The Price of Vanity


This is a  story of pride, love, loss, shame, redemption and regaining your sense of humour.

Let me preface this by saying that other than my immediate family, I have shared this story with only five people….my five closest friends at the time. In fact, it was such an unbelievable tale, I had a dinner party for the six of us good friends to ‘butter them up’ before I confessed my secret. No husbands, boyfriends, lovers…just six  women united to share a moment, that I was sure would be as shocking to them as it had been to me.

The fireplace we finally had installed.
The fireplace we finally had installed.

My husband and I had wanted to install a propane fireplace in our family room, but with a house full of kids, two new businesses we were trying to get off the ground, and a mortgage of gargantuan proportions, it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I had secretly been stashing away a few dollars here and there over the past year and a half and I thought, if I was frugal in my spending, and faithful about adding to the fireplace fund, we just might be able to swing it by spring.

I was about 45 at the time, and had enrolled in a course to become a Non Violent Intervention Instructor. The course was being held in Calgary. Because we had an accredited Security Officer training program at the time, we were always looking for instructors for various specific and specialized components. This was something I felt I could teach, and it meant we didn’t have to invest in training someone who would one day move on.

I arrived in Calgary and checked into the hotel. I had that afternoon and evening free, as the course didn’t begin until the following morning.

This was my first trip to Calgary, other than once prior, when I had met with some Shell Canada executives on a contract we were working on for them on an offshore project. That had been a trip filled with meetings from the time I arrived until I left, so this was the first time I’d actually had time to see anything of the city.

Not having a clue where I was in relationship to the downtown core, business district, or shopping, I just set out walking. I stopped at a nice little bistro and had a lovely lunch. From there, I sort of poked my head into a few stores, more window shopping than actually contributing to the local economy.

As I strolled along, enjoying the newness of a place, I came upon a women’s clothing store called Le Chic. When I entered, it didn’t strike me as any thing special. I didn’t sink, ankle deep, into the carpet, and in fact the place seemed a bit crowded with rack upon rack of very nice business type clothing. Hmmmmm, I had some important meetings coming up, and thought ‘…perhaps I should buy myself a new suit.’

I have never been a trendy dresser. I am more the classic, seldom go out of style, kind of gal. This shop had my taste hanging on every rack!

As I browsed, a lovely woman asked if she could be of help, and I graciously turned her down, saying I was ‘….just looking’.

Well, that ended abruptly, when I found not one, but two, beautiful suits…both with skirts, not pants. One was green, one was coral. I asked to try them on, and the very pleasant, and helpful, woman who had previously approached me escorted me to the dressing room. While making our way toward the back of the store, she told me that they also did alterations and if any were required, they were included in the price! Wow! I was impressed.

I tried both suits on and really, really liked both. The coral fit like a glove, but the green one was big in the waist of the skirt and also just a bit in the shoulders of the jacket. I tried them both on again, but this time I finally took the time to look at the price tag on each.

GULP! I swallowed hard. The coral one was $330 and the green $350. ‘Oh gawwwwdddd’, I silently moaned. Why hadn’t I looked at the prices before I asked to try them on! That was a lot of money, even for a suit of such nice quality and made in Italy.  Just a moment before, I had seriously considered buying both. This changed that idea…well,  the green one is simpler and I’d get more use out of it. I worked hard, I deserved to treat myself. All these arguments sped through my brain as I began to justify what I was about to do.

The seamstress came in, pinned the jacket and waistband of the skirt where it needed to be taken in, I changed and as I was walking to the counter to pay, the power went out.

Having ignored the whispers the universe had been throwing in my path….the suit was too big, the price was too high, the feeling of guilt as I tried to justify my extravagant purchase….this was the 2 x 4 up aside the head…but I was determined to ignore even that.

As I stood there discussing when the suit would be ready for pick-up (late Friday afternoon), the power came back on, I passed over my credit card, the lovely lady rang up my purchase, I signed the slip and left….wondering how I would tell my husband that I had just paid $350 for a suit. Not that he would care….he never questioned or asked what I paid for anything, but I never kept secrets either.

Back at the hotel, I spent the week in training and workshops. Friday came and class ran late, then we all had dinner together where we were given our certificates. My flight left early Saturday morning, but I decided I would call the store Monday morning and have them mail the suit to me.  I didn’t have time to pick it up.

When I called the store on Monday, they were very accommodating and said they would sent the suit by bus and I would have it in two days. Shipping was free! Wow! Free shipping on top of the free alterations. “Please call us when you get it”, said the lovely lady. “We’d like to know if it fits”. Certainly, thank you so much, I replied.


The suit arrived and it fit perfectly. I called the store to advise them that all was well. The next day I wore the suit to work. No one mentioned it, and somewhat disappointed, I met a friend for lunch…we had chinese food and I was very careful not to spill any of the sauces!

I still hadn’t worked up the courage to tell my husband I had paid $350 for a suit!

It wasn’t long when my credit card statement arrived. I always took my bills to work to pay them. I grabbed my reading glasses, opened the statement, ready to write a check for the balance owing.

There, a line item for the suit jumped off the page. Actually, it seemed to pulsate ….I felt my life’s breathe leaving my body as the bile rose in my throat. I managed to get up, walk to my office door , close it and get back to my chair without passing out or throwing up.

I looked again. I grabbed my purse and pulled the business card from my wallet. Shaking, I dialed the number. Second ring and the lovely lady answered.

‘Hello’, I said…my voice trembling. I told her who I was and that I had just received my statement and I was certain there must be some mistake.  With a smile in her voice, I heard her respond: “Oh no dear. There is no mistake. We don’t have anything in our store for less that $3,000.”

I don’t think I even said goodbye. I just hung up and sat there. Too stunned to cry, to frozen to move, too sick to even vomit.

OH. MY. GAWD. I had just paid thirty five HUNDRED dollars for a suit. THIRTY FIVE HUNDRED. NOT three hundred and fifty.

All of the “D” words went through my mind. Dumb. Divorce. Death.

How could I have made such an error?! How could I not have seen that second zero behind the three and the five??

I knew exactly how. Pride and vanity.

For a few months, I had been using reading glasses, at home, and at work, but rarely did I ever take them when I went shopping, and my trip to Le Chic was no exception.

All of the ‘what-ifs’ started going through my mind. The biggest was ‘What if I had decided to get both suits? This wouldn’t have happened as I didn’t have that high a limit on my card.  I would have been momentarily embarrassed when it was rejected, but I would never see those women again in my life, so what difference would it have made ?’

Ohhhhhhhhh, I felt weak. I had to tell my husband now…without delay. This was a serious amount of cash….no more procrastinating.  The lovely lady had made it clear I couldn’t return it. It had been altered and I had worn it.

I left work early, went home and prepared a delicious dinner….the last supper….mine. I was certain.

As our family sat down to eat that evening, I pushed my food around my plate as the nausea swelled. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I pushed away from the table, blurted “I have something to tell you after you eat”, burst into tears and ran up the stairs to our bedroom.

Within seconds my husband was in the room holding me as I sobbed so hard I couldn’t speak. Finally, between gut wrenching crying, I told him. The whole sordid tale. Start to finish.  When I finished begging for my life, our marriage , his forgiveness; he started to laugh. Had he gone over the edge? He wasn’t sort of snickering, he was belly laughing! I sat stunned…waiting for the end.

“Peg”, he said: “That is the best story ever and I know how we’re can get a couple of hundred dollars back”.

He had lost it. He continued, “This is going to be the best “In Real Life” Readers’ Digest story ever!”

Had he heard me? ‘Three thousand, five hundred dollars’  I said.

“It’s only money”, he replied. “When you left the table, in those few seconds it took me to get up here, I thought you were going to tell me you had cancer or something and were dying. This is nothing!” he said, holding me tighter.

I had married a saint. A SAINT!!!

I told him. I also told him that I would not have been so understanding had the tables been turned. I would have been livid. He was letting me off the hook. Just like that. Unbelievable. True, unconditional love. Of course I was still mortified. Embarrassed beyond words so I made him promise not to tell anyone until I was ready. And then I had my dinner party a few months later. As my friends sat in stunned silence, I gave them each permission to tell their significant other. ‘No matter what you do, you can now say…it could be worse. I could go shopping with Peggy.’

It was another 18 months before we got that fireplace. We used my savings to pay for the suit.  I wore the suit the first night we used it. We toasted the addition to our home with a glass of wine. I drank white…just in case.

I haven’t worn the suit since. I was too afraid of staining it, and then I out grew the size 8. I tease my granddaughter that the suit will be her inheritance. I also think perhaps I should put it in a frame, like a valuable hockey jersey, and hang it in my living room.

The best idea came from my friend Ray. He said I should wear that suit for everything, including changing the oil in my car. I think he is right. If I ever fit in that suit again, while I don’t change my own oil, I think I might split a bit of wood, or do some painting in it. If I never fit it in again, my granddaughter will have quite a story – complete with props- to tell her grandkids one day.

By the way, I have several pair of reading glasses now.  I don’t buy anything without them on…not even a jug of milk.  And now, finally more than fifteen years later, I can laugh about it, and I give you all permission to share. 🙂

A Debt of Gratitude


From the moment we are born, our lives are filled with teachers. Some will be better than others. Some will be in a classroom, but if you are paying attention, most won’t be. This is my homage to two that were.

Let me say, the whole Department of Education doesn’t have enough money in their coffers for me to be a teacher, especially today. I know of what I speak, for I have done my fair share of substitute teaching in various Arctic communities over the years.

The influence that a teacher can have on you is profound. Good or bad, indifference or concern, a teacher’s imprint on a young mind can be life altering.


I was always a good student and respectful of my teachers.  Some were better than others but two really stand out for me.

Helen Welch was the last teacher I had in that little school. It was Mrs Welch that reinforced my love of reading.

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Books were rare in our house when I was young. I devoured my uncle’s ‘little big books’ and comics anytime I was at my grandmothers.  I remember cutting the stars from potato chip bags we had, or that  I found,  so I could submit them and get ‘free’ books.

It was Mrs Welch though, who first gave voice to those printed words. I don’t ever remember being read to as a child, that is, until I reached Mrs  Welch’s classroom.

Each afternoon, right after lunch and immediately following the bell for us to be in our seats, Mrs Welch would read a chapter from a book. I remember she did this every day for the three years I was in her room.  Perhaps it was her way of ensuring we were all back at school on time, I will never know, but I am eternally grateful for that few minutes everyday she spent transporting me to places I didn’t even know I missed.

I don’t think she ever read the classics, but rather I like to think she read us books that she loved. I remember the Anne books, Anne of Green Gables, and Anne of Avonlea. Treasure Island…oh how I loved that one!! Given that she had three grades and both boys and girls, I think Mrs Welch tried, very successfully, to find books that would appeal to all of us.  She most always stood when she read….wearing her flowered dresses with their knife pleats, the chain from her glasses draped down the sides of her face and around her neck.  I often think of her when I read a particularly great book and wonder if she would have enjoyed it.

Delta Hooper….what a temper that woman had!  If Mrs Welch was the reason I love to read, Mrs Hooper was the catalyst for me to write.

Students raised hands in class

Propelled by the search for perfection, Mrs. Hooper did not suffer fools …or foolishness in her class… lightly. How well I remember coat hangers zipping past my head as she flung them, one after another, at a boy in our English class. I wanted to fling a few coat hangers myself…I loved Mrs Hooper’s passion and had such a thirst to learn everything I could about grammar, writing, literature….it drove me mad when chaos erupted in class. It slowed things down and I was a like a sponge, wanting to absorb as much as I could in that 40 minutes.

There were other teachers I liked and admired, and a couple that made me wonder why they had chosen teaching as a profession, but for me it was these two women, Mrs. Welch and Mrs Hooper, that captivated a young mind and set the direction of my life in ways that they could never have imagined.

It is too late for me to thank either of them personally….the time for that sadly, long passed.

But publicly, here, in this moment,  I thank you both for the magic, the knowledge, the encouragement and the gentle, and sometimes forceful, urging me to reach higher, to do better. Most of all thank you both for believing that I could, even when I doubted it most.

My life was enriched and blessed by teachers, in classrooms and in life. I only wish they knew that.

Digging my Way to China


Confession time.

I love ‘things’: material things. Possessions. And…’s the thing. I make no apologies for it.

I know, I know. Not very politically correct to admit that, but then, I’m seldom know for being politically correct. I am known for being honest, so there you go…a trade off.

Shoes, oh lordy….a gal can do anything with a kick ass pair of shoes on her feet. Look at history…Dorothy saved a few homeless people; defeated the bad witch;  conquered Oz, and made it home all wearing a pair of red pumps. Sparkly red pumps!


Those Elves helped save a poor working man’s business by making countless pairs of spectacular shoes (I can’t help but think Jimmy Choo has them on staff now).

And who can forget Imelda, all of the Popes, and many a finance minister in Canadian history since Donald Fleming…and the role that shoes played in their stories.

Other than books and shoes, I especially love home decor, and my greatest two weaknesses have to be bedding and tableware….linens, flatware, serving dishes, wine glasses, and dishes.

During my working life, we entertained …a lot. Dinner parties were the norm and we hosted them often. Other than holidays, we rarely entertain any more, but I still hang on to all of my tableware….just in case. Ridiculous.

Our Christmas dinner table one year
Our Christmas dinner table one year

I have table linens for every holiday (several for Christmas), every season, in every colour and a variety of fabrics. I just tabulated and I have nine sets of dishes. Even to me, a self confessed ‘material girl’…. that sounds obscene. Who needs NINE sets of dishes?! And that doesn’t include the ones I have for our brick patio (no glass allowed by the pool) or our camper. It also doesn’t count the sets I have given away or sold in yard sales over the years. This whole exercise has sort of put a target on my back for an episode of the show “Hoarders”…except I am very organized.

So, I have decided it’s time to get rid of some of the things that I love…but never use. I think that I will keep just my three sets of white dishes….one plain, one with gold trim and one with silver…mix and match capability. The rest need to go. I need to downsize, purge, get a grip on my ‘addictions’.

I have a beautiful set of expensive china that I treasure and has special meaning, as it was a wedding gift for my first marriage and given to us by my mother in law whom I adored. Does letting it go mean that I am somehow letting her go? Absolutely not.

What it means is that it is sad that no one is enjoying those beautiful dishes. It means that it is crazy to have something you say means so much to you packed away where you never see it…let alone enjoy it. It means you have too much stuff. It means it’s time to lighten up.

Most of all, it means that it doesn’t matter what you eat from, or off of…as long as you have food to eat.

It means that the people that value you the most don’t care what your dishes look like.

What it means is that it’s the people at your table that make it interesting, fun, alive.

It means that it’s  the people that sit at your table that make your table beautiful, not the dishes on it.


So one day soon I will dig through all that stuff and find that china. I will sell it,  BUT, I will not buy more dishes with the money.  Instead I will gather all the people I love and that live near and we will once again sit at my table….with plain white dishes.