Now, I know why.


We are lucky enough to live near beautiful Frank Ryan Park. It’s a large park with play structures, a wading pool, basketball and tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and many woodsy trails. There are lots of old trees that are perfect for shading a picnic. In the winter, there’s a great hill for sledding, and a rink. There’s even a small area outside the rink flooded and maintained for skaters who are not up for the rough-and-tumble inside the rink. There are hay bales tied to trees and stacked up against the fence at the bottom of the hill to protect the skulls and limbs of the kids who go blasting down the hill (well, not just kids – I’ve enjoyed a few runs myself this winter). These stand in stark contrast to a harshly worded sign placed by the city that says it is not responsible for any injuries or loss of life caused by having winter fun – which I’m fairly certain everyone ignores. I know I do ….

After school yesterday I took Fiona and Bridget there to meet some friends. I laughingly introduced my skates as “the world’s ugliest skates”. That’s an exaggeration, but they were a Christmas present when I was fifteen – almost twenty years ago – and they are definitely the worse for wear. They’re mildew-stained in places because they were stored in a damp shed for a while. They’re yellowed and smudged. The metal hooks at the top have rusted, so the laces are rust-stained where they’re not dirty grey. The blades are rusty in several spots – one crater of rust is at least two inches long. But …. I can still skate in them. So I do. When I called them ugly, it triggered a memory of my mother’s skates when she was about my age. They looked exactly like mine do now. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how they had gotten that ugly, and why she still used them. My skates were always so white they glowed, and the blades were pristine. Like Fiona’s and Bridget’s are now. Now, I know why – if your feet aren’t growing, and your skates still skate, and your kids need new skates every year because they are growing like bad weeds, you don’t bother with new skates for yourself. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve got answers to other whys, too ….

I know why some of my mother’s clothes were nearly as old as her skates (though, of course, not as roughed up). I vaguely remember asking my mother why she kept wearing this one particular shirt that she had been wearing for years. I don’t remember her reply to my snotty question, although it should have been something along the lines of “what’s it to you, shut up”. Now, though, I get it. You just really love some items of clothing. You don’t care whether they’re in style. Sometimes you don’t feel like shopping, even if you need a new whatever-it-is. Just like the skates – you’re not growing anymore, and you still like it – and your kids need new everything, all the freakin’ time. I have (and still wear) a jacket that I wore in high school. I have underwear that’s older than my daughters.

I know why my mother fell asleep on the couch. My mother hardly ever stopped moving. She worked shifts at a hospital 45 minutes down the highway. She kept our house so clean that, most of the time, we could have eaten off any floor without ingesting anything other than our food. She made a great meal from scratch just about every day – and we had no dishwasher. She did nearly all the laundry, and hung it on the clothesline rather than use the dryer – even in the winter. She went for long walks every day. She sewed and read novels. At the end of the day, when she sat on the couch, she fell asleep. I snickered over this regularly. I once took a picture of her sleeping on the couch, chin on her chest, and printed a copy for her to treasure. Well, karma has officially kicked my deserving ass …. I’m now a champion couch-sleeper. I go and go and go – and when I finally sit down, I crash hard.

I know why my mother lost patience with our TV habit and evicted us from the same couch. Fiona and Bridget are squirmy little people. They can’t sit still longer than 45 seconds – unless they are in front of a screen. And it is, to say the least, mildly unsettling to see twitchy, wiggly kids making like catatonics in front of a flickering square for an hour or more. The idiot box is aptly named. Though I have to admit that it makes a great babysitter sometimes ….

I know why my mother had so much face junk. I remember thinking, in our tiny bathroom in my childhood home, that my mother’s make-up and other face junk took up a quarter of the counter space. What did she do with it all? Now, I know. Because I have two shelves’ worth of face junk myself. Eye cream, day cream (both tinted and clear), night cream, toner. Mud masks. Concealer. Two kinds of mascara. About a dozen half-used eyeshadows. My face never goes anywhere naked.

I know why my mother had all those perfumes. She had at least half a dozen half-used scent bottles on her dresser at any given time. When I was a teenager, I used to buy one perfume, and use it all up. Usually, it was something really awful, too – remember Tribe? How about Malibu Musk? I had the econo-size bottle of Malibu Musk. This has inspired me to take a trip down scents-of-the-nineties memory lane ….


NAVY_Wenhanced-buzz-7691-1379359544-2enhanced-buzz-1859-1379360046-0C77010-HI-11_large (Yes, Gender One, not CK One. Because I couldn’t afford anything by Calvin Klein.)

Sorry for the sidetrack …. Back to the topic at hand. I was using a perfume. Then I got a Hudson’s Bay gift card for Christmas, which I used to buy perfume. Then I bought one while cruising through the duty free shops in an airport during a stopover. I saw that scents were on sale at Shoppers’ Drugmart, and took advantage. Then I really just felt like a change, and rummaged through the cluttered cosmetics section of Winners …. Guess what I have on my dresser. Yep – half a dozen half-used scent bottles.

Oh, and finally ….

I know why my mother’s mouth always hung open when she applied mascara. It’s because you can’t help it! It actually takes a conscious effort to keep your mouth closed while putting on mascara …. Scientists will begin searching for an explanation after they’ve halted global warming and cured cancer.

These days, I’m the mystery – to Fiona and Bridget. They shake their pretty heads over alot of things I do. Someday, though, they’ll be all grown up, and they’ll have their own list of finally-answered whys. They’ll look up from their cluttered bathroom counter at their reflection, already daydreaming about their next nap even though it’s not even noon, and suddenly it will all make sense. On that day, I hope I hear from them – we will laugh together at the joke that’s on all of us.




I adore the Saturday paper …. It’s thick and wordy, filled with all sorts of things that could not be fully enjoyed squeezed into a Monday or Thursday – things that need to be savoured under a blanket on the couch, with a fresh cup of coffee and an unfrazzled mind. A weekend mind. Yesterday, there was an article about staged proposals, complete with hired photographer who tails the couple from a discreet distance and takes a picture of the event. The fellow featured in the article not only hired the photographer, he also hired a dog. A celebrity dog named Jiff, to be exact. For $600, Jiff made a custom video for the lady, walking on hind legs while wearing a tiny shirt that read “Lauren, Jiff thinks you should marry Jeff!” For $400 more, the photographer snapped the perfect shot – the now-fiancé on one knee, bling sparkling, Lauren reaching for the box. Their engagement cost more than the clothes worn by our entire wedding party, my dress and Ryan’s rented tux included.

It seems appropriate that this article appeared in the paper this weekend, as today marks twelve years since Ryan popped the question and I said yes. Ryan had been toying with asking me to marry him, though he hadn’t decided how or when. We went skiing. He had never been skiing before, and I tried to teach him how. I did it in my usual bossy, impatient manner. He took his first run having learned very little, but possibly having decided that he’d rather go hurtling at breakneck speed down a hill than listen to my well-intentioned harangue any longer. As I watched him go, it occurred to me that he was not going from side-to-side – he was going straight. He just might kill himself. I sped up to catch him, and we met at the bottom of the hill. We almost fell over, and we righted each other as other skiers whizzed past us. He babbled for a few seconds about how his first ski run was an amazing experience and he loved it – “and I want to marry you, will you marry me”. There may or may not have been a breath between sentences. Tears of surprise and delight freezing on my face, I said yes. We went back to the lodge to call our families. Because we hatched an idea of Ryan calling my mother and me calling his parents, their first thought was that he broke something (or, perhaps, his whole self) and that’s why it was the ski lodge’s number on their display and my voice on their phone …. Brilliant. Later, we went ring-shopping, and settled on a date about seven months down the road. There was alot of work to do in a short time, but we didn’t want to put off our big day any more than we had to. A waitress at Dunn’s took a picture of us at brunch the following Sunday, which was used in our engagement announcement in the Hamilton Spectator. A photo from a previous trip to Montréal was chosen for the one that went in the Nor’Wester. We framed the Camp Fortune ski passes.

It was the opposite of staged. And I’m glad it was …. Because if any great amount of thought had been put into it, it probably would have been scotched. For one thing, we were the first of our friends on either side to even consider marriage. Ryan was 24, and I was 22. The average age of marriage of people in our generation is somewhere in the late twenties, with children following in the early thirties. We had only been together a year and two months. That’s about the length of your average engagement these days. Ryan proposed during the second half of January, widely agreed to be the most depressing part of the year. Debt. Weight. Bad weather. The holidays too far in the rear-view mirror to cheer us up any longer. Weeks and weeks of winter still to go. Every year, somewhere between January and February, I turn into my own version of Mr. Hyde. He didn’t know that then, thankfully. Then, there are personal factors …. My father had died months earlier, and I had gone home to Newfoundland for Christmas. It was the worst Christmas before or since. The only way it could have been worse would have been if someone else had died during it. I returned heartbroken, bruised, bleeding – and ready to fight with a lamp post if it had looked at me the wrong way. We argued more than once in the days leading up to his proposal. If he had taken that information as any kind of indicator, he would have run in the opposite direction. He certainly would not have asked me to be his other half. But he did, and everything since then has been the rich harvest of that hopeful, ridiculous seed. Our road trips. All those laughs. All the times we’ve leaned on each other. Fiona and Bridget. This house. This life.

I don’t have an axe to grind, or even a point to prove – which makes this different from alot of other BethBlog posts. I just want to enjoy a moment of deep gratitude for the fact that heart was driving the bus on January 18, 2003, and head took a night off. For leaps of faith. For serendipity, whispering “do it – you won’t be sorry”. Here’s to taking chances!

People were murdered for disrespectful doodles – and we’re moralizing the doodlers?


Yesterday, masked gunmen burst into the office of a French satirical weekly and murdered twelve people. The city of Paris, and, indeed, the entire free world, is stricken by the news of this audacious attack. Canadians are feeling afresh the shock and sadness of what happened to us less than three months ago. Many are wondering what the next target will be, because we know there will be one. It’s only a matter of time.

The publication, Charlie Hebdo, prints cartoons skewering everything from politics to religion to life in general. They’ve attracted negative attention many times from many people, including a fire bombing in 2011. Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor, was unrepentant. If anything, the threats galvanized him to continue in his irreverent ways. He is quoted as having said that he’d rather die on his feet (freely saying and doing whatever he wants) than live on his knees (surrendering to terrorists by apologizing and censoring himself). He died on his feet.

I don’t need to state just how despicable this latest act of Islamist terrorism is. We all know. I do, however, feel the need to address some people’s reactions. Not even twenty-four hours after the news broke, I saw more than one person condemn the attack – and then water down their condemnation with an effete line about the wrongness of disrespecting others’ religious beliefs. This is irrelevant at best; at worst, it is victim-blaming. It is no different than pointing out that a homeowner did not have an alarm system when his home was invaded, mulling over what an abused child was doing to anger his parents, or questioning what a raped woman was wearing at the time of her assault. It doesn’t matter what Charlie Hebdo was distributing – there is not even the barest shred of justification for what happened in that office yesterday.

Papers, magazines, radio, music, TV and movies all poke fun at lots of people and things. Stupid people, fat people, ugly people, old people, celebrities, civil servants, lawyers, bums, politics and politicians – and, yes, religion and religious people. Is it nice? No. But we, as a country, have agreed that it is allowed – we embrace and support freedom of expression, even if the expression is unpopular, unkind or downright rude. If we allow any individual or group to decide what is an acceptable subject and form of expression, that freedom will be diminished. If we allow that because of fear, all of our freedoms will disappear.

When something offends you in our open and free society, there are a few things you can do. You can contact those who produce and distribute the offensive content and express your opinion of it to them. You can whine about it on social media. You can blog about it. You can take out a full-page ad in the newspaper declaring your aversion to the offence in question. You can sue. Or you can simply turn away – stop reading, listening or watching – and encourage like-minded people to do the same. These terrorists – these vicious, ignorant, ridiculous wastes of oxygen and space – decided to address it with AK-47s.

Our country has also agreed that capital punishment is not an acceptable judgement even for the most heinous criminals – even if merely thinking about their crime is nauseating and horrifying. We keep them alive on the taxpayer’s dime rather than kill them. We do not condone eye-for-eye – and certainly not life-for-insult – justice. So, please stop implying that a few cartoonists may have invited their own execution by creating and publishing impertinent drawings. It’s senseless, disgusting and unworthy of a just, free, enlightened society – much like the terrorists who killed them.