Monday, 1 February 2021

Dabble On - By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

 Dabble On...

I'm dabbling in a lot of things;
no longer do I care
if I'm seen as rank amateur
or show a talent rare.
I used to worry all the time
that I might not excel.
I'd tell myself - don't even try -
and interest I'd quell.
Now I don't really care at all
if I do well, or not.
If I am curious, I will try;
I'll give it what I've got.
I'll stitch, I'll bake, and cook a bit,
I'll play with jewelry -
and show nary a care at all
if it's Tom foolery!
I'm occupying mind and hands
in time of endless stress -
I'll dabble whether I excel
or only make a mess.
I'm free to dabble on and play,
and post pics on Facebook -
it's not to brag or show my skill,
but just to say - Hey - look!
I didn't criticize myself,
I didn't second guess.
I sat and figured this thing out -
and did it - more or less!

- Sharon Flood Kasenberg, January 29, 2021

Say what you will about 2020 - it was a difficult year for most of us, and while it fell short of being my "year of perfect vision", it certainly made a few things about myself come into focus.

In previous posts I've mentioned my narrow comfort zone, my ability to become frustrated easily, and my introversion. I've never been the kind of person to share "a work in progress" - when I write a poem or blog post, it appears online as a finished project. While that's still the case where my writing is concerned, I've learned over the past six or seven months that it's okay to give the Facebook world a glimpse of some things I'm working on.

I thank the pandemic for making me desperate enough to start dabbling in more creative endeavours. When every day starts to look the same, you look for ways to shake things up a bit, and for me that meant trying some new things. Thus I've learned the value of dabbling.

It started with food. When you are staying in all the time, food becomes important - probably much more important than it should be. In May, I dug out our air fryer and started using it for more than cooking frozen fries. In June we bought an Instant Pot, and because of my wariness around technology and new kitchen gadgets, my husband decided he'd help me prepare our first meal in the thing. He discovered he liked helping me cook Instant Pot meals, or "science experiments you can eat", and I discovered that I was more inspired to create in the kitchen when I wasn't stuck in there alone! Proud of our efforts, we both started sharing the occasional "this was supper" post, and hungry friends started requesting recipes. Apparently our meals looked good enough to eat!

As my garden began to bloom I got outside and snapped pictures. I'm not a fantastic gardener, but I'm interested in photography, and flowers are more cooperative photo subjects than people or animals. (In the spring of 2019, my husband gave me an iPad, and after years of very seldom taking pictures I discovered how easy it is to take - and share - pictures with it.) My gardening pictures have always been more about trying to develop photography skills than bragging about my garden. I dabble in gardening and in photography.

Throughout the summer I often felt bored and restless, but I discovered that my world looked a bit more inviting through a camera lens. My husband had purchased some photo sessions with a local photographer as a gift for me, and my son had purchased a decent camera from a friend. I utilized both and had some carefully distanced photography lessons. By then "Covid Brain" had kicked in and my powers of concentration were a bit compromised, but those lessons broke up my week and gave me something new to think about. I'm not convinced I was much of a student, but by trying something different I was reinforcing the idea in my head that I could dabble - just trying new things was an accomplishment in and of itself - but having learned a bit more about taking photos I could continue to learn more at my own pace.

As the pandemic continued I found that I needed tangible evidence that my days weren't wasted. If I posted some nice pictures, I had proof that I'd seen something that day, but that wasn't quite enough. As days wore on I needed proof that I was actually doing things. While cleaning out a few drawers in a little used room, I found some Aida cloth and embroidery floss. I hadn't cross stitched in more than a decade, but decided that I should do a small project to see if I still enjoyed it. The fabric I had on hand had a tight weave - my stitches had to be small, and it quickly became obvious that my eyes had deteriorated a bit. I made a lot of mistakes in that first project, but posted pictures anyway. I was proud that I'd simply followed through and finished, even when my eyes felt strained and I goofed up. The completed piece is now framed and hangs on the wall in my office, proof that I accomplished something - and that I can persevere and be proud of consistent effort, even when it yields imperfect results. Finishing that one small project motivated me to complete a small project for each of the people on my Christmas list - more proof that my days weren't wasted! I was getting things done, by golly - and I was happy to broadcast the fact!

Furthermore, when I posted pictures of my first stitching project online a new friend sent me a private message asking if I'd be interested in some outdoor, socially distanced "stitch and bitch" visits with her. We had some great chats and got to know each other a lot better. All because I posted a picture! It was more proof that good things can happen when we risk sharing our efforts online.

I think the proof of my personal growth lies in a lot of imperfect photographs of less than perfect meals and slightly flawed projects that I've posted this past year. I'm no longer worried about people looking at my efforts and saying, "I can do that better." Without a doubt many can, and some might think that to themselves. I'm no longer bothered because I don't care what they think, and I have enough faith in the people I friend on Facebook to be fairly confident none of them will be overtly critical or unkind. My projects are about me - not them - and how I'm learning the importance of playing with new ideas and dabbling in new projects.

I know I'm just a dabbler. I know a lot of other people can stitch rings around me and cook better meals, take better pictures, make nicer jewelry... I'll even concede that a few people on my Facebook feed can bake as well as I do. (Sorry if that sounds boastful; I'm not going to bother with any pretense of false modesty on this one point - I know I'm a good baker.) 

I don't need to be particularly good at everything I try, and I don't need to be afraid to share imperfect attempts with my friends. You don't need to be afraid to share either.

These are frustrating, difficult times. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I'm feeling a lot of stress. I've been denied a lot of the simple pleasures I took for granted - a weekend away, a visit with friends, a meal at my favourite restaurant. For the last nine months, I've been living a very quiet, isolated life. For the last two months, I've been the primary caregiver for a mother who grows older, frailer, and more high maintenance. All of these circumstances and sacrifices take their toll, and I'm not afraid to admit that.

My little projects keep my mind occupied, at least temporarily, and they keep my hands busy. They provide proof of my own productivity, and will serve as  reminder to me that I didn't spend the entire pandemic wringing my hands.

When I share my efforts I'm reaching out to others. I'm trying to start a conversation, to encourage my friends to share their own efforts, no matter how big or small, and no matter how imperfect.

Most importantly, I'm giving myself permission to be a dabbler. I can try out new recipes, new hobbies, and new projects. I can dabble until I gain proficiency, or I can dabble until I'm tired of one hobby and move on to another. I can dabble for the sake of dabbling - I can dip a toe into a new pond, or dive in. Nobody gets to dictate how I dabble, or tell me when to stop.

It's gratifying to play with ideas and give creativity new outlets, and it's freeing to no longer be afraid to share my creative attempts. Having discovered the joy of dabbling, I'm not going to quit, and I urge you to get creative too.

Dabble on, friends...dabble on.

Friday, 1 January 2021

So It's a New Year - by Sharon Flood Kasenberg

A new year has begun, and we want to believe that 2021 will usher in a happier era. Hope is a good thing, and I want that as bad as the rest of you - but we have to be realistic. Covid-19 isn't gone yet, and won't be until vaccines have broad use. People are still getting sick and dying. Just ten minutes ago, one of my Brazilian boys told me about a family connection who died of Covid-19 this morning.

"He was such a nice man, and I'm heartbroken", he told me. "We can't even have a funeral."

Covid is a very cruel virus. It doesn't care how nice you are, how rich you are, or even how careful you try to be, and that's why all of us need to continue being responsible. How we conduct ourselves can so easily determine the fate of those around us.

As a society, we haven't done very well so far. Most couldn't, or wouldn't, make the required sacrifices over the holiday season, and cases will continue to surge in the weeks to come.

Someone close to me told me that we could all "interpret the (Provincial) guidelines by our own light" - and then caught Covid. Luckily, she did not make the visit to her aging mother that she considered making! The guidelines have been clear from the beginning:

1) Stay within your household.

I grow increasingly frustrated with the number of people who don't understand what a household is. Sadly, your household includes only the people who live under your roof full time - not your grown children and grandchildren who live in separate houses! 

I'm astonished by the number of people who defied that rule over Christmas. Don't try to tell me that your four adult kids, their spouses and your grandkids are all part of your "household"! If you felt that you absolutely had to spend Christmas with all of your kids, I hope you took every single possible precaution to stay safe. I'll be honest - my mom joined our household for Christmas. She's 89, and doesn't have many Christmases left. She lives in assisted living, which means she technically doesn't live alone. That's the frustrating part - had my mom lived alone, across the street from me, where we could visit daily that would've been no issue. (A single person living alone can join with another household to have their social needs met.) However, because my mom lives in assisted living, where she gets communal meals, but spends 95% of her time alone, she is supposedly not lonely! Which is ridiculous, because she's never been so lonely in her life. So, I "sprung her" for the duration of the lockdown. I brought her from a red zone to an orange zone, where she will be happier and safer. For more than two weeks before she came here she had no visitors except me. She wore masks and distanced from the other residents. Did your family visitors take the precautions?

One of my friends told me how she visited one of her kids on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day "because they weren't in the same bubble". What???? First off, the concept of "social bubbles" was so entirely (and perhaps deliberately?) misunderstood that they have been forbidden for months. The idea was simple - up to ten people total could form an exclusive pact that they would visit closely (no masks, no distancing) with each other - and ONLY each other. Instead, people chose to interpret that as "it's okay to hang out with no precautions as long as there are ten people or fewer gathering." The next day, you could get together with a different group of ten - and so on, and so on...and naturally the numbers soared!

Why more people couldn't understand the problem with this is a mystery to me. My household never joined any bubble, simply because we didn't feel we could trust anybody else to make the same sacrifices we were trying to make. One person looked at me incredulously when I told her that no, if my younger son lived nearby, we would not visit with him without distancing. He has the mind of a scientist and is every bit as careful about Covid as my husband and I are. He would've joined our household permanently or visited from a distance - period.

Until more learn to sacrifice the hugs they want now for an unlimited supply later, the social isolation will have to continue.

2) Stay home!

That should be an easy one too, but when the Finance Minister thinks he should be able to travel to St. Bart's for the holidays, everyone thinks travel is fine and dandy. 

In my opinion, international travel for pleasure should've been immediately forbidden as of March 2020. The countries that have been insistent on no tourists, like New Zealand, have low numbers because they seized control quickly. Stay home! It works!

Yes, you can walk in the neighbourhood. Yes, you can shop for essentials. Yes, you can go for a drive. Stay home means don't visit friends, don't spend time doing recreational shopping, don't congregate in groups outside unless you distance and mask.

It has been disheartening to learn that the average dog understands "stay" better than most humans.

3) Maintain two metres of distance from those not in your household, and wear a mask when that is difficult.

For those unfamiliar with the metric system, that's about six and a half feet. If your husband is six feet tall, try to imagine if him lying on the ground between you and the person you are talking to, with six inches to spare. In my experience, most people seem to think four or five feet looks like two metres. Always err on the side of caution. Don't assume you can stand two feet away from someone and chat for hours because you are both masked. Maintaining distance is the single most important precaution you can take to halt the spread. The mask is meant to be an added precaution when you can't. So mask up before you head out to shop, and if you want to walk in a crowded neighbourhood where a whole lot of other people might have the same idea, put it on there too.

4) Wash/sanitize your hands.

We can sing the Happy Birthday song twice through at home, and squirt on lots of sanitizer in stores, but neither gives us license to touch everything in our path, or to touch those around us. In the grocery store, I try my best not to touch things I don't buy. In my home, I try not to touch surfaces too often, and to clean them with disinfectant more often than usual. We all need to try to touch our masks less often - I can only hope that we don't end up wearing them so long that proper masking hygiene becomes second nature to us. Whether that happens depends on how well we obey the first three rules I listed above.

I don't do everything perfectly where the pandemic is concerned, but I'm trying. Can we all try a little bit harder, please?

For the poetry portion of this post I'm re-vamping an existing song....

So It's A New Year

So it's a new year
what will we do now?
Protect those around us?
We ought to know how!
and so Happy New Year
to weak and to strong -
mask up and stay safe now,
vaccines won't be long!

A very happy new year
to all of my friends.
Let's hope it's a good one,
and pandemic ends!

If we are united
in staying at home
the virus will slow down
with no place to roam.
We're none of us special -
exempt from the rules -
and those who pay no heed,
are nothing but fools.

The vaccines are coming.
Til then wear a mask,
and stay with your household
it's not much to ask!

Sharon Flood Kasenberg, January 1, 2021

Last year was supposed to be the year of  "2020 Vision" - perfect clarity! In hindsight, I can clearly see how a lot of us made mistakes early on in the pandemic. As time goes on, and Covid continues to gain ground, we absolutely must unite in making the sacrifices necessary to slow the spread of Covid before vaccinations are amped up! Our hospitals are struggling, our elderly are lonely, and far too many of us are at risk!

Do you want to have a better 2021? Stay safe, stay home, and comply with the lockdown!

Vaccines are coming, but not in time to save all of us. We have to do our part.

Monday, 21 December 2020

All You Need Is... By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

 Enough Already!

If you believe the story
that all of us were told,
or see an allegory,
then might I be so bold
as to suggest you give heed
to what I have to say?
Love is really all we need
to get on Christmas Day.

While Covid makes you lonely
and may have cramped your style,
stay with your household only
and try to find your smile.
It's an exaggeration
to say there can't be cheer
without big celebration
in this pandemic year.

If you are hale and able
to buy a bird to roast;
though few sit at your table
you're better off than most.
So try to find your merry,
admire the stars above -
life is extraordinary
if all you get is love.

By Sharon Flood Kasenberg, December 21, 2020

Like the rest of you, this isn't the Christmas I wanted. Our family has always had quiet, insular Christmas celebrations with our immediate family, but I started this year with high hopes of hosting friends from Brazil. I spent the first few months thinking of fun things we could do together, and the next several months hoping that somehow this pandemic would end quickly enough that it might still happen. By August I had given up on that dream.

2020 has been a year of major adjustments for our family. The year started with my mom having serious health issues. As a result she decided (reluctantly) to move to assisted living. Half of her possessions were moved into her new place when all of those plans were put on hold in mid-March. Her life, and the lives of myself and two siblings were rather chaotic for several months as a result. 

If that wasn't enough drama in the midst of a pandemic, my son's marriage broke up too. It was a quick clean cut - a shock to the system, and the fact I had been blissfully ignorant of his unhappiness made me feel inadequate as a parent. The one bright spot in the midst of this change was that he planned to come home for Christmas, and for several months I hoped that I'd have guests from Brazil, my younger son, and then possibly his new girlfriend as well, all here for Christmas!

This was going to be a once in a lifetime kind of Christmas, and naturally I'm a bit blue that it isn't going as planned.

I grew up in a family with five siblings, two parents who loved to entertain, and a grandmother - all under one roof. Christmas in our household was fun, busy, chaotic and filled with good food and entertainment. When I married an only child (with a mother who never even bothered to put up a Christmas tree!) - my big family Christmases ended. It was a mutual decision between my husband and myself. When we first married, I worked retail and he was a graduate student. We didn't own a car, and each got four days off over Christmas, so it just didn't make sense to spend money we didn't have on bus tickets to the Soo, and spend two of those precious days traveling. In honesty, I think my husband was every bit as reluctant to be bombarded with a noisy household full of Floods as I was to spend four days in Windsor with a mother-in-law I had dubbed "the Grinch". We made the difficult decision to stay put and have our Christmases alone, telling our parents that we would be happy to host them in future years. It's a decision neither of us has regretted.

That first Christmas was difficult - partly because we both had the flu and ate nothing but chicken soup! The following year we were busy with a three month old baby, and the year after we had a toddler and a newborn! Christmas with my own little family became the new normal. Making the season fun for my boys became my first priority. We developed our own rituals and borrowed liberally from Flood family traditions. I'll even confess that when my sons were young I was secretly relieved that I didn't have to monitor their sugared up high spirits on Christmas Day in front of their somewhat crotchety grandfather. 

After my father died, when my sons were eight and nine, we took our place in my mother's Christmas visiting rotation. It was gratifying to host my mom, and to have her help, and her company, in the kitchen over the holidays. (Too much time alone in the kitchen has always been my only complaint about doing "our own" Christmas.)

I love our quiet family celebrations - the very same kind of celebration that most of you are balking at this year! I understand the appeal of lots of friends and family, of parties and noise and lots of laughter - those were the Christmases of my childhood - however, I can attest to the fact that quieter celebrations with only the people who ordinarily dwell under your roof can be just as wonderful. Granted, most of those Christmases we had a few parties and concerts to attend, and those are things we will all miss this year. Still, the internet has more offerings than ever right now, and we can watch performances by some of the best musicians in the world without purchasing expensive tickets, traveling to far flung venues or putting on pants!

My husband and I get along well, and we both enjoy an easy, relaxed rapport with our sons. I am beyond grateful for that, especially knowing that these last nine months have been very difficult for people who live with difficult situations and relationships at home. I know that familiarity can breed contempt, but if you are so sick of our husband or kids that Christmas alone with them seems like dire punishment, then you have much bigger problems in your life than too few guests at your beautifully set table.

This is the year to connect more creatively. Since May, we have been having a weekly video chat and game playing night with our son in Boston. A few times, one of the students we hosted from Brazil joined in too! I am so grateful for the technology that enables these fun evenings; for messages that can be exchanged almost instantaneously, and the baking tutorials and recipe exchanges that allow my son to have a taste of home while living in the United States.

Christmas isn't cancelled because the entire clan can't gather under one roof! Like so many other things in our lives, our attitude toward the holidays this year determines the outcome.

That brings me to the second half of this post...

Last year (after a few really difficult winters), I came to the sad reality that SAD is a reality in my life. I have experienced mental illness first hand, and observed long term depression in a loved one for years. When you are in the grip of depression, you aren't able to just "buck up" and "change your attitude" on a dime. In 2019, I basically became a hermit as soon as the days started becoming short and dark, so nine months of relative isolation (as in being isolated except for the closest relatives, lol) has seemed a lot more like about fourteen months for me. Being fairly introverted has made this bearable, but I still really miss seeing friends from less than two metres away, and getting the occasional hug from someone other than my husband, son or mother.

I don't enjoy having to keep my distance all the time, but because my conscience is healthy, and my mental health sometimes fragile, I know that if I infected someone around me with Covid-19 because I felt I "needed" a hug, that would be more danger to my mental health than wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance ever could.

While I'm in confession mode, I'll also admit to being more than a touch claustrophobic. I don't enjoy wearing a mask, but again, I see it as a necessity. I have a strong constitution, and I know it's a distinct possibility that I could be Covid-19 positive and carry this virus to someone else by getting too close to them. My husband tells me that if fear of harming others was graded on a scale from one to ten I would be at least a nine point five. It is worth an hour of discomfort to mask up before I buy groceries, run errands or go anywhere in public.

By necessity, this Christmas will be unlike any other we will celebrate. That doesn't mean it has to be horrible. We can still visit friends and family - outside, and from a safe distance. We can still have fun - with the people we live with. We can be stoic about not giving others the hugs we crave too, because we want all of us to be around to give and receive hugs for many years to come.

Most of you will have my usual Christmas this year. It's not so bad. I will have my usual Christmas this year too, and while I'll be sad about not seeing my son and his girlfriend, or hosting guests from Brazil, I will be satisfied to know that by living in accordance with current restrictions, and more importantly following my conscience, I am keeping myself and others as safe as I can.

I will find some "merry" because I am fortunate; I love the people I live with, and I know I am protecting those I don't live with by forgoing hugs and holiday meals.

Let's stop complaining. Enough is enough. Believe me when I say it one more time - our sacrifices are our surest and best way of showing love.

Love is all we really need to find some joy in this holiday season.

Monday, 2 November 2020

First Place: Why Affordable Housing Matters -By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

First House

In memories of yesteryear
I see that house - large and austere
that we so yearned for, long we sought
house of our own before we bought.
Our first meal there I'll not forget -
we didn't have a table yet -
but pizza picnic on the floor
was heaven; who could ask for more?
The wallpaper just didn't suit,
I tackled it, quite resolute
to older owners' taste erase
and put my own stamp on my place.
Six years we lived within those walls,
our lively voices filled the halls,
and when at last that home we left
tears freely fell - we were bereft.

Sharon Flood Kasenberg, Nov 2, 2020

When my husband decided to run for mayor of our municipality he decided that affordable housing would be one of his key issues. It was a subject that hit very close to home. When we decided to move to a more rural setting, our grown son decided he would come with us, his hope being that he would find employment here and be able to buy his own home nearby "a few years down the road".

He quickly found a full time position at one of the local factories nearby, and immediately began saving. None of us anticipated the quick, steep rise in real estate prices in the area. Within a year prices had risen by 50%, and within two years homes were selling for about 90% more than they were when we had purchased. This was great news for sellers and real estate agents, but a horrible situation for young people such as our son, who were hoping to buy their first home.

Sam has been banking most of his pay cheque for more than four years now, and has a pretty impressive down payment accumulated. In fact, he has 80% of the total cost of the first house Todd and I bought sitting in his bank account! Sadly, given his current wage he couldn't qualify for a mortgage on a shack - not even if he put a third of the total cost on the table as a down payment!

He isn't alone in his inability to gain a foothold on the local housing ladder. North Perth is a community with an abundance of low paying jobs available. At any given time, two or three of the factories will be actively recruiting workers, and in order to remain fully staffed, local industry buses people in from nearby communities. Stores and restaurants always have signs in windows. This is a community with a job surplus - sounds like paradise, right?

Wrong. The workers that are bused into our town take the pay they earn here and spend it elsewhere. If they could afford to live here, they would be contributing to the community and the local economy, but like my son, they can't find affordable housing.

Houses are being built here all the time, but they tend to be large, expensive family homes that are appealing to wealthy retirees and big city folk who view the town as a "bedroom community" for Kitchener/Waterloo. They are used to the amenities in larger centers, and are willing to drive an hour for shopping and entertainment. They don't tend to shop locally, or get involved in local affairs. Other than tax dollars, they contribute little to the town they live in. However, in the not-distant future, a lot of these people will be older and less inclined to trek back and forth to the city; they will suddenly want to shop and dine here, but without adequate housing for waitresses, retail workers and others who would gladly live, work, and actively contribute to the economy, it seems likely that a decade from now, when our recent McMansion purchasers want to utilize amenities and services, we will have fewer to offer them. 

If, on the other hand, we were to find developers who were willing to build small, affordable houses that factory workers, waitresses and retail employees could afford, our town would be in a position to expand its current amenities and services. These are people who would work here, shop here and play here. If we continue to build, and market, homes that will be purchased by retirees willing to pay more than homes are worth - simply because they are selling their current homes for an even more inflated value - we deprive ourselves of the very citizens that will keep our town vital for years to come.

Allow me to switch gears for a bit and tell you the story of how my husband and I purchased our first home...

When we married, Todd was a graduate student and I worked retail. We were very much "working class poor" - especially after I proved to be a fertile Myrtle who had two surprise pregnancies in the first two years of our marriage! With a toddler and infant to look after, it was no longer feasible for me to work retail, and I wasn't really qualified to do anything else. There was no government-sponsored daycare then, and my parents and mother-in-law lived in other cities. If I had gone back to work, 75% of my pay would've gone to the babysitter, and the other 25% would've been eaten up by transportation costs and a new "work wardrobe" (trust me - you don't have two babies in two years without moving up a size or two.) We didn't have money for me to re-train for a more lucrative career, and furthermore, I wanted to stay home with my sons. We lived like paupers in a housing co-op, dreaming of the day when home ownership would become a possibility. 

I get very frustrated when people brag about "earning their own way" and being "self made". The truth of the matter is that getting ahead financially depends on a whole raft of factors that we often have no control over. There is a lot of "poor shaming" that goes on when people struggle financially. It seems that some who are financially lucky (and yes, lucky IS the word) find comfort in believing that those who are less fortunate are "lazy" or "made bad choices". Let me set you straight if you have been guilty of applying those labels. My husband has worked hard our entire marriage. We budget carefully and don't make extravagant purchases. We live in a big house because it was a bargain, costing us considerably less than the home we sold in Kitchener. We struggled for years, and are still far from rich. But I digress...

We thought, in those early years of marriage and parenthood, that a house of our own was a very distant dream. And then one day I got a call from my husband's grandmother, and that staunch prairie woman told me in her blunt way that she was dying of cancer and intended to give us a one-time cash gift while she was still alive so none of us would have the hassle of paying inheritance taxes. By today's standards this gift was a pittance but because we had lived so frugally, it allowed us to wipe out what debts we had and still have enough for a down payment on a modest home.

So I have to ask this question to all of those "self made" individuals - did you really achieve all of your success by yourself, or did you have some help along the way? I'm not ashamed to be honest; we were able to purchase when we did - six years into our marriage - because Todd's no-nonsense Grandma helped us out.

We shopped for months before we found the house we wanted, and I can tell you that stepping into our first house felt like Christmas Day, the best birthday ever, and the excitement I'd felt about becoming a parent all rolled up in one big bundle! We had furniture for half the rooms in the house, and our kids slept on mattresses on the floor until my parents bought them twin beds as a housewarming gift. We scrimped and saved to buy paint and a bit of wallpaper. We took out carpeting and refinished floors. We both knew full well when we walked through those doors that we had a lot of hard work and sacrifice ahead of us. We didn't care - we finally had a home of our own, and a mortgage payment that was less expensive than the rent we had been paying.

I want you to let that last sentence sink in. My son Sam could get an apartment in the North Perth area that would cost him $1600.00 per month. The landlord wouldn't care if he ate KD every day of the week to make the rental payment, and would simply evict him if he couldn't. On the other hand, no bank would give him approval for a mortgage payment that costs half as much, because "he wouldn't be able to afford it". 

That friends, is why we need to find reasonable housing solutions! Why should landlords get rich while tenants get caught in a cycle of paying rents that are so outrageous that they will never be able to invest in a home? Why should we cater only to the affluent in terms of the housing options we offer as a community? Where are the "angels" who will invest in housing the "working class poor" the way Grandma K. invested in us? Where are the innovators who will consider "out of the box" solutions to housing. (I mean that literally - have you looked at some of the amazing factory-built and modular housing options that are available - out there....somewhere...?)

Why can't they become available here? Our community needs the kind of citizens who would buy them.

My son is actually quite fortunate. Our large home has an undeveloped attic that he is now thinking of having finished for himself. Furthermore, the three of us get along really well, and we have agreed that if the attic is his option, we will enter into an agreement with him that makes him a co-owner of our home. Not every single, working class Joe or Joan has parents with a gigantic attic that they can convert, or parents that they get along well enough with to even consider that sort of arrangement an option.

The wealthy among us buy and buy. Most lose that sense of profound gratitude and wonder for their home by the time they've moved three or four rungs up the property ladder... on which so many of our kids currently struggle to get a toe hold.

I can't speak for the rest of you, but I want my sons to experience that. We can do better. We need to do better. Our hardworking kids deserve better.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Sober Second Thought - By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

On Second Thought...

A plea for sober second thought
is what I will attempt
in era rife with issues hot
and posts full of contempt.
Consider that your friends may think
far differently than you -
unless, of course, to raise a stink
is what you want to do!
Consider posting sources for
the "facts" that you display.
Consider people you adore
and don't want to dismay!
Just stop to think, "Is this post nice?
Am I sure I'm correct?"
New adage now - "Post once; think twice,
and try to show respect!"
It seems to me we're all on edge
and ought to show more care.
Is this post a divisive wedge,
or one I ought to share?

-by Sharon Flood Kasenberg, July 29, 2020

This is the longest hiatus I've ever taken from writing since I began this blog more than nine years ago. Never before have I struggled so much to write anything. The chaos in the world right now leaves me feeling bogged down; I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted a lot of the time - my patience is often as short as my days (and nights!) are long.

I'd love to be able to feel that looking in on social media is a pleasant break in my day - a chance to connect with friends in an otherwise disconnected world - but that hasn't been my experience. Even Facebook Messenger, which has been my primary source of genuine connection with family and friends afar, has occasionally been hijacked by those who want to spam every person on their friends list with the latest conspiracy theory they have bought into. A few others have felt a strong need to reprimand me for expressing an opinion contrary to their own. In one case, a "friend" blasted me with such unbridled vitriol that I became convinced this was an individual who never really liked me much in the first place. Needless to say, this person has been unfriended. Ironically, she accused me of "toxic negativity" in her rant, which was the very definition thereof.

Since then I have been very cautious in my interactions online. I have strong opinions about many things, and on the rare occasions when I've expressed them I've done so very gingerly, choosing both words and tone carefully. I don't like conflict, and I don't want to be someone who instigates it. I have carefully culled my Facebook friends; unfriended a few, unfollowed many, and hit "hide this post" more times than most could imagine. You are all entitled to your opinions, and I am entitled to avoid those that I find upsetting, unsettling, and generally bad for my mental health.

One friend posted a meme that said, "If you're not hearing much from me right now, take it personally." I understand the sentiment. If you speak up loudly in vocal support of orange and oily politicians, or basically any of the causes such folk espouse, I have long since stopped following your posts. If you are anti-science, anti vaccine, or convinced that Covid-19 is a hoax, I no longer expose myself to your rants.

My husband is much more diplomatic than I am. He says he feels that he needs to see "a cross-section of opposing ideas" in his feed. Here's my take - some of what I see online these days makes me feel as comfortable around you as I would be around someone who would proudly proclaim -

"I ate someone yesterday! And I'm going to eat someone else tomorrow!"

Now I know a person's dietary choices are their own business, and it's not like this person has invited me over to dine (or be dined upon!), but gosh - I just can't quite bring myself to feel comfortable around anyone who makes this particular statement. What I believe is good and "normal" feels threatened when I hear such things, and therefore, by extension, the person who made this utterance within earshot of me is now viewed as a shady character. I'm not even going to apologize for seeing it that way.

When I hear you bragging about your "right" to not wear a mask, I feel frightened for everyone who comes into contact with you. When I hear you say you won't be vaccinated when a vaccine is developed, I shake my head in disbelief. When I see posts that proclaim how ignorant you are, I just want to avoid you. I'm sorry if that makes me seem like an intolerant person in your eyes, but the one thing I have no fear of being intolerant of is the arrogance that makes some feel that they know better than the best scientists and brightest minds on the planet.

Everyone has had to make sacrifices during this pandemic. I have a son in the USA who I will probably not see for a year or more. I miss him a lot. I have former students I've hosted living in Italy and Brazil, and the way things are going I wonder sometimes if I'll ever see those kids again - if the world will ever "normalize" enough that getting on a plane to go that far will be affordable - or an option at all...

I'm sorry if you think that wearing a mask for half an hour in Walmart is the ultimate sacrifice, but to me it seems like a little thing when compared to not seeing a family member for a year or more, or, in a worst case scenario, having a family member die alone from Covid-19. If it makes you feel any better about doing it, I'll tell you that I really appreciate you wearing that mask - I'm pushing sixty and diabetic, and married to someone with severe asthma. Furthermore, I'm more than a tad claustrophobic, and yet somehow I can manage wearing a mask for an hour, as can my asthmatic spouse.

Speaking of my husband, for those of you who clamour for our politicians, on all levels, to give up their paycheques, let me say this:

Municipal politics in this country isn't exactly a big money-maker. (If you think our politicians are spoiled, read up on what politicians in Brazil are paid. It might help you appreciate Canada a bit more.) My husband calculates that for the hours he puts in these days, he makes about eight dollars an hour. Considering that contracts in his "real" job are almost all on indefinite hold, every single bit he brings in is necessary. Please, think twice before you lump all politicians into the greedy bastard category, okay?

I want you all to know this:
  • I take Covid-19 seriously. I believe it's real and dangerous. If you don't, that's a problem for me, because if you don't socially distance AND wear a mask when you are near me, you put both of us at risk. My health might mean little to you, but my conscience works overtime. I don't want to be responsible for anyone's illness or death, and I genuinely believe it's possible for me to carry this virus without exhibiting any symptoms. 
  • I believe that even if the dangers of Covid-19 are grossly exaggerated (and I'm pretty certain they're not), it can't possibly hurt to be as cautious and considerate of each other as possible. I cringe when I see pictures of large family gatherings online, of crowded beaches and tourist attractions. I know that now we "can" meet in larger groups, but in my opinion, that doesn't mean we should. I'm happy to enjoy a socially distanced visit, but please don't be upset that I don't want to shake hands, hug you, or sit too close. I promise that it isn't personal, and I will hug you again when it is safe. For now, will you just humour me, even if you think I'm being a bit of a fanatic?
  • I believe that the economy isn't nearly as important as peoples' lives, that school isn't the only place our kids can learn, that going without a pool or splash pad for a summer isn't going to seriously endanger anyone's mental health, and that we all need to "chill out" in more productive ways.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - we don't need to comment on every post we see. We can just scroll on by most of them, hide the ones that are most odious to us, unfollow or even un-friend those who post almost nothing we agree with.

Life is short, and if times like these haven't hammered that message home then nothing will. Stay safe and be kind.

Think twice.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Powerful "In-Between" By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

The In-Between

Life's misery at times I've known;
it gives me cause to grieve -
on rocky shoals I have been thrown -
still, I choose to believe.
In spite of all the hurt I've seen
that was hard to forgive,
it's all the moments in between
that make me want to live.
I cling to moments between pain -
good days I won't forget.
I know I will be hurt again,
but I'm not beaten yet.
I want this to be understood
when from this sphere I'm gone:
The in-between days, they were good;
they kept me hanging on.
Perfection wasn't what I sought -
I disappointed too -
and when with anguish life was fraught
I simply muddled through.
I fiercely held to this belief -
some pain is worth the cost.
I learned that what defines real grief
is in-between days...lost.

By Sharon Flood Kasenberg, April 14, 2020

Life in the time of Covid-19 has exposed us to a disproportionate amount of disappointment. The long days of isolation and self-denial we're experiencing now perhaps help us paint a rosier picture than is merited of "life as it was." I can't speak for the rest of you, but, for the most part, my life isn't that much less exciting than it was in February. The things that made those days better were brief hours - and sometimes only moments - that were scattered among my daily routines; brief intervals in an otherwise fairly mundane schedule that added flavour to my life the same way a sprinkling of salt makes a bland meal palatable.

I miss those small things a lot - a visit with a friend from less than ten feet away, a walk that allows me to daydream, or just admire the scenery, without being ever vigilant about maintaining the proper distance from anyone I might encounter; a trip to the library, or a relaxing browse in a store. These are all small sacrifices.

Of course there are some bigger ticket items that most of us have to deny ourselves right now. We all have family and friends we can't currently visit with, places we want to go, and plans put on indefinite hold. I think what we really miss is the element of certainty that we used to take for granted; the ability to pencil something into our schedule - plan something ahead of time and enjoy the thrill of anticipation knowing that on a specific day in the future we were going to have a treat to look forward to. Presently we look forward to all kinds of things, we just have no idea when they will actually happen.

There are a lot of unpleasant feelings that accompany our uncertainty. Most of us are creatures of habit, and we like feeling like we can control when and how we accomplish our established tasks. Now, for many of us, days are largely unstructured. We often feel bored, vaguely annoyed, or frustrated by our circumstances. Sometimes we lack motivation, and other days we are raring to go, but every project we attempt gets stymied by something needed that isn't on hand, and can't be readily obtained.  It seems likely that most of us will look back on our days of social distancing and paint them in bleaker hues than they deserved. These days are apt to provide us with fodder for hard luck stories we will pass on to future generations - our own versions of the infamous "I waded though four feet of snow - uphill both ways! - to get through the pandemic!" 

I've had a lot of time to muse on the way we remember our lives in hindsight, and concluded that we exaggerate both the best and the worst of our experiences. Oddly, we pay very little attention to the rest of our lives - the majority of our lives - the "in-between days" that were neither great nor miserable; days that simply were. I've said this before - none of us routinely live up to our best moments, or live down to our worst. Our true selves live somewhere in-between; running in circles and trying to stay in the game out in midfield.

The importance of those seemingly insignificant times has been brought to mind recently, as my grown sons have jogged fragments of memory in long forgotten brain files. My request for Mother's Day was simple this year. Not being a fan of cut flowers, I made a simple request of each of them. I asked both to share their thoughts on the most important lesson I'd taught them. Once again I was surprised by how much impact small, everyday habits and happenings had on their lives. As my older son put it, "Mom, the best lessons you taught me were the ones that you never consciously set out to teach. They just happened spontaneously."

My younger son cited a few very "in-between day" habits that I had nurtured, little things that I didn't give a lot of thought to at the time; pragmatic Mom-ish suggestions for amusements that didn't cost a lot of money. Ways we could spend time together that kept all three of us busily entertained. There were no epic "once in a lifetime" days mentioned in the answers I received, just recollections of things that were a regular part of very ordinary days. There were no heroic moments of awesome parenting mentioned either, just observations of me being me.

In our relationships with others we take mundane days for granted. We keep our eyes peeled for feats of strength and endurance that qualify our nearest and dearest for love and admiration. We endlessly replay, and perhaps overly glorify, the award winning moments when we (or our spouse, child, or parent) really shone. Those podium worthy moments stay with us, and mollify doubts that our lives are overwhelmingly average.

Likewise, we are haunted by those moments when our worst actions, or those of a loved one, caused us to feel hurt, embarrassed, or ashamed. We tell ourselves that those events were too horrifying and egregious to be forgotten. We worry that these crimes mark us as irredeemable. Fear of repeating our misdeeds, and backsliding into behaviors we know we are capable of, make us feel paranoid. The truth is that most of civilization isn't likely to dwell on our mistakes. We may have to live through an unpleasant fifteen minutes of notoriety, but just as surely as our stellar moments are soon forgotten, our crimes will fade from memory too.

What most people will remember about us are the everyday, "in-between" things that probably seem insignificant. They'll remember the times we laughed at their jokes, the offhand hug we gave them on the day we didn't know they needed one, and the hours of humdrum time we logged together. Others are often most attentive to us in the moments we completely forget ourselves - when we are excited, passionate, lost in revelry, or preoccupied by some mundane task. They are filing away memories of the nonsense we spew, and the occasional profound statement that slips out (when neither of us are expecting it!) and the odd little traits that make us who we are. They are absorbing all of the lessons we teach without meaning to - the wisdom we have that is inherently our own.

Every in-between day counts. Our lives are measured in moments the less enlightened can easily miss, or worse yet, dismiss. Whether our relationships fail, or flourish, is largely dependent on our ability to look beyond the best and worst actions of those around us, and cling to the truth that lies in that middle ground. Optimism thrives when we cling tenaciously to the ordinary moments, and allow the dogged days that challenge us to make us vulnerable to failure, to misery, to boredom and frustration. Who needs hope when life is consistently easy? Plants bloom best after a season of dormancy, and perhaps people do too.

Once upon a time I lived a normal life - not too exciting, but comfortably predictable. It was full of people, activities, and events that I took for granted. Then came the pandemic - months of tedious "in-between" days that were not as bad as I'll someday recount them as being. It was a period full of days that simply were; they came, they went, and from the moment I awoke on each day, until the moment my restless mind and body succumbed to slumber, I had lots of unscheduled hours to think about everything - and everyone - I took for granted. I spent a lot of time during those days assessing myself, my life, my relationships, and my feelings, hopes and opinions. It was a time full of lessons I didn't mean to be taught, as I contemplated how the world might change, and how my world would evolve.

There is no "happily ever after" guaranteed at the end of this tale, and the unwritten ending depends on how the tale unfolds between the introduction and the final flourish on the page.

Don't waste this pause between a glorified past and an uncertain future. Make these in-between days count. Use this pause from ordinary life to think, create, dream and love. Promise yourself you will never take "ordinary" for granted again, and will always pay attention to the lessons you are, unintentionally, teaching and being taught.

Never underestimate the power of days "in between."

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Cry, Scream, Breathe, Pause, and Reset - By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

Recently a Facebook friend inspired me with a poignant post about how, after days of dealing admirably with the unique challenges brought on by self distancing, parenting, and working from home during a pandemic, she woke up one day unable to hold back tears.

I get it. I had a rough winter - holiday blues, an ailing mom that required a lot of my time and attention in January, a virulent cold that kept me in for much of February...and then along came March, and I enjoyed a whopping two weeks of normalcy before life became surreal. In short, while it has been a month since my self distancing efforts officially began, I feel like I have been unofficially living in a state of "mostly isolation" since 2020 began.

I was a very good sport about social distancing for the first fourteen days. I naively thought that a few weeks of collective effort would get us over the Coronavirus hump; the curve would start to flatten, and life would get back to normal. What were a few more weeks of denying myself outings and visits with friends in the grand scheme of things? I could do this!

Two weeks went by...the period of self distancing was extended until the end of April...and, like my Facebook friend, I began to feel the strain as all kinds of uncertainties took hold. Days became more lethargic, nights became longer. I slept poorly and felt flat.

Then one day, like my friend, I found myself getting teary eyed over everything, and when I read her post it resonated with me and inspired this poem.

Cry - By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

Cry your tears of yearning.
Cry your tears of pain.
Cry for what you're learning -
wisdom you'll retain.
Cry for all you're missing -
pleasures now denied;
cheeks you would be kissing
were there no divide.

Crying in confusion,
with my thoughts adrift -
soggy brain's conclusion -
my life is a gift.
With tears freely flowing,
heart is fertile earth
into which I'm sowing
some kind of rebirth.

Planted in pandemic,
seeds are sure to sprout.
Lest they grow dysthymic
thoughts get weeded out.
Friendships once neglected
from ashes arise;
feelings resurrected
take us by surprise.

Cry out in your longing
for all those afar.
Cry tears of belonging
with those where you are.
Cry in isolation,
spare all tears of grief -
safe from devastation
we'll cry in relief.

Adapting to the rapid changes entailed in keeping careful distance from each other has been difficult for all of us. Keeping to ourselves and staying in the house most of the time has been hard on all of us. Being ever vigilant about staying two meters away from people in stores and on walks can be downright mentally exhausting. I am starting to have nightmares about random people getting too close to me on the street, or, even more sweat inducing dreams where someone actually touches me! I am getting frustrated by how many items on any given shopping list can't be purchased because shelves in the store were bare. I get tired of spending time with the same three people, and missing the faces of friends - and familymembers who aren't living under my roof. I miss going to the library, chatting with the ladies in my book club, browsing in stores, attending Toastmasters meetings...

You get the picture. We're all missing our normal pleasurable routines that involve friends and extended family members, and we're all feeling bored, tired, lonely, anxious and frustrated.

Generally speaking I feel like I'm handling pandemic life with some sense of decorum. Unlike many, I get dressed every day. I try to be somewhat productive and don't binge watch Netflix. I do take walks. I can mostly handle living within the new boundaries imposed by Covid-19.

The hard part of managing life during a pandemic is that I still have the problems I had before this began - they didn't miraculously disappear. The injustice of this fact stings me daily. Our ordinary, everyday, preexisting challenges are still ongoing, and as unfair as it is, new problems still arise and tragedies still occur that further complicate my pandemic angst. Life goes on - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I miss the good things that are presently denied, but I find myself more appreciative than ever for those I still have access to - sunshine and blue skies, a good meal, an amusing conversation or heartfelt chat with a friend, a good belly laugh, or a hug from one of the two people I'm allowed to hug.

As for the bad and the ugly - they hit me with a wallop that leaves me reeling. Far too often I am besieged by a sense of powerlessness. I can't rush to anyone's aid, and I can't easily escape my frustrations in any sense of the word.  At times it feels like multiple problems laugh at the idea of socially distancing from each other, and instead link hands defiantly, daring me to take a run at them all at once. The "problems of real life" vs. Sharon, spurring me into reaction in an Olympic class game that challenges my mental strength -

"Red rover, red rover - we call Sharon over!"

Yeah world - thanks - I needed that. (Not.)

We are all in the same boat, and I can't speak for the rest of you, but I'm just trying to stay afloat. You can be as stalwart as you like, and blink away whatever tears threaten to roll down your cheeks, but I'm giving myself permission to cry. Vulnerability is its own form of strength. It takes courage to admit to sometimes feeling momentarily defeated. I'm giving myself permission to feel. It's not always going to be pretty, but that's okay. We all have a lot of emotion to purge, and we need to find healthy ways to do that.

Purge - By Sharon Flood Kasenberg

Purge yourself of all the fear you feel.
Let it out with every breath you hold.
Give your inner angst a form that's real -
let your screams be loud; your tears be bold.
Unlock deepest chasms of your mind
and purge the negativity therein.
Replace the darkness with some thoughts more kind -
reset your hollow core; anew begin.

Find positive ways to help you purge your negative emotions. I'm pouring my heart into poetry tossing darts like my life depends on hitting high triples and bullseyes. I'm talking to friends as often as I can, baking with a vengeance...I'm doing my best to cope with all of the problems life has the gall to serve up in spite of a pandemic! So are you.

Let it out - cry. Scream if you need to. Then breathe, pause, and reset. This isn't over yet. Life can feel overwhelming at the best of times, and getting through a pandemic intact requires collective effort.