In which an anniversary goes unannounced, snow falls, and somebody's Christmas spirit is found
On December 7th, my blog became two years old.
I originally started writing here as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family while working through teacher's college in Windsor, and a way to try and improve my writing. With visions of insightful, funny, and original posts to entertain the masses, I plodded forward with stories of my nephews (then newborn), experiences with teaching and university, and eventually my struggles to decide where to go after graduation.
Then London happened.
The city I'd never really wanted to see suddenly became the chosen destination for my Big Break. It's ironic that we never even looked into Paris or Rome or any other city in Europe, because England was not even on my Top 5 Countries to Visit list.
But off we went on our adventure, me utterly terrified, but excited to have a REAL teaching job - not just being stuck volunteering and working through minimum wage jobs to claw my way onto the supply list for some school board (which is exactly what I'm doing now of course). I had very high hopes and despite the (sometimes overwhelming) fear was willing to take a chance.
Last year could easily be defined as a flop for me, professionally-speaking, since I haven't exactly reaped the benefits of 9 months of very hard work at a full-time classroom teacher. I barely made enough money to support Jeremy and I, he had to move back to Canada 4 and a half months before I did, and we're now in so much debt that we'll be in our 40's still paying it off. The closest I'm getting to teaching is working for wonderful Mad Science, and enjoying the brief hour-long sessions with my classes on a weekly basis. It's a fantastic job, but walking through the corridors of the schools with my kits each week, I hear the teachers calling their kids to order, doing attendance, or following their other routines and it hits me like a punch to the stomach: this job might be fun, but when am I going to be back in a classroom again?
On a personal note, returning here to London, Ontario has also been hard. My friends all became more entrenched in their own lives, working, caring for their children, etc., and it's felt very strange coming back into some friendships after they've gotten used to me not being there. I make the bulk of the phone calls, and sometimes it seems like if I don't call some of them, we'll just stop talking altogether. It's one of the life's realities that I hate the most - that drifting apart from people who used to be such a big part of your life. Coming back to a city that we left two years ago has only magnified the fact that some of those old friendships are better left in the past.
On my Blog-versary, I sat down to write a post about all of the things that had happened since I started writing here, and instead of feeling proud and nostalgic, I started feeling regret and even a little bit of resentment towards all of the things that have gone wrong (very unlike me). I realized that while things haven't exactly been going badly (despite being fired from my job awhile back), I couldn't remember that last time I'd felt really happy for an extended period of time. That was when I started feeling even more depressed.
Then, I heard a loud BANG! and a plaintive "meeooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww" coming from the other side of the living room. Our cat had apparently fallen asleep in a box balanced on top of another box, which had tipped over and landed on its side when he shifted in his sleep. Without thinking, I grabbed for my camera just in time for him to see me, jump up and run over (meowing pitifully all the way) to me for some attention. Stifling a laugh, I tried to take his picture, but he wouldn't hold still for me. Finally I settled down with him on my lap, purring happily (and probably hoping nothing would tip over if he passed out again) while I deleted the blurry pictures.
And noticed that I had taken over 8,000 of them since I got my camera two years ago.
I'm no math whiz, but quickly my mind started calculating the fact that 8,000 times in two years I saw something beautiful enough or interesting enough that I wanted to capture it in a picture. Since my camera often stays at home, those 8,000 pictures probably represent about a third (maybe even less) of the the times that I wished I had my camera. So that means that about 12,000 times a year. This happy little bit of math means that about 32.8 times a DAY something happened that was picture-worthy.
Despite the fact that I often take 20 pictures of the same thing - this math is still somewhat logical, because I also delete a LOT of pictures too.
Thanks to my sweet little cat, I started focusing on the positive and spent hours looking at pictures from Paris, London, and all over Ontario - with smiles and tears and the realization that things were not as bad as they seemed.
I'm not saying that things have suddenly become perfect and I'm not feeling blue anymore. But that sadness and frustration was put very much in perspective.
Pick up a pebble from the ground and hold it up to your eye
As tiny as it is, the pebble will block your view of the world around you
When you put it back down on the ground, you can see it for what it is:
a tiny bump in eternity
since money has recently become the bane of my existence (and I just happened to have this picture
handy from when I first got this camera)
Reality intruded after a few days of peace and knocked me over the head - in the form of 35cm of snow. Having been born and raised in Northern Ontario, I hate the idea of a Christmas that isn't white, so at first I was thrilled to curl up with a good book (or three) and watch the flakes pile higher and higher in the street outside.
Sunday morning brought a major winter storm warning that we would most certainly get a hell of a lot of snow in a 24 hour period. People were told to stay off the roads and travel everywhere became a nightmare. Flights canceled, roads closed, and travelers booking motel rooms to get out of the storm. Just for fun I brushed off my car with our broom in the morning to see just how much would fall through the day (the answer: a LOT). When I pushed open the door to laugh at how much had accumulated, the phone rang and ruined my joy at having snow to play in and a white Christmas.
"Hi Melinda? I'm just calling to let you know that we are not responsible for snow removal and so you and the others in the house will have to work out something to get yourselves dug out", said my landlady in a no-nonsense tone.
Putting aside how incredibly UNCOOL it is to spring news like that on a person who's just been through a major blizzard - the issue of snow removal had never been brought up before and our landlady and her husband had bragged about their upkeep of the yard through the summer - so we had just assumed that snow removal was part of the package. Unfortunately there was nothing in the lease about this, and the Ontario Landlord-Tenant Act doesn't deal with this issue either. The only thing that supports us is the statement that landlords are required by law to ensure safe entry and exit of the building.
I tuned out the sound of her voice telling me about how Oakville got even more snow than London and how tired they were from shoveling. As if I give a damn about them taking care of the driveway at the house they own while they make a $10,000 profit from us living here. They refused to consider paying somebody and she didn't respond to my offer of Jeremy and I shoveling to save everybody the trouble of sorting out who would shovel where and when with our fellow tenants.
Around 6pm the snow stopped and the sounds of snowblowers and plows filled the winter air. People took walks through the neighborhood and commiserated about how much shoveling sucks and how long it would be before the City plowed our roads. Armed with shovels, the girl who lives downstairs and myself went out to start shoveling (Jeremy would be taking the second shift). After 5 minutes, we realized the job was much bigger than we'd thought, and she started muttering something about just paying for a damn plow to dig us out. While explaining that Jeremy and I couldn't afford it, we heard another snowblower start up nearby.
Figuring that nothing was gained by keeping quiet - I shouted out that we were looking for some help and "how much would it be worth to bring the snowblower over here for a bit?" The Snowblower Guy (who we later found is called Jason) said he'd finish his driveway and come around the block. When he got to our place, we were already exhausted and cheered as he pushed his way down the street. It took him less than 20 minutes to clear our entire driveway AND parking lot. When he was finished, we tried to pay him, but he wouldn't take any money.
I love that about people - whenever weather or something major strikes, you can always count on some helpful strangers. We marched inside, pulled off the winter gear and poured ourselves a drink while I measured out ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. 30 minutes (and one more drink) later, I had a batch of cookies piled onto a Christmas plate with a card for our helpful neighbour. We talked about putting money into a card for him, but decided not to, since he'd already insisted that it was no problem at all to help out.
This time of year there are angels all over the place... Jason wasn't just the nice guy who helped save me from pulling all of the muscles in my back - his kindness reminded me yet again that there are a lot of good things in the world, and that most people will take the time to help somebody who needs it.
Then there was the nice lady who held the door open for me while I struggled to push a shopping cart full of Mad Science equipment onto the elavator today. And the guy who let me in front of his car on the way to work this morning. And the boss who is giving me extra hours this week because she knows I'm strapped for cash. And the best friend who listened to me talk about my frustration about life in general - and offered her usual support and words of wisdom.
"You know Mel, it's bad right now, but you're right on the edge of getting to where you want to be. Just think - every day you go through this is one day closer to where you want to be."
Not sure how she got to be so wise at such a young age...
In a week, I'll be at home with my mom and dad, sipping a Spanish coffee (I hope) and enjoying every nuance of being home for Christmas: the smell of a turkey dinner, the taste of my mom's cookies, the sound of my parents bickering in their Old-Married-Couple way, the sight of my lake covered in snow.
Last year I cried on Christmas Day. There have been a lot of tears since, and I'm sure there are more to come, because hey - that's Life. It's not easy for anybody, and we sometimes have to fight to keep positive (for some, just to keep going).
The great thing about Life though? Tears wash away, and things lost (like one's Christmas spirit) can be found again.