One Year On

I am superstitious about happiness. I enjoy it at the moment; I thank the universe for giving it to me. I may be happy, but I am leery of announcing my happiness. Announcing happiness is tantamount to tempting fate. I am superstitious.

Which leaves me in an interesting place. A year ago today I had been in emerg for sciatica, I had been ghosted and dumped and then I became unemployed. A year ago was truly a terrible set of days.

And now? I have someone who loves me. Kindly, gently, and with great care. I have work – more than I could have ever imagined, on a project that will support the immunization of more than 5 million people. I have finished a year more of grad school. My sciatica is a dull roar.

There are Sunday night dinners. Someone who kisses the back of my neck and tells me to sit at the table, dinner is ready. There are days filled with emails and meetings and decisions. There are Sunday night dinners and an ongoing project with the kids to make the world’s best ice cream.

I am hesitant to proclaim my current happiness because I know that it was nothing I did to solve my employment problems. It was the random chance of a dating website that made me match with the gentleman caller. If I have learned anything in my 42 years, it’s that happiness is an arbitrary thing. It cannot be forced, it is not earned. It doesn’t arrive because you are kind are good.

So, I’ll whisper into the universe. A year ago today I was lonely, frightened, exhausted, ill and sad. I am not today.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Tiny Points of Light, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Between the Lilac and the Birch

The first spring, when my mum and I stood on my crappy back deck and looked out over a wasteland that was supposed to be my back yard . . . .

There was a lilac. It was somewhere between bush and tree. Well, it was a tree, but it was so overgrown with suckers it was both a bush and a tree. It needed to be trimmed, but there was also 2 feet of dog poop and something that wasn’t grass and wasn’t weeds. Oh, and there was mud.

16* years later the lilac is a well-pruned tree. There are lights hung in it, a flower bed underneath, and a set of Adirondack chairs on paving stones underneath. The deck is also gone, replaced by something that holds a table and my bbq. There is grass, rock, more flower beds.

Opposite the lilac is the Young’s Weeping Birch my friend’s gave me when Gabe died. Planted at 3 feet high, it’s now easily 7 feet. It needs another hair cut to stop it from crowding the path into the backyard. There’s an herb garden, a small veggie garden and the world’s largest rhubarb next to the birch.

If I had to explain what Mother’s day is like for me, I would tell you it’s living between the lilac and the birch tree. It’s living with the memories of a mother no longer here and the reality that ‘parenting’ my child involves dusting his urn and giving his tree a haircut. It’s filled with things that have happened in the interim. Adirondack chairs from a 10th wedding anniversary, conversations that happened in those chairs. Herbs that have flavoured meals I’ve made. Rhubarb that has become pies and crisps, fed to those I love.

* I think I bought my house 16 years ago. It’s close to that anyway.

Posted in Baby Loss, Gabriel | 3 Comments


It’s a cold and blustery day, here in Edmonton. My front porch is full of bedding plants and the cushions to a couch. The plants will get put in the ground on Sunday, the couch will leave Saturday am.

It’s cold and windy and we need rain so very desperately. Maybe tomorrow they say. A deployment went very slightly sideways last night, I’ve been up, off and on, since 3 am. It’s noon, I am not dressed and I’m eating the cold leftovers from last night as some sort of meal. I’m typing this while I wait for updates.

I am, in every way, in between. In between time, place and completion.

I say that Andy had to leave us. You know, as if he stood up, took his leave, bid adieu and wandered off to some nicer place. It’s a pastoral sort of answer – it does not show you the confusion, the sorrow, the rage or the stuckness.

Andy is dead. I know this. The service leaflet for his funeral is stuck to the bulletin board next to me. The DVD of his funeral is in my desk drawer. I watched that funeral on Facebook live, on my back deck, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. My brain knows that Andy is dead.

But in my heart? Even a year later, I am stuck in between.

Posted in Grief | 1 Comment

Rhubarb and History

I am making a rhubarb cake for Sunday dinner. Partly because there was a recipe in this month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated that I wanted to try; partly because yesterday I saw the tender green leaves of my rhubarb plant poking up to the sun. Time enough to make sure the freezer is empty of last year’s rhubarb.

I’m moving in a familiar rhythm; dumping flour in the bowl on the scale, into the bowl for the cake batter. I am wondering if there is enough sugar in the cake that the kids will eat it. I’m thinking of the roasted veggies I’ll make tonight and occasionally stopping to place another jar of something into the roasting pan so that I can take it with me to Mark’s in a few hours. I’m wondering how Mark is doing at brining the turkey we forgot to defrost on Easter Sunday. Other than the turkey, which is really no more work than any other roast, it’s a standard family meal. I pause and think – this is good. Cooking for those given to me to care about, this is good.

I’m catching up on podcasts. Unreserved begins with the story of 6 Nations Stew, which is corn and beans and salt pork. I laugh at the host using pancetta instead of salt pork while also wincing – I bought pancetta at the Italian Centre yesterday. I still think pancetta is a bit fancy, even if it was on sale. The soup was the easy part of the podcast.

We starved indigenous children at residential schools. I knew this. I knew that we beat them and we starved them and then we buried them in unmarked graves. It is our national sin, a blight which cancels out the sun.

I did not know this: before we starved them to death, when we knew they were starving, we ran experiments. I stare at the rhubarb from last year’s garden, the lemon in my hand that I am zesting. We ran double-blind trials, withholding vitamin C from indigenous children. In the name of science. To develop the Canada food guide I learned about as a kid. Our prairies abound with sources of vitamin C. Never mind the rhubarb, or even the rose hips, we abound with chokecherries and blueberries, raspberries, saskatoons. Their parents knew how to feed their children from the foods on the lands they inhabited.

Just like mine did. While my mum fed me canned raspberry jam, while she froze the rhubarb in our garden; While I zest lemons and place roasted carrots and potatoes in front of children, touching their shoulders softly on my way by;

Foods that came from the land. Nothing fancy, by in large. Just the stuff your mum likely made. The stuff of a family meal. No real science here, just kitchen wisdom. Feed people. Feed people when they are hungry. Feed children good food so that they grow up wise and strong.

I spread my hands out . . . hopeless.

I’ll kiss the kids on their heads tonight when I put their plates in front of me. Katie will lean into me and Matthew will make a face.

This is what reconciliation is. To learn, to try and understand and to let it break you.

In the faint hope that when I put the next crop of rhubarb in my freezer, I will know more. I will know about the children who died for want of vitamin C in rhubarb. I will know more about the people who lived on this land before I started my garden on it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Vaccine in my Arm

I am not dead, but also not alive.


You would think I might have something more profound to say. I’ve worked every day since Christmas. The days blend together. It’s work and school and school and work. I live in a countdown of releases. I have a better chance of telling you what system functionality went live today than I do knowing what day of the week it is. I’ve given up on dressing up for work, most days I’ve given up on makeup. I’d have to look in the mirror, but I’m not entirely sure I brushed my hair before I bundled it into a hair clip.

I have one more essay to write for grad school, and then I shall have an entire glorious summer off. I am taking the last week of April off, which means that I have 8 days left before vacation.

Spring is happening around me. For now, I mostly see it out of my office window. It looks like there are buds on trees. I think it’s getting warmer.

I’ve ordered plants from the catalog. I started some herbs from seed, I sometimes pause and add to a list of things I want to do when I get a week off.

On Monday night I got my first dose of vaccine. This means . . . not much. It means nothing for at least 2 weeks, and then after those 2 weeks, it means I’m less likely to die if I get Covid.

Not dead. Also not alive.

Posted in Pandemic | 3 Comments

Recurring Dead Meat

My shoulders are locked up. I can’t quite turn my head. This is what happens when you spend the amount of time I spend staring at a screen. Off I went to my massage therapist tonight, and as he manipulated, poked stretched, he commented where I was tight. Where I am often tight.

And as I laid on his table, felt his fingers trying to unlock muscles, breathed through, and leaned into pain, I thought about how you could track the weight of every project in a time-lapse picture of tightened muscles. I wondered if he could give a status report on a project, based on the number of muscle groups involved and how seized they are.

I worked 60 and 70 hour weeks between November and the end of last week, trying to juggle 2 clients and school. I finished my second project last week, and now I get to go back to probably about 50 hours plus school.

I have lost my demand, my desire, my overwhelming need to work as much as I did in my early 30’s. I took on the extra work because it was (and is) so very necessary. I’ve learned to listen to my body a bit more now. I drink more water and less coffee, I eat regularly and I sleep at least 7 hours a night. I stretch and talk gently to myself.

I suppose, if there is a point to this blog, I’d like to believe that all of the things I’m doing better at, the ways in which I’m better at balance, would reflect in less seized shoulder muscles.

And yet. The gentleman caller described the feel of my shoulder muscle as an overcooked and cheap steak. My massage therapist described my shoulders as “top 5 for bad”.

This sucks.

Posted in Just a Working Stiff, Pandemic | 3 Comments

Select * From

One of my classes this semester is a SQL database class. At the ripe old age of 42, someone is demystifying the basics of database design, running an SQL query, importing data into a database.

I love this class. I love every moment of this class. I loved building relationship diagrams. I loved writing SQL queries.

I’ve wondered why I love it, especially as I have to guard the class time so carefully (4 hours is a long time to be unavailable for meetings when your job is meetings and you are working 12 hour days). I suppose some of the love is the fact that it has nothing to do with anything that I currently do for a living. It’s a blessed break from Covid and Project Plans and Transition Plans. Some of it has to be that I thought this was mysterious. Obviously, it’s the early (and easy) stages, but this is code that I can understand. I can see where this code keeps its brain. None of it is abstract. Equally, I loved watching a database unfurl in response to my questions – stretching itself out in a linear format. I love the inherent order in tables and rows. I love that I thought this was going to be so hard and instead it’s so logical and sensible.

In a world where I am drowning in chaotic data, where it cannot be organized and it cannot be understood. At a time when the data changes so often, what was real and true yesterday is gone today, I’ll take rows and columns. I’ll take the ability to query a set form of knowledge and get answers. It seems useful and helpful. Not simple, but straightforward.

I think this is love.

Posted in Grad Student, Pandemic | 1 Comment

Stalking Horse

I am swamped at work. I’m running 2 key applications and just got handled a huge chunk of Covid immunization work. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled, delighted, and proud to do the work (although I do wish my home province would get rather more on board with the idea of immunizing anyone). I am also taking 2 classes this semester. Both of my classes this semester are very cool, but they are both quite technical and I require practice. In the middle is the gentleman caller and trying to make sure I’m available. It’s a lot and it’s typical for me. I prefer it this way, even if it does result in occasional moments of sobbing at my desk.

I’m grumpy and jittery this morning. I woke up early, tripped over the dog, and scowled at the cat. Sat on the couch and stared vacantly for a bit. I have a neurology appointment.

I don’t like the neurology visits. I don’t like the MRI. They are not comforting, they do not make me feel like my disease is more managed. MS and I, for the last several years, have lived in a sort of detente. I make sure that I eat 3 meals a day and get 7.5 hours of sleep a night and it’s ok. I don’t exactly pretend that I’m not sick. I’m just fortunate enough to be able to mostly ignore it.

The doctor, the MRI, the odd sighting of my cane tucked out of the way – they are stalking horses. A reminder that it’s good luck I’m not more compromised by MS. It’s not good management, outrunning this stalking horse. It is luck. You cannot manage luck. Luck stays until it is gone, and then the horse will come. My work, my education, managing my house and garden, the stairs, the pets, my ability to read and knit. I do not know what the horse will take. It may take everything worth having.

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves | 3 Comments

What’s Next?

Years ago – when my friend Maureen’s boys were little, we met in DC for a weekend. I was there for business and stayed an extra weekend. Maureen, who had lived there years before brought her boys and they showed me the town.

I remember in particular the visit to the Hill; I gather, digging through hazy recollection, there is a process whereby young men and women act as interns for their congress men and women. One of the chief duties of these young people is shepherding tourists around the hill.

We had two young men, as I recall. One, I think was from Arizona. There came a point in the discussion where I made a reference to West Wing, especially to Leo McGarry and Big Block of Cheese day. It was a somewhat obscure reference, but the young man immediately got it, and we chatted about our love of the show and the entire notion of politics.

DC is many things. It is a town of memorials, of memories, of hopes and dreams. It’s an icon and a beacon. It’s exactly where two young men should go to participate in the dream that is freedom and democracy.

What happened today in the Capitol, it was and is and will be history. It is a pox, a blight, a horror.

And I think of those young men at the hill. How we traded jokes about West Wing, about the best of what is the experiment and dream of the United States of America. Maureen’s boys, who are not so little, watched an armed insurrection on television today. They are brave and curious young men. The young men I met that day on Capitol Hill won’t be young anymore either.

There would have been young men and women on the hill today. Some of them with stars in their eyes, some of them who still believe in the experiment that is democracy.

Bartlett, the President in West Wing, the President we have dearly wanted and missed these last 4 years, the President who called forth our better angels, he used to say something. It reminded us to keep moving, to keep hoping and to keep working. It seems like a good thing to ask right now . . .

“What’s Next?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Lights in the Tree

It was a late August night when the sunset seems to last for hours, and even past the sunset the lights in the tree and the solar lights and the company make another sort of day out of night. It was the sort of Alberta night, the sort of party where at the very end, when you send the last person home, you pour another scotch, drink it, and then turn out the lights. You can deal with the food and the mess in the morning.

That was a year ago August.

Yesterday, on the shortest day of the year, Anne left. She had been in ICU, only a few blocks from my house, for the last month. You would think Covid, but no. Atypical pneumonia. One they struggled to treat. Her body, broken by MS, broken by other things, finally unable to fight.

She chose this. She said her goodbyes, decided that this was the best path forward. I have wept at the update that she was going, wishing that the angels would sing her on her way. I wept again at the update she was gone.

And I think of Anne in her snazzy motorized wheelchair, Art beside her, filled with love. They had their own sort of light, the two of them. The world is darker today and we are less without her.

Late in the summer of 2021, when we are vaccinated, when it is safe, I’ll throw another party. The sunset will last for hours, the merriment will make the night seem like day.

We’ll raise a glass, to absent friends. Think about the hell we lived through. Stare at the lights in the tree and remember how they fell on her face. And we’ll miss Anne.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments