June 27, 2012

A Letter to Nora Ephron

My son came out of his room this morning with an announcement. "Nora Ephron died, Mom." When I asked him how he found out he gave me an odd look and said, "IMDB" which is the film website he frequents. It took a moment to sort things out in my mind. It was early after all, and I'm always a little foggy in the a.m.

"Goodness! She wasn't very old."

"71" he said. Just two years younger than my mom.

"I suppose you could say she had a full and rewarding life..." still trying to grapple with the fact of her death.

"Well yeah, she wrote some of your favourite movies of all time," he said, a bit forcefully.

"Yes, yes she did. Oh, that's a shame." And I realized there would be no more When Harry met Sally's, no more Julie and Julia's. I felt a bit like a deflated balloon.

If I could emulate any writer it just might be Nora Ephron. Not too long ago I thought about writing her a letter to thank her for her wonderful gift of inspiration to people like me, people trying to be writers. Her wit was amazing, her comic timing was classic, her characters were warm and wonderful and very human, and her respect for the film as a genre showed in all her movies. She loved old movies and frequently used them as a sort of cameo role in her films.

That letter was never written, so I'm writing it now.

Dear Ms. Ephron,

Thank you so very much for your contribution to the world of film. I cannot tell you how much I loved When Harry met Sally. Whenever I see the film, which is fairly regularly, I get more out of it. You managed to say more about friendship and the nature of real love in that film than others managed in five of theirs put together. You achieved that with tenderness, humour, wonderful writing, and a great sense of style (and a little help from Rob Reiner). The film is a feast for the eyes with its New York seasons, costumes and superb interior scenes.

I watched the interview with you on the special features of my DVD edition of Sleepless in Seattle. I loved how you decided to design the whole film, costumes, sets, props, etc. to be as timeless as possible, and it worked. The film is classic for it. The kid makes the film so much better, too. I know you had two sons and I wondered if he was based on either of them, since his wit matched yours pretty well to a tee...?

I won't say much about You've got Mail, except that it didn't really work all that well in my view and I won't insult you by pretending it did. I do appreciate what you were trying to do there to make a sort of modern day Pride and Prejudice as well as resurrect the chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks which worked so well in Sleepless in Seattle, but it fell a bit flat. I like the children's book store setting, and the costumes though. A lot. There are some great comedic moments, too, just not enough of them.

What can I say about Julie and Julia? I love food, I love good, honest writing, I love good acting. What's not to love about the film? Somehow you managed to make a movie which appealed to the various sensibilities of modern young women, their mothers and even their grandmothers. My fifteen year old daughter has been vocal enough about her enjoyment of the film to prompt her co-worker at the dental office to give her her own set of Julia Child cookbooks.

I've never seen Silkwood and I saw Heartburn too long ago to comment on it. I plan to see both of them soon, though, and probably won't feel complete until I have.

Your legacy is a great one. I and your many, many fans around the world will continue to enjoy your films - some of the best 'chick flicks' ever written. You knew how to deliver a happy ending, and God knows we can all use more of those these days.

With love and admiration for your rare talent, I remain forever your devoted fan,

Rebecca S.

June 21, 2012

On the First Day of Summer I....

...took some photos and spent as much time out of doors as I could manage. Our June has been a rainy one with the sunny days few and far between. We are nearing the end of a vast stretch of two in a row and I know the plants are enjoying reaching up to a sun that is free enough of cloud to reach equally down to them. Despite the rains we have growth, particularly of the lawn and weeds, and blossoms. The roses and chives have been quite happy, the heat loving basil not so much.

A rainy June is typical for this part of the country, and preferable, to me anyway, to the scorching temperatures and horrible humidity presently suffered by friends in Ontario. One such friend is pregnant and due in September. On Facebook the other day, she asked the question: "Highly pregnant + heat wave = a dress made of ice packs. C'mon wardrobe folk, anyone got one?" Several suggestions from the sublime to the ridiculous ensued and, as usual, my friend provided comedic relief for all her many connections, while on this side of the country I was serving warm soup for supper and wondering if my shorts and sundresses would see the light of day anytime soon.

As it happens, it was warm enough for shorts by late afternoon yesterday as I wandered around the garden looking for subjects. The bees were busy as, well, bees in the raspberries, which love a wet spring followed by a sunny stretch in which to ripen. I'm crossing my fingers...

What they say about roses loving garlic seems to be true, and I look forward to harvesting our little crop in July. For now, there is some new garlic available at the farmer's market which takes place in a downtown parking lot every Thursday afternoon from June through September.

When I had finished wandering around the garden taking photos, I decided to do some 'small g' gardening. Of course, being a blogger, I had to take some photos of my equipment:

The knee pad really makes weeding and planting more comfortable

This bucket fills quickly with weeds and clippings and has to be
emptied into the green waste compost at the back of the yard often.

When I was done my hour of weeding and trimming, I went back into the house to serve a supper of blessed leftovers. I retired early to bed with my chosen novel. I believe the bulk of my summer reading should be light and escapist, the kind of stories in which the sun shines on the Grecian pines and white sand beaches, and where the rain only happens in suitably romantic moments. This section of my bookshelf fits the bill. Guess which one I'm on? 

Happy Summer!

June 15, 2012

A Lesson in Pain Management

When my mother and her contemporaries had a baby, they were kept in the hospital for four to five days. They were coached and aided in every way to ensure proper healing and were encouraged to use the time given to rest up for the task of motherhood ahead. Apparently, it was when I was born that my mother first met the woman and mother of thirteen children who was to be my godmother. They shared a room in the maternity ward and by the end of the week they knew each other well enough to be friends for life.When my first child was born at Grace Hospital, which is now Vancouver Women's, I was well looked after for the first twenty four hours, my every need attended to - until the next shift change when a new and nasty nurse appeared. She was quite certain I exaggerated my pain and overall weakness from losing a lot of blood during the birth, quite sure that I was ready to go home after only one night in the hospital. When my doctor made his rounds and heard about her aim to get me out of there, he put his foot down and insisted to the ward that I be allowed to stay a second night. My husband, just as new to parenthood as I, was unsure as to how to advocate for me and was immensely relieved to have our doctor take matters into his own hands.

Last weekend, my husband had to undergo emergency surgery. The kidney stone he had been battling for three weeks had originally been diagnosed as 4 mm and thus small enough to pass through the urinary tract on its own. He had been to one emergency ward already and our own family doctor, been prescribed specific medications to aid in passing the stone, and told to drink plenty of water. Last Friday my husband endured several hours of intense pain as we thought he was going to pass the stone at last. When the pain increased I called our doctor's office which advised us to take him to the hospital for 'pain management' - a term I had not heard before but was to learn the meaning of fully and soon. We went to the emergency ward at the small hospital in the nearest town - we have no hospital here - where we were to spend the next eighteen hours. Hooked up by intravenous to a morphine drip, my husband was able to relax enough to lie down and sleep off and on. After the first x-ray it was 'good news - the stone is making its way out.' It was just a matter of time, and they would take another x-ray in the morning. In the morning, myself having caught a few tiny winks with my head on the bed, the x-ray showed 'bad news - the stone is stuck,' and they called the urologist, who said, "Send him to me." An ambulance was dispatched and my husband was transported to Abbotsford Regional where he was again put on intravenous pain medication and sat in an easy chair to await the consultation. He told me to go home and sleep and wait for his call. The call came at 4:00  pm that afternoon. My husband would be going into surgery momentarily to undergo a uteroscopic stone removal operation for what was now determined to be a 6 mm stone, and would be in recovery by 7:30 pm as an outpatient. A bit more rested and having cooked a good dinner for my children, I enlisted our eldest son, Ian to drive me to Abbotsford, as I was still a bit bleary eyed. We arrived just after my husband had been brought up for recovery to the surgical ward, which that evening was fairly quiet and not at all full as far as I could see. As the general anaesthetic wore off the pain became unbearable, and soon my poor husband was off the bed and pacing around the room, unable to rest and sleep which he so badly needed to do. Off I went to the nurse's station.

I was most polite - you do attract more bees with honey. "Um, excuse me, my husband is in a great deal of pain. I wonder if you might tell me what pain medication he has been given." The nurse assigned to us, a seasoned professional by the looks of it, assured me she'd be with us momentarily, which she was, and gave him two Tylenol 3's for his pain. He continued to pace and groan. An hour later I appealed to the nurse again, telling her in no uncertain terms and on the verge of tears there was no way my husband should be expected to endure this pain. By 9 pm they finally gave him the morphine. He collapsed on the bed and slept for the next hour and a half, besides the times when the nurse came in to check his vitals (blood pressure, temperature, etc.). Ian had gone for a long walk and I went in search of some tea, which I found thanks to the nurses offering me some from their kitchen. Ian brought me back a KitKat as well, which we shared. In that time, I realized that as an outpatient, unless he was exhibiting signs of infection or complications my husband would be expected to go home with us as soon as he possibly could. By midnight his pain seemed stabilized and the nurse was sure he would be ready to go very soon. She was not unkind, in fact she was quite maternal and sweet, but she had orders to follow and was doing her best to follow them. She took out her clipboard and went over a form, checking off the criteria needed to release my husband. We signed the release papers as there was nothing else to be done and with Ian very tired by then, I drove the forty five minutes home.

The next twelve hours were not too bad for my husband but by Sunday afternoon he was in so much pain that the prescribed morphine tablets were no longer of any use. I drove him to the emergency ward where we had been the Friday night for more 'pain management'. Hooked up this time to some wonder drug the pain melted away and my poor husband was again able to rest. The doctor on call was very good and made certain we knew we could stay as long as we needed, and only when everything seemed greatly improved and she had made a call to the urologist who prescribed better medication over the phone, did she ask us politely if we wanted to go home. We did, and we have not had to return to the hospital since. We have been able to manage the pain at home with the help of generous friends who have given us special tea which in Germany they give to kidney stone patients and probiotic fiber, homemade yogurt and beautiful flowers and messages of love to cheer us up.

My husband seems to have 'turned the corner' today in his recovery and so now I am able to relax enough to reflect properly on the experience we have had. Spending hours upon hours in the various hospitals has been a lesson in itself. It is only natural that the doctors start patients off with the mildest pain medications possible, because they do not as yet know the pain threshold of the patient, and the mildest form may do the trick or it may not. I am also aware of the fact that some patients have addiction issues and drugs must be prescribed with due consideration. I understand that the medical system is taxed and struggling with efficiencies and bottom lines, and patients who have undergone 'minor surgery' need not stay for long in the hospital, that they will probably be more comfortable at home in their own beds. What I do have a hard time with is the fact that the surgeon did not visit or call my husband at any time after the surgery - other surgeons have when he had his two knee surgeries. It would have been rather good to be able to ask him questions in person instead of attempting to communicate with him through his secretary. It would have been good to know what to expect for recovery and to have a ball park figure of how long my husband would be off work. Instead, I had to consult the internet which is full of people's postings of worst case scenarios and not terribly informative in our case. I had to make a call to the urologist's office on Monday after the surgery, to make an appointment for a required two week follow up to remove the stent which was implanted during the surgery. I was told the surgeon was fully booked for the month of June and we would not be able to see him until July 10th. I've made an appointment with our family doctor in the meantime to see what he can do to hurry up the long wait ahead. I do not like to think how my husband would have managed if he were on his own, if I were not there to advocate for him when he was too drugged to process information coherently.

I know that we have just endured what most people endure at one time or another in their lives. We all have to go through these episodes of ill health and of extended pain - the downside of being human I suppose. I am grateful my husband was able to have the surgery so quickly and that it was successful. I am grateful I was able to advocate for him, to care for him and to cook healthy food for him. I am even more grateful today that he seems to be more comfortable than he has been in a week, and that the Eurocup has been on television to keep his mind on something else besides his pain. I do, however, think the health care system here must realize that patients and their families need some more post-operative support, even if it is just a follow up call with some verbal reassurance that all will be well. We have a good health care system in Canada, but like any other system, it should always be open to improvement.

June 11, 2012

Summer, Sweet Summer

If I were to compare the year to the cycle of a washing machine, then this time of year, the end of the school year, would be the spin cycle. It seems everyone around me is spinning and spinning with the busy-ness of life, but holding on tightly until the madness stops in hopes that they, like a line of washing can soon stretch out to move only with the calm and ease of a gentle summer breeze.

I see it in my children most of all. This time of year their schoolmates, restless and tired of schoolwork and routine act up and make the day that much more difficult. The teachers are also growing tired and perhaps do not act fairly in all situations, which frustrates and provokes my teenagers and their friends, whom I am sure are a bit testy and impatient in return. As the year's activities come to an end we celebrate with recitals and concerts, tournaments and lunches out for parent volunteers. The very things that kept us and our children motivated, busy and happy all year long, become, if not tiresome, just one more thing to keep track of. By the end of June, our schedules winding down, we make room on our calendars for completely different events: summer barbecues, impromptu beach days, family road trips and berry picking; easy mornings with coffee on the deck and a run before the heat of the day sets in and frosty drinks in the afternoon before a light supper of salads and fresh bread from the farmers market.

I remember well from my own childhood that sense of completion of yet another school year. The summer seemed to stretch endlessly in front of me, formless and beautiful and full of light. Full of endless possibilities. Once I was old enough to be let loose on my own I spent day after day with friends at the beautiful shady parks and sandy beaches of our hometown. And those days, as I remember them, were hot enough to think of frying an egg on the sidewalk. We would walk the mile or so down to the beach and spend the day sunning ourselves on the hot, dry sand in between dips in the refreshingly cold glacier fed lake. If we had a bit of money we would buy drinks or popsicles from the canteen in the park above the beach. If we had lots of money we went for ice cream at the Dairy Queen up the street. If we had no money we would bring snacks from home. When the sun began to travel towards the western mountains we would pack up our beach bag with our sun lotion if we had any, our towels and books, and begin the long uphill trudge back home in our bathing suits and shorts. By the time we reached Gyro Park our backs would be dripping with sweat from the heat, the moisture gathering at the waistband of our shorts. Until we were twelve we could go in the pool, and it was free of charge - and still is. The water was freezing but we would dive straight in, the enveloping cold more welcome than anything we could imagine at that moment. Refreshed once again, we would make the final trek home, just a few blocks more. On very hot days, I would go under our garden sprinkler while I waited for the call for supper. I practically lived in my bathing suit in those summers, and it was glorious.

The beach where I spent much of my summer holidays

A few times every summer my family would go to Champion Lakes or Kokanee Park for the whole day. The food preparation would go on all the previous day, and early in the morning the coolers would be packed full of sandwiches and fruit, tarts and cookies. We would arrive at  the lake early enough to claim a favourite spot on the beach under the trees. The water there was crystal clear and pleasant for swimming. We spent all our time in the water when we were there, apart from when we were eating or laying stretched out on the sand with sand pillows under our heads. We stayed until the sun went down and were driven home to our beds to dream the sweet and hazy dreams of sun-baked children.

Sometimes the thunder clouds would spend three days gathering enough energy to burst forth into wild and wonderful thunder storms. Those days were a collection of gathering heat and humidity, of crankiness and the seeking out of electric fans and cool rooms below. The storm would hit in the evening, usually when one of us was in the bathtub scrubbing the summer dirt off the soles of our feet - a nightly ritual. The lightning would crack and flash, followed within seconds by a clap of thunder so mighty as to sound just above the peak of our rooftop. We counted the seconds between lightning and thunder and that equalled in miles, we were told, the distance of the storm from us. My dad would race up the stairs and tell whomever was in the tub to get right out before they were electrocuted. A few more claps of thunder and the heavy rain would begin. The rain was warm like bath water and often we would run outside to play in it while it washed our limp and dusty gardens clean. The air was unmistakably fresh and new after a storm and we all perked up like watered flowers the next morning after a cool sleep on the screened-in sunporch.

The summer days of my childhood appear like an album of faded 1970's photographs in my mind. A troupe of fit and tanned children wearing cut-off jeans and cotton tank tops hiking up to Pulpit Rock or to our family's secret spot for picking huckleberries. Nana and Grandad coming for their annual visit, arriving in their Cadillac and staying a the Viking Motel. Grandad taking the boys fishing while Nana talked over the price of strawberries with my mother in our kitchen. Hamburgers cooked on the hibachi and served with my mom's good bean salad and Nana's Raspberry Mallow dessert. The summer I watched the Olympic Games from beginning to end because it rained all of July that year - I sat on the sofa in front of the small portable black and white TV cheering on the competitors. I've been a fan of the Games ever since. My brothers water skiing with the neighbours, my older sisters in their bikinis soaking up the sun on their days off from summer jobs. Oh, those halcyon days.

There is more talk of year-round schooling here. Gone would be the traditional long Canadian summers, forever a welcome break for children all across this land. Would a month of holiday be enough for our children in summer? I don't know. Children can get used to anything. I do know that the two month summer is long enough for my children to feel ready and even excited to face another year by the time September arrives. By then they are ready, and so I am ready, to begin another cycle of school days, activities, and prescribed routine. For now, though, enough rain, enough busy-busy. Hang me out to dry in the sun!

June 1, 2012

Dreams of a Solitary Nature


While the laundry does itself, wiping out its own stains,

the bathrooms clean themselves,

the breakfast dishes stack themselves like in an old Disney cartoon,

the counter wiped by an enchanted cloth in soapy, circular motions,

She sits and looks out the window at the hump-backed bear shaped mountain.

While the after-school snack bakes itself, scattered papers tidy up

and fall neatly into files,

groceries appear in the cupboards and fridge,

supper prepares itself, simmering savoury flavours on the stovetop,

She re-reads a favourite novel and sips tea from a thin china cup.

While the children answer their own questions and solve their own story problems, mediate

their own arguments and nag themselves to clean their rooms,

She turns the music up and dances around the livingroom, singing at the top of her voice.

While her husband keeps his thoughts about his day to himself and offers himself one or two wise, comforting
remarks, knows he needs to go for a walk and suggests they both go...

She puts on her shoes and heads out the door

Where day has put itself away and the dusk doesn't need to talk.


I thought of this poem this morning. I wrote it and have posted it before, a couple of years ago, but I decided it was worth posting again. I had been wondering if I would have time to post anything on my blog today. I had dropped off my car for an oil change at the local garage and was walking home when I ran into a friend. We talked for several minutes and then she offered me a ride. I declined and found myself saying, "This walk may be the only solitude I get today."
Last week my husband was home sick, this week our youngest daughter has been down with the flu. Today is graduation day for our second eldest, so we are ironing clothes and a friend of his is coming over soon to style his hair. This weekend is going to be a full one and next week my husband is on holiday, which I am looking forward to. We generally get lots of projects done around the house and our youngest loves it when her dad walks her to school in the mornings. Solitude, however will be rare and it hit me this morning that in two weeks the older kids will be out of school for the summer. 
I do enjoy having my family around me and I thoroughly enjoy my work with people in the community, but every busy person needs time to themselves to reflect and regroup. I predict some long, solitary runs and bike rides for myself in the coming weeks, and plenty of going to bed early with a book.  
My daughter took the photo of the columbine in our garden. She finds solitude behind the lens of a camera.