We have puddles! *does happy dance*

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’re undoubtedly studying that first sentence and trying to figure out where to find the double entendre.  That’s a valid and downright laudable reaction.  If you find one, I hope you’ll share it – I do love a good double entendre!  But that wasn’t actually my intention (for a change).

No; this post is in celebration of spring.  It’s my favourite time of year – crocuses and tulips and daffodils peek out, the grass turns green, the birds come home, it snows two feet… you know; the usual stuff.

Back in arid Calgary, spring puddles are fleeting – the snow seems to evaporate instead of melting.  But here on the coast we have good old-fashioned puddles that bring back delightful childhood memories.

I grew up on a prairie farm where the terrain was dead-flat for miles.  That and our heavy clay/gumbo soil made it prime puddle territory.  Venice had nothing on us.  I remember riding the school bus along our country road and looking out at water as far as the eye could see, neatly divided into a one-mile grid by the raised road allowances that were the highest point on the prairies (and only a foot or two higher than the water level).

Every kid had a pair of rubber boots:  the taller the boots, the better.  Puddle-wading was both art and science.  We learned about refraction early – the place you thought you were stepping wasn’t always where your foot ended up.  The penalty for that was a boot full of icy water, which didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all.  It was a sport to see how far we could wade into a puddle before we filled our boots.

We also had a small inflatable dinghy that we could row across our puddles (we had serious puddles on the farm).  And there were always ditches full of water that required all sorts of digging in the mud to produce complex drainage trenches and dams.

Sometimes it turned cold enough to freeze the puddles hard.  That was prime ice-skating:  glassy-smooth, with grass and fallen leaves locked below the surface as if cast in crystal.  But it was always tricky to determine whether the ice was strong enough to bear our weight… which brings to mind another favourite sound:  a slow ominous creak followed by the buzzing crack of ice failing, usually accompanied by squeals and splashing.

I still love going out in the early morning when temperatures are below freezing.  Overnight some of the puddle-water seeps into the ground, leaving a white fragile ice shell floating over empty air.  There’s nothing like the sharp hollow sound it makes when stepped on – it’s almost as addictive as popping bubble wrap!

At 52 years old, you’d think I’d have developed enough dignity to leave the puddles alone; but nope.  Not even close.  I’m still incapable of walking by a shell of ice without breaking it, and last week I went out and bought myself a pair of tall rubber boots that’ll make me the envy of every kid in town.

I’m going out to play in the puddles now… how about you?

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) ;-)

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) 😉


Training Cookies

I was chatting with my step-mom last week when she reminded me of a memory that made me smile:  the year I got my training cookies.

If you’re scratching your head right now, I don’t blame you.  Most people would agree that a bit of training is helpful before tackling some of the more complex foods, but everyone knows how to eat cookies.

Unless they’re me.

I can dismantle and gobble down a steamed lobster in record time.  Sushi?  No problem; I can handle chopsticks, and I’m such a food-geek that I actually know obscure sushi etiquette like never mixing the wasabi into the soya sauce and always eating nigiri so the fish contacts your tongue first.

But cookies?  Well… apparently they’re trickier.

It all started years ago when my dad and step-mom came to visit me in Calgary, bringing my step-mom’s famous ginger-molasses cookies.

We had been driving around enjoying the sights on a nice spring day, and we stopped at a convenience store to get some cold drinks.  Parked comfortably in the shade, we were sitting in the car with the windows open while enjoying our refreshments and some of the fateful cookies.  As usual, I was talking volubly with my hands.  I was also holding a cookie at the time.

I made one particularly emphatic gesture and the cookie flew out of my hand, out the open window to land with a plop on the asphalt beside the car.

Mouth gaping, eyes wide, I sat there in shocked silence.

I had wasted a cookie!  For a food-worshipper like me, it was sacrilege!  Worse, I had wasted a delicious cookie that had travelled 800 miles just to tickle my tastebuds!

The silence lasted only a second or two before my companions burst into uproarious laughter.  And sure enough, when next Christmas rolled around, guess what I found under the tree?

Remember the children’s mittens that were joined together with a cord that went up one sleeve, around the neck and down the other sleeve so the mittens never parted company with the jacket?  (And theoretically, with the child?)

Yep, I’d gotten training cookies:  Two tender and tasty ginger-molasses cookies, each with a neat hole in the middle.  A festive ribbon joined the two cookies at exactly the length required to fit around my neck while holding a cookie in each hand.

Ever since then, that recipe has been known as “Training Cookies” in our household.  The cookies themselves are yummy, but the memory is sweeter than any baked goods could ever be.

I’m probably the only person in the world who needs training cookies, but if you’re in the market for a chewy and delicious ginger-molasses cookie recipe, here it is:

Training Cookies

¾ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
4 tablespoons dark molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the egg and molasses and beat.  Mix in dry ingredients.  Roll into balls, dip in sugar, and flatten with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees approximately 10 – 12 minutes until just beginning to brown at the edges.  Happy memories can be baked in, or added later!

Anybody else have a family recipe with special memories?

Farewell To A Faithful Friend

I’m about to get maudlin over a vehicle, so if you’d rather have some chuckles today, why not go and check out my very first official blog post, Bad Hotel Karma?  I’ll be back to my usual silliness next week.

* * *

Yesterday I said goodbye to a faithful friend:  a battered 1983 Ford half-ton.  Even though I’d been its official owner for over ten years, I still called it ‘Dad’s truck’.

It’s the truck he drove from Manitoba to Halifax to visit me in 1988.  At a miserable time in my life, he drove nearly 10,000 km (6,000 miles) round trip, and we took a long weekend to drive around Cape Breton Island, just him and me.

It was a leisurely trip, pulling in to explore every tiny “point of interest” beside the highway and stopping frequently to snap photos.  That was before Dad began to suffer from the increasingly debilitating effects of the lung enzyme deficiency that would slowly steal his breath, and eventually his life.  I didn’t spare a thought for the truck at the time; it was just a vehicle that took us where we wanted to go.

Dad at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Dad at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 1988

Dad used that truck to haul my piano from Manitoba to my apartment in Calgary in 1989.  In 1998, he used it to trailer my 1953 Chevy from Manitoba to Calgary.  In 2001, I officially ‘bought’ the truck.

I was going through a tough time financially, but Dad wasn’t well enough to drive anymore so the truck had to be sold… and I needed a truck.  When I asked if I could buy it, he agreed.  But when I went to write the cheque, he eyed me with his usual gentle gravity and said, “Now isn’t really a good time for this, is it?  We’ll do it later.”

The truck came to Calgary in the middle of summer, 800 miles in temperatures hovering around 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit).  It had no air conditioning, and I was sick with a horrible head cold.  We crept across the prairies, stopping in every little town for Popsicles and cold water.  The truck performed faultlessly.  Me?  Not so much.

I tried to pay Dad for the truck, several times.  At last, I arrived on his doorstep with the cheque already written.  And he smiled and said, “Well, I’ve done some deals with the other kids, too, so we’ll just call it even.”  The cheque was torn up and the issue was closed.  That was my Dad.

By then the truck was twenty years old, but it never let me down.  It hauled furniture and pre-fab outhouses and garbage and tools.  Its capped box served as an impromptu storage shed, and I slept in it many times while camping.  Whenever friends needed to haul something, they knew they could come and borrow it.

The truck lived a hard life.  Parked on the street, its side mirror was smashed by vandals and it got egged and spray-painted.  Other drivers ran into it, five different times.  Sometimes they slid down our treacherous hill on winter ice and only stopped when they hit the truck.  Sometimes they backed into the side of it, apparently unable to see a bright red, twenty-foot long vehicle in their rear-view mirror.

But despite their incompetence as drivers, those people restored my faith in humanity.  I never found a dent in the truck that wasn’t accounted for.  Nobody discounted it as an old junker and drove away without reporting their accident.  Each time, our doorbell would ring and some contrite person would apologize profusely for hitting the truck.

Each time, I told them not to worry about it.  They’d have enough trouble and expense repairing their own vehicle, and they didn’t need the additional cost of an insurance claim.  Dad gave me the truck out of the goodness of his heart.  The least I could do was pass it on.

The truck endured the ravages of age and rust and injury, the years and impacts damaging its body but not its tough engine.  It developed a cantankerous carburetor that I referred to as my anti-theft device.  To start the truck, you had to open the hood, remove the air cleaner, and manually close the sticky choke plate.  Then back into the truck to pump the gas for about 30 seconds, after which you could turn the key while still pumping the gas vigorously.  But as long as you followed the protocol it never failed to start, even in the dead of winter.

That same cantankerous carburetor required three quick pumps of the gas when starting in first gear.  Just a little extra jolt of fuel, or it would stall.  The brake drums were out of round, causing a slight surging effect, and the left-turn signal didn’t work unless you knew you had to pull the signal lever slightly outward and toward you.  Then it worked just fine.

In its stubborn persistence I saw my Dad’s final battle.  The loss of breath, the frequent and increasingly serious illnesses, the wasting and weakening of his once-powerful body.  Labouring against the burden of slow suffocation, his cardiac arrhythmia was so pronounced that when I took his pulse the irregular beat would have done a calypso band proud.  But just like his truck, his indomitable heart wouldn’t quit, and he endured the suffering and indignities with stoicism and quiet humour.

In recent years we didn’t use the truck often, but I kept it insured and registered, and it kept doing what we asked of it, over and over.

Last spring two young girls in a big half-ton backed into the side of it.  Another giant dent; another contrite conversation.  Another round of forgiveness with the gentle admonition to drive more carefully in the future.  Just the way my Dad would have done it.

I could have called the insurance company then and let them write it off; maybe gotten a couple of hundred bucks.  Instead I hung onto the truck, not driving it but keeping it registered and insured and in its place of honour beside our house.

A couple of weeks ago I drove it for the first time since the girls in the half-ton hit it.  It started right up as usual, but its shocks were gone.  It wallowed through undulations in the pavement like a ship in heavy seas, and its steering wandered dangerously.  I wanted to cling to it from sheer sentimentality, but I couldn’t bear to see my poor truck endure more dents, more infirmities.  It was too much like watching Dad face a battle he knew he couldn’t win, bravely waiting for the final blow.

In the end, Dad’s every breath was an agonizing struggle.  Coughing literally tore him apart, causing a massive hernia.  The morning after he underwent surgery to repair it, the surgeon told us he could go home that day.  Mercifully, he did go home later that day, but not to any earthly dwelling.  It was April 1, 2004.  April Fool’s Day.  Go figure.

I knew the truck’s time was up, too.  It wasn’t safe to drive and it wasn’t practical to fix, and I didn’t want to wait for the day when its heroic old engine finally failed.  So I called Donate A Car Canada and yesterday my beloved truck went away for the last time.  The Lung Association won’t get much for it, but I’d like to think Dad would be pleased.

Today there’s an empty spot on our street, and in my heart.

Goodbye, old friend.  I’ll miss you.