If you have been wondering what happened to my writing (and some days I do too) you can stay in touch with what I am up to, or into or thinking about, in my new blog, The Balmy Diaries.
Hope to see you there,
If you have been wondering what happened to my writing (and some days I do too) you can stay in touch with what I am up to, or into or thinking about, in my new blog, The Balmy Diaries.
Hope to see you there,
My latest Balmy Diaries blog post
I have just posted my first blog entry on my new blog site, The Balmy Diaries. It is a new site for a new journey. If you would like to follow my new adventures, check it out here The Balmy Diaries and be sure to ‘Follow’ so you won’t miss an installment.
My recent trip to my work office, the actual bricks and mortar building, held a few surprises for me. I hadn’t been into an IBM office since the day before we left Kenya, last July 10. I hadn’t been into IBM Canada office since the day I had a short meeting to meet my Canadian manager during our whirlwind trip back in April 2014. Naturally, there have been a few changes. Much of the main floor was the same, though the marketing and (self) promotional material left me feeling that I had stepped onto a university campus as the photos included men and women from a broad spectrum of apparent ethnicity yet a narrow spectrum of age, given the youthful appearance (at least to me). Thirty five years with the company and no matter how young I was when I joined, I can only be on the other end of the age scale. The next surprise was finding that my manager, and in fact my whole team, had moved modules. I found my old name tag on my previous cubicle, but that was the only remnant of my former team. When I finally tracked them down, I found a newly configured work space, sparsely populated (well, it was the first week of the summer, following a four-day weekend) by mostly complete strangers. Even the names on empty cubicles and offices were strange to me. Eventually, I met my manager (who didn’t recognize me) and briefly reconnected to my former team mates. It was only as I was departing the floor that a completely different surprise, like a eureka, well, perhaps more like an a-ha moment, occurred to me.
If internet information is not always infallible, Facebook information might be considered highly suspect. Nevertheless, living without any television (technical challenges and laziness) and limited radio contact (a long-standing habit of personal choice)for the past year, I confess to having often received world news (mostly tragedies, though I don’t consider our federal election to be a tragedy- yet) through my FB connections. I have a raised awareness of more local issues and seem to be fairly up to date on personal matters, to the extent that my FB friends share. So in one way, I am up to date and in other ways, out of touch.
It wasn’t until a work acquaintance, upon hearing my unmistakable laugh, tracked me down to give me a warm, welcoming hug. She greeted me enthusiastically and wanted to know how I was, how I was doing, what was happening etc It seems she had been following my journey on the blog. She isn’t a FB friend and so not only was she missing our African adventures (me too) but she felt she was missing staying in touch. A couple of other colleagues, oddly enough from Africa, had made similar comments to me. I realized that my blog entries might have been entertaining for some, travel advice or perspective for others and a way for others to stay in some way connected. My long absence from Ahoy Africa had some people wondering what had happened to me.
So for those readers who were enjoying and or following the blog, I apologize for the sudden disappearance. I am fine and all is well. My last post was seven months ago. Despite the lack of new material, there have been 2,866 views in that time. The most recent tally of views since I started was 28, 035. I remain surprised that what started out as ‘letters home’ developed into a journal for me (an activity which helped me not only to process what I was experiencing but rekindled my love of the written word and writing) and a way for friends and strangers alike to travel vicariously both physically and emotionally, depending on their own personal needs and desires.
To those that have missed my ramblings, thank you for missing me. There have been several reasons for my negligence. Primarily, life these past 12 months have been very hectic. Returning to Canada, getting our farm, the Balm, back in order, getting our Toronto house ready to sell, finding short-term storage for most of the 535 boxes from storage and our African shipment, moving into a wee Toronto apartment and finally, but most consuming, our extensive renovations at the farm, now entering the 6th month. Secondly, I wasn’t sure what to write about, although there were certainly some hilarious (some at the time, some much later) incidents during all of the above. But I couldn’t sort out a theme, something that connected all the apparent separate and very ordinary events. A finally, and probably my biggest road block was the fact that there have been a couple of situations playing out that should not or at least could not be told well, until they have been fully played out. These should be wrapping up shortly and I look forward with great, excited anticipation in sharing them with anyone who is interested.
I suppose that is the segue to what I hope you will find is good news. I have another blog in the works. The draft name, so far, is Balm Diaries. There will be a few stories of my continued Canadian re-entry. Renovations are always good fodder for self-doubt and self mocking, so I expect I can share a few mishaps and successes (thankfully less of the former and more of the latter). Then stories will most likely take another direction, but I can’t say more just yet. I hope to keep you all entertained.
Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for following me. Your comments have touched me, encouraged me and helped me feel connected.
Thank you Nancy R for sharing this with me.
For Those Who Have Far to Travel
A Blessing for Epiphany
If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
as it comes into
There is nothing
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond what would
from the way.
There are vows
that only you
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
you could not
Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
the gift that only you
before turning to go
from Circle of Grace
When Nancy sent this to me this week and I saw the title in the subject line, I thought, “Oh wow, this is for me.” As I was reading it, I immediately thought, “On no, the formatting has gone wonky and its only putting a couple of words on each line. Should I spend the time reformatting it to make it easier to read?” Lazy, anxious to get read it all, to get to the end, I continued reading. I loved the message, it resonated with me. Then it hit me. My first reaction to reading it was to change the format so I could see ahead. I was almost skimming it to get to the end, to see what happens. YIKES. “Physician, heal thyself!” I reread it, slowly. I let it sink in.
January 6th is Epiphany. According to Mirriam-Webster that means :
a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ
: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way
It is also, perhaps not ironically, the day Alistair passed. It was five years ago we said good-bye. There has been a lot of water under that bridge, but the bridge is still standing.
My theme for 2016 is “an exciting, pivotal year of change, with new beginnings, to be closer to my authentic me and to be filled with joy.” I shall do that one day at a time, one step at a time, one image at a time. I am a pilgrim on this journey, I shall try to heed the signposts of intuition and dream; I shall try to follow the star that I hope I will recognize; I shall try to keep an open eye for the wonders that attend the path.
Thank you all for helping me on my journey. Wishing you enough…
When I told people that we were living in Kenya, the topic of security almost always arose and the eventual question was “Aren’t you afraid?” During our time in Kenya, I thought about it a lot and then I wouldn’t think about if for ages. Here’s what I have concluded:
I am not afraid of:
I am afraid of :
I am not afraid of death, for I am confident that the best really is yet to be….but I am afraid of dying, of either fading away into senility or dying in some tragic battle against disease. I am terrified of cancer and the horrible way it can eat away at one’s body, mind and soul.
No one wants to be afraid. I am not alone in that. I will try to be gentle with myself; knowing that my best is different each day but that most days, my best will most likely be good enough; knowing that I will make mistakes, just as others will and that I should forgive myself as I should forgive others; knowing that when I give up specific expectations, I will be delighted. To date, my life has given me nothing to be afraid of, so why should it start now? I have been fortunate in such a myriad of ways that even in our tragedies and losses, I have been blessed with so much love and strength and help from family, friends, neighbours and even strangers, that has enabled me to carry on, to continue to find love and joy. So, no more being afraid. I shall try to simply be cognizant of these fears and the opportunities that will certainly present themselves to help me learn to conquer them.
Perhaps too, I shall try not to take myself and life so seriously. Maybe the best thoughts come from the uncomplicated. After all, a bear named Winnie the Pooh uttered the following:
“Some people care too much. I think its called Love.”
If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
― A.A. Milne
How did our move go? GO????? It’s more like going, going and apparently never gone.
Clearly I had been lulled into a false sense of how smoothly moves happen, given the previous three. In fairness, the previous three were ostensibly managed by the movers and paid for by IBM. Prior to that, the most recent move that we managed ourselves, was 20 years ago. in other words, a lifetime ago. Gary was turning 50, I was 7 months pregnant with Alistair and Spencer was a busy almost three year old toddler. Granted time may have softened (or perhaps eliminated some of) my memory, but it went well. We were moving from our tiny post-war, East York bungalow. Remember the houses you used to draw as a kid? The ones with a square for the building, a triangle for a roof, one door and one window on the front? That was the spitting image of our starter home. We had been married 7 years and lived in that house for almost 5 years. During our tenure there, Gary built an amazing deck on the back, I planted colourful annual and perennial gardens and we had the kitchen redone. We did what we could with a small, plain house. It had a warm and cozy finished basement, with a lovely fireplace and the three of us, with our first orange cat Delphi, spent many a winter’s evening there. In summer, we spent our time outside in the closed in back yard or walking the quiet streets. Almost all of our neighbours, with only a couple of exceptions, were the blue rinse set. Most were original owners and I suspect that most had decided that the only way they were leaving their homes was in a pine box.
As our family was expanding, so too were our needs. House hunting took on a new format, where I would go out with the agent one night, looking in my old neighbourhood while Gary stayed home with Spencer. Then Gary would go out the next night looking for houses in his old neighboorhood. As it turned out, houses in my old neighbourhood, at least anything that I wanted to live in, were out of our snack bracket. We eventually settled on a house near Gary’s old neighbourhood. It didn’t meet some of my most important criteria (it had the garage in the front and no separate dining room) and it was certainly not, as Gary claimed it was, in ‘move-in’ condition, but there was something about the house itself that won me over, it just felt right. Welcome 29 Redwillow. While I don’t recall the details, we must have hired movers to actually hump furniture and haul boxes around on moving day. We must have done the packing ourselves. I suspect we probably used empty cast off boxes from the liquor store and used newspaper for wrapping. We were only moving a few miles away. All I do remember is how empty our 4 bedroom house looked with our meager possessions.
As is my habit, I named the house. Nidulus. Latin for ‘little nest’. The years passed. The house became filled with two boys, two orange cats, a turtle, eventually a dog, more furniture and ‘quelques choses’, friends and family. It was a very happy house. We painted, renovated inside in out, landscaped, renovated again, painted again, lived in and loved that house. It was always our little nest, our place to come home to, at the end of the day or at the end of a trip. It was our place to celebrate life’s milestones and events and even non-events. We entertained, formally and informally, frequently and hosted large family gatherings. The boys picked up on this, feeling comfortable bringing their friends home. Feng shui or not, the house had great flow. Although blessedly not often, it was also our place to retreat, to lick our wounds and heal. In short, we all loved that house.
Years later (now 7 years ago) we bought the Balm. It was really more a bomb, but that’s another story. But the point here is that when we purchased the big old house, we never really actually moved. Granted when the local Zellers in Toronto was closing and having a massive sale, I picked up kitchenware and other essentials which we took to the farm. Sears delivered two twins and a queen size bed and with some new sheets we were up and running. For a whole year the four of us slept in a main floor parlour, living out of suitcases while we ripped up carpets, replaced windows and walls and put in bathrooms. The rest of the household goods began to slowly appear, arriving by car after successful exploratory missions around the never ending garage sale circuit and excursions to rummage sales and second hand stores. I have snagged some great road side treasures saving items from the ignomious fate of the dumpster! In no time at all, the Balm felt more and more like its name.
While I had been considering the job in Kenya for a few months in early 2013, the decision to go was not made until Gary and I took our look see trip in May of 2013. Six weeks later we left Canada. There was lots to do to get us ready to go (see some of the earliest blog entries) and sorting and purging didn’t make the cut. The moving company sent a local representative who estimated 4 days to pack up the house. Their headquarters in the US planned on 3. Everything in Nidulus was packed. It was either going to Nairobi with us or it was going into long term storage. Midway through the 3rd day, reinforcements were sent and my early evening, additional staff were sent to help with the wrapping and packing. It was after 11:30 pm that everything was wrapped, packed and loaded into either a container or a truck. Most things went to the right place. The good crystal and 7 bookcases found their way to Kenya while a few expected items didn’t show up. We picked up some lovely African things and jettisoned two bedroom suites, one which I vowed on our wedding day we wouldn’t keep for long (it being the previous marital bed) but coats of paint and some refurbishing kept it going for 26 years!
Our 40 foot container left the Gem on July 9th with about the same amount or room to spare (could have picked up more African treasures! Rats!). We arrived home on July 15 and as you know, we were busy getting the Balm back in order.
Late August our air shipment arrived. In addition to important but non essential documents and paper work, Gary had been smart enough to pack more clothes. By the time it came to packing the air shipment in Nairobi, my CPU was unplugged and I only thew in a few pair of shoes (typical). It was getting cooler then the air shipment arrived and I could have done with some warmer clothes!
Our Nidulus tenants had asked to extend their moving date by a month, and given how long it took for our shipment to arrive in Kenya, it seemed reasonable to grant them additional month with Sept 30 being their final day. Imagine my surprise when the moving company kept providing me with updates on the exceptionally quick progress of our container! It had arrived and cleared customs by late Sept. The clock started ticking. We had 30 days to take possession of our belongings before incurring large storage charges.
Under normal circumstances, this should not be a concern. However, circumstances had changed. Before we left for Nairobi, as much as we loved Nidulus, as much as we treasured the memories and stories that it held, in some way, it was holding us back. Spencer realized this when he said the house was too big for the two of us. I realized it too. Eventually, in Kenya, Gary came to realize this too. So when returned to Canada, we agreed that we would put the house on the market. The Toronto real estate market has been smoking hot since we left and we were grateful for the substantial increase in market value of our home. So while in some ways moving back into the house and preparing to sell it in the spring might be easier to unpack our storage and shipment, in didn’t make sense in the long run. As soon as we had repossession of the house, we started preparing the house for sale. We had already engaged our friend and real estate agent Sue Mills before we left Canada so we already had the house details as well as the recommendations from the stager (declutter, declutter, declutter, then stage!) First, all the floors. The upstairs floors needed sanding and refinishing and hardwood floors installed in 2 closets. The stairs and stair rails, from the basement to the second floor also needed sanding and finishing. It only made sense, from an esthetics perspective, to refinish the main floor floors in the same dark antique oak colour. That took over 2 weeks to complete. The clock was ticking and the house needed painting too. The outside was painted a single colour, a paler shade than what was there. It was decided that the whole house (except the basement) should be painted white. I snapped a few shots of meaningful things from the boys’ rooms.
Kitchen cupboards were painted as well. A handsome marble herringbone backsplash was installed. New hardware in the kitchen and family room. Brass switch plates switched out. New garage door opener installed. A plumber was called in for minor repairs. The front and back yards (so completely overgrown in 2 years) were trimmed, cut, raked, pulled and beds were tied with fresh mulch. With the exception of the floors, we would have done this all ourselves. It would have taken us months of non stop work and complete disruption. With the help of professionals, almost all of this was done before our goods were delivered to the house.
In the mean time, I looked for a small flat in the city. Our family and friends, doctors and services are all in the city. My office, should I need to go in, is near home. Our intention is to live at the farm, but I needed a safety net. I was lazy and overwhelmed with all the moving pieces. I looked at three apartments, all within a mile of our house. We settled on a very small two bedroom flat around the corner from Redwillow and next door to Jubilee United. It has a balcony, lots of windows and faces west. Its on the third floor of a four story 50 year old building. Nothing fancy, but it has all that I think we will need.
Our shipment deadline arrived. Then it was real fun and games. In for a penny, in for a pound. With all this work done, we needed to do the final staging properly. This meant that only a fraction of our belongings should come to the house. IBM had refused to deliver our storage to the farm so both storage and our overseas shipment had to be delivered to Redwillow. On Tues Sept 22, a 26′ truck backed up to the house. Three guys started to unload the boxes as Gary and I directed traffic. Thankfully we had divested items in Kenya and most of our large pieces of furniture in our shipment was to be used. But what of the other boxes. We had 272 boxes (and a life size metal gnu, Kelly) in our overseas shipment. It made no sense to unpack kitchen items as we wouldn’t be living there. So boxes labelled Kitchen were left in the garage. Several carpets and a few pieces of furniture went there too. This is when I discovered the curious labeling methodology of our Kenyan packers. If it went on a wall, it was called a ‘painting’. Whether it was a painting, a plaque a photo or a mural, it was called a painting. The room it came from was not noted. Likewise, anything that sat out was called a ‘decoration’ or ‘ornament’. Candles, bowls, glass items, figurines, planters, carvings etc all fell under this designation. Again, no notation of where it was in the Gem. Bedding, towels and table linen were similarly lumped together. So while I needed bedding for the beds and a few towels I did not need tables clothes and place mats and napkins. Even the collection of items didn’t always make sense as I found our master bedroom bedding packed with a garden bench. The original staging advise had started with decluttering. With a near empty house decluttering was no longer required and only a few well selected items were needed. But how to determine which of the dozens of boxes marked “ornaments’ should we open? Thankfully, Ray and his two moving buddies were more than patient and understanding as boxes that were in the house on the first day, were resealed and moved to the garage. This went on for 2 days.
On the third day, the guys were going to bring our items for storage. On the Wed, when they left for the day, they told me that it was about half as much as we had already unpacked. It was a lot, but I geared myself up for it. Thursday morning came and they backed up the 26′ truck (for the third time). I couldn’t believe when they opened up the back and there wasn’t room for a toothpick! How could this be? Seems they were just as ‘surprised’ as I was.
Another 273 boxes to unpack. WHOA. We had worked out a side deal with the guys and most if not all of it would go to the farm. So off it went to the farm. Gary went to the farm as well, to direct the unloading of the boxes into the ground floor of the barn. Friday morning, another 26′ truck back into the driveway. This time it was empty. We loaded all the previously unloaded boxes that we would not need in the apartment as well as paints and workshop items, ladders and bins of stuff stored in the workshop and garage while we were gone. What was left got shifted to the now almost full double car garage. By the end of 4 days, about 60 boxes were in the garage, another 60 or 70 boxes had been unpacked and the remaining 400+ boxes were in the barn. Several days later, the For Sale sign went up on the house.
Okay, so that wasn’t so bad. Was it? Ah, but that’s not the end. Of course. Not nearly. Those 400 boxes piled somewhat indiscriminately in the barn. We had 90 days from Oct 21 to make any claims. From the unpacking already done, there were 2 broken side tables, a water stained silk lampshade and some damage to a wool carpet. I was worried about other, more fragile items.
For the next month, every morning Gary would rev up the garden tractor, load up the trailer with boxes and bring them over to the house. We would unpack the box, then sort contents into keep, or delete, try to find a home for the ‘keep’ items, determine what to do with delete items (someone in the family? thrift shop? recycling? e-waste or, last resort, garbage), dispose of said delete items accordingly, and then put all the packing materials and boxes into the trailer and take it back to the barn, where it piled up, waiting for a calm day so that we could have a huge burn.
Items to keep had to meet at least one of three criteria; it had to be useful, beautiful or significantly meaningful, (not just as in ‘it came from so and so’ or’ so and so’ made it. After two weeks of daily thrift shop drop offs, I am not sure if they were happy to see us or wanting to tell us to stop coming! The boxes in the barn never seemed to decrease and I became discouraged whenever I went there. There was so much old ‘crap’; boxes of boxes, for gift giving and wrapping, old ski gear that hadn’t been used in years and was no longer usable nor quaint enough to be pinterest-able. Where to put 72 photo albums of ours and half again as many from my parents (after Mom’s last move)? Most of Spencer’s treasures from his boyhood room went into boxes for him to sort through on a subsequent visit. Old car and game magazines were pitched. But National Geographic maps would make great wrapping paper. Trunks of fabric and patterns sorted and pitched. Amongst all the stuff of our lives, now more like flotsam and jetsom, were wonderful treasures and memories, photo albums, our family travel journals, crafts and even a few good art projects of the boys’. I couldn’t help myself, despite the ticking clock, like a stalking crocodile, I had to slow down, to recall, to remember, to savour the memories. It was coming back. And then there were boxes of Alistair’s things. Christa had already gracefully taken most of his clothes, but there was hockey gear (donated to the local hockey league) and favorite books (added to the children’s books collection at the Balm) as well as note books, cameras and the clutter of a boy’s desk and dresser. As I came across these items, I would oscillate between smiling and laughing and crying. Sometimes I was transported to a happy event or occasion, but I always ended up at the hole that is in our lives now. As hard as it was to go through his things, knowing that it will be hard seeing them again, there were still some items that I was not ready to part with, just yet. So homes, temporary or permanent, were found.
To complicate matters further, the barn roof was missing large sheets of metal and as a result was leaking. The roof was being repaired by a two man team and it was slow work, weather dependent and requiring large sections of old tin to be removed before the new metal could be replaced. The days were getting shorter, the gentle summer winds had picked up and the rains had started. We were constantly rearranging tarps over the ever shifting piles of boxes. Garden furniture and outdoor items were moved to the back, waiting for the spring for complete unpacking, or so we thought. But when we discovered our master bedroom sheets and bedding with an outdoor garden bench, we had to rethink the unpacking strategy again. We were dirty, discouraged and mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day.
By mid December, we had rearranged, opened and unpacked and all the boxes in the barn. Gary had cleared a 40′ x 14′ path through the barn and there was only a small section at the far end of outdoor/garden items. We got possession of the apartment (still as yet unnamed, though Nidulus may be more appropriate than ever, it doesn’t quite seem to fit) on Dec 15. A consultation with master decorator, sister Suzanne, and paint colours were chosen and applied. The earliest we could get the same moving guys was Sat Dec 19. That morning, we packed up all the remaining boxes and beds and moved into the apartment. It took over 4 hours to do the apartment. Then back to the house to pack up whatever wouldn’t fit into the apartment for the final trip to the farm. The guys arrived at 8 am and left the farm at 7 pm. It was the coldest day we had experienced in years (literally) but at least we didn’t have snow to deal with!
On Sunday, we played musical beds as we moved our Kenyan king size into our bed room, then our old queen size into a guest room and the 3/4 bed into……you get the picture. Then back to the city to finalize the house closing and start unpacking in the apartment. I was thrilled when a new neighbour asked if we were getting rid of the boxes and as she is moving in a month, could she have them as they are so expensive and she is expecting her 3rd child? Merry Christmas I told her, they are all yours.
I know people who have moved lots, I know people who like to move often, and those that like to buy and sell houses. People do this all the time and they do it with large families and pets. I don’t know how they do it! They must be very good at minimizing their stuff and purge on a regular basis or simply do not acquire so much stuff. maybe they don’t get sentimental about stuff. Perhaps they are more driven, focused or energetic than I am. Maybe being younger would help too. Maybe they have a better perspective or balance. I love organizing. When I am feeling stressed out, reorganizing cupboards or closets or sheds can be very rewarding and calming for me (though hardly relaxing). The converse of that is that I find chaos and disorder very stressful. I know I should go with the flow and let it go. Some days I can do that, but when it becomes a chronic state, as in months of chaos, it gets to me. Poor Gary can attest that this has ‘gotten’ to me.
But it’s almost all behind us now. Slightly more than five months after returning to Canada we have, with the exception of two remaining boxes at the apartment, unpacked. The apartment has started to feel a bit like home and once the walls are covered with art and other ‘treasures’, and new old light fixtures installed it will be our ‘city crib’. The other exciting part of all of this turmoil is that with the sale of Redwillow, we can now proceed with the long anticipated, dreamed of renovations at the Balm. Of course, this will require more shifting and packing, but I am not going to think about that today! For now, we look forward, with excitement and anticipation to a new kitchen and dining room and sunroom and if we are lucky even a new porch.
Now that I am on the tail end of the move, I can finally say, “It went well.” The crib is ready for guests! The Balm door is always open. We look forward to a new year having moved across the world and across a province.
We keep going….