Autumn Woos Me

I think I just changed from someone whose favourite season is summer to one whose most beloved season is autumn.

A nature walk at 9:27 this morning without camera:

Wood Ducks fly out of the slough as I cross the Wyandotte Street East Bridge and am soon flanked by shoulder-high teasel in its post-summer nakedness, by rose bushes bent by the weight of fat orange-red rose hips, a few late chicory flowers whose cornflower blue never fails to stop me in my tracks. Sunlight slants through yellowing poplar boughs as Downy Woodpecker whinnies. Canada Goose and Mallard families are on the pond today. Killdeer and a sandpiper enjoy the mudflat.

As I round the pond and head into the woods, I notice the tracks of a small deer in the mud. From the angle I can tell the animal emerged from the overgrowth to drink from the pond, probably at dusk last evening. Deer and pheasant live here.

Above my head I see and hear a migratory commotion: a flock of Cedar Waxwings, most of them this year’s immature, settle into the top of a leafless tree. Dogwood berries shine like jewels. The morning sun illuminates the garnet leaves of the stag-horn sumac.

For all of this I am thankful on this quiet Thanksgiving Day. Most of all, I am thankful that at age 54, I am finally brave enough to ask to spend this day alone.

Without apology.

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As Within, So Without

Having dealt with a belly full of uterine fibroids for over ten years, I finally opted to undergo a total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy and salpingectomy. My surgeon is one of the most skilled in the region, and I love his bedside manner. All went extremely smoothly, including my recovery.

I have good energy. I’ve returned to almost all my normal activities.

What I was not expecting was the sudden drop in estrogen and what that would mean for my body, my moods, my brain function. After all, it had been 20 months since my last period. I had thought that “the change” was finished with me.

Wrong.

The most disruptive change I’m noting in myself is that I’ve lost the filter between thought and mouth, the little editor that keeps me out of trouble by stepping in when I’m about to put my foot in my mouth. Mind you, I tend toward American behavioural norms, which sometimes causes me to stick out in a department meeting at a Canadian workplace. But I’ve always been pretty good at biting my tongue when someone’s feelings were at stake.

Not now.

Now I find myself with zero patience for the people who drive me crazy. I see no change in my feelings or behaviour around the people with whom I’ve always been able to be my authentic self. Fortunately, that’s 98% of all the people I have to deal with on a given day. But there are those two at work with whom I cannot–for fear of hurting their feelings or dooming my career–say what’s really on my mind. These hormone fluctuations and accompanying mood swings are turning me into a loose-lipped Dr. Jekyll/Ms. Hyde. Before I even realize it, I’ve popped off at the mouth!

Going into the long weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving, I stopped in at Donna’s Deli for one of her mouth-watering deli items and ended up with an impulse purchase: a Bialetti espresso maker. In spite of having watched four YouTube videos on how to use it, I managed to put it back together wrong (missing the filter) after the initial washing, test run, and rewashing.

I had decided to cook a multi-course southern meal for Monday. I would cook a little bit each day for three days, giving myself ample time for my lesson planning, professional blogging, and finishing up some tasks that still need to be done for a webinar I’m co-facilitating this winter. By spreading out the cooking, I could also spread out the work that requires cognition and focus. I planned also to have time for nature walks and artwork.

But when Chuck and I awoke Sunday morning and I tried to prepare espresso for us, the maker didn’t seem to want to work. I thought it was my burner not getting hot enough, and so I unwisely turned the heat up from the recommended medium to high. Still no coffee. Finally a volcanic sludge began to ooze out of the spout, at which point I took the can off the heat and set it down on a cold area of the stove, then walked from the room. I was about three paces away when we heard the loud boom. It sounded as if a bookshelf had come crashing to the floor. I peeked back into the kitchen to see every wall and ceiling covered in a fine dark-chocolate coloured spray.

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Amazingly, I didn’t curse or cry. I just calmly told my partner he would have to get his coffee at Tim’s, he couldn’t use my bathroom since the floor was also covered with a dark brown later of espresso-fine silt that I didn’t want tracked back over the carpet in other rooms. This clean-up would require about ten minutes of careful planning of steps before it could even begin. And the person who would need to formulate the plan had not yet had her brain-igniting caffeine.

It took four hours, including a lunch break, to complete the job. After climbing up a step-ladder and wiping areas of the ceiling in two rooms, after mopping and rinsing the mop dozens of times, after taking every pantry item and spice bottle off the shelves on two sides of the kitchen to wash and dry them, I was too exhausted to do anything for the next hour or two but collapse on the sofa with my phone.

My partner came back a little after I’d completed the cleaning with bags of groceries and a plan to cook us a nice dinner. He also wanted to watch a movie after.

I had gone from looking forward to making our Thanksgiving meal over a period of three days to feeling resentful of the day that had evaporated, leaving me to crunch my big cooking and baking projects AND my lesson planning AND my Kelly time into two days instead of three. I told my partner how I was feeling.

He admitted that he had received an offer to work ten hours Monday instead of the expected eight, and that he was just as happy to get the overtime.

“So you’re okay with it if I cook the meal for you next weekend instead?” I asked.

He was more than okay with that. I put the collard greens with garden kale I’d made Saturday in the freezer.

And now I am experiencing that delicious gift that only other introverts who fail to block off and fiercely guard enough alone time on their calendars understand: the relief and joy that springs from a last-minute cancellation.

Before me today spread hours of alone time.

Time for a nature walk.

Time to blog.

Time to bake a sweet potato pie if I feel like it.

Time to plan or start a new linocut.

Time to continue colouring that print of an Indigo Bunting that I hope to frame this year.

Time for me.

Play this game with me

Am I back blogging again? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Just today, just now, I need this outlet.

Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, I need a favour.

Do this one thing for me, will you?

Play this game with me. I call it the dead game. It’s for anyone, whether or not you believe in an afterlife. It is for atheist and believer, agnostic and Buddhist. But it’s not for people who do not have an active imagination. You need a good imagination for this, and a willingness to suspend normal beliefs. If that’s not you, hit the back button. Bye!

Okay, now to the rest of you. Here’s how it works.

I want you to imagine that you’ve died. You know this will happen one day, right? So this part isn’t too much of a stretch. Imagine that day has come and gone. You’re no longer on the earth. Try to fill in some details. How did you die? How long ago? Let’s put it at about a year… long enough for you to start to miss having a body. (Here’s where you have to just pretend and play along. If you don’t believe in a separate consciousness that would be capable of such reflection after the death of the body, chill. It’s okay; I don’t either. It’s just a game.)

So there you are with no body, no nose to smell, no eyes to see, no fingers to touch things, no tongue to taste. And you realize that while you were on earth, you frittered away SO MANY moments in which you could have been relishing and savouring having five (six?) senses! Can you feel that heavy block of regret sitting in your (non-existent) chest? Feel it. Close your eyes and just get into this silly fantasy for a few minutes. If your story includes other regrets, such as people you weren’t kind to or loved ones you didn’t appreciate enough, that’s fine, too. Go with it; flow with where your heart takes you.

I’ll wait right here.

….

Back again?

So you’re dead, right? You’ve begun to feel the void, the sadness of no longer being on earth? Here comes the good part. Now I want you to imagine that you manage somehow to score one more day on earth (or one hour, if you wish). You can imagine yourself bargaining with God or with a genie in a bottle or a magician with a black top hat. Whatever. Imagine yourself begging for just one more day on earth so you can smell things again, touch things again, see your loved one’s face again, have a tongue to taste again.

Okay. Now I want you to imagine that you’ve just been magically transported from the dead zone back into a human body for ONE day (or hour).

Look around you.

Feel things.

Smell things.

Taste things.

When your loved one speaks to you, put away the device and make eye contact. Touch him/her. Relish that shared moment.

That’s mindfulness. And it’s not a game. Your days on this beautiful planet really are numbered.

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New Enterprises

Hello, readers (if I have any left),

I do realize that my readership has dwindled to almost nobody due: 1) in part to the fact that my own energy / creativity / ideas for posts here had, by late 2012, sputtered out, and 2) in part to my having abandoned the blog for a year or more.

I still want to keep this blog open, but really only as my own outlet, which is why I started it in the first place. It’s my journal and I may still use it in that way from time to time. But at this point in my life there is little hope that I will have the time or energy to post regularly. This is because my energies are currently being channelled in so many other directions, the main one being my new-ish career.

I started teaching settlement English in 2010. Now that I have a few years experience under my belt, I’m beginning to give workshops to other teachers. I’m starting my own professional website. I’m thinking of learning to give webinars. I have presented at our annual provincial conference and now need to submit an article to our professional journal in collaboration with my conference co-facilitator. All of that involves a great deal of study, concentration, and TIME.

I steal these pockets of time before and after the loads of lesson planning I do for my two daily classes.

Whew!

So if this blog languishes for a few months or years, that’s why.

I’m blossoming as a teacher.

And that’s a good thing.

Grace in Small Things 255

Porter serves passengers Martin’s Family Fruit Farms’s apple chips! On Lobsinger Line near Waterloo, that’s not far from the area where I was team captain for an Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas square. I’ve probably peered at Eastern Kingbirds perched in those apple trees. I thanked the airline for supporting local farmers.

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A good breakfast that kept me fuelled for hours.

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As if I needed another sign,…as if I were not already walking on clouds from other signals that the Universe was supporting me, I descended the escalator of the convention centre to see my personal totem welcoming me to the floor on which I would be presenting later that day.

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I felt the Universe whispering, “This is where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing.”

A Sign

Pink.

My living room was awash in pink at 7:53 this morning as I gathered up umbrella and book bag to leave for work.

I stepped out onto the damp deck, yellow, rust and peachy maple leaves plastered to its slippery surface. The air was too warm. A weird cloud hovered close on the horizon–a luminescent, feather-edged cross between cloud and fog that cast a rosy glow onto everything. Eerie.

I stood there breathing in the damp, oddly mild air for a moment, then turned to walk down the lower flight of wooden steps.

Dominating the other horizon was the maple tree that towers over the property. Each branch, I noticed for the first time, was greenish yellow at the base, turning peach then fiery orange toward the ends, with deep cherry at the very tips of each leaf. I stood and stared, breathless. Fire tree.

I thought to snap a quick pic with my phone but stopped myself. Just be in the moment, Kel. Just be here now. Anyway, you’ll never capture the magic.

And then came the topper: just to my right was a pale sliver of rainbow arcing through the powdery sky.

Are you trying to tell me something? I said, tilting my gaze skyward. I was tempted to seize it as a sign for me to relax and stop worrying about a certain something. I smiled then, and all anxiety I’d been carrying around for the past days slipped away.

Later in the morning, I found a magic marker rendition of a sunrise lying on the keyboard of my classroom computer.

Hmmm. Odd, I thought. There is an after-school program whose participants sometimes leave artwork in the room. I set the picture aside.

At break time, my colleague L asked me if I’d found the picture.

“What? You put that there?”

“Yes,” she said. “My daughter has a new habit of sketching the sunrise every morning when she wakes up. As soon as I looked at this morning’s drawing, I somehow thought: Kelly. I knew it was for you.”

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A Spacious Morning

I just feel like checking in this morning; there’s no particular topic.

On the Craftsmen Era woodblock prints wall calendar in the kitchen, a birding field trip is pencilled in for this morning. I didn’t go. The notion of extra sleep called to me more loudly than the idea of being out in the fresh air with my birder tribe, though I would not have regretted that choice, either.

Nevertheless.

A long block of quiet time alone in this house, especially in the early morning, feeds my soul in an inexplicable way. I love the slow rituals of making coffee or tea, drawing a bubble bath (citrus sage), and taking my first peek out the window to see what wildlife is stirring. If I pad out onto the deck in bare feet, mallards will look my way. Some are still in the yard, having supped on cracked corn, wheat and millet last evening and then slept there.

The squirrels want my attention when the supply of peanuts tossed to them is gone. One cheeky fellow figured out today how to cross the roof to the other side of the house, drop onto the air conditioner, and stare at me from the west window where a row of African Violets enjoys filtered sunlight. I call him Starbuck because his coat is caramel-latte with dark chocolate around the muzzle. Beautiful animal.

Squirrel

smart squirrel found the back window

Now I have time to thoughtfully make out a ‘to do’ list and make my way through it as the sun crosses the sky. I notice small things that need doing as I putter about the apartment. I wipe the stove top, take out trash, bring in the hummingbird feeder for the winter. The same timer setting works for the toilet cleaner as for how long I will sit on the meditation cushion to start my day.

Since bringing in most of the container garden from the deck to overwinter in the house, this is my jungly view from where I like to sit.

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Solitute is a sweet commodity.

Thrift Store Haul

All around me now I see the squirrels madly dashing in front of cars, their little brains preoccupied with stashing food for the coming cold. Me? I get this unmistakable yearning to put away sleeveless tops and dig out my flannel and tights. I almost can’t stop myself; I have to play with texture and rich fall colours in my closet, sew that one item I can’t find anywhere–even on Etsy, mix and match what I already have, and hit thrift stores.

The ritual soothes me. I fill a bag for the charity box with things I thought I would wear but haven’t touched in over a year, maybe two. I make room for new-to-me previously loved garments.

Yesterday was my marathon Value Village run. I came home with three dresses/tunics, three tops and two pairs of shoes. It was my first time to overcome a fear of germs in used shoes, and I’m taking steps to eradicate any viruses or fungi in said footwear before I place my socked feet in them.

Here are some shots of my haul.

two dresses and a PURE Alfred Sung linen pullover tunic

two dresses and a PURE Alfred Sung linen pullover tunic

Here is one of the 3 tops I was drawn to. All three are long-sleeved cotton, like this one. Colours: black, warm grey-brown, cool grey.

And here are the shoes:

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Merrell Mary Janes with sport soles

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Naturalizer loafers

Yes, there seems to be a predominance of warm and cool greys, black and other neutrals. (Grey is one of my best colours, just so you know.) And I’m currently in the mood for tunics, jumpers and dresses that will go nicely with brightly coloured tights. What a fun look, especially with a pair of sport Mary Janes, which are cute enough for skirts and dresses while comfy enough to teach in all day. (I am not a teacher who sits during the lesson. I sprint up and down one flight of stairs several times daily.)

Also I have a renewed appetite for flowing BoHo dresses. I LOVE to feel comfortable at work, able to move freely in my clothes whether I’m bending over to help a student or reaching to write something at the top of the board.

I was just amazed to find these shoes at the thrift store since I have spent the past four months searching for a sport Mary Jane that I like, to no avail. I also needed a new pair of loafers since I could not get stains out of my old ones–light taupe suede jungle moccasins. I should have started at the thrift store instead of wasting that hour and a half at the mall!

I so enjoy the slow, methodical process of all the steps that come next with these acquisitions: washing, ironing, taking inventory of my new fall closet. I rub mink oil into the leather shoes then waterproof them.

I love laying the “new” clothes out to see what I have that goes with them. This also tells me if I have the makings of a fab outfit minus one pair of tights or one particular colour of scarf. Another fun hunt is then on!

I imagine the black linen tunic (which has deep pockets, BTW) with a bright tee and matching tights, black clogs OR with a grey long-sleeved, close-fitting cotton top and my grey and black polka dotted tights. Hee hee. I love whimsy.

Does the change of seasons cause any similar instincts to awaken in you?

Clean

Last night the couple who own this duplex were frantically cleaning, painting and repairing the lower unit because they found a tenant much quicker than they’d anticipated, and he wanted to move right in. After listening to them toil for hours on end down there, I invited them up for a snack. She accepted while he mowed the lawn, his last chore of the night.

My last neighbour was not a bad neighbour by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t as into keeping the property looking nice as I am. We shared two areas: a storage shed and the laundry room. It took a lot of reminding and finally going through the landlord before she finally cleared out enough junk for me to use my 50% of the shed. Even after taking those steps, I never did get half of the laundry room and settled for a foot of shelf space for my detergent. The rest of the room was cluttered up with the overflow of stuff that wouldn’t fit in her living space.

As soon as I learned that she was leaving, I took down the ratty pieces of frayed burgundy fabric stretched across the laundry room windows to serve as curtains. I replaced them with little cafe curtains in a cheery yellow and white gingham. They took me about an hour to make.

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sewing the tabs on the cafe curtains

I had hoped for a window of time before the new tenant arrived during which I could throw out some of the junk Tammy (not her real name) left in the laundry room and around the property. But when the U-Haul pulled up this morning, I realized I hadn’t moved quickly enough. Fortunately, the new neighbour, whom I’ll call Bill, has a much greater spirit of cooperation than “Tammy” did. (I had given her my email address three times, but she never reciprocated.) My new neighbour suggested right away that we all exchange contact info since we have shared areas.

I interrupted his moving-in process long enough to tell him what I wanted to do and he had no problem with it at all. In fact his movers even suggested that I didn’t need to cart large metal items to the dump; if I just put them at the curb, they would disappear quickly. I’m happy to report that the rusty bed frame, patio umbrella and stand, straightened out coat hangers, length of industrial-sized chain and a number of other odd items that had been left to rust under her part of the deck did indeed all disappear within hours of being piled up by the street.

I then either appropriated or trashed the non-metal junk she left to clutter up the laundry room and shed. I wiped down the shelves and applied contact paper. I rearranged things so that all the half-used cans of paint that the landlord might need for touchups now fit together on two shelves, freeing up all sorts of space for laundry items. It looks SO MUCH BETTER NOW!

Not only that, but during discussion of where to put our bikes in order to give him his half of the shed, Bill said, “I don’t need outdoor storage.” I take that to mean he’s NOT a clutterbug. Yay!

I feel better now.

Cover the Clutter

I don’t like living with clutter.

I like the way an uncluttered environment helps me feel calmer.

So this week I decided to cover the cheap wire stand that the screen sits on. We watch DVDs on this thing. I think it also can function as a TV if you have satellite or cable or one of those services that I have never had hooked up.

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I went to Fabricland and finally decided on black as the colour that would be most neutral and unnoticeable. Found some black denim / twill that wasn’t too pricey. I wanted the stand to be a non-entity, not getting any attention. I sort of messed this up, but you can’t see the mistake from here so I’m not going to tell you what it is. It was my first time to try to make something without a pattern.

The flap in front opens so you can have access to the shelves. Now I need to paint those two pieces of wood black so that they blend in.

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