Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Riverboat Fantasy kind of Town

As I said in the last post, I did so little research into the city that was going to become my home-away for the next three years, that Birmingham's most obvious features are a delightful surprise to me.

A canal and one of the bridges
on my ride to the university - so low
I worry about scraping my helmet
Take the canals, for example. Locals do not seem be excited about the canals (unless they're just being English about them) and they were mentioned to me with a sort of bored ho-hum attitude, but I find the idea of a city that is far from the ocean and any noticeable lakes that has a complex system of canals to rival Venice quixotic at the least. To rival VENICE?! The city that's famous for its canals! Though not as old or legendary, at least Birmingham's canals share one very clear feature with those in Venice: one should never, ever touch the 'water.'   

Canals in the downtown
area near the Gas
Street basin
Birmingham's canals sprung up in the middle of the 18th century, and at the full development and use of the system, there were almost 260km of waterway. Currently, there is about 160km of navigable canal. I take it that the main purpose of these canals was moving goods, particularly coal from the Black Country (so named for the collieries), to Birmingham and Wolverhampton. They were so busy at one point that gas lighting was installed along the waterway to keep traffic moving at all times of day.

The canals are pretty narrow, and seem fairly shallow. The boats that ply their waters are similarly narrow and shallow. Every time I see one, David Wilcox plays in my head. It seems that there are some tourist companies that provide river cruises, but there are also some residential river boats. I find the idea of living on a river boat totally romantic, and I'm curious about how people solve problems like water and toilets, and cooking, and refrigeration. I don't think these riverboats share much of the glamour that the Mississippi riverboats have, but it's a neat idea anyway.

This is my Birmingham bike! It needed a little TLC,
but it's in great shape. Now to get used to riding on the left.
January! Ha! 
Yesterday was gloriously sunny, and I walked to the Bull Ring with two housemates. The Bull Ring is the historic market centre of Birmingham. Trading started there in the 12th century with textiles and spices, and then moved into produce, corn, and, of course, cattle. The name comes from a ring which was inside part of the market, where bulls were tied up before slaughter or sale. The ledge that part of the city sits upon ends at the market, and there's a 15m drop between the old high street and the rest of the Bull Ring. Now, there is still a market on the low-graded area, beside a church called St. Martin in the Bull Ring, and two big shopping malls have taken over the ledge overlooking this. 

St. Martin's from the open pedestrian
walkway in the Bull Ring - you can see
how low the church is in comparison
St. Martin has been sitting in the middle of all the action since the 13th century. The original church survived until the end of the 1800's, when it was purposely demolished and rebuilt, saving the tower and spire. It's coated in green... lichen? Something organic. I've never seen so much growth on the outside of a building. There is another church in the Jewellery Quarter that is similarly coated. Let this be an indication of the dampness of the city, when the outside of buildings look like the inside of a fish tank in need of cleaning. 

The manor house which would have been the residence of the person 'in charge' of Birmingham, way back in the day when lordships (etc) actually had a bureaucratic purpose, used to sit beside St. Martin, and the market took place within or beside the manor's yard. This house was torn down in the 1800's as well - apparently there was a time when no one cared about preserving these things - but, in a nice touch of historical continuity, the foundations are still underneath the current market building.

Totally mossy over here.
Birmingham's a small city, and I've seen a lot of it in one week, but I'm still looking forward to getting to know it better. There's a lot of interesting history here, and it's quite a photogenic place. Seeing my Cowichan sweater and fingerless gloves, my housemates ask me every time we go out, "aren't you cold!?" No. No, I am not cold. Did you see the flowers blooming? Can you believe that blue sky? Besides being incredibly windy, the weather is nice. I do wish that it really would get cold, so that we could skate on the canals around the city.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Land of Perpetual April

Walking toward Harborne
I'm writing this from my roomy chamber in Birmingham.

I don't have much to tell so far, besides that at first blush Birmingham is not as bad as I'd anticipated. That sounds terrible, but I'll explain what I mean. I didn't have a prejudice against Birmingham; in fact, I'd never even thought about the place until finding out that my potential supervisor was faculty at the university here, and after accepting a spot in the grad program I didn't think about it much beyond what my office here might look like (a library from Harry Potter? a hobbit's den?). I looked at a few maps, coincidentally found out that JRR Tolkein was born and raised in the area, and gained inspiration for his novels from the landscape and the university itself (c.f. Isengard and the university's bell tower), and did boring stuff like find a place to live and figure out transportation from the airport.

Beyond that, I had a general impression of British and European cities and houses from the various places I've lived and travelled to over the years. There's a style of housing, which shows itself in the appearance of radiators and mechanics of front door locks, but is much more than this, and is really hard to describe exactly. I was definitely expecting dampness, because it's England, and greyness. I did get both of these. However, the house is happily warm. This may be due to the fact that the woman I'm renting a room from is Spanish.

There is no dryer (at all - wtf?) but the five women (that's right, FIVE) I'm currently sharing with are great. Four of them have 9-5 jobs, and one other is a PhD student at Birmingham. It's like camp. They hang out together, chat about their days, plan things for weekends, and motivate each other to go to the gym. They're also cool with one opting out of things that one is not interested in (the gym). This stands in such sharp contrast to my previous experiences, but I've never lived in a situation like this before, even in Canada. The house is a little like a hostel in that only one of the girls is English. Besides myself, the Englishwoman and the Spaniard, there's a Frenchwoman, an Estonian, and a Latvian. The Englishwoman and Spaniard have other friends, and the Estonian has a boyfriend who lives in London, but the other three of us are totally dislocated from our social groups, so it's a nice built-in group to chill out with. Latvia took my gel manicure off for me tonight, and last night England cooked a massive and delicious stew for everyone. This was especially excellent since I was too delirious from the jet lag and lack of sleep to organize food. On Saturday night we're all apparently going out for dinner and then to a nightclub.

The city of Birmingham is really unexpectedly beautiful. Perched atop a high plateau, it's windy as the plains of Hell, but once you get your hair and scarf out of your face and have a look around, it's lovely. There are warm-weather plants here, like palm trees and holly, and some flowers are currently in bloom. Such a place clearly does not experience winter, even if it believes that it does. Winter is not relative; winter is absolute. Birmingham is the embodiment of an everlasting April.

I walked through some parts of town today to run errands and get to the university that are certainly wealthier neighbourhoods. There were beautiful Victorian and Georgian houses, with ivy-covered gates and fences, and mossy roofs. I'm staying in a neighbourhood called Ladyhood (holla!), which is between the downtown area and the university, in Edgbaston (edge-baston). The university is sprawling and green, with the usual mix of beautiful old, hideous mid-century, and alright modern architecture. I walked through a neighbourhood adjacent to Edgbaston today called Harborne, and it is as cute as a button. I'm going to go back there to check out some of the cafes that I spotted.

For being here two days, I've got a very favourable first impression of the city. I've already seen spots that I want to show to people (some of you reading this, in fact) because I know that you would like them. Come visit me! (kidding - but also dead serious, if you want to come visit me.) This certainly makes it easier to be here for such a long time, and with knowledge that I'll be coming back many times before this PhD is done.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sweet Commitments

I was inspired by a short story I read in the summer. That might sound odd, but I always find myself inspired by fiction of different kinds - movies, books, paintings, or daydreams. The story is called, 'A Christmas Memory,' by Truman Capote, and he describes a tradition that he and his best friend have of making fruit cakes. One crisp November morning, the elderly woman would stand at the window and declare, "it's fruitcake time!" The four-day adventure of getting the ingredients and creating the cakes would begin.

I'm a lover of traditions of all kinds. I like rituals, especially private rituals. I think I like them because they bind the past to the future through present and expected action, in a way that not many other things can. I suppose this is why I get nostalgic for things I used to do with others, or for foods that represent rituals in my life. Gingerbread houses and clootie dumplings come to mind. My sister and I used to make these foods with my Gran, and Gran made dumplings for my mum and for me for our winter birthdays. Coins wrapped in foil were hidden in the dumpling, and whoever got the penny was the luckiest.

With Capote's inspiration and the 1966 Better Living pies and cakes cookbook in hand, this past November I set out to make Christmas cakes for my friends and family. It's quite the big job. I omitted all the ingredients that I don't like (namely, peel of all kinds) and kept the ingredients that I do like (dried pineapple, walnuts, real maraschino cherries, etc.). After an entire day of chopping, mixing, and baking, I ended up with seven small cakes.

These little guys were wrapped in cheese-cloth that had been soaked in brandy, and then wrapped in foil, and then stuck in the closet (a cool space) to marinate. For the following six weeks, I would unwrap the cakes every Friday and re-soak the cheese-cloth in brandy, and then carefully wrap them up again.

Finally, on the Friday before Christmas I spent an entire day making icing for the cakes. First, there was a simple buttercream icing to cover the cakes. Then, there was the marshmallow fondant (a very easy cheater fondant that actually tastes yummy) to mix, knead, roll, and wrap around the iced cakes. The outcome was marvellous.

I am very happy with how they turned out. I regret that I probably won't be able to make them again next year, because I'm expecting to spend the fall in England. However, if plans change, then I'll do it for sure. I gave the cakes to people who I thought would appreciate them the most - cake lovers, and people who wouldn't just throw them in the garbage. There's such a bias against Christmas cake! But if you have time, a little determination, and a good memory - since it's so easy to forget to rewrap the cakes each week - I encourage a little tradition-making in the form of delicious cakes.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Have an Un-Busy Christmas

I'm reading an article in today's Globe and Mail by Zosia Bielski, which I'm reading in hard-copy but which I'm sure the industrious person could find online, about Ann Burnett, a professor at North Dakota State University, who has been collecting annual Christmas letters from all over the place. She doesn't know all of the people, and their correspondence spans the globe, but she's finding trends. The biggest trend, it seems, is that people started, over the years, replacing good news with expostulations of busyness.

Reading it reminded me of an exchange I had a couple of weeks ago with two salespeople. I was in the mall with my sister-in-law, and we were in Williams-Sonoma. I was approached by one salesperson, who started in on the classic and largely insincere exchange which greases the bearings of social intercourse: "Hi," he started, "how are you?" "Fine thanks," I replied, "How are you?" "ugh, I'm really tired," he said, nodding his head, like I should understand this or wait to listen to more of what he wanted to tell me. I did neither, and said "Oh," and moved away. In the next store we went into, the salesperson asked me how I was and after replying with the standard 'fine, thanks,' again he told me how tired he was, adding this time that he's really busy. I was rattled. What was going on? My sister-in-law, in a different store on the same day, actually got stuck in a conversation (monologue, really) with a salesperson who was telling her at length about how busy and exhausted he was from doing things in his life. I mistakenly thought that he was assisting my s-i-l, and so failed to jump in and rescue her from this barrage as I should have.

In wondering about why these people decided to skip the usual politeness and go straight to telling us about how crazy life is, a number of possible explanations occurred to me. Perhaps they were rebelling against the retail world, and forcing intimacy upon unsuspecting customers by denying them the easy introductory exchanges before telling them about daily promotions. They would have to be pretty organized for us to have experienced this in multiple stores. Or, perhaps they were in their early 20s and still totally wrapped up in their own egos, not realizing that no one else cares how busy they are. (No one cares about your band! Everyone is in a band!) This wouldn't explain why some 30-something acquaintances have fallen into this kind of exchange pattern, and not all of the people we encountered in their 20s displayed this lack of manners.

The article in the Globe and Mail gives another theory. Burnett and others who work in similar research are starting to think that though people complain (or seem to) about the crazy pace of their lives, they also accept it as if there is no other option. They also suggest that people are starting to be very proud of the hectic lives they live, where friends have to book a lunch date months in advance: "When you move fast and are productive, you are relevant." Taking time to do nothing, or even dropping commitments entirely, is unthinkable. What would you do? What would they do without you?

I think social media is tied in with this as well. Do people decline invitations anymore? It would be harder, I think, to turn down some invitations when there's a good chance that event photos will turn up on Instagram. You could say you were invited and turned it down, but no one will be listening as they flip through the pretty pictures.

I want to encourage my friends and family, who make up the majority of people who read this blog (thanks guys!), to have a very un-busy Christmas this year. I don't usually write Christmas letters, figuring that people who want to be caught up on my life have multiple platforms (including this blog) for achieving that throughout the year. However, I do want to put some qualities of Burnett's gold-star letters, as determined by her letter-coding system, into my real-life exchanges; an 'A' for 'authentic' letter-writing showed appreciation for the present, an understanding that time is finite, and the relaying of real-life hilarity rather than one-upsmanship or busier-than-thou list-making.

Let's take some time to do what matters this month, slow down and relish the moments we have with each other, and put aside the things that we do because we think we should do them, or because they might look good to someone else. I promise I won't assume that your schedule is flexible.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Adopting Animals: A Test of Zen

Two weeks ago, Drew and I adopted two kitties. They are six-year old brother and sister, Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow and Lady Marmalade. Here they are:

Aren't they cute? Barnabas is black and white, Marmalade is tortoiseshell, and both have pretty green eyes. We adopted them not long after Colbert died. Somehow, giving them a home felt right even though we were still sad about Colbie - and still are. There are moments when Barnaby and Marms help and make us feel better, and there are moments where they make us feel worse and miss Colbie more. In my post about Colbert's life I alluded to this, but adopting animals is hard. 

There are a few reasons why it's hard, but the most obvious is that animals find any change very difficult, even when it's a change from a poor situation to a good one. Even though we're giving B&M a great new home, the transition from cage to apartment is really stressful for them. They were in the Toronto Humane Society for six months, having been transferred from the Durham Region Humane Society, where they lived for about the same amount of time, so we estimate that they were in shelters for at least a year. To move to a house after such a long time is quite disruptive. 

Little Lady Marmalade
Another reason that adopting is difficult is that one never knows what kind of personality you're going to get. Lady Marmalade is an easy-going cat, like Colbert was (it turns out - I had no idea while he was alive). She has gotten used to living with us quickly, and already knows the breakfast and dinner routines. She started using her litter box right away with no trouble and has started using the scratch pad (having a carpeted apartment means they love scratching everywhere). She purred quickly and purrs easily now, and she loves playing with fuzzy toys and watching the birds at our bird feeders. She slept with Drew the first night she was home, and last night took turns sleeping on top of Drew and on top of me. I slept surprisingly well, despite the little paw-pokes. 

Silly Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow
Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow, on the other hand, is not easy-going. He's kind of timid and a little slow on the uptake. Our first challenge with him was caused by our own mistake, in thinking that these two would use the same litter box. Many cats that live together do use the same box, and we thought that because they were siblings they probably would, but that was incorrect. Having nowhere else to go (apparently), Barnaby decided to poop and pee on our bed the first night they were here (not while we were in it). The bedroom was quickly made off-limits for the rest of the first week. With a second makeshift litter box installed in the bathroom, things seemed to improve. Barnaby used it and Drew and I high-fived triumphantly. However, when I purchased a proper litter box and put it in the same spot, Barnaby regressed, and pooped on the bathroom floor. He continued to poop on the floor for the remainder of the week, though still peeing in the litter box, while Drew and I progressively tin-foiled the entire bathroom floor to try to dissuade him. This, while very annoying, was not that big a deal, since the linoleum is so easy to clean. As I said to Drew in various moments of exasperation, at least he was in the right room! Finally, after purchasing another, different style of litter box, Barnaby seems to be back on the poop-in-the-box train. I can't say that for sure, but we've had two days of positive pooping behaviours. If it continues until the weekend, I may consider taking up the tin foil. 

Barnaby playing with his toys
Both cats are very playful and active, but Barnabas has a tendency to hide. All cats hide, especially when they're in a new place, but that doesn't make it any easier on the heart, as an emotional and needy human being. Marmalade hid a little at first, but quickly came out to explore and get to know us. She doesn't hide anymore; though she likes to sleep under the bed beside the heat vent for warmth, calling her is enough to coax her out to play. Barnabas hides every morning after breakfast. He hides under the bed and under the chairs in the living room, and some days I won't see him for hours. He can sometimes be coaxed out to play, but usually he will only come out if treats are promised. He purred for the first time yesterday, which I thought wasn't too bad, since it can take four weeks or more for a cat to purr after big changes happen. Yet, purring and actually coming around to hang out are big rewards for me, and cat-owners in general I think, so it's hard to have a cat that seems to want to avoid one as much as possible.

Marmalade watching the birds
Unfortunately, I had to take them to the vet this morning for a check-up and weighing, so I think that the big trust-steps Barnabas took yesterday have been at least partially undone. He may not purr again for a few days. They, unlike Colbert, were sweet little angels at the vet. Colbert would transform into a toothsome sharp-clawed gremlin, and I'm sure his vets inwardly cringed when they saw his appointments pop up. Marmalade and Barnaby endured all the prodding and poking quietly and with outward calm (though their little hearts were hammering). Besides both being chubby, they're healthy and happy. Diets and exercise for both! 

Let it be known that though rescuing animals is extremely rewarding and wonderful, it's also really difficult and frustrating, and because humans are social animals, it's hard for us to handle it when something we love and care for hides from us or does other things that seem to spurn our attention (e.g., the cranky baby). Patience is the main resource that a person needs to have to adopt animals (probably just for life in general). Even dogs need time to adjust to their new homes and owners, and they're far less independent than cats are. Drew and I have to be calm and wait for these two, particularly Barnaby, to really relax.

It's too early for me to say that I love them, but I like them a lot, and I'm sure glad they're here. I think that over the next few weeks they'll settle in and get comfortable. They are silly and fun, and there's a lot of love to be had over the many years ahead. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Goodbye to a Good Friend

The handsome Colbert, at our Esplanade apartment in Montreal
My dearest Colbert has died. He had a heart attack last night, after coming to the bedroom door to get me. This is his story, as much of it as I know. 

Colbert's kittenhood is a mystery. I think he was born and raised in Montreal. His first owner (who named him) was a lady who had him and another cat, and who died and left the two cats without a back-up care plan. They ended up at the Animal Rescue Network in Montreal, where I found him. I don't know who the other cat was, or what happened to it. 

Colbie in 2008 in my studio on Pine Ave in Montreal
I decided at Thanksgiving in 2008 that I wanted to adopt a cat. I started looking online, and came across the ARN's website. Colbie was on there with a handsome photo, and I decided to go and see him. The staff were overjoyed that someone had come to see him, and after locating him in a room full of cats (all out of cages, roaming around) in a corner, facing the wall, they thrust him into my arms. He was drooling, had a big mat of fur along his back, and seemed overall pretty grumpy. The other cats around were cute and friendly, rubbing against my legs. I had a moment of doubt about Colbert, but then I felt like I had made a commitment to him by asking for an appointment to see him, and he was in such need of a home. The staff weren't sure how old he was - between 7 and 10 they thought - but told me that he'd been in the shelter for three years. I had to take him.

A blurry Colbie tests out a shoe-box in the kitchen at our Esplanade apartment
The vet at the shelter cut off the matted fur and trimmed his nails. I ended up with an optimistic, curious, and somewhat ugly kitty. His eyes smiled, but he drooled, he smelled, he had a bald patch, and he had other mats and tufts in his fur that he really didn't like me trying to brush out. I would have to sneak up behind him with scissors while he was eating to snip out mats, and even then I could usually only get two or three before he got really mad. When I took him to my vet, it turned out that he needed to have dental surgery to have teeth removed - and that he was older than the shelter told me. My vet estimated between 9 and 12. His painful mouth was why he was drooling and smelly. He had five teeth taken out that Christmas, and after that he was much happier.

Blurry Colbie on the motel bed in Sackville, NB
From the very first night, Colbert slept beside me on the bed. He didn't sleep at my feet; he preferred to be at the top of the bed, just below the pillow, always on the left side of the bed (when you're lying in it). If I slept on my left side, he would tuck into the space beside my tummy, and curl up with his enormous earthquake purr. I called it his smoker's purr. 

Camping cat! Checking out our gear in a campground near Moncton, NB
From the first night of cuddling each other to sleep, we were besties. Colbie was invaluable company to me when I was writing my MA thesis from the fall of 2008 to the summer of 2009. He made me feel comfortable being home alone so much, because it was like there was another person around. I didn't get as stir-crazy, and could focus on my work more, knowing that there was a purring, playing creature somewhere in my apartment. He always woke me up to feed him breakfast, and he never let me work through dinner time. 

Camping cat strikes again, in a tent this time at Fundy National Park
In the summer of 2009, I went to Easton, Pennsylvania to teach summer classes at a CTY summer camp, and Colbert went to Ottawa to stay with my friend, Amy. She had offered to take him, because I didn't have anyone in Montreal to look after him. When I unexpectedly got an offer to go to Switzerland for a six-month internship, Colbie's 2-month vacation became an 8-month stay. This was too much to ask anyone but my Mum to do (thanks Mum!), so off to Fenelon Falls he went, to live with my Mum's two cats. When I returned in March 2010, Drew and I (we had started dating in the spring of '09 and did long-distance this whole time) found a place to sub-let, and Colbie came back to live with us. He loved the apartment we had, except for during the crazy heat wave that summer when he had to seek cool refuge by sprawling on the bathroom linoleum (oh, and that other time that I had to take him to Cafe Olimpico for four hours in his kennel while they sprayed our place for bedbugs because the neighbour brought them in).

Colbie is very helpful. Here, he helps me paint a picnic table for my sister's birthday
That August, Colbert came to the East Coast with us for the first time. We drove out in a rented car, and we stayed at the Tantramar Motel in Sackville on our way to Charlottetown. We had to sneak the kennel in because we didn't think pets were allowed. He was wonderful, though. He didn't mind being in the car, and he got comfortable at Drew's folks' condo in Charlottetown right away. When we got back to Montreal, it was time for all three of us to pack the moving van and head down the highway again; Drew was starting an MA in Kingston, and I was moving to Toronto for a new job. Our days in Montreal were over.

A little play time with the spinny-ball-thingy
If Colbert ever missed Montreal, he never showed it. He quickly became the ruler of our apartment in Toronto. It was carpeted and sunny, meaning there was no limit to how comfy he could get in all the different areas of floor. The next four years went by quickly. Far too quickly. Colbert was always there. He woke me up in the morning, he slept with us at night. He played with his toys and napped in sunbeams, and chased squirrels outside the sliding glass door. He danced with drew, and played piano solos, and endured all of the silly songs that we made up about him (Drew was especially good at this: Play time - Kitty! Living in the city!) He came to the East Coast with us a second time, for a friend's wedding, and camped with us in Fundy National Park. He wore a bow-tie for the wedding - what a dapper guy.

Helping to open presents - mostly so that he could lie down on the tissue paper
 And now, as I face a number of new life changes, including starting a PhD program, an unexpected and heartbreaking change is sent my way with the death of sweet Colbert. His life was an adventure, and he bore it calmly. It always seemed that as long as I was with him, he could handle whatever move we were making or trip we were taking. Or maybe that's the other way around. 

Colbert and I just had our six-year adoption anniversary - just two weeks ago. It has been such a great and rewarding six years, I wouldn't have missed it. I'm so glad I didn't let myself be tempted by those other cats that day in the shelter. Colbie was the kitty for me.

I will miss you, Colbert. I love you. Goodbye.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life Changes

I love the ambiguity in the phrase that makes the title of this post. 'Life changes' can mean big events, like weddings and babies, that irreversibly alter the course, feel, and decisions of a person's life, or it can be a somewhat obvious existential statement. Gloomy reflection on life is one of my hobbies, however more on that later. In terms of big event life changes, there have been so many of those this summer that my head is spinning.

Emma and Matt, having signed the register. Happy people.
My sister, Emma, got married two weeks ago, at the end of August, in a gorgeous ceremony and reception that suited her indescribably well, and it was the best weekend of my entire summer. It was a lot of work, and Emma did even more than anyone else, but it was incredibly fun, and I'm really happy for her and her partner. They make each other happy, and it's wonderful to see.

My bestie in Ottawa, Amy, had a baby a week ago. His name is Theo and he's adorable. He was a week late - he was due on the same weekend as Emma's wedding - but he's happy and healthy, and he and Amy are both doing very well. The full effect of the life-changing properties of an infant has not yet been felt by Amy, but they're starting to ripple outward. For example, when pregnant, Amy had imagined herself heading out to Folk Fest with baby in tow to check out some live music this past weekend, but when the time came she was more content to hang out at home, get some sleep if possible, and take it easy. Some pre-offspring parts of life do come to an end, and that's just part of the deal one makes when deciding to have children.

I'm having my own life change today. This change has been coming at me slowly for the past year, but nevertheless, this is my last day of employment with an organization that I've worked for since 2010. Four years have flown by so fast, I really have trouble believing that it's been that long already. I'm leaving this work behind to start on a PhD in public health ethics at the University of Birmingham. There are no courses to take, so I'll start writing my dissertation tomorrow, from Toronto. In January, I'll go to England for a few months, and then I'll come back to Canada in the spring, and I'll just move back and forth over the next three years.

Drew and me at Emma's wedding - looking pretty spiff!
I'm nervous and excited. I have a great supervisor who has already been immensely helpful in suggesting how I can get started on this massive project. My partner, Drew, is a safe harbour in stormy seas, and if it wasn't for his support, I'm not sure that I'd be taking this step. Despite the long and gradual approach of this transition from the office-work 9-5 schedule, getting out of bed every day and going somewhere to open emails and have coffee with coworker-friends, to a life of solitary effort without office or schedule, it's still a bit hard and more than a little surreal. It's like watching a fingernail grow until it's finally too long; you know the time is coming to cut it, and when you do your fingertip suddenly feels weird and exposed. Until a recent, reassuring conversation with my supervisor, my plan for tomorrow was to wake up, open my computer, and panic - panic about the work I had to do, the expectations that I face, and my decision to leave a regular pay-cheque behind. I'm fortunate to have funding from the Wellcome Trust Foundation, so I will not be broke. I will be living with budgetary restrictions, but maybe that's a good thing after being pretty financially careless for four years. (I always hope that I'll see the light, repent, and reform my spending ways. It hasn't happened yet.)

And now, the other facet. The statement, 'life changes,' is also an observation about the nature of existence. Life doesn't stay the same, it changes in constant and gradual entropy. It's almost autumn, and this country is taking the approaching change in season seriously, as evidenced by Calgary getting inches of snow (poor, poor Calgary) and Toronto's cold, rainy nights. I have a tendency to get nostalgic at this time of year. There's something about the slant of the sunlight that makes my eyes misty as the Earth careens through space and tilts its head back from the heat of the sun to warm its toes for a change. The events of the summer have reconfigured my life and the lives of my family and friends, and it's time to grow calm after the celebration to reflect on what has happened and how things will be different in the future. I can feel myself turning my face away from the busyness and excitement, toward quiet and solitude. We grow older, we love deeper, we talk slower, and we keep a watchful eye the horizon for the next changes that life will send our way. May they always be happily met.