It was time for a change….

1487447_10153646858950015_607173355_nIt was three years ago this month when we made the leap. A conscious, life changing decision, both of us were 63 and we’d decided to move off grid. Full time. In the Canadian Arctic. North of the 60th parallel. Land of the midnight sun….and land of long, cold ,dark winter months. Brilliant!

s-l1600This wasn’t a stretch for me. I grew up in a fishing village on a small island off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. Hand pumps for well water, outhouses for toilets, buckets down wells and ice boxes on the side of your house  for refrigeration were things I grew up with. Kerosene lanterns,  oil drip, coal and wood stoves, getting eggs from the hen house and then eating the non layers, beach rocks warmed in the oven to heat our beds…all familiar territory.

My husband…not so much. A self professed “navy brat”, he grew up on an armed forces base with swimming pools and indoor arenas to skate on. At home they had always had a fridge …well, as long as he remembers… and had the first TV on their street.

Our training ? Well, we had owned an off grid cabin for 14 years. We bought it 17 years ago after looking for three years for one we could afford. We took it from a 460 sq ft, mouse infested, dark, dank, two room plywood box to over 1200 sq ft cabin and, with the helpful knowledge of other cabin owners, mostly full time residents, had managed to make it quite comfortable over the years. Accessible by boat in summer and snow machine in winter (truck, if it was a low snow year or we paid to have a road ploughed across the lake once the ice was thick enough) left two seasons when the ice was either forming or melting where living there full time just wasn’t feasible.

We had built our own rudimentary solar system several years ago. It provided enough energy to run a 12 volt RV pump for our water tank, a couple of electric lights and later, as we became more knowledgable about the very important difference of modified and pure sine inverters…a small TV and VCR (the precursor to a DVD player for anyone reading this that’s under 35 or so.)

The cabin was built on a solid rock ledge, but I quickly adapted and began to grow edibles in flower pots and other resourceful things…like old wheel barrows. Given the short season we had to access the cabin I stuck to what I called my salad garden. 541161_10152121434835015_1878836795_nSeveral kinds of lettuce and some spinach filled the wheel barrows and the in pots I grew an abundance of cherry tomatoes, radish and a few green beans or peas.

 

 

 

Herbs did well with our beautiful southern exposure and I always had an abundance of rosemary, dill, thyme and cilantro. I also learned that big pieces of birch bark spread over the soil will keep the squirrels out of your planters and doubles as a decent mulch…without being ‘mulched’!

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Growing up with 4 uncles…with me, always underfoot at my grandparents house…and the oldest daughter/grandchild/niece…and being the stereotypical tomboy, if I hung around long enough to be a potential nuisance, I was put to work. That could involve cleaning fish, plucking ducks or chickens, splitting kindling, stacking firewood or shingling. It didn’t matter. If it had to be done and I was there, I helped do it.

10501762_10155604131810015_4265636635731372641_nAnd that was how I came to be such a natural ‘homesteader’, ‘bush woman’, ‘pioneer’. I carried the bundles up the ladder and shingled the roof of the generator/woodshed we built at our cabin. With some help from my husband doing the peaks, I clad the outside walls of the cabin with white cedar shingles we had shipped from New Brunswick…the same shingles that were used on my grandmother’s house, and my own east coast home.11180597_10155604130055015_8087949643775523095_n

There were still things I needed to learn. I took both my non restricted and restricted firearms training back to back one spring and placed at the top of the class in both. Bears beware!

10391463_10154288354570015_3737174284033511103_nI learned how to handle boats…first a 12 foot Crestliner with a 30hp outboard motor , which we called a ‘kicker’. Then came  a 19 foot Harborcraft with a 90hp motor, and finally a 20 foot Hewescraft with a 150hp outboard. I confidently, and often alone, drove them across the lake and docked in all sorts of weather.

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Solar energy has always interested me, and when we finally installed a ‘proper 12 volt system at the cabin, maintenance of the batteries and running of the system became my domain…including climbing on the roof to clean the snow off the panels in winter. With the system we installed a back up generator. This also fell into my list of jobs at the cabin. Keeping it full of gas and making sure the oil was changed or topped up as required became as familiar and scheduled as making a stew on the wood stove or baking a pizza on the BBQ.

I had driven snow machines before, but that, and our ATV…or ‘quad’ … became our necessary modes of transportation at the cabin, not toys like they are for many. Hauling lumber, 100 lb propane tanks, groceries or firewood, these were two essential pieces of equipment. And so, like with everything else, I became what I jokingly called ‘a northern biker chick’ .

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My husband and both sons are very skilled with chainsaws. I can use them but I wouldn’t call myself skilled by any means! We both have…and wear…full safety gear; kevlar chaps; steel toed, cut resistant in-lay, lug soled boots; helmets with face shield and ear protection. Yes siree! I am a homesteading fashionista when I get that gear on! I’ll be honest…I’m better using the wood splitter than the chainsaw!

I’ve been working on some stories about our off grid life, from the cabin to our current full time home. I’ll be sharing those in the coming months and I look forward to hearing your comments…and sharing your laughter as I relate some of our more interesting adventures over the years.  I also have some posts in the works about our life across the Arctic. There are some adventures to be told from those years! 2018 is about to get interesting! Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Shifting the Paradigm

healthrelationshio.oldlifenewlife-1140x500It’s true. The older you get, the faster time seems to pass. My Vulcan, logical side tells me that isn’t actually the case, but the human side of me sees the hands of the clock speed up with the turn of each calendar page. The emotional part of my brain panics but the rational part tells me that what’s important is to not let time pass YOU by.

Breathing in each moment, being present…it all seems to make so much sense but it’s more difficult than we realize. For all that we want to live in the moment, life happens in the peripheral vision of our days and can’t be ignored. All any of us can do is the best we can.

We are all under so much pressure. To be more than. To reach higher. To go faster. We need time to just be. To take in. To savour. To breathe.

We are bombarded every second of every day by negativity and fear mongering …all about things that ‘could’ happen. And all the while negative and fearful things are happening.

But there are also wondrous, joyful and spectacular things happening in our world, in our communities, in our lives. Some days we need to spend more time sifting through all of noise and darkness to find the quiet and the light.

2017 was a difficult year. Still coming to terms with the loss of someone dear six months prior, and then in June, we once again were hit hard by the accidental death of another we held close. Like a son these past 20 years. So young…not quite 50…it tore our hearts out…for our own loss, but as much for his young wife and child.

Prior to that I had gone through a difficult spinal surgery and the recovery hasn’t been as quick or easy as I had hoped. There were sick mothers we worried about, siblings that weren’t well and all of the sorts of things that life slaps you with when you aren’t watching.

1200px-Yin_yang.svgBut, like yin and yang, there was balance. My back issues weren’t terminal, our mothers both get to turn the page on another year, and we were blessed with another precious granddaughter on June 1st. Harlow Grace. A beautiful name for a beautiful child. In between was the normalcy of life.

I have learned over the years to give thanks as soon as I open my eyes each day, for that small simple act, one we all tend to take for granted, is denied so many.  Life truly is good. Sometimes we just need a gentle reminder of that.

And so, as I have for the past several years, I have spent the past few weeks thinking about what my guiding word for 2018 would be. And, as in every year prior, the word chose me. 395930_10151094689500015_794008345_n

I commit to being more present. More positive. I commit to spending more time doing the things I enjoy….with the people I love. I commit to taking better care of my own health, physical, emotional and spiritual. I commit to removing myself from relationships that seek to break my spirit and damage my soul. I commit to being the change I want to see in the world. I commit to living my life in a more joyful, appreciative space. And I commit to nurturing my passion: writing.

ParadignShiftSo as 2017 ends, I want to shift the paradigm. My paradigm. Rather than looking back at 2017 with sorrow and regret, I look forward to 2018 with joyful anticipation. Baby steps.baby-steps

 

The Birthday I Became “Grand”

I was looking forward to my 43rd birthday like I had every single one since I can remember: with gratitude, joy, and, well, just the promise it held. I had never been one to worry about my age, or try and hide it. Still don’t. Everyday I wake up is a blessing. Every anniversary of my birth, a miracle….a promise, an opportunity.

Over the years, I have watched and listened with true curiosity when a sister fell apart as she turned 30; a friend lied her way into 50; a child tried hard to rush headlong into their 20s while they were still in their teens. I didn’t get it. I have loved every age I have been, and while some years have certainly been better than others; some decades more rewarding, each has brought with it many gifts, but none like that birthday all those years ago.

Our daughter, who was expecting, was living with us, and over the months prior, I had done what I could to ensure she had a healthy, happy pregnancy.

At first it was just her and I, as my husband finished off his work commitments in another community. We were living on the top floor of a three story apartment building…with no elevator…and no outdoor space.

Everyday after work, and on weekends we would walk all over town, getting to know our community by exploring it on foot. We would walk to the grocery store and carry our bags home and up those three flights of stairs where we ate healthy meals. I loved every second of those days. We grew closer than ever and looking back, those were some of the happiest days I’d ever had being a Mum.

Some weekends we went exploring, taking what I thought were shortcuts, but weren’t. Like two billy goats we climbed rock bluffs, cut through back yards, and laughed our way around obstacles in our path.

As spring turned to summer, we found a cheap little car which broadened the horizons of our adventurers.

Weekends came and we’d pack a picnic lunch and head out of town. Talking the whole way, we would stop when a place looked interesting, and we’d go exploring. Crawling our way across still melting rivers and small waterfalls, I watched as my daughter blossomed. Her skin became sun kissed, her eyes sparkled again, her heart healed and her soul soared with the thought of impending motherhood. She was healthy in body and spirit, in amazing physical shape for the upcoming birth, and happy. Hearing her laughter was like feeling sunshine on my face. My heart swelled with love…and wonder, and the realization that I was going to be a GRANDMOTHER.

We talked of names, wondered what gender the baby would be, and laughed with joy as the little one growing inside her kicked happily to the music at a summer street festival. We joked about her due date…my birthday, and how women never give birth on their due dates…especially with their first child.

I watched with love and pride as she sat with headphones on her growing belly, or sat quietly reading aloud to the life inside her. We searched yard sales for baby gear, and found all we needed for this wee one that would soon be joining our family. We scrubbed the carriage, the highchair, bathtub, and washed stacks of baby clothes. And talked, and laughed, and shared our hopes and dreams for the future of their lives….her and her child. I wished every night that my daughter would have her own daughter…but we both knew it wouldn’t matter. This child would be loved and nurtured.

But she knew. She knew, even as she decided on names for both a boy and a girl, she knew the baby she was giving life to would be her daughter. Just as I knew when I was carrying her, that she would be a girl. In fact, like me, she never really settled on a name for a son. Just a daughter. A Gaelic name, to honour her Grandmother and her Scottish heritage.

The days passed, and soon it was the day before her due date…the eve of the anniversary of MY birth. The three of us; her Dad had finally joined us, took the dogs out for their evening walk. Just as we started the trek back up the hill we had wandered down, it began to sprinkle. As we reached the top of the hill, we all stopped short. There, right in front of us, was the most beautiful double rainbow. Not faint, but in full vibrant colours, it’s arch and ends clearly visible in the mist of the evening shower. 

Joking, I laughed as I hugged my own baby girl and said, “It’s a sign!” As we three and two dogs piled into the truck, that rainbow stayed in our line of vision all the way home. We delighted in the splendour of it all…but our ‘signs’ had just begun.

The light autumn shower had stopped by the time we got home, and the rainbow disappeared into the warmer colours of the coming dusk. We had a nice dinner, and as I began clearing the table with my daughters help, I said to her…”I’ll do this. You relax”.   A short time later she went out on our balcony for some fresh air. The evening was one of those rare autumn evenings in the north. Still and warm, but with just a hint of chill in the air.

The patio door opened and, with those huge blue eyes sparkling, she said, “Mum, you’ve got to see this.” As I joined her on the deck, the intake of my breath was audible.

The sky above us was a swirl of red, and mauve and green. Like the flowing skirts of many dancers one moment, to the slow drawn out brush strokes of a painter, the Aurora Borealis were really putting on a show.  As I pulled my sweet woman-child close, I began to cry. My heart was so full of love in that moment…and hope. Together we stood looking up at those dancing lights. And we knew. Her child, protected and loved in that safe, warm place was about to enter the world.

About 4am that next morning, a soft tapping on our bedroom door woke me from a deep, untroubled sleep. There she was, standing there whispering “It’s time Mum.” Suddenly the quiet of those early morning moments exploded into a flurry of action. Truck heated up, brother called, bag remembered, and dogs let out. It could be a long day, after all – her birth had taken nearly 36 hours.

She, the calm one in our little family that descended on the hospital, had asked me weeks prior if I would go in the delivery room with her. I told her I’d think about it. I am a tad squeamish and didn’t want any attention on me ‘when’ I passed out. Plus, it was one thing to go through labour myself…I didn’t think I could bear to see my own child in that kind of pain. I finally, after many sleepless nights, discussions with her Dad, and thinking it through, told her I would be there with her.

All I remember about those next hours are showers, back rubs and nurses telling her what great shape she was in and it would surely help her labour. My mind wandered back to all those hikes, walks and stairs…more to avoid the present than anything.

About 9:30am, I went out and told her Dad and brother they might as well go home and get some sleep. It would be awhile. Her brother stayed while her Dad left to check on the dogs and grab some breakfast. 30 minutes later, I had her brother call him back…it wouldn’t be long after all.

Her calmness and focus during this whole time caught me off guard. I had expected her to be frightened…to be overwhelmed, with the pain of labour, but also with the enormity of what was about to happen. She was neither. Grace under pressure. Strength. Quiet determination. Fearless.

Suddenly it was happening. Seven hours after that tap on my bedroom door. It was time. The baby was coming. I stood by her head holding one hand while a nurse stood on the other side, coaching her and holding her other hand. Suddenly the room began to spin. OH MY GAWD!!! Don’t you DARE pass out!!! Those were the thoughts racing through my head as the nurse touched my shoulder and said ‘Perhaps you should sit down’….at which point those enormous blue eyes snapped up and me and she said “Mum please don’t let go. Don’t sit down.” I snapped out of it. I was right. It IS difficult to see your daughter in that kind of pain. No epidurals for her. Natural childbirth. She wanted her strength and love to be the only thing that brought her child into this world.

Suddenly, the words we’d been waiting nine months to hear. “IT’S A GIRL.” Those blue eyes locked mine and a small smile lit that beautiful, exhausted face. With a squeeze of my hand, she said “Happy birthday Mum.”  Kylie. In Gaelic, or in English…she is indeed Beautiful.

 

Happy Mother’s Day Brandi.