Christmas Letter 2004


Over the past decades, I’ve always tried to write an annual Christmas letter to family and friends summarizing our family activities and highlighting our proudest moments. TODAY’S CHRISTMAS LETTER IS FROM DECEMBER 2004, word for word.

Seasons Greetings 2004!
This year was full of exciting events! Robin and Taylor both made it home from B.C. in 2004, although not at the same time…..

Wintertime found us enjoying our outdoor “playground”: a huge 65′ x 110′ hockey rink plus a full size curling rink and all surrounded by a huge skating oval – on the river! After Chris plowed the majority of snow off, it still took us 4-6 hours to shovel the remaining snow to bare ice. It’s great exercise – usually we’re too pooped to actually skate, but we do curl and play Bocce on it.

Our Skating Party was a great success again last February. Nellie’s entire class even came another day for ‘Operation Fun’. One night we even had a local CTV Ottawa weatherman do his 6:00 o’clock report right from our backyard rink! THAT was exciting!!

On March break, Taylor came home from Vancouver for a week and we really enjoyed his visit….. We also went winter horseback riding (my first in nearly 40 years!) at our neighbour’s sister’s farm – what a blast! Nellie took her babysitting course this spring and passed with flying colours. Melvin participated in all the school sports teams. Everyone passed and moved on to the next grade.

Marty still has a girlfriend, Tanya, and is now in his last year of high school. Kristi is also in her last year of university and is getting married to Mike next August 12, 2005!

In early July, I took a tumble in the woods across the road (which I’ve walked thousands of times in the past 23 years) and broke my left leg. I was in a cast until the end of August, so my garden took care of itself for awhile. I still have difficulty walking and am trying home physiotherapy to help my feet.

Robin came to Ottawa in July for a conference and visited overnight. Natasha stayed home in Victoria. He’s working on is PhD now – Dr. Rob, imagine that!  Chris was in B.C. for 3 weeks this summer on a job and got to visit with Taylor one night.

Our little “Munchie”, grandaughter Kalia, is so sweet.  She turned one in November and is walking all over the place! Darin and Amanda and Kalia moved to London, Ont. this fall where Darin accepted a job at a high-tech firm. We miss them a lot, but we talk every week and they’ll be here for a week at Christmastime. They are such great parents!

Well, I’ve mailed the parcels to B.C. and done most of the baking. Just a bit more to do before the kids get out of school in the next 3 days: Chris is painting the mudroom, we’re finishing up all the shopping, clean the house …… is there really any point!

I really hope that we see you all sometime in 2005 – or at least write or email us!
Merry Christmas!



Growing Up in the 1950s


I’m living in my 7th decade of life: the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and now 2010s. I was born in the early 1950s and I’d like to share what it was like living in each of these decades.

The 1950s were an amazing time to be born – they call us ‘baby boomers’ now. Children born in the decade following World War ll were born into a world which was changing at a dizzying rate. Before this World War, my parents lived through the Great Depression which was a time of depravity and challenge. Then after WWll, life seemed less of a struggle and even richer for my parent’s generation. Many of our parents wanted to give their children everything they didn’t have themselves when they were growing up:  a decent home, a family car, a job, and enough food. My parents chose to move from their small home town on the east coast to the big city in Ontario after my oldest sister Faye was born. I was born in the city of Hamilton in 1953. Soon afterwards, we moved to our first home on Eaton Place where all my memories begin…. My very first memory is of someone taking a picture of me when I was two years old and the sun was shining in my face.


First Picture Grammom 1955


Ahhh, the 50’s. The very thought brings a feeling of joy, simplicity, peace, and ….. ROCK ‘N ROLL! After a generation of waltzes during the 1930s and 40s, MY generation was ready to shake things up! My memories only take me back to the late 1950s – Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll; Buddy Holly’s “Great Balls of Fire”; Bill Haley and the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” ; Chuck Berry (who performed at our high school in 1971 ~ I’ll never forget how we all roared when he sang “My Ding-a-ling”!). Back in the 50s, music was recorded on vinyl records in speeds (RPM = rotations per minute) of 45 and 33 (78s were old school from the ‘olden days’ of our parents). 45s were the small, 7″ singles with one song per side and 33s were the record albums. Cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3 hadn’t even been thought of back then! We collected LOTS of records and albums over the years.


First house – Eaton Place 1955


Our parents were great! Every year we went on vacation somewhere – Timmins to see the gold mine and my Auntie Marlene and Uncle Jim; Ottawa to see the Parliament Buildings and camp in Gatineau Park; local camping at Lambert Park; Santa’s Village in Bracebridge; and my favourite place of all, New Carlisle, Quebec lovingly known as down home where most of my relatives lived. It took us 3 days to drive the 1000 miles (1650 kms) on two lane highways in our ’50s Ford sedan, packed to the hilt with everything from baskets of fruit to bathroom sink/toilet and always a neighbour along for the holiday! We always stayed at my grandparents farm. We went in July, just in time for haying too. In the 1950s, my grandparents didn’t own any machinery to help with the farming, just Queen and Gyp, huge draft horses. They did the haying all by hand, pitching it up onto horse-drawn wooden wagons where us kids would ‘help’ by sitting on the top of the pile as we went around the field. Then back at the barn, the loose hay would be pitched up into the hay loft. We spent many fun days playing in that hayloft, hiding in the hay or just daydreaming. Other days were spent at the beach on Chaleur Bay on the Atlantic Ocean playing with our cousins in the freezing cold salt water.


Uncle Lloyd farming 1950s


When we were at home, we’d spend the summer outdoors all the time. Our neighbourhood was void of backyard fences so we had a huge yard where we’d play baseball, football, tag, kick-the-can, or hide and seek. One street over was an undeveloped area where we’d explore and play using our imaginations (called “the Field” and “the Creek”). My favourite was to pretend I was riding a horse, either on my bike or running while slapping my leg to make the sound of galloping. I’d even tie up my pretend horse at the back porch when I came in for lunch. In the 1950s, there were no video games – heck many folks didn’t even have televisions! Us kids PLAYED! We used our IMAGINATION! TV shows I DID watch included Hockey Night in Canada (we were staunch Toronto Maple Leaf fans) on Saturday nights (I laid on my mother’s lap until I fell asleep), Roy Rogers Show and Lassie on Saturday morning. We got 6 channels, mostly from the U.S. During the summer, all the neighbours flocked to our front porch after supper. The adults would sit on the cement steps and talk while the kids played until dark.


Eaton Place families on our front porch


In the winter, my Dad made us a skating rink beside the house and a sliding hill out back on our slightly inclining backyard hill. The whole neighbourhood came over to skate and slide after school and on weekends! It was the best childhood a kid could dream of.

Winter Fun

Winter fun


We didn’t use plastics for everything like today. I recall that our first refrigerator was an ice box – the ice man came around the neighbourhood with blocks of ice to sell to people. The ‘bread man’ came around weekdays to deliver bread and other goods right to your door – all our mother had to do was pick out what she wanted. And the milkman came daily with glass quart jars of milk – mothers simply left the washed empties out on the porch and the milkman would exchange them for full bottles of milk, leaving them outside, unrefrigerated. Nobody ever got sick either. All these businessmen (yes it was always men) were paid by their customers once a week – the honour system was alive and well in the 1950s.

6.1957 L&Ricky PloemWM

Grammom 4 yrs old with friend Ricky, 1957


In the 1950s, 99.9% of Mothers stayed home to raise the children and the Dads worked outside the home, sometimes two or three jobs like my Dad. That’s just the way it was. Many women were expected to quit their jobs when they married, anticipating a family would soon follow. When I was around ten years old, my mother got a job with some other neighbourhood ladies, cleaning offices for Ernie. My oldest sister Faye, babysat us for the few hours in the evening. I will always cherish my mother’s presence during the day in the summertime, during lunchtime, and before/after school. Moms back then cooked all the meals and did all the laundry. There were no ‘fast food’ places in the 1950s that I can recall ~ we did go to Stoney Creek Dairy for ice cream cones a couple of times in the summer. But I don’t EVER remember going out to eat hamburgers at a restaurant.


Santa’s Village 1959


My first school was Parkdale Public School where I went from Kindergarten to grade 5. We walked to school with all the neighbourhood kids in those days, skipping, talking, and singing along the way. At lunchtime, we walked back home where our mothers had lunch waiting for us. Then back to school. I vividly recall kindergarten – fingerpainting, playing instruments, and afternoon napping. We went to Kindergarten either in the morning OR the afternoon. Not all day like today. There was no Junior Kindergarten either. When we turned 5 years old, we were eligible for kindergarten.


Grammom 5 years old 1958


When I was very young, I remember hearing that our Prime Minister was John Diefenbaker and I couldn’t help but wonder why a baker would be a Prime Minister…… ? I pictured this person all dressed in white wearing a baker’s hat! Oh the innocence of youth!

I have to say, life was simpler back in the 1950s – at least to a young kid like me.

A Day in A Life that Was

It’s been 8 years today since Chris died.  This year, I salute his life in a series of unpublished pictures to try to show what our life with him was like.

1.1992 Teaching Nellie Mini-putt

Chris was a patient person, even trying to teach baby Nellie Mini-putt!  We always tried to find mini-putt whenever we went on vacation since the kids loved it so much.  Chris would do anything for the kids and me.

2. Carving Pumpkins


At Halloween, every kid had their own pumpkin to carve…..after Chris scooped out most the seeds!  One year, he created the “Pumpkinmobile” for Halloween night by strapping onto the top of the van, a large carved pumpkin with a blue flashing light inside.  We drove the kids around our neighbourhood and nearby homes so the kids could trick-or-treat.


Chris was always building something around the house:  the front garden or the playhouse or the pond.


One of our favourite summer pastimes was ‘Patio’ where neighbours (human and canine) would gather at our house to visit and sing.


Chris prided himself in his skating rink out on the river.  This one had a rink plus a skating oval around it.  He’d spend hours cleaning it off after a snowstorm and flooding it on -20C days.  He hung lights for nighttime skating too.  Every winter, we hosted our annual skating parting for neighbours and friends.  We skated on the river, keeping warm at a bonfire at the beach then shared a potluck supper in our garage/party room.  Every Saturday night during the hockey season, we would host a ‘hockey party’ where we would watch NHL games while playing darts or pool with our friends and neighbours.


Chris would always take us anywhere we wanted to go at any time.  This picture shows us at Tadoussac, Quebec where we went whale watching and stayed at a cottage overlooking the St. Lawrence River.  We were on our way down home.


One year, we took the whole family to the Toronto Zoo and Wonderland for the weekend.


At home, he loved boating on the river in the summertime.  He patiently taught our kids and friends to water ski.


He loved it when our brother-in-law Joey came up for his annual visit.  This picture shows their favourite spot to sit and talk and enjoy a cold ‘beverage’.


He loved working with Mark and Simon, travelling at times to Niagara and British Columbia on jobs.


9b. SantaGrampie

Chris was such a good sport:  he played Santa to all the kids in the neighbourhood at our annual Christmas Party.  Here he is with Kalia as Santa Grampie.


What an incredible man.  Even though he was in the middle of daily radiation treatments for cancer, Chris insisted we didn’t cancel our family camping plans.  We camped on the St. Lawrence River and him and I just drove up to the Ottawa Hospital for his treatment then back to the campground.  Pain and the side-effects from radiation treatments didn’t stop him from sleeping on the ground in a tent so the kids would still have a holiday.  He was adamant that he would try to make the kids feel like life was as normal as possible, until it wasn’t.


Our last family photo when everyone came home in 2007.




Mothers’ Day Tribute

First of all, I’d like to wish all the Mothers a very Happy Mothers’ Day weekend.   I think that it’s nice to honour our Mothers and to remind us of how valuable they are all year long.

Baby Nellie 1929

My Mother was the best Mom in the world.  She was born at home in 1929 in New Carlisle, Quebec, number 5 in a family of 10 children.  My Mom was honoured to share the same name as HER Mother, Ellen ANNIE, but everyone knew her as Nellie.  She grew up during the Great Depression and would often tell me stories of ‘the olden days’ :  during hard times, they often took sandwiches made from lard, salt, and pepper, to school…..just a sandwich and were glad to have that.   And the year the cow ‘dried up’ was tragic until she was giving milk again, many months later.  I heard stories of when her younger brother was born prematurely and they put him in a little shoe box on the open wood cookstove oven door to keep him warm (he survived and is still alive).  My Mom also regaled us with stories of life during the Second World War:  once, a German spy was captured in their small town and they often saw submarines out in the bay.  When those at home wrote letters to older siblings working in factories in Montreal, the ‘government’ blacked out much of the written words…..

1953 Mom and Me

My Mom and Dad were married in 1947 and moved to Ontario in 1951.  My Mother always loved the farm where she was raised but admitted she never liked the animal killing times.  It must have been immensely painful for her to move 1,000 miles away from everyone and everything she always knew, to an unfamiliar city where she knew nobody.  She was a REAL pioneer in the every sense.  They moved to a small little apartment downtown with my oldest sister Faye, and my middle Sister, Betty, joined the family soon afterwards.  My Mother always had positive memories of that challenging time with two young children and NO family nearby.  But she was resourceful and friendly, meeting others, young and old to spend her days with.  Just after I was born in 1953, our family moved to post WWII housing in a ‘survey’ (subdivision) along side of other young families.  I believe that those were some of the happiest days of my Mom’s life.  She forged lifelong friendships with the neighbours:  Flo, Lois, Gert.  During the summer, all the parents would congregate on OUR front steps to chat and ‘gossip’ while us kids would be playing outside until dark.  I can remember many nights, after I had gone to bed, drifting off to sleep, hearing their voices and laughter……it’s a sweet memory.   I remember various relatives from the east coast visiting us for weeks and months at a time – Mom welcomed them with open arms, cooking and cleaning and looking after them.

Early ’60s Neighbourhood

During the winter, my parents made an ice rink and ‘sliding hill’  for all the neighbourhood kids to use.  I recall times when my Mom would be outside in the dark late at night, after all the kids had gone home, watering the rink/hill wearing just a skirt, coat, flimsy scarf tied on her head, and gloves with finger tips cut out.  During this time, I also remember that she had a washboard for doing all our laundry by hand in the laundry sink and hung it outdoors to dry even in the winter.  She upgraded to a wringer washer until the late 1960s when she got her first automatic washer and dryer (but still hung the clothes outside).   But my favourite overall memory is watching Hockey Night in Canada laying on my Mother’s lap until I fell asleep,  from the time  I was 2 years old.

Mom 1972

My Mom was the perfect Mother.  She taught us that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, so don’t be prejudiced.  She taught us to love mankind and the whole world around us.  She loved and respected nature and God.  She was a terrific gardener, both vegetables and flowers,  and once even won the city of Hamilton’s prestigious Trillium Award for one of the best front gardens. She was a Mother you could talk to – most of our friends preferred to be at our house rather than at their own homes and they often came to her with their problems or concerns.  Everyone knew she wouldn’t be judgemental.   Mom was hard working too – when we were young, she worked evenings cleaning offices with ‘Ernie’s girls’;   then babysat other Mothers’ children;  and finally near the end of her young life, she worked in a ‘Prep High School’ cafeteria – she rode her bicycle the 5 miles to work each day both ways…….all while raising a family.

Last Picture of Mom 1975

I remember my Mother as a young woman, many years younger than I am now.  I was just 22 years old when my Mom died suddenly in 1975 leaving us stunned and broken hearted.   She was only 45 years old.  She had two grandchildren (1 year old Brodie (Betty’s) and 4 week old Robin -my oldest) who were the love of her life.  I know that she would be proud of us girls and all those grandchildren she never met.   But a little bit of HER lives in all of US.

Mom, I dedicate this to you.

3 Generations – early ’70s

Skating Rink of Dreams

Melvin and I  (okay well, mostly Melvin) made a skating rink last weekend.  We took shovels down to the frozen river and just started shovelling.

I wondered if it had been cold enough for several days, to freeze the river thick enough to skate on……..until I saw a truck pulling an ice ‘shack’ down the river!   Well THAT answered my question!   According to the Lifesaving Society, our River’s ice needs to be at least 4″ (12cms) thick to walk on and 12″ (30cms) thick to support a vehicle.  We were Safe!!

Melvin learning to skate 1997

The last time we had shovelled off an ice rink on the river was 2006 -the year Chris was diagnosed with cancer.  That rink was huge with a skating oval around it – rink for hockey and the oval for just skating or a game of ice Bocce!  For awhile, we had the help of our snowblower or snowplow truck to get the heavy snow off before we scraped it down to the ice, and it still took us 4-6 hours every time it snowed!  But it was all worth it to see the kids, neighbours and friends skating!  We even put up spotlights on the trees along the river’s edge for night skating.   Our favourite event was our annual Skating Party where friends, family, and neighbours would gather at our place for a day of skating and other winter activities like curling or dog sledding (poor Yukon wasn’t too keen about this role), plus a winter bonfire, and followed by a pot-luck supper.

Around the bonfire @ our Skating Party

It was a great time……..and I thought those days were gone forever.   Until 17 year old Melvin said that he wanted to make a rink on the river this year!  And last weekend it happened!  I had forgotten how exhilarating it was to be out on the river pushing snow!  Melvin did most of the shovelling, with me just pushing the little rows, that fall off his shovel, towards the bank.  We put some 5′ bamboo poles with some streaming flourescent orange trail-marker tape, into the far banks to keep any skidoos off our rink.

Granddaughters Kalia and Olivia were already here for their ‘sleepover’, so I put their skates on them (not as easy as it used to be BTW), and helmets and off they went!  Sturdy plastic lawn chairs helped them slide along the ice and stay upright as they re-learned how to skate, while I helped Melvin finish shovelling.  It was absolutely wonderful to watch them skate!  On Sunday, when Kristi and Mike arrived with their boys, the rink was busy again with skaters!   We should be able to get in 6-8 weeks of skating, as long as we can keep the snow shovelled off.

And today we’re getting our first real snowstorm with 15-20+ cms of snow!   I guess I know what we’ll be doing tomorrow…….

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