Hindsight 2020

The Year in Review

I recall feeling excited heading into the new year, anticipating good things to come. With the double digits and famous expression “hindsight is 2020,” how could the upcoming year not be monumental? Twenty-twenty was to be big not only for me personally but for the world.

I can’t help but think that others, like me, are looking back now and wanting to be positive about the future. We now know that all the positive thinking, plans, and goals for betterment can be locked down, cancelled, or closed at any time. How do we move forward when the emergency brake is on? How do we stop looking back on the past – be here now – when we are secretly wishing we could see the future?

Do I mention the weight gain? The over-eating or “grazing” as one person put it. As well as the lack of exercise or motivation – let’s be honest. Do I share that this year aged me considerably? As with everybody else. Aren’t we all feeling a little “older?” We have been living through a pandemic, a time when we have had to face our own health and mortality together, yet apart with the billions of people on the planet who have been affected, if not infected.

For reasons not worth mentioning, January found me looking for work outside of teaching. I started a casual administrative job for a mental health clinic. Eager to learn a new software program and to be part of an essential service (Ha! Language none of us used nine months ago) I enjoyed leaving the house during the day and making myself useful. It was a decent gig at an easy pace. An international student from Mexico City came to live with me while he studied woodworking. Evenings were busy rehearsing for the Canadian play, Marion Bridge, at Studio Theatre in Perth. I got the role of Theresa, a modern farming nun.

February marked the second anniversary of my mother’s passing and my daughter’s twenty-first birthday. Living with Juan Manuel was fun as he helped me get off book. Working on a play typically brought up things to examine in one’s psyche. Playing a nun reunited with family in a dying mother’s house proved to be a source of great catharsis, as I honed the craft of acting.

Things got exciting in March. We performed the last show on March 8th and wrapped up with the usual cast party. I had planned a trip to Florida six months prior, which I was really looking forward to. I needed a break from the Canadian winter, plus I had some heirlooms to deliver to my cousin. Taking time off was already booked from the admin job as the news of a pandemic started to spread. There was no way I was cancelling the trip. I left as planned on a direct flight with eight other passengers aboard.

Somewhat unsure of the severity of the situation, I wondered if I had made a reckless decision. I was not without conscience. My cousin kept the tv on the news constantly, as we watched the number of cases rise in Florida, while advance voting polls were also being televised. I felt confident that I was safe where I was and low risk, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that people were asked to stop travel and head home. My cousin and I talked and debated and analyzed and questioned like everybody else. It was clear that the States and governments and people were divided, not really knowing what to do or how to handle the situation. We stayed home, kept our distance, and lounged by the pool in the warmth of the sun. Was it okay to laugh? Was it okay to be comfortable and enjoy oneself when people elsewhere were in a panic, sick, and some were dying? We did not know. We tried to act normal.

I completed the mission and made my way home, although the direct flight was cancelled and then re-routed to Toronto instead of Ottawa. The return flight was jam-packed full. I waited to board at the gate behind a long queue of about twenty-five people in wheelchairs. Snowbirds and seniors were heading back to their homes in Canada where they would be safe, have valid insurance, and free healthcare, should the need arise. God forbid. These were the most vulnerable to contracting the virus.

The woodworking school in Perth had closed its doors and Juan Manuel had already gone back to Mexico when I arrived home.

The intensity with which people policed pandemic precautions during the time I returned became unbearable. In all fairness, they were probably trying to educate me, but it was coming from all sides, every person I interacted with. It was too much. Whether it was from my own guilt and shame, or because frankly, some went overboard, I cut people off social media and isolated for the mandatory 14 days. The administrative job continued remotely as management placed new standards of procedure in place. Teams meetings were held and the surreality of moving to work from home was a big topic of mental health. I was grateful and breathed a sigh of relief.

Mid-April brought an offer to teach online. I accepted the challenge. Juggling two full-time jobs from home, I kept a mindful, disciplined daily routine and managed long hours sitting in front of two computer screens. From the dining room table, outside the windows I watched the snow melt, the trees grew new blossoms, and my mother’s garden awakened from the sleepy winter.

The steady pace continued throughout the month of May when I moved my office outdoors to the screened-in porch which offered some smugness and change of scenery. The Vice Principal returned the report card comments five times to be reviewed, rewritten, and reworded before the final deadline. By the end of June, I was completely screen fatigued.

The teaching and the administrative jobs ended within a week of each other. It was July and I was free. Or was I? The pandemic parameters had slackened somewhat. At least the warm weather was a reason to feel glad. I reached out to friends and family more. I opened up socially. I puttered away in the garden and converted the shed in the backyard into a clean quiet space. My friend called it a she-shed – funny – but for me, it remained an unlabelled project. I sunned and swam at the nearby beach which I had discovered only the previous summer.

As an aside, it amazes me that this little beach where the sand bar has been trucked in is a mere 15-minute drive from the house which until last year, I was not aware of. For thirty-five years, I’ve been coming to Perth to visit my mother and never did she mention a beach. Sometimes it was so hot and humid that I looked for an escape from the heat. My brothers and I went to Silver Lake on Highway 7 a few times, which was a 40-minute drive that we made such a big deal about that it turned into a day trip. Typically when I visited, my mother and I would go shopping around town or take road trips, but never did we relax and swim at the beach. I guess she didn’t know about Rideau Ferry Conservation Area either.

I attempted a few outdoor karate classes in late summer, thinking I would get back into the routine once school started. By the end of August, I had secured a 4-month teaching gig at a school five minutes from the house. It was my first choice. I was put on leave from the admin job until January 2021. What would be the protocol imposed by the school board for the return to schools working face-to-face, wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and interacting with a hundred students every day? I had learned a lot from working remotely and felt prepared to work the frontline.

I was grateful for a full two weeks to plan, prepare, and get familiar with the protocol prior to the cohort re-entry for students. This buffer was exactly what I needed to get comfortable, gather information, and get psyched for teaching again. Up to this point, my attitude was “this is the last kick at the can.” I was anxious, yet determined to give teaching my best shot. Pandemic notwithstanding. In fact, because we were teaching during a pandemic, the focus was on safety measures and mental health above instruction. However, early into September, the virtual learning school in the Board collapsed and in-school teachers were required to logon virtually from the classroom and to prepare paper packages every two weeks for those students enrolled in distance learning. This process was complicated and kept changing. I did what I could but focussed on the students I met with every day. Karate soon fell to the wayside when we returned to training indoors and the mandatory masks which I wore all day for teaching were required in the dojo. I just needed a break from a covered mouth and to breathe freely.

As an experiment, I asked the students what kind of a teacher they wanted, the loudest response was “a nice teacher that lets us do whatever we want!” Having this information, we negotiated the time outdoors to prevent virus spread according to the school board’s policy with doing French work. I think we found a happy healthy balance and I ended the contract with a few bittersweet tears on the last day.

Worth mentioning were a few anecdotes and interactions with students: I was a bit trepidatious going in knowing that half of each 40-minute block was to be spent outdoors for safety reasons. Other than trying to plan for a 20-minute French class, this posed no major issue until I imagined the snow and brisk chilly winds that blow across the open schoolyard during the months of November and December. The solution was to pick up a pair of puffy snow pants at Giant Tiger one day, I thought, “these will keep me warm enough.” I chuckled to myself for choosing the hunting camouflage pattern with the hot pink suspenders. So Canadian. On the first sub-freezing day, I wore the hunting motif snow pants that raised a few eyebrows and high-pitched voices down the hall or from across the schoolyard. “Madame! I’m going to wear my hunting snow pants tomorrow, okay?” “Madame! Did you wear your hunting snow pants today?” “Madame! My Dad’s taking me hunting this weekend!” “Madame! We have matching snow pants!” The connection with those students warmed my heart. On the last spirit day organized by the school secretary before the winter break, all staff wore red and black plaid pyjama pants, also known as Buffalo Plaid. So Canadian.

Occasionally, there were moments of friction, tension, and a few grumblings when strategies were changed abruptly and communications were somewhat unclear, but overall, the gig went smoothly. Oh, other than the student who was eventually expelled for severe behavioural issues, as I was leaving the classroom, yelled out from the back corner, “Aurevoir, Bitch!” Each day was a new day to start afresh, moving forward with the bottom line: BE KIND. It worked. We were teaching during a pandemic, after all, which sporadically, some people lost sight of for whatever reason. Our main job was to keep the students safe and protected – physically, emotionally, and mentally. But as a staff, we managed to remain even keel and do our job. I left on the final day satisfied that I had done what I could to complete the mission. As I walked away from the school, I pulled off the mask and shield I wore every day and took in a deep cool breath of fresh air. With a sigh of relief, I had to admit I was feeling a bit covid-fatigued, but I would miss those students and that little rural school.

Back in October, I had booked a ticket to Mexico to spend a few months thinking about next steps after the teaching gig was done. I thought I was being clever by flying Ottawa to Calgary, then a direct flight to Manzanillo. That route avoided the USA altogether and reduced the risk of contracting the virus by wearing a mask and shield, of course. Partway into November, the airline cancelled the flight by notifying me via the agency I had booked with, who in turn, offered an alternative route that was triple the cost, a milk run of 40 hours, and three additional stopovers. No, thank you! I spent hours and hours on hold on the phone trying to get through to the agency. Finally, rather than re-book, I resolved to cancel the trip and asked for a refund on my credit card which could take up to 8-12 weeks. When I told the story to a local lawyer, he said that was an example of what would be the post-pandemic way of dealing with travel and online shopping for the future. How discouraging…

Juan Manuel was in touch. I asked him how the pandemic situation was in Mexico. He told me a ranch-hand had covid and as a result, they were monitoring his 81-year old father, who had a cough and some flu-like symptoms. Juan Manuel discouraged me from passing through Mexico City where he said the situation was very bad, people were not wearing masks and the virus was rampant. I reassured him that I had cancelled the trip. When I checked in with him a week later to ask how his padre was doing, he said he had passed away two days before. Oh no. This was the first and closest death due to covid in my circle. Too close for comfort. And so sad.

A husband of a friend on social media lost his mother who lived in a nursing home in Manitoba. She was 89. My cousin spoke of her mother, 84, who passed away last year, and my mother, 85, the year before, and how les grandes soeurs seemingly knew to exit before the age of the pandemic. Who knows?

With the second lockdown announced early and scheduled for 00:01 on Boxing Day, the frenzy that erupted up to Christmas Day was a gong show, and really, made no sense. I witnessed a car accident on the highway, thankfully no one was hurt, where the drivers of the vehicles involved were from Ottawa and Toronto, racing to get to where they were going before the lockdown.

I found resolve that whatever figuring out about my life I had hoped to do in Mexico, I could do from the comfort and safety of my home. My son and his fiancée decided to stay in Montreal as per the lockdown rather than travel to Ottawa and Perth to visit his father and me, respectively. My daughter texted a “Merry Christmas” from Edmonton. My karate Sensei, with all her graciousness and generosity, delivered (wearing a mask and kept social distance while at the door) a turkey dinner with “all the fixin’s” on Christmas Day.

Peace and quiet were fine.

On Boxing Day, I walked 11 kilometres all the way to Glen Tay and back. Arrived at the Tay River where there were a swimming and picnic spot, I sat down wearing my hunting camouflage snow pants for warmth in the -6 degree temps, and snacked on a banana, pear, and pistachios, while overlooking the fast-flowing water. During the trek, I found three dead sparrows on the bridge just outside of town limits. They must have flown headlong into a moving vehicle, I deduced. I picked them up, carried them back in my pack side pocket, and placed their fragile little bodies on the stick pile in the backyard.

It is such a great loss when a creature so vulnerable and miraculous, that has survived coming from an egg up in a tree nest to be hatched then fed to feathered and fly – dies. All that nature at work for what? Fleeting…

Do you think God created us just for a limited time on the planet so that we would be wiped out by a pandemic at some point? Are we ready if it’s true? And what if it’s not true? I don’t lean towards conspiracy theory, hoax, or panic, but the freedom to roam I once took for granted, and even flaunted perhaps, is gone. Or is it? Is staying in my house only temporary? Will life regain normalcy? Will I get to travel the world the way I dreamed someday I might, especially now that my children are grown? Am I permitted to laugh and feel joy knowing people are suffering, people are dying, but then they have always been – it’s just that I was wrapped up in my little bubble, unaware of the bigger picture, the global reality. It took a global pandemic to open our eyes and hearts to reassess what’s important – truly important.

As I wrote the above paragraph, the doorbell rang. It was the delivery man dropping off a parcel. A round cookie tin wrapped in brown paper from my son and his fiancée. My Christmas gift, baked with love.

As this infamous year 2020 wraps up, merely marked by a Gregorian calendar, the season, and societies’ holidays, I have reflected enough. This has become my tradition – to look back on the year, the months, the events that stand out and make my life, a life, one worth living, as there is no one way to live a life, and to write about my musings. There’s more. There always is. I could go deeper, into more detail, reveal the hidden, but this is good for now. In the event that I have offended or omitted anyone, please forgive me.

Salam. Peace.

If this writing inspired you or provoked some thoughts, please feel free to comment below or email me at annemarie.lindell@gmail.com. Let me know how 2020 affected you and your life; what are your plans for the future? I respond to every email I receive.

The Unfinished Painting

Unfinished Painting 1

The painting is large, about 3′ x 4′ framed. It is unfinished. 

On visits when I was escaping the complexity of my life, I asked my mother about the large painting hanging in the dark basement. “It’s unfinished,” she would say. “Well, what else needs to be added?” I probed. “Oh, just some details.” She replied somewhat evasively.

Well, now she is gone and the painting leans against the wall beneath the window in what was her bedroom. The painting is still unfinished.

Perhaps I am the only one who knows the painting is unfinished. Yet knowing makes looking at it all the more perplexing, mysterious, and unknown for me.

There is something unsettling about a piece of art that the artist declares unfinished because every work of art is a work in progress. It is the artist who decides when to stop and when to say it is finished. Death is no excuse.

I read a novel this summer that was written by two authors. How could this be? I wondered. Upon further examination, I discovered that the book was started by a woman who later developed cancer. While her health declined, the woman’s niece was entrusted with finishing the novel.

This gave me an idea.

I contacted a woman from Quebec with whom my mother had studied painting during artist retreats in Charlevoix, France. Here is what I wrote:

Bonjour Denise. My apologies in advance for writing in English, as it will be easier for me to be clear. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer we are blessed with. First of all, I want to thank you for the time, attention, and friendship that you gave to my mother, Pierrette. I know she respected and thought highly of you. Secondly, I do want to ask you something, perhaps strange, that I would like you to consider. Let me explain: My mother had a large painting that I now have since her passing away. Whenever we would talk about this painting, she told me it was not finished. I am now wondering if you would be willing to examine the painting and perhaps finish it as you would see is required? I’m not sure if it is oil or acrylic paint. You would probably know best. I know this is an unusual thing to ask, but since my mother respected you and your talent so much, I thought maybe you would consider this request. Please give it some thought and let me know at your convenience. Merci pour votre considération, Anne-Marie Lindell

 

Her response came promptly:

Quelle belle demande chère Anne-Marie, je suis touchée de ta confiance. J’accepte avec joie, envoie moi une photo de la peinture. Je serai libre et dispo de la compléter en fin octobre à mon retour de Charlevoix. .. à la fin de mes ateliers de peintures. Je conserve un excellent et chaleureux souvenir de ta maman. On l’aimait beaucoup mon Yves et moi. Allez, au plaisir de te lire. And, in English it is more than fine !!!

 

She gladly accepted to finish the painting.

 

Rose Landing

 

58403409813__B53B4FD9-29DA-4F0D-96C2-F1A5F8536C2A

The heart beeps of shining star.
I open the stars that blossom.
A rose, a palace rose
and it was the prettiest rose on the landing
of the little girl's house.
The little girl went out to cut some flowers.
The mother came out after to get her.
But she was cutting and cutting the flowers.
She sold the flowers and bought a new house for her mama.

by Maya Lindell, age 5

The house is called Rose Landing because of this prose my daughter composed when she was five years old.

When my mother lived in this house, I would come to rest and relax – it was a place to escape to – a sanctuary.

Now, no longer sandwiched in the role between grandmother and daughter, me as mother transitions to identify as something else.

It is as though my daughter manifested this house for me, years ago, when she told the flower story which I wrote down beside the beautiful rose she painted. I found the story again more than a decade later as I was purging stuff from yet another move. I had forgotten about it. To read her imaginings again touched me deep inside. I protected the delicate paper in a gold frame and placed it in view on a shelf to remind me of the sweetness of my little girl. Even then I had no idea it would manifest into a “new house for her mama.”

The mystery of life unfolding is what I cherish.

The house is still filled with the photos, trinkets, and items that gave meaning to my mother’s life. She surrounded herself with objects to remember the experiences, events, and people she cherished.

To sit here now, I am reminded of her. She is with me. As my daughter is with me.

She left behind her essence in the beauty of the home she created.

Merci Maman.

2018 in Review

melaquesunset2018

Melaque, Mexico

Looking back in 2018, it was a full year:                           full of changes, anticipation, and surprises.

The first day of the year was brought in from Melaque, Mexico, while on the epic trip where my daughter met her father for the first time. New Year’s Eve was spent with friends, as we dined and danced in a warm beachfront restaurant. My daughter rescued a scrawny kitten from the streets and in a matter of a few days, did everything in her power to prepare the little Lechuga (lettuce) for relocating to Canada: several visits to the vet, neutering, vaccinations, papers, travel crate, and the last space reserved for animals on the flight back to Edmonton. As she angsted over the decision, the taxi pulled up to take us to the airport. In the final ten seconds before sliding into the back seat of the car, she gave the kitten one last kiss and squeeze before handing Lechuga to a Canadian friend and said adios.

We were later informed that Lechuga had been adopted by another Canadian family and resided on Salt Spring Island, BC.

My mother had had a stroke in November 2017, so I decided that after I finished my teaching contract in June, I would move to Perth, Ontario to care for her. I started a profile on the school board website, paid the fees, and every so often, perused the job opportunities. By May, I was receiving phone calls from schools in the Perth area looking for substitute teachers. I took this to be a good omen.

But the end of January brought on another, more severe stroke for my mother, as the family rushed to her bedside. We were gathered together in her hospital room, quietly talking, listening to her favorite jazz and easy-listening genres of music, and mending strained relationships. We were waiting, wondering, wishing for a miracle. Although she wore a DNR bracelet, she hung on two weeks longer, slipping in and out of consciousness.

What impacted me most was the care and compassion my brother exuded for our dying mother. The way he caressed her forehead and cooed in her ear showed such tenderness and vulnerability. He softly talked to her, making light of the hand gestures pointing to nothing we could decipher or folding and refolding the edge of the blanket she kept flat with repeated smoothing. We tried to make sense of or understand what she was experiencing, what she wanted, how she was feeling, but there was no way to truly know, so we imagined instead.

We wanted to be there with her in the final days. A calm acceptance eventually washed over us as we witnessed the frailty of our mother who had been so active, full of joie de vivre, and vibrant throughout her life. My mother left this world just after midnight on February 11, 2018. The day before my daughter’s 19th birthday.

Returning to Edmonton, I drifted through the days in auto-pilot. Numbed from the event that just passed, I continued at my job in the Islamic school but with a heavy heart and sense of leaving. Spring Break in March brought some respite from the monotony by taking a short trip to Florida – a getaway to somewhere warm.

April was uneventful. May marked another birthday celebrated at Rogers Place to see the Eagles concert on the cusp of Ramadan. I plunged into fasting and daily Quran reading glad for the discipline.

My brother, as Executor of the Estate, announced that he was putting the house on the market. My stomach plunged. I mentioned it to a friend, who suggested that I buy the house from my brothers as in rent-to-own. Without giving it much thought, I reacted, “Why not?” and sent them an email. What did I have to lose? I had nothing. I was in a state of deep grieving where my plans to move to Perth to care for my mother had fatefully been kiboshed. The contract at the Islamic school was not going to be renewed. I would be out of work. I had already started the application to teach in Perth. Edmonton was not the city I wanted to die in, so any change was welcome. The response from my brothers was to get a mortgage. So I did.

The process to purchase my mother’s house was smooth. Incredibly smooth. All communications and transactions were done long distance between Edmonton and Perth. The bank, the lawyers, the insurance, the appraisal, all fell into place neatly. I pre-planned to be in Perth on July 6th to sign some papers with my lawyer, and to close on July 9th – my father’s birthday.

With the car packed full, a cat and a dog, I left Edmonton the morning of July 1st. As I put the car into gear at 6:00AM, my sleepy daughter leaned on the windowsill to see me off, glanced at my packing job saying, “Looks pretty unsafe,” and dangled the spare car key. I laughed, “Oh good. I might need that if I lose my car keys.” Premonition or what?

The prairie skies were vast, the winds strong in Saskatchewan where I stopped to refuel at a friendly Co-op station. The goal was to reach Winnipeg on the first day, while a heavy storm made it challenging, I pulled into a Motel 6 just west of the city by-pass in time to relax in the hot tub and eat a leftover dinner I had packed. After a restful sleep and a shower to perk me up, I was on the road at daybreak.

Driving across Canada is a head game at best. After crossing two provinces in one day, the expectation might be to reach the destination by the end of day two. But Ontario is a huge province with Lake Superior to circumnavigate. It takes two full days to edge around the northern shore lined with endless pine trees. Patience and spotting the inukshuks up on the rock ledges placed by previous travelers appease the slog of it all.

The sun was setting at the end of day two as the gas tank signaled empty. I had to stop at the next station, no matter what. I pulled into a station off the highway in Marathon, Ontario, where some men were chatting and fueling up their trucks. I tried to use the pump beside them but it wouldn’t turn on after accepting my debit card. It was Monday on the Canada Day long weekend. Looking around, I asked the men, “Is the station closed? Where can I fill up?” They directed me to go into town a few kilometers down a side road off the highway. As it turned out, they were military and had fuel passes which explained why they could use the pumps after hours. I hopped in my car, a little annoyed at the unexpected detour, and stopped at the next station on the left. I filled up while a man placed orange neon traffic cones in front of the other pumps. He told me I was lucky. He was closing because the pumps were almost out of fuel due to extensive long weekend travelers fueling up. I smiled and thanked him, “For sure!” I paused to think of the consequences of running out of gas on a long weekend in the middle of nowhere, then removed the nozzle from the tank and placed it back on the cradle. I was in a hurry to continue since I had lost time looking for gas, but I knew the dog needed a pit stop if I was to do another long stretch without stopping. I let her out to do her business in a grassy lot beside the gas station. Absentmindedly watching the dog, I thought I had better scoop rather than be a jerk dog owner by leaving her mess behind. I ran across the field to the spot before I lost sight of it. Afterward, I dropped the bag in the garbage can at the station and reached in my pocket for the car keys so as to hurry on the road again. I could not find the keys anywhere. The keys were not in my pockets, or in the car, on the floor, between the seats, or where I retraced my steps when running to catch up to the dog’s pooping spot. I scoured the grassy lot back and forth. What was I going to do? I knew I had the spare key my daughter had handed me, but I wanted the other one. I kept searching. The sun was setting and it was almost dark. Time was ticking. I grabbed the old Islamic school lanyard I had placed in the glove compartment as a keepsake, slipped the spare key on it, and returned to the highway to get back on track. My mind wanted to solve the problem, identify when and where exactly the keys disappeared, but I fought hard against dwelling on it. It was in the past. “Let it go. Moving forward.”

I was heading home.

I stopped for two nights to visit my relatives near Georgian Bay, which was a welcome rest and a perfect way to recharge before going to a job interview scheduled for July 5th in Brockville. With record high temps, no air conditioning in the car except for open windows, I decided to make a quick stop at 51 George Avenue in Perth. This made for a rather anti-climactic arrival to my new home, but the heat in the car would have been too much for the animals. No fanfare. I had just enough time to stop, unload the animals in the cool house, change clothes, and get back on the road again to Brockville. It was going to be tight.

I made it.

The interview went well, and I discovered that as a French teacher, job opportunities were likely. I celebrated everything with an ice cream cone from DQ and ambled the back country roads to start my new life. I felt a sense of wonder and reverie and anticipation for new beginnings.

I spent most of July and August puttering in the garden, de-cluttering the house, and looking for lakes and rivers to cool off in. The magnitude of owning a house started to sink in when two weeks upon arrival, the roof leaked during heavy rainfall.

I continued to apply for teaching jobs in the Perth area. No responses from Principals who were looking to hire. It was still summer, so I didn’t expect too much on the hiring front, but I needed a job to meet my new obligations as a homeowner. I tried to enjoy each day by keeping busy with gardening and puttering around the house.

As September 8th approached, the day of burying my parents’ ashes in Labelle, Quebec, work prospects continued to be in a state of suspension, which I rationalized was just as well. My daughter flew into Ottawa, there was driving to be done, coordinating rides to and from Montreal, plus I was leading the ceremony. One of my mother’s sisters hosted the reception at her home in Mont Tremblant where family and friends gathered to share good food, memories, and look at old photographs. The day was significant to mark the final resting place for both my parents, as my father’s ashes had waited on the shelf in the living room in my mother’s house since 1999. They were buried side by side in a grave site reserved by my grandfather for the Valiquette family. As we paid our respects, the breeze rose up to dance lightly with our hair, a sign of my mother’s spirit gently touching us one more time.

Ten days later, I started as a full-time French teacher while rehearsing for a significant role in a play and taking an online French as a Second Language course. It was too much to juggle, so I defaulted the online course until January 2019. The play took up every weekend in October, which I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into the craft of acting after taking a 12-year hiatus from performing. As the cast members struggled with colds and cough backstage, the show was well-done and well-received. A friend surprised me in the audience by showing up unannounced after seeing the promotional post on social media.

Needing to find balance and to remain physically active once the play was over, I joined the Sakura Martial Arts Academy and returned to karate training. At school, the hype from Halloween was over as I buckled down to plan lessons throughout November.  Christmas celebrations started way too early as the students checked out mentally in early December. My grade one and two students closed the Christmas concert with a French song. I baked one hundred and twenty-five gingerbread men to give to my French students on the last day of school only to have it be declared a snow day. A mere thirty students showed up on that day. I left for the winter break not knowing who my Secret Santa was and toting back home more than a hundred cookies.

With three days remaining in 2018, I write a blog to reflect on the past year. No revelations. No regrets. No resolutions. I might be a little curious as to how these life events have affected me, but that has yet to be revealed.

 

 

 

 

fragile

d9ce44fe4f59d23d73b3509dac777490

In her fragility, the edginess is smoothed to meekness.

Not a critical eye or sound from her emits a blow to pierce one’s tranquility.

No ripple flows from a wound cast by words of dissatisfaction.

The focus fades to a foggy dim existence.

Her movement is slow and shaky, a newborn fawn staggering to stand for survival.

Tomorrow, she may flit as a bird – back to her old ways.

We Are All Fireflies

fireflies

She reflects on moments in her life. How she is not the girl she once was. Her evolution. Now, she pushes those memories away and wants to focus on now. Be. Here. Now. She tells herself. Because a moment ago: she waits at Horseshoe Bay looking out across the water; she is on the corner of Bloor and Spadina after a fitness class; she leans against a log on Sandy Beach in Roberts Creek, telling herself to remember. Remember it all because this is a fleeting moment. You are leaving. You must move on. You love this place and now you must go. So, remember. Have a deep visceral imprint of this moment, you may need it later.

When traveling, the density of population in cities overwhelms her. There are so many people in the world! Each one a unique individual. What makes her special? And here we are, buzzing around flashing our little glow in random chaotic order. Sitting around the edges of the hot spring pool, her only way to cope in sharing a warm bath with strangers is to imagine them as fireflies. A quick spark sparks her attention, then another, and another: Tinkerbell, whimsy, and fireflies on a warm summer night in the city revive a buried memory of delight as a child, the first time she sees fireflies.

How do you like the music? Heard it before; she wants something new. She reaches an age, a point, where she must live vicariously through the young eyes and ears that accompany her. It doesn’t matter. A transmutation is taking place.

She reads about it on social media. Oh, makes sense, she thinks. A cosmic shift is happening globally. We “sensitives” feel it on a spiritual and soul level. There are three states of information: receiving, neutral, and giving. She dwells in the first two, uncertain of how to give the muddled mess that swirls and suspends in time and space.

The queen size air mattress is bulky in the small office/space where she sleeps. By morning, deflated, her bones touch the hard surface beneath, her body sunken in the cushy air pocket that surrounds her. She gets used to it; blowing up the mattress before sleeping becomes part of the normal bedtime routine. Then, the change comes. A rogue wave of resistance rises as a cry of protest. But she likes it. She sleeps good. Not her house. A futon. She feels guilty, acutely aware of her habits. It isn’t just the blurt, it’s also finishing the bag of chips. Should she tell them?

The next morning, when asked about the night’s sleep, she assesses: She sleeps good, doesn’t matter which mattress.

She reads like a fiend. Taking in stories from other people’s imaginations takes up most of her time. She wants to write. She wants to give. But no one reads her stuff. What is the point of writing, when no one reads it?

As an artist, she believes she paints for herself. Art therapy. It is how she identifies herself. Now, she is gone. That woman is gone. Who has taken her place? It doesn’t matter.

As a dancer, she dances for pleasure, for self expression. It is how she identifies herself. Now, the dancer is gone. Who has taken her place? It doesn’t matter.

As an actress, ah, now that is special. Shape shifting, becoming someone else is so much fun. She does it well, with skill and craft. For others, or else there is no point. They identify her as an actress. Ah, there, that is who she is, breathing a sigh of relief.

As a writer, she writes pages and pages and pages for days and years, streams of consciousness, complaining, inner thoughts, desires, and turmoils inked between the lines of coil notebooks. Get it out. Who wants to read that anyway? It doesn’t matter.

We are all fireflies.

Free for the Taking

homless

Call it a premonition or just plain ol’ predictable, but with the electric opener on the fritz and the garage door wide open for several weeks, it finally happened.

They took my stuff.

The door jammed a few times through the sub-zero temps during the winter, so I made a point of keeping nothing of value in the garage. The space became more of a carport. As the temps warmed up, so did the motor of the door opener, so I moved out my camping gear, artist portfolios, and a few other items from the house. When my daughter moved back in with all her belongings of a girl’s keepsakes and memories, one side of the garage was filled. I parked the car on the empty side. For awhile, at least, the door opened and closed like a charm with no cause for concern.

A few weeks ago, the opener just stopped working. We tried to fix it with no success. Luckily, the door jammed opened, rather than closed with the car parked inside. I told my daughter to bring into the house anything she valued, as the homeless tend to wander these back alleys. I grabbed the space heater and she took a few items from a box. We left several bags of empties piled up to take to the depot for a refund as part of fundraising for her school trip to Paris.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was up early drinking coffee, and through the window, viewed a couple of homeless guys opening the little white gate to knock at the front door. They had spotted the bags of empties in the garage and wanted to know if they could have them. I told them they belonged to my daughter, but that I would ask. In her sleepy state, as she was still in bed, she said they could take them. I relayed the message to the two guys, and added with a smile, “but don’t touch my stuff!” They were very humble and thankful, and left.

They made off with a good haul for getting an early start that day.

I told myself that these guys belong to a network and if they wanted, they could tell their buddies not to touch the stuff at the old house on 90th street where the garage door is wide open. I told myself that if the stuff did get stolen, especially the old camping gear, it was no big deal. I could actually imagine them making good use of a battered tent to keep warm and a decent stove to cook up some hot food.

And this morning, while it was still pitch black out with the new moon, as I was leaving for sunrise yoga before the break of dawn, I saw that the stuff was gone. The old tent with duct tape covering the holes and holding the tears together, and the portable propane stove that served me well for BBQ’s over the years were taken. They had rummaged under the sheet that covered my daughter’s boxes of cheer leading bows, greeting cards, hand-made jewelry, beach glass, and ticket stubs looking for something valuable to pawn, I guess.

I wonder if they found anything worthwhile?

I had loose plans to go camping in Banff, and to leave today, but without the gear, that’s not going to happen. I wonder what the day has in store instead?

 

 

 

Closure? One Door Closes and Another Opens

closure door open

“I don’t have an RRSP or life insurance. When I die, that’s it. I came in with nothing, I will leave with nothing.” 

“But what about your children? Aren’t you going to leave them an inheritance? What about the business? Plus, there is the house. Someone is going to have to deal with all that when you die.”

“I am leaving them no debt, no inheritance. I want them to learn to care for themselves, and not to expect it from me. Allah will provide.”

This conversation puzzled and influenced me. I have life insurance. Should I stop paying into it? He told me, “that’s not necessary.”

I didn’t quite “get it.”

I did, however, get out of poverty, then off the yoyo of spending outside of my means, and eventually, was debt free.

The conversations with a spiritual teacher are confusing at the best of times.

About two years ago, with the most savings I had ever had to my name, I met with a financial advisor at the Royal Bank of Canada, to open an RRSP.  I knew very little about it, and for the first time in my life, I was working steadily enough to start saving money. He explained to me that an RRSP was considered to be a safe and low risk investment, with tax break implications, and as long as you contributed to it regularly, it was considered a long-term saving option. Until that day, I didn’t realize that the money is invested in energy companies through stock, bonds, and GIC’s. I decided to give it a try.

My main reason for starting an RRSP was to create a forced savings situation, as I really had no idea what my saving and spending habits would look like once I had money. It seemed like a responsible adult thing to do. Plus, if it could make me money, then that was a bonus. As is the nature of investments, I watched the RRSP fluctuate depending on the economy.

Two years later, and with a decent amount saved, I decided to pull the money out of the RRSP and put it in a high interest savings account. The financial advisor was accommodating and prompt, without prying into my reasons. He showed me where to sign and the deed was done. The changes were to appear in the account within the next few days.

I wondered if he would ask why I was pulling out of the RRSP, when he finally did. My reasons were quite matter of fact, as I knew it was best to talk in direct terms with a banker. No sense in getting all emotional or political, or religious. Ha!

“First of all, I am a Muslim. In our religion, we do not have interest. There is no usury. Secondly, I am a teenie tiny player. My withdrawing my money is not going to make much of a difference to the companies that had my investment in them. Besides, those companies are hidden. I prefer to know where the money is going.”

He nodded.

“And I really had no idea what my saving habits were when I started; would I be frugal or frivolous? So when I came here two years ago, with very little savings, I was curious, and you were patient and taught me. I put my attention on saving money, and have managed to do so. I think for the small amount there is, it just makes sense. I don’t need to make that little extra in interest. If I am rich some day, Insha’Allah, it is because I worked for it, then I can put the extra towards good causes.”

“Well, you taught me something too.”

“Really? What did I teach you?”

“When you first came here, you were working in social work services, and I had no idea that there were government programs helping people who struggled in finance and employment. It made me look into doing a little philanthropy myself.”

“Oh, wow. That’s great. Good for you. So, I guess this is closure for us. Thank you so much for everything.”

“Yes, it is good timing, as I am moving to Calgary. A senior manager is retiring and they want someone with experience to take over his clients. I move on May 1st.”

“Well, congratulations! That’s wonderful! You deserve it. You will do well. All the more reason why I’m glad to find closure before you leave.”

We finished the formalities and he walked me out to the lobby. He said, “If you are ever in Calgary, give me a call, I’m keeping the same phone number.”

I smiled. And here I thought we were getting closure.

Then it struck me later. Debt is not about financial debt. Financial debt is symbolic of spiritual debt, karmic debt. What my spiritual teacher was telling me is that by pulling ourselves out of hardship, poverty, and the corruption of money, we are setting ourselves free. And when we set ourselves free, we set our children free too.

Now, that’s a miracle. 

Hard Body

running-couple

Going from a soft body to a hard body and then back to soft again is a tremendous journey.

One day, you see something in the media, or someone displays before and after photos, or you take a good long hard look in the mirror, and decide, “I gotta do something about this body.” It’s either the flab, or the cellulite, or the lumps. But it’s enough to send you on a self-absorbed mission of working out, eating less, and putting yourself through years of body centred focus, as you strive for perfection.

You gain the results through the pain and sweat. You put miles on your running shoes, and maybe you even become a fitness fashionista on the side. You manage to complete the image sold in magazines. It could be you on those pages. So you tell yourself.

Some of us actually pursue that dream, and take it one step further.

Once my body completely transformed after giving birth, I realized that maintaining the hard body was work, and took effort, which I no longer had in the way I did before baby. I’m sure I uttered the words at one point, “I don’t want to have children if it’s going to ruin my nice figure.” Now, I wouldn’t say “ruined”, but it does bounce back. Returning to low fat, six pack abs, and the hard body is another matter, and that definitely takes work.

I was one of those young new moms, working out at the gym, putting the baby in day care, and trying to find the balance between “me” time, baby, and reclaiming my body back. This cycle is such a fantasy.

As I walked the dog on this chilly Sunday morning, a few joggers passed by. This is when I got the idea about maintaining a hard body. First of all, I hate running. But, I also thought why are these people running? It hurts the knees, and you get shin splints, but you also have to invest in a good pair of expensive shoes if you want to avoid the strain on the legs and joints. Then, if you run in cold weather, as these people were doing, you have to have the sweat-wicking gear in all the colors to match.

And I reflected on the days when that could have been me.

What happens though, is you hit a wall. Eventually, the body is holding so much tension, so much memory of pent up emotion that the break down starts. It may be an emotional breakdown, or it may be an injury, but the body starts to tell you to pay attention. But, you ignore the pain, and keep on keeping on, and a new cycle of coping strategies begins. You take pain killers to get you through the next day, or to help get you through the big run. The doctor prescribes physio therapy, or if you’re really lucky and have a hip doctor (not a hip surgeon, a “hip” doc), then you end up with acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage. This is a good solution for a while, maybe even years, but you are still in pain. You have a great body though. You look great. Everyone tells you so. But you still see the fat and flab. But what you don’t see are the fine lines forming from wincing through the years of pain. Your body looks like that of a 30 year old, but your face looks 50. Or older.

If you dig deeper, you know your body won’t hold up forever. So, you turn to yoga, and maybe meditation, which eventually, leads you to the point of releasing all the stress, tension, and memory lodged in your fascia. Ah…. Inner peace and satisfaction abounds. But wait. Something in your body is changing. You are not as taught and firm as you used to be. All this om-ing is softening your joints and tissues. Is that cellulite you see? But you feel surprisingly stronger, suppler, more flexible, and wait – soft.

Other people notice you are not the hard-nosed, hard ass you used to be in meetings. You drive the speed limit, and open the door for others, even when late for work. No wait. You are never late for work anymore. You are even early.

You’re not sure when all this change happened. But one day, you just stop long enough to see your reflection in the mirror and take notice. You wanted to be such a hard body and you did, you accomplished your goal to be so. And now, it doesn’t matter so much. You would rather be soft, and approachable, rather than always on the go, absorbed in toning the thighs or losing a few inches. You would rather walk than run.

What were you running away from all those years ago anyway?

 

 

 

 

Sophie’s House

fullsizerender-6

They moved her out in the Spring of 2016. It was a war time house, built in Riverdale in the 1940’s, after the second world war. A tiny box with four rooms of about equal size. She was married, raised three girls and one son, lived there sixty-five years, her husband passed away five years ago, and she left at the age of 94.

I like the low fence that encircles the property, it’s ideal for keeping the dog in. It gives the little house an old fashioned charm in an old neighborhood that is equally charming, nestled in the arm of the Saskatchewan River. With a swinging gate that latches with a click, this enclosure does the trick. The garage backs onto the alley and is bigger than the house, and newer. I would store some extra stuff in there to make the house look less cluttered, but the electric garage door opener is jammed open with the -25° temps lately. Since that happened, I am keeping only empty moving boxes in there, and now consider it a car port. It’s a luxury I, nor my twelve year old car have never had before, so the convenience is short-lived. I’m not really missing out on much. I notice fresh big boot tracks leading in and out of the garage after the first night of leaving the door wide open. Nothing to beg, borrow, or steal. I just keep the car doors locked.

Riverdale is famous for the homeless camp sites set up along the river in the wooded area. The city asks the community to phone 311 to notify of new sites when they pop up. I’m not sure what is done with the make-do dwellings, other than to ask the occupants to move on or move up the hill to the homeless shelters, pending there is room. I read on Facebook today that 50-75 homeless die each year in Edmonton, due to the harsh winters.

When I viewed Sophie’s House the first time, the landlady made a comment about the rough conditions. The missing light switch covers exposed wires with an etching of a grimy frame where the face plate once was. “The least they could have done was leave those on,” she scoffed. The back door locks had no keys. “That’s a minor inconvenience,” I responded to her rolling of eyes after we tried each key at least three times, “I’ll just use the front door.” I turned the taps at the kitchen sink. Nothing. The water was shut off from the main valve. When we checked in the basement, the dirt floor with an overlay of cement slabs was clean and dry. “Well, at least it’s dry down here,” I figured this was a good sign. As we toured the bathroom and utility room, I was informed that the toilet leaked. A small plastic container was placed on the floor beneath the tank. There was something about the washing machine also, but with a vague implication under her breath. The dryer was missing the hose connecting the machine to the outside duct. I didn’t care. If worse came to worse, I could go to the laundromat. How bad could it be? It was clean enough and livable. Feeling chipper and optimistic that I was walking through my next home, I commented, “Well, it’s better than a tent.” I noticed a little smirk pass over her face.

It is with a clear understanding that the house is to be torn down in about eighteen months to build new. The landlords have no interest in investing any money to make it more comfortable. I am occupying an old house last lived in by an old woman, making it a temporary dwelling.

In other words, it isn’t perfect.

This would be the third move in two months, I was ready to settle in and rest.

The first thing I did was to buy some white paint and freshen up the bathroom and small pantry area. Reminiscent of occupying old city apartments where the rent was cheap and all it took was a fresh coat of paint to make a new home of an old space, it felt like old times. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday night – I got lost in my thoughts as the makeover took place.

Next was installing the tubing for the dryer. I picked up the materials at Home Depot and squeezed my hips between the wall and the machine to access the openings. The tape wasn’t sticking to the outside hole, when I noticed there was a layer of ice creating a barrier. I had already put the tape on, and I knew the temperature would not be warming up any time soon. What to do? After some thought, I grabbed the hair blow dryer to remove the ice and warm up the tape. Worked like a charm. Drying clothes was good to go.

“I really want to stay here. I don’t need water. I can bring it in for the next seven months,” I rationalized to the landlord. “You can’t live without water. I wouldn’t want to. And if anything else major goes wrong, we will have to figure something else out, because we are not investing any money in that house,” he was quite firm in relaying his stance.

Dang it. There had to be a solution.

I phoned the water company to open an account and to have the water turned on. The guy came late in the afternoon.  All he had to do was turn a key to a valve in front of the house to start the flow, and promptly left. I turned on the taps in the kitchen and bathroom. Water! Good to go. But then I heard spraying coming from the basement. When I stepped down the steep old wooden stairs, water was spraying from the valve and a puddle was beginning to form in the dirt floor as water seeped through the cement slabs. This was an emergency. Knowing the main valve had to be shut off again, I filled pots and the tub for potable water (who knew how long I would be without water at this point?) The water in the basement steadily began to pool.

I phoned a neighbor to tell him the issue. He said it was no big deal. All I had to do was tighten the screw on the front of the valve knob. I told him it was stripped and that I had already done that. He came right over. He tried several tools to tighten the valve as the pool of water grew larger at our feet. The tap was so old, it was calcified and permanently crusted. The only solution was to have the main valve on the street shut off again, or the basement would soon be a flooded mess.

There was no water.

It was 9:00pm, I talked to the water company dispatch person who informed me that the last time this house was serviced was for an emergency shut down. It had not been re-activated since. The landlord told me when they bought the house, it was sold as a tear down. The pieces of the puzzle were slowly fitting together. I searched the internet for a nearby plumber. When I phoned the number, an older woman answered, she told me to hold on a minute, her husband was out shoveling the snow. A few moments later, a voice came on the line. I explained my situation, to which he told me to call the shop first thing in the morning. He would see how many guys he had on for the day, and would send someone first thing. I thanked him with a sigh of relief.

I stayed home from work the next day and lost the day’s wages (as I was still in the probationary period of my new job) in order to receive the plumber in the morning. He removed the old valve and replaced it with a new one, as I watched from the top of the cellar stairs. He turned the water on from the street, as the water company guy had done. The plumber explained that the water company charged $40 for the service call, so he was saving me the expense. We waited to see how the valve would hold out. It looked solid. When the water pressure made its way through to the house, the valve worked like a charm. About four feet from the valve, water started shooting out from the pipe. The pipes were old, not copper or lead, but galvanized. The plumber could not stop commenting that this situation was bad, really bad. He shut the water off again from the street, and told me the entire piping system had to be replaced. I would need a trenching company to do the job. It could cost thousands of dollars to put in a new system, as they would have to dig under the house and connect to the city water pipes in the street.

Was all this worth it for a seven month lease on a house scheduled to be demolished? I wasn’t even the owner with the authority to make these decisions.

I phoned the landlady to tell her where things were at. She said she would talk to her husband. I completely understood where they were coming from. Here they were trying to do a good deed by offering this old house on such short notice, but it was proving to be more trouble than they had bargained for. In my mind, I would do whatever I could and pay whatever I could reasonably afford to make the situation work. I expected nothing from the landlords.

The trenching company guy came a few hours later and assessed the situation in a flash. He was a friendly guy who said the job could be done by a plumber. All he had to do was cut the pipe below where the hole was and replace it with a new plastic pipe. Simple. So, I wondered, why didn’t the plumber who changed the valve just do that? Why did he make such a big deal of replacing or putting in an entire new piping connection for an old house where I had a seven month lease? It didn’t make sense.

My neighbor checked in with me midday. “Any water yet?” No. Nothing. I told him the prognosis. “But I don’t need water! I can just bring it in.” I tried to sound optimistic. To which he replied, “You’re allowed to have water.” “Oh, you mean, like I deserve it?” I chuckled. He strongly suggested that I phone the plumbing company back and have the guy come back and finish the job. Sounded reasonable to me. When I phoned the shop, the same plumber was out on a job. It was a Friday too, so I asked if they worked over the weekend. The gal said no. I imagined the hassle of not having water for the weekend, plus, having to lose another day of work to settle this on Monday. I asked if the senior plumber was there. She said he had left for the day, and wouldn’t be back until Monday. This was becoming time sensitive, feeling impatient, I phoned the same number where I had reached the senior plumber the night before. I guessed that it was his home number, but I called anyway.

“How did you get my number?” I told him it was on the internet. He explained that he had been a plumber for fifty-six years, retired for ten years, and was just helping the guys out at the shop. I told him the concerns and that I needed help. He said the best they could do was a rubber patch using some clamps. He had done it a thousand times. It wouldn’t be good enough, I thought to myself, but I had to get them back to the house to at least try some sort of solution. “What about cutting the pipe below the hole?” I asked. “If it doesn’t work, I am dead,” he retorted, “the pipe could be corroded further down and we can’t see where another hole is.” I said it was worth a try though. He repeated that he could get in big trouble. Gruffly, he said he would send the guy back to try the rubber patch job. “Thank you, Dear,” I sighed.

Time was ticking. The first plumber returned with patching supplies that resembled a bicycle tire repair kit. It didn’t look promising. We were talking pounds of water pressure here, not a limited amount of air in a tiny tire tube. He made four attempts, each time, as he went out to the street to turn the water valve key, I watched the water spray out from perforations between the rubber and the clamps. I felt deflated. Why didn’t he just cut the pipe like the trenching guy said to do?

At one point, seeing how hard he was trying, I said, “Thank you for all your hard work.” “You’re welcome. I didn’t want you to be without water, but if an inspector was here…” What a good guy. It was December first, and the temps in Edmonton were dropping.

Finally, after several failed attempts, the plumber said he would cut the pipe below the hole and hope that the galvanized piping was not too corroded beyond that. Seeing him cup dirt with his bare hands, I brought him a dirt shovel from the garage, and he dug around the pipe to expose about ten feet of pipe length. He was on the phone for a bit, and another plumber showed up at the door. “Thank you for coming,” I said. “Not a problem,” the big guy smiled with dollar signs in his eyes.

Within minutes, with two plumbers on the task, the new plastic pipe piece was installed, looking very new and solid attached to the new valve from the morning. They turned the key to release the water flow from the street, and voila! The pipes were holding. Water flowed from the kitchen sink, the bathroom taps, and the shower. I would check the toilet and washing machine another day. This was a huge breakthrough.

When I talked to my landlord that evening, I explained the events from the day. The estimated cost of the repairs was a ball park of $500-600, and mentioned the loss of wages, but that was not his problem, just something I had to factor in. I told him I had given my visa number to the plumbing company in order to open an account. He said he needed to talk to his wife as to what to do. We hung up the phone. I puttered, made dinner, when he phoned back to say that they would give me January rent free, with the caveat that if anything else major goes wrong with the house, we would have to re-visit the seven month lease. His tone was no nonsense. I thanked him and hoped for the best as we said good-bye.

Monday morning, I turned on the taps for a shower. There was water, but the hot tap ran cold. What? I heard water pouring in the basement. Coming from a pipe along the side of the hot water tank, water poured onto the dirt floor again. I flicked the valve at the top of the pipe; loose, no traction, nothing. The water kept pouring. I followed the pipe up from the tank towards the ceiling and found the tap knob. I shut it off. Water stopped pouring onto the floor. No water. Again.

I went to work. I needed time to think. I needed to contemplate the situation. Was I going to have to move, again? Could I see myself boiling water for the duration of the lease? No, I needed to resolve this water issue. I liked the house. It would be worth it in the long run. There had to be a solution.

Mid-morning, I phoned the plumbing shop and they accommodated a lunch hour time when I could be home, so that I didn’t have to miss any more work. The guy was sitting in his work van when I pulled up. I let him in. He replaced the emergency valve on the hot water tank in less than five minutes, and checked the date of the tank: 1999. It was over sixteen years old. Could go anytime, as a hot water tank has a life of about fifteen years. He said he didn’t want to alarm me, but a new one cost about $1000. He explained how the emergency valve will malfunction on a tank that has been shut off for some time. Made sense, but how did he know that. He told me he had read the work order history for this place before coming over. Upon leaving, he said he should charge for a full hour, but he would only charge me half, adding that the new part was only about $10. I thanked him, and was grateful that there was hot water again.

I pass the plumbing shop on my way to work every morning. Still dark outside at 7:20am, I see the guys through the window, sitting around the front counter with coffees in hand, chatting before starting their work day. I give them a little smile and nod each time. “Hey guys, you are angels, thank you.”

I just need to get through the winter. In the meantime, I am having hot showers every morning. The problem with the washing machine is that it does not churn nor spin, so I stir and squeeze out the water by hand after the tub fills, letting the clothes soak for a bit. I hang the sopping clothes items to dry over vents around the tiny warm house, which acts as a humidifier too. Or, I can dry the finishing touches in the machine, now that there is a functioning hose connecting the duct.

Assessment of the toilet revealed a leaky gasket under the tank that sprays water on the floor when the valve is opened due to the pressure. My solution is to keep the valve turned off and the tank empty until time to flush. I bought a bright lime green bucket to use to fill the tank with water from the tub. Two buckets, two thirds full do the job. It is slightly inconvenient to lift the tank top each time, but until I brave an attempt at replacing the gasket, this is good enough.

The electric garage door opener remains finicky in the cold temps, but I discovered that if I hold the button for the mechanism to reach a certain point on the track, the door closes all the way shut, not bouncing back to an open position. A luxury I can enjoy while it lasts.

I keep my fingers crossed about the pipes in the basement, and see the puddles have dried up. The dirt is filled in around the new pipe and the concrete slabs are back in place. Good as new. The hot water tank sits on dry land.

My next project is to paint the kitchen a cheerful yellow, reminiscent of the color that covered the walls of my little house in Roberts Creek.

I think Sophie would be pleased. It feels as though her children gave up on this house too soon. It just needed some extra care and attention. Sometimes, when cleaning in corners, I find tiny threads of her silver hair. I imagine her in her little house, amazed that she lived here so long, making due with water problems and whatever else, as neglect settled in. I hope she is comfortable where she is now, and not missing too much the charm and humbleness of this place I call home.