Sunday, 30 March 2008

On Balance

This weekend I left the hermitage! I know no one will believe me without photographic proof but I forgot the camera last night when I went to Pat and Julie's for dinner. Really too bad because I dressed up and put on jewellery and everything. Oh well. I will try to get photos tonight when Tammy, Yvonne and I go to Rasputin's to hear Jan Andrews tell stories. I won't look as grand but there you are; at least the setting will be different.

For now here is a photo I took this morning while Sarah, Remi, Kenya and I were walking on Mountain Road. Look how much bigger than Kenya Remi is now and he is only 10 months old!

Monday morning early I will be going to the Riverside to get a splint fitted to try to allow my poor misshapen finger to straighten as well as bend. These therapists are always playing a balancing game; always trying to find the fulcrum between one extreme and another.

Isn't that what life is all about? Aren't we all trying to find some kind of balance ...between work and leisure ... excitement and boredom ... among the physical, emotional and intellectual parts of ourselves?

I remember the narrator's mother in Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro saying that there was no point in being intellectual and creative if you never cleaned the toilet. All those mundane practical things that make Jane a dull girl need to be balanced with the things that make her interesting and creative. We can't allow any one part to smother the rest if we are to remain sane.

I find it hard to balance my need for solitude with my need to be part of the world. It is all too easy to enclose myself in a world made up of lake, house, dogs, dreams, books, film and computer; to pull that world around me like a cape. But there is a price to pay when I do this. I lose my ability to speak with strangers. My writing turns inward. I become paler.

Just as plants need water, sunlight, nutrients and oxygen, humans need to feed on a variety of experiences to thrive. To be truly healthy we need to nurture both our inner and outer lives. That balance is as essential as all the others.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

If Pigs Could Fly

Last night I dreamed about a pig.

This was a dream as weird and real as the one about my dying ... not as crisply imagined but almost as clear.

I had traveled by bicycle and small open car through the streets of a city, weaving in and out of traffic and flirting at intersections with male drivers, until I reached the pub where I was meeting a group of people. The only two I knew were OWS and Kerry.

The entertainment was a cruel dart game in which a trussed pig suspended by a rope against a wall was the target. People threw darts, hitting the pig in the eye, on the nose, piercing its chest.

One man kept interfering with the game and getting in the way, but I don't think he was concerned for the pig; he was simply obstreperous, likely drunk.

One of the darts severed the cord holding the pig aloft and he crashed to the floor.

Kerry uttered the first words of sympathy, concerned that he might have broken his back, but then ameliorated the comment by laughing at the scrapes on his face, comparing him to a kid getting scrapes and bruises playing outdoors.

What am I to make of such a dream??

Did it come to me because I had been defrauded of money and felt hurt like a wounded animal?

If the animal represents the self, do I feel as if I have been trussed and tortured?

Am I trying to kill my essential animal self, the one that is deep within me, stripped of all human restraints?

I felt like an observer in this dream. I felt sympathy for the pig, but I did not feel as if the cruelty were directed toward me.

I dunno, but this little piggy is likely going to have to go to court, and I will have to come to terms with my fear of confrontation and my fear of courtrooms ... both of which are rooted in my childhood. I could never confront my father, and I likely should have. At first I didn't because I feared I would lose his love and it was all I had to sustain me in a world of strangers. Later I couldn't because my father was old and frail. And even then he still held power ... the power of my birthright. My fear of courts came later. It was in a courtroom when I left my first husband that a self-righteous, Catholic, francophone male judge looked down at me from a very high pedestal and publicly denounced me for leaving my husband. I felt intimidated ... and very very small.

I felt then the way I do now ... oh if only pigs could fly ...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Alarm Bells

My house requires adaptations of lifestyle that take some getting used to. Some also require that you live alone or with people you know very well.

For example, the holding tank has to be pumped when full at a cost of about $400 for a 1500 gallon tank. Each flush puts 1 1/2 gallons in the tank. That means you can flush the toilets 1000 times before you need to have it pumped. It costs about 40 cents a flush.

Because the OOPS truck can't get in here in winter, I had to get a second tank installed. When the first tank is 2/3 full, an alarm goes off, and then you flip a switch so that the contents of the first tank are pumped up to the second tank. That means that I can get 3000 gallons or 2000 flushes pumped for about $700. (That reduces the cost per flush to 35 cents a flush ... but the installation of the second tank cost $7000 so the net gain is really a net loss.

By flushing as little as humanly possible without resorting to using an outdoor privy I have managed to fill the first tank in just under seven months. The first time I filled the 1500 gallon tank in five months so I think this is pretty impressive.

For the past two months I have been waiting for the alarm to sound. It finally did so last night ... at 11:00 p.m. ... just as I was about to fall into bed.

I went downstairs, turned off the noise that was driving Kenya nuts, flipped the switch and waited for half an hour till the pump had done its job.

Then I went to bed with visions of alarm bells, holding tanks, dollar signs, and honey wagons in my head.

Thank heavens I didn't dream of them. Instead the dream fairy brought me these dreams about a birthday party and a return to the classroom.

The Centarian's Birthday ...

snoozing and snoring
snorting and sneezing
smooching and schmoozing
salivating and smacking lips
but mostly snoozing and snoring

Teaching Grade Six ...

"Grade 6 students need positive self images," Kerry pronounced.

I ended up trying to teach them their times tables by giving them teddy bears to help them remember as they drilled themselves and each other. My classroom's every surface, corner and secret hideaway spot was occupied by a teddy bear with a name tag on its foot. The kids went to these places alone or with a friend whenever they had a spare moment. There they memorized by rote, or did additions aloud, on paper, or in sand with the teddy bear as a mute encouraging mentor.

Certainly more pleasant than dreams of septic systems!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Dream a little dream of me ...

I keep on dreaming ... and remembering the dreams.

I am fascinated by this phenomenon because I have always been interested on a superficial level by Jung's and Northrop Frye's archetypes which emerge and recur in dreams and literature.

All my recent dreams, according to the dream interpreters seem to be about moving forward in life ... taking a new direction ... facing the future with optimism.

First there was the dream in which I died which signified I was getting ready for a radically new direction in life.

Then a couple of nights ago, I dreamed about traveling in Mongolia with people who had nothing in common with me and didn't approve of me ... and I moved without them through the rain toward my goal of finding Mongolians.

Travel is a common dream theme, the journey representing life. The interpreters suggest you look at your companions, your destinations, and the difficulties involved in reaching your goals metaphorically.

Just last night I dreamed that Sarah and Dan had had their baby. He was now a toddler who reminded me of Remi. He climbed up on my bed and then got into everything and had to be watched all the time so that he wouldn't hurt himself. He had a penchant for electrical plugs.

"Babies tend to link with new circumstances and new feelings. They symbolise some fresh new mood of optimism. They can represent a new project or opportunity. They may simply represent something that is 'new' in your life."

A boy baby is also linked to "birth or emergence of a new phase of self expression in terms of activity or achievement."

The fact that this baby was curious and a risk taker might also mean that I am still at that level of development ... rather nice if it is true ... but perhaps also a warning.

Rachel Carson wrote in The Sense of Wonder: "If I had the influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, sterile preoccupations with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength."

I think this gift may have come to me late, but better late than never at all.

How a Hermit Prepares for Winter

When I prepare for winter, I think in terms of having a good supply of food, wine and DVDs ... not necessarily in that order. When my freezer is full, my wine racks stuffed, my pantry shelves lined with cans of staples and all the bins are filled with flour ready for breadmaking, I feel content.

I also need to know that I have stocked up on entertainment. I do not have television reception here, but even when I did, I did not watch television. Indeed, much of my life, I did not own a tv set.

I can read in very good light and when my mind is clear, but in the evenings I turn to film. I have such a bad memory now that I can watch movies several times without remembering all the details, and even when I do, I delight in knowing what will come next. It is a little like reading and re-reading Little Women, or Heidi, or The Secret Garden, or Anne of Green Gables as a child. It didn't work for the books in the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series which were plot based and written using templates. It only worked for the classics.

The movies I purchase are almost all excellent films with depth of character, sometimes with clever plotting, in which the craftmanship is evident ... and elegant. But most of all, these films, like good literature, touch me deeply because they make me reflect on life.

Yesterday I stopped at the post office to pick up a parcel and discovered two filled with DVDs. Most were ones I had seen before and wanted for my collection (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Illusionist, Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, and The Kite Runner), but a few were brand new, chosen as a result of watching trailers and reading reviews (The Painted Veil, After the Wedding, Black Book and Paris, Je t'aime).

Last night I watched The Wind that Shakes the Barley . It is a fine film about life in Ireland when the British army occupied it. I came away understanding better what it must be like to live under foreign occupation, to be treated with hatred and disrespect, to know that you had to fight the oppressor, and then to die far too young. It made me reflect upon life in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in places like Palestine occupied by Israel.

This film is about the complexities of politics and people. Nothing is simple. Not patriotism. Not love. Not courage. Some people believe that even partial victories are worth having. Others burn with such a fierce fire that anything less than what they fought for is not good enough, and they are willing to give their lives for that ideal.

I belong to that second group, I am afraid. It is not a comfortable way to live life, and perhaps it explains why I am a hermit. Hermits don't have to compromise nearly as often.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A Second Sign

I never remember my dreams, but before retiring last night, I pulled out my old dream journal (almost empty) and last night I remembered my dreams.

The first was the most memorable. It unfolded without fuss and with utter clarity until it woke me. I was dying in the calmest, most matter of fact, way imaginable. I was accompanied by a friend experienced in death and there was no fear whatsoever. I was simply moving from one state to the next and he reassured me as I moved through it.

This morning I looked up dream interpretation on-line and was told that dreams in which the dreamer dies signify important change in the dreamer's life.

"Death is a structural transformation of the being - during the Ego development process we often undergo successive symbolic deaths and re-births: something of us is dying and another thing is emerging. "

"These types of dreams can also symbolize confronting fear ..."

Today I will send the registered letter to try to recoup the money stolen from me. So perhaps part of the change in my life will be changing myself so that I can begin to face challenges instead of running away from them.

Our lives don't change until we do, and perhaps that is what this second sign is telling me.

Monday, 24 March 2008

It's About Time

I think my luck may be changing. It's about time.

Maybe it really is about time. Maybe you have to go through bad times before the good ones can happen ... in order to appreciate the good ones ... or maybe just because life moves cyclically.

Marta and I lost one another three years ago. After that I went back to Kenya and discovered that my faith in people was still strong, but I had lost my faith in organizations whose mission was to help those in need. I watched in disbelief as the best of those Canadian organizations became bureaucratized and impervious to the pain of its most faithful employees. I listened to the backstabbing and we-they pronouncements of Canadians from that and other organizations who had come to Kenya to help but who had become more and more alienated from those same Kenyans.

And that is why I decided to stay home ... to get a puppy ... to root myself after years of having no real roots at all. As it turned out, I became absolutely uprooted as a result of making that decision. And maybe that is something that must happen before you can move on. Maybe the old has to be completely destroyed before you can be re-born.

Having a new puppy proved a trial and a tribulation because I lived in an apartment with a weird neighbbour living beneath me. I stayed away from home as much as possible and then moved out to the cottage a month later.

I realized I wanted to live in a real house on this lake and so we began the slow painful process of construction. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did, and what began as a modest project required far more money, energy, patience and time than we could have imagined. Kenya and I began living in other people's houses. I not only had no roots now. I had no home.

During this time I began working with dogs to earn some extra money and to give Kenya the right kind of socialization. As a result, I broke and dislocated my finger and that began the year and a half filled with the misery of dealing with a medical system that did not work.

My hair is greyer today than it was three years ago. I look and feel more than three years older. My right hand no longer works very well. My chest has been aching lately. I am still dealing with the ongoing problems of construction done badly and I am considerably poorer than I was.

I have had to face the fact that not all dog people can be trusted and not all workers give a damn.

I have, over the last three years, suffered more than one bout of depression, and a sense of dislocation. I was so completely uprooted and homeless while the house was being built, I lost my ability to focus. As a result, I became unable to read and write, the two activities that had sustained me throughout my life.

After I moved into the house it gradually became the home I had sought. I began reading again. Now I am writing every day ... not novels perhaps ... but still, I am writing. Kenya has matured into a real companion. I love this lake despite the difficulties associated with living here, especially over this very hard winter we have had. I have met some good people while dealing with the others, so, on balance, I still have faith in people and in the redemptive quality of dogs.

And Marta and I have reconnected.

Maybe that is the sign sent by the universe that things will now be better.

Doggone it, they are beautiful.

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Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Universe Intervenes ...

A few weeks ago I had a message from the universe telling me how to contact my old friend Marta. We had lost touch three years ago in a strange way that neither of us quite understands. I thought she didn't want to see me any more, and she thought the same ... one of those missed- message-confused-communication misunderstandings that occur. We both tried over the three years to find one other, but it took the intervention of the universe to make it happen.

We had walked our dogs in the vicinity of the other's apartment. I never managed to catch even a glimpse of Marta or Henry. She looked in vain for my car. I called her friend but he didn't tell her. She met up by very strange chance with my friends, Ralph and Paula, who told her I was living at the cottage. She tried to find the cottage but got lost. They never mentioned the meeting to me.

Then three years after the misunderstanding which separated us, and after Marta sent many messages to the universe, an email came to me from the Ottawa Story Tellers informing me that Marta was to be performing at the NAC's Fourth Stage. I wrote to her and our friendship began again.

Marta and Henry arrived at the cottage yesterday. The dogs liked each other immediately ... they look like black and gold versions of one another. But best of all Marta and I ate and drank wine, laughed and talked till nearly midnight ... way past my usual bedtime.

Many thanks, Universe.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Testing! Testing!

I knew that my first winter living here would test me and the house.

On Easter Sunday I will have lived here exactly a year. When I moved in I used only the main floor while the second storey floors were sanded and finished, the bedrooms and bathroom painted and the tub installation completed. Doors were installed. All of the windows were framed and the trim work happened around me. The kitchen counter, sink and dishwasher were installed. Work on closets proceeded. When George left in June I was very glad to see the end of sawdust, plaster and inept carpentry, glad that I no longer had to share my living space with gangs of men, especially since much of that experience had been lived without doors.

I began to hire individual people to do different jobs. Jim did the outside stairs. Tom and his crew built the screened-in porch. Fritz finished jobs George had been unable to complete properly. Dan completed the staircase Fritz had left unfinished.

Mother Nature may be testing us with snow this year, but last spring she sent floods down the mountain, causing the road to crack open so that there were two streams coming down to the lake, one right through my road. Eric arrived with huge earth moving machines and built two massive retaining walls to prevent the road from ending up in the lake this coming spring.

The first holding tank proved inadequate and was placed too far from the road for the pumper to reach in winter. Eric installed a second one closer to the road, and there is now a system of alarms and a pumping system to move the waste to the higher tank.

I love the in-floor heating, but the hot water system that heats the floor keeps throwing the breakers, my electricity bills for the first four months of winter have totalled $1170, and I have used nearly $1000 worth of wood as well. A boiler system will be on the list of things to do before next winter.

What has winter thrown at me? Tons of snow of course, enough to make snow plowing and shoveling a huge challenge. But that snow has also built up on the roof revealing more construction flaws ... inadequate ventilation ... badly installed flashing ... improper ventilation. And that in turn has caused leaking and interior damage to ceilings and walls. More plaster dust to come. All of that will have to be corrected before another winter.

The dryer was left unvented and that too is a summer project.

We still have to sand and polyurethane exposed wood, do touch-up painting, clad the house with board and batten, and build a deck.

Tom has to finish removing the debris from the old cottage.

And with the amount of snow that has fallen, I think it may be July before the snow melts and we can think about summer jobs.

The house has suffered damage, and my heart is acting up. We did not do as well on the test as I had hoped, but we are still standing, the house and I.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Just a photo or three ... from Western Kenya

The WONDERFUL news is that Kenya has finally decided to eliminate school fees for high school students. They will still have to buy books and uniforms and pay other fees ... but at least now they have a chance.

The woman on the right is a care giver for AIDS orphans in Mumias. The chicken is how she manages to to help. The chicken is provided by SAIPEH which is funded by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

These kids are from Kakamega and are attending primary school.

And I am not sure what the future holds for this baby from Shianda ....

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North Country

Based on a true story, this is an excellent film about a courageous woman who fought for the rights of women workers in a traditionally male workplace. I have great admiration for anyone who stands up to injustice, but even more when that person has to fight everyone around her in order to do what is right. And still more when she has to do it without the benefit of education or wealth. This woman's story shows with absolute clarity why women have had to fight for equality and respect from men. Her experiences in a mine in northern Minnesota make discrimination in a professional or white collar workplace pale in comparison.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

What came off the roof yesterday

... the last of the four corners cleared ...

I am not sure how I am going to get rid of this and the other three piles ... especially if I can't exert myself ;-)

My favourite baby picture of Kenya and Max

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Snow turning to rain ...

Is that an improvement or what?

The day isn't starting off much better except that after a good night's sleep the 25 pound weight is off my chest, and I don't have to go to Cumberland for a medical appointment.

I do have to set up that ultrasound, call the electrician about the breakers that keep turning off the floor heating, deal with my bills (Quebec Hydro for this two month period was $530.44), and call Havoc's owner AGAIN.

I hope that the rain we are expecting doesn't require the bucket, bowl and bin brigade to be re- organized.

I should also tidy up the closets that I've torn apart in order to get at the leaks.

Maybe I will shovel away some of the snow and ice debris that has come off the roof, but that would require me to exert myself. I expect that walking Kenya a mile around the lake and back and spending 30 minutes walking and playing with Remi while we are over there will be all the exertion I can stand for today. It is way more exercise to do that workout in this weather because my road is an icy obstacle course, and Pike Lake Road is sometimes not much better but has larger muddier puddles when it is mild enough for rain. In good weather it is 70 minutes; these days it is more like an hour and a half.

On a brighter note here is a photo of one of the puppies in Erin's dog's litter ...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A not-so-good kind of day ...

Today I left here at 7:30 a.m. to go to a doctor's appointment. I mentioned the chest pains as well as the other unrelated symptoms that concerned me. She checked my blood pressure (high), and listened to my lungs (fine) and my heart (not fine ... some signs of arterial schlerosis). She was more concerned about the chest pains than the other symptoms, and sent me for a heart X-ray and an EKG and prescribed nitroglycerine spray. She also orderd an ultra sound for the other condition, and told me that both problems were of serious concern, but the priority had to be the possibility of a heart attack as that would kill me faster than uterine cancer. No ... she didn't actually use those words but that was her meaning.

Oh, she also told me not exert myself. The only way I can avoid that up here is to drop dead.

At the medical centre, I discovered that I had to pay for the EKG up front because Quebec doesn't cover it in Ontario, and that the ultra sound would have to be done in Quebec because they wouldn't reimburse it at all.

So I got the heart X-ray and the EKG, and headed back to Wakefield where I filled my prescription.

By now I was panicking because I was getting so close to the time when Peter Weeks would be inspecting my roof and its leakages (1:30).

I tore up Mountain Road and nearly slammed into a brown station wagon followed by a black truck with a ladder on it. I recognized the ladder. It was Tom's. We both stopped, and he told me that Peter had done his inspection and was the driver of that brown station wagon. Tom would come back to tighten some screws on the roof ... when it was safe.

A potential client came up to introduce me to his dog. Annie, the dog, turned out to be fifteen years old, terribly arthritic, and unable to cope with my hill. I felt very sympathetic, and wondered if I shouldn't offer her some of the nitro spray.

I called Peter. The news was not good. Mike had screwed up badly when insulating, installing the flashing and ventilating the roof. In addition the roof was a complicated one, and the mistakes would be hard to fix.

Then I tried to get hold of Havoc's owner whose letter and cheque have still not arrived after more than a week. She is still playing the message from February. I don't know exactly what game she is playing but I am determined not to let her get away scot-free. I can't afford to allow her to steal $300.

Kenya and I sat down and watched Betty Page ...

I wish I still had that kind of youthful innocence, vitality and exuberance. Maybe if I had, today would have felt like a better day.

Monday, 17 March 2008


There's that toy again!

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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Clearing the Ice Jam

This has not been my favourite winter, and today has not been my favourite day this winter.

It seems everyone is looking for people to clear roofs. I suspect that people began to fear the worst might happen when the bungalow roof in Ottawa collapsed last week, the three women in the Laurentians were killed when a warehouse roof caved in, and several local schools were evacuated till their roofs could be cleared.

I called Peter, the home inspector who has a home repairs column in the Low Down. He told me to get the snow cleared off the roof and he would come to assess the situation on Tuesday. He said not to feel too bad; that I was far from alone. He recommended someone in Wakefield, but said he might be too busy because he had been referring people to him all week. I asked what he charged, and Peter said he didn't know ... but it really didn't matter, did it? I laughed. What else can you do?

I tried calling him, but the answering machine for his cell phone was filled to capacity. I phoned a neighbour to see who had cleared his roof. When I called that man, his wife said there was no way he'd be able to help; he was far too overloaded already. When I asked if she knew anyone, she said she'd call if they thought of someone.

So I made several phone calls before I reached Tom who arrived with two guys, several ladders and shovels and proceeded to attack the snow mounded on the roof. Kenya has been hiding under furniture ever since they started. Up here in my den, immediately underneath the place where they are working right now to clear the ice, it is harrowing. They are hammering and banging and snow keeps shooting past the windows. I keep expecting one of them to burst through the ceiling, shovel in hand, especially when they start to slide and fall on the ice they are trying to dislodge. Everything shakes in the room ... my computer, the phone, the printer and pens ... all the things on my desk.

I had the foresight to bring both shovels inside with me when they first arrived. I had been using one to attack the enormous mound of snow that came off the shed roof yesterday. This photo shows how much snow was there when Tom and his guys arrived.

After they finished with the first load of soft snow I went out to shovel a path from the back door. The snow was mounded halfway up the frame. I cleared a small path, just enough to allow us to get out. The back door won't close now.

Sam woke up scared. I understand because it is nerve wracking listening to them fighting with the ice jam. It is as if giants are holding a party in a bowling alley upstairs. They seem to be having a step dancing contest and then throwing bowling balls down with all their might onto a hard floor. I have to keep reminding myself that there are only three normal sized men above my head.

This year of the great snows has kept everyone busy. The people who plow snow have been overworked all winter, and any who worked on contract lost money. The ski hill operators and these guys clearing roofs may be the only winners in this hellish winter of all winters.

More Baby Pictures ... Sorry

Sam almost up there ready to crawl

Sam "swim-flying" on my bed

I know, I know ... but they are leaving on Monday, and soon I will be back to pictures of Kenya and her canine friends. While Kerry and Sam are here I am gobbling up the experience of living a life that is not a hermit's life, but a mom's life ... and an Oma's.

When the leaking begins to overwhelm me, it is good to have someone say calmly, "You have to get the roof shoveled off." And when I can't find anyone to do that, it is good to have someone besides Kenya to talk to about my options.

I am discovering (or re-discovering) that a hermit's life is wonderful when most things go the way they should ... when life is only metaphorically going swimmingly. But when you begin to feel as if you are drowning, it helps to have someone who loves you around.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Sam with Kenya's Toy

Here he is!

And there it is!

Sam and Kenya

Babies and dogs have lovely non-verbal relationships.

Kenya doesn't mind much where Sam is concerned, but she really wishes that Kerry wouldn't put him to sleep on her couch because she isn't sure how to get up there beside him without risking knocking him off.

I love it when she brings her toys over to Sam to use as teething rings. (Sam does too.)

Sam is at that wriggly physical stage of life. He can't crawl but he keeps on trying and looks a bit like a flying fish on land or a human at the amphibious stage of evolution. His belly acts as a stationary base for the flying wings and kicking feet.

He watches people intently and mirrors their expressions ... mainly smiles.

And he is very verbal ... not making animal noises ... but really trying to use language.

I am very glad I have had the chance to spend time with him right now at this part of his life.

I've Found My Mug

I finally found my mug ...

Isn't it beautiful and happy looking? Sunflowers and cheerful ripe tomato red always make me happy. I saw it and knew at once it was the one. Then I decided then and there that my primary goal had to be to seek out happiness and beauty. I will drink my tea from it every morning and think about how I can best make myself happy today; where I can discover beauty.

(In the second photo the mug is with the women who made an entire summer happy as I created them and their story.)

I may have been drawn to this mug because I had been wretchedly unhappy for a couple of days ... ever since the bank returned a cheque from a dogsitting client. It took me a couple of days to be able to calmly call and ask why she stopped payment. It is not resolved yet; won't be until I have the cash in my hand ... but I am no longer feeling sick to my stomach because I have to confront someone.

And that has made me happier. I hate confrontation, and my instinctive reaction to potential arguments is to flee rather than confront them head-on. Whenever I do face up to a problem I feel immeasurably better, but even after almost 68 years on this earth I still feel sick and have to build up the courage every time.

So ... what would make me truly happy right now?

1. a roof that is not leaking and filling up plastic bins in three locations ... and all the interior damage from this fixed

2. a decent road that comes all the way to my real parking lot so that I don't have to carry everything 1/4 kilometre as well as down the hill, and so that the garbage and recycling trucks can get in

3. the cash for Havoc's stay in my hand

I'm not asking the universe for unreasonable things, I don't think ... but they may be unattainable today at least. I will work on the smallest one first ... the one that has been making my life hell this week.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Kerry and Sam Have Arrived!

Their first flight was cancelled, their second delayed. It had taken me over two hours to dig out my car that morning and then Leonard had tried to clear my parking spot while I parked elsewhere. I thought we were prepared.

I waited at the bottom of the escalator that brings passengers to the baggage claim area.

I wish I had a photo of their arrival coming down that escalator. They looked a bit like an immigrant family. Tyren was first with Max in his arms ... a cheerful grinning Max. (He is the happiest little guy I know.) Then Arrow, serious and being her usual helpful self. Then Kerry and Sam who looked like a little leprechaun in his forest green sleeper and his green and violet striped hat. Everyone but Sam was carrying something.

We arrived at Pike Lake after dark and got stuck a few yards up the first hill on Rutlege because there is absolutely no wiggle room on my road. We made our way carefully (and sideways) past the car. It was a crawling, slipping, sliding kind of journey past the car.

I manhandled the suitcase and Kerry held the flashlight.

Then we traded and went up the hill, picked up the sled at the parking area, and made our way over glare ice, mounds of rubble, over a snow bank and down the last hill to the house along a path the width of a large dog's body.

Kerry had Sam snuggled in against her body under her mommy jacket and she dragged the sled with the suitcase on it. I carried my pack, the flashlight, her overnight bag and the groceries. Kerry finally abandoned the sled at the pile of rubble after the suitcase had fallen off and been replaced three times. Each time it fell off there was a handover of the flashlight and a dropping of other bags, so that I could re-establish its position on the sled. A perilous trip but we made it.

The first thing everyone did was have a drink. First Sam, then Kerry and me.

Then I finished making the supper I had started two days ago: chicken tikka masala, rice and a salad. We ended up eating at 9:30.

Sam who had cried almost all the way from the airport to the house was now a happy baby who lay on one of Kenya's dog cushions with the dog sprawled out beside him. He grabbed her cheeks and nose and the toy in her mouth. Kenya was very interested in this new puppy I had brought home.

We trundled off to bed at 11 all of us exhausted.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

French Kiss

I first saw French Kiss in Windhoek with a Namibian woman friend. I loved it. There was the Canadian connection and I was far from home for a long time. I was also ending a relationship with a Canadian man and heading into something romantic with a Norwegian who was just as sexy as Luc, the Frenchman. And besides, I have always been a sucker for romantic comedies. I watched it again last night with Kenya curled up beside me on the couch ... and I still loved it, even though I know that happy endings and love forever and ever belong in a world of fairy tales ... a world I should have outgrown long ago.

Letters from Iwo Jima

I grew up in the era of the 1940's American war movie. As I slipped the DVD into the player, I had a whole set of expectations, but these Japanese soldiers were people. They were not short in stature or buck toothed. Hollywood had finally produced a war movie in which the Japanese were shown as fully human rather than as evil caricatures wearing thick glasses. Later when the credits rolled past, I was surprised that it had been produced by Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. Well done, gentlemen! Letters from Iwo Jima shows that the American war movie has finally grown up.


exhaustion ...

and beauty ...

The Terrible Beauty of 56+ Centimetres

Kerry's flight was cancelled, but I still had to get to my writing workshop. They were sending someone to meet me at the junction of Pike Lake Road and Rutledge if the main roads had been plowed. I went out with Kenya to scout things out.

I opened the back door and was almost undone by the amount of snow facing me.

However; I am tough, so I snowshoed out to Pike Lake Road,1/2 kilometre, sinking up to my knees with every step. Kenya was almost buried.

The road was plowed so I would have a lift. I had considered borrowing Sarah's car but it would have meant snowshoeing 1/2 kilometre and then walking the rest of the mile to her place. I definitely could not have considered driving my car. Even if Leonard had managed to have the road cleared in time, I still would have had an hour's shoveling to get the car on the road, and I was just not feeling strong enough.

At the course, Phil Cohen went on and on about the romance of snowshoeing out to the road. It's beautiful, Phil, but the romance is a little lost on me when I am exhausted, and every step is just plain hard work.

I say that in that jaded tone we are all adopting these days, but then I look at the waterfalls spilling green out of the rock and listen to the stillness of my road, the only sound the groaning of trees as they are swayed by the wind, and I know that what I will remember of this winter is the beauty rather than the never-ending work that defeats me from time to time.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Lull Before the Next Storm

I awoke to a winter wonderland of snow clotted trees and white steps weaving their way to the top of the hill ... the same steps that had been shoveled down to bare wood yesterday.

Today the region is battening down for the real onslaught of 30-50 centimetres more plus high winds.

I personally am going to clear away this little bit from around my car and the steps so that the next storm's dump won't defeat me.


March 8, 2008, 2:49 a.m.

I have been up since 1.

The sound of water dripping would not allow me to go back to sleep, so I checked the house and discovered that water was pouring into the front hall through one of the pot lights. I put out my last bucket and checked the ones in the diningroom and the two bedrooms. I checked all the places where the roof line dips into a hollow between two angles, as that seems to be where the ice is trapped and is now melting.

Then I wrote a second email to Peter Weeks who writes a column in the Low Down on home repairs. He also has a consulting service. This email was considrably more desperate in tone than the last one.

For a while I puttered about tidying my two blogs, wrote some emails, played a game, and worried.

I decided to make some camomile tea and see if that would help me get back to sleep. On that trip downstairs I re-checked the buckets and also the utility room looking for leaks.

No leaks in there, but the damned breaker for the in-floor heating had been thrown again. That is the fourth time in two days. The electrician has replaced it twice now. The next stage is to replace the hot water tank with a boiler, I guess. Another $2000 because of Mike' incompetence. I wish there were some way to make him take some financial responsibility for all the things that have gone wrong here because of his mistakes, but the fact that he is not certified in Quebec means that he can get away scot-free, I think.

And god alone knows what this roof problem is going to cost to remedy. The original problem has to be fixed, but now there is all kinds of interior damage being done to ceilings and walls, and of course to the insulation which is hidden by those ceilings and walls.

And if it doesn't stop snowing there will be even more ice building up in those hollows, and it will likely mean that nothing can be done till May, and by then there will be still more damage and likely mould as well.

I have a workshop on Sunday and I have to pick Kerry up from the airport. Leonard has promised that he will do his best to get me out by 9:30 on Sunday morning. If he can't, I can walk around the lake to Sarah's ... as long as Pike Lake Road and Mountain Road have been plowed ... and borrow her car.

The happy hermit is becoming weighted down by worries, I am afraid, and my insomnia is confusing Kenya as well.

At 2:00 she went downstairs to ask to be let out. I told her it was the middle of the night, so she sniffed the bucket in the front hall, looked up at the source of water spraying down on her, and went back upstairs to sprawl out on her cushion in my den. If she had been human she'd have shrugged her shoulders.

It is now 3:35, and as soon as I post this I will finish my camomile tea, do one last house check, and start reading another novel ... The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields ... and see if I can read myself to sleep.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Perfect Man: the Whole Story

I have hated reading this in instalments especially when the instalments are backwards, so here is the whole sad tale in one place. It is now on my second blog, A Writer Blogs. You can find it here:

The Snowbound Hermit

My inbox this morning contained two emails: one from a friend postponing her weekend visit because of the impending storm, the other from another friend with advice for preventing serious stroke damage. I include it in case you are ever in a position to use the knowledge.

This is called the STRoke identification process. Bystanders are to ask the victim to:
1. Smile or Stick out her tongue and note whether it is crooked or on one side
2. Talk ... coherently repeat a simple sentence
3. Raise both arms

If she cannot do ANY ONE of these simple tasks, they are to call 911 immediately.

I wrote to thank Nancy, and added the following, "Of course living the life of a hermit and also snowbound ... I likely will simply die and be eaten by whatever dogs I have here ... and Kenya will then get diarrhea because she cannot handle raw meat ... and in the spring there will be a helluva mess to clean up ... if we ever have spring."

Do you know that we have had 350 centimetres of snow already, and that we are expecting 30-50 centimetres in the next 36 hours. We are getting close to the record of 444 centimetres created in the winter of 1970-71.

That was the year I was pregnant with Robbie. We celebrated Valentine's Day by going to dinner with friends in Bells Corners. Opa was babysitting. On the way home we got about five miles from home and could go no further. The VW had bellied up on the snow on the road and our wheels were not touching any solid surface.

We walked up to the nearest farmhouse. My enormous belly kept me buoyed up ... a little like the Volkswagen ... but we managed to make it to their door. We woke the owners, who welcomed us, gave me a nightie and settled us into one of their extra bedrooms. In the morning when the snow plow had been through they skidooed us out to the road.

I cannot get out by car now, and no one can get in. I am truly snowbound. It feels a little different now that I am living alone and sixty-seven. I feel considerably more isolated than I did when I was thirty-one, a baby in my belly, and another three kids, a husband, and my father all living with me. I have neighbours who can get out if I can get to them on snowshoes, and the dogs keep me from feeling too lonely. Also I live in ski country so I guess if I had to call 911 they could get ski patrollers to come in with a stretcher to haul me out.

Lulu and Kenya play together now. It is funny to watch. I can't get photos when they are both on the floor, when Lulu dances on her hind legs and feints and parries with Kenya, but I was able to get several of them playing in my den.

They have begun to share toys.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Lulu, Leaks and the Job Jar

Lulu arrived this morning. Kenya and I had to walk out to Pike Lake Road with the sled to meet her . Yesterday I couldn't get out without snowshoes, but Leonard cleared me a walking path last night. This time I was the one who fell on the ice walking back to the house. Kenya took all of a minute to recognize Lulu and her special needs and has been wonderful as Lulu settles in, exploring and sniffing everything, trying out all the beds.

Outside she bounced her way up all 39 steps in my wake and I felt a bit like Good King Wenceslas creating a path for her to follow.

We spent quite a bit of time in my den: me typing; Lulu and Kenya sleeping; the bathroom garbage container collecting the drips as the roof leaks, yet again. A happy little domestic scene.

Later we went out to collect the shovel and clear the steps. Lulu is an independent little soul and despite the difficulties she encounters, she loves the deep snow, and makes brand new paths through it. She becomes invisible when she is creating her labyrinths.

Still later we all curled up in my bedroom where I finished reading Remembering the Bones with Lulu stretched out beside me on the bed, and Kenya sprawled over her cushion on the floor, various body parts hanging over onto the wooden floor. The photo shows how little room Lulu takes on the same cushion. Her own cushion is 12" x 18".

The job jar sits in front of me at eye level. A few months ago I became very industrious and went all around the house looking for jobs that needed doing. It took me no time at all to fill my first job jar. Then I promptly forgot it.

The listing of tasks or the filling of a job jar should make me want to accomplish something, right? I don't know if I am the only person this happens to, but instead of making me get at things that need doing, it seems to clear the air of the need to do anything. And it assuages the guilt I feel when I am letting things go undone.

It may have something to do with the fact that the daily business of keeping the place clean, the snow shoveled, and the dogs exercised leaves me with little energy to spare, or it may be that problems like a leaking roof loom with far greater urgency than finishing hemming a curtain or taking a lampshade in for repair, or it may have something to do with the fact that I feel incapable of doing some of the jobs properly so don't want to begin. Painting is one of those things. I cannot paint above my head without wobbling so any place I have attempted to paint a wall meeting the ceiling is a mess. Also there is no point in painting until we solve the leakage problems.

Lulu is checking out the drip container now. I better quit and go do some more shoveling. We are supposed to get another 15 centimetres on Saturday. I have to get the car clear so that if Leonard ever finishes clearing and sanding the road I will be able to drive out of here.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Snowed In At the Hermitage

The snow is so dense I cannot see across the lake. It looks like one of those socked in grey days on the ocean, and I am feeling truly isolated today. I am not alarmed but it does give me pause.

I have been waxing poetic about the beauty of winter up here in these hills. Oh it has been a hard winter, I know. Someone said 9 feet of snow since November. Leonard has plowed the road so many times I've felt obliged to supplement his contract pay with food and liquor, and I have forgotten how many times I have shoveled and de-iced those 39 steps so far. But it is beautiful, and I do like being a hermit, so I feel no great need to get out every day ... or indeed ... every week.

But ... at 7 a.m. when I lugged the bag of garbage up the hill on the sled, my intention was to take it all the way out to Pike Lake Road so that the garbage truck wouldn't have to come all the way in on icy surfaces, and I discovered that my road was now impassable to a pedestrian wearing ice walkers. I really was snowed in this time.

That fine powder snow which allows skiers to fly over the surface is treacherous on top of ice. I might have been safe on snow shoes, but definitely not with ice grippers on boots. They just slid across the surface until they went through to the ice below and then I had no control at all, especially on an incline, and my whole route is hilly. Yesterday it was icy and I almost didn't get the car up the first hill to my winter parking place, but at least I could see where danger lay when I was walking.

I am reading a novel about an eighty year old woman whose car goes off the road and down a ravine. She is thrown free and breaks bones and keeps trying to drag herself to the car so that she can blow the horn for help. It helped me to imagine vividly what would happen if I broke a hip and had to crawl back to the house to get to a phone.

Then I realized that an ambulance would be unable to reach me anyway.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I put the bag in the container, propped the toboggan against a tree, threw a few sticks for Kenya, and shoveled the last dozen steps and a token path to the front door instead. I know I am not as tough as the fictional eighty year old, but I do all right for a woman of sixty-seven. However; I do know my limits.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Kenya and Sex

I took Kenya to the vet today because she was protecting that paw. He said the nail itself was doing okay; didn't need to be cauterized ... but just touching that paw seemed to hurt and it was swollen so he put her on antibiotics for a week and said to keep her quiet and away from her buddy, Remi. I could have saved Kenya pain and suffering and me a lot of guilt by simply buying 8 manicures instead of paying $80 to the vet. I have learned my lesson.

My sex post must have been utterly too theoretical and lacking in detail because Deb okayed it for Rob's viewing. Damn ... have to do better next time.

Sex ... You Have Been Warned

I know that some of my children will likely have difficulty with this post. They are quite easily shocked, I have discovered. Too much information, they shudder. Well they can choose not to read. I have been given permission by these published women writers who have been very honest about the taboo subject.


Sex used to be the the glory and bane of my existence. It was the driving force for over forty years. That stage of my life is, thank god, over and done with. I made a good many wrong turns while it was driving me.


There were times when it was simply a very comfortable part of the whole business of living, but there were also periods when I was not in synch with my partner and felt either harried or frustrated by differences in libido.

Sex ... zzzz

Ho Hum. Sex was becoming an inconvenience. Oh heavens, not again. That occurred when I was in a relationship that was not going well.

Sex :-{

And then came the sandpaper period when the very thought of sex made me rigid with fear. Unfortunately it coincided with a time when the flame of desire flared briefly before dying down. It was an interval when even with the most careful preparations, I often regretted having succumbed to desire. An hour in bed was not worth the week of repentance.


Today I can observe friends who still enjoy a loving sex life with happiness for them and a tinge of regret that I no longer care about it, but as for myself, I think I could live quite happily without sex for the rest of my life.

I say "I think" because occasionally something happens to remind me that there are still a few glowing embers in there. I meet a man who is flirtatious or just gives heartfelt compliments and my disinterest begins to fall away.

Monday, 3 March 2008

I Wish I Didn't Know This

One of the things I wish I had never discovered is that you should have flour in your first aid kit.

Last night I clipped the nails on Kenya's right front paw. Then I started on the left one. She yelped and blood spurted. I felt sick and experienced that awful sense of deja vu. It took me two years before I finally bought my own nail clippers because I was afraid this might happen.

I still get a really sick creepy feeling in my stomach thinking about it. I followed her to the kitchen and sat down on the floor beside her and tried to apply pressure. The blood just kept pulsing. She rang the bells on the door to go outside and I thought it might help if she put the paw in the cold snow so I let her out. She stayed out for about fifteen minutes and when I brought her in, blood droplets were scattered on the snow. It looked like a scene from Snow White.

I called Sarah to see what she would recommend. She suggested hydrogen peroxide (which I don't have) and so I went on-line for advice. They suggested corn flour.

After an hour the bleeding had not stopped and I now had cornstarch as well as blood everywhere.

Sarah suggested calling the emergency vet service in Ottawa where you can get answers over the phone. ( She had called them when Remi swallowed the SOS pad.) They told me to hold Kenya down while applying flour and pressure for 5-10 minutes. If that didn't stop the bleeding I could drive to Ottawa, pay $122 and they would do it for me. I gathered up a cookie, a towel, a bowl of flour, and Kenya and settled in on the couch with her. We watched La Vie En Rose while I held her paw and pressed on the nail tip.

After five minutes she had had enough and left. I didn't notice any more blood ... just a trail of flour.

I convinced her to come back to the couch and cuddle so that the clotting would not be interrupted. This time I stroked her head rather than pressing her toe nail. She fell asleep, and the muscles in my neck untensed, and my breathing slowed.

I know now what to do if I ever cut into her quick again, but I have a feeling I won't need the information. First of all I think I may be too scared to try again, and if I ever do get up the nerve, I will be infinitely more careful. This may become one of those useless pieces of information one stores and then can never retrieve because it is never used.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Kenya Meets Lulu

Yesterday Kenya met Lulu for the first time. It took her a few seconds to even notice her, she was so small. This photo made me think about scale and their relative sizes.

Lulu is a tiny cockapoo the size of a guinea pig. The snow was so deep that she had to hop straight up and then down like a bunny to see where she was going.

Kenya went through that "Who the hell are you?" thing that dogs insist on when they meet. They don't shake hands cordially expecting the best. They assume this is a threat that needs to be evaluated. Kenya tends to be very vocal at this stage, and poor little Lulu stuck pretty close to Allyson and shivered every time Kenya growled or barked.

I reassured Allyson that Kenya's growls are simply a means of communication, and not usually a threat.

Eventually they settled down to sniffing, and Kenya decided she would like to play now, but she had no idea how you do that with such a small creature. When she stuck out her paw as she usually does as a gesture asking whether the other dog wants to play, Lulu got bonked on the side. It hurt.

I explained to Kenya that she had to keep her great big paws off Lulu. (It was an admonition she forgot from time to time in her happiness at having a playmate for a while.)

Then she tried using her voice. With her nose within inches of Lulu's, and her tail wagging furiously she leapt at Lulu and shouted, "Let's play!" Lulu snarled a high pitched snarl, and Kenya backed away with new respect.

Kenya bounded, Lulu hopped, and Allyson and I walked gingerly, trying to skirt the icy patches on the hill. Lulu leapt up and landed on one of these patches and slid halfway down the hill on her bottom. I was reminded of Albert G. Hog, the baby groundhog that slid down the chute years ago. In both cases the tiny creatures gave themselves a shake and got on with things once they came to a halt.

In the house, Kenya asserted herself to tell Lulu not to sniff the root vegetables in the basket, but generally seemed interested more than anything else. She was quite happy when I lifted Lulu up onto my lap, and when I got down on the floor to play with her. Kenya seldom, if ever, shows any jealousy where I am concerned. She will protect her food and sticks, but this time, she didn't even care too much when Lulu sniffed her food dish. If that had been Havoc or Remi she would have been all over them, but she seemed to understand by this time that Lulu was no threat.

Just before they left, Lulu came up behind Kenya and sniffed her tail. It was Kenya's turn to be startled. I was pleased to see the overture, just as I had been pleased to see Lulu's reaction to being shouted at. Lulu may look like a guinea pig or a rabbit, but she is quite definitely a dog.

It was interesting watching Kenya dealing with a totally new experience trying to figure things out.

I hope that Allyson doesn't have second thoughts about leaving Lulu. I would like Kenya to become comfortable with dogs of all sizes and I know she is smart enough to adapt, and that her basic instincts are kind.

The Memories of Older Women

It seems that many of us feel compelled to publicly expose our lives when we hit our sixties.

The other day, Tammy gave me two books to read: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas; and No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside. I put aside Belonging by Isabel Huggan to read them. At Christmas, Orley gave me Wally's World by Marsha Boulton, another memoir by a dog owner.

Two Americans, a Brit and a Canadian, all in their sixties, all writing their lives.

The memoirs are very different from each other in style and the women focus their memories quite differently. Ironside is cynical and very funny, writing about growing old disgracefully. Both Boulton and Thomas centre their stories around tragedy. Their tragedies act as anchors for the writing; their dogs as their life preservers. Huggan's theme of coming home unifies this memoir of a traveler.

I find it a little disconcerting that I randomly picked Belonging off my shelf to re-read, and that Orley and Tammy gave me the books they did. In January I began writing in my blog about home, about dogs, and about aging. Was Tammy's choice subconscious? Was I influenced by Boulton? Or are these simply the themes of women in their sixties? Is this when we begin to consider these questions? Is this the age when our dogs become our partners in life, replacing men now that the blood is no longer rampaging?

Maybe this is when all our lives go to the dogs (or cats).

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A Sense of Place; A Sense of Purpose ...

That is what life is all about, right?

My father left Germany at twenty-one and until he settled down in the Eastern Townships when he was in his sixties, he was adrift. Once he found his home he became a truly fulfilled man who, for the last twenty-five years of his life, painted out his love of the mountains that surrounded him. His ashes are buried in a very old graveyard near that home and the words engraved on the rock that marks his place are "At home in the mountains he loved", just those words and his signature.

When I retired I had no sense of place, and I didn't realize then how important it was to me, but I did have a sense of purpose.

The mug I made with help from Kerry to celebrate Mother's Day and Freedom (odd juxtaposition) is the bright yellow of sunshine combined with a deep sky blue. It features a naked crone pregnant with the globe, arms akimbo, hair flying out wildly as she moves through life. She is embracing a life of travel. That was my dream as a retiree. I would travel the world volunteering in developing countries.

Well, it is more than ten years since I made that mug. It is a little chipped and worn now, still usable, but it is time to retire it; keep it in a safe place to remind of that life I led. It was a good life but it is not my life now. I need to find a new purpose in life, something that is bigger than I am, something that acts as a guiding force as I make decisions.

I considered using one of my other mugs. Several feature cows placidly chewing on cuds. Debbie gave me those years ago, and they are nice to hold and drink from, but although I may give the impression of bovine contentment, that really is not me yet. Some are plain blue. I like them fine but they are tabula rasa mugs; blank of purpose. Orley gave me a thick blue mug that tells me to do what I love. The message is great but its walls are too thick for drinking tea comfortably, and I am not a coffee drinker now. Susan gave me one that I really like drinking from because of its thickness and shape, but its message reads, "He had wasted too much of her life," and that's a denial rather than a statement of purpose. No, I need to find a new mug for the next ten years. Once I discover my purpose, I will be able to choose my mug.

I seem to have lost my way.

I am no longer traveling and my writing has changed over the years. During the interval between having a purpose and having a home, that time when I was adrift, I lost my ability to read and write. Now I am finally discovering a sense of place, and, as I become more comfortable with home as my centre, my abilities to read and write are returning.

I hope that my sense of purpose will discover me as I become more and more grounded in this hermitage up here in these hills. I think it will.