Category Archives: Lifestyle

On being Mrs. McGregor: Bunnies

This bunny hopped into my backyard early Saturday morning.

small bunny on the snow
March Hare?

Cute bunny, right? But my reaction to the furry friend was not charitable, because last year this bunny, or one just like her, ate the tops off all my tulips. My Canada 150 tulips, no less. I was not impressed.

close-up of the leaf shape in the centre of the Canada 150 tulip
Canada 150 tulip – 2017

And my front garden has become her favourite place to poop. Yuck.

bunny poop in the garden
Bunnies poop is cute, but still . . .

As my tulips come into bloom this year I will be keeping a close eye on bunnies. My red and white blooms will be guarded, and I posted a comment to that effect on my Facebook feed. One of my friends commented: “Okay, Mr(s). McGregor.”

I laughed out loud, because I did sound like Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit about the garden.

cover of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

I laugh.

But, I love my tulips.

Bunny, I’ve got eyes on you. And I’m not afraid of being called Mrs. McGregor.

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map
Useless?

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees

Top sheets to the wind

How have we failed our next generation?

Have we allowed them too many video games?

Do we restrict their freedom too much and not let them just be carefree and out there playing?

Will their inability to read cursive writing or tell time by an analogue clock put their lives in mortal danger someday?

Those are all valid questions. But there’s one place where I know I mis-stepped with my children.

They don’t use top sheets on their beds.

Apparently this is common amongst people of their age. Read one such person’s opinion here: For the love of good sleep, stop using a top sheet.

My children are young adults now so I don’t do their laundry anymore, but when they were younger, this drove me bonkers. On laundry day, I would find the top sheets either removed entirely or balled up at the foot of their bed. And washing a duvet cover is five thousand times more irritating than washing a simple sheet. (I’m not exaggerating there, right?)

I did’t understand why my children did this, and I thought it was a weird familial quirk. I would growl and grit me teeth and ask “Why? Where did I go wrong?

My friend has a theory that it’s because of the climate controlled comfort of our homes. She could have a point.

The farmhouse I lived in as a child had no central heating. My father, bless him, was first up in the morning. He lit the wood furnace and heated the lower floor while the rest of us — weighted down by layers of our grandmother’s quilts — watched our breath condense in the cold of air of our bedrooms upstairs. When he thought the house was warm enough, my father yelled up. My brothers and I would count, “1, 2, 3,” throw off the quilts and run as fast as we could from the frigid upstairs to the warmth below.

I grew up in a generation that needed layers for those winter nights, and the more the better. The top sheet (flannel in winter) was another much needed layer. And it protected the quilts, of which every stitch was sewn by hand.

On the flip side of that, without air conditioning the upper floor of our farmhouse could be suffocating on sweltering humid Ottawa Valley summer nights. The thin top sheet was all we could bear. It gave us the feeling of being covered without causing heat distress.

Even though the thermostat in the house I live in now is set to reduce automatically to a lower temperature at night, our home never reaches the biting cold of my old farmhouse on a winter night. And even though I’m not a fan of air conditioning and use it seldom, the times I do choose to use it are on the kind of sweltering hot days when a single top sheet for sleeping would be the choice.

As a result, for my children and others like them, the top sheet has become superfluous. They kick it off. Tra la la, I’m free.

Bonkers, it drives me.

But wait. To add insult to injury, my Facebook feed these days is filled with advertisements about weighted blankets. Some of these blankets promise that they have been “re-engineered” to guarantee sleep that will solve everything from ADHD to restless legs syndrome to my menopausal symptoms.

The same generation that kicks off their top sheets is now paying extra for the sensation that mounds of my grandmother’s quilts provided.

My grandmother never had to “re-engineer” her quilts.

As a parent, there are many things I would like to go back in time and do over. Some of those things “weightier” than others.

One thing I would rectify for sure would be the top sheet thing.

I would turn our furnace WAY down at night, load up their beds with quilts and not turn the heat back up in the morning until they had a good dose of watching their breath condense..

quilt with embroidered rose squares
Grandma’s quilt – the original weighted blanket.

Nancy Greene advice: Look at where you’re going, not what you’re going through

To receive a skiing tip from Canadian alpine ski legend Nancy Greene Raine is a priceless gift.

It’s also slightly embarrassing.

We spent last week skiing at the Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, and one of the immeasurably valuable benefits available at the mountain is the opportunity to ski with Nancy Greene, Olympic medalist and World Cup champion.

Sign on ski hill about skiing with Nancy Greene Raine

She is gracious, kind and generous with her time. Several times a week she skis with visitors to Sun Peaks, and last Tuesday I was one of those lucky guests.

I’m a competent skier, but it seems that no matter what I do, I am always last in any group. I don’t care for speed. So, that day fifteen or twenty skiers followed Nancy down the hill, and I trailed behind.

She stopped to make sure the group held together. Of course I was last. She and all those fifteen or twenty skiers watched me struggle with fresh snow on the final slope.

“You’re all right?” she asked.

Oh God. Was it that bad? 

“When you’re skiing, look ahead at the big picture,” she said. “Don’t keep your eyes on the snow just in front of your skis or you’ll get tense. Look ahead and relax.”

I remembered her advice when I skied after that, and it helped. I noticed it especially on Friday night when we attended the Alpine Fondue & Starlight Descent.

We enjoyed a three-course fondue dinner at the restaurant on the mountain and then skied down after dark via starlight and headlamps.

chocolate fondue
The final course – chocolate!

Spectacular.

Skiing in the dark meant that I had to free myself of concerns about what lay ahead. I had to relax and go with the flow. I took this photo of other members of my group coming down the mountain AFTER me.

skiers with headleamps on a dark hill

I wasn’t last!

I had time to stop, remove my gloves, take out my phone, unlock it and take the picture, and just look how far behind me those skiers are.

Keep our eyes on where we’re going, not what we’re going through.

Freeing, free advice from a champion

snowy mountain scene

Why I live here: Answering the Trevor Noah questions

Nailed it! Traffic mess, great show.

The city of Ottawa received more snow in January than in any other January ever before. And most of that white stuff fell in the days just before Trevor Noah arrived.

The narrow streets that surround the stadium where he performed barely accommodate two cars in sunny summer weather. With snowbanks? One car, and it had better be small.

Unprecedented snow + rush hour traffic + Trevor Noah = Mayhem.

The bus we were taking to the stadium stopped dead in the gridlock. We hopped off and walked on the snowy, icy sidewalks for more than a mile to get there on time. We bustled along with people in the same situation. We acknowledged each other with:

“Trevor Noah?”

“Yep.”

People who didn’t have tickets to the event saw the mess and wondered about it. “What’s going on?” they asked.

“Trevor Noah,” was the answer.

The words Trevor Noah are likely to raise the blood pressure of many Ottawans for the next while.

But a little snow (or a lot) didn’t stop us. We arrived in time for the start of his show. He started with questions a South African who doesn’t like snow and cold would ask.

Why do we live here?

Why do we not move?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, because I love it here. But what exactly do I love, and how, and why?

Trevor Noah wasn’t a fan of our showpiece attraction – the Rideau Canal Skateway. But for us, it is JOY itself to skate for what feels like forever.

And we feel vindicated by the Lonely Planet’s selection of the skateway as one of their top 10 winter destinations.

And, if I don’t want to venture as far as the canal, I love that volunteers from my neighbourhood flood the area around the play structures so people can skate in a circuitous loop.

I love that I can drive for half an hour and go downhill skiing.

I love that the snowbanks serve as sofas when waiting for a bus.

I love that neighbours played a pick-up “Super Bowl” football game, with dogs, in two feet of snow in the park, and it was WAY more entertaining than the real Super Bowl.

I love that it’s just plain beautiful.

And I love that I know that proper clothing makes enjoying the beauty possible. Short coats and jeans? NO. Long coats and windproof pants? YES>

And those are just the winter thoughts . . .

I love that in May our parks fill up with displays of tulips like you will see nowhere else.

I love that the Rideau Canal that we skate on in the winter becomes a canoe/kayak/boat/picnic paradise in the summer.

I love that Ottawa is the capital of a country that is not perfect, but tries really hard to be so.

I love that we acknowledge our failings and work to improve.

And most of all, I love that we can laugh at ourselves, and our stereotypes – the accurate and the not-so-accurate. (A-boot? Huh?)

Lawns, mothers, children and rough Mother’s Days

Two lawns: Which do you prefer?
It looks like one is in sun and the other in shadow, but they both lie in unobstructed sunlight.

It was Mother’s Day on Sunday in North America, and on my walk yesterday I ruminated over the dark side of the day that I kept bumping up against over the weekend.

  • The father of young children whose mother died too soon. Her young boys braced for a Mother’s Day where the empty space where her unconditional love used to be loomed large.
  • A mother estranged from her teenagers due to a difficult family break-up.
  • A note from an acquaintance on social media to “everyone, but especially to those who never got the mother they deserved. Today can be a rough day, but I’m here with you. I see you.”

As I walked ideas bounced around my brain, but when I arrived at those two very different side-by-side lawns, it led my thoughts to perfectionism and unconditional love (freely given, withheld or ripped away). 

Mothers

The lawn at the bottom of the picture is Perfect Mother as we all want to be: an unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is the mother we really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

I imagine that the carefree state of the lawn at the top drives the owner of the dark green manicured lawn crazy, its imperfections judged and remarked upon. Every mother knows what it is to be judged. Too lenient, too strict, too involved, too arm’s length, too busy working, too much at home, too preoccupied with appearance, too slovenly . . . too, too, too . . .

We are human beings that make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We’re tired. We can never live up to the many variations of Ideal Perfect Mother, and our children are the first to home in on our failings and foibles.

If we’re lucky, our children grow to understand and accept our imperfections and love us unconditionally, but that’s not always the case.

Children

The lawn at the bottom is Perfect Child: the unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is children as they really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

Parents usually come to the task of parenting with the misguided belief that their children will grow into miniature versions of themselves who will follow the paths laid out for them. Surprise! Children are singular and self-directed and not at all what we expect. 

They are human beings that make mistakes. They’re figuring out who they are and trying to find a way to love whatever that is. They can never live up to the many variations of Perfect Child, and parents are the first to home in on their failings and foibles.

The most important thing parents can do is love their children unconditionally as imperfect as they are, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens, but the parent is taken away too soon. 

A rough day

Messages all around us on Mother’s Day portray the Perfect Mother and Child ideal. One could easily be mislead into believing that every family situation is unblemished and shiny like that manicured lawn, instead of complicated, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving.

On my walk, the first lawn struck me as falsely green, drugged into submission and more concerned with appearances than authenticity. I preferred the messy lawn. No pretense, no trying too hard, and no plastering over imperfections.

I enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I hope you did too. But if you had a rough day, it’s okay and ever-evolving. 

My own lawn: Cared for, a little clover mixed in, and no shortage of weeds.