Sunday, October 13, 2019

It's a Wonderful Day (Not)

Dear Diary:

Well, that's what this feels like, almost private although obviously not. Anyway, my house guest just left with her daughter an hour ago.

She was kind of the perfect house guest: good fun, good company and not really needing to be entertained since she had her own agenda here and the use of her daughter's car. She lived in the area for about a year a couple of years ago and met a lot of people that she wanted to catch up with. Her prime reason for being in this province was to spend Thanksgiving with her daughter S who is at school in Halifax, but that left her with lots of time to visit friends in the Valley. For me it was just the right mix of busyness and downtime while she visited with other friends.

Last night S came up from the City to participate in the Valley Thanksgiving Marathon; she stayed here overnight and got up early this morning for the race. Since S was not feeling well she only did 5K (there were options for 5K, 10K, a half-Marathon and a full Marathon) and then after she cleaned up we all went out for breakfast at a local restaurant.

I asked S what she was studying and she said she was working on her Master's in Nutrition. I asked what her thesis topic was and she said it was about senior women and communal meals. That sounded intriguing so she explained to me that it was a chance for her to combine her studies in nutrition with feminist theory. That older women have usually spent a half a lifetime or more caring for and feeding other people but at the ends of their lives are often deeply marginalized and forgotten by society and even their own families (tell me about it!). So she was looking at how senior women come together to care for one another and specifically how they share food. She said it was a very satisfying topic and an easy one to apply feminist ideas to. I was quite admiring. At least there are a few young people who take notice of that sort of thing.

Prior to breakfast I took Hapi for her walk at the Reservoir and met up with my friend P who is 86 and her dog Maddie. I was in a kind of angry mood so I ranted at her about being ignored by my family on this Thanksgiving weekend. They all make the duty-bound calls at Christmas and my birthday, and occasionally show their faces in my province. But the two big family-related holidays of the year are Thanksgiving and Christmas and not once have any of them called me on Thanksgiving. Everyone I know has some family nearby so they are all busy this weekend celebrating. One of my sons told me that he didn't believe in Hallmark holidays so they never call on Mother's Day because that is such a phoney thing to do. Of course, if you are often talking to or spending time with your mother then you have every right to criticize it as a phoney Hallmark holiday.

Anyway, I ranted. P sympathized as she had similar feelings, although she does have family living nearby and they are planning to get together this weekend. Then we saw Teddy. Teddy is a toy poodle belonging to A (93 years old), so we knew she could not be far behind.

P said, "Let's see if she tells us what a wonderful day it is."

That is A's trademark: she always tells you what a wonderful day it is, no matter what. So when she appeared we waited for her to tell us that. Instead she told us about the wonderful opera she had seen the night before at the cinema. She couldn't remember the name of it but she said it was one of the well-known ones and it was absolutely wonderful. P tried to prompt her to comment on the weather or the state of the day but A wasn't biting, she was totally enthralled with the opera. Since we were headed in opposite directions around the ponds we knew we would meet up with her again and by that time she would no doubt remember the name of the opera. Sure enough, we did and it was Turandot.

Then we jokingly told her we were expecting her to tell us what a wonderful day it was and she said, "Well at least it is not raining."

P and I laughed and laughed. First time A has admitted that the day might not be so wonderful. When you're feeling utterly crappy, it's nice to have a good laugh with old friends.

The picture above: I loaned my house guest a set of keys and she promptly lost them. The key fob is made from my dog's fur and some green wool so it has sentimental value, even though it is quite dirty now. We tried to figure out where she might have left them and I started phoning around. Sure enough, someone turned them in and I was able to retrieve them. I took the photo to text to my friend who was then in Halifax, to let her know she was off the hook on that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Hapi tales

Right now I am dealing with a stabbing headache, a gum infection and a sore tongue (from accidentally biting it) all on the left side of my head. I'm thinking this is stress-related. Usually I get these kinds of ailments after the stress has been mostly relieved so I suppose this is good news, I'm out of the woods. But it is not pleasant.

We're seeing some daylight at the end of the tunnel for my friend B. Her son who lives with her will see an increase in income, over $250/month, which will go a long way toward alleviating their financial situation. There is potential for more in the long term as well. Also I made contact with the Continuing Care people in the provincial government and they are going to assess B's situation to see if there is anything they can do to help. Bottom line, she is not invisible anymore; there will be people aware of her circumstances and troubles who actually have the power to do something about it. There is a Seniors department in the government but I couldn't see anything there worth pursuing. Seems to be mostly about "positive aging" and keeping fit.

Hapi's fur yarn and the woollen tail sock
My dog Hapi has been losing the fur on her wonderful tail, there is now a four-inch strip of exposed bare skin near the tip (see photo at top). I've taken her to the vet a couple of times and the diagnosis and treatment has been not so useful. I joked with friends about making her a "tail sock" to cover her bare patch in the wintertime, and this week I got serious about knitting one up for her. I remembered that I have a ball of yarn that was spun from her own undercoat fur a few years ago so I thought it would match her tail fur. It is very soft. I made a test tail sock from sheep wool that is not so soft and before winter I will make the final one, assuming that her tail fur does not miraculously grow back before then.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What is in a name? It turns out a lot

Taking flight
I am thinking about changing my name.

I was married, briefly, during the '70s. Back then I changed my surname (not knowing any better) to my husband's name, and changing it back to my "maiden name" after the divorce didn't seem worth the bother. So I have spent most of my adult life under an assumed name, or so Vital Statistics tells me. My married name is not a legal name, it is an assumed name.

My brothers and never-married sister all go by the family name (i.e., my father's family name) and so in my family of origin I am an anomaly, the only one not bearing the family name. My kids all have their father's surname, sort of. One has a different father but since I was still legally married at the time he had to be named after my husband who was not his father. Another legally changed his name when he got married to a double-barreled name. This blog is in my ex-husband's and my current surname. My parents and my ex-husband are all dead.

If I had my druthers I'd change my surname to my maternal grandmother's "maiden name", only because I happen to like the sound of it and I know something of its history. But I think changing one's surname to something other than one's own "maiden name" is a bit more expensive.

The other thing is that the given name that I commonly go by is my second name on my birth certificate, and I have always gone by that name even as a very small child. I don't know why that is but I never objected to it and still don't. However since computers became common it has been an ongoing source of irritation because virtually all government agencies insist on using my first given name. If I am sitting in a waiting room it is that first name that gets called out, not my more commonly used second name. Government ID seems to be mixed on the issue, some of it shows the first name, some both names, and some only the second name.

So I thought maybe I should just cave on the issue and go by my first name like almost everybody else does and just stop arguing with officials who insist on it. It will be weird having a new name but at least it will solve a few minor problems.

Into the wild blue...
I started looking up what is involved in changing a name and it turns out that it is really complicated, there is no one agency you can call to deal with it. First of all there is the provincial government, then the federal government, and then of course the municipal government. Each of these involve multiple departments that all must be dealt with separately. Finally there are the financial institutions and various commercial organizations that I have accounts with. I feel quite confident in guessing that it will be an endless task rooting out the last vestiges of my old (i.e., current) name. No wonder I didn't do it right away! But I was naive, I did not know that it would be that much harder now than it would have been three decades ago. Who would have thunk that computers would make things harder not easier?!? (sarcasm)

So why bother? I'm going to blame it on Dorian and Arthur. Arthur was a tropical storm during July 2015 and Dorian a hurricane of less than a couple of weeks ago. In both cases there was widespread damage to the entire province and power outages lasting a week or more. I was very lucky during Dorian to get my power back within 18 hours, extremely lucky actually. My home did sustain a little damage but nothing really devastating. Going without electricity, internet and phone for 18 hours is way different from going without for a week. During Arthur I was without power for 3-4 days I think and that was hard enough. It is a very isolating feeling to not have phone or internet. I did have a cell phone then but not a lot of data so I couldn't go on the internet, and after a couple of days the battery had died anyway and that was that.

None of my kids called me during or after Arthur or Dorian. My brothers did, but not my kids. They are very bad at keeping in touch quite frankly, and I am told that it is because they are men not women. I had the great misfortunate of not bearing a single daughter. I have tried to talk to my sons about the importance of keeping in touch but it just hasn't had an impact. One son cannot be reached by email, he has an email address but he does not read email there because he says there is too much junk mail there and for whatever reason he does not want to create a new email address. Text messages are okay but I have a hard time reducing what I want to say to text message size.

I understand that my two married sons have busy lives with jobs, wives and kids to be concerned about. I was not so great at keeping in touch with my parents when I was their age either. So I resent it and feel a little guilty about it too. But from where I am sitting it looks to me like my siblings are more concerned about me than my kids are, and the name change might be appropriate. An outward and visible sign of true allegiance, so to speak. I feel abandoned whether it is actually true or not, and I feel like I need to disown my family and go on without them (my kids, not my brothers). I am tired of dealing with the recurring disappointment and sense of abandonment.

It looks like a long term project and one that will take considerable planning to do everything in the right order. When it is done however, that will be the end of this blog. I will no longer be Mz Odell. I may start another blog in my new name, and if I do I will provide a link here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Life goes on, sort of

Pre-Dorian Avondale Sky Winery
Another windy rainy day but not a hurricane. There are still parts of the province, even parts of this town, that do not yet have power restored. My neighbour with the generator that I mentioned in my last post is still having to use that generator. The kayaking expedition that I was supposed to go on yesterday is probably cancelled, since the location is closed due to wind damage and some of the participants still do not have power so would have been unable to prepare food in advance and keep it cool. I haven't talked to any of them, I bowed out several weeks ago due to concerns about Hapi and her dogsitter.

On the good news front, the MLA's assistant finally called my friend B back and made a suggestion that might give her more income. Her son is following through on that. But her breathing is far worse. I thought it was because of the heat wave but we are into cooler weather now and she is, if anything, worse. She cannot finish a single sentence without gasping for breath.

I said, "You need oxygen."

She agreed but said, "You can't get oxygen if you don't have a doctor. A doctor has to refer you."

She's been on the doctor waitlist for a year now. Getting a doctor is along the lines of getting a pony for Christmas, assuming you want a pony. If your Daddy is rich then you have half a chance, but if not then forget it. I gather that the MLA's assistant is still working on that but it didn't sound like he was optimistic.

I went online later to confirm that she did in fact have to have a doctor in order to get oxygen. Close but not quite. The provincial health people say you have to have a "designated physician", and then give a link to a list of "designated physicians" in the province. There is one in a nearby town. So I will call their office and find out if they can do anything for her. If not then I may have to go to the MLA's office, even though they say I am not a nice person. I just think that not being able to breathe can't be good for her, it must be doing damage to other parts of her body if she's not getting enough oxygen.

There is a rent subsidy available to seniors but there is over a year's waitlist for it. And, unbelievably, she doesn't qualify. First of all they calculate how much you should pay in rent as 33% of your total income. In other jurusdictions it's 30%, but no matter. If your heat is included in the rent then they will include it in the subsidy, but if it isn't they don't. So taking her rent alone into account, they tell her that they would actually INCREASE her rent payment rather than subsidize her. If she moved into a place where the heat was included in the rent payment then she might qualify, but first of all she doesn't have any savings to pay for a move. Last time she moved she borrowed from one of those horrible high-interest "payday" loan companies, couldn't meet the exorbidant interest payments and ended up going bankrupt. She's terribly ashamed of that, she's never not paid her debts before.

And second of all she doesn't have the energy to pack up and move due to not being able to breathe. Her son could do a lot of it but it would be really hard to force her to sit still and not lift a finger to help. She likes to give Hapi dog treats, I buy them for her. But she insists on breaking them up into smaller pieces so that she can prolong the treat-giving process and the effort to cut the treats in half wipes her out. Nevertheless she insists on it, and someone would have to sit on her to force her not to help pack up for a move.

B's Seniors Club was on hiatus all summer but they started meeting again yesterday. B couldn't go. She has a walker but she can't get it up or down the stairs to the outside door of her building. She needs a ride and many of the people in the club either can't help her with the walker or they can't take it in their cars. There is one guy who can and will, but of course she doesn't want to call him every week about it. And even if the walker and the ride were taken care of, there's the small matter of not being able to breathe. And the requirement that everyone takes a turn at providing snacks for the whole group. No one else visits her, that Seniors Club and I are it for social life. So now it's just me. I'm not good at caregiving, I find this whole thing stressful and I just don't want the responsibility. But there's no one else to pass it off to.

The latest news is that the government health people think they will have the proper ratio of doctors and patients in a few years time. They are on course and making progress. I don't think they have any clue what "a few years time" means to someone like B.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Adventures with Dorian

By the light of a headlamp
Hurricane Dorian was here.

A day and a night of strong wind and heavy rain, the power went out just after supper time. Don't often see the world that dark. There was enough rain that the sump pump kicked in mid-afternoon but it stopped when the power went out. Note to self, get a generator to keep the sump pump going when it needs to.

On Sunday all was sunny and clear with a bit of a cool breeze. I went walking around town to see how things fared. No electricity anywhere, all the shops closed except one convenience store. I talked to the women who worked there, they got coffees from the Fire Department and kept the store open all day for anyone who could pay cash. I went to a friend's house and we walked through a ravine to the Reservoir with our dogs, we had to bushwack the trail because of so many downed trees. Between his bad hip and my bad knee it was kind of ludicrous, us clambering over and under and through the bushes. The dogs just traipsed on through, waiting for us up ahead on the trail. At the Reservoir it wasn't quite so bad, we ran into two groups of students having picnic breakfasts there.

On my way home I had to go around a tree blocking the road, another friend drove up and stopped to chat. I said how it was impossible to find coffee in this town and she said she had some, why didn't I come to her place. I had to take Hapi home first and then we drove to my friend C's place. I've known C a long time, we were both single parents back in the '80s in this town. She stayed, I left. Now she lives in a housing co-op for seniors. They have a generator, so in all the hallways are electric outlets powered by the generator. People were charging phones, running their fridges off long extension cords, and of course boiling water for coffee. C's apartment was small but really nice, she is very happy there. Even though the rent is very low she still has to work to afford to get by. We talked about that and I told her about my friend B, she told me about a mutual friend L who is also in dire straits. C has her health, she could probably get by without working if she didn't have a car, but the car is a lifeline for her.

Later C took me for a tour of the co-op. It consists of several buildings on a large campus, they have a vegetable garden and numerous flower gardens. In the main building is the Lounge (the common room) and two libraries, fiction and non-fiction. C is in charge of the libraries. There's a small gym, a craft room and a woodworking room. They have a rack of shared bicycles. When we stopped by the Lounge there were a bunch of people there, one of the residents had made a large pot of chicken soup and it was being shared. I had a little bit. There was a man visiting his Mom who lived there. He'd been evacuated out of his apartment building in Halifax because of Dorian. He recognized C, he went to school with C's son and used to come by their place all the time.

C was going to drive me home but something came up so I walked. Saw lots more trees down. Most of them were uprooted, the rain softened the ground and the wind whipped those trees right out. I saw one tree that was easily three feet in diameter on its side. I saw another tree that looked like it had been folded down. Lots of trucks and tree fellers out working, quite a few generators humming away. With the power down there was no reason to stay home so lots of people were out walking or driving around. I hear there's a shortage of gas now. A wheel bearing is out on my car so I don't want to drive it till it gets repaired. That was scheduled for tomorrow and with the power out I wasn't sure it was going to happen. But tonight I heard that the garage has power now and they're planning to fix my car tomorrow.

So 400,000 homes lost power all over the province, about 80% of the population. By Sunday night half those homes were back online and tonight well over 3/4 of them are back up. I'm on the same grid as the university and they were a high priority so I got my power back by noon on Sunday. People on the west side of town were next because there's a medical clinic and a bunch of nursing homes out that way. The east side was the last to get power.

Here's a funny thing. My brother on the west coast was diagnosed with liver cancer (not the funny thing) and he has been undergoing treatment, the second treatment was this past week and on Saturday during the hurricane I phoned him while I still had power. He was doing okay and was optimistic about his prospects. We talked about the hurricane and I told him about the online power outage map so he looked it up and saw how many places in this province were down. He watched the hurricane on, he could see it heading for Halifax (it made landfall about the time I lost power). On Sunday while I was at C's place I got a text from him saying that Acadia University had power, but he wasn't sure about my street. I texted back that I was going there to see. So I found out I had electric power from my brother on the west coast, that's the funny thing.

Today I went to the Reservoir and all the trees have been cleared off the trails. I met two friends, one with power and one without. the one without is in a building with an elevator that wasn't working. She's 93 so going up and down all the stairs to her 3rd floor condo can't have been easy. Plus her garage has an electric door so she had to find a tall man to open it for her manually. But she made it. She said she met a young person recently who asked if she could call her "a tough old bird" and she said she could. She was proud to be "a tough old bird".

In the afternoon I went to my needlework group that was meeting in a home that didn't have power but did have a generator. We all talked about our various states of electrification and how many trees we had down, et cetera. Our host told me about small generators you can buy just to run a sump pump (they have a sump pump too). One of the women in the group goes to the same church as my friend B so I spoke to her about B's situation. She told me she'd see what she could do, she was very concerned about B but hadn't seen or heard from her in a while.

"Why hasn't she asked us for help?"

"I don't know, she said something about the church being in trouble and she didn't want to disturb them."

Well they're going to try. Strictly speaking they're not supposed to because B lives outside their parish now, but it's a small church and everyone knows everyone and B has been a member there for a long time.

Monday, September 2, 2019

...We thought they'd never end...

Labour Day, one of the very few days of the year when everything is closed. I like it, it's like a moment out of time, time standing still.

We are into the very best time of year around here, a month or two of absolutely perfect weather. The unbearable heat of summer is done, the miserable cold of winter still in the future. And the gardens and farm markets bursting with tomatoes and corn and squashes and everything else. The students are back and celebrating the way students do, the streets are lively and sometimes too lively. This year the students in my neighbourhood seem not to be the "party hearty" types so we all get to sleep at night.

This is good for Hapi too. She can just barely handle the heat of summer, the cooler days are perking her up. I was supposed to take her to the groomer to get all her matted fur cleaned up but I totally forgot and now the next available appointment is a month away. She's going to be a terrible mess by then. Under normal circumstances it takes hours and hours to clean her up but now that she is old I am reluctant to put her through that. I told the groomer I just want "quick and dirty" and if that means she comes out still a matted mess then so be it.

She had a bad episode of diarrhea necessitating leaving the back door open at night so she could get out rather than do it in the kitchen, when that cleared up (yay rice and apples!) she then became incontinent. So she has decided not to sleep indoors at all. I miss her being by my bed but on the other hand I get to sleep through the night.

She is losing the fur on her tail, her once beautiful billowing flag. The vet checked her out and thought it was not a sign of something worse, she was otherwise healthy enough, and recommended trying melatonin. So we're doing that. I now sympathize with men going bald, I hate seeing her ratty tail.

Birthday gift, one of the tea towels I wove in the spring
Last Wednesday was a friend's 65th birthday. I've known L for 46 years, she was a teenager when I first met her. On Wednesday a bunch of us met at her sister-in-law's for a birthday lunch and then on Saturday her husband threw her a "surprise" birthday party at home. It wasn't really a surprise, when he phoned to invite me to the party L happened to be there and I had the phone on speaker (I usually do that automatically): so much for surprise. But he invited all of the old gang, all of us who have known L almost since she arrived in this province.

She arrived a year before I did, in 1972. There was only one other person at the surprise party who knew L longer than I did, M. He told a story from back in the day, a story that until this Saturday he had not told in its entirety. As L told me later, if M had told the truth about the incident before now she would have killed him. She always knew he wasn't telling the truth, fortunately she no longer wished to kill him for it. It was a good story, I'd never heard the whole story either, just his severely edited version of it. L and I rehashed the story on Sunday and we decided that even now he was not telling the whole truth, parts of the story just didn't ring true. Oh well, we all self-edit.

Now you're intensely curious as to what the story is, I'll just say that it involved drugs and the RCMP and hiding stuff behind L's back. In the end nobody got hurt and nobody went to jail, sort of an Alice's Restaurant tale. I guess that tale was M's birthday gift to L.

At one point in the party L's husband sat down beside me with their old photo albums and started turning the pages. Talk about Memory Lane!! Between the photo album and M's tale it was an evening spent in the past, almost half a century ago.

L's mother died when she was quite young and her father was no great shakes at parenting. So at 16 she took off with her boyfriend on his motorbike and on a whim they headed to Nova Scotia. Shortly after arriving here he was killed in a road accident, leaving L and another friend who travelled with them behind. They had found an abandoned house way back on the mountain, near some other hippies also squatting in an abandoned house. So she met some of the local freaks that way. There quickly grew up quite a community of young people, including some new arrivals from out west, the three guys who set up Trinity Farm ("the three guys"). My husband and I and our 2 kids arrived the following year, we had lived in a house with the three guys in Vancouver. We had parted ways for our own adventures, but for one reason and another we decided to follow the guys to Nova Scotia a year later. M was the cousin of one of the three guys and used to hang out at Trinity Farm, and so did L. My little family arrived at Trinity Farm on the Labour Day weekend of 1973.

When M told his story we weren't sure exactly when it happened, but piecing together the bits that each of us remembered from those days we decided that it was it was either the fall of 1974 or the early winter of '75. I was preoccupied with my own drama (family breakup) so I was only dimly aware of other people's dramas. Those were definitely the days, my friend.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Dog treats and other stuff

There is some movement around the plight of my friend from the previous post (we'll call her B), but it's early days yet. My dog lady friend contacted her Famous Filmmaker Daughter who replied that she'd talk to someone she knows about the situation. One of her films was about child poverty and featured a local social worker; my dog lady friend thought she might be helpful dealing with poverty of older people. Haven't heard back from the MLA's office, but don't really expect to right away. Maybe later. I just delivered some groceries from me and my neighbour; another friend said she'd put something together later so she's not swamped with food right away. The heat in B's apartment is overwhelming and B can hardly breathe. She speaks between gasps.

One of B's unfortunate habits is to badmouth other poor people. Mostly people I happen to know, I think it just wouldn't be as appealing to her to talk about people I don't know. Anyway it's mostly stuff about poor people gaming the system. Which I have no doubt goes on, but when you consider the gaming of the system by poor people up against the gaming of the system by not-so-poor people, it's pathetic. I really wish she wouldn't do that, but I understand that it comes with the territory. Being poor is dreadfully hard on you in so many ways. But it is hard to listen to and I came away feeling exhausted.

Hapi is always excited to see B, she knows she's going to be fed treats. When I arrived we had to put away the perishable groceries and Hapi just went bananas. She expected her treat to be Item Number One on the agenda. Eventually we sat down and she got her treat, tiny bits of dessicated liver. I offer her these things and she turns up her nose, but when B does it's the highlight of her day.

Hapi has had a bout of diarrhea. Not unusual with her but unpleasant when she has indoor accidents in the middle of the night. I started out withholding food for a day or so but she objected pretty strenuously to that. One of my dog lady buddies recommended rice and applesauce for her, another friend said cooked egg. So I mixed up a concoction of rice, cooked apple and scrambled egg and gave it to her two days in a row.  It was an apple left over from a bag of apples I bought last winter that I chopped up and nuked. I don't know what they did to that poor apple but it wasn't shrivelled or bruised or anything. Had to be a year old. Hapi scoffed it up like candy and OMG, I have never seen such hard little turds come out of her back end in all the time I've had her! It's a miracle!! I probably can't keep her on that diet forever but I sure would like to!!!

Can a malamute survive on rice and apples?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Subject line: Disappointed

Here is what I wrote:

Dear [MLA for my riding],

Wednesday morning I was talking to some ladies who were telling me how helpful you were in finding solutions to problems of constituents. They urged me to contact you for help. Since the help I was seeking was not for me but for a friend, I passed this information on and my friend called you. She is an old woman with serious health issues and no doctor, and poor as well. She cannot afford to pay her bills and buy groceries any more. She raised a family and worked hard all her life. Her father made her quit school when she turned 16 so she was never able to complete high school, consequently the jobs she has had were not well paid. She was okay as long as her husband was alive but he got Alzheimer's and died. 

My friend's bills have mounted to a level she can no longer afford. In desperation she went to the food bank. She is only allowed to go once every 6 weeks and what they gave her was: 3 potatoes, 3 apples, 2 stalks of celery, a small bag of carrots, a few cans of soup, some bread rolls, a few tea bags and a package of frozen hamburger which turned out to be rotten when it thawed. For 2 people for 6 weeks (her disabled son lives with her). After paying all her bills she has $6.00 left for groceries for the month. Not just this month but every month. She has tried the housing authority but they told her there is a 2.5 year waitlist for subsidy. She has her name on the 811 waitlist for a doctor but they say it's up to the government and they have nothing for her. She has diabetes, COPD, acid reflux, arthritis, a pacemaker, high blood pressure and lives with constant pain. She needs a walker just to get around her tiny basement apartment. Nova Scotia Power told her the reason her electric bill is so high is because of the baseboard heaters she uses in the winter time (with the thermostat set at 15C … 15C!!!) and the fans she uses in the summer because it is so hot that she can't breathe (COPD).

I talked to my doctor, hoping to get her to take my friend as a patient. She said she couldn't do it. I am reasonably healthy so I offered to give up my place with this doctor to my friend but the doctor refused, said it couldn't be done unless she was a family relation. Told me I should call my MLA.

I told my friend to call your office and she did. She got your assistant who professed to be sympathetic but told her there was nothing to be done, she should try the churches. Then he hung up on her. She tried calling back, left a message, but no one returned the call. 

Clearly I was wrong to advise her to call you, and clearly my lady friends were wrong about your willingness to help. I am sorry that I caused my friend to fall deeper into despair, one more door slammed in her face.

I am appalled at your callousness, appalled at this government's willingness to let old women lose their homes and ability to feed themselves. I am not a Liberal, but before my friend called your office I thought to myself that if you could help her then I would change my vote. Unfortunately for her but fortunately for me, that won't be necessary. You have lived down to my expectations. 

You have connections and you know people, so you are in a better position to help my friend than I am. I can buy her a few groceries sometimes but she won't accept them from me. Do you know what it feels like to watch someone's health deteriorate dangerously all because of their living conditions and stress, and not be able to do anything about it? Probably not. 

Don't bother replying to this email message for I really am not in a mood for listening to excuses and pretenses at sympathy. If you are willing to help my friend then I'm sure your assistant took her name and phone number when she called so that you can act on it. I think that you need to get out more and understand what some of your constituents have to live with thanks to this government's lack of care for the most vulnerable.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I first ran it by one of my dog walking buddies because I was afraid I might come across too angry (ya think?) and thereby make the situation even worse. My buddy said: No No, Mr MLA needs to hear your anger! Then I called my friend in trouble to get her permission and she gave it right away. So I hit Send.

Ten minutes later my friend phoned to say that our MLA's assistant had just called her (after numerous messages left unanswered by my friend). Said he hadn't hung up on her, they just got disconnected. Said I was not a nice person and was trying to get him in trouble with his boss (Mr MLA). And where did I live, anyway? My friend professed ignorance, didn't know where I lived, somewhere in the county she guessed. 

But in spite of me not being a very nice person and getting the facts all wrong he was going to look into the situation and try to help my friend. And a few minutes after that call I got an email from the MLA's office politely telling me that they would look into the situation, and have a nice day. I replied: Thank you.

Well, if he accomplishes anything of assistance for my friend, then I guess that means I am on the hook to vote Liberal in the next provincial election.

That sucks.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


The other night I had this dream: I was talking to my old thesis supervisor (I did an MSc thesis in the '80s) and he was saying I should go back to school and do a PhD in systematics. He was quite convincing, named a specific university to do the doctorate at and said it would cost me hardly anything. I knew he was well-known in his field and that if I wanted to do it he could get me into the program he was promoting. I seriously considered it, remembered how much I had enjoyed doing that kind of research back in the day. Then I woke up.

I was still quite swayed by the idea but I also remembered that this guy was long dead, he couldn't get me into anything. I'd have to do it all by myself. After getting up and making coffee I got onto the internet and poked around. It all came back to me: how difficult it would be to get into a program I would like to do, how much it would cost, and how much stamina and energy it would take to do it. I also remembered that I had been down this garden path several times before and had reached the same conclusion: not doable. So why have this dream?

I told the dream to one of my dogwalking friends, a woman in her mid-80s.

"Sounds like you're trying to figure out what to do with your life," was her judgement.

She said that most of her life could be divvied up into Ten Year Plans, she spent roughly ten years on different projects that took up all her time and energy at the time. She said that the past ten years she'd spent on leisure activities: going to concerts and the theatre, hanging with friends. She wouldn't mind doing something a little more meaningful but felt that she just didn't have the energy for it any more.

"But you're still young, you could do it," she said.

I laughed. This must be why I hang out with people so much older than me, they think I'm young.

I told her that I wondered how my life would have turned out if I hadn't had kids, that I kind of regretted that. She said she felt that way too, or rather, she wished she had waited to have kids until she was fully formed, had had a chance to "find herself".

"But you know, in those days that's what you did, get married and have kids."

And besides, by the standards of the day she actually waited longer than her friends to start down that road, she was all of 22 when her first kid was born.

I was 23 when my first was born, and I wasn't "fully formed" by a long shot. Five years of marriage and then twenty of single parentdom. Now my kids and grandkids live in other provinces, I see one or two of them for a couple of days a year. They call on Christmas and birthdays. I thought I could have a relationship with one or more of the grandkids but at this point I think that ship has sailed. It just seems like a lot of time, energy and sacrifice went into that project with very little to show for it.

I think of all the things I could have done instead, and then I wonder if I would have, or if instead I would have squandered all that free time and energy because that's what we do when we think we have all the time in the world.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Lions and tigers and bears oh my, or, how my son went to sea

I took my son and grandson to the airport yesterday, we made a day trip out of it by going into Halifax a little early and strolling the waterfront to see the International Buskers Festival. My son tells me it is one of the best in the world. We stopped to watch a couple of performers, my grandson requested a balloon creation of a dragon from a ten foot tall man in a red suit and top hat (he was on stilts I think), and we had potstickers, egg rolls and naan rolls at the Farmers Market.

We happened to see the HMCS Sackville moored at a dock with a big sign saying it was free to tour ("by donation"). It is a decommissioned corvette veteran of three wars. My son said it was similar to a ship he served on when he was in the naval reserves. So we went on board and my son gave us the tour. He explained in detail how everything worked, showed us the sailors quarters, the engine room, the helm, the guns and a host of other things. Since my son was the helmsman on his ship when he was on board (in the reserves he did "contracts" of four weeks or so out at sea) he was able to explain in great detail how it all worked. Everything was mechanical, almost no electronics or electrical components at all. They communicated with each other via bells and speaking tubes.

He told us that they did duty in four hour shifts and the shift from 12AM to 4AM was known as "mids". When he was on mids he would sleep leaning on the wheel. The compass ticked whenever it changed direction by a degree, the ticking woke him up and he would adjust the course of the ship. He said he was very good at it and every time he went to sea they always put him on the helm. He sailed up and down the east coast of North America from Labrador to the Caribbean. He said he felt privileged to have had that experience.

In this ship the sleeping quarters and the mess were the same rooms. There were racks for hanging hammocks from the ceiling and below the racks were tables and benches for meals. The hammocks were very narrow and each rack held four hammocks in a space of about six feet in width. Pretty tight! My son said that on his ship they had bunks not hammocks, and the bunks were in a separate room from the mess. But it was still pretty crowded.

Before that we spent some time in Prince Edward Island at a cottage that belongs to my son's inlaws, near a beach. The whole area is mosquito infested, you pretty much had to stay indoors or be thoroughly bug-doped-up to go outside. At the beach were deer fly. The water was warm and the beach quite shallow for a long way with a series of sandbars that you could swim to. Some people sat on the beach in the sun and never went in the water. I quickly found out why: if you went in the water and came out covered in salt, the deer fly zeroed in on you. It was impossible to sit still once you got wet, the deer fly saw to that.

I took Hapi there with me and she quite enjoyed the beach. She went out as deep as she could while still keeping her feet on the bottom, then wandered up and down the beach to check out all the people and kids in the water. She kept a close eye on me and when I went out in the deep water she tried to follow. She did actually swim a bit but mostly she walked on her front legs and dogpaddled her rear legs. The kids at the beach quite enjoyed her.

After a few days of that I was thoroughly insect-bitten and just wanted to go home. Hapi does not travel well and she was glad to go home too. We spent a couple of hours cleaning up the cottage before leaving, one of the owners arrived the day after we left and was impressed at how clean and tidy we left the place. Back in Nova Scotia we mostly just hung out. My son is training for a marathon in the fall so he did some running, we took Hapi to the Reservoir every day and on one day we went to the zoo. It is a really nice zoo, just the right size for an hour or two of walking around looking at the creatures without burning out on too much zoo.

It is a private zoo, run mainly by one family who live on the premises. All the animals have names and little placards saying when they were born and how long they have been with the zoo. Every year they sell off some of their animals. Last year when I went they were selling guinea pigs and pygmy ponies, this year it is piglets. The llamas are in a large pen that you can walk into and pet them. Last year they let the peacocks run free but this year they are penned; someone said it was probably because they were losing them to local coyotes.

There's a resident bald eagle who is injured and can only hop-fly. There used to be two bears now there is only one; the jaguar, siberian tiger and half a dozen lions were all sleeping. One lion slept on his back with his legs in the air! Lots of gibbons and macaques, fallow deer and goats, and one very noisy cockatoo. Of course there was a corn feed dispenser for hand feeding various creatures whose pens clustered around the dispensers. Two huge pythons slept entwined with each other in the reptile house.

Today is my first day of getting caught up on chores and whatnot since the boys left yesterday. Pulled up all my garlic, picked and froze a bunch of green beans, pulled up all the pea stalks and weeded, weeded, weeded. Cleaned out the shed in readiness for stacking the firewood which is currently piled in the driveway. With cold and wet in May and June and then a heat wave for most of July, the garden is not doing so well. Two packets of basil seeds planted and none survived, cucumbers barely surviving, peas so-so and half the potato plants look ill. The blueberries did not do as well as last year and I've been lazy about picking them so the birds are doing it for me. The birds also planted sunflowers all over the yard and they are not doing well but they are flowering. The daylilies are happy though.

Now that the garlic is done I'm thinking about planting carrots and a fall crop of peas. My beans take a breather and then produce a second crop later in the summer. I used to replant them but I don't think I will this year. The tomatoes reseed themselves, I just transplant all the ones I like into one garden bed and pull up the rest as weeds. My strawberry bed has had the biscuit and hardly any of them came up this year, however tomatoes have taken over the strawberry bed so I just let them be.