TBT – The House

The House

My mom’s friend Anne painted this picture.  It’s the house I grew up in.  The house is now over 100 years old.  Although my parents sold it over two years ago I still consider it my home.

I grew up in this house.  It has creaky floors, drafty bathrooms and a huge rock in the basement.  It also has so many memories that it’s hard to remember them all.

Like the cow bell.  When my mom and dad were in Austria for their honeymoon they bought a cow bell.  A big ass metal cow bell.  That cow bell lived on the cabinet by the front door of this house.  It had one purpose.  When it was time for us to come home, my mom would stand on the front doorstep and ring that cow bell.  Everybody knew when they heard the cow bell that the Hamilton kids had to go home.  The cow bell had done its job.

Or the living room.  The room where my dad would have his scotch every night after work while he read the paper.  The room where the fire place would  warm us all up after being outside.  The room where we hung our Christmas stocking each Christmas.  The room where I told my parents that I was going to Europe instead of college.  The room that my son learnt how to crawl in.  The room that I used to rock out to Sonny and Cher to.  Ya, that’s right.  Sonny and Cher.

stockings 2

Then there’s the kitchen.  The tiny kitchen that somehow produced enough food for many, many parties, Thanksgivings and birthdays. I can’t remember how old I was when we finally got a dishwasher.  After dinner there were three jobs to do in the kitchen.  Wash, dry or feed the cat.  Accidents happened in that kitchen.  Typically after too much wine.  I learnt how to cook with my mom in that kitchen.  Typically after too much wine.  Wait,did I say that already?

My dad’s study.  The tiny room at the top of the stairs.  Boiling hot in the summer but holy crap what a view he had.  If you climbed out the window you were at the top of fire escape.  When the door was closed we knew to be quiet.  The dreams that were hatched from that tiny room have helped my family be who they are today.  The black rotary phone on the mahogany desk that my dad used to make endless calls getting his business up and running.  Funny how the smallest room in the house may have had the biggest impact.

Perhaps the best part of the house wasn’t even in the house.

The yard.  The tree in the back that my sister fell out of and broke her arm.  The metal pallets that we would put the wading pool on so the water would warm up faster.  The thousands of rocky holes and nooks and crannies where my parents hid foil covered Easter eggs every year for us and then for our kids.  The steep driveway that you had to take a run at to get out of if it snowed.  The cherry tree that we could reach from my sisters bedroom window on a warm summer day.

yard

I wonder sometimes as I write these posts if anybody is even interested in my old house? But then I think that one day I will be old (er) and maybe I won’t be able to remember all the great things about the house.

The Best Thing in Life is going to be reading this years from now and smiling the same way I am smiling today.

TBT – The Godmother

This is my godmother.  Her name was Faith Mahwinney and she was a lovely sweet woman. I remember her being like a little bird and smelling like roses.  She loved a good giggle and always wore heels.

When my parents first came to Canada in the mid-fifties they were introduce to the Mahwinneys and the older couple basically adopted them.  I can only imagine how hard it must have been to be newly married and living in a new country with no family of your own.  It must have been reassuring to have a nice couple to help them out and act as surrogate parents.

baptism

When I was born my parents chose Faith as one of my godparents.  Traditionally three godparents were chosen but I think that with a lack of close family they decide two was enough.  That is her holding me on the day I was baptized.  I still have the little gown I wore packed away in tissue…..somewhere.

Do people still have godparents?  I feel like it is a bit of a dying tradition.  Traditionally godparents are appointed by parents to provide spiritual guidance for their godchildren.  They are present when the child is baptized and make a promise of renunciation, faith and obedience in the child’s name.  In the past it was required that godparents be baptized themselves but the Anglican Church has waived that requirement in recent years.  Frankly I’m not even sure my godparents went to church at all.

Since we only went to church on the big days. You know.  Christmas , Easter and Thanksgiving.  It was a bit more about tradition than wanting us to have somebody teach us about God, but really, it’s a lovely tradition.

Generally speaking godparents are chosen for their interest and ability to nurture the Christian life and faith of the child/adult whom they sponsor.  I can’t say that I ever discussed God with either do  so in that respect she may have not lived up to the bargain.  But in other ways she knocked it out of the park.

Every Christmas we would all get dressed up and go to the Mahwinneys house on Marine Drive for tea.  The grown ups would sit in the living room and have tea and we kids would hang out in the dining room with our own tray of goodies and lemonade.  She made the most amazing cookies and treats and we each had our favorite.  My favorite was the coconut strawberries.  I have no idea what was in them other than coconut and sugar but they were shaped into little red strawberries and holy crap they were good.  My brothers favorite was very thinly sliced home-made brown bread slathered in butter and my sister loved the butter tarts.

After her husband passed away Faith moved into an apartment.  I would go and visit her on my own then as I was older.  She was getting old and frail and didn’t hear well but she still wore heals and smelt like roses.  She would putter around that apartment overlooking Ambleside making me tea and chatting about the people she had met in her new building.  She would always walk me down to the elevator when I left and remind everyone that we saw that I was her goddaughter.

faith

I was twenty-seven when she passed away.  I helped to spread her ashes over the rose garden outside her church.  She may not have guided me spiritually but she taught me a lot by always being polite and ladylike.  Traditions can take many forms and that makes them one of the Best Things in Life.

TBT – The Eagles

the eagles

This week Throw Back Thursday’s inspiration didn’t come from a photo.  It came from a conversation I had with my seven-year old this past week.  It went something like this……

“Mom, did you know there’s a band called the Eagles?”
“Yes I did know that. Why do you ask?”
“My friend Gwen told me about them. Are they any good? Would I know their songs?”
“Maybe. I play them sometimes”
“Oh is that the old music you play?”

When did the Eagles become old music?

In the summer of 1975 my mom and dad packed up the suburban and the five of us drove from Vancouver to Colorado. My dad’s aunt had a cabin up in the mountains and we planned to spend a month there hiking and fishing. Flying the five of us there was not an option for them at that time so we drove. In the middle of the summer. With no air conditioning.  Across Idaho and Utah.  In the summer.

On a side note, I often pull this out of my parenting bag when my kids complain about their iPads not working on the three-hour drive to Kelowna. It’s something like the “I walked to school every day in the snow, uphill, both ways” except a bit more up to date.

In addition to no air conditioning (and plastic seats) the only source of entertainment was an AM/FM radio. Those of you who remember AM/FM radio will know that you need to be close to a city in order to get any kind of reception. There are many many long, deserted portions of road between Vancouver and Colorado that are literally in the middle of nowhere. Hours upon hours of hot dry nothingness.

The Eagles had released a few albums in the early 70’s and my sister and I were big fans. We knew their songs backwards and forwards. So as we cruised along with all the windows open we would sing them. Loudly and badly. If pressed I think I may even be able to do it today. It’s probably one of only things that my sisters and I truly shared. I suppose when you are stuck in a hot truck for hours a day you can achieve anything.

“And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’. Your prison is walking through this world all alone”.

As the years have gone by I have continued to love the Eagles. When my fiend Karen told me that her parents had property in Winslow, Arizona I had “Take it Easy” stuck in my head for days. I could picture a tiny desert town. Dusty and hot with old brick buildings. Turns out I wasn’t far wrong.

winslow

“Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me”

If I had to explain how their music makes me feel…….You know how you feel when you’ve spent the whole day at the beach? You’re hot and salty and tired and the sun is setting on the day. Sitting in a beach chair with sand between your toes.  The light is golden and shimmering on the ocean. You’ve got a cold beer in your hand and not a care in the world. That, for me, is Eagles music.

“You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina just like the missionaries did, so many years ago.”

Now I listen to the Eagles in my kitchen when I’m baking. The “old” music as my daughter refers to it.  It takes me back to a time that was simpler and slower. When ten-year olds could listen to all of the lyrics on the radio without them being censored. The Best Thing in Life is music that can transport you back in time.

TBT – Private School

Yes, I went to a girls private school. Before you go thinking that I come from privilege and all that, I have to tell you how it came to be.

crofton (2)
One night in a bar in Revelstoke (a small mill town in Central BC) my dad was having drinks with a client who worked for an up and coming logging company. While I’m sure my dad was not completely sober, his client was, from all accounts, three sheets to the wind. Nobody’s sure why (or they’re not saying) but the client decided to give my dad an envelope with a fairly substantial pile of company stock in it. In the coming months the company boomed and voila, we all got sent to private school.

Contrary to popular belief not all girls are sent to private school because they are rebellious hellions. Sure, some are, but….well that’s another story. I was just entering grade nine and I hated it! For the first few weeks I would come home every day and cry. By the start of October my mom said that if I still hated it at Christmas time that I could go back to my old school. Four years later I graduated from Crofton House School for Girls.

It had everything a good private girls school should have. Tartan skirts, navy blazers, ivy covered walls, bad boarding house food and a stern Head Mistress.

Her name was Miss Addison but she was affectionately known as AD. Looking back, she wasn’t really that bad, but in the moment, she was terrifying. I remember one weekend my girlfriend, who was a boarder (she lived at the school) was staying with me and we went to a party together. The party was awesome and she went back to the school on Sunday evening. Monday morning we both got called to the headmistress office. Somehow she had found out that we had not only gone to the party but had been driven by a friend of mine and not my parents. A big no-no for a boarder. How she found out we never knew but we got a stern talking to and were shaking in our Oxfords by the time we left.

The ivy covered walls that surrounded the ten acres of grounds served to not only keep us in, but to keep others out. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. For example, there was the time that a dozen barely dressed grade twelve boys from Point Grey High School found their way into our morning prayer assembly. I can’t imagine why my parents disapproved of me dating one of them?

crofton girls (2)

That’s me, second from the left in the middle

With only 49 girls in my graduating class we were all pretty close. Sure there were cliques and the obligatory hierarchy of popular girls, but at the end of the day we all participated in school pranks and went to the same parties. And let me tell you, private school girls can party. If parents were sending their daughter to Crofton to get them away from drugs, sex and alcohol they were making a huge mistake. HUGE.

I often get asked if I feel that a private school education was worth it. For somebody like me? Yes. I was an average student who really didn’t care much about school or grades, but at private school I was forced to work harder. There was no coasting through. You worked hard or you dealt with the consequences. For me, the most important part of a private school education was not the grades or the college prep. What Crofton House taught me was how to be a better person. Okay, so maybe being able to eat grapes with a fork and spoon (thank you etiquette class) isn’t a valuable life skill, but being able to speak in public and respect authority, among other things, has served me well.

I have so many incredible memories (and some blackmail worthy photos) from my four years at Crofton House. Girlfriends that I get together with after over thirty years and still laugh at the things we did. The school itself has changed quite a bit but the motto has not. Sevabo Fidem. Keep the Faith.

TBT – A Place of My Own

In the second installment of my Throw Back Thursday endeavor I chose a picture of my son sitting on the stairs in the townhouse we lived in for five years. It’s not the only picture of that time, or of that place, but somehow it always takes me back there.

everett on the stairs

When my son was three months old, I left my husband. I lived with my parents for six months but the reality was that I needed to start over and that meant finding my own place. With the help of a real estate agent I looked at, what seemed like, hundreds of apartments and condos on the North Shore of Vancouver. I loved this place as soon as I walked in. It was roomy and bright and just felt good. My son did not have such a great first impression. As we were leaving I had sat him down on the first step going up from the foyer. I was standing in front of him while I put my shoes on but somehow he worked his way around my legs and fell head first onto the tiled entryway floor. He cried non stop for the next hour. I bought it anyway.

When we first moved in I had very little of anything. I had borrowed a crib and a change table from my sister. I had a mattress and a side table in my bedroom. The kitchen had a folding table, four folding chairs and a high chair. The living/dining room had a cardboard box with a borrowed black and white TV on top of it. A few weeks after I moved in my brother bought me a love seat for the living room. So basically I had a lot of empty space. With a nine month old boy just starting to pull up and walk it was actually great. Lots of play space and room for building block cities and hot wheels race tracks. Great when he was there. Empty and lonely when he was not.

Part of the reason that I chose this townhouse was how close it was to everything that I would need. I could walk to stores, restaurants and a great park just down the street. That first year was made so much better with green space to enjoy a couple of blocks away. On the weekends I would put my son in the stroller at nap time and he would have a nice long sleep while I got some much-needed exercise exploring the neighborhood. The townhouse also had a great patio off the living room that my son could crawl out onto and not get into any trouble. We planted flowers in a big half barrel that year and spent lots of time chasing each other around it and enjoying the sun.

Every wall in the townhouse was white when I first moved in. Boring yes, but also a blank canvas. Coming out of a very controlling relationship, I can remember how great it was to be able to decide on whatever I wanted to do with this blank canvas. I could put up any artwork I wanted to and paint walls any colour I wanted. Freedom. Exhilarating, heady freedom. I couldn’t afford a lot but I bought what I liked and hung it wherever I wanted to. Some of the art was even hung a bit crooked. I loved it. And I didn’t have to ask anybody what they thought. A very new concept for me. And I bought fresh flowers every week. Just because I wanted to.

It was a difficult time for sure but after a few months I met someone and eventually he helped my son and I fill up all the empty space in the townhouse. I no longer needed to buy flowers to cheer myself up and welcomed a second opinion on where to hang the artwork. The Best Thing in Life is new beginnings.

Pumpkin Patch

A Shoebox Full of Memories

Venice 2

I have a shoebox of pictures that has been sitting in a corner of my bedroom for many months. Today I picked it up and looked through it. Pictures from when I was a baby, a toddler and a school kid. Pictures of me and my friends from high school, college and my early twenties. Pictures of my wedding and my kids. What will I do with this shoebox of memories? I will use it as the inspiration for Throw Back Thursdays. Each week (hopefully) I will pick a picture and try to recreate the story behind that picture or pictures. Wish me luck.

The picture I chose today is of me at age twenty in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. This was about two and a half months into a four-month adventure in Europe with my friend Kathryn. We had taken the overnight train the night before from Florence and were spending the day wandering around the city. The pigeons in St Mark’s were ridiculous. They were, at times, a little frightening. If you stopped feeding them they would follow you around pecking at your feet and reminding you that they were there. Just in case you hadn’t noticed the few thousand of them lurking around. Every once in a while something would startle them and they would all rise and fly around for a few seconds. The noise from their wings was deafening.

At lunch time we found a little cafe with tables and chairs outside on one of the canals. We thought we had ordered sandwiches and two glasses of wine that we could afford but the waiter brought out a bottle and plopped it on the table. Even though we protested in our best Italian we ended up blowing the whole day’s budget on a bottle of red wine that was so delicious that in the end we didn’t care how much it cost. Guess we would be eating crackers for dinner. The sun was shining and we had no cares, other than the fact we would be eating crackers for dinner. The waiters were no doubt having a good laugh at our expense. They probably hadn’t thought about the fact that they wouldn’t be getting a good tip. If they got one at all.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the tiny streets and looking into the stores. The carnival masks, that were everywhere, were beautiful but kind of creepy at the same time. Brilliant colours and dramatic shapes covered in bright ribbons and jewels. Crimson lips and smoky eyes seemed to be watching you from the stores walls. I could picture some of them on a tall man with a long black cape and hood skulking around corners and sweeping unsuspecting young girls into dark corners. Venice, for me, was one of those cities that I found exciting and scary. It felt mysterious and just a little dark. Not a place I would want to be late at night yet I imagined they have some great parties.

At the end of a long day we took the ferry back to our hostel. Kate fished the bottle of Amaretto we had bought in Florence the day before out of her backpack and we sat on her bunk, toasted Venice and ate crackers. The next day we would take the train to Vienna and our adventure would continue.  The Best Thing in Life is remembering days like this and smiling a little.