Tuesday, 30 November 2021

"Los Litte"

The meaning of the title will become apparent further down in this blog

It was gratifying to get so many responses to my last blog featuring my Covid Crazy Quilt. One friend emailed me, “In these times of Covid and restrictions, it is interesting to hear what people are up to. Quilting is your way of remembering these many days. Your blog made me think of my way of coping ...”

Coping is a big word these days, and no wonder. Covid isn’t the only thing we’re dealing with. Here in British Columbia, a massive storm has wrought devastation to many people in our province. It’s destroyed homes, farm animals, transportation routes, taken lives, and left us bewildered and anxious. After record heat waves and forest fires this summer, now this. What’s next? 

When I checked the dictionary, I found this definition of coping: “Something a person does to deal with a difficult situation.” We need to find ways to deal with these difficult situations, or they will destroy our hope and our emotional health.

And if I dig around a little deeper, I find lots of advice and tips. They all sound so good:

In my recent post, I wrote about one method of coping, which took up about one hour a week. If you subtract about 50 hours for sleeping, there were 167 other hours left in the week to fill with other coping mechanisms. And the truth is, that didn’t always go so well.

Those walks I planned to take? The projects I started? The intentions I did not fulfill? The kind words I wanted to always speak to my resident sweetie? The positive thoughts and affirmations I wanted to fill my day with? Ha. Often the wheels have fallen off my coping mechanisms. I loaf around on the sofa, eat too much, doom-scroll through my phone for bad-news stories ... and just listing my shortcomings isn’t helping at all.

I’ve been pondering this. Why is it that I feel I need to be so much better at coping than I often am? Shouldn’t I be in control of my feelings, not have these blue days (or weeks) when nothing goes right? At my ripe old age, shouldn’t I have figured out “the secret?”

That’s when I realize that I’m equating “coping” with “control.” Coping methods often help us get through or around or over anxieties, sadness, frustrations and anger, but these methods cannot remove the situations we are facing. 


Whatever the situation you are dealing with – Covid, natural disasters, losses, root canals/toilet training/empty shelves at the grocery store/gasoline rationing, disease, __________ (fill in the blank with your own personal mountain to climb) –  coping methods cannot change that.

As long as I am fighting against things I cannot control, I am fighting a losing battle. The limitations on our lives right now? That is Reality. The imperfections we carry within ourselves, so that coping mechanisms don’t always work? That is Reality.

I think back to my dad, as he struggled with the disabilities of old age; he, who loved to read and write and explore new places, was blind and in a wheel chair. “Ik mat los litte,” he told us, using the Frisian dialect of his youth. “I must let go.”

It’s what I need to do, too: let go of the mistaken belief I can control everything, that if only I could learn to cope better, all would be sunshine and light. It won’t be...and yet, as my dad did, I can find a measure of peace and equilibrium. I can be easier on myself and others, knowing we’re mostly doing our best, and (as Rumi said) “We are all just walking each other home.”

This blog finally found its legs when I read this, written by recovering alcoholic Holly Whitaker and posted  at this site: https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/2021/

“I’d always considered the word surrender to be blasphemous. Surrender was never a possibility to consider; it wasn’t something self-respecting, self-reliant folk like me do—we scheme around and bulldoze through whatever stands in our way.

 ... [But] Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. ... It’s a way of existing, a balancing act. For me, it looks like this: I pick up the baton and I run as far as I can, and I hand it over when I’m out of breath. Or actually maybe it’s like: I’m running with the baton, but the Universe is holding on to the other half of it, and we have an agreement that I’ll figure out the parts I can and hand over the parts I can’t.”

"Los litte," my dad would say. Let go.

Whittaker continues, “By surrendering to whatever is unfolding and by accepting what is ... you not only get a break from the exhaustion of having to control everything, but you also get to experience life, instead of what you think life owes you.

And, she ends by saying, “Hint: what life wants to give us is infinitely better than what we think it owes us.”

I've sewed the squares of my covid crazy quilt together, and will share the end result when I've figured out how to finish it. Don't hold your breath! Things take a little longer these days, and that's okay.


Sunday, 7 November 2021

One Strip at a Time

February, 2020: that’s when we started hearing about “that virus in China”. March 2020: Yup, it’s here. Social distancing, self-isolation, and hand-sanitizing become part of the lexicon. April 2020: Debates about masking begin...remember that? 


We tore off the calendar pages as the story unfolded and our knowledge grew. We got the vaccine. And yet,  now it’s November 2021, 19 months later, and we are still struggling. November is  the beginning of the grey times. How will we get through another winter?

Last year, when all this started, I optimistically decided the days would go faster and better if I counted them off, creating a concrete reminder of each day to bring me closer to the end of the pandemic. Sort of like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas. After all, how long could Covid possibly last?

In April 2020 I counted off the days by creating little 2x3" fabric snapshots of something that brought me delight.  I called it my diary of daily delights. 


In May 2020, I shared my journaling thoughts with you. In June, I counted off the days by walking every day. And then the wheels fell off. From July to October 2020, whatever good intentions I had, evaporated. But in re-reading blog posts from those months, I find a repeated theme: left foot, right foot, breathe. Repeat. This is how we will get through this. Keep on keeping on. And I did. I hope you did, too.

Then, at the beginning of November 2020, I decided to create a quilt square every week; I had so many scraps that needed to be used. 


 Each square would consist of 7 randomly cut strips in colours that summarized that week’s events. For instance, 7 grey and black strips to represent a full week of rain; 7 gold and orange strips for the week when the temperatures were blazing in mid-summer; and 7 pink and green strips for the week the tulips began blooming in our garden.


So that’s what I did. The year is over, and I now have 52 squares of 7 strips in a huge variety of colours, all of them together representing one full year, 365 days, of a Covid-dominated life. I just finished the last square on November 1, 2021. 

This practice...of doing one little thing a day, or one little thing a week ... works for me. I may be cranky about the pandemic, upset with the political shenanigans all around the world, angry about the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, worried about climate change, frustrated that we are hemmed in by Covid, but when I am working on this one small thing, I get lost in the process of creating, and for a little while, I forget about the ugly. Perhaps I’m creating hope. And that hope stays with me.

Now I have 52 squares. When I started, I had no idea of what I would do with these squares, so I didn’t worry about the rules of design. There’s no unifying colour to tie these squares together. I did not use the colour wheel to ensure nothing clashes. I did not map out a design to follow. There was no big picture. These squares were about getting through the pandemic, one lovely strip after another, one day at a time, one small step at a time.

Yesterday I laid the squares out on the floor in the order that I had created them, a bright orange square next to a subdued grey next to a vibrant green, and on and on. Lo and behold, what I saw then was the Big Picture. 


One strip at a time, I had created a picture of life. My blanket of many colours is what life is like: the hours make up a day, the days add up to weeks, and one week at a time, we live through a year. Good days and not so good days, bright weeks and dark weeks, one leading into another. Each fabric, portraying just one day, is beautiful in itself, just as each day has some moments of beauty. Each square is beautiful/interesting/evocative in itself. And when you put them all together, what you have is a picture of this past year, a picture in riotous colours that don’t match, don’t create a pattern, aren’t nice and neat and orderly -- just like life.

And beautiful, anyway. 

If you are a stickler for details, you will notice that there are actually 53 squares here, and that one of the squares is a picture of a tree. That's the week when we got together with our whole family to celebrate our 50th anniversary on the edge of the ocean, where the full silver moon rose every night over the water. I think I will sew all these squares together and create a covid quilt as a keepsake.


Monday, 21 June 2021



We've been camping for the past few weeks. A friend, who knows that I never go anywhere without my computer, wondered if I might be spending my time “boiling down the sap of my life stories”. And I have been. But I won’t post them until I’m sure I’ve boiled them down enough so all the sweetness is revealed.

In the meantime, because it’s raining (again!) I thought I might share a little story.

Just before we left on this trip, I’d received an invitation to rent a writer’s hideaway retreat for a week in September. I was excited about the opportunity: a charming oceanside cabin off the beaten track at a very reasonable price. What could be bad about that? Then I read the fine print: there was a warning about bears and cougars, and the road to the cabin was very steep and washboardy, and might not be navigable in the rain. But the clincher was this: are you comfortable with knowing that mice enjoy the residence as well?
Mice. There’s a big difference between the occasional errant mouse checking out the premises, and a family of mice making themselves at home, running over your bed at night. 

 Which would this be? Just in case it was the latter, I regretfully I turned down the offer.  

Well, the gods must be laughing now, because guess what? A few days after setting up camp here, late one evening while I was quietly reading, a mouse scurried into my line of sight. I jumped up, and of course, he disappeared down some mouse hole that we couldn’t find. But overnight, he left his trail of calling cards behind. The next morning, we bought a few mousetraps, baited them, and then went to bed.

In the middle of the night, Al heard something and got up to check. Poor little mousie was running across the floor with a trap hanging from one of his appendages. Fortunately for him, as he frantically ran down his hidden exit, he was able to leave the trap behind (and no, there was no amputation of any part of him left behind.)

You would think this would be enough of a warning that he would never make another appearance. But no, he showed up again the next night. Unfortunately (for him) that was the end of that story. He died happy, though, chewing on a piece of extra-old cheddar. Mousie was dispatched into the underbrush. Perhaps an owl would find him. And that was that, we thought.

But the saga continued. Mousie must have had a friend, because the next morning we found more evidence of mouse visitations. Not only that, but our friend who was camping next door was very annoyed with us. She’d had her own visit while she was quietly reading, and she claimed we’d sent him over. We lent her a few of our traps and that night we waited with baited breath (ha ha) for the night visitor to make another appearance.

Our friend won the mouse lottery. Another mouse was dispatched into the underbrush. This is really the end of that story.

But not quite. When I told the story to my daughter-in-law, she said, “I wonder if the mouse appearances have a message for you.” Was there something I needed to learn from the possible mice in the cabin and the real appearance in our trailer?

Well...maybe. I’ve been reading a bit about “living life on the edge” in a book called This One Wild and Precious Life by Sarah Wilson. 


She says when you move away from the safety and security of your everyday life and move out to the edge of your life,  where the boundaries are less defined and you’re not sure what’s going to happen next, you will find that you are more alive. You pay attention more closely, and you begin to grow towards the edge. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do something everyday that scares you.” When I turned down the writing retreat, was I avoiding mice, or was I avoiding challenges to my safe life? Was it more than just mice that had me rethinking the invite? Was it that I suddenly realized a week all by myself (except for the mice) might not be the idyllic experience I’d imagined? Perhaps in my quiet times, I’d be confronted with issues I needed to address. Maybe it was easier to stay home.

How often do we choose the safe path, the one that causes the least anxiety, and thereby forego the thrill of discovering new perspectives? How often do we worry about issues needlessly, and thereby miss the blessings of fresh visions? I’m glad Emma challenged me to to pay attention to the mouse appearances. It pushed me towards the edge, and that’s a good thing.

One can overthink this, of course, spending your life questioning your decisions and worrying about lost opportunities. So I also listen to another voice: that of my 6 year old granddaughter Grace, who wrote a song for me on my birthday. Here it is – you can make up the tune yourself. 

In case you do not read "firstgrade-ese" English, here's the translation:

“Wories, wories go awai
Wories don’t bug me aneymore.
I don’t like you aneymore.
I don’t like the way you treat me aneymore.
Goaway wories goaway.

This song you can sing wen your worede then your wories will go away.”

Thanks, Grace. And no more worries about mice, kiddo. I’m over that!

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Your Life in Pictures

 The other day, I came across this meme on my Facebook page: 

Often memes are cliches, and perhaps this one is, too, but it somehow grabbed me and stuck with me for the day. Perhaps it stuck with me because in my last blog, I wrote that it was time to leave the deep thinking behind and just use my blog to tell stories for a while. Perhaps it’s because I am currently working on family history and digging up many stories and sorting through boxes and boxes of pictures. And this meme is telling me to love my life, take lots of pictures and make my life the best story possible.

I’ve had a few problems writing my family history/memoir. The biggest one is too much material. I have written 100 single-spaced pages, and at this point I am still only 6 years old. This is not a memoir, it is verbal diarrhea. At this pace, I’ll have 1,000 plus pages, and even my dearest friends and family will be loath to read it. The story needs a ruthless edit.

But the meme gave me an idea: what if I summed up my life in 10 pictures and 10 chapters? What would I choose to show and tell? I wondered if this might be good fodder for Crowdayone: each blog a  picture and the story behind it. The picture would portray a foundational part of my life, but it would also need to mean something to the reader. If this exercise of mine inspires you to wonder what 10 photos you might use to illustrate your life and make it “the best story in the world,” great! Let me know how that works for you.

But only ten pictures? I'm going to cheat a bit -- I'll use one main photo, and a few others that are secondary. This photo, taken in 1949 when I am about 1 year old, is my first choice and main photo. Even though it is out of focus, I love it.

That’s my mom and dad relaxing in the grass, looking adoringly at me, their first child. Behind them is their first home, a houseboat. After the war, a severe housing shortage pressed almost anything livable into service.  Appropriately, this houseboat was named Oeral Thus, meaning “At Home Everywhere.” When this photo was taken, it was parked on dry land on my grandfather’s farm outside the  little village of Stiens in Friesland, the Netherlands.

I love this photo because it tells a happy story about my beginnings. Mom and dad had had a long, drawn out courtship – 7 years of an on-again, off-again relationship. He was 30, she was 29, and they were both still living at home. She was her mother’s helper, and he was a bachelor, living during the week in barracks in the Polder where the government was draining swamps and turning them into farmland. Mom finally said yes, and Dad was ecstatic. They were married on July 9, 1947.

Perhaps the dream of a home of their own, where they both felt they belonged, may have been behind that pursuit and the resulting yes. Mom – Jetske Hofstra – was the oldest of 10 children. Her own mother had died in the Spanish flu epidemic when mom was less than a year old; her dad remarried when she was 7, and so all the children that came after that were her half-siblings. Her youngest brother was only just 2 – she could easily have had a child of her own that age, had she been married. Perhaps Dad’s final proposal – “This is the last time I will ask you. If you say no, then it’s over forever,” – made her realize that time was running out.

Dad – Foppe de Jong – was the long-awaited first son in his family, born after three older sisters. But he was not exactly the kind of boy that his father had hoped for. He was a dreamy, inquisitive child who enjoyed wandering the fields alone, too smart for his own good. His father needed a practical, decisive and hard-working heir to whom he could pass on the farm. The second boy, Otto, proved to be that son. Dad knew that if he took over the farm, he would always be at odds with his strong-willed father and his equally strong-willed younger brother, and so Dad made a decision; he told his dad he would seek his own fortune, and Otto could be the heir. At the time, Dad was working in the NoordOost Polder, reclaiming land from the sea. The government had announced that workers in the Polder would be the first to get a farm. When mom and dad married, dad moved out of the barracks into Oeral Thus, which was floating on a canal.

An example of the houseboats that provided accommodation in the NoordOost Polder.

But alas, the dream did not come true. Dad was far down on the list of people who would get a farm of their own. Mom, dad, and Oeral Thus moved back to the family farm and dad began working as a hired man for a neighbour. You might think this would be a very hard time for them – the end of a dream before it was even begun. But look at them! They are happy – they have each other and a baby and a place to live with family nearby. Mom and Dad often referred to Oeral Thus as “Het Arkje” – a little ark. Noah’s ark had sheltered his family and the animals from disaster when floodwaters covered the earth. Now this little arkje was a safe place and a shelter for them.  It was where I was born and where I experienced my first 15 months of life. 

My grandfather's farm. You can see Oeral Thus parked on the left.

And mom and dad were young enough to think about immigrating to Canada to pursue their dream of a farm of their own, where, apparently, farmers were begging for workers.

“We finally applied for emigration to Canada,” writes my dad. “But that required a down payment of 100 guilders as a guarantee that our plans to go were serious. Thus, this became the moment of our final decision! After discussing the matter once more, Jet said, ‘You make the decision.’ And I replied, ‘Here is the 100 guilders. If you send it away with the mailman tomorrow morning, we’ll go. And if you don’t, we’ll stay!’ When I came home the next day at lunch time, she greeted me with a smile. That told me enough: our application and the money was on its way.”

“Take your life and make it the best story in the world,” says the meme. Thanks, mom and dad, for making this first chapter in my life a great story.

 This is my textile art version of the farm, with the church where I was baptized in the background.


Saturday, 8 May 2021

Do it Small

Do you wonder why you are not all perky and energetic as we enter the 14th month of the pandemic? 

According to psychologist Adam Grant, it’s because you are languishing. Languishing, it turns out, is a recognized psychological term referring to the mid-point between crippling “depression” and good feelings of “flourishing” -- the peak of well-being.

“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021,” says the Times in an article posted below.


I’ve diagnosed myself, and I think I am in that state. I’ve tried blogging, making art, reaching out, but the energy is not there to carry through. I wondered how to get myself moving again along the road to flourishing.

Self-help articles with ideas to help you combat languishing are fine – and you can find a link posted below. What struck me as I read further was the emphasis on “small” – small steps, small goals, small projects. Immerse yourself in something small, and see where it takes you.


I’ve tried writing blogs in the last few months, but they were not successful. Now I realize I was trying to say BIG things in them. The  news of the world is full enough of big things: big tragedies, big lies, big numbers, big needs. It’s almost too much to take in. What if I tried a smaller story, one that doesn’t have a big lesson for you to absorb, but something just to enjoy, just because it is a story?

That’s when the YouTube story of Canuck the Crow appeared on the resident sweetie’s Birds of BC Facebook page. One of the techniques Al uses to keep his “languishing” at bay – besides enjoying the birds outside our window –  is to listen to short “feel-good” stories on YouTube, and this one was right up his ally. He called me over because he figured I’d be interested, too. And I was, because it’s a story about a crow. Since crows figure big in my first blogs, inspiring me to think about my place in the world, it makes sense that crows might just teach me a thing or two now, as well. And maybe this story might give you a boost, as well.

You can watch it here on the link below – it’s about 18 minutes long. Spoiler alert: This film was made in 2017. Canuck the Crow disappeared shortly after, and has probably gone the way of all flesh now. Take the story for what it is worth – of course, some wildlife enthusiasts would disapprove of making friends with this bird – but I love how Canuck helped his human climb out of depression towards flourishing, and all by just doing little things. As the song says, “All God’s creatures have a place in the choir, some sing low and some sing higher...”

Documentary: Canuck and I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flU0rDDGtHU



Youtube version of “All God’s Children”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iP27eatYxE

Article about Languishing:   https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

Questionnaire: Are you Languishing?https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/04/well/mind/languishing-definition-flourishing-quiz.html

Article about ways to move on from languishing to flourishing:

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The crow looks for beauty

It’s been a while since I’ve posted; that’s because I had nothing to say that didn’t sound like a sermon. But I’ve been through an experience this week, and it gave me pause for reflection.

Last week a quilting friend of mine posted a piece of quilt art, and introduced it with approximately these words: “I’ve been nominated to share a piece of my art on Face Book for 10 days running. No comments, no explanations. I am also nominating someone each day to carry on with this challenge.” She nominated me. This sounds like the chain letters that we used to participate in when were naive 12 year olds, promising all kinds of good luck, or recipes, or even dollar bills. We ended up laboriously making 10 copies (by hand!) and sending them off to 10 friends, and were inevitably disappointed. I’ve grown up since then.

But I was surprised at my reaction: I wanted to do this. Why? Perhaps because I enjoyed seeing the work of others who were participating – their work added a dash of colour to these grey, rainy days that all seem to run together. Maybe by displaying my work, I could do the same for someone else. The friend who nominated me confessed that she was dragging her art out from under the bed where the pieces had been stored for years. I know from experience that there are more artists than there are buyers out there, and only so many pieces you can hang or give away. So there’s a lot of art stored under the beds of the Comox Valley. It was time to bring them out to see the light of day.


"Still Marching" -- Self portrait at 70. Still under the bed.

Ah, but when you put yourself out there, that’s a big step. I heard a number of voices in my head...in fact, there was a real chattering going on in there. “Hmm. Tooting your own horn, eh? (Fishing for compliments?)” “What makes you think anyone wants to see these?” “You may think your work is fine, but they’re just amateur compared to X, Y, and Z.”

Memories of Newfoundland. I haven't finished this one...still under the bed!


What’s with those voices? Do you hear them too when you step out? The voice that suggested I was tooting my own horn had a Dutch accent, belonging to an older gentleman whose family had hired me to write his life story. He was reluctant because he did not want to toot his own horn. The voice that said nobody would be interested belonged to people who, when I showed them my work, said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then changed the subject. And as far as my being an amateur...that was probably my own perfectionist streak, comparing myself to others. Sometimes it’s very hard to believe in yourself. Do I hear an “Amen, sister?” I hope so, because I do not think I am alone with these feelings.

Woods in Spring...not done, still under the bed.

It’s been said that putting your work out there for all to see is like dancing naked in public. You are very vulnerable. All your imperfections are on display. And so I tend to downplay my work ... “oh, it’s just something simple” or “I learned this in a class with so and so, but of course it’s nothing like her work,” or “everyone is creative in their own way.”

Well, I put my work out there. The feedback was amazing and heart-warming, enough to make me blush at times. (If you aren’t my friend on Facebook, you can check out those posts at https://www.facebook.com/jessie.schut.9)

So when I say, “I’ve been through an experience this week” this is what I am talking about. As I reflect on the experience, I’ve learned again that yes, creating is what I love to do. Writing and making art is who I am. I should – as should we all – be happy to name and claim my gifts. And your response has showed me that my gifts can add a splash of beauty to this world. I need to get over myself, ditch the negative voices, and be who I am. Your gifts too can add beauty to this world, and hiding those gifts under the bed does the world no favours.

I reflect on how integral beauty is to our experience of happiness. Psychologists say we are hard-wired to need beauty in our lives. We are drawn to it every time we notice it. Plato thought that merely contemplating beauty caused “the soul to grow wings.” Mmm...I like that idea! “All beauty and art evoke harmonies that transport us to a place where, for only seconds, time stops and we are one with the world. It is the best life has to offer,” says author Andre Aciman.

“Beauty will always have the power to inspire us. It is that enigmatic, unknowable muse that keeps you striving to be better, to do better, to push harder. And by that definition, what we all need most in today’s world is perhaps simply more beauty,” writes designer Lazaro Hernandez.

We all have it in us to contribute beauty to the world, not just works of art, but beauty in doing kind acts, in really listening to someone who is hurting, in allowing children to express their creativity, in exercising hospitality, in playing or singing music, in writing a note to a shut-in or doing errands, in speaking a word of gratitude or encouragement, in treating a customer or client with respect, in handing out smiles ...

It’s all Beauty, eh?

Monday, 18 January 2021

Sweet Memories

I began a writing course at the beginning of January. It’s about writing Creative Non-Fiction – essays, memoirs, biographies, travel stories, etc.  A lot of creative non-fiction relies very much on the author’s memories.

Memory is such an amorphous thing. Somewhere in your brain you store up a picture, or a smell, or a sound. Then, when you experience something in real life, like the soft fur of a kitten, the smell of bread baking or tomato soup simmering on the stove, or  the sound of the wind in the trees or a train whistle in the distance, suddenly you are carried away, over to that part of the brain that has stored that little snippet of colour, touch, smell or sound. And surrounding that snippet is a whole story.

The smell of onions simmering in a pan, for instance, makes me think of hachee, a dish my mom sometimes made at the end of the week, when the roast that began at Sunday dinner was reduced to a few scraps in the bottom of the pan, along with a cupful or so of rich brown gravy. She would slice half a dozen onions very thinly and throw them into the pan, letting them simmer for hours. Half an hour before supper, she peeled a big potful of potatoes and put them on to boil. There would probably be some green beans taken from the freezer cooking in another pan. The whole house was filled with the aroma of simmering onions, and the windows steamed up from the cooking.  Hachee was a winter dish to warm your bones after a trudge from school through the snow and icy cold (uphill both ways, of course!) A steamy kitchen and delicious smells created a warm welcome home. Later, around the supper table, we would ladle those beefy onions over chunks of potato and tell mom she should make this every day... it was so delicious. Mom was smart, though: too much of a good thing doesn’t make it special anymore.

And then there’s the memory that arose last week when I spilled a little bit of strawberry jello powder on the counter. Without even thinking about it, I licked my finger, then stuck it into the little hill of flavoured jello and popped it into my mouth. My brain lit up: it’s Lik-m-Aid all over again. I am 9 years old,  living in a neighbourhood with lots of kids. We travel in packs, seeing what kind of interesting adventures we can get into. Mr. B is working in the garden, and when we show up, he unexpectedly pulls a quarter from his pocket and tells us to go spend it. A quarter is a huge treasure; sometimes parents will let us take an empty little pop bottle to the store and spend the 2 cent refund; on a really good day, we might get a big bottle, which will give us 5 cents, but that usually means you have to share the refund with your sister. But a quarter, a whole quarter, to spend amongst the four of us? Unheard of.

Of course, we head down to the Fat Man on the Corner. (I think his name was Allen, but we all called him -- not to his face -- the fat man, because he was.) He has a tiny convenience store in what should have been the living room of his house, and on the counter by the cash register, are big bottles of candy: jawbreakers in a vast array of colours, jelly beans, suckers, humbugs, wax lips, candy necklaces, double-bubble gum, taffy individually wrapped in wax paper, Twizzlers in black and cherry, and packets of Lik-m-Aid, which was nothing more than flavoured coloured sugar. Unfortunately, I have no photo of that store or the Fat Man, but this scene looks a bit familiar.

The Fat Man pulls out a tiny brown paper bag for each of us while we hem and haw over the choices. He never seems to be impatient, but once we’ve picked something, we can’t change our mind, so it’s important to get it right the first time. Do we get a one-inch jawbreaker for 2 pennies, which will last for a long time – the bonus is that layers of different colours are revealed as you suck on it – or do we get 3 much smaller gumballs for the same amount of money? Lik-m-Aid was a good choice because it could last for a very long time and it was sharable. It was often sold in packets of four flavours, side by side, so 4 friends could buy one packet and each would get a flavour: grape, orange, lime or cherry. 


Once you’d argued or traded your way to your favourite flavour, you all ripped open your packet, licked your finger, and stuck it in. Before long, your finger and your lips revealed your choice – green lips and fingertips were pretty spectacular! Later, Lik-m-Aids came in single packets which included a stick to lick. Your fingers stayed flesh-coloured.

Clutching our bags, we’d make our way to a back yard or playground and check out our riches, savouring the goodies one at a time. A trip to the Fat Man on the Corner could keep you out of an adult’s hair for many hours, so there may have been a method to Mr. B’s generosity.

After a jello-inspired trip down memory lane, imagine my delight a few days later when I walked into The Windmill, a store carrying Dutch supplies, and found a box of Cherry flavoured Lik-m-Aid on the counter. “Postdated,” read the sign. “Free. Help Yourself.” I did not need a second invitation, and in my favourite flavour, too. They’ve changed the name and the graphics, but in fine print, it tells you they used to be called Lik-m-Aid. They’re new and improved: now the stick is a candy stick, so after you’re finished licking up all the sugar, you can chow down on the stick. I must confess, I did use my finger for a while, for old times sake!

 One thing I learned in my course is that memory is notoriously unreliable. You are so sure of something that lives in your memory, but it turns out that you have actually created a story around the little snippet stored in your brain and the story may not be true at all.

I’m pretty sure that in the case of Lik-em-Aid, I’m not making it up. I have the red finger to prove it!

PS: I found this photo of my sister and me licking giant suckers gifted to us by visitors. We were living on the top floor of an old mansion that had been converted into apartments. It was steaming hot that summer, and we used to sit out on the fire escape outside our kitchen window, where this photo was taken. Oh, the memories! I'm glad I have the photos to confirm what I think I remember.