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A thoroughly empty nest

Fiona’s commute last summer made it easy for me to do weekly bike rides over the pass, a gorgeous 52 km one way trip
We’ve had piles of barred owls nesting around our property lately
The grocery-shopping rig
Summer Symphony video recording on location. Final videos here.
The productive end of last year’s garden, which did fairly well given the heat dome
Upgraded my mountain bike to this much lighter sweetie
Still knitting in spurts of obsessiveness punctuated by long fallow periods

As mid-2022 approaches and we are facing the likelihood of not having any of our four kids “home” for the first summer ever, it seems we really are empty nesters now. We still have an unbelievably ancient dog though, if that counts. Limpet is almost 17 and a large breed mix whose life expectancy was originally pegged at somewhere around 12-13. She’s completely deaf, fairly arthritic and both forgetful and anxious, but is leading her best life under the circumstances. She takes an interest in the cat, and her dinner, and in going out to inspect sights and smells in the yard dozens of times a day.

This elderly canine keeps us fairly tied to home, as if COVID hadn’t already done that. Thanks to an attentive house-sitter we did get away for a week for visits-with-ageing-mother-and-mother-in-law last fall, but most travel dreams are still on hold. There is also still staffing uncertainty at the health care centre. Chuck is working solo 10-15 days a month, then three half-days a week for the remainder. Contracts are tentative, in flux, so recruiting new people is difficult at the moment.

So we — me, especially — have pretty much been at home for the past two years. At home meaning on the property, rarely even going to the village for errands. Thankfully the kids have continued to adultify beautifully and find ways to live their lives despite the pandemic.

Erin got tenured at the Calgary Philharmonic and as such has felt secure throughout the pandemic even with stretches of minimal to no performing. The first year consisted of occasional carefully-managed small-format live-stream performances. But as the pandemic has waxed and waned the orchestra has been able to do more, culminating in a return to full live programming last month. She spent a good chunk of the first two COVID summers here in the Kootenays with us and with Fiona, since the orchestra is always on hiatus for July and August, and helped out last summer at our modified Suzuki Institute.

Noah landed a full-time job with EA Games early in the pandemic, and has been working from home of course. His warm, diplomatic interpersonal style seems to bring him to the fore when online project/team communication issues arise and he feels like he is doing well not only in his personal work but in navigating the HR environment. EA has a massive flagship campus in Burnaby with piles of cool tech/rec amenities, but he has not yet even stepped through the doors despite “working there” for two years and living just up the road. They finally mailed him his security ID badge about six months into the job. Maybe someday he’ll use it!

Sophie never did go to England to take up the job she was offered with Arup in London. The start date got soft with the economic downturn and travel restrictions at the start of the pandemic, and while waiting for the provisional January 2021 start, she interviewed with Tesla and got offered an immediate position that was much more lucrative. So she’s been living in the Bay Area for the last 18 months and is working on the power-train for the Tesla Cybertruck. She’s living life as a California girl, with lots of UBC engineering alumni friends among her co-workers and friends.

Fiona is doing a double major in animal physiology and bioethics and this year is living off-campus with a couple of friends while working part-time in a molecular genetics lab. Last summer she came back home to BC, commuting to a nearby community to work as a veterinary assistant. But this summer she is going to increase her work hours at the genetics research lab and stay in Toronto.

Last summer was a big growth year for the garden. Not so much in terms of production, though that increased substantially as well. But mostly in that I managed to finally pretty much beat the goutweed, and did a lot of soil remediation and double-digging, so that by the end of the fall I had more than doubled the available cultivation area. This year is looking like it will involve a lot less spading and forking and screening. Phew!

We became landlords last spring, renting out the Nelson house to a nice trio of young adults, friends of our kids. That lease is now expiring, they’re moving away, and we’re looking at putting the place on the market. I loved living part-time in Nelson when Sophie and Fiona were in school, but it makes little sense to keep the house now.

Last summer, with Fiona needing my car full-time, I ended up using the e-bike as my primary means of transportation (awe had originally bought it to help Sophie and Fiona get around for work and school when they were too young to drive.) When Fiona handed back the car keys at the end of August, I decided to see if I could continue to manage without driving. I made a resolution to not use the car for local travel and see how far into winter I could manage. It’s now April and I still haven’t broken the resolution. I have driven the car to Calgary and Vancouver to pick up / drop off the various kids at their various airports and apartments. And I’ve driven it to Cranbrook four times for symphony gigs. I had a couple of appointments in Nelson that I drove to. And twice I have driven out of town for meetups with friends (once to ski, once to bike). I lent the car to some friends for a few weeks. But around town, all the grocery shopping and local errands have been done on the bike with round trips of 7 to 20 km and with 200 metres of climbing on the return leg. It can make for quite an expedition mentality if a parcel arrives or a meeting is scheduled on a snow day or after a melt-refreeze cycle. But it has been a great challenge, and every time I logged bike mileage equivalent to a tank of gas, I spent the money on better winter cycling gear. That has made all the difference. For next year I would like to get at least one studded tire, and I have my eye on a nice big weather-proof tote to fit into the rear rack.

Am I at the point of selling the car? No, not quite. I would likely have to give up symphony playing, and there wouldn’t be a good solution for getting the kids here for holiday visits. (Erin and Noah don’t drive at all, Sophie lives a 20-hour drive away so flying is more practical for her, and Fiona also needs to fly, with the airports 4-8 hours away.) Chuck does not have the same interest in active transportation, so he would not be amenable to using the eBike for work for a couple of winter days if I, say, had to take his Tacoma to Calgary for an overnight to pick up Erin and Fiona for the holidays. Unfortunately the nearest car share or car rental place is more than 100 km away with only a weekly public transit connection, so that’s not a practical solution in our rural situation.

But maybe, if he is working less in the future, he could do without a vehicle the few days a year when I have to drive somewhere. We have pretty much decided that the long game is to trade both our vehicles in on an EV that we can share, and equip with a utility trailer for occasional runs to the dump or to haul bikes, appliances, furniture etc.. We’re just not quite at that point yet.

Other things I’ve been doing:

We’re hoping to get off propane for heating the house in the next year by moving to heat pumps. So I got a home energy audit done and am researching ways to retrofit our funky slab-on-grade-log-rectangle-melded-to-various-differently-constructed-additions home. Ideally we will find a system that allows us to remedy the kitchen-is-always-so-freakin-cold problem. (All my jackets end up with sleeves gunked up with oil spatters and stains from wearing them while cooking.)

Despite her consistently conscientious public health habits, Fiona brought omicron with her when she flew from Toronto to Calgary en route to family Christmas. We rapid-tested her due to a slightly scratchy throat the morning after her flight, at Erin’s place in Calgary. This meant that we avoided bringing it back to the Kootenays to infect the rest of the family, which was super fortunate since Chuck was covering the ER, the medical clinic and the nursing home on his own at the time. It kind of ruined Christmas, though. Erin and Fiona never did make it home, and I only managed to get two days around New Year’s with Sophie and Noah. Better than nothing though!

I joined the board of an organization that is creating a community workspace: office co-working, meeting and storage space for non-profits and community social groups, a commercial kitchen for food production and catering, as well as the possibility of hosting workshops, pop-up restaurants and other events. It’s crazy complicated and a million-dollar project but we are getting close to full implementation of our larger vision. In the meantime we’re administering temporary shared spaces.

I’m still working away at piano and Japanese with persistent inefficiency. I’m getting close to halfway through Duolingo Japanese and I can play Doctor Gradus al Parnassum by Debussy passably at 132 to the quarter note. Even middling daily work eventually produces some progress.

The Suzuki institute continues to iterate out each summer according to public health restrictions. There is definitely a lot of momentum that has been lost and it is possible that due to personal/life-stage changes amongst the faculty and administration it is nearing the end of its life cycle. We’ll see how things feel after this summer.

I didn’t ski much this winter because of my local-driving moratorium. But I have continued to do a fair bit of virtual cycling. My first smart trainer got broken in an early pandemic moving accident, but I managed to replace it with a Tacx Flux S the following year, and that kept me going through the winter. Despite the year off, I’ve put almost 20,000 virtual kilometres on my Zwift app account since I starting using that platform. Our community gym just reopened this week for the first time since the pandemic began, and I hope to use it to augment my endurance cycling with some strength training which I figure, since I am nearing 60, is important.

I have had to stop dreaming about travelling, as the frustration of unrealized dreams was wearing me down. Hoping that someday I can’t start dreaming again, but I’m no longer counting on “soon.” I’m trying for a road trip to Northern California for some cycling and to see Sophie, but I had originally planned this for last October and circumstances have continued to interfere every month since.


2 responses to “A thoroughly empty nest”

  1. Katie Avatar

    It’s so lovely to read this update Miranda; I’ve followed your blog for a long time and often wondered how you were all doing during COVID.

  2. Erin J Avatar

    Thanks for the update! It’s great to hear how everyone is doing in your neck of the woods. 🙂

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