Monday, December 27, 2010

Dump Sweet Dump

Dave and Sam in front of our "dump" the other day.

How easily the knife turns.
It's Christmas morning and we're all full of presents and cookies and we're laughing and talking, full of holiday cheer and love. Dave is in the kitchen, cooking breakfast and we're admiring him with greatly exaggerated and giggly compliments.
"Not only does he cook, he's good-looking," someone says.
"Oh, better than Colin Firth."
"Better than Brad Pitt."
"Almost as good as Angelina."
"And he's handy," someone else says.
"Handier than Red Green."
"Handier than a double roll of duct tape."
"Handier than a two-peckered rooster in a henhouse."
"And he's got money, too," someone says.
"That's why I call him Moneybags Webster," I say.
That's when Sam, my 10-year-old, says, "If you guys are so rich, how come you live in this dump?"
Oh, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Our house isn't like other people's houses and, as our children get older, they're starting to notice the difference.
Their friends, for the most part, live in three-bedroom bungalows, the kind you see in subdivisions everywhere. They have big living rooms as well as family rooms, a couple of big bathrooms, a rec room, a laundry room. They may not be Martha Stewart-pretty but they're functional and clean and well-designed for young families.
We live in a four-room log cabin.
One of those rooms is the bathroom and it's so small that I have to walk into it sideways. The bathtub is the smallest tub I've ever seen.
The living room and kitchen is an open area. Only six people can sit in the living room at a time.
Our bedroom is the size of the smallest bedroom in most people's houses.
The boys' room is an all-purpose room that contains bunk beds, laundry, a china cabinet, a dresser and the kitty litter. Since we don't have the boys all the time, this actually works better than it sounds.
The floor is painted and peeling in spots. We want to put hardwood flooring on it some day but can't afford to at this moment. One thing at a time!
We also have a detached garage plus workshop with a full-sized apartment on top - lots of room for guests, especially in the summertime. The boys, however, won't go up there alone because there are zombies who want to eat their faces off.
Personally, I love our cabin in the woods. It was built in 1880 and the logs are still sturdy. The panelling inside has a gorgeous aged patina. It is warm and cosy in the winter and cool and comfortable in the summer. All this, and it overlooks the Muskoka River. What more could I ask?

For youngsters, though, I guess it doesn't stack up against three bedroom bungalows.
Dave's feelings were hurt by Sam's comments. He doesn't appreciate being told our house is a dump. I tried to explain that I don't think that's what Sam was saying. I think he meant to say, "If you have so much money, why don't you live in a big mansion?" Or something like that.
Or maybe he does think we live in a dump.
Right now, it's increasingly important for them to fit in, to be like other kids. When they get older, though, I believe they will appreciate that a home doesn't have to be big or fancy to keep the rain and snow off our heads, or keep love inside.
Some day they will appreciate their lives on the Muskoka River.
Maybe not until they're grown up and I'm dead and gone.
But it will happen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I Got A Cold For Christmas!

I got a cold, lost my voice and Dave's fondest wish came true: a yap-free Christmas.
Too sick to go to my Mom's for the Robb family gathering. Too sick to go to the Raneys for the Friend family gathering. Too sick to try out my new cross-country skis.
Still, what Christmas I did have was pretty good. Here's a photographic rundown of some of it. You'll notice that I look insanely unattractive in all photos, that I have the fattest legs in the universe and am, frankly, sick of caring about it. That's who I am, take me or leave me.
Christmas started with such promise this year. It was our turn to have the kids so I was determined to pull out all the stops with baking, cooking, decorating and fun. Dave and I have been working like demented beavers for weeks, thus no time for blogging.
Christmas Eve we woke up early and we bustled about, getting the turkey in the oven, peeling potatoes, making my Mom's famous Yellow Jellied Salad and trying to calm the kids down. Sam was crazy hyper, crawling around the tree and scoping out all the presents. Angus was trying hard to be an obnoxious 13-year-old, hurting my feelings cause I was excited but he got over it eventually and started having fun.
Late morning we drove an hour north to Dave's mom's house, where we visited with her, Aunt Edna, Dave's brother Max and members of his family. After we left Dave was looking forward to some quality time with Alice and Edna and then, surprise, Dave's ex-wife and her mom showed up for a visit.
Awkward? Uh huh. We were all on our best behaviour, though, as we always are. I made her a coffee and we talked about dogs.
I gobbled up some of Alice's delicious squares and got some coconut or something stuck in my throat. It was really irritating and wouldn't wash away. As the afternoon progressed, the irritation developed into a full-fledged sore throat. Stupid coconut, I thought, on the way home.
Leah and Vic were joining us for Christmas this year and they were already there when we got back. The house looked so Christmassy and cheerful. I had warned them not to eat anything all day because we had a feast ready by 5:30. We ate like fiends. And then ate some more!
Then we all curled up on the couch to watch the 1971 classic The Homecoming, the precursor to The Waltons. It is absolutely my favourite Christmas special and Patrician Neal is awesome as the mother, way better than that tenderhearted Michael Learned. Then we popped the tired children into bed and settled in for some euchre.
By that time, though, I was starting to feel really sick. Feverish, excruciatingly sore throat, phlegm settling into my chest. I had to call the night quits early when I had looking forward to some kick-ass card-playing. Oh well. Leah and Vic took the couch. Me and Dave went to bed and everyone settled in for a long winter's nap.
Dave had warned the kids they were not to be out of bed before 7 a.m. At 6:59 Sam came into our room and pointed to the alarm clock, after about an hour of sitting up in bed and sighing heavily. Ten-year-olds are so cute, aren't they?
Present-opening was big fun. I got lots of great stuff, including a new red down-filled coat and an electric can opener - don't laugh; with arthritis settling into my one hand so bad I can barely open cans anymore.
Dave made bacon and french toast with cinnamon for breakfast and afterwards everyone went outside for a little fresh air. What a gorgeous, sunshiny day it was! Dave, Angus and Sam tried out their new skis. I wish I could have, but I was too sick by that point. I put on my boots and my coat and went outside for a few minutes but then went back in and let everyone else have fun.
Leah and Vic left around lunchtime – they had a dinner engagement with friends up north. And then Dave took the boys to their father's. I had a little cry, feeling sorry for myself being left alone and sick. I had to phone up my mom and tell her we wouldn't be coming over. I was way too sick for that and she didn't want my germs. All the rest of the family would be there, however, and I envied them the terrific meal they would have, Mom's incredible Christmas carrot pudding, the gift exchange and the socializing.
I laid on the couch for the rest of Christmas Day, watching movies and slathering myself with Vick's.
Today we were supposed to go to South River to spend time with Richard and Tammy and their family but, again, I am just too sick.
Oh well. Things could be worse. I do have my sweetie waiting on me hand and foot and cleaning up the Christmas mess single-handed. It's another gorgeous day and the chickadees are bopping around the feeder, sharing sunflower seeds with blue jays and red squirrels.
There are cookies to eat and movies to watch and it's kinda nice not to worry about getting dressed.
That was my Christmas.
How was yours?

Sam had the honour of topping the tree.
Christmas Eve dinner: Angus tries his first taste of champagne;
Sam pretends he's drunk.

Leah pontificating (check out the finger); Vic laughing at her. 
Stuffing and giggles and funny hats. 
The fearsome threesome. 
Yes, I was too sick to do dishes. (heh, heh) 
We put Misty's Santa-dog dress on our cat, who wasn't amused.

Sam stole my monkey sock hat.
Since the cat was wearing Misty's santa dress (a gift from Leah and Vic),
we dressed Misty in her tu-tu.
Sam was having a great time outside. He and Gus love their new skis. 
He's such a cutie in my hat and his new coat and mitts.
Angus is an avid and talented downhill skier so he thought cross-country
would be a little lame - HA! He wiped out after this pic was taken.
This is him sliding down the septic tank hill. Poo Hill, we call it.
Time to go. Everyone hugs everyone.  Angus and Vic.
Angus and Leah.
Leah and Vic with their "hubby," Dave.

Monday, December 20, 2010

When It's Time

The older I get, the less I fear death.
When I was young, I couldn't imagine dying. It terrified me. The thought of missing out on everything, of nothingness, of being buried in the cold ground – unimaginable to a youngster who barely understood what it was to be alive, never mind to be dead. Of course, back then I also believed I was the centre of the universe. That I was the only one who saw, who thought, who knew what was going on; the rest of the people in the world were just stage actors put there for window dressing and my amusement. Or lack thereof. I really believed I was the exception. That I would live forever. That rules of mortality didn't apply.
What an idjit, eh?
Don't hold it against me. I grew out of that kind of thinking pretty quick. Still, it took a long time to realize that I was gonna croak some day, just like everyone else.
I remember the time me and my friend Mark (and I think his brother Andrew and my sister, Elizabeth) were out bike riding on the back roads around Markham. (Back then Markham was a village surrounded by farms and dirt roads and we roamed the concessions on summer days without fear of child molesters or bad guys of any description.)
We were out, just tooling around, and we came across a pioneer cemetery we'd never explored before. We dropped the bikes and checked it out, meandering through the weatherbeaten headstones, some of them more than 100 years old. It was a gorgeous, hot summer day, not a cloud in the sky, and we were all full of the innocence of youth in an innocent time, not a disturbed thought in our blessed, middle-class heads.
And then I came across this:
Reader beware as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.
The fact that 40 years later I can still quote it verbatim gives you some idea of what an impact it had. It scared the crap out of me. It scared the crap out of my friends! We hopped on those bikes and pedalled our arses back home as fast as our young legs would take us.
It was like someone reached out of the grave and touched us with a bony finger to say you, yes you, were coming down to the land of earthworms to pay an extended call.
For a long time I wanted that put on my headstone. I thought it would be cool to scare kids the way that headstone scared me. Only in the last 15 years or so have I given up that notion. Maybe it's because I have kids of my own. Maybe I just grew up and realized it didn't matter, and that's not really who I am. Maybe I'm old enough now to realize death isn't a joke, that it's not to be taken lately, but it's also not something to fear.
Getting old, getting aches and pains, is how we accept dying. How often have you heard people say, "it was a relief," when discussing the death of a seriously ill person? Or a very old person? Or someone who is profoundly mentally ill? You would never say that about a young person or any healthy person in the midst of a vibrant, satisfying life.
My father died after a long, exhausting battle with a rare blood disease. At the onset, when he first started getting lifesaving blood transfusions (his body stopped manufacturing its own blood), my mother asked how long this would last (meaning, I think, how long before he would be better and wouldn't need it anymore). The doctor replied, "Until he's had enough."
It was hard to fathom his meaning at the time.
My dad was still in pretty good shape. He was a fighter. He'd battled addictions, and won. He went through open heart surgery, had his knee replaced, survived a traumatic car accident that threw him into intensive care for five weeks. I mean, he'd been through it all, and he always pulled through. He had no intention of just rolling over. He went for his blood transfusions, he went to the doctor, he took his pills and, slowly, began to waste away in front of our eyes. As the disease progressed, he needed more frequent transfusions. At the end, he was getting two a week and it still wasn't enough. He couldn't eat. He couldn't swallow his demerol. He was in so much pain that he moaned constantly. Finally, one day, he'd had enough. 
"No more," he said to us.
No more transfusions. No more pain.
My father was ready to die. His body had given out and his mind sought relief from pain.
Tomorrow I'll be going to a funeral for the grandmother of some of our closest friends. Richard and Tammy stood up for us when we got married this fall. Nan was Richard's grandmother and Tammy loved her as much, if not more than, anybody. They had a close bond and both Rich and Tammy are in mourning right now. It's especially hard, this close to Christmas.
I never met Nan but Dave knew her well. He says she was a warm, generous woman, the kind of person who, when you went to visit, immediately sat you down and plied you with home baked pies and cookies and whatever else she had on hand. She was generous to her family and friends, and lived in her own home, healthy and busy and active, until she had a stroke a few weeks ago. She was 90 years old.
Not a tragedy, not when you can live that long and be that healthy and that beloved by those who knew you. A successful life, by all standards. Her funeral will be a tribute and a celebration to a life well lived.
Still, it is never easy to lose someone you love. Whether they're in pain, whether it was expected or not, there is always a hole in your heart when someone is gone. 
To Richard and Tammy, Emily and Megan, Wes and everyone else touched by Nan's death, I send you good wishes. Be kind to each other. Love one another. 
And have something to eat. 
I think Nan would really want you to eat something.
Especially you, Tammy, you ol adorable skinny butt, you.
See you tonight at the viewing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rudolph the Freaked Out Reindeer

Christmas is WHEN?


Wrapping - wrapping - writing cards - baking - cleaning - decorating - wrapping - wrapping - who has time for #fridayflashing?

YOU do?

What, are you out of your freakin' MIND?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why? Why? WHY?

I hit Next Blog and a religious blog came up.
I hit it again. Another religious blog.
Hit. Jesus.
Hit. God.
Hit. Born again.
I'm like, WTF?
Doesn't Blogger "group" blogs so that when you hit Next Blog you are seeing bloggers of a feather? Flocking?
I didn't think I was all that religious.
I mean, there's no Jesus Loves You buttons on the side of my blog. No crosses. No Bible quotes.
I wrote ONE story about Jesus, and I didn't even mention Jesus (it was very vague; for the most part, everybody thought Jesus was a dead husband... but that's a philosophical question for another day).
I kept hitting Next Blog and eventually the blogs changed somewhat.
They went from religious blogs to crafty religious blogs.
Quilters who pray.
Scrapbookers who liked the birthing canal so much they did it a few times. (Hey, there are days I'd agree to be born again, but only if there's an epidural involved... mmmm, I love epidurals - sung to the tune of I Love Turtles).
OK.. so... not only am I not that religious, I'm also not crafty.
Not even a bit!
I can barely sew a button on. Can't knit. Can't crochet. Can't embroider. Can't hold scissors without cutting some piece of flesh (could be handy for circumcisions, I guess).
I don't get it.
I thought that almost an entire year of flash fiction stories might put me in the company of other writers, not religious crafters. Not that there's anything wrong with being a religious crafter – it's just that we're not of the same flock, you see what I'm saying?
So I'm feeling a bit like a lost lamb, searching for my flock.
I need to get flocked, obviously.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout

"Sing me a dirge, will ya?" asks Dave.
We're on the way home from Christmas shopping, driving in a snowstorm. The roads are solid ice and there are cars in the ditch up and down the highway.
I start singing the first thing that pops in my head:

"Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out.
She'd wash the dishes and scrub the pans,
Cook the yams and spice the hams
And though her parents would scream and shout,
She simply would not take the garbage out."

Why this song by Shel Silverstein pops into my head at this moment is a mystery to me. 
Also to Dave. "What IS that?" 
Dave is younger than me. Also, not as weird. Sometimes he doesn't know stuff I do. Important stuff, like who Todd Rundgren is and what he (Dave, not Todd) was doing when John Lennon died (I think he was still in public school – I was in my first year of journalism school).

In the 1970s I was a teenager living on the outskirts of Toronto, where top 40 radio station CFTR was king. Every morning I would wake up to to the weird morning man who had a roster of equally weird songs, most of them stolen from the Dr. Demento radio show.
One of the shows he played regularly was Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.
I have forgotten almost everything I learned in high school, except that silly song.
The man who wrote it, Shel Silverstein, was a real Renaissance man. A renowned illustrator, he drew children's books and cartoons for Playboy magazine. He wrote books, he wrote plays, he wrote songs. Did you know he wrote A Boy Named Sue for Johnny Cash? Or On The Cover of Rolling Stone for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show? 
The man was amazing.
And here's the proof: I can still quote Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout but darn if I can remember when garbage day is.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Favourite Colours - #fridayflash


You know that place somewhere between tipsy and completely schnockered?

That’s were Gerard Hartley was.

“Pass the peanuts,” he said to the guy in the Budweiser cap sitting at the end of the bar.

The Bud guy gave him a dirty look.

“Please,” he added.

Bud Guy slid the bowl along the bar and Gerard almost but not quite snagged it with a wavery hand. The bowl flipped over and nuts tumbled out.

“Ya lost your nuts,” Bud Guy said, then snickered.

Gerard shrugged. He had no comeback. He gathered up the peanuts as best as he could with watery eyes. A couple of tears splashed down his leathery cheeks. Bud Guy saw.

“You crying?”

Gerard shook his head.

“Looks like crying to me. Man, you’re even more wasted than I thought. Barkeep, pal here is hammered. Maybe a cab might be in order.”

The bartender gave Gerard the once-over than shook his head. “I think he’s ok. He just lives around the corner. Walks. Comes here pretty near every night. I’ve seen him worse. You’re alright, eh? Gerard?”

“Pffft,” said Gerard. He wiped his eyes and finished cleaning up the peanuts.

The bartender looked at Bud Guy and shrugged. “See?”

Gerard filled his mouth with peanuts and crunched them noisily. Small peanut bits fell out of his open mouth onto the bar. Bud Guy made a face.

“Eh?” Gerard said. “What’s the matter now? Making faces at me. I saw you. What, you think I’m blind? You think I’m stupid?”

Bud Guy looked at the bartender beseechingly.

“What’s your name?” Gerard asked.

“Me?” asked Bud Guy. Gerard nodded.

“Chris,” he said.

“What’s your favourite colour, Chris?”

“My favourite colour? What the hell?”

Gerard slumped on his barstool. “Just asking, is all. Nobody asks me what my favourite colour is anymore. Notice that? When’s the last time somebody asked you that?”

“I dunno,” Chris said. “Can’t remember.”

“Exactly!” crowed Gerard. “Nobody asks anymore. When you’re a kid, you get asked all the time. What’s your name, little boy? What school do you go to? What’s your favourite subject? What’s your favourite colour?”

He paused. Then: “Ask me what my favourite colour is.”

Chris asked.

Gerard thought for a moment. “You know what? I don’t know anymore. Blue, maybe. If you’re a guy, that’s what you’re supposed to say. I used to spend a lot of time trying to decide what my favourite colour was, because sure as shit you were gonna run into some grown-up who was gonna ask and you wanted to have an answer handy. They expected it.”

Chris nodded, grinned a bit. “You’re right, old man, they did. I was always changing my mind. One day it was blue. Then it was red. Then black, when I was a teenager. It was cool.”

The bartender interrupted, putting down his glass-polishing rag and leaning on the bar. “Why do you think they always asked us what our favourite colour was? Why was it so important they know?”

Gerard snorted. “It wasn’t important. They only asked us that because they couldn’t think of anything else to ask. Adults have no idea how to talk to kids.”

He took a swig of beer to get rid of the peanut bits stuck between what remained of his teeth. “I began to think it must be important to know my favourite colour. That and my favourite subject, my favourite song, my favourite kind of car. There was no quitting it. What a load of hooey.”

Gerard finished his beer. He looked sad, like he might start crying again. “I kinda miss it,” he said. “Nobody asks anymore. Nobody cares enough to ask me much of anything anymore. Sucks to be me, I guess.”

There was a lull in the conversation. The bartender went back to polishing glasses. Chris toyed with the label on his beer bottle. Finally he said, “What’s your favourite beer?”

“Same as my colour. Blue,” Gerard said.

“Then how about I buy you one?”

“Then how about you do,” Gerard said.

Later, long after Chris had gone, the bartender was locking up and saying good-night to Gerard. Their breath came out in steamy puffs and their boots squeaked on the snow-crusted sidewalk.

“That favourite colour thing of yours, it gets you a lot of free beer,” the bartender said with a grin.

Gerard chuckled. “Ayuh. It’s a favourite.” He said good-night and headed up the street, his gait only very slightly off-balance.

Versatile, yes; Brainless, definitely

Oh Lord, who art in blogland, forgetful be my name.

Laura Eno went and did it. She nominated me for another one of those cotton-picking blogger awards that get buzzing around the neighbourhood like fruit flies at a grape smuggler convention.
Versatile I may be, but forgetful? Holy doodles, I am so forgetful that ... oh frig, what was I saying? I do remember, vaguely, being awarded other awards in the last few months but quite honestly I can't remember who gave me what. I APOLOGIZE! I should have written them down. I should have posted them immediately.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda ...
So as not to delay this any longer than necessary, I am passing it on immediately to Deb at My Great White North, WHO I MET TODAY for the first time! Not only did I meet Deb, who I read faithfully, I also met her husband, David, and the world-famous dog celebrity Lucy the Golden Lab.
I love Lucy, I really do. I love it when Deb writes about her antics, so it was a really big thrill to make a fuss over her today, petting her and cooing and carrying on. Lucy put up with my attentions for a couple of minutes before giving me a sardonic look as if to say, "Puhleese. No autographs, just cookies."

Lucy (on the right) with two visiting pals. Look at the look on her face. She cracks me up.

Deb is the very picture of versatility. She's an excellent photographer, a seamstress, a cook and a writer. What's more, she is genuinely funny. Nothing makes me smile more than a visit over at Deb's blog.
Funny thing is, Deb just lives around the corner from me, maybe a half an hour at the most. For bloggers who are often whole countries apart, that is like living on someone's doorstep.
I hope we can get together for coffee some day soon. And, I promise, I'll bring Lucy treats.
Deb, all you have to do is pass the Versatile Blogger Award to someone else you admire, and let them know you did it. I hope they're as deserving as you.
AND, speaking of the lovely and talented Mizz Laura Eno, I want to let you know that I am FINALLY starting to read Laura's book, Prophecy Moon. Laura sent it to me MONTHS ago. This embarrasses me to admit, but I have not read a book since last summer. I've barely read a magazine. It's everything I can do to read #fridayflash stories. Seriously, I am falling apart!
This week I have vowed to read one chapter of Prophecy Moon every day. As of this moment, I've finished Chapter Two.
It's so good, Laura! It is! I can hardly wait to see what happens when he finds the old hag!
Thanks for sending it. Thanks for the inscription. Thanks for the award. Thanks for being such a powerful, positive force in the writing world.
To visit Laura's blog, visit A Shift in Dimensions.
To visit Deb's blog, visit My Great White North.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rant #3,467 - ARGGGGHHHHH

I was trying to find a picture that sums up my mood. This postal guy kinda comes close.

But it doesn't quite have the angst I desire.
This mother is sort of how I feel, only I wouldn't waste good hair at a time like this.
Besides, she's obviously not really upset. She's an actress, and a pretty bad one at that.

Now, Christian Bale, he's an actor, but he's a good one.
Even though I hear he's cranky on set. Hey, I'm cranky all the time, set or no set.
Christian, I can relate, my blood-spattered friend.

Still, as angry as that photo of Christian is, it's not as freaked out as I feel.
This monster is a little closer to the screaming heejies I feel busting out.

Obviously photoshopped, however.
Unlike the picture of this cat.

Of all the photos I've looked at, I think this one of the kid screaming pretty much sums up my foul mood. 

Oh yeah, baby. That's the ticket. That's me - only I'm older and fatter and wrinklier and, yes, MADDER, than this kid. RAWRRRRRRR!

So what's pissing me off?
You don't honestly want to know, do you?
You got your own pissers, your own problems – you come online to escape life's daily bullshit. I know for a fact you don't want to hear mine.
But sweet bloody jaysus, if it isn't your hormonal teenager driving you straight around the freaking bend, it's work. And if it ain't work, it damn sure is something else.
I need a Midol the size of an elephant turd.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Smoke - #fridayflash

Melozzo Da Forli: Music-making angel (fresco, c. 1489)

He hid in the blizzard.

A shape. Like smoke. There, then not.

Snow raged around him, blurring the line between storm and flesh. His breath was invisible in the wind. He left no footprints.

He watched the family inside the warm house.

It was Christmas Eve and the woman was making Cheese Dreams: white bread with a slice of processed cheese, topped with three or four strips of crispy bacon, slid under the broiler until the cheese bubbled. Angie always made Cheese Dreams on Christmas Eve. Her mother had done the same thing when she was a little girl. The kids liked eating it with their fingers and Angie liked the quick simpleness of the meal, following hard as it did on a long day of housecleaning and cooking.

Christine and Marie were sitting on the floor in front of the television, watching Christmas specials. Angie glanced at the TV as she brought plates of Cheese Dreams and glasses of milk over to her kids. The Peanuts gang was singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, with Snoopy howling in the front row. Nostalgia, anticipation and bacon perfumed the rarified air. Angie smiled, even though she was worried sick.

“We get to eat in front of the TV?” Christine asked.

“For tonight,” Angie said. “Don’t get used to it.”

“Pffft,” said Marie. “As if.”

Angie sat down on the floor beside the girls, resting her tired feet. She looked at the clock. Frowned. Gordon should have been home by now. She stole a glance out the window, not wanting to worry the girls, but Christine noticed. “When’s Daddy coming home?” she asked, through a mouthful of cheese.

“Soon,” her mother said.

“It’s almost bedtime,” said Christine.

“Bedtime!” squealed Marie. “Daddy had better be here before bedtime or Santa won’t come!”

“Santa will come,” Angie said. “And so will your father. He’s just held up in the storm. Probably bad traffic. He’ll be here. Has he ever missed Christmas? Ever?”

She raised her eyebrow.

The girls shook their heads.

“Look, the Grinch is on,” Angie said. “Finish your Cheese Dreams and Marie, drink your milk.”

“Blech,” said Marie.

The woman cleaned up the kitchen and, when she was done, herded the girls into the bathroom for tooth brushing and face washing. She dressed them in new flannelette pajamas, then tucked them both in and read The Night Before Christmas. Marie sniffled a little because her father wasn’t home but Angie reassured her. She kissed them soundly, turned off the light and promised them dreams of dancing sugarplums.

With the kids looked after, Angie curled up on the couch in the living room and stared out the window. The storm didn’t seem to be getting any better. Worry clouded her thoughts.

His heart broke a little bit, seeing her hollow eyes staring out into the darkness.

Gordon would never walk through that door again. She didn’t know it yet. But when the police cruiser pulled into the driveway several hours later, he would be there for her instead, an invisible shoulder to lean on, a comfort, a crutch.

It was the only thing he could give her this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Walking Man

One foot forward

Trusting it will find solid ground.

One tentative step away from old hurts.

Wounds heal; scars fade; fear waits.

A year goes by.

Another birthday.

You walk.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gussy's Spud Chucker

Granny had some leftover spuds from her chipmunk casserole so she gave 'em to Gussy to play with.
We can't afford store-bought toys. We're like them Waltons on Christmas, where Elizabeth gets the doll with the smashed-in face and it scars her for life. Only we don't live near no mountain – we live next to the kind of river you saw in Deliverance, that movie where Burt Reynolds was a real stud-muffin and the pudgy guy in dirty underwear had to squeal like a pig. When our friends from the city come to visit they hum Duelin' Banjos under their breath. They think it don't hurt our feelings and they're right, it don't. It's like the national anthem around our house.
Anyway, toys are scarce but every once in a while Gussy gets some rotten potatoes for his spud chucker.
That there is cause for big excitement. Gussy puts on his hand-me-down coat that's five sizes too big for him and Dave and him mosey on down to the river with a can of ether. You wouldn't believe how far those potatoes go! Whatever you do, don't stand in front of the chucker cause if you do, it'll be more than the potato that loses an eye
We're real proud of our son. He built his spud chucker all by himself from instructions on the world wide web. He only lost half an eyeball and his right toe in the process, which is pretty good. Dave's a little cranky about the loss of his left nut, but Dave is a little over-protective of his tools. Don't tell him I said that.
Tomorrow is Dave's birthday. If he's lucky, he'll get some spuds for a present so him and Gussy can go out and play some more. Dave likes the chucker as much as our son. He's shot potatoes and little squash and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Who knows, maybe I'll even get him a cantaloupe for his big day. He's been going around mumbling something about never getting to play with melons anymore, now's we're married.
Men, eh?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Misty's Christmas Dress

When your dog starts getting presents, it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Misty got her first gift of the holiday season - a Mrs. Claus dress in red velvet with faux fur trim and belt buckle bling.
It barely fits her. Since we got her fixed she has taken to binge eating. Poor baby. I hear that's what happened to Kirstie Alley.
Thanks to my favourite gal pals Leah and Vic for the ensemble! If you see one in my size, please send it along!
Misty really does like it... she only looks nervous because I put her on the table to take the photo.

I sure hope Dave doesn't see this or I'll get the "NO DOGS ON THE TABLE" lecture.
Oh crap... here he comes... quick, look innocent... oh crap.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Better than Bills

The deck stain we chose is called Replace Me Now.
1. Pink Pride & Prejudice, compact and pretty. Warning: contains corsets.

2. An Oprah Book Club selection, The Pilot's Wife. Because, with an audience full of women, Oprah would never pick a book called The Pilot. Unless she's high.

3. A beautiful Asian-influenced journal for any lucid thoughts I might have. So far, empty.

4. Hand-painted blueberries on a bud vase. I have it on my dressing table – now, finally, there is something pretty in front of the mirror.

5. Homemade jam, created with local peaches in the kitchen of Linda, aka @drwasy in twitterland and
Leftbrainwrite on blogger.

6. A lovely note, in tidy handwriting, from one of my favourite writers on the #fridayflash circuit.

This all came in a box as a result of participating in Linda's Month of Gratitude Contest. Isn't it lovely? Aren't you jealous? OMG you should taste the jam...
This is so much better than bills.
Notice I don't post pictures of my bills.
Surely you've seen the posters on telephone poles everywhere: Post No Bills?

(Thanks, Linda.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This is REALLY GREAT, really, really, REALLY GREAT!

This is SO cool!
You have to hear it!
It's John Wiswell reading one of my blurbs! 

He reads it SO WELL I sound like Stephen Leacock! 

Or Stuart McLean! 

Or somebody really funny!
Why is King Wiswell reading one of my rants? Why am I calling him King Wiswell? The latter is obvious.. as the purveyor of The Bathroom Monologues, he does spend a lot of time on the throne.
Why's he reading my story?
Because I've got horseshoes up my arse.
Oh, and because he had a contest to celebrate the third anniversary of the Monologues and he drew a winner and the horseshoes in my butt reached down and grabbed my name out of a hat (or was it a toilet bowl?). The prize was John reading anything of my choosing. Anything! I decided on Hello Rock? I'd Like A Coffee because it really happened, and CJ Hodges-MacFarlane really liked it, and because I thought it would mystify the great and terrible John Wiswell. Mystified? Pffft! He read it like a pro. He made me sound funny! I love it so much I made everybody at work listen to it.. and they laughed!
I'm not sure what John is doing with it... I hope my posting it isn't beating him to any punch... I'm just so excited to share.
Go! Listen! John is really, really, really good!
Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Auntie Ellen's Beaver Ending

Me, Auntie Ellen and my son, Angus, at the wedding. I love this photo! (Taken by Erin Monett)

Is it odd to be 50 years old and still think of someone as "Auntie?"
Yeah, well, I'm odd, I guess. Cause my mom's oldest sister will always be Auntie Ellen in my books.
This is Auntie Ellen:
Stylish. Slender. Sophisticated. She always looks elegant. Her make-up is just so. She makes clothes look good on her, all clothes; possibly even potato sack clothes.
Artistic. Talented. She makes her own greeting cards and they are fabulous. 
Not Pregnant. Finally. With seven children, Auntie Ellen spent a great deal of time pregnant. I don't think she's pregnant now, although sometimes Uncle Ted does get that gleam in his eye.
Two Quick Stories About Auntie Ellen:
1. When she was young, she lived on a dairy farm in Buttonville, Ontario, and her lovely sisters (my mom, Dot, and her sidekick, Mary) loaded up sticks with fresh manure and flung it at her. Nice, huh? My dear, sweet mother. 
2. When she was married with a herd of kids running around, she had new kitchen cupboards put in. One day one of her children spilled beet pickle juice on the new (unfinished yet) wood. I haven't seen those cupboards in years but I do believe they are still partially purple. I also have a feeling my cousin's arse is still the same purplish shade.
The other day I got an e-mail from my cousin Kelly (not the one with the purple arse) who was passing on her mother's ending to my beaver saga. Auntie Ellen, you so missed the deadline for this contest. But because you're my Auntie Ellen, and always will be my Auntie Ellen, how can I refuse?
Without further adieu, then – Ellen Gough's Beaver Ending.

JUST THEN WE heard a loud rumble and the ground started to shake. "O my God" Vern said "we're having an earthquake!" Elizabeth froze on the spot - she was petrified! It seemed to last forever, all the quaking and shaking and re-arranging of the landscape - it was actually only a few seconds!!!

But once the dust had cleared and Vern and Elizabeth decided they would live to see another day - they were amazed.

The river was peaceful once again and most of the trees were still standing. But over beyond the river and where the beaver pond had been there was a new huge pond, full of water, which had nothing to do with the culvert.

There were beavers swimming happily, and busily in their new pond. They had started already to build a new home where they would be snug and cosy all winter. Where they would be raising a new litter of kits who would greet us in the spring.

The road would be fixed and Elizabeth and Vern could get their vehicles back home and they could continue to watch their furry friends.

All was well with their world and the earthquake turned out to be a blessing in disguise!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roadkill - #fridayflash


Black crow, feathers like midnight, eyes shiny beads of pinpricked light, watching the dead raccoon in the middle of the highway.

Morning rush hour. Constant parade of cars, back and forth, back and forth.

The carcass like money on the white line.

The crow paces, back and forth, waiting for a break in the traffic.

How badly it wants.

Afternoon rush hour.

The crow sits on top of a telephone pole. Waiting for his opportunity. Watching for thieves. Small head on a swivel, patient beyond reason.

It could have moved on, it could have eaten by now, the crow, but it wants what it wants and it will endure the busy highway until the corpse is his.

Hunger rumbles. The crow waits.

Darkness settles. Traffic lightens. The crow flies down onto the highway and feasts.

Car engines, closer, headlights, the crow leaps away with no time to spare. It hunkers in the gravel, savory taste on its tongue, waiting, dodging, snapping one stolen chunk, one at a time.

Back and forth.

Sated, almost. Slower moving. A mini-van, a startled driver, a cracked windshield, feathers drifting on the night air.

We want what we want.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One More Beaver

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the beaver pond!
One more beaver ending – can you handle it?
It seems one of my blogging buddies went to all the trouble of writing an ending and then forgot to post it. I mean, you'd thought she might have remembered to do this – after all, she hasn't got anything else to do. Oh, she might complain about birthday parties for five-year-olds, new puppies peeing on the new floors, 15-zillion young children to attend to and a good-looking husband to cater to his every whim. Oh, and she does, I'll tell ya, I've seen them in action – her all bowing all over the place in front of him, cooking his favourite meals, picking the broccoli out from between his teeth, calling him her Incredible Island God – y'know, that sort of thing. Poor thing, she is – all that and she manages to write Canada's Best Art & Culture Blog, plus some pretty fancy schmancy writing. 
The good news about having one more beaver ending to read is that it was written by Canada's Sweetheart, Laurita Miller. That immediately turns it from being a chore to being something I should charge you for.
Lucky devils. Reading Laurita for free.
Oh, and if you're wondering what in tarnation I'm talking about, visit yesterday's beaver blog.

Laurita Miller

THAT NIGHT, ELIZABETH tried to concentrate on work, but the thought of those poor homeless beavers made it impossible. She thought of the home they’d built, the food they’d stored, and how it was all gone. They must be frantic, she thought.

Elizabeth looked at the papers on her desk. She knew a little about how those Beavers felt, working hard day in and day out, never really getting ahead. She found it easy to imagine how it would feel to have that all taken away.

There’re wasn’t much sign of the beavers for the rest of that week. Now and again there would be sounds down by the river, or those smooth dark shapes cutting through the water. Elizabeth hoped that they would make some attempt to rebuild, something to get them through the hard months of bitter cold. Each day that passed left her feeling less hopeful for their survival.

She knew that Vern felt the loss as well, though they no longer talked about it. He would sit and read in the evenings while Elizabeth immersed herself in her work. She missed the long evenings sitting out by the water, talking with Vern as the sun went down. How quickly things changed when you weren’t paying attention.

On Saturday morning, Vern gently shook Elizabeth awake. She rubbed her eyes and he pressed a hot cup of coffee into her hands.

“Come with me,” he said. “I have something to show you.” He was dressed in his warmest clothes, and smelled of the outdoors. He had obviously been up for some time.

Vern led Elizabeth through the woods behind their home, along the seldom travelled path. Elizabeth remembered when they would walk these trails on the weekends, laughing and talking. Sometimes they would take a picnic and spend the afternoon. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been in these woods.

They walked until they came to the part where the river curved around the back of their property. Vern moved slowly here, crouched low to look between the trees. He put his hand on Elizabeth’s back and pulled her close.

“Look there,” he said, and pointed toward the river.

On the far side on the bank was a large pile of twigs and branches – a beautifully constructed beaver lodge. There were some obvious renovations, with the clean yellow of freshly cut timber among the greyed and worn branches. They couldn’t see the dam, but the river had been nicely widened.

Elizabeth smiled. “They had a plan B after all.” She turned to Vern and pulled him into a hug. Suddenly she needed to feel the strength of his arms.

“I have something for you.” Vern pulled away and felt into his coat pockets. He passed the envelope to Elizabeth. “Two tickets,” he blurted before she had it completely open. “A cruise. Two weeks.” He fidgeted and rubbed his face with the back of his hand. “I think we can use the time away.”

Elizabeth stared, eyes and mouth open wide. Time alone, just the two of them, in the warm and the sun.

“How?” It was all she could manage to say.

Vern grinned, kissed her on the forehead. “Ahhh. Beavers aren’t the only ones with a plan B.”


Monday, November 15, 2010

Beavers, Winners and Endings

Last week (Nov. 11) marked my blog’s first anniversary.

What an incredible year it has been! I can’t even begin to tell you how it has changed my life – well, I can’t now, anyway. But I will another time! Promise! Nothing I like better than talking about myself!

To celebrate I wrote part of a story called Leave it to Beavers and asked folks to finish it. The winner, I said, would receive a Muskoka prize pack. Well, you know what? I’m not going to pick a winner – everybody who took the time to write an ending is getting a prize! Woo HOO! (Isn’t this just like Oprah’s favourite things show?)

When I asked for endings, I honestly was thinking people might write a few sentences. I certainly wasn’t expecting a thousand words or more! And, in the case of my friend Jason Willis, TWO endings at more than 1,000 words each! Holy doodles!

So, apologies in advance for this post being long. Don’t think of it as time-consuming, though; think of it as learning everything you always wanted to know about the Canadian beaver – and then some!

To everyone who participated, thanks so much! I really appreciate it. And I’ll be sending you something “made in Muskoka” as soon as I can get to the post office!

To start, here’s the piece I wrote, followed by all the endings. Enjoy! 

Leave it to Beavers 

Other things should have occupied the mind of Elizabeth Donaldson but her thoughts always returned to the beavers.

She was worried about them. Worried that the rising water would flood the road.

Elizabeth and her husband Vern lived beside the Red Canoe River in Ontario’s near north. Elizabeth had a stressful job in the city but there was no amount of corporate nonsense that could linger when she sat in a Muskoka chair by the water, listening to chickadees calling to their friends, “look! there’s sunflower seeds in the feeder! come now-dee-dee-dee-dee”; watching pine needles and dessicated maple leaves float downstream in the sleepy current; waiting for a fish to jump, or a flock of honking Canada geese to do a fly-by, or a beaver to surface and swim soundlessly by the dock.

They never had to wait long to see a beaver. There were more than a few of them living on that stretch of the river. All busy, all the time, they moved through the water ignoring Elizabeth and Vern like teenaged girls trying to look busy at a school dance. They always had some place important to go, those girls, as they rushed by boys they were trying to attract, not meeting them in the eye, not acknowledging their existence, but senses acutely attuned to any movement the boys might make. “The beavers are like those girls,” Elizabeth told Vern one day.

“Ayuh,” Vern said, “and you better believe they are keeping an eye on us as they go by.”

“Did you see the road today?” Elizabeth asked.

“Water’s getting close to the road,” Vern said. “I saw.”

“I hope you’re not right,” she said, knowing he was. “Do they stand any chance at all if the township takes out the culvert at this point?”

Vern shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Usually beavers have a back-up house. If they do, and they work really hard at stashing more food away, and if the rest of November stays mild and the river doesn’t freeze, they might be okay.”

It was a lot of mights, Elizabeth realized.

“But if the township waits until the end of the month to do something about the culvert, they might as well just kill the beavers outright.”

Elizabeth looked at her husband sadly. “Oh Vern,” was all she said.

They thought maybe they could pull a bit of mud and sticks out of the culvert, leaving enough water to keep the beavers happy but stopping the water from flowing onto the road. But the beavers had done their job too well and the culvert was jam-packed.

On the last Monday of November Elizabeth turned off the highway onto their road and was stopped short by a sign that read “Road closed at bridge.” Her house was on the other side of the bridge but she had a dread feeling in her stomach that this closure had something to do with the beavers.

Up ahead she saw sawhorses with bright signs on them announcing “Road Closed.” She saw Vern’s pick-up truck stopped in front. She pulled in behind him and parked the car. Vern was standing at the edge of a deep pit where the culvert used to be. The old one, still filled with river detritus, lay twisted and tangled at the side of the road. A new one lay ready for morning.

The pond the beavers had spent all summer building was empty. Their lodge was ripped down. A rank musty smell rose from the muck. Elizabeth gagged. “Where are the beavers?” she said, sweater pulled up over her nose.

“They’re in the river,” Vern said. “They’ve been swimming back and forth, here. Looking for the culvert, I bet.”

Elizabeth felt sick.

Dorothy Robb - my mom 

I was so excited when I received this ending from my mom. At that point no one else had sent one and I was afraid I’d wind up with a lot of egg on my face, having the misfortune to hold a contest nobody entered. But my mom, who comes through for me every time – and I mean every time – came through for me again. Thanks Mom! Love ya! You can read more of my mom's stuff at her blog, Molly & Me.

AS VERN AND Elizabeth sat pondering the fate of the beavers, a sudden wind came up ...

The branches of the pine trees began swaying to and fro.

“Listen Vern,” said Elizabeth, “the wind is speaking to us.”

They listened closely. “The beavers will survive – the beavers will survive.”

And just as quickly as the wind came up, it died down. All was quiet once again.

Winter soon settled in and, in a few short months, the sounds and signs of spring returned.

Vern and Elizabeth were busy out in their garden when a very loud “Whack Whack” caught their attention. Running to the river’s edge, there was the beaver family.

What a wonderful sight to behold!

Where or how they survived will remain a mystery.

Vern and Elizabeth will “Leave it to the Beavers!”

Lou Freshwater 

“Happy birthday,” read the e-mail from my friend, Lou, a fellow writer and blogger in the U.S. It’s always a pleasure receiving a note from Lou – even more so when the e-mail contains some of her writing. To me, Lou’s work has a gauzy, relaxed, homespun style, always infused with deep thinking and a kind of sensible whimsy. You can read more Lou at her blog, Baby’s Black Balloon. 

VERN CUPPED HIS hand on the crook of her elbow with unusual tenderness and began to turn her away from the emptiness. She dropped her sweater from her face and took another breath, this time without trying to avoid the smell, but instead breathing it in like she wanted to take it with her, to make it permanent.

“Come on,” Vern said, “Let’s go home.”

She said, “Okay," but not before taking another long look to see if she could just catch sight of one of the beavers. But she didn’t, she couldn’t, so she pulled her arm away and wrapped her thick brown and orange wool sweater jacket tight around her body and said, “Alright then.”

They pulled into the driveway and Elizabeth felt the cold of winter not the chill of fall for the first time that year. They walked up toward the porch and Vern knocked his boots up against the side of the stairs sending bits of dried river onto the ground. Elizabeth just took hers off and sat them on the mat beside the door before going inside. The house was warm but Vern still headed over to the fireplace to get a fire started. He knew she loved having a one going, and it was rare she was home in time to enjoy those first and most radiant moments of the fire when it is just so alive with heat and sound and smell.

“It’s going to be December tomorrow?” she asked him in that way people do when they already know the answer.

“Yep, sure is,” he said as he bullied the logs in the fireplace.

Elizabeth let out a breath. The rot of the river and the afternoon had faded but they were still with her.

She walked over to the phone and picked it up. She dialed work.

“Who ya calling?” Vern asked.

“Work,” she said as she went into the kitchen.

Vern turned away and pursed his lips together. She was calling work.

After a few minutes, Vern had the wood like he wanted it. He lit the kindling and it started to crackle. Elizabeth walked back into the room and sat down in the rocker she liked to call her old lady chair, the one that she did her Sunday crossword puzzles in.

“Everything alright?”

“I suppose so,” she said.

“Suppose so?” he said.

“Yep, I suppose they’re going to be just fine without me.”

Vic Burton 

Vic Burton is, and always will be, kind of special to me and my Dave. She is, after all, the minister-in-training who helped marry us a couple of months ago (omigawd, I can’t believe it’s been that long already!) Vic is also an accomplished writer who is presently finishing a play she wrote during last summer’s Muskoka Novel Marathon. The play received rave reviews from all three of her judges and it’s no wonder – it was full of funny, insightful truths and some wicked good lines. Vic was nervous about showing me this – she thought it was too much like me and Dave. Pfft, I said to her – Elizabeth and Vern ARE me and Dave! Thanks for writing this, Vic! 

AS VERN WATCHED a Star Trek he PVR’ed, Elizabeth surfed the internet.
“Vern, Vern, Google says they make great house pets,” she blurted out enthusiastically.
“What do?” Vern grunted, thinking he must have missed part of a conversation she was having without him.
“Beavers,” she smiled.
“What?” he asked.
“Right here, Vern, she said, pointing at the screen. “ It says they act just like dogs. They will even crawl up on your lap.”
Vern said, “Nothing with those kind of teeth is getting anywhere near my lap.”
Elizabeth gave her best pitiful look and pleaded, “Vern….”.
Vern knew what she could be like, so he headed her off at the pass, “Hon, I love you, but we are not having beavers as pets…
She cut him off, “If you are still the man I married you would be just as worried about those beavers as I am, Vern.”
“Honey, we just can’t. We have the dog and the cats.”
She gave him the pleading look and he knew if he was not careful she would have him cornered, so he drew the only weapon he knew might work. “Bette, we live in a log house and if you think termites would do ‘er in, just think about keeping beavers in here.” He turned and stifled a smile. He had her.
The next night, after work and checking on the swimming beavers that she urged and even yelled at to “Get to work and quit just swimming around” she was busy typing away. Vern worried she was coming up with some idea about keeping them caged. If she did, he did not know what he would do.

He did not have to worry, Elizabeth had Googled and knew beavers did not eat much other than roots and wood and she had not split wood all spring for beavers to eat. She knew if they did not have wood their teeth would grow too large and need ground down by a vet. Just the idea of how much that might cost made her change her mind about pet beavers.

“Bette, what ya’ writin’?” Vern asked from the living room.

“Just e-mailing the neighbour, hon,” she said.

“Oh, you finally made friends with one of the neighbour,” he inquired.

“No, it is business,” she stated, quite clipped.

Followed up, before he could ask, with “not the neighbours neighbours. I am e-mailing Tony Clement.”

“Good,” Vern said, getting political on her. She liked the political side of him. It contrasted with his easy-going side nicely and was rather a turn-on that her man had more than sweet charm, but also had brains and chutzpah. “I do not like that internet voting thing any more than you do,” he continued.

Returning to the conversation at hand, Elizabeth said, “I will mention that later. I don’t want to piss him off before he helps the beavers.”

“WHAT?” her husband said with no less incredulity than he could have mustered if she had just said she was dying her hair green.

She kept typing. Finally, when she spoke, it was professional and matter -of-fact. “I think beavers represent Muskoka and more so the whole of Canada. Who should care? The world should care! The world loves the beaver, Vern! They spent a fortune building a fake lake for the G8 and when I read the news coverage they defended it by saying that the G7 summit had a fake lake. And Vern, it had a beaver in it. Anik and her babies, borrowed from the science centre in Sudbury and guess what, Vern? The international journalists fell in love with them. I think it would be a marvellous use of G8 Legacy Funds to save the beavers already here on a real river. It ties in with the whole environment thing so it sells well with what would be Green Party supporters. It makes the Conservatives seem softer and gentler. He should love the idea, you know how he likes handing out cheques and we all know he adores publicity. If nothing else, maybe they could become mascots for the country. Do you think if I make a national appeal, people would help? I mean, the journalists from all over loved the beavers.”

Vern was left speechless. He loved her and he knew she had given this a lot of thought. She sounded like she could do a telethon or one of those half hours campaigns or make a film with Al Gore. He finally broke the silence, with the only thing he could think of, “Have you lost your mind?”

Her face fell. She started to cry.

He moved to her, “Bette, hon, I did not mean it like that.”

“How did you mean “Are you nuts?” exactly then?”, she wailed before she headed to the bedroom.

Vern muttered the F-word, so quietly even a Klingon could not have heard it.


Elizabeth checked the beavers daily, more than once a day, even. She saw them chewing and crossing the road with trees and swimming with them in tow. She knew they were trucking in the food, but she worried the weather would be their downfall. She worried they would not have enough food. Yes, they were busy, but she worried it would not be enough. She thought of how much food she would need to get through winter and she worried even more. She talked about them to everyone who would listen. She talked about them even when people were not listening, to try to make them listen.

She did not understand how Canadians could be so blasé about their national symbol. Weren’t people patriotic anymore? Beavers are as synonymous with Canada as the maple leaf or hockey or maple syrup or moose or Canadian geese or the common loon or polar bears. “Damn,” she thought, “Why does Canada have so many animals as national symbols?”

One evening she rushed in, yelling, “Vern, Vern..”

He jumped from the tub, almost broke his hip on the darn toilet paper holder, went across the linoleum like a slip and slide and shouted, “What?” like he was sliding into home plate and she was the umpire he was demanding a call from.

“They are gone!” she gasped.

“The boys?” Vern asked with fear bubbling to the surface. This was a beautiful secluded place and secluded places were criminals’ favourite kind of places.

Bette interrupted his Criminal Minds-type profiling on child abductions with, “The beavers, Vern. They are gone! The boys and I stopped on the way home And they are gone!”

“Damn you, Bette,” Vern said, “you scared me. I thought something was wrong.”

“Something IS wrong, Vernon. The beavers are missing!”, she snapped.

“Elizabeth, so they are gone, so what?”, Vern said.

“Vernon Edwin Charles Donaldson, did you shoot the beavers?” she asked in that tone.

Vern reached for her, “Betty, you know I wouldn’t shoot the beavers”.

She pulled away, “You are the one who said it would be more humane to kill them.” She started to sob, “They were doing it and the weather was warm and you killed them!” She started to swing. Vern caught her arm and pulled her close, close enough she could see the tears welling in his eyes. “I did not kill those beavers.”

“You wished them dead, Vern, I know you have. You are jealous of those beavers,” she sobbed.

He held her for a moment and then pushed her back enough that she could look in his eyes. “I am worried about those beavers. They may very well starve this winter, but I am more worried about my wife. I know you are worried and you feel you have to help them, save them, be a superhero, but you do not eat and you do not sleep and Bette, they got along just fine before they met you. I didn’t.”

She melted against him. He was a good man, no, he was a better man. He cared about the beavers like a good man would. A better man, like Vern was, would worry about the beavers but more about his wife.


Time went by. Elizabeth barely seemed to think about the beavers. She did, but she did not let it show often. The morning look Elizabeth stole at the river started to show the effect of colder temperatures. Soon, there was more and more ice on the water. She was resigned, but she still hoped.

Life in Muskoka gets too cold for walking or being outside for long. Residents tend to not do much they do not have to. They dash out for an armload of wood or to get to the car. The most they do is the snow removal. Without a snowfall you may not even notice if a neighbour died the way folks tend to hunker in. That is, except for the idiots who decided to move in the dead of winter. Who decides to do that?

They lived right next to the bridge and for days Vern and Elizabeth would be sitting there waiting for a truck to back out of the driveway taking up the whole of their little, narrow road. Elizabeth sat there, looking at the house while she waited. It was a cute place. She wondered if they were moving because they found winter too hard. She wondered if they were new and underestimated Muskoka winters. Then, she wondered if they might be getting older and less equipped to deal with them. Maybe it was the darn steps, she thought. Bette could not imagine living in a house on stilts and doing all those stairs every day. Why would they build it like that? This is not the ocean and the river never floods. The truck moved and so did Bette.

It was February when the house by the bridge collapsed, they moved out just in time.

It must have had termites.

Sarah Ryeland 

Sarah Ryeland is my new partner in the newspaper business. She’s the Special Publications Editor for Metroland in the Muskoka area and I work with her producing publications like Sideroads and specialty products like Winter Scene. You can’t help but love Sarah – she is a bubbly, happy, charming dynamo who brightens my day every time I talk to her. Easy to work with, she has a surprising temper that she talks about but I have never seen (I think she exaggerates – she’s far too nice to have a temper, even with her ginger hair). When she “blows” she says she becomes The Incredible Hulk. The thought of that makes me laugh – it’s like a tiny wee mouse turning green and blowing out of his clothes. When Sarah wrote me this she included a note that said the story was “upbeat and perky, just like me!” Thanks, Hulkster! 

LITTLE DID SHE know, that sick feeling was a premonition of terrible things to come.

When the road was finally safe to cross, Elizabeth and Vern sunk dejectedly back into their vehicles and pulled up to the house.

“Well, I guess that’s that,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “I can’t believe that nothing could be done. Those poor little creatures must be so confused. Imagine having to start building your home all over again.”

“Sure,” Vern said with a shrug. “They’re tough little guys though, they’ll figure it out. It can’t be the first time.”

Elizabeth sighed again as she hung up her jacket and purse. The house was dimly lit, but seemed warm and inviting when she thought of the poor little animals swimming out there without a home.

They’re only animals, she said to herself. Vern’s right. I’m sure it’s happened before. And really, why should I be so upset? I guess I just liked watching them work.

Vern gave her a sympathetic look as he slumped onto the couch and grabbed the remote.

“Let’s not think about it anymore,” Elizabeth said. “You know what? Let’s just order in and watch some TV tonight.”

“Sounds good to me,” Vern grunted.


An hour later, when the doorbell finally rang, Elizabeth was a bit put out.

“How long can it take to deliver a pizza?” she muttered under her breath.

Grabbing some cash out of her wallet, she opened the door and started speaking her mind. “You do realize that it’s been well over forty minutes… hello?”

“What’s wrong?” called Vern.

“There’s no one there!” Elizabeth cried. “Hello? Who’s out there? Hello? Well that’s odd,” she said, turning her back to the porch and swinging the door closed behind her. “I could have sworn I heard the doorbell…” and just as the door was about to click shut, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

A cold, creeping sense of dread came over her as she turned back around to face the man who was casting a shadow over her doorstep.

“Your pizza, ma’am.”

A blood curdling scream filled the air as Elizabeth came face to face the grotesque figure in front of her. A body, stripped down to its underclothing was lying facedown on the driveway, twitching.

“Who – what are you?” Elizabeth stammered. She looked up into the face of the deliveryman and saw a pair of shining, beady, black eyes. Slowly, two massive front teeth showed themselves, as the creature curled its mouth into a sneer.

“We’ve come to ask for your help,” the creature rasped. “You did say you would help us, didn’t you?”

“Nooooo!” Elizabeth screamed. The creature burst out of its clothing and revealed itself to be an entire colony of beavers, standing on each other’s shoulders.

The rodents launched themselves at the helpless woman, now smeared with pepperoni and mozzarella and trying desperately to escape from the beavers’ deadly grip.

As she felt the vicious slap of tails against her face, she looked over to her husband, already lying lifeless on the floor, smothered by cruel dam-builders. Finally, as a pair of giant teeth sliced her jugular, she became still.

The largest beaver of the pack raised his head, blood dripping from his mouth. He looked around him as he raised himself up onto his hind legs and leapt to the ground in front of his kill.

“Well boys,” he said, “It looks like we’ve found our new home.”

Jason Willis - Ending One 

Jason Willis is another colleague of mine at the Bracebridge Examiner where he, too, is a composing dude – he’s the only guy (except for our boss) in a veritable SEA of middle-aged, grumpy women. He’s like our favourite pet – we’re always teasing him and sending him to buy us food and he always treats us with the greatest of grace and charm. Jason, bless his young heart, reads my blog regularly and always says nice things. To help celebrate my first year blogaversary he wrote not one, but TWO endings to the beaver saga. The first one is all his own doing. The second, he says, is more “Cathy-esque.” Hmmm... I wonder what that means? 

SHE DIDN’T KNOW what to do, she just stood there staring at the beavers swimming back and forth, a knot growing in her stomach at the thought of their impending deaths. She couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible, if only she had acted sooner or raised some kind of ruckus to try and save them; it wouldn't be long now before "The Girls" were gone forever.

Elizabeth then turned and gave Vern “the look.” The, “I have an idea and it's crazy but you have to help me or you'll never hear the end of it,” look. Ignorance of the town be damned, she was gonna do what she could to help those poor beavers.

So Elizabeth and Vern hurried to the back of his truck and opened the cab to see what tools and supplies might be available to them. Being a contractor / handyman, Vern always had bits of materials and a slew of tools he kept stashed in there. Vern wasn't the tidiest fellow and Elizabeth always chastised him for never cleaning up or throwing things out, but tonight she was oh so very thankful that he didn't.

Elizabeth dropped the tail gate, climbed up in truck and started tossing items at Vern; without saying a word and using only knowing glances they set to work building a crudely constructed cage that they hoped could house the beavers.

With some help from Elizabeth, Vern had the cage built in under a half-hour, with the sun setting and the air now cold enough that they could see their breath, Elizabeth and Vern headed down to what was left of the beavers’ pond for what, assuredly, would be the most difficult part of this rescue operation.

Down by the water’s edge, Elizabeth stared into the now dark muddy waters that the beavers were swimming in. Vern edged up behind her dragging the cage and a couple of flashlights. They turned them on and scouted for the beavers. They spotted them quickly – the beavers had made their way close to the far bank , which now was only about 30 feet away.

Hesitating for only a moment, Elizabeth took a deep breath, gritted her teeth and plunged into the waist-deep water. The cold hit her like a punch to the gut, nearly knocking the wind from her, cutting into her legs and thighs like thousands of tiny knives slicing at her with every step she took. Almost numb, she continued undeterred, edging farther into the pond.

Vern splashed in right behind her, handing her a rope as they both pulled the cage behind them through the freezing murky water towards the beavers. Elizabeth had no idea how she was going to corral them into the cage, she just knew she had to try; but, as they neared the middle of the pond, to her amazement, the beavers left the shore and were actually swimming towards them. Having no idea how aggressive or territorial beavers were, Elizabeth and Vern stood as still as two flesh-coloured granite statues, watching the critters approach.

But nothing happened. The beavers swam up and around them, no angry noises, no slapping tails. Elizabeth reached out slowly with one hand and stroked the cool, wet body of one of the beavers as it swam by; it didn't even flinch. She realized at that point the beavers must recognize them; all those times swimming buy pretending not to notice them, they had been watching, and thought of them not as a threat, but almost like family.

Taking this as a good sign, Elizabeth and Vern pushed the half-submerged cage all the way under the water and gently guided the beavers into it before closing the lid and heading back to shore. Shivering but elated to be back on shore, Elizabeth cold not believe how smoothly that had gone. However, her jubilation was rudely interrupted, as one of the beavers began to thrash in the cage and started making the most horrendous noise.

Elizabeth freaked out, not knowing what was happening. Everything had gone so well until now. She noticed the frantic animal was staring across the pond; she took her flashlight and shone it over to the far bank scanning looking for possible signs of danger that could have set the beaver into its mad frenzy.

Scanning back and forth she at first saw nothing, but somehow, in between the howls of the one beaver she heard a quiet but constant peeping noise. She scanned the banks again, and this time saw the cause of the noise – two baby beavers, maybe weeks old, were stranded on the far side of the pond. Their "Girls" were, in fact a mother and father, and they were freaking out because they didn't want to be separated from their babies.

Elizabeth wasted no time; she tossed Vern her light and plunged back into the freezing water – she had to get to the baby beavers before they scurried off into the bush. It was dark now and they would be impossible to spot in the woods. Vern stayed with the cage and watched, keeping one light on Elizabeth and one light on the babies. As quickly as she could, Elizabeth trudged and half-swam across the pond, reached the beavers, scooped them up, one under each arm, and and plowed back across. Vern opened the cage as she got to the shore. She dropped them in with their parents and collapsed to her hands knees on the bank beside them, breathing hot, tired, steaming breath into the cool night air... they had done it! Drained but elated, she couldn't believe they had done it.

The next spring, after the snow had melted and the flowers were up, Elizabeth drove the 73.6 km up a winding dirt path of a road towards a small clearing, gravel clinking and clanking off the bottom of her car as she went. She pulled up and parked the car and popped the trunk. She went to the back and pulled out her folding chair, grabbed her book and a picnic basket with small lunch and walked down to the pond, there she spent the day and many a days after that, reading, enjoying the sun and watching her "extended family" swim and play and grow in their new home.

Jason Willis - Ending Two 

HOWEVER SHE KNEW there wasn't much that could be done for them tonight, so Elizabeth and Vern got into their vehicles and took the long winding detour home. On the drive Elizabeth thought long and hard about the beavers and tried to think of something that could be done to help them. She was too tired though, and came up with nothing.

For the next two weeks after the culvert was fixed and the road was opened again, Elizabeth drove by every day on her way to work looking out to see if she could see the beavers, and every night on the way home she would pull over and try to spot them, hoping to god they would be gone, moved on to that back up home that Vern said they might have.

She was standing shivering on the side of the road, about an inch of show now blanketing everything in sight, looking hard for little beaver heads swimming in the river. She hadn't seen them for three days now and truly hoped they had moved on.

Then she heard a light splash up the river bank and looked to see what had made the noise.

"Ahhh, shit!" she said..

It was indeed a beaver, just swimming along a small stick in its mouth. She felt an anger flare up inside her. "You stupid rodents!" she said to the beaver as it swam towards the culvert. "You need to get out of here! You're going to starve if you don't move on!"

She was practically shouting at the beaver now, emotions flaring even more as she realized what they did not – that they were going to die slowly of starvation if they didn't find a new home and soon.

She was angered at the beavers for not moving on, and partially angered at herself for not doing more to help them. She was so angered in fact, she bent down, grabbed a handful of loose gravel and started throwing stones at the beaver, shouting at it and calling it names, telling it leave, all in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to get them to move on.

As she was tossing rocks at the beaver, her feet slipped on the snow-covered bank, and went out from under her, she landed hard on here butt, and skidded out of control down the steep embankment towards the frigid waters.

With a loud noisy splash she hit the waters and was instantly up to her waist. She screamed and scrambled up the shore and back to her idling car, where she cranked the heat and drove the short distance home even more enraged, cussing a blue streak that would make a sailor blush.

Elizabeth roared into the driveway and skidded to a stop, just inches from the front porch. Slamming the car into park, she turned off the engine and stormed into the house still cursing as she slammed the door and tromped and clumped here way upstairs, dripping water and leaving soggy foot prints as she went to the bedroom to change.

Vern was just sitting in his worn out lazyboy watching the sports channel count down the top 10 most outrageous outburst by coaches, and smiled as he found a little irony that his wife would be in the middle of one of her famous outbursts, while he was watching that particular segment; he knew however that the guys on TV had nothing on his wife when it came to outburst. When she got in a mood, it was best to just stay out of the way and let her cool down. Usually she would stomp around, curse, slam some doors, do some cleaning, come and complain to him about what the problem was and eventually settle down. The medication she was taking was certainly making the outbursts less frequent, but no less outrageous when they did happen.

However this time after she had finished changing, Elizabeth went straight down to the basement, which was odd even for her; she hardly ever went down there. The only stuff they kept in the basement was Christmas stuff, some boxes of old junk they never got around to throwing out and Vern's hunting gear. Vern heard her rummaging around for a few minutes then stomped back up the stairs; he had already muted the TV waiting for Elizabeth to come and vent to him. But she didn't make the turn down the short hallway to living room like he thought she would; instead she went straight out the front door. When that happened, Vern realized it was the TSN turning point – and he needed to find out what she was up to.

He got up from his chair, tuned off the TV and went and got his coat; he was lacing up his boots when her heard the first shot. He quickly tied his boots and as he hurried out the door. A second shot rang out. He was running now, out the driveway and down the road to the bridge.

A third shot…

Vern, huffing and now wheezing in the cool winter air, got to the bridge in time to see Elizabeth loading up the next round in the rifle. He surveyed the area and something furry floating in the river below, then he followed her line of sight and saw a limping bleeding beaver desperately trying to get up the bank on the far side of the river.


Elizabeth turned and looked at him, visibly upset, tears streaming down her face.

"It's the only way Vern...." she said softly, almost as if saying it to herself.

"It's the... only… way..." she mumbled again. "They are just going to starve to death Vern, and I can't sit and watch that happen."

She gripped the gun tightly in her hands, deep troubling sobs peppered with short hot breaths that seemed to fuel this inner anger that neither doctors, Vern, or even she understood.

"I should have done something sooner to help them. This is my fault, my mess, and I'm going to clean it up." she said; the anger and edge returning to her voice.

"It's my goddamn MESS! You hear ME! YOU STUPID RODENTS! Why did you have to be so STUPID?"

Elizabeth was shouting at the beavers, shaking with a rage that Vern had not seen in a long time; he wondered if maybe she forgot to take her medication. Or maybe she had just finally lost it.

He watched as Elizabeth raised the gun again to take aim at the wounded beaver on the far bank. Vern calmly tried to talk to her, to talk her out of the rage and into lowering the firearm.

“Just calm down Elizabeth… just take a slow deep breath, and everything will be ok. I need you to put the gun down, baby. I need you put the gun down…”

But Elizabeth was having no part of it, she was too focused on her target: The stupid, retched, fowl little water rat that was now getting away!

Vern was getting audibly louder as he continued talking to Elizabeth, trying to reach her, trying to get her to listen to him… to listen to reason.

Still intent on her target, Elizabeth raised her finger to the trigger, ready to take out the beaver for good. Just before she shot, Vern yelled her name as loud as he could to get her attention.


It worked!

She snapped out of her rage-filled shooting spree and flung her head in Vern’s direction. The loss of focus however, coupled with the quick shifting of her weight, made Elizabeth lose her footing, and on the same spot she had fallen earlier, she slipped again, her arms flailed to the sides as her feet went right out from under her, sending her down the embankment once again.

The only difference between this time and the last was the rifle she was now holding in her hands; loaded, finger on the trigger, squeezing it as she fell.

The shot rang out!

Elizabeth splashed into the frigid icy waters!

A second large splash happened only seconds behind her own….


Elizabeth's body was found three days later.

A friend had stopped by to ask Vern about borrowing his truck – he needed to move some wood he had chopped earlier in the week. With both vehicles in the driveway and no one answering the door, the friend checked to see if everything was ok. The door was unlocked, so he let himself in. It was then that he found Elizabeth; her body, slumped over the kitchen table caked in blood, the pistol still in her hand; she was laying there surrounded by hundreds of pieces of note paper that had been ripped from the note book that had now fallen on the floor beside her.

On each piece of paper the same message was scribbled on the front and back: "Stupid Rodents!"

Two weeks later while clearing out the new culver that had become plugged again, they found the bodies of two dead beavers… and Vern.