Saturday, December 31, 2011

Meet Oliver

Yes, I know that I swore that I was done with pets.  The heartbreak of losing them is just too hard to bear. 

Even before Neiko died I kept saying that I was never going to have another pet.  Watching him suffer with his weakening hips and growing slowly more feeble was awful.  Why do we put ourselves through that?  Loving and caring for these animals and then having to let them go?  Who needs it?

The emptiness in this house after Neiko died was palpable.  Sure there was no more hair all over the furniture.  He was no longer waking me up in the middle of the night to let him outside.  I didn’t have to feed him or brush him or worry about getting his nails clipped.  I didn’t have to fret about where he was or what he was up to.  But neither was he there to greet me with his wagging tail when I came home from work.  He no longer snuggled with me on the couch while I watched TV.  I wasn’t being entertained by his tricks.  I didn’t have his soft, warm fur to pet.  The not having him was worse than the losing him. 

I’ve had lots of pets.  I’ve lost lots of pets.  But the having them was so much better.

I waffled about getting another one.  A dog would take lots of work.  There’s the house breaking, the training, the walking and the grooming.  They are so cool and so much fun, but they are a lot of work.  A cat would mean a litter box and cat sick and furniture clawing.  They too are cool, but they can be a pain in the butt.   Dogs and cats need to be fixed, an expense I could do without.
Yes.  No.  Maybe.  I don’t know. 

I decided to just wait and see.  If the right pet showed up, I’d accommodate it. 

Well, guess what?

A visit to the Northwest Animal Shelter web site one day – just out of curiosity – had a new pet ready for adoption.   A six-month old kitten named Christian was at the top of the list on the cat page.  Hmmm...  He’s litter trained, he’s had all his shots, and he’s already been fixed.  And he’s cute as a button! 

Oliver exploring his new home at Alegria.
My hands were filling out the on-line adoption application before my brain could fully process what I was doing.  I agreed to a home inspection and to allowing follow-up visits after the adoption.  I agreed to return him to the shelter if he didn’t work out for me and I promised to make sure he got proper vet care.  I submitted details about my life and my home.  I gave an exhaustive account of my pet-ownership background and the types, ages and frequency of the visitors I get.  I almost didn’t click Send.  I was expecting to have to jump through no end of hoops for this cat. 

On Thursday I got a call from Christian’s foster mom.  She invited me to come and get him.  It really was that easy.  My daughter and I drove to the foster mom’s home where I paid my adoption fee and placed him in a carrier for the ride back.  No fuss, no muss.  Just thank you for giving Christian a new forever home.

The first thing I did was change his name.  Christian is now Oliver.  I don’t know where the name came from, but it just seemed to fit.  It means olive tree and the branch of the olive tree is a symbol of peace.  I figured that a symbol of peace would be a good way to ring in the New Year! 
The poor little guy got car sick on the way home.  Suddenly the van was filled with a distinctly fishy odour with over-tones of bile.  It was not pleasant, but it was probably better than anything that might have come out the other end.   Thankfully we weren’t far from home.  We had to make a couple of stops – for cat supplies! – before I could get Oliver out of the carrier and clean up the mess. 

Oliver survived the ordeal quite well.  When I got him home and opened the door to the carrier, he, in true cat fashion, sauntered out like he owned the place and began exploring his new home.  While Oliver explored, I busied myself with setting up his litter box, putting out his food and water dishes, unwrapping his toys and his scratching pad and, of course, cleaning up the cat sick! 

Peeking through the banister.
After he had thoroughly gone over every square inch of available space (some doors were closed) Oliver hopped onto the couch and curled up beside me.  His loud purring told me that he approved and was grateful to be at Alegria with me.  He even gave my hand a few licks.  We watched an episode of Murder She Wrote and enjoyed some snuggle time.  Oliver settled in like he was meant to be here.  And I think that maybe he really is.

The house feels more complete again.  There’s a pet who needs me and seems to even like me once again.  Oliver may depend on me for food and shelter and a clean litter box, but I already depend on him for the companionship he so generously and lovingly has to offer.  It’s hard to believe, but I already love him with all my heart.  He hasn’t replaced Neiko, but he sure has filled that empty place in my heart where Neiko used to be. 

Oliver has staked his claim on the back of the couch.  

I’m sure we’ll have many happy years together.   And when I have to face that loss, I’m sure I will be devastated.  But I’ll get through it, knowing that I was able to give him a good home and lots of love.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Story of My Life - In 18 Volumes

A month ago my dog died.  It hit me pretty hard and the tears still swell up when I think about Neiko and what a great dog he was.  I miss him terribly. 

To distract myself from my grief, or maybe to help process it, I tackled one of the projects that has been on my list since I bought Alegria – to paint a mural on my living room wall in the space where the opening to the bar used to be when Alegria was the Legion Hall way back in the 70’s.  I spent a good deal of time staring at this weird space wondering what it should be.  Months of coming up and then rejecting potential ideas passed.  It was just a few days before Neiko died that I finally nailed down the basic premise of the mural.  A book shelf.

At first I was going to paint a life-sized book shelf, dividing the four-foot tall space into four shelves and then filling the nine-foot long shelves with old-fashioned, leather-bound books.  I estimated that the shelves would hold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 volumes (ish).  The concept was fabulous.  It was also exhausting just to think about.  The surface being so rough (it was stippled) would make painting the titles and details extremely tedious.  The idea of a book shelf was good and didn’t fade like all the other ideas did.  But I just couldn’t imagine actually tackling it. 

Then it hit me!  Why not paint giant books on one shelf? 

Before!   This 4' x 9' space was once the opening to a bar.
On December 3rd, I started drawing lines on the wall.  The design was loosely based on one of the book shelves on J.K. Rowling’s web site, a mix of vintage and modern books.  I had no idea what the titles should be, but soon the wall was filled with a series of 19 rectangles and I began filling them in with colour.   Painting the basic spines took several days and about 30 hours.  Filling in the spaces around the books took another six.  (Yes, I kept track!)

I was about half done painting the spines when it occurred to me that it would be fun to have books that represented some very special people in my life:  my kids, my best friend, my grandkids and my husbands.  There were 19 spines.  My list of special people was eight.  But what if more grandchildren came into my life?  What then?  My first problem.  And what about the girls’ spouses?  Should the current ones be given books?  What would happen if any of them split up?  (It’s happened before.)  My second problem.  Then I couldn’t figure out what books I should paint to represent Eric and Dave.  My third problem.

I made a list of books that I wanted on there for myself; books that represented my personal interests.  Knitting, yoga, mystery and fantasy fiction came easily to mind.  But which books?  How would I narrow it down?  There were just too many.  Another problem. 

I was chatting with my oldest daughter and I asked her what book would represent her Dad the best.  Her immediate answer was:  Archie comics.  I laughed out loud.   I was thinking of Les Miserable, because it was the only book he ever read as an adult.  But Archie made way more sense.  He loved Archie comics and literally hundreds and hundreds of them passed through our home.  Okay, an Archie comic it was.  There was a perfect, slim volume that would serve perfectly. 

After that the ideas really started to flow.  My best friend’s book would be The Medicine Wheel in honour of her Native heritage and the fact that we took the Medicine Wheel Facilitator’s Training together when we worked at the Friendship Centre.  I knew just which book it would be, too. 

For the grandchildren, present and future, one really special book would represent them all.  Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin.  If you haven’t read this book, go immediately to your local library and check it out.  It’s just the best children’s book ever.  (You can also hear the story on-line by Googling Pete the Cat and I apoligize in advance if the song gets stuck in your head.) 

Agatha Christie got me hooked on mysteries and I’ve read all of her books.  My favourite was Death on the Nile and so that title represents the mystery genre on the far right of the mural.  J.R.R. Tolkien  is, by far, my favourite fantasy author.  But I couldn’t include The Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, so, instead There and Back Again by Bilbo Baggins takes its place on the far left of the mural representing fantasy fiction. 

Ali and Tracy were easy.  A book about fairies for Ali and a book about Dogs for Tracy.  Bizz, however, stumped me.  Spiders?  (Eek.)  Weaving?  (Possibly)  Grooming?  (Maybe)  Best to ask her.  And the answer should have been obvious – eco-crafting and living green.  So she ended up with two books, smaller and not nearly as fancy as her sisters’ books, but definitely her.  For my own other interests, I came up with titles for knitting, herbalism, yoga and Celtic lore.  Some real titles and some made up.   

Dave’s book was still blank.  What on earth could I do that would honour him?  He’s a pretty weird and complicated person and, again, the answer should have been obvious.  But I was stuck on his fascination with aliens and alternative energy systems and such.  As soon as a topic presented itself, I rejected it.  I kept coming back to drumming.  Since he is a drummer, it seemed fitting.  But a title continued to elude me.  As did a graphic.  His book spine remained empty.

As I was working on the mural just a few days ago, I realized that I didn’t have room for a dictionary.  I did a mental head-slap for this oversight and stood back to review my progress.  The two remaining volumes were too small to be dictionaries.  I was deeply dismayed and actually experienced a moment when I considered painting over the whole thing and hanging photographs in the space like the previous owners did.  But I’d invested 80 hours into the mural at that point and giving up was not an option.

It’s only paint.  Right? 


So I painted over the two untitled volumes, making them into a single book and – voila! – an English dictionary was born.

In the end, three of the books do not have titles.  Instead they have symbols.  One is an Om, the seed sound of the universe according to Hindu and Yogic traditions.  One is a Treble Clef, which, in case you haven’t guessed, is for Dave.  And one is a Question Mark.  I have many, many questions about many, many things.  Maybe the answers are in this book on my wall.  Maybe not! 

I also dream of writing and publishing a book someday.  This book, the book with the large gold question mark, represents that dream. 

The mural took 90 hours to paint.  It fills a space 4’ X 9’ on my living room wall.  It tells a story about me and about my life.  And it definitely brightens up the room.  

After!  After 90 hours of painting this is what I ended up with.
One of the best things about living at Alegria is the simple fact that I can paint murals on my walls if I so choose.  Slowly I am creating the home I have dreamed of having virtually since I was a kid.  Little by little I am finding new ways to say to the world – or at least to visitors to my home – This is me!  Aren’t I fabulous? 

If that sounds vain, well, I could apologize.  But I won’t.  It’s not meant to be.  I’m just learning to like myself for who I am.  Hell, I’m just discovering who I am.  And so far, I’m not really that  bad.  I have a few faults and phobias and probably a personality disorder or two, but – hey! – I also have a pretty cool mural on my wall. 

Feel free to stop by and see it some time.  I’ll put the tea on. 


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Some Unexpected Joy

December 25, 2011.  One week until 2012 starts.  It’s been a fantastic year.  One of the best I can recall.

While most other people are celebrating Christmas, I am spending a quiet day at home with my paints, a puzzle, a book and blessed peace and quiet.  Yuletide, having started on the 22nd has me on holiday from work and thoroughly enjoying the change of pace and ability to relax. 

I spent last evening with Dave, Bizz and Dan.  We had dinner together and then opened presents.  Nothing fancy, just a few Yuletide gifts that warmed each of our hearts.  The days of spending stupid amounts of money on presents is well behind me, I think.  (Mind you I say that every year.  This has just been the first that the budget couldn’t be stretched to accommodate them.)  No problem.  It was fun without all the stress and hoopla! 

I did get a couple of unexpected gifts this year.  My staff gave me a great bottle of wine, some bubble bath, an adorable reindeer bottle cork, and some tea.  My assistant also made me a willow wreath and my programming coordinator made me a tiger’s eye bracelet.  On Friday, my niece showed up at my office with a gift for me.  I asked her if I should open it then or if I had to wait.  She instructed me to wait.  (It was tough!)  She gave me a set of six beautiful ornaments.  I was stunned when I opened the package and found these delicate and oh, so gorgeous ornaments nestled in a box.  Instead of putting them on the tree, I put them on the willow wreath.  They will hang where everyone can see them all year long. 

Gorgeous ornaments from my adorable niece now hang on the beautiful willow wreath made by Adele.
Bizz and Dan gave me some foot stuff – scrubs, and scrubbers and all the things one needs to make their feet feel special.  Ali and Dave gave me an gift certificate.  Dave gave me cash, with which I’m going to treat myself to a couple of Holy Clothing tops that I’ve had my eye on, but which my Visa has firmly refused to look at.  Or, it will go toward paint for the spare room.  Not entirely sure yet if my conscience will permit the Holy Clothing indulgence.  I think this is one of the most delightful Yuletides as far as gifts goes I’ve had in a long time.   Each present has been so thoughtful and so fun. 

I may have to invest in a wine rack!  Lovely gifts from friends and family !

The festivities were simple this year.  Simple and heart-felt beyond measure.  I feel like I couldn’t have asked for more if I’d bothered to ask.  Right now, in the glow of the Yule tree, I’m so at peace.  The solstice has given us the gift of the sun and the promise of spring to come. 

Brightest blessings, one and all!         

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ode To a Big Brown Dog

June 1, 2000.  My daughter Tracy was 15 years old and determined beyond measure to convince me to let her keep a gangly brown puppy that she had carried home from the trailer court.  I was determined not to let her.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think she would take care of it; I just didn’t want a big dog and I knew that I would inherit it when she eventually moved out.  She promised that would never happen. 

I argued that we didn’t have a proper yard for a large dog.  She said she would build a run.  I pointed out the high cost of vet bills and food.  She swore she’d work to support his every need.  I simply said no.  She simply waited until Dave came home from work.  When I told him that Tracy wanted to keep the puppy, he casually remarked that it was okay with him.  At that moment I knew I was doomed.

Doomed to spend the next 11 and a half years with one of the coolest dogs that ever was. 

Neiko was born on April 10th, 2000.  One of a litter of 14 Chocolate Lab/Akita cross puppies, he was the only one that was solid brown.  The only tell that he was more than just a lab was a thick line of wavy fur down his back.  And the fact that he grew into an 86 lb. monster of a lab.  For the most part, he had the sweet disposition of a Labrador retriever, but the 25% Akita in him was 100% dog aggressive.  This trait didn’t really present itself until he was a little older.  Had we known that cute little bundle would become such a terror, we might not have given in so easily. 

Tracy wanted to name him Bartleby after the angel in the movie Dogma.  There was no way I was going to stand on my deck and call a Bartleby into the house, so I protested vehemently.  Oddly enough, a woman named Pollyanna suggested Neiko and, thankfully, Tracy liked it.  With that settled, we did our best to put up with one of the dumbest, clumsiest puppies in the world.  He got hit be cars twice, but both times was fortunate enough to escape serious injury.  Tracy took him everywhere with her and so he assumed that the whole town was his playground.  One night he followed a friend of Tracy’s home and when her friend’s mother came home from work at the mill at midnight, refused to let her into her own house. 

The Schnoof - lounging in the kiddie pool on a hot day.
By the time he was approaching his second birthday, even Tracy was feeling like she just might have bitten off more than she could chew.   We were about to give up on him, but seemingly overnight, Neiko stopped being  dumb and clumsy and turned into an incredible dog.  His aggression toward his fellow species notwithstanding, Neiko was smart and full of personality.  His repertoire of tricks included the standard sit and lay down, but was enhanced by singing and playing dead when we pointed a finger at him and said, “Bang!”  He could roll over, sit pretty and crawl, too.  

Neiko loved people.  Someone once remarked to me that I must feel so safe at night when Dave was working with Neiko around.  I had visions of an intruder breaking in and Neiko thinking, “Hey, someone new to pet, pamper and play with me!”  Thankfully, his protective instincts were never put to the test. 

When he wasn’t happy with us, he let us know.  He would pout and refuse to acknowledge us if we had offended him in anyway.  Pretty much the only way to get him to forgive us was to say the word ‘treat’ – and, of course, follow through with the offer. 

He loved to go for rides.  Any opportunity to hop in the car or truck was met with joy and big, happy doggy smiles.  It didn’t matter where we were going or even if he never got to get out when we got there.  Neiko just wanted to be included in our activities. 

Our yard was constantly littered with bones that Neiko dragged home from God knows where.  Moose, deer, cow – and even  horse once – parts were a familiar part of the landscaping.  We never mowed the lawn without first “walking the grid” in search of blade bending bones.  One morning we woke up to the head of a four-point buck on the lawn.  Neiko and Simon (our dachshund) munched on that for weeks.  I prayed that no one would drive by and see their trophy in our yard.  Hooves were a particularly favourite treat.  Ever step on a piece of Lego in the dark?  Hoof bits have a similar effect!

True to her word, Tracy looked after The Schnoof, as he affectionately came to be called.  She fed him, brushed and bathed him, walked him and cleaned up his messes.  She worked to buy his food and pay for any vet bills.  She responsibly had him neutered when he was six months old.  And when she moved out, she took him with her.  Neiko, however, didn’t want to go.  He became even more aggressive and difficult to handle.  Tracy, in tears, thought she was going to have to put him down.  But Dave had other thoughts on the matter and told her to bring him home.  As much as I didn’t really want to have look after him, I was relieved that he wasn’t going to die and welcomed him back.   Tracy continued to support him by buying his food and tending to vet bills over the next several years. 

Geochaching with Mom and Bizz
As brave as Schnoofy could be in a dog fight, he was terrified of fireworks, backfiring cars and the sound of gunshots.  Thunder had him cowering next to – if not on top of – us on the couch.  He would visibly quake until the noise stopped. 

In spite of having fangs that were over an inch long, Neiko was incredibly gentle when being hand fed.  He was always nervous around young children, but very tolerant  and never, ever hurt anyone – on purpose.  When Tracy was raising rabbits and guinea pigs, Neiko protected them.  No other dog could get near his “babies.” 

As much as it broke my heart, I chose to leave Neiko and Simon both with Dave when I moved out last spring.  It was their home and after Tracy’s disastrous attempt at relocating him, I believed that Neiko would be content to stay with Dave for the rest of his life.  Then one day, Neiko discovered where I lived and began making increasingly frequent visits.  I would often come home from work to find him waiting for me on my deck.  I would take him home or Dave would come and get him, but he just kept coming back.  Sometimes circumstances would mean that he had to stay overnight with me.  I didn’t feed him, but he wouldn’t go home on his own when he got hungry either.  When he was home, Dave would have to physically drag him into the house to eat.  As soon as he was released, back he came to my place.  We finally decided that for his own safety Neiko would live with me.  Or rather, we finally agreed with Schnoofy on the matter. 

He settled in and was quite happy here.  He was the only pet and so got all the attention.  For a while he would go back to Dave’s for visits now and then, but eventually he stopped even doing that. 

He suffered from progressive hip dysplasia over the last couple of years.  Like most dogs with the condition, he had good days and bad days.  It was all I could do not to burst into tears when he stumbled and fell on the stairs.  But I tried to follow Cesar Milan’s advice and not show overt pity for his plight.  Neiko accepted it and so I tried to as well.  To help him, we ensured that he got top of the line dog food with glucosamine and had hoped that that would slow down the degeneration of his hips joints and ease his discomfort.  It seemed to be working.  He wasn’t as shaky and unstable for the last few weeks. 

Last night I came home from work to find Neiko waiting for me at the door.  As per our usual routine, I gave him a treat and a hug and let him outside for a pee.  He didn’t even go down the stairs and barked to be let in only a few moments later.  For the next two hours he was quite restless, moving from the couch to the floor to his bed and back to the couch again every few minutes.  I didn’t think much of it as he would do this every now and then.  I was expecting another bad spell with his hips. 

At about seven o’clock he wanted to go outside.  I opened the door and he walked out with his tail down.  He paused at the top of the stairs and looked back at me.  I gave him a pet and watched him go down the steps.  He walked into the back yard and laid down in the snow.  Again, I didn’t think much of it as he sometimes did this.  I figured he’d be back at the door in a few minutes.

An hour passed.  I decided to go and check on him.  When I opened the door and called his name there was no response.  He wasn’t on his chair on the deck and I thought that maybe he had gone for a walk-about.  When I turned to come back in, I saw him laying in the snow a few feet from the bottom of the stairs.  I called his name.  He didn’t move. 

Neiko had died. 

It looked like he was heading back inside and just collapsed on the way.  Perhaps his heart gave out.  I really don’t know.  I hope he didn’t suffer.  I feel so bad that I wasn’t there with him when it happened. 

He’s gone to rest at Dave’s Dad’s farm next to Muffy, Wiggles, Cleo and other McKilligan family pets.  Dave’s Dad kindly fired up his back hoe to dig a grave.  Being winter, the option of digging one any other way is nil. 

Before wrapping him in his old blanket, Dave removed his collar and gave it to me.  It now hangs on my headboard.  Eventually, I will put it away, but for now, that’s where it’s going to stay. 

Dogs are such amazing creatures.  Their love and loyalty, their natural empathy and compassion for their owners is a model more of us could emulate.  Dogs live in the moment.  They don’t regret.  They don’t hate.  They know how to forgive. 

At the Buck Flats Falls - Neiko loved hiking through the woods. 
Having Neiko in my life was a privilege.  I’m glad that we were able to give him a good life.  We spoiled him quite rotten.  I doubt Cesar Milan would have been proud of us, but we loved him.  So much!  He’s going to be very, very missed – by us and by a lot of people in this community who got to know him over the years.  

I’m sure I won’t miss the hair on the furniture.  Or the requests to go outside in the wee hours of the morning.  But I will miss the cuddles and the kisses, the tricks and the company.  Neiko was great company! 

Good bye, my big brown dog.  I hope that wherever you are there are no end to the bones and balls and squeaky toys that you loved so much.  Rest in peace, dear Schnoofy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Drowning in Dreams

I recently watched an inspirational video on success.  It was quite fascinating! 

A young man wanted to be successful, so he went to see a Guru.

“Why have you come to me?” asked the Guru.

“I want to be at the same level as you,” said the young man.

“Very well,” said the Guru.  “Meet me on the beach tomorrow morning at 4 a.m.”

The young man arrived at the beach at 4 a.m.  The Guru told him to walk out into the water. 

The young man walked into the water up to his knees.

“Further,” said the Guru.

The young man walked in up to his waste.

“Further,” said the Guru.

The young man walked in up to his shoulders.

“Further,” said the Guru.

The young man hesitated.  A few more steps and the water would be over his head.

“Do you want to be as the same level as me?” asked the Guru.

The young man nodded. 

“Then you must go further.”

The young man took a few more steps.  When the water was over his head, the Guru held him under. 

The young man started kicking and thrashing and trying to get his head up out of the water, but the Guru held him down.

When the young man thought he could not hold his breath any longer, the Guru suddenly let him go and lifted him up so that he could breathe again.

The young man was furious.  “You could have killed me!” he shouted at the Guru.

The Guru smiled.  “Do you want to be at the same level as me?  Do you want to succeed?”

“Of course I do!” said the young man.

“When you want to succeed as much as you just wanted to breathe, you will be successful.”

The analogy between breath and desire struck a chord with me.  I have all sorts of dreams.  But how badly do I want them? 

It’s easy to imagine how hard I would fight for breath if I had to.  How hard am I willing to fight to fulfill my dreams?

The short answer is:  Not very.

Otherwise I would already be a successful author, a successful knitwear designer, I wouldn’t have a mortgage, I’d be driving a brand new car, I’d have seen Stonehenge and the Maritimes in person and I’d weigh 120 lbs.  The fact is that I’m drowning in dreams, seemingly content not to breathe in the success of having achieved them. 


Now, it’s not like I’ve never achieved anything in my life.  This whole breath and success thing has caused me to reflect on some of the successes that I have inhaled.  I have managed to raise three pretty incredible daughters.  I have a great job.  I have the house that I’ve wanted for years and years.  I have some great friends that are very supportive.  I built a 40’ labyrinth in my back yard.  I am a certified Yoga instructor.  I have published several knitting patterns and they are selling.  

I am currently redecorating my guest room.  For the last week I’ve been scraping badly painted wall paper off the walls, preparing to prepare them for a fresh coat of paint.  I am also working on a mural for my living room.  It’s going to be so cool!  I am working on some new knitting patterns, too.  While none of these are likely to make me rich, they are certainly giving me a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement.  I actually breathed a bit easier yesterday when I stepped back and saw all the wall paper that was not on my walls any more.   Of course, realizing how much Pollyfilla and sand paper I’m going to need felt like being pulled back under, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  If I want my guest room to be the beautiful vision I have for it, I’m going to have to keep kicking upward, wanting to breathe that in. 

So here’s to the future breath of successfully completing my guest room and my mural (more on that in  coming weeks). 




Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Worst of the Best of Times

I’ve been so remiss in my blogging.  Things just are not conducive to sitting down and making it happen.  Or I just don’t have much to say.  That could be it.  Life is not going exactly according to plan here lately and an element of frustration has crept into and invaded the wave of optimism that I have been riding for the past six months or so.  Or I’ve been hijacked by hormones...

Which is more likely the case.

My brain cuts out on me on a regular basis.  Goes completely blank.  At the worst of times, too.  Like when I’m introducing someone I know well to someone I don’t know well and can’t remember either of their names. 

Emotions, unsolicited and unprovoked, rise out of nowhere.  0 to bitch in 2.5 seconds – or less!  For no reason.  One minute I’m perfectly calm and happy; the next minute I’m bawling like a baby over nothing. 

The panic attacks have returned.  That’s always fun.  Haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in a long time.  Suddenly they are a feature in meetings, at the grocery store, while driving... 

Hot flashes keep me awake.  Weird dreams wake me up when I do manage to fall asleep.  The other night I was on a murderous rampage, killing people with a dull and rusty pocket knife. 

I’m restless and listless at the same time.  I can’t focus.  I start a project and without warning I can’t figure out what I’m doing.  Or why I’m doing it. 

I forget things.  Like cooking.  Not only do I forget pots on the stove, I forget that I’ve started making something and then go into the kitchen only to be surprised that it’s already bubbling away on the stove. 

I forget where I’m going when I’m driving.  I’ll head out to do errands and suddenly have no idea where I’m supposed to be going. 

If I don’t write it down, it’s very likely not going to happen.  Meetings, errands, appointments...  If I forget my Blackberry or my calendar, I’m hooped. 

And I forget my phone and my calendar with alarming frequency.  And I lose my keys.  I have always habitually kept my keys in my purse or my coat pocket.  I never lay them down on a counter or my desk.  They are either in my purse or in my pocket.  Always!  Except lately.  The other day I was running around in a panic looking for my keys so I could go to work, only to discover them in my hand after tearing my purse and work bag apart and searching through four different coats. 

I feel like I’m going completely crazy.  One minute I’m irritated and pacing and mumbling under my breath.  The next minute, I’m mixing cookie dough and humming happily.  The next minute I’m downstairs throwing a load of laundry into the washer, thinking I should make cookies.  Half way back up the stairs I’ll decide to work on a new knitting pattern that has just popped into my head.  But first a snack, so I’ll veer into the kitchen.  Oh, yes, I’m making cookies.  I’ll put a pan of cookies into the oven and then return t my knitting pattern.  What was it again?  Well, maybe I should dust.  The idea might come back to me.  Oh, there’s a message for me on Facebook.  I’ll check that.    Did I start the washer?  Back downstairs I’ll go.  What am I doing down here?  Can’t remember.  Half way up the stairs the knitting pattern pops back into my head.  I start to repeat it out loud so I won’t forget again.  I intend to go straight to my knitting book and write it down.  Ding, ding, ding!  What’s that?  Oh, yes the cookies!  I take the cookies out of the oven, put the next pan in and notice the vacuum is out of the closet.  When did I take the vacuum out?  Might as well push that around for a while.  I start the vacuum and two minutes into it I remember the knitting pattern idea.  I stop vacuuming and  go write the idea down in my book.  Crap!  I forgot to set the timer for the cookies.  How long have they been in the oven?   I set the timer for half the time called for in the recipe.  What the heck is the vacuum doing over there?  Oh, yeah...  okay, I’ll finish that.  While I’m vacuuming, an idea for a knitting pattern pops into  my head.  I repeat it out loud so I won’t forget it.  Over the roar of the vacuum, I hear a dinging sound.  Oh, yeah!  Cookies.  I deal with the cookies.  A little voice reminds me that the laundry needs to go into the dryer.  Downstairs I go.  I manage to remember my purpose in going to the basement and while I’m moving the clothes from the washer to the dryer I think to myself that I need to clean up the laundry room.  It’s terribly dusty.  I head back upstairs to get the vacuum.  It’s not in the closet.  Where the hell is the vacuum?  Oh, right.  I unplug it and wrap the cord up and empty the bin and put it back in the closet, laundry room forgotten.  My Blackberry chimes from the other room letting me know that I have an e-mail.  I head off to check it.  I see my knitting book on the table in the living room and I stop to put it away.  Look at that!  What a great idea for a sock pattern!  When did I write that down? 

And on and on my day goes.  Punctuated with emotional outbursts and anxiety attacks, this bizarre way of functioning is a parody of my normally organized and efficient life. 

Work is just as bad.  Meetings – if I remember them – are horrific gatherings in which I have become the object of deep concern.  I lose my train of thought and start babbling incoherently, so I’ve learned to take notes (ugh!)  and keep my mouth shut unless I have written down what I want to say.  Even then it may not make a lot of sense.  The usual distractions that I face in the course of a typical work day have become crippling asides that lead me to forget people on hold and have staff members wondering what I’ve been smoking!   I second guess myself all the time.  It isn’t uncommon for me to have to make quick decisions and I do.  Then I start fearing that I made the wrong decision and either end up wasting staff time or crumbling into a snivelling pile of self-doubt   and tears.  It’s embarrassing!

After years of wishing and waiting and hoping for “the change” to happen, I’m thinking that maybe it isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be.  I’ve talked to lots of women who have been happy to regale me with their own stories.  Like the birth stories we all pass on to new mothers-to-be, menopause stories range from hilarious to scary.  I have tended to focus on the funny, pleasant, it-was-no-big-deal stories and push the Oh-God-I’m-glad-that’s-over stories into the deepest recesses of my psyche after stamping them “drama queen” exaggerations and sealing those mental files with super glue! 

I’m thinking now that it might have served me better to pay a little closer attention to the weirdness.  I might have been a little better prepared for it.   Not sure that it’s possible to be totally prepared, but reality is proving to be not quite as wonderful as the fantasy has been all these years. 

Last week, for instance, I decided to change the sheets on my bed.  I stripped the bed and remade it with clean sheets.  I then hauled the dirty sheets downstairs and put them in the washer.  I puttered around for a while, tidying up the house, composing a to-do list, checking in on Facebook and generally not accomplishing much at all.  At some point I ‘remembered’ that I needed to change the sheets on my bed and went into my room where I stripped the bed again.  While I was pulling the sheets off the bed, I thought to myself:  Gee, these sheets smell nice.  I wondered briefly what sort of chemicals I’d been exposing my body to that would keep the sheets smelling so nice after two weeks on the bed. 

I then went to the linen closet to retrieve a clean set of sheets.  I only have two sets for my bed, so it should have been no surprise to discover that there were none in the closet.  Confusion immediately set in.  Did I put them in the bathroom closet with the towels last time I did laundry?  Nope.  Did I leave them in the dryer?  Not possible; I’d done laundry since last changing the sheets.  Where the hell were my sheets? 

I rechecked the linen closet.  I rechecked the towel closet.  I checked my clothes closet.  I even checked the drawer in the kitchen where the dish cloths and tea towels are kept.  Not there either.  While I wracked my brain and searched high and low for the missing sheets, I found myself starting to panic.  My chest tightened, by breathing became rapid, my heart began to pound and my mind began to imagine that someone had broken into my house and stolen my sheets!  Not only was I going to die, but some creep had stolen my sheets! 

Then it dawned on me.  The sheets were in the washer.  I had already changed them. 

Thankful that no one had been around to witness this drama, I put the clean sheets back on the bed.  I’d calmed back down by then and even managed to have a bit of a giggle over it at my own expense.   But it’s things like this that I seem to face on a dreadfully regular basis, particularly in the last few weeks.  To comfort myself, I have adopted the notion that years of craziness are being condensed into a few short months and that this will all pass very soon.  Life will become normal again and I will return to my relaxed (relatively, anyway), efficient, organized old self with the good memory and fearless decision-making skills.  While I may be delusional about it, this viewpoint helps me feel better.  And unless or until I am proven wrong, it’s the story I’m sticking to for now. 

In the mean time, if I forget your name or burst into tears or appear to have no idea what you or I am talking about, please forgive me. 

Now I’m going to find something purple to wear and see if I can remember what I was doing before I sat down to write this – hopefully coherent – missive.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Ritual is Always the Same

Earlier this week I got my PNG bill. The ritual is always the same: 1) I open my e-mail ; 2) I see the notification in my in-box; 3) I wince; 4) I open all and any other e-mail, reading each one thoroughly; 5) I pour myself a fresh cup of coffee; 6) I check Facebook; 7) I play a game or two; 8) I look at the clock and discover that it isn’t yet time to go to work; and 9) I finally take a deep breath and open my bill.

There in bold letters were the words: Credit balance. Do NOT pay. right next to a small – but very negative – balance owing. Cool.

On Friday I went to the post office. The ritual is always the same: 1) I go in to the post office and exchange the out-going library mail for the incoming library mail; 2) I wish the clerk a good day and head back out to the area where the mail boxes are; 3) I park Zippy (my mail cart) and open my mail box; 4) I close my empty mail box and go to the library mail box... Okay, so this time it was different. There was mail in my mail box. I reached in and withdrew the latest Knit Picks catalogue.

With shaky hands I started flipping through it. I’ve been waiting for this issue for several weeks and was very nearly ready to give up hope that it would ever arrive. There on page 10, in the bottom left-hand corner, was a photo of my daughter’s feet! And they were – still are, actually – wearing a pair of my socks! My original design was featured as in Independent Designer Pattern for Palette yarn! Super cool!

Today I woke up and began the ritual that is always the same: 1) I stagger into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee; 2) I stagger back to the bathroom and have a shower; 3) I walk back to my bedroom and get dressed; 4) I walk out to the living room and start up Alistair (the laptop); 5) I pour myself a cup of coffee; 5) I settle in to check my e-mail and Facebook; 6) I review my to-do list; 7) I pour myself another cup of coffee; 8) I pick something on my to-do list to do; 9) I sip my coffee and think about it while I waste time playing time-wasting games.

Eventually, however, I do get up and get things done. Today my thing to do was post some new patterns on Raverly. The ritual is always the same: 1) I log into my account; 2) I open the Help page for posting patterns; 3) I read the Help page for posting patterns; 4) I attempt to follow the directions on the Help page for posting patterns; 5) I get frustrated because the process is about as long and tedious and convoluted as a process can be; 6) I utter a few choice words; 7) I pour myself another cup of coffee; 8) I accidentally click on the right thing and something magical occurs that causes my pattern to be posted; 9) I become overly pleased with myself for having achieved this simple goal; 10) I repeat steps 4 through 9.

By then I’d had too much coffee and a pee break was in definite order. What followed the pee break was more of steps 4 through 9 – a veritable roller coaster ride through valleys of aggravation and peaks of joyous relief. Eventually, though, I got four patterns uploaded and linked to my Ravelry store.

And by then it was time for a real break and I made myself some lunch.

While I was eating lunch and browsing the ‘shelves’ at Netflix for my next viewing choice, the tab in my browser for my e-mail account flashed. I looked up to see that I had mail. I opened the tab and there, in my in-box, was a notification that I had sold one of the patterns that I had just posted. Not even an hour had passed since step 9 and I had a sale. Bloody groovy!

Someone bought this pattern from me today!

So far this year I have sold 72 patterns, bringing my grand total for professional designing income to $146.30. Damn that feels good!

To re-cap: 1) a small, but welcome credit on my gas bill; 2) one of my patterns featured in an international knitting catalogue; 3) near-mastery of Ravelry’s pattern posting process; and 4) another pattern sold!

Maybe the ritual isn’t always the same...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thirteen at the Table

I’m not much for cooking. Never have been. Cooking is a chore that holds little appeal for me. My greatest culinary achievement is that I’ve never given anyone food poisoning. (Except myself a couple of months ago with a hotdog of dubious condition, but that was thankfully minor.)

I do have a few specialties. Thanks to my brother-in-law, I make a decent Rouladin; my lasagne is okay; I make a killer Chicken Florentine; my potato and split-pea soups are awesome; my beef stew is delicious; and I have managed to pull off a few not-so-bad turkey dinners in my time. I also make a pretty good tuna casserole and creamed tuna on toast smothered in cheese is one of my favourites. Baking is another story; I like to bake and have been known to pull some really yummy things out of the oven.

So, while I can find my way around the kitchen, I tend to require a detailed map when a meal is the destination. Even then, I tend to meander down improvised routes, taking detours around ingredients my unadventurous palate prefers to avoid – like most cooked veggies. Ugh. My cooking motto is: Cheese fixes almost everything.

Every now and then, I decide to have a dinner. Thanksgiving is often the time when I am drawn into the kitchen with the intention of cooking a meal for a number of invitees. I think I like this holiday because there are no religious connotations attached to it. It’s a nice, friendly, neutral occasion worthy of good food, good wine and good company. This being my first Thanksgiving at Alegria, I decided to take on the task of serving dinner and started tossing out invitations to some of the near and dear with and for whom I wanted to share my table – 12 in all.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that if everyone showed up there would be thirteen at the table. While I’m typically superstitious, thirteen is not a number to which I attach bad luck or ill tidings to. In fact, as numbers go, 13 is a numerologically auspicious number. Like all number energies, it does have its dark side, but so does everything. To be on the safe side, I imbibed my meal with as much five energy as possible. And it paid off with much laughter and jollity. Everyone seemed to have had a good time.

The dinner consisted of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, carrots and buns with pumpkin and apple pies for dessert. A traditional Thanksgiving meal! Except for the part where I tried a few new recipes...

For instance, I brined the turkey. For 24 hours before it went into the oven, the turkey was immersed in a concoction of apple cider, chicken broth, onions and spices. The stuffing, rather than coming safely from a box, bravely combined bread crumbs, chorizo, dried apricots, walnuts, onions, celery, chicken broth and spices. The cranberry sauce was home made with maple syrup, cinnamon and cloves. The gravy incorporated some of the marinade, making for an interesting and unconventional sauce that was just a touch sweet and delightfully different.

All was well until I started to realize that I had no idea how any of this stuff was going to taste. A little ball of panic started to swell in the pit of my stomach. What if it all tasted like crap? What was I thinking, making food that I’ve never tried and had no idea what to expect? The little ball of panic spread and grew. I considered faking the flu and calling the whole thing off at the last minute. But then the first guests arrived and if I hadn’t been committed earlier, I certainly was then! People were gathering in my home, expecting to be fed. And there was no back-up plan if the food turned out bad.

Wine! A glass of Gewurstraminer might help calm the old nerves, all of which were rapidly reaching the snapping point.

More guests arrived. Armed with a chilled glass of wine, I put on a brave face and welcomed them into my home. I began setting them up with wine of their own, or, in the case of some, beer, coolers or coffee. I was relieved to hear things like, “It’s smells delicious!” as coats were hung up and small clusters of people gathered to engage in small talk.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the moment of truth all too quickly arrived. “Come and get it,” I called past the lump in my throat.

My guests lined up to fill their plates from the buffet-style arrangement. (We didn’t actually sit at a table since that was impossible to do.) They found places to sit and started digging in. I tucked in as well...

It was far from being gastronomically spectacular. But it wasn’t bad. As I looked around, no one was gagging and as plates were cleaned off of food, several people went back for seconds – always a good sign! Conversation was light and much laughter filled the air. Food – and relief – forced the anxiety to abandon its hold on my abdomen. I started to revel in the great company I was surrounded by. If ever I had something to be thankful for, it was this wonderful group of people who dared to share this holiday repast with me.

As for thirteen at the “table,” two guests were unable to make it. So eleven it was. In numerology, 11 is one of the three master numbers (the other two being 22 & 33). It represents a strong foundation on which to build. A higher vibration of the number 2 (1 + 1 = 2), 11 brings harmony to the table – so to speak – with intuitive humanitarianism and sensitive charisma. All-in-all, a good number for a dinner party.

And now I’m looking forward to left-over turkey sandwiches and home-made turkey noodle soup. But first a slice of apple pie for breakfast...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Who am I and What Did I Do With the Old Me?

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Busy, busy, busy… that’s my life at the moment.

I finally got the labyrinth all filled in. Whew! What a job that was, but, oh, so satisfying. I try to walk it every day, even in the rain. And there’s been plenty of that this year.

The apple tree, which I’ve named Hesperia, after one of the three Hesperides that symbolized all the gifts of the apple, produced a ton of fruit. It breaks my heart to have to throw so much of it away. Next year I am going to build a fruit net to catch the apples before they hit the ground. Picking will be much easier and they won’t be gashed on the rocks below the tree. What I can’t use, I’ll donate to the food bank or the community garden. Hopefully, there will be less wasted and more of the great goodness these delicious little orbs contain will be appreciated.

I’ve had so little time to knit. I really miss designing and creating. At the same time, I’ve really enjoyed working on the yard and making the labyrinth. There’s so much to do and so many things that I want to create. Sometimes I still feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, but little, by little things are coming together. I think the yard was given to me to teach me patience! (So many things in my life were and I still haven’t learned!) I still fantasize about having a magic wand that I could wave so that it would all be done instantly. But where’s the satisfaction in that, right? I know that when I do get to it and it is done, I’m going to feel so good about it.

I had to make a couple of executive decisions recently in regard to the yard’s project list. First was to decline an offer to build the fence. It was a tough decision. On one hand, letting someone else do it for me would get it done faster and save me money. On the other hand, I want to do it myself. I want to figure it out and make it myself. I know I can do it. I know it’s going to be hard work and it probably won’t be as pretty as it would if an experience fence-builder did it, but that’s not the point. The point is that I need to do it for myself.

The second decision was to not feel guilty about declining the offer to build the fence. The idea of doing it myself is strangely exciting. I’m going to have to master my fear of skill saws, for one thing. I’m going to have to plan, design, and implement the construction of a major project. I can do this. This should – and does – make me feel good. I’m happy for me. I’m not going to feel bad about feeling good.

As winter looms – we’ve already had snow! – the idea of hunkering down with some yarn and needles is appealing. I’m also starting to make sand candles again and while I wait for the wax to arrive, I’m having fun setting up a little studio in the basement. Between the knitting and the candle-making, I hope to get the wall paper stripped off the wall in the spare bedroom so I can repaint. My handy-dandy steamer thingie should make short work of a dreadful job of painted-over wall paper. (Who does that?!) Post-Yule, I’m planning on laying new flooring down in there as well. I’m going with vinyl flooring in a dark oak colour. And again, I intend to do it myself! (Note to self: add mitre box and saw horses to Yule wish list!)

Speaking of wish lists… mine consists almost entirely of practical, useful things like tools. I’ve already got a cordless drill, a hammer, a tape measure and a level. A skill saw, pliers, mitre box, saw horses are among the growing list of stuff I need/want, as is a set of rims for my summer tires. It’s bizarre! Who am I and what have I done with the old Toni?

Notice that I said ‘old’ and not ‘real.’ Honestly, I feel more real and authentic now than I think I ever have in my whole life. Pending skill saw-mastery aside, life is not as scary as I had convinced myself that it was. It’s exciting, exhilarating, joyously uplifting. Each new challenge makes me feel younger and more alive. Sure there are problems. Certainly there are moments when I want to throw in the towel and go back to my old life. Thankfully, they pass relatively quickly.

The other night while I was meditating, I started to imagine living with someone again. Cooking meals, making lunches, doing laundry, working around someone else’s schedule, sharing space, sharing the remote… ugh! Knowing that when I go home tonight, I can have waffles for supper if I so desire holds enormous appeal. There are no steaks or roasts in my freezer. The potato peeler comes out when I feel like making potato soup. I can have soup for supper! I can wash clothes whenever I want. I can vacuum whenever I want. I watch what I want, when I want. Everything has a place and – here’s the cool part – everything is in the place it has! I love that I know where stuff is. I love it that there are no tools or unfixed bits of unfixed – and often unidentified– things lying around. It’s always good to walk into a neat, tidy, clean house arranged the way I want it.

I play music I like. I burn incense without having to listen to anyone complain. I roll out my Yoga matt or park my butt on my zafu when and where I want without bothering anyone or – again, here’s the cool part – being disturbed.

I’m never bored. Or lonely. Alegria is my sangha!

Monday, September 5, 2011

DIYing It on a Rainy Day

Well, work and weather have been against me getting the labyrinth finished this week. No problem! I let loose my inner handyman instead and managed to solve two small problems that needed dealing with.

First, I fixed my rusty shower rod. This was an easy fix. I purchased a $3.49 plastic doo-hicky that snapped over the rusty rod, effectively improving the aesthetics, if not eliminating the oxidation process. I got to use my tape measure and employed the measure-twice-cut-once rule of DIYing. The result was a pleasing no-rust rod. Probably increase the re-sell value of the place by... at least $10.00!

No more rusty rod!

At some point, someone wanted the ability to hang clothes to dry in the laundry room. They took a couple of chunks of wood and nailed them to the ceiling. Pre-drilled holes in the two chunks that were installed perpendicular to the ceiling held the rod on which the clothes were hung. The problem was that while they used enormous nails to tack small chunks to the ceiling, they used finishing nails to tack the larger perpendicular chunks to the chunks tacked to the ceiling. (should have taken before photos!) Anyway, the result of that was that the finishing nails barely cleared the depth of the wood and over time they came loose. The structure was useless when I moved into the house, so I knocked it down with my handy-dandy hammer and installed two closet brackets to hold the rod. Voila! A functioning clothes hanger! (Of course, now I need to paint the ceiling!)

A functioning clothes hanger - and a great excuse to use my new drill.

And I got to use my brand new B&D (I know, it’s not a Makita!) 18V 3/8 cordless drill. I own a drill! How bizarre is that? I own a power tool! (Two if you count the Mouse sander that I got for my birthday a few years ago.)

These two minor repairs represent a major esteem boost for me. This whole relying on myself to get things done is becoming something of an addiction. It feels so good when I accomplish even a minor repair on my own. I like it.

My next project is to put up book shelves down stairs in the rec room. There is a built-in terrarium down there that just makes me shake my head every time I look at it. A friend suggested using it as a book shelf. What a great idea. Wish I’d thought of it myself. (I’ll be sure to take before and after photos this time.)

Well, all this DIYing has made me hungry. Time for some lunch, I think. And look the skies are lifting. Might even get to do some yard work this afternoon.