Reframe: Slice of Life 18/31 #SOL20

 

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Yesterday was *not* a good day. I felt a little better after I wrote it all down, but I was still all akimbo. And then, friends. After I posted, one of my friends sent me this message:

Renovations are horrible at the best of times!!! Adding the stress of this situation, not seeing a loved one etc etc is really easy to miss the accomplishments you achieved today! You were out w your kids, I saw you!, you journeyed, you spoke with friends, you showed your kids that a change of scenery and asking friends for help is real…i could go on. We are so tough on ourselves:( decrease your to do list to 2-3 max items per day and if you need a tea break we can have a social distance one together at the park!

I felt seen. I could begin to see what she saw when we walked by her family and waved. Her message buoyed me and, as I went to bed, I felt myself begin to be able to reframe – not to deny my worries, but also to see the other side of them. So today, a list.

Yesterday, reframed:

  1. We now know that both our fire alarm and our carbon monoxide detectors work (extremely well).
  2. Some of the guys on our construction team have partners whose work is tenuous or who have already been laid off; the guys working here still have a steady income.
  3. They are really good at their job & continue to renovate in a way that is both safe (because there’s a lot of crazy in our 120-year-old home) and beautiful.
  4. We have friends who let us use their house no questions asked – even if we have to scale a fence and break in to do it. They’ve even suggested that we continue to use it until they get home – and their cat will be overjoyed to see us regularly.
  5. The boys and I got out of the house several times. We even went to the local bakery – which is open & running with careful social distancing – and chatted with the workers who know us so well that they remember our account number. And the running tab means we don’t even have to use cash!
  6. When the noise was too much, I was able to take a long walk and talk to friends.
  7. My mother is safe at home – and has a safe home and people around her who love her and will take care of her, even if she lives alone. My sister – whose children’s school was cancelled until the end of the year – has lots of support and is starting a new routine. And her boys love to read.
  8. Andre let our exchange student drive on the way to see his girlfriend. He was *delighted* – even if we do own a minivan.
  9. We have tons of time to cook right now, but we ordered dinner from the restaurant where we held our rehearsal dinner 13 years ago – it’s Sri Lankan and delicious. They were so happy to see Andre that they gave him some of the food they’d had to put in their freezer. Our local businesses need our support.
  10. This moment in time is nerve-wracking – like watching a vase fall to the floor in slow motion: it’s not cracked yet, but we know what’s coming. Still, when I had a bad day, I was reminded of the strength of my extended community. And I have food and a (not *quite* complete) home. I am lucky because one good night’s sleep & the support of my friends and family allow me both the space to be upset and the space to reframe.

Ok, Wednesday: I’m ready for you!

 

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Over the edge: Slice of Life 17/31 #SOL20

It is only Tuesday. I had to double-check that after I wrote it. I checked twice. Still Tuesday. I’ve been holding it all together pretty well, but today has taken it out of me.

7:30am – after a restless night, the phone startles me awake. How am I still asleep at this hour? On the other end of the line, my mom is saying that she is going to go ahead and drive up for her planned visit. My grogginess disappears. I ache to see her, but she should NOT cross an international border (with corned beef and cabbage in the back seat, and a giant stuffie in the passenger seat) for a brief visit during a global pandemic. I know it sounds really obvious when I put it like that, but I really really want to see her right now, and I know she wants to see us. What usually feels like an easy drive with a quick pause at the border is insurmountable in the new reality of COVID19.

9:00am – Eric and Andre have made sausage biscuits (which I pretend is “homeschooling”). I post a picture online because he is so dang cute and immediately feel guilty because it’s basically all show. By now, all the construction guys have arrived and they have a LOT of cutting to do. For much of the day, one guy is in the basement cutting through the concrete with a wet saw (?), another is sawing and hammering something just outside the front door, and two more are either finishing siding – pound pound pound – or cutting through brick to finish a window on the second floor. Sometimes the whole house vibrates. I spend the morning trying to either a) convince the children to unpack their bedrooms or b) do some work for my online course. I am successful at neither.

Every few minutes, the noise crescendos and everything I am thinking about disappears. Eventually I cobble together enough thoughts to realize that I am living Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”; this would make a good slice, I think, but as soon as the idea takes shape, the pounding recommences, the walls shake, and the crew continues to work.

I try to unpack but run into the tetris conundrum: we can’t put anything in the master bathroom because they are cutting a window in the wall, so the bathroom stuff is stashed mostly in the closet which means that I can’t move the things from the bedroom to the closet which meant that I can’t… you get the picture. I call a friend. As we talk, the fire alarm goes off – for the first time.

At least the continuous bone-rattling clamour mostly prevents me from worrying about how to reconcile social distancing and construction work. In the precious seconds between chainsaw buzzing, I console myself that these men have been crawling all over this house for 9 months. They spend more time here than at their homes. And our house isn’t actually all the way finished, so we don’t have a lot of choice. We clean a lot and don’t hang out with them much. It’s the best we’ve got. 

12:00pm – I keep trying to work. I have essays that need marking, an online course that requires reading, and a blog that needs writing (that’s this one), but the more I try to focus, the more I feel sick. Am I feverish? I don’t think so, but my head hurts a lot. Our exchange student, God bless him, asks if he can go to his girlfriend’s house. I feel like I should say no, but Europe has closed its borders; Canada has all but closed its border; Ontario has declared a state of emergency; this pandemic could last for months, and this poor sucker of an 18-year-old is stuck in our nearly-finished house with a tween and a mouthy 9-year-old while the walls shake from construction. So we say yes, with strict instructions for them not to go out at all. He smirks and says that “shouldn’t be a problem.” Sigh.

1:15pm – The fire alarm clangs on and off for over an hour before they figure out what’s causing it. The furnace guy comes to check the furnace and then leaves again. My head is still pounding and now my stomach hurts, too, so I go for a walk in the neighborhood – nevermind the occasional “wintry mix” that is our weather. My heart falls as I walk past shuttered business after shuttered business. The coffee shops, restaurants and hair dresser, all closed. The playground in the park is abandoned. Only the local pot shop is thriving: the line stretches down the street. So this is what it’s come to.

3:45pm – I walk for a long time and my head starts to clear, but eventually I have to go home. I’ve just put in earplugs (as useless as getting out a broom during a tornado) and settled as far as I can from the noise, when an infernally loud beeping begins. It’s not the fire alarm; now, between shrill yips, a calm computerized voice says, “carbon monoxide detected” over and over and over.

We grab the kids and hurry them down stairs as the construction lead comes in and begins to open the windows. Clearly we need to get out of the house, but everyone is quarantined or social distancing. And while it’s not actively spitting snow/rain/sleet, the skies are ominous. I think on my feet and suggest our friends’ place – they’re still on vacation (in Mexico! imagine!) and their house is empty. We know the code for their keybox. We hurry down the street only to discover that their back gate is iced shut. The kids offer to scale it just as the wintry mix begins again. I text our friends; they are delighted to let us use their house. The kids find the key box & get the door open. 

3:55pm – we are in. No one is hammering or sawing or pounding. There is no fire alarm, no carbon monoxide. I don’t have my computer or anything to do. No matter: I sit in the glorious silence. Slowly my headache subsides. The boys are on the other side of the house, watching TV and I am just sitting. I have not done any of the things that needed doing. I have not read or marked or written. I haven’t unpacked or cleaned or cooked. I haven’t organized or even been able to think all day long. And I am so tired. 

I text my friend. I say that I am tired. He replies,

A move plus no school plus a deadly furnace plus a pandemic is a lot to happen in a week. 😦

6:00pm – as we walk back to the house, now free of smoke, carbon monoxide and sawing of any sort, I get a message from my sister: her boys are out of school until the end of the school year. She is panicking. My 9-year-old starts to say how awesome that would be when his brother hushes him. “This is really serious, isn’t it, Mom?” he asks. I nod. “Maybe I’ll start a journal when I get home,” he says quietly.

And then I know I am over the edge. I will need to sleep before I can think properly again. It’s a lot for one week – and it’s only Tuesday.  

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Ice, Ice, Baby: Slice of life 16/31 #SOL20

I grew up in southern climes. My father was in the Air Force and we lived in Panama, Texas and California before we settled in South Carolina. Even my “far away” university was below the Mason-Dixon line. As a result, until I moved to Ottawa, I had little experience with seriously cold weather. I refused to agree to move here until I had visited in the winter. My then-boyfriend now-husband was so anxious about this that, when I arrived in mid-February, he met me at the airport, bundled me into a taxi, looked at me and asked, with absolute sincerity, “So, do you think you can handle the cold?” I said yes. This is what love will do to you – even if you’re a Southern Girl.

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Ice ripples

I didn’t see snow fall until I was in the 5th grade. That summer, we had moved from California to South Carolina, not exactly a bastion of cold weather, but colder than what I knew. One day in February, someone yelled, “SNOW!” and we all ran to the window to see it until Mrs. Rish called us back in her quavering voice: “Sit down! Sit down, children! It’s not like you’ve never seen snow before.” I turned to her, eyes wide with wonder and said, “I haven’t.” Bless her for saying, “Well then, Mandy, you can stay there.” I pressed my face to the cold glass and watched in amazement for long minutes before I returned to my seat.

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Ice near yoga class

You can imagine my first few winters in Ottawa. I had to learn everything anew, not least of which was how to dress myself – and then babies – for cold weather. None of the coats I owned were even close to warm enough. I did not have winter boots. I was pretty sure that no gloves in the world could keep my fingers warm in February. Sometimes I tried to stay inside for days, despite Andre’s gentle insistence that going outside at least once a day was healthy.

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parking lot ice

 

Eventually, time and the kids got me outside. After all, I didn’t want to miss the fun of building snowmen or turning the back porch into an epic sledding ramp. When the boys started parent-child skating lessons, I went to the rink and tried to pretend that, like the other parents, I was mostly there to hold the kids up when, in fact, I was learning, too. Now I can lace skates – theirs and mine – stand up from a fall, and even race my kids down the frozen canal in February. I’ve come to love snowshoeing and have taken a ski lesson to get over my fear of downhill skiing. I still don’t love it, but I can get down a hill.

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This icy dragon is breathing fire

The more I played outside in the winter, the more I got used to the cold. Sure, I wear hats and gloves starting in October and straight through to April, making “real” Canadians laugh, but in last year or two I’ve caught myself “just running to the car” in slippers & a bathrobe even when the temperature is well below zero (Celsius – think maybe in the 20s Fahrenheit). Yet none of this prepared me for my recent fascination with ice.

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Ice stalactites from a roof

Canadian kids have some built-in knowledge about ice. They know which patches are likely to be slippery and which ones they can careen across without a second thought. My children tear down the sidewalk, sure-footed, running ahead while I slide my feet tentatively across every potentially slick patch, always unsure of what is safe. I am not ice-savvy; I’m not sure I ever will be. Perhaps this is why I started examining the ice all around me as I walked. It was as if my brain concluded “If I can’t intuit things about ice, maybe I can observe my way into this important knowledge.”

Much to my children’s disgust, instead of becoming a savvy winter walker, I’ve slowed down even further. The more I look at the ice, the more I fall in love. These days, I stop on the sidewalk, pause in parking lots and wander through parks, looking at the ice the way I once looked at the falling snow, in absolute wonder at the unexpected beauty of winter.

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Out the doors: Slice of Life 15/31 #SOL20

Nine months was a long time to be out of our house for renovations, but at least the humans in our household understood that our tiny apartment was only a temporary space. Tippy and Hera, our cats, were less fortunate. They clearly thought our move to the apartment was a significant turn for the worse in their lives. They were particularly grumpy about the change from being indoor/outdoor cats to being indoor cats.

Tippy – who, after we got her, spent long hours lying in wait, hidden, so that she could escape every time the smaller humans opened the door to leave – is the reason that they are allowed outside. The apartment was practically an affront to her existence, and she was, frankly, dissatisfied with the only alternative to the great outdoors that we had to offer her: a tiny back porch.

When we moved back in, our house was so dramatically altered that we didn’t know if they would recognize the place. We didn’t want to risk them getting lost, so we kept them inside for a few days. Hera was pretty relaxed about the whole situation, but Tippy was not impressed.

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So yesterday, we relented. Tippy kept begging at the front door, so we let them out. Look at their cautious excitement.

This morning, as I sat in our new kitchen, enjoying the sunshine, I noticed that neither of the girls was begging to be let out the back door, even though they were right next to it. Then I realized that they had never seen a sliding glass door before. I promptly stood up, walked over, and opened the door. I thought their heads were going to explode. Tippy who is, honestly, way way smarter than Hera, kept looking at the door and then looking at me as if to say, “Um… you just opened a WALL.” Hera actually stuck her paw through the opening and then pulled it back in several times, like some character in a Disney film who’s testing a magical portal. Eventually, they both went outside. Hera freaked herself out and came right back in – what if that magic portal turns back into a wall?! Tippy looked back as if to say, “See ya!” and disappeared into the neighbors’ yard, probably to let the neighborhood know that she’s home and will be requiring her previous rations of adoration and food.

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And I returned to my sunny spot in the kitchen, chuckling and glad to be home.

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The plan: Slice of Life 14/31 #SOL20

I like plans. I like making plans and, even better, I like having a plan. I like planning on paper because then I can see all the things I’m planning and prioritize them. Paper helps me acknowledge that not everything can be priority number one. I also really like finishing things that I have planned.

In the middle of last week, I was kind of pre-stressed out because I knew that I had more plans than time for the week of March Break. This is not unusual for me. So when COVID19 extended our March break from one week to three, I spent about five minutes being a little freaked out before my planning brain thought, “SWEET! Two extra weeks! I can get so much done!” and I started to plan.

I began by thinking about a daily routine for the kids: it would need to include study time, reading in French, physical activity, chores, screen time and non-screen free time. Then I turned my mind to the house and unpacking, then… my brain got a little full. But never fear, my brain is *very* good at coming up with to-do lists and other plans, so it kept on working, even after it was, technically, full.

This morning, I realized that my brain has been planning on overdrive for the past three days. Over tea, I started to get the sense that I *probably* should write down all the things that I’m planning to get done in the next three weeks, just to get the lay of the land. I’ll share my list with you. I haven’t prioritized yet, so I’m open to suggestions.

  • Unpack our bedroom, dining room and living room
  • Declutter as I unpack
  • Mark essays for two classes
  • Complete the readings, a project & the next paper for my online course
  • Become an expert in delivering on-line learning – preferably by Monday
  • Create a schedule for my own children, make sure they follow it and, ideally, discover their inner genius that regular schooling simply isn’t recognizing
  • Watch other people’s children – daily, for several hours, for free. Provide them with fresh, updated academic work that is differentiated according to their abilities and interests.
  • Hike, do yoga, take up an entirely new sport, become suddenly amazingly fit and figure out how to work that new routine into my regular routine when school starts again. Also maybe meditate.
  • Hang out with colleagues & friends AND have evenings with my family where we snuggle and watch movies – take and post pictures of all of this to document how easy this all is.
  • Finish knitting the second sock of a pair, complete all the lingering sewing projects & take up quilting. I can probably finish a full quilt by April, right?
  • Join Lisa’s on-line book club & attend Kylene Beers’ free workshops online & educate myself about recent research in English education, then write and publish several articles about this.
  • Finish my entire reading stack – I mean, why not? There’s only maybe 12ish books there right now, and I’m not busy.
  • Blog daily; comment on a bazillion blogs daily; catch up on all the comments I haven’t responded to – since the beginning of the month.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Create a vaccine for COVID19, after creating and distributing fast & effective tests for the virus.
  • Enact lasting world peace and reverse climate change.

So… I don’t see any problem with this plan, do you? Now that I’ve written it down, it looks totally reasonable and completely achievable in three weeks, right? It really is a shame that I included sleep on there. I think if I left it off, I might *just* be able to get it all in.

SIGH. Maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board on this one. Good thing I have a few weeks…

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Welcome home: Slice of Life 11/31 #SOL20

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Dave, the builder, surprises me at the second floor bedroom window. He’s installing siding.

I thought this post would write itself. I thought, easy peasy. We’ll get home and I’ll write about how great it is to be home.

We officially moved home yesterday evening. HOORAY! We had just enough time to get everyone into their own beds and get to sleep. It was glorious. I took today off as a “moving day” (which is a really lovely thing for my employer to offer). The day went mostly like this:

Um… have you seen the measuring cups?
Shoot! The mugs are still at the apartment! Maybe you can use a glass for your coffee? I’ll use the travel mug for tea.
How on earth did you shower with no soap in there? No, nevermind, don’t tell me.
I can’t find my long-sleeved shirts. Do you have any idea which box they might be in?
Oh my gosh! Boys! You have to get out of here! It takes 10 minutes longer to walk to school from here! You’re going to be late!
Wait – where’s the hairbrush?

Not long after the kids were off, the builders arrived. Bang! Bang! Bang! Tssssst…. tsssst….zzzzz… BANG! They were finishing up the siding. And they still had to cut the dryer vent… and we can’t put anything against the walls or in the closets yet because the painter has to do touch-ups on Friday. The final drawer pulls for the master bathroom aren’t in, so we can only open two of the drawers. There is a giant orange work trolley thing in the corner of our kitchen.

All day long, I was looking for a moment to write about that showed gratitude or humour or just, you know, my-new-house-is-great-and-also-I’m-appropriately-humble. I couldn’t find anything because, honestly, I the only thing I was feeling was overwhelmed. Every time I tried to sit down to write, I thought of something else I needed to do. I spent a lot of time opening the computer, scrolling aimlessly through social media, realizing I had forgotten something important, closing the computer to go do the suddenly important thing, realizing I hadn’t written anything, and starting the process over again.

The kids came home and scotch-taped saran-wrap to the freshly painted walls. I cannot explain this. A neighbour came over with his dog and the dog pooped on the new carpet. He was mortified (but it was perfectly easy to clean). I lost the phone handset in a pile of bedclothes and put blankets over the windows since we don’t yet have curtains or blinds. Finally, I had to take a walk to clear my head. There is an awful lot going on.

Today was a glorious mess, and guess what? We are home.

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Almost in: Slice of Life 8/31 #SOL20

Today was going to be my day of not writing. I had pre-forgiven myself & reminded myself that I started this month’s challenge knowing that I might not write every day because our renovations are finishing up and we’re moving home. Yesterday, the movers came & took nearly everything out of the apartment we’ve been renting for nine months and moved it all over to our house. They didn’t take everything because of the *tiny* hiccup where our house has not yet been declared “fit for occupancy.” (See here for the whole story.) Which means that we packed and then unpacked all day yesterday, then went back to our almost barren apartment and slept on air mattresses (with two very freaked out cats).

Today promised to be another long & exhausting day with only the air mattresses to look forward to tonight. I woke up ready but already tired. No point in writing, I figured. No one wants to hear about unpacking. And then this happened:

 

Our friends showed up. Tara and Isabella organized almost our entire kitchen. Ed built one of the kids’ beds while Andre toiled away at the master bedroom. Peter and Anita showed up with beer and more kids. Carmen and her girls popped in to say hello and one stayed to help (her sister had a class, or I’m sure she would have stayed, too). Lara & Reagan came with banana bread and stayed to set up Thomas’s room.

Even the 9-year-olds got involved. We challenged them (ok, bribed them) to clear the 4-ish inches of ice from the front walkway. Look at this: img_2404

Not only did they use an ice chopper and a sledgehammer, but our next door neighbour, Mike, came over and gave them lots of tips while he cheered them on (but didn’t do it for them). They got that entire walkway cleared from a winter’s worth of ice.

And now here I am in a house that is newly full of friendship and laughter. The inspector may not think this house is ready for occupancy, but I know that it is.

And how could I not write about this day?

(PS – I will be even happier when we get to sleep here – maybe tomorrow.)

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