Friday, 23 June 2017

A few reflections on being full of holes

The thing that hit me is called an NSTEMI. I had to look that up and I bet most of you will too. For several months previous to this collision I had been complaining of severe back and gastric pain and fatigue. And I had been convinced that my back was the problem to the point of snarling “It’s my BACK!” at the wonderful NP who was looking after me when he wanted to do heart tests. Duh. The poor guy relented and sent me for a back x-ray and it, surprise, showed a very large aortic aneurism. Had to be fixed! I was sent to the vascular surgery at the Ottawa Hospital and one day, I think, ahead of my pre-op tests the NSTEMI hit me, at home, in the evening and JG said, as he had been saying for a month, “Shall I call an ambulance?” and I finally agreed.

The next while is a blur in my mind but, when I finally was aware again, I found myself in the OHI (Ottawa Heart Institute) scheduled for bypass surgery. Also, I was hooked to oxygen, hooked to two separate bags that had to be rolled around on a pole and was entertained by a succession of smiling nurses and technicians who all wanted to stick a needle into some portion of my anatomy. A hospital is a strange place. The food was terrible. The noise is incredible. I lost a lot of weight and a lot of sleep, but did not lose my mind because of my wonderful daughters who distracted my mind with ideas for bathroom renos and because of their wonderful friends who smuggled in doughnuts and drinkable coffee.

It is disconcerting to go from a person who thinks she is healthy except for her back to a patient in a hospital with two Very Serious problems. These dismal diagnoses made me very angry. At first, I was mostly angry because I was not dead and felt completely lousy. It would, I mused, have been much easier all-round if one of the VS problems had killed me on the spot. However, as my brain came back on line and I got a little more observant, I could see the worry in my daughters’ eyes beyond the cheer and smiles; I could see the panic in my husband. Friends dropped by to visit, some to cheer me up and some because they said they needed to see me. I stuck a notice on line and was overwhelmed by how many people there were who wished me well.

And not just people. The grandkid came in for a visit and left behind, on the white board on the wall a love note from her house’s menagerie. She is fourteen and very funny.
The message cheered me up a lot. Pluto is a fish from the huge salt water tank that is kept (terrifyingly) on their mezzanine floor. Miso is the cat I once hurled across the bedroom. Peanut is the grandkid’s mini hamster that lives in her bedroom. Quejo is a Brazilian tortoise that arrived in Canada in someone’s pocket as an illegal immigrant and is now the size of a large serving bowl. Charmy, the gecko, belongs to a step grandson who left home without him, and ‘and etc.’ which is all the other fish, some of whom have been known to escape the tank. How could I let them down? Miss G looked frightened by my appearance. How could I let her down?
It was not easy, but I stopped being angry and started to think. The decision was that I had to do this. I could not let everyone (including myself) down.  Although I was not very enthused about major heart surgery and a life sentence of prescribed exercise and diet, no smoking and a lot of hassle, I could imagine these things and, except for the smoking, live with them. What I did not expect was to be punched full of holes. Even while I was still stowed in a hallway, nurses were coming at me with needles, some of them trailing student nurses and encouraging them to make their first try at establishing a cannula. At 3:00 AM.

The holes? Blood for test taken every morning, fasting, by a lovely woman in a sari whom I started to call the Butterfly Vampire. New cannula positions every couple of days. After the bypass surgery, one massive hole in my chest and four more where veins were extracted from my leg. After the vascular stent four weeks later, two more in the lower abdomen and several in my back from spinal anaesthetic, plus a few others here and there, where drugs were injected.

Other delights included being forbidden to use my arms and upper back for six to eight weeks while my breastbone, which had been sawed in half, knitted back up again. I am now trying to get the muscle back, at a snail’s pace. Restricted fluids, a heart-healthy low-calorie diet, daily weight monitoring and lots of post op tests to check on the surgery results. After I was allowed to go home, this meant trips back to the city, driven by my poor husband. And even the car trips hurt, as the various procedures had wrenched my neck and back and the muscles kept locking up. This last problem made the rehab walking and exercise a lot (not) of fun. I think I was on at least a dozen medications when I left the hospital and I only kept track of them thanks to the ED who numbered all the pill bottles and correlated them to a list and time of day.

I made it through all this. Cranky, depressed, and with a tendency to fall asleep every time I sat down, but improving anyway. I can now drive again and iron clothes and walk for over half an hour at a slow pace. I have weights to lift that JG bought for me and an assortment of wildly-coloured elastic bands to pull. Since it is local strawberry season, I am cheating like mad on my low-calorie diet but managing to do without a lot of salt, to eat plain yogurt and to (mostly) eat my fruit and vegetables. It is a life sentence alright, but it is life. It almost wasn’t.

And I have a lovely renovated bathroom. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A Somewhat Late Year End Post

I Have been out of order quite a bit this fall. Did you know, just in passing, that the name ‘Fall’ for the season of falling leaves has fallen quite out of use in England in favour of ‘Autumn’? I just read that in Bryson’s The Mother Tongue as I am rereading it just now. Although written in the late ‘80s, it is still fun and amazingly current in some spots. Anyway, between various back and knee ailments and a sort of flue-like sickness that keeps hanging on, I seem to have been spending far too much time wrapped in a blanket with a hot pad on the sorest spots and falling asleep for hours sometimes with my face on the keyboard. Annoying

 However, I am now back to being good for about half a day of activity. Christmas was made wonderful by the YD booking us into a Hotel for the two days of the Festivity and both daughters cooking amazing meals. Otherwise everything else around here is way behind. I am lucky to have a fine woman who comes in and cleans biweekly or the Board of Health would long ago have shut me down.

After the dry, dry summer that we had, we expected the leaves to turn brown and flop sadly onto the ground. In fact, though, we had gorgeous colour that lasted well and made driving anywhere a real treat. And as of now we have had enough rain and snow to bring the water level up almost to where it should be, much to the delight of migrant geese, ducks and tundra swans.

We are not so delighted with the snow though, as poor JG has had to clear it three times already, growling, and is now preparing to cope with a two day ice storm. His fall this autumn was a literal one, cracking two ribs, and while he is now mostly healed, things were painful for a while.

So much for the gloomy news. The Hall where I volunteer had a most popular fundraising dinner (and their very reluctant treasurer is still sorting out all the bills in the hopes of making sense of what was spent and what the net will be).

Our Refugee Committee has successfully settled two families and is awaiting its third. The school age kids of the first family that arrived had a successful school year and the family is adapting beautifully. Mother is now confident to zoom around the town all on her own and Father’s English is coming close enough to adequate for him to work full time. He is translating for second family, in fact. The Committee has worked its collective head off and we are apparently a model for other groups to copy. I should add that I am responsible for neither the name nor the logo!

It is fascinating to watch my grandkid turn into a teenager, grow like a weed and despite the growth spurt continue to do well with her gymnastics. Unfortunately she cracked an arm bone just before Christmas, but it is healing well and not getting in her way too much. It is difficult for gymnasts at her age if they grow quickly as their centre of balance changes and they need to revise a lot of techniques. Miss G is coping and has placed on vault at ever meet so far. Awesome.  She is in Grade 8, whatever the French for that is. 

Early last winter the YD and I and a friend had a lovely vacation on an island called Bequia, part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The house that we rented looked like this 
 and we spent a lot of time lazing and swimming and eating.
The ships in the harbour were beautiful.

Other than that trip, we did not travel this year. JG has been beavering away in the bush (with a chainsaw, not his teeth). Here is one of his projects, now all turned into firewood and stacked by the daughters.

Do you mind if I skip over the American election? Incroyable! It has generated a lot of marvellous cartoons, though.

JG’s poor mother finally managed to die this fall. She was 99 and her last years were not good ones for her, physically or mentally. She is now at rest, thankfully, and we are not slogging back and forth to Fort Erie any more.

We have seen a lot of the YD’s cat and dog. In fact, they are here now for a week’s stay. Callie the cat was her usual grumpy winter self as she cannot understand why her lovely screened porch is not surrounded by leaves and warm breezes but is instead covered with this stupid COLD white stuff. She kept demanding to go out there and almost immediately demanding to come back in and warm up on the dog’s bed. Shammy, on the other hand, loves snow even when it involves Mary wiping her face and picking snowballs out from between her toes after every carouse. Lots of deer to chase, too. The hunters do not seem to have reduced our population of does at all. And we have seen a gorgeous 12 point buck since the close of the season.

After a day and night of snow and freezing rain, Jim is getting into his abominable snowman outfit to go out and start clearing, once he gets the snow shield on the tractor, that is. He bought himself a new auger last year that throws the snow an amazing distance and so I am staying here until he is done working around the house. Next he will be shovelling the roof. Where are the damn reindeer with a plough instead of a sleigh, I ask.

Have a wonderful 2017!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Summer Report. Besides 'Too Dern Hot"

When I started this post it was a misty moist and muggy day. We had had ¾ inches of rain the previous evening and overnight. And I was loving it. It has been a hot, dry summer, unlike the one a few years ago when the grand kid pressed her nose to a window every morning, heaved a big sigh as she looked at similar weather and said ‘I guess we aren’t going to the beach today either, are we Grama?’. This summer we need all the moisture we can get. The corn is half the height it ought to be and disgruntled farmers have been turning parched soybean fields under. Streams and ponds are dried up. The dust we put up on the gravel roads when we drive by the neighbours’ houses has me on a real guilt trip. But that night it started to correct itself and we had four more wet days forecast, days that produced a bit of rain and a lot of debris.

I also have no little girl wanting to swim and catch snakes and frogs.  Instead I have a teenager whose back to school photo shows a lot of muscular leg and a huge backpack, along with a big smile from which the braces were removed yesterday. She is beautiful, she has, um, attitude and she is very happy at achieving more than five feet in height over the summer. The last time her family visited she spent a lot of time crouched in the back field taking videos of something very small with the fancy iPhone she got for her thirteenth birthday. How fast they grow up and leave you far behind.

That was then. Now it is almost the end of September and we have some gold leaves and a very few red ones and I am putting the garden to bed. Slowly.

The Perth refugee committee had  our second gov’t sponsored refugee family arrive. I spent some time last week putting together a welcome basket to greet them. If anyone wants to know the Arabic for ‘First Aid Kit’, I can inform them. That was a lot of fun, especially the chocolate maple leaves on a stick I found for the kids. 

This arrival ended up a sad mess. There was no one from the Canadian government that told these poor people where they were going and they thought that they were headed for Toronto and a sister and religious community. When they ended up here and were told it was permanent, the Tylenol in the First Aid Kit got some use. Also before they got on the plane they had to sign a contract to repay the plane fare and $1700.00+ fee for their physicals. Although the sponsorship was supposed to be one of the partner-with-government ones, the government has now stopped paying these things. Frustration. Oh well. We were going to do more fundraising anyway and the committee is now working on getting these poor folk moved to be with their family and friends.

Earlier, I spread out all of the financial info for the Hall, sorted and filed it and brought the books up to date. THAT took a while and a lot of skull sweat, made worse by my soggy brain and clumsy fingers. During my confirmation count of the cash to be deposited I found that I was $60.00 (!!!) short and spent quite a bit of time in panic mode rechecking the various envelopes from which I had taken the money. When I finally looked at the floor and found that three $20.00 bills had slipped out of the clip and landed under my chair, I was too relieved to be angry with myself for dropping them. There is something to be said for peace of mind in such circumstances. 

The paragraph above was also part of the original post. Last night was the Hall committee meeting and so I wrote out a whole page of financial stuff  (leaving out the bit about losing the money) for the meeting. I am both secretary and treasurer and am not split-brained enough to take minutes of my own report, so I write it out ahead of time. It even added up. 

Another original paragraph. One not unexpected happening was the death of JG’s mother at the astounding age of 99. Her last year or so was pretty miserable for her and, I am sure, for JG’s brother who was looking after her daily. We will have a service of sorts this weekend, done to the specifics she left in a page of instructions written in 1992.  (I have a file on almost everything you could imagine, including ‘Wills and Funeral Instructions”.) I do not entirely approve of this document as it stipulates a graveside service only and will be a pain to run if it rains. (And it did rain. A real downpour. The minister gave the fastest bidding prayer I have ever heard.) As I think about this, I am determined not to leave a similar document for the daughters to have to implement. They can do what seems suitable to them at the moment, without my interference. Well, they probably would anyway, and more power to them.

I do lead a dull life. It’s fun while I am doing it but pretty deadly when I write it down.

My big project for this summer is almost complete. For many years I have had stacks of books stored in the cabin we used before we moved out here permanently and built the house. Most of them are paperbacks and while I have lots of shelving here in my office, I have filled those shelves with hard cover novels and reference books purchased since we moved in many cases. The paperbacks are old friends that I have not seen for a long time.  This summer JG put a row of new bookcases up downstairs for me and I am sorting the books in batches hauled over from the cabin and lining them up in the new shelves. I now have lots of novels to read that I have almost forgotten. Even if they are a little musty and yellow around the edges from storage in an unheated building, I am hanging out with my battered old friends. One more load to go and they will all be available. After almost 20 years of being packed in boxes, unpacked and flung around as I searched for something, and, not finding it, bought another copy. To my chagrin in some cases I have found two copies of a favourite. One book was there in triplicate. The annual spring book sale is going to love me. And the musty scent is wearing off quite quickly.

The grand kid is selling spring bulbs again this year to raise money for something. Last year I bought some giant allium and they did really well. I love the dry blooms as decoration; they don’t shed, even. So, this year I am buying more and more daffodils and some rock garden allium. This last will involve digging up some of the weeds that I have allowed to take over the rock garden but maybe, just maybe, the deer will leave them alone. (Remember this photo taken this spring of the deer reclining in the rock garden?) We have at least three adult does and one energetic fawn coming regularly this summer. Friends are supplying us with messy fallen apples and the deer love them. Let’s hope the ‘deer proof’ label on the allium is true.

And I just managed to pay JG's car insurance through a telephone robot. I forgot to write a cheque in time and the new company will not accept computer payment. I HATE telephone robots almost as much as I hate people who send you a bill with the pertinent numbers in six point type. I ended up typing numbers with one hand while holding a magnifying glass in the other. 

 The tree that contained these logs got blown over in a storm. JG cut it up and is now splitting it for firewood. Ah, life in the country. Never a dull moment. Um, I guess I will have to take back paragraph five.

Monday, 18 July 2016


I am trying to wrap my understanding around the idea that Americans want guns because they are afraid. This is surely the only explanation for the firearms advocates in the United States continuing their opposition to any kind of control on guns after what we have experienced over the past week in gun violence and unnecessary, tragic deaths.

I live in a rural area south of Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Ottawa is a small city as capital cities go and surrounded by parks and open, recreational area. A few years ago one of the local papers carried a story about an American tourist who was afraid to walk in one of these parks because he did not have his gun (Americans cannot bring them over the border into Canada) and did not feel safe. I recall shaking my head at the time, as this seemed to be such a bizarre attitude. The only time I or anyone I know worries about guns is during the November hunting season when there may be some drunken or idiotic lout who could mistake me for a deer.

When we lived in the city, the chance of being shot by some madman or getting mixed up in a gang war were so diminishingly small that you might as well worry about being hit by lightning. Both possible but unlikely. Why? Because the only guns around belonged legally to police and hunters and illegally to the criminal elements we have always with us. Before there were guns, the same type of lawless yobs carried coshes and knives and suchlike, I am quite sure. Canadians are not hung up about the right to bear arms. And because it is not a big deal, we don’t have a lot of gun crime.

Yes, we have gangs and they shoot each other and innocent bystanders once and a while. Yes, some of the urban police use weapons inappropriately and we have had a few panic shootings by law enforcement officers. Yes, we have had law enforcement officers shot by nuts. Twice, in recent memory. Both times the shooters had legally acquired weapons,I think . But not assault weapons. Our radical attacker on Parliament Hill had a weapon that he used to shoot and kill a soldier from behind, but it was not a high powered rifle. He couldn’t get one.

 Most Canadians except the police do not think about guns at all, outside of being a little careful on hikes in the first two weeks of November.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be constantly in fear of being shot. I cannot imagine how police can do their job rationally and reasonably when anyone, anytime, could be armed and dangerous. That too many policemen believe that black Americans are more dangerous than white ones is sad and sickening and terrible. Yes, it is hell for the poor cops to be constantly expecting some black criminal to pull a gun. But for the 99 out of 100 law-abiding and reasonable black Americans who have to live in fear of every police interaction, life must be hell too.

Because anyone can carry a gun or have one stashed to hand, everyone has to be afraid of guns. What a horrible, endless circle. What a mess.

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Morning of Mourning

It’s a lovely damp cool morning, a mix of sun and cloud and the promise of yet more rain to revive our parched land and wilted trees. It is high summer, a nest of red breasted grosbeaks has hatched and is decorating our feeders, the ED and family are off on an adventure vacation and all should be well.

Only it isn’t. I keep seeing in my mind the solemn, lovely face of little Taliyah Marsman and remembering that they have found her body and wondering how much horror and terror attended her pitiful death. Yes, there are piles of dead and suffering, wounded children in Nice today and what happened to them is terrible. But their deaths and those of their parents and relatives are less real to me than what I am quite sure happened to poor little Taliyah before she died. Any of us can imagine why she was taken to a deserted field, alone and at the mercy of a human animal.

I am glad my granddaughter is old enough and strong enough and smart enough to be able to defend herself. Although girls and women are often, however clever and strong they are, victims anyway. They are vulnerable to the twisted and sickening desires of the madmen and equally vulnerable to the attitudes of society toward them. As are black males in our society vulnerable to the kind of attitude that makes nervous and badly chosen or trained policemen shoot them for little or no reason. As are ordinary people going about their innocent lives, perhaps watching fireworks, perhaps dancing in a night club with their friends, vulnerable to the mass killers created by outmoded ideas.

It is a horrible world out there. Innocent men shot because of the terror and rage of the police.  Police shot because of the terror and rage of the persecuted. Holiday makers crushed in the midst of their peaceful enjoyment. The madness of indiscriminate political murder weighs on us all. And I do mean political, even if it is disguised as religious fervor. We are all, in some way, at the mercy of the fanatic and deranged, even if we are personally safe for the moment, because of how the horrors they enact affect how we feel and act toward others.

It is peaceful here. My most pressing irritations are deer flies. And I suppose that Taliyah’s poor little face will fade from the forefront of my mind in time, stored away with other horrible facts we have all had to assimilate and live with. Only children cry out ‘It’s not fair’. Those of us who are supposed to be adult know that fairness is nowhere in this mess of hatred festering in our world. What is so horrible is that it goes on and on and all the good intentions in the world will not solve it. Nor all our tears wash out a word of it.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Closer to God in a Garden

All this week people have been posting photos of their beautiful newly established annuals, their gardens in general, their new blooms. Loving all the photos, I felt I should contribute.

Once I too worked hard on my gardening. Over several years and with much hauling of just the right piece of rock or another barrow full of good soil, with many hopeful purchases of perennials, with an infinite number of weed pulls, I established a fine rock garden on an outcropping of bedrock in the middle of the small field behind our rural home. I have photos of this labour of love in its prime, and if Windows 10 will let me, Here is a photo of the rock garden at its best. I never added garden gnomes. It took my evil neighbour to do that.

But, I am not the only being who loves my rock garden. Over the years, as we fed the deer, they became at home in our back field and decided that rock garden plants are delicious treats in spring.

To eat these delicacies, they found it necessary to walk all over the rocks on their sharp little hooves. Neither of these things was very good for the garden, and I dropped back and let it return to a wilder state, one where only the most rugged plants remain.

This year the dear things have taken occupation to new heights. Yesterday I looked out and found that the rock garden has now become a deer lounging area. It is fly season, but out in the middle of the field there is a breeze that blows some of the biters away, and two of our resident does have decided that this is a perfect place to relax and chew their cuds.

 I may just dig some of the good soil out of there and deploy it elsewhere. They are pretty nice guests, though.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Chocolate Tale

I am not a willing cook. Now, I can cook. I can, if I must, make bread, bake a row of pies for the Community Hall dinner, can fruit, stew, fry and roast. But I would rather enjoy someone else’s efforts than spend the time myself chopping, kneading, stirring and watching the oven. My YD is a Cook. She goes shopping with a new recipe book and produces marvels of soup, racks of lamb, marinated fish and divine pastas. She does it for fun. When she wants to. And eats KD when she doesn’t.

A while back the grandkid’s parents sent her to a cooking camp to fill in August days while they were at work. She was, maybe, ten. Or even younger. She learned to make muffins and breakfast breads and cookies. Lots of stuff. She got enthusiasm from the family and lots of praise and kept on baking, upping the ante as time went on. I got a strawberry cake with a glazed top two birthdays ago. Grandpa got an amazing Black Forest concoction. Miss G and her father produce beautiful Bouche Noel cakes, even though her mother refuses to be in the kitchen while this is happening. Miss G scorns mixes.

I have made her birthday cakes for years because she has a nut allergy. “Is this from a mix, Grama?’, she snarkily comments. Okay. She and her entourage are due here this afternoon for her birthday celebration dinner and I, fool that I am, volunteered to make the cake. On request, chocolate with chocolate icing. And I got an eye roll with the request.

Cooling down in the cellar is now a from-scratch chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing. Recipes from my favourite Laura Secord cookbook. Stuff turns out from these recipes, but they are not simple. The cake required a custard and chocolate mix to be added to a three stage mix of wet and dry ingredients and then that folded into two soft peak whipped egg whites. I will say it rose well. That took me most of last evening, plus scrubbing the stove top. Added this morning was a two icing glaze, fudge in the centre and on the sides (I stupidly took the sugar mix past soft boil and had to thin the mixture and reheat. Sigh) and whipped milk chocolate on top. This last addition is from a can. I have hidden the remnants and the can at the back of the frig.

And now I must go and de-chocolate the kitchen again, plus mop off the floor to keep the ants at bay. This will have occupied my whole morning and I have not even read the paper yet. I have pies to make for the Hall for June 12th. I may buy the damn things. But I hope to have impressed the daughter and grandkid in the interim.

And, there is nothing wrong with cleaning fudgy spoons with your tongue, right? As long as they get washed properly later.