If there is one aspect of my father that I recall as a constant throughout his life as I knew it, it was his obsession with humidification.

It seemed he was always fussing with a humidifier or a dehumidifier. Emptying a tank. Filling a tank. Developing networks of tubes to automatically empty a tank. With results measured by humidistats in every room.

And, yes, I have followed in his footsteps.

His final humidifying gift to me was a tip to pick up an inexpensive travel humidifier from Home Hardware. He had two of them, and swore by them. Fed from any standard-mouthed pop bottle, the ultrasonic “Classic” model that he recommended sells for less than $30, and emits a pleasant mist of water vapour into its surroundings. Easy to fill, easy to move around, easy to clean.

Of course I bought one.

And then, last month, when Catherine was at the Palliative Care Centre, I noticed that the air there was very dry, and so I brought the Classic in, set it up above her bed, and her mother and I took turns keeping it refilled, day and night.

Volunteers, nurses, and doctors noticed it—it’s hard to miss because the vapour-emitting nozzle glows with a bright blue light—and decided that it was just the thing for other residents in need of humidification. So the handyman was despatched, and two were acquired. It makes me happy to think that they’re in service today, giving small comfort; a gift, both from Catherine, and from my father.

Oliver, alas, has come down with the head cold that seems to be going around.

I can’t breathe,” he complained tonight before bed.

I knew just what was needed.

I rummaged around in the cardboard box that came home from Palliative Care—yes, I need to attend to that box—found the Classic, opened it up and gave it a clean, and it’s on Oliver’s bedside table tonight, giving small comfort.

Between that, and the VapoRub that Oliver insisted that I rub on his chest, because that’s what Catherine used to do, I feel tonight like I’m not, completely, parenting alone.

Parking Bad

Parking pro-tip: if your car, truck or van is covering the sidewalk, you’re doing something wrong.

Imagine rolling down this Prince Street sidewalk on this bitterly cold day only to encounter this: your only options are to roll out into traffic, or to backtrack to Grafton Street, cross, and take the other sidewalk down.

This is a problem that’s 100% preventable by exercising thoughtful parking. Spread the word.

Cars and trucks blocking the Prince Street sidewalk.

Where is the Basket Ball?

When Confederation Bridge opened in 1997, a development called Gateway Village opened with it, on the Prince Edward Island side, in Borden-Carleton.

Part of Gateway Village was an interpretive centre: a combination exhibit, museum, introduction to the Island, and art installation.

Catherine, along with Lynn Douglas, was commissioned to create a piece for the centre, a large sphere constructed from witherod around a metal frame by Catherine, covered in hanging fibre human figures created by Lynn.

It looked like this, once it was installed:

Basket Ball installed in Gateway Village

Catherine suffered for this art: she needed to gather all the witherod herself, and she did this in the fields around our house on the Kingston Road. One winter afternoon she was out gathering near the creek that runs parallel to the Bannockburn Road and she fell through the ice. The water was shallow, so she was in no danger of getting stuck. But she was chilled through to her core, and she carried that chill with her for the rest of her life.

At some point after 1997, the interpretive centre at Gateway Village was razed, replaced with other touristic infrastructure. It was a great assault against the artists and craftspeople who’d contributed exhibits, installations, music and film to the project. And, what’s worse, it seems like nobody knows what happened to everything that had been installed: the “basket ball” was never seen again, and we have never found anyone who could tell us what became of it.

Does anyone in the readership have any idea, or know of someone who might?

50 Sheets of Paper

Catherine died a month ago today, just around this time of night.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been spending time in her studio making paper using the letters and cards and flowers of condolence we’ve received.

After experimenting with various tools, I set on a small mould and deckle that she had made herself from a couple of simple picture frames and some window screen. This needed some repairs; of course I found all the tools I needed to affect them in her cupboards.

I finished the last of 50 sheets of paper this afternoon.

Every piece is unique. There are bits of sealing wax smeared through some, and bits of thread and plastic in others. Some show patches of fountain pen ink. All are raggedy and irregular and dramatically imperfect. She would love them.

The best part of the entire exercise is that when I ironed each sheet after drying the room smelled like fresh-cut flowers.

My next Herculean task is finding new homes for Catherine’s tools and books and for the carefully curated stash of fabric, yarn, and thread she assembled over a lifetime of making. I’m happy I was able to undertake one last project amidst all that.

The Infinite Pile of Money

Beyond Catherine’s longstanding fundamental discomfort with the notion that, for the most part, I earned money and she didn’t, which we came to terms with as much as it’s possible to come to terms with, the only financial schism in our 28 years together was a home equity line of credit that we secured against our house at 100 Prince Street when we purchased it in 2000.

By lucky happenstance we were able to pay cash for our house when we bought it; it needed substantial renovations, though, and we didn’t have the cash for that, hence the line of credit, which was akin to a mortgage, but with a better rate, and much more flexible terms.

After the initial round of renovations, it was my intent that we pay off the line of credit and shut it down over the course of 3 or 4 years; I’m genetically programmed to be averse to debt of any sort, and I wanted it gone. Things didn’t work out that way, in part because other major expenses arose, and in part because Catherine and I disagreed as to the nature of the instrument: I treated it as a sacred crucible to be used gingerly; Catherine treated it as an infinite pile of free money. Neither of us was right-headed about it, really, and so discussion of the line of credit and its disposition became an occasional source of tension between us. Never enough to be a truly big deal; never not enough to truly recede into the background.

The Monday after Catherine died we got a letter from TD Bank, in the regular course of their affairs, informing us that the life insurance rate on the line of credit would be going up. This came as a surprise to me because I’d completely forgotten that we had life insurance on our line of credit. So I called the bank, found out that we did indeed, filled out some paperwork, and waited.

Wise financially-inclined friends, as well as CBC Marketplace, cautioned me that because line of credit insurance is “underwritten at time of claim,” I should be prepared to have the claim denied because that essentially means that the insurer does the investigative diligence at the end of the process, not at the beginning, as is typical with other types of life insurance.

And so I wasn’t banking on this happening. Which was okay, because I’d never been banking on it happening.

Today, though, I got a call from my friendly banking associated at TD Bank in Charlottetown telling me that the claim had been paid and that, once everything went through the wash, TD Bank owes me $286.40.

Detail from my online bank statement showing the negative balance in the line of credit of $286.40.

When I related the broad strokes of this story to my friend Dave last week, his reaction was “so Catherine was right!”

I hadn’t thought about it that way until that point, but Dave pegged it: our line of credit was much more infinite-pile-of-money than sacred-crucible.

She was right.

The hard fact of life and death means that Catherine will never know this, and that’s a shame.

For the first time in 25 years, I am debt free.

And while I would, in a heartbeat, give that up to have another hour with Catherine, it’s also an unexpected bit of good news in a run that hasn’t had a lot of that.

But not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable…”

The Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana is fascinating, and so much more than the concert film I was expecting

The heart of the film is Swift’s 2018 decision to come out publicly against the antediluvian Tennessee Republican candidate Martha Blackburn and, in so doing, coming out of the apolitical female country singer closet she’d been living in her entire career.

The film is also Swift’s rumination, on the brink of turning 30, on gender and fame:

It’s a lot to process because we do exist in this society where women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35.

Everyone’s a shiny new toy for, like, two years.

The female artists that I know of have reinvented themselves twenty times more than the male artists. They have to. Or else you’re out of a job.

Constantly having to reinvent. Constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny.

Be new to us.

Be young to us.

But only in a new way, only the way we want.

And reinvent yourself only in a way that we find to be equally comforting but also a challenge for you.

Live out a narrative that we find interesting enough to entertain us, but not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable.

Swift’s The Man explores the same themes, and the film contains compelling scenes of her working out the lyrics for the song.

Like me, my nieces are big Taylor Swift fans. I’m happy that they set on her as a role model; there’s a lot to be learned from who she was, who she’s becoming, and how she’s reflecting on that transformation.