Where are we going again?
Welcome to The Handbasket - Where are we going again?

Night Drive 1 comment

Setting: Driving home around midnight from vet emergency clinic. Raining. Fog. Window wipers.

Big Dee: You are driving pretty slow.

Me: Yes. I haven’t done a lot of night driving lately – no reason to. And it is raining and misty. And … cataracts.

Big Dee: That is a lot of information.

Me: Sorry – I can’t see perfectly at the moment.

Big Dee: OK.

… window wipers …

Me: How are you feeling?

Big Dee: Tired. Not quite right.

Me: Any pain?

Big Dee: Not as such. Not 100% comfortable.

Me: I’m sorry.

Big Dee: (collar tinkling noise) Good night time window sniffs though.

Me: I’m glad.

… window wipers …

Big Dee: What is a spleen?

Me: Something inside your body that helps make your blood stronger.

Big Dee: Oh. … a good thing then.

Me: Yes. A very good thing.

Big Dee: What is a tumor?

Me: Something that grows inside your body that shouldn’t be there.

Big Dee: Oh … a bad thing then.

Me: Yes, my love. Very bad.

… window wipers …

Big Dee: What will it be like?

Me: I don’t know sweetheart. I don’t know.

Big Dee: I think I know.

Me: Tell me.

Big Dee: I think it is like going for a car ride at night. You can’t see too far ahead, only what is in front of you.

Me: OK.

Big Dee: And every once in a while, the car will stop and there will be new sniffs and places to pee.

Me: Sounds reasonable.

Big Dee: And off lead walks to explore.

Me: Oh I’m so glad! You love those.

Big Dee: You won’t be there, though.

Me: No, no I won’t baby. I’m sorry.

Big Dee: I’ll wait for you at one of the stops. You’ll come.

Me: Yes, I will.

Big Dee: And then you can drive the rest of the way.


… window wipers …


Big Dee: You’ve slowed down again. We’ll never get home at this rate.

Me: Sorry. I really can’t see at all now.

Making Do – A Story About Mom Click Here To Comment!

I am about eight years old and in need, in my mind, of an after school snack. My favourite, which I can manage on my own, is melted cheddar cheese on white bread. I just slice cheese, put it on bread, and pop it in the toaster oven. No sweat.

I have to manage on my own. There are a total of 12 people in this huge house. Mom is busy.

I’ve been thinking of this cheese snack for a while on the bus. Eagerly, I go the fridge and look at the place where cheese is kept. There is a sliver of cheddar, about two bites of cheese. No where near enough, in my mind, to manufacture my snack. Tomorrow is grocery day so this is it. I hold in my small hand the full inventory of cheese in the house.

I … lose it. This doesn’t happen often but on this particular day, I lose it. What does this look like? I’m not sure but I think I’m pretty loud. There are tears. Clearly, I’m old enough to not hurt myself with a knife or a hot toaster oven, but not old enough to get it together in the face of nutritional disappointment.

Mom appears, bustling. I’m standing with the fridge door open, holding this pathetic excuse for cheese, wailing.

Assessing the situation, Mom takes me over to the kitchen table. No anger, some reassurance, no hugs or cuddles. This is a teaching moment.

She sits at the table with two bread slices in front of her, I kneel on a chair seat, elbows on the table, to watch. I’m completely skeptical that anything good can come of this, but I’ve stopped crying.

Wordlessly, with precision and patience, Mom slices the cheese in matchstick-like slivers, producing more slivers than I would have thought possible. Then she arranges them on the bread in such a way that most of the bread real estate is covered, or it will be when the cheese melts. Moments later, I have perfect cheese toast in front of me.

I’m stunned and a bit ashamed to have made a fuss. I’m only eight but the impact of what just happened resonates deeply.

True, sometimes there is no “cheese” at all and moving forward, finding success or contentment, is hard. Disappointment is hard.

Mom taught me to step beyond the disappointment and ask a different question: What have we got to hand and what can we do with it? So often, in my life, creating a work-around has led me to a better place than my original plan would have.

I’m so grateful she was the person she was. No nonsense, pragmatic, fun. Missing her always.

Customer Service in the Age of Trump Click Here To Comment!

I’m trying to order some parts for the BBQ that is on the upper deck for the renters, hoping to freshen it up with a new grill surface and heat diffusers for less than the cost of buying a new grill entirely.

When my online order wouldn’t complete, I wound up on the phone with a customer service agent.

Phone Call #1:
CSR: (Unintelligible) Grills
Me: Hi – I’m trying to finish an order on your website and I keep getting the message to call this number first.
CSR: OK – can you give me the SKU or order number?
(information given)
CSR: OK – we have to import that part into this country – erm, I mean, into this warehouse – so it will take about two weeks to get to you. Is that ok?
Me: Yes, I can live with that. Will the price go up?
CSR: No, it will just be delayed. Please give me a moment.
(keyboard keys clacking)
CSR: OK, if you refresh your screen now, the order should process properly now.
Me: Great – thank you.
CSR: No problem.

It wasn’t clear to me during this conversation whether I’d called the US or Canada. The person didn’t have any particular accent that I could place and the 877 number could be anywhere in North America.

I proceeded to the shopping cart, confirmed that the price hadn’t gone up, and hit “submit”.

In the “Thank you for your order!” confirmation message, the price had doubled and I nearly fell over. What was a $40 part with $7 shipping was now over $85.00. Huge increase in shipping that was not reflected earlier EVEN THOUGH the system had my address.

Phone Call #2:
CSR: (Unintelligible) Grills
Me: Hi – I was just on the phone with someone about an order I was trying to make. Was that you?
CSR: (pause) Yes.
Me: Well, I thought you said that the price of the part wasn’t going to increase …
CSR: (interrupting, defensively) It didn’t. The part itself is still $40.
Me: OK, but …
CSR: (interrupting, defensively) You are in Canada, right? We are in Florida. Shipping into Canada is expensive and YOU have to pay for that.
Me: OK. Can you cancel my order please?
CSR: What?
Me: Please cancel my order. I had no idea the increase in shipping would be so dramatic.
CSR: (snippy) Fine, I’ll cancel it.

This isn’t anywhere on the scale of detention centres for children or cutbacks in health care or education. But I have to wonder if it is on the spectrum of “Trump as a leader brings out the worst in people, not their best”.

Once a significant segment of a population has permission to be at their worst, anything can happen. And has.

Barnacle Bill 1 comment

Dear Older White Guy,

I was having such a lovely weekend. Truly. Granted it was the first time in ages that I’d been around that many white people for several days in a row. Sure, it was heteronormative, as far as I could tell, but at least “not hostile” to queer folk.  Well-meaning and good-hearted, as far as I could tell.

You were a real gem. Kind, vulnerable. Funny, willing to put yourself out there and be teased. Respectful, as far as I could tell.

Then, in the final few hours of the event, you had to go and make that racist joke, for no reason, out of the blue.

I felt my heart stop and my face freeze. Really … did I just hear that?

I did. You didn’t get the reaction you were looking for from the people around you and you went further.  I took some comfort that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t laugh and conversation picked up elsewhere.

There is a moment in Marilyn French’s book, The Women’s Room, in which Mira’s “perfect” male partner, Ben, simply assumes that Mira will drop her career and the rest of her life because he has been asked to move to Africa as part of a job advancement. After months of “seeing” Mira as a whole person, his male privilege – so ingrained – simply erases her as an individual and she becomes his appendage. With one sentence.

You “Ben’d” me. You bend me. You bent me.

Heaven knows, I’m not perfect. I’m not proud of the amount of white-classist-racist-privileged-gendered-homophobic crap that has come out of my mouth over the years.  I’m trying to pay attention and I know I’ve done a lot of work. But you … you had no idea what had gone wrong in our budding friendship.

I failed in my personal mission of calling people directly on their crap.  In that moment, I didn’t want to be the strident judgey person who polices everyone’s remarks. It was such a nice weekend, after all. Strident is a word we only use for women, so I should say I didn’t want to be that strident bitch who polices conversation. So I police myself.  I withdrew and stopped investing in connecting with you.  I made a choice to not ruin the overwhelmingly positive energy of  the weekend. For you and for others, that is. Your remark had already slapped a barnacle on it for me. I spent the next several hours trying to picture how to draw you aside and explain what had happened without making the weekend’s good vibes completely dissipate. I’m supposedly good at communicating but I couldn’t figure this one out. And it is still bothering me.

I’m glad you had a great, amazing weekend with no barnacles. I had a really good weekend with some really amazing parts and a serious barnacle that won’t let go.

Putting The Blanket Away 1 comment

I was doing a bit of spring cleaning over the weekend, pulling everything out of a closet. At the bottom of a pile of random “stuff” was Freddie’s electric blanket. In the last year or so of her life, I had put this electric blanket on “low” under her bed and she seemed to appreciate it. After she died, I quickly tossed or donated most of her things except one shirt, one little blanket and this electric blanket.

(RIP Freddie, co-pilot and canine companion for 18 years, 7 months. October 2, 1997 to May 26, 2016.)

It was filthy, I remember thinking at the time, and I didn’t have the ability to figure out how to wash or clean an electric blanket. It seemed a near impossible task to me, figuring out how to clean this polar fleece fabric with wires in it. Like being asked to do some complex calculations in my head. I’ll deal with it later, I thought, and I tossed it into the bottom of a closet. Out of sight, out of mind.

So it has sat at the bottom of this particular closet for nigh on two years. As I pulled it out, I noticed the care label, quite clearly displayed, on the “down” side of the blanket. “Machine wash … dry on low”.

Oh. Not that hard, then. It is all clean now, folded and put away properly in the linen cupboard.

What I couldn’t face, I think, was the cessation of what had become a beloved routine. Freddie needed to go outdoors first thing for her business and I would carry her in my arms and set her down gently on the grass or snow. I’d move the electric blanket, a moisture pad (which was just a precaution between her and the electric blanket), and her bed from the bedroom to her spot by the computer. I’d go back out to see if she was ready to come in. She wasn’t capable of getting very far but she was usually enjoying having a sniff around the grass or snow. She might even bark at some smell or some perceived “thing to be barked at”. Maybe my neighbour Jim would come over and pat her as he adored her, too.  I’d come in and I’d get her breakfast ready. Eventually, I’d tuck her into her spot in her bed by the computer and my day could begin.

She went out for outdoor visits several times during the day. Bedtime would come and the routine would run in reverse, with the blanket/moisture pad/bed moving back to the bedroom.

Caring for this elderly creature felt like a sacred duty and it made me oddly happy and serene. It bears mentioning that my relationship of seven years had officially ended Labour Day 2015, after dragging on painfully for too many years. Caring for Freddie was, for me, a nurturing that fed my wounded soul.

Big Dee arrived in my life in late Fall 2015 and, to be honest, he couldn’t figure out why I was keeping this smelly senior around. I think it wounded his pride to know he was, as dog hierarchy goes, inferior to this old girl. In truth, I think it was not a bad idea for him to learn his place. In his mind, I’m sure, he was hoping she’d head off on a long walk into the woods one day and he’d have me all to himself.

I always thought I’d wake up one day and find that she had died in her sleep. That is not what happened. That last weekend, the long weekend in May 2016, she slipped several notches in function, becoming disoriented, seemingly blind, confused. She was no longer herself. It was time, and I had to make that dreaded decision pet owners (owners? parents? stewards? companions?) have to make. It was hard. It was necessary. And I had to be pushed a bit to get it done.

My desk area has changed and a bookcase now stands where her bed was. A night stand has now filled in the spot in the bedroom that used to be hers. Sally has joined the crew now … life moves on. I think the electric blanket was the last piece of unfinished business remaining from that time.  I’ve put it away now. But that won’t stop me from glancing over occasionally, as I’m sitting here at the computer, and remembering her little face looking up at me, wondering if it is time to go out yet.

Bud Nipping 2 comments

I spent New Year’s weekend with dear friends in Ottawa. For the first time ever, I left my vacation rental, the upper floor of my house, in the hands of complete strangers.

What could go wrong? (She asked with trepidation.)

In fact, some things did go wrong but not nearly as wrong as they could have. There was no significant damage, a few small items went missing, and the cleaning of the unit wasn’t up to a “rentable” standard. Renters are asked to return the unit to the state in which they found it. A few rules were broken (i.e. no fireworks) and they left behind a HUGE amount of garbage. At least most of it was in bags.

After a few emails back and forth, I settled on returning only half their deposit money and using the balance to hire my local and reliable cleaners to put the place to rights. This is, in fact, the purpose of the deposit system.

Here are some takeaways I’ve arrived at from this episode.

a) Emotional response: I just couldn’t confront the relatively minor mess inside, and the bigger mess on the deck. I felt affronted that people wouldn’t read the departure checklist and take an hour to do some simple things like strip the beds and run the vacuum around. I managed to get the deck in shape myself, after animals had investigated the three bags of food garbage left out there. But without help, I simply wouldn’t have gotten to the inside clean-up. It wasn’t a time thing or an “I’m too good to clean” thing. I was offended.

Some of my renters, the ones who are crossing over into friend turf now, asked me over beverages at the firepit last summer if I felt “invaded” by people in my space. I really don’t. It actually pleases me to hear laughter and conversation upstairs, and to see people at the waterfront enjoying themselves. The vast majority of people have been pleasant, respectful and really great to have around. The rental unit itself no longer feels like “my space”.

But, clearly, I feel like I’ve been kicked when I inspect afterwards and find myself underwhelmed with the care taken of the space after I’ve carefully prepared it for the comfort and ease of the guests.

b) It wouldn’t have mattered if I was home. The only thing I might have been able to catch if I were home would have been the fireworks going off. Unless I’m specifically asked, I don’t inspect the place with the renters standing there. On one or two occasions, some groups have asked me to complete the inspection so they could be assured that they would be getting their deposit back. Fair enough. But if I’d been home, I don’t think the outcome of this rental episode would have been materially different.

c) Don’t go there. My reliable cleaners, bless them, are good people who have not much experience beyond the local area. They asked me after cleaning if the renters had been “foreign”. Not thinking, I said yes, and named the country of origin of this rental group. This caused one of the cleaners to launch into a monologue about people from elsewhere.

The speed with which this exchange went from friendly chat to political diatribe was mind-boggling and I stupidly didn’t see it coming. At least I was quick enough to nip the monologue in the bud to point out that the origin of the rental group was not the problem. Maturity, adherence to rules, possibly lack of on-site supervision (they could get away with it), and just plain ol’ “did your mother let you leave your room like that?” … and don’t tell me that there are not home-grown Canadian travellers who have trashed hotel rooms, pensions, and bed/breakfast rooms. Bollocks.

This is the stuff we’ve got to nip in the bud – the finger-pointing and blaming anything we don’t like about a person’s behaviour on that person’s “otherness”. This always defies logic. Hearing it and confronting it is more important now than ever before. Please, if you are reading this, join me in not letting this stuff fester in our conversations because this is how such monochromatic beliefs are formed and reinforced.

Don’t let them get away with it.

Birthday Girl Click Here To Comment!

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, would have been my Mom’s 93rd birthday. As with most Christmas Eves, I spent it with her in mind. I have created a new tradition in which I float a candle down the river on a paper boat on Christmas Eve, in her honour. However, this year, there is 18 inches of thick wet slippery snow on the docks, plus a few layers of ice, and I suspect that Mom would understand me not wanting to join her in the Great Beyond just yet. So I skipped that part.

Instead, I baked. Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, date squares and orange coconut chews. I love it when my kitchen smells like my Mom’s kitchen.

One of the bits of math I do from time to time is to consider my current age (53) against what my Mom would have been doing at the same age. When my Mom was 53, I was 13. Yikes. I can’t imagine having a 13 year old, two adult sons, and a full household to run. I don’t know how she did it.  My life is pretty sloth-like compared to hers.

I miss her every day. Her funny wisdom, practicality, and child-like wonder at all the new things the world was churning out.  The endless cribbage games and cups of tea and coffee. I hope she has found some decent euchre players in heaven.

Nesting 2 comments

Usually, when moving to a new place, there is the excitement of setting up one’s living space as suits. Unpacking, finding new homes for treasured things. The wonderful feeling of getting settled.

That didn’t happen in the move up here, October 2011. The whole thing was rushed, complex, fraught with last minute disasters. The first morning, I recall, was really sweet as we had friends helping and I made a huge breakfast and, for a little while, I managed to get my hands on that feeling of adventure and fun, setting up a new home with my partner and kids.

I never really nested, though. That settledness didn’t ever happen properly. Things were never in their right places. Everything felt off, like a chair you really want to sink into, that looks so comfortable, but it just won’t let you.

Rooms kept getting re-arranged. Boxes became like furniture – still packed – and just sitting there.

Much of the last year then, the fun of it, has been the nesting. Every week, sometimes every day, sees some new minor improvement that advances the settling cog one or two notches further.  Today I had a couple of nice local teens, looking for Christmas money, help me for a couple of hours. As a result, just today, I have a linen cupboard placed where I can use it, my spice rack (lo these five years not installed after I paid a mint to have it custom made for my condo) finally installed where it belongs, and a basement that looks … amazing!

basement spicerack

I’m busy creating a workshop in the garage so I can really get going on the nesting. So many fun projects on my list. To reclaim the garage, I’ve had a structure built to house firewood and, when fully finished, to be a tool shed. This will keep firewood and largwoodshede implements out of the garage so I can start to settle there, too.

I have other things I probably should be doing. But the force to reclaim this space is strong in this one, so to speak. I feel like I can’t start my “next big thing” until I’m done this series of smaller things.

 

Winter Transplant 1 comment

Cue, huge intake of breath … and … WHOOSH!

*cough*

That was me, blowing the dust off this blog. It has been a while.

=====

Confession: I love winter.

supermoon

Supermoon over Coby

I love the crispness of the air, the freshness that new snow lends every vista. I love having a vista, of sorts.

I love the challenge: staying warm, balancing system heat with wood heat, the work of shovelling, snow-blowing, stacking, sweeping. God help me, I even like winter driving. That is to say, I’m not put off by it. Bring it on.  A “supermoon” hung over the east sky a few nights ago, as I was piecing my way through a few squalls to get home. Like a huge bauble, dangling just above the horizon.  Gorgeous.

I love the coziness of a fire when the temperature is plunging outside, the sound of a hockey game on the tv as I go about other tasks. The happy riot at the birdfeeders when I’ve just re-filled them.

The eagerness on Big Dee’s face when he can see me going through the steps of getting ready to go outside: boots, scarf, coat, hat, go back inside for something (my phone), come back to the door, go back inside again for something else (treats), open the door, close it again, grab my mitts, open the door, close it again, go back inside for something (coffee) … eventually, we get outside. He has learned patience.

Up here, the silence is extraordinary. I’m not really one to judge, given that my world seems to get more silent, or muffled, every day. Maybe silence isn’t really the word – stillness.

This is my second winter up here on my own, and it certainly came on quickly.  I thought I would have a bit longer to wrap up my outdoor projects … but, no … the shed isn’t finished and the raised beds still stand. Oi.

The plan, for those who are still following along, was not for me to be here on my own. Yet, here I am. It has, in fact, worked out. I want to say something about the journey up here as part of a couple in 2011, the rapid deterioration, the frantic yet dismal attempts at repair, the denouement late summer of 2015. But … what to say? It did NOT work out.  Anger, hurt, blaming – all the old standards.  I did not blow the dust off the blog to re-visit the minutia of the hash we both made of it.

The fact of my life at the moment is that each season up here is a gift. I wouldn’t have moved up here, independently. It doesn’t make a ton of logistical or financial sense. I had to be given the context to step back into a non-urban life. The fact that the context evaporated pretty quickly left me with a choice:  stay by the river or return to the city. Every cell of my being said, unhesitatingly, “stay”.  So I am grateful for the context, if you will, dragging me up the road and depositing me by the river.

The first four seasons on my own were, quite possibly, the happiest I’ve been for so many years. The absence of tension was palpable. I’d come home from the city and just stand on the landing between the kitchen and the living room, looking out over the deck, and marvel at the opportunity I have to re-invent myself. Re-plant, perhaps. A transplant, happy to find herself in a place that restores and nourishes.

My Faint, Fragrant Hope Click Here To Comment!

My Facebook newsfeed is rife with posted articles on the recent escalation of conflict in Israel. There is a lot of commentary and passionate debate.

I am so NOT an expert on the issue or the history, although I consider myself somewhat well-read.  In a nutshell, the British (self-appointed rulers of the Galaxy and my ancestry of origin on my father’s side) thought it was a good idea to grant the land of Palestine to a highly oppressed, ostracized group (Jews) without sufficient provision for, or acknowledgement or, or discussion with, the then occupants of that land (Palestinians). If someone tried this on my street, there would be hell to pay.

(Oh, wait … the British did try this here … and First Nations peoples are still reeling from our thoughtless and arrogant mismanagement …)

Here are three of the most thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching, articles I’ve read so far:

Israelis and Palestinians have been attacking and killing each other, literally, for as long as I can remember, and I realize now, for at least 40 years before my memories started to form. I was an avid news watcher when growing up and I distinctly recall having some child-like narcissistic fantasy about being the mediator between Golda Meir and Yassar Arafat and being able to make them see that they didn’t need to kill each other’s children anymore. Everyone could be friends … all you need is love … or something similar. After all, how can some parts of the world be so consistently peaceful and other parts be so consistently violent? We should just share some of our Canadian peacenik-ness with the Middle East and all would be well.  Cue patchouli incense.

Fast forward 40+ years and, although I have long ditched the fantasy of being the wise and all-knowing mediator, the map, the patterns, the headlines … the basic gist of what is transpiring looks about the same now as it did then. I understand the complexities and chasms more, now, but the overarching specter of two ancient peoples bashing the hell out of each other looks startlingly similar to what it did on my parents’ fuzzy tv when the news came on.

The Middle East is very hot. There isn’t really enough drinkable water to go around. And many peoples hold that one piece of land is, sacredly and historically, “theirs”.

Until this last item is settled in some way that all parties can live with, literally, I doubt the map, patterns, or headlines will change significantly in the next 40 years.  There is no peace-nik sensibility strong enough to blur the scars, the hurt and the tragedy of that which continues to unfold.

For what small good it does, if you believe in such things as chaos theory, I’m going to light some incense tonight. In memory of all who have died, and in faint, fragrant hope that some solution is imminent.

Top of page / Subscribe to new Entries (RSS)