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Category Archives: Personal Growth

I’m warning you, don’t warn me ahead of time about people!

Never liked to hear a lot of talk about people I had yet to meet; felt I had to shield the unknown person’s reputation in my own mind, so I’d not be biased and really see them when the time came. Or see them through my own two eyes, which of course is highly subjective, but at least they’re mine. As in the exchange that starts, “But that’s just YOUR opinion.” And ends “What opinion would you expect me to have?”

My parents discussing the obstructionism of curmudgeons from church or the neighborhood. Teachers leaving sub notes notes about a “difficult” or “helpful” student before I start a day of substituting. A fellow mom describing the quirks of a teacher my child is about to have. Or a colleague tipping me off with raised eyebrows about a parent they consider to be a little too much. As a teen, especially, I remember feeling drawn into negative bias unwillingly (I don’t mind the positive), and resisting, wanting to clean the slate and have a fresh, fair, objective (I thought it was possible, then) view of a person, not formed by others’ views. Now I also know that a person is not the same with different people, that even the “problems” are relational, even systemic. For example, a teacher that communicates a desire for control will have different troubles with different students than a teacher looking for participation, self advocacy and creativity.

So when my realtor warned me about the tendency of the recommended well service technician to “talk your ear off” and his advice that I “have an exit strategy,” I was, after initial gratitude (because time is money–ha!), a little miffed that I felt a little on guard and harboring a preconceived notion. His advice to mention that I was a friend of his (the realtor’s) or I might not get on his busy schedule was more useful.

I scheduled a time to drive out and see the well. Was it wise of me to suggest that I accompany him in his truck? Not much of an exit strategy. But, dammit, I would walk in the light of objectivity, open heartedness, and confidence that I could handle anything like that warned of.

The man was in his late sixties, and communicative, for sure. Within minutes I knew his exact age, that he needed a hip replacement, and that a good conversation, including attentive listening, was something he valued. In fact, while he was driving he would turn his head all the way to make eye contact, which I felt was inadvisable on the very curvy, cliff-side route. I also soon discovered that the family I’d married into went way back with his, to the same small town. He’d recognized the name I’d given, and knew some of my late husband’s uncles, cousins, and others, as well as some of their stories. The time he went nervously into the office of my husband’s great uncle Bob, head of the Port of Kelso, to ask for a job, got one, and found him tough but fair. How his friends got longshoreman jobs while he was still sweeping, having promised to finish out the summer, though at a fifth of the pay they were taking in.

I fleshed out the story as I had heard it, about the gas station run by the family, how Bob had been like a father to my husband’s dad Don, who had been basically kicked out by a step-mother only a few years his senior. How Don had married sweet young Marilyn, the initial first date being secured on the strength of his being the cousin of classmate Bruce, so couldn’t be too bad. Don worked as a mechanic and welder, raised three kids with Marilyn, teaching the boys foundry and welding as well as mechanical and general fix-it skills. He later worked as as a high school shop teacher, pouring out and training up young men, especially those not academically inclined, to work with their hands, and fought a losing battle for the survival of the shop program. Died young of esophageal cancer, having met only a few of his grandchildren, and before my husband and I married. How Bruce and Marilyn, a dozen or so years after cancer took their spouses,  in their seventies now, had married and were written up the the local newspaper as a story come full circle.

He reminded me of Bruce, and Bob, in a way. Same attention to the person, friendly, teasing contentiousness that made for dynamic interaction. Maybe something Scandinavian too, or immigrant third generation.

We argued about what was most important to teach young people, what was being lost, rediscovered, what mattered in the long run, the folly of always chasing the next thing instead of grounding the young in principles and foundational skills. I shared that one of the “newest” things was now shop class, and focus on projects that engaged student in real problem solving rather than a focus on cramming for the test.

Then we were at the property and it was all business–the well had been vandalized years before, and, hobbling a little because of his hip, he figured out but how badly, what questions still had to be answered, and what could be done. Then it was a windy drive back to drop me off, and we got into various other topics–more on education (his wife was a retired teacher), dependence on personal digital devices, water quality and rights, and cheerfully argued back and forth, agreed on a lot, disagreed on some. It was a lot of fun.

So as it turned out, his talkativeness made it a much more pleasant outing, and I in no way sensed that he didn’t know when to let someone go on their way. I’ve had that experience with a colleague in the past, and it’s tough–when you want to be a friend and a good listener, but it means you’ll have to delay getting that extra hour of work done. But the morning spent in conversion worked out well for me, and I could tell he was pleased as well. As he’d shared, valuing clients’ time meant spending the time, doing quality work, not charging for every question answered and not trying to line up new business on the cell phone.

I get why my realtor warned me. He wanted to recommend the person who had the skills I needed and could be trusted in a business interaction, but have me know that there might be a kind of “cost” to it, something to anticipate, and if need be, mitigate. I’m part of that slightly younger generation that might not easily make that investment of time that, in being given by the well service guy, would necessarily be hoped for in return. People that can “talk your ear off” like to be listened to. But I found, as I think he did as well, that it is in giving that we receive. Even in the case of that former colleague who seemed not to be aware of the cost for others of a monologue full of tangents, it was always my attitude toward her that determined whether I would feel irritated in the end or blessed. I could get impatient, and sometimes would actually do some work on my computer or with paperwork while she talked. But letting go, attending fully, and remembering how much and often I desire the same, brings joy and a sense of connection that is a foundation of a quality life.

In a youth mental health first aid training we heard the words of a bipolar man who, having decided to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, decided that if anyone, anyone, said to him on the way, “Are you okay,” or the equivalent, he would crack open and unburden himself, delivering him from evil, at least for that day. This gives me a heightened awareness of the importance of the significance of any personal interaction, and to think of it is to ground me in the universal vibration of the tenuous web of human life of which I am a synapse.

I’ve been known to prefer anonymity to connection. How much, on any given day, as I continue to meet and recognize, and know a little, more residents of this fine region, can be expressed by the size and location of cafe I choose, the distance among the tables, the ratio of looking thoughtfully around and perhaps meeting eyes, smiling, nodding my head, to string at my fingers as I type and the words as they appear on my screen. But even if I don’t feel like talking, I want to be with people, or I’d just write at my table at home. Let me, some days, fall into connection, intellectual, verbal, some days just be staring in tandem at the same soft glassy blue of the bay, or sparrows building nests. Let me some days glance brightly into the eyes of a runner or biker passing from the other direction, sharing a moment of delight in fresh air and exercise.  Let me some days smile at the dogs wagging at their owners, at the little girl laboring to choose what drink she want her mom to order for her, and say, “So many choices, huh? How will you know what’s the best?”

 

 

My life as a house remodel

Today it’s taking more of an effort to enter into the moments, feel the hope, the tingling of possibilities. Walking down to the coffee shop, I only half-notice, then recollect, small gatherings of starlings clicking and writing in the maples above the sidewalk, then two brown wrens conversing, tails bent up and twitching as they shifted between twigs of the only shrub in a block of mowed lawns, the beautiful Salish Sea, in unnameable tones of bluegreen and grey lapping in, and along the way, periodic views of the light reflected off sand bottom punctuated by flat rocks and waving seaweed. Dogs joyfully wagging and sniffing, eagerly running down to the beach under the gray sky. Now I sit facing the window that looks back the way I came, wondering why I was not really present to the moments. Yet people, people are almost too present to  me. I came here to be an anonymous part of a gathering, with the possibility of seeing an acquaintance always welcome, though not likely. I came with the expectation of pleasure, in the freedom to just go somewhere on the spur of the moment wot  the health and time to do so.

But the feeling now is that nothing, nothing will develop from this, that it’s just a thing to do for a break, and I used to need breaks a lot, from my busy household, from the conflicts that sometimes arose there. And later, just to habituate myself to getting out again, no longer needed as a caregiver.  But it’s not a break I need anymore; I need to rebuild. This is not the same life I inhabited before, and I don’t know exactly what to make of it. And build I shall. I am grateful to have access to an abundance of materials, but not sure how to define the space and boundaries, scope out the project, which things to stockpile, how to lay out the work schedule and list of deliverables. Which parts of my past and current life to carefully extract, save, and re-purpose, and which to crack apart with a sledgehammer, pry away with a crowbar and cart away to be reduced to basic elements.

I become aware that two (three? more?) otters have just appeared in the water at the end of the dock and are undulating right to the shore, climbing up the rocks, and no one has seen them yet. It’s a dog, arriving with its owners above on the trail, who gives the signal, and they humans realize something is up, and soon see the curious, whiskered faces of the otters and share in the excitement, holding back the dog with a firm hold. Why are the otters so bold, suddenly, to come all the way onto shore?

The coffee shop is crowded; people are feeling a coming spring now that the Arctic air flow has gone whither it will. The baristas are maxed out and not making very good lattes–no foam; mine has developed a skin, but one must adapt. It’s not the quality of the brew that attracts me here, and I know many people would avoid it for the additional reason of their apparent lack of inclusiveness, as expressed by their refusal to carry a full diversity of free publications. As if, by limiting diversity of viewpoints in cafe owners, one is affirming diversity. I feel the location is worth it. Plus it has the right number of spots always open to stay and write without feeling one is depriving new customers.

Today I wondered if I should be keeping receipts, as I have to define a new direction of the corporation I now run, dormant after the end of my husband’s years as a software consultant. If I fire up my writing and editing as a business, I could claim 50% of meals expenses. I am far from earning anything that way, though I did earn a little in years past.

I continue to watch the scene outside. The otters have swum away, but a small flock of sparrows that nest in the rafters of the shop–apparently legally now, as someone seems to have shamed the cafe owners into removing the metal spines that formerly discouraged them–are squabbling. It’s quite a hierarchical and competitive assembly, but there is peace enough that one male is splaying out his short little wings and preening. Another looks like she has a down feather stuck in her mouth, as she works her beak to try to drop it, then suddenly flies up to the rafters, pulling the gazes of the three approaching walkers, to place it in one of the nests.

The sun is just breaking through, the caffeine is taking the edge off my dullness, and soon the post-church crowd will be here. I have some ideas from this session: since I’m planning a remodel of my house, currently at the design and semi-wild-ass estimation stage, I could use the process as a metaphor, learning from the proven efficient, effective, and articulated project development process of the design-build firm to do my life remodel. Older dwelling, adequate until now with plenty of creativity and compromise, the site of many struggles, joys, comforts, and even a legacy, needs reworking. Define needs and and wants, prioritize, budget, redesign, order materials, with a focus on local, low-impact, underutilized, restored components. Invest in a reasonable stock of beautiful new or lightly used elements that enhance value and utility and will stand the test of time. Order materials, do demolition myself  with the aid of a few skilled friends and family; identify hidden flaws of structure and systems, integrate repairs and upgrades into plan and budget; schedule contractors for phase one. And, with the otters and sparrows, take risks, be curious, but make sure the lining of the nest is insulated, even if from down fallen from my own breast..

 

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The unexamined life is still worth living, say the trees

Sometimes I wake up feeling something afraid. Not even the routine of setting out breakfast for anyone, or putting in another load of laundry to draw me into a sense of purpose. Not even dark-eyed juncos blown about the yard, or a newspaper in the yellow box to read.

It’s after the holidays, before back to work, and I am trying to pull myself together after a night of dreaming class was about to start and I had no lesson plan, the wrong text, and expectations were high. And an understanding that I am on my own, the main architect of how I use the rest of my time here on Earth.

My response to these feelings in the winter dark has been to sleep in until my head aches, then suit up, slip a coffee card in my zip pocket and my notebook in my backpack, and run out the door. The rhythm is good for the brain or something. Duh–using the body to move, work, and build makes one feel better. How could something that should be so obvious, as it is basic animal instinct, have to be chosen, even scheduled as part of one’s day?

I jog up the hill between swishing evergreens, backpack catching the rhythm and swinging side to side. I slow at the top to a walk. I realize I have not been attentive to my surroundings, and so look into the shrubs and trees of front landscaping as I pass downhill.

The thought comes from a grove of firs: “I produce, I reproduce, I die. This is the sum of existence.”

The birds say, “I consume, I reproduce, I die.”

In theory, if a person is in somehow rhythm with those aims, one will be happy. Yes, I mean it. For some species, without consciousness, culture, or conscience, the pinnacle of success is to do that well, given a certain amount of chance and randomness of environment, luck and unluckiness. Consciousness, culture, and conscience are all just layers that can support such aims, and any apparent contradictions are illusory. If existential anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior are also part of our culture, these too are part of the big picture of a successful..if not species, but, say, set of genes replicating over evolutionary time.

Yes, this is woman searching for meaning, although I have not yet read the book. I was okay with it being salvation from sin and communion with the Creator, but I’d like to go more basic now, to a creature, grounded meaning for existence. If I am frustrated in this, that’s okay, and I’ll fall back on creaturely, humanist  basics–eat, work, love, as I know these are fundamentally healthy and satisfying and will push me toward the more socially and morally acceptable contributions to the propagation of this set of genes. Some of which are shared by the house sparrows and goldeneye ducks outside the coffee shop window, and the evergreens. So there is a backup plan.

 

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Death can’t be the worst thing that can happen to us, since its probability is 100%

Never had so much prayer goin’ down around here before, and I say Bring it on! Whatever prayer is, whether objective truth or pragmatic placebo, I don’t care. I’m leaving behind my Truth filter, for this part of my life at least, and saying, whatever works, and I don’t care how or why.

My husband has been diagnosed with stage four cancer.

A long time ago I started writing a post called An Idol Demands a Sacrifice, about my husband’s addiction to chewing tobacco, which had its roots in football culture of the ’80s. I went though anger, trying to pressure him, then letting go and distancing myself. Then I was relieved that he quit, then came new disappointment and anger when he started again. Anger at his brother for leading him into temptation. There was a good deal of fear back when the kids were younger, as he had no life insurance, no job security, and, most of the time, we didn’t have much in savings. I was substituting, coming back into teaching after fifteen years of homeschooling our children.

His dad died in his fifties of esophageal cancer complications (lots f prayer healed the cancer, but not the perforated esophagus that resulted from radiation and bungling).

Two months ago he quit, and he knew it was for good, and no more excuses. A month and a half ago he decided to do an herbal detox, and soon started feeling stomach pain along with the cleansing. Thought it was just a reaction, or maybe the flu, which was going round. He quit the detox, still had pain, and we decided h should get checked. Blood tests came back normal, but internal scans did not.

This time my anger didn’t last long–I’ve learned to let go of it, along with worry and fear. I know how to let go, and detach from intense emotions. I kept the anger to myself except to confide in a friend, who totally got it, and said now she was mad at him too. But I’m done with it now, and good riddance. By the time I shared the preliminary news with my daughter, I had to explain my calmness so she wouldn’t think I was unfeeling.

The cancer either originated in the stomach or the pancreas, but fortunately (or unfortunately, as it led to it being missed until advanced), relatively low pain, for that kind of cancer. It’s been a week or so of appointments, and there are a few biopsy results to come in, but we saw the endoscopy photos and CT scan images, and we can be 99% sure. It’s off to oncology to look at options next week. Medical options appear to be few and too awful to bother with. We’re not that desperate.

Still, we’re inviting anyone and everyone to pray for us. All my wonderful believing colleagues and my husband’s family have been bending the knee on our behalf. Last week a Catholic priest engaged in the sacrament with my husband, who has no denominational, or even major religious category, hangups. This morning an old Bible study friend and his son, both now known for a gift of healing, and several other prayer warriors, some we’d never met, gathered around my husband for a laying on of hands, and even a bit of babbling and grunting sounds that apparently come from the Spirit. One of the women prayed for me generally, and claimed an annointing for me, but darned if I can’t remember which one. Must ask my other friend of many years, who was there too shedding tears with me, if she recalls. Or maybe just wait for a manifestation. Don’t mind if I do.

This evening there turned out to be a multi-denominational healing prayer service, so my husband went there too, and people prayed in all kinds of languages, one declared that he’ll live to a hundred.

We hold all possibilities with open minds.When he came home from the prayer meeting, I suggested we write down all the prayer times and special words, prophesies, or occurances, so we can track progress and share the story. I said, I don’t even know what prayer is, and I don’t really care, becasue I know its the right direction. He smiled and agreed. You know, I added, I’m not into all the shaking and weird sounds — I don’t get that, never will–it’s not my personality. I hope no one will judge me as unspiritual for that, and I hope I won’t judge anyone for being more of a Pentecostal type. I’m just more of a Presbyterian, I guess. Though I do like to pull in the other direction of any majority I’m among, I must say. I don’t like getting worked up  or manipulated into some kind of meditative state, though I recognize the value of that sort of leadership, I guess, for certain personalities.

We are also strengthening my husband’s immune system in every way we know how, with advice coming in from all angles. My husband has declared over and again that I was right all along about nutrition, and is glad that his radical turnabout has been pretty smooth for us all, since I had the kale and cabbage in the garden, a freezer full of antioxidant rich home grown berries, and knew how to make dandelion coffee and identify cancer-fighting weeds growing in abundance even in the winter. The additional learning I had to do for my How Not to Starve class is a bonus.

And my husband is finally laughing at my lame humor. Yesterday morning, I came out in the morning to find my husband in tears of joy, and he shared what he had heard from God, and the sense of love he felt. Then he said he wanted to do some more juicing. “I want to drink a cabbage, he said.

“Is that what God told you?” I asked. He started to shake with laughter, held in, because his stomach was sore, but went on and on, as I joined him. Kind of a Monty Python style, like the shrubbery skit (Nights of Nih) “You must drink….a..cabbage!”

We’re pretty sure my husband’s cancer will have to slow down, at least. All that love, peace, humor, and good nutrition will have its effect. And we’re pretty sure we don’t want him to do any radiation or chemo, which may attack the cancer, but also attacks any sort of physical comfortableness and placebo effect  that one needs to feel half decent and heal. Prayer, love, laughter, and good food have no drawbacks at all as far as we can tell.

 

 

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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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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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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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