All of the Good Bits

Some of the last words that my grandmother uttered before she wasn’t able to talk anymore were “I’m not going”. The statement was in response to her family’s attempts to put her in the hospital where she would receive an increased standard of medical care. I love this so much. This anecdote is pure Grandma- a woman who knows her mind, has made up her decision and by God you are going to respect it. That’s the woman I lived with my entire life, the one who inspired me to show that same determination. And the one who strong armed me into celebrating my marriage with Tex.

Our wedding took place on Tex’s family’s farm two provinces away from my family. There were fifteen people there, including Tex and myself. A month later, a party was planned for Tex’s entire family. I’ve been married before. Tex hasn’t. So I wanted his family to be able to celebrate our nuptials, whereas my family had already done that. Admittedly with another man, but a party is a party right? My Grandmother, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because it was on top of a steep hill in the middle of nowhere, was having none of this. She hijacked her own 91st birthday party and ordered a three tiered wedding cake. I was not included in any of this. I was merely told after Grandma had picked out the cake and everyone had RVSPed. Classic Grandma.

The same trip to trip Hawaii when Grandma became a boozehound, she also was a mountain climber. Just for a point of reference, my grandmother was 81 at the time and Haleakalā is 3,055 m high or 10,023 ft. for my American readers. “Dad!” my sister, mother and I cried when he brought Grandma back from their hike up the mountain together, “I can’t believe you made Grandma do that!” Looking back, I realize, there was no making Grandma do anything. Ever. Somehow, she funneled all of her octogenarian determination and hiked for hours and hours to summit Haleakalā and take the triumphant, laughing photo of herself and my Dad that’s in our family’s scrapbook. I hope I’ve got half her fitness when I’m that age.

My grandmother has always been a wildcard. Once, she drove across country with four children and her husband, a chemical engineer. My late grandfather drove most of the way and he did so in the same manner that my own chemical engineering husband completes tasks- thoughtfully, at his own pace, so that it will be right the first time. At some point in the trip, my grandfather got tired which was fortunate because my grandmother was tired too- of watching the scenery plod past her. My Grandpa laid down in the backseat and Grandma took the wheel. When my grandfather awoke a couple hours later, he was astounded at how far Grandma had driven. With four children, there are four more sets of eyes to watch for cops and four more people to silently cheer as you set land speed records with an Oldsmobile.

Despite the fact that my grandfather made an excellent wage as an engineer, he gave Grandma very little to run their household, which meant that she frequently got creative. This was how my grandmother ended up being the only woman in a refinishing and reupholstering class. She would dumpster dive to get her materials and then spend her nights sanding the wood down and pulling the fabric taut to cover surfaces. My grandma was full of ingenuity and chutzpah. Many of the pieces she refinished and recovered live in our house. When the movers transferred her furniture from my Grandma’s house to mine, they commented about the nice quality of it, some forty years later.

My sister commented today that something she misses most now is the fact that when my sister asks Grandma how she is, she doesn’t hear the words “Oh, I’m fine” in response. In my whole entire life, I have never once heard my grandmother complain. I’m fairly certain that even after she bumped her head and needed stitches, when she awoke to the firefighters peering over her, she undoubtedly answered “I’m fine” when they inquired how she was feeling. I have this suspicion no matter her state, even if Grandma was dizzy, in a huge amount of pain, with blood from the cut dripping into her eye and she would always answer “I’m fine” with that same cheer and intonation. It wasn’t until I heard Diana say this that I remembered how much I loved this aspect of my grandmother. I’m sure in the coming days, weeks and months I’ll add to the list of everything I will miss about this wonderful woman.

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Fileting Open My Brain To Extract Everything That I Can

Sorry, that was a little graphic. But I felt it necessary to warn you of what was coming.

My grandmother is dying. At thirty-two, I’ve never lost a truly dear loved one; someone who loved me and raised me and cheered for me the whole way along, as loud as they could. I’ve never experienced that. And now it’s happening. There’s a part of me that wants to write something for my grandmother to say good bye, to say thank you, to tell her how much she means to me. But according to my husband, people don’t really do that, not through a letter that one of their uncles would have to read because I live a province away. It’s more of a bedside confessional sort of thing.

In thinking about this, I also realized that now is not the time for that sort of material. At the end of life, people tend to be in discomfort, or only partially conscious or unconscious even. The time to tell them you love them happened every single week, month, year and decade before that.

I did that. Not as often as I should have, but I did that. I wrote thank you cards for every birthday and Christmas gift. And once, in September 2016, I wrote a post about and dedicated to my grandmother. I was able to read it to her in person. She listened quietly, then afterwards, she cleared her throat and said “Thank you, Honey.” My grandmother rarely used terms of endearment. She was a woman of actions not words. In that moment, I felt her warmth and approval. I wish that I had written more posts like that, because those couple hundred words didn’t come close of capturing what a force my Grandma was in my life.

If I can’t give what I would deem a “proper” good bye, in lieu of that I’m going to write down every solitary memory or scrap of a story that I have, so I can hold my grandmother close to me again.

Whenever either I or my Dad would visit Grandma, she would always send a rose, from her garden, home for my mom. She did this for all of the aunts. It was like she couldn’t allow us to leave without a show of her love for the family members who hadn’t visited her that day.

After my parents divorced, understandably my mom didn’t feel welcome at my grandmother’s house, so it became protocol that my sister and I would be picked up at a house down the street. I’m fairly sure that Grandma didn’t know about this arrangement otherwise she would have put the kibosh on it earlier. Two years later after my parents separated, my soon to be husband and I were visiting Grandma. When Grandma found out that my mother was coming to pick us up, she insisted that my Mom come in for a visit.

I dutifully texted my Mom Grandma’s instructions, then met my mother in the driveway while Grandma continued to drink tea with Tex in the backyard. “You have to come in” I told my mother. “I can’t” my Mom replied. My parent’s divorce was an acrimonious one and at that time was still going on. “Well you’re going to have to take that up with Grandma, because she sent me to come get you so I can’t return alone” I stated. This was a fact- if Grandma asked you to do something- you did it. There was no questioning my grandmother.

So my mother followed me into Grandma’s house, probably cowering a little in her orthotic sandals because Grandma had a cutting and blunt way with words when she wanted to. My grandmother greeted my mother with kindness and forgiveness. My Mom walked away, once again with a rose from Grandma’s garden. And once again I was struck by the power of my grandmother’s character.

It’s unclear when the obsession with the firemen started, whether it was before or after her fall, I can’t remember, for the sake of a good story, we’ll say after. On one of the trips my Grandma took with my Grandpa, she fell and hit her head. When she came to, she was staring up at a couple of gorgeous firemen. My mother remarked that after every other one of my grandmother’s trips with Grandpa all she talked about was the food, but that trip, every story included the “handsome firemen”. And so became the running gag that my grandmother loved firemen. Each year, for Christmas, my aunts would buy her a firemen calendar. Grandma fell once more, I believe, during a trip, and once again was rewarded with attention from firemen.

More than a decade after this, my grandma was sitting in the car with our family, preparing to take our annual drive to see the Christmas lights in her neighbourhood. I commented that the two simple red and green floodlights that she used to decorate her house were quite old. “Oh yes” my grandma responded- “the wiring was showing on one of them so I taped it up.”

“Ruth!” My mother exclaimed. “You can’t do that- it’s a fire hazard!”

Quick as a whip, Grandma turned around to face my mother who was sitting in the backseat with me and quipped “Did you ever consider that I might want the firemen to come back?”

We all laughed. But the thing with my grandmother was – we had no idea if she was serious or not. Even to this day.

My grandmother was always game for anything. When I was twenty-one, my Dad took everyone to Hawaii: myself, my sister Diana, my mother and my Grandma. One of the nights, we went out to a luau that was all you can drink. My sister, mother and I took that descriptor extremely seriously and ordered every single cocktail on the menu and seconds of the ones we liked. My Grandma didn’t drink ever but unlike my late grandfather, she wasn’t a teetotaler. We’re not sure what happened, whether it was some of the energy of the night or maybe it was the tastiness of the drinks, but something got to Grandma and she started sipping away.

For the record, Grandma wasn’t drunk, she left that level of debauchery to my sister, mother and me, much to my father’s dismay. But oh boy did the pictures we took ever make it seem that way. There’s a section of the scrapbook I made from the Hawaii trip entitled “The Night Grandma Became a Booze Hound”. Grandma good naturedly posed next to Diana and myself, all three of us sipping hurricanes and margaritas and the like. Then my grandmother posed next to my mom and finally, we took of a picture of Diana and me each holding a drink up to her mouth while she drank from both of them. It was like the photographic, elderly version of a keg stand.

She laughed a lot that night. I wish I had a video of her laugh. I have these stories instead. Do me a favor and go tell a loved one a little bit about how much they truly mean to you. Bonus points if you haven’t spoken with them in a while.

 

 

 

**I did not change the name of my grandmother because she’s kind of like my Aunty Betty- she’s so wonderful that the whole world should know who she is.

Just An FYI-My Grandma Was Fierce Even Before Beyonce Made That A Thing

My grandmother is ninety-three and a half. She’s come full circle in life to the point where just as in childhood, halves matter, because halves represent a whole six months of life that you have remained on this earth. As a result of distance, I see my grandmother an average of every six months. With each passing visit, I witness the way that time becomes more precious at each end of life. In the same way that a newborn is no longer a newborn three months or even a month later, my grandmother changes with each of my trips home.

My Grandma has lived a long and wonderful life, and while a part of my heart breaks with each small loss of mobility or mental acuity, I know that no matter how little she can move or remember, my grandmother absolutely still loves me. And that’s enough. It’s enough for her to roll a ball to my son, even if she can’t recall his name; his giggles still bring her joy. We don’t need to go on walks to neighbours’ houses or drive to her favourite charities to drop off goods; talking about her endless good deeds and our past adventures suffice for now. I know that other members of my family struggle with the changes that age has brought, but I am at peace with it. Or at least I was until my father made a statement which sliced through my calm acceptance.

Throughout my life, my own mother, when speaking of her mother-in-law, my grandma, would often comment that she wanted to grow up to be Grandma, which is to say – loving, tolerant, fierce and determined. My parents divorced late in life, so my stepmother is a relatively new addition to our family. I had assumed that my stepmother would share the same admiration for my grandma as my mom. That was until I heard my father carefully explain who my grandmother was to his new partner over Christmas and I realized that my stepmother had no clue of what my grandmother was actually like.

I can’t reverse the effects of time, but I can preserve the woman I love with my words and stories. And I can share these memories, with my stepmother and my son and my newborn little nephew so that they might be as inspired by my Grandma as I am.

Above all, my grandmother is loving; if there was ever a person who deserved such a large family as ours –it’s her. Care is a part of her very being. When I was younger, my grandmother always had causes, endless causes; the women’s shelter, Meals on Wheels, her church, the youth shelter, the neighbours’ kids. My grandmother loved and wanted to help everyone in the world, and so she did, whether it was through volunteering her time or some food or money, my grandmother was there.

The world loved her back too. I remember when she was moving out of her house, listening to her neighbours talk about dropping their children off with her when they were in a pinch. Or the fact that her cleaning lady continued to clean my Grandma’s house for a decade after retiring because they had become such close friends. And all of the thank you cards from charities that lined her mantel.

More than tolerant, my grandmother was accepting. For most of my childhood, it felt like my grandmother was continually executing the wills of family members. She would stand back and watch all the family squabbles that follow a death and the division of property, then would step in and attempt to work her magic to divide things as fairly as she knew how. Good, bad or drama queen behavior, my grandmother accepted everyone.

The quality that helped my grandmother to end family disagreements was her fierceness, her habit of laying down the law in a way that made it clear that arguing with her wasn’t an option. I personally have never been on the receiving end of one of my Grandma’s quips or diatribes, but I’ve heard enough of them to have the fear instilled in me. To this day, even though many of my Grandmother’s qualities have faded and diminished with age, I do not cross Grandma, because I know with absolute certainty that there’s a stern gaze or cutting words hiding behind that nonagenarian façade.

As much as my grandmother loved people, she called it like it is. When my sister poo-pooed a suitor’s attempts at wooing her, despite it being my sister’s birthday, my grandmother looked straight at her and declared “You’re difficult”. My cousin once had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of a lecture, after he announced during a family Sunday dinner that he had gotten a job. My grandmother called him lazy and predicted that he would arrive late as always and wouldn’t keep the job. Even hearing the words secondhand from my father, in spite of the fact that they weren’t about me, I wanted to sink into the floor in shame.

I can only recall two times, that I upset my grandmother. The first was when I moved in with my boyfriend. The stony silence on the phone after I told her that my boyfriend and I shared both a bedroom and a bed still rings in my ears to this day The judgment was so profound that years later when my sister moved in with her boyfriend she jokingly thanked me for breaking that family ground with Grandma so my choice was the first and therefore the biggest disappointment.

The second time, well, to be honest, I should have known better. One of my cousins once starred in a fashion show.  I was enormously proud of my young cousin for chasing after her modeling dreams and figured that my grandmother was too. And no doubt Grandma was, however that didn’t mean that she wanted to look pictures of my little cousin Sophie jumping in a bathing suit or posing with half naked men every day. A month after I gifted my grandmother framed photos of my cousin’s modeling career, my Grandma handed the present to another cousin saying “Get rid of this”. From then on, I stuck with my tried and true Christmas and birthday gifts for her of donations to her favourite charities.

I want to hold onto the memory of my grandmother’s determination. Memories of her always contain a sense of motion, because she was always propelling one project or another forward in some way, whether it was a family dinner or harvesting flowers and vegetables from her garden, my grandmother had an agenda. I try to inject that momentum and drive into my own life. But I never feel as successful as her.

This is the woman I know, the grandmother who took care of me when I was sick, who would cut flowers to bring home to my mother, the one who I look up to. Age has filed down some of her sharper points but what I’m always struck by is the kind warmth that remains. If I live to be ninety-three and a half, I hope I am as happy to see everyone and content as my grandmother is. It’s heartening that even in the decline that comes with extreme old age, my Grandma remains someone I aspire to. But as charming and warm as she is today, I still want to remember and share her sharp-as-a-tack self.

This Pig is My Father, Which Is Less Shocking Than The Part In Star Wars When Luke Loses His Hand Which Was SUPER Shocking To My 12 Year Old Self

When I was thirteen and Diana was eleven, our family was supposed to go on a trip to Europe. Two days before we were supposed to leave, my mother was playing basketball with my sister in the driveway. Despite having spent her life up until that point being a vaguely doughy nerd whose greatest athletic achievement was doing a thirty minute exercise video once a week , my mother decided that she was going to channel Michael Jordan and leaped to make a jump shot. She missed of course. And she also landed funny, snapping her left Achilles tendon in two.

My mother spent the next six weeks in a hip to toe cast while Diana, my father and me traipsed about Europe. It was the first time in our lives that our Dad had been responsible for us for any significant length of time.

While my Dad has a healthy respect for rules, ultimately his favourite go-to was “What did you mother say?” because when push came to toy begging, extra cookie wanting, may I stay up until midnight shove, my mother was the bad cop, the last stop, the enforcer of all the household regulations.

There’s nothing quite like a teen and a tween being given carte blanche to demand their wildest fantasies in a foreign country. My Dad’s greatest desire is for his family to be happy, so if that means that his children eat only apricots from the local produce stand for every meal three days straight, well bring on the diarrhea, because gosh darn it his girls are happy.

And we were. The only time I heard “No” that trip was when I told a snooty Parisian waiter that I wanted Nutella pizza for dinner and the man replied “Absolutely not. That is a dessert, you must choose something else.”

For two weeks my sister and I ate what we wanted. We ran wild through French cities. We swung our umbrellas and danced with them open on the crowded British tube. On the airplane we sang the same song over and over for forty minutes straight, no doubt annoying the hell out of every other passenger around us save for my father who smiled and recorded the event for posterity sake.

And then we visited Harrods. Renowned for being posh and having everything, crossing the threshold into the store’s hallowed entranceway; my father recounted the story of a man walking into Harrod’s asking to buy an elephant. The salesman, without missing a beat, replied coolly, “African or white Sir?”

My Dad wanted us to have a souvenir from this iconic store. We wandered around, looking at all the expensive wares. Recognizing how expensive the merchandise was, my sister and I ceased our umbrella swinging dance. Had I asked for a pair of 300 dollar bejeweled shoes, my father would have bought them- so long as I assured him that I would be endlessly happy with them. As it was, my sister and I were in essence, still children, which is how my father got away with not dropping a fortune that day. My sister chose a battery powered gerbil that you could place in a plastic ball that would then roll all around the room. I chose and obnoxiously loud toy pig which walked and oinked.

That afternoon we drove from London to Brighton. My sister and I were unimpressed with Brighton- we found it dirty. To this day, I remember my description of the hotel’s décor: 70’s psychedelic vomit. Despite my rudeness, my Dad laughed because we all found the brown carpet and wall paper dated.

There was one bright spot to the working class town- the pier with carnival games and rides which transported one back to the turn of the century as you walked along the aged boards with the bright, large light bulbs strung above the walkways. Diana and I begged to go on the rides. Ever the people pleaser, my Dad purchased a string of tickets. We elected to go into the scariest ride, an idea that wouldn’t have flown had my mother been there- she was absolutely opposed to any suggestion of violence. The gory exterior alone inspired fear in my young teenage heart.

The three of us wouldn’t fit in one cart so Diana, always the braver of the two of us, gallantly offered to ride alone. The doors to the ride opened and in front of us was a torture scene. This was absolutely not a children’s ride. “Close your eyes!” my sister shrieked at me, knowing my tendency to have nightmares. My hands flew up to my face, shielding my mind and my eyes from the terror all around.

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I kid you not, it was like being a horrified extra in the “Saw” movies. (Photo Credit : dreadcentral.com)

My Dad’s arm pulled me close, I felt badly for Diana who was all alone while I cowered against Dad. At one point I worked up some courage and peaked through my fingers only to see a person covered in blood and knives flashing above them. I screamed and squeezed my eyes shut again.

Despite having only seen approximately three seconds of the ride, my legs wobbled as we exited the ride car. Diana, my Dad and I explored the pier a little longer, and then headed back to the hotel. In all of the excitement of the day, Diana and I had forgotten about our new toys.

My eyes burned with the lateness of the hour but my face smiled with delight as we watched Diana’s gerbil roam around the brown carpet and wedge itself briefly under the bed. My pig’s loud “oinks” cut through the silence of the hotel night. I remember the joy of that moment, watching these toys with my Dad and sister after a day of “Yes”.20171007_120058

To me, this pig is my father; it represents all of the times he agreed just for the sake of my and my sister’s happiness.

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.

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.