Thursday, December 31, 2009


May your home never be too small
To hold all of your friends.

May you live as long as you want
And never want as long as you live.

May the good Lord take a liking to you,
But not too soon.

May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.

May your neighbors respect you,
Trouble neglect you,
The angels protect you,
and heaven accept you.

Dance as if no one were watching,
Sing as if no one were listening
And live every day as if it were your last.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do You Want to Know a Secret (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

In exchange for straight hair, I agreed to escort my cousin Nadia to a Beatles’ concert and to marry a Beatle, George Harrison.

If I had been born ten years earlier I would never have had such a problem. But there I was, a fourteen-year-old stuck with naturally curly hair in 1964. Thanks to the Beatles, long, straight hair was in style. My black curls were the envy of all my mother’s friends, but I was a fashion misfit in High School. Once I almost set my head on fire when I tried to iron my hair myself. When I asked my Ma to iron my hair, she shot me The Look and said I was crazy. I had no other choice but to ask my sixteen-year-old cousin, Nadia, to do the deed. She was the only one who would understand.

Nadia had a major problem of her own. She had to marry Paul McCartney, the cute Beatle.

Nadia’s problem started when she had said she wanted to marry a boy with a cute accent. She had accepted her fate: to stay in Corona, get married and have babies. She knew she was expected to follow in her Mom’s Sicilian footsteps. She just wanted to march to a cute accent. When she saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, she said Paul looked as cute as he sounded and she was going to marry him.

But, how would a girl in Queens meet a Beatle? Nadia knew that if her parents had their way, they would have chosen a local Corona boy instead of an English rock star to become their son-in-law. Then Nadia had a dream. She was at a concert, her eyes met Paul’s, she zapped him with a psychic message and he became her love slave. When Nadia heard that the Beatles were going to have a concert in Shea Stadium she said it was a sign from God. So, she decided she had to go to the Shea concert and grab the bull - I mean, the Beatle - by the horns. Not mentioning her dream, Nadia asked her parents for ticket money for the Beatles’ Shea Stadium concert.

Uncle Des and Aunt Betty agreed to give Nadia the money. But there was a small catch. Nadia had to go with a relative. None of the Aunts or Uncles was interested. I was the only cousin Nadia had who was near her age and easy for her to control. Uncle Des also thought I was the perfect relative for his daughter to ask. He knew that his brother Peter, my Pop, would never waste money on a rock concert. So he thought that he didn’t have to worry about Nadia going to any Beatles’ concert. It wasn’t his fault if his brother was cheap.

When I told Nadia I didn’t have any money for a ticket, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. If I swore I would get the money and escort her, she would straighten my hair. When I stalled, Nadia threw in an extra incentive. After she and Paul got engaged, she would work her magic on George Harrison so he would propose to me. Since I was stuck at an all-girl high school run by Dominican nuns, boys were a rare commodity. The way we saw it, it was either George or the convent for me.

I had my doubts about Nadia’s psychic powers, but I did need someone to iron my hair. If she could snag me a husband, it was a bonus. I swore I would get the money.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas With the Sopranos by Margaret Ullrich

Okay... We didn't exactly sit down with Tony and Carmela.

We had a nice Christmas. It started with the Christmas Eve Mass. The church was packed. In addition to serving as Lectors, Paul and I were also asked to serve as Eucharistic Ministers. No problem. Just doing our bit to keep the lines moving. There were two more Masses scheduled for Christmas Eve and the parking lot was packed.

Christmas Day was simple and good. Friends and feast. What more could one ask for?

While the turkey was in the oven, I was flipping through a cookbook Entertaining with The Sopranos. I'm a sucker for cookbooks, which makes it easy for folks needing a last minute gift for me.

Food is a big item for us Maltese, just like for Italians. I can remember family gatherings where folks sat down at noon and didn't leave the table until after supper. Meals were complete - from soup to nuts. I had to admit I'd gotten a little lazy in the kitchen.

What happened?

The photos of the meals brought back lots of memories. Julia Child these recipes aren't. I know they are doable. I'm not saying I'm another Julie Powell. But surely I could put a little more effort into our meals.

Life is sometimes weird. While I'd grown up envying German classmates their pastries, Paul had grown up craving Italian food. Paul was all in favor of my cooking my roots, so to speak.

Resolution for 2010: Cook my way through Entertaining with The Sopranos.

After dinner a friend asked me to tell her a little more about Cousin Nadia from Would Santa Ever Find Me? I had to confess Cousin Nadia, as most characters I've written about, was a mixture of a few people. My pal wouldn't let me off so easily. She wanted to know more about what living in Queens was like.

I could understand that growing up in Queens, New York, USA might be exotic to a transplanted Filipino living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Who knows? Maybe other folks are curious about life in Queens in the 60s, too.

Resolution #2 for 2010: serialize my book A Tale of Three Islands.

Nadia will be a blog regular starting Tuesday.

Hey... that's easier to do than the recipes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Thoughts

This has been a very different December for us. Enjoying a few get togethers with friends and a party for volunteers at church, as well as having to sort out financial and legal papers. Tonight we'll be Lectors for a Christmas Eve Mass.

I met with my investment advisor to go over the papers from Ma's two annuities. They had sent the forms for an American resident. Also the applications were different. Lisa helped me find the W-8 form I need from the half dozen the U.S. government have on their site and printed 2 copies. She read over the papers and they're a little clearer now.

I had e mailed one company and asked if they wanted both my social security and social insurance numbers. I was told they do not give tax advice. I called the other company and the woman there explained they want the social security number so they know where to credit the witholding tax. Why the other company couldn't have said that...

We also went to a 'celebration of life' for a friend who passed away. Phil was 69. We had first met him in 1978 when Paul started working at the Free Press. There was a video of some of the highlights of Phil's life and a few funny stories from family members and friends. It was good seeing everybody and reminiscing. Some are still working at the paper and others, like Paul, are retired. We hadn't seen some of the Free Press folks for quite a while. It was like being in our 30s again. Where did the time go?

We're pretty much set for Christmas... Last Christmas Aunt Betty said to enjoy life. Aunt Betty passed away in January, a week before Pop.

Yes, it will seem odd tomorrow - not talking on the phone with my parents and Aunt Betty, or sharing a bit of turkey with BoBo. But, we still have much to be thankful for.

Paul's cartoon 'The Bicycle Lesson' has had some success. It screened in Miami (Florida), Danville (California), Fredericton (New Brunswick), Guelph and Toronto (Ontario), as well as 4 screenings here in Winnipeg.

I've enjoyed working on my book and blogs and serving as public relations person for the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club.

The volunteer party was fun. There was plenty of food, games and kareoke. Paul and I joined a fellow parishioner Brenda in singing Tom Jones' Delilah. Lots of silliness. The evening flew.

Like Aunt Betty said - enjoy life.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Dog Thoughts

The rest of Sue's 'dog thoughts'...

Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like never washed a dog. - Franklin P. Jones

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons. - James Thurber

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise. - Unknown

My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That's $21.00 in dog money. - Joe Weinstein

Ever consider what our dogs must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul -- chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth! - Anne Tyler

Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea. - Robert A. Heinlein

Speak softly and own a Great Dane. - Tom Cash

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man. - Mark Twain

You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, 'Wow, you're right! I never would've thought of that!' - Dave Barry

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. - Roger Caras

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving Fido only two of them. - Phil Pastoret

My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am. - Unknown

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dog Thoughts

My friend Sue forwarded quite a few 'dog thoughts'. I'm sharing some today, some on Tuesday. Hey... it's a busy time of year. Enjoy.

The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue. - Harry Falk

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. - Ann Landers

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went. - Will Rogers

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. - Ben Williams

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. - Josh Billings

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person. - Andy Rooney

We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made. - M. Acklam

Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate. - Sigmund Freud

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult. - Jody Falk

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance and to turn around three times before lying down. - Robert Benchley

Dogs need to sniff the ground; it's how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking dog news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard. - Dave Barry

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deck The Halls by Margaret Ullrich

It didn't really feel like Christmas was coming because of the milder than normal weather and the lack of snow. But, at the beginning of December, we set up our decorations, including our tree.

A few years ago we bought an artificial tree. No more tree chopping for us. Customs give way to reality, especially when arthritis acts up. When we want a piney smell, we burn some scented candles. Now we don't have to worry about keeping the tree watered.

We also bought some old-fashioned bubble lights. We had bubble lights when we were kids and, to us, they add just the right touch.

We've cut back on some of our decorations. Some of them were more trouble than they were worth. A few years ago we bought a set of 8 electric candles that would light up as they played a medley of Christmas carols. A candle would glow as each note was hit. The candles were fine. The music was fine. But the set would start up whenever it detected a noise.

For example, if our dog Herbie walked by and shook his collar, we'd suddenly hear music. For a few years we had to unplug the musical candles whenever we left the house. Otherwise our dogs would panic when the music started up and we weren't home. Finally, we stopped setting up the candles.

We have icicle lights on our house's eaves. When I see them I really miss Bobo. When we let BoBo out after it got dark, he loved to sit on the side door's stoop and just stare at the lights for a while before walking off to do his business. I wish I knew what they meant to him. Did he think they were small stars that had settled on our house?

BoBo was our little holiday star.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chop That Tree (part 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

I thought I had dressed warmly.

That fink, the ditzy receptionist, showed up looking like the Michelin Man. She was ready to march to Thompson if necessary. So were the three other women co-workers. The other wives - who all knew better - had begged off. One was even pregnant. Or said she was.

I was alone with four career women who were full of the "I am woman, hear me roar" career fever. While they talked shop I felt as welcome as a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking.

The Jewish co-workers - who I had hoped would keep the tree hunt frenzy within limits - had turned into lumberjacks. They were also ready to march to Thompson if necessary.

After walking five minutes I couldn't feel my toes. We hadn't even gotten out of the parking lot. I was doomed.

I didn't know it could get that cold.

We marched. Finally, someone approved of a tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. The branches that hit the ground broke off the tree.

I said, "The bare side could be placed against a wall."

The heat from their glares should have restored my circulation. It didn't. We marched. Someone approved of another tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. It broke.

God, it was cold.

We were doomed to spend all day wandering like Flying Dutchmen on a quest to find the perfect unbreakable tree. The lot was littered with other broken felled trees. Some trees had landed across their comrades in a criss cross pattern that looked like a cradle. A cradle, something soft, something to receive and hold...

Hold it - something to catch a damn tree!

Nose drip and tears had frozen my mouth shut. If I'd had the equipment I would've written my idea in the snow. I slapped my face trying to restore circulation to my lower jaw. Finally my lips parted. I clutched Paul's arm.

"Cradle... tree... cradle," I mumbled and criss crossed my arms.

The women thought I was pregnant and wanted a homemade cradle. Thank God, months of marriage - misery and love - had united Paul's mind to mine. Months of marriage had also taught us that Paul was no carpenter. He knew the homemade cradle idea was bunk. Paul caught on to my pantomime and told the others of my plan.

Someone approved of another tree. It would land on four broken trees. The men chopped. The tree crashed. It survived. We marched. Someone approved of another tree. It, too, survived.

Christmas was saved.

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.

I couldn't believe it. Some fool was planning the next year's tree chopping expedition.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chop That Tree (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I didn't know I'd ever be stupid enough to be outdoors in that kind of cold.
I didn't know I'd been stupid enough to marry someone stupid enough to work with people stupid enough to be out in that kind of cold.

It was our first December in Winnipeg.

Paul and I had grown up in New York City. There people went to an empty parking lot where the trees had magically appeared, like the ground beef at the local supermarket. No questions asked. No one wanted to get too personal with an ornament.

At the New York parking lot we'd browse, find a tree we liked and switch the price tag with the cheaper tree which no one liked. Then we'd carry the tree to the clerk, who gave us the fish eye as he noticed the fullness of such a "good find", sighed and took our money. The whole deal was done in ten minutes. Another Christmas had begun.

Apparently, that isn't good enough for Winnipeggers. Oh, no, they have to get down and dirty with their holiday bushes.

I'll never forget how happy Paul was when he came home and told me we'd been invited to join a group of Winnipeggers for a real, old-fashioned Christmas experience. If I'd had a clue I'd have realized that giving birth in a barn, unaided, would've been an easier old-fashioned Christmas experience. We were going to chop down a real Christmas tree, just like our ancestors.

Well, my parents are from Malta, a sunny Mediterranean island. It just wasn't in my genes to know how to dress for a freezing, miserable, forced march through a blizzard-hit forest. The windchill - which I still didn't understand - was in the "exposed skin can freeze in 2 minutes" range.

That didn't sound good, so I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Somehow Paul convinced me that his entire future career prospects, our unborn children's college fund, our grandchildren's lives and our golden years' security and comfort would all go up in smoke if I didn't join the mighty tree hunt.

His Jewish co-workers were going.

Everybody, even that ditzy receptionist who always dressed like a showgirl wannabe with skirts up to there, was going.

So, we were going.

God, it was cold.

Part 2

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Baking Now by Margaret Ullrich

Well... they say with age comes wisdom. At least enough wisdom to have sense enough to take it easy at holiday times.

My ethnic food leanings have broadened quite a bit over the past 37 years. We live in the north end, in one of Winnipeg's most multicultural communities. Our neighbors and fellow parishioners have introduced Paul and me to quite an assortment of ethnic specialities. The food has been interesting and delicious.

But, even more important, our friends have introduced us to the real joy of just being together. Companionship truly matters more than eating fancy cookies or trying to follow customs from a simpler time.

When we had dogs, Paul and I had certain rules we had to follow. Sunday mornings had a definite routine to them. After Mass we came home, changed into regular (in winter - warmer) clothes and did our doggie duty. Our dogs knew to expect a walk from us and we knew better than to try to ignore their needs.

Now that we're dog-free, we've gotten into the habit of joining friends at our local McDonald's after Mass. There isn't anything particularly seasonal or festive about the food at Micky D's, but that just doesn't matter anymore. What does matter is getting together with our friends.

I still bake a few favorites for the holidays. But, along with the biscotti, strufoli, spitzbuben and zimtsterne, I also include a few oreos on my cookie platter.

I never get any complaints... or leftovers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Baking (part 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Okay... So much for Paul. It wasn't his fault - American melting pot and all. Our son would grow up with ethnic kitch. He'd know what to say to a Lucia Queen.

The 80s was the decade of old time family shows and memoir books. Have you ever browsed through one? It could make one weep. Listen to this...

"Evenings when a cold blustery wind howled outside
were perfect for sorting through recipes. They were
cozy times. The children were sitting at the oak table
helping Mama chop fruit and raisins. Papa was cracking
and shelling nuts and crushing fresh spices in the grinder."

Isn't that sweet? It convinced me that if we did things just like people did before television was invented, the world would be a kinder, gentler place.

We'll never know. Paul told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to grind nuts for a cake he didn't even want. Alright. Scratch Paul grinding his nuts. I bought ground nuts.

Step two... the batter had to be mixed. Back to that memoir...

"When all the fruits were in, Grandmother called, 'Come,
stir the batter!'
We all took turns giving it a stir - clockwise for good luck -
and made a wish."

I called, "Come, stir the batter!"

Carl pointed to the mixer sitting on the counter and announced he was staying on the eighth level of his computer game The Temple of Ra. He also told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to stir batter for a cake he didn't even want.

I stirred the batter.

Don't ask what I wished.

It's been downhill ever since. Do you know about the charming Swedish custom of hiding a whole almond in the rice pudding? The lucky person who finds the almond has to get married or do the dishes. Both my husband and son managed to swallow the almond.

I tried the German version - whoever finds the almond receives a marzipan pig. By then Paul and Carl had their own tradition: swallowing the almond. I felt so guilty looking at that poor rejected pig. I started my own tradition and ate him... along with the cake.

There's a Christmas carol that goes: "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."

Well, the goose isn't the only one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Baking (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there are 2 questions no one should ever ask a woman. The first is "How old are you?"

The second is "Have you done your holiday baking?"

Holiday baking has been with us an awfully long time. Did you know that ginger was popular in Greece 5,000 years ago? The Egyptians were eating gingerbread when the great pyramid of Cheops was new. I wonder what their gingerbread men looked like.

Holiday baking can be a problem for immigrants. My parents and I arrived in America in 1950. Christmas had been a religious celebration in Malta. Traditional desserts were simple - cookies, fruit and custard. For the holidays, we had cassata: the custard was spread on a sponge cake. Whoopee. If my Sicilian cousins were visiting, Pop picked up some cannoli. Our cookies were dull - the big thrill with an anise biscotti was seeing how much milk it could suck up before breaking in half and falling into your glass of milk. It was like eating the sinking Titanic.

I knew my German classmates ended their meals with more oomph. At church and school gatherings, their mothers brought the most delicious homemade cookies I'd ever tasted. And they were gorgeous. The cookies, I mean. Since Ma wasn't in the race - she brought the coffee - I was free to sample and praise every cookie. The mothers beamed. My friends thought I was nuttier than the cookies.

My husband is third generation American - half Swedish and half German. To paraphrase the biblical story of Ruth, I believed, "What thou eatest, I will eat... thy cookies shall be my cookies..."

Well, you get the picture. Thanks to the movie The Sound of Music, I had a master plan for our first Christmas: sitting beneath a huge tree, singing Edelweiss and happily munching fancy cookies, my favorite things. Ethnic things.

The ethnic bit nearly ended my marriage.

There's an old German saying: That which really tastes oft us trouble makes. That should've warned me. It didn't.

I studied German and Swedish Christmas customs. A good wife gets up at 4:00 a.m. to mix her cookies. No sunlight should land on the dough or disaster would befall the household. The good wife hoped there'd be a crescent moon to bring good luck to her baking. No kidding. Without that sliver of light she could get killed, stumbling around in the dark like that.

For our first December thirteenth as a married couple, I decided that I was going to create an authentic Swedish Saint Lucia Day.

According to tradition, buns and coffee were served between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. by the eldest daughter, who was dressed as the Lucia Queen. Since we didn't have children, I, as an eldest daughter, became the first Maltese Lucia Queen. Ever.

I stitched up a long white robe and tied shining red balls to our Advent wreath. I memorized the traditional poem. I made a batch of cinnamon buns.

Finally, it was 3:00 a.m. Clad in white, carrying a tray and balancing the wreath with bouncing balls and flaming candles on my head, I shuffled slowly to our bed. I was a walking cherries jubilee. Hovering over Paul, I chanted: "O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger... "

Hmmph... No answer. The Lucia Queen required an audience. Creating my own liturgy, I ad libbed. "Wake up, Paul."

Still no answer. I set the tray down, gave him a push and repeated: "O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger... Damn it, wake up."

He snorted, turned and faced me. It took him a while to focus. Okay... back to the chant. I started softly, building to a truly impressive booming voice.

"O'er earth that sun forgot,
Dark shadows linger.
Then on our threshold stands,
White clad in candlelight
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."

He looked. He blinked. He screamed.

He said something that no one should ever say to a Lucia Queen.

Part 2

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What People Leave by Margaret Ullrich

Paul's parents had set up their affairs very well. My parents didn't.

We're slowly getting used to our new situation. My brother George lived with our parents all his life and he's sorting out the paperwork. He was just beginning to see the end of the work from our Pop's death in January. Then Ma died in October, a week after her 87th birthday. He wrote us:

I'm slowly getting used to the house being empty and quiet.

It's a long day. I usually get up at 4:30 a.m. I'm at work by 5:30 a.m. On a good day I'm out by 4:00 p.m., but usually I get out by 6:00 p.m. By the time I get home, cook dinner, clean up, I'm ready to crash and go to bed.

Well, maybe that's a good thing. Keeping busy at work takes my mind off of Mom and Pop's death. I'm also still working on getting my house ready to move into. Between working on that house and doing the maintenance on these houses, that pretty much keeps me busy during the weekend.

We hope George will be able to take better care of himself now, too. He's had a rough time of it since the century began. He had to go to the Towers on 9/11. He saw people jumping while the Towers burned. During the past 7 years he also had to take our parents to all their doctors' appointments.

We're learning about settling estates from friends who are also former Americans. Our friend Roger was from Brooklyn. He had to settle his Dad's estate, and he explained the procedure:

We get the wills and the papers and show them to our investment advisor for the financial aspect and the lawyer for the legal aspect of the situation. After our lawyer has a chance to go through everything, then she'll get in touch with the estate's lawyer. There's no point for them to talk now since our lawyer hasn't seen anything.

It's a slow process, but I'm sure it will sort itself out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Dogs Leave by Margaret Ullrich

We just got back from a walk. Bumped into a few people. Folks are still asking where Bobo is and if we'll get another dog.

We've had at least one dog for 35 years. It's funny the stuff you get used to doing and having around the house. We had a board over the bottom of our bookcase because our fourth dog, Popcorn, got into the habit of peeing on the bottom shelf. He also taught Bobo that little trick. We just got used to vacuuming around the board. Finally we realized we don't need to protect the bottom shelf anymore.

I never realized how many habits we had gotten into because we had dogs. It was a whole lifestyle: get up at night (sometimes a few times) to let the older dog out, wipe them down when it rained and snowed (now we don't have a towel hanging in the side closet), having to do 2 hour-long walks every day (we each did an hour).

During the winter we wondered if one of us would come home with a broken limb because of the ice. We also had to remove ice and mud from their toes after they'd been out in the yard and after walks, and carry treats when we went out so we could calm them when we got home.

There was also the nightly teeth brushing, twice-a-week fur brushing, every three months trimming of fur and nails (I clipped while Paul held). Whenever we were out we had to watch the clock (after 4 hours we'd be asking for trouble). And, of course, checking their dishes regularly during the day.

I asked my cousin Alice how she got used to life after her dog Sadie died. Alice wrote back:

After Sadie died it took a while to get used to her not being there. Looked for her to let her out. And I could swear I could hear her claws on the kitchen floor or her whining to go out.

I missed her but now I'm glad I don't have a pet.

My grandkids tell me they're getting a dog for Christmas. All I could say is they better not. I always wind up with them, and I really don't want any more pets. I don't even want to dog sit.

Alice is right. It's a lot of work.

Still, I miss them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving, Then and Now by Margaret Ullrich

Yes, Thanksgiving was a day for gratitude.

We went for a walk after breakfast. On our walk back home we've been enjoying free coffee at our neighborhood McDonald's. Before, when we had dogs, we always had to sit outside. Now, we can get in out of the cold.

Our local McDonald's has its own regulars - retired folks such as ourselves who drop in to socialize over a cup. We've been sitting and chatting with people we know from church. It's a whole new world for us.

On Thanksgiving, we got home in time to watch the Macy's parade and the dog show. Dinner was easy since it was leftover turkey with homemade cranberry sauce, vegetables and pumpkin pie. Same as we've been having for 37 years.

I couldn't understand why I felt so relaxed. I remembered other American Thanksgivings we had observed. By the end of the day I was wiped out. Was it just because I was more experienced? What was different?

Of course... I didn't have to phone home.

Every holiday of every year I had called my parents. As the years went by, it became a three-day operation - a day to prepare, the day of the call, a day to wind down. The calls had become more stressful as my parents became more elderly, ill and disappointed.

The latest disappointment was my mother's and brother's upcoming move from my parents' duplex to a one-family house my brother had recently bought.

When Ma first mentioned George had bought a house she said, "I'm moving from a big house to a doll house." She always liked big houses. When they visited and we walked around here, she would point out the newer larger houses.

I hope she had finally gotten used to the idea of moving to a smaller house. On our last call, when I mentioned we were having Bathfitters do our bathroom, she talked about all the upgrades George was doing before their move. She seemed pleased.

But, with Ma it was always something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

U.S. Thanksgiving Day by Margaret Ullrich

We had saved a portion of our Canadian Thanksgiving turkey to enjoy today.

We've been doing that since we moved to Canada. We usually watched the parade and the dog show, ate dinner, gave our dog(s) some turkey, then called our folks.

Thanksgiving is a little different now.

We're grateful that, while her death was sudden and a shock, Ma didn't suffer.

We're also grateful that BoBo was able to enjoy his last Thanksgiving. Bobo had a good last week. He enjoyed the turkey and doing his usual stuff. He had this game he liked to play with me. I usually sit in the right corner of the couch, near the table and lamp. Whenever I got up, BoBo liked to steal that spot, then give me a "Who me?" look when I returned.

He played that game a few times that last week.

My friend sent another forward.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner

Stay off your thighs!

Happy Thanksgiving .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our Mothers and Dishes by Margaret Ullrich

Maybe it's a Maltese thing to love blue on dishes. I have a blue depression chicken in my living room. My favorite pattern is Blue Nordic, which I use regularly. It has swirly blue onions and floral designs on white dishes.

Ma had always bought a dish here, a dish there. While I was growing up, I had never seen her set a table with matching dishes. She did most of her shopping in Corona. There dishes were stacked on a table or on shelves behind the counter. They sold plates 4 for a dollar.

I had bought my parents a set of dishes from Grant's, a store like Zeller's, for their twentieth anniversary in 1968. Ma insisted they be saved for special occasions. I never saw her use them.

In 1973, a year after we married, my folks came up to visit us in British Columbia. I had bought a set of dishes from Sears. It was called Tulip Time and had blue tulips on white dishes.

When Ma saw me set the table with the dishes she said, "Don't use the good dishes for us. Use your old dishes." I said, "Ma I haven't been married long enough to have old dishes. This is all I have."

When we were visiting them in 1999 she used the dishes I had bought for them in 1968. She even posed for a picture with them.

I hope she used them at other times, too.

I told Alice about Ma and her dishes. She e mailed back:

Funny thing about your Ma's old and mixed dishes. My mother did the same thing. That's why, from the very first day of our marriage, I always set a pretty table - no chips and everything matches.

Yes, it is funny that both our mothers saved their good dishes. I once read in an Heloise book, "Use your good dishes. There'll never be anyone better than your loved ones."

How true.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Niece Remembers by Margaret Ullrich

My cousin Alice e mailed me. Alice is older than I am by 6 years. She was also born in Malta. She and her parents and our Aunt Helen had immigrated on the day I was born. My parents were supposed to be on the boat with them, but Ma was busy having me.

We immigrated to America 3 months later.

Alice told me that the favorite gifts she had received as a child came from Ma. They were dish sets. One Ma had given to Alice in Malta. It was a pink glass tea set. Alice still has pieces of that set. She still loves pink depression dishes.

The other was a tin dinner set Ma had given Alice soon after we came to America. It was a Blue Willow set. Alice so loved the story about the pattern that it is still her favorite.

Alice also said that, out of all the Aunts on her Mom's side, Ma was the only one that ever gave her something she loved. And Ma did it twice.

I asked Alice to tell me the story of the Blue Willow pattern. Alice wrote back:

The Willow pattern has a beautiful and tragic love story. You know the love birds in the pattern, well, they were lovers that were reincarnated as birds.
She was a princess and he was not worthy of her, according to her royal family. So they ended their life as humans so that they could be together as love birds.
That story, or something like it, was on the box the dinner set was in. Oddly enough, very few people know that story. I never forgot it.

Ma never talked about her years in Malta. It was nice picturing her as a doting Auntie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Immigrant Woes by Margaret Ullrich

We just got back from a walk. Bumped into a few people. Folks are still asking where Bobo is and if we'll get another dog. We've lived in our present home for 21 years and have many friends. But, I didn't grow up here.

It ain't easy being an immigrant kid.
My parents always said they could deport me if I got out of line. I was alway an alien while I lived in America. Pop wouldn't pay the 10 bucks to have me naturalized when he and Ma became American citizens. 

Americans don't have much sympathy for people who had been born in other countries living in America. Every year I had to send in a green alien registration card.  If I didn't, I could be fined, jailed or deported. 

Every year my classmates teased me about being a foreigner. 
Every year I  knew I faced a double glass ceiling: being a female and being a foreign born person.  
Every year I wished we had never immigrated to America.

My parents knew how I was treated by some classmates and their parents.
Maybe Pop didn't pay the 10 bucks so I could more easily return to Malta.

Now that we're sorting out Ma's estate, I'm learning it ain't any easier being an immigrant adult.

My brother had sent me a beneficiary claim form and form W-9 (for U. S. residents). The same forms he and our sister had signed.

I had to phone a 1-866 number to get the foreign beneficiary claim form: Form W-8 (as explained on page 2 of the W-9 form). I also had to give her the correct spelling of my last name - they'd left out a letter.

I explained that I moved to Canada in 1972 and that, since I am a Canadian citizen, I need the W-8 form. I gave her the correct spelling of my last name, along with my address and phone number. For security purposes she asked me Ma's date of birth. Once I told her the date, she expressed sympathy and said she'll pass on the information.

They called back and said that I'll get a PDF of the beneficiary claim form: Form W-8 through e mail.

Instead she sent me a website address that had a few W-8 forms. I picked one, then
e mailed and asked if I had the right form for my situation.

That was the end of her helpfulness.

She said that she had, "provided the website in hopes that it would lead you to the correct form. Accessing the IRS website may provide more answers for what is correct for your situation. American Equity will require a W-8 to process the claim, but we cannot determine which is correct for you."

If I were in America it seems one form fits all situations. As to picking the right form for a foreigner, well, "that was one of the questions that should be directed to your tax advisor. It looks like the forms were changed as of April 2009."

I don't think I'll move again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Forward

A friend sent me the following. Usually I ignore forwards. Not this one.

To realize
The value of a sister/brother:
Ask someone
Who doesn't have one.

To realize
The value of ten years:
Ask a newly
Divorced couple.

To realize
The value of four years:
Ask a graduate.

To realize
The value of one year:
Ask a student who
Has failed a final exam.

To realize
The value of nine months:
Ask a mother who
gave birth to a stillborn.

To realize
The value of one month:
Ask a mother who
gave birth to a premature baby.

To realize
The value of one week:
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize
The value of one minute:
Ask a person who has missed the train.

To realize
The value of one-second:
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

Time waits for no one.

Treasure every moment you have.

You will treasure it even more when
You can share it with someone special.

To realize the value of a friend or family member:


Sunday, November 15, 2009

It will just take time by Margaret Ullrich

Time is moving so fast.

The Santa Claus Day parade was yesterday. The weather was gorgeous. Sunny and mild. No snow. It doesn't feel like Christmas is coming, but you can't argue with the guy in the red suit or all those happy kids.

My brother had e mailed me that he and our sister were going to visit our parents' graves today. It's a month since we lost Ma. He also wrote that when he's at work, he'll reach for the phone to give her a call. Then it hits him that there is no one there to call.

It will just take time.

We've had at least one dog for the past 37 years. You just gets used to certain routines when you have a dog or two. One routine is being howled at when you come home. We recently went out for an evening. When we returned, we tensed up, expecting barking and yelping when we opened the door.


The house was so quiet. I didn't like the yowling and shrieking. It sounded like they were being attacked. But now it's just too damn quiet.

It will just take time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Traditional Way To Go by Margaret Ullrich

We also saw The Godfather last weekend.

What is there about a good old-fashioned Italian funeral that brings out the worst in people? I'm not talking about folks in the background arranging to kill anybody while the dearly departed is being lowered. Traditional funerals just seems to lead to problems.

The "Paulie's Mother's Funeral" segment of an episode of The Sopranos was a little too close to home. When Paulie was angry about the poor turnout and being stuck with a few hundred holy pictures, I felt like somebody had finally exposed one of my family's well kept secrets.

A funeral is a person's final popularity contest.

My Aunt Betty, by marriage, had a doozy of a memorial service. She was a second-generation American, with dozens of cousins, 2 married daughters, 3 married grandchildren, 2 single grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren. Along with in-laws, she had tons of friends. She also had a married brother with his own descendants, including great-grandchildren. There was lots of laughing as they reminisced about all the good times they'd had.

My parents thought it wasn't a proper way to conduct a funeral. Way too much fun.

Ma kept to herself all her life, no matter how much we tried to encourage her to make friends. In her final years we begged her to go to the Senior Centre which was a block away from her house. She and Grandma (her mother) had the attitude that nothing in America was as good as in Malta. My sister Rose and brother George took that into account and just planned for a one day wake with the funeral the next day. Since she kept to herself, there weren't many who knew her.

I had invited Ma to come up for a change of scenery in February after Pop died. She had come up for a few weeks after her mother had died in 1978. I had mentioned that other elderly people we knew spent part of the year with their children in different parts of the country. Ma always hated cold weather. I reminder her that Winnipeg does get nice weather from May to October and that she was welcome to spend summers here.

We also suggested she move to a seniors' residence - in College Point or Florida or Malta - when she complained about being lonely due to George's long work hours. At least there would've been people her age around whom she could visit. She insisted on living with George.

Because of her attitude, there wasn't anyone George could have called to check on Ma when she didn't answer his phonecall from work.

George said Ma's funeral went as well as could be expected. He didn't say how many holy pictures were left.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Halloween and 10% Tuesday by Margaret Ullrich

This year Halloween was different without a dog. Paul didn't have to stay upstairs puppysitting so the kids wouldn't be frightened by a barking dog. Folks in our neighborhood keep track of the numbers we get so we'll have an idea of how much candy we'll need next year. This year we got 95 kids. Twenty-one years ago we had over 200 kids. The neighborhood is greying. Since the houses are about 1000 sq. ft. they're not too big for empty nesters.

Last Tuesday was 10% Tuesday. It was everybody's stock up day. I bumped into a few people who asked why they hadn't seen Bobo recently and I had to tell them that Bobo had passed away.

A couple we know from church met me at Sobey's. Marty likes to joke around. Last month he and Sylvia were behind me in line and Marty started yelling, "Hey, lady, move faster. I ain't got all day." I snarled back, "That's too damn bad." The poor kid at the register looked scared. Then Marty and I laughed and chatted. Guess the kid thought we had Alzheimer's.

Last Tuesday Marty said, "Hey, I saw your dog running around. I called the pound." I told him that Bobo had passed away. He went white. Guess the word hasn't spread in our parish. Marty, Sylvia and I talked about deceased dogs and parents. Their dogs had passed away when they were about Bobo's age.

We never realized how lucky we'd been with the other four. We honestly thought all dogs lived to their mid-teens.

In Safeway a neighbor came to me and said, "I haven't seen your husband in a few weeks. Is he okay?" I told Frank about Bobo. Bobo had certain routes he liked to walk with each of us so he could cover the neighborhood. Frank wasn't on my route, even though he just lives around the corner.

Last Tuesday also reminded me of Ma because I usually picked up doubles of recipe cards and sent a set to her. I don't think she ever used them, but she liked getting new ideas. Last Tuesday I only got one of each.

Life goes on.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Autumn In My Garden by Margaret Ullrich

We had some nice weather this weekend so we did some more yard work. While Paul raked the leaves, I pruned the lilacs and our 2 cotoneasters. Maybe next year the tulips that grow near the cotoneasters will get enough sun to give us some flowers.

The yard looks so bare in the fall. Durng the summer it was overgrown. It's hard to believe that a few heavy rains can give such a boost to all the 'volunteer' plants. How and why do gardens look so neat and tidy in the gardening books?

I've been gardening for 37 years. I have to confess my garden never looks neat or tidy. I try to pass it off as "a cottage garden".

Whom am I kidding?

I plant seeds. I'm so grateful when something comes up. I don't know whether it's from the seeds I planted or some new weed filling in my garden. I let everything grow since I'm not sure what they are. When the "Maybe that's lettuce" gets a dandelion flower, then I know. I've been tenderly watering a weed.

We did have some success with our fruits and vegetables. We had lots of tomatoes. Maybe that's the secret. I bought the tomatoes as plants. Grown plants. No mystery there. Some of them even came with tiny yellow flowers. I dug a hole, inserted the 8-inch plant, covered it with dirt, then put a cage around each and every plant.

I have to admit I'm clueless when it comes to seeds.

Resolved: stick to actual plants. No more guessing games. Buy a plant that comes with a label... maybe even flowers.

Yes, there's always next year's garden.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

BoBo Is Remembered by Margaret Ullrich

I was just thinking about last Sunday and the Communion of Saints. I'm also totally comfortable with the whole idea of a huge group of living people all together, looking over our shoulders and caring about us. Our neighborhood is like that.

Over the years our neighbors got used to seeing Paul and me walking our dogs. But people really took note when Paul and I were walking our bichon frises, Popcorn and BoBo. Even though there was a ten-year age gap, Popcorn and Bobo were often mistaken for siblings.

After Popcorn died people stopped us and asked what had happened to our other dog. Once, when I was walking BoBo, a lady who didn't speak English approached me. She kept two fingers up and pointed her other hand at BoBo. Finally I understood. She was asking about our dogs. I gestured with one finger up and shook my head. Finally she understood and patted my arm.

BoBo needed two hours of steady walking, so Paul and I walked him separately in one-hour shifts. Since Paul and I still need our one-hour walk after Bobo died, we've decided to walk together. On Sunday, after Mass, we walked down one street and around our local pond. Because the weather was blustery, none of our neighbors or their dogs were out.

But that didn't mean we went unnoticed.

When we were heading back home, a friend who owns a pekinese came out of her house and called to us. She said that another friend who owns a poodle and a bichon had noticed us walking together. The poodle owner had guessed that we would be passing the pekinese's house on our way home. Where was BoBo? We explained and then we reminisced.

Our parish has an All Saints custom. There's a large book by the side of the altar. Before and after mass during November people can write the names of friends and family members who have passed away. I was sad when I wrote my parents' names in the book. It was so sudden. Last year they were alive.

Paul also wrote the names of friends and relatives in the book. Finally he wrote "B. Ullrich".

I hope our other dogs understand.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Our Dogs by Margaret Ullrich

How did we become "the people with the dogs"?

In 1973 we were living in Surrey, British Columbia. Paul was working for a weekly newspaper and, because he had an irregular schedule, on Thursdays he came home at midnight. That particular Thursday I had spent canning peaches. Paul came in and a small brown animal scurried in with him. It was so small, we thought it was a rat. It turned out to be a spaniel pomeranian pup, about two months old.

After we dried her and fed her, she stumbled toward the empty box of B. C. peaches - in which we had placed a blanket - and promptly went to sleep. As near as we could figure, she was too small to have run away, so someone must have dumped her in the countryside. So, the next morning we named her Peaches.

Peaches was a girl with personality. Remember the blowsy spaniel with Peggy Lee's voice in Disney's Lady and the Tramp? Well, she reminds me of Peaches. Peaches had a certain style. Maybe in her heart she knew she'd been a love child. Any chance she got she'd sneak under fences and look for adventure. When we told her to "Do Bogart" she'd give out with a big toothy smile. She was a cosmopolitan lady who did it all. When we camped in the Rockies, she came along. When we flew to New York City and stayed in hotels, she came along. She was a dog of the world.

A few years after we moved to Winnipeg I decided to take some courses. We didn't want to leave Peaches alone, so we went to the pound to get her a companion. There we saw a bearded collie pup who had been a guest for as long as the city would allow. The clerk said the pup was scheduled to be put down. Not while the Ullrichs were there he wasn't! We brought him home and for some dumb reason, named him Herb.

When the Queen came in 1984 we had Peaches and Herb. For those who weren't into the disco scene, Peaches and Herb were a hot duo in the 70s. Remember "For Your Love" and "Shake Your Groove Thing"? Neither do I. I didn't plan to name my dogs after such a bad act. I just went with the flow.

Herb was a docile, sweet natured fellow who really came into his own when our son arrived. Herbie was a sheep dog and he took to babysitting like Nana did in Disney's Peter Pan.

When Peaches passed away in 1987 we thought we'd simplify our lives and have just one dog. That lasted until we had to go to the pet store for some medicine for our son's goldfish. Don't ever bring a kid to a pet store! The clerk put a cocker spaniel pup in Carl's arms, Carl reminded us his ninth birthday was around the corner and, you guessed it, we went home with a cocker spaniel.

Silky was the picture of Disney's cocker spaniel, Lady. And she knew it. Pull a camera out and she'd pose. But where Peaches gave out with big smiles, Silky perfected what came to be known as "Snarly Face". No kidding, she had an expression that you wouldn't want to see on some hulking guy in a dark alley.

Silky had attitude, a direct approach and a taste for makeup. Once we took her with us when we went to see "Shakespeare in the Park". There were some heavily made-up ballet dancers sitting on the sidelines, waiting their turn to perform. Silky made a beeline for one slender miss - ballet dancers are so tiny! - and knocked her over. Then Silky licked all the makeup off the girl. Luckily the dancer thought it was funny.

Silky wasn't what anyone would call a hunter. Do you remember when the wave petunia hit gardeners? I thought it would be a nice theme, so I bought lots of petunias - some waving, some just standing there. Either way, they were sitting ducks for the local bush bunnies. I tried to rescue 24 petunias by digging 24 alyssums out of the planter box, replacing the alyssums with the petunias and vice versa. I got a lot of exercise. So did the bunnies. They came, spotted the petunias in the planter and, quicker than you could say jack rabbit, hopped up 18 inches and ate the petunias. I let Silky out. Silky and the bunnies played hide and seek around the box, until Silky got tired and went to nap under the tree. Huh... Hunting dog, my Aunt Patootie.

When Herbie joined his Peaches, home didn't seem right with just one dog. So, back to the store. Paul had always had his heart set on having a sheltie. Instead we found a bichon frise who reminded us of Herbie. We named him Popcorn because he could jump like popcorn when it's being popped. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Popcorn was only a few years younger than Silky, but it was deja vu all over again. Silky called the shots and Popcorn followed her lead. Popcorn's laid back style confused Silky. Silky wanted, no, needed to approach people. She loved kids, especially when they were small and holding food. But, sometimes her in your face approach scared the kids. Popcorn just stood shyly to one side. Within minutes, kids would be all over him, eager to pet "the quiet one". Popcorn beamed and got petted, while Silky seethed and stood alone. To the end, she never caught on to his technique.

A few months after Silky passed away, BoBo, another bichon frise, joined our family. I thought that since he was a bichon, his personality would be similar to Popcorn's. Nope. BoBo had his own style. While Popcorn stood with quiet dignity with front paws pointed straight ahead, Bobo looked like a drunken ballet dancer doing a first position. Only a blind person with a death wish would have wanted a seeing-eye dog like BoBo. He had to check out everything he saw when we took him for a walk. It was "Over here... No, no, over there."

The first summer we had BoBo I bought 4 packets of seedtape. That's 60 feet of alyssum. I prepared the soil, made the rows, tore and unrolled the strips, covered and watered. Our new bichon puppy, Bobo, watched my every move. The next day, while having lunch, we were gazing out our kitchen's picture window. Bobo and our 10 year old bichon, Popcorn, were frolicking. Ah, spring. It was a lovely sight. It was... until Bobo raced across with long green ribbons gripped in his mouth. The ribbons were waving in the breeze. Bobo looked like a Korean ribbon dancer in a puppy Folklorama pavillion. I checked. He'd managed to dig up every alyssum seed tape. Maybe he'd been a dancer in another life.

About the only trait our dogs shared was that of avoiding the doghouse. It was one of the first things we had installed when we moved to our present home 21 years ago. Paul built it from a kit and used some of the leftover shingles from our new garage. It was a beauty.

Herbie and Silky never went near it. I planted flowers near the door for some curb appeal. Still no takers. Figuring they needed a hint I put a plastic spaniel in the doorway. Herbie and Silky didn't even bother pushing the imposter over.

After Herbie died we got Popcorn. Silky taught him the house rules. Popcorn never went near the doghouse. That plastic spaniel lived alone in that doghouse until the year we got Bobo. Well, Bobo was an assertive little fellow. After spotting that fake in the doghouse Bobo barked his head off. Finally, I thought, we had a dog who'd use the doghouse. I removed the statue. BoBo stepped in, looked around, walked out and never went back.

Bobo was an Ullrich dog, alright.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Saints and Ghosts by Margaret Ullrich

Paul and I were lectors at mass today. Funny how sometimes things just happen at the right time. Father's sermon was on the Communion of Saints, about how loved ones who've passed away are now with God and the other saints. It was almost like going to a funeral mass.

I don't know if I'm simple minded or what, but I'm totally comfortable with the whole idea of a huge group of people all together, looking over our shoulders and caring about us.

Last week I got an e mail from my cousin. She'd written about my sister Rose telling her that Ma'd been saying that she saw Pop everywhere. Ma had told Pop's sister that she'd been looking out the window and, when she turned around, she'd seen Pop sitting on the couch. The day Ma died she'd told Rose that she didn't know that Pop had the day off. Alice said that Ma had really meant that she saw Pop.

I wasn't surprised. Ma had this hobby of seeing dead people. Maybe she was the inspiration for Ghostwhisperer.

In 1993 Ma told us she'd had a dream in which she was in her kitchen talking to Paul's Mom, who had died 5 years earlier. Ma was telling her that they were coming to visit us.

Paul's Mom had told Ma, "How about if you buy Paul some twinkies. He used to love those when he was a kid." Then Paul's Mom disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Years earlier Paul had told his Mom that twinkies and other snack foods weren't available in Canada. But Ma wouldn't have known that. Ma bought the twinkies and brought them for Paul.

Then there was the time I was in New York for Ma's mother's funeral in 1978. Ma came down one morning and said, "I feel so much better now. I talked to Grandma. The first thing I told Grandma was 'Ma, I miss you so much.'
Grandma said, 'What for? I'm gone. You have to get on with your life.' "
And that made Ma feel better.

My parents had a good long run and I'm grateful for that. Pop's brother Tony and Tony's son had died before they reached 50.

Nobody knows how long he'll have.

Live now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changes by Margaret Ullrich

The next morning at Mass our friends were a great comfort. Some had met my parents. Many are also neighbors and will miss seeing BoBo during his walks, too.

BoBo had had a good week, full of turkey, Burger King, long walks, a chance to 'threaten' the Bathfitter guy and a ride to Portage la Prairie.

We're slowly changing the schedule we've had for quite a few years.

Instead of taking the dog(s) for a walk individually, Paul and I are taking a walk together. We still need our exercise.

Life will be simpler, but we didn't think we'd become total empty nesters for another 7 years or so. We suddenly feel like we're in our mid 60s. Well, life is full of changes.

As they say, embrace the change.

We're slowly getting used to our new lifestyle.

Last Thursday we went to Gimli. For the first time in about 37 years we were able to walk on a beach together (dogs are usually not allowed). We were also able to browse in different places together instead of taking turns.

It's a whole new way of living.

It doesn't take much for us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy by Margaret Ullrich

On the evening of October 16 Paul went to the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute to set up his trains. His exhibit of larger scale trains was usually very popular with the younger children. He came home shortly before 10:00 pm.

Bobo was his old self, rushing to see him and barking his head off. I gave Paul a marrow bone to give to BoBo.

"Why'd you give me this?" Paul asked.
"Just for the hell of it."

It was the last thing BoBo ever ate.

Saturday, October 17, was the first day of the Train Club's Open House. I went to the Safeway at 7:00 am to pick up some fruit for Paul to eat at the show.

BoBo seemed comfortable but wasn't interested in eating or going for a walk. We just thought he was tired. Paul went to the Open House while I did some chores. BoBo moved around the main floor quite a bit.

First he was on his chair in the kitchen. He pulled his old trick on me. He was the only dog we ever had that liked to lie on his back. I always wanted to get a picture of him doing that. But, whenever he heard a camera focusing he would roll onto his stomach. So, I took a picture of him at 10 am just laying on his stomach on the chair.

BoBo also napped behind the chair, by the sink, in the powder room, by the front closet and, finally, by the desk (another favourite for him - he liked to lay by the desk with his head between the desk and the chair). He had his little quirks.

When I checked BoBo around 4:00 pm he was breathing steadily. Paul got home a little after 5:00 pm. Bobo didn't greet him. I thought he was sleeping. I asked Paul about the number of people attending. Paul answered, while keeping an eye on Bobo. Paul went over to the desk and put his hand on our dog. BoBo wasn't breathing, and his body was already getting cold.

BoBo had gone in his sleep.

Another roller coaster... The Winnipeg Model Railroad Club's Great Canadian Train Show and Flea Market had 600 people. Last year it was 400. I was the new public relations person for the train club. Success.

Big Deal.

BoBo was gone.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life on a Roller Coaster by Margaret Ullrich

Paul's animated cartoon 'The Bicycle Lesson' has been accepted for screening at 'The 2009 Silver Wave Film Festival' in New Brunswick. Also, Dustin Anderson of 'International Bike Shorts' which were screened last week. They might use it in next year's 'International Shorts 2010' and be included in their tour.

Ma would've gotten a kick out of all this. She hardly ever got out of College Point, a small town in Queens, New York. She liked to hear about our small successes, even though she'd never heard of half the places we mentioned.

Now I can't tell her any of our news.

Wednesday, October 14 had been damp and cold. We were going to take a small drive, but decided against it. So I walked BoBo and went about our usual business.

Bobo was still enjoying the turkey and was up to his old tricks. He had this game he liked to play with me. I usually sit in the right corner of the couch, near the table and lamp. Whenever I got up, BoBo liked to steal that spot, then give me a "Who me?" look when I returned.

After lunch I picked the last of our vegetables and cleaned the yard while Paul took BoBo for a walk. When I went to the kitchen, I noticed the light on our phone was blinking. My sister had phoned. Ma had passed away. Our brother George had tried to called her from work. When he didn't get an answer, he drove for an hour and a half from Manhattan to College Point. It looked like her heart had stopped.

In a way Ma's death was a blessing and an answer to her prayers. My parents had married in 1948 and immigrated to America in 1950. Pop passed away this past January. Pop's last years hadn't been good. He was in poor health with heart and kidney problems, arthritis and diabetes. The days had turned into an endless round of doctors' visits. Ma also hated the winter weather in New York and always said she'd never gotten used to it.

During one of my parents' visits, Vince Leah and his wife died within a few days of each other. Since he'd worked with Vince at The Free Press, Paul had gone to the funeral. I remember Ma saying how lucky Mrs. Leah was, that she would want to go the same way, too.

Most of the relatives Ma's age had passed away. Ma kept to herself, no matter how much we encouraged her to make friends or to at least go to the Senior Centre which was a block away. My sister and brother took that into account and just planned for a 1 day wake instead of the traditional 3 day viewing. The funeral was scheduled for Saturday.

When we talked to my siblings, my sister Rose, who had moved out years ago and is married, was calm. George had never married and had lived with our parents all his life. He was very upset, although he was trying his best to regain his composure. He explained how he tried to call Ma several times, but there was no answer. He rushed home and found her dead. He called the cops, who came and left. Ma's doctor signed the death certificate. George kept repeating, "It's the end of everything."

Life can be weird. Ma's older by 2 years sister, Stella, still lives in Malta. She has survived her sister and 2 younger brothers. George told me that she'd just had a pacemaker put in.

Our cousin John will break the news to her gently.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Film and a Burial by Margaret Ullrich

Life has turned into a roller coaster.

This should be a really up time for us. Tuesday night we went to the Cinematheque. Paul's animated cartoon 'The Bicycle Lesson' was screened as part of 'The Bike Shorts Film Festival'. There was also an exhibition of bike-related art and art work done by Tim Hunt, a bicyclist who had passed away. The other 3 bike films from Winnipeg were interesting, too. It was a nice evening out.

In addition to the screening on Tuesday, 'The Bicycle Lesson' will also be shown on October 30, at the Cinematheque, as part of 'The Get Animated! Film Festival - The Devil Wore a Paper Hat: New Winnipeg Animation'. It has also been selected to screen at 'The Sharp Cuts Indie Film and Music Festival' November 13 to 15 in Guelph, Ontario.

Like I said, this should be a really up time for us. But, of course, it's not.

Yesterday we buried our dog BoBo. We had to wait until the weather was drier than the overcast damp we've had for the past week. We're both pushing 60 and have arthritis.

Paul dug the grave near where our other two dogs, Silky and Pocorn, are buried. Silky, our cocker spaniel, passed away in 2001 from heart failure. She was almost 13. Popcorn, our first bichon frise, died in 2006. He was a little more than 15 years old. That's 3 dogs lost in 8 years.

It was cloudy. But, after BoBo was buried the sun came out. He would've liked that.

Friends say we should get another dog.

I can't go through this again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just one week ago... by Margaret Ullrich

Could it really only have been seven days?

We'd had a nice Thanksgiving. We were particularly grateful because our 8-year-old bichon frise, BoBo, was still with us. Paul walked him while I was preparing the turkey dinner. Paul thought Bobo would only be able to do a short walk, so he meandered in the neighborhood instead of heading north or west. BoBo knows the neighborhood so well that, when he sees that he's being headed home, he pulls in the opposite direction.

BoBo wolfed down a generous portion of turkey. We decided to feed him whatever he wanted. He hated the special diet the vet had us giving him since April, when he was first diagnosed with having liver problems. BoBo wouldn't touch anything higher than 1 part medical food to 1 1/2 parts Beneful.

It was hard to believe he had cancer.

The previous Wednesday BoBo had suddenly had a seizure. My husband called the vet for an appointment. The next day he took BoBo to the vet for some blood work and was told to return the next day.

The next morning Bobo had another fit. Paul took him to the vet for x rays. We'd never had a dog have a serious medical problem at such a young age, so we still hoped the vet would find the right medicine for him.

The news wasn't good. BoBo had liver cancer. Paul saw the x ray - BoBo's enlarged liver was pressing on his other organs. The vet gave us pills and a liquid (squirted by syringe into BoBo's mouth 3 times a day) to control the seizures and keep him comfortable. BoBo seemed okay.

We took BoBo for a walk and talked about how life was going to change. For 37 years we'd had at least one dog with all that entails: does a motel accept dogs, going to see a tourist sight solo while the other stayed out with the dogs, not leaving them alone for more than 4 hours, somebody there to take a walk at regular intervals no matter the weather, getting up at night to let a dog out to pee, cleaning up after them.

Then, on Friday evening, BoBo had terrible seizures that lasted while Paul was out and during most of the night. We gave BoBo the medicine to control the seizures, but we were afraid to leave him alone in case he had another. What about going to church, the dentist, etc.?

By Saturday BoBo couldn't walk far. What shocked us was how suddenly this all happened. On Friday we had taken him for an hour long walk, now he just very slowly walked a little in the yard. Other than that, he seemed comfortable.

On Sunday we drove to Portage la Prairie to see the deer and walk in the park surrounded by the lake. At first BoBo seemed sleepy, so we thought it would just be a 5 minute look around and that we would have to carry him. Then BoBo suddenly perked up and wanted to explore. We walked around the arboretum, the water slide park and the pond. He even wanted to approach the kids we saw. He was on the go for over an hour.

Then we went to our traditional spot - Dairy Queen. BoBo still had an appetite for their fries and burger, with a few spoonfuls of pumpkin pie blizzard for dessert. After that he wanted another walk. He had a good night and peed and pooped twice.

Last Tuesday, the day after Thanksgiving, the Bathfitter came to do our bathroom. Bobo insisted on an hour and a half walk and saw many of his friends. After lunch BoBo wanted another hour and a half walk. He also barked at the Bathfitter man, who laughed and said he'd also had a bichon who thought he was bigger than he actually was.

We thought BoBo would be with us for a while. Our other bichon frise, Popcorn, had also been diagnosed with liver cancer. We remembered how we had been nervous for a few months. We'd gone to Riding Mountain for a week and brought 3 large garbage bags in case Popcorn died during our stay. He'd survived about 6 months after his diagnosis.

So, we decided to take it one day at a time.