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Empty Nesters

We recently helped our eldest daughter and her boyfriend move out of our house and into an apartment of their own. This officially makes us “empty nesters”. The fledglings have flown. Yay!

It reminded me of seeing my first Robin’s nest in a birch tree outside our dining room window when I was a little girl. It was exciting to watch the adult birds build the nest and then fill it with those tiny, blue eggs. We had to be careful not to startle them so the eggs wouldn’t be abandoned. And then one day, lo and behold, one by one, the eggs cracked open.

My mother said that eventually the mother bird would kick the babies out of the nest and make them fly. I thought this was a horrid thing. What kind of mother kicks her kids out of the nest?

A number of years and a whole lot of experience later, I understand completely. It’s not that either of my daughters were difficult to live with. But there comes a time when they need to take flight and find a life for themselves.

The thing is, these days many of our children remain in the nest for a lot longer. I was 18 when I moved out, and I more or less expected the same from my offspring. But now kids often stay home until their late 20’s, or into their 30’s and beyond.

For some, it takes awhile for them to get on their feet. And many of them live at home while they are going to college or university if the schools are nearby. But the reality is that it’s not easy for any of them to afford a place to live right now, especially if they have lower paying jobs.

And never mind actually BUYING a home for the first time.

My husband and I were lucky to be able to purchase our first house on Cook Street in 1983 for $66,000. These days you might get an SUV for that money. A used one, anyway.

In 1988 we sold the first house and bought a bigger one for our expanding family. That one cost $112,000. You can’t even get a “no bedroom” condo for that right now.

Sure, we went through periods of poverty, like most first time home owners do. There were some months that we just barely got by, struggling with the upkeep and repairs. But it was our home sweet home, and as long as we could pay the mortgage, we could always eat KD.

It’s not a surprise that housing prices increase over time. That is pretty much expected. But there has been a growing disparity between the cost of living and today’s average wages, especially more recently.

High demand and low interest rates are among the many reasons real estate has become pretty much out of reach for many younger people. Not only that, but house flipping and the popular trend of listing properties on places like VRBO have changed housing dynamics considerably. The B.C. Speculation and Vacancy Tax shows how concerned government officials are about the lack of affordable housing.

It took awhile for my daughter and her boyfriend to find something, but in the end they got themselves a two bedroom apartment in Langford through the Capital Region’s Housing Corporation. Their place is a newer unit subsidized by the CRD, whose mission is “a commitment to the development, management and promotion of affordable housing that is essential for the well-being of the people and communities in the Capital Region.”

I think it’s a wonderful thing. No foreseeable renovictions, no fear of outrageous rent increases. Well maintained and operated.

There are certain rules and criteria that have to be met, such as a minimum and maximum income. But they can have pets and it’s also a family friendly building.

And one day they’ll have their own little fledglings.

Not that I’m trying to rush them or anything…

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Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.

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Halloween 2020

Pictured here is Sam. Sam Boney. He’s looking a little perplexed because he isn’t really sure how to carve his pumpkin this year. Should he go for his usual scary face? Or maybe something a little bit more friendly? I mean, 2020 has been scary enough.

A lot of people are not really sure how to handle Halloween this year, but others are trying to be creative. At our house, we’ve already built a candy chute for the kids. A little PVC piping and some orange tape and lights to wrap around it, and voila! They just have to stand at the bottom of the steps, open their bags or buckets and we’ll send their candy down the chute. Perfect.

It has also been suggested that you can use tongs to hand candy out, or put the candy in individual bags. I can understand, though, how some people might not be comfortable handing out candy this Halloween.

We get an average of about 70 kids at our house every year. I really enjoy the tiniest trick-or-treaters the most. Sometimes you answer the door and they just stand there and stare at you with no idea what is going on. Some see the open door and start to walk right in. Others try to say “trick or treat” with little or no success. One time I opened the door to a little girl who simply said “Candy?” And their little costumes are the most adorable just because THEY are.

Then there are the “kids” who are a little past their expiry date. I mean, once your voice changes and you’re taller than me, maybe it’s time to move on. I actually had that attitude for years until a friend said “At least they’re out trick or treating instead of somewhere else causing trouble!” That gave me a new perspective. I now welcome kids of all sizes.

Sam and I are wondering how many there will be this year. I mean, we’re lucky in that Halloween isn’t outright cancelled, as it is in Los Angeles County, for instance. No gatherings, no haunted houses to visit. Now THAT would make Halloween night pretty eerie to me. You’re allowed to watch a scary movie at a drive thru, or decorate your yard, but no trick-or-treating whatsoever.

In BC, with some new protocols in place, we’ve managed to hold a provincial election without too many hiccups. So even if it looks a little bit different this year, I think those of us who want to can manage Halloween one way or another. At least I hope so.

Oh, and Sam Boney finally settled on a face for his pumpkin this year. It will be a happy face.

Grey skies are going to clear up
Put on a happy face!
Brush off the clouds and cheer up 
Put on a happy face!
Spread sunshine all over the place
And put on a happy face!
~ From Bye Bye Birdie, Lyrics by Lee Adams, Music by Charles Strouse

To all the kids and parents heading out there this Saturday, have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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Canada Day – A Different Way

Last week, I asked a few of my students what their plans were for Canada Day. Usually, that’s just a casual question you ask when a holiday is on the horizon. This year, however, the responses were decidedly different.

They would stop for a second, stare off somewhere, maybe chuckle, and shrug their shoulders.

Some had definite plans. “We’re going fishing,” one said. That seems safe enough. “Off to our cabin for a couple of days,” said another.

But most had no plans at all. No picnics or barbeques, no street parties, no fireworks or live shows to watch. Not even the usual Canada Day show from a stage set up somewhere in Ottawa, with all the Canadian stars and politicians in attendance.

Oh, there were other shows. Some live streaming and some on TV. But we’re getting used to those new formats now, aren’t we? They’re either live from their living rooms or some kind of “virtual” celebration. Or ninety-three people singing Oh Canada on Zoom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve come up with a lot of wonderfully creative ways to celebrate special occasions lately, from solitary graduations to drive-by birthdays and weddings, and holiday car or bicycle parades. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to celebrate, and we Canadians love to do that. Especially on Canada’s birthday.

Normally, our family would either go down to the lawns of the legislature and be a part of the living flag, or maybe over to Fort Rodd Hill to celebrate our nation’s birthday there. At night, from our back deck, we always hear the fireworks going off. And the inevitable screech of seagulls flying above as they escape Armageddon.

My husband and I decided that this Canada Day it was time to see and be with our friends. In person. We have a great group of four couples who golf together, spend Christmases and birthdays together, and have done so for many years. It’s very unusual for us to go any longer than a month or two without seeing each other in person, but the last time we had been together as a group was last Christmas. That’s more than six months.

So we decided to host a back yard get together at our home on the afternoon of Canada Day, where everyone would bring their own appetizers and beverages, and we’d all sit an appropriate distance apart and just spend some time together. And it was great. It was wonderful to laugh together again, to share our COVID stories and experiences, to catch up on each other’s news and views. It lasted about 3 hours and it was perfect.

Three years ago, on Canada’s 150th birthday, I wrote a blog about having recently returned from Europe on our first big vacation there. I remember, very vividly, seeing Labrador through the plane’s window on the flight back, marveling at how massive Canada is and how little I’ve seen of it. It was a wonderful European vacation, but it was an especially warm feeling to come back home.

But this year, on Canada’s 153rd birthday, to be honest, I was really just happy to be here. Weren’t you?

We Canadians might have our disagreements. Okay, who am I kidding? We have lots of disagreements. We are certainly not perfect and still have a lot to work out for ourselves. But in spite of our differences, I think most of us would agree that we are darn lucky to live in this great country. And that has become so much more evident in the last few months as we’ve negotiated this strange new and frightening pandemic.

One very important reason for our luck is that we’ve had some well educated and intelligent people leading us through it all. And our humanity has been brought to the surface; instead of fighting each other, we’ve come together to help each other. We’ve learned to follow the protocols, listened to those who know what they’re talking about, and put up with new, uncomfortable rules. It’s been rough on a lot of us, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

But, Oh, Canada! I’ve never been prouder to stand on guard for thee.

Out For A Walk

Steveston Fishermen's WharfImage via Wikipedia

One day when I was about 12 years old, I was about to be sent home from school because I had come down with the flu.  The nurse at the school tried to call my mother at home, but there was no answer.

I knew where she was.  She was out walking.  I didn’t realize at the time that the reason my mother had taken up walking was because of her cancer diagnosis;  she was out almost every day walking anywhere from two to four miles.  It was the only time I ever saw her wear pants and running shoes.  When I was five years old, my Dad’s car kicked the bucket, and since we couldn’t afford another one, we went without a car for about five years.  My Dad was a bus driver, so we either walked or took the bus anywhere and everywhere for those years.  The three of us walked to the neighbourhood grocery story every Friday evening and packed home the week’s groceries.  It was just our routine.  As a kid, Dad loved walking or hiking everywhere either alone or with a friend, and often walked up the famous Grouse Grind on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, long before it became cool to do that!  As he got older, he never stopped walking, and would often choose to walk rather than take the car. 

Many years later I was out on my usual walk when I suddenly remembered my mother’s walks, and realized that we had both chosen the same activity as a health benefit.  At first, walking was something I did occasionally, especially when I was in Richmond visiting my family.  The boardwalk by the Fraser River in Steveston is a lovely walk, but my little Fernwood neighbourhood here in Victoria is also a pleasant route. These days, I try to walk four times a week and as the weather improves sometimes I walk pretty much every day.  In the last few months I’ve focused on it even more, especially after reading a few stories on the benefits of walking for at least half-an-hour at a time.  It keeps your weight in check, of course, but I’ve always thought of it as the most obvious form of exercise a human being can choose.  We were made to walk.

My sister runs.  I hate running.  It always feels like my innards are being pounded into mush, never mind the crunching sound my knees and hips make when I have to dash across a street to avoid a car, for instance.  I gloated to my sister once when I found out that at a certain distance, running and walking burn the same amount of calories.  Take THAT!  Yeah!  She just looked at me with her little smile, knowing full well that she’s in better shape than I am, regardless of any of my proclamations.  Good thing she’s OLDER so I can at least rub that in.  I win 🙂

A couple of months ago I found an About.com article all about walking.  I found out that your weight x distance = the energy consumed by walking, so I immediately opened Google Earth and used the distance tool to calculate how far my usual walks were taking me and how many calories I was burning.  Hmmmm.  Okay, so not that great.  I fiddled around a bit and adjusted a few blocks this way and that way and came to a new route that would burn more calories.  The other caloric element that wasn’t taken into consideration was the fact that I live on a hill.  No matter which way I go, I eventually have to go uphill to get home again.  That boosts the caloric numbers too, so I decided to find the street with the steepest grade, just to make it even better. The first time I attempted that street, I was wheezing by the time I had only gotten a quarter of the way up.  Holy crap.  Half way up and my legs were aching and my heart pounding out of my chest.  When I reached the top, outside of being completely winded, I had a hot flash.  Sheesh.  But I did it.  And I’ve incorporated that street into most of my daily walks since.  It’s gotten somewhat easier, but it still kills me.

Aside from gardening and golfing, walking is what keeps me sane and centred.  There is the physical benefit, to be sure, but the emotional and mental benefits are just as important to me, if not more so.  Some days when it’s wet and cold out there, it’s hard to get motivated, but once I am out the door, I immediately feel better.  Even though I go at a pretty good clip, I pay attention to trees and birds and gardens and to the people I often see on a regular basis.  I always say hello or good morning and serve up my best smile.  By the time I get home, I’m stress-free and at peace with the world.

When my cat became ill and started to lose his kidney function a few months back, I found a vet that was within walking distance so I could incorporate the visits to pick up his specialized food and medication.  And these days, instead of hopping in the car to go to the bank or to the grocery store, I stick on a backpack and walk it instead.  Fortunately we have a mall fairly close to us that has pretty much everything we need.  With some encouragement, I occasionally convince my husband to walk with me there and back, but for the most part I walk alone and enjoy every moment.

It has been on my mind in the last while that I should one day take you on a small, pictorial tour of my walk, just to show you some of the interesting sights I have come across.   If I can ever remember to take my camera with me, I will do just that.  Maybe you’d enjoy taking a walk with me :-).

IJ

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