Walking for a Cause

 

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2014

 

For the past couple of years both my son and daughter have participated in a run to raise money for neuroscience – mental health and brain injury research – at the University of Alberta, in honor of their dad.  I had tossed around the idea of joining the 5K walk event this year, but I wasn’t sure I could do it, with my achy feet, bunions, blisters, fallen arches … you get the picture!

I’m not a runner, nor do I ever aspire to be, but I have been walking regularly for a few months now and it has become a really good habit.  Sure, there are days I wake up and think it would be nice to skip out and just stay in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, but I am quickly reminded of the way I feel while I’m walking and once I get home, so I get up and go and I’m never sorry I did.

The only event I’ve ever done that involved a lot of physical energy was a walkathon in my youth.  I think it was about 21 miles, but I’m not positive anymore and I haven’t actually thought about it for so long, until just now!  I don’t remember which fundraiser it was but I do remember being exhausted, hot and thirsty.

I recently returned from a trip with my daughter to Disneyland, where she ran a half marathon.  She had prepared for this event for over a year, and I believe it was everything she hoped it would be.  I was part of the chEAR squad (yes, it’s really a thing!) so I got to sit in a special place near the finish line and watch all the action – and they really do provide a lot of action!  It was so entertaining, and my daughter said there were things all along the route to entertain them and make it all fun.

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When we got home from Disneyland I was inspired to do something, so I decided to jump in and register for the N.E.R.D. run event with my kids and another family who has been affected by brain injury, and I will be walking on Saturday.  As long as it isn’t too hot (my daily walks are at sunrise!) I know I’ll be OK and even though it’s not that long, and even though I’m not running, it will be an accomplishment for me, and I have my kids to thank for that inspiration.

I started walking because I wanted to be mobile and hold onto my mobility as long as I can moving forward.  But now I’m experiencing the other benefits as well and I’m hoping that even once it snows I’ll be able to get out there with some cleats and hopefully I won’t fall flat on my butt.

In the meantime, it’s never too late to take a leap, so I’m walking the 5K Saturday for brain injury and mental health.  I’m going to get a bib, an actual medal, and a cool t-shirt.

I’m walking for my husband.  And I’m walking for me.

That Special Someone

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I was thinking recently about how, when I was a teenager and growing into an adult, I would observe couples together at social events or in our house when my parents had company.  I would think how nice it was that at the end of the evening, each couple got to go home together, that they would have each other to share stories of the day with, to cuddle up close at bedtime, that they each had someone special who was their own.  And I looked forward to having that experience when it was my turn.

When I got to live life as part of a married couple, those evenings were as I imagined they would be: the comfort, the companionship, the sharing of stories of the day.

Now, I have moments when I recall certain memories that only he and I shared, certain things that only the two of us experienced together.  Those live now only in my own mind.  I can talk about them, but no one actually shares them.  He was THERE.  No one can actually remember with me now, or fill in the blanks as my own memory fades. It’s a simple thing that we don’t really appreciate fully until it’s gone … like many simple little things.

And now, like others I’ve spoken to who find themselves in similar situations, I don’t really fit into groups of couples anymore, and they’re everywhere!  Couples who were friends are still friends, of course, but socially it’s difficult for me to join in on occasions where couples are the norm.  It just hurts to be there.  A lot.

I observe the random loving glances, the shared smiles or laughs, the small physical encounters as they brush past each other.  And it’s still beautiful to see – I will always appreciate it – but I’m not a teenager anymore, imagining what it will be like to have it one day.  I know what it’s like. I know what I’m missing.

That special someone. The one who could finish my sentences, the one who knew me inside and out, better than anyone else in the world and sometimes better than I knew myself.  The one who was the other half of me.

No matter how true my brain knows it is, there are sometimes moments when I cannot grasp how he can actually be gone and how I can be here.  Alone. Still breathing.

 

 

Money Business

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I like to imagine just for fun what I would do with a huge lottery prize.  I remember being a teenager when the 6/49 first went to a large amount – $11 million – which was a shock to many.  My dad, being the practical planner, got us talking about how we would handle winning that much money all at once and pointed out some very important factors to consider.  It was fun to dream about it, but also a good learning experience because since then I’ve always had a plan.  Sometimes the plan is updated or tweaked, but there is always a plan.  I’ve heard of too many people winning large sums of money and having their lives ruined because of it and based on my personality, my upbringing, and my general perspective on money, I think having a good solid plan in mind will save me from falling off the cliff should the occasion ever arise that I find myself holding a winning ticket.

I rarely buy tickets, because I figure that if God wants me to be rich, he only needs one ticket, right?  It’s not like he’s sitting up there thinking, “I’d really like Ann to win the lottery this week but she just isn’t paying attention.” No, he’s God, so if he really really wants to give it to me, he will use one of the rare occasions on which I actually take a chance.

Last week the Lotto Max went to $60 million and I bought a ticket.  Nobody won the big prize so it’s now carried over for this coming Friday.  While driving with my daughter on the weekend we had one of our fun “what would be do if we won?” conversations.  It helps with the plan.  And basically, what I discover time and again is that I don’t have a list of things I want.  I have a list of things I want to do.  For other people.  As anonymously as possible.

And then we moved into another part of the discussion, which is what prompted this post:

THERE ARE EXPECTATIONS WHEN YOU HAVE MONEY.

Now first off, I do believe that those who are blessed with wealth are meant to share with others to make the world better and that having money is not just about being rich and doing whatever you want.  We live in communities; we help each other and sharing is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver.

BUT …

There seems to be a lot of fuss the past while (and maybe it isn’t just the recent past, but I’ve only been seeing it regularly in the past while) whenever a person of wealth donates money to a particular cause, gives freely to certain people, or uses their money to do something beautiful that enhances a community.  Some people jump all over them with questions about why they didn’t instead do this, or that, or give the money to this group, or that group, etc. etc. etc. with no thought for the fact that this rich person is probably doing lots of things no one knows about and people should mind their own business.

IT REALLY BUGS ME.

I remember when a lady walked into Toys R Us in Edmonton at Christmas time and paid off every layaway account, anonymously, as a gesture of good will.  The criticisms came immediately in the media: why wouldn’t she instead help homeless people …

I remember a story about a man who bought a historical mansion to fix it up and bring it back to life and instead of people appreciating the effort and the restoration of beauty which is often lost on this generation, they jumped on him for using his money there instead of giving it to charity…

When our country started accepting refugees and a Church group got together to raise money to help support some of them as a project of their own, they were criticized because money was being given to outsiders and not to veterans, or other local charities …

I’ve heard local gossip when others have won money but public gifts haven’t been seen or heard about …

It’s obvious that in our society, with all its social media and quick reactions to everything, NO MATTER WHAT GOOD YOU TRY TO DO, SOMEONE WILL SAY YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING ELSE, and they’ll assume you aren’t already doing it.

The conversation with my daughter was filled with great ideas of personally lifting up other people by sharing our money in unique and private ways.  It made me feel great just thinking about it, never mind how I would feel if I could actually do it.  But it wouldn’t be good enough.  Once the word got out that we had won there would be expectations and, because we would prefer to help people anonymously, others wouldn’t know what we were doing and we would be criticized for not donating to this or that community effort – even though people would have no idea whether or not we did it.  Sixty million is a lot of money and unless our picture showed up in the paper presenting a big fake cardboard cheque to some group leader, many people would assume we gave nothing.  And that’s pretty sad.

*This is no judgment on anyone whose picture does appear in the paper presenting money, because there is a time and a place for that, and often businesses need to have this publicity for reasons other than mere recognition.  Those who want to do it should be free to do it.  But the fact that a picture doesn’t appear is no indication of a lack of action.

As a side note, when our family was hit with the tragedy of my husband’s accident, donations came to us from so many people, most of whom we are not aware.  There is no way for me to know who or how many people put money into the trust account that was set up for us to help with our immediate and ongoing expenses incurred while trying to cope with the shock.  Many donations came directly to me; many more were directed through the account with no names.  I still walk down the street and have no idea if the person I am walking past was someone who helped me.  And I don’t need to know because in my mind the community helped me.  Yes, there were other causes.  Yes, there were others who were worse off than I was.  And yes, I believe that the people who generously gave to our family, also gave to others because they are GENEROUS.  I don’t need to know when, where, or how they give.  It’s not my business.

Why can’t people just look at an act of generosity and be thankful that it happened?  Why can’t they assume that if a person cares that much they are most likely doing other good things too?  Everyone has their “pet” cause (and no, just for the record, I’m not donating a bunch of money to PETA). We’re all different and different things speak to our hearts.  We have life experiences and insights and compassion and we’re each led in different directions by these things.  Where and how this leads us to share our money is our own business and no one else’s.

Our conversation left us satisfied with our own ideas and plans should we ever hold a winning ticket, and at the same time wondering if the best thing to do would be to move away to a place where we are not known, a place where we could share our money as we please, in private, without anyone expecting anything or asking questions.

I still think my dad’s plan was a good one: go claim the prize, deposit the cheque in a branch of your bank where no one knows you, get on a plane and go somewhere for a while to think and plan so that when you get home, you’re ready.  In this day and age, you can’t stop people from knowing you won but you CAN keep them guessing!

 

 

 

 

Facebook Memories

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You know that annoying new feature on Facebook that regularly shows you memories from years ago?  Yeah, that one.  The one that’s constantly showing me pictures from a sad and tragic experience, pictures I only look at in my home on occasions when I’m able to do so without bursting into tears.

I guess it isn’t enough that Facebook asks me every single time I log in “What’s on your mind?” (like they really want to know) it now feels the need to PUT things onto my mind that weren’t already there in Kodak living color in that particular moment when I might just have been having a very happy day remembering all the nice and fun things I have to remember and avoiding giving too much time to those thoughts about how sometimes parts of my life just suck because my husband is gone and I miss him terribly.  Every. Single. Day.

And then, BOOM! There’s a picture I deliberately keep tucked away.

Doesn’t Facebook know that our lives go through cycles and that when we post something in the moment for a specific reason, maybe three years later we don’t need it flashed back at us because we can look it up ourselves if we really really REALLY want to?  I mean, we’ve already shared it once, is there some need at Facebook’s end for us to share it again?  Of course, there’s always a nice little note that it won’t be seen by anyone else as a past memory unless we choose to share it.

Thanks, but I CHOSE TO SHARE IT THREE YEARS AGO WHEN IT HAPPENED, NOW PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!  Are they running out of data or traffic or interesting shares?  Are people just not posting enough stuff anymore that they’re turning to reruns? Geesh.  Maybe other people get a wide variety of memories brought back up in their faces, but my stream seems to follow the same path every time, right into a Kleenex commercial.

That’s what is on my mind, Facebook.

(Before anyone feels the need to tell me, yes, I do know I can turn off the memories that appear, and yes, once in a blue moon there is one I enjoy seeing but I’m not a fan of reruns unless they’re ones of my favorite old TV shows.)

 

“GRAMPA!!!”

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My kids’ Grampa, Flintstone Park, 1995

The door opens, a child barrels into the house, jumps into the arms of the man waiting with joyful anticipation, and yells: “Grampa!”  The man swoops the child up in the air and they hug each other with big smiles on their faces.  And I burst into tears.  Because it’s happening on a TV show and I know it’s something I will never experience in my home; it’s a small thing, in the middle of a comedy show that makes me laugh time and again, but it hits me hard just as many little things do when I least expect them.

Growing up, I always felt that I missed something in not having grandparents around the way other kids I knew had them, sometimes just down the street.  I only knew one grandparent – my dad’s mom – as my mom’s mom had passed away before I was born and sadly I have only vague memories of her dad because I was very young when he died.  My dad’s dad was never in our lives, or in his.  His mom lived until I was sixteen years old, but we lived about 800 miles away and only saw her about once a year.  I know she was a very good lady, but unfortunately, as my brother and I were the youngest of thirty-one grandchildren, she seemed old for as long as I can remember.  We had chats during our visits, but she wasn’t healthy enough to run around and play or to have us bouncing on her knee, and because of the huge family, our visits were generally crowded with activity, people, food, etc. and seldom quiet enough to actually bond closely.  I know my dad and mom had great respect for her, and I know many stories of her that confirm her character and determination in caring for her family and getting through very difficult times.  Circumstances dictated the nature of our relationship.

So when we had our children I was so grateful they were going to have grandparents close enough to build relationships and watch them grow up.  As parents, we’re always glad when our children can have something we didn’t have, or that we didn’t have enough of compared to what we would have liked to have.

When we brought Michael home from the hospital and over to my parents’ house the first time, my dad looked at him in his little car seat and told me he would pay me $10,000 for each one I had if I just kept making more!  My parents were part of my children’s everyday lives from the start, and when we moved to Alberta, there were regular visits and phone calls, and many memories were made.

Of course, both Grammas and Grampas are very special, but the relationships are different, at least that is what I have observed myself and in some other families too.  Grammas are a lot like moms; they can be fun but they also teach, correct, worry, and try to keep things somewhat organized and safe because they want to make sure their grandchildren grow up to be responsible people with good manners who obey the law and, well, you get the point. They’re often more relaxed than moms, and they’re good at reminding moms not to be too hard on kids.

But there is something about Grampas; just as dad is often perceived as the “fun” parent while mom is busy enforcing rules, making sure the house is clean, and trying to prevent any major injuries, Grampas seem to be the calmer ones, letting the kids have fun, go on adventures, try cool things, probably because they are being entertained themselves just by watching!  Grampas are full of mischief and stories and secrets.

Our children weren’t in the stage of life to be parents yet when Pat had his accident.  But during his time in hospital in Ponoka, he always lit up when little ones came to visit other patients and wanted to get close to them.  I remember him saying that he really wanted to have a grandchild.  I asked him what he wanted to do with a grandchild and he said, in his childlike way: “I could hold them on my knee and kiss them.”  He had it figured out.  he would have been a wonderful Grampa.

But while my children were blessed in having grandparents play an active role in their growing up years and even into adulthood, even though I was happy to see that they had something I had missed, here we are now and they will miss something else that I can’t give them.  If they have their own children one day, there will be stories to share, pictures to look at, and questions to answer. But they won’t experience the joy of bringing home their new baby and seeing the look on their dad’s gentle face that I know would be there: the sweet smile, the tears, the pride.  They won’t later hear their little voices holler with glee: “Grampa!” and neither will I.

After laughing through most of the above-mentioned episode, it took me a little time to gather my emotions together.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the slightest thing can still hit out of nowhere and feel like a stab in the heart in the middle of an otherwise uplifting experience.  We didn’t just lose him for now.  We lost our future with him that was still to hold so much, and this cute little boy on a TV show just reminded me of one more special thing I won’t get to share with the one person I was meant to share it with.

And, as it must, life moves on …

 

Rebel with a cause, part 2 of 2

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It was a dark and stormy night…

Ok, I won’t make you wait any longer.  Just make sure you’ve read part 1 before you go any further.

Grade eleven Social Studies:  We were given the assignment to write an opinion essay, remember?

I chose the school system as my topic.


I’m pausing here so you have time to laugh or gasp or choke or whatever you want to do.


Better now? OK.

I don’t remember all the details, but I touched on some very current and pertinent points for the time period, respectfully but honestly, including something about independent thinking being encouraged unless it led to questioning or criticizing “the system”.  It was a great paper, no bragging intended (I can’t necessarily take credit for the things that came easily to me).  I did hand it in with some concern about how the subject would be received, but I was damn proud of it.  I got an A.

Fast forward to grade twelve English, same teacher, Mr. Cramp. (Let me pause here to give him credit for being a far better English teacher than my previous one had been!  I liked him during Social Studies and I liked him for English, until …)

It was time for our big novel study to be done as a class and Mr. Cramp chose George Orwell’s 1984.  The first day we were to start reading, we had a substitute teacher and a double block class – usually silent reading for one block and then a regular class for the second.  I opened the book, read up to page 16, was disgusted by the scene described there, closed the book, and put it on my desk.  I took out some other work and quietly passed my time.  Not long after, the sub noticed and then started walking up and down the rows of desks until she got to me.  She asked quietly why I wasn’t reading the book.  I answered quietly that it offended me and I didn’t want to read it, but that I would continue working  and talk to my teacher when he got back.  There was no fanfare; everyone else continued reading.

My dad called that evening from Vancouver where he was for a meeting, I explained the situation to him, and he assured me that I did not have to read the book if I didn’t want to read it.

The next day, Mr. Cramp returned, and I was asked to stay after class.  He told me that the sub had left a note saying I refused to read the novel and that I had caused disruption in the class.  I assured him I hadn’t caused anything of the sort, that I’d answered her question respectfully, and that I’d worked quietly so as not to disturb anyone.  He then wanted to know why I refused to read the book.

I told him it offended me, that there were immoral sections in it and it was not the kind of material I wanted to read.  At one point in our debate, I even reminded him that I knew he was a church going Christian and that he should understand why I wouldn’t want to read something like that.  He chose it because it was considered a “classic.”  I questioned what constitutes a “classic” and who gets to decide.  He wasn’t pleased and things got more heated.  I asked to be allowed to read any one of the many other books on the suggested reading list for our grade and was denied.  We debated for a while longer and we both left unsatisfied.  Again, to his credit, he wasn’t harsh or rude with me, but he was very upset and understandably frustrated.

So began the power struggle between us: the classroom discussions – unrelated to the book – that I remained quiet for even though I knew the answers to questions he posed and he knew I knew them (sometimes I was the only one who knew them) but wasn’t putting up my hand, and the various quizzes I was doomed to fail after assigned chapter readings (even though a few of my other classmates tried to give me daily summaries in Biology whenever it fell before English on our schedule!).  I was disappointed in him and while I wasn’t willing to be rude to him, I had lost my interest in participating energetically. He couldn’t break me.  I think he probably always knew he wouldn’t win but, as the teacher, he also couldn’t bring himself to bend.  Perhaps he even wanted to but wasn’t allowed to, who knows?  Regardless, though we had once shared a good rapport we were now just mutually respectful adversaries.

My biology teacher – an eccentric but fun little guy – casually teased me one day that he heard I was refusing to read a novel in English class.  I responded that I didn’t think it appropriate for teachers to sit in the staff room and discuss something like that when it had nothing to do with anyone else.  He just laughed.  I knew then that probably all the teachers were aware of my stand, but I was long past caring.  I was, after all, nearly old enough to vote, so I certainly had the right to stand up for myself and my values.

During parent teacher interviews it was common for students to walk their parents around to find their classrooms (huge school!) and I sat outside while mine went in to meet with Mr. Cramp.  The typical time slot was about ten minutes, so after half an hour, a couple of the other parents waiting in line were joking with me, asking just what kind of mark I was getting in the class (one of the other parents was, ironically, the principal from the junior high school science teacher incident described in my previous post!).  I told them I actually had an A.  That gave them all a good laugh.

When it was over, my parents said that he had expressed his concern over my refusal to read the book and the fact that he knew I was avoiding class participation since the issue began.  They expressed their support of my right to not read the book.  He made sure they knew that it would affect my mark because I wasn’t able to participate in the assignments or the quizzes.  We were aware of this and I did drop from a high B to a low B average for that section.  And, as part of his perspective, he then brought in the matter of the paper I had written in grade eleven about the school system, using that to further his point about my non-compliance.  Dad reminded him that he had given me an A for a well-written paper.  He admitted it was well written despite its indication of my tendency to rebel on certain matters.  I can imagine from what I know of my parents and what I knew of Mr. Cramp, that the whole meeting went off without raised voices or rude comments.  But it remained a standstill nonetheless.

At the end of all that came the book report I wrote in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance.  I used class notes and came up with a paper that earned my teacher’s 87% grade – not up to my usual level (in my day, 87 was an A minus) but a very reasonable result for not having read the book.  And he knew I hadn’t read it, but he was reasonable enough to mark my writing on its own merit.

If you’re still here, good job paying attention!  I didn’t realize that I remembered so many things so clearly until I started writing them down.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m strong willed.  It’s also obvious that my parents stood with me when I stood up for something important to me.  None of these situations show that I “won” anything.  But I also didn’t lose.  I stayed true to myself, I was respectfully assertive, and I learned that even if you can’t actually beat the system, you don’t have to let it beat you.

I came away from my many years of school with two favourite teachers I remember fondly to this day.  Neither stifled my spirit; both showed me that being an effective teacher was about far more than the subject matter, and that respect is earned. It doesn’t just come with age or degree.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about kindergarten, when I was so bored and angry about having to use those big fat red pencils to print when I could already write my name in cursive script, that I deliberately scribbled outside the lines on all the pictures on a counting sheet, just to make a point.  THAT was talked about in a parent-teacher conference too …

Rebel with a cause, part 1 of 2

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I referenced a couple of school related incidents in my previous post about writing,  so if you remained at all curious, it starts here, with a few years of leading up to my final stand 🙂

When most people talk about rebellious teenagers, they’re referring to rebellion against parents, rules, societal norms, and authority in general.  Much to the relief of my parents and the disappointment of my children (no juicy stories to share!) I didn’t go through a rebellious stage at home.  I had moments of rebellion, but mine weren’t typical, and I always had my parents’ support in them.

I rebelled at school.  I didn’t rebel against rules or hard work.  I didn’t disrespect teachers, I got very good grades, I didn’t skip class, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t party.  I didn’t even stay out late at night. But I did rebel.  (Can you even believe it, looking at that face?)

I rebelled against injustice and ridiculousness.  I rebelled against having immoral ideas and material forced upon me.  I rebelled against anything sending the message that I had to conform to what teachers said, even if it was against my personal beliefs, just because I was a kid.  I wasn’t rebelling against authority;  I was standing up for a cause.

Just the beginning

I didn’t like my grade eight (or nine?) science teacher because he was a forty-something playboy type who thought he was “all that”; I thought he was a creep.  Along with his generally annoying ways, he made a blatantly inappropriate sexual reference one particular day while speaking to the class about something in the area of biology, and I reacted to it in a way that got me kept after the bell.  I don’t honestly remember what I did, but I do remember that once everyone had left except me – and a friend who stayed to support me – I was sure I was in trouble and I smirked.  This was my unfortunate reaction when I was nervous or in trouble for something, and it landed me in the principal’s office that day.

I was very disappointed because the vice principal (principal was busy) seemed much more concerned about my smirking at the teacher than he was about the teacher’s behaviour.  This was my first indication that as a student my guilt was assumed first and foremost, regardless of any truth I might be sharing.  Apparently, my previous record of good grades and respectful behaviour were either unknown or irrelevant to him.

I stood my ground that the teacher was wrong, and was then told that “they” would be checking in with all my other subject teachers to see how I was behaving in class.  I told him that was fine with me and that I had no concerns.  Just to be sure, I personally approached each of my other teachers after school that day to let them know they might be asked about my behaviour as a student in class (kept the details vague) and that if there was anything at all they weren’t happy about I wanted to know directly.  None of them had a problem with me and assured me that I was a good and respectful student.

I remember my dad coming to the school either the next day or not long after and going to the office with me to meet with the principal himself.  I wouldn’t give up my own position, my dad supported that, and when I asked the principal about the results of talking to my other teachers, he had nothing to say.  He decided to have my science teacher join us; the guy sat down and was acting all nice and trying to be casual about things, but I didn’t even want to look at him. When the principal asked me why, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him and that what he did was wrong.  I don’t remember exactly what happened after that meeting, but it was near the end of the school year, and we heard over the summer that the teacher wouldn’t be returning to a school in our district.  There had been other complaints along the same line after the end of the school year, from people who probably weren’t wanting to rock the boat with him during school time.  Take that, administration.  I was not wrong.  I got used to standing alone amongst conformers.

Then came the videos

In grade nine we were all supposed to watch a video about venereal disease and how to prevent it.  The announcement of the start of the video came over the speaker when I was in English class and while the rest of the students were leaving their desks, I stayed in my seat.  My teacher came over and asked me why I wasn’t leaving, and reminded me that we were all supposed to go because it was an important educational video.  I told him that the only way to get VD was by doing something I had no intention of doing for a long time so I didn’t need to watch it.  I was “preventing it” just fine on my own.  He was a very nice and reasonable man, and he thought I had a point, so he let me stay and get back to my work.

When I got to grade eleven – a different school with a whole new set of teachers to surprise! – I found out one day during lunch hour that there would be a video shown during a class of mine later that day of an actual vasectomy surgery.  No, thank you.  I went straight to the pay phone and called my mom.  She agreed that there was no way I had to watch such a video; she called the school directly, backed me up and that was that.

Senior High, Holding my own

My grade eleven English teacher was a real winner.  She majored in English but couldn’t explain to us the proper use of who and whom (“I just do whatever sounds best”)  or the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, among many other points of study.  She had a sign-up sheet for students who wanted to help her with her regular marking and “earn” themselves a higher letter grade in the class. She spent a lot of time at the back where the guys were sitting and it wasn’t uncommon to see her sitting on the edge of their desks chatting it up, even though she was middle-aged herself.  I’m not implying that she had inappropriate intentions; she just wasn’t the most professional teacher I’ve ever had.

One day she had us move our desks into groups of four to do a project involving scissors, glue and cut outs from magazines to make collages for some stupid reason; she had previously sent a couple of people out to buy the magazines, telling us that there was still too much money left in the budget for her department so it had to be spent or they wouldn’t get it next year.  Thank you, taxpayers, for those magazines. (Meanwhile, the biology department was struggling to find enough money for the grade twelve fetal pig projects.)

Several ridiculous classroom events led me and five other students to get up and walk out of class one day because we were so frustrated.  We walked straight across the hall to the principal’s office and told him that we were learning nothing, that she was doing ridiculous things, and that we couldn’t take it anymore.  We wanted a proper teacher.  We were all A students.  He told us all about her qualifications and suggested we return to class of our own free will.  We must have eventually gone back but our uprising hadn’t been completely in vain because we had taken a stand for our own education and that was something.  It led to further discussions.

One evening not long after that, my dad took me to the school where we sat with my teacher and the principal around a large table covered with a blown up copy of the curriculum, and they tried using it to prove she was teaching us as she should be.  Interestingly enough, the way those things were worded (vaguely described and without proper explanation) we couldn’t prove her wrong by that piece of paper, but after a civil interaction, they both knew we weren’t being fooled.

I rode it out to the end of the year when, with three weeks left, she gave us our last in-class test, because she wanted to have everything all marked before the actual end of the year to save her time.  Yes, she voiced these things. The next time she asked us to do an assignment after watching a video, I asked her nicely why we had to do it.  Was it going to count for something?  She answered “no”, because the marks were done.  I suggested there was no point in wasting my time doing it then, she suggested that wasn’t a good attitude, and I sat quietly pondering her lack of logic while waiting for the bell to ring.

On final exam day, a few of us heard students of other English teachers talking about the poetry section on the final exam.  Poetry?  We had done nothing at all with poetry! Perhaps that was supposed to be happening during cut & paste time?  We ran to one of the other English teachers and asked for help so we could at least cram something into our heads before the test started.  Thankfully the other teacher was able to quickly go over the main ideas and assured us that there were only a few poetry questions.

I think she must have tried mending fences because I remember going with another friend to her house for tea one day over summer holidays.  She was probably a lot of fun socially, but students need teachers to teach.  That fall she was given a principal position at another school.  And we shook our heads …

Then there was the time in grade twelve that I skipped a pep rally on principle.  Hard to believe, I know, but the story went something like this:

Some of the teachers had actually been complaining to us in class about government budget cuts and how they were expected to cram so much more material into less class time, suggesting that they didn’t know how we were going to cover everything in the shorter time frames.  And then one afternoon there was a pep rally in the gym for one of our teams and all students were required to attend.  It was to be a two-hour event.  WE WERE EXPECTED TO SKIP AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON OF SUPPOSEDLY NOT ENOUGH CLASS TIME TO GO TO A SPORTS RALLY.  Just wanted to make sure you got that clearly.  They even locked the school doors so we couldn’t just leave school altogether and an announcement was made to that effect.  Un-freaking-believable.

So I went straight to one of my favourite teachers who wasn’t attending the rally herself and asked if I could please sit in her class and work on some of my assignments instead of wasting two hours at a pep rally.  She, being one of the sweetest and most dedicated teachers I had, completely understood my rationale, agreed with my sensible alternative choice, and at her own risk allowed me to sit in her classroom until it was over and the doors were unlocked for us to go home.  She was a tiny, sweet, humble, and unassuming English lady, but she was also a stand-up-alone-when-you-have-to kind of person, and we remained friends long after graduation.

And now, the story you’ve been waiting for …

Ok, you’ve only been waiting for it if you read my last post which hinted at my high school years.  This part – the best part – could be a whole post on its own now that I think about it.  I mean, this teacher deserves a whole post…

And really, you’ve already been reading for a long time here.  So yes, I’ve just decided to make it another post all on its own, Rebel with a cause part 2.  Stay tuned for tomorrow …

 

Success

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I saw something yesterday about managing a successful blog.  I wasn’t looking for that topic; it came up in a post on another blog I follow and it got me thinking.  I’ve not really considered whether or not I’m “succeeding” at blogging.  What is success anyway?  Isn’t it a term relative to whatever your intentions were when you set out to do something?  Since we all have different intentions and reasons for doing things, our success or lack thereof is personal and subjective.

So after I stumbled onto this subject, I did some thinking myself and I realized that perhaps the seed of blogging was planted in me many years ago before computers lived in every home and the internet was available to open our innermost thoughts up to the scrutiny of a whole world.

Writing for fun

There’s always been a bit of a writer in me.  In elementary school, I enjoyed creative writing assignments, and in high school, I often wrote stories on my own time just for fun.  Sometimes I wrote stories about the TV characters I liked as if I were writing an episode here and there.

I thrived when it came to essay questions on exams while others cringed and bit their lips, because I was great at memorizing material, and having the opportunity to express my own interpretations of everything in my head was much better for me than tricky multiple choice or direct question and definite answer tests where you were either right or wrong.  One of my clearest memories of this is a year-end high school final exam that was just four essay questions and nothing else.  I can still see myself sitting there in a gym filled with students, looking at it with joyful anticipation.  I think I heard several gasps around me once the start timer went off, but I was in my glory.

I had no issues with book reports; in grade twelve I wrote one up in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance, and it earned me an 87% grade (not bad for a book I didn’t actually read … well, OK, refused to read, but that’s another story…)  and I loved writing essays.  I especially enjoyed having the chance, in a grade eleven Social Studies class, to write an opinion piece.  I believe this particular paper was one of my first open expressions of an opinion I knew wasn’t necessarily shared by my intended reader.

My teacher gave me an “A” for my writing, even though he would have a few comments to make about the subject and my position on it the following year during a parent-teacher conference, although I had him for a different subject at that time.  Actually, it was grade twelve English and he was the teacher responsible for the above-mentioned book I refused to read!  But that entire humorous event (well, humorous to my parents and I, not so much to the teacher…) would take too long to describe here and might make a good start to another post.

If there had been a blogging world at that time, I would very likely have been part of it.

Bloggers aren’t hiding

I never was, nor do I ever desire to be, a public speaker.  You won’t see any TED talks with me addressing topics or teaching anything.  The people who do it are great at it, but that’s just not my style and it doesn’t fit well with my personality.  I’ve taught things in small groups where I’m confident in the subject matter, but it’s a nerve-wracking experience overall and I no longer feel the need to force myself into those situations.

Some people might believe that people like me throw out our ideas and perspectives in writing rather than in person because we’re hiding behind our computers, not wanting to face the reactions our opinions produce.  Maybe some cowardly people do this in hopes of avoiding repercussions, but the rest of us – most of us – aren’t hiding from anything.  We’re just much better able to convey ideas in writing than out loud or on the spur of the moment when the subject matter comes up.

I’m quite fine with facing any responses to what I write, and if I end up in a conversation  in person about anything controversial, I’m fine with respectfully expressing my opinion and taking whatever comes back at me.  In high school I was quite often a single voice standing up for what I believed in regardless of what was being taught to me, even at the risk of drawing undesired attention or losing marks, because even though I’m generally not good at speaking publicly, I won’t sit quietly when something important to me is squashed or mocked, or if I’m feeling forced to do or accept something that goes against my personal beliefs.  I stood up to the group of boys verbally bullying a disabled girl in school.  I am definitely not hiding.

Some people like to talk about all their ideas, some like to write about them.  My son – a champion talker who is making very good use of his gift in building his business – asked me as a kid why he had to sit down and write a book report when he could give me in a short half hour a very accurate oral presentation about everything he was supposed to know about the plot, characters, and other book report-ish stuff (we homeschooled and yes, his speech would have rivalled any written report and probably included a lot more dynamic expression too, a skill of which I was often envious).  I told him – as any teacher would – that the purpose was to learn to write properly and to express things in writing.  He scoffed at the idea and grew up to become a national award-winning salesman.  I think he “writes” cheques.

Starting my blog

I first started blogging with some craft projects I was doing a few years ago because it seemed like a fun idea and I saw that others were using blogs to share their crafts.  I posted pictures of cards I was making and included information about the supplies and techniques used so others could find ideas as we all do when we come across someone else’s projects.  But it wasn’t really a writing blog and I eventually lost interest.

This blog you’re now reading came about when I decided I would eventually share the story  of our journey through the tragedy of my husband’s traumatic brain injury.  I started by writing a few posts on unrelated topics and when the time felt right, my regular posts shifted into the originally planned subject and became a journal of sorts.  I was told a couple of times that I should write a book about it, but that didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.  I didn’t want to write about it because I had to (with deadlines and scrutiny and publishing etc.) but because it was therapeutic for me and I hoped it would maybe help someone else in my position.  Blogging was more relaxed and flexible.  It became a way for me to express myself, my pain, my sorrow, my perspective on life, faith, tragedy, loss.

And then after we lost my husband last year, it became a place for me to share what that meant, how I was finding my way, along with some humour, ideas, opinions, struggles and all kinds of real life stuff that is sometimes hard to just openly talk about (no, I’m still not hiding!) because organizing thoughts into written paragraphs doesn’t happen for me on the spot in a conversation.  It happens while I’m out for a walk, or while I’m sewing a quilt top together, or when I’m reading the news.  I process.  And then I write.  And somehow it does me good to do this.  If any other person finds anything comforting, funny, or helpful here, that’s great!  Writing is good for my brain; it keeps me thinking, learning, reflecting and processing.

A Successful Blog

So do I consider my blog successful?  Is it what I wanted it to be?  I think so, yes.

According to what I read yesterday, in order to have a successful blog you need to post almost daily and write about a variety of topics in order to gain followers and drive traffic to your blog.  Well, I don’t post daily.  I do have regular followers, but I’m not driving a lot of traffic here.  Do I need to?  I’m not selling anything here and I’m not expecting this blog to go viral and make me rich.  I’m not interested in writing things that will make money or bring me fame, haha.  If by some freak event this were to happen, then I would HAVE to write.  I don’t want to HAVE to do the things that I currently enjoy doing because they will become work rather than simple pleasures.  Would I like to be paid to write?  Sure, that could be fun, but only as long as it didn’t require me to give up the rest of the things I like to do.

I think the hints I read about are great for people who want to make blogging part of their paying job, a supplement, or who need to drive traffic to a blog in order to advertise or promote products, books, etc.

If people read my blog, like/share a post, or leave a comment, then of course as a human being I appreciate that and it reminds me that I’m not just writing in a void.  If a publisher is somehow led to my original journal about Pat and thinks it would make a good book, I wouldn’t scoff at the idea.  But I’m happy just being here, writing when I feel inspired, and sharing – not hiding – my unique perspectives and day to day thoughts.  If nothing else, one day my kids will have a lot to look back on that will remind them I was always thinking, that I wasn’t afraid to stand up for what I believed in, and that I spent time doing something I enjoyed.

(By the way, the teacher mentioned above was a good guy.  In his defence, I don’t think he’d ever encountered a student like myself who refused to conform on principle and didn’t care about the consequence.  He couldn’t break my spirit and I think it baffled him a bit.  I bet by now you really want to hear the whole story, don’t you? Watch for the two-parter next week, “Rebel with a cause“…haha)

 

One foot in front of the other

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I sail!  I’m a sailor!  OK, I’m not really a sailor, but these words of Bob Wiley from the movie “What About Bob?” are regularly used around my house whenever a new activity is started or a new skill is learned, such as “I quilt!  I’m a quilter!”

Actually, there are a lot of lines from that movie that have found their way into our family’s repertoire.  It’s an older movie, but if you’re even the least bit neurotic “interesting” you need to watch it.  And if you’re perfectly “normal” and never have any issues at all with anything in your mind – ie. fear, anxiety, depression, OCD – you MUST watch it because it will enlighten you as to the daily life struggles of probably everyone around you in your “perfect” world, which will also help you to see that no one is perfectly “normal.”  But I digress …

I walk.  I’m a walker.  This means that I regularly drag my butt outside – even when it’s getting hotter in the mornings (although I try to go earlier and earlier to avoid those temps) and even when it’s cold or slightly raining – and walk for a specified amount of time.  Every day.  I do it because I NEED to do it.  Every other activity that I enjoy and spend hours engaged in, whether it’s sewing, quilting, paper crafting, writing, or any other pastime of a creative and thoughtful introvert, is sedentary.  I want to maintain my mobility despite my age and continued aging, and because I’m middle-aged some things are already becoming a pain in the neck (back, legs, knees, hips, feet, bunions etc.).  I no longer have children to chase after, I don’t work outside my home anymore as the promotion and selling of my handmade items is all done from the comfort of home, and I have to force myself to move throughout the day for more than just a few minutes here and there going from one room to the other to find a needle or a seam ripper.

And I’ve come to the point where I actually want to walk.  It’s a strange combination, this wanting to go do something that I know is going to make me hurt in various places and wishing I didn’t have to do it but still feeling driven to get myself out there.  However, this wanting to walk thing is only about my actual morning power walk.  It has a definite purpose for me.  I’m not a leisure walker; I can do it if I have to, but I don’t often choose it.

The Schedule

I don’t like exercise.  It’s generally boring, it makes me sweat (anyone who read the post about summer heat will know that being hot and sweaty is something that can turn me into a miserable b–ch) and at this point I don’t even get a lot of results on the scale from doing it because once middle age hits, our bodies seem to think we’re doing all this moving just for fun and we aren’t really expecting anything more.

But as much as it hurts and takes away time from other things I’d rather be doing, it has started to make me feel better about myself.  It gets my circulation going first thing in the morning, it apparently releases good hormones (which is a good thing because there are a lot of other not-so-good hormonal experiences starting up at this age too), and it reminds me every day that I want to be able to move for as long as I can move, and the only way to make that happen is to persevere now.  It makes me feel better about myself because I’m sticking with something that’s good for me, I’m committed to ME.

I’ve been asked how often I walk and when I go, and I am immediately thinking “is this person going to ask me if they can walk with me?”  Some people find it easier to have a walking buddy because it motivates them and keeps them committed.  I see these twosomes once in a while, engaged in animated conversation while power walking around town.  I’m not that kind of walker.  I’m a stick the headphones in and crank up the tunes to pass this mundane and pain inducing activity as quickly as possible on my own schedule kind of walker.  I do often meet up with my daughter part way around and she walks with me for a short time before work, and we chat a bit as we go just to check in with each other’s plans for the day, but she is the person I can text whenever I want to, as early as I want to because we’re both awake in the wee hours, and say “I’m leaving now, are you walking?”  She’s a runner, so  it’s not like she depends on me for her routine and if she misses a day here and there I’m cool with that.  So that’s as much of a walking schedule commitment as I can handle.

I am committed to going every day, though, first thing in the morning before I do anything else.  I know myself well enough to know that if I get involved in another activity, I will put off the walking and either 1) not do it at all that day and end up feeling like a lazy slug, or 2) succumb to the guilt trip I take myself on and go later in the day when it’s hotter and much more difficult just to silence the reprimanding voice in my head.  I also like the idea of getting it done and out of the way so that for the rest of the day, no matter what I do or don’t do, I have taken care of my need to deliberately move.

The Gear

I’ve been watching my runner daughter find all kinds of colourful and useful clothing and gear and I’ve been almost jealous because just seeing all the cool stuff makes me want to be one of these people who actually needs it!  I’ve always wondered why companies make clothes for plus sized women in neon colors that scream “look over here at this bulging roll!”  Like, don’t they realize that we already draw enough attention, especially when we are MOVING?

When I started walking I decided I would be frugal and just wear comfy clothing, which works perfectly fine for the walking part.  But as it got warmer and I got more committed, I decided I needed something cooler, like maybe a tank top (I never wear one of these in public so it was a stretch, but sure made a difference in staying cool!) and some sporty capris.  I dared to try wearing such far out items and I have to say that just having some simple stuff that makes you look and feel more appropriately dressed for whatever your exercise of choice is, does make it more tolerable, more comfortable, and more fun.  I can’t do the cute shoes – I have fallen arches, a bunion, and uneven legs so the left shoe of any pair I buy always needs to be built up by a shoemaker.  But thankfully, even my SAS shoes come in a comfy running shoe that included a set of rainbow laces should I ever feel the need to draw attention away from my body and down to my feet.

Don’t be looking for me out there, it isn’t pretty.  And I’m not posting any pictures of me all decked out and ready to face the task.  But if you see an overweight middle aged woman hoofing it around town with headphones in, look past the bright coloured tank top with the flabby jiggles and know that at least she’s trying.  We all have to start somewhere!

What new activity have you started recently?

I’d rather be Quilting …

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I have a list of a few things I really want to get done around the house, things I can do myself but just haven’t been interested in doing.  I look at them and think about them while I’m moving between rooms with my quilting projects.

I have a quilt on my machine that I started yesterday and was having fun with, but after a morning of walking, organizing my thoughts, balancing my chequebook, uploading pictures of a new quilt to my Etsy shop, and becoming distracted by other blogs that inspire me, I finally went downstairs and got the can of stain I bought for my new unfinished wooden kitchen table.  I have pictures in my head of how I want it to look, and a few good reasons for putting it off (like the fact that I have my sewing machine on it and I’m always working on something, so I don’t want any delays in that area!) but I can’t have the look I want until I open the darn can and get moving.  It looks rather boring just sitting there all unfinished with the IKEA stamp still showing, like a project that seemed like a good idea at the time and just never got done…

So I brought the can and necessary accessories upstairs, put it all on the counter, plugged in the sander, and then – in typical middle-aged fashion – got distracted.  I honestly can’t remember what it was that caught my attention, but before I knew it I was reading an email from someone who had “liked” a post on my quilting site.

I followed her link, read a few posts on her blog, and followed another link to a blog where I actually read a funny story written by a lady describing the back and forth inner conversation she faces when she decides to paint something!  It went something like this: I really want to paint this.  No, you don’t.  It’s too much work.  But it will look so nice.  Just hire someone. I can do it myself and save money.  You always do this. Remember last time? and so on …  At least my distraction brought me full circle and reminded me that I needed to get back to what I intended to start.

I sanded the table down, wiped it off, opened the stain and went to work.  Of course, staining with a rag goes quickly, and I find watching the wood come to life very satisfying until I have to get underneath something big.  I contemplated turning the table over, but – like the lady I mentioned above with her painting project – I don’t have anyone around during the day to help me with two-person tasks, and if you try to turn a table over yourself, it can put a lot of strain on the legs, which isn’t good.  So the best option was lying on my back under the table to catch the parts that were going to be obvious (I’m not bothering to stain the whole underside, because I don’t expect anyone else to lie down underneath it, except maybe the dog I don’t yet and might never have, but it won’t care).  Don’t try to picture that effort, it wasn’t pretty and it hurt my back, but only temporarily.

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I took a break to decide whether or not to go ahead with the leg painting today too because that was an inner debate for more than a few minutes after I finally got to stand up again.  I sat down to relax and write up this blog post so I could just plug in pictures later.  But perseverance won (or maybe my OCD?) and I really didn’t want to be without a usable table for more than a day.

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It looks just the way I wanted it too!  I even got some bonus stretching in while accomplishing one more thing on my list.  Of course, it would look more Good Housekeeping-ish if I waited to take the picture once it’s back in place with the cardboard out from under the legs and my white chairs perfectly placed around it, but this is how I roll.  I’ll seal it with wax first thing in the morning, right before I get back to my quilt … for now, I’m headed for my recliner with a cup of tea 🙂

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UPDATE: Here it is back in place, all waxed, buffed and shining “like the top of the Chrysler building.”