One of the great things about being a bit of a ‘sentimental hoarder’ is that I have quite a few of the cards my boys (now both adults) made for me when they were little. I was digging around today (looking for something else entirely) when I came across a folder full of them, and I thought I’d share a couple of the Mother’s Day ones here (they’re just too darn funny/cute to keep to myself). My boys are (and always have been) the greatest! I’m a very lucky Mom indeed.
Having the best kids in the whole world is another reason I love my life here on … the other side of 55.
When I was growing up, our family ate dinner in the dining room (we didn’t have an eat-in kitchen), at 5:30 every night. My father was a meat and potatoes kind of guy; he worked hard and looked forward to enjoying a hearty meal at the end of the day. My mother prepared fairly basic but tasty meals: pork chops, chicken breasts, sausage, meatloaf, or roast beef accompanied by potatoes (boiled, mashed, baked or fried), and some type of canned or fresh in-season vegetable (peas, wax or green beans, corn, carrots). Occasionally we’d have one of my favourite dinners – macaroni and cheese or spaghetti with meat sauce – as an economical ‘treat’. And while we ate like this pretty much every night, Sunday dinners were always a little ‘extra special’ – there might be a half a grapefruit to start, or gravy for the potatoes, or hot Pillsbury rolls with butter on the side, and there was always dessert (generally ice cream, or fruit cocktail, or a slice of apple pie).
When I got married (the first time, back in the 70s), I started out cooking the same kinds of meals my mother had made, although I gradually discovered – to my delight – that there were such wondrous things as boneless pork chops and chicken breasts, and frozen vegetables that tasted almost fresh, and that hamburgers cooked on a barbecue were far superior to ones fried to a crisp on top of the stove. After my boys were born, I learned to experiment a little – adding dishes like homemade chicken nuggets, tacos and fajitas, lasagna, and pepperoni casserole to the menu. I was never a particularly ‘adventurous’ cook, but I experimented with various recipes I found in magazines and cookbooks, and expanded my repertoire according to growing and changing tastes all around. And despite the fact that – for several years – son #2 was adamant that potatoes and ketchup were the only ‘vegetables’ he needed to eat, I managed to vary the dinner menu sufficiently to ensure the food I put on the table was both nutritious and tasty (and in his teens, son #2 became interested in the goings-on in the kitchen, learned a thing or two from me, and went on to work as a cook – with his own catalogue of delicious recipes – for a number of years). But all through their growing up years, Sunday night dinner was always ‘extra special’ – that was a tradition that just seemed ‘right’ to me.
Fast forward to 2013 and there’s just my (second) husband and me sitting down at the table for dinner every night. Fortunately (for me) he’s not a fussy eater, and he’s always appreciative of whatever I put on the table. It took me quite a while to learn to cook for ‘just two people’ but we now have fewer leftovers in the fridge (meaning fewer ‘clean-out-the-fridge-night’ dinners), and I’ve mastered a couple of Hungarian dishes especially for him. We have adopted a few new ‘routines’ as well (for example, Fridays are always sandwich and salad nights – in front of the fireplace in winter; out on the deck in the summer), and dinnertime varies depending on his teaching schedule. The one thing I haven’t let go of, however, is ‘fancy’ Sunday night dinners – I still feel compelled to cook a roast, stuff and bake some pork tenderloin, or fry up some schnitzel, or have him barbecue a steak or some pork chops or ribs (all accompanied by the requisite potatoes, vegetables and something sweet for dessert). And while my husband (as mentioned earlier) is always appreciative, he has (occasionally) asked on a Sunday eve, “Why can’t we just have pizza tonight?”
Now, I do make a particularly delicious homemade pizza (which probably takes about as much time – or maybe more – to prepare as a full roast beef dinner), but that’s not really what he’s talking about. Instead, he means either picking up a ‘take home and bake’ pizza from the nearby independent grocery story (at $9.99 for an extra large, thin-crust pie with loads of pepperoni, it’s not only a great deal, it’s exceptionally tasty) or tossing a frozen pizza (which I keep on hand for ‘emergencies’ – i.e., when I go out and leave him home alone to make his own dinner) in the oven. And while I find pizza occasionally acceptable on just about any other day of the week (and, honestly, my husband would eat pizza EVERY night if he could), I just can’t bring myself to accept it as Sunday night dinner.
I suppose it has something to do with tradition – multi-course Sunday night dinners have been a ritual for almost 60 years of my life, and giving them up just doesn’t sit well with me (I did consider trying – just once – serving pizza on the good china, with candles on the table and a glass of wine on hand, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it). Perhaps it has to do with memories of my childhood, or maybe it’s just an ingrained, long-standing habit, but I’m not ready to stop serving special Sunday night dinners, even now that I’m on … the other side of 55.
One of the challenges of being on ‘the other side of 55’ is avoiding the common labels associated with this particular time in life (e.g., ‘senior/senior citizen’, ‘pensioner’, ‘retiree’, ‘elder’, ‘getting on in years’, ‘not getting any younger,’ ‘past my prime’, ‘old gal’, etc.) And while I don’t exactly hide my age (clearly – see the title of my blog) and am willing to accept any and all ‘senior’s discounts’ that might be offered, I don’t FEEL (or look or act) like a person on the verge of turning 60. So – how to describe myself? I had no idea … until today.
I caught a short lifestyle segment on our local TV channel this past week promoting “The Vintage Marketplace” (a two day consumer show that brings together all of the best elements of vintage living … including vintage and retro clothing, accessories, furniture, antiques, collectibles, wedding inspiration and so much more). It sounded like fun, and since I had nothing else planned for today (except writing this blog post), and the admission fee was only $5.00, I headed off just before noon to check it out.
Several of the vendors were selling what I suppose I had expected to see – antique furniture and décor items, silver and ceramic tchotchkes and household accessories, jewellery, books and other ‘collectibles’ from the first half of the 20th century. What I hadn’t quite figured on seeing, though, was the dozen or so ‘vintage’ clothing vendors with racks of clothes and tables full of other items (LPs, books, posters, hats, purses, jewellery) from the 60s and 70s – the kind of things I wore, listened to, read, and owned as a teenager. Talk about a ‘blast from the past’!
It turns out ‘vintage’ just-about-anything is ‘hot’ right now. What most of us over 55 might have thought was just plain ‘old’ is, in fact, highly valued and valuable; if it’s considered ‘vintage collectible’, it’s more likely to appreciate in value than depreciate. People are actually willing to pay – and pay well – for items that most of us tossed out without a second thought years ago.
I suppose I understood this concept as it relates to vehicles (think ‘vintage hot rods’ – cars that originally sold for $2,500 [new] back in the 60s would have been considered ‘old junk’ a dozen years later; now they sell for $25,000 or more if they’re in even reasonably good condition). I just never thought that the clothes (or the cheap jewellery or hats or boots) I wore in the 60s and 70s (never mind the music I listened to and the books I read) would be considered valuable today. It turns out there are actually dozens of physical and online stores that sell ‘vintage’ clothing (or reproductions based on styles from the 60s and 70s) – and they’re doing remarkably well. Who knew that our old bell bottoms, gypsy blouses, tie-dyed t-shirts, mini-skirts, maxi dresses, and fringed vests would be worth more now than when we bought them back then? Crikey! (If only I’d known, eh? I could have hung on to decades of wardrobe items and made a fortune selling them 40 years later!)
In any case, what really inspired me today was the realization that the word ‘vintage’ can be attached to just about anything that is old and valuable (in other words, it’s not just wine that benefits from the ‘vintage’ label). When used as an adjective, ‘vintage’ means: classic; recognized as being of high quality and lasting appeal; representing the superior quality of a past time.
Wow! I love that definition – and so I am hereby adopting it. From now on, I’m going to describe myself as ‘vintage’: a classic of high quality and lasting appeal who represents the superior quality of a past time – and who’s clearly more valuable now that I’m on … the other side of 55.
Spring has arrived. I know this because:
- the sun rises earlier, shines brighter, is warmer, and remains in the sky longer each day;
- the snow and ice are slowly disappearing from yards and roadsides around town;
- the northern sea ice is breaking up and icebergs are beginning their journey south through ‘iceberg alley’;
- crocuses, buttercups, tulips, daffodils, and snowdrops are pushing they way through the sleeping earth in my garden;
- the dozens of trees on my property are fat with buds;
- robins and other migratory birds have returned to my yard (and the swallows have returned to Capistrano);
- baseball teams are in Florida for spring training (while college and high school students recently returned from that state – and other ‘points south’ – after engaging in their own spring rituals);
- black carpenter ants have begun their annual invasion of the living spaces in my house.
The first few years after we moved in (we’ve been here 12½ years), the ants appeared every spring ‘en masse’ in the dishwasher, the sink, and on just about every surface in the kitchen, as well as individually here and there in the bathrooms, the dining room (which we use as a home office), the living room, and occasionally the bedrooms. The quickest and easiest method of eradication was to squash each and every one of them (usually preceded by and/or followed with a mild yelp of disgust); we also took to running the dishwasher daily (boiling those suckers to death), pouring Borax (followed by hot running water) down the drains, sterilizing (repeatedly) all surfaces with a vinegar and water solution, and spreading ‘environmentally friendly’ ant repellent (everything from paprika, chili powder, crushed egg shells and coffee grounds to various ‘non toxic’ store-bought products) around the foundation of the house and on window sills and door frames. Gradually the invading army would retreat (although the odd few stragglers would continue to appear off and on for several days) and we’d feel victorious!
Until the following spring, when it would start all over again.
Carpenters ants inhabit many parts of the world. In southern Ontario, the black carpenter ant is extremely common. They don’t eat wood but they do build large colonies in dead or rotting timber. Once they’ve established a nest, the ‘worker ants’ go out to forage for food, travelling up to 100 meters (yards) in search of sustenance (which they gather and take back to the nest). The ‘workers’ generally set off at night, travelling along chemical pheromone trails left by previous members of their ‘tribe’. They particularly love sweets (honey, sugar, chocolate, candy, jelly, fruit) but they’re omnivorous – meaning they’ll eat just about anything they can get their sharp little mandibles into (including all sorts of animal and plant foods, other insects or invertebrates [living or dead], meat, grease, and fat – pretty much anything you might have in or around your kitchen). They can easily chew through moist or damp wood to gain entry to your home (they also come in via drainage systems), and they can squeeze through the tiniest of holes (the average black carpenter ant is about 1.5 cm or ½ inch long). They don’t sting, but larger worker ants can bite.
In addition to being just plain creepy, they can cause significant structural damage to homes if they not eradicated. So we’ve learned to fight them inside and out with a mixture of exterior ‘sprays’ (e.g., on the exposed end of the huge supporting beam that runs the length of the house, where we determined they had gained ingress) and interior ‘bait traps’ (where the cats can’t get to them, like the nifty little platform my husband built at the other end of the beam where we saw them popping out and wandering along the kitchen walls). It took a few years, but we’ve mostly won the battle – every spring there are a few ants here and there (my two new cats have turned out to be great ‘ant trackers’ – they alert me to the presence of an intruder so I can kill it – what a team) but we haven’t had any more major infestations. Thank goodness.
Still, what probably creeps me out most about their appearance each spring is the sheer randomness of where they turn up. For example, the other day I was sitting at the computer, typing away when – out of NOWHERE – an ant starts walking across the top of my monitor. I hadn’t seen it wandering down the cupboard above the desk, or across the desk and up the side of the monitor, or even dropping out of the sky. It was just … THERE! The same thing happened in the kitchen. I was making a cup of tea when an ant showed up right next to the kettle. Surely if it had been walking across the (white) wall, or along/down the (beige) cupboards, or meandering towards me across the counter, I would have SEEN it before it appeared out of THIN AIR beside the kettle, wouldn’t I? (I may wear glasses, but I’m not BLIND!) And just the other night, I was sitting in the living room with my feet up on the footstool enjoying a glass of wine before dinner when I spotted an ant crawling down my leg. How did it get there? Why hadn’t I seen it? Why hadn’t the cat, who was lying on my lap, spotted it? WHERE HAD IT COME FROM??!?!?!?!!?
Another weird part of an ant ‘invasion’ is the way they sometimes congregate in groups (again, without me seeing them – either one-by-one or in groups – wandering towards the gathering spot). One year the favourite spot for these clandestine meetings was under the wooden lazy susan I keep on corner of the kitchen counter. One morning I noticed a single ant near it; I looked underneath (and shrieked loudly) – there had to have been two dozen ants lurking beneath it (I lifted it up, squashed as many as I could, swept the rest onto the floor and did a kind of hoochy-koochy dance across the kitchen as I stomped them all to death). A similar thing happened just this past week (the first ‘warning’ I had that ‘the boys are back in town’) – I saw a single ant crawling across the top of the stove, towards a hand towel I’d left there earlier. I lifted it up – and over a dozen ants scrambled madly away. I hammered and banged and swept and stomped (and I think I got ‘em all); for the rest of the day I kept my eye on the beam (the spot where they’d emerged years before), the wall, the cupboards, etc. and while I’d see the odd one here or there, I couldn’t pinpoint where they were coming from, or how they got to the places they got to without me spotting them sooner! It was rather disturbing.
Then I remembered a TV series my oldest son and I used to watch back in the mid 1990s – Babylon 5. It was a sort of ‘space opera’ set in the 23rd century, after Earth had conquered space and set up an alliance of sorts with various alien species. There were, of course, other species who weren’t quite so friendly, including ‘”The Shadows, an ancient and extremely powerful race who [during the show’s second season] emerged from hibernation [and are] revealed to be the cause of a variety of mysterious and disturbing events” (from Wikipedia) Their very name gives you some clue as to their ability to stay well hidden; they (and their really cool ships) would appear and disappear using advanced ‘cloaking’ mechanisms. They could also ‘materialize’ just about anywhere they wanted to. And they looked an awful lot like (really big) black carpenter ants.
Now, who’s to say that all the species we share our planet with are actually native to it? We’ve all heard stories about UFOs, alien abductions, and theories about intelligent extraterrestrial beings who might have visited Earth thousands of years ago (and who may have influenced our evolution and the development of our culture, technology, and religious beliefs). Perhaps black carpenter ants are really aliens! That would certainly explain their ability to mysteriously appear in places where they weren’t seen a moment or two before (they have teleportation abilities), their capacity to communicate without any audible language (they’re part of a collective), and our (human) apparent inability to annihilate them (clearly, resistance is futile).
I just hope they don’t actually take over the entire planet before I’m well past and beyond … the other side of 55.
When I was young, every April 1st the phone would ring early in the morning (usually just before it was time to leave for school). Whichever of the kids was closest to it at the time would be told to answer it. On the other end, my (maternal) grandmother (who lived in an apartment four blocks down the street from our house) would excitedly say, “Go look out the window. There’s an elephant coming up the street.”
Even though this was an annual ‘prank’, whoever had answered the phone would put down the receiver, go to the window, look out, and then return to the phone to say, “Gee Grammy, I don’t see anything”. And she would laugh and call, “April Fool”.
According to references cited on Wikipedia, “April Fools’ Day is celebrated in many countries on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is recognized and celebrated as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. The earliest recorded association between April 1 and foolishness can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). Many writers suggest that the restoration of January 1 by Pope Gregory XIII as New Year’s Day of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century was responsible for the creation of the holiday, sometimes questioned for earlier references”.
As kids, we’d often engage in various ‘April Fool’s’ pranks with family and friends – nothing malicious, of course, just the odd practical joke or harmless teasing or some type of misdirection that would end with (hopefully shared) laughter and a call of ‘April Fool’. The tomfoolery always ended at noon (according to a study done in the 1950s, this time limit came from April Fool’s traditions in the United Kingdom; the practice seems to have lapsed in recent years and those who engage in chicanery on April 1st – including some newspapers, radio stations and TV outlets – continue to ‘trick’ people all day long).
I haven’t played an ‘April Fool’s joke’ on anyone for a very long time (I pulled the old ‘elephant coming up the street’ hoax a couple of times on my own boys when they were little), but every April 1st I think about the simple joy my grandmother (who died in 1980) got from those once-yearly phone calls and I think, ‘Maybe I’ll do the same thing with my own grandchildren someday’. Now all I have to do is wait for them to arrive; I am, after all, on … the other side of 55.