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December first(ish) marks the start of my holiday season.   The lights go on, the mantel is decorated, the tree goes up.

Tra-la-la-la-la!

Our fireplace mantel, decorated with greenery and vintage Christmas children's books.

In our house, we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve at this time of year.  We are more spiritual than religious but we still have family gatherings and dates with friends, snow-filled New-Year’s Eves at a favourite place in the deep, deep woods, and stockings filled with chocolate that you’re allowed to eat for breakfast (it’s a rule).  Some years, we have a festive gathering in December, where we invite friends and family to join us at our wildly festooned house for snacks and visiting but this year, things are a bit different.

This year, we have an extra visitor and it’s the visitor no one wants.

Practical Man was diagnosed with cancer in September and started treatment in November.  He’s supposed to be finished the actual treatments on December 20 (Merry Christmas!) but the side effect symptoms likely continue to worsen for a few weeks after that.  His type of cancer has a good prognosis (everyone keeps telling us) so we’re hoping that this “blip” will be something we will simply remember years from now as “that time he had cancer”.

Say it enough and that will someday become a sentence that just rolls off the tongue, right?

Anyhoo.

Throat (oropharyngeal) cancer may be quite curable but the recovery from it seems especially cruel — the treatments wants to attack your speech, your skin, your swallowing, your saliva, your breathing, your nourishment and YOUR BEARD!  Food tastes terrible and he chokes quite frequently and he is more tired than I’ve ever seen him.  But, his treatment is manageable at the moment, if he rests.  What the final few weeks will bring, we don’t know.

It could be a lot worse.  We tell ourselves this with every new symptom and struggle. We are grateful that we can be together through this, without worry over money or time.  We are fortunate not to have to forgo food or housing to find the funds needed every day for parking or new creams or medicines that could help.  We are blessed to have supportive family and friends and to be enduring treatment with a likely positive outcome.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

“You’re getting to the hard part now,” they said this week.

His “team” keeps close tabs on his symptoms and weight, prescribing jams and jellies with long names and lineups at the pharmacy.  When you’re using the over-burdened Canadian healthcare system and you have a TEAM that meets with you every week, you get the idea that it’s fairly serious business. He endures the mask of torture with each of his 35 treatments and never complains, even though I see the toll it takes on him to be pinned to a table under an extremely tight web of fibres across his face and throat.

Practical Man in the treatment mask

The Team warns constantly of the “cumulative effects of radiation” and what’s to come with worried eyes and check-ins that make my stomach drop out.  He made it through a rare arterial hemorrhage, surgery to fix it, and repeated hospital visits and stays in week #2 of treatment.

But, that was early days–the supposedly “easy” part of treatment.

“You’re doing really well,” they also said this week, their tone telling us not to get complacent.

Despite everything that has already happened, I constantly feel like we are waiting for something large and mysterious to come down the chimney–and it’s not Santa.

Christmas tree - daytime

When the treatment dates were revealed, it got me thinking about what our holiday season would look like this year.  We have no children of our own, so who would miss it, if we didn’t bother with the lights going on, the mantel being decorated, the tree going up?

Practical Man endures the holiday palooza for me.  He wouldn’t mind skipping it.  So, why do it?

Um…have you met me?  The one who loves little more than some seasonally-approved festooning?

Still, maybe we should just forgo the lot for this year, I thought.  Decorations are really superficial, after all.  He won’t feel well enough to attend many gatherings and we anticipate the height of pain and symptoms to be around Christmas Day.  We should just skip it.

But, but, but.

A thought caught my breath in my throat:  what if?

What if we were like my friend?  Her daughter took her last breath on Monday as her body rejected the lungs that were transplanted in her only last year.

My heart breaks.

What if we were like others we know of who endure radiation and chemotherapy and still face a terminal outcome?

More breaking.

What if?

Would I want this Christmas to be festooned and full of light?

Or dark and passed over, as not worth the effort?

I realize how fortunate we are to worry about something so seemingly trivial.  But, when I called it “silly”, Practical Man pointed out:

“If you turn off the lights before it’s time, you may never find a reason to turn them back on.”

And our decision to partake in the sparkle of the season is not to say everyone should do it this way.  But, I am a silly, festive-loving person and even if the holiday festooning is a bit much for him, Practical Man loves that about me.

And I love him.  So very much.

The lights are up and they get to stay on.  Which reminds me again:

Despite this very cancer Christmas, we are so very blessed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Festive Season to all who celebrate at this time of year.
Our wish for you this year is a most precious one:  good health for you and your loved ones.

Lit tree reflected again the window

Know someone who is thinking about becoming a doctor?  My new book, “Just What the Doctor Ordered:  The Insider’s Guide to Getting into Medical School in Canada” is now available.

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In case you haven’t figured it out by now…

I’m a weirdo.

Tra-la-la.

Weird–for reasons too numerous to count–when we are not on Daylight Savings Time anymore.  We’re losing daylight with every turn of the calendar, my friends.  Focus on the precious hours of sunlight and stoke up those sunshine cells while you can!

Today, the weirdness refers to the fact that I’m nearing 50 years old and I still have a living grandparent.

She turned 91 yesterday.

Happy 91st birthday, Grandma Verna!

91 going on 61.

She’s always been my Movie Star Grandma, but I didn’t officially think of her that way until my friend, Corvette, pointed it out.

My wedding to Practical Man was the first time Corvette had ever met my Grandma Verna.  This is what Grandma looked like on our wedding day:

Grandma dancing, in a blue dress, at our wedding

Doesn’t she look like what Princess Diana might have looked like, had she been able to reach a luxurious age and attend our wedding?

No disrespect to the late Princess, but who needs Diana when you have our Grandma Verna?  You can sort of understand why Corvette gave her the Movie Star moniker.

That would make me the Movie Star’s granddaughter, tra-la-la.

I think I skipped the Glamour gene, so I’ll take my glamour by association, yes indeedy.

Grandma’s 91 now, but she seems 61 and she’s full of sass.

She drives all her friends around in her immaculate car.

She passes her driver’s test every two years and to my knowledge, she’s never left the right blinker on for miles and miles on the highway.

She celebrates Happy Hour with some red wine, most days, along with one friend or another and they giggle like a pair of 13 year olds.

She has a great giggle.

It’s hard to catch it in a photo, though.  She hates getting her picture taken so you have to sneak up on her all Secret Agent-like.

She lives, alone, in a lovely, lake view apartment (NOT a senior’s residence, retirement villa, or old-age anything).

I covet her apartment and fabulous style.

Shhhhhhhh!

Isn’t that written somewhere, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Grandmother’s Apartment and Fabulous Style?”‘

Maybe not.

She does all her own banking and noticed recently that there was $3.76 missing from one of her accounts and boy, was there (rightly so) a hulabaloo at the financial institution that day!

“Most seniors wouldn’t even notice that they were being ripped off,” she told me, “I have to stick up for all of us.”

Darn Right!

She’s kind of the Ever-Ready Bunny of Grandmothers, our Grandma Verna, that is, if the Ever-ready Bunny was WA-A-A-A-A-Y more stylish and had red patent ankle boots and a matching scarf.

These boots are made for Grandma, make no mistake.

Except, instead of batteries like the Ever-Ready Bunny, Grandma runs on swimming and one hour of her daily “stories” on TV.

Many of my friend have parents in their 80s or 90s, so having a grandmother who buys the same shoes as you do, is a little unusual.

Hence, the weirdness.

Even weirder:  I had four grandparents and a great-grandmother and a great-grandfather, until I was in my 20s.

I even had a great-GREAT grandmother, until I was 11.

She was my grandpa’s grandmother!  How weird is that?

Also, very lucky, dontcha know.  Those of us with grandparents really are the luckiest people.

But, Grandma Verna suddenly had a medical incident this week.

No sparkly dresses in sight, like the one she was wearing last year on her 90th:

My grandma, wearing a sparkly dress at her 90th birthday

It could have been a lot worse and we’re hoping she’ll make a full recovery.

She’s out of the hospital, after only 2 days, and recuperating at my parent’s house.

She’s doing the crossword puzzle in the paper and reading all the birthday cards she’s been getting, for days.

But, she fainted this week so she’s a little unsteady and using a walker to get from room to room, at the moment.  She’s sleeping a lot and tires very easily.

Sounds a lot like me, in fact.

She’s a little less Snazz and a little more Snooze.

Definitely, like me.

Not that this will last forever, but suddenly, she seems closer to 91 than 61.

That’s perfectly normal, of course, after an illness.

Just weird, for her.

So, now we’re both weirdos.

Tra-la-la.

Get well, Grandma.

I hope we get to be weird together, for a long time to come.

 


Everyone knows that collecting books isn’t the same as hoarding, right?

Right?!

Collecting books is literary.  It’s a luxury (after all, how many mansions and castles didn’t have a library room?)  It’s professorial.

And, even though I’m a professor’s daughter and not a professor myself–not to mention a library user and advocate–I do love to keep me some books.

Especially vintage books.

Just a few.

Before you start picturing the worst-case scenario, let me clarify that we only have four bookshelves in our home.

Okay, fine.  We have books in nearly every room (on tables, in magazine racks, in cabinets,) but only four official bookshelves.  That’s what counts.

Four bookshelves is nothing for a bookworm/vintage lover/pack rat, all rolled into one.

No, siree.

three white bookshelves, loaded with books

I know there are only three bookshelves here. The fourth is against a different wall. This helps to break up the “hoarding of books” impression.

Really, I’m small potatoes in the world of book hoarding–I mean–collecting.

I once knew a couple who brought back over 250 books from their honeymoon.  He was doing his PhD (What did I tell you?  Book collections are professorial.) and she just loved books.  Their Victorian house was a maze of floor-to-nearly-ceiling shelves, lining the walls in every room, the hallways and even up the stairs.  The top floor used to be fiction and the bottom floor was non-fiction.  Even if I hadn’t been living in a village with a teeny, tiny library at the time, I would have loved their house.  It came up for sale recently and I was tempted to buy it even though they and their books are long gone.

Their collection made that house a home.

It was a swoon-y, book lover’s house of the best kind.

Like that couple, our measly four bookshelves are also floor-to-ceiling and chock-a-block with books of all kinds.  Mildly organized, as I like to be once or twice a year and clustered among other vintage objects that need a home.  I also (ahem) collect a few vintage toys, which fit very well in my children’s book section.

I believe the staging experts calls this “giving the eye a place to land.”

Uh huh.

One shelf with lots of children's books on it

Anyhoo, the annual book sale for the local symphony orchestra started this weekend and I have never been.  I can’t imagine why, especially after all the fun I had there on Friday evening.

It was in a warehouse, which made it even more fun because of the whole forsaken, industrial vibe.  Plus, there is bound to be tonnage of books in a WAREHOUSE!

warehouse building

This is actually the warehouse BESIDE the warehouse that we went into, but I loved the look of it. It deserves some admiring glances.

When we got inside, there was a map which showed what types of books were in each section.

Maps = tonnage!

Sections = tonnage!

I consulted the map and tried not to squeal.  There was a children’s section and music A, B, and C sections!

Three sub-sections = tonnage!

view of the book sale

Practical Man and I mused about the definition of “Ephemera”.

Such a fun word, don’t you think?

Can’t remember what it means, of course.  This is why I don’t do crossword puzzles, like my sister and Grandma Helen.  I could Google the word, but I like to give my brain a chance to percolate for a few days.

It’s cheaper than Lumosity.com.

I hot-footed it to the music section, leaving a Practical Man in my book-hoarding dust.  There were books about genres of music and books about the people who make music.  But, I’m not as keen on reading about music as I am about playing it.  So, I searched through lots of classical piano books–even a couple that looked just like the ones I scored in East Berlin back in 1985, before the Berlin Wall came down.  (You had to spend all your money before you came back to the West and I spent it, even then, on super-economical, communist music books.)

On Friday evening, I looked for guitar books to help me with my new-ish relationship with Alice, my guitar.

It was a fun search but, yielded nothing interesting.

music books

One part of the music section: full of memories from my childhood of piano lessons.

Then, I saw them:  piles of vintage sheet music.  There were boxes full of music with retro graphics and songs from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Swoon-y swoon, swoon!

There was music featuring my friend (well, in my imagination anyway), Julie Andrews.  I’ll frame this score by my piano.

title page to the score for My Fair Lady

Some of the books just SMELLED vintage and special and the pages and illustrations dated them instantly to a by-gone era.  Like, this Fireside Book of Folk Songs that is a large, hardcover book from 1947.  There are songs to sing and play from South America and Scotland, Cowboy songs and Railroad songs, Hebrew songs and Chinese songs.   There is even a part for spirituals and hymns. The arranger notes in the preface that “To avoid the monotony and vulgarity, no attempt has been made to persuade one style of accompaniment to suit varying styles of melody, and the square-toed “oom-pah” bass had been studiously avoided.”

Now, who wouldn’t want to take that book home with them for the bargain price of $1?

The Fireside Book of Folks Songs - cover (green with red printing)

I found a couple of gifts for people who appreciate this kind of dusty treasure just as much as I do (I wish I could show them to you!) and Practical Man popped by every once in a while to carry my growing pile, because opening my car door and carrying my books is the kind of vintage gallantry that oozes out of his pores every old day of the week.  He paid my $12 total at the end of our book sale, Friday night date, too.

He’s a keeper, that man.

As I rifled through the sheet music, I felt my heart begin to beat faster.  Judging from the era of most of the music, I wondered if it had come from one person’s collection.  And, I suddenly realized that something really special might be found within the stack.  Something that was worth far more than the 10 cent price tag that was listed on the sign.

And then, I found it.

The song that would bring tears to my eyes in a warehouse full of bargain book tonnage:

Cover to sheet music: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

It was sung in an episode of Downton Abbey in recent years, but, that’s not why I know the chorus by heart:

Let me call you sweetheart

I’m in love with you.  

Let me hear you whisper

that you love me too…”

Originally a hit in 1911, it became the biggest selling popular song on the market again, in the run up to WWII.

But more than this, it’s the song my grandparents played in their “cellar” rec room, amongst the ’50s furniture, when I was growing up.

It was the first song that they danced to at their 40th wedding anniversary, when I was 13 years old, my grandfather with tears brimming in his eyes.

my grandparents, dancing outside at their 40th anniversary

That’s my grandpa Lou, trying not to cry as he dances with grandma Helen, on their 40th wedding anniversary.

It was my grandparents’ love song.

Their song.

And, in part because of the symphony book sale, its ours too.

books in a giant warehouse setting

 

Copyright Christine Fader, 2016.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet


vintage crokinole board - wooden - with wooden checkers on it
When I was about six years old, I remember my normally sweet-tempered dad getting all bent out of shape.

We were playing Old Maid and I was winning.

He was working on his PhD in engineering at the time and I think it perturbed him greatly that despite all his life experience, knowledge of standard deviation and parabolas (or whatever) and genetic predisposition (his mom–my grandma–was kind of a game genius), he couldn’t beat his eldest child at a simple, children’s game of cards.

Or possibly, it was the way his six-year old triumphantly cackled and danced around when he was stuck with the Old Maid (I’m sure I was just pleased to be making up for the indignities of a patriarchal society that thought that the punishment in a card game should be called something so awful, so tragic, so open to mockery as a SINGLE WOMAN OVER A CERTAIN AGE.)

This was before Bridget Jones, dontcha know and okay, so I might be having some slightly retro-active indignity not actually experienced at the age of six.

Anyway, sexist game name and premise aside, there’s another reason that I rarely play games these days.  It’s because even though I am a delight 98% of the time, it turns out that when it comes to games, I am like my father.  Since neither my father nor I appear to have inherited his mother’s game genius gene, we do, like most humans, tend to lose sometimes.  A situation that leads quickly to the confirmed evidence that we are what you call Very Sore Losers.

I hope no one writes that on my tombstone.

And, I have become quite familiar with this darker side of my personality because when Practical Man and I have played Poker on holidays or Cribbage when we are camping in the Boler, he wins EVERY TIME.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but actually “wins” is too mild a word.  “TROUNCE” is more like it or maybe “WALLOP”.   I sort of get it when it’s Poker (even though I’ve played since I was a pre-teen) or Cribbage in the Boler (because, how can I concentrate when I’m hanging out in the Boler that I l-o-o-ve?) but, I have the role of public wordsmith in our family.  How come he always, always beats me in Scrabble and Upwords?

It’s annoying, I’m sure you can understand.

All this losing and blah, blah, blah.

So, then I act all mature and refuse to play.

But, since it’s the festive season and in our family, that is a time for games, I suggested to Practical Man that we have a couple of friendly games of crokinole on Christmas Eve.

Y’know, just for fun.

(In the interests of full disclosure, my mother’s side of the family are crokinol-ers from way back.)

Practical Man asked me for the rules, all innocent-like and then proceeded to TROUNCE and WALLOP me in game one, despite my God-given genetic pre-disposition to crokinole greatness.  So, we started on game two of the best of three and suddenly, inexplicably, it seemed as if I actually stood a chance at winning.

It was practically a Christmas Miracle!

Even better, Practical Man had the unfortunate luck to hit the crokinole checker directly into one of the pegs on the board, four turns in a row.  If you haven’t experienced this, let me just emphasize that when the checker hits one of the pegs on the board, it bounces back at you in a fairly humiliating sort of way.

Mwah, ha, ha!

On the fourth time, so giddy was I about the prospect of winning a game that I succumbed to a fit of giggles which quickly turned into “can’t stop laughing” followed by “falling off chair laughing” which is the universal sign in my house for “she’s about to faint“.

And so ended my magnificent path to crokinole glory.  I had to spend the rest of the evening on the couch with my feet in the air, trying to get my nervous system to calm down and the blood flowing consistently back to my brain.

Nervous system:  I know I’ve told you this before, but, you are seriously high maintenance.

And by the way, I WAS WINNING!

My great grandparents’ crokinole board from the farm in Grey-Bruce County lives with my uncle Gruff and his family.  The original wooden board was always super polished and smooth or as my dad would say:

SmooooTH (rhymes with “tooth”).

(When he’s not being A Sore Loser, my father tweaks language in delightful ways like this.)

You could see your face in that crokinole board.

Having been thwarted at winning once this week already, I decided to press my luck at the Boxing Day festivities at my parents house.

Before I knew it, I was sitting down to a friendly game of crokinole with my two cousins and Practical Man.

I was pretty sure that with me and my two cousins SURELY all having at least a pinch of the family crokinole gene, I was definitely on a winning team.

Game one went like this:

  • Practical Man and my cousin (team one) scored 80 points (we were playing to 100) in round one.
  • Me and my other cousin (team two) scored 10 points in round two.
  • Practical Man and my cousin (aka crokinole shark) took the game in round three.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you possibly the world’s shortest crokinole game.

Cue my Sore Loser face.

My uncle Gruff’s daughter number two subbed as Practical Man’s new partner.  Gruff’s first daughter and I decided that we were not “Losers” but rather “Points Deficient” (also – we were fond of the fact that PD is much harder for the enemy team to sign on their foreheads than L).  Being only Points Deficient and not Losers, we talked the talk.  We were “working a strategy” for the best of three games.

Then, she confessed that she had drunk more wine than she thought.

So, I did my best to distract the enemy team  by blurting out random diversions like “German slippers” and this helped me and my cousin (aka tipsy teammate) slide to a tenuous victory in game two.

I was on a winning team!  Well, at least a tied-for-winning team.

Then, it was game three.  Turns out that Gruff’s daughter number two alternated between being a crokinole savant and being the Julia Child of crokinole (that is, highly entertaining while simultaneously klutzy).  Her partner, Practical Man, used some of his more aggressive manoeuvers to fling checkers off the board and on the carpet but, he was often successful at clearing the board of our checkers.  My partner and I patiently gathered points, clawing our way, step-by-step ever closer to the magical 100.

It took a while.

There was a round with only 5 points scored.

There was a round with ZERO points scored.

Ladies and Gentlemen:  I give you possibly the world’s longest crokinole game.

And then…

Cue my Sore Loser face.

The darn posts on the board:  they leap out at your checkers, not to mention, we are highly suspicious that they may be magnetic.

My grandpa and my uncles could all do some kind of Jedi-voodo-crokinole magic and bounce their checker off pegs, knock about three of the opposing checkers off the board and land snugly in the hole that is worth 20 points.

Sure, sure.

I’d like to see them beat me at Old Maid.

 

Copyright Christine Fader, 2015.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet