Putting Gramma First

As I’d mentioned earlier last week, I am currently on Goose Break. In the past 5 years that I’ve been teaching up north, my holidays were used often for overseas traveling and catching up with friends around my home province, Ontario.

This time, I’ve primarily focused on getting paperwork lined up for my new teaching job, as well as taking care of my maternal grandmother. My aunt and my mother are currently traveling around New Zealand with their friends. Since I’m not around Toronto very much, it’s only fair that I put the hours in to spend time with Gramma and help her with chores. I recognize that everyone around me has quite a regular workload driving her around, feeding her and getting her to her check-ups regularly; I’ve missed out on this responsability for many years now. I feel lucky that, despite my prolonged absence from Toronto, she – at the age of 98 – is still exceptionally strong and able to walk for 10 minutes without needing to sit and rest. She’s a great conversationalist, has a warm sense of humour and is a loving figure to everyone in our family.

My mom is having a grand time, as my sister and I get photos and updates from her through social media. I’m also happy that my mother is healthy, strong and exuberant about life in her retirement years; I could only hope to be like her, although we know that the idea of retirement will be radically different for our generation.

As for myself, it’s been a week where I’ve not been great at self-care. In the north, I go to the gym regularly, after school many times a week, but the past week I’ve made sure that Gramma comes first. I’ve only been downtown once to go to the allergist, otherwise staying close to home, inviting our cousin over for dinner one night and only visiting friends in the area for no more than 2 or 3 hours at a time.

While everything had been going smoothly, late Thursday night, or Friday morning, rather, Gramma and I were alarmed at a pungent smell in the house. It smelled like melted plastic but we could not figure out where it was coming from. It was becoming unbearable; Gramma felt nauseous and I began breathing through my mouth. We could find no smoke; no alarms were going off and the carbon monoxide detector was still properly plugged in. We packed up a few things and left the house around 3:30 am, driving over to my aunt’s vacant townhouse, just 2-3 minutes away.

I made sure Gramma was comfortable first and then quietly found a room to call 911 without alarming her. I scooted back over to greet four firetrucks (really don’t think that was necessary, given our situation) and some *ahem* attractive firemen. Altogether, one fire warden, four firemen and I went all around the house, trying to find the cause.

Confused, we stood in the kitchen, scratching our heads. We concluded that the smell was the strongest on the main floor, absent in the basement, and not coming in through the ventilation system when we put our faces to the vents. I realized that the smell seemed strongest around the fridge as we stood around it; one firemen pulled the machine back and caught sight of a wisp of smoke, plus a few sparks! The most likely conclusion was an overheated compressor, melting the casing and/or wiring; the plugs were promptly pulled and everyone sighed in relief. There was actually no fire, but the thought of what could have happened was definitely very frightening.

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The next 2-3 days were quite tiring, as we ran around, back and forth, looking for a new fridge, moving some of our food out of the current one and making sure Gramma had her 3 meals. We had help from family and friends, of course, but the whole of Friday, after a total of 2 hours of sleep – one before the incident and one after the incident – I had to make sure all my energy and every decision that I made, in my deteriorated mental and physical state, was for the well-being of my charge. I laugh when my sister asked me about minutiae that day, whether some of the fridges I perused had a nice interior on the lower rack; I was more worried that I was driving safely and fully alert while on the road! Thankfully, I did manage to get 12 hours on the following night, and my sister and brother-in-law were present to help the two of us out look for a new refrigerator.

Currently we have an old ice chest for a few items in the kitchen; however, because it doesn’t seal well, the ice seems to be melting faster than usual. No need to bore anyone with the fine details, but it’s been a pretty hectic past few days and we are only settling now. A new fridge has been purchased and will be delivered from Home Depot on Friday.

Knowing that things were lining up, I decided that I need to pin some time for myself. I’m not stressed, really, but I just have not given my body any love of late. Last night, I paid for a yoga class up front and will be headed out later this morning. Then I’ll stop downtown to continue working on a job application for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB)* and then meet up with a few friends at Planta, a high-end vegan restaurant**. I’ll see a few more friends this week too before I leave, but I’m looking forward to some time by myself.

*Not to get confused with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)
**My sister will pop over after work to hang out with Gramma.

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House Cleaning: Bathroom Edition

One of the habits I never really learned at home was how to clean. I never did any cleaning – other than vacuuming – until I went to university. When I shared a house with other people, we had a schedule of when we’d clean the bathroom and take out the trash, but even then, I don’t remember cleaning consistently or thoroughly.
Since moving up north, I’ve been using YouTube tutorials to learn tips and tricks. One of my favourite YouTube channels is Clean My Space with Melissa Maker. Since feeling a bit more confident now, I thought I’d share the process in which I use to clean the bathroom. I took these photos last Saturday. Since J. and I decided to invite people over for board games, we did a big clean in the afternoon before our guests arrived.
  1. Go high to low. This is the first step, as J. taught me. You always start with the dust in high corners, so that it can fall to the ground. I take a broom and just sweep through all the corners. Any cobwebs or dust will fall down, to be wiped up or vacuumed later on. It is also a good way just to check the ceiling for mold, in case it needs to be addressed.IMG_20170325_124743559
  2. Wipe down high frequency areas. I use a general eco-friendly foam cleaner and wipe down all the handles and the light switch, as these are areas that are touched frequently and might accumulate dirt and bacteria. My only issue is that I often forget the door handle on the outside of the bathroom.IMG_20170325_125741656
  3. Make it shine! I love cleaning the mirror. It just makes the whole room look nicer. We currently are trying to use up our Windex and will be replacing it with a more environmentally option from Method.Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 10.32.08 PM
  4. Wipe down the counters. With the general cleaner, I wipe down the entire counter, after having removed everything from the surface. I let the cleaner sit for a few minutes so that any dirt can be broken down. This is called “dwell time”, which I learned about from Melissa Maker, of her YouTube channel, Clean My Space.IMG_20170325_125300537
  5. Toilet time. I continue using the general cleaner with the toilet. Then I use a bit of Clorox for a serious scrub around the bowl. You can dangle the toilet brush between the seat and the bowl so that the brush can drip dry. Now go back to the counters and wipe off that foam!IMG_20170325_130050971
  6. Scrub the walls and windows. I don’t wash all the walls, but I definitely clean the wall next to the toilet, because splashback really does happens, as much as we like to pretend it doesn’t. For the windows, I like to clean the fine corners with a toothbrush. If you don’t have one on hand, then use a Q-tip (but that becomes an costly habit if you’re constantly throwing them away).IMG_20170325_131029501 (1)
  7. Scrub the shower and bathtub. Again, starting from top to bottom. I use an eco-friendly store-bought tile spray, let it sit for 5-10 minutes and then wipe it off. For the tub, I use a bit of Clorox, as there is often buildup from the bath bombs and bubble baths I take. And if there’s pink mold? Have no fear! Using a quick mix of 1/2 cup of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid (it’ll turn into a paste) works amazingly well, like magic!
  8. Mop the floor. Do a quick vacuum or sweep first, then time to finish and mop it up!

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  9. Freshen up. As you can see in a couple of the pictures, I also like to have scented candles to make it smell nicer. I often get large blocks of candles from Ikea as the scents are fairly pleasant and the cost per candle is decent.

Those are the main steps that I take. As I learn more from YouTube tutorials or blogs, I become more and more efficient at cleaning each time.

If you have any tips, please share in the comments!

The Idea of Home

Last night, I went out to play board games with the Cree Health Board crew, right after dinner with the Adult Education staff. This afternoon, I played badminton at the high school, then left at 3 pm to help a teacher with some science lesson planning and then went for more board games in the evening. I even left my board game* with my buddies, since J. left for vacation with the car and I didn’t want to lug it around.

I have to say, my first year up here as a full-time teacher was lonely. I had worked for Elephant Thoughts and been used to living with 2 or 3 roommates at a time. I always had someone to speak with and do things together. When I moved in with J., I wasn’t used to how lonely it was. It didn’t help that the only 20-somethings at work wouldn’t invite me out much either.

Three years later, I can say I have no shortage of friends or socials to go to. In fact, I find that it’s a nice balance now. We’re not very busy that we feel exhausted at the end of the weekend and going home early or when you’re not feeling well is easy when the town is so darn small.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned but I am considering this to be my last year up north. I haven’t decided if I will put a sabbatical in yet. There are lots of benefits to living up here; the amount of free time, the disposable income for car payments, the short commute and not having to wait very long to get a check-up at the clinic … these are definitely things I will miss when I do leave the north.

Having said that now, I am more appreciative of what I’ve got. I have a fairly decent job, financial security, reasonable access to food even as a vegetarian and extremely affordable rent (~$1000/year per person). I know when I move back to Ontario, I will have to go back to struggling for a bit. But that’s okay. I’ve taken the time to practice better physical health routines, as well as mental health care.*

Will I miss the lifestyle up here? Of course.

Will I come back to the north? Who knows.

As much as I complain about being isolated and far away from family and friends, city lights, shopping and bookstores, the north has grown on me. I can honestly say that I am starting to feel at home here. But I guess I’m funny that way; that’s often when I feel like it’s time to leave.

*We played Agricola tonight, one of my favourite board games, but also one of the HEAVIEST of boxes!
**Now if only I could afford weekly massages!

 

Holiday Expenses

Note: When I wrote this, I totally forgot to include my new sit-stand desk ($230) from Ikea.

Over the holidays, as I was interacting with friends and family “down south”, I began to realize that I don’t attempt to be frugal. This habit mainly developed up north due to lack of choice. If you want super expensive red peppers, you just buy it. You need gas for your car? There’s only one gas station here. You just don’t have a choice, so you end up paying and not even paying attention to how much you’ve spent! 

Mind you, I don’t make a lot of purchases. My regular expenses include rent (taken off the paycheck), one or two meals at the restaurant, a tank of gas every month or two, car insurance and my car payments biweekly. I don’t shop a lot online either.

But of course, there are always big expenses when I go back to Toronto. Some 

Some of the big holiday expenses from the holidays:

  • License plate renewal ($216 / 2 years)
  • Sirius satellite radio ($251.95 / 1 year) – J. really likes having this. The tradeoff is that he pays for internet, which is much more expensive ($70/month). It just makes our drive around town a little bit more exciting and is great for our long drives.
  • Drive Clean test ($33.90)
  • Speeding ticket ($135) – On my birthday, what a wonderful present!
  • Passport renewal for 10 years ($160)
  • Servicing and replacing front rotors ($778) – My brakes were squeaking a bit, when I took it in, Honda Service centre told me to the front rotors were rusted. If I had more time (I always say this), I would have gone to another garage to pay less. Also, I keep forgetting to use my CAA discount and collect Aeroplan points here. Sighhhh.
  • New cellphone ($360/Koodo Tab) – Had to replace my phone due to water damage, back in November

In total, all this is ….ughhhhhhh, $1935!!! Well, glad I have a job.

Reorganizing Paperwork

I recently started listening to Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, through Audible. I’d been curious about it since I had seen the book on the best-sellers lists at Chapters and Indigo.

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It’s actually been an enjoyable and easy read. The book is a self-help guide on how to organize and declutter your home. I decided to apply some of the techniques today, since I needed to sort my important paperwork anyway, and spent several hours going through my file folders.

This is probably only about a third of what I tossed into the fireplace!

Some of the things I tossed:

  • Old paystubs from 2005 when I worked at Friends of the Rouge
  • Greeting cards and thank you letters
  • A Sears receipt for an eco-friendly frying pan
  • Expired Apple Care warranty papers for my Macbook Air
  • Receipt and registration papers for a Nikkon D40X purchased in 2007

I was actually surprised and shocked I had this stuff. I didn’t even think it was organized within my file folder!! I’m usually fairly organized, but I suppose I kept them thinking that it would be important sometime in the future or that I would like to reminisce about my past.

Marie Kondo, however, explains very well why papers should be tossed. For example, thank you cards* fulfill their very purpose the moment the received has read them. Even if you asked the sender about them, they may very well have forgotten about its existence.

In the end, it felt extremely cathartic to purge myself of unnecessary papers that were simply taking up space. Now my file folder is much lighter to pick up!!

*There were a few thank you letters that were quite touching, so I digitized them by taking pictures before putting them in the recycling bin.

 

Organization = Less Money Wasted

Since working with the school board full time for the last two years, I’ve enjoyed the fact that I have more disposable income. This means I can purchase things for entertainment or for hobbies.

However, I’ve realized that as I accumulate equipment, if it’s not organized, I won’t use it regularly. For example, my GoPro has been sitting in the drawers because there are soooo many small pieces (thank goodness I’ve not decided to be a professional photographer). I thought I could save money by not having a camera case and just using a variety of containers. And yet, what I’ve learned is that it’s not working. On a few occasions, when I’ve packed for a trip out of town, I realized – upon arrival at my destination – I cannot actually use my GoPro because I’m missing a piece, such as a screw, a mount or a cord. My camera becomes completely useless!

Today, I finally bought a GoPro case ($35) at Henry’s. Unfortunately, it does not fit my pole or the chest strap, but the most integral part are the mounts, batteries and two housings, which are fundamental to any good shoot. So rather than have all the pieces scattered in a drawer, it will be more convenient to have everything in one place ready to go at a moment’s notice.

This is also happening with my cosmetics. I really don’t have much compared to a lot of other women, nor am I the type of person to write blog posts about my cosmetics in detail, but I forget to use my products consistently when everything is tossed around on the shelves at home.

Some of the daily essentials that I need are my eczema cream, eye cream, sunscreen, face cream and deodorant. I’m awful with sunscreen and in the winter, I often forget about deodorant. So after getting my face sunburnt in Chicago, I’ve realized I need to have some better habits with the change of season; I ended up dropping a pretty amount of pennies on Dr. Dennis Gross products and ought to put it in an organized space so that I will continue to use it (guess what, I already forgot this morning). This afternoon, I picked up this sturdy toiletries basket ($14) at Kitchen Stuff Plus; otherwise, it becomes wasted money if the products get forgotten at the back of the bathroom shelf.
 It also feels nice to be organized!

Next project: the spice cabinet!

Decorating the Kitchen

I finally got around to putting up my chalkboard contact paper ($19) that I bought online. The cupboards are pretty plain, so I thought it would a nice way to spice it up a little bit!

Last night, we had the principal and a few staff come over for apple crisp and board games. The principal’s daughter, A., really enjoyed scribbling on it. I cut a piece of the contact paper for her to take home.

J. and I haven’t done much with it yet, but I’ll take some more pictures if there’s something neat to share!
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Back Up North

After 10 days of being disconnected, we are finally online! The past two weeks, J. and I have been cleaning, unpacking and cooking from scratch*. Just being domestic!

I’ve also been trying to do some work on the chin-up bar at home; right now, I’m just holding myself up for as long as I can and doing 2-3 a day. Especially after the rockclimbing trip at Metcalfe Rock, I’ve realized I need to train myself more on my upper body strength.

In the evenings, J. and I take long walks (with the exception of tonight, after getting back online). J. has pointed out that I slam my heels down and I don’t walk properly. During our walks, I’ve been trying to focus more on using the front of my sole, while engage my core and squeezing my buttocks. I never had any problems when I used to walk a lot – for hours even – in high school and at university. In the last five years, I’ve lost the knack after becoming a car-obsessed driver.

It’s good that J. forces me to walk to school – about 10 minutes away – rather than driving. At work, I’ve been mostly cleaning up the science lab. Today we had our first staff meeting and I met lots of new faces. Tomorrow we will receive students for registration. School officially starts next week Tuesday.

As for the weather in Waskaganish? It doesn’t feel like summer here. There was only one day where I wore a dress, but the rest of the time I’ve been walking in long jeans and a light sweatshirt. It can drop down to 8 C°.

But you get used to it up here. Such is life.

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The past week, we made Punjabi chana, hummus and eggplant roast.