What I Learned from a Cake

I spent a good chunk of last Thursday, when not ordering a mojito or reading a trashy novel, thinking about someone baking a cake.

I should back up and bring the rest of you along with me. The Thursday before I left for vacation, the colleague who is leading the negotiations I’ve been working on mentioned that he had a hard stop at 4 pm. He had to go home and cook a birthday meal for his partner, and he had to bake a cake. Not only a cake, but her mother’s recipe for birthday cake. No boxed mix; this was the real deal, which he had to ice, because as his partner pointed out to him, birthday cakes have icing.

Now, my colleague is a smart and capable guy. When I asked if he’d ever baked a cake (He’s in his early 60’s), I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d said yes. He hadn’t. He looked at the recipe, googled a few things, called his mum and figured he could get on with it.

I should remark – it wasn’t especially that he had figured out how to make the cake. It was the fact she asked for him to bake a cake.

For years I have made the cake my friends’/niece’s/nephew’s/partner’s choice for their birthday. But telling a partner?

Gulp.

I marvelled. At her moxie, her braveness and her boldness for even asking. She told him she wanted dinner and a cake and left the house for a manicure and pedicure. What if he’d said no? What if she just wound up making her own cake because he was so lackadaisical it became clear it wasn’t going to get done? She didn’t nag, she didn’t pitch a fit and she didn’t seem to be worried. (Can you see what it might have been like to be married to me?)

And then I realized – it’s a cake. A bloody cake. It’s not rocket science. It was clearly important to her. So she trusted he’d figure it out. And he did, because he loves her (Actually, he *adores* her).

Mostly what I spent Thursday thinking about is the notion that someone might love someone else enough to bake them a cake, with no fuss and no muss, because that’s what they asked for.

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When I get Older

With a bit of exasperation, after I’d said I couldn’t remember the name of the resort I was staying at, I had no side trips planned, I wasn’t going to Chichen Itza or Tulum, wasn’t going to golf – a colleague said “So, you just gave WestJet all your money and you are going to turn up at a resort and lie on the beach?”

Yes.

Yes, that is exactly what I am going to do. There is culture, there is history, good food, music. I could go see some of it – I have a bit of money in my budget to do just that, but really, I’m going to have a mojito and read another chapter of a trashy novel. That’s what sun and humidity and the ocean mean to me.

I’ll stand in the ocean, let the waves break over me and I’ll think back to that magical night in 2010 – I’ll hear the words to the song they played on the boat, as I sat with a bottle of Red Stripe in my hands- when I get older, I will be wiser.

And briefly – I’ll ask the ocean. I am older now – am I wiser?

There was this family I got to talking to on the beach. A few sisters, a few brothers in law. From Idaho of all places. They marvelled that I was here alone. They thought I was brave (or possibly they were too polite to tell me I was strange.)

The woman in Jamaica – the one who wondered if she would be wiser when she was older?

Even the 22 year old me who got married and promised forever.

I am older. And I am wiser.

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No Begging

On Tuesday night, after a very long day, I got back to my car and the battery was dead. This was . . . Well, it wasn’t optimal. But it took me back to when I left Owen.

I don’t think I ever told you the moment I decided to really leave Owen. Indeed, perhaps because of the way I was raised (don’t air your dirty laundry in public), perhaps because while we are in the midst of situations we tend to minimize the worst of it as a way of dealing with the fact we can’t fix it. It’s not the boiling frog – not quite – more like not poking the bear.

I locked my keys in the car, while the car was still running. It was minus 20. I locked my keys, my purse, with my wallet and my cell; my briefcase with my computer. I locked my keys in my car, about 15 minutes before clie a meeting I needed to chair. A meeting that was, if I could find street parking, was going to take me 16 minutes to get to. After the meeting I had to study for the 2 final exams that were taking place the next day.

Owen was 12 minutes away. He was at physio, the same physio appointment he did three times a week, had been doing for 8 months. If he had left, driven back to the house, not even gotten out of the car, unlocked my car from his fob and driven back, he might have been 10 minutes late.

When I got into the house, texted him from my iPad, told him what I’d done, he told me to call AAA. I pointed out that I didn’t have a phone, so he told me to go to the neighbour. I pointed out that I didn’t have my AAA card. He agreed to phone for me. I pointed out that given the cold temperature, I could be waiting 12 hours. I had no way to let my client know I was going to be late. I couldn’t even study. I was desperate.

In the end, it was the moment I had to tell him I was begging him for help. I had to beg the man I was married to for almost 16 years, for help. That was done for me.

So, Tuesday. I came back to my car. It wouldn’t start. I called an Uber, I called AAA. When AAA was going to take 72 hours to boost my car, I called a friend. She came by with a portable booster the next day. Car started. Problem solved.

No begging.

I feel badly about not sticking it out. Still. But Tuesday reminded me, I wasn’t a little bit miserable, I was really miserable. I’m alone, but then I had been for a long time.

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Just how Big

The downside of having an MBA (or at least one of them) is that you have learned about such things as calculating Net Present Value. You understand and allocate for the carrying costs of debt based financing.

At some point, if you are me, you figure out what it cost you, upon dissolving your marriage, what the annual cost of marriage was. You do all the math and then you stare at a number of a calculator.

And you scratch your head. Phone a friend.

Because you honestly don’t know – how big or small *should* that number be?

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At 2 pm, in a Starbucks

I asked if he wanted to get divorced. He said that he had started filling out the paperwork and ordered our marriage certificate.

That’s that, then.

In the last 6 weeks I have had two different complete strangers ask if “I didn’t think that people could work out marriage difficulties if they just tried hard enough?”

I think so many things:

I think that people should keep their opinions to themselves.

I think that lots of marriage problems could be sorted if both people tried.

I think that when I stood in front of God, my family and my friends and I promised “til death do us part”, I meant it. I knew what I was promising, I knew it would be hard; it was a promise and I meant to keep it.

I had tried. At year 10, when I very nearly left him, and decided to try and fall in love again and did. It was hard work. I did it in 2014, when my marriage wasn’t working again. And on a day in December of 2016, I thought about trying. For the fourth time.

Here’s the honest to god truth – I was tired of trying. I could have. I just didn’t want to.

In doing so, I broke my word. I broke it knowingly. It was the right thing to do, but still wrong to break my word. Perhaps the worst is that I don’t regret it. I’d do it again.

And I’ve sat with that since 2pm last Sunday.

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Three Reasons

There were three reasons for the second dram of scotch tonight (which might yet turn into a 3rd dram).

I could tell you about the contract negotiations that have consumed most of my waking hours since Jan 7th, but frankly I’d be telling you about hours of discussions around the meaning of the word reasonable. I’ll summarize by telling you that reasonable has a legal definition which is actually frankly unreasonable. Trust me, it wasn’t much fun to be there and there is no way I can make the recounting interesting. Mostly I’m just surviving. At the end of next week the contract will get signed and it’s more or less some sort of march to that. Not the fun kind of march.

I could tell you that my ex husband, in the midst of 210 hours of billable work in the last 3 weeks has turned up, demanding that I buy him out of the house right now. This has left me, in the little time I have left over from work, trying to figure out how that will work, and while also scrambling to figure things like how I will afford the 60K in drugs that my own drug insurance will not cover. Thus far I have gotten managed to suggest a shotgun wedding with a female friend who does not actually live in this province. While she’s (god bless her) willing, I think I might need a better plan. I’d be panicked about assuming all the financial implications, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.

Anyway. While all of those are frankly great reasons to drink a lot, they aren’t actually the reason for the 3rd glass (the second disappeared as I started this post, so there was a moment when I put my computer down and went and poured another glass). This post has been produced by a somewhat drunk woman. Sorry.

No. It was the moment in contract negotiations today, when someone said “It’s not like babies die if we get this wrong”.

Oh, you fools. You utter fools. You do not realize it, but the woman in front of you: there is no hour she would not work, there is no service level she would not sacrifice, there is no financial penalty she would not bear. That discussion of reasonableness that has taken 4 hours? She should leave it all behind to save a single child.

She knows that this not how it works. It is not often systems that kill babies. She knows that there is no contractual defence against the death of children. It is the clause we throw in the front, the one we call Force Majeure – circumstances beyond the reasonable control.

You will not see it, but she will go home and she will pour a hefty third shot. She will hold it up. Toast what sometimes (but not in this contract) gets called “Acts of God”.

Because that’s what kills babies.

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New Year

I was trying to remember new year’s last year. I know that a year ago today I got my thesis back. (Turns out I’m still choked about not getting an A+). I think I went into the new year focused on passing my thesis and getting through my last residency. I came out of Christmas and packed my bags and I drove to Victoria and that was apparently the only thing I thought about.

This was a bit of a rookie mistake because my residency was finished in the last week of Jan and there were 11 more months after that.

So, I had no plan for last year. Which is ok, but it kinda showed. I lurched around a lot. I’d love to tell you that there was some learning in the lurching, but there wasn’t. There was just lurching.

I don’t completely have a better plan for this year. At least I thought beyond January. Actually, I thought until the middle of February.

I bought myself a trip to Cancun for Christmas. I have some thoughts about books I’m going to read on the beach. I also have a doctor’s appointment to talk about how to avoid the rash I get when exposed to sunlight.

And on that beach, I promise, I’ll spend at least 5 minutes – maybe even 10 thinking about what I’m going to do for the next 10 months. I’m sure that will work better than last year.

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The Start of Spring

Here in Alberta, at 53.5444° N, the sun rose at 8:50 am. I am typing this at quarter to 5 and it is dark. The sun set half an hour ago. For those who don’t wish to do the math this close to Christmas, there was about 7.5 hours of daylight. Where I live, you cannot but notice the pull and push of the seasons.

I have mixed feelings about this day. It’s the anniversary of Gabriel’s funeral. It’s a dark day in memory and in fact. The two are so tied up in my mind I cannot untangle them.

And yet.

Today is the start of winter, but in truth, from here on in, the days will get longer. Slowly. It is actually the start of spring. It is hard to believe, in the dark and the cold and the snow that spring will come back. On the 21st of June, when there are 18 hours of daylight, it will be hard to remember the dark and the cold.

I am told, by credible sources, that the key to resilience, at least in part, is the memory of how you overcame in the past. It is nothing more than remembering spring, in the middle of the longest and darkest night.

Betwixt and between, lonely and confused, I cannot tell you that I believe in spring. I cannot remember the feeling of warmth or the smell of growing things. What I remember is a sort of mantra. The longest night is the start of spring.

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Fiat (Fizzle) Lux

Producers Note: I told Mrs. Spit that doing this interview with a glass of scotch, even if we gave her a non transparent glass wasn’t a good idea. She told me to piss off. This is *not* my fault. 

Script Note: The camera opens on Mrs. Spit. She’s sitting on a stool in front of a grey screen. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice:
It was the gremlins or maybe the eldritch horrors. Possibly it was imps? Imps seem like a possibility. No, I think gremlins. We should stick with gremlins. Anyway, I made them angry. I know that now. 

Interviewer Voice (Sounding slightly perplexed):
Maybe you could explain to our viewers what happened? 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice (she takes a big gulp from the glass):
I told you. I made the gremlins angry with my smart switches. They decided to make me pay. 

Producer’s Note: Mrs. Spit let out a sob. I again suggested we replace whatever was in her glass with water. She snarled at us. Cut Scene to Electrician 1, who is standing in Mrs. Spit’s kitchen. 

Electrician 1 Voice:
I went and did some reading this morning. We call a neutral wire the unbalanced load, since it has a small positive charge in it. In old wiring, it can create harmonics across multiple circuits. That must be why the working. And the plug ins. Also the lights. And, I guess the fridge too. It’s really unfortunate. When we take the smart switches out, we should be back to normal. I mean, once we do that, it should solve the problem. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t. At least, I don’t think so. Nicolai Tesla had this great idea that when you brought a magnet near a metal disk, it would cause this thing called electricity, but we only mostly know how it works. Still, it should work if we just replace the switches . . . 

Producer’s Note: Cut back to Mrs. Spit. We had to replace the stool with a chair. She kept filling up the glass and after the second refill, she fell off the stool when getting on. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
It had been kind of ok. I mean the dog got confused every time I turned on the bathroom light and all the lights blinked, but I live alone and she’s always confused. I turned out the kitchen lights at the switch because I almost had a seizure from the strobing, while I made coffee. I grabbed the work light out of the basement, so I had some light. 
I figured out how to replace all the GU10 bulbs, which was pretty good, because I couldn’t before. I bought brand new, dimmable bulbs, even though the switches weren’t dimmers, just because. 

Script Note: Cut to scene of Mrs. Spit balancing precariously on a step stool, swearing. It wasn’t as graceful as she’s making you believe. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
So, on Saturday morning, I gave in. I went to the basement, turned off all the breakers for the entire house, apologized to the unhappy gremlins and replaced the kitchen switch with a manual dumb switch. I even told them that I had given up, I would be replacing all the switches, as soon as Mike the Electrician could get them dropped off. I thought that was enough. I thought they understood that I knew they were angry and I was sorry, and I was fixing this as quickly as I could. 
I don’t understand why they had to do that. 

Electrician 1 Voice: 
Well, wiring in old houses is just weird. And it sucks making an emergency visit on a Saturday night. But my wife told me that I wasn’t allowed to come home until she had power. And lights. And a fridge. And a stove. I can kinda understand why she might have started sobbing when everything stopped working. Maybe she’s right, maybe it was gremlins. Replacing the smart switches with dumb switches seems to have worked. 
They seem to be mostly ok now though. 

Interviewer Voice: 
Is this the case Mrs. Spit? Is everything back to normal? 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
Not quite. The outlet I plug my reading light in the living room into is no longer functional. That’s ok. I understand. It’s my penance for making the gremlins angry. I’ve learned a seventh thing about electricity. Leave the gremlins that control it alone. They don’t want to be smart. They just want to be left alone. 

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In Between

I still believe it’s a sin to be able to help someone else and not do it. I still believe that the best way to get kindness in the world is to be kind. So, this isn’t a post to say that dammit all to hell, that’s it, I’m not doing anything for anyone else ever again.

I’m just confused.

Two weeks ago today was the anniversary of my mum’s death. A week ago today was the anniversary of my son’s death. I live alone, I have no family, no partner and no tribe. At a time of year that is very focused on family and love, it’s lonely. I started planning a 6M dollar project while abruptly winding up another project. Managed the year end Brownie Christmas party.  Then the electricity gremlins came to my house. On Saturday night, as I was doing some baking for the local political campaign, the power in my house died. I had no fridge, no stove, no lights upstairs and no plug ins on my main floor. I was alone, in the dark, with no appliances and no help. 

And you know who asked who I was doing? If I needed some help? If I was overwhelmed? 

A casual friend I see once in a while. (And I’m deeply sorry that I started crying when she asked. It’s just that she was the only one who had). 

I’m confused. 

I’ve tried to get better since 2014. I’ve learned to pace myself (that’s why I haven’t mailed your Christmas card yet). I’ve learned to tell people that I’m lonely. I’ve learned to take care of myself. I bought myself flowers, I took myself out for dinner and had a second glass of wine before I went to Messiah on Friday night. I’ve learned to ask for help (and yes, that request on facebook for help changing the light bulbs I’m too short to reach was real). 

I’m confused. 

I know I’m not worth much. I know all of my failings and faults. I didn’t think it was a quid pro quo, but I did think that maybe I had friends. I thought if I asked for help, if I told people that I was lonely and overwhelmed, I had enough friends that someone would reach out. 

I’m confused. 

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