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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Old Folks at Home Celebrate the Weekend

As early as Thursday afternoon one of us will say, when we meet in the hallway between our respective home offices, "It's the weekend!" This works only if the Friday that follows is a free day for both of us. Otherwise, we have to wait until Friday afternoon to say it.


So what is a weekend for a pair of retired writer-people? Surely every day is the same when there is no Monday-to-Friday job? Well, in our house you'd be hard-pressed to notice the absence of the 9-5 routine. My wine-writer husband often has back-to-back, two-or-three-a-day tastings. During the worst (best?) months, he might have dinner at home only four or five times through the whole month.


My own schedule often sees me leaving the house before 9 every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and not returning until 3 or 4 or later.


So the weekend IS different for us. Let me count the ways: 1) We don't leave the house if we can avoid it (I'm not mentioning here the H-D Met performances or the COC Sunday matinee). 2) We linger at breakfast in the alcove, reading not just the morning paper but some of the magazines that have piled up during the week. 3) I cook a dinner from new food! That is to say, no leftovers leave the fridge (I've probably already used them up by Friday anyway). It's a time for lamb chops, say, or a small roast of some sort. Or a soup to stick to the ribs. It's a time to experiment with real recipes, something I've tucked into my files in an optimistic moment. 4) I indulge in a Negroni before dinner or else we open a bottle of Champagne or an old bottle of red wine. (We have just one final 1978 wine—our anniversary wine—left in the basement. The end of an era. What dish will be worthy of it?)


The weekend is our favourite time of the week. As we live it we say, often, every day should be like this. Now, can you tell me why we don't arrange our lives so that every day IS like the weekend? What keeps us from spending our days exactly the way we want? On the other hand, if all days were like the weekend, we wouldn't appreciate it. Perhaps we maintain our hectic weekly schedule in order to highlight the glories of the weekend.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 17, 2013


We call it forever, but someone else might call it the blink of an eye in the life of the Universe. Universes. Our forever is puny in the face of the real forever. Not fifty years of marriage to one person (though that might sometimes feel like forever) but unimaginable eons that only a cosmologist could begin to grasp. Or do I mean a cosmetologist?


So deep this is. See me now casually catch my breath and wish I could continue with my investigation of what came before, what is now, and what will be. But surely only the middle of these exists: the past is gone, the future does not yet exist (indeed, may never come), leaving us with the gift of our precious, interminable present to do with as we will.


Let us be profligate with our present. Be present in our present, for it is all we have. It is so simple: beyond space, beyond time, we observe these moments of no-time.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrating in a Lower Key

I don't know yet what our Christmas Day will look like, but last year the Christmas pie didn't materialize. There was no need for it, no dinner for it to be topping off. Last year was my heart's desire of a Christmas: two loving people.


Oh, we had a family gathering on the Thursday evening before Xmas, with a lonely great—uncle, two grandmothers, one grandfather, and the Little Family of daddy, mommy, brother, and sister. Candles burned, Christmas lights blazed at the window, and the table featured a gigantic roast chicken, with two pies for dessert. Not the feast of yesteryears but more elaborate than, say, mac and cheese—though that has its place.


But on the day, the birthday that I share with the world's Christians, that day my husband and I were alone. There was much Skyping with distant relatives and a few phone calls to field, but we were alone in the house.


How did we celebrate? I slept in until 7:30. Then I got up, dressed, and performed a few rituals, including lighting my day-long birthday candle, a ceremony suggested by a friend a few years ago. Then I took from the fridge two whitefish fillets and two smoked whitefish fillets, from which I made six fish cakes, chilling them until breakfast time. I made coffee for two, then I woke up my husband so he could wish me a happy birthday.


He dressed. I fried the fishcakes in butter and oil until they were crisp on the outside. He opened the day's Champagne and then (by now it was 10 o'clock) we ate, in solitary splendour (solitary in the dual sense). Sitting at the large dining room table, alone together, we ate our delicious fishcakes and drank our brut Champagne, confident that we were the only couple in Toronto celebrating in just that way at just that time.


Then my most romantic, most practical husband offered me the first of his over-the-top expressions of love. He held out two envelopes, one in each hand, and asked me to choose one. In it was a print-out of an eighteenth century poem, which he read aloud to me. And at the top of the paper he had written "left foot boot." The other envelope held another love poem, which he read, finishing with "right foot boot." So there, in one swell foop, was the essence of my dear husband: the romantic love poems read with a catch in his voice, accompanied by the most practical of additions: a new pair of boots to be shopped for by me. (Little did he know that I'd head straight to John Fluevog for those boots. Next time he might set a limit . . . )


The day continued. Skyped serenades of the birthday song in four-part harmony, distant grandchildren and daughters checking in.


Later in the afternoon our son and his family arrived. After ten minutes or so of happy interchanges, the little  three-year-old succumbed to the pressures of the day and pitched a fit. Her meltdown was finally cured when her father held and cuddled her, away from others, allowing her to calm down in her own time.


Now where was I going with all of this, beyond fishcakes and Champagne for breakfast? I heard many friends and relatives later describe their Christmas Day: one couple had breakfast at an ex-daughter-in-law's house (with small granddaughters), brunch at a daughter's, and then, at 4 p.m., a gigantic family meal that included everyone else. Another family, having hosted an annual Christmas-eve party for the neighbourhood, was preparing (even as we talked) a traditional Christmas dinner for thirteen.


Were we shirking our duty, my husband and I? Should we have been in the kitchen all day preparing for a big family do? Or am I now permitted, after years of being responsible for dinners such as others described, to celebrate in my own fashion—which is to say, in seclusion?


Oh, that's fake. I have never cooked Christmas dinners. Not for forty years, anyway. When I lived in the United States, I did the whole Thanksgiving thing for twenty people or more—chaotic and a bit show-off-y. And because that holiday was only a month from Christmas, doing it all over again would have been anti-climactic. Once I moved to Canada, I no longer had the excuse that the late-November Thanksgiving meal precluded doing one on Christmas (Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October). So my new excuse for not preparing a Christmas dinner is that I don't have to cook on my birthday—an opinion in which I am supported by my indulgent husband. We share the day with whoever is in town, of course, offering sandwich makings instead of a groaning board. Last year was the most reclusive year yet, and it felt absolutely right. December 25, 2013, is still being negotiated.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Caffeine and Cleanliness

Balzac liked coffee. I do not say that based on original research or on my reading of primary material—i.e., Balzac's essay on coffee. I base it on an article about caffeine I read years ago. The author cited Balzac as being not just a caffeine addict but a full-fledged slave to the stimulant. Balzac wrote that caffeine marshalled and organized his brain cells, lining them up to attack whatever subject Balzac wished them to attack. He said he was incapable of writing without the brain-energizing stimulus of caffeine. The essay was full of very funny, very military comparisons.


So this morning, with Balzac in mind, I decided to treat my brain to a pre-writing caffeine hit. I had a large cup of full-caffeine café au lait, relying on the milk to protect my stomach. Well, that part worked. But the marshalling of my little brain cells? Not so much. My brain cells, compared to Balzac's, are new, raw, untrained recruits. When I call upon them to come to attention, they scatter and race like a gaggle of kindergartners let loose on the playground. No order is discernible. My brain cells jitter and skitter, trembling the pen in my hand so every other word I write has letters transposed or dropped. Caffeine has not helped pinpoint my thoughts, has not made my images clearer. It has done nothing, in fact, but make me need to pee much more urgently than usual.


So much for my noble experiment. I won't be repeating it any time soon.


Let me talk instead about cleanliness. I recently read, in a work of fiction, a comment by a man returning to his mother's home for tea. He noted that she had outdone herself in preparation: the house was shining, the table laid with starched linens and gleaming tea cups.


That shining house caught my eye. Now that our wonderful cleaner, Lorna, comes for three hours every week to do the work that I pretend I can no longer do (but that in fact I never did do), I have realized the difference between pre- and post-Lorna. It is a subtle change in the way the house looks, and it boils down to this: un-vacuumed floors develop a sheer covering of dust that the eye registers without being aware of it. After vacuuming, our entire (wood-floored) house shines.


I find it difficult to articulate the distinct yet almost unnoticeable difference between the two stages: clean and not-clean. I'll stop trying except to say that I'm so happy to have Lorna in my life. All my previous reluctance to hire someone to do work that I should be doing has disappeared. Have I abandoned my principles? Or is it just that I actually have become too old to do what I once could have done, if I had chosen to spend my time that way?


In either case, I marvel at the joy I experience when I enter my kitchen with the newly shining floor. The layer of guilt I have always carried within me (oh, I should mop the floor, I should mop the floor!) is gone. Someone else is mopping (and waxing!) the floor and I don't even have to watch it being done. My years of feeling that if only my mother had taught me how to clean my house I could deal with it—all of that is gone. Don't want to. Never wanted to. And now I don't have to.


Last week Lorna even helped us turn our oversized mattress, the 14-inch-deep kind deliberately designed to trap and crush unwary seniors.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor