In some ways, I’d be useful if you got stuck in an elevator

“Because that’s what happens when you elect politicians with no vision who are only interested in saving their jobs,“ I yelled at the television.

“You’re doing it again,” said Pammy, quietly. “The people in the TV can’t hear you.” She’s been dating my son for five years now, and I sometimes forget she’s not my own kid. She does her best to let me know I’m doing things that could possibly be related to the fact I have cats, go to bed at 7pm to watch Netflix and buy something I call fridge wine. I yell at the news, because sometimes it needs to be yelled at.

Like most families, within these walls we have our own strange dynamic that we all understand and usually forgive. When I make a reference to Paul Bunyan and Pammy asks if he was that serial killer, Christopher tells her, no, that was Ted Bundy. We know what she means because we are family.

Everybody has a role; Ari and Christer are the two who can fix the computers and solve the wifi issues, Pam is our best face to send out to deal with people in the outside world and I confine myself to learning as many obscure and useless things as possible.

At the beginning of term when we moved Ari into residence, his new roommate came down to help us unload the car. He was a quiet lad, no doubt still adjusting to the new environment. The moving in was going smoothly until the third trip up in the elevator. The lights blinked once, and then the elevator shuddered to a halt.

“That will be the pee corner,” I announced, pointing to a corner of the metal box we were trapped in. The roommate just stared at me; Ari winced.

“What? I read somewhere if you’re trapped in an elevator, that’s what you’re supposed to do. If everyone has a different idea about something like that, things can get pretty ugly, pretty fast. I’ve heard.”

The elevator wheezed a little and started up again, making my decision a moot point. The roommate briskly exited when we arrived on their floor, and Ari sighed.

“Why do you have to say things like that?” he asked me.

“I thought it was a good bit of knowledge to have. It would have been useful if we’d really been stuck.”

“So would hitting the emergency button and getting out before anyone had to pee in a corner.”

Ari ultimately left school later that week due to a program switch, and if anything, his roommate worked even faster helping him move out.

I’ve reached the point where my brain is like a saturated sponge, unable to absorb anything else. I’ve told the kids that to learn something new, something old must be cast out. I tell them this is why I can’t be bothered to learn how to work all the junk at the back of my computer; I haven’t found anything I’m willing to let go of to make the necessary room in my head. I realize that doesn’t explain why I elect to keep something about trapped-in-an-elevator etiquette, and I wonder what I surrendered for that little nugget.

To keep on top of things, I email myself reminders, especially late at night. I’ll simply drop in a word or two that will be sure to trigger the brilliant thought I can’t be bothered to get up to write down. Without fail, each morning I will open several emails to myself containing a single word, or a badly garbled phrase.

And without fail, I will never know what I’m talking about.

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I wrote this column while wearing pants. Honest

I refuse to have a camera set up on my computer. Friends say hey, let’s Skype and I say hey, let’s not. Having to care what I look like while I’m sitting here defeats the entire purpose of working at home and being able to look like I’ve just been dragged backwards through a hedge. I do not consider sloth to be much of a deadly sin. Then again, I think moderate amounts of wrath, greed, pride, lust, envy and gluttony can also keep things interesting.

My kids, of course, have cameras operating on their computers. I, of course, forget this every time I walk into a room. Ari, 20, chats with his girlfriend Taryn and I’m so used to seeing her face on his monitor I yell hi as I walk by and forget I am not wearing pants until I hear the giggling. I wear long shirts that cover my arse, but I admit, it’s not my best look.

There are two articles of clothing women will ditch the second they can; pants are the second one.

Christer’s girlfriend Pammy, 23, chats to a friend of hers who, upon hearing my voice in the room, asks if Mama Lorraine is wearing pants. There are several things I think it might be really nice to be noted for. This is not one of them.

If there is a downside to working from home, this is it. You forget to do things like eat, or get dressed. If you work in an office and the UPS guy shows up, you don’t have to do a mad scramble for your pants. You don’t have that same UPS guy do a double take because you’ve smooshed your hair up on your head like Pebbles Flintstone and forgotten all about it. You don’t consider mascara a scary commitment and you’d probably notice that you were making dinner in your pajamas – which you’d had on all day.

Ari has taken to wearing a hat all the time because he’s too lazy to get a haircut. He usually keeps his hair cut in a way best described as “a Marine visiting his grandma”. He thinks he just can get through the winter unnoticed, though I’m sure come spring he’ll haul off the cap to reveal a Samson-like mane. When I see him on his computer wearing a knit hat, I bark that his friends will all think we live in the Arctic. Outdoors. He ignores me.

The other day Ari came out of the bathroom laughing. He’d had a shower, and had slicked his hair back. His very long hair.

“Look how ridiculous this looks,” he said.

“You look like Fonzie or something,” I replied.

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

Another week went by, and still no haircut. I passed by the rec room and stopped. Ari was at his computer with a pair of underwear on his head. I went up to him – I was wearing pants this time – and asked him why he had underwear on his head.

“Because I couldn’t find my hat.”

“You have underwear on your head,” I said, again.

“They’re Christmas underwear. They’re new.” This did not make them any more hat-like or any less underwear-like.

“Taryn can see you with underwear on your head.”

“Well, I don’t want anyone to see how dumb my hair looks.” I tried desperately to follow this line of reasoning, but no GPS in the world would be able to help.

I’ve decided my no-camera thing is smart. My feminine side is more mistake than mystique, but on the internet, nobody knows if you’re wearing pants.

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When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail

I have one son who is quite mechanically inclined. He can take something not working and intuitively figure out what is amiss. He can name all the kinds of tools. He doesn’t call things whatchamacallits or thingamajigs.

My other son recently had an IKEA desk delivered.

Flat boxes from IKEA worry me. It’s literally a box of crushed dreams. I’m sure it’s left over rattlings of my childhood, where watching my father try to assemble a bicycle led him to pondering at least one of the “d” words: divorce or drink. I can assemble and fix things because I am slow and methodical in my approach, and I can also wait until Ari gets home.

“Pam bought me a new desk for Christmas,” said Christopher, 23, as he wrestled the banded boxes into the kitchen. I glanced at his smiling face and the package of broken hope he clutched with such naiveté. “I’ll be downstairs putting it together.”

Though we have several tool boxes, the most popular tools are usually in random places around the house. If you need a screwdriver, you don’t look for a toolbox, you try to remember what was broken last. If you’re lucky, whatever was last on the fritz needed loosening as well as tightening and you’ll find the hammer, duct tape and the screw driver all at once.

As Christopher rooted through the kitchen junk drawer, I told him to lay out all the pieces first. I worked in retail long enough to know if anyone is going to haul a half built thing back to a store, it will be a guy. I told Christopher to read all the instructions and make sure he had all the bits and pieces he needed. I told him I was busy and not available for consultation. “It’s fine,” I heard as he descended the stairs.

It took about 30 minutes. “A screw got stuck, and it won’t come out,” he said. He was holding a power drill.

“Why are you using that? You’ll wreck it. It’s faux wood. It’s compressed cardboard. It’s woodette,” I told him. “Well, it was making it go faster, until one screw messed up.” Yes, the screw messed up.

I went downstairs. Part of the veneer was splintered where a screw had been powered off track. I grabbed a normal screwdriver and backed it out. “How’d you do that?” he said, peering into the predrilled hole. As we spoke, one of the overhead lights winked out. “Don’t worry, here,” he said, holding his cell phone flashlight over the wreckage. I put the screw in place.

“Stop using the drill.” I handed him the screwdriver.

“Well, you might as well keep going. Only ten more screws to go,” he said.

“How many are there?”

“Twelve.” I was being played, and I knew it, but he kept up a generally entertaining patter that he knew would make me stay. Done, I saw him puzzling over the next instructions. “Gimme that,” I said, grabbing a leg and the hardware. “There. I did one. You do the others,” I told him.

“Wait, show me again, I’ll hold the light.” I did two more legs while he did one. “This is awesome, like that Ty Pennington show,” he laughed. “Bus driver, move that bus!”

“This is nothing like that. They get a whole new house. You get a desk and by the second screw, you already have a bad side.” I left him to the last phase of construction, taking the drill with me. A few minutes later he called me back.

“Mom, move that laundry basket!”

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Complaints department: closed for 2015

When I ask someone how they are and they say they can’t complain, I mentally scratch my head. I can always complain. I look around me and see nothing but people complaining. Complaining drives reader traffic in our media, it makes train wreck TV shows more fun and dominates any conversation where health is mentioned. And after about age 40, most conversations are dominated by talk of health, usually ill.

Complaining is the meat of conversation. If I say I’m fine, and you say you’re fine, we will then have nothing to talk about. If I tell you one kid has joined a cult, the biopsy results were inconclusive and there are wombats nesting in my attic, now we have a conversation. This is where you say your kid runs the cult, the results were positive and you have vampire bats in your bedroom. Complaining is a competitive sport.

The start of a new year is always a good time to clear the complaint slate. 2014 and I shared some truly awful moments; some of them were medical, some were philosophical and some were emotional. But I also had more great things than I’m sure I deserved, and out of each loss came a lesson. I like that I’m still able to learn things. If you only stack up disappointments like some kind of cosmic woodpile, you’ll be forever at the mercy of the power of Bad Things.

Maybe we should have to put an embargo on those Bad Things. I usually associate embargoed information as relating to cars I write about; some new information will be embargoed and we aren’t allowed to disclose it until a later date. I must hold my tongue, as it were.

There are times I think I should employ the concept with other things, and resist the urge to respond to or repeat or judge something so fresh it is still singeing my hands. I shouldn’t complain about something until it is well and truly complete, when I can also know the upside to even the biggest disappointment. Maybe it was learning who was really in my corner; maybe it was realizing I was stronger than I thought; maybe it was understanding there are others who endure far worse.

As a little girl I would eavesdrop on conversations my mother would have with her friends. It didn’t take me long to realize that if you talked about yourself you were complaining or bragging and if you were talking about other people you were gossiping. My mother would tell me it was wrong to do any of those things and yet, there it was. My father would talk about Winston Churchill or the Middle East or how to compost, but my mom’s conversations were more interesting. It seems I discovered human nature when I was about 6.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I can’t even reliably floss my teeth two days in a row. I am capable – or incapable – of exactly the same things on January 1st as I am on July 11th, or March 18th. I won’t bother pretending that I’m ushering out the detritus of 2014 on some born- again broom. What I am going to use that calendar for, however, is to set an arbitrary time and make a concerted effort to change my approach to things I don’t control. I am going to honour the lessons learned in 2014 by not repeating them in 2015. It’s amazing how many of us want change in our lives, yet how few of us are willing to make changes.

As my mother would have said, quitcherbitchin’.

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A dictator with food issues; old cats and Lysol wipes

I am the owner of an aging pet.

That feels like I’m standing up at an anonymous meeting, desperate to find out what 12 steps will bring peace to my household and sanity to my life. Maggie the Cat is going on 14, which isn’t terribly old for some cats (my sister had one get to 22) but she was the runt of the litter and has always been a little delicate.

Her weight hovers around 5 pounds, so she is tiny and looks pretty much like a kitten. This is adorable until she opens her mouth and what comes out can best be described as “Satan speaking from the depths of Hell”. She sounds like she’s spent the past 14 years smoking 2 packs a day as she pounds back a bottle of whisky, all while gargling with razor blades.

JoJo is only a couple of years younger, but far more robust. Little Pea is only 1, so she’s the brat they tolerate as she careens around looking for love. Or pieces of string. Or dust. Maggie has a dowager quality about her; she rules with an iron paw.

As with many of us as we get older, Maggie’s diet has needed modifying. It used to consist of anything she could find, with a special appreciation for mashed potatoes, aged cheddar, beans, bananas and Smart Food popcorn. She enjoyed a bowl of cereal once in a while if someone was dumb enough to leave it sitting beside their computer if they became enthralled in some ridiculous on line game.

As her delicate system stopped adjusting to the onslaught, we’ve locked down everything and she gets only her special food that Christopher calls caté because it costs so much. This plan does not please her. I come down in the morning and find she’s opened cupboards and hauled out bread or muffins. She tears the bags open and has a picnic, and then she barfs.

She’s getting mean to the other two. If one of them has the audacity to be entering a room as she is leaving it, Menopause Maggie gives them a swipe. It’s like living with Mussolini, if Mussolini insisted on sleeping on my legs every night.

Caring for an aging cat as a household is very much like that little red hen story. Who will help me scoop litter? Not I, says everyone. Who will help me get this pill down the cat? Not I, says everyone. Who will help me clean up kitty spew? Not I, says everyone. Who will take a wet nap to her nether regions if she has a bad day? Not I, says everyone. Who will hold and pet her when she’s in a good mood and smells nice? We will, says everyone.

Maggie has become a very efficient food processor. If she eats contraband, she promptly cacks it all up; hence the lock down on all controlled substances. In my room the other night, she started doing roller coaster kitty, prepping for who knows what to come up. I stood by with a Lysol wipe, the best product ever invented. Though I cleaned it up promptly, I was left with a stinky room. The only spray I could find had vanilla in it. I gave it a shot. I climbed back into bed amid the smell of kitty barf mixed with chemical vanilla and a hint of Lysol. You can tell me the grape that wine came from; I can tell you what the cat got into.

If there are 12 steps, I’ve got the first one down: love her just the same.

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“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” (Thomas Campbell)

Last year I didn’t put up a Christmas tree because everybody said they didn’t want to do it and they didn’t care. And then on Christmas Eve they all pouted. Imagine my surprise when Ari, 20, announced he would be getting a tree.

“Taryn and I are going to put it up and decorate it,” he said. Ah. Taryn is his new girlfriend, and he’s still in that mode where he asks her if she likes a jacket before he buys it, watches movies she picks out and lets her steal all his sweatshirts. I like this phase, and I make the most of it. If you want your sons to do something, you just ask their girlfriends to ask them.

As the two of them went off in search of a precut Canadian Tire forest, I hauled the decorations up from the basement. I’ve bought the boys a decoration each year since they were born, something my mother did for me. I also still have the remaining ornaments my Mom brought from England in the early 1950s, and each year I realize how fragile they are as I try to ignore how faded they are becoming. I’ve kept all the primary school art, made with as much macaroni as love.

Yet each year there are fewer; a couple get jostled and shatter, glue gives way or glass parts snap. It doesn’t matter how carefully I wrap them, I’m reminded that nothing lasts forever.

Christmas dinner will be at our home. I will make a giant turkey and my sisters, Rozzy and Gilly, will do everything else. The three of us grew up here, and while it’s been lovely going to their places the past few years, I’m also reminded the remaining Christmases here are probably numbered. As the kids get older I notice almost daily this will soon be too much house. I can think of no better place I could have raised the boys, but nothing lasts forever.

I’ve been sorting through boxes of old photos, trying to put some semblance of order to nearly a century of pictures. With some, I am absolutely clueless as to whom I’m looking at; I’m reduced to matching a year to a car in the background, or vegetation to a prairie. I wish my parents were around to solve the mysteries, to knit the tenuous connections to people I’m sure I’m related to. My heart flips a little when I find one of Mom or Dad, years before they met, in a picture taken by someone I’ll never know.

I’ve become a censor of sorts. I hate the pictures of both of them when they were sick. I don’t know who this broken down old man is; my father was robust and loud and strong. My mother somehow filled a frame with her softness, and I understand why children were drawn to her. These later pictures are like those faded ornaments, those broken treasures that I can’t part with because my memory sees them whole. Nothing lasts forever.

As we decorated the tree, I fell into my Mom’s pattern of telling the history behind each piece. They’re new to Taryn, and Ari pretended to be embarrassed by things I know he’s glad I’ve hung onto. Like those photos, these ornaments are the true spirit of this family; each one, no matter how damaged, is still important. The best thing I’ll ever give my boys is words. We need to tell the stories over the years because so much gets torn from you; you pretend there will be a time you will be ready.

Nothing lasts forever.

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Telling Houston to solve its own problem

“We have a problem,” the giant standing next to my bed was whispering. Well, as much as a giant can whisper. I squinted at my clock. 12:45 am. I quickly surmised that we didn’t have a problem so much as my son had a problem and couldn’t solve it on his own. As I was about to roll over and ignore him, he said the words that strike fear in the heart of every homeowner:

“There’s water in the basement.”

“Oh, my goodness, son, I’ll be right there!” is not even close to what I yelled at Christopher, 23. He’s set up an area as his mancave in the basement, with the lovely new bathroom I had installed a couple of years ago. He’s in charge of flipping laundry over when it bings, but other than that, it’s his domain. I raced down the stairs to see what he’d done to it.

“I have no idea why the toilet stopped flushing. But now….” I peered into the bathroom. My favourite bathmat floated by and came to rest against several towels.

“Are those….?”

“Don’t worry, I used cottage towels.” Cottage laundry sits on a chair nearby. I delicately looked toward the toilet, water at its brim. I sighed, and told him to get the plunger. I staunchly refused to ask any more questions, though I might have found Atlantis.

“No! It’ll go over even more. I have to figure out how to get the water down first. But look! The washing machine has water in it!”

I’d already given the main floor drain a sniff, and it was fine. The front loader indeed had some clear water in it, so I leaned over and flipped it to drain. The drum spun for a minute or two, and emptied. I opened the door to a clean machine.

“How did you do that?”

“For crying out loud, Christopher, it’s plumbing! It’s all connected. The problem is the toilet backed up, but it was water from the tank that pushed toward the washing machine on the other side of the wall. Everything on the bathroom floor is garbage now. I’ll sanitize the washing machine in the morning but the drain is fine. The problem started in there.”

“It’s all connected? Well, how am I supposed to know? I’m not a plumber. It’s not my fault.” Now, this was the wrong thing to say to me at 1:15 am.

I stared at the large man in front of me, holding a plunger with one hand and his nose with the other.

“Deal with it. I’m going back to bed. Figure it out, throw out anything that you use to do it, discover the problem, and fix it. Same as I’d have to. Water shut off valve is over there.” I pointed out bleach, rubber gloves and sponges. I explained white, grey and black water to him (I worked for a carpet cleaning place once upon a time; now, those calls were interesting), and I went back to bed.

I pretended to go back to sleep, but my basement sounded like it contained a cast of thousands. I heard outside doors open and close, garbage bags being snapped open and much thumping about. I eventually drifted off because it was nearly 2am and I knew he’d never let any water reach his precious computer setup. Just after 2, I heard another whisper. I opened one eye to see my son, full of victory, flashing me two thumbs up.

At least Plungerman has discovered his superpower.

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Greater living through pharmaceuticals, and helpful cats

It was just after midnight and I was peering under my bed hunting for a very tiny pill. It’s a sleeping pill, and I dropped it. I have a very large bed and a hardwood floor. When something gets dropped, even a very tiny pill, it skates across the room like Kurt Browning. It usually comes to rest in the centre of the floor beneath that huge bed, meaning I have to scrabble under on my belly to reach it. I come out looking like Pig Pen because the vacuum doesn’t reach, either.

The sleeping pills are beside my bed. I am very, very careful with them not because of the kids, but because of the cats. Cats think you are playing when something goes skittering across the floor, and think it is even better when you’re down on all fours and it’s midnight and Mommy never plays with us at midnight isn’t this awesome.

I live in terror of one of the cats eating a pill. I’m not sure why; whenever one has to take a pill for the vet, getting the pill down her is like trying to jam a pin back in a hand grenade as it’s exploding. JoJo essentially believes we are trying to kill her. Though she has led a charmed life, she believes if we pet her we’re just getting ready to kill her. Ari says it’s like petting a bag of knives.

As I tiredly stared under the bed, it was, of course, JoJo who was helping me. Maggie and Little Pea were serenely snoring away on top of the bed, and JoJo, the one cat I can’t pick up, was helping me look for the pill. If she got to it before I did and swallowed it, I was scared because she sleeps for 23 hours a day, anyway. How would I know if she’d taken a sleeping pill?

I wanted to go find a flashlight but didn’t want to leave the pill, wherever it was, unguarded. I’d rather look for something in a dark room with a flashlight, an old trick I learned during the war. The war was when the boys shared a room and I couldn’t put the light on to hunt for something. It’s especially good for contact lenses and earring backs; they glint in the light.

My glasses were sliding down my nose as I looked beneath the bed. JoJo’s head was right beside mine, helping. Because it had been more than 90 seconds, I’m sure she had no idea what we were doing anymore. I have a cat I can’t pet that bites me if I pick her up and she has the IQ of a rock.

I thought about waking Maggie up, because she’d at least take a look, point to the pill, roll her eyes and go back to bed. I thought about throwing them all out of my room, but I knew there would be much lonely wailing, and the cats would be upset too.

Unable to find the pill, I knew I was in for a long night. I figured if I stayed up long enough, JoJo would probably start playing with it if she found it, and I could swoop in and stop her. Within minutes she was snoozing with the other two, and I was staring desperately at the prescription bottle.

Giving up, I finally turned off my laptop and turned to put it on the side table. In the middle of the far pillow sat the pill, like a small chocolate left by turn-down service.

No more white sheets for me.

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Worrying about our next door neighbours. In Buffalo.

I felt terrible when all that snow fell on Buffalo, New York recently.

I don’t actually know anyone who lives there anymore, but for a great deal of my life, Buffalo seemed closer than Toronto. The cartoons of my childhood mostly came through Rocketship 7 and Commander Tom; these were the people who were in my home daily, and I’m sure there was a time I believed that there was no border between us.

It was Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot who announced my sister’s 13th birthday on air because my other sister had mailed in the request. I didn’t know why she was so mortified; I would have been thrilled to be acknowledged from the spaceship. I used to mail in my drawings, certain that one would be good enough to be held up for the camera. I had a crush on Speed Racer, and Davey and Goliath and Buffy and Jody and Gumby and Pokey were all interchangeable and real.

I mailed away for the kit to hold a Muscular Dystrophy Carnival in my backyard, thinking that would definitely get me on TV. I never held the carnival because it turns out the kit didn’t include a Ferris wheel or clowns and I thought a carnival would be a carnival, not a printed list of instructions and ideas. For many years, I was worried that they kept track of who had requested those kits and hadn’t sent in any money. I worried that someone would call my mother and tell her I’d kept the money for candy necklaces and rolls of caps that we’d set off with a stone until we realized they were far more fun to light on fire.

I learned my emergency response drills through Buffalo TV stations. In the event of a real emergency, I knew they would tell me what to do. If we were up before the station kicked in, we would leave the striped test pattern on as a backdrop to whatever else we were doing, knowing the programming would eventually come on. I doubt my kids know what a test pattern even is, or can conceive of a channel that ever goes off the air.

I learned that fires could be four or even five alarm fires, and the number of alarms indicated how many stations had to respond, not how many people had pulled a fire alarm. I worried about emergencies in Lackawanna and Tonawanda and Cheektowaga, uncertain where these places actually were, but greatly concerned at the number of fully involved fires and car crashes they seemed to experience.

I knew the phone numbers of Buffalo’s personal injury attorneys almost as well as I knew my own. I knew who to call in the event of a slip or fall. I learned that wrestling was fake and bowling was real, but you could get paid either way. American broadcasters we watched for Disney and Wild Kingdom were all routed through Buffalo networks, so there was a consistency in the ads that made a blurring of the line at the border even easier.

I follow Buffalo WKBW news anchor Keith Radford on Twitter, because his name popped up and I recognized it. A Canadian boy made good south of the border, he’s old school Buffalo newscaster with enough of his Windsor roots peeking through to remind me of the unvarnished newscasts of my youth.

“Please let your viewers know that we Canucks are thinking of them,” I said to Radford on Twitter in the height of the storm. His reply?

“You have already sent snow plows, please send beer next.”

An American now, but still a Canadian at heart.

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Be one of somebody’s good people

I began my fall cleanup because I saw snow.

The huge maple tree out front has finally taken leave of its leaves, so the boys have been dispatched to do the raking. Ari asked if the tree was finally empty. I see no point in doing it until it’s over, regardless of what my leaf blowing neighbour thinks. Turning on one of those irritants for hours every day is ludicrous, especially when the wind just picks up and undoes all your work; nature thumbing her nose.

I’ve pulled out all the skeletal remains of my tomato plants. I waited too long to put them in, and when I got to the tomato plant selling place I was faced with the dregs that everyone else had rejected. I felt bad, and bought them knowing they would probably never produce, and I was right. I don’t think I got a handful of tomatoes off the dozen or so plants I put in, but I feel that I gave them a chance and maybe I’ll get extra tomato karma points for next year. Voting for the underdog may give you fewer tomatoes, but it still felt like the right thing to do.

I never paid much attention when my father put this yard to bed each fall. It was never as much fun as turning new earth in spring and boosting seedlings to life. There are two huge walnut trees in a neighbouring yard, and they fling down their green coated missiles in high winds. Dad used to pay us a penny a piece to pull the acidic things from the grass and throw them in a bushel barrel; there are photos somewhere of me holding onto one with two mittened hands, too small to be much use but wanting my pennies just the same.

I went to gather walnuts the other day, and was surprised to see there weren’t nearly as many. Usually I can’t keep up. I went to the shed to get the rake, and discovered why. Squirrels have filled every nook and cranny of my shed with walnuts. They’ve overflowed buckets, they’ve filled a grass catcher, and they’ve balanced them along shelves. Stacked wooden baskets are full of them; the top of a jerry can is wreathed in them; a bucket holding twine is now holding walnuts. I wondered how I would get rid of them all, and then I didn’t. I acknowledged the industry of these creatures, and decided my fall rituals didn’t top theirs.

I think my roof is finally leak-free, after an exasperating year or so. The roofer who returned three times to help turned out to be a brother of a high school friend; as we spoke of the neighbourhood all of those decades ago, I finally stared at him. “You used to play piano. You played Billy Joel. You were amazing,” I said, stupidly. He laughed, and said he still plays piano. So if anyone is wondering, Kip Weller still plays piano and he also fixes roofs that others have scratched their heads over and given up on.

A friend recently asked me why people were so good to her. Smiling, I told her that you get what you give. Anyone who keeps score would never ask me such a thing; they would be busy keeping score. I understood her confusion, because it took me many years to grasp why I have so many good people in my life: I’m one of their good people.

Be kind to the squirrels and the tomatoes. The rest will take care of itself.

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