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Almost completely pure berry juice, with a little sweet lime

Just finished my first day of teaching, with a sense of relief at finally meeting real people and seeing, as the new principal said what it looks like here. It looks like, wow! Good sized classes, neither too big nor too small, of bight-eyed teens and expecting and planning to do all their homework on time and needing only a few hours of guidance and inspiration per week to do the same thing others sit in class for five hours per week to accomplish.

I did not feel ready, having focused most of my time in the weeks leading up on getting to know the five new curricula, laying out the big picture plans, and thinking of cool science project and lab ideas. But my fellow teachers seemed to all feel the same, and weren’t hesitant to admit it. The first few day of two, everything is so different for the students switching out of summertime, back with friends or in a crowd of strangers, new teachers, all that bewildering the senses for them, too, that it’s best to keep things simple, and not necessarily “burn from the word go,” or “teach like your hair’s on fire”. At least not in every class.

So I laid down some paper, went over syllabi, told them a bit about myself and played the “stand up if you…” game. It worked beautifully, and I found out that the senior academy is full of musicians, athletes, a good number of readers and writers, a few who love math or science or know how to program, more than the average number who can tell how to tell one kind of tree from another, make pickles, and shoot a rifle, have traveled to the East coast or Alaska, and even a half dozen whose grandfathers, like mine, lived for months in the woods trapping and hunting for a living. No one knew how to make yogurt, so I said I’d teach them, as it was a biological process. I had them practice the opposite circling hands exercise while I told them about the mind’s plasticity, that it was amazing what connections our brains would make if we had a growth mindset. When I had nothing more to add, I wrapped up each math class with a start at the Chapter zero Pre-test and the sciences with or a Bozeman Science video to be continued or reviewed at home.

I noticed also, though I, too am taking in only the first layer of this new reality, some unique individuals, introverts by nature, who are full of interesting knowledge and experience, and a kind of quiet willingness to open up and be appreciated. They too enjoyed the game, not a grin-and-bear-it face among them.

In biology the second item on the list of syllabus topics was evolution. Was there anyone, I asked, who felt that was a controversial subject? Yes, a few acknowledged, one or two emphatic nods. I said we’d be finding out what evidence scientists used to come up with the theory of evolution they’ve probably heard of, but how much more there was to the idea, and the ways that scientists could observe first hand and even test and replicate the process of evolution on a shorter time scale. Said they’d definitely find it very interesting. Put out a request for fresh road kill and birds that had lost their lives to window reflections. ASked them to email me to see if it should be brought in fresh or kept in the freezer for a while. No one said “Ew, gross!”

The environmental science class had actually signed up for a course labeled “General Science,” so I told them–Surprise!–when I was hired I got to choose the emphasis of the class, and since they’d already completed biology and the End of Course exam requirement, environmental science was a good next step, was full of ways to deepen and integrate and connect scientific knowledge. It was also an important and timely kind of study in this era of awareness of the many environmental problems we are facing. That class was all young women, except one. Is it women that will solve all our environmental problems? I asked, before the fellow showed up. Definitely, one said, and the others nodded.

Our next classes are a week away, because of our Monday-Wednesday schedule and the holiday, and Friday classes don’t start for another two weeks, so I have an unbelievable three more days of paid planning plus a long weekend. I wish all districts could afford to treat its teachers this way.

I had a heavy harvest of raspberries and blackberries in the garden this summer, and they are still bearing. So I mashed and squeezed a quart, and drank up the aroma of the breeze off a warm bramble patch with my evening meal.

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Education

 

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End of summer regrets and anticipations

I’m going to try to get at the root of my feelings here. I’ll have to part the complicated net of stress about various things–starting a new teaching job, not having done enough planning for the time I have left before classes start, wondering whether I will make some new friends there, if the commute will bother me much. Put aside my sense of regret at not having the time I wanted for concentrating on my two youngest children’s journey and growth, or my own projects. A sense of loss at having had to say goodbye to the school I so enjoyed working at last year.

I’ll have to brush away the awareness of my diminished energy as I age, the early signals of impending menopause. Have to put aside the sense of sadness about saying goodbye to my two oldest children as they head off to college, and the sad changes in my extended family that have begun to occur more frequently. The awareness of a need to process with my mate some of the conflicts and negative patterns that we have developed so that we can head into this new phase in the right spirit.

And now, just as I have come to place where I should start the paragraph about why I am motivated to teach after all, restoring my sense of purpose and vision, I have succeeded in disheartening myself. I have created a picture in which I am turning my back on the duties, delights and calling of my own abode to serve other families’ children in the “greater society.” And so ultimately I reveal my bias that deep down I feel that charity begins at home. But apparently I also believe if that charity is hard to muster or is not received in the way I am able to offer it, or if one has to lay up a bigger nest egg or refine marketable skills, then it’s time to go out and get a job. It’s good for a home maker to get out there and broaden her horizons, to see what she can do, to be recognized, paid for once, for her skills and service. To meet new people, try new things. And, they say, it’s good for the kids to see that you’re not just a mother, wife, home maker, domestic engineer. That you “have a life” outside raising them.

Yesterday afternoon my husband helped me put together the new cider press I bought. It sits in the living room, a handsome classic in wood and cast iron, ready to grind and juice the harvest of apples I have grown or got permission to glean.

On the floor in the kitchen sits my canning pot and two boxes of jars and lids, ready to hold sauce made from two large bowls of fresh tomatoes on the counter. Outside the basil is ready to pick and dry, the savory and onion seedlings ready to plant.

In the garage I have stored the parts of a chair I refinished and the pillows I recovered, needing a few day of labor to finish up repairs and reassemble. Also there is a laundry plunger, which I had planned to use to set up a non-electric laundry system that would get our things much cleaner than the half-hearted tumbling actions of our handsome new front loader from the big box store. My sewing and craft supplies are stored there, too, not used except in cases of necessity.

I have ideas for a writing project, a yard redo, a bicycle storage shed, an organic permaculture expansion. Somewhere I stored away my daughter’s partially finished quilt, and fabric for projects I was going to do with the kids to teach them to sew.

Out of my office window (I have to vacate in a few weeks) I see a father and small son heading past the dock on a standup paddle board. I bought one of those, too this spring, and have not yet found the time to use it. Since my foot and knee started complaining, I have been hoping to transition to more water based exercise and cycling. Last week my husband was urging me to shop for bicycles now that they are on sale, knowing mine is shot and that I’d wanted to ditch the car for a good commuter bike when I had the chance. I had to tell him it’s still not practical, since we have no bike storage, and now my job is twenty miles away up a busy route.

Outside in the boat repair yard I spy a woman sitting on her dry docked sail boat taking a break. She drove here to be by herself and decided it’s better to sit on a boat in a parking lot than wait months for the time and money to repair it and get it on the water. It’s a Sunday, and I think she expected to have privacy, to be able to feel the sea breeze, hear the lines snapping and gulls cry while she collected her thoughts, or let them go.

Let them go. Let it be. See the positive. The medicine for my soul’s illness I can find within. God is in control, and in all things he works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Look on the bright side. Stop it, in other words.

I can do that. I have this sad ability to switch off certain emotions if I decide that they are processing badly. Not sure where they go, but I can suddenly stow them away and apparently move on. It’s been good to get them out there, and maybe that’s part of the coming to terms.

On to what I hope to accomplish this year, so as to begin with the end in mind.

The teaching of math part really doesn’t grab me, I’ll have to admit. So in my math classes, other than to help the students get the grounding and practice they need, I just want to help them get along and to know that they are valuable and important, part of a community, responsible for their own success. My job is to stay a few steps ahead, come up with various ways to teach to various students, and have a management system in place that helps them pace themselves as they get the work done at school and at home.

Preparing to teach biology (two classes) and environmental science (one) are absorbing much more of my time and energy. This is where I’d like to make a long term impact. I hope to instill/nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about life, a good understanding of how living systems work and how science works, what questions we should pursue and how, and how useful science can be to help humans make decisions about how we live personally and organize our economic, social and industrial activities on this planet. I want them to understand that technology has no merit in itself, that it is how we adapt, whether poorly or well, to the realities as we understand. I want them to see the big picture, to get a sense of the possible philosophies that can drive scientific inquiry and technological innovation. I want them to choose quality, equity, justice, love, whether they go into agriculture, nursing, journalism, or management.

And so, writing this out was helpful after all, and has sort of a happy ending, all things considered, some more than others.

 

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In which the teacher wonders whether she will be able to fit in at her new school

More on the job search; new development: I got a full time position. Nice to know a month before starting–lots of time to plan, but maybe too much time to brood. Now there’s just a week, and I’m still feeling unsure.

I had hoped to be called by my district–the one I live in and which gave me the job I finished in June–about a middle school science or high school biology job. I thought I had a pretty good shot at it, with experience, good references, a few connections. But the weeks went by after my application was in, and no calls, no emails, and then “position filled” on the jobs website, same as last year. Also hoped to be able to bike to work, was poised to buy the bike, set up the storage rack inside the garage, now to be vacated by college age child. But no response to the applications I put in.

Six nearby districts had no relevant postings at all. The seventh had a maybe–a posting for high school math and science at an alternative school I’d never heard of, serving homeschooled students. I read the requirements, and I was a one hundred percent match, and more. So I applied, and got a call the next week, had my interview set up for that Friday. I should have been pumped– full time, alternative, fully qualified. The forty minute commute was regrettable, but we had been looking around for properties, and could easily settle closer if things worked out in that district.

But it was in that very religiously conservative town that I’ve written of before, the one I’ve never been interested in living in, never felt I fit in culturally. Even when I was more religious I was never conservative enough in the right ways, felt too edgy, likely to offend or be judged. On paper I looked like a good fit, but deep down I wondered if I would fit in. The school served homeschool families exclusively in a parent partnership model, which meant I needed to bridge those worlds and be super flexible about the different ways families approached education, which working within the public education professional paradigm.

I didn’t prepare much–just refreshed my mind with notes I’d taken for previous interviews, and wrote down my questions for them. My goal was to find out if this job would keep me on track for working with some of the “tougher” kids in the system, preferably back in the city, and maybe even in the school I worked in last year, after it had its new, larger building and needed more science teachers. I interviewed with the principal, who also teaches part time, and a teacher leader who was serving as a kind of assistant principal.

The school uses part of a building shared by a church and several other Christian ministries, including health services (free pregnancy tests) and a clothing distribution center. The principal and teacher were sharing a joke when I walked in the outer door, warmly asked me to wait a few minutes, then I was invited into the office. They asked me to tell about myself, nodded with appreciation at the places in my narrative that indicated a fit to the position. Asked me what was the worst lesson I ever taught. I said I couldn’t think of a specific one, but in general I mostly regretted times when I talked too much and listened too little, or where I was not relaxed enough to be myself and teach in my natural way. The teacher asked me whether I had used a particular curriculum as a homeschooler. I was prepared for this, having resolved not to let on that I had raised my children in Christianity, feeling that this information had no legitimate place in a public school teacher interview. I said I had used various things, and a literature rich approach. She pressed, which approach was that? I confessed that I had used Sonlight Curriculum. Ah, they both sighed in satisfaction–that was a good one. So the cat was partially out of the bag.

I asked them what they felt were the strengths of their school, and the challenges. Strengths were the tight knit team and close community of the student body, challenges included dealing with strong willed parents. Tied to that, I asked them if in the course of teaching some aspects of biology to children of conservative Christians, there sometimes arose conflicts over certain scientific ideas such as evolution. Because although I was brought up a believer, I only became familiar with creationism later, I said. I was interested in others’ viewpoints, indeed had sought out creationist books at a homeschool book fair to see what the most educated creationists had to say. Yes, sometimes, the principal said, there were sometimes parents who objected, but he would be there to help deal with that, and besides, he said, you don’t have to teach everything. This got my attention, as it implied that it might be best to sidestep such conflicts by cutting out science content. For example, he continued, once he worked at a school where the librarian wanted to have Harry Potter books in the library, and he had said to her that he had nothing against having books like that, but why did she have to have them?

By this I understood that, at the very least, this was a principal of the Golden Retriever personality type, a peacemaker who doesn’t stand up for principles where that brings interpersonal conflict. That’s a red flag for me, as I enjoy bringing up and discussing controversial issues in order to learn and teach, and do try to adhere to principles of truth even when that brings on some heat. Not that peace making isn’t an important principle also, and it could be a great thing to work with an administrator who prioritizes mutual good feeling. It all makes me wonder about the balance between teaching from who I am, which includes teaching about evolution, sex ed, whatever, because these are important science, and the need to respect local community values and parental authority over children’s education. That last was big for me as a homeschooling parent–I didn’t appreciate a paternalistic attitude in school personnel, as I viewed them as having only delegated authority and only over a certain aspects of children’s lives. But I do have values to inculcate as a teacher, too, and that includes a respect for reason, logic, and empirical evidence.

I got a call from the principal as I was pulling into the fabric store on the way home. He offered me the job, said he had already spoken to my references, and would be please to hear my answer that Monday, if that worked for me. I thanked him and said I would give it careful thought. I accepted the job on Monday, not having been able to give the final word to my red flags, glad to have a full time opportunity, and knowing I would benefit from the need to learn the curricula for all six courses I would be teaching. Six is a lot, but only Mondays and Wednesdays and heavily supported by home assignments supervised by parents.

My other source of discontent is that I don’t really feel that homeschool kids need the kind of support I want to give. The have supportive families, are economically stable enough to be homeschooled, and are mostly independent, self- motivated learners. I really wanted to get back into serving the tough kids, the kids who didn’t fit, the kids who had something that needed to be discovered and busted out in a special supportive setting, who were the ones mostly driving the best efforts of education leaders and making schools a more authentic place of learning and growth. I missed my school from last year.

There is one way in which I could see these homeschool students, the ones from the religiously conservative families, needing, at least in my mind, what I had to give. I could maybe get some of them them hooked on biology/ecology, more knowledgeable about the natural/created world, help them understand the value of rational scientific thinking about it and see it as a powerful aid to growth and developing purpose rather than a tool of the enemy. I grew up on the hymn “This is My Father’s World,” my earthly father reinforced the Bible’s teaching on stewardship, and I enjoyed and still enjoy reading the Psalms for the way they celebrate the beauty and power of the creation. Later my conservative Christian teachers emphasized, in reaction to New Age religion, that we are to worship the Creator rather than creation, which I had though was a no-brainer, but whatever. The only people with whom I shared the values of living lightly, recycling, cutting down on energy use and preserving biodiversity, besides my father, one Regent College professor, and several friends who I was able to influence, were decidedly non-religious. Inter-Varsity Press, NavPress and Multnomah Press books on how to live the Christian life, think critically and biblically about the issues, were light on stewardship. I was aware that liberal Christians were more into environmental conservation, but they were not very helpful in the struggle with personal morality and purity of thought life.

I’m planning my biology and environmental science classes now, and intend to do what I can to support critical thinking, evidence-based reasoning, and the development of an environmental ethic rooted in a value for sustainability. In other words, let’s understand natural systems, lets’ understand how humans depend on and affect them, and let’s not promote the destruction of human society. Valuing all other life forms will have to stem from long term self interest with a primal drive rooted in our selfish genes. There is no conservative without conservation, no religion without human society, no traditional values without sustainable traditions. There is no intelligent design of humans in God’s image if those humans don’t know how to design intelligently.

 

 

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On to Montreal to see Sister 1

I spotted my sister before she saw us–she was standing outside her rented car looking over where we had just come from. Wasn’t sure if it was really her, as it was dim, and she was just far enough away, and I hadn’t seen her since 2009. I called out and she turned and smiled in recognition as we started over. I guess I looked pretty much the same, plus signs of the years and darker hair. But my daughter she looked at in a kind of wonder. It had been seven years, my daughter had been ten at our last visit, and was now six inches taller that her aunt, a tall, slim beauty.

We loaded up the suitcases and headed out in Amber’s rented car before the attendants could ticket it.

Amber is seven years younger than I, and when we were growing up, that was a lot. She and my youngest sister were close to each other, but to me, both were little playmates or annoyances, depending. I played with them, might have changed a diaper or two, sewed dresses for them, but they were like a different generation, me in seventh grade at a different school by the time Amber started kindergarten. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, nor do I resent it now, they were the reason Mom had her hands so full in my upper elementary to teen years.

In later years, though Amber graduated from McGill in music and stayed in Montreal, and I finished up my education degree and moved out west, we reconnected at times, with visits at the homestead, and once in Montreal. There was the connection of evangelical Christian faith then, found separately and in different ways, as well as the experience of independence of adulthood, and reflecting on the setting in which we grew up. Whenever we met we had lots to talk about and have felt at ease doing so. Still, we don’t know each other well, with only a few days every few years to go on. I have drifted away from her beliefs in many ways, but the awkwardness of that is not as it was. On my side, mostly, I guess–she has never been pushy or judgmental, and is a loving, service-oriented sort of person, and generally fun to be with. And she laughs at my jokes.

The day before was Moving Day in Montreal, just after all leases end or are renewed by law, and her new flat was full of boxes, taped, labeled and stacked. The street outside held evidence of several moves, including a set of bedroom churches bagged and labelled “punaises,” which late I found means bedbugs.

We helped Amber get her basic kitchen equipped and flatten some boxes. Her belongings were basic, but we found what we needed, and fried up something or other for supper. We each got a room and hit the sack after talking late.

You never really know some people–ever mysterious and wonderfully so. But at least with family there can be a given that you’ll stay connected over the years and keep at it, however slowly. Maybe getting to know siblings is confused by projection of self, in addition to various kinds of growing-up baggage. So many similarities, just by the fact of having the same parents and, in our case, our shared physical environment. The same people lived nearby, mostly still do in some form. One of my best friends had a sister that was one of Amber’s. We went to the same schools and had some of the same teachers, and our neighbors never changed, just grew up along with us, and eventually inherited the family place. We know the tides, winds, slow springs, humid Julys and tingle of first frosty October mornings followed by warm afternoons. We know the creak of our mother’s knees and sound of feet hollowly stepping up thirteen stairs, the particular thump of each bedroom door, the smell of newly mown hay and the first spread of cow manure on the nearby fields.

My daughter was helpful on this journey, pointing out qualities I had overlooked, similarities and differences she saw, and sometimes critiquing my less than perfect ways of communicating (mostly with my mother, as we shall see). Concerning my Montreal sister, I agree with my daughter’s comment, after all our visits were over, that she is the least like all the other siblings, or like our parents. For some reason, we don’t really count my youngest brother in the group, because he’s always marched to a different drummer, and been responded to differently, as we also shall see..

Amber looks different, for one, with her auburn-brown hair and chocolate brown eyes, wide mouth, pale skin and freckles. Though we were all brought up with music, she was the only one that went whole-heartedly into music study, majoring in piano performance at McGill. She was a Bach fiend, winning lots of prizes at our local adjudicated music festival and holding her own even among the big fish at Montreal. She was so intent–loved to practice, outgrew two piano teachers, started accompanying a church choir all before heading to college. Our old wooden farmhouse with the finished pine floors resounded each day with wonderful sounds until she left. Mo and Dad would have sent the piano to her, if it had been practical.

I was off doing my own thing in those years—studying education, moving out west, and then getting engaged. We did all major in doing our own thing, not resenting each other for not keeping in great touch, but enjoying the connections we had from time to time. Our brother Matt married his sweetheart Heather in Ontario, bringing the family together there for the wedding in 1993, and we three sisters sang “Wherever you Go, I Will Go” at the ceremony, then watched them drift off into a lake on a houseboat honeymoon.

Amber takes a relaxed approach to life and music now. She enjoys her job working as a student advisor in the engineering department at McGill (where she once met Justin Trudeau, though she didn’t recognize him). She got a promotion, then dropped back down to her former position, because she enjoyed the pace and interactions more. She no longer plays Bach, but once she found the Lord (in charismatic movement of the ’90s connected to the “Toronto Blessing” happenings), gave her music to God entirely for worship, on her own and for her church and its offspring in various parts of the world. Our mother was not amused, but felt she’d grow out of it and go back to classical. Never did, though. Just more of a secret internal reality working out in mysterious ways.

I was first up on Sunday and took a walk along the St. Lawrence River a few blocks south. There’s a few miles of park, with trails paralleling the banks. It’s a huge river, a major shipping route from the Atlantic up into the interior via the Great Lakes, but no ships were noticebale from this side. I saw a heron, red-winged blackbirds, one tiny toad, ducks, moths, and a few cyclists and joggers. I stopped by a shallow pond and wondered why it held only plants, until I noticed there was a plastic liner blocking the water from the soil. That nixed it for amphibians and probably most aquatic insects as a habitat.

We had buckwheat pancakes, eggs, and coffee for breakfast. Amber had decided to skip church–surely always a priority otherwise, to hang out with us. The day before she had mentioned it, and I said sure we’d come, but either she sensed that I was only slightly into it and maybe just being polite, of just wanting to attend out of curiosity about her life, she offered to spend the morning hanging out with us, to her credit, I think.

After a slow morning, with eggs and bagels, we hoisted our day packs and headed to the metro and zipped downtown for a hike up Mount Royal in the center of town.

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

It was a warm day for walking, but with a blessed breeze again. After lunch at the Lola Rosa, up we strode, taking the long route that zigzagged up instead of the series of stairs. There were bikers, strollers, and stroller pushers. There was a boy annoyed at his parents for going the slow way, while he wanted to vauly up the steps joining the switchbacks. Half way up there’s a park that reminded me of a Seurat painting, but for the concrete border around the pond.

Park, Mount Royal

At the top is a large, airy hall of stone with a central room that could be used for balls, symphonies, and large weddings or funerals, surrounded by a few shops. Outside on the plaza a colorfully painted piano had been set up for public use, and some people were gathered around as someone plinked away. The main city was visible from the edge of the summit, with the Fleuve St-Laurent (the river) in the background.

view of Montreal

After walking down Amber showed us the underground mall network, miles of tiles, artificially lit stores that must be a haven from the cold come winter. Caught the metro back, watched “Ant Man,” and slept among the boxes. The next day we bused out to the airport for our flight to Halifax.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2016 in Places & Experiences

 

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It may be just wind, but listen closely and those molecules are smashing into each other–can’t you hear them?

I had just read Ben Hewitt’s post “Done in Silence” when my thirteen-year old son burst on the scene.”Mom! I was thinking, I’ve earned $25 from my work so far and I do have enough money to buy —– (a computer game he wants to play online with friends) after all, so..”

I had turned to listen but was struggling to gain purchase on the concepts he was on about. I interrupted him, “J, remember I’ve told you to give a few seconds after you come into a room before launching into something you want to say?”

“Oh yeah.” He breathed in once, out once.

By this time I had a sense of the topic at least. “I also want you to know that I just finished reading a good blog post on how destructive it is to allow children easy access to screen time.”

His mouth curved up on one side, he nodded once, and turned. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he said.

Because I’d stayed up trying to organize photos from my recent trip across Canada with my daughter, I got up a little later than has been my habit lately. As usual I hung a cut out milk jug berry bucket around my neck, went to the garden and picked my granola toppings, allowing my mind time to awaken, or maybe to linger between sleeping and awake, as I let my feet feel the hard, dry lumpy ground of the dormant lawn, stepped around recent dog droppings, felt a rising wind lift the bean leaves, saw and heard a hawk hunting for birds among the neighborhood evergreens. After enjoying my bowl of granola, yogurt and berries, I pruned some branches overhanging my compost pile and shed, pulled a few weeds from the soft soil of a raised bed. Beets swelling, beans appearing, tomatoes and late raspberries ripening, apple trees sending out new shoots. Always things are growing. I laid the pruned branches in an out of the way corner, weeds on the compost pile with lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. Always things are breaking down, cycling back. Some fast, some slowly.

When I came back to the compost pile a few minutes later, a sleek brown rat scurried away under the shed. Must do something about the rats, even though I think they are handsome and admire their intelligence and personality. But for the soft brown coat, they look and act the same as the pets rats we loved years ago. But the neighbors would not agree. The rats do not compete with us for resources, as long as I keep the bone meal and seeds secured, but I suppose I should at least keep the family from growing. I made a half hearted mental note to find the snap trap and plan a humane execution. But if I find a nest of young’uns under the shed when we move it, well, we haven’t had a pet rat in a while, and the girls were crooning over the cute ones they saw in the pet store while we were waiting for a triple-A tow yesterday…

This time I had only a half hour to myself. My husband tends to launch onto the scene without warning, and I have found that an hour or two of quiet is good preparation. He lies in bed after waking up, gathers the threads of thoughts freed by sleep and coalescing at the surface, get a good mental steam up, and then out he comes. with his project plan or solution to a problem, or viewpoint on a current controversy. Like father, like son. Lately there are the projects we’re working on–leveling ground for a fence replacement, deciding how to rearrange the shrubs come rainy season, carting the wood chips from the two fir trees we had cut down, talking out plans for our careers. Will I take the job offered to me lFriday, or should I wait and for something more mainstream in my own district? When will we be ready for him to transition away from working for T-Mobile, coding for a throw-away culture, solving problems in cash flow for a large corporation, and grow our own software consulting business?

We’ve been asking these questions for years. And the one about whether we will stay at this house and put some more work into it, or seriously seek a different property. I told my husband that I have decided in any case to treat this house as the one we’re going to be living in for the foreseeable future. So I planted apple trees, long delayed, raspberries and blackberries, and have drawn up a design for the expansion of the garden and addition of a working studio/bike storage building and a tea house, to be built mostly from ReStore materials and in my spare time. In my experience, I become something close to depressed when I just wait and see and stop making a home where I’m at. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I left Better Homes and Gardens behind long ago, and ignore or scoff at the new local mags that feature interiors and improvements designed for the market and marketers who advertise in those same pages, rather than a real life.

It was good to visit the homes of my family members in that regard, for a reality check. My Ontario brother bought his place for the land and improved the house and interior with his own hands, built a hen house and greenhouse (in addition to a bat hotel). It’s heated by wood from his lot, and very little garbage is generated there. My Montreal sister rents whatever works for commuting by metro to her job and church and her modest shopping needs, and is most happy with the sound of the wind in the maple tree outside her apartment. My younger brother rents a one bedroom and seems content with his parking attendant job. My other sister and brother-in-law have improved the water tightness and livability of a house he bought for himself at a price that he could pay off quickly and so bed free from the soul-killing software industry he was part of. A wall down here to make a more open living room, an extra beam and dormer to tuck a loft up into the attic, and the whole lower floor for his mom and stepdad to enjoy until they didn’t need it any more. Meanwhile it’s cozy and full of personality, the plumbing works, meals are eaten at the living room coffee table or at the picnic table outside, and the flat is a haven for musicians and other friends from the city and beyond.

Mom and Dad’s “vacation home” is a small centuries old house typical of the village of Crow Head, Newfoundland –low ceilinged (people were shorter then), recently added flush toilet, no insulation, and a gorgeous Atlantic Ocean view almost completely cut off by the grassy root cellar mound and storage shed. The local carpenter replaced the drafty windows and added a painting studio, and Mom has pinned up her quilts, calendar and quilt magazine pages, and a Blue Rodeo poster. Back in their home in Nova Scotia, the farmhouse bought from the farmer next door, the wood stove, insulation, and garden are better, but again it’s a place to make and remember a life, not a showcase.The home is centered around creative activity, art, literature, and visitors (which include animals).

I came back from that trip and told my husband that I definitely didn’t want to pay for anything fancier than we needed. The rickety, low ceilinged place right by the lake would do, as would the fixer upper with seven acres. It was all a matter of perspective. Then why didn’t I like our own house? He wondered. I wonder it, too, but I think it has to do with the room configuration, in which I can’t seem to find a place to be creative, or a place that is truly visitor-friendly. It never, ever felt like the one to settle down in, though the neighborhood and proximity to the pool has been great, as has the large back yard. But I just want to finish up the seemingly never ending fixes and slight adjustments, painting and refinishing, never really making the changes this badly laid out house needs.

No, this is not a post in which I appear to come to terms with everything and find all kinds of reasons to be thankful. Truth is I’m heartsick, fed up, sick and tired of living in a house in which I can’t start a creative project, have no privacy, and my kids don’t feel comfortable having their friends over, ’cause there’s no place to hang out, no nooks that aren’t constantly needed for the main themes of household life. We designed an addition and backed out, had a consultation with builders and let the email checkins trail off. I dreamed of a loft above the garage, stairs up to an upstairs craft room and office, a studio in the back corner of the yard. I teased that we could rent a Simple Box or buy a camper trailer for some extra room. All I managed to do was rent an office around the other side of the bay. This has been good, but looks like the regular tenant needs it back in a few weeks. It’s full of my boxes of sewing supplies and my two machines, but all I’ve managed to make is a really nice pot holder. I’d wanted to finally finish my daughter’s quilt, started almost ten years ago, and I don’t even know where the hell it is, between stashing things in the storage unit, on top of and underneath appliances and in various crevices and crannies.

The bad news is, now that a second child is off to college and there will technically be “room” enough, we might get stuck here forever. I did say that I’d regard that as a given, so I could have a purpose to make improvements as well as permission to stop aspiring to the impossible, but to really act like I’m grounded, I’d have to set up and take on some projects that my husband didn’t sign on for. He keeps saying that we just want to finish things up to sell, but the timeline never comes to a head, and here we still are, on our third realtor, years of open houses and  web searches and special viewings and watching the interest rates and bubbling, no closer to needing those piles of moving boxes I stored, which are now smelling pretty musty. There will be no welcoming international student friends of our kids into the guest room or hosting exchange students, no fostering needy children, no running summer workshops in canning or winter book clubs.

They say anger is helpful, because it helps one recognize that there’s a problem. I get angriest when I am not obeying my conscience or am failing to act like a free agent with real needs. For not calmly insisting that others recognize and take my needs seriously (once I know what they are, which is sometimes just a best guess) if they truly want to maintain the relationship. Oh God, now I think I’m getting somewhere.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in Personal Growth, Relationships

 

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Mother-daughter travel

Mother and Daughter have just returned from a pleasant walk to get supper at McDonald’s (chicken wrap for Mom and fries to share) and immediately after that, Tim Horton’s (Caesar salad for vegetarian Daughter, who discovered that Tim’s Caesars include bacon). Mother suggested Daughter record a video or audio of the counter guy, who would call each customer forward with a “I can help who’s next, b’y.” Daughter received her order from an island matron who handed over her salad with a “Here you are, my darlin’.”

It was clear on the walk back to the B&B, the chilly north Atlantic wind and cloud banks having  finally receded after several days of blow. Now it is night, and Mother and Daughter recline against the pillows on their respective beds in the B&B. It’s last night in Newfoundland, time to access wifi for the first time in several days. Daughter is catching up on Youtube videos, Mother is writing a blog post. Daughter’s quiet, breathy laughter drifts across the room to Mother.

Mother: “S, it’s okay to laugh out loud, you know.”

Daughter: “Don’t tell me how to laugh.”

Mother (lightheartedly): “I’m not, but I’m going to now.”

Daughter: “You just sucked all the happiness out of the room.”

Mother (laughing) “S, you’re good for me.”

Daughter: “I’m good for everyone.”

Not a hard word, hardly, between my daughter and I, on this whole trip. I am so proud of her, that she has turned out such a quality person. Every one of my family members was blessed by her quiet, kind presence. Just the fact that she could be out of what many young people consider “civilization” and could actually enjoy herself, is impressive. Mom & Dad, who live so far away from us and have only seen these four of ours every few years, will be talking of the sweet moments with her that they enjoyed. Lunches in and out with Mom, walks along the trail and through the village, the dip in the frigid water that my eighty year old father and she took  in the cove, reading all together by the wood stove, exploring gift shops, museum, dock and beach.

It would not have been as good without her, that’s sure. I feel like I’ve come bearing gifts.

 

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Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.

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My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.

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We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.

 

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