Progress, whether we like it or not

After a month of trudging down to the basement to answer every call of nature, we finally have running water and a fully-installed toilet in the upstairs bathroom. This coming week, the vanity cabinets should be installed, after which the granite counter goes in and we’re done (save for the painting etc., but we’re not expecting that to take us long).
We have also managed to reset all the clocks, now that we’ve fallen back, and appreciated the extra hour of sleep, if not the inexorable march of time, even with a step back. It’s officially fall, almost winter – our snow tires are on, the heat is on, even our winter duvet is on…
We celebrated Robert’s ninth birthday yesterday (a week and a half late, due to various other engagements), and as I write this, Dr. T is taking Colin shopping for his own deodorant and shower soap. On Friday, he had an interview at Royal West Academy, because he’s starting high school next September. This morning, he got out of bed and made himself a fried egg.
I am, despite what the preceding may have implied, inclined to count my blessings:
– We’ve “struggled” with that long walk to the downstairs toilet because we’re lucky enough to live in a beautiful house and can afford to indulge in luxuries like finished basements and second bathrooms.
– We spent ages resetting clocks because our house is filled with appliances and electronics that make our home life easy and entertaining – and in fact it didn’t take all that long, since so many of our devices now reset themselves automatically.
– We have a wonderful new car, which is great, and we were astute enough to get our tires relatively early, thus avoiding the rush that will no doubt occur on December 14th (the day before Quebecers are required by law to have their winter tires installed). Even better, we live in a city with a pretty good, relatively cheap public transport system, which means we can be a one-car family that rarely uses its car.
– We have an efficient heating system that is relatively ‘green’ and keeps us cozy all winter, and we’re spoiled enough to have seasonal bedding!
– We have two amazing sons, who are becoming increasingly interesting people, with very defined and distinct interests, personalities, styles and temperaments. They’re doing well in school, which they both love, and we’re immensely proud of them.
So yes, we like progress.


Way back in June we made the momentous decision to have our basement finished. A few years ago, the world’s greatest mother-in-law helped me turn the basement from this:
before before
to this:
after before
…which was fine, for a while. But Robert has asthma, so a dusty, damp basement is not ideal. Also, we are four in the house, with one bathroom, so a second bathroom is a nice addition – not to mention that the first bathroom desperately needs work, but with four of us in the house, having no bathroom is a truly bad idea.
So we sat down with our contractor, who has already done our kitchen and backyard projects, and came up with a new basement: second bathroom, including a fancy shower; a bright, clean laundry room; lots of storage space, built around the furnace and water heater, thus hiding those industrial thingies aways; a new front door, with a closet; heating and lighting; and loads of other little luxurious details.
after after
Check out the end result on my flickr page.

Robert’s instructions for taking care of your cat

Please note, spelling has been preserved to reflect the sheer genius of my offspring.
What you need:
two bowls
some cat food
a sink
a liter box
a colar
some tuna
When yor cat does something bad, give it an agry tone. When it does the opisote, pet it and/or give it some tuna or fish. Let it go out when it please. It will come back. When one of the bowls is emty, fill it up with either water or food. When the liter box no longer has liter, throw the poo out.

Unclear on the concept?

Some of you may recall that my grandmother passed away this past January. Because she died in the winter, her casket was stored in a crypt to await burial in the spring. The interment took place last Monday.
More or less.
My grandmother’s grave is next to my grandfather’s, naturally. In fact, her name and date of birth were carved into the stone in 1993, when my grandfather died. I realize this is standard practice, but it still seems a little creepy to me to have your gravestone, four numbers shy of completion, sitting there, waiting for you for 15 years. But I digress.
When my grandfather died, it was summertime, and the funeral included the interment. The family gathered at the graveside, and watched as the casket was lowered into the ground. So although there was a four-and-a-half-month interval this time, we were expecting the interment to be pretty much the same thing – casket gets lowered into the ground. In-terre.
So my sister and I arrive at the cemetery – much earlier than anyone else, despite my dad’s conviction that we would be late – and settle in to wait for my parents and aunt and uncle, not to mention the guest of honour. I decide that I’ll visit the site, just to have a quiet moment alone with my grandfather before the ceremony. Now, the last time I was at the grave, I have to admit, was 1993. I was confident I would find it, though, since I clearly remembered standing in front of the grave, looking out onto the lake, with a tree swaying in the gentle breeze.
Of course, I conveniently forgot that the entire cemetery is basically lakeviews with gently swaying trees. (It’s very lovely, really.)
Thankfully, at the far end of the cemetery, there are two men, one of whom is clearly the operator of a small earthmover, which is parked nearby. I walk over and tell them I am there for my grandmother’s burial, and could they help my find her grave. The earthmover guy physically turns me and points to a green box a few rows over, and says “that’s her over there.”
See? I knew I could find it.
So I get to the grave, with the new numbers freshly carved into the stone, and find a small open box, plywood covered with astroturf, positioned directly over my grandmother’s final resting place. What I do not find is a big hole. Nor is there a mound of earth.
I consider whether it’s possible that the green box is like a tiger trap…
As I am walking back to my sister’s car to continue waiting for the rest of the family, the earthmover guy drives past, then stops, dismounts, and retrieves an old bouquet from another grave. As he walks past me, he winks and says “I need a monkey.”
Unfamiliar with etiquette in this situation, I am speechless. Then he explains that if he had a monkey, he could train it to retrieve the old flowers. Classy.
Ok, so everyone else arrives, including the pallbearers, the casket, the minister and the funeral director. We all make our way over to the grave, where there is still no big, traditional, you’ve-seen-it-in-all-the-movies hole. I can see my dad going through the same mental process – isn’t there supposed to be a hole? In-terre?
Anyway, the pallbearers bring the casket from the hearse and place it on the green box, which, as it turns out, is not a tiger trap, but rather a platform. The minister does his usual schtick, then the funeral director pulls a flask from his breast pocket. This was not as promising as it sounds – the flask is filled with sand, which he pours on the casket to symbolize the whole dust-to-dust thing. Amens are said, the minister shakes everyone’s hand…
…and we’re apparently done.
Except no one’s in the terre.
So my dad beckons the funeral director over and asks the obvious question – isn’t there supposed to be a hole and a lowering into said hole, etc., etc.?
Which is when we all learn two new terms: the funeral director explains that this is what they [presumably “in the business”] call a “dry set.” Apparently this is a growing trend; because the ground is frequently unstable, there is a risk of the sides of the grave collapsing [there’s a lovely image] and posing a risk to the pallbearers [again, lovely image – pallbearers, arms pinwheeling, sliding in with the casket]. Instead, more and more cemeteries have a graveside “dry set” interment, and after the family and funeral party leaves, the “cemeterians will take care of her.” Cemetarian, presumably, is a fancy word for monkey-lovin’ earthmover guy.
So, as my dad observed, we walked away, leaving her in the casket, still on the green box, in the bright sunshine. Not in the terre.
Fortunately, my sister returned later that afternoon, and confirmed that my grandmother had clearly been interred, for real.
All of which is to say, perhaps cremation is a better option?

Now to master time…

Last night Robert, wearing the red-and-blue glasses that came with a recent Bugs magazine, walked into the kitchen and informed that I was “now” 3D.

Apparently I need to get out more

Transcript of a conversation in our kitchen, yesterday afternoon:
Robert: Daddy has a lot of jobs. He has Scrabble, and singing in the choir, and the computer stuff*. That’s three jobs! Mummy has just one job; she’s a teacher.
Colin: Well, she’s our mother. That’s a job.
Robert: Then Daddy has four, ’cause he’s our dad… Mummy, if you wanted to do more stuff, that would be OK.
*the “computer stuff” is his actual job

Wilde times

Yesterday I was reminded of a line from The Importance of Being Ernest. As previously noted, earlier this year I lost my grandmother, or more specifically, my step-grandmother, Jane. Last night I came home to find a letter from an Dublin solicitor regarding the loss of my paternal grandmother, my namesake*, Margaret McDonnell. I must be getting careless.
I have wonderful memories of Ireland. I remember looking into my Aunt Bernice’s eyes for the first time when I was 19, and seeing my own eyes looking back. I remember eye-wateringly strong Irish coffee before bed on chilly winter nights. I remember hours of singing and laughing at Nick’s, my grandparents’ local. I remember taking the long way home to avoid the Garda road blocks!
It was in Ireland that Dr. T bought me a ring, and got down on one knee on a sidewalk and proposed.
When my father, Brian, died in 1998, I got a phone call from my uncle in Dublin, who let me know. That call, as per my father’s request, was made after the funeral. I have not been back to Ireland since, and I often wonder, if I had been given the opportunity to be part of the family then, by which I mean, had I been invited to the funeral, would I have stayed in touch with my grandparents and my aunts and their families?
For my part, I hide behind the excuse that I am angry with my father. I feel that he deliberately excluded me from his life and death – which, given his track record, is not altogether surprising, but that doesn’t make it right. Part of me is very hurt, though, that no one – not a single aunt, cousin, uncle, or grandparent – ever tried to get in touch with me.
I was sad to hear that Madge died, and sadder still that I heard it from a complete stranger. I remember her very fondly – she was tiny but full to overflowing with life and love and laughter.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again
*I’m not convinced that namesake is the right word here, as it implies she was named for me, which obviously is not the case. The closest “right” word I can think of is eponym, but I think that’s usually reserved for things, not people. Anyone have a better word?

Words at a loss

This afternoon, we said goodbye to my grandmother. I spoke at the service, and I wanted to share those words (more or less) here.
Less than five years ago, I wrote about Jane. This is what I said then:

My grandmother is 85. She has all her own teeth, and does not use Miss Clairol to keep her hair brown. She wears a hearing aid, but no glasses. She is definitely all there mentally. She has Parkinson’s, and is now confined to a wheelchair. She lives in a private room in a nursing home. When she needs to pee, she has to ring her bell for help. Geographically, I am her closest relative and I live more than an hour away by car.

Since then, things changed. In recent months, visiting with Jane was a fascinating and often amusing trip through her past. She told me about her life as a child, a teenager, a new bride, a mother, a mother with teenagers… she told me these things not as memories, but as moments that she was reliving. It would be easy to shake our heads and say “how sad”, that she was no longer “all there.” But listening to those moments from her long life, I learned that it was a good, happy life. The moments she relived were bright spots, and those are the kinds of moments we should all relive once in a while, to remind ourselves how blessed we are.
My sister, my brother, our cousins and I were blessed with the quintessential grandma. Grandma Jane was short and round and bustling, with rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes. Christmas meant Grandma Jane’s crescent cookies, and summer meant her Jell-O salad. She was so proud of all of us, too.
I am sad that we have to say goodbye. But I am so glad that we had her for as long as we did, and that we have so many bright spots of our own, thanks to her. I still remember just how orange that Jell-O salad was, and the way those almond cookies melted in my mouth. I remember Christmas mornings waking up in the bunk beds. I remember the ladies dancing across the mantelpiece. I remember the blue candy dish that never ran out of pink peppermints. We all have our special memories of Jane, which means that she will always be with us.
Thank you.

…thus sealing his doom

We are enjoying unseasonably warm weather up here in the hinterland these days. It’s summer-warm and sunny, and I took advantage of this fair weather to get the boys out of the house yesterday afternoon.
Background: for the last few weeks, the boys have been experimenting with independence – they get off the school bus without a grown-up waiting at the stop, let themselves into the house on those days that I get home a little later than they do, and go to the park, two blocks away, without adult supervision.
So when yesterday proved to be yet another beautiful day, and the boys were both finished their homework with lots of daylight left, I sent them off to the park without me.
Half an hour later, the door slammed open and the two boys burst in, simultaneously screaming at me and each other. Colin got to me first:
Colin: “Robert wrote the F-word on the seesaw!!!!!”
Naturally, my reaction was:
“Robert!!!!” (for proper intonation, imagine Fred screaming “Wilma!!!!”)
Robert: “I forgot how to spell the French word for ‘seal*’!!!!”
Since we had already used up our daily quota of exclamation marks, I quietly explained that (a) it’s not OK to write on someone else’s property, even if it’s painfully evident that plenty of other neighbourhood hoodlums don’t agree; (b) using the F-word is an adult privilege and potentially offensive; and (c) I’m not quite that stupid.
*The French word for seal is ‘phoque,’ and is thus a source of great amusement to all of us anglophones at some stage in our elementary career. Ironically, the actual F-word is not particularly taboo in French, since bodily functions, which inform so much English cursing, are not nearly as horrific as taking the Lord’s name in vain in French… but that’s really another story altogether.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the ‘writing’ was done with a charred stick and was thus not actually permanent.