52 Weeks and An Invitation

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One of the gifts I was happiest about giving this holiday season was A Year of Gratitude set. It’s actually quite a simple gift…beautifully boxed, it’s basically 52 blank, folded cards and 52 envelopes. There is a small booklet enclosed with ideas on how to write a good card and another section to keep track of not only the things during the week/months to be grateful for but also to track the cards that have been sent.

The idea is that the recipient of the set writes one card a week to someone they’re grateful for… grateful in general or grateful for a specific action they’ve performed, either presently or at some earlier date.  (i.e. perhaps the card might be used to reconnect with an old acquaintance that affected the writer’s life in a positive way).  At the end of the year, assuming they’ve tracked all the cards they’ve sent and all the reasons they had to be grateful even if a card wasn’t sent for that specific thing, not only will they have a good list of positive experiences but hopefully a new, more grateful attitude that allows them to reach out to others and affect them in an encouraging way as well.

In a world with so much focus on the negative and just coming out of our own upheavals of the past couple years, this seems like something I need to be doing more of myself. Hence, a new focus on my blog is going to be Gratitude, though without the pretty cards and envelopes.

WEEK 1 –

My first gratitude post has to be for my parents – two people that have stuck by me no matter what. Even when I wasn’t the girly girl my mother was, or the most considerate of teenagers at times, and even when I knew everything about everything in my early 20s, they’ve been there every step of the way.

I could give you a million examples and then some of the ways they’ve helped us through things over the years but here are just a few….

  • My dad coming up to work in the rain and mud for days with my husband and older son the year the tree fell on our garage roof.
  • When I went into early labour with Son No. 1 but was medicated and sent home to “wait it out a bit,” to keep me from possibly being on my own without help at the precipitous moment, my mother stayed with us for 2 weeks making an otherwise trying time into memories that still make me laugh 28 years later.   
  • When I fainted while visiting my dad in hospital after his heart attack and he was more concerned trying to reassure me he was okay than worrying about his own immediate plight.
  • My mother rushing to the hospital when my son broke his leg. It wasn’t until we knew he wasn’t going to need surgery that she dared to breathe and looked down to notice that in her haste to get out of the house and to us at the hospital she’d put on shoes that didn’t match.
  • Or, the year we were in Maryland and our house in Pittsburgh flooded and knocked out the heat after a pipe break in the middle of winter. My parents not only discovered it (because they took it upon themselves to drive an hour each way every week or so and check things out for us), but my dad was the one who walked barefoot into that freezing water in the basement to try and stem the flow of the water.

It’s kind of funny actually how nearing the end of my 40s when I thought I was pretty much set to begin taking care of them as they aged, they’ve stepped up and been the rock we needed as my own little family has transitioned these past 2 years, probably even more than I ever knew they were capable of. They’re full of surprises…..creativity, willingness beyond measure, and of course long-term experience.

Instead of declining as I expected as they both moved past 70, they joined right in hefting boxes from place to place, driving trucks/cars full of stuff, making plans, and filling spaces we just couldn’t extend to ourselves in our physical and mental exhaustion – things like keeping our flagging spirits up at the worst of times, visiting often no matter which house we were in, being animated and full of ideas about decorating a new home, giving me a focus with the perfect photography project to get me excited about the new place, and helping to move things from room to room, building beds and desks, etc. till we got it all sorted. It’s made them not only much-loved as they were before, but invaluable tools in the arsenal we needed to allow us to come to our new place.

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Suffice it to say, I’m grateful…I’ve been grateful for a long time, but it isn’t all the time that I say it so now I am. My mother’s constant refrain when I inadequately try and voice all this to her is, “Where else would we be?” I’m grateful and I love them not only for what they bring to us, but for what they allow us to bring to them. I was given a great gift in these two – a gift that is always present and keeps on giving. If I’m half what they are to me to my own children, I’ll have done very well indeed.

AN INVITATION:

I’m inviting all of you to join me on this journey for one week or for the next 52 weeks.   If you do decide to join in with a post of your own, link back here so that I can come read your post as well.   Here’s to making a more positive 2016!

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MORE THINGS ABOUT JOANNE……

One of the big appeals when we moved to our new area was the fact that we’d be able to do day trips to Canada for a spot of shopping and lunch. However, our first year here has been eventful to say the least so there hasn’t been much time to head across the border. However, that changed this past weekend. Finally, a day trip to Canada was arranged.

Of course, now we have a new friend in Canada. I wrote about our first meeting here. I e-mailed Joanne to let her know we were coming across the border to see if she’d have time to meet up. Thankfully, I caught her on one of her slower weekends and she took on the mantle of event planner for the day. Joanne took my piles of jumbled excitement and all the places I was contemplating and made it into a reasonable and interesting plan. We were to meet at 10.00a at the Welland Canal Lock No. 3 in St. Catharines, bringing with us a bit of hope that our timing might coincide with a ship going through the lock.

Being so excited, I had my guys up and on the road at 5.30a. Even with our usual stops and the dreaded border control, we still arrived 90 minutes early. Time enough to stop at Tim Horton’s for a bit of breakfast and then off to explore. We ended up at Port Dalhousie Marina and had a look around.

Empty slips, but a stunning view!

A new restaurant…perhaps for next time?

Some magnificent scrollwork at the entrance!

Finally, it was time to meet up with Joanne. We arrived at the stroke of 10 at the Lock where Joanne approached excitedly reporting that a ship had just gone through the lock and another was headed in now. Joanne has done an excellent job explaining about the history of the lock and providing a few pix on her blog.

After we had our fill of the lock (or rather after the lock was finally filled), we headed off for a bit of shopping. While my husband and I were browsing at the store I’d come across the border to get to, Joanne sat down with our son and got him talking about his swimming. It always amazes me when people know just the right questions to ask in any situation. A simple, “What is your stroke?” and he was pulled right in.

Shopping completed, it was agreed that I would ride with Joanne to our next destination about 20 minutes away where we planned to have some lunch.

Did you ever notice the difference between the first time you meet someone and the second? The first time is like that first date…..feeling out boundaries, asking the polite questions, sizing up the person in front of you. The second time you meet you’ve already covered all that. Plus, being bloggy buddies on here, we have that back-and-forth to further things along.

The drive over to Niagara on the Lake for lunch was MOST enlightening. I learned a lot about Joanne as we skipped across topics of politics and the new Canadian Prime Minister, the recent attacks in France, and life with her sons and husband. All these things just reaffirmed my opinion that Joanne and I have much in common.

But there are some things you have to experience first-hand that give you a whole new view to the person. Somewhere along the way, Joanne has recently lost her dash mount for her satnav unit. So, a lot of our trip to NOTL was spent with Joanne looking at the unit on her lap and yelling at “her” not to turn off when “she” apparently decided to from time to time. Indeed, it seems Joanne’s satnav has been imbued with quite a personality and she’s even given her a name which I won’t repeat here. From all appearances, their relationship is quite back and forth with the satnav just shutting down when things get too heated between them, or maybe it’s revenge for the name Joanne calls her. Either way, their jousting is most amusing to anyone else in the vehicle.

The other big thing I got from driving with Joanne is there isn’t any doubt that she lives in a city. Recently, I’ve begun to teach my son to drive. As we live in a suburban area, space is no problem. Teaching him to drive has been a lot about maintaining a very healthy distance between our vehicle and the next vehicle. It’s been about being relaxed behind the wheel and giving due consideration to both the vehicle’s occupants and the other vehicles on the road. When you live in the suburbs you can do that. Driving with my husband who conquered the Washington D.C. beltway for a year is a whole different experience.

Riding with Joanne isn’t as aggressive as my husband nor as terrifying as riding with my son, but I did lose count of the times I held my breath as she’d hurtle along in her sleek car and not slow down until she came within inches of a car stopped at a red light in front of her. ‘Tis true…I’m a nervous wreck from riding with my son while he learns, but even said son told me later he couldn’t believe how close she got to the other cars on the road. There was never any law broken or unsafe driving practice exhibited; she’s actually quite a good driver – very skilled, her car is unmarked by accident, and she kept up an ongoing repartee with both me and her satnav while driving. But this is definitely one of the places where we differ. She’s used to city driving. It’s in her bones. I’m not. It’s kind of like what Joanne told me over lunch when I was talking about riding with my son and how hard it was to sit there and keep my mouth shut. It isn’t just that he doesn’t have experience…it’s also that he has different driving style than mine. That different-driving-style comment is now one my son mimics back to me every time I try and persuade him to do something the way I would. Anyway, Joanne and I definitely differ in our driving styles.

After lunch, we headed down for one last scenic vista at the Gorge in Niagara Falls. Closed for the season, we still had some great views from the overlook. After that, our time was up and we went our separate ways.

After I got home, I chuckled to see Joanne’s e-mail relating the story of her trip home where her satnav once again got the best of her and took her on an unexplained side trip and got her lost for a bit. I, on the other hand, had the experience of a teen at the wheel so even getting up as early as I did there was definitely no napping for me on the way home. I’m not sure which is worse.

What I do know is we managed to pack quite a bit into five hours thanks to Joanne’s excellent planning skills. I’m recommending Joanne for Canadian Concierge. She’s full of great ideas, the ability to make a plan from a pile of unrelated information, she’s interesting, interested, and embraces the chance to make a difference to someone anywhere she can. In the words of Darth Vader, “The force is strong with this one.” She definitely gets my vote!

PUMPKIN USES 101

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October has arrived and with it the PUMPKINS and gourds…..

They’re everywhere ….the ideal autumn décor.

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Everyone knows we can paint a face on a pumpkin or gourd for a little amusement….But did you know it’s only a simple step to a spider?

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Or a flat friendly ghost?

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Of course, placement also comes into play…traditionally, pumpkins are stood next to cornstalks or hay bales.

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But this year, I’ve also seen them around a tepee….

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As the backdrop in a model train village….

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And someone even thought to put one in Snoopy’s doghouse. Now how original is that?

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But those aren’t the only unique ideas I’ve encountered…..

Who would’ve thought to make a pumpkin into a planter for fall flowers?

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And I never would’ve imagined of making a pumpkin resemble someone I know as they did at the Erie Zoo.

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Movie characters? It’s true…..Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs….

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The Wizard of Oz….

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And who can possibly resist Minions pumpkins?

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But my personal favourite has to be this group…….they never go out of style and just seem to work everywhere, don’t they?  

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Anyone else finding unusual pumpkin uses this year?

THE SECRET GARDEN(er)

1 (14)It’s a funny thing arriving to the age I am and realizing that I’m too old for some things (i.e. miniskirts and all-night roller skating) and too young for others (i.e. a diary totally consisting of doctor visits and/or reading the obits each morning). This in-betweeness is a bit like being a teenager again except with a lot less energy! Perhaps that’s why this latest fascination of mine has taken hold.

The fact that I (instead of my mother or sister) ended up with this house still makes me laugh. The gardens here are extensive and ever since spring showed up my mother has been green with envy over not only the size of the gardens, but all the different sorts of plants we have that she’s not seen before. 1 (15)1 (6) 1 (11)

From my earliest days, I remember her dragging us to the greenhouse as soon as spring hit to get some new blooms for around the house or to take to the graves at the cemetery. It was something that continued all through spring and summer. Flowers – planting them and nurturing them – have long been her thing. But even through all those trips, the only flower I could positively identify was a geranium.

When my sister bought a home, she too caught the gardening bug preferring to spend her days out of doors planning and planting. These days, she’s almost obsessed by it. It’s definitely her thing.

Me, on the other hand, I’ve never been one to want flowers around. Mostly, I confess, due to my great aversion to bees and bugs of any sort. To me, having flowers was an invitation to bees to come and make getting in and out of my doors a dangerous undertaking.

When spring hit this year – our first spring in this new home – blooms began appearing one by one and soon we realized the gardens were set to bloom in phases…..flowers would die in one place and others would spring up somewhere else – a virtual rainbow of colours coming out of the ground all the time. After spending the long winter here inside looking out upon white day after day, it became quite attracting – this bloomfest we had going on. Happily, the plants in place were ones that matched my own tastes and I really began to enjoy this. I found myself spending more and more time outside checking the changes each day and reporting to my mother and sister with many photos and excited e-mails. 1 (17)However, with the buds and blooms along came weeds! I was told by mother and sister, “Don’t touch! You don’t know what you’re doing! We’ll come and instruct you. We’ll help.” 1 (16)And so we waited. The neighbours nearby all started receiving great truckloads of mulch and spent many days spreading it around their own perfect little gardens. Our gardens sat here untouched. Soon, it was quite obvious the weeds were beginning to overtake the blooms and buds. Finally, my parents came for a visit and my mother patiently took me around showing me which things could be pulled, which should be trimmed, and what not to touch.

Husband and I got busy. It took a couple of weeks but finally it was time for mulch. Mulch was another new realm for us. Thankfully, a neighbour was most helpful in sharing where to order, how much she thought we would need, and what the heck to do with it after it arrived. We ordered 3 yards and spread it all in one day. We were told later the neighbours here were amazed that we managed that much. (Neighbours here a good bit older than us and amazingly must move even slower than I do now!)

Having gotten caught up and with the grounds now passing muster with the rest of the neighbourhood, I got interested in perpetuating this whole bloomfest idea. I passed a garden centre one day and it honestly looked so attractive and yet still a bit mysterious I just had to stop in.1 (2) That first trip to a garden centre achieved a new flowering shrub and a small but awesome ornamental garden bench! After that trip, there were others bringing cool new plants and more flowering shrubs. I’ve acquired quite a few new hangouts….

1 (12) 1 (1) 1 (7) 1 (3) 1 (18)   1 (2)1 (3)  1 (13)    1 (8)1 (4) A whole new world has been unveiled to me – gazing balls, statues, flags, benches, blooms of every colour, size, and shape. What I’ve learned in so short a time is astounding! I have a whole new vocabulary – I’m still not sure it’s even me when I hear myself naming all these flowers and trees. Finally, I begin to understand the attraction to this world my mother had always had. I can see sense in the ‘madness’ of visiting a greenhouse.

Speaking of madness, this is my vote for weirdest garden statue ever!

1 (9)Another excursion earned us a new tree! There is a great fulfillment in planting a new tree of your choosing. I’m so happy we managed to do it this first year in the house. Now it will be part of our story here and we’ll watch it grow along with us. As a matter of fact, it felt so good to plant that tree (okay, to watch my husband plant that tree) that yesterday I came home with another new tree!               1My husband is beginning to see a pattern…..when I brought him out to the driveway upon my return yesterday, he got that certain look in his eye….the look that knows it’s time to get the work gloves and shovel. I wish I could reassure him. However, I am getting pretty good at recognizing growth – even the growth of an obsession. There’s a children’s book called, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie which talks about all the accoutrements that mouse is going to need to go with the cookie (i.e. glass of milk, a straw for the milk, etc.) I think that idea applies here too……if you give a girl a garden……

WHEN WHAT TO MY WANDERING EYES SHOULD APPEAR……

Life has been pretty hectic lately; thus, not much time to explore.  However, one day this week, my husband had a break in the middle of his workday and we decided to try a new place for lunch.    We sat down, got to grips with the menu, ordered our meals, and then paused to scope out the historical buildings the tavern was located in.  As I looked around, something above my head caught my eye.    Have a look from my vantagepoint…..1 (4)-1One of the elusive Erie FISH that I had not caught yet!  Whoa is me that I left the house with no camera today!   But still, I did have my phone.   I had to stand up and move to a more central location to get a better view and take a quick shot!  (Is there any way better to announce to everyone everywhere that you’re new in town?!)1 (5)-1Something a bit different with this one…..those little blue dots on the eyes and down its back and underside are lights!    How great is that?!   

After a good meal AND catching a fish, I thought this day couldn’t possibly get any better.

I was wrong!  

I screwed up after leaving the tavern and ended up on a street I hadn’t meant to be on.   However, it turned out to be a most opportune mistake! 

Look what I found standing outside a school after I turned the corner!   1 (3)

Can you even believe it?    Not only an uncaught fish, but a frog too!   And how cool is this frog?   Piano-key teeth?   Amazing!   

Feeling quite satisfied with myself and my new captures and sitting down to write this post, I then remembered I also hadn’t shared with you what I found on my trip to the doctor’s office a few weeks ago.   Sadly, the hallway in the office didn’t have the best lighting to fully capture the details and I again had only the camera on my phone but have a look anyway…….

Modestly displayed right on the walls in full-sized poster frames…….1 (6)  1 (2)

1 (1)It looks like the FISH and FROGs are going to be a continuing saga in my life up here and probably in my blog too!   It’s actually ridiculous how excited I get when I find one of these guys now.    But really, a town with hidden surprises when you’re least expecting them.    What could be better?