Sunday, May 26, 2013

My New Neighbour: Beau Leaves the Burbs

My outfit: Sandals: Wonders; Jeans: Reitmans; Cape: Cotton Candy; Sunglasses and Clutch: thrift; Watch: vintate; Beau's outfit: Shirt, cap, and shorts: thrift; Glasses: Geek Eyewear; T-shirt: Old Navy; Shoes: Ecco
I am thrilled to tell you that, after a long time of commuting back and forth between the hideous suburbs and my place, Beau has finally moved to the big city.

Beau is a single father of two boys. I'm very fond of them and they of me but I'm not ready to be a step-mom so Beau and I can't live together yet, but we sure did want to live closer together. This back and forth, with no car, and my horrid back, was for the birds.  

So Beau waited till the school year was almost over and began his search for an affordable place for the three of them. The plan was for him to find a home that was close enough to me for me to walk to from my place, even crippled as I am.

This is not an easy task in a city with perhaps the highest real estate prices on the continent and certainly in Canada. But, after we looked at some awful dives, Beau found success and we are now, finally, neighbours.

Beau and I are happy with the move. His kids are happy with the move. Even their mother is happy that her kids now live here instead of in the suburbs.

The suburb that Beau lived in is very white and very conservative. It's one of those places where the citizens fight to remove Heather Has Two Mommies from the school libraries, and a child can grow up knowing virtually no-one who isn't white. In other words, it is not a place where Beau wanted his kids to grow up and it's not a place where Beau wanted to live anymore.

One of Beau's friendly new neighbours.
So now he's in my 'hood, an extremely bohemian and left-wing neighbourhood where eccentricity is accepted and diversity is the norm. It's also a great neighbourhood for local, "ma and pop" shopping, friendly cafes, living without a car, and getting to know your neighbours.

It's a real neighbourly neighbourhood of the type that people don't believe exist anymore. Everyone knows each other and looks out for each other. Cafe owners remember your favourite coffee, and the pet food store owner remembers your cat's name. On lovely weekend days, people go for walks on the main strip and stop to chat with each other like it's an old-fashioned promenade.

Another one of Beau's friendly new neighbours. This one is really really friendly! Shoes: Keds; Jeans; Reitmans; Blazer: thrift; Ring: Birks; Shirt: TanJay Petites; Hair thingy: I don't know but I got it at Payless Shoes
Beau's street is particularly beautiful. It's a single block of heritage houses with beautiful gardens, many children, and a dead-end (except for pedestrians and bicycles) that is the local kids' play area. It's an especially nice street, in an especially great part of an especially great city.

I've lived here for about twenty-three years. Now Beau lives here too.

Plus I can walk to his place! And he can walk to mine!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Morgan's Pendant: the cat who taught an abused youth how to love

Me and Morgan, when he was about eighteen and I was about thirty-eight.

The story of Morgan’s pendant is a love story. 

Morgan, named after the author, E.M. Forster, was the sweetest, gentlest, most affectionate and loving cat I’ve ever met. The thing he loved best in the world was hugging me, his paws around my neck, as he nosed my ear or bumped his black head against my cheek. There was none of the usual feline aloofness about him. Though he was a massive and fierce looking cat, he was a lover, not a fighter. There was no doubt about that.

Morgan was with me from the moment of his birth, when I was twenty, to the moment of his death when I was forty. We nursed each other through illness and infirmity and cuddled every day, from my student days to my teaching days, from my uber-fit days, to my deeply crippled days.
All that alone is enough to make this a love story. But to really understand the depth of my connection with Morgan, and how special he was to me, particularly in his old age, you have to go back even further, to the sad stories of the cats that were a part of my own sad childhood.
This is me as a baby, scratching a cat beneath his chin. Cats have always been drawn to me as I have been to them. (Nelf, the dog, was moved out of my house early so lived a long life.)
When I was a child, cats – and any pets or farm animals -- did not survive. As is common in abusive homes, the animals fared even worse than the children did. 
Me, at about seven, an exhausted, abused, latch-key kid, with Jasper, dressed in doll clothes and playing with my key. I think he lived maybe two years.
At best, cats were so badly neglected, they would simply disappear, probably the prey of wild animals. I lost my beloved Jasper that way, and Cullie, and that kitten I never even got to name… 
My wonderful and loving tom, Albi, was simply abandoned to fend for himself or die when, in our nomadic life, we moved from the country back to the city.
Other animals went so mad from abuse and the toxicity of our home, they had to be put down. There was an Irish Setter who bit children. Not until my entire arm was bandaged from a bad bite was something done about him. On the farm we briefly owned, there was the rooster who would attack children and beat them with his wings. He once bruised me all down one side of my body, from my shoulder to my ankle. There was the bunny who ate her own young. And there was the horse who would roll over on her riders, and frequently ran away. 
In running away, she had the right idea. 
Me, at about five, playing with Lelinka.
Lelinka ran away too. She is the first cat I remember well. She was never spayed and had litter after litter of kittens. She finally just ran away and I would sometimes spot her in the woods around the farm, healthy and, for all I could tell, happy.
But I missed her.
At worst, animals in my life would be violently killed. I am still haunted by the staring blue eyes of a husky puppy killed with a shotgun because it got into the chickens. I was five and sure I would be next. I was so scared, I got a fever. Then there was the cat who was pitchforked to death because it “got in the way” in the hay.
Me, at about eight, with a kitten. This was someone else's kitten so I can hope it lived a long and happy life.
As a lonely, abused child, I bonded with every cat we owned. I loved them, and, in their way, they loved me. And then I lost them. I never had an old or even middle-aged cat.
Morgan, in his regal middle age.
And then there was Morgan.
I left home as seventeen, supporting myself, living alone or with roommates, moving around to three cities in as many years, and landing back here on the west coast. I really didn’t know that other young people had it easier than I did. But I did feel pretty alone.
When I was twenty, the woman who would later become my fiancĂ©, had a roommate who had a cat (named Sappho, naturally). When the cat was about six or seven months old, the roommate put her cat on a diet “because she was getting fat,” and, “because she really likes the diet food. She eats a lot of it.” 
My girlfriend and I had to explain to her that, no, the cat was not fat. She was pregnant. I began slipping Sappho rich foods which she so desperately needed. Then, as Sappho was getting close to her due date, the roommate took off on a camping trip. So, when Sappho went into labour, I was the one to take care of her.
She was meowing in pain and walking around and around, seeming confused by her situation. She would not be still until I sat with her. I got her settled in a softly lined box and, as she looked straight into my eyes, she delivered her first of four kittens.
Morgan, as a kitten, in a rare, lively mood, telling Apollo the dog who was boss.
It was a foregone conclusion that one of those kittens would be mine. Three were picture-perfect, plushy little things, two coloured and one black. And one was a scruffy, tufty, ugly black kitten with a too big nose and random white hairs sticking out at least an inch further than the rest of his fur.
I really thought I’d take one of the pretty kittens. I was still silly that way.
Then one day I was playing with the four of them. As I picked up each one, it would squeal and writhe, trying to get back on solid ground. 
All except the ugly one. 
I held him on his back in the palm of my hand and he just looked up at me, perfectly happy and at peace, and waved his little front paws a bit, as if to say hello. 
I'm about twenty-one here, with a not fully grown Morgan on my lap.
That was when I knew he was my cat. That was Morgan, who, by the way, grew up to be a huge and gorgeous cat with a regal nose and long, silky, brown-black fur.
Through the next twenty years, I took damned good care of that boy. Even when I was broke, he got the best possible food. He got regular check-ups and shots and, when he got one of his itchy little allergies, he got the remedy he needed. 
Morgan, on the left, at about six, with is new friend, Bobby, who was five years younger. Bobby is now eighteen!
Taking care of him was somehow healing for me. I felt like I was doing for him what I had not been able or allowed to do for Lelinka, for Cullie, for Jasper, for Albi, and for the others. I was doing for him what no-one had done for me.
I'm about twenty-six here. Morgan's the one hugging me. Bobby's the one trying to get away. This is indicative of their personalities.
He and I were together through a lot: all of my degrees, my first major heartbreak, my second major heartbreak, the terrible poverty, my emotional struggles with my past, my long fitness craze, the slow building of my academic career, the first few years of my crippled life, the onset of my own middle age, his old age… 

I could love him in a way that I could not permit myself to love a human.

Given my past, I was determined to be tough and independent and, for the most part, I did a pretty good job of it, or, at least, of fooling people that I was doing a good job of it. One of my tactics was to avoid even the whiff of sentimentality in my life. I think I probably deprived myself of a lot of joy that way.
Me at about thirty-one, cuddling with Morgan in the awful basement suite I had during the year I did my Masters degree in Toronto. Hell year, great cat.

But when Morgan was fifteen, it finally dawned on me that he was not going to live forever. I had a choice: waste the last of his life pretending I didn’t love him as much as I did, and not showing any sentimentality; or let my image be damned and be as ooey-gooey lovey-dovey for him as my heart desired. 
I chose the latter.
I made a promise to him then that I would do everything I could to keep him alive as long as he was still enjoying life. And I promised him that, when he stopped enjoying life, I would let him go.
I let myself have a little cry then, as I begged him to give me five more years. He did.
Morgan, about eighteen, being insistent about getting/giving a hug.
I let my heart melt and I didn’t care who knew about it.
When he was ancient and I was in pain, he and I were in pretty constant competition for the heating pads.
Then my back, damaged by childhood abuse, gave out and I became crippled. One of the first things I had to do was teach Morgan not to lie on my stomach (something my other cat, Bobby, didn’t care to do); it caused me too much pain to have his weight on me. He still wanted to be as close to me as possible, so he would lie beside me with his chin on my shoulder as I lay bed-ridden for hours and days and years on end.
Morgan and me in our rather wretched mutual infirmity. I gather he found this genuinely comfortable.
Eventually, he grew ill. He had kidney failure. I began giving him sub-cutaneous fluids every day. 
It wasn’t hard. Morgan was an easy cat to care for. When he heard me getting the fluid bag and needle ready, he would actually come to me and crawl into my lap and calmly let me put the thick needle into the scruff of his neck, leaving it there until he had a bulge of water beneath his skin that made him look like a camel. He would purr the whole time.

To him, needle time was cuddle time. (See the above video if you doubt me.) People who witnessed this would simply stare and gawp in disbelief, and say things like, “Morgan’s not really a cat, is he? He’s something else.”

During this time, he also went deaf, which led to some pretty funny habits. He could no longer judge the decibel level of his own voice. When he didn’t know where I was, he would begin “yelling” to attract my attention. When he could see me, he would happily talk to me without a single sound coming out of his mouth.

He also now loved to be vacuumed. See above for evidence.
It was in his old-age and infirmity, that I loved Morgan the most.  I knew every inch of his slowly shrinking body and knew how to hold him gently so he could still get his favourite hugs and cuddles. I had never loved anyone or anything as I loved him. 
I learned a lot about love from Morgan. I am convinced that I would not be able to love Beau as I do if it had not been for Morgan.
Finally, Morgan’s time came.
I could no longer get him to purr. He didn’t want to eat. And, worst sign of all, he didn’t want to cuddle. I only waited five days to put him down. Two vets told me he was dying. I was not going to let him suffer any more.
I had a vet do a house call and I held Morgan in my lap as his heart stopped beating. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life. I have a terrible lump in my throat just thinking about it.
The night before Morgan died, I dreamed that I was a child again and that I had a little pendant to remember him. But one of the girls who bullied me snatched it away from me and I was left with nothing.
Morgan's pendant, in onyx, gold, diamonds, and garnet.
I began designing a real pendant to remember Morgan. I didn’t want any cutesy, kitty cat jewelry. I wanted something that would look like a mere pendant but would be full of symbolism.
Queen Victoria and one of her daughters in mourning. Notice the black pendant at her throat.
Jet mourning jewelry.
Morgan was a black cat and I knew about black mourning jewelry so popular during the Victorian times (when Queen Victoria herself went into long, deep, and public mourning when her husband died). That the pendant must be black was an easy choice. 
Art Deco ring, in onyx, diamonds, yellow gold and platinum or white gold.
From there, I looked at some of my favourite black jewelry from the Art Deco period: onyx rings with small diamonds in their centres.
Working with a local jeweler, the design slowly evolved. In the end, I had an onyx oval, just slightly reminiscent of a cat’s eye, with a tiny centre diamond, in a mill grain setting. I wanted the diamond to be tiny and only noticeable when it caught the light; Morgan was not a flashy cat, but more a diamond in the rough. 
The pendant has a matching bale, the bit that supports the pendant on the chain, signifying that I had become a better person, a sort of diamond myself, in taking care of and supporting him.
A mourning locket, with a lock of the loved one's hair.
In Victorian times, it was a custom to keep a snip of one’s loved one’s hair in mourning jewelry, often in the back of it. I thought this a bit macabre, but liked the general idea. So I placed a secret little rusty red-brown garnet in the back of the pendant to match the colour Morgan had become in his old age. I wanted the garnet to be cabochon, smooth and unfacetted, soft against my skin as Morgan had been.
The back of Morgan's pendant, with a garnet to match the red-brown of his fur in his old age.
Finally, I had an inscription that I wanted on the pendant. I consulted my rabbi and a member of my synagogue to help me translate it into Hebrew, and had it etched on the gold at the back of the pendant. I placed the inscription on the right side of the pendant, because that’s the side he liked to hug me on, and I wear it on a long chain so that it rests in that place on my chest that felt aching and hollow after he’d gone.
The Hebrew inscription on Morgan's pendant.
“Thank you Morgan, all that is good returns to G-d.”
Morgan was a gift from God and now he has returned to God.
Morgan, at twenty.
And that is the love story that is told in Morgan’s pendant. 

That is the story of the cat who taught me how to love.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Aboriginal Pride: when fashion is about more than fashion

This walker is not mine, thank God, though I have had to use one in the past.
A few months ago, Beau got strep throat on a long weekend so we went down to the local drop-in clinic to get him a prescription for antibiotics. (Remember that this is Canada, so we all have free medical coverage). 

Since it was a long weekend, the place was packed with people not able to see their regular doctors. There was a long wait and there wasn't much to do but people watch.

I was really struck by these two girls, who were sharing an iPod, an ear bud for each. They seemed to have a real comfort level together, like maybe they were cousins or had grown up together.

What really touched me though was the fact that they were both wearing footwear inspired by traditional moccasins. Their outfits were very "of the moment" for teenaged girls in my part of town, and their sunglasses were cool too (and it's their sunglasses that obscure their faces enough for me to feel okay about posting this photo).

But their moccasin booties were cool in a much more meaningful way. It was, for both of them, a deliberate choice to wear and declare their Aboriginal cultural heritage. This means a lot in a culture that the dominant white culture systematically and quite deliberately tried to decimate. (If you doubt this, I can send you to several scholarly essays that will erase all doubt.)

This was the middle of the peak of the Idle No More movement and I felt like these two were doing their little part, just sitting there, being visible and proud. 

I just felt a swell of motherly affection for them that has not gone away.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pretty and Comfortable: the holy grail of footwear

Sandals: Wonders
This post is really all about the sandals.

Skirt: thrift; Top: Reitmans; Ring: Effy; Purple bangle: vintage; Sparkly bracelet: Forever 21; Earrings: vintage
Sure, the outfit is pretty cute too. I got the skirt at the Salvation Army when it was still winter and had completely forgotten that I own it. The stripe in it goes well with the top, and it's lined so I needn't wear a slip, but it's airy and cool nonetheless. And, I know it's following the "rules" about how to flatter a curvy figure (read: conceal hips), but I really do like a knee length, a-line skirt. I just think they're pretty and modest, and evocative of the 1940s.

I should have ironed it but whatever. I don't iron, pretty much ever, if I can help it.

But it's mostly about the sandals. 
Weird physiotherapy injury on my right cheek: I let go of a stretchy, strength training cord, and the handle came flying back and hit me in the face.
Finding them was quite the slog. I wrote about that here.

First, it hurts like hell to go shopping, especially if I have to try things on, even worse if it involves bending down to my feet, and repeatedly standing and sitting.

I like these little chalk drawings children had drawn all over the sidewalk outside the legion hall.
Second, I have pretty specific needs for footwear. It has to be completely or almost completely flat. The sole has to be bendy. I need arch support. And I can't do up buckles if they're on the outside of the ankle (as I just can't twist like that without causing bad pain).

Third, I wanted them to be pretty. I can only take grandma fashion so far before even I balk.

I think I did well. They're clearly pretty, though they photograph more orange than they really are; imagine more of a coral shade. They have velcro clasps. And they're very comfortable.

This was their inaugural run and they hurt neither my feet nor my back.

They go well with spring and summer colours, I think...

... like the coral of my tank top...

Yes, I'm sunburned here. I freckle and I burn. I do not tan. I can burn in about ten minutes.
... the petal pink of my earrings...

... flowers...

... and sunshine in the leaves or dappling a yard.

And that's my story of my sandals, the first pair I've been able to wear comfortably since my injury.

Shoe Shopping -- with a back injury

Skirt: Initiatives; Bangles, and little ring: vintage; Large ring: Effy
I went shopping for summer shoes the other day. This is not easy for someone with a back injury.

I need very good arch support, and velcro instead of buckles because I can't twist properly to do up side buckles (and I still tie laces crooked). I was also hoping beyond hope to find sandals that met these requirements and looked good. I'm only 42. Does being handicapped mean I have to look like I'm 90?

I did finally find success, though I paid more than I can really afford on my reduced income. Wait for my next post to see what I got.

Shirt: Initiatives; Sunglasses: thrift; Earrings: Birks; Ring: vintage gift from Beau
The other thing that makes shopping for shoes (or anything) hard is how much it hurts my back. After a few hours, and only a few blocks, I was in terrible pain and utterly exhausted. 

In case you didn't know it, pain is incredibly exhausting. It's a bit like having the flu -- all the time.

I get pretty demoralized when such outings remind me, yet again, of just how restricted I am in my activities. "It's just a little shopping trip," I'll tell myself beforehand. By about halfway through, I'm feeling like I'm going to cry, and clinging to Beau's arm, not out of affection, but as a cane or a crutch.

This is "our" little tiny car, of which there are several hundred shared. (The photo's from a few months ago.) I don't know how Beau manages to fold himself up into it, and it's not very back friendly, but it's greatly increased my mobility as neither of us owns a car.

Beau and I belong to a car share program but when we were finished shopping, there was no car close enough for me to walk to in the state I was in. Beau toodled off to get a car, and I had a refreshing, if sad, few moments to rest in the shade on a bench -- beside a tulip.

A sad but successful day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Tenure Dress: part two

Dress: Papillon; Earrings: Birks; Sunglasses: thrift
My last post was about my tenure party at which I wore this dress for the first time. It is now and forever more, my Tenure Dress. On this sunny day, I thought I'd trot it out again, in better light and with a better camera.

Sandals: Montego Bay Club
I didn't say it was perfect light. This light is decidedly dappled but I wanted you to see the shoes with the dress.

Seriously, check out these shoes! They're cheap and therefore really uncomfortable, not on my back but on my feet. But look at them. I just have to wear them sometimes. You can even see Beau's teeny reflection in them on the bottom left, if you look really closely.

In other words, shiny things make me happy.

I was not thrilled to find that the dress doesn't fit me as it did a year ago. I guess I've gained more weight. It's one thing to find peace with one's size. It's another to have gained size because of a disability over which I have no control. My weight gain is a constant visible reminder of my constant struggle with chronic pain. The pain forces me into a level of inactivity that is not at all natural for me. I miss being active! 

This makes it much harder for me to make peace with my size than it might otherwise be.

I'm trying.

As is often the case, I noticed the change chiefly in the way I filled out the top of this dress. It was a laundry day and every bra that even comes close to fitting me now was hanging up to dry so I tried to make do with this old one. The result was not very ... modest or decorous, as the damned thing was far too visible. 

Beau surely didn't seem to mind, though. Bless his heterosexual heart.

In fact, I finally had to place my clutch over the source of his distraction so he'd get a photo of my face, which was up there, not down there. 

Since I'm bi, I thoroughly sympathize and am not offended. I like it that my partner thinks I'm hot. That's very nice.

He was very well behaved when we first started dating though, so well behaved, in fact, that I had to ask him if he liked my figure  because I never once caught him checking it out.

Let's get another look at that clutch, shall we? It's just a little thrift store find with a subtle sparkle that I enjoy.

Clutches are much more comfortable for my back than bags that sling over the shoulder, so I'm amassing a fairly extensive collection of them. They're easy to find second hand.

What I was really wanting from Beau was to get a photo of my eye makeup. I very seldom bother wearing makeup (unless you count tinted lip balm) so I thought it worth photographing. It's still pretty understated. 

That's just how I roll. It might be because my brows, eyes, lips, lashes, and hair are all pretty dark against my pale skin so I just don't feel a huge need for makeup. Never really have.

It's might also be because of my Quaker/hippie/feminist upbringing. Makeup was frowned upon in all three circles, and also in the lesbian realm into which I came out when I was eighteen. Makeup just never became a habit for me.

But jewelery did!

I'm really crazy about these earrings lately. They're solid, eighteen karat gold and I love their gleam and original design. I think you're going to see a lot of them for a while.

I seem to have inherited my love of jewelry from both my paternal (Jewish) grandmother, and my maternal great aunt. 

My aunt, who is 94, was, like me, raised Quaker, a religion in which simple dress is traditionally required. I mean really really simple: grey, black, and a little white, no buttons, no jewelry, no finery whatsoever. Think of the Amish and you have a pretty good sense of Quaker dress. 

Even though that custom is long passed, there is still a sense among Quakers that one mustn't be too flashy or vain; simplicity is the key. So, when I bought the above earrings, I called my aunt and asked her if I was bad for loving pretty things. "It's not very Quakerly of me, is it?" I asked.

"Oh, that's just old-fashioned," she said, with her strong Duchess County (up the Hudson River from NYC) accent. This was my ninety-four year old aunt, the aunt who remembers riding a horse to school, telling me that I was being old-fashioned! "I don't know if you know it," she went on, "but I have a pretty extensive fine jewelry collection myself, and your grandmother loved her brooches."

Ring: vintage
"Sometimes," she told me, "I pick my outfit based on what jewelry I feel like wearing that day.

Okay, auntie, I feel better now. Accessories are good, even the "fine," expensive ones.

Bangle: vintage; Ring: Effy; Freckles: sun
Beer's an accessory, right? It is when it has a lovely orange glow to match my outfit, right?

In addition to the beer, the orange of the fries joint we went to seemed a perfect compliment to the outfit, especially in that evening sun.

I can tell you that I didn't do my back any favours posing like this. I had some trouble getting back up. Silly me.

I'd experimented with a different way of styling my hair when it was wet. I just put in product and scrunched rather than pinning it as well.

Result? My Jewfro was on full display and it was looking pretty wild. Some days, that's fun. 

But only some days. 

I'd joked that all I needed now was an orange cat to cap the orange them of the day and make my post perfect.

And lo! An orange cat ambled up and plomped himself down for a little lovin'. Cats just seem to know that I adore them.

Beau's sharp eyes caught another orange cat, way far away and below us. Look right into the centre of this photo. See that little orange blob? That's a cat.

There are several feral cats living in this little valley (know locally as The Cut) near me. I used to see feral kittens too. Happily, my landlords are also cat freaks and have managed to capture these cats and have them spayed and neutered. They also feed them. 

My landlord even created a little shelter for them. When he caught a homeless man sleeping in it, he kicked him out, saying that was for homeless cats, not homeless humans!

That's downtown in the distance, as the sun sets.

And good night to you too.