Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flood Alert! And Life Goes On

Little is more frightening then having your home threatened by a natural disaster. The citizens of Slave Lake, Alberta recently had their town decimated by wild fires that spread with sickening speed through their homes and businesses. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of being so helplessly at the mercy of Mother Nature in her wildest of tantrums.


The Walking Bridge at 14th Street - just a few blocks from my house.

The Bulkley River east of Houston

This week, my own town is dealing with the opposite threat. Water in the creeks and rivers is rising to unprecedented levels, spilling over the protective banks in some places. This is not the first time that we have had to deal with flooding. In 1997, homes along the Bulkley River were flooded and the owners evacuated for their safety. In 2000, a less sever, but equally frightening flood happened. This year, the waters rose so high that the dykes were raised with gabions as the water came dangerously close to breaching these barriers between rushing waters and our homes and businesses. On Friday evening, with the water level less than a half metre from the top of the levee, Houstonites were given notice of an evacuation alert.

Bags were packed. Basements were emptied. Businesses began the tedious process of protecting stock by moving it up off floors. Hundreds of volunteers gathered to help with sandbagging efforts. Everyone prayed for the rain to stop and the waters to recede.

On Saturday, the sun did its best to force its way through the clouds. To distract themselves from the pending evacuation potential, people took advantage of the reprieve and hauled out lawn mowers and weed whackers. The hum of gas-powered mowers could be heard throughout neighbourhoods as the cheerful yellow dandelions met their makers by being brutally beheaded with razor-sharp blades. Between the mowing, the whacking and the raking, people checked the web for updates on the grave situation surrounding their home-ownership duties.

The Train Bridge over Buck Creek. 

I marvelled at the way that life continued amid the looming danger around us all. Was this optimism? Were people in denial? Did they just want their lawns to look nice for the inspectors after the water withdrew?

As I pushed my own manual reel mower back and forth, I wondered if I was wasting my time. I could hear the water in the creek, only a couple hundred feet from my house, rushing madly along its course, doing its best to get the runoff past our town and away to the ocean with its larger capacity to handle it. It had a long way to go! And there are other towns with their own rain and runoff being added to it along the way. I worried about my house and my neighbours, my daughter and my friends. I worried about the stray cat that hangs around between my house and the neighbour’s. What would become of her if things got bad? When I finally stowed my little mower in the shed, I checked for updates and checked in with loved ones to make sure everyone was still fine and to offer assistance should it be necessary.

I did a bit more yard work. I cleaned my house. I baked cookies. I gave some thought to organizing my office and setting up files for my business. I sorted through the knitting patterns that still need to be typed up and posted on Ravelry. I paced. I prayed. I finally made some supper and organized a small get together with a few people to watch a movie. Again, I marvelled at the normalcy of these activities. At any moment someone could come banging at my door with an order to get out. I wondered if I would go peacefully, or if they would have to drag me from my house kicking and screaming! Thankfully, so far, that hasn’t been put to the test. Hopefully, it never will be.

This morning the dandelions have already repopulated many of the neatly trimmed lawns. They don’t seem the least bit worried about the high water table and over-burdened river beds. In fact they are relishing in the excess moisture. One can practically see them assert themselves in an attempt to cheer up the locals with their pretty yellow blooms; an attempt, I’m sorry to say, that almost always fails. I don’t know why people hate them so much. I think they are quite pretty. But I must admit that I wish they were not so assertive in my gardens. Then again, I don’t care much for my gardens as they are and at least the dandelions are adding some colour to the vast greyness of the gravel that presently covers 90% of my yard. (What was that woman thinking?)

One of the homes under water next to the overpass as you come in to Houston.

Anyway, I’m about to foray out into that greyness and see what I can do about some of it. There are vines to dig up and weird features to remove. I want to see if I can lay out the future labyrinth without having to move a tree that is in the way of the labyrinth’s expected reality. Not sure how I’m going to do that, but if nothing else, I can stand there and look wisely contemplative. Not owning a shovel and not having a good rapport with any gravel gnomes, I doubt that much will be accomplished. This whole yard work thing is a bit over my head. One would think that 24 years on an acre of land I would have learned a thing or two about it. But alas, I’m not much of a gardener and I always had someone else to defer that sort of thing to.

I see I sort of got off track. The latest update from the Emergency Operations Centre is that the Buck Creek levels fell 17 cm overnight. Yay! Things are looking up – or down as the case may be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Wonderland

I’m sitting at my patio-cum-dining-room-table looking out at the enormous snowflakes plummeting out of the sky and gathering in confused patches on the deck, the lawn, the trees and the car. It’s May 17th and instead of spring blooms a thickening layer of the white stuff is giving tulips and daffodils great pause in opening up. It’s the craziest spring I can recall. Neither the snow nor the foliage understands what’s happening.

Optimistically, I donned capris this morning. The rain was not going to stop me from dressing in clothes appropriate for the alleged and theoretical season. My rationale was that it wouldn’t likely rain all day and, if I put on long pants and socks, at some point the sun would jump out and pump heat down up on me, making me regret my choice. If I have my druthers, I prefer cool to hot. Now I think that long pants and socks may be my saving grace. There is a limit to my optimism!

Snow accumulating on my deck May 17, 2011

I’m thinking that the snow shovel I bought at a garage sale last Saturday was a good investment. I wasn’t planning on putting it to use just yet, but there appears to be a chance that it could come in handy. I’m also thinking that it’s a good thing that I haven’t changed my tires yet. Something keeps telling me to wait. Until today I thought it was the $95 dollars it will cost me to have them changed over, but maybe it’s the fact that winter isn’t done yet. If I wait much longer, there won’t be any point! In four months I’ll be forking out another $95 to have them changed back. I might just risk it. But I will look for some rims this summer, which will save me most of those $95 shell-outs and should pay for themselves in... oh, three or four years. The question is: Will my van last that long?

If it wasn’t for work, today would be a great day to start a new knitting project. I just don’t know what I want to knit. I have a pair of socks that are proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated – there is a huge logistical challenge to knitting intarsia in the round. I just can’t seem to sort it out in my head, let alone on the needles. Every now and then it starts to make sense and I think I have it worked out, but in practice, it just doesn’t come through. Oh, well, I’ll keep plugging away at it. Maybe the snow will bring some inspiration. Winter conditions usually do.

Good grief! It looks like November out there! The term Spring Wonderland just doesn’t have the right ring to it, but that’s what we got.

It's a Spring Wonderland out there!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

Remember Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking? I don’t.

The book was first published in 1952 and has the reputation of being the most famous self-help book ever written. I never actually read the book and I don’t know much about Mr. Peale, other than he wrote it. I have no idea what the philosophies of the book are. It was first published a whole decade before I was born and by the time I became aware of it in my teens, positive thinking – well, thinking of any kind, really – was somewhat lost in the realm of perceived, adolescent omnipotence. In retrospect, that very delusion, though perhaps wrongfully positive, probably helped me survive my teen years and make it to adulthood relatively intact and unscathed.

While I missed The Power of Positive Thinking (it is on my to-read list), I have read a great deal on the subject. The Law of Attraction, The Secret (dumb book, by the way), Creative Visualization, How to Manifest Anything, The Art of Manifestation, Real Magic (it’s not what you think), The Power of Intention, Excuses Begone!, and a few others that I can’t recall at the moment. The basic premise of all of them is quite simple: Think positive!

But what is thinking positive? I’ve learned – the hard way – that it isn’t pretending that everything is okey-dokey. It’s not ignoring problems. It’s not giving up or just accepting things as they are, although that is sort of an important factor. It’s not not being angry or sad. It’s not denying reality. There’s quite a bit of hard work and determination involved. Discipline is key.

For years I looked for the magic formula, the instant solution that would make my life perfect and dissolve all my problems. Oddly, I never found it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There is a magic formula; there just isn’t an instant solution.

Well, that’s not entirely true, either.

Are you sufficiently confused yet? It’s okay. I still get baffled by it.

And the point of this missive was not to dispense instructions on the subject. The point, I think (that was a couple of hours and several interruptions ago), was to share with you a story about how positive thinking is working in my life. Right now. This very moment.

Two months ago I was lying on a massage table in a friend’s basement while she practiced Reiki techniques on me. Reiki is an energy therapy system that targets the ethereal body, chakras, energy meridians, the aura, etc. and is designed to be used in healing (not curing – there is a vast and significant difference!). I’m always happy to lend my ethereal body to those who are developing healing skills of this nature – especially when it’s free because they are completing their practicum! (Just to be clear, I always offer Healing Touch or Reflexology in return as a professional courtesy. We need to support each other and it’s the least I can do.)

Now a lot of people think this sort of thing is a bunch of bunk. And that’s okay. I only mention it because it was the catalyst to a huge leap of faith on my part that required positive thinking in order to succeed.

As I lay there, I felt a gust of wind blow through me. It was hot and searing and left me feeling quite empty, which is a good thing by the way. I left feeling light and cleansed. Being empty like that gives one the option of choose what to fill one’s self back up with. I chose happiness.

A few days later, I hopped out of bed and announced to my husband of 14 ½ years that I was leaving him. I couldn’t believe what I was saying; the words just poured out of my mouth in a flood of long over-due emotional release.

Now where is the happiness and positivity in that, you may wonder. Well, it allowed me to explore and redefine myself and my priorities. And it strengthened and enhanced my relationship with my husband in ways that, on that particular morning, I would never have thought imaginable.

I bought a house. I moved out. I set up my household. I began the process of – as cliché as it may sound – finding myself (still got a ways to go on that one). And Dave and I became friends. I discovered I like him a lot better when I’m not fantasizing about blowing up his band room! Now we talk. We laugh together. We enjoy being together and feel comfortable just spending time. We don’t take each other for granted. We look forward to seeing each other. We are at absolute peace when we are apart. He lives his life and I live mine. There are no expectations. No strings. It’s utterly and profoundly wonderful to know that he’s there, but he’s not in my hair, so to speak. And it is all due to the power of positive thinking – with a bit of self-confidence mixed in.

I’ve never lived on my own – really – before. If I think too hard about it, it’s still a bit scary and overwhelming. But I count my blessings every day. Every night before I fall asleep I think about all the good things in my life and I thank the Universe for each of them. Every morning when I wake up I tell myself that something wonderful is going to happen today. And it does. (Sometimes to someone else, but that just gives me the opportunity to be happy for that person.)

Last week I got a letter from the bank telling me that the interest on my mortgage was decreased. I got a rebate from Visa – can you imagine!? This week I received a housewarming gift in the form of a cheque – enough to buy a few things for the house – and I got a refund from Telus – again, can you imagine? – that I wasn’t expecting. Not a fortune by any stretch, but most welcome and appreciated.

Life is good. And it’s good because I choose to think positive thoughts, welcome and accept the goodness that is around me into my life, and I am grateful when the goodness arrives whether it is expected or a delightful surprise.

There are times when I have to work at it. Every now and then the old habit of negative thinking rears its ugly head and tries to pull me down. Like last week when I couldn’t figure out Netflix. The solution was ultimately simple, but I got blinded by frustration and couldn’t see the forest for the trees (or the shows for the ease, as it were!) for a while. But now I can laugh about it. Silly me!

What it comes down to is patience, I think. I put it out there that I need or I want this or that and, if I’m patient, this or that arrives. Eventually. The being patient part is a bit trying for me still, but it’s getting easier. And the more impatient I am, the longer it takes, it seems. Next Reiki appointment, I’m going to ask her to work on my inability to wait for things. That and erase my penchant for eating cookies for supper, even if I do follow up with a guilt-ridden carrot stick for dessert. But that’s a whole other blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Perfect Returns

I’m standing outside in the library court yard enjoying a bit of fresh air and, what to me is a perfect spring day. Well almost!

Yes, it’s cloudy, but there is a hint of warmth in the air. I scan the trees on the hill side and neighbouring yards, looking for that patina of green that tells me the trees are dressing up again. There is none. My perfect spring day crumbles.

It’s not like the trees weren’t bare this morning when I walked to work. But spring happens fast in this country and I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, a few leaves would have taken the opportunity to break free and unfurl for me.

The trees are on strike, I think. Or maybe they are still in shock. This has been one of the coldest and most miserable springs I can remember. I hope it isn’t an omen.

It’s the sixth of May. The river is rising, being filled with run-off from the mountains. Why aren’t the trees at least trying? I return to my office and plunk myself down at my desk. I sigh.

I’m not much of a summer person. I don’t like excessive heat and I’m not all that fond of the bugs that come with it. Fall is my favourite season. Things cool down, the landscape is filled with bright yellows, oranges and reds, and the smell of wood smoke fills the air. I wonder why I want spring so badly today…

Perhaps it’s the fact that winter lasted so long. I don’t mind the winter, but there is a limit to the enjoyment one can get out of snow. It’s pretty when it’s fresh, but a few snow ploughs and sand trucks later, not so much. I also want to get out and clean up my yard a bit. Every time I find the time, it’s raining or the wind is so strong that raking leaves would just be pointless. I have a hankering to wash my van. I want to give the outside windows a bit of polish. I want to paint the deck rail. I want to start schlepping all the rocks out of my back yard and find the soil underneath so I can plant some grass. I want to mow the lawn. (Mental note: look for cheap lawn mower…) Oh, and I want to wear capris again. The sixth of May and I’m wearing a sweater over a shirt. I have socks on. I want to be barefoot. Before the bugs get too bad or winter returns. On the other hand, I don’t have to feel bad about not doing all that stuff and knitting instead.

I think I’ll bake cookies tonight. Chocolate chip cookies. Yes, that sounds like a cheerer-upper thing to do. Chewy, gooey, chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven with a frosty glass of milk will go ever-so-nicely with a Miss Marple mystery.

The perfect has returned!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Imagine That

When I was a kid impressive technology came in the form of calculators, automatic dishwashers, push-button phones and colour TVs. Music either came to me over the radio or was released from vinyl discs by a needle (sometimes weighted with a quarter so it wouldn’t skip and scratch the records). 8-tracks were replaced with cassettes, but downloading was a concept yet to be conceived. Polaroid cameras were amazing. If you wanted to watch a movie you went to the theatre or waited for the edited version to play on the late show. (It took me three years of babysitting to get all the way through The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston!)

VCRs (remember the battle between VHS and Beta?), satellite TV and microwave ovens were the big advancements in the 80s. Then came fax and digital telephone answering machines. The notion of owning a home computer was beginning to bud, and when one landed in my living room in 1990, with its 4-colour monitor that took up half the desk and dot-matrix printer, I thought that I was living in a futuristic world and that not much more could develop. The idea that one day I would carry a computer in my pocket was the stuff of science fiction and, not being much of a sci-fi buff, didn’t dominate my thoughts in any way. But it was the beginning of the end for my penmanship.

When the Internet (good old dial-up!) finally became available in my area, I thought I had died and gone to technology heaven. E-mail, on-line shopping, time-wasting games – hoo-boy! Connectivity was the catch phrase of the day. Literally the whole world lay at my fingertips, only a mouse click away.

Today, I have a laptop that I can carry with me anywhere. I have a Blackberry (rather than a phone!) and my most common form of communication is now called texting. I have an e-book reader that allows me to access books wirelessly whenever the mood moves me and anywhere I happen to be. There are no dials on my television and no knobs on my cook top. I can watch my favourite shows on my laptop any time I choose – no need for TV guides these days. I can pop a tiny plastic disc into my blue-ray player and feel like I’m part of the action. I can take photos with my phone and share them with the world instantly. Skype and Google are my favourite verbs. (Well there are a couple of others, but this is a family blog!)

I wouldn’t call myself a technophile. I use all this stuff, but I rely heavily on geeks (didn’t that used to be a derogatory term?) to keep things working smoothly and heaven help me when it isn’t. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if all this technology was suddenly to disappear. And it makes me shudder!

Last night my meditation was to imagine life without the Internet – no wi-fi, no connectivity. Was I happier without all these gadgets in my life? Was life really simpler? Was it better? Was it worse?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that it was just different back then. Could I survive without a cell phone and the Internet? Of course I could. Do I want to? No!

It would not please me to have to write cheques, buy stamps and envelopes and schlep them to the post office to mail off my bill payments. I’d rather open my e-bills and manipulate the digits that represent my money on the computer screen using my handy-dandy numeric keyboard. That little piece of plastic with the magnetic strip that magically does the same thing when I buy stuff is way easier than arguing with a cashier over wrong change. And to manually have to balance my cheque book again? I’ve agonized over a missing 32 cents one or two times too many in my lifetime.

Today, I thought of all the ways in which I can connect and communicate with various people in my life: land line, cell phone (calling, texting, voice mail), Skype (calling, video calls, chat, voice mail and it’s hands-free so I can continue knitting), Facebook, e-mail. Of these, I use the land line the least. In fact I no longer have a land line at my house. I have a Blackberry from which I can make calls, text and send and receive e-mail. I don’t see the need for a land line and I don’t miss the toll-free calls that used to plague my Sunday mornings and daily meal times even though I went to a lot of trouble to get on the no-call and opt-out lists. I use my laptop to Skype people when a long distance call is required. Sometimes they don’t answer, believing that the weird number on their call displays is from one of those toll-free callers, but that’s not my problem. I make arrangements for coffee and walks and movie nights and other in-person visits either via text or Facebook. It works for me.

My adult life is definitely different than my youth was. Gadgets are, for the most part, blessings, though at times they do make for a fair bit of anxiety and inconvenience. I think that may be built in so that I don’t stop appreciating them. And I do appreciate them.

Well, it’s time to post this blog entry and… What’s that sound? A gong? Someone’s texting me…

Hmmmm…. Looks like I have a date for tea tomorrow night with a friend. Imagine that!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's going to be a thrilling ride

I often find life confusing; a maze of strange and unexpected happenings that just don’t make a lot of sense. At the same time this confusion is fascinating and fills me with wonderment (most of the time – sometimes it just makes me nuts).

Today, I was surprised to find life… Well, normal!

On the twelfth day in my house I woke up and encountered a deep and comforting feeling of normalness. Everything felt right. The carpet under my feet, the drag on the silverware drawer, the light streaming through the bedroom window, the soft hum of the furnace… All normal. All comfortable - like an old shoe. I even realized that I have stopped calling it my new home or my new house. It’s just my house. Like I’ve been there for years.

Hmmm, I thought to myself, as I stood under the shower spray, which is practically perfect in every way, I’m really home.

As I shampooed and rinsed and soaped and rinsed I let my mind wander back through time, looking for that place and time when I last experienced this feeling of normalness. I stopped about a four years before Eric died, which seemed to be the turning point. That was the last time I truly felt comfortable and at ease and like I belonged in my surroundings. I began to feel my way forward again and along the way I noticed little things, little subtle things (and some not-so-subtle things) that were, I think, signs of the changes taking place. Slowly 1902 Riverbank Drive was giving me the boot.

In the spring of 1997, I began the process of opening Brewstir’s Books with my sister. I remember sitting one evening filled with anxiety about the store and saying to David, “This isn’t quite right yet.” He asked me what I meant and I said that I didn’t think that the book store was the right thing for me in the long term. That earned me a well-earn and exasperated glare. “Then why are you doing it?” he asked. I didn’t know. But I said that I felt like I was being pushed out and needed to try something. I didn’t want to admit it then, but I’m certain now that I was being pushed out of the trailer. (Not by David)

Almost since I first moved into the trailer at 1902 Riverbank Drive, I’ve wanted to leave Houston. It only took 24 years, and now I’m a little closer to the highway out of here, but I’m also closer to the centre of the community. And probably more firmly rooted here - what with a mortgage and all! It occurred to me that I don’t want to leave Houston anymore. Maybe I never really did. Maybe I just wanted to leave the trailer.

In the last few days, people have stopped me and told me that I seem different. I’m reminded of the Cialis commercial where the guy says: Maybe it’s the new glasses; Maybe it’s the new haircut; Maybe it’s the new pants… Maybe it’s that I’ve finally come home. Maybe Alegria (my house’s name) is the Cialis of my life! (Um… maybe I need a different analogy! LOL)

I love my house! I love the creaky floors and the way the one cupboard door sticks a little. I love the light that floods every room with cheer. I even love the darkness at night when I hear my ghost (the spirit of a former owner) checking that the basement door is closed. I love the weird space on the living room wall that used to be the bar when the house was the old Legion. I love the 34-year-old carpet and the slightly warped, and much newer, laminate in the kitchen. I love the way the walls change colour as the light changes outside. I love the feeling that comes over me when I walk in after a day at the office as my house welcomes me back home. Most of all I think I love the potential.

When I’m sitting alone in the evening, sipping tea and knitting or writing or whatever I feel like, I feel more loved and more appreciated than I have in a very long time. Sometimes, if I listen really closely, I can hear the laughter of former Legion members as they gathered there to share stories and listen to local musicians. I can feel the history, the memories locked in the walls. I can feel myself being accepted as the rightful owner and caretaker of this magnificent dwelling.

It can be a bit overwhelming. I hope that I can live up to the sense of expectation that has risen around me. I’m constantly being approached by people asking me if I’m would teach Yoga again, or start practicing Reflexology again. I’ve been asked if I would host workshops and have gatherings in my home. I’m reconnecting with amazing women who are suddenly coming to me for advice or seeking my assistance on things. I’ve been hugged more in the last two weeks than I think I have in the last two years.

Alegria possesses an earthly aura of peace and strength. Virtually everyone who has come over since I’ve moved in has commented on it. People walk through the door and they smile. They visibly relax. They open up. A few have even danced! It’s quite marvelous to experience and to witness. I feel so incredibly blessed. And grateful. There is no limit to the gratitude that I feel for what I have.

Oddly, sitting here thinking about how strange and unexpected all this was, I do not feel confused by it. I’m fascinated and I’m filled with wonder, but curiosity rather than frustration is foremost in my mind. What great and splendid things are to follow?

Well, stay tuned. And fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a thrilling ride!