Pioneers in the 20th Century

pioneers_in_the_20th_cover_for_kindle-1Pioneers in the 20th Century is the true story of how I raised six children without running water or electricity and very little money.  We lived in a one room house I built with my own hands while pregnant with my fourth child.  Learn how we survived and thrived far form neighbours and modern amenities.  With nothing more than a can-do attitude, our family met and overcame challenges unheard of in modern life.  It will inspire you to persevere against all odds and meet life’s obstacles with faith and good old fashioned hard work.

From the book:

“I didn’t intentionally start out to live the pioneer life.  My husband, Walter, who was from Barbados, was even less inclined.  He came to Canada in the late 60’s under the impression that Canadian streets were paved with gold and opportunities were limitless.  He found out the streets were as dusty and dirty as most city streets – only covered with snow in the winter.”

“One of my few requirements before agreeing to marriage was that we would raise our children in the country.  My prospective husband heartily agreed at the time, my wedded husband much less so.”

“Any mention of country living met with my husband’s outright refusal to consider our prenuptial verbal agreement as anything more than a silly whim not worthy his contemplation.  However, as fate would have it, my husband’s employment came to an end and he “reconsidered” a move.”

Thus began a series of events that led to our living in the wilderness with little more than a chainsaw and the need to survive winters that often had weeks of -40 degree weather.  Our one room home, housing eight of us in just over 300 square feet, had neither electricity or a well for drawing water.  With roving bears, moose, foxes, skunks and beavers as our neighbours, we were blessed with a life that built our resilience, and gave us insight into what really matters.

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I’m addicted

I admit it: I’m addicted. I never thought my habit would consume my every waking moment and haunt my dreams. But it does. I’ve tried to walk away, be strong, resist the urge, but it’s no use, I’m weak. Talking about it only makes it worse. Counseling only feeds it. The more I talk, the more I am filled with the compulsion that refuses to be silenced or denied. The need to escape, to be alone, to quench the thirst of my insatiable habit, summons my emanate return to its singular parlor. A sunset, a sunrise, every landscape, every flower, every gentle brush of wind sends me deeper into the clutch of its iron fisted tentacles.

My blinking phone display acknowledges family and friends have called. With no returned calls they wonder if I still exist in the land of the living. Green fuzzy and forgotten growth inhabits my near empty refrigerator shelves. Shopping for fresh nutritional replacements only results in a nightmare of whirling notions that beckon me to return home, to cloister myself once again, to give expression to the insistent hungered cry of my persistent addiction.

Should you fall into the steely grip of its hand, beware; your life will never be the same. Look at me and learn the truth. Take the step not lightly. Only if you are prepared to have your life consumed, your powers of perception quickened, your desires transformed on the altar of its allure, should you enter its hallowed gates, and then, and only then to rise above the ordinary, to become, to be, an addict, a writer.

I admit it: I’m addicted. Writing has become my compulsion, my life, and my task master. While I struggle to seek out the precise phrase, the most definitive adjective, the most powerful verb, the dusty cobwebs throughout my house hang undisturbed. Giving silent witness and undisrupted testimony of my compulsion, their noiseless slumber liberates dust-scrapes to reach their full potential.
For Christmas and birthdays I beg not for needless gifts of soap and shampoo, but for stamps and envelopes, and paper and pens. My friend, Slow Cooker, bubbles on throughout the day unless our comrade, Microwave, offers stale, nuked left-over treats. I can’t afford take out: I’m a writer. I have exchanged all the missed televised soaps, all the missed parades of misguided human fragility for the solace of giving life to tiny dots of ink on the landscape of blank white paper. And, in this giving of life, found my own.

I admit it: I’m addicted; I’m a writer.

Pleasantville Choices and Exchange Rates

The impact of what I am planning really hit home this weekend. I am exchanging friends and family for strangers: known for unknown; English speaking familiar and sure for Spanish speaking confusion; a market where prices are stated, goods are standardized and legislated to be exactly as advertised for a market where haggling and negotiation is normal and uninspected goods are sold on street sidewalks and open air stalls. I am exchanging the purchase of government appraised meat for the flesh of guinea pigs slaughtered, skinned, and roasted on reused poles in open air road side fires: where a bowl of chicken soup may contain the chicken’s foot and who knows what else.

In exchange for a system where pedestrians have rights and drivers generally obey traffic lights I will have one in which I am told less than diligent pedestrians are targets and drivers behave like lunatics. The sidewalks I now trod are relatively smooth and flat and have handicapped curbs cut for ease of travel. In exchange I contemplate the cobbled stoned and tiled pathways of my future along with the declining function of my decaying knees. Instead of the relative freedom I presently enjoy walking alone at any time of day on public streets, I am warned my new habitat houses pickpockets and thieves ready to assist me in divesting myself of any of my remaining worldly goods – even in broad day light.

I am leaving my son’s grave site where the memory of picking glass out of his beautiful hair as he lay dead on the hospital gurney is as fresh as if it was today. I am leaving my grandchildren to grow into adults without having known them or they me in any substantial, nurturing way. I am selling all, or nearly all, my worldly goods to go to a country in which I know no one and no one knows me. Is this insanity? A dream world? …Or is it wakefulness?

Although I have a superior academic education, I have paltry little beyond the normal, acceptable and accepting living skills. I lack significant negotiation skill beyond those necessary to deal with clamouring children, a disgruntled spouse or a disinterested clerk at the returns desk of the local department store. My computer came equipped with a virus detector which eliminates threats and automatically scans for oddities while I peacefully sleep. My doctor schedules in my annual physical and my dentist timetables the regular inspection and cleaning of my teeth. I have spent my life accepting government regulated standards for education, shopping, health and safety without questioning those standards. I have lived in Pleasantville.

Spring Weather Has Finally Arrived!

Spring weather has finally arrived! Time to put away the winter coat, boots, scarves, toques and gloves. Awe, spring! My favourite time of year. Like the butterfly budding from its cocoon, letting go of the constrictions of winter garb is a ritual heralding freedom, flight and new horizons.

Although my journey to new lands is months away I feel like I am personally awakening from a winter’s season of life to the portals of spring. As I move forward in divesting myself of the shell of my constricting “normal, comfortable” life, I feel the pull of adventure. At a time when many would think of me as entering the Golden Years, I feel alive to new possibilities and exploration, not the prospect of rocking chairs, Medicare and coffins.

Every day has an opportunity to cast off my old life and experience the new. My “stuff” is slowly finding new homes. Saying goodbye has not been as hard as I once thought. There is still a lot to be done, but little by little I am moving closer to my dream.

Getting Ready to Sell my Stuff

In preparation for moving to Ecuador, I started to take pictures of my “stuff” in order to sell it off. It is not easy. I have limited space in my small mobile home to keep the potential possessions available for a buyer. I dislike messiness and it looks like I will be living in it until everything is sold which could take up to (or even over) six months. I am starting with things I haven’t used for a while and even then I think in the back of my head: Would I use this (need this) again before I move?

It is funny how I have become attached to things – stuff that could be destroyed in an instant, yet keeps me tied to this spot like a caged animal. I try picturing my things acting as anvils chained around my neck or attached to my leg. They drag me down, tug at my life force, and hinder a new life and new adventures. This exercise in mental imagery helps a little, but old ways die hard. I paid good money for this “stuff” which ties me and in some (sad) ways defines who I am and what I enjoy.

It is both a physical and emotional effort to release myself from these physical possessions. Yet, I know the surgery of letting go is necessary if I am to make the biggest move of my life. One might think putting up my home would be the hardest, but that is not what I am finding as I begin this process. It is the smaller, more intimate items: things that the children have given me over the years that will be the hardest to part with

My children have feelings about my move that range from horrified to completely supportive. The former set loving, well-meant, guilt traps on my heart while the latter verbally strengthen my wings and encourage flight. Just as they grew up, moved on and started new lives, whatever their concerns, in the end, they will have to let me grow and move on too.

Information from a Recent Visit to the Ecuadorian Consulate

After a trip to the consulate I learned that it will cost around a thousand dollars to get all the paperwork and visas needed to move to and retire in Ecuador. That is without the help of a lawyer! My birth certificate, marriage certificate, my husband’s death certificate and a statement of pension income all have to be translated into Spanish then notarized before I can make the real application.

The woman at the consulate told me to get an extension on my visa while in Canada, then gave me the form to complete. Doing so would give me 6 months of living in Ecuador before either getting my retirement visa or being kicked out. Perhaps you could apply for another extension, but that would be another cost and I hope not to have to think about that. In addition to the paperwork I need to show a return airline ticket to get this extension. I was also told to bring a Spanish-speaking translator to the consulate when I apply for the extension so they can be sure I understand everything I sign. Once in Ecuador I can apply for the retirement visa: it cannot be done from here in Canada. Hopefully I will have all the necessary paperwork already completed and will not need a lawyer.

Questions and Quandaries

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: To be or not to be, that is the question. My question is similar: Do I sell everything and move or stay put in my tight, but comfortable, nest? I think it would be a terrible thing to come to life’s end and say, “I wish I would have.” I’ve read that people come to regret what they did not do much more than what they did do.

Without a lot of money to spend visiting Ecuador before moving there is not an option I can afford. It’s all or nothing, and doing nothing is not so appealing. Not that I am complaining about my life. Canada is a wonderful country! I have a pension after years of work that lets me eat every day; afford a movie on occasion or a small dinner out with friends. Health care is excellent and I feel safe in my neighbourhood. My nest feels tight, but padded and comfortable.

Yet… Yet, there is that little niggle that tells me there is, and should be, more to life than mere comfortable existence. The times in my life that have been the most memorable have been experienced outside that zone of comfort that presently envelops me. Those times that I value most were initially shrouded in trepidation. Stepping off the gang-plank into waters unknown took courage (or an external push), but I was (almost) always the better person for having made the plunge. It was sink or swim.

To date I have swam, perhaps clumsily; but I made it to shore. I have gulped down the sea waters of experience, become breathless from exhaustion, but emerged with a renewed joy of having lived and grown through it all. I’ve had some cuts and bruises. I’ve made some mistakes, paid the price and still went on breathing.

So… what is it now? Fear? Definitely fear, but what’s new about that? Age? It could be, but time will only increase that as an excuse, and I recognize it as an excuse. Health? So far, not a huge concern. It could be in the future, but then again if I had a crystal ball what fun would life be?

What will my family think? That’s a big one. I value their opinions and advice. Unlike the character in Simon and Garfunkel’s song: I am not an island; I do feel pain. My children and family are important to me. However, they certainly do not ask my permission to live their lives, and I would not expect them to. So, should I care what my family may or may not think? Perhaps. They do know me quite well and may be able to point out what I cannot see. They could also be blinded by their own wishes and expectations about me and for me.

In the end only I know only I can live my life, which leads me back to my question: should I pack up and move overseas or stay put? My heart is saying, YES, move on to new life, new adventure. My head counters with all the negatives, which I suppose is its job. My heart says forget all that and LIVE. The battle will rage on until I decide to choose: will it be, should it be, Sensible Head or Sensitive Heart?

What would you do?

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks – Learning Spanish

Spanish language school in Vitoria
Spanish language school in Vitoria (Photo credit: Zador Spanish schools Spain)

Today I started my first in-class weekly Spanish lesson.  The class had 20 students, all of them younger than me and most by more than a generation.  I was the only one who had never taken a lesson in Spanish or traveled to a Spanish-speaking country.  The pace was quick, but the instructor, Carlos, repeated everything in such a clear voice I could hear his enunciation without a problem.  I couldn’t always repeat it properly, but I tried my best.  the amount of vocabulary he covered in two hours was mind-warping.

By the time 2 hours had passed we had covered introductions, asking for and giving addresses, adding and subtracting up to 100, the sounds of the vowels and the alphabet.  Whew!

Then he had us take turns being characters reading dialogue from a script.  There were times I felt tense, but I’d much rather learn in a classroom than become flustered on a foreign street.  I wonder if there is any way to make this learning easier?  Any suggestions from those who have been there?


Remembering a Wondrous Surprise

I went to bed February 23, 1981 expecting to have a restful sleep.  The night got cold and the fire burned so low the house chilled to 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit), about the temperature inside a refrigerator.  When I awoke, Walter was snoring, his head buried under the heavy covers. I reluctantly pushed myself out of bed into the otherwise quietness of the night.

Wrapping a nearby sweater around me I made my way to the wood stove: only a few dying embers remained. Coaxing the flame, I added some wood, and then straightened to get more when a sharp pain pierced my abdomen.  Once it eased off I gave it little thought.  I put another couple of pieces of wood into the stove and planned to go back to bed when a second more forceful pain made it clear I was in labour.

I shook Walter awake, but just as he was putting on his pants I realized we wouldn’t be making it to the hospital.  Still in a sleepy daze, one leg in and one leg out, he started to panic.  When a third contraction started the baby down the birth canal, I kept one of my legs on the floor and the knee of the other on the bed.  Walter hopped about wanted to know what to do: boil water, start the car, what???

The next contraction pushed the baby’s head out.  That got Walter’s attention!  He grasped the small head wanting to pull.  I ordered him to let go.  He fretted and fussed about how to get me to the hospital with this head sticking out.  I told him to calm down and make sure the baby didn’t fall onto the floor!  On the next contraction the baby slipped out without harm.  Walter, pale and limp, sagged onto the end of the bed in a heap.

I gathered up the baby, patted it gently until it cried, and then with the cord still attached wrapped it in a blanket.  By this time, Walter had recovered enough to get his pants on, and to ask about the sex of the baby.  Neither of us had paid any attention during the birth.  Unwrapping the blanket, I was overjoyed to finally have a daughter.

My next thought was: a daughter – what did I know about raising a girl?  Lord, help me! Holding His miraculous gift, I prayed to be worthy of her, to know how to love her and that she would grow to know she was abundantly cherished.

I had a custom of giving older siblings a present from a new addition, so Walter got the boys up to greet their new sister. They crowded around oohing and ahhing as I pulled a chocolate bar for each of them from beneath her blanket.  It was the first time she impressed them, but not the last.

After getting everyone dressed, we drove to the hospital.  The nurses checked the baby and deemed her a healthy girl: 9 pounds, 6 ounces.  Some days, times and events stick in your memory like a hot brand searing your brain, like a meteoric impact crashing into your heart:  the birth of our daughter that cold winter’s morning, February 24th, 1981, did that to me, and for me, and I’ve never been the same.

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