Archive for the ‘THE HOLE IN OUR PARACHUTE’ Category

Shortly after my last entry, my husband and I learned that we were eligible for a mortgage. It would take a leap of faith on the lender’s part and on our own, because we’d have a higher interest rate than people with solid jobs or flourishing businesses, but we couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Immediately we started to search in a city where house prices are still affordable, and the commute to Toronto and the outlying areas reasonable. Because we were considering homes at the low end of the price scale, we saw some real disasters. Some were so bad that it would be cheaper to tear them down and start over, rather than try to renovate what was already there. We saw homes that looked wonderful online, but those pictures were carefully cropped to miss the dilapidated homes on the rest of the street, or the fifteen story apartment that loomed behind and put the entire house in its shade. There were a lot of estate homes – easily recognizable by the dated decor and overall neglect of an elderly person who doesn’t have the money or energy to redecorate or renovate. We saw one place we loved, only to be told that the corner three hundred metres away served as home base for most of the city’s prostitutes.

One particular older home charmed us, and we considered making an offer. A closer look showed dangerous undermining of the foundation, and other structural time bombs. Another old place was lovely inside, but the floor was so uneven you’d swear you were hung over as you moved from one room to the next. My husband, ever the optimist, believed he could raise the floor himself. He did the research, then we went back for a second look. That’s when he discovered that the supports at one end of the house were rotten, and that without a mega transfusion of cash, the house would eventually crumble.

Across the street and down a bit, we found another home – sturdy, stately, with tons of character and original features. It took just one short visit for us to fall in love with it.

The purchase has moved quickly because the house is vacant. I can’t tell you how excited I am. Over the years, we’ve owned three brand new homes, and another that was only six years old when we bought it. Between homes, we’ve been lucky enough to live with a close friend. Now, after two tumultuous years, we are embarking on an entirely new adventure, something we’ve never considered before: a home that’s over one hundred years old, in the middle of a city we are only beginning to know.

It’s a fresh start for us, and it begins tomorrow. Wish us luck.


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Written the week before we moved away from our home of twenty-four years. I’m so glad that the feelings expressed here are in the past

A Day In July
My mind races to
the mantra of moving.
Sort, purge, pack tight, tape.
Mark books or china,
heavy or fragile
our life boxed away.

A fat black marker,
obliterates the item from my list,
one less thing to do,
one step closer.
The rhythm carries me,
keeps me numb.

Pretend with me.
Let the catch in my voice
go unnoticed,
my emotions contained.
Just one word of kindness
will shatter my resolve.

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I cannot believe that I have not written a word here in over six months. Perhaps I should break that statement up. I can’t believe that I have not written, period. And I can’t believe it is nearly six months.

Externally, nothing has changed. We remain unsettled, searching for employment so that we can have our own home again. But internally, where it counts, there’s been growth and healing. The battle isn’t over, but we feel like survivors. More than ever before, we recognize the strength of our union. Not all marriages could have withstood all that we have. We make a damned good team.

It’s easy to gloss over the difficulties we’ve experienced. Grief, worry, regret – every negative thought that had plagued us for over two years continued to lurk in the background these past months, waiting for those times when we seemed most vulnerable. Late night drives into our current subdivision brought flashbacks of the night of our move, and caused me to have panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep. Food suddenly caught in my throat as I ate. I was drowning in guilt over what I should have done differently. My husband was obsessed with feelings of failure. Gradually, though, we collected an arsenal of “weapons” to combat the pain we’ve felt. Such is survival. It’s instinctive.

The day-to-day needs of our new household became our lifeline. Mindless chores kept us from dwelling on our situation. We took our sweet little dog on long walks through the subdivision, the nearby park, the trails winding their way through the protected forests of the Oak Ridges Moraine. We compared one home’s choice of landscaping to the next, and laughed as our dog compulsively left his mark on every pole and tree he could find. It’s hard to stay depressed as you watch a tiny shih tzu attempt world domination in a half-hour walk.

There were times when we allowed ourselves to hope: the possibility of a contract being extended; companies that expressed interest in consulting contracts; success on the first day of a new sales job; a third interview for a new position that was a perfect fit. But inevitably, there were disappointments. A contract ended; a company decided against consulting when they checked their books and saw another month “in the red”; the realization that customers simply weren’t buying Toyotas, and that seeing just one customer a day left him earning less than minimum wage; a sudden silence after a third interview, and the suspicion that the only edge another candidate likely had on him was being younger.

Each time, we searched online for homes near these positions, so that if things worked out, we’d be ready to move. We collected a running list of “favourites,” keeping track of those that sold, and the new listings that came up. And when our hopes crashed, we learned to pull back for a while, stop looking, and give ourselves time to regroup. We read. We walked. We watched television and played mindless computer games. Did you know that Spider Solitaire can practically put you into a trance, if you play it long enough? I dreamed about playing it. It was better than not sleeping at all.

In many ways, those days in between the times of “hope” have felt timeless, a sort of limbo. Forced to live just in the moment, unable to predict the future and not wanting to revisit our past, our sense of time feels altered. One day melts into the next. We’ve been neither here nor there, our lives somewhat on hold, and subconsciously, I guess we’ve sometimes fooled ourselves into thinking the rest of the world has stopped as well. For example, summer was over before we knew it, and with that came a wardrobe dilemma I’d never anticipated. I never expected that we’d live with our friend so long, so I’d only brought summer clothing with me. When temperatures dropped in October, we drove to the storage facility to collect my warmer clothes, only to learn that the bins they were in were virtually inaccessible, lodged under and behind large pieces of furniture and boxes that couldn’t be moved. It was one more reminder of just how “out of sorts” our life felt.

Certain dates have also jolted us into reality and reminded us of the awkwardness of our situation. The first day of school, and no longer connected to that day as a teacher or parent; Thanksgiving, and the effort needed to show thankfulness; no longer preparing for Hallowe’en; and then, more than any other day, Christmas.

The first reminder saying “Just forty days left to shop for Christmas” was like a sucker punch. I felt sick and even more than that, I wondered how I’d possibly get through the day without becoming weepy and maudlin, ruining Christmas for everyone around me. I thought of our Christmas decorations stored away, how I loved to make our house look festive, the many friends who used to visit us, and Christmas morning, when my younger son and his girlfriend would arrive to join my husband, my oldest son, and myself to exchange presents. Where would we meet this year, with no family home to call our own? Whenever I allowed myself to dwell on the situation, my sadness grew, so I pushed it out of my mind, compartmentalizing it into the part of my brain reserved for regrets and losses.

Then I went shopping.

And in the end, Christmas was as it should be. Free of the massive debt we’d accumulated, Christmas didn’t carry the usual worry for us. We exchanged gifts in the morning with our friend and his family, and then we shared a hearty Christmas brunch casserole I’d made the night before, along with hot cinnamon buns, orange juice, egg nog, and coffee. In the afternoon, I prepared dishes to take to my sister’s for Christmas dinner, then arrived to find her house sparkling with decorations and filled with family and the laughter of children. My son and his girlfriend were able to join us, and though we missed exchanging gifts under our own tree, as we always had, nothing could touch the happiness we felt at having them there with us. Joy bubbled inside me until I worried it might spill over in blubbering sentiment and embarass the men in my family. I held it tight inside, something precious and wondrous that no one could take away.

Philsophers say that all growth comes from pain, that clarity of thought is the gift you are left with when the trappings of material wealth are no longer clouding your vision. For so long, I’ve worried and agonized and despaired and grieved over the changes in my life. I’ve felt detached and disenfranchised. I’ve used the solitude of the shower to shed my tears. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

I know that our difficulties are not over, that our situation is far from settled, but I also recognize the gifts I have gained. I’ve had seen the good in people in unexpected gestures of kindness and generousity’ and that has strengthened my spirit and resolve. I’ve arrived at a place where I can look at the worst that might happen in our lives, and still say with all conviction “I am blessed.”

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This past week has been the most emotionally and physically exhausting time of our lives. We’ve sold our house and moved into the home of a very dear friend. We are thankful for his generosity, but are grieving, nonetheless. A part of us is gone. For the first time in our lives, we have no home to call our own.

People quickly find metaphors for times like this. They say that selling our home to correct our financial situation is like an amputation – painful, but necessary to our survival. Someone has said that we exchanged an “ace, two, four, six and seven” for a “two queens, two jacks, and a ten.” Play the hand correctly and maybe we’ll last the entire game.

We’ve imagined the sinking ship, the jump to a lifeboat. Even more so, I found myself comparing our situation to the evacuation of civilians in a war-torn country. Like them, we ran out of time to think. We threw out what we could not carry: items too bulky to transport, some of sentimental value, some, to our frugal minds, still salvageable. We balanced the replaceable value of an item against the cost of storing it; the sentimental value of one keepsake versus another, knowing one would be thrown out. There were sad goodbyes and outbursts of grief that surprised even us. In between, we held on to the sensible logic of the move. “This house is too large for us now. The new owners will be so happy here.” All of it true.

There can never be enough hours to move what amounts to a lifetime of possessions and memories. We filled a twenty cubic foot garbage bin in our driveway, two sixteen foot storage units, and still had to drive five carloads of goods to our friend’s home, forty-five minutes away. We arrived at three a.m.. While others were asleep, we tiptoed inside (limped might be more accurate), dug for nightclothes in hastily packed suitcases, and tried to sleep. My husband’s exhaustion won over and he was snoring within minutes. I lay awake, unable to stop the thoughts looping through my head: the way things used to be and how it came to this, and even more, would we get through it? I closed my eyes and replayed our visit to the lawyer earlier in the week: the look of compassion on his face when he heard about our situation; his quick glances at my husband between each clause of the contract, as he probably imagined himself in our shoes. I heard the words that seemed so out of place as we signed our house away. He said “Life is a journey.” I remembered the way he shook my hand and held it just a little longer than necessary. “Good luck,” he said. I avoided his eyes, because if I looked into them and saw sadness or pity, I would have crumbled.

So here I am, four days after our move, lucky enough to be welcomed into our friend’s big, comfortable home, but still “bleeding on the page,” as someone once said, and likely embarrassing myself. But it is honest and it is real and it is all I know how to be. Faking cheeriness right now isn’t possible.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since its start might say that this is our roadblock, the biggest one we have ever faced, and that the detour ahead leads to a much better place.

I hope you are right. We are more than ready for a fresh start.

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I am in overdrive. I feel an inner trembling, the fluttering of a heart that’s beating too quickly. My mind is all over the place, thoughts rushing in at lightning speed, reminders of things I have yet to do: notifying the post office, the bank and our creditors of our address change, cancelling our phones, our satellite service, our property insurance. I am so rushed that I have stopped mourning the sale of our home. There is no time for it.

We move in just six days.

Allowing just four weeks to pack and move out is something I will never do again. Packing goes quickly when you’re taking everything you own. In our case, we have loads to get rid of, and loads we can’t bear to leave behind. Everything I pick up to pack must go into one of five groups:

1. Things we will need for the interim while we are living with our friend “M.” Thank goodness for him!

2. Stuff (a lot of it!) that we will store until we find our a new place.

3. Things my son will try to sell at a garage sale on Saturday.

4. Things we will give away to charity, mostly clothes and dishes

5. The rest, garbage for the dumpster that sits in our driveway.

Tomorrow, the first of our storage units will be delivered. It’s a very cool system. We pack it to the rafters and then call the company to pick up the first unit and deliver the second. The plan is to move on the 14th.

And all I can think of is “I’M NOT READY.” Forget the fact that my emotions are all over the place. I am not finished packing. There is food in the fridges to use up. The pantry is nearly, and the freezer has a few things we’ll either have to give away or force ourselves to eat: frozen pizza, perogies, two bags of a cheese/pasta/vegetable concoction. There are hamburgers and loads of ice cream, frozen vegetables, frozen bread and buns – most of which is already in freezer-burn hell.

My son is handling the garage sale and it will be casual, at best. If he had his way, he’d grab our stereo system and bookcases and extra television to sell. If I had my way, I’d sell his hundreds of magazines. I’d also sell a lot of things my husband wants to bring, like his desk, and his handbuilt solid cedar water wheel, a mere six feet in diameter, his 30 year-old car manuals. He’d toss out my older nightgowns and shirts he doesn’t like, and most of my books would disappear. Last night, his “sentimental gene must have been asleep at the switch – he started to throw away mementos from our sons’ school days: drawings, projects, a Grade 3 journal. My son was horrified, my husband stupefied, and me, I was simply fried (it’s been HOT here). There is no truer line than “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

I need to get to bed now because tomorrow has an early start. I pray I drift off quickly. These days, I need a muscle relaxant and sleep medication to get a solid eight hours’ rest (sleep pattern difficulties and muscle stiffness and pain is part of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that can make me pretty miserable and whiney – but that’s another story, just as tedious to write as to read read.) The good news is that the meds do help a little.

Thank goodness, because tomorrow we are even more under the gun. If we’re crazy busy, I’ll have less time to feel sad. I might even manage without my daily little cry. And that’s a good thing. That’s progress, isn’t it?

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I want to write, but tonight the words refuse to cooperate. Not the way I want them to, at least. they all sound repetitive, a melancholy refrain that drips of self-pity, of loss, of disillusionment. People are tired of hearing it. I am just as tired of feeling it.

Denying that the feelings exist is pointless. They are just below the surface of my every waking minute. I pour cereal into a bowl and think of grocery lists, of the things we need or the next few days and the things I won’t bother to replace. I work hard to stay detached, business-like, because if I don’t, I lose my focus and become immobilized.

Each item I pack carries a memory. I find letters from my boys when they were little, a note my mother wrote to me on my honeymoon. I find loose pictures I’d thought lost, and I study each as if they’re a masterpiece: the expressions on faces, what people wore, remember what they said that day, what we laughed at. And immediately, I wonder if our quota of “fun” has already been met. Maybe those were the “good old days” and now, our happiness ration is depleted.

There is such a sense of detachment when you go through a serious financial downturn like this. People you thought were your friends drift off. They suffer survivor guilt and often would sooner stay away and hope things get better for you, than come around and deal with your feelings.

That isolation has been horrible. We think of moving now and know we need to be closer to people, people who won’t know our history and won’t feel sorry for us, people who will accept or reject us on the basis of who we are today, not who we were twenty years ago, and certainly not as the ones who “lost so much.”

We do not want pity. We only want a chance to show what we can do, and prove we’re still worthwhile employees, friends, citizens.

I’ve said more than I intended. My angst overflowed. Bu wow, this is a difficult time, and I find myself staying up late in a silly attempt to delay another day. Our move is coming so fast, and God help me, I am worried over how I will handle it. I feel like I could melt into a puddle of pathetic need. I’ve met older women who are obsessed with things lost: their face, their figure, their fortune, and always, men. I aspired to be better than that – stronger, invinvicible, kind of the way you’d expect Mrs. Obama to handle a situation similar to ours. Could she maintain her dignity or would she turn into a big sweaty lump of blubbering sadness? I know it’s what I sometimes feel like doing, but it’s not what I want.

Sometimes, our resilience and personal strength can surprise even ourselves. Maybe I’ll be lucky and that will happen with me. Right now, I’m much closer to feeling down and out. Tomorrow will be better. Everything looks brighter in the sunshine.

This week will be bad enough. I don’t want the added upset of knowing I made everyone around me feeling ten times worse, simply because I couldn’t contain my own feelings.

So I go back to my initial comment. I need to find a way to turn off my mind, without resorting to a sleep-induced coma. There’s no way I could pack and clean if I couldn’t move. Mind you, a temporary coma does holds a certain appeal.

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Today was our thirty-ninth anniversary. It marked more than our thirty-nine years together though. It defined our point of transition, because today the young couple who are buying our home visited us, and our upcoming move became real.

For two months now, we’ve had to keep their identity a secret from our neighbours. The reason? The wife, who I’ll call “T,” grew up on this very street. She went to school with our sons. Her parents still live down the street. And more than anything, she and her husband “P” wanted to surprise our wonderful neighbours with the news that they will be moving into our home. Today was the day.

Could it feel more right? For twenty-four years, we have lived and loved in this home. It isn’t perfect, but it’s part of us, and one of the hardest things about moving was the idea that the new buyers might neglect it, or divide it into apartments as a business venture. Then we learned exactly who the new owners would be, and it was kismet. Bittersweet, but sweet nonetheless. This house will be loved.

While we women chatted, my husband walked the property with the young man who would soon be its owner. He already has plans for what he will do: a treehouse here, extension there, gazebo where the old poolhouse stands. My husband said the conversation reminded him of his own dreams when we bought all those years ago.

There was sadness, which we tried our best to hide. But there was also acceptance and happiness for this young couple. This home needs the spirit that their family will bring. As for us, it really is the right time for us to leave and begin a new chapter in our lives.

Tonight we celebrated our anniversary at a local Italian restaurant. We talked of what the future might bring, of the kind of life we want to live. Right now, it is surreal and a little frightening. We can’t help but compare it to abandoning a sinking ship. For three years, we plugged leaks and bailed out water, but it wasn’t enough. Now we have a lifeboat that’s seaworthy, at least for a while. We just have to find the shore.

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For several years now, I’ve had the pleasure of managing a wonderful online writing group called The Writing Bridge. Every month, we post a poetry challenge. Compared to many on the site, my poetry skills are mediocre at best, but we were low on entries, so I decided to write something on the one topic that occupies my mind right now: my hopes for our future. As it turns out, composing the poem couldn’t have been more timely. That future begins today.

“A Verandah View.”

A verandah wraps around
the tiny place we’ll someday call home.
From it, we’ll watch the seasons pass.
Beside its rail, tulips and golden forsythia
will herald spring.
Fat peonies will hang low,
colonies of ants opening the petals wide.
And daisies. There will be daisies.

On warm mornings, we’ll drink coffee
on a verandah swing.
We’ll count chickadees,
and shoo away greedy blue jays
monopolizing the feeder.
We’ll pass the local newspaper between us
and plan our day.
Weight of worry lifted, we’ll be light as air,
free to write, to paint, to imagine.

On afternoons, we’ll walk by store windows
displaying local wares: crafts and art and homemade soap;
vegetables and fruit from the farmers’ fields.
The smell of fresh bread will lure us
to the village bakery; caving to temptation,
we’ll choose cinnamon buns or rhubarb pie
cooling in the window.

We’ll linger there with others,
laugh and philosophize
over the decadence of our favourite pastries;
the best places to travel; the latest production of
the local theatre group.

The importance of

And in the evening, when dinner and dishes are done,
and we grow tired,
we’ll return to our verandah and
the gentle rhythm of the swing.
Chickadees gone, we’ll count shooting stars instead,
relax to the songbirds’ lullaby and
think the same thought each night:
“Aging is inevitable. To grow wiser,
we needed a verandah view.”

Spring has made a huge impact on the real estate market where we live. Suddenly this weekend, potential buyers descended upon us in record numbers. Yesterday, an offer came in. After three hours of negotiations, the deal was complete. While conditional on the sale of their home, it still carried an emotional impact. Suddenly, all of this is very real.

After months of trying to sell our home, actually signing the acceptance was surreal. The respective agents shook my hand in congratulations, but I felt no sense of happiness. We met the young couple who would soon call our home of twenty-four years theirs, and were surprised to learn we already knew them (sworn to secrecy on this for a while but more will be revealed later). I couldn’t help but be happy for them and their obvious excitement.

They left, and then it hit me. I bawled my eyes out.

Change is always a challenge, but it’s particularly difficult when it’s under duress – not so much a real choice, but something crucial to your future. In our case, there isn’t a whole lot of time left to improve our financial footing for our retirement years.

What’s amazing, though, is that once you step out of your comfort zone, the choices available to you seem endless. Where do you go? Do you rent or buy? Buy something temporary, with an eye to a retirement move, or buy something you will want to live in forever? What about house-sitting? A small piece of land up north with a plan to build later on? A fixer-upper?

Having our roots ripped from the ground is a huge adjustment, but maybe, just maybe, it will allow us to feel more adventurous, less encumbered. Free of preconcieved notions about our future, we may end up re-inventing ourselves in the process. And if we’re lucky, maybe someday there will be the perfect little home with a verandah view.

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I’ve never really been a morning person. Sure, I can fake it when I have to, jumping out of bed at the first sound of the alarm, and moving through my “to-do” checklist like a “Stepford Wife” model of efficiency. But I’m moving just to stay awake. Sit me down for two minutes and I’m apt to nod off again. If it’s up to me, it’s late to bed, later to rise – usually a very civilized nine-thirty.

For the past ten days, I’ve had no choice in the matter. My husband has started a new job, and since he’s still on crutches, he needs my help in the morning. Otherwise, he’ll end up “ass over teakettle,” as his dear mum used to say. And because this will be his schedule indefinitely, I’m forcing myself to stick to it too. It gives me more time to think.

Now that spring is here, our home is on the market again, and I spend my days either compulsively cleaning the house to impress prospective buyers, or searching online for our next place to live. I feel like an anxious little mother robin, trying to figure out where to build her next nest.

We’ll be downsizing, and the verdict is out on whether we’ll move further into the country, where homes are less expensive, or closer to urban centres, where there are more job opportunities. Weighing the pros and cons of each is exhausting, and it’s tinged with a sense of loss. This move is based on practicality, not simple wanderlust, and so far nothing I’ve seen online makes the decision any easier.

It was beautiful outside this morning, and a moment of lucidity hit me when I carried my husband’s coffee to his car and reminded him to drive safely. The reality is that each day that passes is one less in this much-loved country home, and I’m not taking the time to appreciate it. So I walked inside, poured myself a coffee, grabbed the novel “Precious,” and joined my dog, Cadeau, and cat, Cleo, on our backyard deck. I’m glad I did.

By now, everyone knows the story of Precious, based on the attention generated by the screenplay. It is a story about survival against all odds, and the power of self-esteem. The heroine picks herself up from the worst of circumstances and begins to build a new life for herself. The last few pages of the book are pieces written by the girl and by her classmates, other young women struggling to get on track. I read those last pages this morning, and it set the perfect tone for my day.

I closed the book and looked around me, trying to remember the last time I gave myself permission to do this, just sit outside on an early spring day rather than plant myself in front of the computer or rush to finish chores. Why have I wasted these so many mornings when I could have been here, feeling the sun and listening to the birds on my backyard deck?

On our first day in this home, I remember waking to their singing. It was a striking change from the city, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to sleep through their early morning cacophony. Over the years, I’ve come to take their concert for granted, but today, I heard them again as if for the first time. I tried to identify the source of the diverse dialects. A blackbird atop the birch? The small yellow songbirds high in the willows? The killdeer on the slope at the back? The robins near the front of the house, gathering materials for their nest? There were so many more whose names I never bothered to learn.

I felt a wave of regret, but shook it off. Like the heroine Precious, we all move through different chapters in our lives. Sometimes, we’re pulled there, kicking all the way. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is never easy, but it comes down to this: we can choose to remain mired in the past and mourn its loss, or we can rejoice in all the blessings we still have and look to the future. No matter how uncertain life can be, there will always be sunny April mornings, and the birds will still be singing their morning song.

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