In case of emergency, don’t bother calling my kids

I went looking to buy a new wallet, and realized none of them had that little I.D. card that wallets all used to come with.

I used to love that little card, mostly because I had no other cards to put in a wallet. But listing my name and address and phone number on that teeny scrap seemed important. More important still was the emergency contact name.

I used to make the boys put one of my business cards in their wallets, in the desperate hope that if they were lying in a ditch, someone would rifle through their belongings and decide that I was the one to call. My business card is actually pretty useless; it says my name, which is different from my sons’, and website and phone number, but not what I do. I thought it would be unprofessional to put “mother” on it, though that is exactly what I want it to say if my kid is lying in a ditch.

I worry about these things. People only use their phones now, and I can picture police or hospital personnel scrolling through a list of nicknames and abbreviations and wondering who to contact, if they can get into the phone at all. The people closest to me are all identified in my phone by their first names only; if I’m the one lying in a ditch, it very well might be a public relations person from Subaru or Ford who gets the call, because they’re not named Ari or Christer or Mike the Miracle Worker (my trainer).

I’ve told the boys to put my full name in their phone listings alongside “Mom.” I doubt they did it; these are kids who once explained to me that the headphones they bought were not noise cancelling, but Mom cancelling.

My best hope is that anyone figuring out how to contact me in an emergency is also a mother; a scroll through our texts would be instantly deciphered by any mom.

Me: “Are you dead in a ditch?”

Ari: “I wish.” (This was a morning after a night before he’d prefer to forget.)

Me: “Are you coming home? Asking for a cat.”

Me, again: “When you come home, stack the cars in the drive for morning. Frankie is in your room and his litter is stinky.”

My text history with Christopher is just a string of unanswered questions. Either way, I reckon a mother would recognize the pattern of communication and yell, “I found Mom!”

Before I go anywhere for work, I have to fill in emergency contact info. I always put my sister Roz, because I know she will answer her phone unless she thinks the people who find me in a ditch disguise themselves as telemarketers. The thought that the life-saving people would call my sons and discover neither of them has ever initialized the message recording thing on their phones worries me. Both boys would see a number they don’t recognize and carry on, oblivious to my ditch dwelling predicament.

Maybe it’s not the wallet people who have to sort this out, after all. Maybe all cellphones should have a default emergency contact setting somewhere, somehow.

I’m going to make up my own little contact card for my new wallet when I get it. I will instruct those trying to contact my sons on my behalf to text them one of the following sentences:

“A package arrived here for you. Want me to open it?”

“How much was it I owed you again? I’ll transfer it now if you let me know.”

I guarantee they will get a response in 30 seconds.

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Doritos for women? No. We need silent packaging

You’ve heard by now, certainly.

We can look forward to a new snack food, Doritos for Women. They won’t call them that, but in a stunning misfire that made the chips maker, PepsiCo, look pretty stupid, we’ve been told they are working on a new chip that I will prefer.

It will be quieter. It will leave less messy gunk behind on my fingers. It will fit in my purse, even though I don’t carry one. PepsiCo is only thinking of me.

I admittedly eat only a handful of Doritos a year, because I’m quite certain each chip contains more chemical residue than a countertop in a meth lab. The only thing the colour of Doritos that occurs in nature is Donald Trump’s head, and I’d take a huff of that meth lab before I’d touch that.

So Doritos for Dames, or Lady Doritos (as someone in my Twitter feed called them), or Girl Chips are apparently the way forward in snack innovation. An interview in Adweek with PepsiCo quotes CEO Indra Nooyi saying women “would love” to lick their fingers and pour Doritos chip crumbs into their mouths, they “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public” and “don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.”

Their own spokesperson rapidly shot that down, declaring that Nooyi’s remarks were inaccurate. Call me crazy, but when the CEO trots out this new concept complete with the merits on several different levels, I doubt she was talking out of her boardroom. This discussion happened and word got out before their own marketing department could spin all the in-house dialogue out of the equation.

This reminds me of Coke inventing a problem to solve and the introduction of New Coke. That happened back in 1985 as people around the world discovered what it would take to get average Americans out of their La-Z-Boys and revolting in the streets. The difference now, of course, is the internet. It took New Coke 77 days to fold up its tent, mostly because the word filtered around by hard copy headlines and the tail of the nightly news. Female Doritos got about 77 minutes before they were walking back the concept.

I’m stunned that a huge corporation like PepsiCo could get it so wrong. We may live in sensitive times, but we also live in more enlightened ones, I would hope. The only thing you can market exclusively to women are tampons or nursing bras.

When we were kids, my mother used to wait until we’d gone to bed to break out the potato chips. They were kept in a tin we had to use a chair to reach, with Chip King emblazoned on the side. The chips were delivered to the house. No word of a lie. And at night in front of Star Trek or M*A*S*H my mother would try to sneak open a bag of chips.

And we’d be out of bed like stirred up wasps, standing before her, arms outstretched. No matter how quietly she’d tried to ease open that bag, we were like cats responding to the call of the can opener. I used to think she was mean, but every mother I know since has something squirreled away, somewhere, hidden from the locusts that are children.

If PepsiCo had actually asked any real women (if this really was a quest to make our lives easier or more enjoyable), they never would have heard “make the crunch go away” or “make me look more graceful as I lick my fingers like a hyena.”

Doritos never needed to make quieter chips. They just needed to make silent packaging.

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Pillow talk that divulges nothing

A woman approached me as I was trying to decide which duvet cover to purchase.

“What do you think of these microfibre ones?” she asked me.

She was holding a small package containing a sheet. I was stumped.

“Are they fleece?” I asked her. “I bought fleece sheets at Costco last year and ohmygodineverwanttogetoutofbed.”

Granted, I’m not someone who has a hard time staying in bed, but still.

“Oh, Costco costs too much. I just want a fitted sheet, and thought I’d check here,” she said.

We were in a place that costs less than Costco. She made me feel the sheet through a little opening she’d made in the package. I remained stumped.

I needed a way to gently exit the conversation, not because I didn’t want to have it — I enjoy talking to strangers — but because I knew I couldn’t help her. I did not know what these microfibre sheets were that she spoke of, only that any time I buy cheap sheets nobody will use them so we take them to the cottage so nobody can use them there, either.

“I have no good guidance on this matter,” I told her. “I spend too much on sheets and bedding.”

I also spend way too much time in bed drinking wine and watching Netflix, but I wasn’t sure about revealing this to Microfibre Lady.

I was buying a new duvet cover because my favourite one, which is basically all white, was covered too often in cat footprints. Someone needs to make a duvet cover that is white with cat footprints. I’d buy that. In fact, I’d pay a lot for that. Anybody with cats knows you make adjustments when you have cats. When you see a dent in your pillow, you pretend the dent is the size of your head, not your cat’s butt.

People who sell bedding should know what else I’d pay extra for.

I’d pay extra to be able to see what the sheets look like when they’ve been washed a few times. I’d pay extra for a store to stop pretending that a duvet cover can be labelled “full/queen” when those are two different sizes. I’d pay extra for all pillow cases to have that little fold over part on the end so the pillows don’t fall out. I’d pay extra for duvet covers to all have zippers, so when you wash them you don’t lose socks. I don’t wash socks with sheets, and I turn duvet covers inside out but somehow socks always end up in the corners, as if the cover goes into my washing machine like some kind of giant sock-eating Pac Man.

But I would gladly hand back all of those things for this one: label the sheets. How can my jeans have four tags on them, shirts have tags in two different places, yet sheets, the biggest, most cumbersome things we handle remain a mystery? Why can’t they mark king-sized sheets as such on the label? Same with duvets and covers? There is already a label there; mark the size.

I have three bed sizes in the house, and three more at the cottage. We still have the Snoopy sheets Roz bought Gilly for her sixth birthday, and Christopher’s Thomas the Tank Engine ones. I have no problem remembering these don’t go on my bed, unless I’ve pulled the short straw and ended up in the bunks. At home, there is a deficit of cartoon characters to lead me in the right direction.

As I left I heard Microfibre Lady asking a sales clerk for an opinion. She had no clue, either.

I should have told her to buy Snoopy sheets.

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Empty nest: quieter, but better feathers

I have been an empty nester for about nine months now.

If that’s long enough to produce an entire other human being, you would think it would be long enough to produce a different lifestyle.

You would think.

Instead, I have discovered that years of raising children hard-wires you in surprising ways. I don’t miss the noise and the mess, though I do miss having someone else to blame them on. I don’t miss the lights left on and the dishwasher they could never load nor unload. I don’t miss every day being laundry day and I will never miss gobs of toothpaste in the sink.

Some adjustments have been tougher. For a few weeks, I’d jump awake when I heard the garbage truck come into the street. Putting out bins had never been my job; took even more weeks to realize I had to bring them in again.

I took for granted the built-in cat sitting service I’d enjoyed for so many years. Now, I’ll be hauling a suitcase from the basement and finding my passport, only to have three sets of eyes looking at me and wondering where their passports are. There is no such thing as spur of the moment.

I still buy family packs of chicken and large blocks of cheese. I need neither. I don’t need to leave the front light on for a kid who may, or may not, be coming home that night. I got rid of the freezer in the basement because it was empty except for four bags of freezer burned frozen vegetables that I bought because they were on sale — two years ago.

For years, we’d had a large fridge that took up most of the kitchen. There was nowhere else to put it, because in the kitchen’s original design, the fridge had been tucked into a small alcove. The space had been laughably tiny — until the kids moved out. I bought a normal fridge because all of a sudden, I didn’t have to fit two hundred bucks’ worth of groceries in it. The supersized fridge went downstairs, where Ari lamented that I got a beer fridge much too late.

There are white sheets on all the beds, and white towels in the bathrooms. This makes me feel my extravagance knows no bounds, as does the fact nobody uses my toothbrush by mistake.

My driveway is not packed with cars every night, and I don’t do the evening holler to stack them according to what time everybody is leaving in the morning. I don’t have to dig through coat pockets looking for keys or worse yet, wake up a kid who forgot to leave them on the hook.

Those same cars are no longer blasting rap when I get in them. If I left the gas tank half full, it still is now. I text all those kids and ask if they’ve got their oil changed and their winter tires on and they text back, “Yes, Mother Goose.”

Ari had warned me when he moved out I’d no longer have him to fix my computer issues, but both boys overlooked that I’ve mastered sending them pictures of problems with captions like, “Where does this wire go, again?” I swear they do rock, paper, scissors to decide who has to deal with me.

I’ve gone from chaos to quiet, from cluttered to clean. I was ridiculously happy when they all lived here and I’m quite content to have them mastering their independence. I’ve always said I’m lucky enough to not only love my sons, but to like them.

They come home now and look around and ask why I didn’t do all these changes while they lived here.

And I smile.

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As 2017 goes out on a perfect note

Twelve people, three dogs, three cats and a 25 pound turkey taking up the entire oven.

We did Christmas on Boxing Day; as children become adults who pair off, it can sometimes be tough navigating colliding schedules. I’ve always been of the mind that my kids should go where they need to go and stay put. I don’t want them spending hours in the car dashing around eating double dinners to make someone happy who has deemed that it isn’t Christmas unless all are assembled under one roof — theirs. I also think people with little kids shouldn’t have to travel at all, because transporting little ones in the grip of Christmas hysteria is enough to make anyone want to punch Santa in the snout.

When I bought the house from Mom and Dad, I’d had the fireplace in the living room walled over. I know. Stop saying it. But I had little kids and it needed repair, and it was May. Don’t make fireplace decisions in May. A few weeks ago, out came the power tools, down came the drywall, and I went hurtling back in time to my childhood. A mason who promised to have it totally done by Christmas never came back or even answered our calls, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get it cleaned and made safe enough for a fire. The living room wall looks like a giant took a bite out of it, exposed brick and concrete being less than festive in appearance but more than adequate in utility.

Everybody walked into the house, greeted by a roaring fire. We pulled the couch around, moved a table, and hung decorations on Dad’s wine press in the corner.

Ari and his girlfriend Taryn were first over the threshold, their dog Shelby making a beeline for the snow laden backyard that had once been her domain. Ari handed me a giant bottle of wine, frozen near solid.

“Sorry, I left it in the car overnight,” he explained. I put it on the counter, laughing. He trundled off to hook up my computer in a new location, and I was reminded the best gifts are those that save my sanity.

Shelby came in shaking snow, and immediately plopped on the couch. Mark the cat remained in the cat perch, not even blinking. A fire was enough to make these two, usually mortal enemies, declare a truce.

As my niece Kat started lighting candles on the table she’d set for 12, Roz and I debated the annual turkey to wine ratio: how much can we drink while still being on turkey duty? We’d waited for Gilly to arrive because you have to hand off responsibility like a baton in a relay race. The men were just trading beers like hockey cards, stoking the fire, cranking the music and marching around with chairs. By the time Christer and Pammy arrived, three dogs were making sure nothing hit the floor, one cat was hiding in the basement, one was hiding under a bed, and I believe one had called for a cab and left home.

I looked around the table. Twisted paper hats in various states of disrepair perched on the heads of a dozen people knit together by blood, love and tradition. Three vegetarians, one kid with his nose in his phone with a girlfriend who’d had to work, and Gilly’s husband announcing New Year’s bowling plans — a surprise to everyone, especially Gilly. The three dogs were snoozing on the couch in front of the reclaimed fire.

So many of the pieces can change and yet still, the song remains the same.

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If you build it, they will poop … maybe

“I’m coming home on Saturday. I have to build something,” said Ari, 23.

He lives an hour away now, but he builds things like desks and tables — which means trips back home to visit his tools, if not his mother.

“No problem. What are you building?”

“A box for the litter boxes,” he said.

When he and Taryn moved out, they took JoJo, our old black cat, with them.

JoJo got along well with Shelby, their dog, and JoJo was also getting attacked all the time by the feline Terrorists, Mark and Cairo. When I asked JoJo if she wanted to move out, she had a small suitcase packed by the front door within 10 minutes.

A few weeks ago, Ari and Taryn added Franklin, a wee orange tabby, to their menagerie. Which also meant adding another litter box.

“Stupid Frankie, he takes his hands and pulls the litter out of the box, then rolls around in it,” said Ari.

My sons have had the advantage of growing up with cats while never having to scoop litter. Until now. In true cat owner fashion, Ari has decided he can invent the perfect litter box.

His friends Jesse and Emerson came over to help, though from what I could tell, they mostly just drank beer and watched him. I heard crashing around in the garage, and then Ari stuck his head in the front door.

“It’s really cold out here. Is it OK if I do this in the living room?”

I shrugged. When the kids were young, I reasoned anything that kept them occupied for more time than it took me to clean up, was a win. The same rules still apply, though I no longer have to clean up.

“Don’t bring a mitre saw in here,” I warned him.

Jesse started laughing.

“He already dumped a thing of sawdust all over himself in the garage. He’s done with the saw,” said Jesse.

The boys started hauling two-by-fours, pieces of plywood, hinges, a drill and an extension cord into the living room.

“Do we have long screws?” asked Ari.

I pointed to the basement. When he was down there he yelled up asking if we had short ones, too. “Somewhere,” I yelled.

As he started figuring out how to best assemble his creation, I raised an eyebrow.


“I just don’t see how that’s going to hold two litter boxes, is all,” I told him.

“Sure it will. Like this, and this. I measured.”

“And you’re going to put walls on all sides of it, and have two cats go in through some little opening? Will JoJo even fit?”

“If she wants to poop she will,” he reasoned.

Anyone who has trained a cat to do anything but what it already has decided to do will recognize the futility of that statement.

The drill blared to life, and my cats scattered. Three young men hemmed and hawed, pulling out tape measures and blasting screws through wood forming a box that when finished, I worried, would be too heavy to lift.

Ari’s perusal of his project grew grimmer at each step.

“Emerson, do you need a coffee table?” he asked.

Emerson raised an eyebrow. “You mean that? No, I’m good.”

“You don’t have to tell anyone it was supposed to be a litter box,” I said, helpfully.

I pictured this thing remaining in my living room forever.

I watched Ari screw two big hinges onto it. I watched him back out the screws and do it again. When it finally appeared finished, he stood back and took a measured glance at it.

“When is bulk garbage day?” he asked.

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You light up my life — a little too much

Six months ago, a large local retailer had light bulbs on sale.

They were the spanky new LED bulbs, and they were basically giving them away. Deciding bulbs that used less energy were the way to go, I stocked up. I ran around my house replacing all the old, terrible, wasteful bulbs with ones so environmentally friendly they were almost vegan.

At a dinner party the other night, a guest sat blinking in my dining room. The fixture in there sports six of my new bulbs. You could do surgery at my dining table, if you were so inclined. We sat discussing changes the house has been undergoing since I pretended to move and then didn’t.

A new fridge is now neatly tucked into the place it was meant to be, instead of the behemoth standing in the middle of the room that is now a beer fridge in the basement. Slowly, pictures are going up and a style is emerging. I asked for input from those at the table; I can use all the ideas I can get.

“You know,” said the guest, “there are softer bulbs you can get for this fixture.”

He looked like he wanted his sunglasses.

“These are ones I had a coupon for,” I explained. “They use less energy. Can you believe they were only a dollar?”


A few days later, Christopher asked why the porch lights were so bright.

“They’re energy efficient!” I told him. “I have lots of extras if you want some.”

“We’re good,” he said quickly.

I have a cupboard full of these light bulbs. Every time I try to give them away, the kids accidentally forget to take them home. My parents used to do this: give us the things they didn’t want but couldn’t bear to throw away. Unlike my children, I learned early on to just take whatever was offered and ditch it later. Breaking my mother’s heart was not an option.

It took a while longer, but I finally realized that everybody in my life has been quietly changing out my new light bulbs. Or wishing they could. From the outside looking in, it apparently looks like I live in a jack-o-lantern.

Fed up with being surrounded by people who value their retinas over the environment, I thought I’d finally found a like-minded individual in a friend of mine.

“The kids are complaining that the porch lights look bad,” I lamented.

We were walking up the front steps, squinting.

“When they’re older, they’ll finally appreciate that you need proper front lights for the ambulance.”

I said this with a certain amount of authority. As I get older, I consider each situation I encounter with a worst-case scenario. The kids made me promise if I lived alone out in the country, I would get a dog so if I died, the dog would go for help.

I didn’t move to the country, but my compromise is lighting up my front porch like a carnival midway so emergency rescue crews can find my house if I’ve fallen and can’t get up.

An hour later, I opened the front door. Something was wrong. The bulbs were now little tear-shaped ones, not even close to my “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” LED hydro savers.

I yelled over my shoulder for the “friend” who had pretended to agree with me about the importance of front porch safety.

“Why did you change the bulbs?” I demanded. “How is the ambulance going to find me?”

He started laughing.

“Ambulance? I thought you said ambience.”

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Hit the gym, not the trainer

I have started working out again, after a long dry spell and a stern warning from my doctor.

“It’s about your bones,” she admonished me.

It’s funny how, as we age, we go from thinking “how does my butt look in these jeans?” to “why isn’t there a railing here, do they want me to break my hip?”

I sat in front of a trainer who had been highly recommended to me. Lying to your trainer is like lying to your dentist about flossing; one minute into the session, the truth comes out.

“When was the last time you worked out?” Mike asked me, poised to take some notes.

“One year and four months ago,” I responded.

He raised his eyebrows. “You know that specifically?”

“Yup. I had to get in shape for some pictures, and the second they were done I ate a pizza and stopped working out.”

In fact, I ate many pizzas. My abs looked like somebody had stacked a bunch of those quilted moving blankets on top of them. I told Mike he had to fix those. I also told him I didn’t want my arms to blow in the wind.

Mike started to silently curse the person who had recommended him.

A first training session is much like a first date. You’re both very polite and you both want to know pertinent information without looking too weird. Mike had to find out how much of a wreck he was taking on. He had me do a series of exercises as I pretended not to hear my knees making noises like somebody driving over broken glass.

All was going well until he handed me a skipping rope. I looked at him blankly.

“I don’t skip,” I informed him.

“Come on, everybody skips! Just give it a shot, see what you can do,” he said.

Most trainers are part cheerleader, which makes you want to simultaneously admire their optimism and punch them. I held the ends of the ropes, and carefully stepped over it. I swung it over my head and it stopped at my feet.

“Uhm, you have to jump,” he said helpfully.

I hopped over the rope. I swung it a few more times, managing to jump over it once, in a double bunny hop. I did it twice more, out of a dozen attempts.

Mike was looking at me. I’ve seen that look. It’s the “come on, everybody can skip” look. Only now it was saying, “wow. I thought everybody could skip.”

“OK, you know what? We’ll come back to skipping,” he told me.

I shook my head. We would not be returning to skipping.

We ran through a bunch of other things, mostly to my liking. If it involves weights or sit-ups, I’m happy. If it involves running, jumping or anything requiring coordination, forget it.

Mike brought out a big ball, and demonstrated how I was to sit on it, and then do some exercise. I wasn’t listening to him; I was busy telling him I can’t sit on balls.

He began his skipping pep talk again, so I sat on the ball. And fell off. I got back on, finally got balanced, when he proceeded to tell me what the exercise was.

“I though balancing on the ball was the exercise,” I patiently explained.

“You know what? We’ll come back to the ball,” he told me.

I didn’t say anything, but I mentally placed the ball beside the skipping rope. A few minutes later, a box step Mike thought I would be hopping onto joined them in exercise equipment limbo.

Something tells me one of us is going to get more of a workout than they bargained for.

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Wine, women and bad, bad art

Super_PortraitI met up with a bunch of girlfriends the other night at a bar in Toronto.

It wasn’t the usual meet-up: we were there to take part in a Paint Night, which is now a thing. You pay a few bucks, have your own canvas and smears of paint on a plate, and commence to recreate the masterwork which is displayed on a table. You have the actual artist there to direct and help.

Or in my case, to drive crazy.

I can’t draw or paint, at all. I was a few minutes late, glanced around at what my friends were all doing, and grabbed a brush.

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “They’re painting ocean at the bottom. I can do that.”

I ordered a glass of wine and slapped a few colours together and made wavelike brush marks across the canvas. My wine arrived. I made some more swoopy brush marks. It seemed to be nighttime in the original, so I put in more black. This wasn’t so hard.

The original had a big moon with a tree silhouetted against it. There might have been some birds flying to the right, but I never got that far. It seemed to be a night sky, which made sense with the moon. The artist was explaining how to make a purplish sky. I mixed together some colours on my plate that looked decidedly more like mud than purple, but used it anyway. It looked sad, so I threw some white on top of it. Now my brush was all gobbed up, but then I discovered another brush at my place setting.

I drank some wine.

I made more bold strokes for the sky, pleased with myself for capturing the moody quality of the painting that all the others seemed to be missing. I cleaned up a brush and started poking at the canvas with yellow paint to make a moon.

As I immersed myself in the artistic process, I vaguely heard the artist explaining that to achieve the right dimensions for the moon, we were to trace a paper plate.

Wait. What? I looked up.

I’d done my circle freehand. It was wobbly. I’d put so much white in the sky, my moon looked more like a sun. Sort of.

I pondered how to add the foreboding tree outline, then realized that trees can’t grow out of the ocean. I asked my friend Jenn why we were trying to paint trees growing out of the ocean.

“That’s not supposed to be water,” she replied, carefully tracing her paper plate moon. “It’s ground.”

I decided to forgo the tree all together. What is art if not free expression?

My right hand was getting tired with all the big, swoopy motions so I switched to my left. It made little difference to the end result.

I asked Jenn if she would like me to demonstrate my stabby technique to help her with her moon. She politely declined.

I could hear the artist giving advice to everybody as their creations began to look more and more like the original. Mine continued to look less and less like the original.

She stood behind mine, and paused.

“I like it,” she lied.

I decided I was done and proceeded to mingle with my friends while my masterpiece dried. A guitar player tuned up, and started playing Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”

“Oh! This is the perfect song,” I told a waiter who brought me more wine, as I nodded at the paintings.

“Well, we do karaoke every Wednesday night. You should come then,” he replied.

“I sing like I paint,” I replied.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t,” he smiled.

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If you buy me gadgets, I will throw them away

The Halloween decorations are finally down (they went up in August), which can only mean one thing: it is officially gadget season.

You thought I was gonna say Christmas? No, though it’s understandable why there could be some confusion. This is not about seasonal festivities; it is about the purchasing of tonnes and tonnes of useless gadgets because everybody feels obligated to buy something — anything — whether the intended recipient will want it, need it, or use it. It’s when gift giving goes from being from the heart to running down a list. It’s why we have singing bass on plaques, corkscrews as big as anvils, Patty Stackers, ThighMasters, Pet Rocks and Chia Pets.

One year, my sister got a Very Ugly Vase as a wedding gift. It’s the kind you see in the store window of a dollar store and think, who would buy a fake crystal Very Ugly Vase for five bucks? It was bad. I have a couple of Very Beautiful Vases that were wedding gifts, and while I have divested myself of nearly everything that reminds me of being married, even I admit these vases, that I rarely use, are beautiful and I like the way the light flicks through them. A little beautiful crystal goes a long way.

The Very Ugly Vase has gone a long way, as well, because for years, it kept popping up as a gift to someone in the family on some occasion. Whoever had it would hold on to it just long enough to let it slip from memory then, bam. You got nailed with the Very Ugly Vase.

Sometimes we filled it jelly beans. Sometimes we disguised it in huge boxes. The Sommerfeld sisters know how to have fun. The problem is that, like gadgets, the Very Ugly Vase is only a momentary joke and then someone is stuck slugging it around for years.

Maybe it’s because I just spent most of the past year tossing things out and stripping my home to the bare walls, but you can learn my lesson early. I’ve had to clear not just the accumulated crap of my lifetime but much of my parents’, as well. Tucked at the back of cupboards and closets, stored in boxes in attics and basements, stashed in crawl spaces and stowed in trunks — junk.

Oh sure, some gems popped out, like a few years’ worth of old magazines that made an artist who hauled them off very happy. That trunk itself, battered and bruised, is now my coffee table.

But for the most part, it was simply a burden of things. My mother arrived from England with almost nothing, and my father came from the prairies with even less. The things they accumulated had to be considered and saved for, unlike today’s Dollar Shop stockpiles amassed weekly, randomly, flippantly. I’ve often thought the fact I was so broke when I got divorced and the boys were tiny was a good thing; I had to watch every dollar and the only thing we could get for a buck was a movie rental from Six Penny Mini Mart on Friday nights.

I think gag gifts should have to serve two purposes, like something that makes you laugh and then you can eat it, or something that makes you laugh and then you can use it as kindling.

Give someone good socks instead of a Christmas CD; give them a new snow shovel instead of a Duck Dynasty bobblehead; a bottle of wine instead of a remote controlled flying shark.

I tossed the Very Ugly Vase this year.

At least I told my sisters I did.

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