The power of ‘no’

As my friends, family and fellow bloggers know, it’s been quite a journey of self exploration for me this past year. My move from city to country has been both exhilarating and nauseating.

I find myself teetering between the two sensations on a daily basis; I am still trying to figure out where I fit in this new life. And it’s not just me. As a family we had to let go of so much to come here. It was not a blind move, and certainly not a decision we made lightly, but it was still a test of faith.

I have always believed we are all on a path. The old clichés ring true to me and have guided me my whole life. Clichés like, “It will all work out in the end,” and “What will be, will be.” And also “When one door closes, another door opens.”

It’s one thing to have a door close and another door open. But what happens when it’s you who closes that door? Does fate still extend her hand of generosity? Or, are you just screwed? Have you altered your own intended timeline and changed your destiny irreversibly?

IMG_2743

I’ve done just that. I’ve closed a door. Last year, as I was settling into my new life in the country, I was fortunate to have a teaching position fall into my lap at a private school. Suddenly I went from “who am I?” to “French teacher.” It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience. I discovered the joys (and rage) of teaching children from grades one to eight, and in doing so, opened up a whole network of new friendships. The school invited me back to teach again this year, but after much soul searching, I decided to decline.

Why? Why close this door?

I suppose I didn’t want it to become a crutch. As wonderful as it was, it was not a financially sustaining endeavour, and it took up most of my free time. I didn’t do it for the money. But, I realized that my time was too valuable. That sounds awfully narcissistic, doesn’t it? Very self-indulgent. Who in the hell do I think I am?

So now I’m left wondering what’s next.

It’s an odd feeling. I’ve worked my entire life! Now I find myself wandering the property like I’m retired. I get up, I feed the chickens and the goats. I stroll the grounds with my coffee and cats. I do my yoga. And, I think.

The truth is, I do have some goals in mind. I will steer myself in those directions and let the universe guide me. I need to be grateful that I’m in a position to have this freedom of choice. But this decision to decline work could be viewed in two very profoundly different ways: either it’s very brave of me to indulge the universe in this way, or (and this is what I fear) very reckless.

Either way, I’ve made my choice and now I have to live with it. I tell my children that every decision they make in life should scare them a little bit. If you always choose to operate within your comfort zone, then your world will become too small.

This is advice I repeat to myself often these days. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. If you don’t stray from the path now and then, you’ll never know what you’re missing. So if nothing else, by closing this door, I will show my children that sometimes saying “no” takes more courage than saying “yes.”

 

 

 

 

Image of the week

abandoned

On a family drive in the country last week, we saw the ghostly silhouette of this house in the distance. We couldn’t resist pulling into the lane to get a closer look; the property looked like something out of The Walking Dead. An old car sat smashed and abandoned right next to the house; driver’s door ajar. A broken tractor, found next to the old bank barn that was barely standing, had a shattered front windshield that looked like it had struck a pedestrian. The entire property was overrun with grass and weeds. I was able to take a few photos before we left. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. Something didn’t feel right.

Preservation

Preserve
[pri-zurv]

verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.

For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.

Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”

The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.

But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.

By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.

My canned tomatoes.

My canned tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.

The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries.  Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.

You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.

I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.

And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?

It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.

Goats from hell

So. I’ve been practicing the breathing techniques I leaned at Lamaze class 14 years ago. Deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. With my eyes closed, I think of a better place. A peaceful place, like one without goats for instance. Sometimes there’s a noise on my exhale though; a slight moan. But that’s OK. I’m working through the pain.

 Yoga works too. Well, sort of; it works in theory. Take a look at this image of me attempting some “relaxation” yoga with my three-year-old. Yes, that is him. On my head.

Hard to benefit from "relaxation" yoga with a kid on your head.

Hard to benefit from “relaxation” yoga with a kid on your head.

 So then we come to my goats. Don’t get me wrong, I love my goats. Stella and Beulah arrived at my farm just over a month ago and it was truly love at first sight, despite the big nasty scabs all over their faces. Orf, the vet said. Harmless. Harmless, but disgusting. And the incessant coughing was a bit disturbing as well. But they have since matured into two lovely and healthy baby goats.

 Healthy, lovely little goats from hell.

 “What are you going to do with them?” I’m often asked.

 “Just love them,” I reply.

Beulah in the pram

       Beulah in the pram

 As time goes on, however, the goats have become more comfortable and a little too confident in their new environment. If I’m going to follow through with the loving, then we have to sort out a few important boundaries!

 It became clear early on that the goats cannot be left to roam the property unsupervised. They are capable of clearing vegetation like the locusts of biblical times. I’m OK with that, except when said cleared vegetation is my fifty dollar shrubs. And, every-single-one-of-my-potted-plants.

 I decided to put this talent for clearing to work in a positive way. Why not fence them and they can “cut” my grass for me? Cities around the world have adopted this practice for years and it has been very effective. Check out this link for “adopt a goat”: (http://www.today.com/video/today/40380939#40380939)

 So, with a new lightness in my step, I made a quick trip to the Co-op and returned with flexible fencing that is easy to install and can be placed anywhere on the property.

After wrestling with the thing for a half hour (it’s all in one piece – posts and all – so it was easy to get tangled), I managed to get the fence in place.

 With much excitement the kids (mine) led the kids (goats) to their new temporary enclosure. It was wonderful for the first, say, 10 seconds, until they both slipped through the fence like it wasn’t even there. (Insert breathing technique here)

 Long story short, the fence has to be electrified to keep these critters in. And so begins the next segment of my frustrating journey of goat ownership. I’m learning about “fencers,” and the importance of grounding electrical currents. And, not to be tempted to jump over the fence by your daughter after consuming a couple glasses of wine. This is not recommended.

 To be continued.

Yiddish Proverb

         Yiddish Proverb

Sebastian’s gift

It was two years ago to the day that my “mommy group” gathered at my country home with our babies for a long-awaited getaway together. It was a weekend full of fun and laughter. But all that changed in a blink of an eye. This is an article I wrote shortly after that fateful weekend and I thought it would be worth sharing on this day. Thank you to Berit and Sebastian for letting me share this story.

Sebastian’s gift

When I heard the woman screaming for help, I did not hesitate – this time. I flew from the checkout where I had been waiting in line with my groceries and ran to her, quickly realizing she had a baby in distress. This was my moment, and I knew exactly what to do.

Flashback three months, to what was the most frightening experience of my life. My three girlfriends and I had finally gathered at my remote country home with our young babies in arms. We had anticipated this baby weekend getaway for months and were so happy to finally be there.

The kids were precious in their brand new little rubber boots, and we moms spent most of our time laughing. The morning of the incident, we had all gathered at the kitchen table for our breakfast. Jodi, a bartender in her early years, mixed us some amazing Caesars and we joked that somebody had better stay sober in case we had to drive to the hospital.

L-R  Selena, Alessia, Cal and Sebastian ready for a country walk the day before we called 911.


Selena, Alessia, Cal and Sebastian ready for a country walk the day before we called 911.

Ha, ha. Little did we know that half an hour later, we would be placing a 911 call and doing exactly that.

Seventeen-month-old Sebastian had run a fever that morning. He felt hot, but not so hot that we felt the need to take his temperature. He went down for his morning nap and slept well. Upon awakening, he still felt warm but was his precious little self otherwise, and we thought nothing of it. We were gathered in a group watching a video on someone’s iPhone when his mother, who had been holding him at the time, realized something was wrong.

Those were her exact words. “Something’s wrong. CALL 911! CALL 911!!!”

We were all so shocked at the suddenness of it. Sebastian had gone stiff in his mother’s arms. He was unresponsive, frothing at the mouth and was turning blue. Two of us scrambled for our phones and managed to place the emergency call while his mother ran to the living room and watched in horror as our friend performed CPR on his little body.

He’s dying, his mother was screaming. Those screams I will never, ever forget. It was absolutely terrifying.

After what felt like an eternity (but was actually only a minute or two) Sebastian’s breathing became regular, and he was in recovery. We didn’t know it at the time, but he had just come through his first febrile seizure.

Flash forward to the grocery store. It was definitely my moment. I grabbed the baby from the screaming mother and recognized immediately what was happening, thanks to the Sebastian experience. The 911 call was placed and I was able to establish very quickly that, despite being blue in colour, his heart was beating and as I held him, I could feel him taking little breaths. I placed him immediately into the recovery position, and eventually, he came out of his seizure and his body relaxed.

The entire time I calmly reassured the mother, who was absolutely terrified, that he was going to be alright.

When the ambulance arrived and I left the grocery store 15 minutes later, I sat in my car and cried. I thought of little Sebastian, and how the horror of that day at my country home had changed my life – all of our lives, in fact. The universe had made me witness something so frightening, but in doing so had provided me with the gift of knowledge. I marvelled at how I was somehow meant to be at that grocery store, at that moment, if only to save a mother from thinking that her baby was dying. That was Sebastian’s gift to me, and my gift to her.

Years have passed since that moms-and-babes getaway, but what happened that weekend has stayed with each of us. The experience left us raw, but it brought our friendship even closer. We made taking a first aid course a priority (as should we all!) and feel better prepared for the unexpected in general.

berit

Sebastian and Berit, by Christophe Strube, summer 2013

Sebastian recently celebrated his third birthday.  He has continued to seizure periodically over the years but is a happy and healthy little boy who will eventually grow out of these frightening spells entirely. His mommy might have a few extra grey hairs, but hey, when you’re that beautiful, who’s counting? ;)

I have included some information about febrile seizures below. It is my belief that all paediatricians should be screening for this. It only takes a second to explain, and it could save a new parent from experiencing that terror of thinking their baby is dying.

According to Epilepsy Ontario, febrile seizures (febrile, meaning “feverish”) are a virtually harmless medical incident experienced by three to four per cent of children, usually boys, between the ages of three months and five years. While they can be frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and don’t cause any other health problems. Having one doesn’t mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage. But, they can be terrifying to witness. Your baby’s body will stiffen, his eyes will roll upward and his head and limbs will be jerky. Often the child will froth at the mouth and can turn blue. These seizures are caused by a sudden spike in body temperature, in fevers generally above 38.3 degrees Celsius. Children are vulnerable to these seizures because of their developing brain, but other factors like a history of febrile seizures in the family will make them more susceptible. In Sebastian’s case, after his first seizure they discovered that his father had experienced febrile seizures as a child.

 

Here are some helpful tips :

  • If this is your child’s first seizure, call 911. Stay as calm as you can. Most febrile seizures last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
  • Place your child on a flat surface on his side in the recovery position. Do not move him unless he is in danger or near something dangerous. Do not restrain him.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you can’t swallow your tongue during a seizure. Wipe away any vomit or saliva outside his mouth, but do not put anything between his teeth. The mother at the grocery store was trying to pour water in her child’s mouth. This is NOT a good idea. Do not attempt to put anything in his mouth.
  • When the seizure stops, keep your child on his side in the recovery position.
  • After the seizure he will be sleepy. Allow him to rest and gradually wake him.
  • Research from Aboutkidshealth.ca, says that there is a 25 percent chance that if one child has a febrile seizure so will their younger sibling. Talk to your child’s paediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.