Sunday, November 23, 2014

From Rags To Kitchens, The Final Chapter

Well, it's done.

A little over 7 weeks after the first sledgehammer came crashing down in our 70-year-old kitchen, we can finally say we're finished.

When I first wrote about this process back in March, I really had no idea what we were going to experience, but I knew it was going to be stressful, frustrating, exciting and finally, satisfying.  I was right on all counts.

Thanks to Amy McGeachy, the host of "Trend" on CHEK Television, we figured out what choices we had to consider, looked at various remodelling options and narrowed down our picks for design, colours and materials.  She took us from the panic of "where do we start?" to the calm of "okay, THAT'S how it's done."  That was just the beginning.  Thanks to our contractor, Steve Burgess of Toolbox Renovations, we didn't have to freak out over what to do when, and who to call.  He did it all.  Even the crappy little fix ups that we didn't anticipate.  He was calm and cool, and most comforting of all, he knew what he was talking about.

You put a lot of trust in people when you start a project such as this.  Sometimes they come through with flying colours.  Other times, not quite so much.  So I thought I'd list some of the more memorable incidents.

Oops, It Doesn't Fit!

Smashing things down and getting rid of the rubble is sometimes easier than installing new stuff. Two of the cabinets we got were very tall, narrow units that were pull out pantries.  When the boxes with all of the cabinets arrived, they barely all fit in the kitchen. But that wasn't all of it.  The two enormous boxes with those pantry cabinets couldn't fit in the house at all.  The delivery guys ended up leaving those boxes under the back porch.

The picture to the left shows the boxes that DID fit.  They took up the whole kitchen!

When the cabinet installer came, he was faced with how to get the pantry cabinets into the kitchen. We ended up opening a kitchen window, which was just wide enough to stuff the boxes through!

Needless to say, the only other option would have been to take the cabinets apart, which would have been a huge and costly task.  To the left is a picture of the units just after they were finally installed.

Another glitch was the new fridge.  When the appliances showed up, one of the guys looked REALLY doubtful as to how it was going to fit into that unit of pantry cabinets.  I freaked. First of all, they had to remove the doors and all of the contents to even get the fridge in the house. When he finally re-assembled it, I held my breath as he started to push it into its space. OMG. What a relief it was when I saw it just barely slide in!

Another worry was the counter top in a corner area where my daughter does her baking.  We dubbed it the "baker's corner".  But it has an old window and the frame was going to be too low for the counter top to fit in over the new cabinets, so we actually removed a bottom part of the frame so it would slide under.

When the counter top guy came to measure, he suggested we shave another 1/8 of an inch off from under what was left of the frame so the counter would fit.   But we never did.  When they installed it, however, it worked. You can see in the picture what a tight squeeze it was. Another huge PHEW!

Yeah This Is Going To Be Messy

You anticipate mess.  When they tear the old kitchen apart, the dust flies everywhere.  When they sand down the drywall, more dust and mess.  But some messes are unexpected.  The guy who installed our cabinets, Fred, did it all himself. He's a small guy and you wouldn't think he could hold up some of those units, but I guess he's used to doing it.  The whole installation took him only about a day and a half.  The last part was installing the "pullers" or handles for the cabinets. He drilled the holes and popped them in so fast I could hardly believe it!

But Fred had no instruction or equipment for the massive clean up after he was done.  There was sawdust left everywhere, all over the back deck, all over the driveway, even a bunch on my car.  The pile of boxes was enormous.  Tons of cardboard and styrofoam and bits and pieces everywhere.  We ended up having to pay a fee to dump everything ourselves.  We eventually brought that point up to the company that we got the cabinets from.  I'd have been happy to add the extra dumping fee to the cost and have them do the clean up for us!

For the most part, though, the guys who came to do the work did a very good job of cleaning up after themselves.  And if they didn't, Steve did!

Oh, Oh...

You really have to keep an eye on the project as it is progressing.  My husband and I learned to evaluate every day of work, and check out the design plans as we went along.  Little things came up, such as when a baseboard heater had to be moved to another wall.  That was no problem, the heater was replaced with a new, smaller one.  But when I looked at the design plans, and this was before we even had the cabinets, I realized that one of the drawers was going to smack into the heater when it was pulled out.  This meant replacing the heater with a totally different one that was flatter and would allow for the drawer.  Better to figure that out before the cabinets went in rather than after!

Timing Is Everything

There is an order to all of it.  And one tiny delay messes up the whole order.  The first thing that I had to delay was the arrival of the new appliances.  That was mostly a simple case of phoning up Sears and finding a new date.  I had to do it twice because of various delays.  But one day we got the automated call that our appliances were arriving the next day...which was the original due date!  I frantically called Sears and found out that it was only one appliance, the microwave, that they had forgotten to change the date on.  So it wouldn't have been a disaster if only the microwave showed up, but it sure caused some heart palpitations.

The cabinets were being manufactured in China.  Not a huge deal, but I guess we didn't realize this when we first ordered them.  They were coming with a shipment across the Pacific Ocean.  And then the ship broke down.  In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  They literally had to send a rescue ship and move all of the containers from one ship to another.  In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Needless to say, that delayed the cabinets, but only by about a week.  It ended up that this gave more time for the other preparations that had to be done, especially the drywalling and painting.

The final frustration was the delivery of the counter tops.  When we first ordered them, they told us that they would come in and measure when the cabinets were in, and that they would be delivered one to two weeks after that.  Sure.

They came to measure and then told is two to three weeks.  What??  Well, what can you do about it?  It was almost four weeks by the time the counters came.  Last Monday was the supposed delivery date.  By this time we were getting pretty fed up with washing dishes in the bathroom sink, and SO ready to have the counters and then the sink installed.  But the counters didn't show up.  After some phone calls we found out that the head installer had a bad accident in the shop during the weekend and broke his jaw and lost a few teeth.

They were on a tight schedule as it was, so this put them even further behind in their installations.  Tuesday came.  I waited all day. Wednesday came.  Finally just after noon, they showed up.  I don't know when I've been happier.  I even took a picture.

What shocked me most, however, was that the head installer, his jaw black and blue and missing teeth, actually showed up at the install! That's dedication. At the right, I sneaked a picture of him. Just to prove he actually was there.

Oh yes I know when I was even happier.  I was ecstatic when the plumber finally came on Thursday to hook up our sink and our dishwasher.  YESSS!!!

A Griswald Family Moment

If you've ever seen the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" you'll appreciate this story.

We had new puck lights installed under the cabinets, and when they were first turned on, I thought they were simply beautiful!  Just having that little extra light on the counters was going to be perfect. I had visions of turning them on first thing in the morning when made my coffee instead of the bright main kitchen lights.  Too much light in the morning makes me cranky.

The first morning, however, when I got up and went to the kitchen to turn them on, they didn't work. How frustrating is that?  I had to turn on the overheads, make my coffee and then I turned on the light to the basement and went downstairs.  That's my office and teaching area, where I work and go to read my paper in the mornings.

A little later when I came upstairs, the puck lights were on!  Completely puzzled (and also stupid), I just decided maybe they had to warm up??  Maybe a wire was loose?  Nevertheless, I carried on with my day. That evening after I was finished work, I came upstairs and turned off the basement lights. My daughter came home from work and I wanted to show her the puck lights, so I turned them on again. Nothing.  I was so mad.  She decided to go downstairs and check the breaker panel (she has no fear of mechanical or electrical things).  I left the kitchen to do something else.  When I came back...TA DA! The puck lights were on!  She came upstairs and I said "What did you do?  You're brilliant!"  She said she had done nothing, just looked at the panel.  We puzzled and puzzled.  Finally she went to turn the basement light off.  And the puck lights also went off.  Ahah!  We finally realized that somehow the wiring had gotten messed up with the basement lights.  The next day the electrician came back and corrected it.

Of course, our contractor Steve was ultimately responsible for all of those little bits and pieces and could often anticipate things before they happened.  More than once he had to fix a problem that was caused by someone not thinking, or a less than perfect job.  Like the exhaust pipe for the microwave that got jammed in the little cupboard above it, so he had to completely re-build it again to fit the parts on properly.  Or the tiny wire for the back doorbell that got left in a peculiar place against the wall by the counter top guys, with no way to move it or hide it.  He found a way to hide it.  He went even further and did extra little things, like putting in some door stoppers on all of the doors and new weather stripping on the back door.  He even blew a blood vessel in his eye making a hole to the outside wall for the microwave fan out take!

He was detailed and he knew how everything should come together.  He had to adjust his schedule many times because he wasn't only working at our place.  He was on the phone, moving people around every time our timing got thrown off or an unexpected problem came up.  I can't imagine what it would have been like without him.

This morning I walked into my new kitchen, turned the new puck lights on, got water from the new faucet to fill my coffee maker, opened the new fridge to get the cream, and emptied my new dishwasher of spectacularly clean dishes.'s done.


(PS...If you are not bored to death already and would like to read the previous parts to this story, they are here:  Rags To Kitchens Part 4Part 3Part 2Part 1)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Many years ago a friend of mine told me that she believed that 99% of the population of the world is stupid.  I laughed at the time because she always had the flair for the dramatic and I thought that was pretty much over the top. Years later, I think I better understood what she was trying to say then. Ignorance is a dangerous thing, even if it's only 25% of the population.  The other 75% have to be vigilant enough not to be drawn in by the scaremongering of a few.  Otherwise, it really could turn us all stupid.

"There's been a shooting on Parliament Hill."  I was up really early on Wednesday morning, as I have been all week, and had the morning news on the television in my downstairs office.  There wasn't much more information at the time, so I switched over to CBC News Network.

Sure enough, they were carrying everything live and some of their parliamentary reporters were actually in the middle of the mayhem as it was happening.  The next few hours were a tangle of live hits from whoever could report with more and more bits of information very slowly coming to light. But there were mostly questions.  How many shooters were there, what was going on in the halls of the parliament buildings?  We knew that one fine, young man, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, standing unarmed and guarding the National War Memorial, had been shot and taken to hospital where he later died. But was there anyone else?  And who could do such a thing?

The Canadian media did their best to resist temptation to call it a "terrorist" act.  But the American media, CNN especially were all over it, claiming before anyone else that the shooter was a terrorist with "known ties" to terrorist organizations.  I read that myself on their website. There was no such evidence of any ties as it turned out, but CNN said it so it must be true, right?

I mostly sat there, stunned throughout the first hour or two, unable to believe that this was actually happening in our country.  Not that I'm naive...I know there are a lot of crazies everywhere in the world, including Canada.  But never in our generation's lifetime have we seen someone actually run in the front doors of our parliament and start shooting.

In the dictionary, the word "terrorism" is defined as: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.  As time went on we all came to learn that the lone shooter, although he had converted to Islam seven years earlier, had no political aims.  He had a drug problem.  He had even been thrown out of a couple of mosques he had tried to join because he was on drugs and made everyone uncomfortable.  The guy was a petty criminal and unstable.  So was he a terrorist?  Some people, the ones who want more jails and tougher immigration laws and a whole slew of other legal changes, will call him a terrorist because the word frightens the public.  It's in their best interest to use the most extreme language in order to prove their point that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we'd better get ready for it.

There will always be the ignoramuses, the haters who are so stupid that they don't even realize that hate makes things worse, not better. A couple of days after the parliament shooting, in Cold Lake, Alberta a mosque was smeared with spray-painted anti-Muslim slurs, likely the work of one or two idiots. But a whole slew of locals came out to help clean it and to post their own positive and inclusive signs.  That's the Canada I know and love.

Some pundits and bloggers say that after this event, we will be changed.  Others say we shouldn't let it change us.  I think we should make it harder for someone to run into the parliament buildings with a gun, that's for sure.  But what we should never do is let that 25% convince us to come over to their stupid side.

The rest of us are smarter than that.  Let's be sure to stay that way.

(P.S. those percentages are somewhat arbitrary, so fill in whatever percentage suits you...)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday In My Pajamas

It is now 9:40am on a Sunday morning.  I'm sitting in the living room, still in my pajamas because I refuse to get showered and dressed before 10am on Sundays.

There is only one closed kitchen door between me and two strange men painting my kitchen.  Other than one sleeping daughter upstairs, I am alone.

They sing in weird voices and one of their paint rollers has an annoying, repetitive squeak.  My cat is as equally on guard as I am.  She's under the table staring towards the kitchen, on high alert.  Don't you dare come through that door, she's thinking.  Me too.  I'm in my pajamas.  I want my Sunday morning to myself.  One of them has started whistling.  They are equally as good at whistling as they are at singing. I realize that they have brought in a radio tuned to some kind of rock station, which explains the singing.

I have run out of coffee.

It is now 9:50am.  I only have to hold out for ten more minutes in order to achieve my goal of not getting dressed before 10am.  I just heard the back kitchen door close.  Are they gone?  Ah, nope. More whistling.  I want to take a peek at what the new paint looks like.  I hear the door close again and it becomes silent once more.  I walk gingerly up to the one door between myself and the men in the kitchen.  As I pass the dining room window, I see one of the painters outside, checking his iPhone. Maybe they are both outside. The cat cautiously approaches the door with me.  Do I dare?

I put my hand on the knob, slowly turn it, and open the door a crack.  And a bit more.

I take a peek. looks fabulous!

10:05am.  Time to shower.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

From Rags To Kitchens Part 4

Funny how the horror stories come out when you start talking about home renos.  We've been hearing all kinds of them from everywhere since we started talking about our kitchen reno...nobody tells you about the time something went perfectly and like's always disaster.

One guitar student of mine relayed his reno story, explaining how their renos were so extensive that they moved their young family out to the in-laws while it was being done.  He decided to go to the house and check up the day after the demolition, only to find beer cans strewn about, cigarette butts and used chewing gum stuck to walls.  The door was left unlocked too.  What a nightmare!

The only glitch for us so far has been the timing of the cabinets, although that one glitch has changed everything.  We were originally expecting them the week of October 13th, and found out that they wouldn't be arriving until the week of the 21st.  I had to re-book the delivery of the appliances for after the cabinet installation, which wasn't a big deal. But there will be a bigger gap between the prep work and the cabinet arrival.  And that also delays the quartz counters, which are installed after the cabinets because the counter installers have to take a final measurement only after the cabinets are in. Then there's another 1-2 week wait for them to be made.  And you can't have a sink in until the counters are in, so we'll only be able to use the kitchen in a half-assed way.

In spite of the cabinet delay, the kitchen demolition and re-design began this week anyway. Wednesday morning my husband and I stood in the kitchen, now completely stripped of everything except the cupboards and appliances, wondering how we were going to feel about the next month or two. ( I say "or two" because everyone tells you that whatever time you expect it to take, double it.)

Here's one corner of the kitchen as it appeared early Wednesday morning:

And here it is at the end of the day:

The first thing that had to be done was to move the fridge into the dining room and the stove outside.  We have sold them to someone my husband works with, and at this writing the stove has already been delivered to him.  We'll hang on to the fridge while we still need it. It took about 4 hours to tear down the old cabinets, counters and an old-fashioned pantry, along with the removal and clean up, which was pretty close to what our contractor estimated.

Day two, Thursday, was a little crazier, and certainly longer.  The electrician came in with his two guys and then the process of figuring out all of the bits and pieces that had to be done began.  The stove will be in a different place, the baseboard heater moved, new outlets, pot lights under the upper cabinets, decommissioning old outlets, moving old wires around or replacing them entirely.  Will this fit there?  What height should the outlets be?  Do you still need this here?  That there?  How many? The questions were coming at me fast and furious and after having not slept well for several nights, I was hoping I was answering them all intelligently.

Thank goodness for our contractor Steve, who helped me think through some of the choices.  For instance, do you lower the light switches to what is now a standard height?  He suggested that since the outlets in the rest of the house were still higher, it would make sense to keep them all that way.

As the electricians were working, Steve was on the phone talking to the plumber and drywaller. He had them come in and checking things out while everything else was in progress. The plumber did some preliminary work on the pipes for the taps, moving them from where they were, protruding out of the wall as old taps used to be, to coming up from below. At one pointed I counted six guys working in our little kitchen. This was just three of them, the other three were to the right, out of the shot:

On Friday morning before my husband left for work, we poured over the kitchen and all of the changes that had been made.  We still had some questions about the plumbing and drywall, so I made a mental note and when Steve arrived to do some work on his own, I bombarded him again.  We have some friends who had gone through their kitchen renovation in a more do-it-yourself manner, basically doing what they could on their own and hiring labourers for things they couldn't do.  I think having a contractor has worked better for us simply because we don't have the experience to know the process well enough.  If you have a misstep, you might have to back-track or re-do something you weren't planning to.  Not that I expect everything to go completely smoothly, but there's less of a chance of us screwing it up!

I found out that the ship carrying our cabinets had broken down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and that's why they were delayed.  They actually had to send another container ship out to the broken down one, and transfer all the containers over.  That takes at least a week!  Can you imagine the logistics of that?  What a nightmare.

Anyway, besides that, everything has been relatively smooth.  The only inconvenience is our makeshift kitchen in the dining room.  It took us a couple of days to get used to the temporary configuration and we're still tripping over each other a bit, but besides the mess and clutter, we're just fine.  We wash our dishes in the bathroom sink with a neat little scrub brush that has a handle holding detergent in it.  I think it's a camping gadget, but it's perfect for our situation too.  Everything is washed as soon as it is used.  We got a cheap little hot plate and a used toaster oven so really, there is nothing we can't do.

Except a turkey. Fortunately, we have generous friends who have invited us there for Thanksgiving :-)  What more could we possibly need?


Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Search For Meaning

Many years ago when I worked in the Sociology Department of the Vancouver Public Library, I came across a book called "Man's Search For Meaning".  I never read it, never even took it off the shelf to get a sense what it was about.  It was just the title that stood out for me.  The idea of our search for meaning.

Not that long ago, I remembered the title and looked the book up online.  I was disappointed in some respects to discover that it was about Viktor Frankle's experience in Auschwitz. Not that there's anything wrong with that but I had always assumed that the book was a much more general study on the perpetual hunt for meaning and sense in this life.  The reason I looked it up again was because of my own search for meaning over the years, and the recognition that this is a part of our humanness; to find meaning in our daily lives and purpose in our existence.  I wanted to know more about where that search comes from and why it is and I was hoping the book might give me a starting point.  The book is still amazing and offers great insight and wonderful thoughts about the meaning of life, don't get me wrong.  It just wasn't what I thought it would be.

When you are without a religious framework to explain your life on this earth, as I am, you are left wondering if your existence is anything more than just a random fluke.  And perhaps it is.  But that is a very unsatisfying conclusion to come to.  Human beings have evolved a consciousness awareness that no other creature on this earth has.  My cat doesn't wonder why she's here and what the purpose of her life is.  She simply lives it.  Oddly enough, sometimes I envy her.  So this past week when a member of my extended family passed away, it brought back those age-old questions;  why are we here?  What are we doing here?  Are we just born, live our lives and then die?  And even more importantly, what is the point of my being aware of all of this in the first place?

For years I would say to myself that everything has meaning, that every life has a purpose and we're here for a reason.  And I believed it whole-heartedly.  I also believed in some kind of higher power, God, if you like, even though I didn't belong to any particular church or religion.  So even though I didn't have the answers to the big questions, I was satisfied that I didn't have to.  But when I had a major paradigm shift in my beliefs back in 2000, that context was suddenly gone.  Once I caught my father hiding the Easter eggs in the back yard, I couldn't believe in the Easter Bunny any more either.

For awhile I missed it.  The phrases that automatically came to mind like "there's a reason that happened" suddenly didn't fit my new model.  I didn't even have a model, I wasn't sure how to put life in context and I was always looking for something to fill that empty void.

I notice that about myself;  my mind is constantly looking for patterns, for connections, for underlying causes.  We all seem to do that.  When I wrote about my recent visit to emergency, I heard from all kinds of people.  Most of them were trying to figure it out for me, trying to possibly explain what might be going on with my heart.  Some of them had similar experiences, or knew someone who had.  And of course, I myself was on the hunt for some kind of explanation, researching symptoms, analysing what had occurred before the incidents.  What is something I ate?  Something I did?  Was it stress?

Biologically speaking, there's a darn good reason why we are so analytical.  Our lives have literally depended on that since human beings began.  We had to think of new ways to survive, to eat if our source of food was suddenly gone, to protect ourselves from bad weather, to heal our physical wounds.  Either figure it out, or die.  We still experience the effects of "fight or flight" in stressful situations, where our bodies suddenly become acutely attuned to our surroundings, adrenaline kicks in, in case we have to run, blood pressure goes up, digestion slows or stops, among many other physical symptoms.  All so we can save ourselves from a potentially dangerous situation.

Homo sapiens survived because we figured out how to.  But are we only here because we got the combination right?  Yes I think so.  However, I also think it's up to us to procure purpose or create meaning from this amazing gift we have been given.  The fact that we are here is literally awesome. How these bodies of ours survive, heal and even thrive is astounding.  The idea that we came into being only after eons of shifting, colliding and changing particles blows my mind.  I am the result of billions of years of trial and error.

So I don't want to waste the time I have left, I want to make sure I experience every moment, good, bad or mediocre, and find new was to appreciate the very real miracle of life.

I'll keep you posted :-)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Blue Box Pickers

It's curious, what I come across sometimes on my daily walks. You've seen some of my finds in other stories I've written;  often something of a surprise, something funny, emotional or just interesting that I come across on my ventures around the neighbourhood. What you see in this photo, however, is not an unusual occurrence, but something that now happens with regularity every couple of weeks, when the folks in my neighbourhood put their blue boxes out on the curb full of cans, plastics paper and cardboard for the recycling trucks to pick up and process. Under all of those bags in that picture is a shopping cart lifted from the local grocery store and re-purposed as a recycling cart.  Some people throw everything in their blue boxes, including cans and bottles that could be brought to a depot for a refund.

And that's what brings them out...the blue box pickers.

I hadn't heard the term "pickers" until I started to hang out with my brother who specializes in Chinese antiques and who has spent most of his life buying and selling or restoring them. He could often be found in Value Village or other thrift stores, looking through the used items on the hunt for what he called "treasure". All you needed, he would often say, was one exceptionally good find and you'd be set for life. In those stores were others like him, looking for plates or ornaments, paintings or jewellery that people had donated or gotten rid of without knowing their value. Many people make a living just knowing what to look for in these places.

But the pickers I'm talking about here are not into antiques. Their "treasure" is that lot of pop or beer cans and bottles that people throw into their blue boxes for recycling. Some of our neighbours put their blue boxes out at night for pick up the next morning, and that's when many of the pickers start their rounds. Others go through the blue boxes the next morning before the recycling trucks come around.

They do very well, some of them. In the picture above, you can see how many cans and bottles one person can find. Every two weeks he pushes that shopping cart around the neighbourhood, filling it with his treasure and attaching huge bags to the sides and back.  I've seen others with little trailers attached to their bikes. One guy actually had two small trailers attached to his bike like a train and he was having a heck of a time keeping it from toppling over when he had to go off a curb. Imagine hundreds and hundreds of cans and bottles making a run for it....that would have been a disaster for the cars whizzing past him!

At first when I began noticing these blue box pickers, I made an assumption that they were poor people trying to make a buck. But I have since realized that some of them are not poor at all. In fact, there was one time when I actually saw a man in a car, a van no less, driving around the neighbourhood collecting cans. These aren't necessarily street people.

The thing is that I don't know how to feel about it.  I'm kind of turned off at watching them go through my blue boxes, and others on the block.  Why is that?  We always turn our pop cans, certain plastic bottles and wine bottles in to a recycling depot to get our refund, so the pickers wouldn't ever find anything in our blue boxes. But some of them go through the boxes anyway. Sometimes they leave a mess, most of the time they don't.

Is there something wrong with me and my discomfort? Am I just a snob? Other than potentially being a driving hazard or taking up too much room on a side walk, the blue box pickers are really doing no harm. They're just taking something that somebody else doesn't want. I certainly don't begrudge the pickers who obviously don't have much of an income and could use the money. It's the other ones who bother me most.

This past week I saw a lady in a relatively newer-make car, bombing from block to block, jumping in and out and picking through blue boxes. She did not look like she needed the money. Her trunk, when I saw it open as I walked by, was absolutely full as was the back seat of her car.  Other than the fact that she had a cigarette constantly dangling from her mouth (maybe she needed the $ for cigarettes?), there was nothing about her that was unseemly or desperate.  Another woman who I often see has a really high-end bike and a good helmet.  She isn't poor either.

I just wonder what drives somebody like that. Should I consider becoming a blue box picker to supplement my income?

I couldn't do it. I'd be embarrassed. Going through other people's stuff would just make me uncomfortable, even if they don't want it. I have to admit, I don't like garage sales either, but that's for another story.

In the end, I think what it comes down to is that I'd rather see somebody who needs the money getting those cans and bottles.  It's more work than sitting on a street corner with a hat held out, but maybe that's a good thing.  You need a bike or a cart and a little ingenuity.  If you work at it long and hard enough, you could probably do okay.

Ultimately, I'd like it if people didn't have to pick cans and bottles or hold out a hat at all, but that isn't going to happen any time soon.  So leave those bottles and cans for those who need 'em.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

To The Heart of the Matter

Well, I had what you might call an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago.  It was a few days after my birthday, I was still on my "stay-cation" and we were planning to go kayaking.  If you've read any of my other posts, I did have a kayaking experience in Hawaii back in February, my first one, which was just fine except for the re-entry into the kayak, which I won't embarrass myself in describing again.

For some reason, I was kind of nervous this time about the idea of going out in a kayak again.  Down at the inner harbour here in Victoria, there are a couple of places where you can rent kayaks and canoes and just spend a couple of hours out on the water.  Our plan was to do just that.

I was a little worried about getting in and out of the kayak, since I had done it from shore but not from a dock, so I started watching some YouTube videos on how to do it.  As it turned out, the first day we planned to go, it never came to pass, so we decided to do it the next day.  I woke up early, had my coffee and watched more videos.  At about 7:30am I felt the first rumblings of heart palpitations.  I'd had them before like that, sometimes they'd go away after awhile, but on a few occasions they hung around for hours.  On the day of my Dad's Celebration of Life, I had them all day.  I was sure it was stress.  My husband said it was because I hadn't eaten anything beforehand.  I'd spoken to my doctor about it and she said to try and go in to a lab and get an EKG done the next time it happened so she could get a fuller picture of what was going on. But it only seemed to happen at inconvenient times or when the lab was closed, so I never did that.

This time, however, the palpatations went on long enough that I decided I was going to go into a lab not far away from where we live and see if I could get an EKG.

No dice, they said, unless they had a standing order from my doctor.  So I went home, called my doctor's office and the office assistant said she'd pull my file and fax the requisition over to the lab. Great, I thought, and decided to go back to the lab and wait.

So I did, and I waited.  And waited.

In the meantime, I noticed my palpitations had subsided somewhat, but my heart rate was definitely high.  I waited some more and finally called the doctor's office again, but no one picked up.  I tried a couple more times and figured they must have been exceptionally busy for whatever reason.  I decided to leave, so the lab tech gave me their number and told me to call in before I came back, to check to see if the requisition had been faxed in yet.

I went home and tried to relax.  By this time, the palpitations were hardly there at all and I decided to lie down for a bit.  When I woke up not long after, my heart rate was still really high.  I checked my pulse and couldn't believe how much my heart was racing, so I used my blood pressure monitor to double check.  154 beats per minute.  This was getting scary.  I was supposed to go golfing that evening and I didn't want to miss that, so I went outside and watered the garden, because I was convince that, like all of the other times, my heart rate would come down on its own.  It didn't.  I cancelled golf.  I hate cancelling golf.

This time my husband suggested we go back to the lab, which we did, but still no word from my doctor's office and the lab was about to close.  So my husband suggested we go to emergency.

I felt that little bit of hesitation.  You know, like you don't want to cause a fuss and you don't want to waste anyone's time.  But it had been hours with a high heart rate and I knew that wasn't good.

When I checked in at the local hospital and had finished registering, they had me come into a side door, bypassing a large waiting area.  I didn't realize it at the time, but they were rushing me in past a whole bunch of people who were waiting just because it was my heart.  Next thing I knew, I was in a hospital gown and hooked up to a monitor.  They were taking my blood, my blood pressure, inserting a catheter, doing EKGs...and all I could think of was how I missed the tee off.  I hate missing a tee off.

The emergency doctor was trying to assess what was causing the high heart rate, asking me questions like how much coffee do I drink, do I have diabetes, do I smoke, how much alcohol do I consume.  He gave me a couple of things to do to try bring it down on its own.  One trick is to massage your jugular vein, the other is to bear down as if you were giving birth, and holding it for 15 seconds.  Nothing worked.  Eventually it was decided I would be given an intravenous drug to do the job.  The first attempt didn't work. Apparently I have very small veins and the nurse was having trouble getting in.  She tried a few places, finally thinking she had it.  The drug has to be given slowly, over a couple of minutes.  Because they don't want to actually stop the heart, right?  Just slow it down.  She started slowly injecting the drug, looking at her watch.  It hurt.  I held my breath, trying to suck it up.

I didn't realize, and neither did the nurse until she was most of the way through, that the needle wasn't inserted correctly and the drug had just flushed under my skin, swelling my arm up.  Then she was able to find a good vein in my hand and we started over again.

I felt my heart flip around a few times, but over the next ten minutes, the nurse and my husband watched the monitor up behind me as my heart rate finally came back into normal range.  They kept watch over the next twenty minutes or so to make sure it stayed down.  Finally, with a few more checks of my blood pressure and another EKG, they gave me the name of a cardiologist, booked an appointment for an echo cardiogram and told me I could go home.


It took me awhile to realize what really had happened.  And when the full impact finally hit me, I started wondering "Maybe it was something I ate?  Maybe I'm just stressed, or it was an anxiety attack?"  Your mind goes round and round trying to find a cause.  But the fact is that maybe there's some underlying cause that I will have to be treated for at some point.  And the reality is that it could take up to a year for me to get in to see the cardiologist.  My echo cardiogram won't be until September 25th.  I have an appointment with my regular doctor coming up but I'm not sure that she can expedite anything. I've given up caffeine, I've started meditating again. I'm walking more regularly, drinking less wine (now THAT'S heartbreaking!), watching my diet even more carefully, and still not sure if any of that is making any real difference, but it can't hurt.

And what did I learn from this, you may ask?  Or maybe you wouldn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway.

1. Emergency wards are kind of handy when you really need them.
2. A male nurse setting you up for an EKG is very different from a female nurse.  I experienced both.  The male nurse was exceptionally discreet, the female grabbed my boob as if it were her own.
3. Drugs that do not get into your veins, get absorbed anyway.  Eventually.  And then you bruise. A lot.
4. "Just a little sting." can often be an understatement.
5. I'm not dead yet.
5. I will take my heart palpitations more seriously. I will take my heart palpitations more seriously.  I will...

There is no history of heart disease in my family that I know of.  I don't even know if I have it.  But I guess I'd better pay better attention.

Arrgh!  Where's a glass of wine when you need it???


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rags To Kitchens Part 3

(Here are the links to part 1 and part 2 of this series if you haven't read them yet!)

On our "stay-cation" my husband has been hard at work doing some of the tear downs, such as this bulkhead above our old cabinets.  There was another type of bulkhead that created a partition between our kitchen area and the breakfast nook that was removed, an old built-in ironing board and another built in cupboard that was pretty much just wasted space.  That particular cupboard will be covered with a new pantry cupboard.

The house is very well built;  in fact, we bought it from the original owners who had it built by the woman's father whose construction company also built the house across from us and the Bay Street Bridge. Somewhere in the basement we have the original blueprints for the house, not something every homeowner has, certainly not from 1944!  So the construction is very solid, and a lot of work to remove.  On top of that, everything is plaster and lathe, which is pretty messy stuff to work with.

Aside from the tear downs, we have pretty much finalized the choice and number of cabinets and we are now just waiting for the final tally before the order is put through.  It will take 8 to 10 weeks for the cabinets to arrive, and we'll be given a heads up as to when the time approaches so we can time whatever other work has to be done before then.  Yes, timing is everything.   And I'm very well aware that it doesn't always go that smoothly.  In fact, I'm counting on it!

In order to get the proper measurement for the cabinets, we also had to order our appliances. We had been mulling about different appliance stores, trying to get an idea of what we wanted and what we needed in the past few weeks.  Of course we were also looking for the best deal!  My husband needed some convincing to take the final leap...that's a lot of money!  But he did and we will have them delivered when everything else is more or less ready.

And finally, today we met with a handyman who was highly recommended and who will be doing the wiring, plumbing, flooring, some of the tear down and removal of the old cabinets, and any other bits and pieces that have to be done.  He'll be giving us an estimate of his labour costs within a few days so that we can make that commitment as well.  He didn't looked too surprised or phased at anything we were asking him to do, so I hope that's a good sign!

So!  Two more things to finalize, then we wait.  All I can think about is that I still have to clean the crappy kitchen, and next I will have to figure out how to live without one for heaven knows how long. And finally, without too many bumps, we should have our new kitchen.  Can anyone out there just knock me out for about ten weeks so I don't have to live through the mess?


Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Mother's Voice

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I got a tape recorder from my parents.  It was a cassette recorder with a little flip up plastic top and an external mic, something similar to this:

I loved that thing...I even took it to bed with me the first night and recorded myself until I fell asleep!  I don't know why my parents bought it for me or even what the occasion was, but it was the beginning of a whole new world.  I got another tape recorder when I was 15, and eventually I moved up to a reel-to-reel 8 track, then a 24-track, and now I have a digital studio where I've recorded many projects.  I wonder if I would have had the ambition or drive to get into recording if it wasn't for that first little tape deck.

I have a couple of old cassettes from the first years with my tape deck that I never got rid of.  My daughters discovered them when they were in elementary school, and loved being able to hear their mother talking at the same age they were and fooling around, recording my friends and my songs.  And my parents.

Recently, I realized that with both my parents now gone, it might be a good idea to preserve those tapes, so as part of my "staycation" I decided that it would be one of my projects.  Preserving memories in various ways are the kind of  tasks we often have at the back of our minds, only rarely making the time to actually get them done.  So I happily pulled them out (thank goodness I knew where they were!) and set about recording them in digital format on my computer.

First I had to locate a tape deck.  Who has those anymore?  I knew that there was one around somewhere and it took me a half-hour digging around in the basement, but I finally found it.  I hooked everything up and put the tape in and excitedly hit the "play" button.  Nope.  The cassette was so old (45 years or so?) that it wouldn't roll properly and I nearly ruined the thing trying to make it play.  I tried again and again, and finally, the tiny tape got all tangled onto a little reel inside the deck and it took me another half-hour just to unravel it.  It was a mess.  I was beginning to wonder if I should perhaps find someone else more experienced to do the task, so I went online and started Googling 'cassette tape restoration' and any other query I could think of.

Finally I found a messageboard where someone had suggested that you could transfer the tape itself from one cassette casing to another.  Maybe it was the casing that was the issue and not the actual tape.  I had a few newer cassettes around, so I took the old cassette apart first:

Then I took apart the newer one and painstakingly tried to put the older tape inside of the newer case.

Stupidly, I didn't check first to see how the tape fit in properly, so I took apart yet ANOTHER case, just to see that.  Eventually, I got the old tape into the new casing and screwed it all together.  I took a deep breath, put it in the cassette deck and hit play.

It still took a few rolls, stops and starts before the old tape began to roll more smoothly.  And then I had the delight of listening to myself, my parents, my Aunt May when she came to visit us from Denmark, my friends, and even my little budgie Blueboy chirping away in the background.  I laughed, I cringed, I reminisced.

When I got to the end of the tape, it promptly broke, and in order to listen to the other side, I had to spice it back together with scotch tape.

I flipped it over and held my breath again. worked.

I have video of my Dad because he lived a lot longer than my mother who died before video cameras were invented, so all I have are old pictures of her.  And now I have her voice.  At one point, the three of us and my friend sing a Danish lullaby.  My mother decides to do a high harmony and she is beautifully pitch perfect.  What a wonderful thing to have in my possession and to pass on to my daughters;  the sound of my mother's, their grandmother's voice.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rags To Kitchens Part 2

(Part 1 of this series is here.  This 2nd instalment of the series was written 2 weeks ago, but I forgot to post it!  Shows what a fog I'm in about all of this.)

It's really all too much.  I mean, how do you choose, how do you know what you're going to be happy living with for the next 10 years?

Sorry, I'm not talking major life event...I'm talking the next chapter of our kitchen renos. We put the thing on hold for a few weeks because of other events, but a couple of weeks ago, Amy came by and brought out some samples.  Wood, counter tops, colours, textures, quartz or laminate;  too many to choose from!

We also went to a few places on our own to look at floors, back splashes, paint colours.  And kitchen appliances;  should we buy new ones or are we good with the old ones?  OMG.  We have no idea what to decide.  And then the first estimate came in.  OMG again.  It is going to cost a small fortune.  I guess we kind of knew that, but when you look at the cold, hard numbers, reality slaps you in the face.

Should we go dark on the floors, light on the cupboards, dark on the counter tops?  Should we go light on the floors, dark...well, you see what I mean.

One of the things we definitely decided on was to not change too much about the shape of the option we were presented with was to tear down a couple of walls and open one door way into the dining room to almost twice the width.  We opted to keep it more or less the way it is, not only saving money, but.  Well, yeah, saving money.

Fortunately for us, Amy is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to what choices work best with each other.  There is so much we would not have understood, such as how the type of flooring you choose can affect when you put it in, either before or after the cabinets are installed.  This texture works with that one, but these two will fight each other.  Decide on one thing you really like (ie counter top or flooring) and then build around that.  Take inventory of what you have so you can choose which types of special additions you might need for them.  For instance, I didn't know you can have a special, slotted shelf for cookie sheets!  Who'd a thunk it?

To the left is the floor plan of the kitchen.  It's pretty straight-forward, but of course it's an old house, built in 1944, so everything has to be custom built in order to fit.  Right now, the stove and fridge are right beside each other, but the stove will be moved to the south wall.  You can see the stove where it will eventually go, on the top of the diagram.  That means installing a vent too, which will be another expense, on top of the electrical stuff needed to install lights under the cupboards.  Right now in the bottom right corner of the diagram there is an old pantry which will be demolished and give us more counter space and cupboard space below.  And on each side of, and above the fridge we will have more cupboard space too.

The nook, which is at the bottom of the diagram, will be re-purposed for more counter and cupboard space.  And we will have a moveable island, just a small one, that will sit in the nook area when not in use.  I like the idea of a little island to pull into the middle of the kitchen when we do our gingerbread cookies!

This photo is more or less the way the kitchen looks now with the sink and windows on the left side.  The only thing that is different is that we changed the counter top laminate to a black one.

This next photo is a rendering of what it will look like with the new design, the stove moved to the centre of that wall and the counters deeper and cupboards higher and taller:

We have been back an forth to a few places to try to come up with back splash ideas, flooring ideas and the rest of it, but it is so utterly overwhelming.  Aaarrrghhh!

I'm okay now.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Has Brown Feathers, Says "Cluck"

Because it has recently become legal to do so, a few people in our neighbourhood have started backyard chicken coops in the past couple of years.  I see two or three coops when I'm out for my walk, and occasionally hear the feathered residents clucking away as I pass by. One morning, I watched as a small group of daycare toddlers were brought over to a wire fence by their adult caretakers to see the chickens for the first time.  It was endlessly fascinating for them.  What a cool thing for kids to see in their own neighbourhood, rather than having to go to an actual farm, farther away.

So I had to laugh the other day when on my walk I came across the sign to the left.  Lost cat and dog posters abound, but this is the first time I'd ever seen a lost chicken poster. It was stapled on a wood post near the coop the toddlers had visited, and I had to admit as I walked on that I kept my eyes open for the escape artist.  Where would a sneaky chicken hide?  How would it eat?  How long could it possibly last out there in the big, bad world?

What's even more interesting is that not only is the date specified, but the actual time.  4pm.  The owner must have actually witnessed the escape.  Maybe a door was left open and the escape happened before the owner could do anything.  Did he or she actually chase the chicken?  How fast can a chicken run?  I Googled that question and the answer was anywhere between 9 and 15 mph.  If the chicken got a head start and disappeared in some bushes, I guess it would be easy enough to lose it.

Chickens can't fly very well, but their ancestors could.  According to a vet expert on The Straight Dope: "The ancestor of modern chickens, the wild red jungle fowl (also a darn good name for a rock band), wasn't a great flier, but he could get around when he had to. The entire poultry family (chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks) are adapted to living on the ground. Their beaks are better adapted to pecking off the ground, their feet to walking instead of perching, and their wings are smaller than other birds their size."  He goes on to say that we humans stepped in and started breeding them to grow larger pectoralis muscles (that's the chicken breast), so it became even more difficult for them to fly.  I suppose if our sneaky chicken was desperate enough, she got those tiny wings flapping pretty good and it helped her get away.

In one way, I'm rooting for the chicken.  She was brazen, she was bold, and maybe she just wanted a bit of an adventure.  But I'm pretty sure she wouldn't last too long out there on her own.  So keep your eyes open for her, would you?  She has brown feathers and says "cluck".


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I'm Still Here

The day that my father went into a care facility several years ago, I remember trying to cheer myself up by saying, in spite of his change in circumstances, "He's still here."  It was a way to remind myself to be fully in the present, especially when I was with him, and to make the most of what time we had left together on this earth.

That became my mantra over the next few years through the many lows as his disease progressed.  Oh, there were highs too.  The highs were when we had an unexpectedly good conversation or when he made a joke (which he managed to do even near the end of his life), and when I was able to get him to answer his phone and tell him I loved him.  And one of the best highs for me was when he'd sing along to his old favourite tunes, with a sparkle in his eye and a little more of a spring in his step.  The greatest joy for me was that he always remembered who I was.

It's been just almost seven months since my old Pop passed away, and this past Father's Day was my first without him.  The year following someone's passing is full of "firsts".  How far have I come and what have I learned?

Take A Moment - it's important every now and then to stop and ask yourself how you're doing, kind of like an emotional, self-awareness scan.  People do that for you a lot in the beginning, just as your bereavement begins, but after a time they stop asking and you have to continue.  It's not about feeling sorry for yourself, it's about being aware of how much time you spend being sad.  By doing that, I am conscious of the fact that my grieving does become less and less, although it can hit me unexpectedly for odd reasons. It's mostly important to realize that it is easing.

Let It Flow Then Let It Go - those unexpected moments when it hits you can be caused by the oddest things.  I saw an emotional scene in a TV show the other day, when a horse runs away from, and then decides to return to the man who released it.  It had nothing at all to do with death, but it was emotional.  And when I cried about the horse, it turned into crying about my Dad.  I just let it happen instead of feeling stupid at crying, which I am sometimes tempted to do.

Don't Feel Guilty - this was certainly something I didn't know I would experience, especially in the beginning. I would laugh at something, and then suddenly be hit with a sense of guilt, realizing that I'm alive and able to laugh but my Dad isn't.  To get past it, I would have to talk myself through the feeling, reminding myself of what my Dad would most likely say to me;  that this is my life to live and I shouldn't spend too much time worrying about his.  I let him speak to me that way sometimes, because I know what a pragmatic, down-to-earth person he was.  That helps a lot.

Take Comfort Wherever You Find It - I am not a religious person, but I have found comfort in certain thoughts and the occasional epiphany coming to me over the past few months.  One was the awareness that my father does, in fact, live on through me.  I have his genes, I have his words in my head, his stories and views of the world.  More and more his words and expressions, his jokes and stories come back to me, and I enjoy and appreciate them more than ever.  My daughter says that I sometimes move or say things in the manner of which my father did.  Sometimes I see my daughters do or say something that I or my husband would do too.  When we have children, they are an extension of ourselves and they are an expression of our drive to continue as a species.  For my father and my mother, I am that.

One of the most surprising initial reactions was my sudden and very real awareness of my own mortality.  One of my guitar students who is about the same age as me told me that recently his elderly mother, who is going through struggles of her own, pointed a finger at him and said "You're next!" Well, my Dad would never thought to have done that to me, but when he left the earth, that's what I was left feeling.  I'm not sure if it's because I don't have any blood siblings, but I have never been this acutely conscious of the fact that I'm going to die one day.  It is startling and sobering.  And frightening.

I read somewhere once that we spend most of our lives in denial of death.  I suppose that's a pretty necessary thing to be in denial of, when you think of it.  I mean if you ran around fearing death at every corner, what kind of misery would that be?  In another blog post a few months ago, I described how my husband and I were sitting and watching a Hawai'ian sun set one evening when I was overcome by grief.  And suddenly out of nowhere, a school of fish simultaneously jumped out of the water to avoid hitting the rocks.  It was so startling that it jolted me out of my sadness.  And what it made me think was "This is life, Irene!  Live it!"

All those times I reminded myself "he's still here" were a comfort to me back when my father was alive.  They brought me a sense of appreciation.  I looked deeply into his face and listened carefully to each word, and I hugged and kissed him and told him I loved him.  Sometimes we just sat quietly together, and that was good too.  I was absolutely and totally attuned to him.  Thank goodness I had the luxury of time and the wherewithal to experience that.

After reflecting on that little phrase and what it meant at the time, I have now pointed it towards myself. The sky is still blue and the sun still shines.  When I get up in the morning I hear the birds, not just at the back of my mind, but I really hear them.  I try to be in the moment, take a deep breath, smile at my family and friends and realize how much they mean to me.  Little problems in life are simply that:  little.

And I'm still here.


Sunday, June 22, 2014


It occurred to me on the drive home from my daughter's college graduation ceremony the other day, that I had never been to a college graduation before.  I myself went straight from high school into a full time, good paying, unionised job at the Vancouver Public Library.  I could afford to live on my own, and moved out when I was not quite 19 years old.

When my daughters got to that same age, it was sobering to realize that unless they could walk into a job like I did, which was highly unlikely, they were going to have to get some kind of certification or higher education that would lead to a better paying job and/or career.

So it was with great excitement and admitted relief that our oldest daughter graduated from her college program, completed her practicum and immediately began a new job with the same company.  Her plan is to move out with her boyfriend in a few months, once they have found a place and saved up a bit of money.

It wasn't easy getting her to this point.  She had a lot of major issues to overcome in her young life, both physically and emotionally, and we worried half-to-death about her many times, especially during her teenage years.  Even after she decided on the program she wanted to get into, there were a number of hurdles in front of her and it took a long time to overcome them.  But she finally did.  And once she started her studies, she did exceptionally well and knew without a doubt that she had chosen the right path.  What could be better than that?

We have one daughter remaining who is very reluctant to leave her minimum wage job because she doesn't know what she wants to do and doesn't yet have the self-confidence to make a move in any particular direction.  One of her arguments to me was that I never went to college, so why should she? If I had known that my lack of higher education would eventually become her excuse to not pursue it, I'd have re-thought my path.  And then again, maybe not.

Every generation is faced with a different set of circumstances when they head out into the world on their own.  Even though I'm dismayed that my kids are still at home in their 20's, I realize that so much in the world is different for them today.  Rents are phenomenally high, for one thing.  The cost of living is so out of control that we've come up with a new phrase called "living wage" which no one in a minimum wage job gets anywhere close to.  Life wasn't like that when I was in my 20's.  There were good paying jobs to be had if you got off your butt and looked for them.  But the availability of those jobs for kids coming right out of high school is pretty much non-existent now.  When the owner of the fast food business my daughter works for was faced with a legislated raise in the minimum wage, what did he do?  He cut back his staff's hours.

It's not that I am entirely unsympathetic to business owners, I'm aware of their struggle too.  I know a few small business owners who do nothing but worry about money because their leases, rents, products, license fees and many other costs keep going up too.

But getting a college or university degree isn't always the answer either.  Many kids are saddled with huge debt for many years, almost impossible to get out from under.  And then you wonder about some of these university degrees and what they're good for on a practical level.  But I digress.

What struck me at my first and only college graduation ceremony the other day was the enthusiasm and positive attitude of all of those wonderful young (and a couple of older!) students as they paraded across the stage.  The room was filled with hope, with excitement for the future and a strong belief in so many possibilities.  Students were proud, their families were proud and so were their teachers. Education does something profound and permanent to you.  Struggling with, and then succeeding at something teaches you more about yourself than you'll ever know.  I'm hoping that my younger child will get that some day.

In the meantime, my eldest daughter is finally and happily on her way to an independent life.  That's all a parent could ever want for their child.  I've never been so proud of her, and more importantly, I know she's never been more proud of herself.

Congratulations my darling daughter.  Love always, Mom xoxoxo

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Do The Right Thing

Who you are witnessing in the photo on the left is the guy who brazenly took my daughters iPad and iPhone as she was in the back of the store answering the work phone.  She had been sitting at a table on her break and had her gadgets with her.  I guess the temptation was too much for this guy when he saw them lying there on the table.  You can even see the iPad in his hot little hand.  We know who he is, because we all used social media and this picture to try and find him, but the police can't do much about it unless they catch him red-handed.  At this point the devices may very well be in other hands by now.  It's infuriating.

If you look carefully in the background, you can see a stroller, which contains his son.  The guy actually left his son in the store while he stole my daughter's things.  This infuriates me even more.  His girlfriend and mother are at the counter, which is harder to see.  When he signals them from outside, they grab the stroller and leave without buying anything.  It was all a set up.

I've been robbed before a couple of times and I know how it feels.  It's like someone has personally violated you.  It teaches you a few lessons, sure, but the anger that it brings up is unexpected and surprising the first time it happens.  Even if you've never had any violent tendencies in your life, this experience makes you want to hit someone.  Hard.

I had the same gut reaction when I was sitting with my daughter just after it happened;  she had called us and we immediately went to see her to get the whole story.  One of her co-workers said that she thought the family had all gone to the mall across the street afterwards.  My first reaction was to go to the mall myself and hunt for them, but my husband could see my fury and wanted me to cool down.  Eventually he gave in and off we went on the hunt, with no luck.

Afterwards my husband asked me what I would have done if we had found them.  I had had time to think it through while we were looking and decided I would have simply stalked them until I made them uncomfortable.  Then I would have suggested they call the police.  Or I would.  Ha!  But I never got the chance to pull my caper off.

The loss of a thing is not the worst experience in the world.  It's just a thing.  Since this event, I've been thinking about who these people are and what would make them do what they did.  Not that there is any excuse, but maybe they don't have a lot of money or are down on their luck or maybe this kind of criminal behaviour just runs in the family.  Who knows what their story is?  My family and I are not without compassion, and we understand that even though we are not independently wealthy, we have a lot more than many do.

I don't expect my daughter will see her belongings again.  But if the guy is out there and sees this, all you have to do is bring the stuff back to where you took it from and we'll let it go.  Just do it for yourself, and for your son, who is always watching you and what you do and who is going to live his life by your example.  Do you really want him to grow up to be a petty thief, or do you want something better for him?  Think about that, and then do the right thing.  Please.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Going The Extra Foot

Every year when my friends and I have our weekend getaway at the spa, a part of the ritual is that we all get pedicures. Outside of the sore gut from laughing so much all weekend, the pedicure is the only sign we have in the following weeks that we've been anywhere special.  It's a little reminder when you get up in the morning and look at your feet;  ah yes, I was at the spa a couple of weeks ago.  Even if it already feels like a year ago.

For the most part, we put away our smart phones and kind of disconnect from the rest of the world, although I notice a couple of us sneaking the occasional peek at their Twitter feed or Facebook during the weekend.  It's a hard habit to break.  But much of the time we are caught up in the togetherness, the laughter and spirited conversation, the eating and drinking and "spa-ing".

During the late afternoon on the Saturday, after we had returned from our spa treatments, I took a peek at my phone and got a text from my husband asking about the "feet pic".  Every year, the five of us put one foot in to a circle and we take a picture of it.  My husband was expecting to see this year's pic posted on Facebook.  I mentioned this to my friends, "...but honestly, I can never tell which year the picture comes from because it's always the same!" I commented.  We had been eating home-made pizzas and downing some fine wine, and the conversation at the dinner table took an interesting turn.

How could we make this year's picture different?  How might it "stand out" from the rest?  Someone suggested we find a man and have him put his foot in the picture along with ours.  Would anyone notice?  And the bigger question:  How would we find a man?

We usually head out to the outdoor hot tub in the evening before bed, so after clearing the table we ran off to don our bathing suits and fluffy, white spa robes.  The conversation about finding a man continued and a lot of giggling followed.  "You will be the one to find the man, Irene," I was told.  Me?  I'm not sure how I was honoured (burdened) with this task, but I accepted, and out the door we went.

It was dark.  The only man we could see was a geeky, young maintenance guy, who surely would not have a "manly" foot.   We decided that if no other male was found, he would have to do.  So we trudged off to the hot tub, hoping against hope that there would be a male sitting in it.

And there was.

He was sitting with another woman, and along with a couple of others in the hot tub, they were enjoying a relaxing soak.  He had no idea what I was about to ask him and I had no idea how I was going to approach him, but approach him I did.  The others shyly stood back as I brazenly walked around the edge of the sunken hot tub to where he was sitting.

I felt for him, really.  He looked kind of quiet and unassuming, and I was about to put him on the spot.

"Excuse me," I began.  "I was wondering if you might be up to taking a picture with myself and these other ladies?"  He looked up at me questioningly, so I tried to explain.  "We really only want to take a picture of your foot alongside ours,"  I continued.  Behind me, my friends helped me explain the annual foot pic, and he graciously agreed to join us.

It turned out that one of our group recognized him and his wife, which made the strange request a little less suspicious, I suppose.  Especially for his wife :-)

And so he stepped out of the steamy pool and we managed to organize the photo shoot. Afterwards we all plopped back into the hot tub, enjoying a long, sizzling soak on a cool, cloudless night.  Later, on the short walk back to the complex, we started to muse at what the response to the picture might be.  We couldn't help getting excited at the possible scandal the picture might inspire.  What would they (our Facebook friends and family) think?  What would they say?  And when someone hit the send button and the salacious shot was finally posted for the world to see, we waited.

And waited.

The wait began to get to us.  Perhaps people hadn't seen it yet.  Maybe the foot wasn't "manly" enough. Or could it be that people noticed the odd foot but were afraid to comment on it and insult somebody. Even worse, maybe nobody cared?

A larger, hairier foot might have stood out more.

Even the next morning as we packed up and loaded into the car for the drive home, there had been little response.  I finally became impatient enough to text my husband a small clue.  "Didn't you notice?" When he finally did, and posted a leading comment on Facebook, we thought this would certainly put a fire under the scandal.

Nope.  Sigh.

I think we're going to have to put something even more scandalous in the picture next year.  Any ideas?


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Leaf Legacy

“If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.” ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

About two weeks ago, I was walking along my usual route when I spotted an impression of a leaf in a fairly new section of a concrete side walk.  I kept walking and started thinking about that image and how it got there.  Did the leaf just fall onto the side walk at the perfect time and leave its mark? Did someone come along and deliberately press the leaf into the still-wet concrete?  The image here is not that leaf, by the way.

I thought about it and thought about it, and the very next day when I went on that walk again, I decided to take a picture of it.  But I couldn't find it.  I looked and looked in the area where I thought the leaf was, and just couldn't see it.  I wondered if I had imagined it?  But I really didn't think so. Every day I walked in that area, I searched for that leaf impression, but it seemed to have disappeared.

The leaf in the picture above was one I found later on another part of my walk.  I think it's too perfect to have been a natural occurrence, and was probably deliberately pressed into the concrete by somebody.

When I found the first leaf, however, it got me to thinking about the legacies we leave behind in life, intentionally or not.  When famous film stars die, they leave behind all of their work and we can watch them again and again as if they were still here.  The same is true for family members;  we can watch old videos or look at pictures of them, or we can read the words they left behind in the form of memoirs, like the ones my Dad and my Grandfather wrote.

Historical public figures are immortalized by the changes they made in the world or in their countries, the journeys they took, and the way they lived or died.  I'm reminded of one of the stories we heard when we were in Hawaii, about Captain Cook and his impact on the Hawaiian people.  First, they thought he was a god, then...not so much.  But a monument still sits in Kealakekua Bay to remind all of his visit and of his death there.  On the same voyage that he explored Hawaii, Captain Cook also explored the area where I live, Vancouver Island, so you'll find signs of his being here too like the street I used to live on, Cook Street.

The rest of us who are less famous also like to mark the places where significant events happened.  For instance, you often see little memorials on the side of the road if someone was killed there, flowers and teddy bears, maybe a cross, and notes of sorrow.  Sometimes people are immortalized by having their name inscribed on a metal plate on a park bench.  Graffiti has been around since I was a kid and probably before that;  who doesn't remember seeing "Grads of '75", or whatever year you graduated high school, spray painted on a bridge overpass somewhere?  Or maybe you carved your initials along with the initials of someone you had a crush on, inside a heart on a tree trunk to confess your undying love.

On that same trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, I noticed quite a few instances of what I call "White Rock Graffiti", as in this picture:

People use white rocks, some of them coral, to "write" messages on the black lava beds, usually along the highway or other roadways;  a seemingly harmless thing to do.  But at the official parks on the Big Island this type of graffiti is discouraged because it's considered disrespectful, and now there are community efforts to actually clean up these messages little by little.  As far as I can see, they've got a lot of work ahead of them! When I started to think about it more, the messages began to appear more self-serving than cute, and in fact became kind of ugly.

Many people talk about leaving a legacy behind, whether it's their art, their writings or some kind of work they've done.  Sometimes people will imply that their only real legacy is the children they leave behind, or the money those children inherit, which, by the way, is the first definition of "legacy" :-)

The internet brings a whole new dimension to legacies.  When I die, assuming that I continue to write here until that point, how long will this blog remain? What about my Facebook page?  It's kind of eerie to see the Facebook page, still remaining, of someone I knew who passed away;  to see the words he typed and the pictures he posted. Facebook does give family members the option of removing the page, or "memorialising" it, whatever that means.  There is a kind of strangeness to it, but it is another form of a legacy.

Looking at that leaf, the first one I spotted, reminded me again of impermanence.  The only sign that the leaf once existed was the impression it left in the side walk.  And even that will one day disappear, either by wear and tear or when the side walk is removed or damaged in some other way.  The words I write here will become less and less relevant (not that they are that relevant to begin with!) and the only people who will care will be my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I will become a face in a picture and a name attached to that face, and the essence of me will slowly disappear just like that concrete leaf impression.

I like to think, though, that rather than physically disappearing, I will simply go back to where I sprouted from, returning to the circle of life that will nurture those who come after me.  There's no greater legacy than that.

“I had an inheritance from my father,
It was the moon and the sun.
And though I roam all over the world,
The spending of it’s never done.” ― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sunday, April 20, 2014

No Big Deal, Uncle Roy

My Uncle Roy was a gay man in Denmark during a time when being gay was pretty much a death sentence, and not because of AIDS.  I don't know a lot about his story because, sadly, he committed suicide during World War II when the Nazis not only threw Jews into concentration camps, but homosexuals too.  The Jews were made to wear yellow Star of David armbands and the gays wore pink triangles.

I remember in the 80's before I moved to Victoria, I saw a theatre production in Vancouver called "Bent", which was all about a homosexual concentration camp like that.  It was pretty disturbing. Whether my Uncle Roy killed himself to avoid being thrown into a camp, or he was afraid of being found out or simply depressed, I don't know. He must have come to the conclusion that he didn't have any choice but to make his exit.  My Danish cousins loved my Uncle Roy, but they didn't know he was gay until I told them a couple of years back. Their parents had never mentioned it to them, but my mother had revealed Uncle Roy's secret to my father and me many years before.  I know she loved her older brother very much, so his death must have been devastating to her.

When I was in high school, I found out that one of my best friends was gay.  I didn't understand too much about what that meant at the time, so I told her she'd grow out of it.  Stupid, eh?  Well, what did I know?  The fact that she was gay didn't really bother me very much, but it did bother members of my family, who told me they didn't want me to spend any time with her, in case I "caught" something.  It sounds silly now, but at the time I think that sentiment ran high with a lot of people.  You certainly didn't talk about that kind of thing in high school, so she didn't come out to anyone other than her closest friends, as I'm sure was the case with other gay high schoolers at the time.  My friend attempted suicide too, a couple of times, although she didn't succeed.  She did end up with an addiction to alcohol, however, and her life spiralled downward after that.

I told a story in this blog once about a security guard that I had a mad crush on, who turned out to be gay and eventually died of AIDS.  They used to say that one day everyone would know someone who died of AIDS, which turned out to be true for me.  These days, however, AIDS is no longer an absolute death sentence, thank goodness.  There are fewer and fewer names being etched on to that memorial in Stanley Park that I was describing in the post linked above.  It's almost like nearing the end of a battle. But there still exist a war.

A part of me would like to think that things have improved and attitudes have changed since my Uncle Roy died, but of course societal change happens excruciatingly slow, especially with my generation and older.  So maybe it shouldn't surprise me to hear that same-sex marriages finally became legal in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I didn't realize it WASN'T legal there! It horrified me to hear the stories about the anti-gay bill in Uganda which not only makes it illegal to be gay, but they can actually impose the death penalty.  And who can forget just before the Winter Olympics earlier this year when the Russian anti-gay bill was announced;  another sign that ignorance rules. Honest to pete, can we get over it now?

I suppose I should give credit where it is due;  at least the UK DID change their laws, as some states are doing in the U.S.  And the Pope SEEMS to be less worried about homosexuality than his predecessors.  Not that I'm Catholic and have much to do with the Pope, but it's something.  But I believe that it's my kids' generation and younger who are the ones who are really going to change attitudes.  The local high school that my daughters attended had, according to them, lots of openly gay couples and no obvious problems because of it.  I'm sure there were those who didn't like it, but that seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.  It just wasn't a big deal.  And that's what needs to happen.

It has to stop being such a big deal.

As frustrated as I am with how slow progress is, I do wish my Uncle Roy could have experienced the changes that have taken place so far.  And I especially would have loved to have met him.