Canaries in a coal mine…

canaries

Picture from PNG EGG

All she wanted was a home. One that was safe. One that wouldn’t make her sick. She got death instead. Sophia* was my age, 51 years old, when she died from assisted suicide done through MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying). She was what they refer to as a “track two” case, meaning there was no foreseeable reason for her to die in the near future. All she had was Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and poverty. Like me, Sophia lived off the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which allows a single person $1,169/m plus an addition $50/m if they require a special diet. Sophia lived in Scarborough. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment there is $2,100/m. The link didn’t say if that included utilities but I know utilities are not usually included here.

Sophia was “lucky” as she got housing through the Salvation Army but, when covid-19 hit things got worse for her. Her neighbours were home more and smoking more, be it cigarettes or pot. The super was cleaning the hallway more. All this led to more odours in her apartment. She retreated to her bedroom, a place she called the dungeon, but there were vents. The room was renovated to block those vents, which helped to a point but the vents had been there for a reason and now Sally Ann refused to do anything to help provide her with heat or air conditioning. They didn’t feel her condition was real. Apparently their medical degrees trumped her doctor’s. I wonder what universities they went to.

Sophia advocated for herself for two years, networking and searching for affordable housing, anything suitable where she could live. Even her doctors pitched in, writing letters in support saying all she needed was housing. It was all in vain.

Track two has a 90 day period where they’re supposed to look and see what other things can be done to make life easier for the person. I don’t know what the people overseeing her case did. Listen to Yanni and learn how to do macramé via You Tube? It doesn’t seem like they did much searching to find her a safe place to live.

In the end she made a video shortly before her death, where she said, “The government sees me as expendable trash, a complainer, useless and a pain in the ass.”

And she’s not a one-off. Thirty-one year old Denise* also lives in Toronto (Scarborough is part of Toronto) and also has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The only differences are Denise’s illness is so severe she needs an EpiPen because she can go into anaphylactic shock around strong odours. And she has a spinal cord injury which has left her using a wheelchair.

Her friends have been paying for her to stay in a hotel on a ravine but that’s a short term solution. Most people can’t afford to pay for someone to live in a hotel. And now around a thousand people have donated tens of thousands of dollars for her so she’s stayed at the hotel even more and is feeling a lot better. But even that’s not a long term solution. She’s keeping her MAiD request in place, just in case.

I think these two women are the canaries in the coal mine. They were the first but more are coming. I think it first started, in Ontario at least, back in 1995 with our then premier Mike Harris. We used to have rent caps that limited the amount the rent could be raised between tenants. Like if the rent was $650/m you could only raise it to $675/m (I have no idea the exact amount). But without the rent cap the rent could be raised to $800. Plus almost every single new apartment building is a luxury building. One person in a group I belong to recently enquired about the units in the building across the street and was informed a one bedroom was $3000/m plus utilities. This is with no amenities in the building.

this was cheap housingAnd then comes the most frustrating of all. I’ve noticed that there are always certain areas and certain buildings that are cheaper. I’m not talking about violent areas, just rough around the edges. I mean I’m asleep at 2am. If you want to pick up tricks in front of my place, be my guest. But, in the past few years, developers have gone from seeing them as eyesores to seeing them as potential money makers. A friend of mine, the daughter of a childhood friend, lived in one of them before moving to a gorgeous house in a small town. Colin bought a computer part (or two or a computer) from someone in that building a short while later. I was floored. The building looked completely different. The guy laughed cynically when I mentioned this to him.

“Yeah, they’re raising all the new rents,” he told me, “and I know they want me to move too so they can raise my rent but I’m not budging. I like it here.” I wish him all the best.

Colin wants to move back to this area but searching is an exercise in disappointment. The picture above is in a crappy part of Oshawa, just south of downtown. It, and several similar buildings, have been known for decades for their cheap rent. It would be even cheaper if you could get the cockroaches to pay their fair share. But it got flipped. To be fair the units are gorgeous in an ultra modern way, all grey paint, reddish wood, long and narrow tiles, and wide greyish laminate but a bachelor is $1750/m (probably before utilities but I’ll leave those out of the equation). As I said above, someone on disability gets $1169/m. That leaves the person short $581 and that’s not even including groceries, phone, internet (Rogers has a $12/m plan for people on disability), hair cut, clothes (as needed), and everyone needs a treat or two in their lives.

On top of that, people on social assistance (aka welfare) only get $733/m. That leaves them short $1017/m for the above apartment. That amount of assistance lets them live where? The average cost for a room for rent in Toronto, according to Zumper, is $738/m. Are they supposed to share a room? People denigrate those on welfare as lazy and “bums”. What they forget is the majority of those people are on assistance for less than a year and the majority of the remainder are single mothers with young/disabled children at home or actual disabled people. I can’t speak for other provinces (or countries) but Ontario has you apply for social assistance before going onto disability. And if you (or your doctor) can’t find a way to explain your disability, you stay on assistance. It often takes people two or three tries before being approved and longer for some. Someone with memory issues, brain fog, and exhaustion could very well give up before then. What they also forget is you can’t find a job if you can’t afford toiletries, fitting clothes, a hair cut, and bus money. If you punish the poor for being poor to the point of being unable to afford to live that gives them no options at all.

Which brings us back to our canaries, Sofia and Denise. They had no money to rent a suitable place to live and no access to an affordable one. For them, all they could see was the one way out that the government offered. And there’s going to be more coming behind them since affordable housing waiting lists are over twenty years long in some areas. If you put your name down for a two bedroom apartment so your newborn will have a clean, safe home to grow up in, chances are they’ll be graduating from college by the time you get that magic call.

Killing off the poor is not the way to reduce the wait list.

Sophia told her friends that her death was a kind of protest against the lack of response received by both she and her doctors from, well, pretty much everyone who could have helped. She hoped that her death would mean something, that it could stop someone (particularly someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) from dying. Please let us not let her, and potentially Denise, die in vain.

*names have been changed

Requiem for the dead

memorial pictureWhat do you do with your Facebook dead? Do you make them their own list? A gruesome one almost nobody wants to join. Do you yeet them off your page entirely? Out of sight, out of mind. Or do they stay there in your list of dozens… hundreds… thousands… casually ignored unless they pop up in an autosuggest box? I’ve been doing the latter but I’m up to five lost friends now. They’re weighing heavy on my heart and I don’t know where to put them.

I joined Facebook back in 2007 (along with about 60% of North America). That was 15 years ago and the year I turned 37 years old. I got busy connecting with my friends and reconnecting with people I’d lost contact with. And some of those people I ended up disconnecting with, finding out we had less in contact than I’d thought. And some of those people really hurt. People I’d talked to for hours on messenger. People I truly thought were friends. And yet…

Lisa Staley was sarcastic enough for four but would do anything for her friends. If she saw that a friend was being treated badly she was right there, keyboard aflame. She stood up for me several times. She’d be right there in person too except she was sick and mostly at home. She told her doctor that something was wrong, but he’d tell her she just needed to lose some weight. Then she suddenly died, in her 30’s. I’m sure she would have felt vindicated. I’m also sure she’d have much rather been alive.

I first met Shelley McPherson through my ex-husband. She was outgoing, funny, and always wearing a thick coat of pancake foundation. She had psoriasis, my ex informed me. Psoriatic arthritis, she informed me, the worst kind you could get. On top of that her psoriasis was forming on her internal organs as well. But she still loved going to the doughnut store then sitting in the parking lot listening to her CB radio with friends. I reconnected with her years later and, well, we meant to get together but she didn’t like to go out anymore now that her face was disfigured from psoriasis. I offered to pick up food and take it to her place, which we’d do once her foot healed. Then a temporary PSW put the wrong bandage on her foot and it burned away her skin right down to the bone. Meanwhile, as it healed, she posted pictures of the sunset (which she took from her bedroom window) and of her cat, who she adored. Then she was at her parents’ house and then she was gone, far too soon. Like still in her 30’s too soon. I wish she had the chance to actually go on vacation and watch the sunset over the ocean. To go hand gliding. My god she would have loved hand gliding. She deserved so much more.

And Mark. Mark Stacy was a retired nurse who loved dachshunds and puttering around. He was who’s referred to as a “people person” and was generally wise. If you had a question to ask, especially about people, Mark was the one to ask. Of course he also had an offbeat sense of humour, anyone I met off the Regretsy* site did. He kept quiet about being sick, with only a few brief mentions of “treatments”, and he was dead shortly afterward. His calm, caring, and compassionate nature led him to have quite a few people who looked up to him and counted on him for support. His loss was deeply felt.

The past 3/4’s of a year has been a double blow to me. First came Topher. He too was in the medical field, but as a psw. He deeply loved helping people, physically or online. He’d had a rough life in many ways. He contracted both HIV and hepatitis as a young adult. Then he managed to track down his father, who was extremely wealthy. Then when his father discovered his son was not only gay but had HIV it went along the lines of “could you please take the servant’s exit so no one sees you”. And he met his boyfriend K and they moved in together and were together for years until Topher escaped and admitted he was being abused. But he had travelled when he was younger (he loved to travel) and he was in the process of converting to Judaism. He loved his new faith and it brought him great comfort. He was in a lot of pain and went in and out of the hospital (and back in again). A hip replacement was scheduled, which would relieve much of his pain and it was a success, at least until the infection set in. Topher always posted before sunset on Friday to say goodnight to his friends then again when he returned. Except this time there was no return message. Then I saw a message in a group he’d set up that started with “Topher” and my first thought was, “No, no… not him! There was so much more living he wanted to do.” One of his very last posts was asking what Oregon was like because he was thinking of living there and thought moving might be like travelling. I don’t believe in heaven but if it exists I hope Topher’s searching rock pools, watching the night sky for shooting stars, and exploring abandoned castles, all with an old fashioned pub nearby for friendly conversation and live music.

I just found out about the last one yesterday. Like Topher, Mark, and Lisa, Robert was from Regretsy. He was sarcastic as hell, cynical, and a total freaking marshmallow. He opened his home to his sister and niece and they’d lived there for pretty much the niece’s whole life. She had him wrapped around her little finger and he loved it. As a gay man**, I don’t think he figured he’d have children of his own and realized helping to raise his niece was the next best option. Whatever the case may be, it worked well for them and his little niece loved him as much as he loved her. He helped me too. Years ago my daughter had an online boyfriend then got concerned that he might not be who he was. I looked at the tiny amount of information she had and knew I was over my head, so I messaged Robert, who dealt with all things computer at his work. He told me he’d love to help and, within an hour, had tracked the man down to a specific address and knew he was 35 years old, married, and had a toddler. Kait was heartbroken that she’d put time into that relationship, furious that she’d been duped, and relieved that she finally had proof and could move on. I was simply grateful to Robert for finding information I had no idea how to search for. His help made a huge difference. Last night I realized I hadn’t seen one of his posts in a while and I missed him. I grumbled to myself about Facebook hiding over half my newsfeed from me then clicked on his page and a drunk driver had got him. There’s a little girl out there who must be devastated.

You know, after looking at all the options, I think I’ll leave things as they are. My friends can continue to rest in my heart. I don’t think I’m ready to let go.

* Regretsy started out as a site to make fun of and/or showcase some of the weirder things on Etsy. So many people were chatting in the comments, April started up forums which were also called Regretsy (I’m referring to these). The “making fun” was mild enough that quite a few of the recipients actually joined the site.

** I just want to reassure people that I’m not outing anyone, even if it’s from beyond the grave. Both Topher and Robert were openly and proudly gay and neither would give a rat’s arse about being referred to as such.

You ought to be grateful…

I was on Facebook recently, just browsing and relaxing after dinner. One woman in my local community group posted that she was fed up with “such and such” location of major fast food chain. The lines are always overly long and her food is usually completely cold. Several people agreed and even more recommended different fast food locations with better service. And then a poster arrived with all her righteous judgement and proclaimed, “You should be grateful that your biggest complaint is cold food. You could be in Ukraine right now, running for your life!”

Cue the screeching brakes. What? How do these two even connect? Did she order her burger in Kyiv? Are the Ukrainians stopping for bags of cold fast food on their way to Poland? How did this even become a comparison? Besides, gratitude doesn’t work like that.

We all know what gratitude means, right? Probably? Anytime I’m predominantly using a word in a post (or in general) I look it up because most of the time we’re just mostly right. The definition starts out with what we’d likely expect, “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful” but then comes a bit of surprise because it also means, “appreciative of benefits received affording pleasure or contentment and/or pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated”. So gratitude is a two way street. You feel thankful but the other person (or people) has to provide something for you to be thankful for that’s above what you already had.

The woman in question had no reason to be grateful no matter what’s happening in Europe. She bought and paid for a fast food meal and got food that was worth less than the value of what she paid. Less than is not gratitude. However, let’s take an identical meal at an identical store and have it sitting to the side because the customer drove off. It’s been a while, they’re not coming back. But there’s someone digging through the trash outside, looking for food. You bring that bag of clean, nicely wrapped, untouched food to the person and ask if they want it. Maybe you even include a cup of water. Are they going to feel gratitude? Most definitely! Cold and clean is a huge step up from cold, half eaten, and dirty. It’s the same product but they’re in completely different situations.

Or another scenario. I live in a small subsidized apartment in a fairly small town. There’s pretty much no storage space and it’s been described, more than once, as a bachelor apartment with a bedroom. Flip side is I’ve got large windows, 10ft high ceilings, white walls, and blonde laminate floors so it looks a bit more spacious. Rent prices are horrific around here to the point where most rooms are priced too high for someone on disability and I’m on disability. The best Colin and I could find was a one bedroom for $999/m in a crappy section of town and the reviews are so bad they’d be in the negatives if that were an option. As far as I can tell the bedbugs and the cockroaches are having a turf war. But finding a hazmat suit wasn’t necessary since paying bills and rent left no food money and eating’s a bit important. So you can imagine how grateful I was to get a clean, safe apartment in a clean, safe neighbourhood that still allowed me money for groceries and bills plus some treats and a few trips to Dollarama.

However, picture someone who was doing well but their circumstances changed, be it job loss, health, divorce, addiction, or a combination of the above. They’re used to a house or a big condo. What do you mean there’s no bathtub? Where’s the heated floor? Why don’t I have a balcony? How come there’s no pool or gym or rooftop patio with barbecues? Where’s the night life? Wait… there is no night life? The apartment I’m grateful for could very well be their white cell, complete with bars on the window.

gratitude page

One of my gratitude journal pages

Our society is very big on gratitude journals these days. I get told in various groups that we should be writing down one… or two… or five things we should be grateful for every single day. And I tried, I really did. I managed to write 65 consecutive entries, each one with a different reason to be grateful but then I stalled. Do I start repeating my gratitudes? How many times can I say I’m grateful for my family? For my cats? For my friends? And some days I honestly don’t feel grateful at all. I just feel tired. I couldn’t imagine coming up with five things to be grateful for every day. That might sound ungrateful but, honestly, after the first week’s done and you’ve been grateful for your partner, your children and/or fur babies, your family members (the decent ones, you don’t have to be grateful for Aunt Gertrude who stole your candy and said you’d always be the ugly one of the family), whatever stability you have in your life, that beautiful sunrise/sunset, how lucky you are to have this food and/or water, and you can insert a few more here… then what? Five gratitude entries a day are going to have you sitting in bed at 9:45pm saying, “Crap, can I be grateful I don’t have hairy toes?” I mean there’s only so much stuff in our lives.

Do we have to be grateful all the time? Can we not save grateful for those times when our life actually has been improved and we’ve received pleasure in some way? We have so many other positive emotions to share and embrace, like happiness, joy, kindness, love, and friendship, we need to think about those too. Just not every single day, five times a day. They say everything in moderation for a reason and that I can be grateful for.

Sixteen more days…

insert me here

Photo by Kate O’Rourke

It was the end of November when my Mom casually said, during an evening call, “We’re all going to Cuba. Would you like to come too?” Of course I said yes. Who turns down a week long tropical vacation with family? That being said, it didn’t feel very real. My parents were halfway across the country, we were facing who knew what restrictions with covid, and it was freaking cold and dark. It’s hard to picture warm, sandy beaches and feeling comfortable in shorts while picking out what gloves and toque to wear.

And the snow came. And the temperature plummeted. And the sun hid herself away. And reality started to jar with my feelings. Sure, it felt like nothing could ever be warm again but the plane tickets and resort accommodations had been booked and paid for. I was visiting my parents and sister a couple of weeks ago and my Mom mentioned my sister had bought her health insurance the day before. I sat on the couch, while my Mom sat beside the fire chatting about insurance and, with a few questions, I bought mine. Mom was more than a bit surprised that I’d purchased it right there, on the phone. But the days have gone since we took everything to a travel agent.

Years ago I read a biography by a woman who wrote about her childhood in Toronto during the depression. It was a memorable book and I read it a few times (although I apparently forgot to read the title). At one point she went to a pool near the beach because, when it came time to drain the pool to clean it, they let the children swim for free until the water was gone. What she remembered was all these children flailing about in a desperate search of water until they all lay tangled on the bottom of the pool. That’s how I feel, flailing about trying to figure out what to do and when. I need my passport but what if I put it into my purse now and get my purse stolen? I’m 51 years old and have never had my purse stolen but that doesn’t stop me worrying. Flip side is what if I forget it? My passport is right. in. front. of. me. What if I don’t have enough clothes? Unless they have speed eating moths in Cuba I think I’m fine. Forget the moths, will there be something for me to eat as a vegan? According to everything I’ve read there’s a bunch of restaurants, snack bars, and a buffet, I’m sure I’ll manage. What if I get my period? Okay, this one’s valid. I’m in perimenopause and my body’s currently using a roulette wheel to decide when to get things started. So I might not get it for another half year (if at all) or I might get it tomorrow. Only fate and my endometrium can say. The rest is up to planning.

I’ve got three friends coming to take care of the cats (not all at the same time). I’ve got my medications planned because they’re really freaking important. I have quiet music bought and downloaded for the plane and for stressful times. I’ve got several books bought and downloaded onto my phone. I’ve got a battery bank bought for my phone. I mean how else am I going to take 368 photos? I need the power! I’ve even got a neck pillow for the plane, which is really important because we’re getting up at 2am to leave for the airport. I don’t do 2am, exhaustion is the major trigger for my migraines, and the only pain medication I can take with my medicine is regular strength acetaminophen. I’m sure you can all see the problem here.

Cuba tipsThe last thing I’ve been planning is tips. I’ve been told by a few people that Cuba is really struggling between the 50 year old embargo and covid-19. It’s hard for them to get most products. So I’ve been picking up items for tips. This is what I’ve got. Hopefully this is enough. The Canadian bracelets in the corner are for children and the lettering book could be for a child or an adult. I was also told that many Cubans love the Toronto Blue Jays. I couldn’t find much but I did find these bumper stickers which, presumably, will stick to any hard surface.

I’ve got my countdown list to keep me occupied and the above picture to keep me calm. No wonder so many therapists and counsellors recommend visualizing a beach while relaxing. My brain will be like, “The cats are all going to die while you’re gone and you’re going to end up with permanent liver damage from eating pineapple off the buffet” then I look at that beach photo and all it can manage is, “Aww… so pretty…” Which is amazing because I really do need a shut up button for my brain sometimes. But I digress.

I think the best reminder this trip will bring is that winter is not forever. There is green grass coiled in the roots under the snow and mud. Those trees might look barren but, hidden under every branch are tiny leaves and buds simply waiting for the warmth. The vernal equinox is five days after we get back and the cats, my healthy liver, and I will all be there to enjoy it! The inevitable snowstorm we’ll get afterwards is merely a bump in the road.

Uniting Canada…

It was an event that united the country. Thousands of families thronged highway overpasses, cheering and waving signs of support. The media coverage was intense. The year was 1980 and Terry Fox was half jogging/half hopping through Ontario in an attempt to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. He didn’t make it out of Ontario. The bone cancer (osteosarcoma) that took his leg in 1977, spread to his lungs by the time he reached Thunder Bay. But he still unites. There are statues of him all over the country and umpteen thousand Terry Fox Runs held each fall in his honour.

Forty-two years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought into law a rule that states truck drivers must be triple vaccinated for covid-19 before they can cross the border. It should have been a non-issue considering that US President Joe Biden is making the exact same mandate. It wasn’t. A small minority of truck drivers, and supporters in their cars, took to the road in protest. The truck rally (aka the Freedom Convoy 2022) was organized, in part, by Patrick King who’s known for his ties to a racist Alberta party, now renamed. He also protests at anti-racism rallies and spreads blatant misinformation about covid-19 (like we don’t already have enough of that flying around). I’m going to share the link to Wikipedia just because there’s more information and there’s no point in me rephrasing it all when they did the research and deserve the credit.

So we’ve got the truckers, plus their friends in cars, all steadily driving toward Ottawa. We’ve got families thronging the overpasses, cheering them on and waving signs of support. We’ve got media coverage. The Toronto Sun was all, “They’ve got 50 thousand trucks and are going to win a world’s record”. The actual trucking organizations were all, “We don’t know these people. Please make this go away.” A group of people were cheering and saying, “This is going to unite our country” while wearing “f*ck Trudeau” hats. Because nothing unites the country more than wearing an accessory that is that blatantly FU to the country’s leader.

Dear TruckersAnd then they arrived in Ottawa. Anyone could have told them that was a mistake. I mean I love the city but it rolls up and goes to sleep at 5pm. Who are they going to protest to? The pigeons?

Several of my friends posted posted this widely shared post to much amusement but the reality was a lot less humorous. They couldn’t find a place to eat, not sure if they were unmasked or if the shops were closed. Either way they descended on a small soup kitchen called The Good Shepherd and demanded they get fed, and before their patrons too. For free. Because we all know soup kitchens have a large budget and a huge stock of available food. And they found a place to poop. That would be the snowbanks, in front of everyone.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was turned into a party place by these so-called Patriots. They drank and danced on top of it and several pissed on it too (I’ve seen the picture). They drew swastikas on the Canadian flag and someone with the IQ of a grilled cheese sandwich flew a Confederate flag. Buddy, not only did your side lose but you’re way off in the wrong country! And of course they had to let that racist side show up by appropriating First Nations drumming while drinking beer and chanting “yabadabadoo” and “f*ck Trudeau”. There were even some throwing rocks at an ambulance while yelling racist slurs at the paramedics. I wonder if this was while the paramedics were attending to their drunk buddies, of which there were quite a few.

And it’s still going on. These truckers claimed they were indispensable and that they grocery store shelves were going to be bare without them. Nada. The only thing I couldn’t buy was my favourite garlic infused olive oil and that routinely sells out. In fact, when I picked up my Silk creamy maple almond creamer (buy it, it’s so good) they were so stocked up the cartons were stacked on top of each other. I think the truckers forget that their rally isn’t very big. Big enough to be a pain in the arse but not big enough to kneecap the country. There are plenty of fully vaccinated truck drivers still working hard and doing the job. Speaking of which, how are these people managing? They must have homes and bills at home to pay for plus accommodations and food here, and I doubt anyone’s paying them to piss on the Statue of the Unknown Soldier and leave an upside down Canadian Flag in the arms of the Terry Fox statue. And there’s over 200 of them still hanging on.

The residents of Ottawa are fed up with the rabble and the mess and wish they’d all just leave. They insist they’re staying until they see Justin Trudeau (who’s wisely steering clear of them) or their demands are met. The Mayor of Ottawa is talking about suing. I think for the Go Fund Me funds. It couldn’t be the truckers because I doubt they have any money left and, if they do it’s more, “I have $20 left on my Visa” and not, “I’ve still got $150 in savings”. Hopefully they’ll have enough gas money to get home because I doubt a single person in Ottawa wants them to stay.

I am sure that someday, hopefully soon, there will be something else… someone else, beyond Terry Fox or Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity on the ISS, who unites this country. But this wasn’t it. You can’t try to unite while dividing the country by racism or by desecrating monuments. You can’t try to unite when your whole stance is “I don’t want to do something and I don’t care if it will help others – it’s me first!” We need to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable. Terry Fox ran so that the people who came after him would have a better chance of survival even if the treatment wasn’t in time to help him. The truckers are protesting because they don’t want to have a vaccine or wear a mask, so what if it might help protect cancer patients and the elderly. And that makes all the difference.

A solitary Christmas…

me at Christmas 1971I was a tiny toddler, which makes sense considering I weighed less than 5lbs at birth. My second Christmas, while the adults all chattered, I would perch on a present and stare in awe at the tree.

“Mustn’t touch,” I’d murmur to myself, one finger mere millimetres away from an ornament. “Mustn’t touch.” And there I’d sit, awed by the shining lights and shimmering decorations.

Not much later my Mom would ask me what I wanted for Christmas and my answer was always the same; a tree with lots of sparkling lights and decorations. My Mom would assure me we would get that, it came with the whole Christmas package, but I was insistent it was all I wanted. So she’d guess and I was happy. The tree was still my first Christmas love though.

The years went on. My sisters and I discovered the Sears Wishbook and spent hours pouring through it, circling items we (along with the rest of North America) never got. I started paying attention to ads and things in stores as we were passing through. Plus I had genuine needs. But I still spent a good chunk of time just sitting beside the tree and admiring it. There was still that tree shaped space in my heart.

Finally I became an adult and then a mother. My tree wasn’t just for myself but for a couple of little ones. I began buying ornaments and decorations every year to remind me of the time we spent together. And the years went from the ornaments being placed.all.together.on.a.single.branch to “I’ve brought all the totes up from storage Mom. I’m going to play Fallout 3 now.”

And February 2020 I moved into an apartment on my own.

I’ve downsized a bit. I no longer have my grouping of three small trees (with real bark trunks) and my tree has shrunk from 5.5ft to 4.5ft. But I still have four Rubbermaid totes and several bags down in storage. I need two trips, and that’s with my big canvas wagon. It’s definitely pretty when everything’s up though.

I was out with two of my friends one evening and we were under my living room window.

“You can see my wreath,” I said excitedly. “And my tree!”

Both friends admitted they didn’t put up any decorations because, “It’s too much work just for me”.

STOP right there! It is not too much work. If you want the decorations and the glitz then you deserve them. Society acts like being single is some sort of holding pattern that you wait in until you’re back into a relationship. It’s not. You are equally valid no matter how many or few partners you have or how many people you expect to stop by over the holidays. You matter. Just that. You!

Also, make it your holiday. After all it’s your place. Got a thing for pink? Get a pink tree! Don’t want the hassle of putting up and decorating a 6ft giant? Buy a three footer and stick it on the side table. Want everything Doctor Who? Great! Just, umm, face the weeping angel topper toward a mirror. You can never be too safe, right?

But please don’t think you’re not worth it. Christmas is for anyone who wants to celebrate and that includes you. You know you’ve got some inner tinsel in you (just keep it away from the kitties). Now, here’s some vegan chocolate chip cookies and a Christmas music playlist on YouTube. If you’ve got decorations you’ve still got time left. If you don’t then you can browse for next year’s decorations to your heart’s content.

overview of apartment

The Potato Bucket…

potato bucketI bought myself a potato bucket. This is not something I thought I’d ever do except I seem to have acquired quite a few potatoes and it’s all because of the vegetable ring I’ve found myself in. And, to be honest, I never thought I’d be in one of those either. Do other people even have vegetable rings? Can I call it nefarious? Is this a normal part of adult life I’ve somehow missed? Either way I’m smack in the middle of one, zucchini in hand.

Now I like veggies, most of them at least. Carrots and potatoes… onions and celery… I even like zucchini and broccoli. But there’s a few I don’t like. Eggplant for example. I know vegans are supposed to love it and it gets stuck on vegan menus quite a bit (when the menu’s being prepared by a non-vegan) but I find it bitter. I don’t like chewy water cucumber either. Enter my friend S. She likes both of those things. So when I get gifted them (which happens surprisingly regularly in the summer), I give them to her. Meanwhile she goes to a food bank about a half hour from here and they don’t let you choose what you’re receiving, they have a bag ready and waiting for you. And she has a lot of foods she won’t eat. One of them happens to be potatoes. So I’ll be given potatoes elsewhere, she’ll have been with me and received potatoes as well then given me hers, and she’s gone a half hour away and got still more potatoes. And they’ve all been shoehorned into the bottom of my fridge.

On top of that my neighbour Cat Dad has a worker who gives him food every other Thursday. Meanwhile he’s a pickier eater than even Colin (that would be really picky). So every other week he comes next door, fusses with my cats, tries to get his cats to come over for a play date (so far they’ve ignored him on that one), and hands me a bag of food. Some goes to S, a bit goes to Colin, and most goes to me. And there are always potatoes. I swear I could serve myself potatoes every day this week and I’d still have some left over and yet I still take more then say to myself, “Well I’ll just make a few more batches of fries”. For who? Half the building?

Now Colin’s thrown himself into the mix. He’s heard me talk about veggie swapping so brought several over for me. His workers bought them for him so he’d eat healthier. Colin has food aversions. The equator will hit absolute zero before he eats a bag of baby carrots and I’m pretty sure earth will be incinerated before then. To celebrate welcoming him into this group of veggie swappers I gave him an entire bag of potatoes. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

What really matters…

It was an older apartment, old enough that the kitchen sink was shallow and rectangular with separate hot and cold taps. Old enough to have a clawfoot bathtub. For some unknown reason the landlord had built a wooden box around the tub, so the beautiful sides and legs were hidden. There was a little door near the end so he could reach the shut off valve and a good sized gap near the top.

The previous tenants were disgusting. The landlord was just finishing cleaning up the last of the mess when my ex and I viewed the unit. I was shocked. The garbage was expected considering his warning of messiness, the spray paint all over the spare bedroom’s walls a little less so, that someone had slept in that narrow, windowless, lightless crawlspace was a wow moment. But we moved in and I enjoyed the huge dark wooden baseboards and trim and all the windows (just not, you know, in the crawlspace). There was one fly in the ointment, that previously mentioned gap behind the tub.

Every time I sat on the toilet, I looked directly into that gap and it was gross. The previous tenants must have used that gap as target practice with their garbage, it was full of a variety of crap, and my skin crawled just thinking of it in my apartment. And I continued to think, “those previous tenants were disgusting!” Every single time.

Then one day I’d finished scrubbing the whole bathroom, except for that disgusting cesspool in the gap above the tub. I muttered my usual, “those previous tenants were disgusting!” then the thought struck me. Those tenants were gone. Completely gone. They no longer cared about the apartment (if they ever did) and they certainly weren’t coming back to pick up after themselves. They. Were. Gone. It was now my place and my mess. It didn’t matter who made the mess, all that mattered was who would clean it up. It was time for me to take a deep breath, put on some rubber gloves, and make myself a pretty view. It was awful, I hated it, but then it was done and I had an empty and basically clean area to look at.

I think that’s something we all forget on a personal, regional, and global scale. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who made the mess, we have to roll up our sleeves and get busy with the solution. It doesn’t matter if you were involved originally. It doesn’t matter if you’re completely blameless. Just try to make things better. You can’t go wrong with making things right.

So many times I’ve heard the phrases “It’s not my mess”, “It’s not my problem”, or “Why should I clean up after them?” and I’m going to lay it out to you. Life is not your Mom doling out candies, making sure everyone gets the same amount. It is not fair. That’s why there’s people like Jeff Bezos building himself a rocket just so he could enter space for a minute and say he did so. And why there’s babies in such poor households they are skin and bones, literally starving to death. Fair would be a hell of a lot more equal.

I’m not saying to do all your coworker’s duties or 100% of the housework (I mean unless you’re single, cat’s really suck at washing the dishes). You have to be fair to you too. But picking up garbage on a nature hike? Yes. Putting that shopping cart into the corral on the way into the store? Go for it. Not your job but who else is going to do it.

be the changeYou can even step it up a bit. I was in line at the grocery store with an elderly woman ahead of me. Her face fell when she saw the price and she slowly began handing items over to the cashier. A bag of cookies, a tin of tea, a packet of soft jelly candies… they were all nice, little treats for the evening or for if a grandchild arrived. When she was done she had nothing special left, she didn’t have enough gift cards to cover any of them. So I bought them and made sure she knew they were there and were hers (in case she tried to return them or walked away without them).

Volunteering is a wonderful option as well. My parents have been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for years and my Mom volunteers for the local senior centre when there isn’t a pandemic. I’m not currently volunteering but I do donate blood regularly, which is greatly needed. If you’re worried about medication just bring your list in. I’m on a fuckton of medication and they’re all approved. The worst thing that’ll happen is they’ll turn you down and they’re kind about that (I’ve been anaemic enough times to know that).

We’re all on this wild, spinning ride called the Earth together and if we keep working together we’ll make it through just fine (with time enough to throw our arms up in the air and shout woo-hoo). If we all keep saying “not my mess” then turning our backs on the problem(s), we’re going to end up chin deep in waste and sinking while still trying to point fingers. I’d prefer the less smelly one.

And onto a totally different subject, Lara and Smudge have their own Instagram account. If you search for lara_and_smudge you will find them!