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The End of 2020

December 31, 2020

I’ve never been much of a “New Year’s Eve” celebrant. Sure, in my “younger days”, I’d visit with friends or go to the odd New Year’s Eve party (all dressed up!) to watch the old year disappear and the new one arrive (because that’s just what you did when you were young and not overly concerned about “the morning after”).

Later, the boys and I would stay up until midnight, watching one movie trilogy or another (the original “Star Wars”, “Back to the Future”, “Indiana Jones”), then flip over to TV mode to watch the giant ball in Times Square slowly descend while thousands of people called out, “Five, four, three, two, one  … Happy New Year!” But I never really felt an affinity for the concept of January 1st representing some sort of “fresh start”.

It may be that I was so entrenched in the education system (for 40+ years) – first as a student, then, after a three-year stint working in a “business” environment, as a curriculum designer and part-time instructor at the local Community College and mother of two school-age children, and finally as a full time professor for various educational institutions – that I just naturally viewed September as more of a “new year beginning” than January 1st. There was something extra special about starting a new school year – from getting a brand new “back to school outfit”, binders and paper and pencil crayons when I was a student (or buying same for my own boys), to the preparation of new courses, lesson planning, and the anticipation of meeting a group of eager adult learners for the first time as a teacher that filled me with enthusiastic expectation. September starts also followed some sort of  prolonged summer break, so it always felt like I was “starting fresh” every year (vs. January, which came after a two-week period of overwrought madness and mayhem).

For the past five years (since my husband retired and we moved to the country), I haven’t really paid much notice to either September or January. We don’t have to think (or worry) about any of the issues that drove us for so many years (my husband was also a Community College professor, hanging in for an additional six years after I retired). The boys are grown and married and not working in education, and while my granddaughter has gone off to school in September for the last two years, I’m not intimately involved in the process, so I’ve acknowledged the moment (and shed a tear or two over the first day photos), but I don’t dwell on it. And we don’t pay any special attention to December 31st (dinner, a movie, in bed by 10:00) or January 1st (get up to a new day, go about our usual business) because they’re just part of the ongoing cycle of life in the country as retirees!

First Day of School, 2019

This year is different, though. I imagine every single person on this planet is anxious for 2020 to end and 2021 to begin. I think we’re all secretly hoping that January 1, 2021 will bring some major shift in the Universe that will set our planet back on course to health, happiness, and prosperity. That 2020 will just be one of those things we look back on with regret and a touch of sorrow – maybe a few tears – and can then forget all about, because it’s over and all the “bad” that came with it is over too. I just hope we (as a society) aren’t fooling ourselves too badly. Because, of course, that’s not the reality. Not by a long shot.

I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” kind of person, but I have enough of my father in me (for him the glass was not only half empty, but probably poisoned as well!) to acknowledge that the turning over of a calendar, the striking of a clock at midnight, the addition of the number “1” to the year is not going to magically make all the ills of the world disappear. We’ve still got a long way to go. And while I’m eternally hopeful that things WILL get better, we have to keep in mind that we all have a part to play in making that happen; we can’t expect the medical experts or the politicians or the front line workers to do it for us (and blaming them for whatever has or hasn’t happened is not only pointless, but misguided; they’re doing the best they can with the information and resources they have). The WHO is suggesting this pandemic isn’t “the big one” – that it’s just a precursor, a trial, a test so see how we cope (and we aren’t coping terribly well, are we?)  I don’t want to sound like Debby Downer, but we really all must do better in 2021. We have to come together not just as a community, or a province, or a country, but as a PEOPLE (of the world) and defeat not only the virus but the whole stinking mess we’ve made of our planet by always demanding more (of everything) while, at the same time, not wanting to give up the “luxuries” we’ve come to expect as our “right”. It’s not going to happen by magic, or by hoping for it, or by dreaming about it. It’s going to take a lot of work. I’m ready do to my part. Are you? (Here’s an extremely enchanting-to-watch bedtime story video about what the world could be like if we all do our part: “The Great Realisation” by TomFoolery)

So, with that off my chest … here’s to a much better year ahead, and a global, concentrated effort to make the best of it, and all the ones that follow. Because, honestly, I want to live many, many more years here on … the other side of 55.

Hankering for a Hangover

December 12, 2020

I can count on the fingers of my two hands (okay, maybe a few toes on one foot as well) the number of times I’ve suffered from an alcohol-induced hangover.

There were the early encounters with Baby Duck (I’m sure everyone over the age of 50 has one of those), the ill-fated experiment with homemade wine, the limeade-and-vodka infused summer vacation, the year of 6% “Quebecois” beer, the steaming whisky-and-hot-apple-cider coffee house “specialty” drink, the ill-advised attempts at keeping pace with a much-more-seasoned wine drinker, and the “never again” night of chasing down a couple of beers at the pub with a sampler bottle of cognac before bed. As with most of the really important lessons in life, I learned “the hard way” that I’m not much of a drinker, and that – when I do imbibe – I either stop at two or suffer the consequences the next morning. For me, the ebullient, intoxicating effects of a night spent with wine, beer, or alcohol doesn’t – in any way, shape or form – outweigh the head-throbbing, achy-all-over, brain-numbing ramifications of the morning after.

So you’d think I’d actively avoid anything that brings on those sensations, right? Well, up until a few years ago, you’d be right. But I’ve found a new compelling and addictive experience that leaves me feeling very much the same (and a tad exhausted) the “morning after”. My “craving” of choice these days? A multi-day sleepover with my granddaughter!

When she was very little (the first three or so years), I’d drive an hour each way to my son and daughter-in-law’s house once a week to spoil spend time with her. At first it was all cuddles and lullabies, picture books, and naps (with her nestled in my arms, or on my chest). Then it was story books, tea parties, and teaching her how to turn pots and pans into drum sets (I mean, if a grandmother can’t teach her granddaughter how to annoy the heck out of her parents, is she really doing her job?!?!?!?) Soon we were heading off to the park, splashing in the pool or playing in the snow, building with Duplo, and inventing stories for her My Little Pony collection to act out. Occasionally her parents would have plans that required someone to stay overnight (a responsibility I shared with her other doting grandmother), but it wasn’t until she was three years old that she starting coming to my house for multi-day sleepovers.

Ducky’s Birthday Party (one of many “tea parties” at her house in the early years)

She was only a year old when we moved into our retirement house, but I immediately knew the “den” on the main floor would be a combination “office” for me and bedroom for her. I hung lacy pink curtains on the windows, bought a daybed that pulls out to a full double, and covered it with pink and purple blankets and pillows, and an assortment of stuffed animals (my mother’s purple bear collection, some cats, bunnies, and miscellaneous others I’d picked up here and there over the years). I added a three-dimensional “window” sticker above the bed, featuring Sleeping Beauty’s castle from Disney World (a place I hope she gets to visit someday). I stocked the shelves with some of her dad and uncle’s old Fisher Price toys, as well as a variety of books I’d hung on to after they’d grown and gone (mostly Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch). By the time she was “old enough” to come and stay, I was more than ready to host a little girl for a sleepover.

Her Room at Grammy’s House

And what fun we have. It only takes an hour or so for my living room to be covered with toys (anything and everything from her room, as well as my dollhouses and dolls, or favourite stuffies she’s brought from home). There isn’t much that’s “off limits” at Grammy’s house! And there aren’t too many activities I won’t take part in (even the ones that require me to sit or kneel or lie on the ground for longer than my back and hips would like!) We’ve played ghost hunters, pirates, Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, super heroes, and space explorers; we’ve built play forts and castles and obstacle courses. We’ve coloured and stickered and Play Doh’d for hours. We sing and dance and read stories (and make them up); we snuggle and giggle and laugh and generally just enjoy one another’s company. My husband insists I’m teaching her important life skills through all these shared experiences; I think she’s teaching me a thing or two as well. And after raising two boys, it’s kind of fun to have a little girl to play dolls and dress-up with (I was never all that into Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and Hot Wheels, although I did my best!)

Playing with the FP Farm her dad got for his 2nd Christmas (1982)

The “downside” of having her here for sleepovers, though, is that eventually she has to go home. Whether she gets picked up by her parents, or I drive her home, there are always a few tears (on both our parts) as we pack her suitcase and sort her stuffies from mine. And I always awaken the next morning (not to a call for “Grammy!” from downstairs, but to a few loud in-your-face “meows” from my cat, who has had to take a back seat for the duration of the visit, and isn’t too happy about it) with what feels remarkably like a hangover. There’s a definite lethargy, a mild throbbing in my head, a few aches and pains, and an almost irresistible urge to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I guess you can’t have “too much of a good thing” without suffering the consequences after all!

Pre-Christmas Visit

But there’s a cat that needs feeding and a house that needs putting back to rights, so I manage to struggle out of bed and get through the day. And then another and another, each one a little easier to manage than the last. Somehow I get through them all – until it’s time for another sleepover and a new dose of exhilaration and joy with the light of my life here on … the other side of 55.

The Problem with Pets

November 28, 2020

I’ve written about some of the pets I’ve had in my life before (link). I’m a firm believer in pet ownership (provided, of course, the “owner” actually CARES for the “pet” and doesn’t just treat it like some sort of accessory). When I was young, we had various cats, dogs, rabbits, and birds as pets (including a chicken at one time, a rescued owl, and a couple of guinea hens). As a “grown up” (i.e., someone who has a house of their own), I’ve pretty much stuck with cats (although at the moment, I also have two rabbits), primarily because of their independent natures and the fact that they don’t need walking, don’t smell bad, can be litter-box trained, and can be left on their own for a day or two with food and water and manage just fine (my cats are ALL indoor cats). I don’t dislike dogs, I just prefer cats.

For me, pets are an integral part of my family; I don’t discriminate against them in any way. They get presents at Christmas, a celebratory meal on their birthday, and lots of love and attention. They get scolded if they do something “wrong” (scratch the furniture, bite my toes, pee on the carpet) and rewards when they behave as expected (even my four grandcats know that when Grammy’s around, there will be treats!)

I can tolerate (for the most part) the stinky food, the flying fur, the occasional hairball tossed up on the carpet, the litter scattered across the hall from the litter box, the whining in my ear at 7:00 a.m. (because it’s CLEARLY time I was up and out of bed), even the snags in the furniture and scratches on the wall from claws that need trimming (which I wouldn’t dare even attempt that with my current cat).

If I had a dog, I suppose I could put up with the “wet dog” smell (although I’d probably administer a lot of baths), the walking, the “poop duty”, the feeding routine, and the sloppy kisses (I have one grandpup, and he’s pretty cool, I must admit).

The rabbits are a slightly different matter. They live in the garage (full time in the winter; part-time in the summer) rather than the house, and they aren’t cuddly bunnies. I re-homed them last year because our neighbour was moving into a temporary rental while her new house was being built and couldn’t take them with her. Her pre-teen daughter (who’d been given the rabbits by a doting grandparent who thought she’d enjoy them) couldn’t have cared less (she rarely looked after them; I’d bring them some clover or dandelions most days, and refill their water bottle when it was empty). I took them on knowing they weren’t used to being handled (they do bite if I’m not careful!) but at least they have a much better life here than they had next door (and they’re getting used to occasional behind-the-ear scratches!)

Bugs and BunBun, Summer of 2019

So, with all this said, you might wonder … what’s the “problem with pets” teased in the title? Well, it’s that they die – long before I’m ready for it to happen. Yes, I know, everything and everyone dies eventually, but pets always seem to catch me off guard – dying when I least expect it (or can least handle it).  Every time one of my cats has died, I’ve sworn, “I’m never getting another pet.” And then, of course, I do.

I don’t really remember how or when, exactly, the pets from my childhood died (I do remember that our first rabbit, Snowball, died from “sheep diphtheria”, which confused the heck out of the vet). I don’t remember whether we buried them in the backyard, or had them cremated. Perhaps I just didn’t want to know (or recall the details). I do remember, in nearly excruciating detail, how each of my “own” pets passed, however (presumably because they were beloved members of my own little family), and where they’re buried (Muffy and Mew in the rear garden of house #2; Bandit and Sally under the concrete squirrel bench at house #3 [leaving them behind each time I moved was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do]; Claire in the memory garden of our current house. My son’s two cats – Puff and Luckee – were cremated; their ashes are on his mantle).

Bandit and Sally
Bandit and Sally

It doesn’t really matter how old (in human or “cat” years) any of my pets were, I was never ready to let them go. But, in the end, it was out of my hands. It was “their time”, whether they passed from “old age” or from having to be “put out of their misery” because of one incurable ailment or another. It was always painful and terribly, terribly heart-wrenching (but I was always with them when they died). I don’t mind admitting that I grieved for each of them as long and as hard as I did after the passing of human members of my family. The difference, of course, is that – after a “decent interval” – you can’t just go out and get another human to replace the one you lost. You can, however, get another pet. And despite all my reservations about doing so, every single time it’s what I’ve done (with the exception, of course, of Claire’s passing [from a neurological disorder that left her confused and sometimes violent], because I still had her sister, Sylvia, here to comfort me; I hope and pray she’s with me for at least another nine or ten years; I expect I’ll have one more cat before my own time is up).

Kittens near playroom
Sylvia and Claire

This probably seems like a rather maudlin post, and I apologize for that. (It was spawned by a personal story I’d recently read by one of my favourite authors about the death of her dog and the grief was she feeling.) But it also brings back wonderful memories of all the pets I’ve had, loved, and lost, and the sure knowledge that no matter what the future holds, I’ll always have some kind of pet under my roof as I continue my journey on … the other side of 55.

Here We Go Again

November 25, 2020

I cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I’m not going to make excuses, or look for reasons to explain my absence. The truth is pretty simple: I just haven’t felt inspired to write anything worth sharing for a very long time.

But winter is upon us once again and I’m feeling a little more energized about putting thoughts into words and sending them out into the great electronic unknown. It’s unlikely that I’ll follow any regular schedule, and I promise to do my best to stay away from expounding on issues that might be controversial or already overdone. What I will try my best to do is make the posts more “stream of consciousness” style – “first draft” with only minor editing and a few photos thrown in for interest’s sake. I should have the first one ready in a day or two.

I’m always open to comments on anything I write, so feel free to share your thoughts. And: welcome back. I hope you enjoy the new “look and feel” of The Other Side of 55.

A portrait of me by my granddaughter, 2019

Training Wheels

February 25, 2020

NOTE: I am currently participating in a memoir writing program for seniors. At our last session we were given an assignment: using a combination of action and dialogue, write a short (300 words or less) story about the first time you tried something. This is my (mostly true) story. 

***

“Put it over your toes first,” Sharon said, guiding the strange metal contraption over her black and white saddle shoes. “Then slip your heel in.”

“Like this?” I copied her. Mine fell right off.

“It’s too long,” Sharon said, doing something underneath that pulled the ends closer together. “Try it now.”

“It fits.” I slipped the matching skate on my other foot. “Can we go now?”

“Not yet. You still have to tighten them.”

Sharon pulled a black shoelace, with a key dangling from the end, out of her pocket. She fit the key over a square screw at the front of her skate, turned it. The metal curves by her toes squeezed tighter. She repeated the process on the other skate.

“Your turn,” she said, handing me the key.

“How tight should I make them?”

“Tight enough so they don’t fall off.”

I turned the key until it wouldn’t turn any more, then gave it back. Sharon hung the shoelace around her neck and stood up.

“Get up slowly,” she said, reaching for my hand. “Walk a few steps first. Don’t try to roll too fast or go too far.”

She pulled me up. I wobbled a bit, took a few tentative steps.

“Look at me. I’m roller skating.”

“Not yet you’re not,” she said as she sailed off down Allan Street.

I lifted one foot, pushed gently with the other. The wheels beneath my feet rolled effortlessly. The street sloped downwards. I began to pick up speed. The wind tugged at my pigtails.

“I’m doing it. I’m doing it.”

A few seconds later I saw Sharon standing by the side of the road, next to the schoolyard. As I flew past, an important but unasked question popped into my head.

“How do I stop?”

RollerSkates