Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Great-Grandmothers and Grandmothers and Mothers, Remembering and Forgetting

Lisa's eloquent post on her thoughts, as a mother, on her own mother's decline, prompted me to begin articulating some of my thoughts about the passing of the generational torch, as I'm observing it in our family. Of course, I wrote about aspects of this both before and after my mother's death last year, but since then, my father-in-law died (only two months later), and a major rift appeared in my husband's family (which has, after all, been my family as well, for over 40 years). That rift has persisted, although we now have a connection with the family of one sibling. Still, it's been a remarkable illustration, a horrifying cautionary tale about how even the happiest of families might one day . . . .I don't want to belabour this point here, nor to offer more detail inappropriately, but I need to include it because it affects significantly my own confidence and conviction about how to connect the generations spread out behind and before me.

My mother-in-law is the sole, firm, connecting pivot point for us to my husband's family now, although she has no idea this is the case. Already having lost cognitive strength in the two years before my father-in-law died, she has been fading steadily over the past 18 months, with a noticeable acceleration in the last several weeks as weight and strength drop daily. She still seems to enjoy our visits, however, and as long as we dial down our expectations and ramp up our patience, we enjoy them as well despite conversations that loop over and over the same terrain. She likes to tell us how well the staff treat her and then often moves on to exclaim indignantly about residents who don't appreciate the good care they receive. We sympathize and agree and then we nudge her onto a new topic, generally by reminding her of some happy instance or other from the past.

A recent visit with GG: Nola drew a picture of her GG (short for GreatGrandma) teaching kindergarten and loving it). Her uncle (who I, of course, remember clearly being hugged by his Grandma when he was just 6) is pretty amused. 

Or I simply take out my phone or iPad and I delight her with photos of her great-grandchildren. Paul chuckles that when he told her about our youngest granddaughter's arrival, he had the pleasure of telling her the news six times, each time having it greeted with equal delight, as if heard for the first time. It's very true that nothing makes her as happy as talking about wee ones. She doesn't remember their names, much less keep them straight (although she always knows my husband when he arrives, and always asks about me, generally by name), but she's convinced that whomever they are, they're cute and they're lovable ("You're so pretty/sweet/smart," she tells them when they visit. "I love you so much." -- not a bad default conversational move to end up with).

Some family members regularly label her condition as Alzheimer's, although my understanding is that the late-onset variety can't properly be diagnosed except post-portem, by autopsy. Or they say she's senile, or has dementia. Probably true enough, but I really prefer the term my mother's doctor used, a descriptive term that is so much less loaded: Cognitive Impairment (mom's was Mild for some time before progressing to Mild to Moderate near her end, when it was probably amplified by all the pain meds).

I like this term so much better because it leaves room for me to see how much of the person I knew is still there (while recognizing that, particularly for early-onset Alzheimer's, the diagnosis is useful in acknowledging the severity of the need for support). And here's a "for instance":

A few weeks ago, we were visiting Mom (I've called her that from early in our marriage; she's been a second mom to me for over 40 years now) and talking about how much she loves little ones, and how much they love her. A treasure of a kindergarten teacher for several generations in her community, she reminded us that children always sense that she likes them, and she noted that when other residents had wee visitors, those little feet would often direct their small owners right over to Mom's chair. And then she leaned forward to me, and her face coloured up a bit in anticipation, I could see, of a sheepish confession.

"You know," she said, "when all my grandchildren were babies, I just loved them so much. Sometimes I really wanted to take over. I really had to work hard to stop myself. It was really hard to let their mothers look after them sometimes." Cutest confession ever, truly. I didn't have the heart to tell her that we'd already noticed. And that she didn't always manage to stop herself!

I keep thinking about the spontaneous, vulnerable, self-aware honesty of that confession. I remember what a warm and wonderful, energetic and generous, funny and humble and clever and kind grandmother my children had, and I hope they take some of those memories forward. She could certainly be the classic, annoying Mother-in-Law at times, with her notions of the best ways to clean, bake, raise children, juggle work and home, yes she could. But overall, she was a gem, and I hope she is remembered in stories my children tell to their own children, perhaps even, someday, to their grandchildren.

And I have to say that being at the verge of her passing, the last of our four parents, I'm ever so aware of how quickly the first six years of our own grandparenthood have passed. Nola turned six this week, and Hattie turns two; they're moving quickly toward that space where grandparents take a back seat to peers. A big part of my decision to retire has to do with wanting to make the most of that fleeting time when the natural affinity between little ones and ageing ones is at its peak. . .

At the same time, I want to maintain enough other interests and activities and networks that when the inevitable day comes that my weekend with the grandkids gets cancelled in favour of a birthday sleepover, no young teen needs to feel guilty about neglecting poor old Nana. . . .

You know, I'm trying to round this post off to a conclusion, having come back and revised and edited, and I can see how much of what I'm thinking is not on the screen, not on the page. What's still submerged, left for me to bring to the surface if/when I'm ready, is my awareness of how much gets forgotten, how much gets undone, and my ongoing meditation over what persists, what ends up mattering. I don't think rounding off to a conclusion works. . . . so I'll just open up to your comments, your stories, your wisdom, and see where the conversation takes us. Okay?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steps to Retirement, Little Steps,

Strawberry tree (arbutus uneda) with its magic trick of  offering fruit and flower simultaneously!
 I've been disappointed with my posts lately, wishing I could find time for some of the reflective writing I really enjoy and that often seems to elicit a more sustained conversation with you wonderful readers. Life intervenes, however, and I rarely seem to find time to Think about what I'd like to write, never mind actually Write It!

Beautyberry bush (callicarpa) doing what it does, beautiful berries!  last leaves of the Burning Bush (Euonymus) ; first fragrant flowers of Viburnum bodnatense 'Pink Dawn'
 Something occurred to me recently, though, probably on a run -- that seems to be my best version of multi-tasking lately, thinking while running (although I am only just emerging from a three-week slump in my fitness schedule, dialing down the running mileage and dialing out, completely, the yoga classes -- first class back yesterday and oh my, I'm feeling it today!).
Island walk, first frost. . . 

 Hardly a major epiphany, but what occurred to me was that I might occasionally blog toward a list of hopes and plans I have for my retirement. I have advised HR of my intention to leave by the end of next year, and meanwhile, I'm trying to organize a productive, positive, and restorative transition into the next phase of my life.

So over the next several weeks, I plan a series of occasional posts listing a few of the activities I mean to make time for.

And the first that occurred to me, particularly as I have this backlog of photos from last week's garden and island walkabout, is that I really Must! refine my camera skills. I've been yearning for another lens or two for my Nikon DSLR (D40X), but really, first I should learn how to make this camera do more of what it can do. For every one of the photos here, I relied on the camera to think for me. Yet years (okay, decades) ago, I took a 6-session community-ed class in which I learned how to use my SLR Pentax (the Spotmatic).  I'm fairly confident that I could revive that technical knowledge and transfer it to the digital realm with several hours of instruction followed by countless hours of practice. So much cheaper to do that now than when there was film to be bought and developed!

Berries -- rose hips, hawthorn, arbutus, holly, snowberry -- and Seedheads (sedum Autumn Joy)
It's pretty clear that I live in a place of great beauty and that capturing that however fleetingly satisfies me enormously. So there you go: Retirement Plan #1,  Improve Photography Skills, probably through classes.
And if I take enough decent pictures, perhaps those will reconcile me, eventually, to another Retirement Plan, leaving the island home . . . .

One step at a time though, right?

So where are you on the retirement-planning spectrum? Are you far enough into yours to have realized some of your plans, jettisoned others, and modified a few to better meet reality? Or is it still far enough away that you idealize it, imagining a wide swathe of time for a myriad of long-delayed activities? (My hair-stylist, for example, maintains she'd "give up her right boob" to retire. I remind her that too many clients would protest too loudly. Luckily for me, she's not even 45 yet!)
 Or perhaps, as for me, your retirement is on the near-horizon and you're gradually becoming accustomed to the notion, some days with happy anticipation, others with more than a tinge of anxiety.  . . .

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I Wore: A Few Recent OOTDs but no smile. . .


Winding down toward the weekend, and I thought I'd share a few outfits I've felt good about lately. Camel is a new colour for me, one I used to think was impossible to wear. But this J Crew Regent jacket turns out to be very wearable indeed. I wore it over a simple white v-neck t-shirt and a pair of black wool pants. Mind you, I did wrap my favourite hand-knit alpaca lace shawl around my neck, so the cherry might just drown out the camel....

The pants are J Crew as well, Campbell Capri also bought at 30% off. I wasn't sure what to think about the slight flare at that cropped length in the slim cut, but it's growing on me. And they are gloriously comfortable! But remember when we thought it was a huge fashion faux pas to wear "floodies"?

I love wearing the blazer with my new wool skirt, Aqua merino turtleneck (both J Crew, what can I say? It was a good sale, and I'm still replacing wardrobe I dieted myself out of).

I'm always a bit leery of having an outfit be too new, and these do verge on that, but in both cases, the footwear's got some heavy mileage. The black patent oxfords in the top photos and the boots pictured here with the skirt are both 4 or 5 years old. for me, opaque tights and slightly "tough" boots tone down the skirt's length.


No need to mitigate against the length of the skirt below, though. It's an absolute favourite, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, pleated wool, a Gap piece, surprisingly. I worried that it might be too big on me now, but although it's loose, the boxy cut doesn't need a close fit. At least, it still pleases me to wear it.

I thought I'd try it with an also-boxy pale grey merino sweater and I love the combo. So simple and satisfying to wear for someone who loves wool as I do. Clean, strong lines in practical working textiles. Added another cherry scarf, this one an after-Christmas sale treasure from years ago, 100% cashmere (Banana Republic, I think)

And those well-worn black Fluevog Britney boots which I'm beginning to assess a bit skeptically. . . Their days may be numbered...

Almost ready to click "publish," I realize that I didn't muster a smile in any of these photos. So you should know that I'm smiling out at you right now . . .smiling and waving and thanking you for stopping by.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recognizing a Friend in an Unexpected Place!

Do you read Cup of Jo? I do, regularly. New York blogger Joanne writes about lifestyle -- dress, design, food, music, books, occasionally travel -- from the perspective of a young mom of two. Thanks to her, I've made Nutella crepes to delight my husband (I scarfed them down too, I'll admit!).

Also thanks to her, I regularly sport a red plaid wool scarf from Madewell. Although her target demographic is probably much younger than my own, this Nana benefits from reading a blogger whose concerns mirror those of my child-rearing, work-juggling daughters and whose sensibilities seem not so different from my own.

But as much as I find a connection with this younger blogger at a rather different stage of life than my own, I can't express how surprised -- disoriented, even -- I was the other day to see this photograph topping Cup of Jo's post for the day. I mean, here's this blogger from New York city posting a photograph taken by someone who lives on  the same tiny West Coast island as I do, an island with fewer than 400 people living on it -- can you say "coincidence"?!

I don't suppose I would have known the photo was taken by my friend and neighbour, Mark Kaarremaa except that not so long ago, Mark had posted an image of a painting-in-progress, by artist Line Osmundsen, based on this stunningly evocative photograph.

I excitedly commented on Cup of Jo (one of the few comments I've ever left there) that the photographer was a friend of mine and then quickly checked in with Mark to see if he could help me find that painting again. He did, and it's finished now, as gorgeous as you might hope for, a brilliantly coloured rendition of the layers of story concentrated by the camera into black and white. I must say that I'm mesmerized by the reduced palette of black, white, and grey, fascinated by the intricate details of the faces. I could spend hours imagining the lines of desire to and from. . . .his yearning, her, what, hint of insouciance? The wrinkles at his mid-brow, the slight quirk of her lips (or is that just a necessary tension on the pipe?). . . .

But I also love what Osmundsen has done in abstracting the images and adding colour: the overlay of pattern, gridwork, texture. . . .

I thought of asking you which you prefer, black-and-white or colour, but it strikes me that the question is a crude one, that it implies an either-or, that it suggests we have to choose between apples and oranges, kumquats and persimmons. And we don't, do we? Instead, I'd say we ought to celebrate those talented people amongst us who show us the world from different perspectives -- or perhaps just more attentively or with better trained eyes.

So thanks to you, Mark, and to Line whom I don't know,thanks for the beauty. And thank you, Joanne, for your blog, which I love, and for the chance you gave me to see my neighbour's undeniable talent (honed over a long career, a lifetime) from a different perspective!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cold Comfort, Chilly Beauty

Paul got delayed in Vancouver over the weekend (emergency childcare for a granddaughter; taking a daughter to visit his mother as she moves toward palliative care). I stayed on the island with my marking and a determination to get rested as much as I could. I'd originally planned to fit in a yoga class ("in town," across the harbour on "the big island") and to enjoy my usual long weekend run, but my body hinted strongly that it would rather dial the whole activity thing down.

There are no shops on our little island, so no groceries to be had. When someone desperately needs a cup of milk or an onion or some children's Tylenol, we can send out a request on our email listserv and it's very rare that the request isn't answered. But I'd have to be pretty desperate, myself, to resort to that, although I'd call my friend up the road if I were mid-recipe without an egg in the fridge. Friday, having had too busy a day on Thursday to re-up my pantry supplies, I assessed the situation and realized I could probably get by with bacon, eggs, milk, bread, a few tomatoes, and a frozen container of chili that I dug out of the deep-freeze.

All of which meant that I could follow my whims and natural rhythms (except the tedious necessity of those research paper proposals and annotated bibliographies to be marked) and slow right down. My only outings were a walk around the island on Friday and a walk to our little polling station to register my vote on Saturday. Paul's home today, and I expect I'll probably get out for a run later, but even if I don't manage that, I believe the low-activity weekend has been good for body and soul.

Oh, and I did have one more outing, just to the beach outside our front door, with my camera yesterday morning. I love the combination of low tide and sparkling white frost, the sandstone's tawny tones accented sharply green by seaweed -- it's a combination that's seldom offered, low tides generally falling during the night throughout the winter. When it happens on a sunny day, I think it's marvelous, really, a crisp, sparkling, slightly acid beauty.

I did get weary of my simple fare, began craving something sweet, and remembering the huge bag of sliced pears I froze earlier, I made up this simple, luscious upside-down pear cake, pleased to realize we had enough fresh buttermilk. (Don't worry, so far I've only eaten one piece, and Paul will be home soon to take care of the rest.)

Still haven't finished all the marking, but I will manage that today. Instead, I've done some knitting (alternating between two projects: socks on tiny needles, a throw on huge ones). I've hunkered down with a non-work-related novel, Orhan Paniuk'sPamuk's Snow.

And I've been listening to the glorious Les Soeurs Bourlay, their Par le chignon du cou (Which would translate roughly as By the Nape of the Neck, and Yes, the YouTube video is French, but just skip the ad, and you'll soon find that the music jumps any language barriers) especially, but I love the whole album Le Poids des confettis (The Weight of confetti).

Oh my gosh, you'll be saying, no wonder she's relaxed and happy. What a lovely weekend!

It's true! How was yours? And I'm curious: would you be as happy as I can be with two whole days completely on your own? Or does the idea make you feel the cabin fever screaming its way out of you? I sometimes wonder when I'd hit my limit of too much solitude, honestly. . . .

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five Things Friday

1.  Joys of a good Fire
 I take extra satisfaction from the blazing fire in my woodstove when I've built it myself from kindling that I split. Paul's always a bit nervous when I wield an axe, and he probably has good reason to be, but I do feel inordinately pleased with myself over the wonder equation of effort with result. Seeing my kindling bin fill up as I work up some body heat from that satisfying exertion of muscle. . . .channelling my homesteading forebears to boot!

And there's nothing like settling in afterward with a cup of tea, by the heat from a blazing woodstove, while outside, the thermometer hovers around 0 -- even my stack of marking seems tolerable. . . .

2. Porter! I ended a long, demanding workday yesterday by having dinner with a colleague at a local Irish-style pub, and while I was waiting for her to arrive, I ordered myself a pint. I'm generally happy with Guinness, but if I can find porter on the menu, I do enjoy its slightlier sweetier, even nuttier taste -- the nourishing solidity of Guinness without the bracing bitter edge. On a cold, cold day, it's just the beer for me.

3. Handknit wool socks -- I never mind that the stripes don't line up, being rather a fan of the random.  What does matter to me is that these babies keep my feet toasty . . . Are you sensing a theme here?

 4. Seven years ago, I blogged about buying these Uggs on sale, inspired by a snowsotrm. No snow today, but conditions are perfect for snugging my bare feet deep into the sheepskin interior of these now-well-worn boots. They're absolutely no good for our wet days (weeks! months!), but this week the weather is sunny, dry, and cold enough to make wooly boots a pleasure. Time to get away from the fireside, leave the marking behind, and get out into the sunshine. . . .
 5. Nothing like a good walk to raise the spirits,  Even better if that walk takes you along picturesque pathways through evocatively forested parkland, fall leaves adding colour and a rich, musty-spicy scent, the sun romantically filtered through clearings between the trees. Bonus points if you can get to that path, on foot, within ten minutes of leaving home.  . .

6. And let me throw in #6 just for good measure: Have you happened to catch Scott and Bailey, a British series set in Manchester featuring two female detectives whose friendship is as important an element of the plots as is the crime-solving?  Well worth watching -- Pater is currently in Vancouver for a few days and I must admit there has been some solo Netflix bingeing here.

 Back to work now, but I will be checking for comments later -- Have/do you you chop(ped) kindling? Do you agree with me that it's a satisfying task or is it too much a chore for you? And how about those stripes? Could you bear to knit up a pair randomly or are you more likely to search out the duplicating point in a skein? Do you even like to wear wool socks or do your toes itch at the very thought? Where d'you stand on the Porter-Guinness spectrum? Or do you prefer lighter beers or a nice glass of white wine? That should get our conversation started, don't you think? I do hope you have lovely weather wherever you are, and that you get out for a walk in it, whether that be on a city street, down a rural road to your mailbox, or through a forested path. The weekend's almost here . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Party Pants!

I don't often do this (link directly to a particular retail product), but I'm pretty excited about how great these Gap pants are going to be for everyday and dress-up wear through the holidays. Mine just arrived in the mail -- I got them at 30% off their already low price (and today, the 12th, there's 35% off with the code HOLIDAY, apparently). They're a Wool-Poly-Rayon-Spandex blend with a nice amount of stretch -- I could probably have stayed true to (my Gap, vanity-sizing, natch)  size 2, but ordered the 4 instead, deciding to leave room for some chocolate bonbons, lots of turkey, some hot rum toddies, etc. In other words, they fit as expected, similar sizing to regular Gap, JCrew, etc.

I'm going to love wearing mine with a black or a navy sweater (the navy in the plaid is so dark it might as well be black), but also with a white classic shirt, partially tucked.I have a black velvet simple collarless, non-lapelled, short jacket I'll probably pair this with as well, maybe over a plain white T.  My off-white merino, boxy sweater. . . Might even be able to get away with wearing them with my gold-heart covered grey sweatshirt (you know Jenna would!). Or my grey sequinned tank. But the plaid's pretty lively on its own, and there's the red, so maybe enough will be enough. . .

As for shoes, I have a pair of black patent pointy-toe flats that will be perfect, but I'm guessing I'll also dress them up in heels, although probably not as high as the Gap stylist shows. And since the fit is slim and the fabric thin, I'll be able to tuck them into my black knee-high boots for variety and staying warm and dry.

Lisa, at AmidPrivilege, has a great post up on buying a single item to spark that holiday feeling -- hers this year is going to be a top, she says, and she offers a cornucopia of possibilities in every price range.

But if you decide you want your festive wardrobe to centre on party-pants, let me know: we can be fashion twins! How will you style yours, imaginary or just-running-to-your-local-Gap-for-a-pair-right-now? 
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