Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Days of Halloween Past

When I was a kid, Halloween night seemed to last forever. I remember the paths we'd take, up and down neighbourhood avenues and along a particular stretch of a main street, where some stores shelled out all-day suckers and bags of chips to the princesses, ghosts, witches and skeletons that paraded through their shops. We'd dart back and forth across otherwise empty streets to the houses where pumpkins glowed on their front porches.

People were generous, which was a good thing because we kids were greedy, rushing home to empty our heavy, near-full pillow cases to discover that its enormous weight was due to at least a dozen apples. We didn't worry much back then, about finding sinister items in our treats. The only nut cases to be found were those surrounding the handfuls of loose peanuts accompanying those apples. Candy bars were a rarer, and most welcomed coup. We'd sort the mound of goodies into a few piles - apples, peanuts, molasses candy kisses, chocolate treats and lolli-pops.
And gum, which was usually boxed in mini-packets of two Chicklets each. Of course we also always carried around UNICEF boxes, which were usually filled to capacity, and turned in at school the next day.

I think Halloween was my Dad's favourite holiday to capture on film. He used to have a movie camera, and I can remember seeing endless, silent footage of children arriving at our door, holding out bags and waddling off to ring the next doorbell in their over-sized costumes. Mom also got into the act. As the camera turned in toward our own living room, there was Mom, all dressed up as a hobo in Dad's plaid shirt, baggy pants and a floppy hat. Her ensemble was completed by the black paper that comes inside boxes of chocolates, secured around her front teeth to create the illusion that she'd been gummin' it for years. She didn't need to be reminded to show off her toothless grin that night. She cracked her own self up, and her smile was ever-present.

A decade later, I can remember my parents hosting a costume party for adults only. My sister and I were too young to be a part of the fun, but old enough to understand why we were excluded. We didn't hang around that night, but we did see the photographs sometime later. Mom decided that she'd be some sort of plumber-toilet hybrid that year. Her costume consisted of an apron, rubber gloves, boots and a plunger. Around her neck sat an actual (unused) opened toilet seat, and a roll of toilet paper perched on top of her head. Dad regressed into infancy, and wore a nightgown and baby bonnet with matching booties. In his mouth was a giant, boob-shaped pacifier. He might not have done much talking that night.

Once I started partying on my own, I hosted a "fictional character" theme costume party one Halloween. My friend Carol Anne and I worked hard at designing and creating our costumes. My boyfriend and I dressed up as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell respectively, only briefly considering reversing the roles. I used wires, Saran Wrap and glitter to make my wings, and aluminum foil was used to wrap up a star-tipped wand. I ended up spreading so much fairy dust glitter around, that I continued to vacuum it from my small apartment for months, perhaps years later. Somewhere I have photos, but I'm sober and I'm not going to post them.

The best costume, by far, was Carol Anne's "Cat in the Hat." Like I said, we worked long and hard at creating them and just minutes before the party began, I helped her with the finishing touches. The body portion of her costume consisted of all black - leggings and a turtle-neck jersey. A leotard, complete with wiry tail was worn over the first two items, and a hood with ears for the cat's head was tucked inside her collar. Before topping that headpiece off with the famous red and white striped hat, we needed to secure the hood by sewing it into the turtleneck jersey, creating the illusion of an all-in-one piece. Black make-up gave her some cat's eyes, a black nose and whiskers. Once she added the hat, Carol Anne looked great, and quite proud of herself, she happily poured a drink and went about enjoying the party.

Everyone arrived in some amazing costumes, but there was no doubt that The Cat in the Hat was the hit of the party. Carol Anne struck up a conversation with an old friend and she poured herself another drink while he admired her costume. He asked her about how she put it together. Proud of her handiwork, and of our brilliant idea to secure the costume by sewing her into it, she went into detail describing the process. He smiled. Then he laughed. Then he just looked at her and laughed some more. Finally he asked her "How are you supposed to go pee if you're sewn into that thing?"

Carol Anne never said an audible word. She just put her drink down, remained thirsty for the rest of the night and learned about the value of Velcro.

Fast forward to today. My kids are long past the Trick-or-Treat age now. Their years of running around the streets in costume with a UNICEF box seem to have lasted such a short time. The excitement they felt when getting ready to charge the neighbourhood was contagious. I couldn't help but feel transformed back to my own youth alongside them. I hope that when they think back as adults, they will remember the magic of those special nights, and feel the joy in discovering them all over again with their own children.

What were some of your own, or your kids' favourite costumes from Halloween past?

Here are a few photos of my kidlets in costume from various days of Halloween past.

From a very young age, Jeffrey knew what he wanted and often figured out a way to achieve it. When he was three, his wish to dress up as an all-season tree had me 'stumped'. I scanned images of autumn leaves, winter snowflakes, spring flowers and summer apples, and used markers to give them colour. This was back in 1990 and I didn't have a colour printer yet. I cut the shapes out and glued them to a piece of green material. A trip to the craft store provided me with the birds and nest that we perched atop his head. Velcro might have been involved.

Here's Jeffrey all set to put out fires in neighbourhood Jack-O'-Lanterns. By the time he was in Junior Kindergarten, he was fascinated with the idea of becoming a fire fighter - and a doctor, and a garbage collector, and a scientist, and ...

As it turned out, he now opts to dress like this, an Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. This was taken last year on his way to his first year at RMC (Royal Military College) in Kingston, Ontario.

Aladdin was very popular when Jeffrey was 6. His birthday was the previous April and he wanted an Aladdin theme party, hence the birthday banner behind him. Six months later he wanted to dress up as his favourite character and hit the streets with his sidekick...

At age 3, Alex was now old enough to join his brother. He was less opinionated than Jeffrey and allowed us to dress him as Abu, the primate that accompanies Aladdin. It quite suited his little monkyish character.

On to scarier costumes. I'm surprised my kids sat still for the make-up jobs that were inflicted upon them over the years, but they happily endured it twice a day - for the school parade and at night. Here's Jeffrey being a not-so-scary vampire.

Alex waddled through the streets dressed as a dinosaur. At 4, he was less inclined to sit still for a full make-up job....

But at aged 5, he showed tremendous patience. Alex loved being a tiger so much that we painted him up the same way for the following Halloween.

He has since grown a very impressive mane. This was taken during the winter. Since then, his hair has grown several more inches. He says he'll get it trimmed when he's finished with high school.

Another challenge from 9 year-old Jeffrey. A jar of jelly beans. I obliged him by filling up a clear trash bag with inflated balloons, held up by a pair of suspenders. Hand painted candies adorned his face, and a "Jeffrey Jellybean" hat topped off this very uncomfortable costume.

By the time Alex was 9, he was beyond wanting his face painted, and now into the typical attire of the time. Here he is modeling his Darth Maul costume, complete with lightsaber.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tales of the Unexpected

When we decided to spend an extended weekend at the cottage in mid-October, I had anticipated a few things.

I figured the weather would be cool and crisp, and that the foliage which was just beginning to show its brilliance in September would cover the ground entirely, rather than cling to the trees. I expected there would still be running water, so that a hot shower would warm us after a shivery walk or a blustery morning spent fishing off the dock. I also thought that I might not have enjoyed this visit as much as I did in September, if some of the discomforts weighed in with the luxuries. But I was wrong.

As the weekend neared, I was pleased to see that the forecast had called for unseasonably warm weather. We arrived late Thursday afternoon to overcast skies and temperatures of 20C (68F). As if a balance needed to be struck, we unlocked the door and discovered with great disappointment that the water had indeed been turned off for the winter. We brought plenty of bottled water for drinking and teeth-brushing but the absence of running water would suggest no showers, hot or otherwise, and no sink-washed dishes. We considered just staying a night or two, but figured we'd decide later as the weekend evolved.

As it turned out we stayed the full four nights as originally planned, and wished it could have been longer. It was four days filled with the wonderfully unexpected.

Unexpected Tale #1

The woods were alive with colour.

As if balmy October days weren't joyful enough, the trees that greeted us throughout the trip and at the cottage were actually at their peak.

The blue sky and reflecting lake water enhanced the vibrant yellows, oranges and reds, and the already-discarded leaves blanketed the roads and pathways, all adding to the visual wonder that is autumn.

Unexpected Tail #2

Jack Russell Terriers are valiant wave-killers.

Benny's greatest enjoyment was spent at the lake's shoreline watching, taunting and attacking the waves as they rolled in. His tenacity kept him biting at them for hours, every day.

Which one will give up first, the wind, or the JRT? Benny's vigor nearly outlasted the wind. And the smell of perpetually-wet dog will quite possibly outlast his energy.

Unexpected Tale #3

Food preparation, dish-washing and even bathing outside in the October air was fun. Yes, fun!

Day two warmed up by a couple of degrees, but became rainy and windy. Since the plumbing was unavailable, we had four options. 1) Really rough it and skip the shower completely. Nuh-uh. This city mouse wanted to be squeaky clean. 2) Wash up in the lake.

The days might have been warm, but the water still knew it was October. That's much too cold - for me anyway. 3) Go home. Not a chance! It was just too lovely in every other way to allow it to end over empty pipes. 4) Find a hotel room to rent for a half-hour and shower there. Yeah, right! 5) Heat up some lake water on the stove, strip down and wash up outside.

We chose door number five. I felt like a kid shivering out in the autumn downpour, allowing the rain to soak me so that I could work up enough lather for a good scrub. A bucket of heated rinse water helped dissipate the goosebumps, and a dry, fluffy towel became my new best friend.

Similarly, without running water, we became semi-frequent visitors of the outhouse, complete with its crescent moon and star-shaped, cut-out windows.

Unexpected Tale #4

It poured all day on Friday. We fished a bit, and played cards, read and even watched some television. All helped to pass the time spent mostly cooped up indoors. By afternoon, it was still raining.

It might have been the large box of colourful wax crayons that triggered a nostalgic tug, or perhaps it was the Mojitos that fueled a general feeling of well-being, but I began leafing through one of the colouring books that I found in a nearby pile.

Before I knew it, we were in the screened-in porch, crayons strewn across the table, and tongues peeking out of the corners of our mouths just like children, as we coloured the puerile images on the page. Maturity is so overrated.

Unexpected Tale #5

We fully expected to see the typical loons, ducks and fish in the cool waters of the lake during our visit, but unaccustomed eyes did a double-take when curiosity drew some unusual critters close to the dock. I was in the cottage when I heard "Come here. Hurry! And bring the camera. Quickly!" I rushed out to the dock to see three otters frolicking around in the water.
My hurried presence must have made them a bit nervous because they immediately began to swim away.

Unfortunately, the only photo I managed to capture of one of them was blurry and out of focus. I missed the best part of their show, but it was an unexpected treat nonetheless.

Unexpected Tale #6

In nearby Cloyne, right across the street from the famous Curry Hut, there's a convenience store that sells the best raspberry butter tarts I've ever tasted. If the truth be known, I've never tasted any others but if I had, I'm sure these would still win out. They're hauntingly delicious and we decided to make a trip into town and stock up on some of those scrumptious delights. Only our water situation was more of a disappointment than learning that the local bakery had mechanical troubles that week, and were unable to stock the local stores with their baked goods. We decided to make the best of the day by exploring the area, allowing the road to take us in new directions.

Among the many visual treats was this lovely vista, which greeted us as we reached the apex of a mountainous road.

On our way back, we pulled over to capture this photo. The whimsical colours of the fence caught my eye, and my fancy.

Unexpected Tale #7

At the end of a mostly-overcast day, the clouds broke open just long enough to allow a sliver of sunlight to spill across the sky.

The skies continued to clear up overnight, providing us with record high temperatures for our final day and a half spent at the cottage.

Our last night there was warm and clear, and the setting sun ignited the sky and grew more colourful by the moment.

By the time we left to go home on Monday, the thermometer had climbed to 25C (77F) - almost unheard of for mid-to-late October.

Since returning home, I've certainly enjoyed reacquainting myself with long, hot showers and dry, unsmelly cats, but I also miss the surroundings we've left behind.

Should the opportunity to return arise anytime soon, I think I'd jump at the chance to spend more time there. But if it's during the winter, I might just opt for door number four.

You can see some more photos and read about this weekend from Frank's perspective over at his always-entertaining blog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gotta Hand it to...

Crabby and Reb!

Way to go! All songs contained body parts in their titles. Theirs and other responses appear in the comments section of the previous post.

Song titles are as follows:

Under My Skin - Frank Sinatra
Don't you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality

Legs - ZZ Top
She's got a dime all of the time

Stays out at night movin' through time

These Arms of Mine - Otis Redding
And if you would let them hold you

Oh how grateful I will be

Cheek To Cheek - Ella Fitzgerald
Oh I love to go out fishing

In a river or a creek

Sunshine on My Shoulder - John Denver
If I had a tale that I could tell you

I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile

Sister Golden Hair - America
Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air

Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care

I've Just Seen a Face - Beatles
I have never known the like of this

I've been alone and I have missed things

Lips of an Angel - Hinder
It's really good to hear your voice saying my name
It sounds so sweet

Can't Take My Eyes Off You - Frankie Valli
The sight of you leaves me weak

There are no words left to speak

Under My Thumb - Rolling Stones
It's down to me

The difference in the clothes she wears

And the post title "You Keep Me Searching..." is from:
Heart of Gold - Neil Young

Next challenge will have to be tougher...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You Keep Me Searching: A Music Challenge

Another lyrics quiz. Same rules as last time.

What do these ten sets of lyrical snippets have in common?

I'll be away from the computer for a few days. Until then I'm turning on moderation. Please leave your answers in the comments section. I'll see them all, and post them when I get back.

By the way, the kidlet with the guitar is my youngest. I'll write about him one day soon.

Have fun!

1) Don't you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality

2) She's got a dime all of the time,
Stays out at night movin' through time.

3) And if you would let them hold you,
Oh how grateful I will be.

4) Oh I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek

5) If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile

6) Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care?

7) I have never known the like of this,
I've been alone and I have missed things

8) It's really good to hear your voice saying my name
It sounds so sweet

9) The sight of you leaves me weak.
There are no words left to speak,

Its down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Rules According to Cats

Dear Benny Russell Terror,

It's been some time since you have been to our house, and we don't entirely mind your presence, but there are a few rules that you need to learn before your next visit.

1) Your mere presence in our home does not mean that you can have the same privileges we do. Doggie paws are icky and should not be allowed on any table surface, regardless of whether our people are eating or not. You don't spend hours cleaning and fluffing like we do, therefore you have dirty paws. Stay down.

2) Similarly, you're not allowed on our beds. You smell, and you drool in your sleep. That's disgusting. The only non-felines allowed on the beds are our people. By feeding us gourmet dinners and worshipping our every move, they have earned their right to lie under the blankets and lay their heads on the pillows. You have your own smelly little bed, and that's where you must sleep. Get over it.

3) While you're having dinner, our job is to sit on the table or shelves above you to see what you are eating, and if one of us finds it appealing, we may swoop down in front of you and take what we want. This does not give you the right to wander over to our own unfinished meal. Our food is our food. Your food is our food.

4) You must cease your vulgar behaviour of humping the pillows, your toys, the sofa, the man's foot, the carpet and any living creature that allows you to get close enough to mount it. Most of the dogs in the neighbourhood are five times your size, and would require a step ladder for you to even see your target. Give it up.

5) You must learn how to restrain yourself when we allow you to play outside in our yard. It's offensive to our sensibilities that you think so little of our space that you immediately take a dump out there. What do you think this is - a giant litter box? Restrain yourself. 

6) Just be quiet. What is that hideous yelp that comes from your throat every time we playfully hiss at you? It hurts our ears. One would think you're being murdered. If you don't want us to turn around and look at you, then don't chase us, for heaven's sake. The same goes for your growling. It sounds like a pathetic attempt to purr and we all know that inferior animals can not purr.  Be silenced.

7) Learn some restraint. Do you not understand that when the people call you by name, clap their hands and make bird-like noises at you, that you're supposed to simply appear irritated and ignore them? Instead you come running out from the farthest recesses of the house or yard to see what they have for you. Foolish canine, they just want to control you, and you're willing to sell yourself for a mere rub on the head. Have you no pride?

8) Stop your incessant jumping. You don't need to launch yourself into the air every time the people touch your leash. How are they supposed to clip it onto your collar if you don't hold still. Nobody is happier than we are to see you go away for a nice looooong walk, so just hold still and cooperate. Settle down.
9) Get down. The human lap is reserved for cats only. You may not wiggle your way onto one of our people, and steal our rightful pats and belly rubs. For some reason, my people think you're pretty adorable. We're not fooled by your head-cocks and cute little noises. The people belong to us. Stay down.

10) This is the most important rule of all. You are NOT to laugh at how one of us looks since a recent stay at the vet* (human explanation below). There have been a couple of unfortunate encounters with the surgeon's razor and knife. Ten days later, one of us returned home wearing a most unbecoming stretchy outfit and a ridiculous blue collar. It is to be worn for the next few weeks, and should your next visit intersect with that period of time, you must refrain from staring, laughing or feeling superior. Remember to ignore it, that it isn't funny, and that you are inferior. Hissssss.

If you can accomplish these simple rules, we will continue to endure your presence in our home. You are a dog. You will never be one of us. But play by the rules and we may just tolerate your existence.

Very Mewly Yours,

Skittles & Zephyr

*Shortly after I returned from the late-September cottage visit, it was evident that one of my cats had been vomiting. That's not so unusual for a feline, given their penchant for aiming slimy fur balls right at that spot where your bare foot hits the floor first thing in the morning. I cleaned it up and forgot about it until it happened again. And again and again.

Zephyr is the least aggressive feline that I've ever known. Skittles, at about two-thirds his size, is by no means a rough cat, but has taken on the job of alpha kitty in this pairing. Nothing is important enough to Zephyr to fight over. Except food. Then he'll win every time.

Most animals have a normal survival instinct and therefore eat to live. Zephyr, the laziest, klutziest cat in my world, lives only to eat and purr. So when he lost interest in both of those activities, and continued vomiting the water he was drinking, a trip to the vet was in order.

That hospital stay lasted ten days, during which time he had:

• X-rays to determine if a blockage existed: Negative

• Full blood work up to diagnose liver issues: Negative

• Exploratory surgery to locate a blockage: Negative

• Liver biopsy: Negative

• Bowel biopsy: Ta-da!

• Stomach tube insertion

• Intravenous

• Anti-inflammatory medication

• Antibiotics

• A funny little t-shirt to keep his stomach tube from getting caught on anything.

• A hilarious blue collar to keep him from licking and biting at his tube or incisions.

Five days after surgery the lab came back with a diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. An encouraging finding because it's usually highly treatable with oral medication, once the vomiting ceases. After a week, Zephyr had begun to keep his tube-fed food down but he was still showing no interest in eating, so the tube proved to be an important procedure.

On day ten, after nibbling a bit, he was ready to come home. I learned how to supplement-feed him by tube, and how to keep the tube site clean. Thankfully his appetite has begun to return, and I no longer have to tube-feed him, though I continue to ensure that the tube remains clear by forcing water through it to his stomach twice daily. This is also in case he regresses and needs to rely on tube feedings again.
He's been home for a week now and doing well. Skittles, whom I feared would pick on him mercilessly, was quite stunned at his appearance when he arrived home, and stayed out of his way.

Zephyr is a good patient, and purrs his way through wound cleanings and force-fed pills. If he continues to improve after the meds are done, he'll have one more quick surgery to remove the tube in a few weeks.

He's a great cat, and well worth the trouble and expense, which was kindly reduced by my empathetic vet. Here's a photo of him in his recovery outfit. Just don't let him hear you laughing.

Ten days at the vet and all I got was this lousy t-shirt and collar.

The collar is supposed to keep him from licking and biting at his incision. It works fairly well considering his tongue can't reach past the end of it. It's actually supposed to be worn turned up. Here you can see the outline of the feeding tube through the material of his t-shirt.

Anatomy of a sick cat.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's Not About Montreal

I meant to write about Toronto, but despite having lived just west of the city for twenty-four years, I'm still nowhere near as familiar with this metropolis as I was with my own home town - Montreal.

When I lived in Montreal, I spent a great deal of my time downtown. On most Friday or Saturday nights, I could be found at the Irish Lancer Pub listening as live Irish-style bands alternated between touching ballads and rowdy drinking songs. I miss that ease of stepping out with friends to spend the evening nursing a couple of drinks and singing along with familiar tunes.

The shopping there was tops. Their main drag is St. Catherine Street, and there were non-stop boutiques, department stores and restaurants for several blocks in the downtown core. Day or night, the unusual characters were out in full, and people-watching was a must.

Montreal also had the best food. In Ontario, bagels are just donut-shaped bread. Boring! Montreal bagels are a feast in themselves and you'll notice the difference as soon as you see them. They're usually smaller, and shaped rather unevenly. Bite into one and you find that they're moist, dense, doughy and slightly sweet. They are my only true bagels. and most any Montreal bakery, deli or snack bar offered them. In Ontario, not even the gourmet bagel shops can bake up anything like them.

And don't be fooled by other cities that offer "Montreal smoked meat." They're lying. Nobody makes smoked meat remotely close to the Montreal delicatessens.

I've not been back home in almost a decade, and no doubt, parts of Montreal have changed beyond recognition. I'd like to get back there for a few days and reacquaint myself with the city of my youth. Downtown life still draws me much like country life does - it must be the Gemini in me. I miss Montreal, and every now and then I feel the need for a city "fix," and so I settle for the next best thing - a trip into Toronto, complete with its own eateries, unique shops and interesting individuals that are also very observation-worthy.

On a recent day excursion into Toronto, we wandered into markets, ate lunch, window-shopped and stopped for coffee. It was a beautifully warm and sunny October afternoon and we walked for hours, snapping photos as we went along, some of which are below.

The St. Lawrence market which is situated on the north and south sides of Front Street contains over 60 produce vendors, both indoors and out.

Handmade articles, fresh and prepared meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, jams and other sweets fill up stall after stall for two city blocks. Some offer free samples such as sausage served with a dozen different mustard options, or you may get to taste a small chunk of fudge. Colourful booths boast knitwear, paintings, jewelry and crafts. We visited on a Saturday, and the place was bustling with activity. We hope to go back on a weekday when we can take more time to stroll through the area without getting caught up in the crowd.

Everyday supermarkets can not compare with the tables of produce, freshly-picked that day.

Colourful pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn will brighten up homes this autumn.



and tote bags in vivid hues are displayed outdoors.

Leaving the market behind, we decided to heed our hunger, and found an old-fashioned little diner on King Street. The Patrician Grill is a family-run business and there was no doubt that the older gentleman that spoke to us with such pride in his eyes, was the original owner. All-day breakfast and burgers seemed to be the popular choices of their regular patrons. The food wasn't spectacular, but it was decent. The atmosphere was nostalgic, but without any of the decorative gimmicks to fool you into believing that the place appeared older than it actually was. The setting and fixtures were genuinely original.

A small gem from the past.

After lunch, we headed north and walked along Queen Street.

Perched atop Toronto's Old City Hall, a gargoyle watched as we explored the town.

Much of the city's charm is tucked away along this stretch of colourful shops and caf├ęs.

All along Queen Street, we found the kinds of shops that aren't usually seen in most small towns. In addition to the typical book stores and antique shops, crowds wandered in and around a number of pothead shops that sell an amazing array of related paraphernalia. We noticed a few sex shops proudly promoting their toys and books...

and this safety-promoting Condom Shack.

Brightly-painted graffiti adorns the brick walls in the alleyways between the shops.

A common site in most cities are pan handlers and musicians, each trying to take home some cash at the end of the day. Some of the street performers can be quite talented.

And some are just amusing.

Heading back east along Queen St., we encountered this painted tree in need of some affection.

By the time we got back to the train station, our feet were groaning from the six hours they spent striking the pavement. It was a great day though, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Maybe next time we'll hit Montreal!

What's your favourite city?