"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Hard Cider and Anne Murray do not a Christmas make

(An expanded and edited version of the original story, first published in 2009. In honour of D's birthday gift - see photo - I'm publishing it again.)

Our original two-month say in Blair’s Grove with Carman while Someday was being renovated turned into six months. Oops.

According to the renovation crew, once you start pulling down walls in an old place, there is always more work to be done than you’d originally thought, and they kept finding doozies in every room. Good old Doc Munn was probably having a hearty laugh at our expense. Still, we wanted to get all the renovations done at once, so it made sense to fix each problem as it came up rather than put it aside to be done “someday.”

To Carm’s credit, he never once complained or even showed any indication that he was sick of us, even when Neko slept on his carpet and scratched up the drywall. As for me, I found that living with the brothers Lowry was kind of fun. Boys don’t hold grudges or try to borrow your clothes. While they’re often messy creatures who suffer from an inability to watch one program at a time on TV, I enjoyed living with them. I learned all sorts of interesting new terms, like “chassis,” “Husquvarna” and “Gordie Howe hat trick.” Apart from raunchy hockey equipment and an eternally raised toilet seat, Carm and D were easy to live with. Until our first Christmas together rolled around.

Having grown up with a mother who celebrated every holiday by turning our house into something akin to a department store window display, I was interested to see how the boys would decorate for Christmas. They didn’t.

I’d done all the Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en decorating in Blair’s Grove that year by myself, which had been okay. But this was Christmas! Only Scrooges didn’t enjoy decorating at this time of year. They simply had to get into the spirit of things. So I accosted the boys during a break in Coach’s Corner and declared that Christmas decorating should be a shared responsibility by all occupants of Blair’s Grove. They looked at each other and shrugged, then asked me to move out of the way, which I took as assent.

The next night after chores, Carman begrudgingly dug out some candy cane lights from the basement and hooked them up in the front yard. They were hideous, but at least he was participating. The next night, he drove home with a nine foot Christmas tree strapped to the roof of his jeep. I was thrilled with the soft needles, the perfect height, the delicious smell. Then he informed me I’d be decorating it by myself, because that was “woman’s work.” Just like lawn-mowing.

D and Carman set up the tree in the tree holder while I pawed through three giant boxes of decorations Carm had hauled out from the depths of his closet. At first, I wondered why someone with such an aversion to decorating would have such a massive collection of ornaments. Then I remembered my mother-in-law, the unsung supplier of all necessities at Blair’s Grove. Shirley would have made sure Carman was well provided the first year he moved in, but the ornaments didn’t even look like they’d been used.

The decorations were mostly red and gold, and while I preferred a bit more variety, I wasn’t about to root around in our freezing cold garage at Someday to try to unearth my own supply. It was Carm’s house, after all. I’d make do with his stuff. At least it would make Shirley happy.

No sooner had I poured myself a glass of wine and hung the first ornament than the boys plunked themselves down on the couch, staring at my handiwork. Aw, they’ve come to help after all, I thought. The big softies.

My warm fuzzies disappeared the moment Carman declared, "Something's missing," went to his shelves and carefully selected a CD. A moment later, Anne Murray’s velvety voice blasted through the house at full power.

I hate Anne Murray.

I don't care if she's Canada's most beloved songstress. I don’t care that my aunt in Halifax has met her and says she’s nice or that my cousin taught her kids. I just cannot stand the sound of her voice; it makes my skin crawl. The brothers Lowry, however, love her. Like, really love her. They have a double CD of her Christmas music which they insisted on playing while I decorated. Twice.

Anne was belting out “Christmas in Killarney” when Carman decided to get up and evaluate my ornament hanging skills. D wisely remained on the couch and said nothing.

"That one should go a little further to the left, there, Kimmy."

I moved it to the left.

"I wouldn't just put that there red one so close to the other red one. You gotta mix 'em up a little."

I mixed them up a little.

"Well, how come you're not using these silvery ones? See, they go like this, against the light so it shines through."

That was when I turned my back on him and fantasized tossing my wine in his face, setting fire to the tree and frisbeeing the Anne Murray CD into the snow. I opened my mouth to say something that probably would have made Father Christmas blush when I was arrested by the sight of D. He’d disappeared to the basement during Carm’s critique of my decorating skills, and had now reappeared wearing his younger brother Paul’s childhood hockey helmet and clutching a bottle of homemade hard apple cider.

It’s hard to describe the taste of the boys’ cider; I’d peg it somewhere between rocket fuel and apple cider vinegar. One sip and your stomach feels like it’s on fire. Three sips and it starts to taste pretty good. A whole glass and suddenly you love everyone in the world and are wearing too many clothes. To a girl with plenty of first-hand cider experience under her belt, the helmet made sense.

“What the hell are you doing, buddy?” asked Carm.

"I gotta wear something for protection if I'm gonna help you two decorate this tree," D explained as he mounted a rickety kitchen chair and threw a wad of tinsel at a branch. He held the uncorked bottle of cider in one hand and grabbed another handful of tinsel with the other. “Oh, cooooome all ye faiiiiiiithful,” purred Anne in the background. As I sat on the couch and watched my helmeted husband and his brother decorate the tree, I decided to relish the touching holiday moment and not interfere.

Our tree wasn’t particularly stylish or symmetrical, but I thought it was beautiful in a manly sort of way, and we spent many evenings craning our necks around it to try to see the TV. Carm’s “finishing touch” - an electric train set ceremonially placed around the circumference of the trunk - gave the tree an extra touch of testosterone. The boys turned the train set on randomly throughout the Christmas season, usually when I was trying to read a book. I was not going to complain about anything that drowned out Anne Murray though.

On the night in early January when I dismantled the tree, it occurred to me that next Christmas D and I would be decorating our own tree at Someday while Carm was all alone at Blair’s Grove. The thought made me feel a bit wistful. I decided I’d try to coax my brother-in-law to come up and help us with our tree when the time came. I’d make sure there was a bottle of cider in the fridge and a few helmets for safety. And I’d carefully hide all the Anne Murray CDs.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Be the Hausfrau you want to see in the world...

This time of year, days fly by like panicked geese trying to outdistance a snowstorm. One minute you’re flopped on the couch thinking, “I’ll just watch TV for twenty minutes, Christmas isn’t for another six weeks yet,” the next you’re staring in horror at the calendar, realizing you still haven’t taken the kids’ Christmas photo or done up your cards or mailed your sister’s present or taken down the last of the Hallowe’en decorations and holy crap where did we put all the freaking snow brushes?

As the holiday tasks pile up on top of all my regular domestic chores, I tend to fight feelings of rising panic by using self-talk. You know, helpful cognitive-therapy-type stuff like:

Kim, just do one bloody thing at a time.
Kim, focus. FOCUS! Right now you are doing the dishes. Leave the Christmas cards alone. And Facebook. And - ooh, was that your phone?
Kim, the Baileys is in the liquor cabinet. Go and drink some.

On Mondays I try to do as much domestic goddess stuff as possible so that I can free up my other sans kids days for writing, and my nights for Christmassy things. I’m one of those people who has five lists going on any given day; I’m convinced that without these lists, my head would explode. Grocery lists, Christmas gift lists, Christmas card lists, stuff-I-want-to-do-today lists...they lay scattered about the house, stuffed into pants and coat pockets, jammed into my purse. I even found an old list from last year at the bottom of one of my Christmas decoration bins on the weekend, and it looks so good I might use it again this year. Lists help me empty my busy brain and keep track of what I think I should be doing on a particular day. Plus I get an almost post-coital satisfaction out of ripping them up once I’ve checked everything off.

This week my Monday list grew faster than Pinnochio’s nose. Holy geez, I thought after adding item number 14. How am I going to get all this done before I pick up the kids? I wasn’t feeling great to begin with, and just writing everything out made me want to crawl back into bed. Snap out of it, I thought. Get all this crap done before 3 p.m. and you’ll have time for a nap. There’s your reward. Now get going!

I don’t know why I drill sergeant myself on Mondays. I can’t imagine D ordering himself around like this if he were home; but then again, D likes to be busy. I think many women have this crazed instinct to GET STUFF DONE, especially those of us who work at home and are thereby expected to keep the good ship household afloat all by our capable little selves. There’s a deep vein of domestic guilt running through all my thoughts ever since I left my job: I’m home, so therefore I should be GETTING STUFF DONE. So I do.

D does help - he takes the kids to daycare, he picks them up, he takes out the garbage, etc. There were simply a lot of things that had to be done on Monday that I couldn’t skip, put off, or artfully delegate to someone else. Such as:
- collect Jade’s dance class outfit, shoes, snack and registration form; place by front door so as not to show up to dance class with a wailing child wearing track pants and winter boots
- write cheque for daycare
- pick up Jade, take her to dance class without Dylan seeing us
- return Jade to daycare after dance class without Dylan seeing us
- plan weekly meals
- shop for weekly meals
- unload & unpack groceries for weekly meals (which always culminates in the unpleasant task of cleaning out last week’s expired lunchmeat and squishy fruit from the fridge)
- dry laundry forgotten in washing machine from the night before
- fold laundry
- sort & put away laundry
- engage in battle of wits with crockpot to make baked beans (because for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to soak 2 lbs of white beans the night before)
- buy flowers and chocolate for mother-in-law’s birthday
- make apple tart for mother-in-law’s birthday (which sounds fancy, but is easy peasy and I didn’t have the energy for cupcakes)
- make spaghetti sauce for mother in law’s birthday (because both Kincardine Chinese restaurants are closed on Mondays)
- load car with birthday stuff
- pick up kids from daycare
- drive to mother-in-law’s for birthday supper


I was busy smacking my crockpot with a wooden spoon because the beans did not look like baked beans, but rather like loose stool with white beans flowing in it, when my “time for a nap, deserving hausfrau” alarm went off. Apart from the wretched beans, I’d finished almost everything else on the list. Yay me! But instead of feeling pleased with myself, I felt exhausted and mopey and lonely. I could be a housefrau with a vengeance, and most of the time I was pretty good at it. I just wasn’t sure whether or not I liked it.

I looked at the clock. 3:02 p.m. I looked out the window. Chickadee party at the bird feeder. I looked at my coffee maker. I swear it winked at me.

Suddenly, I knew what I needed. It wasn’t a stupid nap.

I made a pot of Kicking Horse coffee, poured it into my beloved thermos and doused it with Baileys. Got my favourite little mug out of the cupboard - an antiquey looking blue cup I got from a Waterloo neighbour who was cleaning out her basement - loaded up the car with the sauce, presents, galette and flowers, and drove down to the cottage.

Man, I love the cottage. Even when the windows are boarded up and the blinds are all drawn, it welcomes me. I plunked my thermos and mug down on the deck and took a few photos to show my Aunt and cousins, who never get to visit the cottage between October and May.

It was 11 degrees out with hardly any wind, which is very weird for December. The lake had receded so far that the rock my cousins had christened Diving Rock stood completely out of the water, awkward as a stranded whale. The beach was predictably deserted.

I uncorked my thermos and poured some coffee, then sat on the deck and took a deep swallow of caffeinated, Bailey-fied goodness. I knew I only had about half an hour before I needed to pack up and get the kidlets, but half an hour was plenty of time to do what I needed to do: chill out. Stop doing stuff. Take off my imaginary hausfrau helmet of invincibility - I picture it having big golden horns and a lightning bolt sticking out of the top - and suck in a big breath of damp, beachy air.

All that “just be” and “live in the moment” crap can jump the gap between corny and downright annoying pretty quickly. But sometimes a girl just needs to be and not do. For minds that tend to race from one thing to the next, not doing stuff, even for just a few minutes, is a sanctuary. It takes cultivation. It takes a willingness to be kind to yourself. Sometimes, it takes Baileys and coffee and the lake.

And you know what? The darned beans turned out all right in the end.