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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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Has It Been A Year Already?

Well, happy anniversary everyone! We are now officially past the year mark since the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And it’s been a year like no other.

Back on March 11, 2020, we couldn’t have imagined what we were in for. COVID-19 was a mystery, and we had no idea what to expect. The phrase “new normal” suddenly became popular.

Our initial reaction to the big shut down was positive, sometimes comical. We can DO this! We hoarded toilet paper. We baked bread, made Quarantinis, and we stood outside every evening at 6pm and banged our pots and pans to honour our health care workers. We laughingly wore pajama pants during video calls. We put hearts and signs of support in our windows for our front line workers, and donated money to local charities like Rapid Relief.

Businesses that sold them, ran out of hot tubs. Gardens flourished, home renovations abounded. We found heroes in people like Dr. Bonnie Henry, whose calm and compassion gave us much comfort. A global pandemic wasn’t going to keep US down!

Then reality kicked at us a little harder. The novelty began to wear off. Day after day we somberly donned our masks, washed our hands, and kept our distance from each other. Well some of us did. Others screamed in protest. Tempers flared. And all the while, more and more people were getting sick or dying.

Our hair grew long, beards became unruly. Zoom calls that started out as great fun, began to wear on us. Living and working and learning at home got more and more boring and intolerable for many. Not being able to see or hug our family and friends was depressing us. In fact, anxiety and depression was on the rise in all age groups, but especially in young people. We were exhausted. And all of this happened before winter had even hit.

As we said goodbye with great relief to 2020, COVID continued its ominous advance. New cases and new variants sprang up everywhere when a second wave hit. Long, dark days with no end to this pandemic in sight, left us mourning and miserable.

But there were some small hints of hope. Pharmaceutical companies around the world who had been working around the clock to come up with a vaccine, started to have some success. A few countries that were initially hit hard by the pandemic, were beginning to see their COVID numbers level off, or even come down as a result of shut downs. There was just a little bit of light appearing at the end of that very long tunnel.

And now spring is almost here. As of March 12th, almost 3 million vaccines have been administered in Canada. We have, most of us, adapted to this new reality, to the shut downs, the social distancing, and the masks. Handwashing and sanitizing is more habitual. But we are so looking forward to the day when we can actually spend time together in person again, and that day comes ever closer. Still, as the expression goes, the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest.

I know, I know. Kilometers.

So what have we learned from this past year so far? I would venture to guess it will take a long time to completely assess that. Businesses, governments and communities will gather their list of lessons learned. As individuals, we will each write our own epilogues. Ultimately, you might say that we are forever changed.

But in spite of it all, babies were still being born and people were still marking milestones. All this time, life was forging ahead and hopeful. And now, here on the west coast, the trees are starting to burst new buds, robins are laying their eggs, and cherry blossoms are blooming.

And vaccines are here. At long last. Ah, spring.

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The Winds of Change

I was wide awake in bed at about 2am the other night, as I often am these days. I was listening to the wind and thinking about this state we’re in. This whole new world.

It occurred to me that I really dislike the phrase “new normal”. The old normal was just fine, thank you very much. Some days were ordinary, even boring. But I was okay with that. Sigh.

Neither am I a big fan of change. I mean, certain kinds of changes can be really exciting, like a new car or better paying job. The birth of a child. Other, more pro-active changes can make you feel better about yourself; committing to a healthier lifestyle or working at having a more positive attitude. There are a lot of healthy, happy changes.

And then there are the life altering changes that are thrust upon you with little or no warning. Like the loss of someone or something, or a sudden illness. Or a pandemic. It’s when you feel at your most vulnerable, and you become very aware of how little power you actually have over many things.

We are shifting into a change of seasons now with autumn blowing in. The first of the rainstorms has hit, the air is a little crisper, and the leaves are starting to turn. We don our sweaters and light jackets. We think about bringing an umbrella if we go out for a walk. Soon we may turn the heat on in our homes for the first time in many months, and cover up the patio furniture. A change of seasons is something we are familiar with and know how to adjust to.

But how do we deal with a new and very different world we are also shifting into? This dreaded new normal? Thanksgiving will not look the same for many of us this year. Never mind Halloween and Christmas.

Well, we do what we’ve always done. We adapt, we adjust. It might not be as simple an adjustment as putting on a heavier sweater or grabbing the umbrella. But since we first roamed this earth, humans have had to learn how to adapt to all kinds of changes, big and small. And that ability is what has helped us survive as a species.

We’re lucky that we’ve had smart people to lead us safely through this pandemic and show us what changes we need to make. So far we’ve learned that there are many things we can do to keep ourselves healthy and hold this virus at bay.

Well, some of us have learned. There will always be those few who will refuse to behave differently, who will rant and rail against any small changes they have to make. I mean, as I said, I don’t like change either. But the way I see it, refusing to adapt to the threat of this virus is like purposely walking off a cliff.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

There is nothing we can do to stop the winds of change. Even if it blows.

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We All Need A Little Hygge

My parents were both Danish, so I grew up hearing that language all around me. My first words were in both Danish and English, likely in that order, and it wasn’t until I started school that I realized they were actually different languages.

There are words that seem to be unique to a language, and hard to translate exactly into another. For instance, one of my favourite Danish words has always been “pyt”. It is said in response to something that is stressful or frustrating. And when you say it, pyt is almost like spitting. So it works really well when you’re fed up. “PYT! Let it go…”

You may have come across the word “hygge” in the last few years, and perhaps you even know what it is. But for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I will explain.

Hygge actually originated in Norway, but first appeared in Danish writing around the 18th century. It is an old, but still very relevant and common practice that has become more popular all over the globe lately. Pronouncing it is your only challenge: the “hy” part sounds sort of like you’re hacking up something that is stuck in your throat. And then add a “ga”. Saying HOO-ga comes close.

The Scandinavian languages are all rather guttural, and Danish is no exception. There are certain letters and pronunciations that are difficult to demonstrate. Danish has often been described as sounding like German, but with a hot potato in your mouth.

But what exactly is hygge? It’s coziness and comfort. A long hot bath. Reading a good book by a crackling fire. Lots of lighted candles. Warmth, soft music, good food and friends, all of those cozy things. Being out in nature is hygge, as is a feeling of gratitude.

In Danish, there is the word “hyggebukser”, or hygge pants. Those are the pants you love to wear, but rarely in front of anyone else. Maybe your pajama bottoms or sweats. In fact, if you’ve been working at home for the last few months, you’re probably wearing them a lot anyway. I mean, if no one can see, who cares? That is hygge.

There’s also the word “hyggesnak” which is what you might think of as cozy conversation. You know, a nice chat with an old friend about comfortable topics. No politics or anything that could be controversial. Politics is definitely NOT hygge.

For me, hygge is sitting out on the back deck on a summer morning with my thermos of coffee and my cat on my lap. I have been known to stay there until noon. As long as my husband doesn’t turn on the radio to blast the news, that is. The news these days can ruin everything, can’t it? All I want to hear is the birds.

Many times over the years I’ve had my friends over for smørrebrød, which is a Danish meal that literally translates as “butter bread”. These are open-faced sandwiches made with dark rye bread topped with all kinds of delicious treats. You might use different cold cuts, shrimp or other fish with fancy garnishes. And lots of butter. I usually make Danish red cabbage along with the sandwiches, and serve up some pickled herring too. We drink Aquavit and Danish beer or “øl” and feel the hygge. (You probably noticed that letter ø. That’s an extra letter in the Danish alphabet, which also sounds somewhat like you’re gagging.)

These days, of course, having friends over is not possible in the same way. So instead, we spend time every week on a Zoom chat with a glass of wine.

Your idea of hygge might be different from mine, and that’s okay. The point is that however you do it, it has to be something that makes you cozy and content. Happy, even. And with fall and winter looming, we’re going to need lots of hygge to get us through.

And we’ll hope for a better 2021. Because, you know, PYT to 2020!

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Goat Fund Them

Moe the cat.

In this picture you’ll see where my cat Moe sometimes waits for me. I work in the basement of my home, so she often lies on the steps leading upstairs, staying there until I am done for the day.

The reason she is wearing a towel is because my daughter put it over her when they were upstairs, and Moe forgot to take it off. Well, I’m making excuses for her. She literally dragged that towel with her to the steps because she didn’t know how to get it off herself.

Cats are weird, aren’t they? Sometimes hilarious. As are dogs and parrots and pot bellied pigs, and, well, pretty much any animal. That’s why we can’t get enough of the YouTube videos chronicling their antics. They are delightfully entertaining, especially lately. For those of us who have pets, thank goodness they’ve been around to help us through. Dogs have been equally as happy to have us home, though I’m not so sure about all cats.

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At different times in my life, I’ve had a dog, three budgies and four cats. I’ve laughed at their antics, and scolded their bad behaviour, and I’ve cried like a baby when they’ve died. I can’t imagine having lived without them all.

There has been a greater demand for pet adoptions in the last couple of months on the island, for obvious reasons. Animals make us happy and we need that right about now. Every time I watch Pet CHEK on CHEK News on Sunday evenings, where they feature different pets every week up for adoption from the Victoria Humane Society, I want all of them. Every one.

A couple of days ago, I got an email update from another animal organization through their Goat Fund Me (not a typo) campaign. The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm has been in existence for 35 years. They opened their barn doors just a couple of years before my children were born, and we visited them often, especially in the spring. My girls even volunteered there when they were in their teens.

It wasn’t until someone posted something in my Facebook news feed recently that it occurred to me that the kids might be suffering too. Goats, I mean.

This year, the farm had only been open less than a week when it was decided that it should close its doors because of the virus. When the story first came to light a couple of months ago, the hope was that sometime soon it would be able to open again. But now they have made the difficult decision to stay closed for the foreseeable future.

The only problem is that they still have a lot of costs: feed for over 100 animals, veterinarian bills, hay and sawdust, even insurance and phone bills (the roosters’ early morning long distance calls really add up).

Peanut Butter, the miniature horse, turns 29 this month. She needs some dental work done and has some health issues, but she’s looking forward to her cake. There are pigs, rabbits, ducks, geese, and alpacas too, all needing food, bedding and attention.

You pay by donation to visit, but that won’t be happening for some time yet. So that’s where we can jump in and goat fund them to help them get through the next few months.

Some day we’ll all be able to hang out at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm again, and watch the kids in boundless joy jumping up and down on the rocks with reckless abandon.

Goats, I mean.