Category Archives: Family

In Praise of Unfinished Basements

My sons get ready to play pool in the unfinished basement of their aunt and uncle’s home this Christmas at an extended family gathering. The space is scheduled for renovation in 2023.

The New York Times ran an op-ed recently called In Praise of Unfinished Basements. The author Brady Brickner-Wood talks about how he loved the unfinished basement of his childhood home. It was a place to play and imagine and pretend.

There was something about its unfinished status that gave it a certain allure. He says the unfinished basement was a place where life was more than what it seemed.

Our son and his cousin playing in the unfinished basement of their grandparents’ house after our family Christmas dinner in the space

That got me thinking about the role unfinished basements have played in my life. Houses were smaller when I was a child and until I was twelve I always lived in a home with an unfinished basement. My grandparents had homes with unfinished basements too.

Because in the past rooms in houses were much smaller than they are now, and usually closed off from one another with doors, it was in unfinished basements that families often gathered for special celebrations because it provided a large, open space for everyone to be together.

I remember Christmas celebrations in the basement of my maternal grandparents’ little house.

1950s Christmas dinner in my grandparent’s basement- note the cement walls, open rafters and electric cords strung through the ceiling
A 1960s Christmas in my grandparents’ unfinished basement. I am on the far left in hair ribbons pulling the wishbone from the turkey with my cousin.
Posing by the tree with my cousins in my grandparents’ basement in 1961

Basements weren’t just for holiday celebrations. In the photo below my mother has decorated the unfinished basement of our house for my birthday party the year I turned nine.

My parents’ wedding reception was held in the unfinished basement of a church.

Unfinished basements were often places to work as well. That’s where you did laundry, woodworking and home repairs and as illustrated in the photo below taken in my parents-in-law’s basement it was a place to do canning.

My son watching his great-grandmother make pickles

Unfinished basements are becoming rarer as people update and renovate them. Do you have memories of an unfinished basement?

Other posts………

Life and Death of a House on the Prairie

The House on the Highway- My First Home in Steinbach

My Grandmother Was a Guitarist

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Filed under Childhood, Family

Sunrise on a New Year

Our six-year-old grandson painted this sunrise picture and gave it to us as a Christmas gift. I just LOVE it!

See how the light rises above the dark waters?

See how the sun is swirling with possibilities?

See how the sun’s rays spread out to warm the world?

May your 2023 be filled with light and hope.

May it present you with new opportunities and possibilities to explore.

May it be warmed by meaningful relationships.

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Filed under Art, Family, Holidays

Health Care Heroes

In his Christmas message to Canadians Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid special tribute to the healthcare professionals who continue to do their vital work during the holiday season when many others have time off from their jobs.

The importance of the prime minister recognizing those who work in health care had personal significance for me as I thought about my visits to my father in his nursing home during the Christmas season.

Dad conducting along while the staff as his nursing home sing carols for the residents

At the Christmas party on his ward, I watched as the staff sang carols for the residents, danced with them, hugged them and served them and their family members food.

Dad receiving his blessing from St. Nicholas

One took the role of St. Nicholas and gave a special blessing to each resident. Volunteer instrumentalists serenaded us, while the kitchen staff provided a beautiful array of party food.

Photo of Dad and me at the Christmas party on his ward

The social workers and recreation coordinators went around taking photos of all the residents with their family members who had come to the party.

Dad with three of his children last week

I had arranged to bring Dad to my place last Sunday for a small Christmas gathering of his Winnipeg children. The nursing home staff had made sure Dad was all ready for his outing, had been shaved and bathed, was dressed nicely, had taken his medications, and had his outdoor clothing on hand.

On Christmas Day and Christmas Eve when I visited Dad some of the staff had dressed in Christmas sweaters, and others wore Santa hats. The menu included a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings and the ward was decorated with a tree and wreaths and lights.

The ward was fully staffed on both Christmas Day and Christmas Eve and I realized all the people there had forfeited being with their own families to care for the family members of other people including my Dad.

Visiting Dad on Christmas Day

My Dad is in a ward for people with advanced dementia and the work is often challenging and difficult. But the staff are almost unfailingly kind and understanding and always welcoming to us as a family.

They definitely deserve special recognition not only at Christmas but all year round. They are certainly heroes in my eyes.

Other posts……….

Wraggling Along

Our Dad is Dancing

Dad’s Fern

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Filed under Family, Health, Holidays

She’s Lived For A Century

My Aunt Viola is furthest to the right in this photo taken on her family’s farm in Drake, Saskatchewan. Her older brother Earl and younger sister Leila are in the wagon and my mother Dorothy is to the left. I believe this photo was taken in 1928.

This past weekend I flew to Saskatoon Saskatchewan to celebrate the birthday of my hundred-year-old aunt Viola Schmidt. She was born on December 10th 1922.

Me and Aunt Vi in 1957
Visiting with my aunt four years ago
Visiting my aunt in October of this year

I have been taking care of my aunt’s affairs for the last six and a half years since she has no children of her own. A year ago she fell and broke her hip and I had to move her into a nursing home.

Aunt Vi visits with her cousin Leola and her friend Sally. Aunt Vi’s memory at a hundred remains very good, particularly about events in her past. She still has lots of stories to tell.

I was able to reserve a small office at the nursing home for a birthday party for Aunt Vi. Although most of her friends and family members of her generation have already passed away or are no longer able to travel to a party a nice group of folks dropped in to wish Aunt Vi a happy birthday.

Aunt Vi with her niece Loraine and Loraine’s husband Wes. They travelled some distance from rural Saskatchewan to come to the birthday celebration.
Although none of Viola’s nieces and nephews lives in Saskatoon many had sent cards and flowers and letters to her for her special day. She enjoyed looking at them all.
Laurie came from her home in rural Saskatchewan to see Aunt Vi too for her birthday. Laurie’s husband Rodney sadly passed away in March. Rodney was Aunt Vi’s nephew and helped care for Aunt Vi’s affairs until illness prevented him from doing so.
Lois is a foot nurse I hired to care for Aunt Vi and she has become her friend too.
My son and I with Aunt Vi

My aunt’s one hundred years have been rich and full and I tried to give a sense of that in the special announcement I submitted to the Star Phoenix newspaper in Saskatoon about her birthday.

Elizabeth Reimer with Aunt Viola

I am so grateful to Elizabeth my second cousin. She is the daughter of Adelia one of my Aunt Viola’s cousins. Elizabeth lives in Saskatoon and faithfully visits my aunt several times a week. She keeps me apprised of her needs and concerns. Elizabeth helped me organize the birthday festivities for Aunt Vi. She is an angel and a blessing to Aunt Vi.

When I chatted with Aunt Vi after her party it was clear she had enjoyed the celebration and it was meaningful for her.

My aunt and her family in the 1940s. Aunt Vi is right next to her mother.

My aunt tells me all the time that she wants to die. She was very close to her parents and her brother and two sisters and wants nothing more than to join them in heaven. She says she has no idea why God has let her live for a hundred years.

Her life at the nursing home is often lonely and difficult and requires much courage to navigate. I admire her patience and fortitude in handling this most challenging time of her life when she has had to relinquish her markedly independent spirit and let others care for her.

Living a century is certainly a milestone and I was happy to be with my aunt as she marked it.

Other posts………..

But I Did Have Children

Aunt Vi’s 95th Birthday

Aunts

Aunt Vi’s Autograph Book

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A List I Won’t Be Living By

I received the book Lists to Live By in a fun gift exchange at a Christmas party on the weekend. The book was published in 1999. The rules for the gift exchange stated that the gift you brought should be something you no longer had a use for. I can understand why this book’s previous owner no longer had any use for it.

One of the lists in The Book of Lists illustrated how men’s and women’s roles have undergone enormous change in the last few decades. When I found the list below I could hardly finish reading it because I was laughing so hard.

WAYS TO MAKE YOUR HUSBAND FEEL SPECIAL

Never interrupt or correct him.

Make a nice lunch for him to take to work.

Put as much time and attention into your appearance as you did when he was dating you.

Keep your bedroom tastefully decorated and tidy.

Give him time to relax when he gets home from work.

Keep lovemaking fresh and exciting and remember that a man desires intimacy more often than a woman.

Let him know you admire how strong he is.

Be understanding when he wants to spend time enjoying sports or other hobbies with his friends instead of spending time with you and the children.

Bake homemade cookies for him.

Don’t buy him socks and underwear for gifts on holidays and birthdays. Just purchase them for him when he needs them.

This list is so outdated and out of touch, it is hard to believe that just over twenty years ago it would have been considered relevant.

You may be wondering if The Book of Lists also had a list of ways men could make their wives feel special. It does and it is every bit as laughable. I’ll give you just a couple of examples.

Take a clean handkerchief to the movies for her to use when she cries.

Give her a back rub with no expectations of getting lovemaking in return.

Polish her shoes for her.

Eat dainty desserts with her at a Victorian restaurant.

I’ll stop there. I’m sure you get the idea.

Other posts………..

Housework

Are Men and Women’s Friendships Different?

But Not That Long Ago

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Filed under Books, Family, History

He’s Asking Everyone

One of the results of the accident I had last month is that we have to purchase a new car. This means my husband is asking EVERYONE for advice about what kind of vehicle to buy.

He’s phoned any number of friends to have a conversation about it and when we are in any kind of social setting I know it won’t be long before the topic comes up.

We had people over for brunch on Saturday and right after Dave had served our French toast and poured the coffee he had brewed, he said, “Let’s talk cars.”

Dave is a social guy who likes to talk to friends and get their advice before making decisions

At a party on the weekend, someone asked, “What are you doing next week?” Dave replied, “Buying a new car.” And then he got right down to the business of asking for advice. “What kind of car would you recommend- domestic or foreign?”

And that’s how it goes. I am sure all the guys in his beer club, on his curling team, and at the MCC store where he works as a volunteer driver, and in the male choir he sings in, have already been asked for advice about what kind of car we should buy.

Of course, the topic came up at a family gathering we hosted last weekend and our relatives had to weigh in with their advice.

Driving home from church on Sunday Dave told me about the car recommendations he had received from various congregation members he had chatted with after the worship service.

Asking advice from everyone he knows and even strangers he meets is Dave’s preferred method of processing big purchase decisions. He’s a social guy so it’s what works for him.

His long-time friends are all used to this already because Dave has consulted them about so many purchases in the past but………. I bet some of them are really looking forward to us finally buying a vehicle so they can talk with Dave about something else.

In the meantime, if you have any advice to offer on buying a replacement vehicle at a time when there are virtually no new vehicles to be had and the price of used ones has soared through the roof I’m sure my husband would be happy to hear from you.

Other posts………

I’m Married to a Social Butterfly

My Social Butterfly Gets to Fly After All

Broken Into

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A Great Grandmother’s Prayer

My six-year-old grandson and I were drawing different kinds of flowers together at the kitchen table on my recent visit to his home when he suggested we look at the flowers that were part of a picture in his room and perhaps draw a flower like the ones in the picture.

He took me upstairs to his bedroom and I realized the picture he was referring to was one that had been made by my mother-in-law for our son, my grandson’s Dad when he was born more than four decades ago.

My mother-in-law meeting her grandson for the first time

My mother-in-law Anne flew out to Manitoba from Ontario in 1979 to spend some time with us after her grandson’s birth and she brought a framed needlework prayer she had stitched for him. It hung first by our son’s crib and then his bed and he often used it as part of his nightly bedtime prayers.

When we moved to Hong Kong years ago we needed to downsize and so I gave my son boxes full of his belongings that included the framed prayer his grandmother had made for him. How lovely to see it now in my own grandson’s room a kind of message of love from a great-grandmother my grandson never had a chance to meet since he was born five years after she had passed away.

My mother-in-law Anne died in 2011 but the prayer she stitched in 1979 is still blessing her family.

Other posts………..

Anne Driedger 1923-2011

Stitched with Love

Embroidery

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But I Did Have Children!

Visiting Aunt Vi on Sunday

While I was in Saskatoon on the weekend, I paid a couple of visits to my Aunt Viola, my mother’s older sister who will be turning 100 in December. Viola lives in a nursing home. She never married and didn’t have any children of her own so I take care of her affairs and look after things for her.

By writing messages on a notepad I can communicate with my aunt even though she is almost completely deaf

I am so fortunate that Elizabeth a second cousin of mine who lives in Saskatoon visits Aunt Vi regularly and keeps me up to date on how she is doing. Since Viola is nearly deaf and has trouble seeing, Elizabeth has devised a communication system of writing messages to Viola in large capital letters with a black felt marker.

If my aunt looks at these carefully she can read them and responds. There is nothing wrong with her voice and she was eager to talk on my visits. You can really have a very meaningful conversation with her since her mind is still alert.

Aunt Vi with my grandson a decade ago. He is her great-great nephew and she had stitched a lovely needlework piece as a gift for him when he was born.

During our visit, Aunt Vi asked about my children and grandchildren and I wrote her messages to tell her about what they were doing. Then she said, “People often ask me if I am ever sorry I didn’t have children. But I DID have children.”

Aunt Viola is on the far left in the first row with the teaching staff at Holliston School in Saskatoon.

Aunt Vi then proceeded to talk about all the children who had been in her elementary school classes during her nearly forty years as a teacher, the children she had worked with as a volunteer in Washington D.C. neighbourhoods, the children in the many choirs for kids that she had conducted, and the many, many children she had taught in the Sunday School and summer Bible school programs at her church.

Me and Aunt Vi 1957

And of course her nieces and nephews. She always took such an interest in us all and remembered us with Christmas gifts, took lots of photos of us, made us afghans and needlework pictures and sent us cards. She hosted us in her home on SO many occasions.

Aunt Vi working as a volunteer in Washington DC

I realized Aunt Vi was right! She had indeed had lots of children. Her comment was a good reminder to me that we need to appreciate all the people who may not have children of their own, but who make such an important contribution to the lives of all of our children.

Other posts………..

Thanks to Aunt Vi

Aunt Vi’s Autograph Book

Happy 95th Birthday Aunt Vi

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Inspiration

He Couldn’t Stand It Any Longer

Dave doing the New York Times crossword puzzle with his friend Les

On Saturday my husband Dave always takes the New York Times crossword puzzle out of the newspaper and heads off to a coffee shop to have breakfast and complete the puzzle with his friend Les. He leaves the easier Premier Crossword in Saturday’s paper for me to do.

Normally I finish my puzzle by the end of the morning but last weekend I was so busy working on a writing project I only got about a third of the clues done.

I left the puzzle on the nightstand by my bed so I could work on it every night before I went to sleep.

I knew seeing that unfinished puzzle by our bed was driving my husband Dave crazy. He does crossword puzzles every day and NEVER leaves one undone. To him, an unfinished crossword puzzle is like a hang-nail. He can’t leave it alone.

On Wednesday when I slipped into bed and reached over to pick up my crossword puzzle……. it was finished. Dave just hadn’t been able to stand looking at it in its incomplete state any longer.

I figured he’d actually used remarkable self-control by waiting for four nights before he finished it.

My husband is a bit obsessed with crossword puzzles. But I guess he could have far worse addictions.

Other posts…………..

Do You Know How I Know That?

Sunday Morning At the Olive Mill

A Puzzling Achievement

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Filed under Family, Retirement

Wraggling Along

Today is my Dad’s 94th birthday. This afternoon they will be having a party for him at the nursing home where he is a resident and we didn’t want him to miss that so on Monday I arranged to bring him to my house for a little private celebration.

Dad meets his great granddaughter for the first time at Christmas 2019

Although Dad used to visit our home regularly he has not been here since Christmas of 2019 when he met a new great grandchild, chatted with his grandchildren and enjoyed the holiday season with his family.

My Dad looks at the poplars outside the window of his assisted living apartment in 2020

Then in March of 2020 COVID struck and with it came strict isolation and for months Dad was stuck in his small assisted living suite with only the trees outside his window for company. Some short interactions with the kitchen staff in his building who brought food to his door was his only face to face human contact.

Dad visits with his sister who is in a mask and goggles in 2021

There were weeks and weeks when he was all alone and our only contact with him was by phone since the technology of Face Time and other video communication was beyond him. At times one masked family member could visit outside and sometimes in his room but Dad could not leave except for medical appointments.

During that time Dad’s dementia, which we had seen some early signs of before the pandemic, spiralled literally out of control. We had to move him two times to different facilities to meet his needs. He is now in a care home and communication with him has become challenging.

With Dad in Kildonan Park last month

We have been able to take him on a few outdoor outings of late but I was so glad when his social worker agreed to let me take him to our home for a visit to celebrate his birthday.

My sister and her husband came too and we enjoyed cake and coffee. Dad even managed to blow out all of his candles.

Dad often finds it impossible to think of the words he would actually like to use but to his credit he can usually make words up when that happens. At one point during our time together on Monday I asked Dad how he was doing and he said, “Oh you know. I’m just wraggling along.”

I looked it up and wraggling isn’t a word….. but maybe it should be. It implies that someone is moving along- there is some kind of action going forward but the road definitely has challenges and plenty of ragged edges. It is a journey not easy to wrangle.

I love my Dad’s new word and think it can describe the way many of us move through challenging times in our lives. We just wraggle along as best we can.

Other posts……….

Dad’s Sacred Trees

Looking At the Newspaper With My Dad

My Dad Was A Train Porter in the 1950s

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Filed under Family