Out of the Corner of my Eye

I bought a new mailbox this morning. I’m restaining my front porch this weekend. Figuring out how to fix a few tiles. Repainting a wall. All of this is part of the not-so-slow whittling down of a list of tasks. Not the usual sort of 110-year-old house maintenance tasks, but the tasks one does as part of preparing to sell their house.

This will be the first fall that I don’t think about my spring garden. The first year that I put away my summer decorations, knowing that I don’t plan to put them up on this porch next year.

I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year. In the same city, I’m sure. But in a smaller house? A rental while I decide? Maybe living with the gentleman caller? I don’t know.

I do know that my old house needs a new roof, it’s 5 years away from another furnace, 3 years away from another hot water tank. The basement is and always will be a bit damp. There’s no insulation in the walls. I have all the love in the world for this house, but it requires more concentrated investment than I could ever justify.

I bought a new mailbox this morning, remembering the saga of the front porch. I look at the tiles in my front entrance, remembering when we put them in. Gabriel’s tree in the backyard has gotten taller than me, a tall tree in place of a tiny baby. This house was most of my marriage, all of my son, the story of who I have become after my divorce. This house is teaching myself to use power tools, coping with a broken furnace, leaking pipes, and unemployment, without a partner to comfort me. These walls hold the stories of my life. This house is joy and heartbreak, comfort and frustration and the million ordinary day emotions in between.

Even this morning, as I bought a new mailbox, I forced myself to think of what is sensible and cost-effective, not what I would love. It’s terrifying, sad, exhausting, but time to do this.

Posted in Home Reno's Aren't for Weaklings | 3 Comments

15 Mins

I am tidy. I realize this more and more as I age. I have particular spots for things and I like things to be orderly. Oh, not perfectly. The hose is still in the middle of the yard from where I left it last night. There’s a pile of things on my hall table that need to go upstairs, and if we could not talk about the state of my pantry shelves, that would be grand.

I wasn’t always tidy. I tell parents this, as they despair of their children ever turning into functional adults. I tell them that I was so terrible at cleanliness, I was required to keep my bedroom door closed. Now I can’t stand the sight of an unmade bed. I tidy up before bed, I can’t leave dishes in the sink.

I was thinking of a friend’s daughter who got married last week, which brought to mind my own adventures in housekeeping for 2 that started 20 years ago this month. My mum didn’t really do housework. There were housekeepers and when those were not affordable, there was a bit of me (well, a lot actually) and it was so chaotic and unpleasant that it never seemed to be an integrated whole called “this is how you run a home.”

20 years ago I was in my first married appartment, a little depressed, a bit overwhelmed, and a lot unable to cope. Along came FlyLady. She came with simple things – get up, get dressed, make your bed. Spend 15 minutes in a room (set a timer) and declutter. Before you go to bed, tidy up. Keep your sink clean and shiny.

Look, it sounds stupid. I get that. But, it worked. It gave me a solid set of habits and structures. I’ve carried them with me to every place I’ve ever lived. Somehow my inner neatnik came out. 15 minutes at a time.

Posted in Adulting is Stupid | Leave a comment

Elegy for Lois

Yesterday was the sort of day that is I will tell you about 2 weeks from now, and I’ll make you laugh when I tell you about it. I’ll use hyperbole to describe the craziness of being in 3 meetings at once, while stuck in a grocery store parking lot. I’ll tell you and you’ll laugh because it was sort of funny. 2 weeks after the fact.

I was preparing for an early bedtime when I heard the doorbell and then Gracie. Neither the bell nor the dog were letting up, so I put on a bathrobe and answered the door.

The neighbour told me that someone broke into my garage. I went out, flipped on the lights. The only thing stolen was Lois. Lois, for those of you who don’t remember, is my bike. She’s not especially remarkable. I bought her 11 years ago to the day because she was a pleasing shade of teal. I bought a matching bike helmet and a wicker basket that I could put library books and cheese from the Italian center. She’s held beer and cat food and the one time I tried with wine it was a bit of a disaster, my basket having no top.

Lois was not expensive, she was not remarkable, but she was mine. Purchased as I tried to find my way past what it meant when your child died and your world turned upside down and everything was sad and a bit hard. She reminded me of other transitions I had made, other bikes I had loved.

She was never the beloved Norco of my childhood, but she was remarkable. While unemployed last year, with a surfeit of time and shortness of funds, I could bike to the library. I could bike to the Italian Centre and spent a few dollars on a coffee, sit on their patio, watch the world go by, and feel less panicked. I figured out things like how to put air in her tires and how to add grease to places. She was the perfect bike for who I was.

I will get a new bike. If not this summer, then early next. I will name that bike and I’m sure I will love it too.

Lois will join a teal Norco. A nostalgic sort of memory about the ways in which a bike moves – not just from place to place but from time to time.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 3 Comments

At 4 am

The worst of the pandemic for me has happened at 4 am. No matter how often I tell myself that I should pay my brain no mind in the hours between midnight and 6 am, when I wake up at 4 am, and I am worried about life, about the future, about money, about what happens if everyone I love dies of Covid. . . It is overwhelming and horrific. I would, eventually, fall back asleep and wake at 7, bewildered that I spent an hour obsessing over my roof caving in.

In the last week, almost all of my friends passed the 2 weeks after their second dose mark. Mostly this means I have spent the last week visiting people and hugging them for the first time in 15 months. I have gone to restaurants. I may go to a movie theatre this weekend. We took the kids to Calgary last week, we are planning a vacation in August. I have returned to working 50 hours a week. The world is returning to the way it was. Not completely, but I was starting to think that there were better days around the corner.

I woke up this morning at 4 am. I waited, bracing myself, for the litany of fears and obsessions, and they did not come. Instead, I thought about vacations. I thought about the restaurants I’d like to visit. I thought about planing a “you missed Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving/Your Birthday” party.

There will be bumps. We won’t ever go completely back to the way things were. But based on last night, it really does feel around the corner for me. The worst of the pandemic is over now.

Posted in Pandemic | 3 Comments

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 | 4 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

Andy

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.

Umm.

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