Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I've known for several days now that, due to adjustments demanded to syncronize the atomic clock, experts plan to add an extra second to this day before it ends. What I can't figure out is how to use the bonus time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


When I retire
My life will be
Much like it is
In the Christmas holidays.

Except that..
There won’t be a mountain of chocolate in the cupboard
Or turkey and trifle in the fridge
Or company coming every second day,
And dinners with others on other days,
Or New Year’s eve to consider,
Or a pile of new clothes to try on
And new records to listen to every day.

Yes, when I retire
My life will be
Just like it is
In the Christmas holidays.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Today we are eating leftover trifle. We didn’t really need to make trifle at all, given the large number of sweet things that were already here. But Christmas is the only time when we ever have trifle. So I made it anyway. Trifle is layered, like my life. It is something I make with my heart.
It is impossible for me to make trifle without remembering Granny Cookson. So far as I can recollect, my trifle is fairly similar to hers. Granny always made trifle at Christmas. In those days I ate it happily without stopping to consider its ingredients. In fact, I thought all trifle was Granny’s trifle until I met David and heard that his idea of trifle was a layered dessert containing Jell-O.
“Jell-O!” exclaimed my mother, when I told her what I had discovered. “Granny’s trifle doesn’t have Jell-O in it.” And that was only the beginning of my trifle education. One year I proudly carried a trifle to the Mill Woods United Church Choir Christmas potluck party. My trifle was Granny’s trifle. I was the first to arrive. There followed in my footsteps six other choir members bearing six bowls of trifle. Each of them was different from all the others. Each of them was made with layers of cake and other things, but none of them was granny’s trifle.
To eat a dish of Granny’s trifle is to taste all my childhood Christmases, to be once again warmed in the holiday good nature of my father’s family. Christmas was at granny’s house. We ate the meal and washed the dishes. We played board games and snickered at the men snoring in the living room. We played hide-and-seek in Granny’s closets, and listened to the Queen’s Christmas address. Then we ate a late-night snack and I cried because we had to go home. Christmas was the day that should have lasted forever.
Mom’s family did not gather at Christmas. So even though Granny was not my mom’s mother, it seemed natural that Mom should take up the cause of recreating Granny’s trifle when Granny stopped hosting large Christmas dinners. David and I would arrive at Mom’s a day early to help prepare the feast. The trifle would already be in progress. Mom would have the cake made and the raspberries thawing. We would make the custard, toast the nuts and whip the cream. To make a bowl of Granny’s trifle is to stand in Mom’s kitchen, stirring the custard and talking to Mom. "Don't leave yet," she'd say on Boxing day. "We haven't finished the trifle."
Nowadays, the job of trifle making has fallen to David and me. David’s family was never much committed to the Jell-O layered dessert, so Granny’s trifle it is. No matter that its assembly creates a pile of dishes. The process begins in warmest August. First we eat the ripening raspberries hot off the bushes, then we bring them in for breakfast. Finally, when there are too many for breakfast, we freeze the first bag. “That’s the trifle,” I say. After that I forget all about Christmas and go back to appreciating summer.
A few days before Christmas is the time to think about the cake. Will it be half an Angel Food, or a yellow cake mix, or a recipe for jellyroll? Usually it’s the recipe for jellyroll. I bake it, tear it into little pieces and place a layer in the bottom of the straight-sided berry bowl I got as a wedding gift. (It came with six little bowls, but they didn’t fit well in the dishwasher, so the ones that have survived now serve the dog his daily meal.)
On Christmas Eve morning it’s time to thaw the raspberries. Two cups of berries go nicely atop the cake in the berry bowl. Then, if you are only making one bowl, which is something we rarely have the good sense to do, you make one recipe of custard using the directions on the can of Byrd’s Custard Powder. The hardest part of the operation is waiting for the custard to cool before you pour it over the berries. I don’t know precisely why you have to wait for it to cool. Mom said so and she’s gone, so I can’t ask her. I suspect that if you poured it hot it might cook the berries and soak right into the cake instead of hovering above the berries in a tasteful layer. While you wait you can pass some time toasting a few slivered almonds to sprinkle after you pour the custard.
Some people might add a layer of whipped cream, but we don’t. Instead, we always whip the cream during a very chaotic time on Christmas morning and keep it in a separate bowl. I don’t know why we do it this way. That’s how Mom did it. Some day we might serve trifle to somebody who doesn’t want to eat it with sweetened whipped cream and that person will definitely be grateful.
While we clear the turkey from the table we start begging people to eat the trifle. “Please eat it so we won’t have so much left over!” Then we force them to work up a new appetite playing games before serving trifle again. Eventually we have to let them go home, leaving us with the leftover trifle. Then we try to appreciate it for as many days as it takes to finish. After all, we won’t make it again for at least another year.

Friday, December 26, 2008


From A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, (1914-1953) first read publicly in 1952, published posthumously in 1955

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes
hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days
and twelve nights when I was six.”

From the Cookson/Martin/Edey Christmas at our house yesterday

“Okay, we need to finish up this food so we’ll have room on the table for the plum pudding, caramel sauce, trifle, whipped cream, and seven trays of Christmas baking. Now, will you have turkey (basted by david with melted butter and red wine like they suggested on CBC)? Cranberry sauce? Potatoes and gravy? Turnips (We made them for Andrew.) Andrew—any turnips? Corn festively mixed with green and red pepper? Brown or white bun? How about Donna’s fruit salad? Layered salad with peas? Oh, and here’s the pickle tray and the olives! Now Donna, we need you to eat more. What will you have, donna?”
“Oh, more stuffing please.”
“Okay, I’ll get you some. Now where is it? Pass the stuffing please. Donna wants more stuffing. Hey down there, could you pass the stuffing up here? Where is the stuffing anyway?”
“Are you sure we had stuffing?”
“Well, yes, I think we had stuffing. We did have stuffing didn’t we?”
“Sure we had stuffing.”
“Yes, we had stuffing.”
“Where can it have gone?”
“Maybe it’s still in the oven.”
“Can’t be. We already had it and I only made one big bowl.”
“Maybe somebody should check the oven.”
“Oh, here it is, in the oven. Untouched. Now let’s have the stuffing course before we get to dessert!”

Summary: On Christmas Day 2008 only half the diners remembered having stuffing. People are even more forgetful than they used to be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Here is some information you may, or may not have. If you take a banana, (it has to be fairly ripe, though not squishy) peel it, then pinch gently on one end, the banana will divide lengthwise into three long, curving, beautiful banana sticks. Of course, I am aware that you probably already knew this. Everybody seems to have known it, except, that is, for me. And my question is: Why wasn’t I told?
Is it because I am not curious enough? Surely I could not have been expected to find this out on my own! That would have required playing with my food, an activity frowned upon by the adults of my childhood.
Or was I deliberately left out of the loop? This seems unlikely. Try as I might, I certainly cannot think of any reason why the truth should have been hidden from me. It’s not as if I have a history of cruelty to bananas.
The truth slipped into my sphere of awareness. It came so softly, so unobtrusively that I might have missed it had I been daydreaming. I first heard rumblings of it while having lunch with my colleagues. “What did you say?” I queried, rousing myself from visions of an afternoon nap. “A banana will divide lengthwise into perfect thirds? Describe to me the exact process.” I assumed they were pulling my leg (they are prone to antics like that). But they described a process, and insisted it could work. . I’ll confess it. I didn’t believe them. Trouble is, they’ve been right in the past.
I recalled how the friend of one of my friends convinced my friend that you could boil water in a paper bag over an open fire. He said it wasn’t easy. You had to start with a very hot fire so the water could boil quickly. It was, he said, a race against time. I recall how vehemently I argued. I said the bag would catch fire. Then I reasoned that the water would soak right through it. He praised my deductive skills (I am a sucker for flattery). Then he said that explained why you had to hurry. It is just possible that I believed him for a moment. Tricksters are everywhere. My friend believed him more than I did. I’ve mentioned it to a lot of people over the years. None of them believe it.
But the banana thing? Well, I just couldn’t tell for sure. And so, on the off chance that there might have been some substance to it, I asked David a tentative question about the nature of bananas. He answered me calmly. He said you could split a banana in three by squeezing its tip. He offered to show me. I didn’t know what to think when the experiment did not work on my breakfast banana. He said maybe the banana had to be riper.
Then, yesterday, all by myself, I peeled a banana and deftly but gently pinched its tip. Voila! Three long, perfect, curving banana sticks. I didn’t know what to do. I thought of bronzing them. I almost called my friend in Vancouver to ask her if she believed a banana would split in thirds if you gently squeezed its tip. Then I remembered that it was only 5:30 AM in Vancouver, so I gazed at them in a prolonged rhapsody of wonder. . They were so exquisite I could hardly eat them, though I will say that they formed a lovely pattern on my toast.
Now I am wondering what other amazing discoveries await me. This morning I spoke to a green pepper in the vegetable compartment of the fridge. “What secrets have you been keeping from me?” I asked. I tapped its top, massaged its middle. I bonked its bottom. Nothing happened, no change I could determine at the time, anyway. But it could be that the results have a delayed effect. Science is like that. It’s a lot easier to interpret a result once you know what result you are expecting. And then again, it may be that I aimed my inquiry at the wrong source. I didn’t hear about the banana miracle from a banana.
If there’s an extra spring in my step this morning it is because a window of possibility has opened for me. A lot of things are possible. I can’t tell you what they are. Nobody has told me yet. Well, maybe people have been telling me and I haven’t believed them. I didn’t actually try the thing with the paper bag. I don’t know if I will. Opportunity may be limited. I am hardly ever left all alone with a paper bag, a cup of water and a very hot open fire.
This I can say for sure. In 2009 I will be keeping my ears open for unsolicited tips on the nature of green peppers, or red peppers, or any other facts that have been kept from me all these years.

Monday, December 22, 2008


It’s December 22, deep, deep winter. But it’s not always cold on December 22. Thirty-five years ago today the sun shone brightly. It melted the snow and turned the streets to mud. I don’t need a weather calendar to confirm this statistic for me. It was hot that day. There was mud on my wedding dress to prove it. And later in the evening, when the ice fog dropped low over the countryside, turning the roads to glass, the family chimed: “We told you so!” But we didn’t care what they said. We were newly-weds dining on deluxe burgers and fries in our going-away clothes at the Esso Voyageur in Camrose, the only place open at 3:00 AM. Later, we’d be settling down in the cozy comfort of the Camrose Motel.
On future anniversaries, I would look at our wedding day as a curiosity, witnessed proof of the only real rebellion I ever had. “Get married next summer,” my mother said. She had every right to say it, seeing as how she was already making a wedding dress for my sister’s wedding on the Thanksgiving weekend. “Wait for next summer,” said David’s mother. She had every right to say it, seeing as how she would be travelling two hours east for the wedding, most of the Edey relatives would be travelling hundreds of miles from the Peace River country in northern Alberta.
But I, family pleaser extraordinaire, was mysteriously deaf to their pleas. For I, to my great surprise, had come upon a man I wanted to marry. He also wanted to marry me. We had decided to delay our announcement when David’s brother announced his wedding plans for the summer of 1973. Then, as we were contemplating Thanksgiving, my sister announced her intentions for that date. That left us no choice. December 22 it had to be. We were both going to university, both working part time. At that time grocery stores were closed on Sundays, and also on Boxing Day. So David could get five days off in a row.
Thirty-five years later I can see an easy solution. We would simply tell our parents we were moving in together and announce that a wedding date would be chosen for their convenience. And though we had lived in the Free Love mentality of the sixties, and couples were living together in many apartments, neither of us could envision the conversation in which we would tell them that David was leaving the comfy family nest for the other half of the bed in my cramped basement suite. So wedding it was, over all objections. (No, we did not have a baby on the way.) We simply couldn’t wait through the long winter months for the kiss of June. I couldn't wait. Never before or since have I felt anything so urgently. For the privilege of filling up the other half of that bed I would have eloped, really made our parents mad, done without all those presents. I suppose this is why other parents got on with the wedding plans.
Thirty-five years ago today we received the card table and folding chairs we will use on Christmas day, the green flowered dishes we use every day, the pots and pans that will cook our dinner, the bowl that will hold our Christmas trifle.
We got pieces of the china that adorns our company feasts. We got the simple candleholders we were given before the days of candle parties. One of the mixing bowl set is broken. Some of the wine glasses bit the dust.
As for the grumbling parents, they bit the bullet and showed us uncompromised support when they saw that the battle was truly lost. It wasn’t the marriage they objected to, after all, only the timing of the wedding. David’s father made an insistent phone call, prompting the relatives to change their minds about making the long journey from Northern Alberta. My mother designed for me a white velvet gown with overjacket that supported a train and a Margaret trudeau hood. My parents gave us a piano because I asked for it. David’s parents bought us a bedroom suite and fed us Sunday dinner every week.
When we drive down the highway, passing the Camrose Motel, looking just as plain now that it is thirty-five years older, Ruth asks: “Why would anybody have a honeymoon in the Camrose Motel?” It’s a good question. The answer might surprise you.
I had never spent Christmas away from my parents, and the Camrose Motel was only an hour down the road. Staying there, we were well positioned to return to their place on Christmas eve. In later years I often spent Christmas away from them, but never to this date away from David. And all of these Christmases have felt right, except that all of them are a little too close to our anniversary. This, I guess, is the dawning of perspective in a process of growing up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Today I got a letter from Wilma Clark. It said, “You are what the world needs more of—hope.” I don’t think I could claim to be hope itself, but I do confess to being a great supporter of hope, and I totally agree with Wilma that hope is what the world needs more of.
There are those who disagree with me. They are saying that the world needs common sense, the wisdom of the free market, solutions to all its problems, the annihilation of certain destructive elements. Some are even saying that hope is destructive. Some say it’s a waste of time.
But I still like hope. I like to hear Obama talk about it. I like to know that there is a guy next door who wants to talk about working together to make a better world. I like to hear how he doesn’t blame anybody. It gives me hope.
Of the leaders in my own country, at this time when they are taking a rest, this is what I would like to say.
Let's put all four leaders in one room and ask them hope questions. Each question must be answered with the words I hope.
What kind of country do you hope canada will be?
What do you hope Canadians will have?
How do you hope they will interact with each other?
What do you hope Canadians will do?
What do you hope other nations will say about Canada?
What do you hope to achieve in Afghanistan?
What do you hope other countries will say about Canada's environmental policy?
What do you hope historians will write about your contribution to Canada?
What do you hope will be your proudest accomplishment at the end of your career?
I hope this experiment will some day be tried. I believe it would raise debate to a mush higher level. You will notice that this approach asks for no
promises, no action plans. It will be much criticized for this. It will be called pie-in-the-sky, derided as impractical. But I believe the hopes will
direct the actions.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Yesterday we celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We watched improv comedy by Laugh Inc. Dogs with Wings picked up money from the floor and turned on lights for us. I thought back to the days—not so long ago—when there were no comedy troops of people with brain injuries. I thought back to the years when service dogs who might have served other disabilities were jealously guarded by the blind community, and the training of such dogs was sanctioned only by the Seeing Eye Inc. in Morristown NJ. And it seemed to me that a lot of progress has been made in the past few years.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I have been noticing lately
That our hopes regarding others
Tend to be only as large
As the world we can imagine.

And I have been noticing lately
That our hopes regarding others
Tend to have an influence
On the hopes they have for themselves.

Which is why it pays to be diligent
In exploring the world with vigor
So that the world we can imagine
Is a large, large world.