Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reflections.

One of the things I did this week was immerse myself in my Mom.  With the renovation, for the past several months, I have not had time for immersion or reflection.  It is not that I have not thought of her.  I have.  Many times, I have wished that she could be here to discuss the plans for our new kitchen.  But I have systematically pushed aside lingering thoughts of her, in favour of weighty decisions like what colour grout should we use on the back splash.

I am fortunate that I have her words to immerse myself in.  She wrote her life story in the last ten years of her life.  She included the story of her grandparents and how they left the turmoil of the Soviet Union in the last 1920's. She wrote of her childhood and early adulthood. Her courtship with my father and the story of our family.  It was all there in black and white. With her editorializations, remarks and perspective. 

She also transcribed twenty-five years of letters that she had written to her parents-in-law.  My grandmother saved them and presented them to Mom and Dad in the eighties. My parents moved away from Winnipeg in 1960 and never again lived in the same city as their parents.

What an absolute treasure.  I loved reading the telling of our lives contemporaneously.  It was lovely to read of the events as they occurred.  The weddings of many of my aunts and uncles. The arrival of many cousins.  Holidays plans and Christmas trips. 

But what I apprehended, in perhaps a new way, was how very busy my Mom was in sixties and seventies.  Not only did she run the business of family, often on a tight budget, but my Dad travelled at times and for two years was in school full time.  She was often the only one there at bath time, bed time and homework time.

Now that I am in the midst of my own chaotic family business, I realize with fresh eyes how hard it must have been, living apart from grandparents and driving to swimming lesson and Cubs and hockey practice.

And my Mom did two things that I have not had to deal with.

She wrote letters. Lots of them. To her parents and sister. And to my Dad's parents and siblings.  In the days of  tight budgets and expensive long distance calls, it was the only way to stay close to extended family.  She was frequently apologizing for letting so much time pass between letters. 

And she sewed. Her herself, her kids and the house. Especially in the early years, she was constantly talking of what she had sewn, her next project and even sewing class.  I don't know how she found time.

I know how grateful she was to God for significant and small miracles in her life.  And for the life she had and the good health enjoyed by all around her. 

After my Mom died, I felt cheated. My Mom only lived to 78. And I was only 49, far too young to be losing a parent (at least in our family).  Even my Mom had her parents alive for much, much longer.  And then I did the math. I was 49 and 2 months when Mom died.  She was  49 and 5 months, also months away from turning 50.  Don't ask me why, but I find this comforting.

Here is my Mom on her 50th birthday. I imagine we would have all gone out for a family dinner to celebrate on the weekend. But her actual birthday was in the middle of the week.  I arranged a mini party with birthday hats and noise makers and danish in lieu of a cake.   I love this picture.  I remember that my Mom was pleased with my efforts.
You know what else I love about this picture?    You see the pile of stuff on the counter beside her?  She was human. I  see a cheque book, a paper bag, some mail, Saran wrap and a plant of questionable health.  In later years (i.e. after the children left the nest) my parents' home has been immaculate.  I had forgotten that in the busy years, perhaps it wasn't always so.

And I find that comforting too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Things. Have. Changed. Part 3.

Things have changed in our family.  We are no longer a family with young children. That is how I still see us. Even though Jackson will be going to middle school in September and he fixes my computer for me and Sydney makes my coffee and she wants me to put fake nails on her for special occasion, I still feel like a family with young kids.

When I saw this picture at my party, I felt like the kids were looking awfully grown up.
Well it didn't hurt that both kids were drinking their beverages keenly from wine glasses.
They entirely amused themselves at my party last weekend. Sydney walked around talking to people and accepting compliments on her outfit. Jackson occasionally grunted a greeting to someone he knew, but largely played on his iTouch. But at least he did in the living room while the party went on around him.

There were times when I could not envisage being at this stage, but our kids are growing up. They have their own opinions, likes, dislikes  and preferences.  While I would not have chosen PINK to be the centrepiece of my daughter's wardrobe everyday  and I would not have picked video games to by my son's driving passion, I do admit, I am enjoying watching them grow up.

Only a matter of time till one of them grows taller than me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Things. Have. Changed. Part 2.

Things have also changed in the XY chromosome department. First of all, Jackson is squarely in the land of "tweens".  He has that slightly teenager-y look to him.  You know, too cool for school. Or anything related to his parents.  Except that he's not. He actually wants to be too cool, but really he's still our boy underneath.  At my birthday party some of his aunties gave him the option of hugs or high fives and he opted for hugs (and I am trying really hard not to think he has ulterior motives there).

Instead of laughing at Mommy's hilarious jokes, he burps out a grunt of slight approval if any of my attempts at humour amuse him.

He has started doing new things. Like he plays the clarinet.  This is the first time he has done something that neither Husband nor I know anything about.  I play some piano, I know a few chords on the guitar.  I can read music and even remember how to play the recorder. But when we picked up the clarinet and it's in 17 pieces and has a reed, we were really out of our depths. Even Professor Google could only help us so much.

But even after one lesson he was expert in putting it together (even after watching him, it ranks up there with the Rubik's cube and the new math they now teach in grade 5).  But darned if that kid doesn't get a beautiful tone out of the instrument. I mean, I am no expert but it sounds rich and even.  His teacher even said so and I am completely sure he was being truthful and it has nothing to do the the clarinet annuity he is paid every week.

And our renaissance man is trying fencing on for size.  I wish I had my camera all geared up with the cool mask and armed with a spiky sword. The epee (I think? I know that word from doing crosswords, but there are at least 3 kinds of fencing and I have no idea which one he is learning) I can't wait to watch him in the 2024 Olympics !

Plus he has this obviously well-hidden organizational streak which is starting to peak through.  In church one Sunday he starting make a schedule for the week. I thought maybe it would have had a schedule for how he was going to divide his day into screens (Wii, Minecraft, iPod, DS ...) but it actually had school and homework and clarinet practice on it.  And he set the timer on his iPod so at random times of the day I will think there is a raccoon scratching at the window screen, but it will just be some bizarre alarm tone reminding him it's time to walk the dog.

Of course all this scheduling has its downside.  Yesterday was Tuesday, a non-practising day for clarinet. But the thing was he had not practiced Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, which are his practice days.  (Easter, birthday party etc.) And when I belatedly suggested  (because I am trying not to nag and take ownership I had not mentioned over the weekend ) he might practice a little to make up or the missed days, he was absolutely indignant. He could not possibly make up clarinet practice on a non-practice dayHad I not read his schedule????  THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE MOMMY.

And then there was this little matter of a math test tomorrow. We did not have a lot of notice.  Jackson doesn't have a problem with math.  But this particular math unit was started in February. There was about a 3 week sabbatical from math during teacher job action and spring break. So I thought, just for kicks, we could look at some of the material from all 13 chapters, which include the introduction of fractions, decimals, including adding and subtracting them and the metric system.  You know, just to be ready.

So I went through the 13 chapters and wrote out 1 question from each, just so he could remind himself of what an equivalent fraction was, or how many meters 43 centimeters is.  He stormed around, threw stuff and screamed rejected that idea until I threatened him provided adequate incentive to do some math practice.  He grudging came to the table and said with as much dramatic effect as we have ever seen or heard from his sister 'You will rue the day that you made me do this. RUE THE DAY."

The teen years are going to be fun.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Things. Have. Changed. Part 1.

It has been a while since I blogged about the kids.  The thing that has changed, is they have. They are growing up right before my freakin' eyes. And there is nothing that I can do to stop it.

Take Sydney.  She has a signature look, which is to wear a lot of bright pink. Including her pink fedora, which she bought with her own money.  She is becoming quite the fashionista, pulling together outfits from her wardrobe that I never thought to put together.  

She went shopping with me to find a dress for my birthday party. I picked out a bunch to try on.  Then she asked me if she could pick one. She picked one that I knew would not flatter me. Only it did and I bought it.

She was trying on a long t shirt at the mall the other night. She turned around to see how her butt looked in it. Not sure we are ready for that.

She is becoming more responsible by the day.  She is cleaning up after herself, even without being asked. Oh and she has a good memory and reminds me of things I have forgotten to do. That's kind of handy when you're 50!

She is still the kind, sensitive, generous-hearted girl she always was.  But now, she is becoming known for her comedic talent.   One mom at school told me how she entertains her family on play dates,  with her fake accents (mostly British). I mean she does that at home, but I didn't know her stand up routine was going on the road.   Her teacher told me how she does this crazy head-wobbling chicken walk that cracks up the whole class.

She got all kinds of moves, many she learned in her hip hop class,  that continue to show she has the most rhythm in the family.  She can do an amazing running man, can shake her bootie in a way that horrifies us as it portends the future.

She has been known to leave rooms saying "peace out" and even speak some gangsta talk "I'm not getting all up in her grill Mommy" (I had to consulted a colleague from east Vancouver fluent in gangster to even knew what that means).

But the thing that I absolutely love is that she has become a bona fide book worm. She tucks into a good read with keen concentration.  She can be found anywhere there is a comfortable chair reading a book.  She will then provide a synopsis of the book she is reading to anyone who will listen.

I remember becoming a lover of books (it started with Nancy Drew) when I was a little older than her.  Books have brought me a great deal of satisfaction over the years, and I know it will her too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

49.

Me. At 49.
Last year when I turned 49, I knew it would be my last with my Mom.  This was before we got any of the really bad news from the oncologist.   I know that sounds very other-worldly.  But just before Christmas 2011, I felt in my heart, like someone had told me, that we would lose her sometime in 2012.

My parents usually hosted my family at their home around my birthday, as she did my brothers and all the kids-in-law.  It was a time for my parents to connect with each family. Mom asked what day would suit and I suggested April 8th, my actual birthday.  Usually, we would get together a week or two or three later, whenever time permitted.

But I knew my Mom had a thing about your actual birthday. It was not my thing, it was her thing. I had for years enjoyed birthday wishes, or cards, or emails  or lunches or phone calls the week or even month of my birthday. So the actual day, especially when it's a Tuesday, was not the key. It truly has become the thought that counts. 

But Mom believed that that day should be special. So when she asked when we could get together for my birthday, I suggested Friday, April 8th -- and would they come to our place?  But Mom thought it would be a great idea if they brought dinner over. I meant to suggest an easy dinner - takeout - and did not want them to go through the trouble. Mom, after all, was going through chemo.  But she insisted.  They brought steaks and salad and I had some fruit tarts in the freezer and we celebrated together. It was a beautiful April day.

I know my Mom was pleased that we were sharing that April 8th together, as it was the anniversary of the day we met. 49 years earlier.  I don't think she thought it would be her last April 8th with us.

I am glad I knew, or I wouldn't have insisted on pictures.  I don't know the last time we took a photo of just my parents and me. Probably at my wedding.  But this is a very treasured shot:
And this year, Dad will have us over for dinner.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reflections.

Apart from throwing myself a party,  the other celebration I had was a trip away with Husband.  We are overdue for a mini-break (as they call it in the UK).

I investigated many locales, Savannah Georgia, Mount Rushmore, Utah, New York City, Chicago before, after a gazillion hours scoping Trip Advisor reviews, settling on a beach view vacation in Huntington Beach, California. 

But then I realized, with all that was going in with the reno, I wasn't really looking forward to it. So we downgraded to a trip across the border.  But then childcare and puppycare seemed hard to sort and we cancelled it all with the very silver lining of sending both our kids to sleep away camp for 7 days this summer and we will avail ourselves of holiday opportunities then.

But I am taking this week off work.  I want to do some of the things that I feel are important and that I have neglected.  Exercising/ being active is top of the list.  Reading books for pleasure and spiritual growth. And most especially writing.

I think that I have a very short bucket list. I feel I have done and experienced so many things in life and I am really very contented. Sure there are a few places I have not yet travelled to that I would like to go (African safari, Australia). And I would like to fit in the skinny jeans in my closet.  But I live a charmed life with more blessings that I ever expected or deserved.  

But I would like to write more and publish. That will be front and centre for me this week and going forward to the second half century.

A Day in the Life of a 50 Year Old

Step 1: Coffee with Pillsbury Cinnamon Buns
In birthday pyjamas, not at all to be confused with birthday suit.
 Step 2: Cuddles with a few little people.
 Step 3: Admire flowers and cards from party
 Step 4:  Attend suprise 50th birthday party for a Sister (middle) who shares the birthday month.

Step 5: Blog.
Step 6: Enjoy the last minutes of the day. I went to bed at 11:15.
Though exhausted, I read until midnight.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

50

Today I am 50.  Half a century.

As I have blogged about on earlier birthdays,  I am all about embracing my age and not fearing it. I consider it a great honour to reach 50, knowing several friends who, while undoubtedly now in a better place, did not share that time  here with their loved ones.

So I chose to spend it with a lot of loved ones.

When I  was approaching my 40th birthday, I was in a wonderful place. I had a 4 month old baby.  Who slept through the night. I was being paid to stay home and bond with my baby.  I fit in my skinny jeans. I mean seriously, does it get any better? 

Husband and I discussed how we would celebrate. I decided I definitely didn't want any kind of party (apart from the small family dinners).  So Husband and Jackson and I took our first road trip. We packed up a million outfits as Jackson had what we called a bit of a spitting up problem (like the Titanic had a bit of an ice berg problem).  We brought a stroller, a bouncy seat, an enormous ghetto blaster to play Jackson's go-to-sleep music, toys and jammed everything into a Ford Escort and headed to Harrison Hot Springs.

Official 40th birthday with baby portrait
This is a wonderful place with natural hot springs and most importantly, a spa! This was the place to celebrate 40! We ordered room service, I went to the spa, we walked, we relaxed and talked and it was a wonderful celebration.

As we drove back home on Monday (my actual birthday) I found myself hoping that Husband had managed to secretly plan a surprise birthday party for me.  I knew it was unlikely (not exactly in his wheelhouse). I had truthfully and earnestly told him I did not want one. 

He listened.  We came home. There was no party.  I was rather ungraciously bummed about the party I didn't know I wanted.  I decided then I would have a party at 50.

I did not think much specifically about it these last 10 years, I just knew I would have a party.  After my Mom died, I knew I would miss her that day and I thought it would be hard to turn 50 without her.  I decided to focus on the party.

Somewhere along the way, a renovation came into view, and it all came into focus: a 50 birthday party in a brand new, shiny kitchen.  So the past 6 months have been filled with planning, shopping, deciding and forking over money hand over fist to people who will transform our home.  I  told contractors and suppliers that no matter what, my kitchen needed to be done by April 7th. For my party.

And last night, on the very eve of turning 50, 40 friends and family joined us for wine, food and laughter.  It was all I hoped for and more.
(with a little help from my friends, including these 2 Sisters) 
 And most especially this guy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Resume. Life.

While I could continue on for about 72 more blogs on the renovation, you will all be glad to know, I am retiring from that topic.It is time to  resume life and most particularly blogging, exercising and preparing meals with more food groups than utensils. 

I plan to have, of course, a new and improved life because now that I have the shiny new kitchen, food will be easier to make, clean up will be faster and all of it will taste better. My kids will eat whatever vegetables are put before them and I will obviously, look 15 pounds lighter in the new space.

I am planning on doing a lot of blogging in the next week as I have a lot on my mind.

Top Ten Things I Learned About Renovating

1. Hang onto your hats.  We had no idea how much time, energy and emotional strength was required to do the renovation. We naively told ourselves whilst the renovation was ongoing, we would get to those neglected projects like organizing the shop or tidying up the walk-in closet. Maybe even start finalize the kids' baby books.

In reality, laundry, family time, TV time and even personal hygiene suffered during this time.  The fact that we took on the job of painting was a good part of this.  But that was half the weekends. Every evening we worked on some renovation related task.

2.  No decision is really final.  We made pretty much all of the design decisions before the contractor showed up on our driveway. Many of the decisions either had to be:

a)  remade because product is on back order or did not suit once demolition occurred.
b)  reconsidered because once you put up the back splash you realize black grout is not the way to do.

In virtually every case we were happier with the new choice.

3. You cannot underestimate the importance of being "hands on". By seeing, watching, observing and questioning, you can anticipate decisions, see the problems as they occur (and give yourself extra time to problem solve). 
I think virtually every time someone new arrived at the house, the first question was "what do you want to do about ....".   Usually, my answer was "what is the normal way?".  If we had been at work every day, I just would not have been able to make some choices as they would have been made for us.

4. Problems are not insurmountable.  While we really did had a very good experience renovating (if you don't count the loss of personal hygiene), with virtually every aspect we had a glitch.  Plumbers had to figure out how to move pipes to install the dishwasher,  the electrician found small surprises,  the counter was installed wrong, the cabinets needed an extra cabinet.  I think the drywalling was the only thing that happened without a hitch.  But, I was surprised at the solutions. None except the requirement for a plywood sub floor amounted to much more money.

5.  Living without a kitchen is no big deal.  This was what we dreaded most and what was really not an issue.
We are lucky enough to have a whole basement we encamped into.  We had a makeshift kitchen where the only running water was my running to the nearest bathroom. But with a  microwave and toaster oven we managed fine.  We did eat more takeout than normal, especially near the end when we were doubly busy with painting, assembling furniture and unpacking.

6.  Not every project takes "twice the time and twice the money".  We were told this by many people.  We opted to go with a larger contractor and a fixed price budget.

Our contractor finished the project in 6 weeks, a few days ahead of schedule.  With proper and generous scheduling, which allows extra days, it can be done. This requires a contractor with some clout so that a plumber will show up in the window scheduled.

We had only a few dreaded "EWRs" (work order to increase price of contract) and we were ahead on some of the cash allowances so finished only very slightly over the budget.

7. Canine and kids can adapt.  When we first decided to do the reno I could not quite imagine how the kids and the puppy would adapt.  Husband and I both took days off so most days one of us was home -- especially the days they were nailing hardwood and doing demolition.  The kids were incredibly good sports and were also excited about the face lift our home was getting. 

I think we all felt the loss of family time, but we all kept our eye on the prize.

8.  You do, eventually, have to draw the line at "we may as well ...".

Early on, the project swelled. A kitchen project started. We may as well replace the floor in the family room as well.  We may as well replace all the floor on the main floor. We may as well replace the washer and dryer. We may as well redo the fireplaces. We may as well replace the hot water tank.

What?!?  That is where we drew the line. 

9.  Everything cannot be perfect.

We didn't live in a perfect house before we started.  When gleaming hardwoods and sparkling appliances show up, one starts to feel that show home perfection will be attainable.  Imperfection is part of life.

10. It will all be worth it.