Category Archives: The Days of Yore

Merry Christmas, Y’all

Decorations and softly glowing lights, friends and laughter, and anticipation of the magic of Christmas morning. Every December memories come flooding back. I loved slowly going through the Sears Wishbook and carefully writing down my hopes for gifts: a Slinky, Miss Piggy Baby, Monchichi, Cabbage Patch Kid, a Care Bear, a diary. 

As the holidays approached, our house transformed into something magical. Some of the decorations have long been given away and replaced, but when I think of Christmas growing up, I picture the tinsel garland my mom hung over the front hall mirror, the reindeer stuffies perched around our family room, and the red felt stockings hung on the fireplace. I remember a steady flow of visitors dropping in, the white noise of conversation, the small metal candy dishes filled to the brims. And of course, the glow of flickering flames during the Christmas Eve candlelight service, my favourite service of the year.

A week or so before Christmas every year a special package would arrive from Minnesota. We never knew for sure what the contents would be, but they always included Hershey Kisses (you couldn’t get them in Canada back then) and some fun homemade decoration with a newsy letter updating us on all things Minnesotan. You see, years before, a young couple with two small children decided to reach out to a Canadian family in need at the Mayo Clinic. The backstory is not my story to tell, but they (among others) provided support and stability to a young patient when her parents couldn’t be with her as she received treatment. A friendship that spanned years began.

Fast forward to my adulthood. Through social media I have met lovely people from all over. One Christmas not long ago a package arrived from Rochester, Minnesota from a family I had befriended (or they befriended me. Either way, we became friends). Inside was a bag of American Reece’s Peanut Butter bells and Rubik’s Cubes for our four boys. Seeing the return address made my eyes leak and my heart leap at the connection. But wait, there’s more. The sender worked for…the Mayo Clinic.

Your memories are different from mine. And the memories we create now with our children are different again, too. Our family has traditions now that weren’t possible when I was young. We send and receive cards and packages to and from all over the USA. We have received dozens of packages of Oreos and M&Ms from them, too. Each year since the “Rubik’s Cube Christmas” our list of “friends we have yet to meet in real life” grows. And it is amazing.

As we put up our tree this year I set aside some ornaments that I wanted to hang myself. They hold a special place in my heart as a representation of my internet people and a  reminder of how sad things can be turned into the fondest of memories.

Merry Christmas, friends.

*not pictured are the packages of Oreos and M&Ms because self-control is hard

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Tension and Turntables

It was a typical Saturday in that the boys were oscillating between playing nicely and pushing each others’ buttons. In an attempt to keep the peace and remove a certain younger brother from the mix, I retrieved our old record player from the basement.

Sometimes I think I need a life coach, or at the very least a Jiminy Cricket-type friend who will caution me when I’m about to make a huge parenting mistake. Someone who will whisper, “Really, do you not remember the last time you got that out and how many times they played ‘Snoopy Versus the Red Baron’?”

But I digress.

Old favourites from my childhood were dusted off and played. If you haven’t heard “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” on high speed (but just the chorus) you haven’t lived.

i-dont-like-who-i-become-when-my-kids-use-the-record-player

In general I would be described as a laid-back mom. I don’t tend to micro-manage and the general chaos that is our family life does not phase me (except for tapping, that’s the worst). However, I seem to have strong feelings about playing records. I was unaware of this side of me. What follows is a sample of phrases I uttered while my old LPs were spinning, unedited.

Gentle.

Please pick a speed.

Stop flipping between the speeds.

How about we let the whole song play right to the end?

Gentle.

Leave the volume at one setting.

No jumping, it’ll scratch the record.

Put the record back in the sleeve.

The sleeve, the box-thing it came in.

GENTLE.

Just let the song play the whole way.

That record made it through my entire childhood, it better make it through this afternoon.

GEN.TLE.

Stop jumping.

Hey! I have an idea – just let the song play through.

Pick a speed and commit.

We can’t repair it if it breaks, stop fiddling with the switches.

JUST. PICK. A. SPEED.

We don’t put Lego figures on the turntable, I don’t care if it looks cool.

LETTHESONGFINISHBEGENTLESTOPJUMPING

Here’s the part where I say something profound about how I changed my perspective and savoured the sweet moments of them having fun together. How Psalty the singing songbook isn’t creepy in hindsight and the boys delighted in my ability to recount all the lyrics to Muppet Movie soundtrack.

Nope.

They had fun, the record player still works, and no albums were damaged.

Okay, okay, it did bring back good memories for me. It conjured up images of the old blue velour couch from my childhood home where just yesterday I was curled up listening to The Three Little Pigs on my portable player. Or cozy winter nights spent indoors while another album dropped onto the turntable (our hi-fi was quite fancy and held up to five records in the queue). Rifling through the large selection of LPs in our family collection – Burrell Ives, Bobby Vinton, Rick Springfield, Tom Jones, and of course Kids Praise.

Sunday afternoons spent playing games, napping, or reading. The house buzzing with the sound of friends and family visiting. The smell of coffee brewing.

You can’t hang on to everything, but we should hang on to some things. Today I’m grateful for vinyl, varying speeds and all. It’s okay, Jiminy, I’ve got this.

 

 


Sometimes “No” is Better

A giant Papa Smurf! I’m asking for that for Christmas.

No.

I’ll take Cheer Bear for my birthday, please.

No. Enjoy your Grumpy Bear glass from Pizza Hut, that’s as close as you’re going to get.

That’s not to say I didn’t receive any popular toys in the 80s. I did have various Strawberry Shortcake toys which I loved and still have (at my parents’ house, obviously). My sister and I both got Miss Piggy Babies one Christmas. We were not deprived, but my parents did say “no” more often than I would have liked.

Then along came the epitome of the 80s childhood toy. The doll that we all wanted. The doll that sold out as soon as it was stocked. It became the stuff of legends if you owned one, let alone two. And the real deal, no knock-offs.

The Cabbage Patch Doll.

Oh, how I wanted one. I wasn’t picky, hair colour didn’t matter, I just really, really wanted to have a cabbage patch doll. PLEASE.

No.

No, we aren’t going to jump on the bandwagon of consumerism.*

No, we aren’t going to line up overnight to get you the next big thing.

No, we aren’t going to spend that kind of money on something you will enjoy at first only to see it collect dust in the corner.

No.

And then, one day that no turned in a yes. Of sorts.

Mom and Dad didn’t have a sudden change of heart and rush out to buy me a Cabbage Patch doll complete with a signature on its bottom. I didn’t wake up morning to a surprise delivery of my very dream come true.

No, instead I got something better. Much better.

A family friend made me my own Cabbage Patch doll. She went to a flea market and bought clothes for her and even picked up newborn diapers.

Some might say that homemade = inferior, and that may be true in some cases, but not this one. I received a gift that took time, energy, and a lot of love and thought. Even as a young girl, I knew the true value of that doll. I never longed for a Cabbage Patch again because what I received was so much better.

Meet Amanda

Meet Amanda

I do not hold on to many things. I am nostalgic with memories and shared events, but not really things. And although my doll is still at my parents’ house, it’s more for her safety rather than my neglect. She’s special. She’s a “no” that was better.

Side note: About thirty years after ginger Amanda was christened, I met and became good friends with a new Amanda. Which just proves that God has an amazing sense of humour.

————

*disclaimer: I do not judge you or your parents if you did have a Cabbage Patch doll, those things were awesome.

Have you had a time when “no” was better?


It’s not Tobacco

Before matching storage containers were a thing, before IKEA became famous for it’s storage solutions, before pinterest, parents stored toys in whatever reusable vessel they could find. Our parents were “green” before “green” was even a thing.

Did you ever store your marbles in a Crown Royal bag? Then you had such a parent. A mom who bought margarine in the gigantic tub and then stored your barbie clothes inside. A mom who kept shoe boxes that were just the right space for your Rubix cube and Monchichee.

We didn’t question these storage choices, it was just the way things were done. I even do a bit of that now with our crew. The oldest stores his Pokemon cards in a gift box that once held lavender soap and foot lotion and he doesn’t bat an eye.

I do wonder about some of the choices (not the Crown Royal bag, that was the result of sound reasoning).

Don't worry, it's EXTRA MILD tobacco

Don’t worry, it’s EXTRA MILD tobacco

What could be inside this tin of wonder? Crayons? Glamour Gals? Marbles? (no, of course not marbles, those are in the Crown Royal bag). Maybe some Little People accessories? Legos?

No, silly. Isn’t it obvious? The tin that at one point held my grandpa’s pipe tobacco was the perfect vessel to house:

Your very own yarn ball collection

Your very own yarn ball collection

When I discovered this gem in my parents’ basement, my first thought was, “Who would use an old tobacco tin for their kids’ stuff?” which was followed quickly by, “Who keeps it for almost forty years?” But now I think it needs to be hermetically sealed as a tribute to all the craft projects my sisters and I never finished. Right beside all the partial rug hooking kits (don’t worry, they kept those, too).

We spent many a Saturday night together in the basement rug hooking while we watched “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island”. I don’t think any of us thought ahead enough to contemplate what we would DO with those hooked rugs once we finished (we never did. Not even one rug. So maybe even then we knew we lacked follow through). My favourite part was squishing the yarn packets, so there’s really no doubt as to why I never finished a project. Somewhere in my childhood home I bet there’s a pickle jar full of half-finished yarn bracelets, right beside a bunch of partially-knitted leg warmers.

It doesn’t hold tobacco anymore, but it does hold memories. I call dibs.


Musicals – Really?

Musicals have always baffled me. I enjoy them, but remain baffled.

Do the characters all agree ahead of time that singing is acceptable? Do they make a pact to keep a poker face when someone breaks into song? Where are the musicians? In musical world, do they do their own choreography? Who decides who gets to sing lead?

Nothing brought these questions more to mind than “Glee“. I watched the first season, most of the second and loved their versions of popular hits. But despite my enjoyment (and watching with a like-minded friend helped) it took a lot to suspend my disbelief. I mean, I do sing in real life – I come by that honestly (thanks, Dad) but it’s mostly a bar or two of song with altered lyrics (“Someone’s pretty whiny in the kitchen, someone’s pretty whiny I knooooooow” that kind of thing).

Recently I had a life-changing moment and musicals suddenly became completely plausible.

We were in the van and #2 son asked, “Why did God even MAKE spiders? They are the worst.” And without missing a beat I turned around and sang the entire first verse to a song from my childhood (teachers, take note, singing sticks with you, I learned this song more than thirty years ago).

Tiny little spider swinging from a vine

Looking for a place to tie your line

Yes, both volumes can still be found at my parents' house.

Yes, both volumes can still be found at my parents’ house.

Making frilly webs wherever you may go

Oh, my busy friend, who made you so?

God the Father don’t you see?

Put together all of me

He made fox and fish and fowl

Frogs that jump and snakes that crawl

He made all.

The boys looked back at me with mouths slightly slack, shrugged, and went on to the next topic. JUST LIKE IN MUSICALS.

Haven’t made my case yet? Another example.

The boys were playing with a neighbour friend for a large portion of the day. Things were going really well – everyone was getting along, lots of giggles, a very fun afternoon. #2 Son asked if they could play inside for a while. The toddler was napping and it was so nice outside it seemed a shame to go indoors, so I replied, “no, we’re going to stay outside.” He asked me why not and again I burst into song:

It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

A beautiful day in the neighbourhood

We’re staying outside

We’re playing outside

We’re going to say outsiiiiiide

(tune: Mr. Rogers theme song)

They shrugged and went off to ride bikes. A few minutes later he asked again (that kid is persistent) and I began my song. I had just finished the first bar and his friend said, “oh, there she goes again.”

Ok, so not exactly like a real musical, but it could happen, it COULD.


Stick ’em up!

Fits most sizes

Fits most sizes

For Sale:

One Cinderella princess mask, circa 1973. Comes with nylon pink and white smock to complete the Cinderella look. Don’t worry, it mostly covers your thick winter coat.

Yes, the breathing hole is small, but it does exist (I survived the photo-shoot and only got light-headed twice). Might want to avoid eating onions or garlic before trick-or-treating this year, just to be safe. It gets a little sweaty by the breathing holes, so pack some tissues.

This costume is so amazing that not only did  wear it three years in a row, my sister had used it for at least one Halloween before me.

All interested buyers must sign a waiver promising not to use this mask in any bank heist or other illegal shenanigans. Scaring family members is not only permitted, it is encouraged.

Originally, this gem was sold for $3.99 (likely at Woolco), so no offers under that will be considered.

It is recommended that you trick-or-treat with a buddy as there might be one or seven blind spots, so hold off on the scaring of family members until after Halloween (it also makes it that much more unexpected).

If you’d rather not be a pretty, pretty princess, might I suggest another option?

When a bed sheet is just too hard to find

When a bed sheet is just too hard to find

This is the first in a series of pictorial posts entitled: “Stuff From my Childhood That is Still at my Parents’ House”.

What was your favourite Halloween costume? How many years in a row did you wear it? (that’s a thing, right?)


My Polyester Dad

My dad and I have a special relationship. It might be because we are both the baby in the family or just the way the genetics worked out. Nature versus nurture – who knows? I do know that it’s been a good thing, mostly.

I was born in the seventies, so our photo albums are rife with interesting clothing choices. He had a lot of polyester. A LOT. Our family photo from 1976 shows him sporting a sweet red suit. And he had the fashion sense to match it with something like this (and yes, he had tinted glasses – better to go all-in, right?):

Courtesy of dressthatman.com (really wishing I'd saved some of Dad's stuff right now).

Courtesy of dressthatman.com (really wishing I’d saved some of Dad’s stuff right now).

Then there was the infamous animal shirt. I think my brother at one point refused to be seen in public if Dad wore it.

It was just like this, but with more ducks.

It was just like this, but with more ducks.

Guys, these examples pale in comparison to The John Deere Snowmobile Suit.

One piece.

Bright green.

And, according to Dad, it wasn’t limited to snowmobiling.

He wasn't being ironic

He wasn’t being ironic and yes, it was that green.

It was the early eighties. I was about 9 or 10, tagging along on some errands with my dad. I guess it was winter because he was wearing the JDSS. We must have gone to the usual spots – gas station, possibly Canadian Tire, with a final stop at Big V Drugstore (raise your hand if you remember those).

I was in the cosmetics aisle checking out the various choices of nail polish and lip glosses when from at least two rows over I heard, “Jan! JAN! JANICE!!  Something in his voice told me to duck and cover but it was too late. He rounded the corner and spotted me, held up a big blue box and asked, “ARE THESE THE TAMPONS YOUR MOM USUALLY BUYS?”

Dad, I am grateful that I inherited many of your excellent qualities, one of which is the ability to laugh at yourself. I am equally grateful that I inherited Mom’s “indoor voice”. Happy Father’s Day.

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Dad was always game for the photo booth at the mall.