Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving, Then and Now by Margaret Ullrich

Yes, Thanksgiving was a day for gratitude.

We went for a walk after breakfast. On our walk back home we've been enjoying free coffee at our neighborhood McDonald's. Before, when we had dogs, we always had to sit outside. Now, we can get in out of the cold.

Our local McDonald's has its own regulars - retired folks such as ourselves who drop in to socialize over a cup. We've been sitting and chatting with people we know from church. It's a whole new world for us.

On Thanksgiving, we got home in time to watch the Macy's parade and the dog show. Dinner was easy since it was leftover turkey with homemade cranberry sauce, vegetables and pumpkin pie. Same as we've been having for 37 years.

I couldn't understand why I felt so relaxed. I remembered other American Thanksgivings we had observed. By the end of the day I was wiped out. Was it just because I was more experienced? What was different?

Of course... I didn't have to phone home.

Every holiday of every year I had called my parents. As the years went by, it became a three-day operation - a day to prepare, the day of the call, a day to wind down. The calls had become more stressful as my parents became more elderly, ill and disappointed.

The latest disappointment was my mother's and brother's upcoming move from my parents' duplex to a one-family house my brother had recently bought.

When Ma first mentioned George had bought a house she said, "I'm moving from a big house to a doll house." She always liked big houses. When they visited and we walked around here, she would point out the newer larger houses.

I hope she had finally gotten used to the idea of moving to a smaller house. On our last call, when I mentioned we were having Bathfitters do our bathroom, she talked about all the upgrades George was doing before their move. She seemed pleased.

But, with Ma it was always something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

U.S. Thanksgiving Day by Margaret Ullrich

We had saved a portion of our Canadian Thanksgiving turkey to enjoy today.

We've been doing that since we moved to Canada. We usually watched the parade and the dog show, ate dinner, gave our dog(s) some turkey, then called our folks.

Thanksgiving is a little different now.

We're grateful that, while her death was sudden and a shock, Ma didn't suffer.

We're also grateful that BoBo was able to enjoy his last Thanksgiving. Bobo had a good last week. He enjoyed the turkey and doing his usual stuff. He had this game he liked to play with me. I usually sit in the right corner of the couch, near the table and lamp. Whenever I got up, BoBo liked to steal that spot, then give me a "Who me?" look when I returned.

He played that game a few times that last week.

My friend sent another forward.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner

Stay off your thighs!

Happy Thanksgiving .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our Mothers and Dishes by Margaret Ullrich

Maybe it's a Maltese thing to love blue on dishes. I have a blue depression chicken in my living room. My favorite pattern is Blue Nordic, which I use regularly. It has swirly blue onions and floral designs on white dishes.

Ma had always bought a dish here, a dish there. While I was growing up, I had never seen her set a table with matching dishes. She did most of her shopping in Corona. There dishes were stacked on a table or on shelves behind the counter. They sold plates 4 for a dollar.

I had bought my parents a set of dishes from Grant's, a store like Zeller's, for their twentieth anniversary in 1968. Ma insisted they be saved for special occasions. I never saw her use them.

In 1973, a year after we married, my folks came up to visit us in British Columbia. I had bought a set of dishes from Sears. It was called Tulip Time and had blue tulips on white dishes.

When Ma saw me set the table with the dishes she said, "Don't use the good dishes for us. Use your old dishes." I said, "Ma I haven't been married long enough to have old dishes. This is all I have."

When we were visiting them in 1999 she used the dishes I had bought for them in 1968. She even posed for a picture with them.

I hope she used them at other times, too.

I told Alice about Ma and her dishes. She e mailed back:

Funny thing about your Ma's old and mixed dishes. My mother did the same thing. That's why, from the very first day of our marriage, I always set a pretty table - no chips and everything matches.

Yes, it is funny that both our mothers saved their good dishes. I once read in an Heloise book, "Use your good dishes. There'll never be anyone better than your loved ones."

How true.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Niece Remembers by Margaret Ullrich

My cousin Alice e mailed me. Alice is older than I am by 6 years. She was also born in Malta. She and her parents and our Aunt Helen had immigrated on the day I was born. My parents were supposed to be on the boat with them, but Ma was busy having me.

We immigrated to America 3 months later.

Alice told me that the favorite gifts she had received as a child came from Ma. They were dish sets. One Ma had given to Alice in Malta. It was a pink glass tea set. Alice still has pieces of that set. She still loves pink depression dishes.

The other was a tin dinner set Ma had given Alice soon after we came to America. It was a Blue Willow set. Alice so loved the story about the pattern that it is still her favorite.

Alice also said that, out of all the Aunts on her Mom's side, Ma was the only one that ever gave her something she loved. And Ma did it twice.

I asked Alice to tell me the story of the Blue Willow pattern. Alice wrote back:

The Willow pattern has a beautiful and tragic love story. You know the love birds in the pattern, well, they were lovers that were reincarnated as birds.
She was a princess and he was not worthy of her, according to her royal family. So they ended their life as humans so that they could be together as love birds.
That story, or something like it, was on the box the dinner set was in. Oddly enough, very few people know that story. I never forgot it.

Ma never talked about her years in Malta. It was nice picturing her as a doting Auntie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Immigrant Woes by Margaret Ullrich

We just got back from a walk. Bumped into a few people. Folks are still asking where Bobo is and if we'll get another dog. We've lived in our present home for 21 years and have many friends. But, I didn't grow up here.

It ain't easy being an immigrant kid.
My parents always said they could deport me if I got out of line. I was alway an alien while I lived in America. Pop wouldn't pay the 10 bucks to have me naturalized when he and Ma became American citizens. 

Americans don't have much sympathy for people who had been born in other countries living in America. Every year I had to send in a green alien registration card.  If I didn't, I could be fined, jailed or deported. 

Every year my classmates teased me about being a foreigner. 
Every year I  knew I faced a double glass ceiling: being a female and being a foreign born person.  
Every year I wished we had never immigrated to America.

My parents knew how I was treated by some classmates and their parents.
Maybe Pop didn't pay the 10 bucks so I could more easily return to Malta.

Now that we're sorting out Ma's estate, I'm learning it ain't any easier being an immigrant adult.

My brother had sent me a beneficiary claim form and form W-9 (for U. S. residents). The same forms he and our sister had signed.

I had to phone a 1-866 number to get the foreign beneficiary claim form: Form W-8 (as explained on page 2 of the W-9 form). I also had to give her the correct spelling of my last name - they'd left out a letter.

I explained that I moved to Canada in 1972 and that, since I am a Canadian citizen, I need the W-8 form. I gave her the correct spelling of my last name, along with my address and phone number. For security purposes she asked me Ma's date of birth. Once I told her the date, she expressed sympathy and said she'll pass on the information.

They called back and said that I'll get a PDF of the beneficiary claim form: Form W-8 through e mail.

Instead she sent me a website address that had a few W-8 forms. I picked one, then
e mailed and asked if I had the right form for my situation.

That was the end of her helpfulness.

She said that she had, "provided the website in hopes that it would lead you to the correct form. Accessing the IRS website may provide more answers for what is correct for your situation. American Equity will require a W-8 to process the claim, but we cannot determine which is correct for you."

If I were in America it seems one form fits all situations. As to picking the right form for a foreigner, well, "that was one of the questions that should be directed to your tax advisor. It looks like the forms were changed as of April 2009."

I don't think I'll move again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Forward

A friend sent me the following. Usually I ignore forwards. Not this one.

To realize
The value of a sister/brother:
Ask someone
Who doesn't have one.

To realize
The value of ten years:
Ask a newly
Divorced couple.

To realize
The value of four years:
Ask a graduate.

To realize
The value of one year:
Ask a student who
Has failed a final exam.

To realize
The value of nine months:
Ask a mother who
gave birth to a stillborn.

To realize
The value of one month:
Ask a mother who
gave birth to a premature baby.

To realize
The value of one week:
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize
The value of one minute:
Ask a person who has missed the train.

To realize
The value of one-second:
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

Time waits for no one.

Treasure every moment you have.

You will treasure it even more when
You can share it with someone special.

To realize the value of a friend or family member:


Sunday, November 15, 2009

It will just take time by Margaret Ullrich

Time is moving so fast.

The Santa Claus Day parade was yesterday. The weather was gorgeous. Sunny and mild. No snow. It doesn't feel like Christmas is coming, but you can't argue with the guy in the red suit or all those happy kids.

My brother had e mailed me that he and our sister were going to visit our parents' graves today. It's a month since we lost Ma. He also wrote that when he's at work, he'll reach for the phone to give her a call. Then it hits him that there is no one there to call.

It will just take time.

We've had at least one dog for the past 37 years. You just gets used to certain routines when you have a dog or two. One routine is being howled at when you come home. We recently went out for an evening. When we returned, we tensed up, expecting barking and yelping when we opened the door.


The house was so quiet. I didn't like the yowling and shrieking. It sounded like they were being attacked. But now it's just too damn quiet.

It will just take time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Traditional Way To Go by Margaret Ullrich

We also saw The Godfather last weekend.

What is there about a good old-fashioned Italian funeral that brings out the worst in people? I'm not talking about folks in the background arranging to kill anybody while the dearly departed is being lowered. Traditional funerals just seems to lead to problems.

The "Paulie's Mother's Funeral" segment of an episode of The Sopranos was a little too close to home. When Paulie was angry about the poor turnout and being stuck with a few hundred holy pictures, I felt like somebody had finally exposed one of my family's well kept secrets.

A funeral is a person's final popularity contest.

My Aunt Betty, by marriage, had a doozy of a memorial service. She was a second-generation American, with dozens of cousins, 2 married daughters, 3 married grandchildren, 2 single grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren. Along with in-laws, she had tons of friends. She also had a married brother with his own descendants, including great-grandchildren. There was lots of laughing as they reminisced about all the good times they'd had.

My parents thought it wasn't a proper way to conduct a funeral. Way too much fun.

Ma kept to herself all her life, no matter how much we tried to encourage her to make friends. In her final years we begged her to go to the Senior Centre which was a block away from her house. She and Grandma (her mother) had the attitude that nothing in America was as good as in Malta. My sister Rose and brother George took that into account and just planned for a one day wake with the funeral the next day. Since she kept to herself, there weren't many who knew her.

I had invited Ma to come up for a change of scenery in February after Pop died. She had come up for a few weeks after her mother had died in 1978. I had mentioned that other elderly people we knew spent part of the year with their children in different parts of the country. Ma always hated cold weather. I reminder her that Winnipeg does get nice weather from May to October and that she was welcome to spend summers here.

We also suggested she move to a seniors' residence - in College Point or Florida or Malta - when she complained about being lonely due to George's long work hours. At least there would've been people her age around whom she could visit. She insisted on living with George.

Because of her attitude, there wasn't anyone George could have called to check on Ma when she didn't answer his phonecall from work.

George said Ma's funeral went as well as could be expected. He didn't say how many holy pictures were left.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Halloween and 10% Tuesday by Margaret Ullrich

This year Halloween was different without a dog. Paul didn't have to stay upstairs puppysitting so the kids wouldn't be frightened by a barking dog. Folks in our neighborhood keep track of the numbers we get so we'll have an idea of how much candy we'll need next year. This year we got 95 kids. Twenty-one years ago we had over 200 kids. The neighborhood is greying. Since the houses are about 1000 sq. ft. they're not too big for empty nesters.

Last Tuesday was 10% Tuesday. It was everybody's stock up day. I bumped into a few people who asked why they hadn't seen Bobo recently and I had to tell them that Bobo had passed away.

A couple we know from church met me at Sobey's. Marty likes to joke around. Last month he and Sylvia were behind me in line and Marty started yelling, "Hey, lady, move faster. I ain't got all day." I snarled back, "That's too damn bad." The poor kid at the register looked scared. Then Marty and I laughed and chatted. Guess the kid thought we had Alzheimer's.

Last Tuesday Marty said, "Hey, I saw your dog running around. I called the pound." I told him that Bobo had passed away. He went white. Guess the word hasn't spread in our parish. Marty, Sylvia and I talked about deceased dogs and parents. Their dogs had passed away when they were about Bobo's age.

We never realized how lucky we'd been with the other four. We honestly thought all dogs lived to their mid-teens.

In Safeway a neighbor came to me and said, "I haven't seen your husband in a few weeks. Is he okay?" I told Frank about Bobo. Bobo had certain routes he liked to walk with each of us so he could cover the neighborhood. Frank wasn't on my route, even though he just lives around the corner.

Last Tuesday also reminded me of Ma because I usually picked up doubles of recipe cards and sent a set to her. I don't think she ever used them, but she liked getting new ideas. Last Tuesday I only got one of each.

Life goes on.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Autumn In My Garden by Margaret Ullrich

We had some nice weather this weekend so we did some more yard work. While Paul raked the leaves, I pruned the lilacs and our 2 cotoneasters. Maybe next year the tulips that grow near the cotoneasters will get enough sun to give us some flowers.

The yard looks so bare in the fall. Durng the summer it was overgrown. It's hard to believe that a few heavy rains can give such a boost to all the 'volunteer' plants. How and why do gardens look so neat and tidy in the gardening books?

I've been gardening for 37 years. I have to confess my garden never looks neat or tidy. I try to pass it off as "a cottage garden".

Whom am I kidding?

I plant seeds. I'm so grateful when something comes up. I don't know whether it's from the seeds I planted or some new weed filling in my garden. I let everything grow since I'm not sure what they are. When the "Maybe that's lettuce" gets a dandelion flower, then I know. I've been tenderly watering a weed.

We did have some success with our fruits and vegetables. We had lots of tomatoes. Maybe that's the secret. I bought the tomatoes as plants. Grown plants. No mystery there. Some of them even came with tiny yellow flowers. I dug a hole, inserted the 8-inch plant, covered it with dirt, then put a cage around each and every plant.

I have to admit I'm clueless when it comes to seeds.

Resolved: stick to actual plants. No more guessing games. Buy a plant that comes with a label... maybe even flowers.

Yes, there's always next year's garden.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

BoBo Is Remembered by Margaret Ullrich

I was just thinking about last Sunday and the Communion of Saints. I'm also totally comfortable with the whole idea of a huge group of living people all together, looking over our shoulders and caring about us. Our neighborhood is like that.

Over the years our neighbors got used to seeing Paul and me walking our dogs. But people really took note when Paul and I were walking our bichon frises, Popcorn and BoBo. Even though there was a ten-year age gap, Popcorn and Bobo were often mistaken for siblings.

After Popcorn died people stopped us and asked what had happened to our other dog. Once, when I was walking BoBo, a lady who didn't speak English approached me. She kept two fingers up and pointed her other hand at BoBo. Finally I understood. She was asking about our dogs. I gestured with one finger up and shook my head. Finally she understood and patted my arm.

BoBo needed two hours of steady walking, so Paul and I walked him separately in one-hour shifts. Since Paul and I still need our one-hour walk after Bobo died, we've decided to walk together. On Sunday, after Mass, we walked down one street and around our local pond. Because the weather was blustery, none of our neighbors or their dogs were out.

But that didn't mean we went unnoticed.

When we were heading back home, a friend who owns a pekinese came out of her house and called to us. She said that another friend who owns a poodle and a bichon had noticed us walking together. The poodle owner had guessed that we would be passing the pekinese's house on our way home. Where was BoBo? We explained and then we reminisced.

Our parish has an All Saints custom. There's a large book by the side of the altar. Before and after mass during November people can write the names of friends and family members who have passed away. I was sad when I wrote my parents' names in the book. It was so sudden. Last year they were alive.

Paul also wrote the names of friends and relatives in the book. Finally he wrote "B. Ullrich".

I hope our other dogs understand.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Our Dogs by Margaret Ullrich

How did we become "the people with the dogs"?

In 1973 we were living in Surrey, British Columbia. Paul was working for a weekly newspaper and, because he had an irregular schedule, on Thursdays he came home at midnight. That particular Thursday I had spent canning peaches. Paul came in and a small brown animal scurried in with him. It was so small, we thought it was a rat. It turned out to be a spaniel pomeranian pup, about two months old.

After we dried her and fed her, she stumbled toward the empty box of B. C. peaches - in which we had placed a blanket - and promptly went to sleep. As near as we could figure, she was too small to have run away, so someone must have dumped her in the countryside. So, the next morning we named her Peaches.

Peaches was a girl with personality. Remember the blowsy spaniel with Peggy Lee's voice in Disney's Lady and the Tramp? Well, she reminds me of Peaches. Peaches had a certain style. Maybe in her heart she knew she'd been a love child. Any chance she got she'd sneak under fences and look for adventure. When we told her to "Do Bogart" she'd give out with a big toothy smile. She was a cosmopolitan lady who did it all. When we camped in the Rockies, she came along. When we flew to New York City and stayed in hotels, she came along. She was a dog of the world.

A few years after we moved to Winnipeg I decided to take some courses. We didn't want to leave Peaches alone, so we went to the pound to get her a companion. There we saw a bearded collie pup who had been a guest for as long as the city would allow. The clerk said the pup was scheduled to be put down. Not while the Ullrichs were there he wasn't! We brought him home and for some dumb reason, named him Herb.

When the Queen came in 1984 we had Peaches and Herb. For those who weren't into the disco scene, Peaches and Herb were a hot duo in the 70s. Remember "For Your Love" and "Shake Your Groove Thing"? Neither do I. I didn't plan to name my dogs after such a bad act. I just went with the flow.

Herb was a docile, sweet natured fellow who really came into his own when our son arrived. Herbie was a sheep dog and he took to babysitting like Nana did in Disney's Peter Pan.

When Peaches passed away in 1987 we thought we'd simplify our lives and have just one dog. That lasted until we had to go to the pet store for some medicine for our son's goldfish. Don't ever bring a kid to a pet store! The clerk put a cocker spaniel pup in Carl's arms, Carl reminded us his ninth birthday was around the corner and, you guessed it, we went home with a cocker spaniel.

Silky was the picture of Disney's cocker spaniel, Lady. And she knew it. Pull a camera out and she'd pose. But where Peaches gave out with big smiles, Silky perfected what came to be known as "Snarly Face". No kidding, she had an expression that you wouldn't want to see on some hulking guy in a dark alley.

Silky had attitude, a direct approach and a taste for makeup. Once we took her with us when we went to see "Shakespeare in the Park". There were some heavily made-up ballet dancers sitting on the sidelines, waiting their turn to perform. Silky made a beeline for one slender miss - ballet dancers are so tiny! - and knocked her over. Then Silky licked all the makeup off the girl. Luckily the dancer thought it was funny.

Silky wasn't what anyone would call a hunter. Do you remember when the wave petunia hit gardeners? I thought it would be a nice theme, so I bought lots of petunias - some waving, some just standing there. Either way, they were sitting ducks for the local bush bunnies. I tried to rescue 24 petunias by digging 24 alyssums out of the planter box, replacing the alyssums with the petunias and vice versa. I got a lot of exercise. So did the bunnies. They came, spotted the petunias in the planter and, quicker than you could say jack rabbit, hopped up 18 inches and ate the petunias. I let Silky out. Silky and the bunnies played hide and seek around the box, until Silky got tired and went to nap under the tree. Huh... Hunting dog, my Aunt Patootie.

When Herbie joined his Peaches, home didn't seem right with just one dog. So, back to the store. Paul had always had his heart set on having a sheltie. Instead we found a bichon frise who reminded us of Herbie. We named him Popcorn because he could jump like popcorn when it's being popped. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Popcorn was only a few years younger than Silky, but it was deja vu all over again. Silky called the shots and Popcorn followed her lead. Popcorn's laid back style confused Silky. Silky wanted, no, needed to approach people. She loved kids, especially when they were small and holding food. But, sometimes her in your face approach scared the kids. Popcorn just stood shyly to one side. Within minutes, kids would be all over him, eager to pet "the quiet one". Popcorn beamed and got petted, while Silky seethed and stood alone. To the end, she never caught on to his technique.

A few months after Silky passed away, BoBo, another bichon frise, joined our family. I thought that since he was a bichon, his personality would be similar to Popcorn's. Nope. BoBo had his own style. While Popcorn stood with quiet dignity with front paws pointed straight ahead, Bobo looked like a drunken ballet dancer doing a first position. Only a blind person with a death wish would have wanted a seeing-eye dog like BoBo. He had to check out everything he saw when we took him for a walk. It was "Over here... No, no, over there."

The first summer we had BoBo I bought 4 packets of seedtape. That's 60 feet of alyssum. I prepared the soil, made the rows, tore and unrolled the strips, covered and watered. Our new bichon puppy, Bobo, watched my every move. The next day, while having lunch, we were gazing out our kitchen's picture window. Bobo and our 10 year old bichon, Popcorn, were frolicking. Ah, spring. It was a lovely sight. It was... until Bobo raced across with long green ribbons gripped in his mouth. The ribbons were waving in the breeze. Bobo looked like a Korean ribbon dancer in a puppy Folklorama pavillion. I checked. He'd managed to dig up every alyssum seed tape. Maybe he'd been a dancer in another life.

About the only trait our dogs shared was that of avoiding the doghouse. It was one of the first things we had installed when we moved to our present home 21 years ago. Paul built it from a kit and used some of the leftover shingles from our new garage. It was a beauty.

Herbie and Silky never went near it. I planted flowers near the door for some curb appeal. Still no takers. Figuring they needed a hint I put a plastic spaniel in the doorway. Herbie and Silky didn't even bother pushing the imposter over.

After Herbie died we got Popcorn. Silky taught him the house rules. Popcorn never went near the doghouse. That plastic spaniel lived alone in that doghouse until the year we got Bobo. Well, Bobo was an assertive little fellow. After spotting that fake in the doghouse Bobo barked his head off. Finally, I thought, we had a dog who'd use the doghouse. I removed the statue. BoBo stepped in, looked around, walked out and never went back.

Bobo was an Ullrich dog, alright.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Saints and Ghosts by Margaret Ullrich

Paul and I were lectors at mass today. Funny how sometimes things just happen at the right time. Father's sermon was on the Communion of Saints, about how loved ones who've passed away are now with God and the other saints. It was almost like going to a funeral mass.

I don't know if I'm simple minded or what, but I'm totally comfortable with the whole idea of a huge group of people all together, looking over our shoulders and caring about us.

Last week I got an e mail from my cousin. She'd written about my sister Rose telling her that Ma'd been saying that she saw Pop everywhere. Ma had told Pop's sister that she'd been looking out the window and, when she turned around, she'd seen Pop sitting on the couch. The day Ma died she'd told Rose that she didn't know that Pop had the day off. Alice said that Ma had really meant that she saw Pop.

I wasn't surprised. Ma had this hobby of seeing dead people. Maybe she was the inspiration for Ghostwhisperer.

In 1993 Ma told us she'd had a dream in which she was in her kitchen talking to Paul's Mom, who had died 5 years earlier. Ma was telling her that they were coming to visit us.

Paul's Mom had told Ma, "How about if you buy Paul some twinkies. He used to love those when he was a kid." Then Paul's Mom disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Years earlier Paul had told his Mom that twinkies and other snack foods weren't available in Canada. But Ma wouldn't have known that. Ma bought the twinkies and brought them for Paul.

Then there was the time I was in New York for Ma's mother's funeral in 1978. Ma came down one morning and said, "I feel so much better now. I talked to Grandma. The first thing I told Grandma was 'Ma, I miss you so much.'
Grandma said, 'What for? I'm gone. You have to get on with your life.' "
And that made Ma feel better.

My parents had a good long run and I'm grateful for that. Pop's brother Tony and Tony's son had died before they reached 50.

Nobody knows how long he'll have.

Live now.