Sunday, December 23, 2012

Celebrating the Solstice

Captain Santa!  What a fun gift
from my best friend and her partner.

Yule is a modern expression of the Germanic géol, meaning 12-day festival.  It originated as a mid-winter celebration in northern Europe involving feasts and gift-giving in honour of the change of the seasons and the promise of renewal in the spring.  The solstice, the shortest day of the year, is the beginning of the celebrations as it marks the turning of the Wheel of the Year with the rebirth of the Sun.  From this point on the days get longer, the sun strengthens as the Earth’s axis swivels back once again toward its warmth.

Beautiful calendars and foot scrubbers
from my daughter and SIL.
In ancient times, people’s religions were closely tied to the Earth and her seasonal transformations.   Their mythologies told the stories of how the gods facilitated these changes and the gifts these changes represented for all life on Earth.  The focus was on celebrating life as part of the whole in balance with all that is.  It was understood and accepted that life isn’t always easy.  The gods (nature) can be fickle.  And necessarily so to keep that balance and so celebrating life – survival – became a way of showing gratitude and acknowledging one’s place within nature rather than separate from it.

The stairs became the "kiddie table" as
young people gathered there to enjoy
the feast!
Mom gives Son a bit of a ribbing.
Note the amazing "ugly sweater" design -
A Jack-a-lope!
It was in this spirit that I opened my home, Alegria, to 24 wonderful people last night in celebration of the bounty our great Mother Earth has given us.  It was in the spirit of sharing – food, laughter, love – that I welcomed them.  It was in the spirit of knowing how intrinsically we are woven together into the fabric of the Universe - tiny threads that comprise the Whole - that we gathered.   And within that gathering I found great Peace – of mind and body and soul. 
This is a very special gift from
a (hopefully) new friend.  Krista
self-published this modern
adult fairy-tale and kindly gave
me a copy.  
Among my beloved guests were family, friends and strangers alike.  There was the sharing of food, the giving of gifts and the acceptance of each other as community.  I sat in awe for some time at the blending of beliefs without judgement.  It was truly one of the best holiday celebrations I have ever had and I will treasure the memory of it for the rest of my life.
Dear friends and very special people!
Warm socks and gaiters for
snowshoeing adventures.  
Today, in the quiet after the merrymaking, Alegria still hums with the joy that filled her.  There are still dishes to do and bits of wrapping to pick up.   But that happiness, that sense of community, still lingers.  This is what it’s all about for me.

Friends and family and strangers alike
gathered at Alegria to celebrate the Solstice.

Had a bit of fun wrapping
my daughter's gift then
vandal-eyes-ing it! 
For all who stumble upon this missive, I wish you all of the very brightest of blessings.  May the winter months bring you rest and renewal and may your hearts and homes be filled with the warmth and comfort of those blessings.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Walk a Mile...

It’s winter time.   The snow is deep and cold.  When I have to go out into it, I wear a pair of boots to protect my feet from the cold.  They are comfortable and warm and I bought them when I needed them from a store.  I chose them from among dozens of other possibilities for colour and style.  I had that option.
My warm and comfy winter boots.
A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend of mine returned from a month-long trip to India with a beautiful pair of shoes for me.  I was thrilled.  The soft camel hide hugs my feet and the hand-stitched and brightly-coloured pattern pleases me. 

The beautiful, hand-stitched shoes my friend
brought me back from India.
I have a thing about feet.  (Feet – not shoes!)  I don’t have tons of shoes, but I love pampering my feet and so when I do buy shoes, I look for comfort above all.  Colour and design are close seconds. 

The other day another friend of mine, a man I admire for the many things he taught me about life and business, among other things, came into the library and presented me with one of the most amazing pairs of shoes I have ever seen.  They are a simple pair of flip flops cut from old tires.  Two thin straps, one for the big toe and one for the arch have been fastened on with nails and then painted bright yellow, green and orange.  They are the most uncomfortable things I have ever slipped my feet into – even more uncomfortable then the platform shoes that I used to traipse around in when I was a kid.  But I love them. 

Creative genius!
I love them because they make me realize how fortunate I am.  Not just in the shoe department, but in life in general.  They also speak to the ingenuity and creativity of people who see a need and seek to fill it.  They are inspiration incarnate. 

I cannot imagine having no choice but to wear flip flops made from old tires.  They aren’t pretty.  They aren’t comfortable.  But man, are they practical.  And they would never wear out!  To think that something as commonplace as a pair of shoes is a luxury in many parts of the world is humbling.    

Flip flops are the most common type of footwear in the world.  Also known as thongs, jandals or zori (as well as a host of other names), these shoes are responsible for hundreds of thousands of injuries every year, ankle sprains and breaks are the most common of these injuries and they most commonly occur when the wearer steps off a curb or trips when the loose shoe catches on something in his/her path.  Stubbed toes, broken toes, and toe-nail injuries are also familiar territory for the flip flopped foot.  A broken strap can be catastrophic.  Constant wear can lead to flat feet and tendinitis.  Yet, while they are not safe, they have never diminished in popularity in all the six thousand years that they have been in use throughout the world. 

The most uncomfortable shoes in the world!
The oldest pair of flip flops ever found (to date) came from Egypt and date back 4000 years.  Another pair, found in Europe, is 1500 years old and made from papyrus leaves.  Modern flip flops are made from plastic, rubber, canvas, leather, wood, foam or fabric.  They can be quite plain and quite cheap, or they can be very ornate and very expensive. 

The pair I now have from Kenya – complete with Kenyan mud in the treads! – will not likely serve as actual footwear for me.  They are too big for one thing, and they really are very uncomfortable!  They will however be kept in pride of place somewhere where I can see them and be reminded of my good fortune; somewhere where I can look at them and be inspired by the innovative solution they are to so many people’s misfortune.  They will symbolize creativity!

I don’t have to walk a mile in them to understand how truly blessed I am.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Look For the Helpers

I don’t watch the news.  Ever!

I haven’t watched the news for many, many years. 

The reason that I don’t watch the news is complicated.  It involves a great deal of philosophical reflection and while it makes sense in my head, I have difficulty in articulating it.  Today I realized something very deep and profound about myself, that philosophy and the world that I live in.  And it has all become even more complicated – in an astoundingly clear and cathartic way. 

I don’t watch the news, but I do subscribe to Facebook.  And Facebook is often a source of news – whether I want it or not.

The first post I read on Facebook this morning was an announcement of a massacre at an elementary school in Conneticut.  Twenty children were shot and killed by a twenty-year-old man.  A total of 27 people, including the shooter, died in that massacre and for a moment as I read the brief article I actually hoped that world will end next week.  I was horrified.  I was mortified.  I cried.

I cried for those 20 murdered children and the 6 murdered adults.  I cried for their families and their friends who now have to face the holidays without them.  I wanted nothing but to wrap my arms around my two beautiful grandchildren and hug them and tell them how much I love them and keep them forever safe from all the awful things that can happen in this world.

Why?  Why would anyone do something like this?  How could this happen?

As my day progressed and I began to see more and more posts about the massacre, I grew agitated.  It took me a while to figure out what I was so angry about, but it finally dawned on me that I was angry that this “news” had invaded my Facebook.  I go to great pains to avoid the news and here it was, so utterly in my face.  There was no erasing it; no un-knowing it.  I had no control over its appearance in my – apparently aptly named – “news feed.”  And that made me mad.  Then again, a lot of things that appear in my news feed irk me and so I started thinking about my philosophical reflections and why I don’t watch the news and what real good my choice not to watch the news was doing and – here’s the kicker! – why I use Facebook.

As I said, the whole news thing is complicated.  It started in one of my earlier spirituality phases when I was introduced to the concept of energy and read this passage:  What you pay attention to grows.   In a nutshell, it seemed to me, at the time, that if I paid attention to the news, which is mostly bad, it would grow and so if I didn’t pay attention to it, I would, thusly, not be contributing to the perpetuation of all that negative energy.   I thought that I was trying to be the change that I wished to see in the world. 

It hasn’t stopped the news. Nor has it stopped the events that fuel the news.  The news just keeps happening and today 26 people were gunned down and I still read about it.

A while later I read another post on Facebook.  It, too, moved me to tears:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." -- Mister Rogers

It was just the medicine that I needed at just the moment I needed it.  Good old Mr. Rogers.  What a beautiful perspective. 

And I began to realize that not watching the news was not enough to make the change I wanted to see in the world.  I began to realize that the violence in the movies I watch and the books I read are very much the same energy as that in the news.  I began to realize that my rationalization that movies and books are fictional, so not as bad, is just a rationalization.  I am eating my cake and having it, too. 

I started to look for more stories about the incident.  I started to look for the helpers.  And they were there.

They were so blessedly, wonderfully, heroically there.

I am sickened and saddened by what happened this morning.  I cannot even begin to imagine the pain all those people’s families and friends are going through right now. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people that were directly and indirectly affected by this terrifying tragedy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all the helpers!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Table, New Work Bench

Good Enough Construction was at it again today. Out came the drill and the tape measure and the circular saw and the saw horses and the ever-important pencil and in a couple of hours I had a work bench, complete with a tool tray.

A few weeks ago, while building the storage shelves in the basement, I discovered an old – a really old – trestle table in the utility room. It was eight feet long, the legs were bent and rusty and it sagged just a little in the middle. It was rickety and my first thought was: find a pick-up and haul it to the dump. Then another thought struck me: Why not transform it into a work bench?

The rickety old trestle table I found
in the basement

The legs were bent and rusty.
They had to go!
Last week I posted a request for scrap 2x4s, 2x6s and plywood on an FB buy and sell page. Within minutes, a complete stranger offered to give me – give, not sell – the 2x4s and 2x6s that I needed. Cool. I could start the transformation.

I cut the legs and screwed them into place, added the cross pieces and, with no free or cheap scrap plywood, improvised the tool tray with some scraps of panelling that were also in the basement. Two hours later I flipped my creation over, nailed the panelling into place and had a work bench that was much sturdier than the table had been.

Sturdier, but a bit tippy…

I failed to take the sagging in the middle into consideration and so it tends to rock a bit. Only a bit, mind you.  I’m counting on some counter-sagging to even it out in due course.

And I still had time to strap on my snow shoes and go for a short trek to gather some small, fallen trees for a Yule project.

My new work bench ready for
the next project!
It’s been a good day!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lose the Battle; Win the War

Well, the Yule tree has been packed back up in its box and put away. Having pretty much destroyed it, Willow and Oliver were not pleased to see it returned to the basement. Nor was I pleased to have to do the returning. As the saying goes: Pick your battles. This was one battle I just don’t have the energy to fight. As sad as it makes me not to have a Yule tree for the first time in my entire life, I guess it is just the price one pays for giving two really very sweet cats a good home.

I’ve had my melt-down moment. I got mad, bargained, went through denial, got depressed and now have finally accepted that it just isn’t meant to be . The challenge here is to now get creative and festivize (I just made that word up) for Yule in some other way.

As I am writing this, Oliver and Willow are wrestling happily on the floor. They have no concept of how heart-breaking it is for me to not have a Yule tree. I’m struggling at the moment with the wisdom of pets in general and weighing up not having to constantly vacuum up hair, clean a litter box, clip nails and fill food dishes against not coming home to these two little fur balls greeting me at the door every day. The idea of being able to go away (someday) and not have to worry about arranging care for them is appealing. Knitting without having them steal my yarn or planting themselves squarely on my lap as soon as I pick up my needles sounds so peaceful. Not having to keep the bathroom door closed so they don’t shred the toilet paper or take off with my tub plug or razor or bath poof seems like a definite plus. Being able to roll over in bed without one or both of them plastered against my legs would be nice. I have rearranged so many things and changed so many routines to accommodate these cats over the past eleven months.

They say that pets make people happier and healthier; that people with pets live longer when they share their lives with an animal. Today, I think, that was made up by a shelter manager to get some dogs and cats out of his kennels. Today I just can’t see it being true at all. (So there is a bit of residual bitterness lingering…)

As I said, it’s time to get creative. I’ve considered getting a real tree, but that just doesn’t seem to be the right answer. And I don’t really want to go and cut down an innocent tree, just so I can have one this year. Besides that means buying a stand and lights and then having to dispose of it after the holidays. Forget all the needles that it will drop and the fact that Oliver and Willow will still climb it. I thought about just putting out other decorations and ornaments and foregoing any kind of tree at all. What about a cardboard cut-out? Or otherwise creating a surrogate tree…

While composing this missive, a friend sent me a picture of the perfect solution! It means a bit of fussing about, but it will be lovely.

Stay tuned. The cats may have won the battle, but I’m going to win the war!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How About That?

It’s almost – and I do stress almost! – December. Which means, of course that the holidays are almost – ALMOST! – upon us.


There are still 27 days until the “big day.” That’s three and a half weeks. And quite frankly, if I read one more post about how “I’m going to wish you a …” or “I’m celebrating… so deal with it”, I’m going to scream.

Do you know how many “holidays” happen in December? According to Wikipedia there are 89 special days in the month of December. Eighty-nine! That’s almost 90. That’s almost 100.

Eighty-nine special days are celebrated in various parts of the world in a 31 day period. That’s a heck of a lot of celebration. It’s also a heck of a lot of people who could potentially be offended if their special day is not acknowledged.

Oddly, only one of those days is an official statutory holiday. (Statutory, by the way, means permitted, which effectively negates any of the other 88 special days here in Canada, so, technically, when someone does wish someone else a Happy Hanukah or Merry Yule or otherwise recognizes any special day besides the permitted one, they are, in essence, encouraging something that is statutorily, meaning enacted by statute, meaning a rule or a law, not permitted.) So, does that mean that it is illegal to wish someone a Happy Kwanza? I don’t think so. But you’d never know it by some of the posts you see on Facebook.

What gets me is that Christmas is a religious holiday, statutorily enacted (legally) as a statutory (permitted) holiday that entitles anyone employed to: a) get paid for it if they don’t work it; b) get paid double time if they do work it; or c) get another day off with pay in lieu instead, whether they are Christian or not. This, to the best of my knowledge, is due to the fact that when the statute was enacted, making December 25th a statutory holiday, the majority of people in Canada were, or claimed to be, Christian, and so it was a popular decision. I dare say that the getting paid not to work thing didn’t hurt its popularity. I dare say that if the government said, “Hey, we’re going to make Social Media Day on June 30th a statutory holiday,” everyone would go, “Okay.”

To be fair, the labour laws state that no one can be made to work on a day of religious observance if they choose to observe it for religious reasons. But there is no compensation allowed if someone does say, “Hey, I can’t work next Tuesday because it’s against my religion to work on Yarn Bombing Day.” (Okay, that was a bit cheeky, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point without honing in on any specific non-Christian religion.) Which doesn’t really seem all that fair after all.  But then again, we are dealing with a government who has just recently decided that Christian prisoners can have religious counselling, but Buddhist, Wiccan or Muslim prisoners cannot. Just sayin’.

There are now 10 statutory holidays in British Columbia – New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, BC Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day. (If you happen to belong to a good union, you may also get Easter Sunday and Boxing Day treated as a statutory holiday, and, if you do, be grateful, because no-one in the non-union work world does.) Only March (or April, depending on the full moon following the Spring Equinox) and June do not have statutory holidays. All of the statutory holidays have some significance attached to them. (And, no it’s not really just an excuse to party, though they are designed to be celebrated.) For instance, next February 11th, we are supposed to celebrate families. Only two of them are specifically religious in connotation. (And – for the record – both of those are closely related to traditional Pagan holidays in both timing and traditions.) For those who do not subscribe to the religion attached to those holidays (but are legally bound to accept the full day’s pay for them) they can be a bit of an ethical conundrum. I mean, really. Who is going to say, “No, I don’t want to be paid to stay at home that day.”? Yet how uncomfortable is it to feel like you are expected to celebrate something that does not resonate with you?

Well, I can tell you.


I don’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Yule. I also celebrate Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnassadh, Mabon and Samhain (throughout the year). I do not ask for those days off work. I do not expect to be paid for them if I don’t work them. I do accept the statutory holiday pay that I am legally entitled to for all of the ten permitted holidays, though. For the sake of convenience, I usually celebrate Yule on December 25th. It’s already permitted (as a holiday) and, the solstice is very unlikely to fall on December 25th, so it’s just easier. But if the solstice happens on a weekend, I’m all in for celebrating on the actual day. Like this year!

And I do not wish people a Merry Christmas. I wish people a Happy Holiday on the premise that it includes everyone’s special day, whatever that may be. (I briefly considered interjecting: Deal with it! here, but have chosen, rather, to take the high road and not go there. I think that it has been sufficiently implied.) (I also wish people Happy Yule from time to time, because that means something to me, not because I intend to offend.) (And I’m okay with people wishing me a Merry Christmas – for the same reasons.) (After all, that is the official name of the statutory holiday.) (I’m done qualifying now.)

It doesn’t really matter to me what anyone else celebrates. If I had my druthers, statutory holidays would be universally generic while encouraging cultural inclusion. How about a monthly statutory holiday called People Day? Or World Day? (Or some such.) How about we set aside our differences and celebrate our common humanity together without getting in each other’s faces about belief systems that do not apply to all of us?

How about that?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Willow in a Yule Tree

I’ve had many cats over the years: Ebony, Cleo, Beau, Jazz, Randy, Kato, Venus, Pudding, Josephine, Sunday, Cyan, Petunia and now Oliver and Willow.

Oliver and Willow are rescue cats I got from the North West Animal Shelter this past year. Oliver is a 15 lb. domestic short hair, white with tabby markings. He’s sweet and a bit skittish and has a distinct aversion to all children. He’s about 16 months old. Willow is a 12 lb., 8-month-old domestic short hair with fur the colour of a wild rabbit accented with tabby markings. He’s a ball of curiosity and fearless wonder. And he loves everybody!

Willow is precocious; a true kitten through and through. He’s the kind of cat that will find a way to get on top of a door and drop on your head when you enter a room. He has a particular fondness for boxes and is adept at opening closet doors. His biggest goal in life at the moment is to figure out how to climb up the shower curtain to perch on the rod. Having a bath is only done with him firmly locked out on the hall side of the bathroom.

In all my years with all these cats, I have never once had to concern myself with the safety of my Yule tree. This year it’s a completely different story…

Normally I decorate the Yule tree early in December. I love having the tree up, and now that I’ve converted from natural to artificial, I enjoy it for the entire month. I’ve been anticipating the decorating spree that was originally slated for December 1st. A few weeks ago, I started to wonder… What is Willow going to do?

I decided to bring the tree up even earlier and today I retrieved it from the basement. I thought that I should maybe put it up without decorations for a few days to see how things go. Setting the box down in the living room, I was not disappointed by either of my feline companions. They both woke immediately from their naps and began to explore it. Oliver lost interest after a few minutes, but Willow spent over an hour sniffing, climbing and doing his best to find a way in. I set about cleaning the house while he gave the tree box the once-over.

Before I ate lunch, I opened the box. Will was ecstatic. He climbed right in.

After lunch I took the pieces out of the box and left them on the floor. Oliver gave them a dismissive perusal, but Willow burrowed into the branches, making a game of popping out of them whenever Oliver passed close by. He was in kitten heaven!

Mid-afternoon, I started assembling the tree. Both cats were in awe as I put the three sections together. They circled me and the tree, sniffing and pawing at the branches. Oliver’s curiosity was soon sated and he went off for his second afternoon nap. Not so Willow. It was clear to him that I had just provided a new towy for his amusement. His fascination deepened when I plugged in the lights. I’m almost certain that he’s part crow; he loves sparkly things. But he did remain firmly on the floor and made no attempt to climb or leap into the branches or otherwise give me cause for concern. I was cautiously optimistic.

I settled down at supper time to watch Star Trek X: Nemisis, thinking that the Yule tree was safe and Willow had lost interest. All was well, until a movement caught my eye and I looked over to see Willow crawling – ever so carefully – through the branches. Yay!

Three things ran through my mind: 1) the tree will definitely have to be tied up; 2) it’s a good thing all the ornaments are plastic; and 3) where’s my video camera?!

You can see a snippet of a Willow in a Yule Tree here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

I Can See the Light

It is twenty past five on Friday, November 23rd. I have just arrived home from work to a dark house and no power. My trusty camping lantern keeps me from being plunged into utter blackness. I am without Internet service and there is 88% power left on my laptop battery. I dare say that it is only a matter of time before I find myself without the benefit of any sort of technological advancement at my disposal.

The house is still warm. I’m in no danger of freezing any time soon. I am dining on potato chips and Pepsi rather than the spaghetti and meatballs that I had been looking forward to all afternoon.

The word of the day just arrived in my Blackberry in-box. It is “sustainability.” I find that ironic somehow…

My plan for the evening – besides a spaghetti dinner – included a movie and popcorn with a friend. I have not used the remaining power on my Blackberry to cancel as of yet. I will not give up while hope still remains.

Six minutes have passed. I am beginning to squirm under the weight of being disconnected from the Internet. It presses on my psyche like a book on a freshly picked pansy. I am cut off, severed from the cyber world on which I have become so deeply dependent. There is no Skype, no Facebook, no Google +, no Blogger. No Angry Birds! The anguish is growing within me, writhing, like a living thing.

It has been ten minutes. I am debating calling my friend to cancel our movie plans. Hope is dwindling…

Eleven minutes and I feel I must make a decision. The blackberry has enough power to get me through the evening, if not the night. I will try to hold on a little longer…

Fourteen minutes have passed now. The laptop battery power is at 74%. At this rate I have less than an hour until even that is gone. I’m not sure I’ll make it.

Sixteen minutes and the stillness that has enveloped Alegria is starting to chip away at my sanity. There is no hum from the refrigerator. The furnace is as silent as the night that surrounds us. The cats seem unbothered by the situation. They scamper around me as if it was a bright summer day.

Twenty minutes. I am clinging to the last bit of my sanity. I fear that all hope is nearly lost. I must devise some way of getting through this nightmare. I must hang on… I. Must. Not. Give. Up…

But what is left? How can I possibly survive? How did I ever manage without the Internet?

The only sound is the steady ticking of the wall clock, its tiny AAA cell mocking the diminishing capacity of the laptop. It will tick on much longer than this power-sucking device could ever possibly hope to. I fear that all is lost…

After twenty-three minutes, I have resigned myself to impending doom. Good-bye cruel cyber world. Why have you forsaken me?

Wait! What is that? I hear something…

The refrigerator has come back to life. The printer is re-setting itself. There is a tiny glow from beyond the living room…


I can see the light!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Dish of Humble Pie

This past weekend I was served up an enormous dish of humble pie! With a crow or two thrown in for good measure.

I have a superiority complex. I admit that. I tend to think that I’ve got it all figured out and that the way I figure it is the right way. The very real thought that people should be like me and think like me occurs more often than a clock ticks. If only I ruled the world!

Thank goodness they don’t! Thank goodness I don’t!

As I sat choking on the feathers in my humble-crow casserole yesterday, looking up at that lofty place I thought that I had a right to think I belonged and feeling every bruise from every peg I’d just been knocked down from, I felt deeply ashamed of myself. My life flashed before my eyes and I saw myself in a whole new light. It wasn’t very flattering.

A couple of days ago I posted about a young kid with some serious issues and what I thought should be happening for him. While discussing the situation with someone very near and dear to me, it was pointed out that I have no right to decide what he needs. It’s not my place to impose my opinion on him. Wanting to help and deciding what kind of help is required is not helping at all. In fact, it is counter productive and likely more harmful than helpful. Who am I to judge? And who am I to criticize?

When I realized that I was doing the very same thing that I hate having done to me, I was shocked and dismayed by the duplicity I was practising. I get my back up pretty quick when someone interferes in my life and tries to impose what they think is best for me upon my being. And here I was, doing the same thing to someone else. Here I was being incensed by a perceived injustice and disgusted by an assumed lack of accountability and stomping my feet and demanding that the whole world fall neatly and precisely into the mold I created for it and getting nowhere, because there was nowhere to go.

I was told that caring is enough. I’m still struggling with that. What is intention without action? Then again, what was my true intention? Was it really to help? Or was it something else? I’m a little afraid to poke around in that dark corner. Not sure I want to meet the psychic beasties that are surely lurking there.

The thing is that this whole notion of helping has been a recurring theme in my life. I can’t count the number of times that I have literally exploded with rage when other people have tried to tell me what is best for me without asking me a) if I wanted help; or b) what kind of help I wanted. I’m not above accepting help from people; I just want them to give me the help that I need and not shove their own opinions down my throat. Neither can I count the times when I have done the same thing. I am quick to should all over people with the conviction of perfect knowing.

I want to make my own choices. I need to let other make theirs.

How different would my life be right now if I had not tried to change the people I love? What if I had merely accepted them for who they are and not gotten all wrapped up in my own emotional responses? What if I hadn’t created all the drama that I created by being so judgemental and critical? I’ll certainly never know. There are no do-overs. (Are there?)

What’s done is done and what will be, will be.

Only now I can make different choices. Now I can stop and think before I act or react. (I can but try.)

Sometimes I think that I’m getting too old for this shit. Life lessons can be so exhausting! Sometimes I think that it would be so much easier to be a sheep and just follow along with a bunch of other sheep under the guidance of some benevolent and well-meaning shepherd. Not to think. Not to worry. Not to wonder. Not to question…

Oh, hell! We all know that ain’t gonna happen. Where’s the fun – where’s the challenge? – in that?

So my whole outlook on life just got turned upside down and shaken like a Bond martini. Now I get to rebuild my entire mental and spiritual belvedere. Again!

It has long been the bane of my existence to understand all of this stuff only intellectually. I get it. Be kind. Do unto others as I would have them do unto me. Harm none. Be mindful. Blah, blah, blah…

But it hasn’t penetrated beyond erudition and philosophic reflection. It’s all academic. The question now it: How do I make it Holistic? Am I doomed to be a ponderer and not a practitioner? The karmic implications, striped like a tiger on the prowl, are ready to pounce with teeth bared and claws out to burst the next idyllic little bubble I am prone to ensconce myself in.

Someone posted this quote on Facebook today: “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” —Benjamin Franklin

Oh, what a fool am I? (That’s a rhetorical question – no need to reply!)

Far from feeling sorry for myself, I feel quite grateful. I admire and appreciate the honesty – brutal as it may have been – of the person who made me see the light. I wish more people were like that. I wish I was like that.

I was also told that when I make a choice, I need to ask myself if it lifts me up of pulls me down. If it’s uplifting, go with it. If it’s not, make a different choice. In hindsight, my choice last week did not lift me up. At all. In fact, it made me feel kind of yucky. I did it anyway.

Okay, lessons learned: 1) make sure that assistance is wanted - don’t assume I know what’s best for someone else; 2) it’s okay to question – it’s not okay to fill in the blanks without gathering all the information; and 3) my choices really do have consequences – a bit of reflection can avert disaster.

Now where’s that circular saw? I think it’s time to channel my energy into something productive and creative.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

At a Crossroads: An Opportunity To Make a Difference

Life has the bizarre tendency to throw curve balls at us.  I’ve had a couple of them this year, whipping at me out of nowhere and I’ve survived them.  I dare say that I’ll survive this latest one that has not only eluded my bat, but is now circling me with a moral dilemma and a rush of righteous indignation. 

What the crap is wrong with society?   

How is it that a kid – any kid! - is neglected, abandoned and abused and left without any source of assistance, guidance or even rudimentary help?  How have we, as a community, as a society, managed to get to a point where we are more concerned about making weapons and getting to Mars than taking care of our own planet and our own people?  Billions of dollars are spent on space exploration, on the military, and on other wasteful and stupid things while kids – KIDS! – are abused, hungry, unloved and uncared for right here in our own back yards. 

I’m not going to even pretend that I am the least bit politically savvy.  I honestly don’t give a rabid rodent’s rosy red rectum what goes on in parliament or wherever it is that the elected elite gather to further fuck up our lives with their ridiculous notions of what they think we need.  It’s such a pathetic and unproductive system as far as I can tell and seriously needs to be as abandoned as some of the people it is supposedly in place to serve – forget protect.  The education system has become a joke.  The legal system is a joke.  Social services have become social disservices and the government is a nothing more than a gaggle of squawking geese honking their own horns with little or no idea of how they are impacting the people who elect them, their country or the world.  It makes me sick.

If you can’t tell, I’m slightly pissed off.  As much because I don’t know what to do about it as because of the way things are.  But I do not mean to disparage any of the well-intentioned within these systems who do care and do try to make a difference.  I know that there are many in the government, the law and social services that really do want to make things better.  

I make my living managing a small public library.  I make dozens of decisions every day that have a wide variety of effect throughout the community and even throughout the province.  Sometimes the choices are easy – what books to buy, what books to withdraw.  Sometimes they are not so cut and dried.  Sometimes I have to say, “No.”  To the best of my ability, I try to make the decisions I make with the greater good in mind and I accept and understand that I can’t please all of the people all of the time.  I’m also quite willing to rescind a decision that isn’t serving the greater good and I take responsibility for it, try to learn from it and try to make better future choices.  It’s all I can do. 

I also try to accept that other people do the best they can, too.  I can put myself in their shoes to a point and I can fully appreciate that circumstances are not always conducive to making good choices – in one’s personal life or professional life.  But when I see a kid who no one gives a crap about and no one who could be in a position to do something for that kid steps up, I get a little frustrated. 

We are led to believe that we are a caring society.  We so are not.  And I am as much a part of that lack of caring as anyone else.  I sit on my own high horse and tell myself that I follow the rules, I work hard and pay my bills, I’m a good person who functions in society as I am intended to.  And if I can do it, so can everyone else.  If only it was so simple.  If only it was a perfect world…

My choices have recently landed me in what may be interpreted as a bit of a pickle.  I honestly, within my limited scope of reasoning at the time, thought that my choices were not malicious or threatening or that they would be interpreted as such by anyone.  I actually expected that those affected by my choices would simply adjust and carry on.  Apparently, I underestimated one person who did see them as malicious and threatening and reacted in a manner that frightened me just a little; enough to take the matter to the police, not with the intention of getting this person in trouble, but in the desperate hope of getting him some help.  He needs help! 

For the last four years I have watched this kid come and go in the library.  From the get-go, it was obvious that he has some severely debilitating limitations.  He’s quite intelligent; however, he does possess some sort of mental health issue that I am not qualified to diagnose.  I have some theories, but I cannot be certain.  He lacks social skills, life skills and basic personal hygiene skills.  He is also very curious and has been educated enough to be able to read and write fairly proficiently.  Watching him over the years, I have come to the conclusion that, with some help, he could function quite well.  He is teachable and I think that he could be a reasonably productive member of our community and that he does have something of value to contribute.  If he could get some help!

Three years ago, I went to social services about him.  I was concerned about the way he appeared not to be getting proper nourishment and that he wasn’t attending school.  When we asked him if he was in school, he replied that he was home schooled.  When we asked him what courses he was studying, he wigged out and shut down because he didn’t know the answers.  No one told him what they were supposed to be and he didn’t understand what that meant.  My intention was to get the people that I believed were in a position to help, to help him.  I was told by a social worker that I should call his mother and tell her my concerns.  Really? 

I pressed for them to do something for him instead, but nothing came of it.  I have no idea what, if anything, they did do.  I was told that the family refused assistance. 

The library is a safe haven for this kid, who has been known to walk around with large sums of cash.  When he’s in the library, I can be relatively sure that he’s not causing trouble or being bothered.   Occasionally staff do have to speak to him about his behaviour when it becomes disruptive.  We do this firmly, but kindly, knowing that he can be unpredictable at times in his reactions.  He avoids me and had displayed clear animosity toward me in the past.  I mean him no harm and would dearly love to see him get the help he needs.  I am concerned for his safety and his well-being.  I don’t know how to help him. 

When I discovered that he was sitting on the cold stone benches at the back of the library after hours using the wi-fi, I was alarmed.  Winter has set in and I am uncomfortable knowing that he is sitting in a relatively isolated spot in the cold and dark for heaven knows how long at night all by himself.  He has a laptop and – as I’ve said – carries large amounts of cash at times.  He is vulnerable and, in spite of being left to his own devices most of the time, not very street-smart.  I thought that if I turned off the wi-fi after hours, he would go home, or at least get off the streets and find a safer place to be out of the cold and not in such an isolated place. 

I was wrong.

His reaction was unexpected and even more alarming.  He chased my van down the street. 
Feeling horribly guilty and uncertain of his intentions, I decided to report the incident to the police.  I felt unsafe and I felt deeply concerned about his safety.  My hope, and my intention, was not to get him in trouble, but that he might get the attention of those that can help him.  Chasing a moving vehicle down the middle of the road is not a wise thing to do by any estimation.  I didn’t even see him and only know about it because another staff member witnessed the whole thing.  That was probably the worst part of it for me.  What if he had slipped on the icy road and been hit by another car?  What if he had caught up to me at the stop sign?  What was his intention?  I don’t know.

Based on past experience, I decided to continue turning off the wi-fi at night.  I thought that, as in the past when things have changed, he would adjust and accept it.  He chased me again.  Only this time, he left a few minutes earlier and was waiting for me at the end of the road.  When he saw my vehicle, he started running in the direction that he assumed I would turn, possibly thinking that he could get ahead of me.  Clearly he wanted to see where I was going.  I turned down a different road and doubled back to the library, then turned in the opposite direction and took an alternative route home.  I could see him watching me and could tell he was somewhat baffled by the maneuver.  

What’s next, I wondered.  Is he going to leave a bit earlier next time, go a little further and wait for me so he can see where I’m going?  Why does he want to know?  What does he intend to do when he finds out?   I called the police again.  As with the first report, they were reluctant to get involved.  They are aware of him and are under the distinct impression that he is incapable of causing – or even intending – any personal harm.  I’m not so sure.

Am I being paranoid?  I don’t think so.  He isn’t stupid.  He does not lack intelligence.  He can be quite calculating and cunning in his own fashion.  He has some plan, very likely half-baked, that he wants to carry out.  Whatever it is, I don’t want him to have the chance to see it through. 

I could just start leaving the wi-fi on again and let whatever happens happen.  How shitty am I going to feel if someone – the wrong someone – notices him and accosts him while he’s sitting alone in the cold at the back of the library?  Pretty shitty, I think.  Is it going to come down to someone, either him or someone else, getting hurt before something is done?  And then what will be done?  Do I turn a blind eye?  Do I keep hammering at the police, social services, or anyone else I can think of until something happens?  What do I do?  How can I make a difference in this kid’s life?  Where is the help he needs? 

As I sit here in my lovely home with my nice stuff, my good health, knowing that I have people in my life that care about and love me, I feel grateful, humble and – perhaps incongruently – privileged.  I have it pretty damn good.  I’m happy and I’m more prosperous than a lot of people in the world.  I want to do the right thing.  I don’t know what the right thing is. 

I feel like I’m being called upon to…  do something.  I’m overwhelmed at the enormity of whatever that something might be.  I can’t fix the whole world.  I can’t even seem to be able to make one scared and lonely kid’s life a little better.  I am convinced that, with a bit of coaching, he could make something of himself.  I’m convinced that he could have a decent life with enough food and a safe, warm bed to sleep in at night.  I’m certain that he can be happy.  I want all these things for him.  But I’ve let him down.  Right along with the rest of society.  He’s just been let down.

This whole incident has given me pause.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my own behaviour and motives and have come to the realization that since I’ve not been part of the solution, I must be part of the problem.  There is an opportunity here for me.  I can see that clearly enough.  I just haven’t figured out what that opportunity is or what action I need to take.  My decision was well-intentioned, but poorly executed.  I made a mistake, the consequences of which I must now endure.   I now have new choices to make. 

This isn’t easy for me.   I tend not to be very sympathetic and have little tolerance for people who make bad choices for themselves and then expect others to fix things for them – particularly when the innocent are caught in the proverbial crossfire.  I admire accountability and try to practice that.  At the same time, I get really choked and offended when others don’t live up to my standards and expectations.  It’s a bit duplicitous of me, I know.   I am confident that we all get what we give and that we create what happens in our lives for ourselves.   Intention carries a lot of weight, but it does not absolve misguided action. 

I am off now to do some errands and get on with my projects.   While I go through my day, my duties and my dalliances, I will ponder this crossroads that I seem to be standing at – yet again!  Somehow, something good will come of all this.  It, too, shall pass. 

And hopefully, a better world for all and a happier life for this young kid will be the result.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Storage Shelves by GEC

My latest Good Enough Contracting project is a storage shelf that I am making primarily out of scrap lumber.  Left over bits of fencing and some fairly junky 2” x 4”s have been salvaged in order to organize some stuff that is currently piled up in the basement. 

To make the shelves I needed a circular saw, which I introduced in my last post, and the nerve to plug it in and use it.  Well, I managed to get both and now I almost have a complete set of shelves. 

Nearly done!  Good Enough Contracting's built-in storage shelves.
I ran out of 1” x 4” scraps from the fence, so I’ll have to go down to the lumber yard and get some more.  I'm really not looking forward to that.  The local lumber yard, while handy, doesn't offer the best in shopping experiences – in my experience.   But while I'm at it, in an effort to reduce stress by having to go back, I’ll pick up the shelving material I need to build my TV stand. 

I'm also on the hunt for scrap lumber to make a work bench out of for my shop.  I would so like to get that set up and ready for production soon. 

This whole handy-man thing is becoming quite addictive.  I'm getting braver and incrementally more adept.  I'm finding it easier to turn a vision into a reasonable facsimile of the vision and am generally quite happy with the final results.   I think my shelves are pretty awesome, for example.

Anyway, I'm now going to tweak the TV stand design and get measurements so I can buy the material for it. 

Oh, and I must add a shop-vac to my wish list.  I think I'm going to need one of those babies…

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The C7BMR With IDI Technology

I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone more and more lately.  I'm not sure what’s up with that, but I'm rediscovering things about myself that I had thought long-lost and nearly forgotten.  Or… to be really honest… things forced into the deepest, darkest recesses of my being hoping to be forgotten.

I could have about a million regrets.  I could be bitter and angry with myself for having made many of the choices that I did, tucking them all in under the guise of thinking that I had no choice, but I'm really not that invested in hauling out the pity-party decorations for display.  Much more keen on getting to know my circular saw a bit better! (speaking of comfort zones!)

This is my Hitachi C7BMR 7-1/4 15-Amp Circular Saw with Brake and IDI Technology:

Isn’t she lovely?

I have no idea what IDI technology is.  I think it has something to do with the construction of the motor housing that reduces vibrations, which, if not for said IDI technology, could eventually cause the saw to not work so well.  Or something like that. 

My Good Enough Contracting partner/daughter thinks it’s a girly saw.   The swirlies on the blade and the pretty mint colour have had some influence on her opinion.  Stereotyping is what that is!  Sheesh. 

I also have no idea if Hitachi brand power tools are any good.  This one got excellent ratings and it appears to be living up to its customer review reputation.  Although, I’ve only cut a few boards with it and I really don’t have any direct experience to base a comparison on.  Nevertheless, I’m quite happy with my newest addition to my power tool collection.

Good Enough Contracting is currently in the process of constructing storage shelves in my basement.  The plan is to create a place to put all the stuff that is strewn across the floor of the ex-garage so that the ex-garage can then be converted into a proper little workshop where I can then build other stuff.  I just can’t decide if I want to take out the wall that forms an entryway and re-purpose the shelving that is out there to organize my tools.  (Harry, the ghost, has an affinity for the inside door and I don’t know how offended he would be if I removed it.)  We’ll see how it goes!

Having digressed somewhat from my original train of thought, I shall now continue with what I was leading up to before I wandered off in the wrong direction…

The storage shelves are not, by any means, fancy.  They are being built to serve a purpose and so function over form is where all the energy is being channelled   Also, the scrap lumber I'm using is not exactly conducive to House and Home worthy results. 

Still, that first cut with the Hitachi (so gotta find a name for her!) was exquisite.  It was also kind of crooked.  But what a thrill it was to line up the sights, pull the trigger and guide the saw through the wood.  The smell of the saw dust wafted through the room along with the scream of the blade as it sliced along the pencil line.  It was wonderful. 

I was fifteen years old the last time I used a power tool to cut anything and that was a band saw in shop class.  I enjoyed shop class, but since then I’ve been quite content to let someone else do the cutting part of any project.  And I have to admit that I let myself become used to the notion that saws are beyond my ability to control and use successfully.


I dare say that some more practice is called for.  I guess that means that I will have to keep coming up with projects.  Not a problem.  I have a list! 

And now I have one more tool to help me get through that list. 

Next up…  The TV stand.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

There's a Spreadsheet for That!

I am a confirmed and unadulterated procrastinator.  It is easy for me to put things off – sometimes indefinitely.  Often life has to give me a swift kick in the keister before stuff gets accomplished.  Not that I never get stuff done; it’s just that sometimes stuff is done out of grudging necessity rather than in the spirit of desire.  I am also a long-time mistress to whim, whose fickle fascinations easily lead me astray.  One minute I’m on the road to this and the next I’m beating a path back to that.  Self-discipline is not my biggest forte.

When I do get stuff done, I feel great.  Accomplishment buoys my spirit.  I am happy and proud and unfailingly renew my resolve to “keep it up.” 

Then I log into Facebook and those little icons in the sidebar beckon me to click on them.  Three hours later I’m still third in the weekly Angry Birds tournament, but I’m also kicking ass in Zuma Blitz.  I dare say that 100 consecutive gold medals for lobbing coloured balls from a frog’s mouth is not exactly the kind of thing one wants to be remembered for.  And no stuff has got done.

Halloween has just passed.  Halloween, my favourite festive occasion – Ever! – is considered to be the beginning of the Turn of the Wheel (aka a New Year). It is a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future.  Not unlike the January 1st New Years, Halloween is the point of new beginnings and fresh starts.
And resolutions. 

I’m a bit loath to call them resolutions.  They are more like updates.  I tend to set the same, broad goals every year:  I will not procrastinate so much, I will not eat so much junk food, I will exercise more, I will write more, I will paint more, I will knit more, I will spend less money on unnecessary stuff…  blah, blah, blah…

More than what?  I suspect that is part of the problem.  Anything more than nothing is at least something and, thus, the goal is complete.    I can still say that I did all these things… just not to my real satisfaction.

So I am composing a new set of goals this year.  Specific.  Detailed.  Realistic.  With time lines. 

What a great excuse to create a spreadsheet!  I love spreadsheets.  They make me happy.  And I rarely procrastinate when one needs making. 

I’m off, then.  I can see the colour-coded matrix of plans and details developing in my mind even as I type (badly as it seems due to the high level of excitement about making a spreadsheet…!) and I dare not wait, lest it slip through the sieve that is my memory.  Or I get distracted by another idea.  Which is far more likely.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I Felt the Earth Move Under My Feet

Though the sky did not tumble down, my heart did start trembling right along with everything else around me.

Halloween party, October 27th, 2012 at Alegria.  With me were a few good friends all decked out in their Halloween finest.  Conversation was lively.  The food was good, the drinks were flowing and music was rockin’.

Suddenly, at a few minutes after eight o'clock, so was everything else.

Several thoughts ran through my head.  Something is in my chair.  My chair is about to collapse.    I’m about to go ass over tea kettle when it does.  I'm having an anxiety attack.  Breathe. 

I kept turning and looking in utter disbelief at the chair that seemed, at that moment, to be alive.  Between the very real thought that I should be filming the poltergeist activity I was sitting on and the gripping fear that I was about to have the granddaddy of all anxiety attacks, I was quite paralysed.  Frozen to the spot while I waited for something catastrophic to ensue.

The rocking eventually stopped.  I'm guessing that it lasted no more than half a minute, but it seemed much longer.  When we realized that we had just experienced an earthquake – an extremely rare event in Houston – we all reached for our phones and iPods and the laptop to confirm our diagnosis.  Within seconds Facebook was all a-Twitter with the news.   People started posting links to earthquake sites and we started following them.

A rather large 7.7 magnitude quake hit Masset on Haida Gwaii and was felt all across the north.  People I know as far away as Quesnel felt the shaking and reported their experiences.  Today, aftershocks continue to shake the earth.  Tsunami warnings have been issued and residents in low-lying areas on the islands are being evacuated. 

The large red dot represents the earthquake that happened last night
near Masset on Haida Gwaii.  
I remember as a kid in Chilliwack feeling earthquakes from time to time.  The world would shake for a few seconds and then stop.  It never seemed to me to be a big deal.  Then again, I was a kid and had no real concept of what an earth quake was capable of.  The last time I felt an earthquake was in 1987.  I was sitting on my sofa reading a book when the mobile home I lived in started to shake.  Still holding the book, I automatically got up and walked down the hall thinking that I had to add fabric softener to my washing.  Then I remembered that I wasn't doing laundry.  Again, it took a few seconds for realization to take hold.  Earthquakes are not a common occurrence in Houston, but it was then that I also learned that we are a mere 10 miles away from a fault line that dissects British Columbia diagonally from south-west to north-east through the bottom corner of the Yukon and into Alaska.  Wow!

The reality is that Earth is in constant flux, an ever-changing and dynamic entity that offers the life it sustains no guarantees.  We are all at the mercy of a constantly evolving world that has no concern for our concerns.  Earth does what Earth does, affecting us without malice or spite as its driving force (unlike us?).  Yet we continue to be offended when disaster strikes. 

Last night as I cleaned up my house and prepared for bed, I kept thinking about how precious and precarious life is.  The brief time we have on this planet is so wasted with greed and hate and revenge and fear.  It’s also delightfully peppered with joy and love and kindness.   I felt a whole new appreciation for the blessings in my life as I crawled into my warm bed in my awesome home with my two adorable cats snuggling in next to me.  I thought about my friends and family, my job, my skills…  and I prayed to be a better person than I am; to care for and use these things lovingly, compassionately and kindly.

This morning with the snow so fresh on the ground and the soft sounds of music filling my home, the coffee tastes just a little better, the cats’ fur is just a little softer and my old couch is just a little more comfy than it was yesterday.   And I sit here pondering the wonder of being alive, of experiencing.  I speculate and deliberate once again on what it all means.  The world didn't just shift last night; I did, too.  To where and to what, I'm not yet sure…