Saturday, June 17, 2017

Finding my Housework Muscles

The living room, ready to show.

I have never been known as a crackerjack housekeeper. I mean, I keep all the fundamentals clean, but our place generally is a little untidy, in a cozy sort of way. And anything above my eye level doesn't get dusted very often. Seeing as I am short, quite a lot of dust escapes my notice.

Anyways, that was the old me. The new me, required to keep the house sparkling because it is on the market, has become rather obsessively perfectionistic about cleaning. Actually, both Rob and I have become cleaning demons, racing around before every showing or open house, scrubbing, polishing, mowing, and weeding until the house is gleaming like a Mr Clean ad, and the yard looks like Better Home and Gardens. (Full disclosure: Rob actually has become the primary housekeeper the last few years, wonderful person that he is.)

So one thing that I have discovered with all this cleaning is that vigorous housecleaning takes a fair bit of physical effort. Not that I am going to drop my regular exercise, consisting of walks, hikes, cycling, and yoga, but on days when we have put in a few hours of housecleaning, I don't feel especially interested in going for a walk afterwards.

So I was complaining on the phone to my Mom about how tiring housework is. She just laughed. My Mom always has kept a lovely house. I remember as children, we used to ask my Mom to show us her muscles. She would flex her biceps, and even though she weighed only 98 pounds, a tiny little woman, her biceps were as big as grapefruits. Or so it seemed to my child's eyes. We all wanted to grow up to be as strong as Mom. Maybe if I had realized that those muscles came from housework, I would not have grown up to be such a lackadaisical housekeeper.

But, I came of age in the seventies. I read Betty Friedan, Nancy Friday, Kate Millett, Marilyn French, Alice Walker, Ms. Magazine, and Virginia Woolf, and joined the women's centre at my university. I was proud to describe myself as a feminist (and I am disappointed but not surprised that forty years later, feminism is still considered an f-word by some people). To my twenty year-old self, housework was a trap for women, a pointless endeavour that distracted us from more important and useful occupations. Housework, throughout my adult life, was an unpleasant necessity relegated to the corners of life: after the kids were in bed, or Saturday mornings, when the whole family would do chores and then forget about it for another week.

So lately, as well as discovering that it can be a bit of a workout, I also have discovered the meditative aspects of housework. It is a relaxation for the mind to just focus on the mopping or window washing. It pushes all the other frantic squirrel-mind thoughts away for a little while. It is satisfying to make things nice and clean.

The kitchen, all shined up.

I guess I have to rethink my previous negative attitude toward housecleaning. It does have its worth. It turns out that Mom knew best.

Although, I need to note that Mom was more than a housekeeper; she was a trailblazer in her own time, the repressive 50's. She was the first person in her family to pursue post-secondary education, and when she was in her early twenties, she moved with a girlfriend to take a teaching position in the Canadian north. The highways were unpaved. The teacherage was a tar-paper shack. And during my childhood, when all the women in the neighbourhood wore house-dresses, my Mom wore jeans. She was adamant that I would have the opportunity to attend university. So, my Mom has been a great role model all round.

Now, if the house would only sell so we can get back to our more relaxed approach to housekeeping!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Being Lost

A blogger that I follow, Karen Hume, recently wrote an interesting post on the behaviours of people who are lost. She explains that Lost Person Behaviour is the science of predicting how different kinds of people behave within the context of the activity they are engaged in, in order to develop effective strategies to find them when they are lost. This post and many other interesting topics can be found on her blog, Profound Journey.

The topic got me thinking about times in my life when I have been lost, as well as times that I have lost others.

Kids Lost on a Mountain

I had a somewhat unusual childhood. I grew up in a village in a remote northern area of Canada, and my parents gave us a great deal of freedom to roam. When we were very young, we had specific boundaries within the neighbourhood. For example, when I was five, I was allowed to go as far up the street as Billy's house, and as far down the street as Dorothy's house, and into the bush behind our house as far as the first field. I could cross the street in front of our house only if I came and asked first and had a suitable destination.

But by the time we were in our middle childhood, we ranged far and wide, and often did long excursions on our bicycles. It is hard to believe now, given the way children's movements today are restricted and always supervised, that my two younger brothers were allowed to go down to the river together to fish, without adult supervision, when they were nine and six respectively, and that they often brought fish home for supper.

The summer just before I turned fourteen, my parents bought a small, primitive ski cabin at a ski hill on a mountain. We spent many happy weekends that summer working together as a family fixing up the cabin. We insulated it and put in walls and flooring. I remember going up a ladder propped against the A-Frame to nail shingles on the roof. Our cabin was located on the farthest edge of the ski hill development, beside a steep gully. We had great fun climbing down into the gully to explore it. Usually each weekend, we four kids also would go for a hike.

The Prairie

On one such occasion, we took a picnic lunch and did a more lengthy hike than usual. (The four of us included myself as the oldest at thirteen, and my three younger siblings, the youngest of whom was eight.) We decided to hike up to Crater Lake, which was probably six or seven kilometers round trip. It was not tricky to find the way there. We walked over to the ski runs, hiked up them to the top into alpine meadows, and then set off across the so-called "Prairie." Although there was no clear trail, we just hiked toward a peak where the lake was clearly visible at its base.

Once at the lake, we ate our picnic, played at the edge of the water, and hiked around on the huge boulders. On the way back, instead of staying high in the alpine until we reached the top of the ski hill, we dropped too low and found ourselves in scrubby growth at the edge of a gully. One of my brothers said that it was the gully that went beside our cabin, and that we could take a shortcut by going down into the gully and up the other side. He said that he had explored this very section of the gully previously and he recognized where we were.

Crater Lake

It seemed like a good idea. It would be a long way to go all the way over to the ski hill, hike down the runs, then double back to our cabin. It was late in the afternoon and we all were getting tired. So I agreed, and we went down into the gully and began to follow it down, looking for a way up the other side.

The walls of the gully were becoming steep cliffs. We did not recognize any of the landmarks of "our" gully, and moreover it seemed to be twisting away in the wrong direction, away from the ski hill area. I realized that we must be in a different gully.

After an argument, my younger siblings agreed to turn around with me. We all doubled back, followed the creek back uphill, and climbed back out of the gully where we had first entered it. We climbed back up into the alpine meadows and went the long way, via the ski hill runs. When we finally returned to the cabin, it was twilight, and my parents were very anxious and also relieved that their lost children had found their way back!

Lost on Another Mountain

Many years later, when I was in my forties, I was visiting friends who lived in a northern town. Their house was on the side of a mountain, which is not really a mountain at all, but more of a large, rocky, forested hill. This mountain is criss-crossed with trails, and it is a popular hiking and mountain-biking area for the locals. I had hiked there from time to time when I had visited my friends in the past.

My friends were busy with prior obligations one afternoon, so I took their dog and headed up the mountain trail beside their house. The dog and I had a lovely ramble along the trails, but eventually I decided that it was time to turn around and head back. About halfway back, beside a road, there was a place where multiple trails crossed, and went off in different directions. None of them were signposted. Somehow, I made the wrong choice and went quite a long way down a trail before I realized that it definitely was not the one that would take me back to my friends' house. At about this time, the dog took off, and would not come back, though I called and called.

So, I turned around and doubled back to the place where the road was visible. I still could not recognize which of the many trails was the correct one. So I went out to the road and started walking along it. I had a rough mental map of the area and I believed that the road would take me down the mountain to the base of it, and from there I could eventually pick my way back on connecting roads. However, it would be a walk of many kilometers, halfway around the mountain. A further problem was that I was recovering from a knee injury, and my knee was telling me that I had already walked far enough that day.

So, in the end, I went to a house along the road and used their phone to call my friends. (I had no cell phone then.) One of them came in his truck and picked me up. He said he had been worried when the dog had arrived home without me. I was thoroughly embarrassed that I got lost. I should have just followed the dog!

Lost Toddler

Even more scary than getting lost myself was losing a child. I lost my daughter “K” many years ago when she was a toddler, TWICE! The first time, we were in the women’s clothing section of a department store, and she was about two. She was right beside me, holding the handle of the stroller while I looked at clothes on a big circular rack. One second she was there, and then she wasn’t. Without stepping away from the stroller, I called her name and looked frantically in every direction. The many clothing racks were big and close together, blocking my lines of sight. Then I heard a little giggle. K had crawled inside the circular rack in front of me. She had gone along the floor below the clothes into the middle of the rack and was hiding on me. Even though the whole episode probably lasted less than a minute, the sense of panic just about stopped my heart.

The second time I lost her was about a year later, and it was even scarier. K and I, and her newborn baby sister were at a food court in a mall. We had finished our snack and I was putting the baby back into the stroller and loading the diaper bag. I was distracted for about a minute. Then I looked up and K was nowhere in sight. I called her name. There were not many people around and no-one had seen her leave. After concluding that she was not in the food court, I began running down the hallway of the mall pushing the baby in the stroller and shouting name. I was running in the direction of the mall administration office so that I could report her as missing. Around a corner and way down the hallway, I found her. K was grinning and hugging the giant furry mascot of the mall (which was really a human in a costume). It turned out that K had noticed big green footprints in the mall hallway and had followed them to the mascot; she loved big fuzzy creatures. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, but K was not frightened at all. Quite the opposite -- she was delighted to have tracked down the mall mascot.

Lost Friends

Some years, I am actually organized enough to send out Christmas cards. (I'm kind of old fashioned about Christmas cards.) Many years, I am so busy that I never quite finish sending out all the cards, even though I have managed to make a start on it. So I alternate, starting with the beginning of the alphabet one year and the end of it the next, just in case I don't get finished. The addresses are written into a little black address book that I have had for more than thirty years, although these days I also keep electronic contact lists.

Every year, addressing the Christmas cards makes me sad. It's because I look at all the names in my address book of friends that I have lost touch with, and former neighbours and colleagues in towns where I used to live. Who knows where they are now? Why did I do such a bad job of keeping in touch? It is the one thing that I really love about social media: through Facebook I have managed to find or have been found by people who had previously been lost to me.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anxiety Attack

Trees at the front of our new house. 

I couldn't sleep last night. Okay, maybe it wasn't a full-fledged anxiety attack according to the clinical definition, but I laid in my bed awake, bombarded by one worry after another.

The date of my last paycheque is quickly approaching. I have worked my entire life since age sixteen, mostly full time, but always at at least part-time. During my university years, I worked in the summers to support myself over the school year, and generally also worked part-time during the school year as well. Many of those early jobs were minimum wage ones, and supported only the most meagre of lifestyles. But the point is, I always had a paycheque.

A wave of panic came over me. No more paycheques! No money! What am I going to do? And on top of that, our property tax is due July 1, the day after I retire. Rob's car insurance is due. I've run up a big credit card bill for work-related travel, which has not yet been reimbursed. And I have been financially helping out my two younger (adult) children as they pursue post-degree programs this year, which has made a dent in my savings. Once I retire, I'll have to pay for medical costs such as extended care, dental, and medical travel coverage, which previously have been provided by my workplace as benefits.

What if our house doesn't sell? It is a lovely house that should be attractive to buyers, but we are selling in a slow market. We have already bought another house, and we get possession June 30, the same day I retire. We will be responsible for the mortgage and closing costs, whether or not our current house has sold. Hyperventilating!

Not only will we be paying those costs, but also home insurance, moving costs, and utilities. (I had forgotten about utilities!)

We have decided that we will stay where we are in our current home, and not move until we have an accepted offer. This thought brings two additional worries flooding in. We haven't got quotes or made any moving arrangements yet because we don't have a moving date. What if the movers are all booked up and we can't arrange to move when we need to? Or if we only can do so by paying an exorbitant amount?

The other worry is about my office at work. As I will remain affiliated with my workplace after I retire, I have requested temporary office space after June 30. But what if I have to move offices, again, after just moving last year, to a dark windowless room in the basement? That would be unpleasant. But, digging a little deeper, it is not the possibility of having to move offices that is bothering me. The real thing I am worried about is that I am not 100% ready to leave. My career has been more than a job; it has been an avocation and a big part of my identity. Loss of an office symbolizes more than losing space at the workplace. It means that I am really and truly stepping away from the life I have been living for more than 30 years.

Well, good grief, what did I think retirement was, if not leaving the workplace and leaving my career???

Deep breath. By now, I have gotten up and gone out to the kitchen and made a mug of hot chocolate.

Of course I won't have a paycheque. Why would an employer pay me if I am not doing any work? I don't want to work so hard for pay anymore. That is why I am retiring. Just because I won't have a regular paycheque doesn't mean I will have no money. I will have a small amount of pension income plus the retirement savings that I have spent my whole life saving and investing so that someday I would be able to retire. I just have to wrap my head around the fact that I will no longer be putting money into those savings. Instead, I will begin drawing it out.

It is obvious. I know it intellectually. I have planned for it, and have run the numbers over and over again, just to make sure that I can afford to retire. But somehow, now that the moment has come, it is still hard to accept that there will be no more paycheques.

We have a new house! It is beautiful, and I am so excited about moving into it and making a new life for ourselves on Vancouver Island. It has space in it for me to have an office at home, and space to paint, and a beautiful workshop for Rob. It has lovely gardens, and best of all, it is near my kids, grandkids, and southern BC friends.

We have done the math. We wouldn't have made an offer on the house if we couldn't afford it. We have made financial arrangements and can cover the carrying costs while we wait for our house to sell. 

The backyard has a pond!

I am going to love being retired. I can write. I can paint. I will have time to garden and have outdoor adventures. I will not miss working my face off, and all the tiresome politicking of the workplace. If I really miss work, well then, I can take on a short term contract with my current employer, or one with a similar organization nearer to our new home. I have marketable skills that will continue to be in demand for some years.

Worry, worry, worry. Why do I do it? It serves no useful purpose. It just keeps me up at night, and distracts me from all the joys of finally truly having time to do what I choose.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Seffascopes and Bomb Fires


Yesterday, my grandson came rushing out from under the decorative bush at the end of the driveway - his fort. He had an armload of sticks which he tossed back under the bush.

"Grandma, I'm making a bomb fire!" he explained with great excitement. Then he picked some red and pink leaves from the bush and threw them onto his pile of bonfire sticks.

"Here's the flames of the bomb fire."

Next, he began dragging some bungee cords that he had hooked together, and pretended that it was a fire hose. He squirted imaginary water on the bonfire, talking about the bad guys who made the fire and how he had to rescue the people in the building.

My younger grandson, aged two, observed his older brother, aged four, and picked up a stick.

"No, no! That stick is on the fire!" said "E", snatching the stick away.

Then we negotiated finding "C" a different stick to play with, one that was not part of the fire drama taking place under the bush. Still watching his older brother, C began plucking red leaves from the bush and delivering them one by one to me to hold for him.


Honestly, I don't know why we even bother with making plastic toys, when sticks, rocks, leaves, and dirt (and bungee cords) provide so much scope for the imagination and hours of fun.

As you might have guessed, I am presently on grandma duty. I am staying with my two grandsons for a week while their parents are out of town. I live far away in a different province. Although I have visited quite often, this is the first time that I have looked after them for multiple days.

I had forgotten how exhausting a day with two preschoolers is! And how early the morning starts! Poopy diapers, two-year-old contrariness, wheedling for sugar, eating toothpaste, sibling disagreements, disappearing socks, and the many places where food can be smeared.

On the other hand, there is nothing quite as sweet as a cuddle and kiss from a toddler. Or the seriousness of a four-year-old explaining about a seffascope for looking at the sky, or asking concerned questions about Snow White's evil step mother. I was grateful that E was able to help me figure out how to remove the diapers from the complicated odour-free diaper disposal system when it became full. Both boys love to be helpful!

We have been to an outdoor preschool program, swimming lessons, soccer, a science centre, gym drop-in, and the playground. Every day we read many, many stories. E enjoys long books and has amazing knowledge about the natural world, and about how things work. C is very interested in animals, music, buses, and construction machines.

I am so lucky to have this opportunity to spend intensive time with my dear grandchildren. They are growing up so fast! I will recover from a week of being tired at the end of each day, and I know that the long grind of full-time childcare is in my past, not my future. But if I didn't have the chance to spend time like this with them now and from time to time, I would miss out on truly knowing them as young children.

I expect that being a grandma will be one of the best things about being retired.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tulips With a Mind of Their Own


The tulips are blooming. They are late this year. Most years they bloom in the latter part of April.

They are Appledorn tulips and they look gorgeous -- all red and yellow. I purchased the bulbs from a garden club the first year that we lived here and planted them in the front perennial bed. Every year I look forward to their cheery welcome of springtime.

But, as I said, they are late this year, and I think they are doing it on purpose. You see, we have listed our house on the market. We are planning to sell and move to the coast. Since returning from our Easter travels, we have worked hard to clean every inch of the house and trim the yard. We have decluttered, and reorganized, and given many boxes of things away.

Ten days ago, we met with a realtor to discuss the marketing plan and complete the listing contract. We have had a consultation with a home stager (Every surface must be bare! No clutter!), and a photographer came through the house, and then another photographer who has created a 3-D virtual media tour of the house. Tomorrow the listing is supposed to appear on the MLS website.

For weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cold. The tulips grew green and healthy, and developed big fat buds. But they refused to open for the photographers trouping around the property taking photos (although fortunately we had sunny weather for both photo days).

The day after the last photographer came, the weather turned hot and summery. The tulips bloomed and looked glorious. It is almost certain that they will have finished blooming and dropped their petals before the first viewer comes through the house. So you see why I say that they have a mind of their own!

In the meantime, we continue to clean, clean, clean. We have repainted the front door and vacuumed the patio. We have washed the windows and planted pots of petunias. 



We move through our gleaming house as though we are staying in a stranger's home. I have become obsessive about picking up every crumb that drops, and putting away each item out of sight as soon as we have used it. I have made a list of last minute things to do before a showing (Put away the pets' beds and dishes! Turn on all the lights!)

Although we have always kept our place clean, we are not model housekeepers. We like a certain amount of clutter; it creates a homey, comfortable feeling. But now all the family photos have been put away. Books and magazines are no longer strewn over the coffee table, but are neatly on shelves or in the magazine basket. No socks are on the floor. No shoes are piled beside the door. Every faucet and mirror sparkles. Even as I pause from my tidying to write this post, Rob is chugging from room to room with the vacuum cleaner.

Well, it looks like the rain has stopped. I'm heading outside to do some gardening.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cute Shoes and a Shopping Ban

When we returned home in January after a month of holiday travels, I decided to implement a shopping ban. This was a secret ban that only applied to myself. I decided that I would not buy any "stuff" for the month of January. I was allowed to buy experiences (e.g., concert tickets) or consumables (e.g., groceries, wine, restaurant meals), but no material objects (e.g., books, clothing, household items).

One might think that this month of restraint was inspired by the materialistic excesses of Christmas. It is true that there have been many Christmases when I have gone overboard in celebrating the spirit of consumption. But more typically at Christmas, I have been unhappy about the materialism that has come to characterize the holiday. This year, there was an agreement among many of our friends and family members to cut back on shopping and gift giving, and the holiday was was much less consumeristic. So if Christmas influenced my decision to implement a shopping ban, it was more in the spirit of carrying on with a good thing than trying to to atone for a shopping overdose.

Recently, I have been reading some blogs and other materials on frugality and minimalism. So this was another factor that influenced the January decision. I always have been a frugal person by nature and also by upbringing. I have more or less supported myself since I was eighteen, including paying my own way through university. Later in life, I ended up as a single parent. So there have been some slim years during which I learned to live well on not much money.

I only really began to loosen the purse strings when my three children were teenagers. By that time, I was earning a good salary and had no debts, not even a mortgage. I suddenly realized that soon my children would grow up and begin to move out, yet, aside from camping trips, I had never travelled anywhere much with my kids. Although I had paid for sports, lessons, and activities (skiing, soccer, gymnastics, music lessons, summer camp, art classes, etc.), I had avoided certain "expensive" one-time experiences. So in their teen years, we did things like a trip to Mexico, a cross-Canada trip in a motorhome (admittedly an antique one), a seaplane flight on Haida Gwaii, days at theme parks, and helicopter flights.

It became easier to spend money. I could afford these things. Then, when I started working as an administrator, with long hours and an even higher salary, I fell into the habit of going to restaurants a lot, and sometimes shopping as a pastime rather than because I actually needed something. I was too exhausted to do anything in my leisure time that required any effort, and I had very little leisure time in any case.

So as I read about frugal, less consumer-oriented lifestyles, I suddenly realized how far I had shifted from my frugal habits. The world does not need so much stuff. Our consumer lifestyle squanders the earth's resources and contaminates the environment. Having more stuff is not the route to happiness. I realized that I was shopping for things that I did not want or need, and also buying stuff for others that they did not need. I decided that not buying anything for the month of January might help me to become more aware of my mindless buying, and also help me think about what I valued each time I considered making a purchase.

Well how did I do with respect to my "buy-nothing" goals? It turns out that I found it to be as easy as pie. There was one moment in late January when I looked at my toothbrush and decided that I needed to buy a new one. It is necessary for healthy brushing, I told myself. But then I argued with myself that I could surely wait one week until February to purchase the new toothbrush. So I didn't buy it.

I would have had a perfect January except for one thing. On the same day that I denied myself a toothbrush, I mindlessly tossed a magazine into the grocery cart when I was standing at the checkout counter. It was a National Geographic special edition on gender. I didn't even realize what I had done until I got home and started unpacking the groceries. Books and reading materials have always been my special indulgence!

However, on the whole, the "buy-nothing January" was so easy that I continued on with it through February and March as well. In February, I would have been purchase-free except that I had to pick up a few art supplies for a water colour painting class. I already had most of what I needed, except for a few items on the supply list. I went the whole month of March without buying a thing until the last week. Then my old bad habit of shopping just for something to do briefly re-emerged and I went and bought a pair of jeans and a T-shirt on sale, neither of which I actually needed. I felt annoyed with myself.

I think one reason it was easy to not shop was that I did not limit purchase of consumables. We still went out for dinner, and we made a trip to the nearby city to attend a concert, and stayed overnight in a hotel. I also have not counted the cost of the home renovations in the shopping ban. We were spending so much money on reno's that we both felt little desire to spend money on other stuff. Also, I began my decluttering efforts during this period. There is nothing like sorting through boxes and boxes of stuff to reduce the desire to purchase more stuff.


The newly renovated bathroom

Here is where the cute shoes come into the story. As I have mentioned before, I broke a bone in my foot 18 months ago. After I got the cast off, I had to learn to walk again. I could not wear most of my shoes. I was limited to wearing sturdy flat walking shoes, athletic shoes, athletic sandals, and hiking boots. My cute dressy shoes with heels languished in my closet. A couple of weeks ago, during my cleaning and decluttering activity, I discovered several very nice pairs of shoes in the bottom of my closet, covered with dust. I had completely forgotten that I owned them. I dusted a pair off and wore them to work. They were not comfortable to walk in. As I will have little use for dressy shoes when I retire, I have decided to give away several pairs of cute, barely worn shoes.

The shoes that I actually wear

As for the new toothbrush that I did not buy -- don't worry, my health is not suffering due to using a worn out toothbrush. A couple of days after the internal toothbrush purchasing debate, I found five brand new toothbrushes in the bathroom drawers as I was decluttering and getting ready for the bathroom renovation.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Sentimental Journey


As we prepare to put our house on the market and get ready for an eventual move, I have begun a serious effort to de-clutter. I have read that getting rid of one's materialistic mountain of stuff and living a more minimalist life is a freeing experience.

And perhaps it is... for other people. But I am finding it very difficult.

I am not by nature a big consumer. I don't finding shopping to be an enjoyable pastime. I keep things and use them until they don't work anymore, and when possible, repair them. I have a 5-year-old cell phone, a 35-year-old blender, and a 50-year-old camp stove.

When we went on our 8-week camper trip last summer, I didn't miss any of the stuff left behind in our house. We have a storeroom full of boxes that haven't been opened since we moved here five years ago, and some of those boxes are from the move before that, 13 years ago.

Someone said to me, "If you haven't felt a need for anything in those boxes for years and can't even remember what is in them, why don't you just throw them out?" Why can't I do that, and why am I finding it so hard to throw things away?

Well, the answer is simple and complicated at the same time. Opening up those boxes and finding the items inside takes me on a sentimental journey. As I pick up and hold each item, I am immediately transported back to an earlier time in my life. The item, whatever it is, stimulates memories of people and experiences that, without the artifact, I would be unlikely to retrieve. And then I relive that memory.

In one box, I found a painting of the Battle of Salamis that I did when I was in Grade 4. Looking at that painting, I remembered my Grade 4 teacher, a wonderful woman who wanted to ensure that her students had their eyes opened to the wider world through music and art. Her art class was not an afterthought. Each student in the class was required to bring to school a two-foot by two-foot piece of plywood. To one side of it, we stapled a piece of vinyl cloth, with the fabric side out. Propped up on the chalk ledge of the blackboard, that board served as a painting easel as we stood to paint. Fifty-one years later, I still love to paint, and I still stand at an easel when I paint.

The teacher often tuned into CBC for a weekly radio program on art for children. The program began with a story of a historical event, such as Xerxes and the Battle of Salamis. At the end of the story, the narrator would instruct the students to paint a picture stimulated by the events in the story, and provide some tips. We would sit in our desks and listen to the program, and then stand at our easels and paint. For the Battle of Salamis, which was a naval battle between the Persians and Greek city-states, the narrator suggested creating the illusion of froth on the ocean waves by colouring on our papers with a white wax crayon before painting over it with our water colours. Looking at my childhood painting brought these memories flooding back.

 In another box, I came across the language diary that I kept for my middle daughter. I wrote down her first words by date, both phonetically and in standard orthography, and made note of the context in which they occurred. She began talking very early, and her first two words were "Mom" and "num-num" (she liked to eat). Her first two-word utterance, just as she turned one, was "Kate bye-bye." And I laughed to remember that one of her first fifty words was "beer." If we drank beer, we had to be careful to not to leave the bottles within reach or my baby would help herself to the dregs.

I also discovered some of the handmade literacy books that I made for my children. I used to staple blank pages together to make a book, then write simple stories for them, and illustrate each page. When they were just learning to read, they could read aloud from their own personalized books that were about themselves, their pets, and their adventures. My children loved the books, and as they became older, they also made and illustrated their own books.

One of the photos below is of a book that my middle daughter made and illustrated for her little brother. It is "The Adventures of Super Sumo!" The other is of a book my son made when he was just learning to write. The word says "Chaucer," which was the name of one of our cats.




My children also had several experiences of making or decorating pottery when they were growing up. Our city had a community arts day each spring when the public was welcomed for free into various art studios and could participate in art activities. One activity that we all loved was that of the Pottery Club. They would set up their raku pottery kiln outside on the lawn, and sell pieces of pottery that had been fired but not yet glazed. My kids and I would paint the pieces with glazes and then stand and watch as the potters fired the pieces for us. Once they cooled, we would proudly bring them home and display them in our house.

Both my daughters participated in various art camps and courses. The photo below shows some details of a beautiful planter that my older daughter made for me.


Although going through the boxes and trying to decide what to throw away has been emotionally exhausting, it also has been a wonderful, joyful experience. If I hadn't opened up those boxes to attempt to de-clutter, I would not have had the chance to take this sentimental journey. It is true that the things in the boxes are just objects, and to many people some of the items look like junk, but to me, they are saturated with meaning. My past life now has become memories, and those memories are springing back to life as I look at artifacts from my past.


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