I had it all planned out: Jenny would turn eight years old in March, 2020, I would run the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May, and then I would drop applications to guide dog schools. Jenny deserves a long, happy, and well-earned retirement after all the work she’s done – traveling to seven provinces and eight states (most notably on an amazing month-long journey where she encountered brand new surroundings every 2-3 days), training for and running two half-marathons, and keeping me safe from random obstacles and inattentive or unreasonable drivers. Sometimes she’s had to tell me I’m the foolish one; sometimes we need to have discussions about her not following her nose. But she’s been my sidekick since the fall of 2013, and while she loves her job, and is still more than willing to do it, she deserves all the couch cuddles and play dates and visits with friends that a retired guide dog can handle. I also needed to buy enough time so that she can both enjoy more work time and a long retirement, and a guide dog program can best find a match for my pace, personality, and lifestyle – no small feat! I have chosen, for a wide variety of reasons, not to return to BC and Alberta Guide Dogs for a successor dog. With that decision made, I had to make important choices on where I would be applying for Guide Dog 2.0. Over the past several years, I’ve been watching guide dog groups on Facebook, and spoken to many friends with guide dogs about their training and follow-up experiences; I had a pretty good idea where I would be dropping applications based on what I’d seen over a period of four or five years. A year ago, I sent my first email to a potential guide dog school, and felt like I’d just pulled the pin out of a grenade. Over the following months, the world shifted due to a novel coronavirus – now known as COVID-19 – and my plans flew out the window. I didn’t run BMO in May, and the timeline for Guide Dog 2.0 became less crucial as Jenny’s workload decreased. When I dropped my first application in early July, again I felt the pin-pulled-from-grenade feeling, this was really going to be a thing. What I encountered was…. complicated. And it had little or nothing to do with COVID-19.
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After an incredibly exhausting October, where sleep was elusive and the thought of warm blankets and books I couldn’t concentrate on seemed more appealing than doing stuff around the house, it seems that the last two months of the year put me back together again. We didn’t have to worry about washing dishes by hand, or putting off washing dishes by hand. I could just do my job, go running, spend some time on my exercise bike, and yes… get sh*t done!
November: Puppy Dogs and Plumbing Problems
Ben’s puppy, Wyatt, comes to visit for a few days. He and Jenny get along like a house on fire – they start each day with enthusiastic greetings, wrestle and play, have a nap, and then regroup for more tug wars – not always with things that are appropriate. More than once we have to take Jenny’s stuffed pink pig away from them… and six weeks later we’re still finding strands of destroyed tug rope in various nooks and crannies of the living room… or (also likely) they’ve re-materialized after Wolfie has balled them up and turned them into her own kitty toys. Wyatt and the kitties co-exist quite nicely, staying out of each other’s way, or firmly asserting boundaries if avoidance is impossible. Unfortunately, both Wyatt and Jenny come down with Kennel Cough, and the puppy party must end unceremoniously.
Once a year I have a plumbing company come in and do a check of the plumbing and furnace. This year, I get told – again – that the whole house pretty much needs to be re-plumbed. Oh, and the furnace needs replacing too. And can we add a humidifier to your new furnace? Why yes yes you can… when the furnace gets replaced. But thanks so much for showing me how to disconnect the plumbing for the old dishwasher that’s going to be hauled away in just a few days!
I go out for a run on a Sunday morning, and come home to find a coughing, mopey dog, and a brand new thermostat on the wall. We realized with Daylight Savings Time that there’s no quick and easy way for me to adjust the temperature settings, or the time. This new thermostat can be operated like a traditional thermostat or through Smart technology, which means that for the first time in my life I can independently program a thermostat! It’s a BIG deal to me, even as it feels like a small thing. Oh, and if there’s ever a reason to open up that wall, we need to watch out for sharp objects – there’s a handheld hole saw that got dropped down there (I’m writing this so that no one can say they didn’t know!)
The brand new dishwasher we’ve waited six weeks for finally arrives on a cold Friday – the same day I realize the snow rake isn’t designed to be used by short people, or blind people… either that or my house is too tall. The massive dishwasher box blocks the pantry door for a day or two, but we’re eating takeout this weekend – skipping the dishes, as we do. The installation, however, doesn’t go as smoothly as the delivery. I hear nothing until 5:00 PM Sunday (the day of the appointment we booked six weeks ago), at which point I’m told that they can’t install today and will be able to reschedule for Tuesday. I decline the offer, and call my friend Keith, who comes by both Sunday and Monday night (due to missing parts) and gives us a crash course on dishwasher installation. I don’t think I could do an entire installation, or explain how it’s done, but I know more than I used to… The first load of dishes that runs through is so quiet that I find myself regularly walking into the kitchen to make sure there’s not a problem. Thankfully, there is no problem, and our dishes get REALLY clean, and we have more time to enjoy the holidays.
December: An Unusual Christmas
It’s proving to be a holiday season unlike any other we have ever experienced. The provincial government has imposed restrictions so that people cannot mix and mingle over the holidays. I take the opportunity to add a few touches to my personal spaces. I completely de-clutter my work space/beading table and even create a couple pieces for the holidays. The old, ratty mat by the back door is replaced with a shiny new one. And the music room receives some TLC in the form of new curtains. I think I need to spend more time there in the coming year.
So, it is just my partner and I for Christmas. In some ways I am glad to miss the hustle and bustle, and in others I miss the mingling. We enjoy Mandarin oranges and chocolate treats. Christmas dinner turns out to be disappointing – the turkey breast we bought turned out to be sandwich meat… Oops! But Keith and his family save Christmas by delivering an emergency supply of prime rib and mashed potatoes and little green balls of death (brussel sprouts) that I normally don’t like but turned out YUMMY! Even though we couldn’t have Christmas dinner all together, I feel blessed to have friends who, over the years, have come to my rescue in ways big and small.
During my time off from work, we alternate between resting and relaxing, and doing things about the house. We decide to be strategic, starting in the kitchen, and working our way towards the other end of the house. It’s not all done, it’s not all perfect, but the kitchen is reorganized and way less cluttered. The caddy, the portable counter-top unit that every single person who has ever been to my house has bumped their hip on at least once, has now been relocated into the living room. Wolfie is not a fan of this new development, because now she can’t hang out in the kitchen and meow at us. And she seems to show no interest in hanging out in the living room and meowing at us. I don’t think I’ll understand that little gray fluffball…
A Few Reflections
When I started this journey of making my house my home, I did so with the hope to make my place both somewhere I would want to live and a place that I could be proud of. I had no illusions that my house would ever become a show place – I’m not the best housekeeper in the world, and my place is old and kinda beat up – but I wanted to have people come over and not worry so much about whether they were politely avoiding comments about the state of it. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded to this end – looking back I realize I’ve ebbed and flowed in drive and motivation – sometimes with great bursts of productivity and sometimes trying to stop myself from drowning in inertia. I’ve kept a plant alive for almost a year – something that a friend who is no longer with us would be super proud of if she could see it. Perhaps Happy Plant is a lot like me – sometimes bursting forward and sometimes quietly growing in incremental ways.
I’ve done a lot of things myself this year, and a lot more with other people either assisting or directing. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to do everything myself. Maybe, just maybe, there are times to rest in the little things, where small pleasures and small victories are the important ones. This year, like for so many others, hasn’t been the year that I have expected. I have experienced great joy, Wolfie has come home! I have experienced sadness with the loss of friends. I’ve done things I never thought I would do, like actually sort of want to barbecue, or cut the grass. I’m not terrified to go into any part of my home, which honestly was a really big thing for me earlier this year. Maybe, that’s enough. Maybe the symbolic burning of things – like the dishwasher box and the papers I sorted earlier this year – is a way to clear out the old feelings of shame and expectation I’ve carried for so many years.
2021 will also look different – I won’t be running Boston like I thought I would. I don’t know all of what it will bring – I hope it will bring joy and love and peace. All I know is that, as much as it’s up to me, I’ll do what I can to continue this journey of home improvement, and to work on the things within myself that need to shift. I’ve got a few things on the go for 2021 already. My hope is to write more, to have some fun with the writing process, and I have some ideas that I’m excited to share. As I am writing this, I realize that maybe I got what I needed out of 2020 – it’s taken a lot, but given me much as well that I can carry into 2021. Who knows? Maybe in a year, I’ll look back at 2020 and realize that without it, 2021 wouldn’t be the year it will be. So let’s look forward, clinging to hope, doing what we can, wherever we are, and, above all, be kind to ourselves and each other. When it comes time, my home will be ready.