Tag: family (page 1 of 22)

Mother’s Day Memories


Dear Karen,

When I was about 7, Mother’s Day rolled around and our class dutifully made cards for our mothers, using cupcake-paper flowers,  pipe-cleaner stems, dry macaroni borders and clumsy writing on the inside, usually along the lines of

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
You’re a great mother
Shooby-doo, Shooby-doo

Or something like that.

Anyway, in the run-up to the big Sunday, I remember asking Mum why we celebrated Mother’s Day.  I was kind of jealous, because I only got my birthday and Christmas as big gift days, whereas Mum was getting those 2 plus one more!


I thought long and hard about this inequity and came up with a brilliant solution.

“Why”, I asked, “isn’t there such thing as Children’s Day?  That only seems fair.”

She calmly took a drag on her cigarette, and on the exhale, looking me straight in the eye through the haze, uttered words I’ve not forgotten in the 45 years since:

“Wendy.  Every day is Children’s Day.”

With that, she picked up her newspaper and effectively stopped the conversation in its tracks.

Her brevity of answer left me thinking.

Mothers get their day of appreciation, full of flowers, cards, dishes washed and flowery poems.  But the very next day, it’s back to business.  Mum obviously thought we kids had the unfair advantage in the “spoil me rotten” stakes, and maybe she was right.

Now, all these years later, I’m still not sure if she had a valid point or not.

Running the emotional gamut from A to B

My own memories of Mother’s Day from her side of the fence have been full of love, laughter and intense fear, starting with all the beautiful cards my children used to make for me.  I’ve saved them all, and of course they’re in storage so I can’t show them to you but you’ll have to trust me.

I do have a flower vase, made out of a used tennis ball sleeve, which I treasure the way the Queen does her crown jewels.  Long-stemmed paper flowers were included in this gift, along with handy instructions written on the side, to help me figure out this vase’s many alternate uses.


Priceless work of art, from my Gillian.

What do you mean, you don’t know where she is??

About 21 years ago, I flew in to Hong Kong after a long-haul flight and I was exhausted.  I was thrilled to be met at the airport by my family, but when I came into arrivals, one of them was missing:  Kirsten, our eldest.

I hugged the 2 children on offer, and asked Lars where she was.  He looked at me and replied, “isn’t she with you?  She said she wanted to be in the front so she could see you when you came in”.

Panic Stations.

I won’t take you through the whole half hour we spent searching, but suffice it to say, I was ready to kill my husband, tear my hair out and contact the papers to issue a “Have you seen this child?” photo.  With these thoughts whirling through my mind, Kirsten’s younger sister came up to me and told me, as only a 4 year old can, “Mummy, I’m tired now.  Can we go home now and look for her tomorrow?”.

Torn between crying and laughing, I caught sight of our missing child, holding her father’s hand, totally unaware of the chaos going on around her.

I have no photos from the old airport, but here’s a video to show you how insane the landings were.  Watching this might help you understand my frame of mind that day!

Isn’t this what Elvis died of?

On yet another Mother’s Day, I was again flying home and on arrival, was greeted  at the airport.  My eldest gave me roses.  My second gave me Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  And my third gave me 2 jars of what, at first glance, looked like sweets.

“How thoughtful”, I said to myself, “Lars has obviously taken them out and helped them choose a gift for me.  That’s adorable!”

On the drive back home, I took a closer look at the jars and first thing I noticed was, they were bought on a “2 for 1″ sale.  Well, that’s okay, it’s always nice to get a bargain.

Then I looked at the actual label: GUAVA TABLETS TO CURE CONSTIPATION

How…um…thoughtful.  And hilarious.  Moving, even.  My son kept urging me to eat them, unaware of their natural consequences. How could I refuse a toddler?  So I ate a few, but made sure my husband (no doubt the brains behind this gift) had some as well, just to be polite.


Delicious as a juice, but beware when given in tablet form!
(photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

Having been a mother for close to 29 years, I can say with great assurance that while every day might be children’s day, I think most days are mother’s (and father’s) days as well.

I’ve been lucky.  And I know it.


Understanding your family’s past is a key to knowing yourself

Dear Wendy,

I feel like I’m still coming down from our week of sorting out our family’s ridiculously large repository of photos, letters, and memorabilia.

I don’t know about you, but I found it an intensely emotional experience—looking back over 150 years of Irving history brought feelings of nostalgia, anger, sorrow, and the occasional giggle.

Certain images really jumped out at me: our grandfather, age 6, dressed in miniature military garb, brandishing a rifle over his head and looking fierce as only 6-year-olds can.

Could his parents have known, when they posed him for this photograph, how profoundly his personality would be altered and distorted by the largest armed conflict the world had ever seen? Or how his war-induced demons would spread throughout our family like a silent, unspoken cancer?

alt="IMAGE-old-pictures-grandfather-as-boy"When Grandpa was about 12, he was sent from his home in Victoria, B.C. to Charterhouse School in England, for his prep school education. According to his headmaster, a Mr. Ramsbotham, it’s pretty clear he wasn’t a model student:

I am afraid the reports show but little improvement upon last quarter’s; evidently Mr. Huxley thinks that the boy could do better if he tried. I am not quite so clear about it myself; it is very difficult to determine how far his failure is due to idleness and how far to inability. But it is clear that he is not going to make good progress, and I wish that he would realize that he is not likely to pass his Army exams without real hard work.

Eventually he left Charterhouse for Repton, another venerable British school; and next thing we know, he’s at Canada’s Royal Military College, and then (inexplicably) in the northern woods of Quebec, where he seems to have worked with a lumbering company.

And then came World War 1. Grandpa signed up immediately with the rank of major—after all, he was now 29, and he’d devoted his early years to preparing to become a soldier. We found very little about his experiences during the war, but we do know that on April 9, 1917, the day after his 32nd birthday, he participated in the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge.

Then in December 1918, World War 1 just a month in the past, we find our grandfather embarking with the 259th Battalion, 16th Infantry Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force (Siberia). They were off to Vladivostok, Russia, to fight the Reds.

When he returned from war, Grandpa was…different. He’d become a heavy drinker, his behaviour was erratic and often self-destructive. He was touchy, easily roused to rage. His first wife divorced him when he began to hit their son. He joined the B.C. Provincial Police, but was fired following an incident involving drinking on the job.

These days we might say he suffered from PTSD. And although he remarried and fathered 2 more children (only one of whom, our father, lived), Grandpa’s moodiness and alcoholism just kept getting worse. He abandoned his second wife and son, couldn’t hold onto any job longer than a few months. As Nana told his sister, he seemed to live in a world of his own, shared by no one.

And yet, when he wasn’t in the grip of his demons, he was a funny, intelligent man, able to charm almost anyone. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders in Victoria, teaching me to read by spelling out the letters on street signs. He used to take me with him when he went to visit his war buddies, and once incurred Mum’s wrath by leaving me in the care of the Salvation Army man while he went into the liquor store to buy his weekly supply.

Despite their stormy marriage, he and Nana never divorced—she admitted to me once that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

As I read the letters and sorted and labelled photos, it became clearer and clearer how our entire family had been affected by our grandfather’s pain and inability to control his emotions.

Our grandmother, who’d grown up expecting a very different life, became bitter and disillusioned. Our father, who’d never known any kind of stable, healthy father himself, had no chance to learn the skills he’d need to nurture a young family. And when the going got tough, he did the only thing he knew how to do: he started drinking heavily.

Grandpa died a month after you were born, so you never knew him, and yet you, too, felt the repercussions of his life. We were all changed and influenced by this man’s experiences, 40 or 50 years before we were even thought of! Who would have imagined that a war fought in Europe in 1914 could reverberate 100 years into the future?

As we explored the pictures and words left over from Grandpa’s life, it struck me again just how profoundly you and I (and now our own children) are connected to, and shaped by, a past we can glimpse, but can’t even begin to know.




4 tips to help create a meaningful family archive

Dear Readers,


Our grandfather’s cedar chest–neatly rearranged with an actual filing system.

We can’t believe it ourselves, but it seems as though we’re almost finished Phase 1 of the Great Irving Family Archive project. It’s taken all three of us four solid days of hard work, but it’s really exciting to see it starting to fall into place.

We now qualify as a crack precision team, though Rachel points out that we don’t actually do crack. Wendy says, “Speak for yourself.” Uncharacteristically, Karen is keeping out of this.

In any case, today we thought we’d pass on some of the techniques we’ve learned, just in case you’re deranged enough to want to try the whole family archive thing yourself.

We’ve been working with a combined textual and photographic archive, by which we mean “a shitload of photographs and slides” and “a whole whack of letters and other written materials, written by ancestors who may or may not have been on crack.” (See above.)

1. Be brutal.

We had to sort through box after box of photos, many of which were not of the highest quality. We decided early on to take the excellent advice of Dish of Daily LIfe, and accept only photos that met the following stringent criteria:

  • They had to be clearly identifiable—there’s no point keeping photos where you can’t tell if it’s Cousin George, Uncle Bill, or the milkman.
  • They had to be good shots—nothing blurry, poorly composed, or over- or under-exposed.
  • They had to contribute meaningfully to the family story. This can be tricky if the family story is less than stellar, but we decided to take a “warts and all” approach.

One hundred years from now, our great-great-grandchildren will thank us for laying it all out clearly, logically, and with merciful brevity.

2. Develop a filing system that works for you

Ours consisted of a series of manila envelopes, clearly labelled with the full name (including maiden names), birth and death dates, and other pertinent information. We used one envelope for each major family member, and filed the less prominent members with their closest relatives.

We like to think of this as similar to planting them in the same burial plot—it just makes it easier to find them.

3. Back up your photos by scanning them

In addition to retaining hard copies of our photos, we opted to scan them, so we’ll be able to tag each person in each photograph, and eventually distribute copies of our work within the family. Scanning takes time (just ask Rachel) but it’s well worth the effort.

4. Transcribe handwritten correspondence


Oh, come ON. Are you kidding me? I thought the Victorians were all neat freaks?

But don’t kill yourself. For instance, we chose to transcribe a series of letters between two brothers from 1867 to about 1890.

We feel these letters tell an essential part of our family history, but we couldn’t imagine inflicting the painfully illegible scrawled handwriting on anyone else. We definitely deserve a medal for this, and expect to find one in the post in the next week, just saying.

However, we didn’t transcribe bills or typed documents; the former just aren’t that interesting, and the latter can easily be scanned.

Despite our urge to burn the lot by the time we’d struggled through them, we’re keeping the originals of all the letters as part of the archive.

Equipment you’ll need

1. A shopping trolley.

Coincidentally, we found just such an implement in the basement of Wendy’s condo building, and were able to use it to schlep boxes of crap photos and such to and from the storage locker area.

2. Antihistamines

If you’re prone to allergies, keep a supply of antihistamines on hand, as the dust and mildew involved are not your friends.


If you’re sorting slides, you’ll need one of these bad boys.

3. A scanner

We lugged our photo-quality scanner from Ottawa to Whistler, because we are idiots gluttons for punishment. No, it’s because we wanted to scan as many photos as possible, and arrange them in a logical manner. A decent scanner is essential to back up your work, and help preserve your valuable family archives.

4. Slide viewer

Our family insisted on having much of their film developed as slides, which now have about the same relevance as the dodo bird…and are pretty much impossible to sort one by one. A kind friend offered us her back-lit slide viewer, to enable us to look at slides by the hundreds, nay thousands, nay hand over that martini stat.

5. Storage boxes

Even though we’ve done a lot of culling and rearranging, as we say in the biz, we still have a metric shit ton of photos and other memorabilia that needs storing. However, it seemed kind of like tempting fate to rely on the decrepit cardboard boxes we’d been using up till now. So we’re transferring the lot into plastic storage bins with lids, so that in the event that the building’s sprinkler system goes wacko on us, our work will be preserved and we will not have to commit ritual suicide.

6. Pragmatism

As we finish up this task, we’re realizing that this is just the beginning. Archiving family records is an ongoing process, and we’ll be working away on it, in more more manageable doses, for a long time to come. In the meanwhile, we hereby forbid our family to take any more photos. Of anything. Ever.

Thank you, and good night.


Karen, Wendy, Rachel, and Bucky


All right, who keeps putting Bucky in the garbage?



Family Archiving Made Easy. Sort of.

Dear Readers,

To be honest, we’ve been kind of surprised at how many of you have expressed an interest in Project Irving Family Archive.

Okay, “kind of surprised” is an understatement. In fact, we were completely shocked. Frankly, it made us wonder whether you actually have lives.

Because seriously, what kind of maniacs would voluntarily lock themselves away in a remote mountain lair with multiple boxes containing thousands of photos dating back to the mid-1800s, with the goal of getting it all sorted and properly archived…within a week?

Oh, right. That would be us.


Sorting photos…not a task to undertake lightly.

But since so many of you have expressed enthusiasm (or possibly pity, we can’t tell sometimes), we thought we’d offer you some helpful pointers that have worked for us during our long archiving career. Of three days. But who’s counting? Not us, that’s for sure.

Schedule regular breaks. Trust us, getting up at 5 a.m. and setting to work by 6, only knocking off for brief cups of coffee and jujubes, is not the way to go. The blood pools in one’s nether regions, leading to bad decisions and unfortunate gaseous consequences. Wendy is looking pointedly at Karen right now.

Having said that, coffee is definitely a necessity. Tea just won’t cut it. You need heavy-duty caffeine for this work. Buy extra. You will thank us.

Also, despite the Great Jujube Calamity (we shall say no more on that subject) we do recommend having a steady supply of jujubes on hand. They will keep you from killing each other, at least until your supply runs out. After that, you’re on your own.


Brain fuel is essential. Just don’t let your beaver near them–he’s a jujube fiend!

Exercise breaks are essential. An advantage of holing up in a mountain lair is that whichever route you choose, you’ll be doing a good bit of hiking up mountainsides before you can get back to your jujubes….we mean work. To add an extra frisson, make sure you schedule your project at the time of year when bears will be coming out of hibernation. At random moments, shout, “There’s a bear!” to keep your companions moving at a good clip.


Time for walkies! Wait, is that a bear over there? Run for your lives!

Don’t forget to reward yourselves at the end of a hard day’s work. Knowing that cold beer and/or bloody Caesars await at the local drinking establishment at day’s end can keep you on track and working to full capacity.

Of course, there’s the problem of climbing back up the mountain after consuming your bevvies, nachos, and wings…but that’s a post for another day.

And now, it’s back to the salt mines for us. Pass the jujubes.


Karen, Wendy, Rachel, and Bucky.

Remember that what goes down the mountain must come back up...so go easy on the beer and nachos!

Remember that what goes down the mountain must come back up…so go easy on the beer and nachos!




Adventures in family history: Getting started

Dear Readers,

Despite secretly suspecting we’d be spending most of our time here in Whistler seeing sights, shopping, and lolling about telling stories to amuse ourselves—in short, doing anything but the work we intended to do—we actually made some real progress in sorting, identifying, scanning, and labelling our family photos today.

We know, we like to live life on the edge.

Whatever. It’s what we came here to do, and we’re feeling pretty proud.

We started by collecting box upon box of loose photos, photo albums and a dubious-looking family tree from our downstairs locker.

A shopping trolley just lying about came in handy for carting the first load upstairs. And that, friends, is why we now have a trolley parked in the foyer of our apartment. We promise, we’re not turning into bag ladies. Yet.


Deep in the bowels of the mountain, we found a treasure trove of family memorabilia in Wendy’s storage locker. Plus a grocery trolley. Score!

We spread our day’s work on the table.


And this is only the very beginning…we’ve got boxes more to go.

Getting busy scanning photos and inspecting negatives.


Wendy sorts through photo…after photo…after photo.


Rachel, our intrepid and long-suffering photo scanning pro, hard at work.

Bucky felt lonely and unwanted, so we gave him an important job: Chief Apple Inspector. It made him feel needed, plus allowed him to have a healthy snack when no one was looking.


Bucky takes off his hat indoors. Such a polite little fellow he is.

Our work is nowhere near done. Tomorrow we rise at dawn to enter the fray once more. Tally ho the fox!

(Not really, we just think it makes us sound hardcore.)


Karen, Wendy, Rachel, and Bucky (Chief Apple Inspector)

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