dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
Christmas always makes me think about toys. I was thrilled when I saw a news story the other day that said that some of the most requested presents for this year, after fancy electronic gizmos, are classics like Legos and Barbies.

When my sister and I were little, we didn't get random toys; new toys came at Christmas and birthdays, though we were spoiled on both of those occasions.

I was a kid in the 1980s, with many of the accompanying toys:

I had a Pound Puppy. The one I had came in a two pack in a cardboard doghouse; my sister and I each got one of the plush dogs for Christmas.

I had a Care Bear. I watched the Care Bear movie three times in the 48-hours we had it rented for my birthday sleep-over, but still only had one of the toys.

I had a couple of Barbies and some accessories, though my sister and I didn't really play with them a lot. I really only played Barbie when I had school friends over.

I had a couple of Popples, though they mostly came from garage sales, bought with my tiny allowance. I was late to a lot of the minor trends because I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, so I missed the advertising and only tended to learn about the new toy fashions once my friends already something to show off.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid at the peak of the craze. Long before there was Tickle Me Elmo causing riots in the toy stores, there were sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids. My sister had a little boy doll, bought still in box from the trunk of a car in the swimming pool parking lot from a mother whose daughter did not want a boy Cabbage Patch Doll, even if it was the only one left in town. My sister's friends were mostly boys, so she had no problem receiving Solomon. I had a little black Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which was perhaps unsurprisingly still on the store shelf in a small northern town where even the local "ethnic" restaurant – a Chinese restaurant with as much batter as chicken in their sweet-and-sour chicken balls – was probably run by white people. My doll came with the name Charlotte, but I just couldn't remember it ("It's something like carrot...") so my Mom and I applied to have it changed to Amanda. I bet my mother still has the revised "birth certificate" somewhere that the Cabbage Patch people sent us.

But there were a few things my parents didn't buy for me.

Mom didn't like Snugglebumms. I think she recognized that they were a short-lived fad with limited entertainment value. Or maybe she just didn't like that the name included "bum". Or maybe there weren't any available in the two aisles of toys in our small town department store. Anyway, for some reason, she didn't like them and so I didn't have one, except the one I made out of a scrap of terry cloth and some embroidery thread. Mom had to thread the needle for me.

I also never received a Teddy Ruxpin, despite my utter fascination with them when I saw them in a toy store in the "big city" (Sudbury). I spent many hours trying to re-create the Ruxpin experience: I recorded my own audio tapes, then sat my Ogi, my favourite teddy bear, in front of a ghettoblaster covered with a pumpkin-orange, rust-red, and harvest-yellow crocheted granny-square blanket. I would play the audio tape back while my sister and I would pretend that Ogi was talking. Sometimes I would do different voices on the tapes and sit multiple toys in front of the ghettoblaster so they could have a conversation with each other. This kept me happily entertained for hours at a time for weeks, using only things we already had laying around the house. My mother's wisdom shows again: I'm sure many a talking bear ended up stuffed in the back of a closet after only a couple of hours of use.

My sister and I did spend a lot of time playing with Precious Places, Charmkins, Playmobil, and Lego, all jumbled together and laid out in elaborate cities on a double-bed sized, wheeled platform that Dad made for us. The platform was brilliant because it could be rolled under the guest bed in the basement, so our games could remain intact when my mother vacuumed or when guests stayed over. We had to remove the Precious Places houses first, but all the roads and shorter buildings could stay.

However many hours we spent playing with those toys, however, we spent even more playing with no props at all. We had to: we would go camping in our motor home for weeks at a time in the summer, and there wasn't a lot of room for anything beyond a couple of packs of cards, a pile of library books, some paper and markers for drawing, and a couple of stuffed animals each. Together, we invented new worlds and spent entire days in them.

I've been spending more time in toy stores since my nephew was born. There are so many great toys out there – some new innovations and some classics – and I've had no problems choosing gifts for him so far. I look forward to buying him gifts for many, many years, but I keep returning to the idea that sometimes the best toys are the ones you didn't have.

My hero

Dec. 2nd, 2008 03:56 pm
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
We have a house tradition: whenever someone is doing CPR on TV, Russ comments on whether or not they are doing it right. They almost never are, apparently. Not even on Grey's Anatomy.

Yesterday afternoon, Russ was driving back to his office from an errand and he sees a car at the side of road, rolling backwards slowly. It is occupied. He pulls over and finds an unconscious driver - no breath, no pulse. Russ calls 911 and starts CPR. As he is doing CPR, he keeps thinking that whoever designed the dummies for the first aid classes really knew what they were doing.

Paramedics arrive. Police arrive. The man now has a pulse, but he probably had a massive coronary and it doesn't look good. Russ leaves work early; breaks out the video games, beer, and take-out menus. His best friend and I tell him how great he is, how he did everything he could, how he couldn't have done anything else...

The phone rings while we're waiting for the Chinese food to arrive. I guess the cops always call people who were on scene for these kinds of incidents to tell them what happened and to arrange to receive their written statement. The man had suffered a complete arterial blockage. He survived.

Russ saved someone's life yesterday. Now he can really critique those TV doctors.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Some purchases feel like they should be marked by confetti and trumpet flourishes. Momentous occasions, marking major life changes, happening in front of blissfully unaware store clerks.

Do you remember the first time you bought "feminine hygiene" products?

My Mom kept my sister and I's bathroom stocked through high school, so I was in first year university the first time I needed to buy my own pads. As a budding feminist and environmentalist, I was offended and annoyed that the clerk bagged my pads into a brown paper bag before adding them to the re-usable bag that held all my other purchases. Not offended enough to say anything, of course, but annoyed enough to complain about it later in my Women's Studies class.

Do you remember the first time you bought condoms?

Russ offered to go to the pharmacy, but I insisted that I would buy them. A rite of passage, perhaps, or a test of my ability to do this "adult" thing. It was such a big deal to me - I felt shaky and jumpy - but to the clerk, I was just another student in an on-campus pharmacy full of students getting ready for the weekend. I lost my virginity a couple of days later.

Do you remember the first time you bought a pregnancy test?

I doubt there's ever been anyone who has bought a pregnancy test for themselves or their partner in a neutral emotional state. Considering my emotional turmoil, I was a little surprised that a pregnancy test was just scanned through along with my bread and cheese. Given my state of mind, I expected the transaction to be remarkable, maybe even traumatic.

Standing in this virtual room with a hundred-odd friends, acquaintances, and almost strangers, I have this to say: I am not pregnant.

More than two weeks of nausea, bloating, breakouts, smell sensitivity, breast tenderness, mood swings... despite being a consistent Pill user, I really thought I was in trouble. Even after my period started, I took a pregnancy test this morning, just in case.

One beautiful line. Relief.

I am not pregnant.

"Congratulations" isn't quite right, is it? After all, non-pregnancy isn't really an achievement. Never mind; I will celebrate my non-pregnant status tonight by spending the evening as I spend many Wednesday evenings - crafting - but accompanied by a large glass of wine.

It's been a stressful couple of weeks. Maybe two large glasses of wine.
dreaminghope: (Thinking Zoey)
Equality

Privilege Meme )

I think there are problems with this list of privileges; I think I had the most privileged childhood possible, but I cannot answer "yes" to every question. That leads me to believe that either my childhood was not as privileged as I thought, or the list doesn't measure privilege in the way I would. Since the former is impossible, it must be the latter.

I came home from school to the smell of fresh baked cookies and homemade bread. I came home from school to a Mom who chose to be a stay-at-home-mother, and who had the financial support from my Dad to make that comfortable.

We ate dinner around the table every night as a family. At the kitchen table, I learned that whales are mammals and that two cookies for dessert is the right amount.

I had a small allowance to teach me how to save for what I wanted. It took me three weeks to save up for each Fabulous Five and Baby-sitters Club book I wanted.

We camped every summer. We crossed Canada in our motorhome to visit Expo 86 one year and to tour the Maritimes another. My Mom read my sister and I Heidi as Dad drove. Over the course of my childhood, we went to England, Mexico, and Florida. I went on class trips to Quebec and to France.

TV was very limited in our house. There were no Saturday morning cartoons – I thought they only played in hotel rooms. I don't think we had cable until I was about ten years old. I've never had a TV in my bedroom. My sister and I learned to play together. I drew, and read, and learned to knit.

The many benefits I reaped originated mostly in financial and class privilege. Although my parents were not wealthy when I was very young, we were middle-class, and my parents made careful choices about what to do with their resources. They chose a trip to England over a TV in my bedroom. They put me in French immersion in public school and put money aside for my post-secondary education instead of putting me into a private school.

Sometimes when confronted with the vast inequalities that exist even within my comparatively wealthy country, I understand why people want to believe that hard work automatically means success, and that the lack of success clearly means a lack of will and hard work – it's hard to admit that what you have may have come from luck of birth.

I did earn scholarships during university, but maybe only because I didn't have to work a part-time job at all during high school and not much during university. And my parents taught me to love to learn by taking me to the library, by reading to me, by learning themselves.

I have worked hard to save money for home improvements and an upcoming trip to Italy, but my parents gave Russ and I a huge head start by giving us money for our down payment. And my parents taught me how to manage money.

Financial well-being itself is privilege, but more importantly, it can buy other privileges: time and attention, education, travel. And I think that's where the "Privilege Meme" fails: someone whose parents were very wealthy would score very high on the test even if their parents were only wealthy because they worked all the time and couldn't spend any time with their kids. I knew those kids: they had everything a kid would think to want from the best toys to the most desirable clothes, but they never ate dinner with their parents. I was more privileged than that.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
The Giving of Thanks

Dear Aunt Judy and Uncle Pete,

Thank you very much for the lovely bear Christmas ornament. It is very beautiful and will look really good on the tree next year.

We had a very nice Christmas. Uncle Tim came and stayed with us on Christmas Eve. We're going to have a skating and sledding party in the back yard for New Year's Eve.

Thank you again for bear. I hope you had a merry Christmas!

Love,
Melissa


My mother believes in thank you notes. When we were kids, Mom would keep a careful list of who sent us what as we opened each gift. Within a week, Mom would force us to sit down at the kitchen table with her list and write the notes by hand on pieces of her stationary. Mom would tuck the notes into cards and address the envelopes; my childish handwriting would have easily filled the front of the envelopes and left no room for a stamp.

Since my mother comes from a large family (six sisters and two brothers) and only one was local to us, there were a lot of notes to write. For Christmas every year until high school graduation, every aunt on my mother's side would mail a tree ornament – often handmade – to each of the cousins. I have enough beautiful ornaments to completely cover a tree with hardly room for lights, and each one represents a thank you note written in careful black pen.

Dear Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ian,

Thank you very much for the adorable snow angel ornament. It is very cute and will look really good on the tree next year.


"I'm so sorry I'm late making my changes," the customer on the phone says.

"That's OK; I think I can get them done for you."

"That's great!" and then she rattles off three changes and five additions she would like. I carefully note them all down and read them back to her.

"Anything else I can do for you?" I ask.

"Nope. I think that covers it."

"Thank you very much!" I conclude.

I say "thank you" automatically, and as often for when I do something for someone else as when they do something for me. Too much time in customer service.

I also apologize to inanimate objects when I bump into them, but that's normal: I'm Canadian.

I try to remember to mean it when I say it, but words are so easy. Typed thank you notes can be cheats too: copy and paste makes it simple. It is too easy.

Dear Aunt Brenda and Uncle Urs,

Thank you very much for the "Drummers Drumming" ornament. It is very beautiful and really completes the 12 Days of Christmas collection perfectly.


Some of my aunts still remember my annual thank you notes, though I haven't had to write one since my graduation ten years ago. There's something meaningful about ink on paper, written and addressed by hand, and mailed with a real stamp.

Embodied gratitude: saying "thanks" less and giving thanks more.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Shave my legs; I want to wear a skirt tonight, even if it means navigating a razor around the two hives on my right ankle. Damn allergies.

Ten years. More than a third of my life.

Change the kitty litter. Give the cats fresh water. Russ must have fed them before leaving for work, or maybe they just aren't eating as much because of the heat. It is so stuffy in here.

A couple of weeks ago, he brought home Dairy Queen Blizzards. He didn't bring home spoons; he knows that I wash and keep all the plastic spoons that come into our house and that we have several Blizzard spoons in the drawer.

Ten years. Double digits. A milestone.

I forgot to do the dishes last night. This heat is making me lazy and forgetful. No time to do them this morning; luckily, Russ rinsed everything after he served seconds last night, so it won't be too bad later. I'll try to get them done before we go out for our anniversary dinner. I give the counters a quick wipe to clean up crumbs and coffee marks from the morning's preparations.

A decade. That's a daunting thought. One day, one month, one year at a time, and now we've collected a decade. Today isn't actually different from yesterday, but now it's ten instead of just nine and some.

I've got my purse and my travel mug. Russ left me the last of this week's cherries. I don't think I've forgotten anything. 7:30 already; I've got to get going. The garbage truck is rumbling in the alley, but I remembered to put the garbage can and blue box out last night.

Yesterday evening was a warm-up to tonight's anticipated sappiness:
"I'll be in the living room."
"I'll bring you dinner when it's ready."
"I love that! I love that you bring me dinner every night."
"And I love that you bring me clean underwear every week."

I kissed him for the first time ten years ago today, after we saw Men in Black in the theaters for the second time together. How many kisses is that now? And how many movies seen, meals eaten, tears shed, laughter shared, and orgasms reached?

I'm still new to this MP3 player thing. I fumble with it - drop it when I tangle the cord with my house keys - and when the music finally comes on, it's like an omen, playing song 14: Give Me a Kiss You Dirty Old Bugger*:

most married couples seem to get kind of sick of each other
after too much time together
but once in a while you see an old pair with a sparkle in their eyes
that's strong and weathered

Ten years is nothing really. My parents have together for more than thirty. My grandparents were together for about 60 years before my Grandpa passed away. My great-grandparents were married from young adulthood until Grams passed away at 90 years old. Ten years is just a blink of an eye. It feels that way, anyway.

At work already. The walk does seem to go faster with music. I'll have to remember to thank Russ again for giving me his old MP3 player when he upgraded to a better one. Get the computers up and running and start the emails downloading. During university, when Russ had an office job, I used to go to the computer lab in the main library during my breaks to email back and forth with him. I bet I still have those old emails printed and stored in a binder somewhere. I have mementos from every year, but I don't need to look at them to remember. Only ten years, after all; after another fifty, I may need touchstones to bring back even important individual moments from these early days.

The tenth time we've celebrated an anniversary. Well, not really, since some years we've both forgotten our anniversary; we aren't really romantic like that. Last year we noticed a week late that the date had passed. There's just sometimes too much day-to-day life going on: vacuuming and weeding and answering emails and paying bills and grocery shopping. The things that fill days and years; the things a decade are built on.

It's not even noon yet. I'm feeling a little giddy, and I'm not sure if it's the first coffee I've had this week or the excitement of going out to dinner tonight. Russ has a surprise for me that he is being very mysterious about.

Ten years: A university degree and a college diploma; Mom's cancer, Grandpa's Alzheimer's, best friend's cancer, and Grandma's cancer; six moves and five homes and one house; two cats and one iguana; three beds; two trips to Mexico; Grandpa's death; nine jobs; two months of unemployment; numerous trips to the ER; three vacuum cleaners; four minor car accidents; countless family gatherings; three coffee makers, two French presses, and one espresso machine. And two less Blizzard spoons.

*Kim Barlow, Gingerbread.
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
About two or three times a year, usually on anniversaries and romantic nights out, Russ and I tell each other our creation story. We know it pretty well by now.

Russ starts: "I remember the first time I saw you. Derrick and I came to visit Cindy..."
"When she was living with me and my parents," I add.
"Yup. You answered the door wearing jeans and an old flannel shirt."
"My Dad's old shirt."
"And I think you had paint on your hands," he says thoughtfully.
"I always have something on my hands," as I rub at the white-out and pen marks, "and I was doing a craft project. I was so embarrassed to be caught looking all scruffy and grubby when two cute guys showed up at my door."
"I thought you were the cutest thing," Russ continues, "I told Derrick so as soon as we left the house. You had the most beautiful eyes, and your ass looked so good in those jeans."
"You couldn't see my ass; my shirt would have covered it."
"Then I just knew, like an instinct. Your ass looks great in jeans."

I've been involved in the telling of that part of the story so many times that I think I remember the actual occurrence now, though I swear there was a time that I didn't remember this first meeting. I had a different memory of our first meeting:

"I remember seeing you in the school hallway," I say, "when you were on crutches."
"From when I tore that ligament," he adds.
"You had the most gorgeous broad shoulders, and that fabulous long hair. That's what I noticed first."

I remember how cute he looked in that hallway. I was glad to have Cindy at my side: an excuse to talk to her friend, the boy I liked, and a way to avoid awkward silences with a guy I had just met.

"And then you started dating Alex*!" Russ exclaims, "He came up to me outside the coffee shop, all proud, and told me that he'd asked you out. I was crushed; absolutely heart-broken!"
"It was a stage I had to go through," I sigh.
"I'm sure Alex would be thrilled to know that he was a stage," Russ cackles.
"I dated him just long enough to be embarrassed at grad when he showed up in his father's suit, which was too big for him. You were so handsome at grad, in your sexy kilt. You know, I have a bunch pictures from grad of us together, but none of me with Alex."

Two first encounters and an obstacle later, the next part of the story is how we started dating. I tell the part of the story where he walked me home really late one night, after going to a movie with a bunch of friends, then didn't kiss me on the doorstep, though the opportunity was obvious. We take turns telling the story of how Cindy helped get us together despite our mutual shyness**. He tells the part where I kissed him in the park, then made him ask me out.

"You owe me," he says, "You made me ask you out, so you have to do the proposing if we are ever going to get married."

We aren't really a romantic couple; not in any conventional sense anyway. We don't do flowers and candle-lit dinners, or anniversary gifts and special Valentine's things. One day last summer, while grocery shopping, I dropped the bag of pasta in the shopping basket and suddenly asked: "Was our anniversary last week?" We had missed it entirely.

We aren't romantics, but we still tell our origin story, reciting our parts in turn and remembering the silly kids we were.

*Name changed to protect the innocent... or whatever he was.
**Thank you Cindy!
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
    "I want a chocolate cone," a little boy tells his father solemnly. He is barely tall enough to see inside the cases.
    "OK," Dad says, "but what kind of ice cream do you want?"
    "In a chocolate cone!"
    "You can have a chocolate cone. Do you want pink, blue or green ice cream?"
    "Green," the little boy answers.
    "One mint chocolate chip," the father says to the young man behind the counter.
    "In a chocolate cone!" the child chimes up excitedly.
When I tell people that La Casa Gelato has every flavour of ice cream you can imagine, they nod, like they know what that means. And, without fail, when I take them there, they stand among the cases that line three walls, each full of buckets of ice cream and they say: "They really do have every flavour!" That's when I tell them that they haven't even seen all the options yet. Less then half of the owner's creations are in the cases at any one time.
    "They have curry ice cream!" one teen exclaims to another.
    "They've got garlic ice cream!" the other points.
    "I dare you to sample the jalapeño!" another chimes in.
La Casa Gelato has more then 508 flavours; there's a rotation, with 218 varieties on display at any one time. Local mythology says that whenever the owner, Vince, fights with his wife, Pina, he ends up in the kitchen, inventing a new ice cream. Five hundred and eight successes, plus countless failures, over the twenty years that they've been running their factory and shop... they are Italian.

The store is warm and it smells like the fresh waffle cones. There's something like Italian show tunes playing today. One song is in English, and one line makes everyone in the busy store laugh:
    "I know a fellow who will only go out with a girl if he likes how she looks.
    I disagree – the only thing that matters in a girl is how she cooks."
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it doesn't matter how cold it is outside, the inside is crowded. If you are smart enough to go in on a quiet, rainy Vancouver night, you may catch Pina behind the counter. Though all of the staff is quick to fetch samples, Pina, Mrs. Gelato herself, loves to offer her favourites up for you to try. She is a plump Italian grandmother – she obviously has a lot of favourites.

There's peanut butter blueberry ice cream today – I haven't seen that one before. The lime tequila sorbetto isn't out, but there's three kinds of Bailey's ice cream available: Bailey's, Bailey's chocolate cheesecake and Bailey's with coconut.

There's a whole case that could only have occurred on the border of Little Italy and Chinatown: dragonfruit, taro root, red bean and durian gelato. The durian is the only one in the store with a lid on it.
    "I don't know what to choose!" an elderly woman half-whispers to her daughter. She isn't speaking English, but it is something so often said here that I recognize the sentiment despite the language barrier.
If you get the two scoop cone or the one liter container, you can have two selections together. Choosing two flavours that will go well together is an art. It can take a long time to weigh all the options.
    "I've chosen!" a young man declares triumphantly to his friends, holding his cone like a trophy, "Apple cinnamon and pear gorgonzola!"
    "Gorgonzola? That's blue cheese, right?" one friend wrinkles his nose.
    "Yeah! Wanna try?"
    "Ah, no. I'll pass, thanks."
dreaminghope: (Thinking Zoey)
A local radio station is running an auction to benefit the "Make A Wish" Foundation. The items are expensive packages, and they are going at good prices (one went for over $6,000). They've had some families with small children on the show. One mother was talking about what it meant to her family to go to Disney World after her four year old finished treatment for leukemia. You know, no four year should know what leukemia is. That little girl knows what leukemia is and has fought for her life, but she is still excited to tell people about meeting Mickey Mouse and Cinderella.

Earlier, there was a news story about adoption in BC. There are so many children who are waiting to be adopted, many of them with special needs. They are considering posting pictures of the children who are looking for homes on the website in hopes of getting more people interested in adopting. There simply aren't enough willing and capable people out there.

Maybe I shouldn't be listening to these kinds of programs. I am clogged up with the tears I don't want to shed while sitting at my desk at work.

I am one of the luckiest people in the world, even more so because I also know how lucky I am.

I give small amounts of money to a number of charities throughout the year, because I have a small amount readily available to give. I buy some toys for the empty stocking fund every year at Christmas. But today I am overwhelmed by how little I've given as opposed to how much is needed. There are so many worthy causes, so many people who are hungry, sick and hurting. And I don't give as much as I could.

That's a problem right there: How to define how much I can give? My roof needs to be repaired, so obviously I can't give away the money that will pay for that. But do I need a new kettle? My old still works, it's just a little smaller then I would like. Do I need new boots? A haircut? Another book? A bottle of wine? Do I need to put that money into savings?

Then, who to give the money too? I don't plan my charitable giving, I just give to whatever tugs at my heartstrings when I have spare money. This usually means the charities that phone or show up at my door. I don't even know if I'm giving to groups that make good use of the money. I think this is one area where I feel too much and think too little.

I am so blessed, so privileged, to live in a rich country with a loving family, with a roof over my head and food on my table. I have good physical and mental health. I have a full-time job. I do not lack for anything. I wish everyone could be as lucky as me. My spare pennies do not feel like enough.
dreaminghope: (Firelight - Cinnamonsqueak)
The next post in my many posts about renovating my house simply must be one about my family and community, without whom nothing would be done.

I cannot believe how much time, effort and energy people have been putting in. I am deeply touched and incredibly grateful for all of it. I cannot express how awed and humbled I am by the work other people have been willing to offer. I had workcrews of up to nine people in my house at a time, all putting in amazing efforts.

Though I've tried to thank everyone as we go, and I plan on thanking everyone again at the house warming, here's my list of heroes* so far, in no particular order:

My heroes )

Please, please tell me if I forgot anyone or any major tasks. I really want to remember everyone's hard work and I want to keep a record of how far this house has come and what it took to do it.

A huge, public thank you to all these people. I expect there will be more thank you lists before this is all done.

*Please don't hate me if I forgot to thank you for something, but please do let me know so I can keep records of the work that went into this house.

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