Archive for the ‘downsizing’ Category

Our Heritage – Surrounded by books

January 27, 2011

I think I can put it down to the time when I was looking after Mom. I must have developed a phobia that I would not be able to read books because Time was getting swallowed up Big Time.

In the spare minutes of my busy life – full time job that often spilled into overtime, looking after Mom, major domo for our family of five – I began to pick up books that I would like to read when I was free of it all.  In spare moments on a Saturday at a thrift shop or a church sale, the library book sale or the United Way sale at work, I pored over books and brought home the choice few that I would like to read…. when I had time.

But I never did get much of that commodity.  So the books began to accumulate. They accumulated on my bookshelf. I began a second row of books, the tall ones behind and the pocket books in front. Then I graduated to books under the bed, and books in boxes. It got out of hand. I still can’t pass up a book that I think will be interesting to read.

When Mom passed away, I inherited the books from the family room – a whole wall of them. There were books in the study too – coffee table books, Canadian History, family history, dictionaries in several languages. Books signed by local authors. First edition books. A magnificent series of Colliers Encyclopedia bound in black with lettering and decorative stripes on the spine in gold, filled with burgundy in strategic places.

Father spent ages researching the best Encyclopedia. Of course, everyone uses Wikipedia now and I haven’t opened up the Colliers but once in the last three years, in search of a diagram of the digestive system.

I say, in the study, but there were two studies. Mother had one too. It was an academic family. Her books were chiefly about developmental education and many were specific to her specialty in the teaching of children with mental disabilities.  Here, there were more books about music and theatre, two of her loves in the art world.

They both had belonged to a book club. It was essential to be up to date on current literature to be able to join discussions in the hallowed company of the university crowd. There was a strong representation of Canadian Literature on those shelves.

I had visited my dear aunt, Daisy, who, when she moved to a care home, liquidated the collection of her husbands collectible books  – fine editions of Galsworthy, Shakespeare, Milton, Longfellow and many others.

I hadn’t understood what she was trying to do, when I went to visit her. She needed them all gone because she was moving to a small room. I felt I shouldn’t be greedy and took only two boxes of them. I dearly would have loved to have had more, but I restrained myself. Only to find out that she sent the remainder to the Salvation Army. I regretted that for a long time, repeating one of my mother’s adages over and over, “It’s only material things. Let it go. Let it go.”

But I didn’t let it go, obviously. What if I let that potential good read slip from my fingers next time I was out looking at books? If it was doubtful. I brought it home.

Well, you get the picture. I have a lot of books.

Then came the move.

Frank said, ” Why don’t you get rid of some of these books? They’ll be very expensive to move and just think of packing and moving them. Books are heavy.”

But I was obdurate. I was just coming to a point when I might have time to read.

“I want to keep them all. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. Just when I’m going to have time to read them, you are asking me to throw them out. No way!”

And I pack the books.  He transported them box by heavy box. Bless his heart.

So I now have stacks of books in basement storage. I worry about them. Basements are notorious for mold though I haven’t seen any yet. I’ve had two day-long sessions sorting boxes and sending those I know I won’t read off to the thrift store.  That entailed opening every box and reboxing what I wanted to keep. I lifted every one of those boxes, once to bring it out to the sort area and once packed, back to a new more compact stack of boxes. Boxes. Boxes. Boxes! I didn’t go to the gym those days. I was thankful that I had developed a strong back.

So, fast forward to this morning. I’m never too bright early in the day. It’s a time when  my eyes are not too open and my brain not too active, and it’s ideal for culling and cleaning.

My eyes lit on the over-stacked book case upstairs. Books are stacked two deep. The top has book ends and holds horizontally stacked books that are about to topple. A luminous idea came to me that I might just sit in front of it and find some more books to go to the thrift.

So I sat on the floor and checked out each book. Would I read it? No? Then it had to go. There were a few exceptions. One with Mother’s name in her beautiful MacLean’s writing in front. A few leather bound books from the early 20th Century, gold glittering on the edges; gold lettering on the spine. My Uncle Arnold’s Longfellow, with black rippled pigskin binding. A few first editions. A few hand made art books. I’ll keep those for a while.

This one, though, is going to the thrift shop. Democracy and Education by John Dewey (1859-1952) , an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. Not, in case you are wondering, the inventor of the Dewey decimal system. That was Mervil Dewey.

I thumbed through and wondered if I would read any of it. I found some interesting passages. But I know I’m not in for that kind of academic reading anymore.  It’s going to go. I hope it will find another home with a book collector who will treasure it.

And inside the cover, my mother had pasted this. It’s a poem by John Robert Harris. I looked him up in Wikipedia and found nothing. On The Cornwall Guide website, there is a post that cites a John Harris, but I don’t know if it is the same one.  If anyone can clarify, please do.

Here it is:

Our Heritage

For such as this

Men lie in Flanders’ dust;

That we might live

To glorify their trust.

For such as this

Men, like the Gods of Time;

Rise to new heights

With deeds and thoughts sublime.

For love of this

Our Fathers worked and fought:

Upon these principles

Our heritage was wrought.

For this we live

And thank our God on high;

This is our heritage

For which men fight and die.

For this, we stand,

The Guardians of the Storm;

Our children’s hope

And that of those, unborn.

For such as these,

We pledge our very all

That they may live

And love, at Freedom’s call.

It was most likely written post-WWI. As such, it would be a perfect poem to read during Remembrance Day events. It struck me that these thoughts, though crafted in a style that we use very little now, are nonetheless valid today, and I got rather nostalgic for simpler times. But when I thought that through, those times were no simpler than those of today.

And here it ends.  I offer you a confession of my book collecting sins, a poem and a bit of time for reflection on times gone by.


Wing nuts

July 2, 2009

zz 416 small

zz 413 small


zz 415 crop small

zz 414 small

I had trouble focusing the camera on the wing nut. Most likely I had the camera set on the  wrong focusing mode or the wrong light setting. But I rather liked the first fuzzy pictures, above. There are delicate colours in it. No matter that it is not sharp.  You can still tell it is a wing nut.

The remainder of the pictures were fun for me as compositional exercises.

Yard Sale

June 10, 2009

Her friend, the wheelbarrow, had been doing the hard transporting of goods but it was a shape not conducive to carrying boxes with its small rectangular bottom and widely sloping sides. The boxes lay on it at precarious angles and threatened to fall at the least irregular movement.

Kay felt weariness supersaturate her muscles and her bones.  It was the penultimate load of things to bring back in the house. The wheelbarrow would be no use to her for the remainder.

There were empty frames. Biggish ones. There were tubes of posters in a tall plastic container that might once have been a laundry basket. It had a fretwork of aeration holes going down two sides of it. When Kay tried to balance it on her friendly wheeled porter, the tubes of posters slid out. Impatiently, she removed the awkward container and picked up all the posters again. It wasn’t heavy. It just was, well, awkward. There was no other word for it.

“Bite the bullet.” she berated herself. “If you leave it now,  you’ll never have the courage to finish up. And it’s going to rain tonight.”

She dragged them to the back stairs below the porch. It was only two steps down to the basement door but they felt like Mount Everest. Every re-packed box needed to be brought in and placed back into storage.

Kay dropped a heavy carton into place and straightened up creakily. She stretched her muscles, twisting and straining to the left, trying to pull them out as far as possible and then she did it to the right. The muscle spasm in her lower back would not disengage.  She straightened, leaned her head back in another stretch, twisting her neck from side to side, joining her hands at her back and pulling her shoulders up and back.

As she continued to pull, she heard it. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“What on earth?” she asked herself. She tendered her ear to listen more carefully.  And then she remembered the little girl. She was seven, maybe, dressed in a practice costume for ballet school. It was a body suit made in a tender rose colour. It had spaghetti straps and  a little transparent over-skirt that fluttered, barely covering her buttocks. Her hair was tied back in a tight pony tail with a frilly hair decoration in tight curls of bright rainbow colours .

Sweet as a button, she kept pulling on her father’s arm to help him look at the dazzling array of Kay’s merchandise.
“Daddy, Daddy! Look! Here’s a box that looks like a heart!”  It was one that Kay’s  aunt had left to her, crocheted in perfect kitsch and starched ro sugared  into box-like submission.  What it ever could be used for was beyond Kay’s understanding.

“Daddy, Daddy! Look!. ” She tugged on his sleeve. There was square travel clock, shiny with gold. It was the wind-up sort and Kay activated it to prove that it worked. It was now buried in a box and still ticking.

Bantering as she always did, Kay asked the little girl, “Did you just come from a ballet lesson?”

The bright coloured ribbons in her hair nodded. There was no answer; the girl had turned shy.

“Can you do a pirouette?” Kay insisted, trying to get the girl to respond.

“Or an arabesque?” The girl tightened her hold on her father’s arm.

“Show me what you can do,” Kay persisted.

With one awkward bent knee pointed backwards in the air, the girl balanced rockily on one foot then she fell, almost, catching her balance and then jiggling in frustration.  She tried again with the same results.

“Wonderful!” Kay encouraged her. “You just did a wonderful half-pirouette!”

The child seemed happy to be praised. She tugged on her father’s shirt.

“Daddy!” she insisted, “Now it’s your turn. You do it!”

Kay laughed, but the child was serious and pleaded. “Come on, Daddy. You can do it! It’s your turn.”

The tall, heavy man, looked down and smiled, “I don’t think so”.

Some how he diverted her and, on Kay’s suggestion, she tried an arabesque. Again the leg went out awkwardly, backwards. She toppled after a moment of concentration.

“Would you like the clock?” Kay said, realizing the father needed a way out from his child’s insistence.

“No clock today, ” replied the father and he leaned down to his daughter. He explained they had to pick up the mother. She would be waiting. And they were gone.

Two young Phillipinos arrived on bicycles and examined the merchandise with particular care. They conferred in whispers and seemed be very serious about their purchasing. They selected a lamp which Kay was pleased to have go to a new home for a dollar; they looked at some cutlery and rejected it; they seemed to be looking for household goods.

He picked up Kay’s folding chair and started to inspect it. It was new and in perfect condition.

“It’s not for sale,” said Kay hastily forestalling an offer. “It’s for me to sit down.” He looked puzzled and Kay realized he barely spoke English. She pointed to herself and the chair. He backed away in a nervous gesture, nodding that he had understood and he had not wanted to offend.

Kay proposed a shower curtain. “It has never been opened,” she said, encouraging them. “For a dollar?” and they took it. There was a large red carpet. It was a beautiful one but it was no longer fashionable with its low shag pile and bright red colour, but it was an excellent quality. All wool. Lovely red leaf designs in a Scandanavian aesthetic.

The two  looked at each other, their eyes questioning a hopeless assent from each the other, but the young man shook his head and pointed to his bicycle.

“Is it because you can’t carry it?” asked Kay.

“We have a bag,” he replied. But obviously not for the carpet. It seemed that it was not the right size for their house and they declined. They picked up one other item, a little gewgaw ornament of no consequence.

“Fifty cents?” he offered.

“You can have it,” she replied. It wasn’t the money. It was the the de-cluttering that was important. Besides, who else would want it, she thought. The free item unleashed their smiles and the couple recovered their bikes and took off.

It was a perfect day – not too hot. Not too cold. The heat, earlier in the week had been searingly hot. It had been forty degrees Celsius on Wednesday, thirty six on Thursday. Now rain was expected in the evening. The temperature had dropped to twenty three and it was warm and comfortable.

Kay had spent two days of sorting through books, pulling out items she wouldn’t read. She had taken several tours around the house looking for things that she didn’t use and wouldn’t use. While sorting out old books, she had found a box of classics – Shakespeare’s plays; Faulkner; Tennyson and Keats. She set aside the  Letters of Cato and two books by Balzac and put the rest in the sale pile.  She found a box of Mother’s favorite recipe books and culled them.

The  advertisement in the paper had announced the sale from ten until two, but on Saturday, people began to arrive at nine-thirty. It had taken two hours to set out the goods on the front driveway but  from nine-thirty onwards there was a  steady stream of six or seven people. The boxes had not been undone. One woman helped to put out the treasures onto a scrap piece of carpeting that kept breakables from the asphalt surface.

It was only an hour later that Kay found a perfect rose, a deep red rose, dried and still intact laying on the carpet where the goods were arrayed. At some time in her early love life, she had carefully kept this one rose, but who had given it to her? And for what occasion? It was a mystery. She picked it up and the petals fluttered to the ground one by one.

“How much are the books?” called a woman who was bending over the boxes of pocket novels and the old books.

“Everything is one or two dollars, except the one you are about to pick out It will be twenty dollars, so please make sure to ask. ”  The customer looked baffled then realized it was a joke and she joined the common chuckling.

Vans and trucks, Suburbans, SUVs, new cars and old came by. Some slowed while the occupants made a quick assessment of what they could see from the road. Others sent an emissary. One woman came and surveyed the offerings then left just as quickly saying, “my husband will want to see that.”

Husband and son descended from their van and the young man discovered a survey measuring tape bound in leather.

“A dollar?” asked the man. Kay’s heart fell. She shook her head.

“It was my father’s. I couldn’t let it go for just a dollar.” A silence fell between them. She didn’t know what price to say. She couldn’t keep everything. But what was it worth? To her? To him?

“If it was your father’s you should keep it,” he replied. He had given her permission to retire the item from the sale and she did so, gratefully.

“He was a surveyor,” she explained. “And an engineer.”

“My father is an engineer,” he replied pointing at the elderly man standing beside me.

“Really, you are an engineer?” she said. “What kind?”
“Electrical,” replied the father.

Kay picked up an ebony coloured object. It had two parallel bars with bits of brass that allowed it to swivel. Whether closed or separated, the bars always remained parallel. She handed it to him.

“Tell me then. What’s this? I know he must have used it for drawing but I can’t figure it out.”

“You’re right. It’s for drawing. It’s for writing the list of materials or directions down the side of a blueprint. It keeps the lines equidistant and parallel and all the right length.” He looked at it with some fondness, as if he had found an old teddy bear.

“Would you like to have it?” she asked, and his eyes shone but questioned her. “It’s yours. It’s a gift, ”  she said and he took it willingly.

Meanwhile, people were picking up items and turning them over, feeling edges for chips, looking for cracks, missing pages, faulty bits or other defects. In the Free box, a man lifted a round black container with a grill on it.

“What is that gizmo,” Kay asked. She’d found it in the basement and had no idea what it’s use might be.

“You put crystals in the little wire cage here” he said pointing out the little basket under the lid. It’s a chemical and it absorbs the damp from the air. Later, you find that the crystals are gone and the the bowl is full of water. You can buy them at Canadian Tire in sachets. ”
“I’d better keep it then,” said Kay. “When I found it, it was full of water. I must have damp in the basement, ” and she put it in the box that was gradually filling with things that she had reclaimed from her sale.

“Was your mother an educator?” asked a women as she held out a little blue book in one hand while proffering a dollar with the other. “My friend and I both thought the title was hilarious – “Tests for group intelligence” and someone has written a whole book about it.

“I wish mother were here. We used to come to garage sales together every week. She would have bought something. She always did,” a fortyish woman sighed in remembrance.

“Mine complained when I brought things home”  Kay countered, and thought of the countless times she had sneaked things in carried in her large black tote – mostly books.

From the first customer to noon, there was no stopping and then there was a lull. Everyone must have gone for lunch. Kay brought out her sandwich and gratefully rested in the folding chair. She had been on her feet  since eight. But it wasn’t long before she was back on her  feet, re-deploying her wares, consolidating the empty spaces, mentally sorting how the remainders would go back in boxes or be packed in the trunk of her car to be taken to the local thrift shop.

After one o’clock, a few others came, looked and went. Vini, vidi,Vici, thought Kay. I came, I saw, I conquered, as Julius Caesar purportedly had described one of his victories.  She wondered what the Latin garage sale would say. I came, I saw, I bought? Or, I came, I saw, I mocked?

The afternoon clients were not talkative. The good stuff had gone. There was now more junk than treasures. The curious were more critical, more disdainful and less apt to find something to take away. There were more pot-bellied men with long, greying hair, tattoos and leather jackets, their tee shirts proclaiming affiliation with Harley Davidson groups. Even the women were more casually dressed.

Kay had started to box the items for the thrift store when an elderly man with a hint of a German accent asked in a deferential manner, “Did you learn German from this book?”

“No,” replied Kay, ” it was my mother’s. I tried to read it when I was young, but I couldn’t read the Gothic lettering. By the time I was in school, the Gothic text was no longer in use for text books. ”
Kay proceeded to tell him how Mother had taken her last German lesson when she was sixteen; but when Kay had taken her to Europe and they had visited with a German family, Mother, at the age of  eighty-nine, had still been able to carry on a conversation with the man of the household. ”

He was a soft spoken man and when he wasn’t talking, he was listening intently. No one was about and so Kay stopped her labours and they talked. He was a carpenter who had immigrated when he was twenty, never returning to his home in Austria until after his Grandmother had died. They talked about craftsmanship and other lost arts. They exchanged memories of times gone past. He had selected one of Kay’s posters of Jean Millet’s painting, Vespers. It pictures a woman holding a  scythe in her hand and that reminded him of his family’s farm, of simpler days more in tune with nature, he said.

He turned the little Gothic German primer in his hands. It was for his grandson. He hoped it would make him think of his Austrian heritage, how things had once been. Kay silently wondered how such a messily marked up school book would mean anything to a teenager; but the man had a steady presence and gentleness about him and so she did not voice her doubts.

It was four o’clock, two hours past what she had foreseen for her sale. Her packing was partially done when Mirabel from the little white house with awnings, directly across the street, came darting across the busy road.

Though Kay had owned her house for two years, she had never spoken to this woman whom she saw out in the garden from time to time. Lively and talkative, she introduced herself and apologized for not coming over sooner. They complained about the neighbours, the new temporary residents of the house that was to be re-developed. She complained about their lawn which had been allowed to grow to three feet in height.

Mirabel was ninety-two, still driving, still doing her own gardening and house maintenance.  She recounted that, one evening while watering her plants at  early dusk, a young man  quite bizarrely dressed had insisted that she give him candy. He was speaking  weirdly and aggressively. She had been very nervous but had joked with him, mocked him, so as not to show her fear. It was just two weeks ago. She now was very wary. feeling vulnerable and frightened about living alone.

The conversation went on and on. Kay was so pleased to have met her but was anxious to finish with her day, to clean up the yard and put away the remaining debris. It sorted out without a hitch. A mother with her handicapped child came, another neighbour, and the conversation shifted. Gradually Kay resumed her packing and the other women did not seem to notice as she withdrew.

At last Mirabel called, “I have to go now. I bought a blower and I’m going to clean out my garage with it this afternoon. Come over and have tea with me sometime!”

What a marvel, thought Kay, as Mirabel darted across the busy street again. Within minutes, Kay could hear the blower droning as her elderly neighbour chased cobwebs and dry leaves from her garage.

In earnest, Kay began to haul away the boxes to the back yard with her trusty wheelbarrow. She filled the car with things she would no longer need – not even to plump up and fill out her next yard sale.

She returned from the back to see a lady standing with a small hand made pottery jug. “I don’t have any money to pay you for this, ” she said.”I’m just waiting for a friend to go walking so I didn’t bring any money.”

“The sale is  finished,” said Kay.  “Take it with you. I don’t want to pack it or keep it. If you really want to pay me for it, leave me a loonie in my mail box up there on the porch some day when you are passing by.”

It was six o’clock before the last trace of the sale was removed from the yard. Exhausted, Kay’s spirits sank when she thought about going in to make dinner. She was famished. And then a luminous idea began to grow.

Here she was with a bundle of new found cash! She could pay someone else to cook dinner! And the last we saw of Kay that day was her driving down Dewdney Trunk Road heading for Austin’s Fish and  Chips cheering up considerably at the thought of crispy battered cod, their fresh light coleslaw and book to keep her company.

Der Druker – computer woes

December 5, 2007


I’ve had several dismal days of computer rebellion.

I must have overloaded my computer with photos. I had that conference at which I took a thousand photos in five days. I modified some of those and made smaller file sizes with others, resulting in duplications of a sort. In addition, I take photos of all manner of things I find beautiful.

I took a walk with Mrs. Stepford at Kanaka Creek Park on one of the recent sunny days. We get so few of them that it’s a real treat to be out there and pounding the gravel walkways. I always take my camera. It’s my motivation for getting out there. I took quite a number of photos, maybe thirty or forty. The reflections in the oxbow of the creek were stunningly beautiful. The creek meets up with the Fraser River and after a short walk, you can see the river as well. There were a few clouds backlit by a winter sun. It was so very visually tasty.

I’ve been doing this kind of massive photographing without editing, culling out the out of focus ones, the ones that caught a moving object passing in front of the camera just as the shutter goes click, and those that simply don’t express what I wanted to capture ever since Franc gave me this digital camera in July of 2006. It was his gift for our 20th wedding anniversary.

If only I went out photographing twice in a week and shot two hundred photos a weekend, that would be about sixty-six weeks times two hundred or a little over thirteen thousand pictures. But that’s not all.

I take pictures of my art work so that I can send them by e-mail. I make smaller copies of each one I want to send, and that creates more duplication. Sometimes my skittish computer will copy photos on its own and I find them later at the bottom of a folder. It’s a pain to go back to check that it actually is a duplication, so I leave it there until I have time to do so. That time to check and cull never comes.

The other day, I took off two hundred sixty seven photos of the Pitt Meadow dike. Again, it was a sunny day and the water in the dike and the surrounding park was glorious with its reflections. The surrounding farmland was glowing with a late day golden sun. Somehow all those pictures disappeared. I could not locate them in my picture files so I did a search and figured I’d sort them by date afterwards and maybe I could find where they had gone.

The search turned up over 31,000 pictures! If I were a shopaholic instead, you wouldn’t be able to move around the house for the storage space the photos were taking up. I had been wondering why my computer was acting a little strangely. I realized I’d have to take a lot of them off.

So I painstakingly backed up all my photos and all my data. The other data took up one full DVD – my accounting, my letters, my spreadsheets, my writing and my estate files. It took me nine more DVDs to back up the photos. Yes, the photos had to go. Well, as a true photoholic, I couldn’t let them all go; and I knew that I had them on disks, so it wasn’t like they were really gone.

My computer was feeling poorly, though, overloaded to the hilt. She just didn’t want to work. I had to cajole her, sweet talk her, trick her, in fact. I had to work around her rebellious need to go on strike. Burdened as she was, she did not want to let me into her memory. She wouldn’t show me my files.

“You have enough of them already. What do you want to look at them for. Enough’s enough. I’m tired. Go away.” she said, refusing to open up Windows Explorer for me. I stood there at the threshold patiently waiting, thinking “Please. Pretty please. Just one more time?” but she didn’t budge. The flashlight waved back and forth in the Explorer Window like a desultory finger waving back and forth, “No. No, not today. Maybe never. I’m too tired. Too overloaded. Go away.”

So I opened up the Recycle bin and deleted everything I thought I could let go with impunity. I was still trying to find those files I’d lost of the Pitt River Dyke. I had no idea what they were called; there was no way to identify them.

I took off everything having a file name with “small” in it. I knew I would have the full pixelled photo somewhere. Then I took off all those with “copy” prefixing it. They too must have originals somewhere. There was no risk there.

If I tried to take off a row of files away, she gave no warning and simply shut down, left me hanging mid operation. I’d reboot, go back in the Recycle Bin and start again. I spent about fifteen minutes deleting them one by one. Then I experimented with two at a time and that worked. But when I tried three, she crashed. “I’m too tired. I’m going to bed” she whined and I was left hanging again. Hours later, I could take a whole row off. Eventually I took everything off. I knew if I didn’t she might never work for me again.

I still couldn’t open Windows Explorer so I hit Start, then Documents, then My pictures. Obviously the pictures were the big files. Miracle! The files opened. I had snuck around my recalcitrant computer and gotten in the back door. Before she could notice it, I deleted a whole folder of photos from the Sixties party from July ’06. I took off the Conference files, all one thousand plus of them. I took off a file folder I made for my cousin Marion and one I made for Moira of Stave Lake.

Sneaking around the back door like that was making me nervous. Besides, taking them out of the Pictures file and into the Recycle Bin had done nothing to diminish the bulk of them on the computer. It had simply moved them from one location to another. I went back into the Recycle Bin and deleted them all.

All on my own I found the My Computer file and was able to see what progress I had made in freeing up space. As I was browsing in the various options there, I found the defragmenting function and ran it, although the file announced that I didn’t need it. I watched the two sets of identical graph lines red, blue and green, rearrange themselves in the second set until it was all cleaned up.

I phoned my computer nephew. The computer was still having hissy fits and refusing to work – my computer the Drama Queen. I can laugh about it now, but I was pretty serious about it then, I can tell you. “It might be the motherboard, but try taking off more files,” Hugh recommended. “If it’s Hardware then….” he thought for a moment and then finished, “I’ll send you the link for Dr. Hardware. You can find this file that will assess each component of your computer and then give you a report on each device. It should tell you if you have a component that is not working. ”

I downloaded the file, saved it, ran it, then waited. Twice I cancelled it as the computer made threatening gestures and then just left the program hanging. Finally I got it going and left it to work on its own. I’d given up on waiting for it. It was ponderously slow.

The result was a fifty-two page report which I printed out. If only I knew what it meant! The only clear thing I could see was that a battery was missing. Just before I shut down Dr. Hardware’s program, a vermillion red pop-up came up with a warning.

Der Druker ist nicht am Druken.

I’d set the program running in English. What more did she want? She hadn’t told me she was bilingual. How was I to know what Der Druker ist?

The miracle of the Internet came to the rescue. I Googled Translate Druker. At first it insisted “Do you mean Drunken?” Finally with “tranlate Druker from German” helped me find “Printer” as a plausible meaning. Perhaps ” the Printer is not… printing? ”

It couldn’t be that. The program results were being printed on the printer at the same time as the pop-up appeared. The printer was working.

When the printing was completed, I rebooted the computer. Although it had been recently done, I ran the Anti-Virus program again. There were six more viruses found. Just where do they come from? I was up and operating . Mademoiselle la difficile was finally off strike, though still on a work slowdown.

When, near midnight, I tried to scan an important document for file, she wouldn’t allow the scanner to operate. I gave up and shut everything down including the scanner. She could have a good sleep in until morning and then maybe she would be a bit more responsive, a bit more dependable. Maybe even the scanner would cooperate. If not, I’d have to crawl around on the floor unhooking the peripherals and reconnecting, then rebooting to see if I could cajole the peripherals into operating properly.

Today, I am pleased to say, I’m back in business. It has taken me two days away from my other work.

Now what do you think? Can I get away with not giving her a Christmas bonus?

Old hurts and frustrations

November 8, 2007


Heather and her Dauntless Husband helped me tirelessly to vacate all the chattels from Mother’s house. I can’t complain, since without them, it would have taken me months instead of two weeks. Their support and sustenance was crucial to my sanity. And then they left.

In our haste, we didn’t sort things out. Boxes that I had emptied from my original move were reused for packing up Mother’s things, especially, for this missive, her files and papers from her study. It was thus that the ancient four-drawer standing file cabinet was emptied into boxes marked “kitchen” “studio” “General household” and “bedroom”. None matched their original contents.

We spent all day at the house, packing, arranging, loading DH’s truck and my car. Each evening, we would come back to my house, unload the vehicles, have a touch of dinner and go exhausted to bed. Then next day would begin again with an hour’s drive, eight hours of packing and arranging, the return drive in the dark or in rush hour, an hour or more of unpacking, then thankfully, a meal, and to bed.

Boxes were brought into the house and pile in higher piles, in more rooms until it was almost impossible to walk around the house without moving a box or a small piece of furniture, or scrambling over a pile of something. Not even the kitchen was exempt from this accumulation of goods.

On one hand I was happy to have them here so that I didn’t have to go to some storage place to try and find what I needed; so that I could work through them at my own pace. On the other hand, this chaotic visual wasteland that I now lived in was depressing to the extreme. Often I would stand, paralyzed by the chaos, mesmerized by brown cardboard boxes. Daunted. Immobilized.

In those two weeks, I let drop every other responsibility that I had. All the incoming mail piled up, was moved from location to location as another series of boxes arrived looking for a place to stay in my tinier and tinier house. The walls were pressing in. Things were getting lost.

I took refuge in a game of Freecell. It helped sometimes to free my mind and let it spin in neutral. A game is somewhat misleading. One game leads to another and I don’t stop until I lose a game; and then I play until I end with a winning hand, so as to speak. So this may mean ten or more individual games. A computer pop up announced “1 new mail in your local mail folder” and I stopped my mindless playing to see who had written.

“It is essential to obtain a vacant permit for a house once people have moved out. Please make sure the house is fully insured.” It was from Otto.

Otto and I were hardly speaking. Our communications had always been fraught with tension, but the Estate had crystallized our rapport into one of two sparring knights. I fashion myself as the White Knight standing up for Right and Reason. Unfortunately, he fashions himself for the same but is at opposite poles in my idea of Right and Reason. I don’t understand how he thinks. I can affirm however, that when things don’t go his way, I feel the brunt of his vindictiveness. I have a nasty letter to prove it wherein he calls me liar, cheat, cheapskate and thief, not quite so concisely. It may be some time before we can speak to each other more than ten words without becoming uncivil.

And so, rather than a happy distraction, his e-mail reminder was an untimely prod to do my duty, that very duty that I had been Freecellianly avoiding.

Ten days worth of in-coming boxes have been reduced to nine days worth of boxes in the interim. With my survival policy of “one foot in front of the other, one step at a time” I began opening each box, looking for the box with files that contained the house insurance policy file.

I began to panic. I couldn’t remember the name of the company. If it was the one I expected, then how did I contact them. I really needed the agent’s name and telephone number. I needed to find the file in the cardboard carton haystack. I needed to insure the vacant house.

That was last night.
There are now piles in my office that are separated out – books boxes in one pile; Family archives, old letters and photos in another pile; office and current files in a third. The Estate box of files and the “Have to do” box of files sit right beside my computer desk.

In the living room are the unopened files; the review and shred boxes of files; miscellaneous household goods; ancient clothing for the Historical Costume Society. On the long sofa, there is a box of goods for Otto, one for Heather and one for Lizbet.

By the stairwell downstairs are the boxes that will be flea marketed, or household goods that are to be kept but are seldom used – for the storage room. Paintings still are stacked throughout, waiting to go downstairs. Items for the Thrift go in a box by the back portch. Chairs are stacked in the dining room. I now have three dining tables and two sets of chairs for them. There is no room for Mother’s kitchen table – a really fine one. It’s resting outside under an overhang of the house waiting for DH to transport it to Lisbet.

There must be a better way of doing this. Did you never write to the insurers for Mother? Couldn’t you find a file on your computer that would give you the contact info?

I looked, but in the way of so many computer file searches, the was nothing to be found.

After another four hours this morning of opening boxes, determining its contents, resealing it or putting away said contents, lifting the boxes it to their new designated holding station I found the insurance file in a box at the bottom of the file. I had opened, categorized, labeled and moved more than 45 boxes.

And so I phoned, and so I arranged for the insurance to be amended to cover the vacant house.

“Just write us a letter. Tell us you are canceling the policy. Give the date that it became vacant. Tell us your new address. Have it signed by all the those named insured.”

My heart sunk. It couldn’t be changed until Otto agreed to sign it. I would have to talk to Otto. “How on earth did he get to be a named insured?” I grumbled to myself. Bile rose in my throat. “I should have dealt with it then.” I mentally whipped myself for my laxity, years earlier. Or I would not have been in this situation now.

Otto, who had come to live with Mother and I much against her will, had suffered financial reverses. He was homeless. While Mother and I were away, I on a much needed vacation overseas and Mother staying with Heather for that interim, Otto who was supposed to be caring for the place occasionally, moved in lock stock and barrel, carving out a place for himself, displacing Mother’s and my affairs. When I returned, it was already done. He was firmly ensconsed, all his possession stored in the house and garage, immovable.

With the fait accompli, Mother agreed to give him refuge. He took it for nine years at her expense.

When next the insurance came due, he asked for his computer to be added to the list as an additional premium. It cost twenty five dollars and he paid it. Weeks after the policy was completed and the company sent documents, I read them over, surprised to find that Otto was now a named insured! I phoned the agent to see how that had happened.

“Oh, he’s the son, isn’t he? He phoned up to say that he was phoning on her behalf that he was to be added and so we did. That’s right, isn’t it?”

There had been so much tension. What difference did it make anyway, I thought. For the sake of family harmony, I let it go; did not make a fuss; let it ride.

“Yes, I guess that’s alright” I answered with a silent sigh and a shake of the head.

But it wasn’t. And now…

And now, I could not cancel the policy without his permission!


August 18, 2007

By Sunday, I understood that the movers wouldn’t come Monday as I had thought. It was just as well. Lizbet was in town with one of my second cousins whom I had met only briefly a week or so before when they came through town on their way to one of those resort condominium things in Parksville. They were back now, happy for the holiday, disgusted with the treatment they got at the resort and ready to enjoy complaining about it as they recounted their week away. On Monday, that left us with a free day. I kept on packing my infinte belongings that never seem to diminish on the leaving side and seem to be piling up on the receiving side. How can that be?

Lizbet went to the art store and visited with a Little Ethel at Mom’s previous residence. Alice went across the street to the mall looking for things she could take home to her grandchildren. We agreed to meet in the afternoon and go down to Spanish Banks where there is a Concession stand that sells the best fish and chips in the world, bar none.

At six o’clock, we piled into one car complete with Sara the dog and drove out to the beach no more encumbered than by our sun glasses and sun hats. No towels, no blankets, no shovels (now what would three middle age ladies do with shovels at the beach?) no sun screen. We were only going for fish and chips.

It was the long weekend. It was a Provincial holiday. The beach was packed; there wasn’t a parking spot to be had. We waited in the parking road space waiting for someone to leave and finally got a spot far from the concession.

A light breeze was picking up. The sun was gloriously sinking to the horizon in a leisurely way. It still had two hours to fulfill it’s daily commitment. The tide was in and we could see the life guard in his red t-shirt lazily rowing his boat near to shore and the swimmers. Way out in the bay, there were three tankers floating high, indicating they were waiting to lade cargo before they left port.

There were family picnics and association picnics. A whole community of African-Canadians were gathered together joyfully barbecuing dinner, kids playing and cavorting, mamas sashaying and flirting while keeping an eagle eye on their charges, men playing frisbee and gossiping in groups.

In other areas, people lay on blankets or lounged in canvas portable chairs. It was a holiday and people here were taking full advantage of it.

Lizbet and Sara-dog went to find us a place to sit and eat while I went to get three orders of fish and chips. Cousin Alice went with Lizbet too, and once the spot was chosen, came back to help me transport our dinner to the beach.

We sat watching seagulls scrap over someone else’s left over meal. Crows hovered but did not drive off the community of gulls that had congregated. One log over and one log down, three Phillipina girls sat with a young Caucasian lad having a celebration – probably a birthday – because one of the girls had a lovely bright bouquet of flowers carefully wrapped in a beach towel to protect it from the heat. Early evening light fell gloriously on the group creating long shadows typical of late day. With my trusty digital camera I was able to surreptitiously take photos that might translate into a drawing some time. Lizbet, Alice and I speculated on the relationships of those four and then cast our eyes out on the other beach figures, looking for beach beauty.

Eventually our chips were gone and we reluctantly brushed off our sandy bottoms, , dumped our little cardboard chips containers in the garbage container, and turned for home.

As we walked back to the find the car, we were fascinated by a young couple that stood swaying at the shore, lip-locked and body-locked, oblivious to the passers-by, kissing as if the world it were a World Championship marathon. The tide came in closer and closer, sweeping in in a three-waves-small, fourth-wave-a-big-one pattern, drenching them to the knees and they continued to kiss on. Every once in a while they would brace against the spray from the fourth wave, slightly shift their swaying position. Perhaps they took breath. There was a shift, in any case, and they seemed to start afresh.

Isn’t that romantic? Lizbet opined as she continued to commentate on the lovers’ status as if it were a skating championship on television.. “I mean, if you were going to make the most romantic scene in a movie, wouldn’t this be it, with wave crashing a brilliant spray about you while you obliviously cling to your lover in an endless embrace?”


They haven’t come up for air in twenty minutes. Are they actually taking a breath?


Ah! I see a shift. Did you notice that shift in position? He’s moved his hand from the upper back to the centre waist. That’s a classic move. They haven’t separated yet!”

What a marathon! You’ll never see better than this!”

In the meantime, Alice and I were laughing hilariously. Lizbet and Alice set each other off. I’ve seen them engage in more fou-rires, those uncontrollable fits of laughter that end in tears running down your face and you, gasping for air. I was doing it, too. If only the couple knew what a spectacle they were providing! It probably would have changed nothing.

I thought of Mama; how she would have been disgusted with these kiss marathoners; how she would have scurried us away to not look in case this unacceptable behaviour was somehow a virulently contagious disease.

We continued to the car, the sun now giving it’s last brilliant show, yellow and gold blazing low through tree branches, picking up wavelets and shattering them against the seashore with golden glitter. We reluctantly set off back home.

Just one other story of note from our beach trip: When we were arriving, we stopped by a panel that wrote out in detail the dog walking etiquette for the beach. We read it and ho-hummed. It was much like every other park. We knew the rules.

On our way back to the car, we noticed another sign that we had missed on the way in. It said that dogs were completely forbidden from the sandy beach area. The fine for disregarding this rule was $2,000. We had been sitting at our log nonchalantly eating dinner and people watching, entirely ignorant of this rule, and Sara the dog was at our feet, patiently hoping that the left overs would be for her and not for the seagulls. Little had we realized the monetary peril we had narrowly escaped.


But I started this tale with no intention of telling you about the beach. I started to tell you that the movers never came. I’m at odds with Otto about the rent and me still being in the house, while I should be inhabiting my own premises. If he has to pay a larger portion of rent this month, because I’m out of there, then I should be out of there.

There is enough contention in our family over the will and selling of the house, that I am desperate to keep the peace. I don’t like arguments at all. Though Otto has apologized for his angry and violent outburst prior to Lizbet’s and Alice’s arrival, (and I’ve let this lie quietly as a result), I don’t want to give him any further opportunity to find excuses for not meeting his commitments. So I do want to be out of there.

But here I am with no mover and I think I’ll have to find another one. So I’ve made two more trips with the car to bring things to my new home. This last one has been a commitment to living in my new place, even though I still have a room full of boxes and all my furniture still there at Mother’s house in Burnaby.

I’m camping. But I’m proud of myself.

Hugh happened by as I was loading the car. He made me unhook all the cables from the computer so that I would have an idea of where they would be hooked back up when the computer and peripherals were reassembled. Hugh carried it all to the car. It was delightful and unexpected to see him again. He’s about to leave for Ottawa to study for his Masters degree. I got a few more hugs and bit more conversation and was grateful for it.

I also took my hair dryer and my medication. That is all at this end, the new house, now, and I’m really here.

I’m sleeping on a day bed couch-become-mattress on the floor. I have an unpacked box of files for a night table. The pillow is a chair cushion. I sleep luxuriously under a duvet that is feather light and keeps me warm. I’ve been camping out more roughly up until now with just the overhead light, nowhere to sit (no furniture) except this daybed mattress. It’s hard to read at night before I go to bed under these conditions. However, on this last trip, I brought my bedside lamp, so now I also luxuriously read my way to sleep in camping comfort last night, without having to hoist myself off the floor to turn out the light.

I’m proud that I was able to assemble my electronic piano by myself. There were only four screws, but I got that right, and it’s up and the connections are made and it plays as well as I can make it.

I’m proud that I assembled the computer with only one glitch. All the terminals are plugged in the right places. Everything operates. The printer prints, the scanner scans, the mouse scampers. That was last night.

The only glitch was the keyboard. I had proven that the computer worked by playing several games of FreeCell, but when I tried to input a new telephone number to the Address Book, nothing worked on the keyboard.

I made a distress telephone call to Hugh who knows everything about the computer. His last advice was for me to try the keyboard on Mrs. Stepford’s computer. If it worked, then it was the computer at fault, but if it didn’t work, it was the keyboard at fault.

Worst case,” he said, it’s the motherboard.” My heart sank. Why do I have to have problems with it when Hugh is going away. I guess I’m going to grow up with my computer and learn to do more myself. None of this leaning-on-a geek business.

As he said good-bye, casually as a statement of an everyone-knows-this,-you-know fact, he said, “You know that the keyboard has to be plugged in before you turn the computer on or it won’t work?”

We signed off. As a last effort before I traipsed over to my neighbour, I turned the computer off, reconnected the keyboard, fired the computer back up again and, lo and behold, the keyboard works.

So I’m back in business. Except the CPU of the computer is on the floor as is the scanner and the printer. I tried sitting on the floor to work but the only flat surface I have to mount the monitor on is a less than stable cardboard box. It took me five long minutes to get up from the floor with these old bones.

When I use the mouse at floor level, the old carpal tunnel flares. With the monitor at one angle and me at another, I’ve cricked my neck trying to see what I’m doing. Is this what computer camp is like?

Since dinner, I’ve assembled a little low coffee table (again, with four bolts.) It’s raised the mouse by a foot and a half. I found the Reader’s Digest Atlas for a lap table; I borrowed a chair from my patient and generous neighbour, Mrs Stepford. So I’m now happily back in business:
Oh Suzanna, oh don’t you cry for me,

‘Cause I’m off to Alabamy with

A keyboard on my knee.

And in this quiet house, I’ve done my first post from here, waiting for my Internet connection to be installed seven days from now, to publish; and I’m thrilled that I’ve assembled my electronic piano, a taken-apart-for-shipping coffee table and a computer all in one day. I feel I’m reaping the benefits of my Hippie days in making do with what I’ve got.

“Let tomorrow come! I’m ready!”


In the Greenhouse (or in the dog house)

July 1, 2007

In the Greenhouse

It’s Canada Day today. Everyone is supposed to be out partying and having a good time in celebration of the 140th birthday of our nation’s ratification of our confederation. I was up and out early to go meet with my tenant who is leaving the apartment I rent, to get the keys, the garage door opener, the pool and gym key fobs and to check that the apartment was clean.

When the young man, a construction worker in his mid twenties, arrived at the apartment I had already had a half hour to view the apartment and see what still needed to be done. Guys don’t often clean in the same spirit that women do and this was the case with Reggie. He reviewed my list and was doing a quick juggle in his mind to see whether he would get it over with now or come back later. He hadn’t had much sleep having cleaned on the previous night until 11:30 at night. It must have been an unpleasant surprise for him to know that all that work he had done earlier was insufficient.

I was doing a similar juggle in my mind. I’m not re renting this place again. I’m selling it so that I can bring down the awesome mortgage I have on my new place. I need to get it cleaned up and made pretty for selling in a quick-fast manner so that I can get it on the market and sold by the end of July. Everything is lined up, even a painter to refresh the walls. That’s slated for tomorrow.

So I offered to Reggie that I would help him tackle the list. What I didn’t say was that I didn’t know where to go this morning besides this apartment since I quarreled with Franc last night. I didn’t sleep well, conjuring up things perhaps worse than they are. But I don’t know.

It’s me that’s in the dog house. At least, Franc has the quarrel and I’m the focus of it. I thought we were getting along quite well and had only an inkling that there was a storm brewing in that brave heart of his. He spilled his discontent and then gave me an ultimatum. I have forty eight hours to decide and then if it’s not the single outcome he envisions, then it’s his way or the highway, he says.

We tend to have these head butting arguments from time but this time there is a threat to leave for good and the intensity of that was quite surprising to me. Trouble is, I can’t bend on this issue, so if he holds true to his ultimatum, that’s a thirty year plus relationship once again rocking in a hurricane.

So I said to Reggie that I would help him with the rest of his apartment cleaning. That way I would have the cleaning done my way, under my supervision, and it would be ready for the Realtor who is all set to run with it once the painting is done. I could keep my mind busy on other things.

The oven was pretty clean. I suspect they never used it. The tenants were two friends, Reggie in construction, an electrician, and Kyle is a life guard at the Sports Centre pool. This was the first time Kyle had been away from the family he grew up in. I hadn’t connected with him much; I always conducted my business concerning the apartment with Reggie. Then, both of them were studying, Reggie to get a journeyman’s ticket, and Kyle doing first year courses at a post secondary college. Busy guys!

I suspect some of their meals were liquid. The vitamin B you get from beer is legendary, so they say. I noticed earlier that various sized beer containers were the mantle piece decoration on one inspection visit.

The rest of the meals must have been stove top, because that was encrusted – one of those glass top stoves with no element pans under the coils. In fact, no coils to be seen, since they were underneath the glass top. Reggie cleaned that a second time under my half-watchful eye. His idea was to run a cloth over it and say “It’s clean!” But I came afterwards with a gratuitous box of baking soda that had been working at the odors in the refrigerator and had been left behind. I dabbed my wet cloth in the baking soda powder and scrubbed on the right front element. Immediately the towel was caked with brown that spread into the white wet terry toweling. I couldn’t get the encrustation off, so I asked if he had a pocket knife. After a negative on that question, he produced a key and he then set about scraping where circles of burnt on stuff witnessed to meals gone past.

I wiped out kitchen cupboards that may not have had anything in them for the nine months they lived there. I had run my fingers over it and was rewarded with a fine, thick dust that had settled on the cupboard liners the previous (woman) tenant had put in. Reggie wiped around the sliding patio door windows; when I went to ensure they were done, I followed on with cleaning the track the window slides in. With humidity and condensation, the dust had taken on another life of its own, but it wasn’t staying. It had to go.

In the bathroom, the soap holder in the bathtub was green with a copper oxide deposit from the water pipes. I sat on the bathtub edge, feet in the bathtub itself, and scrubbed with more of that universally useful baking soda powder. This green was hard to remove and it took me a good ten minutes.

The washer and dryer in the closet, as they had left it. were the last place I would have wanted to do laundry. The lint catcher had not been cleaned out for sometime and a blue black felt-like patch of lint was growing past the edges of the filter frame. More lint had become matted and gucky on top surfaces. There was something like mice droppings or wet coffee grounds on the convenience shelf just above the two appliances. The floor wasn’t clean. If the laundry place isn’t clean, do you get clean clothes out at the end of the cycle, or or do they become similarly spotted and greyed by virtue of the company they keep?

“What on earth is this, Reggie?” I asked. He was quite pleased that I had offered to help and he was being very cooperative.

“Its rubber pellets that they use on the soccer field so that the players knees are not entirely wrecked in their jumping movements. The rubber pellets provide a bit of give. Just imagine, it would be entirely different if they were playing on cement. No one could tolerate that. It gets stuck in the tread and cleats of the soccer shoes.”

That reassured me that I wasn’t going to run into some Hanta virus infestation, but I wondered at keeping one’s soccer boots above the washing machine. I would have done differently.

At the end of an hour and a half, I declared that all was good enough, though I would be back tomorrow with some supplies to spruce up the place. It was time to go enjoy Canada Day. We went our separate ways. Reggie asked me if I would be a reference for him for his next landlord.

“Y’know, I paid regularly every month, and we may not have been tidy, but we were pretty clean for guys. And you could tell him that I finished all the cleaning you said I still had to do.” It was a question by inflection.

I had to admit that the place looked pretty good despite my September misgivings at renting to two young lads; I said I would be glad to do so.

Afterwards, my heartsick, worry wart self did not want to go back home. Franc and I had planned to spend some time together on this holiday, but yesterday after he had had his say, he went out to the porch while I did the supper dishes. When I finished, a mere five minutes later, he was looking green and had the air of someone who had been steam-rollered over. He got up and said that there was no point in staying until I made my mind up and he left without another word.

So after I left Reggie, I went out to a nursery that Franc and I used to visit together, to pick up a few flowers to cheer me up. I wanted some seed geraniums but it was far too late in the nursery season. There were none to be had; there were only grown ones that were far too expensive. This is the first year that I haven’t had any geraniums growing in the garden.

I chose instead a flat of dark blue lobelia and that is all I got. The flowers and plants were far too depressing because they were so cheery and bright. They didn’t match my mood. I came in with my camera but only took a few pictures where usually I take many. It was no fun with out Franc, to say “OH! Look at this one!” when either one of us found a special beauty. I only came away with this lovely picture of the green house which I’ve attached. I was particularly drawn to the rhythms of the underlying aluminum tube structure and the translucence of the plexi covering.

I headed back to an empty home and a lonely lunch.

I’m not used to being in the dog house and unfortunately, ultimatum or no, I can’t change my position on this issue. It’s so sad. Just when I am freeing up to be able to spend more time with him, now that I no longer have Mom to look after, now that I’m finally going to be able to have my own home, my own way of doing things, we are at this impasse.

I’d rather be in the greenhouse than the dog house.


April 12, 2007

I sliced the navel off the bottom and a wider slice off the fleshy skin at the top, scored the peel in about five places, then peeled them back to the fruit. In those seven seconds of manipulation, what sent my thoughts off to Mother accepting mouth bite portions of segments until she had had maybe two whole ones and said “Enough!”? Her appetite was birdlike in the beginning, but now it was miniscule.

I was sitting where she usually had sat, finishing dinner; Otto was sitting across, backlit by the late day sun streaming in, passing through the spruce branches of the tree our Dad had planted thirty two years before. Bruce the Spruce, we called it. The other trees had names as well, like David, the pine tree. Now where did they get names like that? At least, Bruce rhymed. There might have been a story about tiny David surviving under a Goliath-like tree out front of the property. Dad carried the tiny pine tree out to the back in one hand, dug a hole for it and it grew at least a foot every year until it was thirty fee tall, sporting lusty looking pine flowers that were pinkish and virile in the spring and became cones in the fall.

Mother wanted the yard to be separated from prying eyes in the lane. Her solution was to plant a forest in the twenty feet forward from the lane to the house. Still standing is a Douglas fir, a yellow cedar, a mountain ash that is easily one hundred feet high and has luscious, bird-attracting red berries in the fall. There are two rhododendrons that I have rescued from the gloom and pruned hard in August last summer, both of which are coming back gang-busters. I can hardly wait to see their blooms.

David, the Ponderosa pine, leaned perilously towards the garage. Each year, we lopped off some of the top in fear that snow load would damage the garage roof. Each year, it arched closer, more perilously, causing another amputation at the top. When the invasive ivy began sucking life out of it and from the pole for the laundry line, the laundry line crashed during a storm. Without it’s support, David uprooted, half in, half out, still alive with the south side roots entrenched; dying on its north side where the roots were exposed.

It was too dangerous. We had to have David removed, chopped up into firewood; the remainder was chipped in a machine brought to the back lane. That is what gave the rhodos the extra light and space to recover and survive.

Right up against the fence there is mock orange, a profusion of forsythia, a lilac tree with both white and purple blooms, a yellow climbing rose with inch long thorns along its stem, a golden flowered laburnum and ivy.

I don’t think any consideration was given to how big the major trees would become, given ten, even twenty years of growth. Plunk in the middle of this grove, there was a cluster birch, magnificent in the spring as its leaves unfurled a bright new green. In the early autumn, the leaves turned many colours of cadmium yellow that turned and twisted in the wind, then coated the ground with gold when the tree shed its summer garment. Three years ago, it was attacked by a birch beetle. There was no saving for it, the arborist informed us, and it had to go.
Mom loved her very own grove. A grove that she and Dad had planted. She watched from day to day as she sat eating breakfast, lunch, tea breaks and dinner. Now I was sitting in her spot, enjoying the juicy sweet orange that was no longer for sharing.

I reflected on what would happen to this house. I knew we had to sell and I am packing up in anticipation.

Every house I had lived in had been torn down to make way for giant modern packing crates. You could put your hand on the vinyl siding and feel the exterior wall give way into the almost exposed fiberglass insulation.
Perhaps every generation felt that the new houses were not solid, as technology allowed lighter and lighter construction while providing equivalent or better shelter from the elements. I couldn’t help but think that was not so.

I watched housing construction sites from time to time and saw walls made of chip board and studs with so many knots in them they looked like Swiss cheese. A friend had a one bedroom basement suite in one of the new houses that had no land around it, no back yards to play in, new grass sodding between the houses that failed to establish because there was insufficient light in the narrow gap between that house and the next. The basement suites had windows occupied a space between six feet and seven feet up, allowing a meager light of day on the back wall and none at all on the side walls where the next house crowded in. He stayed two months then, despite the cost of moving again, found a ground floor apartment elsewhere in the community with lots of light. He had felt he was living in a tomb.

Otto had a developer friend come with his model of houses he planned to build just four blocks from here. Where two lovely ranchers with their beautiful landscaping had stood, three houses would be built with no space between them at all. Row houses, if you ask me, but he had some fancy name for it that was meant to attract aging empty nesters from the nearby posh district of town who didn’t want to live outside of their family area. Behind these three units, a large five car garage was to be built with two six hundred square feet apartments above. His friend was encouraging Otto to buy this home of ours and develop it as he had. There was no doubt, with rapid transit being built as they spoke, and a station going up just at the corner, all of this area would become high density development.

It’s a sad thing. Mom and Dad’s previous house had been built in 1913 by a doctor, pioneer to this city. It should have been kept as a heritage house. It had magnificent timbers of west coast Douglas fir. Victorian in style, the structure was solid ( ’twas a nightmare for electricians who came to upgrade the whole electrical system in 1956 as Mom and Dad did their first renovations to the house). There was a broad porch around the front and the east side. In the main entrance halls and the dining room the wainscoting was in solid oak; the stairs, too, were beautiful oak with a banister a child could safely slide down, ending in a lovely eight by eight solid newel post. At the mezzanine landing to the upper floor, there was a giant stain glass window with geometric patterns in in rippled clear glass and green. All the floors were solid hardwood of the best quality. No laminate here; not even veneer and plywood. It was beautiful wood, inlaid around the edges, and all was solid wood through and through.

The house sat on three lots, cresting a hill that surveyed the entire city. When my parents sold the house, the new owner hardly took a breath before he sold the third lot. A new house went up and the solid porch on the east side was taken down to make room for it. Lizbet was curious about what was being done with the house and she went to visit (nervy, she was) . The new owner complained that the cost of renovations was so high he could build a brand new house on the spot for a fraction of the cost. The new, characterless home that went up kept the stain glass feature, but all the rest was simply demolished, and the house stood crowded beside by the newly constructed neighbour’s abode.

Now in this day and age, all that good wood would be recuperated and re-used for repairing heritage flooring or for features in heritage renovations. Then, who knows. Most of it was simply dumped. For a long time, I couldn’t bear to drive by that address so I picked different routes to avoid it.

Ah, those flying thoughts. You never know where they will take you. I started talking about an orange, thinking about how we sat over dinner, communing with something as simple and wholesome as orange segments; then about how much pleasure Mom had planting and then living with her own private forest. Now my orange was gone and I packed up the food and piled the dishes for Otto to do between periods on the Stanley Cup playoff hockey game.

That’s his chore.


March 31, 2007

Dust covers everything. It lies thick and grey, scattering to the touch, leaping onto my hands and my clothing as I work.

I’ve been to the liquor store every day asking for packing boxes. Books are so heavy that these smaller size boxes are ideal. There’s a pleasant lady who will ask you how many you want and if you are not too greedy, she will say, “Take what you want. They are in a pile there.” But if you say you want ten, she will tell you they will only give out two at a time.It’s a heavy volume store for restaurants and wine stores so that they need their boxes for the commercial customers.

There is another woman, you notice I don’t say lady, who says quite abruptly that they can’t afford to give out any of their boxes.

Yesterday I asked a man employee who asked me where my car was. If I could bring it to the loading dock, he could give me several. Bingo! I had scored some boxes.

He took me past the swing door that said Employees Only in bright red letters and in amongst the disarray of full wine cases. He pointed way up against the south wall, about eight feet up where the shelf started, since he later had to reach his full arm length up to get the boxes, and showed me maybe two hundred empty boxes.

“Would a dolly full suit you?” he asked. I was simply delighted and said so. Thanked him with both words and a truly happy smile. He pulled out the dolly and packed thirteen boxes down. Now this was quite a feat and I found it fascinating to watch. He had practiced so that no boxes fell during his manoeuver.

First his fingers scoped the two outer sides of the bottom box of a pile of six, then he shifted the pile gently forward in a motion always parallel to the floor and not disturbing the balance of all of those above; then somehow he guided the vertical balancing act down gently to floor level. Nothing dropped out of the box column. I was amazed. I asked him if he had to learn juggling before he could get a job there and he laughed while shaking his head for a “no”.
On the dolly, he place four rows of three, then added one on top. I had a baker’s dozen!

While he was helping me to my car, the woman who had refused me boxes came to the loading dock for a smoke. She occupied the narrow set of metal stairs with her broad beam and reluctantly moved away when her gentleman colleague helped me get the dolly down to ground level.

I knew I was pushing my luck. Once they were loaded in my trunk and back seat, I went back to say to the man that I had more room in the car if he felt so inclined to let me have them. She barred the way on the metal stairs.

” You’re lucky to have any at all,” she admonished in a flat and disgusted voice. “We don’t give out boxes at this store.” I didn’t know if she was his manager. He had overheard and he came back within proximity and said, “Try the store at Cedar Creek Village. They always have lots of boxes and they are glad to pass them along for people who need packing boxes.”

I thanked him and said I would try that, then went on my way.

When I was back home, I had thirteen boxes to fill. I chose to work in Father’s study. Mom had kept this room as a shrine, practically, for sixteen years until we took her two grandsons, my nephews, in to live with us. Hugh had this room. That was acceptable to Mother because Hugh was academic. He studied his life away until the early hours of the morning and got his Bachelor degree with honours just a year ago November. Something of his grandfather had rubbed off on him. He did really well.

Hugh moved out just at the beginning of this month. I’m happy for him although I’m feeling the emptiness of nest, especially in the evenings when we used to spent time together over dinner, television and gossip of the days activities.

As happens, his brother Ron is coming back home at the end of this month. Moving day is tomorrow and I’m trying to clear out the books and chattels from the Shrine so that Ron can have that room to sleep in with space to put his belongings.

And so my encounter with dust. The books have not been moved in years. Hugh lived with them and they didn’t bother. On the high top of the bookshelf, there are mementos of Father’s academic and professional career. There is a world glove engraved with the date and occasion that it was given him, There is a wooden owl covered with gesso and painted to simulate bird feathers sitting on a rough hewn piece of wood, covered in moss that is a perfect dust absorber.There is a gizmo that only a surveyor would recognize. It has a tiny dowel stuck in a triangular block or wood, a suspended ping pong ball that is red on the bottom half and white on the top half and a tiny red pin-like post. There is a wooden losenge shaped shield on which a brass plaque once was glued. That plaque sits upon it now unattached, the glue having dried and gone on retirement, it was so old.

There is a stack of father’s framed school and professional diplomas, put there by Hugh who replaced them with his diplomas as he began to accumulate them. There is a large white open vase, an oblongish bowl, with that green sponge like stuff in it helping an atrociously exuberant bouquet of silk flowers, mostly lilies. As I brought down each of these items, I dusted them with a damp cloth so that the dust would come away, sticking to the rag and I could rinse it away at the bathroom sink and start removing dust again from the next object or the next book or the next shelf.

As I removed Father’s ancient and esoteric Surveying and Engineering books to Mother’s study where I had cleaned out a shelf for them, I pondered what I would do with them. I hated to throw them out. They weren’t antiques yet, so there was probably no desirability from that point of view, and yet surely the advances in technology in the last thirty years since he retired would have made these texts more than obsolete. How long does one hold onto the past by it’s memorabilia? Did I have to look through these and see if any were written by him? If I threw them out, did that mean his passing on earth was then obliviated? Where would his contributions to science and engineering be remembered? Would any of my siblings want to keep these? We’d all gone into different professions. Not one of us would even have a clue as to their meaning, their content. Was there a library or a museum that would want them?

“Dust unto dust” I thought wryly as I continued on my task, slowly emptying the shelves.

I would be glad when Franc arrived to relieve me of my thoughts and my labours.

Omen 3 Parallel Lives

February 21, 2007

Our head office in Toronto was undergoing changes in management. Efficiency experts were raging about. The shareholders had been asking awkward questions. Fraud had been discovered two years earlier in the upper echelons. Ever since, the company had been half in defensive mode, half in aggressive restructuring mode. In the previous year, I had been named Ethics Champion for the organization. I had been relieved of some of my duties so that I could spend time on this important issue. Then in January, a year ago, I returned to my unit to take back up the work I had been doing before this interesting hiatus.

By April, we had been told that our jobs would disappear. We could keep on working for the company, but the nature of the work would change. We might be doing something else. Where there had been twenty three of us in our unit, we would be reduced to three effective positions. Mine was one that would be kept, but I didn’t want it. It was onerous. I was exaggeratedly responsible for more than one person could manage without substantial help. Now the support for the position was being taken away and the pressure would increase. It was impossible.

We were encouraged to find jobs with other organizations. Everyone started to search. We were already down to seventeen from twenty three. Now, rapidly, five more found jobs elsewhere. The place seemed to be falling apart. One found a government job which was a tidy promotion for her. We held a party.

Another retired after five years temporizing on her decision to go. My job was seeming less and less meaningful. The leadership was less and less sure of what they were doing. Eight months afterwards, we were told that the management had changed its collective mind. Our target date for downsizing was three years away instead of four months. But this friend and colleague had had enough. We held a party for her.

Then Karen left to work with a property management company. It was expanding. Two others from accounting went shortly after, to the same company. I was sad seeing the heart of our group go elsewhere. The corporate memory was walking out the door in droves. So were my long term friends I had made. We held a party.

Another colleague found a job in another section of a company and no sooner had she accepted she was offered a job and a promotion two steps up in the company she left when she joined us. It was getting confusing. We held a party to speed her on her way.

Not only were we losing colleagues from the baby-boom retirement, we were losing them to other companies.

My manager flatly announced that those who didn’t find jobs would be considered losers. The plum jobs would be available now. Later, when the announcement of our downsizing was made, other employers would look at who was left and think they had no ambition nor motivation.

So I applied for a Manager’s job in a sister company. They weren’t downsizing. There were plenty of postings. I was successful in meeting the initial requirements but when it came time do go through the testing and the interviews, I bowed out. I barely had energy left to manage my own job. Familiarizing myself with a new company, managing people I had never met and a subculture I didn’t know, learning the sister company’s goals and aspirations, their goals and directions – all this seemed beyond my capabilities. I was visiting Mom every night for three hours. I was tired and no longer able to concentrate at work. How would I feel if I was unsuccessful in the next steps of qualification. Unsuccessful was equivalent for failure. I couldn’t face it and I couldn’t study. I was overwhelmed.
I bowed out by explaining that my mother was dying and it was not good timing for me.

Then our organization posted an Ethics Champion job for Montreal. If ever the position was to be staffed in our region, they would draw from the successful candidates on the Montreal competition. I sent my letter in and was informed that I would have to go through testing on my knowledge and my abilities. Then I heard no more for months. Finally in December, I was asked to go to Montreal to be tested. If I didn’t go, I was out of the competition, no ifs, ands or buts.

Mom was deteriorating and I would have to leave her for three days. I would arrive in Montreal with jet lag and have to get up three or four hours earlier than I usually do, and then write an exam. Twenty years earlier, this would have been a no-brainer. Ten years ago, I would have said “no problem”. I hesitated. I took my e-mail which I hadn’t filed since I left my Ethics Champion post over a year earlier and started to weed it out, file it, delete that which should have been deleted much earlier. It was true that the hours were less onerous. It was true that it was interesting to listen to people’s stories as they wrangled with their own conscience about right and wrong. I had no trouble conveying the company’s goals and aspiration, and the company’s ethics policy to anyone in the organization. But I hadn’t liked the answers. We were getting too picky. One couldn’t support a charity on office premises – no more Food Bank boxes; I was the bearer of bad news. “No, you can’t collect donations for the Union Gospel Mission on the work site. No you can’t put your own pictures up in the office. No you can’t go to a lunch hour presentation held at a contractor’s workplace. No you can’t do this; you can’t do that. Did I want to go back to that? Did I want to count statistics. Did I want to write position papers I didn’t necessarily agree with? Did I want to tell people that what they proposed was not ethical when I didn’t support the party line myself?

Well, what did I want to do? My wants were defined in negatives. I didn’t want my former position; I didn’t want an easy position where my heart was not engaged; I didn’t want to be working when it came down to the bottom line, that very business-like bottom line.

I didn’t want to live the remainder of my life going to work at seven, leaving work at four, going to moms by five; coming home by eight; having a what-ever-I-could-find dinner, collapsing on the couch for an hour, beginning my housekeeping and accounting at ten, bedding down at twelve or one or two and starting all over again at six.
Nagging at me were the things that I hadn’t gotten done. Mom wanted to see her friends – a tea with one of the fresh fruit cakes from Fratelli’s.bakery. Something small. No work, you understand. “I don’t want to overload you. You already do so much for me”, she said. “Just here at the Lodge. In the solarium, mid afternoon.

I wanted to go and buy her an ice cream cone in rainbow colours. I wanted to to take her out to see the ocean again at sunset time – only a drive by because I couldn’t lift her out of the car by myself now. I wanted to show her the Christmas lights, even thought she could only half see them through her peripheral vision. I wanted to take her to her beloved club for the Christmas open house and again for the Christmas Seniors luncheon.

Besides the things I wanted to do for mom, there were the things I wanted to do for me. I wanted to write. I wanted to collect and privately publish as much family history as I could, I wanted to paint again. It was my life work and I had done virtually nothing over the last five years.

With our downsizing, we had been moved to a different floor. My work station looked out onto a beautiful historic building that I loved to watch changing colour as the day progressed, back lit in the morning, bathed in a glorious golden glow in the early evenings as the sun set. Some days the green copper roof blazed against a dark storm cloud making it look like an old fashioned spaceship ready to take off. Other days, the shadows on the garret windows would move around the limestone walls like a sundial creating fantastic shadow forms.

I took my camera to work and photographed the shifting light and the changing shapes. I could look far down to a flat roof that had heating and ventilation equipment on it which, when taken as an abstract view, produced some interesting images as well. The day it snowed, someone walked across the roof leaving a trail of black footprints. All the dark shapes on the roof had become white, changing the aspect entirely.

But when the day went dark, instantly the window turned into a mirror. I saw myself slumping into my swivel chair, staring back at myself. I was getting heavier and heavier. I was getting no exercise, working here at my computer all day; driving to my mother’s residence; sitting with her all evening. I was falling asleep at my desk. Was that any way to work for an employer? And yet, the few hours of sleep I was getting before I had to get up and go around again were not enough to keep me alert at my desk. My work wasn’t interesting. I was bored.

And when had I developed jowls? And how was it that my hair had decided to live in the bad-hair-day camp on a permanent basis? I hadn’t had time to get to the hairdresser. I was beginning to wear the same thing to work two days in a row, for I hadn’t had time to iron a washed top when I got home from my evening visit. Was I going to look at this lovely image, day after day, for another two years? That was my goal for retirement. Two years.

So I burned my bridges. I phoned to Montreal, gave a politically correct reason and my regrets, bowed out of the Ethics competition and made a decision to fly the coop, come out of my cocoon, activate the chrysalis; re invent myself.

My boss caught me the next day and asked me if I could spend a bit of time with him. Of course I said yes. He wanted to tell me what he had done to ensure I could continue to work in our unit without going back to my own position, that onerous behemoth of a position. We met, but I prefaced the meeting before he could speak, with my announcement that I would retire. Not tomorrow but next month. Six week’s notice. Christmas came in between. I had planned to bring Mom home over the holiday, and then there were statutory holidays of Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year. All told, it left me four actual working weeks. Wrapping up and passing things on to others, filing masses of e-mail and tidying up my work space were going to take most of that time. I didn’t spell all of that out but he knew. It changed everything.

If my world was dismantling before me, so was his. He had virtually no staff left, trying to do the same amount of work that they had done with seventeen bodies. The organization had been so understanding with me that my work load had been light, for once in my life. No pressure. But I had been there to advise temp staff and I had a twenty three years of corporate history that helped. I didn’t envy him his dilemma.

A weight lifted off my shoulders. A young colleague asked “Were you scared to tell him? Or nervous?” I was old. At least I felt old. There was nothing they could do to me, really. “No, I wasn’t nervous. It felt right. It still feels right. It’s time for me to go .”