Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Word of the day

Cerulean is a great word. I love the way it's spelled: Trying to pronounce it correctly, is a sort of puzzle, you see, and then there's the treat of the way it sounds rolling off your tongue once you do figure it out:


And finally, I love the images it conjures... his eyes were a clear cerulean blue; adrift on a calm cerulean sea. Ah.

What words are you currently in love with?


Friday, November 24, 2006

Return of the Native

So this post will not be half so tragic as Hardy's classic, but the title fit, ok? Sheesh.

Anyway, I'm back on the East Coast, where I have been for a few days now, but have been up to my eyeballs in bureacratic red tape and other such wonderful substances, and thus have been unable to communicate with y'all.

Thanks again to everyone that wished me a good journey, and sent their love to Grandma. It was greatly appreciated.

The trip to the Soo was good. In fact, my only regret is that it did not last longer. I feel like I should be there. I want to be there. But, alas, I've taken about as much time from work as I dare in this crazy season. All I can do is hope that I have the opportunity to go back sometime soon (*que pointed look towards the Air Canada offices (somewhere in the ether) and the sending of mental vibes along the line of "seeeeeeeaaaat saaaaale").

At this point, I feel I should note that there are a few bright points to Air Canada- to start, they managed to get my Mom and I on my sister's early flight. Yay! No Montreal for us! On the way there, at least. Oh, and they give you PeakFreans cookies on the plane. Yum!

Upon arrival in the Soo, I was struck (as I always am) by what a sad place it is. Once a booming steel town, it has dwindled over the past twenty years. All I can say to describe it is that it is a sparse place. We arrived at the Rehabilitation Hospital (once the secular hospital- the main hospital used to be run by the Catholic Church), which is located across from an old residential area near downtown. As we crossed the street, I noted the painful irony that there was no crosswalk to aid in the crossing of the four, fast-moving lanes of traffic, forcing visitors (and potential patients) to play a rather scary game of chicken with the on-coming traffic.

But we made it. In one piece. The up we went, dousing our hands in disinfectant and inhaling the astringent aroma of Hospital. Seeing my grandma for the first time since her stroke was both better and worse than I thought it would be. That's all I can think of to describe it. I was shocked by her altered appearance (I'm not sure what I was expecting), but her voice has returned to its normal range, and when we arrived, she was "holding court" (her words) in the hallway with my aunts and her best friend, and munching on a fresh piece of gingerbread. This was encouraging.

We spent the four days of our visit scheduling ourselves around the hospital visiting hours. In the 'tween hours, we'd all apply ourselves to some project or another- knitting, baking bread, reading, pre-cooking dinner for post-evening shift with Grandma, or reliving our family history by looking through Grandma's multitude of photo albums. We spent our time with Grandma taking her for spins around the ward in her fancy chair, giving her foot massages (she looooooooved those!), looking at and discussing with her the two HUGE bulletin boards by her bed that have been covered with pictures of her, her sisters, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and finally trying to convice her to eat the gray lump that was supposed to be chicken, or pork, or beef, and the green lump that was supposed to be beans, and the ever-present potatoes and gravy. I never thought I'd see the day when my grandmother refused potatoes, but that day has come, and I'm pretty sure Hell has frozen over.

During the first visit, I had been knitting away while my sister took a turn showing Grandma all the cards people had sent her. She saw the knitting needles, and seemed quite interested, so I offered the yarn to feel (nice, soft mohair-like stuff) and inspect my work. Now, my grandmother has been a knitter for well over seventy years, and before I knew it she had the needles from me. (I was only mildly shocked by the fact that I had just been outpowered by an octogenarian stroke patient.) All four of us present held our breath as we watched her attempt to knit with one hand. I swear, the shear power of our stares could have set the needles on fire as we attempted to will her success with our minds. I couldn't believe it: She nearly got it. But then, as I've mentioned before, Grandma is the most determined woman I've ever met.

So the next day, I spoke to Grandma's occupational therapist, and lo and behold, there is such a contraption as a one-handed knitter!!! It's a little wooden block that holds one needle while the knitter works the other one. Amazing. So now re-learning how to knit has become part of her daily therapy. I'm pretty sure she'll have the hang of it before long, and hopefully that will help with the boredom...

Well, I could sit here and write a narrative about the whole trip, but then you'd all likely be bored to tears. Suffice it to say that as a result of this trip I have come to value my family even more than I previously did (which is definitely saying something), and have learned a multitude about strokes. The most important things I have learned are the following:

1. Every stroke is different- the cause may be the same, but the effects vary so much with every patient that you should not allow yourself to by filled with hope or dread by other people's stories. Just take the situation as it comes, one day at a time.

2. Should your loved one survive the stroke itself and be given a chance to rehabilitate, remember that the road to recovery is a very very bumpy one, and is by no means assured. There will be bad and very bad days; days when you're sure that, even though your loved one has survived the stroke, he or she is still gone forever. But there will also be good days; when you almost forget that he or she is sick. These are the days to look for and to treasure; they'll keep you going through the bad ones. I promise.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Off to see the wizard...

Well, ok... you got me. I'm not technically going to see the wizard. But I am going to see my Grandma. See you all next week! Have a great weekend!



Friday, November 10, 2006

Just one of those weeks.

First, off I'd like to thank all of you for your good thoughts and wishes for my grandmother's recovery. I am told that she is making progress (slow, but steady), and her sense of humour remains in tact, lifting the spirits of the whole family. I'll finally be heading out there late next week to lend a hand and prove to Grandma that I really was paying attention during those knitting lessons.

Which brings me to a point. I have a bone to pick with Air Canada. First of all, the company no longer has family emergency rates if you're flying within North America. For this, they suck on immeasurable levels of suckiness: I can get a family emergency rate to Paris, or London, but not to Sault Ste. Marie. Here I would note that a return plane ticket to Paris or London at regular rates costs LESS than a return ticket to the Soo. Substantially less. Logic? I can only think that the almighty buck wins out again, even if it means gouging people who are on the brink of a break-down due to worry and fear for their loved ones. Classic.

Secondly, upon attempting to book the tickets, my Mother and I had the frickin' prices change on us approximately 4 times in the space of ten minutes. Now, I know and accept that the pricing of plane tickets is a volatile and ever-changing phenomenon, but this is insane. As a result of this diabolical pricing scheme, my mother and I are on one flight, and my sister is on another. And it will take us nine hours to get home (please note that actual flying time is 2 hours and 30 minutes- we will become very well acquainted with the wine bar at Trudeau Airport, I suspect).

Next in the comedy of errors that has been this week is the fiasco that has occurred with my new glasses. Finally, I have found a pair frames that I love, and have obtained a perscription through which I can actually see. Splendid, right? Except that I brought my beautiful, spotless, new glasses in to the shop from which I purchased them, to have them adjusted (they were killing my ears), and the guy who helped me ended up ruining my lenses. Ruining them. They look as if something has eaten into the coatings, so now it looks like one big smudge when I look through them. He has ordered new ones, of course, but now I am stuck wearing the old glasses- the ones with the chipped finish, scratched lenses, and the perscription that gives me headaches- for the next TWO WEEKS. I am so unimpressed. In fact, I'm pretty much spitting mad. And I've mellowed since last night.

But fear not. All will be well. My boss has been uncommonly good about helping me to arrange everything for my absence in this, the craziest time of my work year, so kudos to her- she's not wholly without consideration for her employess; I will be calling the manager of the eye-glass shop to see if we can't speed my lenses along a bit; I've managed to get three course modules done this week. Amazing progress for me; And finally, I am meeting a dear friend for beers, dinner, and movie tonight, with the object of both of us forgetting the ills of this past week. Joy! Is it 5 o'clock yet?


Saturday, November 04, 2006

For Grandma

My grandma is sick. Last Sunday morning, she had what the doctors have now confirmed to be a stroke, and has been in the hospital ever since. My family has not lived within easy driving distance of my grandmother's house for quite some time, and so my father has flown to the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for those of you who are uninitiated) to be at her side. His sisters and two of my grandmother's sisters are there as well. My uncle is anxiously awaiting his flight from the West Coast. At first, we thought that the damage from the stroke was relatively minimal, affecting her speech somewhat, and weakening one side of her body, but the doctors have informed the family that the stroke is 'evolving', that the damage is spreading. I didn't know that strokes could do that. This is a cruel way to find out.

As luck would have it, my father and his younger brother and sister had just returned from visiting the Soo. I thank God, Buddha, Allah, the sweet baby Jesus, and the time-space continuum that they all made that trip. For their sakes, as well as for Grandma's.

On Friday, the hospital set up a 'family conference'. This is a meeting in which the patient's condition is discussed with the family and the patient. Everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) who has had any involvement with my Grandma's care was present, along with all available family members and a social worker (who is there to make sure the family is doing ok). From what I can tell, the care has been excellent, and the doctors are great, but all anybody seems to be able to tell us can be summed up in three awful little words: wait and see.

So while my family is waiting and seeing what the fate of our beloved matriarch will be, I thought I'd take some time to tell you about the remarkable woman that is my grandma.

Born on December 28th, 1919 (for those of you that know me, that means that I was my Grandma's 60th Birthday present), Beulah Marguerite Carkner (nee Lawrence) is the oldest of thirteen kids, (8 of whom are still living). Beulah grew up on a farm near Hartland, New Brunswick, in the heart of the potato, and bible belt. She helped to raise her younger siblings through the Depression, babysat the future magnates of the potato world, Wallace and Harrison McCain, and as a young woman, moved to Saint John to work as a nurse. At one point, her youngest brother, then just a baby, was very sick. In a last ditch effort to save him, my great grandmother, Mildred Lawrence, brought him to Saint John, where my grandmother was able to save his life by giving him the simplest gift of all: a transfusion of her blood.

I should note that although it has been over sixty years since she left the Hartland area, my grandmother has the uncanny ability to recall near complete narratives of the area and its people. Once, on a drive through her old 'neighbourhood', she charmed us all with the family histories of each house that we passed (including one hilarious story about the McCain boys). Her stories have brought my distant family home to me, and to the rest of her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, helping us all to understand where we've come from. And when she gets together with her brothers and sisters, watch out! 'Cause the family narratives flow like a river. There's nothing that is more of a comfort to me than listening to the tales of my family. But I digress.

When World War II began, Grandma left New Brunswick to work as a nurse on the base at Summerside, Prince Edward Island. It was here that she met my grandfather, Wallace (Wally) Carkner. They were married on December 30th, 1943, shortly before he was shipped overseas. My Grandmother would go on to give birth to six babies in the next thirteen years, the third of whom would become my father.

Now, my grandmother is a strong-willed, intelligent woman, and always has been. She was hardly the ideal of the 'obedient' wife of the mid-20th century. In fact, I suspect that Grandma would give many of the young 'liberated' women of today a run for their money when it comes to independence of spirit and speaking her mind. These personality traits did not mesh well with my grandfather's ideal of a wife, and thus, despite their love for one another, the marriage would ultimately dissolve. The final strain was the tragic death of their eldest son, Terry, in a car accident in 1961. He was only 17 years old. I'm not sure that the family has ever fully recovered.

After my uncle's death, my grandparent's marriage quickly went from bad to worse. The separation was not a pleasant one, and when the dust settled, my grandmother was forced to leave Ottawa, to return only a handful of times- for the marriage of my parents in 1976, for the birth of my cousin in 1977, and for my Grandfather's funeral in 1992. She had gained custody of her two youngest children (the older three stayed with Grandpa), and settled in Toronto.

I cannot imagine how devastating it must have been for her
to lose her eldest child, and then effectively lose her family as
well as the life that she had known for over two decades, and then
be faced with literally starting all over again. But she did it, all the while raising two teenagers by herself. (By all accounts, this latter task was not exactly all sunshine and picnics, but all parties involved have survived the experience, and my grandmother continues to share an enviable bond with her younger son and daughter).

Here was a woman who had been married for 23 years, and consequently had not worked outside of the home during that time. She needed a career; one that would pay well enough to feed, clothe, and house three people. Her background was in Nursing, but her history of service was not enough to get her a job- she needed certification. So what did my grandmother do? She went back to high school. HIGH SCHOOL, at the age of 47. And obtained her GED. Next, she proceeded to put herself through the Quo Vadis School of Nursing in Toronto. All while working to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Upon receiving her certification, Beulah worked at Toronto General for a year or so, and was then offered a job in the Labour and Delivery Ward of the Sault Ste. Marie General Hospital, where she worked, helping to deliver and care for babies, until her retirement in 1984. I cannot think of a more rewarding way to spend your time. Most people have one or two kids; my grandmother has had hundreds, maybe even thousands. I have even met some of the people she helped bring into this world: I went to school with one in England, and I worked with another right here in Fredericton. They're not kidding when they say it's a small world.

But growing up, I did not know any of this. My grandmother's demeanor is fairly no-nonsense, and I remember that I used to be intimidated by her for that reason. It was not until my grandfather's funeral that I finally figured out that a no-nonsense demeanor does not mean that she loves her family any less. In fact, I think I would be hard pressed to find a woman who loves her family more than my grandma loves hers.

My father tells me that Grandma has asked for pictures of all of her grandkids (there are nine of us) and great grandkids (of which there are now eight) to be placed in her hospital room. I can just imagine a veritable gallery of memories surrounding her as she snoozes and her children look anxiously on. Upon hearing of her request, I realized that I may be out of time, and that I had wasted all those stupid years being intimidated by a woman who would have done just about anything for me. I'm just glad I came to my senses before it was too late, and got to visit her once or twice as an adult, to get to know her as she really is. Now I have my images of her through a child's eyes, as well as some memories from an adult's point
of view.

This is the woman who made me
my first blanket, an article that hardly left my side for the first
seven years of my life, and did not leave my bed until I was thirteen. I still have it. It is disintegrating, so I've preserved it, but it still exists. When the twelve-year-old me couldn't stop crying at my grandfather's funeral, she took me aside and calmed me. She was the only one who could. She is the woman who taught me how to knit, how to ice cookies, and to bake checkerboard cake. She inspired
my first foray into quilting (which is still in progress...), and taught me to love gardening and yard saleing. She attended my undergraduate convocation ceremony, and upon its conclusion presented me with a wall-hanging she had quilted for me. I was floored- it was so beautiful- and all I could do was nod when she said she hoped it was ok. Later that summer, when I traveled by bus for three days to visit her and my aunt, I arrived in the Soo wanting nothing more than a shower and a bed. What I got was a cup of coffee, a set of knitting needles, and some wonderful conversation. I am so glad she didn't let me have what I wanted that day: What I got was infinitely better than any nap ever could be. During that same visit, I remember her telling everyone and anyone that would listen about her granddaughter, the university graduate, potentially a future Prime Minister! I was embarrassed and incredibly pleased at the same time.

So here's to you, Grandma Beulah. I love you so much. Take your time, play some Skip-Bo, and give em' hell.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Oops! Did I horn you?!

So Halloween has come and gone once again.

I really quite like All Hallows Eve... especially when it comes to manning the door at my parents house and greeting all of the neighbourhood kids- one of my favourite things to do. It's sort of a family tradition, you see. When I was growing up (and even still most years) My Mom and Dad would always get all costumed up. One of them would take my sister and I trick-or-treating, and the other would remain on door duty. It was great to watch my Dad in action at the door. He's always got a fabulous costume (my personal favorite was the very convincing California Raisin of 1988... does anyone besides me remember the California Raisins??) and never fails to grill the trick-or-treaters about their costumes, their candy haul, or whatever else might present itself. Those kids earn their candy at my house.

Since bridging the gap into 'adulthood' (is anyone really an adult at Halloween?), I've divided my time between the 'grown-up' Halloween parties, and door duty (fortunately, Halloween has a 5 in 7 chance of falling on a week night, so the parties are usually scheduled on the closest available weekend, thus freeing me up for door duty). This year, the party was also my friend's birthday. A group of us decided to go as... wait for it... the Spice Girls!

Look at us! Aren't we simply devastating? You'll note that, in keeping with an authentic Spice Girls look, I tried in vain to turn my cork-screw curls to Posh-pin straight, but alas, the rainy atmosphere had different plans.

I've got to say, it wasn't until we popped some old Spice Girls tunes on (you know, to get us in the mood), that I realized just how raunchy their lyrics are. What were we thinking?? But I digress...

Watch those things, Scary! I don't want to lose an eye! (I'm told that Tiffany, aka Scary Spice, was nearly reduced to cutting those things- actually gold christmas trees- out. Almost.)

... and here's Ginger (aka-my sister) striking a pose...

Bust a move, Graham! Oh, I mean... wait... who are you again?

This is Thuy (pronounced Twee) and Colin,
aka- a butterfly nymph and the undead...

As you can see, a good time was had by all (despite the rain and the fact that come 1am there wasn't a single cab to be found in the whole of downtown) and the costumes were suprisingly entertaining.

Three nights later, I did door duty once again (as a slightly more wholesome gypsy this time), and was highly entertained by a variety of ghouls, goblins, a sleeping bunny, one very small giraffe, and a jack-o-lantern extinguishing turtle. Hee :D

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