Monday, November 23, 2015

SHOPPING ACROSS THE BORDER

Over the years I have heard about the fantastic sales and deals happening across the border around this time of year, so this past weekend I decided to make a trip over to Buffalo to see what the hullabaloo was about.

My partner, son, and I decided to make it a weekend trip, since staying in the US for a 24 hour period allows you to bring back 200 dollars in merchandise duty free. At the last minute, I booked a room on Expedia and got a room at Days Hotel near the Buffalo Niagara Airport.

On Saturday morning, after going to the bank to exchange Canadian dollars to US dollars—the exchange rate was terrible as it cost 340 Canadian dollars for 250 US dollars—we drove to the Peace Bridge, one of four toll crossings over the Niagara River in the region. The other three crossings are the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, and the Rainbow Bridge. We heard that the Peace Bridge is less crowded, and true to what I heard, that was correct. Hardly any other vehicles were present and there were no waiting lines.


The person at the security gate was polite enough, asked where we were from, where we were going, and how long we were staying. He checked our passports and flagged us through. No problem. Not at all like I see on TV, which only goes to show you that you should never believe what you see on TV.


We were headed to the Walden Galleria in Buffalo, a big shopping mall which is located near the airport. The website said that this mall has over 200 stores, 12 restaurants, a theatre, a food court, and indoor Go-Karts. Indoor Go-Karts? Well, okay, then.


After a few minutes of driving, I realized that we missed an exit, but no matter, the person at the toll booth on I-90 set us back on track. And, yes, you have to pay tolls, as part of the highway system called the Niagara Thruway, which is a part of the New York State Thruway. Driving on the highway was okay, but driving in town was tricky. It seemed that the traffic lights were hanging lower and the road signs were on the opposite side of the street. A few times, until I got used to the area, I missed the street I was supposed to turn at and ended up going farther up the street and then turning around.



We followed the directions and in a few minutes we were at the mall. We entered at Macy’s. We were impressed; it was a big store. But, then, we entered the main hallway of the mall, and we felt like we were back in Mississauga, shopping at Square One Shopping Mall. 


As we walked along, going from store to store, we realized that this mall had all the same stores, all the same styles of clothing, and all the same price tags. We were disappointed, my son and I didn’t buy anything, but my partner bought a sweater from American Eagle, which I’m sure would have been cheaper in Brampton. After a lunch at the food court, which was unremarkable, we went to the hotel and got settled in.

Days Hotel gave us a small room, just big enough to fit a queen size bed and sofabed, which was fine, since we were only there to sleep. We fanned through the visitor guide and saw that the only things to do in Buffalo were to eat, drink, and shop. There were a few interesting sites, but it was too cold to go adventuring to see some architecture.



Around dinnertime, my son mentioned eating at MacDonald’s. He told us that the serving sizes are supposed to be bigger, so we went. My partner and I expected the burgers to be bigger, but they weren’t, they just contained more fat. As a matter of fact, a thick, greasy film stuck to our teeth as we were eating. Needless to say, half the food was thrown out.


It was still early, so we decided to go back to the mall to see the Hunger Games: Mockingjay P2. We were very impressed with the theatre. Large, comfy seats made me feel like I was in my own living room watching on my own big screen TV. The movie wasn’t so bad, either.


The next morning we went down to the hotel's complimentary buffet/continental breakfast. We went in, looked around; saw a few tables and chairs haphazardly placed. Some patrons were eating toast and drinking coffee. We went over to the counter where you had to toast your own bagels and make your own waffles. Okay, not our scene, there wasn’t even a piece of fruit. We went back upstairs, grabbed our bags, and went to Tim’s, thank goodness for Tim Horton’s. We were quite surprised to see so many locations.



We headed north to Military Road, another shopping area. The mall there was fairly big, not as big as the Walden, but since it was an outlet mall, the deals were better. My partner got a 200 dollar coat for 30 dollars, and I bought a few shirts. My son bought a sweater, just for the sake of buying something. He was not at all impressed with the whole shopping trip.


When we grew tired, we got back in the car and headed for the border. “Where do you live? Where have you been? How long were you there? Anything to declare?” I showed her my receipts and then we were flagged through and I heaved a sigh of relief that I was back in Canada.


All in all, our trip was uneventful. We were disappointed. Perhaps we were expecting more, perhaps it was the wrong time for shopping, or perhaps shopping there is just not as great as they say. Next time, I’ll keep my money and go to Square One. 





Saturday, November 14, 2015

THE HOBO BEAR

When I was a kid, I remember snow storms so bad that school would be shut down for weeks, water pipes would freeze preventing any water from coming into the house at all, and because it was so cold, some nights we would have to sleep in our snow suits. Snow would pile so high that just one corner of the roof of the shed was visible, and when you tried to get out the door in the morning, you’d have to jump over four maybe five feet of snow, depending on which direction the wind was blowing the night before, and if you couldn’t push the door open wide enough to escape, then you’d have to pour hot water over and around the door to get the snow to melt. Any lock, mail or house, would have to be blown on with hot breath for a few minutes before attempting a twist of the key. Shoot, one time I went to check the mail and did that, but I put my lips too close and was stuck there, desperately heavy breathing until it thawed enough to let go. It’s not so funny when it happens to you. During those times, roads were accessible only by Ski-doo. If you had a machine like that you could go just about anywhere.

One time I remember, I went to visit my Grandma. The same day school got out for Christmas break, my uncle drove me to my grandparents’ house. I was always happy to go there, at any time of year. I was the oldest and only girl in my family and my grandparents’ daughter, Ruby, was only a year older than I, so we were more like companions than relatives. When I reached puberty, I wanted to be around Ruby because it seemed like she had it all together.

Now, when you stayed at Gram’s house, you worked for your dinner, literally. She wasn’t a hard woman, but she just had that persona whereby if you didn’t work, something bad would go down or, you might not get a treat later. She would hide candy in her room and in the evening, if you did your share of the work, you got a treat. So, mornings were spent cleaning, with the guys getting off scot-free. The dishes took the longest to do, because there was always a crowd in the house. If Ruby did the dishes, then I would make the beds and sweep the floor, and if I did the dishes, then she would do the floor and beds. After that, plans for supper would be made or there would be laundry to do, and not the automatic washing kind where you put clothes in, add some detergent, and press a button. Oh, no, this was an old fashioned type, where you put water in the drum from the kitchen tap, then wash load by load, sometimes in the same water, unless it got really dirty, then when all the washing was done, the rinsing was done using the same process. Which is why laundry took the entire afternoon, or, if it was started in the morning, then it could be done by after lunch. Of course, Ruby and I never did get up that early. By the time all the clothes got hung on the line, it would be time to make dinner, which was always around five. After dinner, the dishes and floor would have to be done again. And the clothes, after having been on the line for hours, would be freeze dried. If we got a little wind then it could dry a little, but most times, clothes would come in frozen stiff and would have to be hung to dry around the wood stove. So, our routine after all that, would be to wash off the dirt and grime from our bodies, put on some fresh clothes, whatever was dried first, and get out of the house. Gram would watch the clothes so that they wouldn’t burn, but we had to pack them up and put them away when we got back.

One evening, we decided to go for a little walk on the marsh road; the Ski-doo trail would be easy for walking. We got dressed up in our winter clothes and headed out. Oh, that first blast of air would feel so fresh, after smelling Javex all day. Our breaths would be like tiny clouds escaping our bodies when we talked. We mostly sang when we were out walking. Ruby loved Air Supply, we both loved Rick Springfield, and we could sing better than Pat Benatar. Oh, if only we had grown up some place else, we would have been rock stars.

We crossed the road and took the Ski-doo trail that led to the marsh. The marsh wasn’t that snow-covered as tufts of marsh grass could be seen. It was windy the night before so the wind had blown snow across the marsh and it had drifted at the edge of the marsh. There, the drifts were five and six feet high, the best for making caves. We chatted, sang, and happily hiked along the trail. It was good to get out in the fresh air and to feel snowflakes on our faces. Sometimes we’d walk with our faces in the air to catch some flakes, until someone fell down or a neck got stiff.

We were now in the middle of the marsh, which was the length of three football fields. We turned around to see how far we had come and to see if anyone had their Christmas lights on yet. When we turned around the first thing we noticed was the beautiful gray silhouette of the sun setting toward the icy
Atlantic. We looked at the main road, lights were on, but no one had turned on Christmas lights yet.

We were still watching the sun go down when Ruby pointed to something at the edge of the woods, right where we had entered the marsh. It was too small to pick out, might have been a person, but it was coming too fast. There was no noise so it wasn’t a Ski-doo. The sun had set and the sky was graying, darkening, making evil shadows everywhere. Softly falling snowflakes had turned big and angry. We kept looking at the big, black thing closing in on us. Ruby started to panic. “It’s a bear!”

And with that, she was like a wild woman caught in a trap, looking around to find a hiding place. Then I started looking around too, because by then it did start to look like a bear. It was big and black and coming fast. We were stuck in the middle of the marsh with no trees to climb and no place to hide, but then I spotted something ahead. “There, that old car wreck, come on, Ruby!”

Well, we ran as fast as anybody could run in heavy boots, snowsuits, mittens, scarves, woolen hats, etc. Ruby kept looking behind and that slowed her down, she even fell once, I had to go back and pick her up. And then I made the mistake of looking up; I saw the big, black, hairy thing, and it did look like a bear! I got Ruby up and turned around, and so there we were running arm and arm, falling and freaking out!  But we made it, we made it to the wreck and climbed up on the roof and sat there, hoping that it would be enough, hoping that it wouldn’t climb up and eat us. We were breathing like they do in those dirty movies Ruby’s brother used to watch. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I had to take off my hat. I was overheated and running on empty. My mouth was dry and pasty. Ruby was sitting up, statuesque, she was frozen with fear, and her eyes were as “big as cups” as the old people used to say. I nudged her a bit and she came out of it.

“What the hell is it?” she said, standing up. I stood up, too, and we could see that it was now at the spot where we had first seen it and in any minute it would be upon us. We kept squinting our eyes, trying to see through those big-ass snowflakes, trying to make out what it was, but all we saw was a fast moving shadow. Then it disappeared. We remained on guard, back to back, trying to hear it, trying to see it. Then BAM!! It was on the car. Ruby got knocked over first, then I slipped and fell on my butt. Ruby was screaming and then suddenly stopped. I tried to get to her, but when I tried to get up, I fell off the car and into the snow. I got up, but then it jumped me and I fell backward. I started screaming but then, then I started laughing. And then I heard Ruby laughing. It was licking my face. I could see what it was now because it was right in my face. “Sailor!” I yelled, laughing.  It was Sailor, the town’s hobo dog.


It’s been many years since Ruby and I sat down and talked about the old days, but this story remains a classic. Boy, did we feel like fools… lol. But in our defence, the snow was heavy, it was just about dark, and we did live in the country, it could have been a bear.




Sunday, November 8, 2015

REMEMBRANCE DAY TV COMMERCIAL: POPPY









When I first saw this commercial I wasn't quite sure what it was about, until the end. I cried when I saw what she had given him. Then, later, when I saw the commercial again, I cried some more. I cried when I saw it the third time, and so on. I cannot watch this commerical without tears forming in my eyes.

I don't how or when I became so soft. I wasn't always like this. I used to be a selfish, self-absorbed, self-serving person. I never put one second of thought into Remembrance Day or WWI or II, or any other war. I was too busy tending to my own needs: what I wanted, what I needed, what I could get. 

I've come to realize (in my old age) that I was never truly happy being that way. I was miserable, depressed, and always searching for happiness. I took it where I found it, but it was all only temporary. Then, I became a Mom, and things changed. I began to look at the world in a whole new way. I became truly happy by making someone else (my son) happy, and I soon found out that that attitude, that attribute, could be used outside of the home as well. I found out that happiness really did come by making others happy, by serving others, and I don't mean actually serving others, I mean putting somone else's needs before your own.

Watching this commerical makes me think of all the people who lost their lives because they were selfless, and it makes me cry because it took me so long to become fully aware of what it means to be selfless. The sacrifice soldiers made and continue to make everyday for their families, friends, and country brings tears to my eyes. I can't possibly imagine what it was like serving in a war, but at least now, I have some idea of its depth and breadth.

So, to all the soldiers out there who fight everyday for our freedom, I thank you. And to all of those who have passed, I hope you know that you did not die in vain.

Amen. 












JESSIE TEMPLAR - THE EYES OF THE BEAST

When Phil got up the next morning, Jessie and Eli had already left for work, so he jumped in the shower and got dressed, and then made himself a big breakfast. As he was eating, he thought that he heard meowing. “Is that a cat?” he asked himself.

He finished his breakfast and was cleaning the dishes when he heard it again. He turned off the water and began walking around the apartment. It wasn’t a very big apartment and the closet in Jessie’s bedroom didn’t have doors, only curtains. He checked under her bed and found a plastic mouse. He checked the coat closet and found nothing. He followed the sound of the meowing and found himself in the room he had just awakened from. This was also Jessie’s work room. He checked in file cabinet drawers, under the cot he had slept on, and behind boxes and bags. Then he noticed a door handle two feet up from where it should have been. He moved a shelf and behind it was a half door. He opened the door and shining eyes jumped out at him. He yelled and jumped back. It was a calico cat.

“Jessie keeps a cat locked away in a storage room?” he said, laughing. He figured the cat must have gotten in when she was putting something away.

JJ went to the kitchen crying for food. Phil rummaged through the cupboards; JJ kept meowing. He seemed happy to get out of the closet and showed his appreciation by wrapping himself around Phil’s legs. Phil finally found the food and JJ ate heartily.

After Phil had cleaned up, he went across the street for a Tim’s coffee. He was hoping to find a familiar face or two, but there were none, so he went to the mall and picked up a few things that he would need for his job in Calgary.

At the shop, Jessie and Rose were telling Denise about the scare they caught last night. Denise laughed.

“Same old Phil. I hope he never changes,” she said. “How long is he staying?”

“Oh, he’s leaving tomorrow morning.” Jessie replied.

“I thought he said he was staying for a few days.” Rose said.

“Well, to Phil, last night was a day and then today is another day, so that’s a few days.”

“Ah, Jeez,” Rose said. “I wanted to take him out for a beer before he left.”

“Well, I have his cell number, why don’t you try and meet him for an early lunch? We have the Halloween orders done and Remembrance Day orders we’ve received so far are just about finished. Take an extra hour and then bring him back here.”

Jessie had planned on taking him to Woodbine to place a few bets. He was always lucky at the racetrack, and they had spent many a sunny afternoon there, talking about life, love, and future goals.

Rose left an hour later. She had reached Phil and they had planned to meet at Crabby Joe’s for a burger and beer. Rose and Phil had had a thing years ago. It didn’t work out, but they had remained friends. Rose wanted to settle down and have kids, but Phil was a roamer, a free spirit, and he felt that he was just too young for a family and so they had parted ways.

At the restaurant, it seemed just like old times. Rose and Phil talked about the old days, their mutual friends—who got married, who broke up—and their current lives. By the time they left the restaurant though, they had both realized that they had made the right decision to break up. The spark they had ignited years ago was gone. They walked back to the flower shop discussing Phil’s new job and Rose’s new beau.

When they reached the flower shop, Jessie had her bag in hand, ready to go. “Come on, bro, we’re outta here!” She grabbed his arm and they were out the door, heading for Woodbine.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon. They drank cold beers, laughed until they cried, and when the winnings were tallied, Phil had won $750 and Jessie had won $375, not bad for a few hours of cheering for the four-legged creatures they’d bet on. They were heading back to the car when Jessie’s phone rang. It was Eli.

She turned to Phil and said, “Eli’s not going to make it for dinner, he has to work late.”

“So, where do you want to go?” She fanned her wallet in front of his face, laughing.

Phil grabbed at her wallet, but she was too quick for him. “Well, it’s too early for dinner, how about we go for a hike somewhere. Have you found any new places?” he said.

“Honestly, I don’t hike as much as I used to. The flower shop’s gotten very busy this past year. I know that sounds like an excuse…” She opened the car doors and they got in. “Actually, there is this one place I’ve been too. It’s just down from Churchville Village. There is a bridge that reminds me of that old book I used to read from my childhood, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Do you remember that one?”

“The one with the ugly troll under the bridge wanting to eat the goats?”

“That’s the one.”

And in their deepest voices they said: “Trip trap, trip trap. Who’s that tripping over my bridge?”

Jessie swerved out of the parking spot, laughing while Phil kept repeating that line.

They drove up Old Derry Road and Jessie found Meadowvale Conservation Area.

“Oh, yah, I know this place.” Phil said. “I think I came here once, that was how I discovered the park above. There aren’t too many trees in this area, and I hate walking on that paved trail; it hurts my feet.”

They got out of the car and started the trek. Many leaves had fallen from the trees and there was a slight chill in the air. The afternoon had been bright and sunny, but now, the temperature had fallen as day gave way to evening. They talked about Phil’s new job and what he had hoped to accomplish in Calgary. Jessie suggested that he make roots somewhere, but Phil, always crooning about being Native Indian, couldn’t see himself outside of his birthplace. He only went away when he couldn’t find work.

A half hour into the walk and they came upon the bridge. Jessie was right; it also reminded him of the story about the goats and the troll. It was eerie and the water below looked dirty and cold.

Phil started chanting: “Trip, trap, trip, trap.”

“Jeez, Phil, it’s creepy enough as it is.” Jessie was serious, but had no choice but to laugh. Half way across the bridge they stopped to look over. The water was thick and slow. They stared at it, neither one saying a word, until Phil came out of it and started repeating the chant.

They walked on to the other side, up through a field then turned around to go back.

“You don’t want to walk up to the tracks?” Phil asked.

“Nah, the last time I went up there I fell down and hit my head. Remember, I told you that last night.”

“Oh, yah, right, I forgot.”

“But, there’s an off-road path I found back at the other side of the bridge. It might be muddy, but the fallen leaves might cover the mud.”

“Okay, let’s go.” Phil was eager; he loved the outdoors and loved to adventure; find new things and new places to go.


When they got on the other side of the bridge a slight breeze began to blow. Jessie found her way through some thick brush that was hiding the start of the muddy trail, and, as Jessie said, the fallen leaves had covered the mud. There wasn’t much brush along the trail. Deadfall made great hiding places for squirrels, and other small rodents. Invisible animals scoured the forest floor. They were too quick to see. A blue jay squawked ahead and a woodpecker sounded off somewhere in the woods. 

“This looks like a great place for deer.” Phil said. “Lots of timber.”

“Well, I’ve only been here once or twice, and the only interesting animal I’ve seen was this giant crane, which I thought was weird and out of place. Oh, and I saw a couple of loons one evening.”

Just then a loud crack came from somewhere ahead. Phil hurried up to see what it was, with Jessie at his heels. Again, another crack sounded up ahead to the right. Phil ran up the trail, leaves flicking up as he ran. Jessie ran close behind.

“Sounds like antlers, but it’s too early for rutting season.” Phil said.

They ran up to the end of the trail, which stopped at the Credit. They looked all around, but didn’t see anything or hear anything more. They remained quiet. A few minutes later, Phil spotted something just down the river next to the river bank. It was big.  He climbed mounds deadfall, trying to get closer to the river bank. He thought the thing was a deer caught up in a mound of deadfall, but as he got closer, he noticed movement going farther into the woods, into the evergreens, and then was gone, out of sight. When he finally made his way to the area, a dead deer was steaming, it’s neck had been torn open and it’s innards was leaking out onto the mud and leaves.

“What is it?” Jessie yelled from up the river.

“A dead raccoon,” Phil called back. He didn’t want Jessie worrying about whatever it was that had just killed that deer. He found his way back to her and they walked back down the trail, chatting about how that raccoon must have died.

“It could have been a hawk, or an owl.” Phil said. He kept his eyes closed in on the grove of evergreens as they passed. A strange sensation crept up his spine, and he felt like they were being watched. The thought of some psychopath crossed his mind and he dismissed it. If he had been alone, he might have investigated, but he didn’t want to put his sister in danger. He was relieved when they got back to the main trail.

It was nearing dark when they got back to the car. Jessie felt chilled to the bone. “Come on, let’s get out of here. How about we go to the Mandarin? I’m starving. And besides, I have an open account with them.”

Phil shrugged his shoulders. “Great, I haven’t had Chinese food in quite a while.”

By the time they got back to Jessie’s it was almost nine. As Jessie was parking her car, Eli came up and parked alongside.

“Did Pete give you this parking spot?” Jessie asked.

“Yah, I called him this afternoon and he said to park here and you could sign for it in the morning.” Eli replied.

Eli looked over at Phil. “Hey, how are you doing?”

Phil went over to shake his hand. “Good, and you?”

“Great, a little tired, but otherwise good.”

“Are you hungry? We got you some Chinese food.” Jessie lifted the bag of still hot noodles and stir fry.

When they got into the apartment, JJ met them with distaste. Growling and pacing.

“JJ! What has gotten into you?” Jessie went to pick up her bff and he scratched at her, then went running back to the work room. “I don’t know what has gotten into that cat.”

Jessie got a plate of food ready for Eli while he showered, and made a pot of coffee. Phil told her how he found the cat locked in the storage room and Jessie was surprised since she hadn’t used it in months. JJ came out of the room and strutted up to her, wanted to be petted. Jessie reached down and massaged his head, but JJ, once again, was spooked when Eli came out of the shower and headed back to the work room. Jessie thought nothing of it and brought the coffee to the table.

They enjoyed the pot of coffee and talked until all eyes were red and drowsy. Phil’s flight was leaving for Calgary at five am.

Jessie got up with Phil and they said their goodbyes. She offered to bring him to the airport, but he refused. A taxi is easier he told her. Jessie agreed, as she had gotten lost too many times at that crazy backward place. So, he left for the airport and Jessie went back to bed.

When Phil got on the plane he dozed. He slept. He dreamt. In his dream, he saw the dead deer and the thing that killed it. He saw the beast under the tracks, the beast that looked deeply into his eyes, the beast that wanted to kill him. The beast with those piercing eyes, the beast with Eli’s eyes.

“Sir, sir, wake up, you’re having a bad dream.”

Phil stared into the eyes of the flight attendant. They had landed, and all the passengers had disembarked.

“Oh, gosh, I guess I was more tired than I realized; I slept the whole way.”

The attendant smiled.

He grabbed his bag from the overhead compartment and looked out the window. He took a deep breath and felt good. The excitement overtook him and he was on his way, on his way to a new job and a new adventure; forgetting all about his dream and the eyes of the beast. 



Sunday, November 1, 2015

MY BROTHER CLINT



Whenever I ponder my brother Clint,

I think: Now there’s a cool guy, he’s mint.

He loves the great outdoors in all her glory,

To hike and bike, and even ride in a dory.

A fire on the beach with his kin is great,

It is quite a joy for all who partake.

For his jokes are wild, his smile is sincere,

And when he laughs you better steer clear!

He might blow a gasket when he laughs out loud,

But that’s okay, just don’t take him near a crowd.

He can be kind and considerate, but when he’s having a bad day,

Just leave him alone and let him work it out his way.

He might take off for days at a time,

But hey, we all need our space, that’s fine.

Nothing ever gets him down for too long,

One thing that helps is the herb in the bong.

Some people say he’s fun at a party,

Even when he’s not drinking hearty.

He’s slowed down quite a lot in the past few years.

He’s gotten used to living with his demons and fears.

His partner seems nice and the kids are all small boys,

That’s good for him because Clint likes toys.

Like video games and remote control cars.

He likes playing guitar and eating Mars bars! (Ha ha ha)

We used to play as kids but as we got older,

We didn’t get along and we grew colder.

But now we are growing old and we tend to recall,

The times we played Pipi, Follow the Map, and Baseball.

We had a hard time growing up you see,

But all that is behind us now, we have to forget that misery.

We realize that life is too short not to give each other a call,

Before you know it we’ll have no time at all.

So, my dear brother Clint, who lives in Newfoundland,

Let’s get together this summer and maybe walk hand in hand.

Well, maybe not, but maybe we could go for a long hike instead,

Have a campfire and maybe toast some bread. (Ha ha ha)

I miss you a lot and every time I see,

A man with a bald head walking away from me,

I think about the time we got drunk and I left my key,

On the picnic bench where we drank Cranberry.

Here’s to you, my dear brother Clint,

With your bald head and blue eyes with a glint,

Have a very Happy Birthday on November 5th,

And I hope it’s a good year ‘til your forty-fifth.