I wrote yesterday about the visit to my Grandpa. Two things really distressed me about that visit:
- I just felt so helpless. Unable to understand what he tried to say, unable to help, unable to do anything to make it better.
- Grandpa looked like an Old Man. I’ve seen that Old Man before; in the mall, on the bus, in a wheelchair abandoned in a hospital hallway. It really bothered me that anyone who walked in the room would see nothing but an Old Man.
In the process of writing yesterday’s post, I found something that helped on both counts: I wrote a letter. It now hangs on the wall of Grandpa’s hospital room. Dad agreed to put it there after I took out the word “assholes”. He suggested “jerks”, but I didn’t want to use “jerk” and “punk” so close together.
To the Staff at G— R— Hospital,
This is my Grandpa. Thank you so much for taking care of him. Here are a few things I thought you might like to know:
His hospital bracelet says William but he actually goes by Bill. His bracelet also says he was born in 1925. Even I didn’t know that.
His picture hangs in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba, class of 1949. I think he may be the only Electrical Engineer on the face of the planet who has never owned a computer.
In the 1980s, he quit smoking. Cold turkey. He kept an open pack of Du Mauriers in his bedside table for over 20 years – to remind himself that he was not a smoker – until some ignorant cretins broke in one Civic Holiday weekend and stole them. My god I hope those punks got sick smoking those things.
Grandpa retired from Canada Packers at 61, but instead of slowing down, he volunteered for the Canadian Cancer Society, driving patients to their treatments. He enrolled in German and Creative Writing classes, and took up windsurfing.
A few weeks ago Grandpa had to do some sort of competency test. He struggled with most of it. When asked to write something, he wrote, “this test makes me look foolish.” Touché, Grandpa. Touché.
My Grandpa is a smart, educated professional. Like you. Like me. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for him not being able to express himself, much less take care of himself. And so thank you again: Thank you for your care, for your patience, and for the time you take with him in what I know is a busy, busy day.
This summer, my grandparents moved out of the home my father grew up in, and into a retirement home. It was time. Grandpa has been suffering from failing eyesight and Parkinson’s disease, and living at home was becoming too much. There were too many falls. There was a night spent on the bathroom floor before Grandma was able to call for help. So they left North York and found a place in a retirement home in Kitchener, near Dad.
Things just kinda got worse from there. There were more falls. First Grandpa and then Grandma landed in hospital at the beginning of September, and they haven’t actually seen each other since. Grandpa’s hip was broken and required a partial replacement. Grandma’s vertigo suddenly worsened. And all this happened just before my trip to France, so I couldn’t go and see them.
After that, I got sick. The kids got sick. ζach got sick. We couldn’t risk visiting and making anyone else sick. Finally, a few weeks ago, nobody was sick. On Tuesday morning I rented a car and headed for Kitchener.
I saw Grandpa on Tuesday night. As Dad walked past the nurse’s station, Anne, my step mom, took me gently by the arm and asked me if I was prepared for what I was about to see. All the way into the hospital I had been chattering away about nothing important and said that no, I was not prepared, and that I figured if I didn’t stop talking that would save me from having to start thinking.
Grandpa was lying on the bed in a hospital gown. Never before have I truly understood what it means for a body to be wasting away. His arms were shriveled and sinewy, there was almost nothing under the blanket indicating there was a person under there.
So I didn’t focus on that. Instead I focused on his face. The part of Grandpa that was still Grandpa.
That was when the first wave of real grief hit me: I realized how much my father looks like his father. The jawline, the trim salt and pepper beard. The curve of his mouth, the shape of his nose. I could have been looking at my own father. I walked to the window and stared into the dark, and waited for that wave to finally set me down again; feet in the shifting sand, surrounded in turbulence, but at least stable enough to come back to the bed.
To call what followed a “conversation” would be a bit of a stretch. Sometimes we could almost understand bits of what Grandpa was saying. Was that last word “outsourcing”? What on earth could that mean? Was he telling us about being in the Air Force, or telling us that his feet are cold? Is it the Parkinson’s mangling his words, or dementia mangling his thoughts? He was hot, so we pulled back the sheet. No, actually cold – pull it back up. Over and over.
At times he would just stop, eyes closed, mouth open, just trying to breathe. It was scary.
After several, clearly futile, attempts to make him comfortable, he said something we all understood: “I think I need to cry now.” My Grandpa doesn’t cry. And he didn’t cry. His body wouldn’t even let him cry.
So the rest of us did instead.
He is in pain. The last time he fell, the pin from the prosthetic was driven into the top of his femur, cracking it. But his heart is operating at thirty percent capacity, and they’re afraid that surgery will kill him.
What does that mean, thirty percent? Is the other seventy percent gone? Can any of it come back?
It sounds Awful. But Awful is not the right word. Distressing might be closer. Awful feels disrespectful of the human being I know him to be. Monsters are awful. Awful feels like I’m robbing him of what dignity he still has left. I’m still looking for the right word.
As we were about to leave, he managed to say one more thing. The clearly formed words, after all that effort to understand and to be understood, felt like a gift.
“Sasha, I want to tell you something.”
I leaned in close and took his hand.
“What is it Grandpa?”
“… I can’t remember”
Caches found: fifty
Most countries cached in a single day: three
Time on the ground in Zurich before finding a cache: twenty-seven minutes
Nights out with local cachers in Luxemboug: one
Languages spoken at the dinner table: four
Friendships forged over the course of the evening: many
Depth of the Pétrusse valley, Luxembourg City: 379 metres
Number of times I hiked down into it: four
Number of times I hiked back out again: four
Number of drug deals interrupted in the process: two
Point at which I discovered there was an elevator: wait – what?
Longest hike for a single cache: twelve kilometres
Cache owner: Luxembourg City Tourist Office
Number of clues suffering from translation issues: several
Number of times I had to double back to the tourist office: two
Number of times I had already hiked the Pétrusse valley that day: two
Number of times I was nearly reduced to tears: two
Regrets: still zero
Inter-city train trips: five
Railway announcements I understood that were made in French: almost all of them
Railway announcements I understood that were made in English: almost none of them
ISIS threats against the NYC and Paris subway systems: one
Security “incidents” while riding the Paris metro: one
Distance walked home after that: far
Blisters acquired during the course of the entire trip: one
Blisters acquired while wearing technical socks: zero
Cost of technical sock collection: priceless
Sightings of Disney’s Frozen characters in the vicinity of Notre Dame Cathedral: one
Screenings of Disney’s Frozen in Ottawa during my absence: three
Live dramatic re-interpretations of same: unenumerated
Number of times stuck in a Paris Metro turnstile: one
Number of sympathetic passers-by required for extraction: three
Number of times I semi-unintentionally ripped off the Paris transit authority: one
Number of times I lost my camera bag: one
Time elapsed before I realized it was on my back: six seconds
Time shaved off my life-expectancy in the process: six years
Baguette consumed over in six days in Paris: eighty-four inches
Cost savings of eating home-packed baguette in five Paris parks: 60€
Cost savings of eating home-packed baguette in one Paris airport: 60€
Linear distance from check-in to the gate in Charles de Gaulle Airport: thirty metres
Walking distance from check-in to the gate in Charles de Gaulle Airport: two thousand six hundred and fifty-seven metres
Flight attendants that looked like Prince William: one. #happyface
Duration of flight with Wills: twenty eight minutes. #sadface
Time spent in lineups Ottawa-Toronto-Zurich, post 9-11: seven minutes
Time spent in lineups Paris-Montreal-Ottawa, post 9-11: don’t ask
Number of storks in it takes to gain entrance to a cockpit, post 9-11: two
Caches found on the last day of the trip: two
Distance between caches: five thousand six hundred and sixty-one kilometres
Reason it was more important to find a cache than to get to the airport: it’s complicated
Number of blog posts I will squeeze out of this trip: TBD
On Thanksgiving Day we went for a walk. Just Meena and me.
Meena took pictures of things that interested her. Like broken trees.
I took pictures of things that interested me. Like Meena.
Meena dropped seeds for the chickadees.
Then other animals came. I took pictures of the animals.
Meena took pictures of the animals.
I took pictures of Meena taking pictures of the animals.
They let us get close.
Really, really close.
We stood there for twenty minutes, taking pictures.
Just Meena and me.
When ζach asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday, three things came to mind, but I only told him two: go geocaching together, and have a cake with leftovers that could go to the office the next day (instead of sitting on the counter calling my name for the next week).
I didn’t say “take a shower without an audience” – that’s asking the impossible.
To be fair, it’s not that I have no privacy: there is a curtain, which only occasionally gets yanked open mid-lather. But still, it’s hard to have a nice relaxing shower while discussing pee, issuing reminders to wash hands, and refereeing arguments over whose turn it is on the step stool.
This is what I was pondering as I stepped into the spray, and sure enough, the shampoo had barely begun to foam when someone came skipping into the room and plunked herself on the toilet. With the curtain drawn, I didn’t know who was actually in there with me (although I could narrow it down to two possibilities – ζach rarely skips).
That is, until she started to sing:
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear Mommmeeeeee,
Happy birthday to you!
“Aw, thank you sweetie.”
“How old are you Mommy?”
“Are you ready for this?!? Forty. One.”
Meena laughed. “Oh Mommy. Nobody’s forty one.”
I peeked out of the curtain and she grinned at me, then paused –
“Are you dying?”
You may or may not have watched that Honey Maid video, the one that responds to the wholesome-haters. If not, maybe you’ve just become jaded when it comes to viral videos that tug at the heartstrings.
But I decided to watch this one. Not because I’ve seen the original ads – I haven’t. When I heard about them on Ottawa Morning, I vacillated between being perplexed and repulsed by all the negative attention they were garnering. I wasn’t surprised to see the haters out in full force over anything gay-positive; disgusted, of course, but not surprised. But a mixed race couple? Really? What decade is this?
It was a brilliant marketing move: people are flocking to YouTube to watch an ad. If you want to see it on the Huffington Post, you have to watch an ad just to get to the ad. And I have no doubt that Honey Maid’s goal is to sell graham crackers, not save the world. But the fact that they felt they could pull this off gives me hope. Seeing a glut of ugly, hateful messages engulfed in a sea of loving, positive ones gives me even more hope.
Because here’s the thing: there may be “One Million Moms” getting their knickers in a knot while two dads down the block raise a daughter, but the rest of us don’t see a “gay couple”, we see Denis and Ethan, and all we’re worried about is whether you guys are going to make it to the BBQ on Saturday because the kids have been begging for Ethan’s Donald Duck impression all. week.
Image source: Logopedia
Brains are weird.
Ok, my brain is weird. Read more…
Do you write?
Fiction? Poetry? Blog posts?
Witty and perceptive Facebook updates?
I like to write, whether it be crafting machine instructions into a piece of working code, or crafting words into a piece of working prose. And like many readers, I’ve always wanted to write the next Narnia series, or Harry Potter, or any other piece of fiction I’ve loved.
But fiction writing has always eluded me. Any attempt I’ve made has gotten mired in details: research, brainstorms, crafting elaborate character sketches. Somehow I never actually get very far with, you know, writing.
Part of the the problem is the process of writing fiction: you really need to start with short stories. I don’t like (most) short stories. I once forced myself to read them for months, to familiarize myself with the genre, and maybe even learn to like it. It didn’t work, and that string of literary one-night-stands is at least partly to blame for my current reading funk.
Another problem is an obsessive perfectionism, or perhaps a better word would be “achievementism”. The knowledge that I’m not going to write a best seller holds me back from doing anything at all. Even though I tell my daughters, again and again, that nobody comes to something new already knowing how to do it: you need to learn; it takes practise.
(Hands-up anyone who is actually capable of taking their own advice.)
But then, I know I’m not going to be the next Bloggess, and yet here I am. There’s many a half-written blog post that has fallen victim to the same self-esteem issues, but obviously some of it gets to see the light of day.
And you know, it has occurred to me more than once that maybe I should stop worrying all that much about fiction. What’s wrong with blogging? Or non-fiction for that matter? I enjoy it, and it exercises the word-monster in my brain that demands a good romp every once in a while.
Then, the other day, a friend sent me a short story she plans to submit to a writing contest. And somewhere in the middle of writing back to her, a flood of questions inundated my brain: where does the protagonist live? What is her relationship like with her daughter? What is her husband’s name? What do they do for a living? They became real people, and I wanted to know ALL about them. So I pelted my friend with questions, and envied her being the one who gets to answer them.
I originally wrote this post last week, and it’s been languishing in my drafts folder, waiting for an ending. But damned if I could think of anything. So I took to Facebook, and definitely considered Rémi’s suggestion:
But instead, I think I may steal the ending from the ending of The Uncommon Reader; or, in effect, give the last words to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (sorry Rémi):
But one mustn’t talk about it, or it will never get written.
I gave this post the title of the recipe that inspired it, but really, I should have called it “four ways to screw up a single dish”:
- Misread ingredient #1, “3T olive oil, divided“, then dump the whole 3 tablespoons into the pot and wonder why you need so much oil.
- Decide you know better than to put the cilantro in at the beginning (pro tip: cilantro doesn’t like prolonged heat), so resolve to add it at the end. Realize that you will forget, and edit the instructions right away. Forget anyway.
- Ignore the direction to use “good” corn, and instead use the no-name stuff that’s been sitting in the freezer. Spend 20 minutes picking bits of cob (husk? fence-post?) out of your braces.
- Start three hours too early. Re-heat in the microwave at dinner time. Re-discover in the microwave at bed time.
But – BUT – in spite of (because of?) all that, it still turned out pretty tasty. Honestly, if I ever spin off a food-only blog, the tag line should be “fumbling towards gastronomy” (with apologies to Sarah McLaughlan).
And – AND – it was still good after a month in the freezer. I just had some for lunch today, that was the final test before posting.
So – SO – so, um… I was on a roll there, I felt like I should keep – KEEP – rolling. (I’m not saying it was a good idea.)
So (SO!) here’s the recipe. Many thanks to Chantal for the pin, to Ben and Birdy for their adaptation, and to the Ottawa Public Library for lending me the book with the original. I’d also like to thank the Academy, my parents, and the nice girl at the Loblaws who sold me the zucchini, but even I know when to shut up and just post the recipe already.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, diced
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 3 cups *good* frozen corn
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the onion, zucchini, cilantro, jalapeno, and garlic for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the broth, salt, and corn. Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, until the zucchini is completely soft (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat.
- Add cilantro, then puree the soup with an immersion blender, leaving it a bit chunky.
- Serve warm, or freeze for later.