Monday, June 14, 2021

Call Me Garden Girl! Call Me Plant Person!

Plant people: I get you now. It's fun. I see it. 

Years ago, a friend brought me a succulent. I didn't know how to take care of it and I told her that and she said to me, "It's okay! These are hens and chicks and they're impossible to kill. You don't have to be good at plants. Just water them sometimes, and that's it."

I got excited. I had never, ever, not ever, not once, been able to keep a plant alive in my house. Or outside of my house, for that matter. 

Exhibit A: The Garden.

The lady who lived here before us kept an immaaaaaculate garden. She was, like, really into it. She left me a binder full of details about it—what the plants were called and what they wanted and how I should, what's the word you garden people use, tend them. 

Well, I destroyed that beautiful garden. Decimated it. Enjoyed a few years of dazzling, fragrant blooms, and then watched stupidly as the whole thing fell into ruins like an old Scottish castle. A few of the lilies still poke their heads up, year after year, cautious and pessimistic, but they're ghosts of their once glorious selves. Straggling up through the dirt like zombies, mourning over their lost kingdom, hopelessly beholding the dandelions that have begun to advance across the sparse lawn toward them. I am fairly certain they're hostile, the lilies; I think they know I'm the problem, think I should fix it all and banish the weedy dissidents, restore the flowers to their rightful place as illustrious rulers of the block, just as their previous gardener would have done, but, you know. Alas and alack and everything.

So anyway, the hens and chicks. I thought to myself, sure, I couldn't manage a whole garden, designed and grown and cared for by an older woman who had, no doubt, years of experience and knowledge under her belt and years of dirt under her fingernails. But a tiny clay pot of hens and chicks? I could probably—

It was dead within the week. 

So I...gave up? The other option was to buy one of those ridiculously big books about gardening and try to learn how to fix the problems, and I didn't have time to do that. Giving up is always the easiest thing. I did buy some very realistic-looking fake plants to hang over the piano, and one of my more planty friends congratulated me on them, thinking they were real. A win! 

But then. 

I met this person on Instagram who lives in my neighborhood and they offered me a little houseplant (thanks, Steph!). I almost said no, because I felt bad in advance for killing it. But then I thought about how much I wanted that particular plant. 

It was very cute.

So I said yes, and she brought it over and gave it to me and I put it in a place of honor and respect in the kitchen windowsill and whispered to it, "I'll try so hard to keep you alive but you're going to have to be pretty forgiving."

I think the plant understood, because it has now been three weeks and one day and the plant is not dead. THREE WEEKS AND ONE DAY AND THE PLANT IS NOT DEAD. 

Furthermore, the plant is getting bigger and making more leaves. I'm no expert, but I think this means I am taking such good care of it, that I am doing it exactly right. 

So suddenly, after three weeks and one day of doing it exactly right, I'm just really super overconfident. I went and bought seeds and I'm growing vines for my fence on the windowsill and I'm nurturing a brand new apple tree in the backyard and I planted flowers in the front...I am a whole new lady. I get excited to come home and look at dirt because what if something sprouted something? What if something bloomed? What if something grew? 

And I think there's a moral to the story, and I think the moral is that it's okay to decide that you hate something and that it's not for you and that you never want to give it the time of day and that the thought of it makes you tired and grouchy but then to decide on a whim and for no particular reason that actually it's your favorite thing EVER and is, in fact, your entire personality now. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Stuck in a Loop

 This morning I read an article in The New York Times titled, 

Heads Up! A Used Chinese Rocket Is Tumbling Back to Earth This Weekend.

Basically, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket tumbling out of control in orbit, expected to fall to earth in an uncontrolled reentry on Saturday or Sunday. It's traveling at 18,000 miles per hour and a change of mere minutes can shift the debris (such a polite word for a 23-ton piece of anything) by hundreds or thousands of miles, so it's impossible for them to be able to tell where it's going to land until...well, until it's a few hours away from landing. 

I don't know how many of you read this blog on the regular and remember what exactly it is that you read, but let me quote a post from July of 2020 real quick:

"It's July! We made it to July! 

Maybe you're like, whoa, Suzy, none of us thought we weren't going to make it to July; did you think we weren't going to make it to July?

Well I don't know. Kind of? It's been one of those years, and you can't tell me it hasn't. I had a dream the other night where I looked up into the sky and saw a glowing ball of fire headed straight for earth and I knew we were going to die, and in the dream I just sighed as though I were a little disappointed and calmly said to Barclay, "I'm not even surprised, with the way this year has been." Like 2020 was my disappointing teenaged child who had, yet again, failed me in some major but not unusual way.

And then we just stood there with our arms around each other and stared into the huge night sky as the ball of fire grew bigger and bigger...

So my subconscious is, like, over it, right? My subconscious is like, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE AND I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO BE SURPRISED JUST TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU, 2020.

But look at us! July!


So now that I've jinxed us good, on to the blog post..."

I still think about that dream often (my dreams are always extremely vivid; I remember them afterward as much as—or better than—I remember actual events). We were standing in this crumbling ruins of something that felt familiar but was now unrecognizable, as though whatever was coming had already come and we were stuck in a loop of anticipating terror and beholding destruction with no space between the two—which probably accounted for the subdued reaction to our imminent danger. The feeling was less, "WE'RE GOING TO DIE!" and more, "Welp. Here we go again."

And I don't mean to be dramatic (it's my default setting; I can't help it) but if this isn't the perfect metaphor for this past year or so, I don't know what is. It's been a year of feeling like we've just lived through something big (and I'm not talking about the virus alone, but also the debris: financial damage and relational damage, loss of trust in things and people and tensions that have finally and fully split into gaping chasms) but also like there is always something terrible on the horizon. Not something new though, just more of the same. Standing in the ruins awaiting our demise. 


All that to say? I don't anticipate being smack dab in the middle of the Long March 5B rocket debris' uncontrolled landing path, but if I am then, I guess, let it be known that I KNEW IT LAST JULY. This is what blogs are good for, I guess—saying I told you so if you're too dead to say it yourself. 

Happy Friday! 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Manifesting Writing Tools

I don't believe you can "manifest" stuff, but I have been known to do it a time or two anyway. There was the time I was in Saskatoon and I said to my friend that I wanted to meet Little Richard. We sat down outside the Bez and he came out the front doors five minutes later, like he knew I was there waiting for him. There was the time I wanted a skirt like one I'd seen Daphne Moon wear on Frasier so I went to the thrift store and it was there and it fit and it was $1. And, of course, there was the time I moved to Regina and met Barclay, completely by chance, on my second day here, after a friend in another city had told me about him and what a good couple we'd be. 

It happened again just this morning.

I was painting at the kitchen table with Scarlett. I'd just gotten her a new watercolor set and we were testing it out. She painted flowers, butterflies, animals. I painted the alphabet and a xylophone.

When Scarlett asks me to paint with her, she means business. She doesn't like me to stop to think about what to paint or take pictures or blink (in both of these pictures, she is saying, "Stop that and paint!"). As soon as I set one page aside, she hands me another and tells me to fill it. She's like a personal trainer, asking for more reps, and more reps, and more reps. It makes me feel scrambled and I end up painting really random things. 

Like, today, after my xylophone painting, my brain shorted out. I couldn't think of a single thing to put on the paper, but her little eyes were on me. "Paint something," she demanded.

"What should I paint?"

She shrugged, her eyes burning a hole in my blank paper. She didn't care at all what it was, she just needed something there, and she needed it there now.

I painted—and I really don't know why—the words 'fountain pen.' 

Then I painted a [really crappy] picture of a fountain pen. She frowned at it. "What's that?"

"A pen," I said.

"Doesn't look like a pen," she said.

So then, of course, Sully came over to see my pen that didn't look like a pen. He studied it. "What's that?"

"It's...a pen?" Crippling insecurity. What kind of grown woman can't draw a convincing pen?

"Why's the end of it look like that?"

"It's called a nib," I explained, shriveling up under the critical gaze of these two tiny art connoisseurs. "This kind of pen is—" But Sully had abruptly left the room. 

"Keep painting," said Scarlett. 

So humbling, attempting to create in the presence of children.

I bent over my paper once again, but then Sully came back into the room. He had a little tin mint case. He opened it and set it on the table in front of me. Inside? Five little pen nibs.

We don't own pen nibs. "What..."

"Are these nibs?" he asked.

"Yes," I said slowly, picking one up, pointing to one end of it. "If you had a fountain pen, you'd stick this part into the—"

Without a word, Sully went back into his room and came out again carrying a fountain pen. "Is this a fountain pen?" 

"Yes," I said, completely flabbergasted. "Where—"

"So how do you make it write?" he asked, offering no explanations. This is where I began to think, I am legitimately manifesting a fountain pen, piece by piece...

"Well," I said, trying to read Sullivan's inscrutable face, knowing, somehow, that whatever came out of my mouth next would be in his bedroom somehow. I wondered if I should tell him you need a million dollars to make a fountain pen write. I looked down at my painting, which was, apparently, a magical painting. "You would need an ink bottle—"

I looked up. Sully was gone. And when he returned, guess what he had?

"Is this an ink bottle?"

It was. But it was empty.

"You...wouldn't happen to have ink in your bedroom, would you?"

He smiled. 

He went back into his room and came out again with another little black bottle. On the side of it were these words: 

Calligraphy Ink. Stuart Houghton. Made in Great Britain.

Which did not, in any way, explain how it came to be in Sullivan's possession.

I showed him and Scarlett how to insert the nib into the pen, how to pour the ink into the bottle, how to dip and write.
Everyone was enthralled. Fountain pens are soooo fancy.

"Okay, Sullivan," I said at last—and maybe I waited so long to ask because I knew the answer was going to be ridiculously boring and ordinary and not at all magical. (And I was right.) "Where'd all this come from?"

"Grandma gave it to me."*

Mystery solved. I manifested nothing. ALTHOUGH, one could ask the question: how did my subconscious brain know to draw the very thing Sully had that I didn't know about? Or, I suppose, maybe one should be asking the question: what else does he have in the depths of his bedroom that I don't know about?

Anyway. I'd forgotten how fun fountain pens are and I might have to make a trip to the Paper Umbrella for new ink sometime soon. 

(*She gave him a bag of dress-up clothes for his birthday, and this was in there. I had no idea.)

Friday, March 12, 2021

All My Last Things

 If you're tired of people talking about what they were doing a year ago when This Whole Thing began, click away quickly. I love this conversation and I'm going in.

A friend asked me the other day if I could remember what it was: the last thing I did before the world shut down. What was my last outing, my last date, what was I doing the night before we found out the schools were closing and everything was cancelled?

I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I snorted. I groaned. Because, yes, I could remember. I could remember vividly. And even if I couldn't, these things are documented on Instagram with dates and summaries included, shocking and adorable in their naiveté. Haunting, even. So incredibly on the nose, they almost feel psychic in retrospect. 

I hereby present to you: All My Last Things: An Instagram Anthology

1. The Last Restaurant 

It has officially been more than a year since I've eaten in a restaurant (we have, however, enjoyed takeout a LOT this year, shoutout to Vic's, Leopold's, the Lancaster, and Lakeshore). I'm trying to remember if there was a point where I realized we were going to have that option taken away from us but where it hadn't been yet, and if it crossed my mind to have one last hurrah. If it did, I didn't follow through on it, leaving the McDonald's on Park Street as my last real in-person restaurant experience, and this my last photographic keepsake of simpler in-person restaurant times:

2. The Last Declaration

On March 6, I sat and worked in a coffee shop for the last time. In my subsequent Instagram post, I declared to the world (or, the bite-sized portion of the world that reads my Instagram posts) that I would choose "this meek sun" over "sun that blares down on a tropical beach" every time. 

Don't get me wrong, I still quite like this meek sun. But I do hereby publicly apologize to the blaring tropical sun: I didn't mean to anger you. Please let us have airplane rides again. 

3. The Last Date

It was the beginning of March. Barclay's parents took the kids overnight so Barclay and I could have a belated Valentine's Day date. (Typing these words sends sharp pangs of nostalgia and longing through my chest like forks and knives—sleepovers at the grandparents' house? Be still, my weeping, shaking, temper-tantrum-throwing heart.)

What did we do with our one wild and precious evening? Did we eat in an actual restaurant (you already know the answer to that, don't you)? Did we drive to Moose Jaw for a night at the spa? Did we go to a concert, the theatre, improv night at the Artesian? 

Oh heck no, not us. We decided to get creative. We decided to disrupt our status quo. We walked around the Cathedral Village—outside, away from other people. We shopped Safeway for Nicer Ingredients Than We Usually Buy and we made a gourmet meal in our own kitchen. Then? We stayed home and watched a movie. BLESS US.

4. The Last Family Outing

Last winter, the kids and I went snow clearing with Barclay as often as we could—provided the school schedule allowed it, provided we didn't have other plans—and it always felt like such a fun and special little family outing. The museum? Fine. The movie theatre? Never got around to it. Driving around in the car drinking coffee? Familial bliss. So that is what we did, the last time we could've done anything.

5. The Last Night

The crown jewel in my week of fantastic pre-pandemic decision-making. It was a Saturday night. Barclay had a friend over to listen to Slick Shoes albums in the living room, and I locked myself in the bedroom with snacks, a book, and my laptop for a luxurious evening ALONE. Because I was tired of people, events, going out, all that NOISE. I was so excited about it, so pleased with myself, and very determined to make this a regular thing—I remember saying to Barclay, "I should do this more often!"






So there you have it. If anyone's wondering what brought this pandemic upon us, it was probably me. I tried to disrupt the status quo just a little and accidentally disrupted it all the way. Is there a moral to this story? Something about seizing the day. Or maybe it's a flagrant display of Murphy's law or the long-lost fourth verse to Alanis Morissette's Ironic

Mrs. Girls Night Out 

Wanted a night at home

She packed her sna-a-acks and drinks

And crawled into bed alo-one

She watched her TV shows

And she took a break

And when the world shut down she thought

I've made a big mistake

And isn't it ironic?

Don't you think?

Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Nightmare House and The Butter House

Someone bought the house next to ours a couple of years ago and tore it down. They cut down all the trees, got rid of the lawn. Then they built not one but two new houses in its place.

The house that had been there before was not a house that made you think, Boy howdy, this house is the size of two houses! It had been a modest one-story house, less than a thousand square feet. So the two new houses occupying its footprint are, obviously, even smaller. Much smaller. It goes without saying, but I've said it. 

The one closest us is a nightmare house. It's tall and black and skinny, like a tooth in an old man's mouth. I'm looking at it out my kitchen window right now; I used to be able to see the sky out my kitchen window. Now all I see is the black rotted-tooth house.

The second house in the lot, on the other side of the black one, is short and yellow—that creamy butter yellow that all the houses were in the seventies—and it has no front door. I don't think it has side doors either, just a back door. Weird, right?

I think there are two main things that cause a person anxiety when the house next to them disappears. Two worries. The first is that the house built in its place will be super ugly, and the second is that your new neighbors will be...exciting, but not in a good way. 


That black house is like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. You never see anybody moving in. You never see anybody moving out. But you know there are people in there because of the drug deals going down from midnight to five am just outside our bedroom window. You know that something's gone wrong by the line of police cars snaking down our quiet street. Sometimes there's been screaming, sometimes there've been contractors coming in and removing all of the carpets while police stand by and interview people we've never seen before but have apparently been living next to for months. Ah, the stories I have to tell about that house. Next time you see me, you should ask for the one about the play pens. (I will say, for a while there, a wonderful little family moved into the suite on the top floor and we quite liked them. They had a three year-old boy who didn't speak much English but he'd come out on their balcony and he and Scarlett would yell back and forth at each other and sometimes he'd come running into our yard to hug everybody and Scarlett called him The Friend, which was cute. I miss them.)

That big black house is so obtrusive and loud and exciting, that I find I usually forget about the little yellow house with no front door. I forget it's there. I mean, I used to. Until recently.

Apparently, while the black house is a rental, with three suites, one of which I think might actually not be legal, the yellow house is a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. One of the men who lives there is about my age, and I know this because now that it's warmed up a bit (we're hovering around 0, FINALLY) he goes to the grocery store, on foot, several times a day. Like, enough times a day that Scarlett has noticed, and will look out the window and say, "Oh, George (not his real name, obviously) is coming back with more groceries!" 

We ran into each other for the first time a couple of weeks ago. He was coming back with more groceries and he saw me getting into my car (I was, coincidentally, also going to the grocery store) and came over. I got the feeling that someone had warned him about the social distancing thing a time or two, because before he spoke he took a moment to assess the space between us. He took a little step back and then, satisfied, he introduced himself and asked me my name and whether or not I have air conditioning. 

"I do," I said.

"That is so great," said George, genuinely happy for me, in a way that felt absurdly nice—and maybe it just felt so great because we're in a pandemic and I don't have a lot of in-person interactions with people. But having a stranger be so wholesomely happy for you is a really great feeling that I now intend to heap upon all of you when this is over and we're hanging out again. Thanks, George. "I have it too," said George. "That's so great that we both have air conditioning." Like I'd told him that we were both millionaires.

"It's so great," I agreed.

"Well, but not right now," said George. "Since it's winter. Don't really need it. Might not be good to put it on right now."

"True," I said.  

"But in the summer..." 

"It'll be so great."

"My mom has air conditioning!" said George, genuinely happy for his mom.

"That's great," I said. "My mom does too."

"Oh, wow," said George, genuinely happy for my mom. "That's so great. Do you go to school?"

"Not anymore," I said. "Too old."

"Hey! Me too!" George's smile grew even bigger. "And do you have kids?"

"I do," I said. "You probably see them out in the yard all the time."

"Yes!" George said. "And do they go to school?"

"They do," I said.

And then George blindsided me by ending the conversation. He said, "Well, have a great day, Suzy!" and then he turned on his heel and headed off toward his little yellow house. I almost felt worried that I'd offended him or given him the impression that I didn't want to talk anymore, but now I know that this is how conversations with George go. He gets you into a rhythm, he asks you a lot of questions, and then he slams the whole thing shut like a front door and disappears down the street with his one bag of groceries. I kind of appreciate it? I'm not a person who knows how to end conversations. I feel awkward and rude being the one to say, "Well, I gotta go." Especially now, when I don't really have anywhere important to be. I don't, technically, 'gotta go' and everyone knows it. Another thing I could adopt from George, maybe.


George and I are friends now, is what I'm saying; we have brief but wonderful conversations every time we cross paths (which is often, because we both do love our groceries) and I'm glad the Butter House is there, even if it came with a Nightmare House, like a beautiful flower with thorns on its stem. I think there's a popular saying somewhere along those lines—"Every Butter House has its Nightmare House," or something like that. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Jessikah & Keysha

Well hey! I'm just popping in to brag about a couple of talented people I know and love. These amazing women (who were about three years old maybe four hours ago, I swear) are my cousins (one from my mom's side and one from my dad's) and they've both put songs out into the world this month. I'm really proud of them. Writing a song is hard. Putting that song in front of other people is harder—but maybe it's easier when your voice is as beautiful as theirs? 

I've shared both of these on Instagram but I'm sharing here too and I'll probably continue to plaster their music everywhere as long as they make it. And when this pandemic is over and they start playing shows I'm pretty excited to be their embarrassing older cousin who sits near the stage and knows all the words. 

Jessikah, Keysha: You should collab. Love you both. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

The Baby Stage

It was Sully's birthday a couple of weeks ago. I officially have a seven-year-old and a four-year-old in my house. I've been out of the baby stage for a while (we've given away the high chair, the baby gate, the crib, all that stuff) but I haven't really felt the distance from it until now. I guess, all this time, I've still been thinking of myself as a "new mom." 

(I think of myself as a new mom but I also cannot imagine life without kids everywhere. I know, I only have two of them. What can I say? For some of you, "kids everywhere" is eight. Nine. Ten. Forty-five. For me, "kids everywhere" two.)

I'm also well aware that seven years is nothing in the grand scheme of things, and that there are people reading this laughing to themselves and thinking, "Suzy, you are a new mom." Yeah, yeah, I know: time is weird, and old and new are super relative—not unlike "kids everywhere." But right now, in this moment, to me, I feel like I've stepped through an important doorway in motherhood, from being a new mom to being...I don't know. What is this room? What comes after New Mom, but before Seasoned Old-Hat MOM Mom? Because I'm not a MOM mom yet. I'm not fully a mother of school-aged kids, not a mother of fully-independent children, not a woman of leisure whose days are her own. And I don't do the things seasoned moms do—I don't carry Bandaids in my purse, for example. But I definitely feel more confident making decisions for these kids. I don't spend hours on Google every time they develop a weird rash or a fever. I've figured out what makes them tick and how to communicate with them and how to calm them down and how to make them laugh hysterically. To sum it up in the simplest way possible, I feel like I'm getting the hang of it.

Maybe this is a hallway? Maybe there's no name for it—but wow, I love it here. I keep saying to Sullivan that we're pausing time and he has to be seven forever, and he keeps shaking his head and telling me, "Mom. I'm going to be eighteen soon and I'm going to move out." 

And I'm like, "SULLY DO NOT SAY THAT."

And he's like, "Don't worry, Mom. I'll come visit you. We visit your parents all the time."

(Which is categorically FALSE, especially in this, the year of our pandemic.)

I think the Exact Thing that marks the shift from that room to this hallway is that I have, like I said, a bit of distance. I can see the baby stage objectively from here. 

The baby stage was really hard, and I spent a lot of it wishing we were past it but not feeling like I could admit that to anyone. Because when you're in that stage everyone (from the cashier at the grocery store to the woman who walks past you on the street) spends all their breath telling you that those feelings are wrong, and that you'll regret them later, and that you'll miss the baby stage intensely when it's gone. Ah, the countless lectures about cherishing and treasuring. If I had a nickel for every one I could buy the entire Jimmy Eat World discography. As though you cannot possibly love someone without also wanting them to stay exactly as they are forever and ever.


I don't miss that stage. I'm thankful for it! I'm thankful to have experienced it, absolutely, and I'm even thankful for how hard it was. I miss a lot of specific moments from that stage. Sometimes I look at pictures and videos from a few years ago and marvel at how tiny the fingers were, how high the voices were, how long the snuggles were. From day one, I have loved these kids more than I could have ever imagined loving someone, which made the hard parts worth it, and there is, for sure, part of me that would pay billions of dollars to travel back in time for an hour to hold my sleeping newborn baby. I treasure those years in such a weird, paradoxical way. So much it hurts, but also, please don't send me back.

But this stage? With a four and a seven year old? I never want it to end. I miss it already. I'm no longer pushing through time; I'm leaning back into it with my heels dug in.

I guess I'm finally coming to understand that not being "a baby person" isn't a moral failure, it never made me a bad mom or meant that I didn't love these specific babies enough. And you're probably thinking, "Well duh," but for some of us it's not very obvious in the moment. 

So anyway. Be careful what you say to the harried, sleep-deprived mothers of colicky babies, is maybe the moral of that rabbit trail.

And if you're one of those people who miss the baby stage, or are in it and loving it: I'm genuinely happy for you. That's really great. Some people are made for it, and I think that's cool. Isn't that cool? 

I think it's cool.