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Archive for the month “December, 2018”


Years ago, about 26 or so, we renovated our house. We could never understand why kitchens in old houses were so tiny. Maybe it was a European thing to have large welcoming places to cook, collaborate, test and taste new concoctions emerging hot from the oven, gathering with friends, family, nonnas, children, breathing in fresh smells, dialoguing with the cook, pausing and resting among stacks of ingredients with a warming cup of tea, a cookie, the kitchen a hearth, the centre from which the spokes of all family life originated.

But ours in our North Toronto house resembled a tiny cupboard also fitted with a small green nook so constrained we wondered how the previous families had ever fitted themselves, three full-sized male adolescents, into the cramped leather space.Maybe a forerunner to a galley, configured in the architect’s mind as a spot for a an upstairs- downstairs maid to be signalled by a tingling silver bell, an adjunct to the big living spaces where people did no more than ingest three times a day. And rather than luxuriant wafting melodies of bursting aromas, odours of spam, packaged slices of baloney, cans of Campbell’s soup, or cucumber sandwiches, no crusts, might have emerged on dainty Wedgewood dishes from a room deemed so unimportant as to to be hidden deep in the bowels of the house or relegated to its furthest outreaches.

So we expanded and extended, more than quadrupling a space that we glassed in, positioned to overlook the overgrown garden, framed by the craggy birch tree that harboured blue jays, wood peckers and cardinals in the spring. I had visions of Sissinghurst, a white wonderland of blooms that would frame our kitchen as I drank my morning coffee or contemplated my day.

And with that renovation came, of course, new appliances. Foolishly setting our renovation back to back with a trip to Europe to introduce our children to the galleries, museums and churches of France and Italy, we were finding that the reconstruction of our kitchen was lagging, and with the travel plans quickly approaching, we must act fast to make decisions.

Maybe back then, someone had lauded German ovens as the best, others macabrely resurrecting the agents responsible for gas chambers as truly not appropriate for Jews, with the same friends insisting they would never buy Mercedes, etc. But I, bias aside, arrived at the conclusion that Gaggenau appliances, yes German appliances, although out- pricing other models, really were superior, better engineered , and barely with two days before flying off, we ordered a combo of convention and traditional ovens, stove top, and dishwasher of the same notorious brand.

And with the exception of the dishwasher that has been replaced twice, and stove top recently demised three years ago, Gaggenau has stood the test. Because all were positioned built- ins and the dimensions of each matched to scaled down European- style products, you can imagine my fear of replacement.

When you commence a renovation, you live in the now, not considering that like bodies, machines and products, wear and wear out in the process of living, and will by dint of necessity need to be repaired or replaced at some point, for the kitchen as the heart of a home receives dirty climbing feet, grubby , grabbing hands, grasping fingers that unpry and pull open cupboards and drawers roughly, rudely pulling produce from refrigerators, dropping, spilling spices onto the floor, replacing glasses and plates, unthinkingly, constantly reaching, slamming, touching, opening, closing, rearranging, moving tables, scraping chairs, sweeping, washing crumbs from the floor : in the kitchen’s role as post central for feeding and creating and talking and gathering. And who has not found measuring spoons, fitted bowls and wooden spoons for drooling babies and sticky- handed toddlers so mama could cast a weary eye while preparing a meal? If any room is alive, the kitchen certainly is- feeding the souls and stomachs of the family.

So should a problem arise, you smile brightly at the serviceman, cross your fingers and toes, awaiting the reply: if a replacement part still exists because it is unlikely your model of oven is still available.

So when the stove door persisted in refusing to close on Sunday, anticipating my holiday turkey would not be cooked if the heat continued to blow open the door, I went to the Internet Monday morning. To my joy, there were specialists for stove tops and ovens, even listing the European makes that included the rarely seen Gaggenau. The friendly sweet- voiced person at the end of the line reassured me that someone would be there that very morning. The charge of $80 would be deducted from the labour, or so I thought I heard. I asked about the hourly rate and was informed it depended on the job. I enquired a second time, but the response was vague and truly I had visions of the holiday turkey being uncooked or cooked so unevenly to produce salmonella poisoning in my guests, and as one must usually endure several days of waiting should the service person actually appear as scheduled within a block of four hours, I booked the appointment set between 10-1.

A pleasant young man, maybe 20, arrived. He commented that the old Gaggenaus were great ovens, the new ones not so much. I showed him the problem, even indicating how my son-in-law suggested the latch must have dropped down. When he consulted his clock, I did too, 11:32. Inserting his pinky and gently lifting the small piece that must have dislodged, he added two screws and tightened them. Fussing slightly for a minute or two, he began his paperwork. It was now 11:42. The cost $210.

Incredulous, aghast and overcome with laughter, I asked, “Why?”. He explained that the $80 was not to diagnose the problem, it was the outside cost of a service call, nothing included. At first I said, I’ld pay but definitely intended to badmouth, write, cajole whoever, whatever to protest this outrageous cost. I’m not sure if he suggested or maybe I figured I should call the company. I did and I complained. Then I was asked if I had been given a quote for the work. I said “No,” and later when I viewed the bill, there was a place for the customer to sign TWICE that they had acknowledged the work and the cost.

The lady on the phone disappeared for 10 minutes, returning to tell me they would reduce the cost by $20. By this point, seething with indignation and having replaced my VISA card into my wallet, I told the person on the phone to invoice me, that my husband was a lawyer, we would review the cost, either to pay it or find another venue to argue this ridiculous cost. She asked to speak to the technician.

We hung up the phone and he asked,” How much do you want to pay?” I said, “$80.” He looked at me, aghast, sardonically bitterly inquiring, “ What about the parts?” I responded ,” You could get a pile of a hundred screws for a buck at Canadian Tire.” In the end, I paid $85.

But I’m wondering if the experience had not come on the tails of replacing 40 year old taps that had been inherited with the house the day before that sparked my outrage. Young Alex also chosen from a list on the Internet ( advertised as a 5 star rating) had explained the Groen faucets now defunct needed replacement. After checking at two local outsources, I’m talking within maybe 2 miles both, he told me it would take two weeks for their arrival.

As well, constantly asking for a price at the outset, but again never receiving one, I was finally informed, the entire job would cost close to $500, with labour at $280 . Oh you haven’t discounted the $100 for your first visit?” I reminded him.” Oh yes”, he responds,” Our hourly rate is $360.” Really! How much do teachers and policemen and salespeople and even doctors earn hourly?

Checking on line, I discovered the taps would cost $50. Because of shipping to Canada, an additional $30 was tacked on. Double checking with Alex, I ordered them myself, and hoped they would not be lost in the Christmas rush and previous postal backup. Then I will see if I can find someone to pop them in at less than $280. But because the taps in my bathroom has no local turnoff , hot water continues to drip.Through it all, Alex courteous and helpful. Why not?

So, if you have persevered through my tale, I suggest, should you require assistance by plumber or other technician , make sure, INSIST on clear statements of cost. I know I belong to another time, another generation, perhaps one of trust , so out of date at present, but honestly, $210 for 10 minutes of work or $360 an hour feels unduly extravagant for minor jobs.

Brave new world where dinner arrives by Uber, mail arrives in a flash and companies think nothing of overcharging. Beware.

My Father and Drugs

Drugs were always taboo in my family. Not sure if they were considered a weakness, an excuse not to avoid or turn from the rigours of life, but whether an allergy ,an accident or procedure, one was supposed to grit their teeth and go it without medicinal support. That just was how we managed our life, one step at a time, dragging our feet forward, no matter the rocky, twisted, unfair pavements we were encountering.

My father in his ten months at Riverdale Hospital during his polio siege described how he was able to project the ravaging death of his nerves sparking and swizzling up his back onto the bedside night table beside him. Many years later, I of three herniated disks, might rate the back pain of herniated disks far beyond childbirth or surgery. As his limbs were devoured and ravaged by polio, his spine the focus of the disease, I was incredulous at his ability to banish himself from that agony, a mental meditative warrior, who unable to physically remove himself from the lashing strikes of a ninja assailant, accepted but transmitted his torment.

If childbirth is a hill, back pain is the craggy Austrian Alps. The electrical jolts that race and rock through you, shocking and jolting you are indescribable in the realm of torture, one in which you long never to twitch, turn or tap your body so to avoid igniting the raging red hot flames piercing and penetrating your body. So how he endured, I have no idea.

As children ,our dentist the kindly Dr. Mueller was the only person I ever knew to call me Patsy. Because my father did not believe in freezing, our teeth were the sites for pain. Before fluoride, cavities were often deep and crater-like, veering perilously too close to the nerves in wait for a metal probe that jolted us into a learning: that going to the dentist was a necessary evil to be endured, but roundly feared . With no calming agent, the intensity of pain both my sister and I tolerated and complained of were rebuked by our father, querulous that we would even want an extra loading of discomfort by submitting to a needle that in itself hurt, he would state, honestly amazed. Whether it was the extra cost which in truth he could not afford or truly his own example of being able to withstand his own past pain, I do not know. But for the rest of my life, I was conditioned to hate those bi- yearly visits, some teeth verging dangerously close to demise because poor Dr.Carl Mueller, himself, had a difficult time, working on girls who squirmed and twisted even before the procedures commenced.From his reminisces and twice a year excursions, I learned to tough it out, no painkillers allowed, accepting and embracing the dictums of no drugs as my own. If our father had been so brave in his own terrible onslaught, should we not perform as uncomplaining little soldiers too? Even my mother’s,” Maybe Saul…” was not met with a response. Maybe a look of disregard or failure.

And when as a young mother myself with a bad cold, I did popped a Corricin, a favoured cold remedy in the 80’s, and my tongue began to grow, swelling and enlarging to touch the edge of my cheeks and fill my mouth, causing my speech to become sloppy and unintelligible, we raced to the hospital to learn I was now- not previously, but now allergic to aspirin and aspirin- properties. Were my parents correct: that taking a medication was punishable by something worse than attempting to release us from a bit of pain.

The mind tells us strange things.

Yes, there were aspirin substitutes I was told, but their molecular structures were not all that different to aspirin, so be wary. With a second pregnancy, I carried some prescribed tablets in my purse should my tongue begin to engorge, these talismen dissolving in the sweaty hands that cupped them continually in panic, particularly in the darkness of sleep when nightmares danced in my head, taunting and terrifying, overriding my rational being who whispered,” perhaps you have unknowingly imbibed an offending aspirin product or its second cousin that is about to teach you a sharp lesson. Ha ha.”

Even at 70, these early behaviours linger, warning me that any medication may swell or disrupt something within. And in truth, even the present day medicine-men and women cannot know for sure, what will, or might not trigger swelling, speaking in likelihoods, statistics, hopeful assurances. Some retort, “ Check with your pharmacist.” Ah- ha

For in fact, the hot itchy hives that erupted on my skin, the ertacaria, one doctor in the 90’s lectured to me were neurotic, not triggered by the hot of my sweaty feet in perspiring boots or cold ice seeped through the seams of my mittens as I cupped snowballs -that were actually the catalyst. And although I do believe the mind holds great sway, turning a sunny day to gloom and clouds, the cause of some of my unrelenting itchy hives was eventually identified as sulfa, not my much maligned over sensitivity and emotions.

Perhaps my father’s scorn was levelled because of the asthma drugs and intense reactions to yearly hay fever that caused his nostrils to seal and his breathing to be corrupted and uneven, even the weekly shots not offering much release from his suffering body. Likely these reactions lay behind his ridicule of plants and flowers, for both held the potential to render his life even more difficult. But as a child, you are merely scornful, choosing not to look beyond the surface, merely holding back your own anger for fear of a calling down, once more your sensitivity and sloppy emotions to be mocked, tears escaping to underline your weakness.

As children, we absorb much directly or indirectly from our homes, our parents, our upbringing. As we form, bits and pieces of knowledge adhere to our souls, moulding us beyond the genetic properties with which we have been gifted- or not.

Often we attempt and are successful at reasoning with our unconscious selves, explaining that we comprehend the patterns that make us crazy and plunge us back to our obedient childhoods. But the seed once planted whether dormant or hidden deep in the snow of our active brains, lies in wait for the moment that renders us a child, observing our parents who believed for the moment they were preferring wise ways. In the end, we must forgive them and look within to our own management of self.

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