Happy Thanksgiving: it’s all about the pumpkin!

Today also happens to be my grandson’s 16th birthday. I sent him a text in the morning to wish him a happy birthday – and he was up! Of course it is three hours later than here. When I called him later to sing to him, only the first two words, he was out riding his new 4 wheeler. I think the other term is ATV. This was a gift to himself from his wages. Although the new Ontario government pulled the plug on raising the hourly wage to $15.00 the is province still ahead of BC. I think my grandson earns more per hour than his aunts out here!

I could not make it for his birthday, nor for the upcoming tenth wedding anniversary of his aunt and uncle who also live in ON. I did do something for the day though. The original plan was a vegan meal so that my youngest would have some choices. However, she was quite sick and unable to come yesterday. The day was not lost, I made some changes and had s lot of fun while cooking up a storm. I am thankful I can and I could share with my second daughter. Now if only someone would do the dishes!

My very first vegan pumpkin pie!

We did not only have pie!

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Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Part 2 – We gain a cat

Email excerpt Sep 25/01: The following is a message for Crispin and other kitties in the know.

hi, my name is cotton and i am 3 months old.  i have studied english for about 4 days-[retty good arent i.i decided to let her invite me into her home.  she keeps muttering about being too old for babies.  she also says i miao too much when i want her, but i keeplosing her.

Yes, we have a kitten, three months old.  She finally figured out where her litter box is-we use sand stolen from the construction area going on within the school. She was a gift from a student of mine.  He said her mother only had the one kitten so I think she was either very spoiled or very neglected. She has finally started to purr and seems to think the mosquito nets are for her personal pleasure.This means locking her out of the bedrooms at night.

As I continue down this journey of reminiscing I love coming across these little gems. We were still in Xin Cun, still encountering all sorts of problems and still wishing, at times, we were elsewhere. We had indeed been landed with a kitty. I was of the opinion that Chinese parents told their children that foreigners love to be given pets. (It had happened before and would again) As if there was not enough on my plate already! Naturally the attack on my emotions would only work if my own children were with me. The little boy was clever, he brought the cat to school (I never did find out how he smuggled it in) and he had a Chinese teacher who spoke English translate for him. I thought they were laying it a bit thick when I was told the boy would be beaten – another ploy for sympathy I would encounter more than once – if he brought the kitten home. However, heartstrings were plucked. We had a kitten. We had also gone away for a few days so I must have been feeling magnanimous.

Cotton rarely posed for us. She was always quite skittish. I have no idea why the photo was black & white other than probably my poor translation skills in either buying film or having it processed.

Oct 3/01: P.S. Tell Crispin there is Kitty food here, about $1.00 (yes, CDN) per small can, I hope Cotton stays small!

Oct 7/01 (email to my eldest daughter): We have a cat now. Her name is Cotton. She is as much a scaredy cat as Bailey!  She refuses to go onto our balcony or even sit at the window in the living room. Her favourite new trick is to climb our mosquito nets and sleep in the top as though it is a hammock.  It is quite disconcerting to have a kitty hanging above one’s head. I have to discourage this because she is getting too heavy and will leave gaping holes in the netting-great for mosquitoes intent on nibbling at our toes!

Canadian Thanksgiving. It seems I had been very ill with probably bronchitis, this would be a problem throughout the years I lived in China, so we missed Thanksgiving Day. However, the next day we were treated to a lovely feast and given the leftovers. I said it was probably because we had a fridge. Or the fact I had three children.

Oct 9/01: So Cotton gets a fish head for dinner tonight. I hope she doesn’t complain about the soya sauce and stuff on it. Cotton is growing very fast.  She has decided she prefers cat food to fish heads or shrimp.  

Her fur was so white that capturing a candid photo was nearly impossible! She had lovely eyes. (When we gained our second cat, Mozzy, Cotton taught him the high art of grooming – he never appeared to be dirty even after missing for 21 days. That is another tale)

At the time the currency exchange was roughly 1CAD – 6CNY. Which does not sound like a lot until it is added up. Even $30.00 for cheap cat food in Canada was a lot of money! I have a vague recollection of earning no more than 5000RMB per month. If housing had not been included money would have been extremely tight. However, Cotton lifted our spirits as only a young cat can do.

Oct 18/01: Message to Crispin and all the other Kitties from Cotton

SHE keeps telling me i am too fussy because i like to have my kittypan cleaned more than once a day.  SHE does not like cleaning up after me.  AND SHE says i should not sleep on the net over their heads. i like it but SHE says i am too big. isn’t big good?

Response from Crispin: Dear Cotton; Of COURSE Big is Good.  You should tell Her that i[t] must be that the net is Too Small.

My youngest daughter and Cotton hanging out away from everyone.

Readers will discover that one of the ways my family manages to stay somewhat sane is due to how besotted we are with out kitties! These excerpts were often near the end of emails I sent bemoaning my lot in life. Usually along the lines of my children not listening, my students not listening and Administration not listening. Cotton listened, purred, and kept me company. She was with us for less than two years.

Before we discovered that Cotton was unwell Mozzy joined our family when he was barely seven weeks. Cotton was a wonderful foster mother to him.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: My years in China Part 1 – 9/11

I moved my family to China to further my exploration of this ancient, culturally diverse, somewhat secretive, vast country called China. I was there to teach. My children were there because they had no other choice. So, join me down the bumpy, often steep, memory lane of my years as a single parent teaching English in China. I shall do my best to include excerpts from what I, my daughters, family and even friends wrote as well as my memories. I will even try to find some photos from before the days of digitally enhanced photography.

As I begin my 61st birthday – it took weeks to finally decide it is alright to write and post this – it reminds me that events of singular import to me, family, and in the news, often occur on family birthdays. Therefore, rather than write about my first foray into the Middle Kingdom with my children from 1997 to 2000 I have chosen to start at my 44th birthday. September 11, 2001. Two days after arriving back in China after a year in Canada. A date etched on the hearts of so many. And yet, September 11 is so much more than one horrific date. Just as August 6, (Hiroshima), December 7 (Pearl Harbour), and too many more dates of man’s destruction of anything different. This is my observation. I am not wishing to enter into a debate.

It seems that whenever 9/11 comes someone asks, “where were you when you heard”? We had been out celebrating my birthday and signing teaching contracts at a local restaurant. By the time we got back to the school around 8:30pm and climbed the three flights of stairs to our apartment, we were all pretty exhausted. We had only arrived in Xin Cun two days earlier and I was expected to teach the following morning. I sent my two youngest girls to bed, turned on the TV – living so close to Guangzhou we could get English language channels – to a movie we really had no interest in was playing. Until an extremely distraught Hong Kong newscaster came on. When we realized it was not a movie. I recall gasping, then sharply telling my two younger daughters to go back to bed after they heard their sister’s and my shocked voices. I have little recollection if I really slept, I can still clearly see one of the newscasters becoming more and more distressed over the course of events. He knew people who died that day.

By morning, daughters up, fed breakfast and ready to head to their new classrooms (disastrous in another way) I was frazzled and wondering if we would be told we would have to leave the country. (As events unfolded we learned of thousands of people were stranded all over the world so it seemed highly unlikely.) As I met teachers they all seemed invariably happy. It was surreal, surely the events over the news must have affected them if only peripherally. Turns out very few of them owned televisions and many would have already gone to bed. Eventually, a shrug here and there. Besides, as we from western countries tend to respond to events in other countries, it did not affect their lives.

Looking back to that birthday, and the weeks after, it seemed everyone was a little ill at ease, looking over shoulders a lot and not specifically referring to the disaster. Fortunately, although it seems I wrote very little immediately after, I must have said the right things as I was not asked to leave!

It was eerie how easily we all slipped into our daily routines. Easier to shut our eyes to the impossible. Easier to laugh ,sing, make friends. Except it was not, and we did not. A knot of anxiety was always present. Nastiness was in the air. Insults flung at us in Chinese. My children were bewildered. By November we left. To a kinder, welcoming , new city and old friends. Nanning.

Pondering life: Or What to do when Grounded

I seem to be racking up blog drafts that drift off for lack of my interest. If that is how I feel about them I am not about to burden the few readers I do have with my drivel. During my morning constitutional my mind tends to rattle off ideas, plans, silent conversations, (with others and myself), edit papers, (not mine) along with random darker thoughts. Lately being grounded from travel has turned to an attempt to ground my psyche before I blow up or delve too deeply into self pity.

If I cannot travel perhaps I can write about how that affects me and learn from others how they handle lack of actively seeking new cultures, history, food, new friends, adventures without going completely mad. Of course, the question is why am I not travelling if that is what I really want to do? Health and finances of course.

When I injured my knee on my last trip I did not expect to still be suffering the consequences. Reiterating a major note to fellow travellers: if you have travel insurance USE IT! I did not. I also had not intended to use up the money I still had to cover everyday expenses at home. However, not working, and nearing 61, created two problems for me. No income and ageism.

Much to the horror of my family I do not want to just grab anything. Unless a job can be done at my pace, will benefit others, our planet, and give me some pleasure, I am not interested. I would love to write and travel, sadly I do not think my musings and travels are what people are looking for. Then there is the fact I would still need money to go anywhere. Meanwhile, I try to fit in mini-adventures. A day trip to a new place close to where I live so as to pace myself. Sadly, many of these still mean I need to be with someone. I read. A lot. I write. I rail against the injustice of it all until I realize that is more self pity.

So how do I manage without money? Or so little? It is not easy and I do not know if I will ever be able to travel beyond the borders of my own country again. Such a sad prospect. However, I am not yet living on the streets, (I expect that has been blogged to death) I do have the Canadian medical system, and one of my daughters is on the cusp of working two jobs to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies until she moves to Toronto in about six months. I am fortunate. Although many would consider it selfish.

After all, some would say, why should our children care for us as we age? The same question is not even considered in many cultures. Rather, supporting an extended family is expected. Even if the parents cannot provide much towards their own care. Yet, in our western culture anyone without a good pension plan, savings, or a long term plan, is considered a second citizen – unworthy. It seems to not matter what brought someone to a position of living on the edge. If we, counting myself as on that edge, have not fallen or jumped we are invisible because we do not appear to be failing. We simply withdraw.

Have Chariot – August Update

Only one week left before we slip into September. My living room was a little chilly when I got up this morning. Someone left the big wall fan on all night. I am beginning to think I will not get out for a test camp. Of course, with a campfire ban, over 560 wildfires, and extremely smoky skies across the province camping is not exactly a fun prospect. This morning I woke up, peeked out the window and saw blue sky and a sunrise working hard to pierce the clouds. The smoky haze is nearly all gone. Everyone can at least take a proper breath.

Heavy smoke in the air for a week is not healthy. Smoke in the air of one of the most beautiful places in world is unthinkable when it surpasses the Air Quality (AQI) levels in Beijing! Firefighters at all levels need to be applauded, this has been a tough summer. A summer some are saying is the new normal. Yikes! Although a shift in wind, so smoke, direction has changed there will not be any changes to the campfire ban. So sad, no roasted marshmallows in the new future.

My hope is to go on a day trip up Vancouver Island to visit Newcastle Island even if we cannot camp there for now. I am definitely an island girl. Of course, no smoky skies here does not mean it will be clear closer to where some of the wildfires are burning. This means I will be keeping a close watch on weather, fires burning, AQI, traffic before heading out. Probably next week if all is fine. Meanwhile, happy note, I can still go blackberry picking! Possibly a quick trip to Sooke where I know of some great places.