Hagar Shipley and the blue pen (updated)

We just finished reading Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. The book follows the story of Hagar Shipley through Hagar's eyes at the end of her life. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

I say "we" because the copy of the book I read, borrowed from the library, is marked heavily with a blue ballpoint pen. Every page is marked. Sometimes entire paragraphs are underlined. Notes are scribbled in the margin. "Irony." "Disoriented." "Important!"

When I saw the notes coming on the page, I told myself I wouldn't read them, but I did. Every time. I couldn't help it. 

It was like watching a movie with someone sitting beside you explaining the obvious plot points. It was like going to a room to be alone, only to find someone else sitting there.

Near the end of the book, I found a clean page. It was so free of blue pen that it was startling. It was on this page I found the line that made the whole shared journey worth it:

"Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear."

Why my blue-penned friend didn't underline this sentence, I cannot say. I traced under it with my finger, and wrote the words "all of us" in the margin in invisible ink.

(UPDATE: Good lord, they made a movie and didn't tell me. One misses a lot, in Parentland.)

Little wisdom

I'm going down the basement steps. It's early in the morning. Alice is on one hip, a laundry basket is on the other.

Mid-way down the stairs, Alice's head bumps into a low point on the ceiling. It was just a bump, but startling enough. I waited for the tears. They don't come.

Me: You bumped your head.

Alice: That OK. We bump sometimes.

Tell it again

Santa brought a couple of CDs from our new favourite kids' artist. Elizabeth Mitchell understands, much as Raffi did in his first three or four albums, that kids music shouldn't be disposable. It should be timeless. It should be something they'll sing all their lives.

Evidence here and here.

The lyrics to one of the songs on her album "Sunny Day" pretty much sum up the philosophy of the Tomato Transplants blog. 

Tell it again!
Tell it again!
Tell it just the same!
The very same story,
the very same people,
and give it the very same end.

Imagine the damage that had to be undone.

Our eight-year-old neighbour, Jonah, runs around our house. He has whooped our kids into a blind frenzy.

Jonah: It's Christmas Eve! Santa comes tonight! Tomorrow is Christmas!

Me: Um, it's actually the 23rd. You've still got two days until Christmas.

He stares at me. I am clearly a moron.

Jonah: (to me) Whatever. (to the kids) Whooo! Tomorrow is Christmas!

It's also where I store my humility

Jane sits in her booster seat in the car. I lean over her to strap on her seat belt.

Jane: Daddy, you have a huge nose.

Me: Thanks.

Jane: Why do you have such a huge nose?

Me: Just lucky I guess.

Jane: Wow. You must be really lucky.

Being included. Being three.

I am in a playground with the girls. A few other kids are here with us climbing on the equipment, sliding down slides, and playing games.

Two sisters, about seven and nine, chase each other in a game of tag. Their three-year-old brother is desperately trying to gain their attention.

Boy: Guys! You got to include me, OK?

I smile, but my heart breaks. Being three is so hard. You're so big, but so little.

His sisters don't even notice him. They run off.

Boy: GUYS! You're s'posed to in-CLUDE me!

He runs crying to the car, where his mum waits. Minutes later, he is back. The tears are gone. His hands are on his hips. He has a secret weapon.

Boy: (confidently) Guys. Mum says you got to include me or we're going home.

I am a bad person with great teeth

We have a new dentist. Which is good. Before my appointment with him, I hadn't been in... a while.

Erin had been  much more recently than I had, but she was still nervous about her visit. The woman takes terrific care of her teeth (brushing multiple times a day, flossing, rinsing...), but unfortunately, while her teeth look great, she has a history of problems.

After her visit.

Me: How'd it go?

Erin: He's really nice. Wonderful, actually. But I have to go back to take care of my cavities.

Me: Erg. When is the appointment?

Erin: Appointments. I have four.

Me: Four cavities?

Erin: No. Four appointments. I have so many cavities, they need to tackle them in groups.

It is not fair. At all. Making it even less fair is my experience in the same chair.

Dentist: OK. Looks great! You can go.

Me: What do you mean I can go? Don't I need an appointment for my cavities?

Dentist: You don't have any!

Me: Not one?

Dentist: Nope!

I start to freak out. Erin's not going to like this.

Me: You've got to give me something

Dentist: I've got nothing to give you! You've got healthy teeth.

Me: What about this spot here that I can feel with my tongue? Surely, that's a gaping cavity.

Dentist: Let's see.

He looks in my mouth.

Dentist: Oh, that's just a build-up of enamel on an old cap. Here, I can buff that off right now.

He gets out his polishing tool. In a moment, the bump is gone.

Me: (feeling the spot with my teeth) Hey, that's great!

Dentist: Just keep taking great care of your teeth. You do floss regularly, right?

Me: If by "regularly" you mean this morning and eight years ago before my last dentist appointment, then yes.

(Don't tell Erin any of this. I beg you.)

Just to clarify

Erin is driving the kids to pick me up. They are admiring the Christmas lights along the way. They pass a nativity scene.

Alice: A baby!

Jane: That's Jesus.

Alice: I not Jesus!

Ninety-three Decembers

I smell the snow before I see the first few flakes in the air. My insulated boots crunch on the gravel of my driveway. I'm walking in the dark of this cold December morning to the bus stop, about a mile away from my house in rural Prince Edward Island.

I think about a day ninety-three Decembers earlier in Romney Township, Kent County, Ontario. The day my great-grandparents moved their six children to the farm that they would eventually call the "home place." Winter had already set in by December of 1917. The roads between the old farm and the new farm were not passable, so the move was made by bobsleigh over snow-covered fields, about eight miles.

The crescent moon shines above me on my left as I walk, as do a couple of bright stars. The sun has yet to crest the horizon, but the glow in the sky tells me it's not far away. 

Moving Day was a Tuesday. The family had moved into the house by that evening. In the barn was the family's livestock, including a few cows, some chickens, and a pregnant sow. Not everything made it over on that first day. My great-grandfather ("Pa") would return in a few days to the old farm with his eldest son, seven-year-old Glen.

I watch the line of cars whiz by on the highway. The cold air stings my cheeks. I wait for a break in the traffic before crossing and walk a few hundred paces to the abandoned driveway that is my bus stop. I pull my phone from my pocket and check the time. I'm a few minutes early.

Thursday dawned and it seemed a fine day to travel. Pa and Glen hitched the team to the bobsleigh and rode off in the direction of the old farm. I imagine five tiny faces pressed against the glass window of the new house watching them ride away.

They would not see Pa and Glen again for nearly a week. As the story was told to my great-uncle Reid, who was just a baby at the time, what came next was the worst storm anybody could remember. The temperature dipped to 20 below.

Ma checked the livestock in the cold barn. She wrapped two young calves in blankets to keep them warm, then discovered the sow was having her piglets.

She tucked each newborn piglet into the folds of a blanket and trudged through wind and three-foot drifts to the house, where she placed it in a box by the oven door. Then back to the barn again, until all eleven piglets were safe. She repeated these trips every hour as she brought the piglets back to the cold barn to let them suckle from their mother, then back to the warmth of the house.

The bus is now ten minutes late. This isn't unusual, but on this cold morning, it's inconvenient. I stamp my feet. Several dozen crows fly over -- the first of hundreds that will eventually pass over my head. The first group is followed about a minute later by the the new light of the sun. They ride the crest of dawn from east to west like a wave.

Pa and Glen would bring the bulk of the firewood on their return trip, and the house was getting cold. Ma sent her eldest girls, Marguerite (eleven) and Edith (nine), into the snow to dig out a few wooden rails from a nearby fence. Ma did some digging of her own and discovered a small handsaw packed among the few things that had made it over from the old house. She cut lengths of rail to feed the stove.

The old cook stove roared to life, warming the house, the children, and the eleven little piglets. Ma made soup and bread. 

Most of the neighbours lost livestock that week. Ma would say later her greater fear was losing one of her young children.

I dig my phone from my pocket again and see the bus is now nearly a half-hour late. I remove my gloves and type a message into Twitter, and in an instant hundreds of people know I'm late for work. I call Erin, who bundles up the kids so they can all drive me to my office in Charlottetown. 

By the time I arrive back at the house, the motor of the car is running and the interior is warm. I kiss each of my kids' cold red cheeks and think briefly of a meeting I am running late for.

Close call

I am waiting at the street corner for the light to change. First the advanced green goes. Then green, including the signal for pedestrians to cross. I take a few steps out into the intersection.

I am crossing in front of a white car. The driver is signalling to turn right, and nudges her car a few inches forward. I look and catch her eye. Her car stops.

"Good," I think. "She sees me."

When I am directly in front of her car, she hits the gas.

Two people walking behind me gasp.

I calmly put my up hand, signalling for her to stop. She continues on.

"This could be bad," I think.

Just as I am about to jump on her hood, she sees me and slams on the brakes. The people behind me gasp again. I believe they are there only for dramatic effect.

Momentum carries the car another foot or two forward, and I happen to be occupying that space. Her bumper gives me a good nudge. It takes my balance a moment to decide whether or not I'm going to fall over. It decides not.

Everyone is still.

I realize I'm still holding up my arm up signalling for her to stop. I calmly bring it down. I think briefly of giving her hood a good slap, but I don't. I lightly tap it twice, then continue walking across the street.

The message waiting on my phone

Henry: Hi Dad. I just made a model rocket out of three pencil crayons. The big brown one is the fuel rocket. The two green ones are the boosters. And... the white one is the space shuttle.

Erin: (muffled in the background) Tell him how it's held together.

Henry: I held it together with an elastic. And, they're actually the right size for the rockets. The brown one is the biggest. The two green ones are a little smaller. And the white one, the space shuttle, is the smallest. So, I love you. Bye.


Just how does one play this game?

Alice walks into the kitchen. Under her arm, she carries a board game called Sequence.

Alice: Want play Sweet Pants.

Being quiet

This morning. Jane and Alice are in the next room.

Alice: Be quiet!

Ooooh, I think. Jane's not going to take that. There's going to be a fight. 

Alice: Be QUIET!

Do I intervene now, or wait to see how Jane handles this?

Alice: BE! QUIET!

I can't believe Jane is taking this. Alice must have bound and gagged her.


Me: Ok, that's enough. What's going on in there?

Jane: (emerges holding her favourite doll, Cugga) We're just putting our babies to sleep.

A family story

I pulled a slim black book down from my shelves tonight and turned it to a familiar page. My great uncle wrote it a few years ago. It's the story of his life as a farmer in southwestern Ontario. Great Uncle Reid farmed alongside his brother Elbert, my grandfather. Grandpa appears quite a bit in its pages. As do their parents.

Here's the passage I read:

"Ma took a cerebral hemorrhage and died March 19, 1950. She died the day before my birthday and was buried the day after my birthday.

"At this time Ada came home and looked after Pa until he passed away February 11, 1953. Elbert and I were cutting Max Dawson's bush off into fifty-six inch bolts for pallets. The steering on Max's tractor broke and we were repairing it for him in our shop. Pa sat on a big block of wood by the fire watching us and reading a magazine, telling us some of what he was reading. We finished the tractor.

"Elbert and Max had gone home and Pa and I were going to the house side by side, when Pa just stopped and tipped over. He actually died standing up and fell. This had been one of his better days. Our mailmen, Ira Liddle, and George Bell were just pulling up to our mail box and saw him fall. They rushed over, loosened his shirt collar but he wasn't breathing at this time. We carried him in the house and called Dr. McLean. The doctor said he had died standing up."

I can hear my 93-year-old uncle saying this as I read it. It is written very much the way he speaks, the combination of long sentences followed by a short sentences. The latter more for verbal punctuation than for content.

Such a small amount of text about these important events. Especially for Ma (my great-grandmother).

I have never stood in the spot where my great-grandfather died, but I have watched it happen many times. I've seen the block of wood Pa sat on as he leafed through his magazine. I've listened as my grandfather and great-uncle, in turns, humour and find humour in the bits Pa found too interesting not to share. I have walked on the snow beside my great-grandfather and suddenly realized he has not only has fallen behind, but has fallen down. I have asked Pa over and over if he's alright, knowing full well he was dead even before Ira and George arrive from the truck they've left parked beside the mailbox. I have thought how useless it is to loosen the shirt collar of a man who is obviously not with us anymore.

In the long version of this story told to me one afternoon in my parents' kitchen, the work on the tractor is completed just after eleven o'clock. It's too early for lunch, but there's not enough time to make it back to Max's farm before Ada has the sandwiches ready in the house. The boys discuss using the tractor to finally get rid of that old oak tree they've been vowing for years to cut down. It's in the way, taking up good land.

Just as they decide that's what they'll do, Pa's enthusiasm for the job fades. He decides they should go in early for lunch. He doesn't look well.

If I remember correctly, they never did take down that tree. It was still there 23 years later when they sold the farm. There was no sentimental reason why they left it standing. The boys just never got around to cutting it down.

Dream a little dream, part two

This time, one of Erin's dreams.

"I'm sitting in a comfy chair, and I'm wrapped in our pink and green blanket. Joan [ed: our cat] jumps up on my lap. She looks me in the face, and in Alice's voice says, 'This your blanket?'"

When Mummy drives the bus, things get interesting

I have yet to hear the whole story, but I just called home from work to check in on Erin and the kids.

Erin: Can you call back in a bit? We just arrived at school.

(If you recall, we "take the bus" to get to home school)

Me: No problem. How was the bus ride?

Erin: Exciting. The driver fell asleep and Henry had to take the wheel.

Another Jane story

It is near the middle of November and it as warm and sunny as early Spring.

I sit on the front step giving the bikes their annual tuneup. Jane runs past. She's shed the sweater, hat, long-sleeve t-shirt, shoes, socks, and pants that she had on when we came outside hours earlier. Luckily, she was wearing a sun-dress under it all.

Me: Jane, you need to put your shoes and socks back on.

Jane: No.

Me: It's warm, but the ground is still cool and wet. Please put your shoes on.

Jane: OK. But you can't make me wear pants.

It is the only logical conclusion

The five-year-old boy across the street is putting on a show for us.

He does cartwheels across his lawn. He tosses rocks high into the air. He shimmies across his front deck in some sort of primitive dance.

My kids egg him on from our own front step. Henry yells catcalls. Alice screams, "Go! Go!"

Jane watches intently as this boy prances about nearly a hundred metres away. Her eyes narrow.

"I think he wants to hug me."

Thoughtful Jane

Jane and Alice were playing on the living room floor. Jane was suddenly struck by a pressing thought. She stopped and sat still for a minute before looking up at me.

"Dad, is it hard work having three kids?"

I looked at her. She's a sensitive girl, and deserved an honest answer.

"Yes," I said. "But it's fun, too."

"OK," she replied.

She turned back to her game with Alice.

She's not angry. She's just trying angry on to see if it fits.

Alice walks in the room. She's wearing and old dress-up tutu.

Alice: I bal-reena.

Me: You sure are. And the prettiest ballerina I've ever seen.

Her brow furrows. 

Alice: I bal-reena, Dad.

Me: Yes. A ballerina. That's you.

She purses her lips.


Me: (a teensy bit terrified) You bal-reena.

She folds her arms.

Alice: (speaking slowly and deliberately) NO, DAD. I. BAL. REENA.

She stomps out of the room before I can reply.

Alice: No talk to me, Dad. I bal-reena.

Awesome Humility

This morning in the big bed. I am barely awake.

Henry: (just stirring) Mornin', Dad.

Me: (stretching) Mornin', Cornbread. How are you doing?

Henry: Awesome. How about you?

Me: Also awesome. Jane, how are you?

Jane rolls over on her side.

Jane: Awesome.

Me: That's awesome.

Henry: Totally awesome.

A few moments pass.

Me: Look at us. Just laying here. Being awesome.

Henry: I think we're the awesomest three people in the world.

Me: Yeah.

Jane: (sitting up) What about Mum?

Henry: She's awesome!

Jane: -and Alice!

Me: She's awesome, too.

A few more moments pass.

Henry: Maybe we're just the awesomest family ever.

Jake: In a better place

A rare event: I slept in this morning. What a wonderful feeling. My eyes popped open and the only one left in the big bed with me was Jane.

Jane: (eyes closed) We're still sleeping, Dad.

Me: (pulling the blanket higher) I know. Isn't it great?

Very quickly, however, things were not great. In the kitchen, Erin was pouring Henry a bowl of Cheerios. One of the Os fell on the floor.

Erin: Jake! Come get it!

No response. 

No scampering claws. 

No thunderous appearance in the room. 


Erin: Jakey?

Henry: Jake?

Alice: Jakey? Where are you?

I jumped out of bed.

Erin: He must have slipped outside last night when Jonah went home.

(Our neighbour came over to watch the first period of the hockey game with Henry)

Erin and I exchanged a concerned look. The kids were getting scared. I put on my rain jacket, grabbed the keys to the car, and stepped out the door.

(Before I go any farther, I must explain why it's possible that out dog can be absent for 10 or more hours without us noticing. If you have ever met dear Jake, you know what a saint of a dog he is. Quiet. Well mannered. Friendly. And with a bladder the size of a small child. After being inside for 12 consecutive hours overnight, he will not go outside to pee if it's raining. Or snowing. Or windy. He can hold it forever. He spent a night outside this summer without us noticing. I woke up one hot morning to find him sleeping quietly in a cool corner of the deck. Not a peep or bark of complaint.)

I drove up and down our street going 10 km/hr. Not a trace of him.

He is not a wanderer. I couldn't imagine him going far. Still...

My mind started to put together scenarios if I found him in the ditch. As the time ticks by, this seems more and more likely.

My phone rings. I pull over.

Me: Hello?

Henry: We found Jakey!

I raced home. The kids had become fairly weepy, and so were trying to think of any hiding place they could. Henry was the first to suggest the basement. 

Erin opened the door and walked down the rickety stairs to the cool, dank room.

Erin: Jakey?

A rustle in the far corner. The sound of a tail flapping against something soft.

The dog had discovered our discarded futon mattress in the corner of the basement. No wonder he hadn't complained. It was probably the most comfortable night's sleep he had in years.

Dream a little dream

Middle of the night. Henry is dead asleep.

"So, is your husband driving?"

I lay awake, my whole body heaving from the giggles I am trying to repress.

Five minutes later.

"We made it."

I am so relieved. 

I have so much to teach the next generation

Saturday morning. Erin has taken Jane to her dance class. Henry and Alice decide they'd like to do a bit of homeschoolin'. These days, they get in the schoolin' zone by way of the bus, which oddly resembles a line of chairs in the dining room.

I sit in the head chair. Henry and Alice wait patiently beside me.

Me: (stepping hard on the brake) SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!

I open the bus door.

Me: What?

Henry: You're the bus driver. We'd like to go to school, please.

Me: OK. Get on. Sit down quick, I ain't waiting here forever.

They sit in the chairs behind me.

Me: Hold on.

I close the door, slam the bus into first gear, and give 'er the gas.

Me: VROOOOOOOOOOOOM! (change gear) VROOOOOOOOOOM! (change gear) VRRROOOOOOM! (wrench the wheel to the right) SCREEEEEEECH!

Alice: This fast.

Henry: Mum doesn't normally drive the bus like this.

Me: You're mother's not here. (change gear) VROOOOOOOOM!

I look behind us.

Me: Oh, great. The Fuzz.

Henry: What's "the Fuzz"?

Me: The Cops, man. Let's lose 'em.

Alice: Cops, man.

We drive as fast as our yellow bus can go, turning screeching fishtails around every corner. Henry flaps his hands in excitement.

Henry: (glancing back) They're still following us!

Me: I have an idea.

I turn toward a stretch of road that heads toward the river.

Me: The bridge is up. (eyes narrow) Just as I suspected. 

Alice: Cops, man!

Me: VROOOOOOOOM! (change gears) VROOOOOM! We're going to jump the bridge! Hold on, kids!

We speed to the edge of the open bridge and soar through the air, taking note of the many boats and sharks below.

Me: (shaking violently as we land) GOOOSH!  We made it! Henry, are the cops still there?

Henry: They fell in the river!

Me: Yes!

We high five, then drive the rest of the way to school.

Later, we do a math sheet.

Dad in the Ladies Room

I was reading a poignant post (Dr. Snip!) over at a Peek Inside the Fishbowl when I realized I never cross-posted the bit of guest blogging I did over there. So, here, from waay back in August, is "Dad in the Ladies Room."

I cannot believe I’m in the Fishbowl! Gosh. It’s much roomier than I thought.

I’m Dave from over at Tomato Transplants. My wife, Erin, and I grew up in Leamington, Ontario — the Tomato Capital of Canada. We’re raising our three kids on Prince Edward Island. Henry is six. Jane is four. Alice turns two this week.


It’s Friday. Erin is still recovering from her surgery. She feels good today. She looks good. We celebrate by taking the kids out for a rare restaurant meal. We choose an Italian place on Victoria Row — a pedestrian mall in Charlottetown.

The kids behave splendidly. Erin’s dark hair and sunglasses shine in the evening sun. She is beautiful. I am so lucky.

We pay, and linger on the street for a few moments. A band plays. The kids start to dance.

Erin: I’m going to run into the Confed Centre to use the bathroom.

Me: OK. Kids, do you have to go?

Kids: (dancing) No!

Me: Are you sure?

They look at me as if I am a moron.

Erin leaves. I’m left with two twirling dresses and a six-year-old boy trying to look cool. The tie helps (he dressed himself).

Alice: (twirling) I’m drunk!

Me: (blushing)Oh — heh — don’t say that, sweetie.

A few faces turn to us. I kick myself for laughing uncontrollably the first time she ever said this line.

Jane: I have to go pee.

Me: What?

Henry: Me, too.

Me: But we just asked -

Alice:Haff to pee.

Me: You wear a diaper!

I think a minute. I can take them to the Confed Centre, but I don’t want to risk Erin missing us when she returns. She’s still awfully tired. I’ve been counting her steps all night, and can imagine her searching far and wide for us if she finds us AWOL.

Me: How bad do you have to go?

Jane/Henry: BAD.

We rush into the Confed Centre. We don’t meet Erin on the way in. I assume she is still in the Ladies’ Room. I realize if we go to the Men’s Room, she — again — might miss us on the way out.
Jane’s seems to be the more urgent case, so I let her into the Ladies’ Room. I call into the room as Jane enters.

Me: Erin — It’s us. Jane is coming in.

I wait a minute.

I hear Jane yell something from inside the bathroom.

I crack the door open.

Me: What’s that, Janey?

Jane: I said, I’m pooping.

Me: (panicking slightly) Is Mum in there?

Jane: I don’t know. Mum?

No answer.


Where is she?

How am I going to deal with Janey? She has wiped herself before, but with mixed results.

Jane: I’m done.

I make a decision.

Me: Janey, you’re going to have to wipe yourself.

Jane: I can’t!

Alice squirms on my hip. Henry does the Little Boy Pee-Pee Dance. A stream of people walk past. I can only imagine what they think of this man yelling into the women’s bathroom.

Woman: (smiling) You’ve got your hands full.


Alice: I’m drunk.

The woman scoots away.

I convince Jane she can, in fact, wipe herself. “I be-lieve in you!”

We return to the street, and find Erin waiting patiently. She had, as it turns out, gone on from the bathroom to buy tickets at the Confed-Centre Box Office for a show that’s coming to town in a few weeks. That’s why we missed her.

Erin: What happened to you guys?

Henry: Dad made us go in the girls’ bathroom.

Alice: I peed!

Alice interprets a classic

Run. Run.
Fast as you can.
Can't catch me, man.
I Ginger Man.

Overheard: the scolding of Rubber Ducky

I'm in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Alice is in the next room playing with an, apparently, foul-mouthed toy.

"No, no, no, no, Rubbery Ducky. No say 'stupid.' Not nice word."

Using the mouth part to convey the thinking part

Alice and I sit munching at the breakfast table. We're trying to be quiet for the sake of the sleepies in the next room, but miming your way through a bowl of cornflakes does tend to make a person giggle. A groggy Henry soon joins us.

Me: Good morning, Cornbread.

Alice: Mor-nin, Corn-bread.

Henry slumps in his chair. He decides his heavy head is too heavy for his neck to support, so he lays it on the table beside his plate.

Henry: Morninff.

His eyes close.

Me: I just took this piece of toast from the toaster. You want it?

Henry: (eyes still closed) Mmm hmm.

Me: What would you like on it?

His eyes open. He looks at me. 

A few moments pass.

Me: What would you like me to put on it?

He keeps staring.

Me: Henry! What would you like me to put on your toast?

He sits up and looks annoyed.

Henry: Butter and strawberry jam! How many times do I have to say it?

(At least once)

Almanac 15

Huh. Haven't written one of these in a while.

I was not worried a lick about frost when I went to bed last night. Not a lick.

Before we sat on the couch to knit ourselves to sleep, Erin told me to step outside and look at the sky.

"Which guy?" I replied. (she secretly loves this joke)

I stepped out on the porch and was greeted by a rising orange moon, just past full. A clear, huge sky sprawled overhead -- a sky so black, it was blue.

I breathed in the night air. Cool. Refreshing.


I woke up this morning to zero degrees Celsius. 

Frost on the grass. Frost on the roof. Frost on my precious garden. Frost on the two dozen ripe tomatoes I'd left on the picnic table in order to save room in the kitchen.

I splashed some water on the tomatoes and brought them inside. I might have well have smeared them with mayonnaise for all the good it did them.

Later, I received a phone call from the ghosts of four generations of my Atkinson tomato-farming ancestors, reaming me out for relying on the weather man to predict the end of the season. Lucky for me, my Trueblood/Edwards ancestors were more positive about the whole thing. And, they have e-mail.

Grandma T's Chili Sauce Recipe (originally Great Grandma Edward's, I believe)
approx. 24 Ripe Tomatoes
1 bunch celery
4 onions
4 sweet peppers (green, red, whatever you have)
4 Tablespoons salt
3 c. white sugar
4 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons mixed pickling spices tied in a piece of cotton

Peel the tomatoes, chop the veggies, add the salt, sugar, vinegar and mix well.  Drop in the bag of spices.
Bring to a boil - stirring several times right to the bottom of the pot to keep the mixture from sticking to the pot.  Simmer for many hours until the sauce is to the consistency of your liking.  Remove the spice bag and Can into sterilized pint jars and lids, though you could probably freeze it in plastic containers.

You can double the recipe if you have lots of tomatoes.


Wait for me, guys!

I have been following a runner all summer. It is a runner carried forward by momentum, giggles, and the sheer amazement that those long stick things on the bottom of her body can do such a magical thing as take her places.

It is also a runner who tends to wiggle her butt.

I have followed similar runners twice before, and it strikes me I won't follow another for a long time. Maybe even until those runners have runners of their own.

I've said before I am not a taker of kid videos, but I made this exception. Henry, Jane, Alice, and I went to Green Gables a few weeks back. Henry -- who is reading the book -- dressed as Gilbert. Jane was Anne. Alice -- who we had to fashion a new set of braids for -- was Anne of Green Gables (which is much different than just being Anne, says Jane).

We  hiked the Haunted Woods trail, and I found myself again behind that familiar runner.

Family Friendly

Meep. Meep...

I am in line at the grocery store, after picking up a few items over my lunch. I look up and see I have chosen the Family Friendly Lane.

Me: So, the is the Family Friendly Lane one that you volunteer for, or are you assigned?

Cashier: Well....(long pause) ...assigned. 

Meep. Meep...

Coffee: thy new name is...

We're slurping at the dregs of breakfast. I have a half a piece of toast left, and have just refilled my cup with coffee. Alice approaches.

Alice: I have toast, too?

Me: (hoisting her on my lap) Sure!

She takes a big bite of my toast. I sip from my coffee. She eyes my cup.

Me: I have drink of man-man coffee?

My own private Costas

Some of you know I that until last year I worked for the CBC. I was very proud to be the Cape Breton Correspondent for Maritime Noon. Today, after 23 years as host of the show, my mentor and pal Costas Halavrezos retired. Here's a little tribute I wrote for his last show:


When my friends and coworkers meet my wife for the first time, they inevitably gush to me later about what an interesting person she is. And while they’re completely correct, I always want to reply, “Really? Tell me about her.”

The truth is, they can’t. They haven’t learned a thing about her. My wife is the kind of person who is really good at getting people to talk about themselves. Selfish folk that we are, we find those type of people very interesting. People such as Costas.

Think about it – after 23 years on Maritime Noon, what can you tell me about the man? I mean, besides the stuff on the website about growing grapes and playing bass?

Is he married? To whom?

How many kids does he have?

Who advised him on that goatee?

Does he have a cat?

Does that cat have finicky eating habits?

I bet you don’t know any of this stuff. And you know what? That’s why Costas is the king of them all. He is a friendly voice, who is infinitely curious about you. Never mind about him.

So you have this guy. You know he’s smart. You know he won’t lob a soft-ball question to someone we need a serious answer from. But other than that, he is a blank slate. So your imagination fills in the blanks.

In my short time with Maritime Noon, I met a lot of people who professed their love for Costas. Each of them has a vision in their head of who Costas is. Each vision of Costas is different. Each vision is correct.

The best part about Costas on the radio is that he is exactly who you need him to be. And who you need him to be is completely different from who the person next to you needs him to be. He is your own private Costas.

The most valuable thing I took from my decade with the CBC is my real-life friendship with Costas. Because I have a secret for all our radio friends – something that if Costas were to hear would inflate his already huge Ego. The secret is this: the real Costas is even better than the radio version. I’d tell you all the guy I know, but I can’t.

That’s my own private Costas. 

Little Ed

At the breakfast table. The last bits of toast and oatmeal are being eaten.

Jane: Henry -- let's pretend Little Ed is on a boat.

Henry: (still chewing) OK!

They run to the living room.

I cannot tell you much about Little Ed. I wish I could, but I can't.

Here is what I know: Little Ed is a Lego guy with a skateboarder shirt and a friendly smile. He has been on many adventures. I tell you all this second hand. I have never been on an adventure with him.

Little Ed is an exclusive game of Henry and Jane. I am (mostly) happy about this. Henry and Jane's relationship up until Little Ed has been mostly antagonistic. For some reason, Little Ed has brought them together. I have some theories why.

The part of Little Ed is always played by Jane. This is what appeals to her. She finally gets to be the protagonist. I cannot imagine what it is like being the younger sibling of Henry.

Jane also has inexhaustible knowledge of Little Ed's life. This is what appeals to Henry.

Henry: What did Little Ed eat for lunch?

Jane: Soup. And a roll. And chocolate cake with strawberries and sprinkles. 

Henry: What is his job?

Jane: Farmer. And a dentist.

Henry will never run out of questions. Jane will never run out of answers. Harmony.

I have attempted to play Little Ed. It's not that they won't let me. I just don't play correctly. My attempts to make suggestions or supply dialogue are usually met with blank stares.

I am only mostly happy about Little Ed. There have been few (if any) places the kids' imaginations have taken them to that I haven't been able to accompany them. I think it's fantastic that they are supplying the plot and story to their own life adventures -- I just can't help but feel a little sad about it.

Acknowledge me, part two

(Part one can be found here.)

Morning. I am making porridge. Henry sits drawing at the table. Alice stands at the kitchen door.

Alice: Knock knock knock!

Me: Who could that be?

Henry: Come in!

Alice walks in slowly and deliberately, like she's watching herself on TV.

Alice: Hi!

Me: Alice! It's you!

Henry: (looking up from his work) It has been so long.

She walks toward me holding out her hand.

Alice: I shake your hand!

We shake.

Me: How have you been, my friend?

Alice: Great! 

She walks toward Henry

Alice: I shake your hand!

They shake.

Alice: Nice see you!

Henry: (grinning) It's nice to see you.

Alice: OK! Bye!

She walks out the kitchen door.

Me: I miss Alice already.

Henry: Me, too.

Alice: Knock knock knock!

Me: Who could that be...

We do this about a dozen times without deviating from the script.

Earl, part two: baseball in the eye

We got our power back in the early afternoon, just as Earl struck. By the time he got to little ol' PEI, he had slowed to a tropical storm. But he was a noisy fella'. The sound of the wind was constant.

Until it wasn't. Somewhere around 3 or 3:30, everything stopped. One minute, we were working in the kitchen with the sound of 80-plus kilometre winds in our ears, the next -- nothing.

Erin: It can't be done. Just like that?

We looked outside. Sunny. The driving sheets of rain slowed to a sprinkle, and then stopped altogether. The radio told us most of Earl had passed through the Maritimes and was on its way to Labrador. It took a few minutes for them to mention PEI.

Radio: People in PEI shouldn't be fooled into thinking it's all over. The eye of the storm is just passing over central PEI right now.

The kids ran outside to get a bit of fresh air. I followed with my camera just as the wind was picking back up.

That's Henry and our neighbour playing baseball at the end of the clip.

Before the eye, the wind and rain were driving hard from the east to west. After the eye, it switched to the other direction (ah, the magic of a circular storm). Our poor tomato plants didn't know what hit them.

Earl, part one

Earl is still a couple of hours away, but we have lost power. Henry
and Erin are due back any minute from the market.

No rain yet, and I am surprised this amount of wind has already
knocked out power. I'll try to update as I can and so long as the
battery on my Blackberry holds out.

Sent from my mobile device

How much water does one drink in 72 hours?

I just watched my reservist neighbour jump in his car wearing summer fatigues. I can only assume he's on his way for military and emergency preparations for Hurricane Earl -- which, at this point, will probably hit us this time tomorrow as a tropical storm. I think they're saying there's a one-in-five chance he'll still be a hurricane when he hits (Henry likes those odds).

I guess that's our cue to make our own preparations. Erin just called from Canadian Tire where she's buying jugs. We've determined that all our pots filled to the rim still probably aren't enough for the recommended 72 hours, and -- darn it -- I ain't drinking out of the bathtub (again).

Incidentally (and for the historical record of our family), today is the first day in eight that we are not going to the beach. About two weeks ago, we spent a freezing day at the beach -- cold water, cold air, shivering kids. Erin made me promise we'd spend every remaining sunny day this summer at the beach. We just never realized it would be so consistently beautiful this far into the season. I believe we have broken the record for Most Consecutive Days Spent At The Beach By A Family That Is Not Technically On Vacation.

Today, I actually am on vacation. And we're not going to the beach. Figure that one out.

Geezers Rock

For the first year they knew each other, Henry and his best pal's entire relationship was based in hockey. All day. Every day. Hockey in the driveway.

We had to drag them into our houses, kicking and screaming, in order to feed them their meals. After a while, we just started putting out bowls of sliced apples, and they'd eventually get eaten.

One day this summer, they put down their sticks and started a band. At first it was called HJ Lightning (Henry-Jonah), but Henry informs me they've since renamed themselves Lightning Bolt. 

Jonah bangs tunelessly on a toy guitar. Henry pounds incessantly on an African drum. They have many songs and promise to have a proper concert soon. The only song I've been able to discern the lyrics to is this uplifting little ditty:

"Geezers Rock"
by Lightning Bolt

Some people think that geezers suck 
because they can't do anything.
But they do rock.

Geezers Rock!
A ding-dong-ditch all day

Geezers Rock!
A ding-dong-ditch all day

There are more verses, but they've never let me hear them. Other great tunes include "Zebras" and the self-titled "Lightning Bolt."

I retain the right to make up new rules whenever I see fit

We are in the car again, just leaving the beach. Jane is sniffing her hands.

Jane: My hands stink.

Henry: Let me smell.

He takes a big whiff.

Henry: Eeeew. They do smell.

Erin and I look at each other.

Erin: What do they smell like?

Jane: Stinky. Smell them, Dad.

I do not, in any way, want to smell those hands.

I pause a moment. Erin is driving. There is no way I'm getting out of this.

I sniff.

Me: Yuck.

Erin: What do they smell like?

Me: (rubbing my nose) Like, vaguely cheesy?

Henry: (smelling his own hands) My hands smell great.

Erin has some hand sanitizer in her purse. I get it out, reach back, and squirt some in Jane's hands.

Jane: EEEEEEW! That's even worse!

Alice: (holding out her hands) WANT SOME, TOO!

Jane: It's dripping everywhere!

Me: You've got to rub it in.

She rubs for half a second, then smells again.

Jane: Daaaaaad! It's horrible and drippy!


I reach back to dribble a bit of sanitizer on Alice's hands.

Alice: (sniff) SMELLY!

Jane: (sniff) Daaaaad!

Henry: (sniff) Mine really smell great.



Me: OK! New rule! No one is allowed to smell their hands anymore. Got it?

All is quiet for a few seconds.

Henry: Can we buy some gum?