Monday, September 29, 2008

Under Rug Swept

Those of you keeping track (AKA me) may realize that I'm in the final week of service with the Forces. On Monday, I'm posted to a holding unit where I will sit, administratively only, until my final release in April. The six months in between are a period given for vocational rehabilitation- trying to teach an old soldier new tricks.

I feel like a manic depressive right now. I'm ebullient, nostalgic, giddy, afraid, excited and morose in turn with little or no transition. I pity those around me; I don't even know what I'm feeling until I walk in the door and whip my beret viciously across the room and make a pointed comment or six. "Oh!" I note with surprise. "I seem to be angry."

Wait a minute. Angry? Why angry?

It's tradition in the military to have a formal luncheon for people who are retiring. There's a whole program detailing the protocol of these events. It's a regular occurrence; it's what you do, plain and simple. I talked this over with DH; I'm not one for crowds but I think I needed and wanted the formality and ceremony to close this huge chapter of my life. I started writing my speech in my head. I wondered when someone would ask me where I preferred the luncheon; these aren't quick events to arrange and time is short.

I went to see my Captain last week for an informal meeting about the release process. He mentioned that there would be a section breakfast next week when they'd say so long to a couple of other people who were moving on to new units.

I froze. My heart froze. In the world of military tradition and protocol, a breakfast (shared, no less) is to acknowledge people who were being posted out, not retiring or releasing. After the gloriously sharp hurt had faded and I could speak, I pointed out to my Captain that I was retiring, not being posted; that this was my career that was being wrapped up and that I was entitled to the full departure program. He got the "deer in the headlights" look, and said he'd get back to me on that.

Five minutes later, it was confirmed; not that I was in any doubt. Here I had just over a week of service remaining, and my chain of command had not even realized I was leaving, never mind planning an event. (Nothing happens quickly in the military- I informed them almost a year ago that this was coming, so it certainly wasn't a surprise.)

A while later, a Sgt was delegated to oversee the event, and the grumbling began about the extra administrative work.

Because of the preparations necessary, my luncheon will likely take place in November; over a month after I have actually left the unit.

I am wounded to the core that my service to Queen and Country should matter so little to them, that they would have quietly swept me under the rug had I not been assertive enough to ask for what's mine. My friends, if there was any doubt that I am doing the right thing by moving on, this incident seals the deal. My sadness has been replaced with anger. Mostly.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slow Food Weekend

With DH and the girls both gone, I am in the enviable position of having no-one to please but myself when it comes to meals. Yesterday I had a craving for pumpkin pie, and after looking around, I settled on a somewhat exotic recipe calling for sweet potatoes and coconut milk called cazuela pie. As I took the fragrant spiced sweet potatoes out of the oven, it made me crave a soup I had had somewhere in my past- sweet potatoes, peanuts, coconut milk and spices. I filed that thought away and continued making my pies.

The pies were done, half of one eaten, and the craving persisted this afternoon, so I turned to my most likely friend in such a food emergency: the Rebar cookbook. I found it immediately: African Yam and Peanut soup with ginger and pineapple. (Recipe is found here... is this even legal to type out recipes from books and publish them on the Internet???)

Anyhow. Unwilling to take any short-cuts, I made a lovely vegetable broth from leeks, celery, carrots, fresh garden herbs and spices, and then used this broth as the base of the yam soup. All afternoon I chopped and stirred, blended and sampled. It's funny how I usually couldn't be bothered to go to this lengths for dinner with a house full... but perhaps since it was only me, I took great pleasure in the preparations.

Dinner was excellent. A glass of Merlot, some whole-wheat naan bread, and a beautiful creamy orange soup graced with cilantro and dull red squiggles of hot sauce. Should have taken a picture but I was too hungry. An excellent recipe, though pretty time-intensive. Fortunately, I'll have left-overs for days, and a freezer stocked with delicious soup.

A Hero You Never Knew

DH, my mum Linda and I vacationed in Dubrovnik last spring. DH and I had spent six months in BiH in 2001 and had briefly holidayed (and fell in love) in Dubrovnik, and knew we had to return.

While there, I prowled the streets alone one day, and found my way to War Photo Unlimited, a gallery that focused on stories of conflict. Being deeply interested in the subject matter, I bought a ticket to the exhibition. The main exhibition was by a Canadian photographer with Croat roots, a young woman called Lana Šlezić. Her exhibition, titled Forsaken, dealt with the subject of women in Afghanistan. The photos are provocative, sad, hopeful, horrifying; powerful in every dimension. Deeply moved, I brought my mother and husband back to see the exhibit the next day.

One photo in particular struck me. A robin's egg blue burqa shrouded a woman; from beneath the fabric her arm is raised, pointing a pistol.


This is Malalai Kakar, one of the few incredibly brave women who serve on Afghanistan's police force. Death threats from the Taliban were the stuff of her daily life, but she was a woman who knew she was doing what needed to be done and making other women's lives better by her actions. She did not let fear stop her.

The Taliban shot this amazing woman in the head this morning. She was killed instantly.

The only consolation I can take from this (inevitable?) tragedy is that upon hearing of her death, over 20 women today alone joined the Kandahar police force.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still Life

They bought the house in 1990 after they sold the farm. Sparkling new, with white linoleum, countertops and walls, it must have seemed a great luxury after the farmhouse. Running water, city sewers and no early-morning chores to deal with... they finally had the kind of life they worked so hard for.

Grandma was an Irishwoman and yet a lady, as someone remarked laughingly. In thrifty Irish spirit, she treasured her house and belongings. Nearly twenty years later, the linoleum gleams as new and the white paint throughout looks fresh. There’s not a stick of furniture in the house newer than ten years old and one suspects most of it is much older than that; yet it too is lovingly maintained. Her bedroom closet holds her daily clothing, perhaps a dozen tops and half that number of slacks. (She wore slacks, not pants; and certainly not jeans. Or if she did, they were ironed complete with creases.) In other closets her “good” clothes are hung; outfits that attended weddings and funerals on her. These dresses and suits hang formally on the hangers as they hung on her lithe, graceful frame; seemingly imbued with her presence when she wore them. It’s hard to imagine anyone else wearing them.

The house is for sale now. With Grandma reduced to a box of ashes that Grandpa takes into the bedroom with him at night, there’s no reason to stay there any longer. It’s too much house for an old man, especially when he is so far away from family. Extended family descended over the weekend when her memorial was held and stripped the house bare of valuables and things that remind them of her. There’s not much left in the house, and that suits him fine. He doesn’t consider material possessions important; they were hers and what else is one to do with them? The middle daughter has obsessively polished the house to a fair gloss when the crowds left, getting the house ready to show. It will show well; being so lovingly maintained and having a feeling of spaciousness from being so empty. Grandpa has asked a high initial price; he says he will buy a new chain with which to wear his wife’s old wedding ring around his neck with if he gets what he asks. As of now, the ring rests on a thin chain of silver that must have also been his wife’s.

She had time before she died to make sure her good jewellery went where she wanted it to go. Her new wedding rings to the eldest daughter. The special necklace that Grandpa had made for her with her first initial as a pendant went to the granddaughter who was given that same name by virtue of a middle name. So on, until all of worth was distributed, and a strange collection of leftovers remained. A chunky chain with a strange buffalo pendant, a pin in the shape of a garden hoe, an iridescent swallow. Several small angel pins, some with birthstones and some without. The flotsam and jetsam of one woman’s life, possessions that meant something to her and nothing to others. They are picked through, puzzled over, and most are ultimately discarded.

It’s the end of an era. Grandpa’s of an age where he can’t really live alone; he’ll need help to do the stuff of daily life that his wife used to manage. The laundry room and the kitchen are foreign lands where a man of his generation had no need to learn the language or customs thereof. His daughters solicitously fill the freezer with single portions of home-cooked food, and that will get him through until the house sells. After that, he will move in with the eldest daughter. No-one believes this will be for long; it is apparent to all that his wife took his spirit with her and he’s just patiently waiting to join her.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Memorial Day

I thought and thought about it, and finally decided, with the help of DH's social conscience (which is much better evolved than mine) to fly out west for Grandma's memorial. I get freaked out easily by crowds, whether they're family or not, and my stiff upper lip is greatly challenged by my birth mom's extravagant emotions, so I wasn't looking forward to the event. I knew it would be draining, but as DH (right again, goddamn him) pointed out, This Was Not About Me.

We're all back home now in Westlock following the memorial, overstuffed with luncheon and emotion. I hugged more mysterious relatives than I can shake a stick at; it will take a lifetime to sort out who's related to who. I met up again with my grandma on my birth father's side... we've only had two or three chances to meet, so it was nice to talk with her. It tickled her to no end that I'm a knitter... she is too. I suppose that's where I got my crafty gene from as no-one else will take responsibility for it.

I'm tired, and the night is only half-over. Soon the house will be full of well-wishers and friends of the family, stopping by to pay their respects. I'm about at the limits of my social tolerance for the day, so I'm sitting on the lawn in the back-yard, boosting wireless capacity from an unknown neighbor. God bless them, whoever they are.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Positive ID

Now that I've gotten over the shivers, I've done a little research and identified my hairy garden visitor as the European Garden spider, Araneus diadematus. (Do go to that last link for a lovely close-up photo.)

Apparently this species is not prone to jumping on humans and sucking their brains out through their eyeballs. I am so relieved.

Wireless, Revisited

Someone who I shall not name said in the comments that they expected my new wireless capabilities in the sewing room would reduce my over-all productivity. I beg to differ.

I love to listen to audio books while I sew or knit. Now, instead of downloading them and transferring them to a portable device, I can play them right from the laptop, as well as streaming radio.

I use EQ5 to design some quilts. I design downstairs then either print them off or walk down to reference them all the time. Now, I can EQ right from my sewing table.

Just this week I was sewing something and lacked the knowledge to continue. I made a mental note to look it up next time I was on the Net, and then realized I didn't have to. The answer was now at my fingertips.

I honestly don't think productivity will be sacrificed. I think it makes me more efficient, as well as entertains me while I am working. Win-win!

Not (Usually) A Girlie-Girl

I'm not a girlie girl. There's a lot of things in this world that don't faze me... I throw grenades, I shoot rifles (and have since I was a little girl), I don't care if I break a nail, and I drive a pick-up truck. I'm not afraid of hard work, confrontation, change, rain, and getting old. There is, however, one fairly simple thing that gives me the heebie-jeebies by just existing (aside from small grubby noisy children, that is.)



This porker has made a home between my raised beds and the fence. I reached through to pick the last of the remaining sugar snap peas and almost put my hand into him.

*brief pause for helpless, horrified shiver*

I had the presence of mind to grab a camera, as he's huge- his leg-span is larger than a toonie. I realized though that I needed something in the picture for comparison, so I ran in the house to grab a toonie. When I got back, he was gone.

How can anything that big move that quickly? Where is he? Did he scamper up the fence and even now is poised to jump upon me and do unspeakable things to me? Or is he taking the low road- is he in the grass, eyeing my naked toes, and waiting to strike?

I became suspicious of everything. No, suspicious is too gentle a word. I panicked. And ran.

I still feel a little nervous and antsy, though I'm in the house and reasonably sure he's not. These simple little creatures have the power to terrify me utterly.

A calming shot of my abundance of colourful flowers to end with and calm me, if not you, down.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wireless. Finally.

I am blogging from my sewing room currently, on my new laptop, on my new wireless network. I think I am in love.

Guardian Angel

She gave this to me the year that we met again, after so long. I was adopted out as a baby and she didn't meet me again until I was almost 30.


I'm not supposed to wear the like in uniform, but as long as no-one saw it, who was to complain? I tucked the small angel pin up inside a pocket and she has been my faithful companion through two deployments overseas and many other travels. I've always felt like this little angel was Grandmother Barnes' quiet hand on my shoulder; a comfort and a blessing.

Grandma Barnes died yesterday morning after a relatively brief and ugly battle with the cancer that had invaded her spine, kidneys and lymph. I don't know if I can bear to wear this pin daily anymore for fear I will lose it and perhaps no longer feel her hand resting on my shoulder.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ready for Everything

The buttons are on, the hem is... hemmed, and I am verily pleased with my newly recalled abilities as a seamstress.



I look so stern in this one, but it's a nice shot of the dress, and of one of our roses, which refuse to give up the fight...


Please also admire my plain-Jane knee-high woolie socks. This outfit will handle winter's worst with grace and aplomb.



And, if you're still in the mood for celebrating (I am!), help me welcome my newest baby into the family:


I may be about to join the ranks of dirt-poor students, but at least I'll have wireless Internet access and on-the-go blogging abilities. Yay!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

All Sewn Up

I felt like sewing today... really sewing, not fussing with a quilt. This combined with my new-found determination to be the mistress of all things fibery had me pulling out a pattern and material for a dress that I had abandoned in fear over three years ago.

The pattern, a simple jumper from Butterick (now discontinued) quickly overwhelmed me for some reason and I packed it all away, with the pieces just cut out of the fabric, only one or two seams sewn. I think I had this misperception in my mind that sewing clothes was difficult... but I wasn't going to let that stand in my way today. After I had become the mistress of my knitting and quilting, I was damned if I would let a little dress stand in my way.

And as it stands right now, I have a perfectly pretty dress. I probably could have slapped the whole thing together in two days, from start to finish- no need for it to take three years. I ought to be ashamed of myself! I still need to hem it and find some pretty buttons, but dudes,
for all intents and purposes, it is done, and it was easy-peasy. Either I've grown as a seamstress or just grown the balls to not be so afraid of making mistakes. I think a little of both.

Pics forthcoming after I've had me a trip to the button store. Which incidentally is the yarn store. Oh dear... :)