Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

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Home Fire

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It’s been a little over a week since we moved back into our Dempster house. It feels good to be home. It feels right. And that surprises me.

Living out here, forty kilometers from town, with no close neighbours, limited running water and off-grid is not easy. Over the years here, I’ve struggled with the isolation of it, which is only exacerbated by the isolation of new motherhood. I’ve cursed the hoops I have to jump through to do something as simple as wash my hair or bathe my kids or pee in the night in the middle of winter.

But of all the houses I’ve lived in over the last few years, this one feels like home.

Immediately, as soon as I step through the door, I feel home. The woodsmoke smell, the sunny south facing windows, the creaks in the floors. Even the pair of whiskey jacks have come back, never far, swooping in to pick over the scrapings of the oatmeal or rice pot that we cast over the front porch before washing the dishes. My familiars.

Our yard is full of snow still. It melts more every day, and the usual mini lakes and streams open up: there’s one by the woodpile that we must cross to start the generator, and another conveniently located right in front of the outhouse. We cut channels in the ice to help the meltwater drain away.

Tomorrow we’re off to Whitehorse for a few days, and starting next week my day off to write will be Thursday, rather than Tuesday, so that’s when I’ll be updating my blog (until things change again!)

Finding Home

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Since I first left Ontario for the Yukon in 2005, I have made my home in many places. Run-down trailers, bedrooms in shared homes, wall tents, apartments, and a log cabin in the woods. I’ve lived here in Dawson City, back in London, Ontario and in Quebec City. I have bounced around so much over the last 12 years and friends, I am tried of it.

I want my roots to reach down deep into the soil. I want to plant perennials in my garden and enjoy them the following summer. I want to unpack my suitcase. I want to put my damn suitcase in a closet somewhere and forget about it for awhile. I want the boys to have their own bedroom, with their own beds and dressers and secrets whispered under covers. I want to renovate my kitchen (except not really because there are a lot of decision to be made in renovating a kitchen).

We’ve been living in a rented house in town since November, and our time there is fast coming to an end. And if you’re not from Dawson then let me tell you that finding a family home to rent here is next to impossible. And buying a home here, while possible, would mean taking on another big load of debt for us. It seems reckless to do when we’ve got this lovely log home just sitting there waiting for us 40 kilometers out of town. Sure, there’s no indoor plumbing, and our closest neighbours are birds…but it’s ours. We own it and I planted perennials in the garden last year and I want to see if they come up or if I killed them. I want to step out of my door and walk the forest trail to the nearby pond. I want to sit down there and not think about getting up again for a few years, anyway. I want to put in a septic field and indoor plumbing and build a guest cabin and an outdoor sauna. I want to fill my green house with basil and tomatoes and nothing else.

We’ve decided to move back there at the end of March. We’ve decided to try and make this place work. Close friends and family will be worried right now. But I’m the one who has been pushing for this move. Maybe it’s the pragmatic Virgo in me, or maybe, at the other end of the scale, it’s me going off of my gut feelings. But this is what makes the most sense. And it feels right, too.

Truthfully, of all of the places I’ve landed in the last 12 years, this is the place that makes me feel home. Which is bizarre, because I’ve had such a difficult time there. But the children are that much older now, that much more independent, and I am that much further along in my own journey. I feel better able to meet the challenges of rural living. I know what I need to function, and I’m getting better at honouring those needs.

It will mean more driving. It will mean that sometimes I spend a night, alone, in town. For a little while, it will mean showers in town and laundry in town and pooping outside. I’m ready for it.

We’re making plans to finish the inside properly (no more plywood floor and insulation ceilings for us!) and over the summer we’ll look into a septic field and building an addition that includes a real bathroom, with a flushing toilet and everything. Dreamy.

I suppose this is an aspect of accepting where I am, and what I’ve got. Much of the suffering (I use that in the Buddhist sense, which is to say, the dissatisfaction) of my life comes from me pining for things I don’t have, for things that are not my reality. I won’t promise to love every moment of living out there, but I will promise not to let the rough spots take over. I will accept the bad with the good. I will stay present through all of it, so that when I’m cursing having to go to the outhouse in the cold, I might also look up and see the northern lights. Both of those things can co-exist.

It will be a challenge, yes. But one I feel much better equipped to handle.

 

Back To It

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This morning, as I was about to get Aedan dressing for his first day back to school, the power went out. The house, the whole town, went as dark as if a curtain had been pulled. The kids were all scared. I remembered a turtle nightlight they’d been playing with, on the floor by the chair. I felt around for it and clicked it on. Instantly, their fears were forgotten as they marvelled at the green stars flung across the ceiling. Paul lit a few candles, and we sat in the dim until finally, the power came back on.

I got Aedan dressing himself, packed his morning snack into his backpack, and before I knew it, he was out the door with his daddy. As the door closed behind them, I picked up my phone, absently checking my email. A submission response came in from Mom Egg Review, a magazine I submitted to months ago. They want to publish one of my poems in their Spring issue. I felt a momentary thrill, followed by a little pang of regret that I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, haven’t submitted anything new since last fall. I wonder briefly where my writing life will go in 2017.

And just like that, we’re back to our normal. School days, a quieter house, soggy Cheerios, late morning sunrises and poetry.

Home

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Our Dempster home. Not where we’re living now.

We’ve been living in our rented “town house” for a few weeks now. It’s a big, rambling, oddly laid out house on three floors. There are big north facing windows in the two sitting rooms, with views of the Dome (is it a mountain? I’m never sure what to call it. It’s bigger than what I think a hill should be, but smaller than what I think a mountain should be.) There is ample light, even as we turn incrementally away from the sun. We moved almost none of our own furniture here, though, and the furniture that was already here is sparse, a real hodge-podge. Our dining room table is an old round wood veneer table butted up against a slightly higher glass top table. There are Hastily made wooden shelves in the two sitting rooms. Extra phone and fax lines, external wiring cased in metal and glaring fluorescent lights cover the walls and ceilings: in the summers, a television production crew rents this house as their dormitory and office space. They’ve certainly left their mark.

My point in all of this is that we’ve felt a bit like squatters here. I didn’t realize it until today. I was having my girlfriends over for tea and snacks this afternoon, so before P left for work this morning, I insisted we bring down an old couch that was in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Our seating arrangement until today has been a lone armchair in one of the sitting rooms, with a mattress-turned-reading/jumping space and a fancy deck chair in the other sitting room. With the couch moved down, with the toys picked up and some throw blankets spread around, with candles lit and potpourri simmering on the stove, with Joni Mitchell low on the speaker, it finally felt a bit like home. I do this often: live in a clutter, clothes flung about every room of the house, stepping over the same mess over and over, crumbs sticking to my feet in the most unpleasant way, until company is due. And then as I tidy and make things cozy, I wonder: why don’t I do this for myself? For us?

We’ve had so many homes in the last 5 years. You’d think I’d be better at this by now. I always bring the important things, when possible: houseplants, a few framed photos, a basket of Yukon rocks (yes, really) some favourite candles, a prism from a dear friend, a rainbow striped blanket from Mexico…these little things, thrown about whatever new place we come to inhabit, help in the beginning. But it’s the extra push of having visitors, and maybe the visitors themselves, that really make me feel moved in.

I know this won’t be our last move. I’m tired of moving. I want to be rooted. For now, though, I’ll have to put down roots like grass: wide and shallow.