Let’s Talk About Your Lover

If you’re North American, which the vast majority of my readers are, you know to whom I’m referring. Or rather, I should say to what. Let’s talk about your and all of North America’s torrid affair with the car.

Like many a star crossed lover, all of us are blind to our dear one’s faults. Specifically, your car’s habit of draining your bank account. Now before you go on about the amazing mileage your hybrid/Civic/motor home gets, let me be clear- fuel is just one piece to that expensive gold plated puzzle.

Jeff Yeager, a dyed in the wool cheapskate and an avid cyclist estimates that every kilometer driven costs a person between fifty cents to a dollar over the life of their car. The average person drives around 20,000 kilometers a year, which by Jeff’s calculations means that you are spending at least ten grand on your beloved every year. Makes your spouse’s request for that fancy pants new television seem reasonable doesn’t it?

Now before you throw up your arms and recommend Mr. Yeager move to the backwoods with all the other crazies, hear me out. While I’ve gone car free, ultimately I found the experience too limiting once my son came on the scene, so I purchased a van, so I’m just as curious if Jeff Yeager is correct as his calculation is based on the notion that people buy a new car every six years. Let’s walk through the math together shall we?

I purchased the van for $35, 880. My previous truck I drove into the ground. My GMC Jimmy was old enough to vote when I finally retired it at my mechanic’s behest. The odometer read over 400,000 kilometers. I had planned to take my truck out for its first legal drink at 19 years of age, it didn’t make it quite that long but it was close. For the purposes of this calculation, we’ll assume that most people aren’t aiming for their Ford to pony up to the barkeep for a state sanctioned brewski. According to the Fiscal Times, the average person keeps a car for 11.5 years. To me, this seems short so we’ll choose lucky number 13.

My driving record is the squeakiest of squeaky clean records, partially because I drive slowly but mostly because I don’t actually drive, making it difficult to get into accidents. Thus my insurance is relatively low, coming in at around $1,350 a year. Multiply that by 13 years (17,550) and already between the purchase price of the vehicle and insurance, we’re at a total of 53,430- I haven’t even driven the darn thing yet!

But before inserting the key in the ignition, don’t forget, the government needs in on some of that fiscal action so add in 50 each year for plate and or license renewal. Total 54,080.

Ok, time to drive this bad boy. Tragically cars don’t run on unicorn farts and cotton candy, so we’ll need to purchase gasoline. Let’s conservatively say you fill up twice a month. That mileage you mentioned before really adds up huh? With an extra fill up a couple times a year for those long holiday car trips. So fifty-five dollars twice a month, multiplied by twelve months with a couple fill ups throw in on top, multiplied by sixteen years that’s … that’s…. $21, 120. Sweet Jesus! And I thought the car was expensive! Clearly gasoline’s costs aren’t limited to the environment.

All of that is with my nice math and conservative estimates. Because if 20,000 kilometers a year is actually divided by your car’s mileage; let’s be generous and say that your vehicle gets 650 kilometers to the tank. (At the end of its life, my truck got a sad 300.) The average yearly mileage, divided by 650 then further divided by twelve, the tanks of gas per month actually equals 2.564, which doesn’t seem like that much more than twice a month but comes out to $27,076; a difference of $5,956! I could go on a cruise for that kind of money!

Let’s all pretend we’re going to take the bus to work once a week and make the kids walk to school so we can choose the first number for fuel. What’s our total now? $75,200? Geez Louise, that’s a sizeable down payment on a house.

Repairs. I’m assuming all of you don’t like to incur the wrath of your mechanic, so you probably change your oil a couple of times a year. Since we were chintzes with fueling up, I’ll have us change our oil 3.5 times a year (don’t tell my husband or my mechanic). So if we patronize one of those quickie oil places that brings us to $77,475. Phew, that wasn’t too bad. Bring on the broken alternators.

According to the Globe and Mail, after a car is seven years old, a person can bank on spending $1,100 on repairs annually. Before then, it’s lower, but not much. This leaves our final total at $ 84,400. Yeesh.

Taking that total and dividing it by 260,000 which is the projected distance after 13 years, each kilometer costs 32 cents per kilometer driven. So while not quite the fifty cents to a dollar per kilometer cost proposed by my favourite cheapskate, car ownership is by no means cheap, for you or the environment.

$84,000 over the course of your car’s life or 0.32 cents per kilometer and those are with conservative estimates. How are you feeling about your demanding and costly lover now? Imagine how your life would look if instead of working to pay for your car, you invested that time in your kids. How would you feel physically if you walked most places? What type of model would you be within your community if you biked everywhere?

A reality of living in a rural area is that car ownership isn’t optional. Car use however, is. The odometers on mine and my husband’s bikes read 1300 and 600 kilometers respectively. According to our calculations above that translates to just over $600 dollars in savings.  I didn’t even mention the effect on my husband’s pant size – it’s shrinking. Also that doesn’t account for the carbon emissions saved. This is what we’ve accomplished in six months; imagine the impact and the total after a couple of years. Just some food for thought.

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Tips on Surviving Existential Barfights

I’ve written through a lot. I’ve written while moving across the country. I’ve while caring for a newborn full time. Heck I’ve even written while going to school full time, working part time and traveling on the side. But this, this new full time working mom gig? It’s an ass kicker.

Every.

Single.

Day.

And I totally have endless respect for all the moms out there who do this day in day out. However three months in, I can tell you conclusively, without a doubt that this is not for me.

Even if I were to get past the whole “missing my baby like a phantom limb” syndrome aspect. I would still hate it. For one reason; I like being a bee.

That last sentence makes zero sense. Which is fine, because I personally make zero sense. To the point that it’s become a running joke among those who live with me. But also because I am actually too mentally exhausted to make sense. Which would also be fine, however I’m too mentally pooped to be funny as well.

That is not fine. Funny is a part of who I am. One of my favourite characters ever in literature is this lesbian, hermit poet who lives in a two room shack on an island without indoor heating or plumbing. If she was a real person, I’d want to be her friend. She wouldn’t want to be mine, but that’s fine, that’s just Kit. Anyways, in the book “Spiral Garden”, Kit says “A lot of writing poems is me sitting on my porch under a blanket drinking instant coffee and plotting how to steal [her next door neighbour] Gerald’s gnomes.”

That line captures my creative process perfectly. Most of my best work comes from me just sitting, thinking and enjoying my existence. Also stirring up trouble but not the gnome stealing kind- my neighbours only have ornamental owls. As a working mom, any extra time you have goes towards quality time with your child. It helps assuage both the phantom limb syndrome and the crippling guilt that you are in fact missing out on every important moment of their childhood.

So there goes my funny. But even worse, being a working mom means that the time that you aren’t spending at work being a responsible bill paying adult, you are at home, again being a responsible child care providing, dinner making adult. There is very little to no time left for; breaking and entering into nunneries, robbing drug dealers, or running into every social or organized engagement a hot, sweaty, baby wearing mess– essentially my bread and butter in terms of stories.

So I’ve decided to claw all of that back. Because this is a society that quite literally doesn’t respect or value bees, or their way of life. There’s an erronous perception that bees are perpetually busy, in motion, always foraging, building, breeding, and raising other bees. But in fact, bees spend a lot of their life quietly resting. And live longer, healthier lives because of it.

So in January, I’m leaving my job, and returning home to be my son’s mom again. It’s the first in my set of steps to regain a sense of balance in a world that so desires busyness. The second step, and this will undoubtedly generate hatemail and backlash from my family, is chucking my smartphone. I’ll still have a cell phone, but not one that can tell me the weather or the ingredients to butter chicken. I’m going to call the two years with my Samsung a failed experiment in a test of human will power. I’ve long felt that the internet robs us of our solitude. I’ve decided to take mine back forcefully.

So I guess the best way to avoid existential barfights where life beats you up badly and steals all your free time, is to avoid them. Sorry, I probably should have lead with that rather than forcing you to peruse 700 ish self indulgent words. The Great Unwashed and her funny shall return in 2018. Until then I invite you to enjoy such hits as “My bitter complaints against car makers” and “Thoughts About Instant Soup? Could They Actually Be As Boring As Imagined? SPOILER! They are!”

This post is dedicated to Tristina from CracTPot; your words “I’ve never regretted writing” both inspire and incite me to continue writing.

 

 

This Troll Is My Grandfather

20171007_120126Because he’s crotchety and barks at people for no good reason. Not really, my grandfather isn’t like that at all, for starters, he only yells with good reason. The following is an abridged and incomplete list of reasons that my Grandfather has yelled being:

  1. Making noise in the backseat
  2. Not learning how to ride a two wheeler fast enough
  3. Pinching your sister
  4. Pulling your sister’s hair
  5. Calling your sister “weasel elbows”
  6. Doing anything besides sitting silently next to your sister without touching each other at all
  7. Trying to swim in a flooded basement
  8. Yapping at the neighbour’s car (that one was the dog)
  9. Not eating the fat on a piece of meat (that was me, the dog will ALWAYS eat the fat)
  10. Showing inadequate amounts of enthusiasm for Granddad’s current interest that he is explaining to you at length
  11. Being in the wrong gear while cycling uphill
  12. Speaking above a whisper volume when Granddad has a migraine

As you can see from the list, my grandfather is both an extremely reasonable and even tempered fellow, not at all troll-like.

But yet, I’ve kept this troll doll for ages. Clearly because of its wicked hairdo; I wake up every morning with my fingers crossed that my own tresses will have formed such an awesome “just rolled out of the cave and off to bludgeon a mammoth” style of their own volition.

All joking aside, I’m not a sentimental person. Tex actually stopped me from sending my framed degree from my Bachelor of Science to the second hand shop. Yet, I’ve carted this troll doll with me across the country and through multiple moves- why? Because I love my Granddad.

My love for my grandfather runs so deep that this tchotchke and I have been together for almost thirty years. At first I kept it because it was a fun toy, then I kept it because it was terrifying and I had grand plans of playing “hide the awful troll” in the same way that my sister played “hide the beady eyed ostrich”, scaring the bejesus out of me when the ostrich surprised me in unlikely places. But most recently I’ve kept it because it represents my relationship with my grandfather.

While unpacking after our recent move, I realized that I kept the troll out of the fear of not being reminded of the stories that accompany it. This is the point in life where being a writer is almost akin to being a super hero, as I realized that I could record the memories, and find a new home for the troll doll.

My grandparents took our family to Walt Disney World. It was supposed to be just me and Diana but then my mother threw a hissy fit, stating that my Gran and Granddad had never taken her to Disney World. This was how my father, mother and uncle went to Walt Disney World. I’d say “with us” but that isn’t true, looking back at the photo album my mother has and the notes she made about the trip, my sister and I spent about 95% of our time with our grandparents while my parents and uncle shucked their parental and uncle-y duties all devil-may-care, in favor of exploring the theme parks.

The first time I visited the Magic Kingdom was with my grandfather. My sister was ill and stayed back at the hotel with my Gran while my parents went on roller coasters and drank endless shots of tequila. (That last part may be a fabrication, but they did really and truly delight in not having a five and seven year old in tow.) The wonder and joy I felt at walking into the Magic Kingdom is tied with the sense of happiness and security I felt at having my grandfather all to myself in that wonderful place. My Granddad enjoys recounting the story of me running at a wandering character and hugging them with all of my might on that day.

That trip was the first time I realized that my grandfather was a flirt. Actually, flirt is the wrong word, my grandfather is charming, utterly charming and engaging with everyone. He just makes a point of being more so with the female persuasion. Disney Cast Members all wear badges with their names. Upon returning to the hotel, I remarked to my mother that Granddad knew all of the cashiers’ names.

As much as my parents delighted in their independence, my grandparents delighted in my and my sister’s joy. They rode the tea cups with us countless times. Diana’s and my explanation to my parents upon entering the ride with them (while they were sobering up before their next tequila binge) was “You spin the wheel whichever way Diana wants, as fast as you can, until Granddad yells “I’m gonna barf!””

My grandfather loves history, especially family history. Growing up, my sister and I donned crowns with electric candles on them and would wander around family parties at Christmas delivering hors d’oeuvres. Seeing us dressed as St. Lucia and honoring our Swedish and Scandinavian heritage made my grandfather so happy that we continued to dress up even as teens if asked.

Thus the Norwegian pavilion at EPCOT, which in the early 90’s still offered unique Scandinavian products rather than all things Frozen related, was a kind of heaven for my grandfather. For starters, it was staffed with gorgeous Norwegian women who were obligated to smile at my grandfather’s stories which he imparted in detail to his blonde, cheerful listeners. The variety of Viking related goods gave Granddad many talking points to remind Diana and me of our heritage. To this day my grandfather never misses an opportunity to share the tale of our brave ancestor Stoingvald who fought to defend his country even after his enemies cut off his legs at the knees. Our visit to the Norwegian pavilion of course prompted said story, so Granddad acted out the battle with Stoingvald on the roof of his home for all the tourists and smiley Swedes.

Granddad bought me this troll that night. I kept it because I wanted to hold onto the love that I hold for my Granddad and that my grandparents hold for me. I kept the doll because it recalled a time when vacations were as endless as the hugs and attention from my grandparents. I kept it to remind myself of my grandfather’s foibles and the way they make me smile. I kept it so I would remember all those stories each time my eyes lit on the troll while in the rec room.

But love, memories and stories aren’t housed in objects, they make their homes in our hearts. It’s through retelling that the memories live on. I don’t need the troll to remind myself to retell the stories of its youth, I can keep a picture of it and pen the words it holds for me instead.

 

This post is of course dedicated to my Granddad from whom all my stories originate because he is the original storyteller of our family.

Two Years Today

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Photo Credit : Sula

Two years ago today, I climbed up the hill on Tex’s family farm to take my place next to him and promise that I would love him and be kind to him forever and ever. I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life, but the choice to be with Tex has to be one of my best. After the decision to hunt him down like a puma of course.

Often, when we’re lying in bed, on the verge of falling asleep, I’ll ask my husband whether the time we’ve been together feels long or short. “Both” he always answers, much to my pleasure, as I feel the same way. When you find someone who is your compliment, who understands you and supports you without question, time seems to stretch and bend in such a way that you can’t imagine your life without that person. But in that same way, the joyous ease of each interaction, each day and each hug makes the years slip past like water in a stream.  We’ve been married for two years and I’ve known Tex for three but it seems like both forever and merely a moment in time.

Two years on, I am still proud of the man I married; I still look at him and silently congratulate myself on bagging such a hottie. Meeting, marrying and procreating with someone, all within the space of twelve months means that life together is filled with surprises. Two spins around the sun later, the surprises still exist, but they’re fewer and farther between, yet I still delight each time I learn something new about my fantastic man. I love that his strong sense of character, that he inspires me to be a better more ethical person. His peccadilloes still make me smile; the way he throws himself entirely into whatever new idea, hobby or interest he’s infatuated with at the moment.

Michael J. Fox has been married forever. There’s a quote of his that he says to his wife which I often think of whenever I’m on the verge of being annoyed “Give me the benefit of the doubt; I would never intentionally hurt you.”  That sentiment is so true and so perfect for marriage. And also for Tex. My sister-in-law and I often comment that our men are never mean. But sometimes, if they truly despise a person, they won’t be intentionally nice. I love that I married a man whose baseline is intentionally nice. It makes forgiveness, and remembering Michael J. Fox’s quote world’s easier.

Happy Anniversary dear husband, thank you for two completely wonderful years. When we are only bones in the ground, I promise to still turn and whisper “I’m so glad I married you” at night.

 

Dear Toronto

And New York, and Los Angeles and every other enormous metropolis in the world,

We hate you. I know you don’t care because you’re too busy loving yourself and proclaiming how important you are but I just wanted to give you a heads up that the rest of the world totally and completely DESPISES you.

For the record Toronto, before you get all high and mighty about how you invented the cronut or whatever, I should remind you that it costs an eighth of the price of one of your teeny weeny condos to buy a house here. Paying more doesn’t make you better, it just makes the banks your BFF.

Also, while we’re on the topic of cronuts, no, Toronto, before you ask, that delectable snack is not available out here. Hold off on getting up on your high city horse about the varieties of food and drink available in your perfect city; I need to state that lining up for forty minutes for what is essentially a donut doesn’t make you “hip” it merely confirms my conclusion that you, Toronto, are in fact a crazy pants.

Speaking of crazy, let’s talk about your “reasonable” forty minute commute to work. It takes forty minutes to drive around my town. Twice. By contrast my “commute” is a 15 minute walk down a quiet, treed street. I’ll let you chew on that, along with your cronut while you sit in traffic yet again, cursing the other people around you for existing.

And about that whole “cursing other people” thing. We don’t do that here either. Not because other people aren’t annoying sometimes, but because you will see them Every. Single. Day. Forever. So you show everyone kindness and respect, and open the door for them and offer them the last cookie in the break room because you bowl with their Aunt Mabel on Tuesdays.

Stop your sniggering Toronto, yes, we bowl. The alley is celebrating it’s fortieth year in business as a matter of fact. Out here, we don’t feel the need to follow the latest trend or seek out the newest hotspot, instead we bowl, we garden, we hike and we laugh at your ridiculous urban habit of inventing new activities to distract yourself from the misery of living in your overcrowded, loud, obnoxious city.

Were you able to hear that comment Toronto? I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t. Do you realize your subways, which along with being totally filthy by the way, are actually loud enough to damage your hearing? As if you weren’t grouchy enough already with your giant mortgage and your endless commute, now you’ll be deaf to boot.

I won’t pretend that you listened to any of that Toronto, in fact you probably left halfway through to go throw axes or paint cans or whatever the beardy, plaid youth are doing nowadays. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go help fix my neighbour’s tractor.

Never, ever yours,

Unwashed

 

Trump is Not a Tragedy: Sign Your Own Paris Accord

The United States has backed out of the Paris Accord. Not surprising given their president’s world views. Rather than calling this event an environmental tragedy, take the situation for what it is- an opportunity. This is a chance to open up a discussion about climate change, the environment and consumption with your family, friends and children, because ultimately, nothing has changed.

The people still hold all the power. With every product you purchase, with every watt, kilojoule or BTU of energy you use, you are voting. In buying shampoo, you’re saying “Hell Yeah!” to Proctor and Gamble, each time you drive your car, it’s a message to Exxon “Keep up the good work” and by charging your phone, depending on where you live, it’s like slapping a small invisible bumper sticker to your tush that says “What’s that lovely smell? It’s natural gas”.

Each person votes hundreds of times a day. The power remains with you, meaning that every single person has the ability to enact change. The take home message of climate change and the Paris Accord is this: we need to change how much we are consuming and what we are consuming. Both of those are hard truths to hear and even more difficult truths to act upon.

My aunt bought me a book for Christmas “The Reader’s Digest Guide to Life”. The book’s cover advertised that it contained instructions on “How to actually save the planet!” or some other such nonsense like that. For the record, Reader’s Digest would like you all to turn down your thermostats and locate a nearby farmer’s market. Unfortunately, as a planet, we’re past that point. But the issue is, no one wants to surrender the keys to their car.

As someone who sold their vehicle and lived car-free, I’ll tell you honestly that giving up your vehicle is limiting and complicates your life. But it’s what our planet needs. I’ll also share that two years after I junked my truck, I bought a van. The caveat here is- I don’t drive my van. Mostly I walk and I bike, on the rare occasions that neither of those forms of transportation will cut it, I hop in my car. For the past four years, my feet and my mountain bike have been my preferred form of transportation.

Tex on the other hand is a different story. He’s a cowboy which means he loves his “Man Van” and chose almost exclusively to drive the 2km to work and home last year. But the combination of watching National Geographic’s “Before the Flood” and Trump’s exit from the Paris Accord struck an unhappy note in him. It sparked a series of discussions in our house about the use of fossil fuels, the necessity of alternate forms of energy and our personal responsibility.

Last night, Tex and I signed our personal Paris Accord. As an engineer, the need for different sources of energy resonated with Tex. For myself, the question is always “How can we use less?” Together, we came up with the following agreement.

Paris Accord: The Family Edition- Goals for 2017 to 2018

  1. Put 1,000 kilometers on our cargo trike

Previously, my walking distance was under 5 kilometers, but with the arrival of our son, that became too far to go by foot. Acquiring a cargo trike opened up a world of locations that had previously only been accessible by car. We purchased the trike in lieu of buying a second vehicle. Our initial goal of 500 kilometers for the year seemed low given that the odometer ticked over to 300 yesterday. It’s been amazing how quickly trips to the grocery store and the local playplace have added up. I’ll share our tally in December.

  1. 400 kilometers on Tex’s bike

This goal made me so proud of my husband. Tex is not a morning person and allotting extra time to bike in the morning will be a challenge for him. This number represents Tex biking to and from work 100 times. Wish him luck.

  1. Reduce the distance we drive our van by 6,000 kilometers

This goal will be our biggest challenge; an unfortunate consequence of living in the middle of nowhere is that it is a very, very long drive to anything beyond basic amenities, family or programs. The average family puts 20,000 kilometers on their vehicle each year, so we would be cutting our emissions by more than a quarter. I’ll let you know how we fare.

  1. Tex will invest $10,000 in solar panels

This week, Tex discovered that in the next province over, where his family farm is located, the majority of the energy comes from oil and natural gas whereas our province is powered by dams up north. Through investing this amount in solar panels for the farm, Tex will prevent 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in addition to the 5% payback we will receive each year from the energy generated by the panels. This is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by driving a car 17,600 km or flying a family of four round trip to Europe.

  1. “Car free days” will be rewarded with $5 contributions to a fund for additional solar panels.

Five dollars a day adds up quickly, and rather than taxing our van’s use, I wanted to incentivize Tex’s newfound passion for cycling. This goal will show whether his excitement for solar panels is lasting.

 

There were a number of other obvious goals which didn’t make our family Paris Accord because they are easier changes or we had previously enacted them.

  • Less travel – we will not be flying for pleasure this year, instead we’ll be investing that money and then some into renewable energy.
  • Less beef – this one is a challenge given that Tex’s family are ranchers. We decided to halve our beef consumption to start.
  • Local food – I mentioned the family farm which is where a large percentage of our produce comes from.

Being in a family of two working professionals, Tex and I are afforded greater freedom with respect to what we can invest in alternative energy. But everyone, no matter their means can have a sizeable environmental impact by choosing to walk or bike or reducing their meat consumption. For our family, this agreement was a way of truly committing to reducing climate change by changing both how much and the kind of energy we consume.

For myself, the financial investment was and will be the aspect that I struggle with most. For Tex, the change in driving habits will present the most difficulty. Change isn’t easy, financial investment isn’t easy and sticking to it is the hardest part. But as citizens of planet earth we can personally choose to say “No” and in doing so, we will change the world. So my question to you is – What kind of Paris Accord could your family sign?

 

What small steps could you take? Transportation is where the majority of a person’s carbon footprint comes from- flying and driving are rough on our environment. When I began my green journey four years ago, I set a goal of walking or taking the bus to work once a week and my goals snowballed from there. Start small and keep challenging yourself.

 

How can you say “No”? While my brother in-law won’t be thrilled about our partial beef embargo, to me, this was a small, easy change to make. Focus on simple changes.

 

Learn more. Read green biographies, David Suzuki is fronting a movement for change. You can find him and his foundation here: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/

 

If you agree with our thoughts, press “Like”. If you think creating your own Paris Accord is a good idea press “Share” and if you want to change the world, make your own Paris Accord and tell us about it in the comments.

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, I bet they’re good ones.

To My Former Lover

I saw you on the street the other day. You were with someone else. I crossed to the other side because I didn’t want my desperation and feelings of longing to show. I think about you a lot. It’s hard not to; those squinting, dark hours we used to spend together before the day began, the afternoons at cafes, the late, late nights in university. You were a part of my family, my sister used to joke that if my mother didn’t have you, then what would motherly acts would she cling to?

My son is a year and a half now. It’s been that long. I know you’re not keeping count, but I am. Especially in the mornings, seeing you with other people, laughing, having a ball. I remember those days, when you’d wake me up; colours were brighter, sounds were sharper, with you it was like the world was in high def. To an extent, I know that I will always miss you, that some days will be a fog. But that comes with the territory, to know you so well- there’s no going back.

Not to be awkward, but I miss your body. Of all of your incarnations, the full one was always my favourite, but you knew that. The taste of you borders on sensuous; empires have been built on that power of yours. To say nothing of your smell, which we both know is your most attractive quality. Memorable, enticing, yours is a scent that is unmistakable.

I miss you. I just thought you should know that. I know it doesn’t matter, that you have the rest of the world while I’m left with the empty moments you once occupied in my day. But I wanted to say it all the same. And to add that nothing else looks quite as good in my mugs. Somehow a steaming cup of Earl Grey doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Coffee, just like Adele, I’d like to send my love to your new lover. And I do hope you treat her better and don’t give her tachycardia, because that would and does suck.

Miss you always,

Unwashed

All of My Favourite Parts

In case you missed it, I defamed my mother terribly in my last post, I poked fun at her vanity and her constant need to feel and be perceived as young. But my mother is more than just her foibles. Although my Mom’s peccadillos are what make her into an interesting story, it’s her strengths like her ability to laugh at herself which make her so much fun to write about. And in this post, whether she likes it or not, I’m going to expound upon all of her strengths, and the qualities I love most about my Mom.

What I admire most about my mother is her willingness to be outside of the box. When I was younger, my mother was a hippie with a compost barrel before environmentalism was cool. My Mom always wore these unique, artsy jackets and dresses that made her stick out. But best of all, she was herself, this slightly nerdy lady who loved science and would let the whole world know it by covering our dining room table in overheads of organ systems. It was through watching this person who just delighted in who she was that I gained the confidence to be myself as well.

This sounds trivial but it isn’t – my mother is good at math. It was only after I entered university that I learned about the stereotype that girls struggle with math. After watching my mother, it never occurred to me that I would experience anything but success when faced with numbers. By the same token, my mother demonstrated to me that if I worked hard enough, I was capable of anything.

Earlier, I mentioned my Mom’s ability to make fun of herself. There is nothing which is more likely to elicit a huge laugh from my mother than a story lampooning either an action or a trait of hers. I always try to emulate this, to never take myself too seriously. In that same vein, my mother is always up for an adventure. Traveling or attempting new sports with her is a riot, because to my Mom, every mishap or fall is a story and a story is something to smile about.

Lastly, the quality that most often makes my mother a model to others is her level of fitness. Upon meeting my Mom for the first time, once her back is turned, people will say to me “Your mother is jacked” which is both true and false at the same time. For a person in their late fifties, my mother is probably in the ninety-ninth percentile in terms of physical fitness. However, throughout my teens and early twenties, my mother was actually jacked, with biceps that made boyfriends contemplate picking me up down the street to avoid facing her. She used to wear crop tops every day of the week to show off her rockin’ six pack. My mother viewed every chin up bar that she met as a challenge to be conquered, which, had video games not been invented by then and thus gobbled up the neighbourhood children, would have made walks to the local playground exceptionally awkward. Regardless of whether or not she can still bench press the neighbour’s sedan, my mother lives the adage “use it or lose it”, and has passed on this commitment of personal fitness to me.

While I take great pleasure in teasing my mother for her weaknesses, I love her most for her strengths because they’re what she’s passed on to me. These unique qualities are the ones that I hope my own children will possess. I’m doing my best to be an equally good model as my own mom was and is, but I must confess, those are some big (and jacked) shoes to fill.

If A Tree Falls In The Forest, Are You Still A Writer?

“No one reads your blog” my sister said sharply. Her words cut me, mostly because they were true. I had been reflecting on the sad state of my blog’s readership well before my sister stated the truth so bluntly. The situation made me think of the philosophical question – “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Only as the question pertained to me – If a person publishes their work and no one reads it, are they still a writer?

Four years ago, when I started this blog, I had grand plans; I was going to be a celebrated writer. Like Kurt Vonnegut but less beardy. Like Jenny Lawson, only with fewer taxidermy bobcats. All I had to do was practice my craft, and wait for the world to recognize the brilliance of my prose. So I wrote and waited. Then I wrote some more and waited but still neither WordPress, nor the Huffington Post chose my work. And Oprah wasn’t declaring my blog to be one of her favourite things either. But through all those posts and those couple of years, I held to my dream of being a professional writer, of making it big, of being paid to tell stories and do what I love.

In that time, a funny thing happened; two of my friends became professional writers. One chased down and caught her dream of being paid to travel and write. The other, an accomplished scientist who happened to have an exquisite way with words, landed a position creating a magazine. From the sidelines I watched them, their success but also how their relationship with words changed – both ceased to write for fun. That seemed like a small tragedy to me because recording my stories and antics brings me endless joy, I would mourn losing that.

As my interest in the publishing and literary world grew, so did my knowledge of it. I learned how book talks are given, and the rigors of traveling to promote one’s work. Jenny Lawson, creator of “The Bloggess”, frequently recounts the horror and exhaustion which comes with being forced to overcome one’s introverted qualities and tout her work to the world. I also read how John Grogan’s meteoric rise to fame from a weekly column writer to celebrated author of “Marley and Me” affected his family; how deeply his children missed him while he traveled around enjoying the fruits of his success.

Through that time, my blog continued along, I continued to do ridiculous things like create absurd letters to my upstairs neighbours about what I’d do to them if I was a mermaid or a robot and then I would write about it. After watching my friends give up writing for leisure and learning more about the associated work of being a paid writer, I came to a surprising and slightly sad conclusion – I didn’t want to do this as a job.

This decision coincided with the worst month for my page views that I had ever had. Quite literally no one was reading my work. I had mistakenly thought that after nearly four years, I would have built a dedicated readership. Instead, even the people who had once routinely read and celebrated my blog, no longer would mention posts to me. My three hundredth post was met with little fanfare; to me this was an incredible achievement but the world didn’t bat an eye. It was then that I asked myself who I was writing for. The answer was and always will be- me. Suddenly my page stats and number of readers weren’t as important.

In deciding to let go of both my dreams of being a professional writer, and also my need for an audience, it makes me question myself. Along the lines of “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, if a person publishes their work and no one reads it, are they still a writer?

A writer is someone who enjoys stories and communicating, someone who feels compelled to record their thoughts. A writer is anyone who takes the time to sit down and assemble words into sentences. At three thirty in the morning, I pulled myself out of bed to type this post because the words refused to remain in my head any longer. I can’t answer the question about the tree, but I do know regardless of who, or how many people read this, I am still a writer.

The Time To Say “I Love You” Is Now: Trying On My Grandma’s Shoes

When I was small, my mother would always say “When I grow up, I want to be like your grandmother.” Even before I recognized people as models, I knew that my paternal Grandma was admired by others for her character and for her generosity. Later, as a teenager and a young adult, I independantly decided that my grandmother was someone whom I aspired to be like.

My Grandma was into vintage before vintage was trendy, she was the orginal hipster; she would dumpster dive in her wealthy neighbourhood, looking for treasures that she could breathe new life into by refinishing or recovering. When my father would mention that my grandmother had rescued a chair that we were sitting on from the trash, the image of my Grandma upside down, with only her stockinged legs and good leather shoes poking out of a dumpster would pop into my head. This, among other actions of hers reinforced to me the importance of being a steward of the earth and reducing one’s impact on the planet. When my mother deplores my dirty hippie-isms, I remind her where they started.

My grandmother taught me to be resourceful. As a young woman on a tiny income with four children, my Grandma wanted raspberries but knew that she wouldn’t be able to purchase enough for her large family with three growing boys. So my Grandma planted rows of raspberry canes in her backyard, in addition to her large vegetable garden. I carefully observed my grandmother and learned from her. As an adult, it was this ability to stretch a dollar and find unusual solutions which allowed me to go back to school full time after buying a house in the same year.

Despite never being paid for a day of work my whole life, my grandmother worked tirelessly my whole childhood; she had countless charities that she supported. Alongside the eight graduation photos of my cousins and I, my Grandma keeps photos of her “adopted” children from other countries that she sends goods and money to. When I was little, she drove a couple of nights a week for “Meals on Wheels” after spending the day baking for the local youth shelter. On her trips abroad, my grandmother gathered the little shampoos and soaps and upon returning home, would take them, along with other goods that she had to the women’s shelter. My Grandma is the impetus for my own charitable acts, I continually try to live up to her example.

While I admire and aspire to each of these qualities, what I love most about my grandmother is that she’s brave. Most recently, she demonstrated this trait by moving into a retirement home. At almost 92 years of age, Grandma made the decision that she had cooked enough, cleaned enough and taken out enough trash for a lifetime, so she turned to my uncle and said the name of a retirement home she’d heard about on the radio. Next thing the family knows, badda-bing, badda-boom, Grandma is out of her house, mixing and mingling with other nonagenarians, and ever the young hunk loving woman, even some octageneraians. This willingness to break out of one’s beloved and familiar mold and bolding choose a different life captures my grandmother’s determined spirit.

For a time, I was worried about my Grandma moving to a new place, having a different routine, I wondered how she would feel no longer living in the same house that she spent the majority of her life in. But when I visitedmy grandmother at her new residence in June, I found her socializing with her tablemates as if they were old friends and pushing her walker about, on a mission to find the salon in the building. Even as an elderly person, my grandma continues to be brave, pushing forward with determination. As a mother myself now, I find myself repeating my own mother’s words to my little boy; “When I grow up, I want to be like your great-grandmother.” Those are some big shoes to fill though.