

Out in the yard, Mousey collects her favourite stones that she has stashed in a special spot under the emerald Cedars. She also has a stash of curiously-patterned fallen leaves which she weights down with a large stone. “Open sand-box,” she orders. “We play.” While I lift the lid from the sand-box, she ferries her collection by making several trips. She only brings the most precious ones of her stones – a large one, a medium turd-shaped one and a small round black and white speckled one. She seems to favour the turd-shaped one. The last time we were all together, when I pointed out that unfortunate similarity to Glasgow Girl, she shushed me. It seems that “turd” is not to be one of Mousey’s vocabulary words, just yet. Is it an improper term? Oh, well. There is still time to round out her increasingly extensive vocabulary, a bit later.

Mousey busies herself with pouring sand from one container to another. We discuss the concepts of full and empty. She carries on filling up buckets with sand, says “full”, pours it out into another bucket, “says “empty” and gives me a meaningful look. She tries to make a mountain out of dry sand, which doesn’t work too well. The sand refuses to keep a good form. We go off to the garden hose and fill a bucket with water. This we carry back and dump on the sand. It’s good and mucky. She happily fills a bucket with this wet sand, I show her how to tamp it down in the bucket. She pats down the additions of added sand. Then she can’t lift the bucket and looks frustrated. “It’s heavy”, i point out to her. “let Grandma help.” We upend the bucket, remove it and there she has a nice solid tower of sand. This she augments with the rocks and leaves. “Big mountain!” she announces, looking ever so pleased with the result. She steps back and inspects it, meanwhile rubbing and slapping her hands together to rid herself of the sticky sand. “I go pool now,” she says and marches off to where her new inflatable lady-bug pool sits, now empty of water. She kicks off her rubber boots and climbs inside. Lies down. “Resting” she calls out, and hides.

Soon, her little voice pipes up. “Bugs… bugs…”. I go over and there she is lying on her stomach following the path of scurrying ants on the plastic bottom. “Oh, bugs, bugs…” she cooes at them and makes to give them kisses. They run away from her mouth. She giggles. “Bugs… kiss bugs!” she announces. ( Good thing Glasgow Girl is not here. She might not like Mousey making too affectionate with crawling things.) Mouse climbs out of the pool, pulls on her boots and heads out into the garden. “Bugs!” she calls out with glee as she plicks something from the dirt. She runs back to me and hands me a round black ball of something, which I then drop on the ground. We watch it unfurl itself into its true form – a sow bug. Mousey raises a foot, and makes to stomp it. “No, no, let the bug go back to its home,” I caution her. She falls to her hands and knees and watches the bug scurry quite smartly in the direction of the garden. It makes its way under her sandbox. “Gone!” she says. “Look under the sandbox,” I suggest to her as I get down on my hands and knees. “it went under there.” We lie down on our stomachs and watch the sow-bug wend its way to the edge of the patio, and drop off back into the garden. “Bye bug” says Mousey. “Bug home.” She looks at me and asks “Cookie?” “Would you like a cookie, Mousey?” I question her. “Yep, pease.” she takes my hand and leads me to the back door.

In the kitchen we select gold fish crackers – three of them, which Mouse has to count – one, two, three. She takes them to the living room, and picks up a book about bugs. “Read” she orders. She settles herself on the couch and places the gold fish crackers on her lap-covering skirt. Pats the couch beside her, “granma, read.” She pops a gold-fish into her mouth and takes great pleasure in pointing out various kinds of bugs. Repeats with a mouth full, “ftik bug” and “bubberfwy”. She loves naming things, animate and inanimate. Her enunciation with a full mouth is quite funny. After she swallows, her speech is just a bit clearer. She goes off into her kissing phase. Insists on kissing every bug picture in the book.

(This reminds me of something funny Glasgow Girl told me a couple of weeks ago. She and Mousey went to the grocery store for toilet paper. Mousey had to kiss every package with kittens pictured on the wrapper. “It took us forever to get past the toilet paper section”, groused GG. “What’s with this blasted kissing?”)

Mousey and I segue into a Winnie the Pooh book. We read it over and over again at her insistence. She sees every little detail in the illustrations and wants to tell exactly what each thing she sees is. Soon she fixates on Pooh’s honey pot. “Honey”, she says, then looks up at me. “more cookie?”

“Let’s go get your supper ready.” We walk to the kitchen. Mousey drags a chair to the sink and climbs up. “I help” she states, matter of fact, and starts to collect her plate and spoon from beside the sink. I fish out her container of cottage-cheese noodles from the fridge ( aha! Renaissance Man has introduced her to his favourite meal as a child – Noodles Stroganoff -a dish he still equates to homely comforts, much as I always have. Another food tradition well on the way to being established!) I heat her plateful in the microwave while she goes off to climb into her high chair. I add tomato salad to her plate and place it in front of her. She digs in with relish. Although she eats well with a spoon, she soon drops her spoon and starts shoveling the food into her mouth with her hands. Seeing she is so hungry, I don’t insist on Queen’s Table Manners Rules. In minutes she polishes off her whole dish. “Done” she says proudly and hands her plate to me.

Next is halved grapes, and then a small amount of yoghurt and fruit salad. Mousey finishes off her meal with long satisfying sips of water from her sippy cup. “Finished,” she smiles, even though I am busy cleaning her sticky hands and face afterward. She pulls off her bib and impatient, slaps the table of her high-chair to be let out.

“Come help me clean up,” I call from the sink. She climbs back onto the chair there, and helps rinse the dishes. Starts to splash me. I splash her back with sprinkles of water shaken from my wet hands. She giggles and blinks her brown-button eyes, chortles and asks to be dried. “Go outside?” she asks.

Outside again, she takes care to say bye as she prepares to have a few private moments at the side yard with her sit-down elephant on wheels. I flop into a patio chair and try to regroup for the next phase of our afternoon. Mousey carries on a long, convoluted conversation, half of which I do not understand, with the neighbour’s cat which is keeping to the safety of the fence between them. Maybe she has made repeated attempts to haul the cat by is tail to her to bless it with numerous kisses. Cats are too smart to let a toddler get her hands on them and rough-house them into submission. Mousey stays in the side-yard for quite a time, chatting up a storm. I rest and just listen.

Soon enough, she reappears and wants to read more books. Back we go inside. Grandma dutifully reads a selection of books Mousey presents. At the end of reading, Mousey sits and thinks for a few minutes. She looks at me with a speculative expression, then whacks me a good one on my arm with her fist. “Don’t hit, me”, I complain. “Time out.” she announces, takes me by the hand. “Okay, then,” I tell her, “Time out for you. No hitting allowed!” She immediately drops to the ground as if her legs have given out. Drops her head and arms to the ground and starts to howl. (I recognize this pose. It’s what Renaissance Man calls her “bowing to Mecca” posture that she does whenever she is having a temper melt-down. The lamentations, entreaties and moanings have a slightly religious quality, so I see where he has equated this behaviour with religious fervour. Funny man, my son!) I lean down and whisper to her that she show me where we do time out. She smartly picks herself up off the ground, grabs my hand and leads me to the hall, where she gestures me to sit down on the carpet, then pluks herself down in my lap. She proceeds to suck on her fingers and twirl her hair, as she reclines quietly. I wait the obligatory two minutes then suggest we give each other a hug. “Are you tired?” I ask. “Yep.” she replies, nods her head.

“You can’t go to bed yet,” I tell her. “We have to wait for Roxy to arrive. Let’s start your bath and get the bath things ready.” Mousey leads the way to the bathroom. Starts the tap running while I plug the tub. We test the water for correct warmth and make the adjustments to the water temperature. She places all her water toys inside and calls out, “Bubbles!” The door-bell rings. “Is it Roxy? Let’s go see.” Mousey runs out to the front door and waits to see who’s there. It is a smiling Roxy standing there when we open the door. Roxy’s in time to share bath-time. Mousey runs off, shrugging out of her clothes. Roxy goes off to the kitchen to open the wine, and rejoins us in the bathroom, where Mouse is busy splashing with her toys in the tub. She shows Roxy all her toys, calls them by name and submits to hair-washing and being scrubbed free of all the sand stuck to her arm-creases. She then announces she is done, puts all the bathtoys away and climbs out of the tub ready for towelling down. “Wash teeth” she says and fetches her toothbrush. She makes goofy faces as she brushes her teeth. All done, she waits while I towel her off and dry her hair. Then it’s time to get the pajamas on, and she is very co-operative in doing so.

She’s all dressed for bed. “Bottle”she demands. She still drinks one bottle at bed-time. She settles with her bottle of milk, while Roxy and I sit down with our glasses of wine in the living room. When she finishes, she goes and sits on Roxy’s lap and chats away to her. When she has visited to her satisfaction, she comes back to me, settles in my lap, sucks her fingers and twirls her hair. “Are you sleepy?” I ask. Mousey nods. “Let’s say goodnight to Roxy, then.” She walks to Roxy and says to her, “Kiss, g’nite.” She comes back into my arms, thinks a minute then says “Hug Roxy.” I carry her over to deliver her hug. We go into her room, inspect for Snowy’s presence, check behind the curtains and under the bed. No Snowy cat. Mousey pats all her stuffed toys ‘nite, then orders me to the light switch where she clicks the lights off.

“Nite, granma. Kiss” She clamps around my neck and gives me a sloppy smack. Giggles. I place her in her bed and she opens her arms. In one we place Mickey, in the other Minnie. She hugs them and waits to be covered by her blanket. She turns her head to Mickey and shuts her eyes. “Nite, granma.”

“See you later, alligator. Nite nite. Sleep well.” I whisper. She whispers back, “later gater.” I leave her room.

Out in the livig room Roxy and I are catching up on our news over a glass of wine. Not a peep from Mousey. “This child is amazing,” comments Roxy. “She seems to have no problem in going to bed.”

“Well, I am bushed and ready for some z’s myself,” I tell her, laughing. “Whenever Mouse and I are together we are very busy, I think she is also exhausted. It’s hard work being a toddler.

Roxy and her husband, Mike, have been married many years and have no children. Roxy expresses that she likes children, but so many of them are brats. Yeah, I tell her, we were brats too once upon a time, a long, long time ago. And some of us, like your’s truly, are still sort of bratty. I recount to her my first experience with “TIME OUT” with Mousey, and how  badly I handled it. Should I fess up to Glasgow Girl when she gets home? Roxy thinks it’s funny, and, definitely yes, I should admit to ineptness to GG. We sip our wine, and exchange our news. She leaves to go home.

Rumpole arrives before Glagow Girl does. I tell him about “TIME OUT”. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be done. Have you forgotten how to do it right?” he chides. “GG will tell you off.”

Glasgow Girl slopes in, flat-footed and weary. I smartly let her pour herself a glass of wine before giving her a rundown of how my time with Mousey was spent. I mention all the fun stuff before broaching the report of “TIME OUT”.  GG just rolls her eyes when I tell her of my “TIME OUT” method. “Oh, Lorrrd! You’re supposed to leave her alone!” she pronounces with her rich Glaswegian brogue. I grin and shrug, apologetic, dotty and inept.

Mothers always know best, I figure. And maybe next time, I’ll apply the method with greater skill.

Olives… 15 minute free write

May 23, 2008

Topic proposed by the folks at RedRavine. Here goes.

Olives were not a part of my family’s early diet in the 50s of post War Hungary. The first  olive to test my palate was on the boat trip from Genoa to Halifax in 1956. At the New Year’s dinner, strange and wonderful foods, unknown to us were presented at the dinner. Olives, oranges; not together but at separate courses.

The olive was unusually fleshy, large and black. It had a pit. I asked Anyu if it was related to the prune plum, as it also had smooth skin,  was fleshy  and had a long pit. i was not altogether convinced that I cared for the taste of the olive, but its texture was pleasant and had substance. It was not until much later, in Canada, that I developed a taste for olives. Anyu loved them and served them whenever friends were over for canapes and drinks. As I was usually roped in to circulate with various platters and offer them to guests, I’d usually tuck an olive inside my mouth and suck on it. This was my method for keeping my mouth occupied rather than interrupting the adults with a comment or question. I made a game of trying to eat the olive without anyone noticing my mouth was full. Over my early teen years, I thus became accustomed to the taste of the olive.

Green olives in particular have an attractive colour to my eye, a bit military in character, like the olive-drab uniforms worn by the Russian troops of my youth. I have since come to associate that particular olive green colour with a no nonsense, unfrivolous attitude, one of service, one which permits individuality to be suppressed. When i was a young art teacher, many of my studio clothes were olive green in colour. It was functional to keep clay stains somewhat obscured and ink stains and paint colours to be brought into a curious harmony of sorts. Wearing that colour helped me forget what I might look like and not fuss in a messy environment. It secretly pleased me to keep to a moth-drab appearance, suited my light olive skin, dark eyes and hair.

If ever asked to design clothes for a monastic order, olive would be my choice of colour for the clothing. The Army of God colour, much more life-sustaining one than the severe black of the Carmelites or the Augustinians. Quiet, restrained, subtle, earthy, unassuming, much like the olive.

I know this is somewhat off topic of foodstuff olives, but food has all kinds of connotations and associations beyond taste and satiation. Olives are such a basic food, to eat, to cook with its oil. The olive trees themselves have beautiful shapes and seem to be able to grow in harsh conditions. Tough fruit the olive, somewhat hard to develop a taste for. But once that taste is developed it persists and requires often tempting and satisfying. Everything about the olive is a delight to me.

Victoria-Day weekend, 1972 and 2008

May 18, 2008

It is the first day of this Year’s Victoria Day weekend. It is also the first scorching Spring day we have had, so far. We have decided to stay close to home, take out the garden furniture and putter about the place. It has been a wool-gathering kind of day. i have rested my eyes as they are sore. The bright light hurts them. We are waiting for the cool of the evening to stroll around the neighbourhood with our new, seven year old Scottie, Jessica. When she goes out into the back garden she doesn’t stay out in the heat. The heat almost seems to rise from her compact black body and she tries to take refuge from the heat by digging a shallow trench to lie in. Like us, she doesn’t do well in heat.

Man of Science came to take a cup of coffee with Rumpole. I decided, that since the sun was well over the yard-arm, I could treat myself to a glass of red wine. Man of Science made a hilarious declaration which caused me to sputter and spill the damn stuff on my fresh new white cotton pants.

“I told you white is not a good colour for you. You didn’t waste time in staining those pants.” Rumpole always has to chide me for being a wee bit of a slob. He handed over the Tide stain remover, which upon application to the stains caused them to turn bright blue. I dragged out the lemon juice and salt and did the salad treatment on the stains. That did the trick, and I changed into a blue pareo and hung out the pants in the afternoon sun.

Man of Science has been a friend since 1970. He has seen me at my best and worst. He has no illusions about my feminish capacities. “Once a slob, always a slob!” he intoned. “But you are a good shit.” (Gee, thanks MoS)

I promptly withdrew to my room, wine in hand and lazed about sipping wine and half-listening to the guys chatting in the kitchen. A memory of driving away from Man of Science and Ardent Feminazi’s University housing at UBC exactly 36 years ago flashed in my mind. Then, Man of Science hoisted two year old Renaissance Man up to the open car window to kiss me goodbye. He and AF were looking after RM while a friend and I drove up North to the small community where we had both been hired as art teachers a couple of weeks previously.

Then, as today, the weather was hot and sultry. Lauren and I had done our final practicums at the same Vancouver high school, and discovered during one lunchtime that we both had been hired by the same school district. She, for the senior high, and me for the junior high. Right then we decided we would make our first trip up to meet the principals and see our schools on the upcoming Victoria Day weekend.

We dropped Renaissance Man at AF and MoS’s place, waved our goodyes and began our journey by car, of 465 miles. Lauren’s car was a small Toyota sedan. It didn’t have air conditioning. The drive was hot and long. We stopped outside Hope, and rolled all the windows down. Cranked up the radio to whatever local station it might recieve in the mountain valleys, and sang along on the road. Our hair flew freely in the wind; the windshield spattered with many dead bugs. We raced transport trucks on the passing lanes but kept our eyes peeled for the local police vehicles lurking behind tall stands of trees to nab unwary speeders. At nightfall we arrived at our destination, windswept, sweaty and dust grimed. We found a cheap motel and bedded down for the night laden with local newspapers to check out the housing situation, and the concerns of the locals.

While Lauren washed off the road grime in the bathroom, I perused the “Apartments for Rent” section in the paper, consulted the town map and tried to figure out the best places to contact the next morning. Then it was my turn to use a lot of hot water. Lauren spent her time looking for apartments nearest her school. Before we turned in we primped our hair and put in rollers to set up decent looking hair-dos.

The following morning, we phoned our respective Principals and arranged to visit our schools in the early afternoon. Then we began the earnest telphoning to set appointments to look at apartments in the evening hours. before lunch we drove around the whole town. it took only 30 minutes. The town had one main street, two stop-lights, one hardware store, two grocery stores, several small banks, a small hospital, funeral home, an RCMP detachment office that was easy to miss, post office, two hotels and several gas stations. It was a lumber and pulp town and boasted of a brand new pulp mill, several saw mills as well as novel structures neither of us had seen before – bee-hive burners attached to the saw mills. The town, situated at the confluence of two rivers sat in a valley the slopes of which were covered in mixed conifer and birch and aspen groves. It was a little jewel of a place, and we congratulated each other on having our first teaching jobs in such a lovely setting.

 In the afternoon, Lauren dropped me at my school for my appointment and drove off to meet her own principal in the west part of town. My principal was a gracious and friendly, almost fatherly man of early middle years. He walked me through the whole school and showed off the facilities for teaching Agricultural sciences which he himself had brought to fruition and manned as part of his teaching schedule. He was very proud of the Science labs, the Industrial Arts  workshops and then showed off the art-rooms and their adjoining storage areas. I was surprised at how well equipped my rooms were. There was a general studio with good tables and stools, good light, adequate cleanup and storage facilities. As a bonus, there was a fully equipped ceramic studio with four kick-wheels and two electric wheels, a large kiln and a small enamelling kiln, pug-mill and clay-recycling tables.  I felt like I had dropped into a dream art class-room. The nice principal said that although I was going to have a tiny budget to work with, he would ensure that there would be enough for me to get by with for the year, and that he was willing to help me forage for local clay bodies for the pottery program. I was thrilled.

When Lauren returned to fetch me so we could go off to look at apartments, she looked crest-fallen. She reported that her principal was a stiff and formal man, her room, in the brand new school had no equipment nor supplies and that she would have to build up her program, teaching supplies and equipment from scratch on a minimal budget. She expressed concern about the wisdom of taking on the job.

On the plus side, she managed to find a pleasant apartment across from her school, while the only apartment that would take me and a two-year old child as tenants was a basement apartment across the river from my school. We drove to a local diner and commiserated on the less stellar aspects of our upcoming adventure living and teaching in a small northern town. We determined to share teaching resources, and I assured her I’d ask my principal if she could have the two electric wheels from my school on loan to her for a year.

The following morning, the last day of the long-weekend, we drove back to Vancouver, largely silent and entertaining our own thoughts and concerns in privacy on the tedious hot drive.

So back to today; here was good old Man of Science, sitting in my kitchen 36 years later, sipping coffee, talking laughing and sounding very much like his earlier self. I like the constancy of old friendships,  shared history and knowing how life has changed us in the intervening years. Then, we were young parents; now we are grandparents. But we still are curious, vital and up for anything life throws at us.

It was pleasant to have his presence today with us as a reminder of how long a life we had in parallel with each other. I hate to see him with his white hair, but his keen blue eyes are as lovely and acute as ever, and he is his sweet, opinionated, questioning and fiercely loyal self.

This is going to be a good Victoria Day weekend, full of visits with the rest of our family, and good friends. But boy, is it ever a scorcher!

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.