Wednesday, August 13, 2014


* I am SO proud of my mother for writing this book and publishing it! This was such a tough book for her to write due to the fact that this was a VERY traumatic time in our lives! You can click on the paypal button link I have provided in the sidebar of my blog to purchase this book for only $5.99CAD! *The book cover was actually designed by me! :)

See corresponding video on my mother's Youtube channel:  hellojerree

Here are a few reader reviews about this book:

Chapter 1

Life is funny. Not original, but true! I have been procrastinating about beginning this stroll down memory lane as it holds very emotional moments for me and my family and is not an easy period to relive. This being said, however, it is nonetheless a true story, and I think it might resound in the hearts and minds of so many people, to say nothing of the life experiences it will mirror in its readers.

This is a story of survival and hope and to live it was like being blindfolded in an unfamiliar room set with traps that had to be avoided at all costs. Let me explain.

When I say “life is funny”, I don’t mean in the hilarious knee-slapping way, although it sure can be. I mean in the strange twisting turning way it has of just picking you up one day out of the blue and throwing you helplessly headlong into another direction. We innocently, or ignorantly, depending on how you look at it, think we control our destiny by choosing the right education, jobs, towns, friends, etc… when in fact we have no such control. We are at the mercy of any unknown twist of fate that can send us along any course at will at any time. To make matters worse, it seems to take pride in choosing the most inopportune or unexpected moments to pull this cruel prank. Yes, if we are pro-active, we can try to batten down the hatches and secure a modicum of a safety net, and hope that we have done enough to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the buffeting winds of the storm, but as we do not know what awaits us, it is hard to predict the measure of protection we might need. Our lives, and indeed our happiness and security are very fragile things. 
Then again, maybe sometimes change is just that, change, and we are too caught up in our goals and pursuits to realize that life might be trying to get our attention and tell us there is another way, a way that maybe we have overlooked or even have not taken into consideration due to the blinders we seem to all wear when it comes to following our chosen paths. We are by nature creatures of habit and so we enjoy the comfort of familiarity. It’s hard to be thrown headlong out of our warm cozy beds into the cold.

I truly wonder sometimes, especially as my journey is always continuing to unfold even as I write, how I could have been so one track minded.

In all honesty, though, I have to say that my generation, the tail end of the famous baby boomers, were raised to believe that we did not have to settle, that more was attainable and that we should and could strive to obtain bigger and better. We did not have to suffer like our parents, we did not have to scrimp and save, and put off self-indulgence. We were the generation that could have it all and have it all, now! We did not have to put up with second hand articles passed down to us, we deserved to have everything new.

After all I grew up with parents who had suffered through the great depression and whose mantra was “We will make sure you lack for nothing, you won’t suffer like we did!” They went about providing me with everything I wanted. They provided me with a higher education so I could continue to make sure I could provide myself with what they had started for my future. I think as a generation, we were very driven. We did not accept things just because that’s the way they had always been. We broke the glass ceiling for women in the business world, redefined a woman’s opportunity and put us on par for the first time with our male counterparts. We threw off the prissy attire identified as women’s wear and opted for more casual wearable clothing and we even burned our bras! We moved out of the kitchen and into the boardrooms across the world and made ourselves heard loud and clear. We chose to eschew traditional values binding the past generations and flaunted our new rules to the world. A lot of us chose cohabitation over marriage and opted to be childless in pursuit of careers rather than the traditional raising of a family. We were pioneers; we introduced technology and put a personal computer in the homes of everyone who wanted one. We cut through outdated government regimes and opened the world up and made it an accessible community to everyone through the world-wide-web. Our music became a mantra for our generation and is still heard echoing in the halls of varied institutions today. We were a very me-oriented generation, none of that more evident that in the 1980’s.

Coincidentally, I began my married life in the 80s, and it was extremely important to me, as to my husband, to strive for success. Now, you might ask, what was my definition of success? The answer to that was of course, bigger and better and definitely more expensive.  For this to occur, career climbing and career paths were essential. Success was measured monetarily and it brought with it another desirable element, power! When one had money and power, one controlled one’s life and one’s destiny. Plans could be made and dreams could be developed. The opposite was unthinkable, it caused failure! As my husband and I had gotten our educations, it was only logical to believe then that the road to riches and more importantly, personal success, had been paved. We were in the driver’s seat of our future. We could now begin accumulating all the physical trappings of success, and those we could not attain immediately were given over to plans for procurement in the future. Single minded, blind purpose and reasoning born in our upbringing, allowed no room for questioning our belief in the path we had chosen. The fact that we chose to alter the path a bit and have me stay at home with the kids while Mike worked, made us believe we were avant-guard in this new world, and therefore doing something very original and flexible compared to our contemporaries. Truth be told, though, our future expectations were still the same.

 It is said that hindsight is 20-20 vision and I have come to realize again and again the utter truth of this old saying, however, what ifs, and should’uv, would’uv, could’uvs are really useless considerations and best left in the past and not dwelt upon. I have come to slowly realize that the past can become a seductive and nostalgic place to wallow in especially when a person is confused or unhappy in their current lives. However, I do not feel it is a healthy place to revisit unless it is to remember pleasant occurrences once in awhile. Best to focus on the present, and to use it to help improve the future, this is our story!

The best place to begin any story I guess is at the beginning. I am a wife and mother of two children, both girls. As I write this, my husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, but this story actually began in 2005.

When we met, I was a career woman, with an education and a drive to succeed in the business world. Likewise, my husband, Mike, was so driven, and had even decided to return to university to improve his education in order to fulfill a larger role in his future endeavors in his chosen field. It was love at first sight, and nine months later we were married. Two years later we were joyous at the news that we were expecting our first child. It was decided that we would take the traditional route, and I would become a stay at home mother, while Mike finished his supplemental education and supported the family.  It was by no means easy, and sacrifices were made, but we were determined to stick it out for the children, the second of which arrived only ten months after the first. She was three months premature.

Life had its ups and downs, the scrimping and saving, along with the love and the laughter. There was a sincere feeling of being so fortunate that I could actually be there to watch my children grow up while guiding them and molding them with our values. Then, like most families, as time went by, the income increased and the hardships gradually lessened.

This is when we fool ourselves into believing that as long as we continue in the same vein; work hard, live right that our paths will just hum along towards our chosen destination. Wrong! This is the opportune time for that twist of fate to rear its ugly head and spin your life out of control.

We had gotten to a point where we had just about sold our fourth home that we had purchased after having made some profit on the previous sales. We had determined that we were going to have a go at becoming landlords. It was the logical next step we thought and we lived in an area where we could fulfill this desire. As time went by we felt we could then add to our “empire”. It was an elaborate far reaching dream, one that seemed more and more appealing the more we planned it out. Along this way of thinking, we purchased a rundown duplex, and decided to renovate and then rent it out. Meanwhile, we were also in the market for our new family home, preferably one along the river front. The search, however, became tedious when we gradually realized that what we wanted, in accordance with what we could afford did not exist. There would have to be vast renovations not only on the rental property, but on the primary family home, in order to satisfy our criteria. That much of a glutton for punishment I am not, and I put my foot down when it came to two simultaneous renovations.

My husband’s suggestion was to forego the purchase of a primary home and convert the duplex, which was well located and already purchased, into a large single family dwelling.  Situating the family was a larger priority, and then following that we would re-target our search for another rental property. It made sense to me and therefore it was agreed upon. We would tackle one and then take care of the other at a more leisurely pace. It also made sense as it was May and our current home had suddenly sold much quicker than expected and in just one month the children would be out of school for the summer.

Both girls were in elementary school, and young enough that they had to be monitored at all times. The bigger concern now was that as the house had sold so quickly, and we could not live in the new one for at least a few months.  The vast scope of the renovations was just getting under way and we were obliged to think fast about how and where we were going to live. 

Mike wanted one of us to be on the site constantly in order to oversee every step of the elaborate design for the renovation. Therefore, renting a temporary residence was out of the question, as there were none nearby. A “brilliant” idea was hatched in that as the children were of an age where we wanted to introduce them to travel and camping, we figured it was the perfect time to purchase a mobile home. We thought we could kill two birds with one stone and live in it while the renovations were being completed and then keep it for recreational use.

We quickly went ahead and purchased it then parked it in the driveway alongside the huge dumpster the workmen were using. We hooked ourselves up to our own water and cable, and undertook our maiden camping experience.

Trust me, it’s one thing to camp in the great outdoors, experiencing all that nature has to offer, and quite another to park beside a dumpster enduring daily doses of dust, loud crashing noises and nosy parkers curious about what we were up to. But, sit there we did, from the beginning of May till the end of June, until the unthinkable happened.

It must be pointed out that we had deliberately moved to this sleepy little community half way between two large cities approximately one hour in either direction. It was in a very picturesque area where most people knew each other and only a couple of businesses provided work for the entire area. My husband was working at one of those businesses, just a ten minute walk from our new future home. We had no family around, as a few years before we had moved away from my husband’s family and mine had become somewhat estranged and lived on the other side of the country. We had also become quite friendly with our real estate agent. She opened up many doors for us. I hate to think what we would have done in the months to come if we had not known her. Through her we knew that the market was on its way up and that investing in the area was a good bet, although it was a slow process and had not really taken off yet.

We didn’t care, we had time on our side, and it allowed us the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, and then go about our lives as the boom gradually took place. It was all in the plan. We had found our niche in life! We had found the place we were going to raise our children and then eventually retire.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that there is another member of our family, the smallest, but not the least important, our gorgeous miniature chocolate poodle. He was only a few months old at this time, having been given to me by Mike for my birthday in May. This is the story of his arrival into our lives. I had been seriously pining over the loss of our beautiful little West Highland Terrier, just a few months earlier. She had died at just seven months old due to the unethical practices of a criminal breeder who sold us a dog that was substandard and passed it off as a prime animal. We had been forced to drag the poor thing back and forth to the doctor on so many occasions fighting skin rashes and the like before being made aware of what we had purchased, a puppy mill puppy. 

Naturally there was no hope of reimbursement as the breeders disappeared into thin air when we tried to contact them with proof from the vet of what we were dealing with. It was sad and heartbreaking as not only had we been duped and scammed, but that poor little innocent creature was created just to suffer through absolutely no fault of her own. I still tear up today when I think of her and the injustice surrounding her existence. But one falls in love anyway as we did with her, and it was doubly hard when we had to say goodbye after losing the hard fight. She was simply one of the most adorable animals I had ever known and my heart was so broken by her passing as she and I had spent our days together.
          Mike knew the only way for me to get over her was to introduce me to who was going to become one of the great loves of my life, our new little puppy, Mr. Skiff. Once burned, twice shy, and taking no chances, we travelled over three hours to go and get our newest family member. I sometimes would wonder in the weeks and months that followed, what we would have done without the undying affection and tenderness of this sweet little guy cuddling up to us during the most difficult of days or the scariest of nights. On more than one occasion he became our live teddy bear. He is also a born traveler, loving to ride in any moving vehicle, but possibly his favourite place is on the boat, a born sailor. He truly does reflect his name.

It was early June and my husband’s 50th birthday was coming up, and as I sat in that mobile home one morning amidst the endless noise of power tools, and the sporadic crashing of trash in the bin, I decided to make the best of things and plan a small alfresco party for him. He would be surrounded by a few friends and family, on the evening of his birthday, after all the work had died down, on a small patch of garden untouched by all the surrounding devastation. I happily worked out the plans which included a BBQ to be sure, and his favourite ice cream cake supplied by our local parlor. It was to be a surprise, and I was happy as the day approached. It was a beautiful day, the day before his birthday; in fact the summer so far had been one of the best I could ever recall. There was not even the slightest indication that all hell was about to break loose, as that afternoon, my husband arrived home to our humble abode much earlier than usual. 

As soon as he walked in it seemed the air quality changed and the place seemed to shrink. There was a look on his face that I had never seen before. His face was ashen, and he uttered the words that made my stomach plummet to my knees. “I’ve been downsized, thanked and told to go home”. “My career with them is over.” I don’t remember breathing for a minute, then reached for denial, and begged him to tell me he was joking. This couldn’t be happening! Not to us! My husband was going to be fifty tomorrow, not the age one wants to be starting again with the job hunt. Plus we were miles away from any hope of a new career! We had two young children depending on us and a house in the midst of renovation, and I hadn’t had a job in fourteen years. 

His current employers had begged him to come here and work for them amidst promises of a beautiful harmonious future, just a mere year earlier. He had left a job and possibilities in the city, and we had sold our home, cut our ties, and made the leap to begin setting down roots in this our new future and eventual retirement community. This was a nightmare of colossal proportions! This was unacceptable! This happened to other people, not to us! We had planned everything out. It just couldn’t be! But it was. 

When I finally accepted that he was serious, what seemed like hours later, but was really just minutes, panic set in. What were we going to do? We had some savings, mostly a small inheritance I had received a couple of years earlier that I had always, coincidentally, thought was imperative I put away for a rainy day. I had never really understood why until that moment.

However, larger than life just outside our dusty windows as we sat there in the driveway, was the mother of all renovations that we could no longer afford, and this was the most worrisome matter of all. Our faces drained of colour, as simultaneously we turned to look at each other, realization washing over us, the bank could not find out! Not only did the bank hold the mortgage to the house, it was doling out sums of money at pre-established times to pay the contractors for the renovations that were still not due to be finished for at least another month or so.

Let me reiterate that this was a very small semi-rural community, and apart from sheer pride, practicality dictated that nobody find out what had happened as it would spread like wildfire. The bank could not know as they would pull the plug on our building loan, line of credit and mortgage. Neither could the contractors working on the house know, as they would have stopped working immediately if they thought they would not be paid. Nor could our curious neighbours know as they would feel pity and nose around to monitor the changing events.  We could not let the children’s friends, their teachers or parents know, and we held our breath that word from Mike’s work colleagues who were mostly living in the same community, would hold off spreading till we could decide what to do.

To top it off, the children were due home shortly, and we had to find some way to explain it to them without frightening them, and make sure that their little lips remained sealed. Even in that moment, I think we knew we could not stay there indefinitely, and some serious plans would have to be made. The world tilted on its axis and we were left hanging upside down. As sure as we sat there looking at each other, we knew we had been unceremoniously ripped out of our comfortable little lives and things were just about to change dramatically.

At this point I should mention that apart from the motor home we were sitting in, which was serviceable, but definitely not modern, we owned a trailer, a Jeep, and a twenty-five foot sailboat. The sailboat had just been installed in its new berth at the marina.  Mike had secured this spot by purchasing it for the entire summer. It was only the second year that we had had it, and it was the first time it had been put into water in anticipation of the upcoming summer’s activities. It was my husband’s pride and joy, something he had wanted for a very long time, and had finally managed to secure. So sure was he about his choice of marina, that he had, just the previous week, signed a contract to have the boat spend the winter in the marina as well. Why not, it was to be its new home.

That evening, after we had done our best to explain things to the children, trying to keep things as upbeat as possible and giving them the idea that we were heading out on an enormous adventure.  Looking back now I see how we had had no idea ourselves just how life changing this adventure would be. We settled them into bed and Mike and I huddled in our small dining area and began to make our plans. It hit me then, I had planned a surprise birthday bash for my husband the following night, and he had no idea about it. Together we decided to call the whole thing off, feigning illness, and just have our little family hold a quiet celebration. After a few calls and some well wishes, we managed by the skin of our teeth to get out of a potentially disastrous situation. The one thing we knew we could not do was feign happiness so close on the heels of this mind numbing news with people who knew us so well. Besides, Mike and I were just not into it. Even today, he still refers to that birthday as the pivot point in his life, a bittersweet reminder of things to come.

That was the first night I can remember that the heartburn started. From that night on, until things finally settled down somewhat, months later, Mike and I would awake each night with heartburn. It wasn’t enough to toss and turn most nights, but we had to have aggravating heartburn accompany the sleeplessness and worry.

I must interject at this point that I am aware that people all over the world experience horrendous bad luck and live with drawbacks far greater than mine, and I am not trying to compare our situation to anyone else’s whether quantitatively or qualitatively. However, with consideration to our pretty “normal” heretofore little existence, this was shaping up to be something quite monumental for us.

As we talked late into the night, pondering the options until exhaustion overtook us, we did manage to agree that we did not want, nor could we afford, to stay in that particular town. It was a pitifully sad little family party that we tried to have for my husband’s birthday the next evening, even taking the girls out to the local Dairy Queen in the attempt at a normal family outing. By then, we had decided on two things.

Firstly, as far as the world was concerned, nothing had changed in our lives, and the children were under strict orders not to breathe a word of any of this to anyone, not to any friends, nor teachers, nor acquaintances. We must have looked and sounded serious, because they managed, even at their young age to keep mum. I have to give it to them; it could not have been easy, even knowing that we were planning on moving away. They actually managed to keep quiet about everything until very shortly before we actually did leave, but understandably they wanted to tell their friends goodbye.

Secondly, we had decided relocation was the only option for us to have a chance at any future. The hardest part was waiting the extra time it took to finish the renovation, which was not for another four or five weeks at best, and pretending that we were actually going to live in the finished product. We no longer had any interest in it, but we knew we would have to come up with a plausible story for all concerned. It was too short a period of time to be able to sell the house quickly, and we knew we could not carry the mortgage.

You have to know at this point that I have very little respect for some people who are masquerading as experts in the mortgage field within some of our banks. I am sure that a lot of them are really knowledgeable, but some I have had the misfortune of knowing are not. These so called experts, like the one we were so unfortunate to have landed on, hold the keys to your future financial success or failure in their incompetent hands.  All the while they assure us, the ignorant, because it is not our field of expertise and we rely on them for sound advice. I, however, have to say that I do not believe that anyone could possibly be more incompetent than the woman who handled our case. It came to our attention too late that she had so royally screwed up our mortgage and renovation loan. We had been enticed by the low interest rate on a line of credit dangled in front of us, not to mention that we were too far into the process to turn back now, and so we took the bait and ended up with debt we should not have had outside of the mortgage.

Meanwhile, Mike was living on the internet trying to circulate his resume to as many receptive head hunters and placement agencies that he could. There is a saying that states; “It is always easier to find a job when you are currently employed rather than when you are unemployed.”  Strangely, in our experience, it seemed to be true. However, in the following weeks, a plan grew.

Through the help of our real estate agent, we were put in contact with a local company, who for a fee, searches for renters for properties, screens them, draws up the rental agreement and secures the post-dated checks, which in turn would be forwarded to us. Although this was not the ideal scenario, because later we realized that it is a near impossibility to sell a home from a distance for a reasonable price, especially when you have renters living in it and they do not care, or worse still, do not co-operate with the selling of the house.

So, we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that although we had to wait, due to the renovation, till the end of June to move away, we did want the children to finish the school year, because we had no idea where they would be starting the next.

One morning, Mike proposed an idea. As we were in this situation anyway, through no fault of our own, why didn’t we take the opportunity and not limit our choice of destinations, but instead choose a place we thought would be interesting to start over in. Better yet, why not go to an area we had always wanted to live in, but could not have considered due to job interview restrictions. For the next few days, we played with potential destinations as far away as Australia, and probably would have chosen somewhere like that, had it not been for the fact that time and income wise, we could not afford to wait for relocation permits and visas. But the next best thing, and it seemed the wisest at the time, was to travel to an area of our province we hadn’t been and wanted to explore. From there it was decided that London, Ontario was the logical choice. Although, as it turned out, we never did end up living there! I think we just needed to conjure up a concrete destination to satisfy the goal. Everyone in the family agreed, and then our next task was to come up with a plausible explanation for the outside world. The offer of a job too good to pass up became the reason for the sudden move.  I would magically develop family that lived in the area for the purposes of relocation explanations from potential job opportunities.

It was difficult to accept congratulations especially from the people we had gotten to know and liked in the following weeks as we went ahead with our plans. Being fundamentally honest people we found out how really difficult it is to keep up a fictional pretense especially when it was so opposite to what was really happening. We really didn’t have too much time to dwell on it though, because we had managed to rent the house, so we became rushed and had to get caught up in a whirlwind of preparations.

We had to paint the entire house, because we could not wait the extra time it would have taken to have the professionals do it. Also, we had to do some planting outside, because although the grass was in reasonable condition, it was pretty sparse on plants and foliage. As if this was not enough, we had to find a place to store our belongings until we could make our way back to retrieve them, and we had no idea when that would be. We toyed with selling everything, but realized we could not hope to repurchase everything again new and we would not be able to get the worth of the objects if we did sell. But, because we were going to have to pay for storage, we decided to do it as leanly as possible, and then proceeded to de-clutter boxes we had placed in the detached garage at the end of the driveway.

This led to the biggest garage sale I had ever seen, and it lasted three days. Thank goodness the weather was with us. Purging actually felt good, as we are like most people and seem to hang on to far too much junk that we never use. However, because of our situation, we had to be quite ruthless with the purging, and too this day I feel nostalgic towards parting with some things and the decisions we had to make to get rid of treasured pieces along with mementos from the past. We purged so much and fielded so many inevitable questions.  We did succeed, however, to keep it from the bank, and the contractors, and no one was the wiser on the day we finally rolled out of there.

My husband and I made one pact. We vowed to leave permanently regardless of what lay ahead; we were not coming back to this area ever, even though it was familiar territory. We vowed we would never use it as a crutch to skulk back to. Our pride just would not let us. In time we would decide what to do about the house, but we knew we would never live in it ourselves. Unfortunately, time forced us to leave about two weeks shy of the actual final touches on the renovations, and once contractors are paid, their promises become forgotten. Little, but significant things are overlooked and corners are cut. It’s the nature of the beast I suppose, and there wasn’t much we could do about it. Our last evening there was our eldest daughter’s graduation from elementary school, and we attended and pretended to those around. Happily she was able to say goodbye that evening to special friends who were rather surprised that she was not going to return to the new high school in the fall with them. As a mother, my greatest fear that night, and all the following nights, for the next two years, was that somehow my children, innocent of any wrongdoing in all of this, would somehow be scarred or have to pay in some way for this unfortunate turn of events. It haunted me, and sometimes when I think back it still does, even though we must have done something right, because they seemed to have come out of it at the other end quite unscathed, and rebounding with the resiliency of youth, but then I am getting ahead of myself again.

Copyright 2014 by Jerree Black

~ Xo Sydney

No comments: