Saturday, December 21, 2013

We're Not Gonna Take It!

Today is a day that is meant for celebration.  In the Pagan tradition, it is called Yule.  It marks the first day of the Winter season, the shortest day of the year and the time to acknowledge the coming return of the sun as it grows stronger and the days start to get longer.  In tribute to the new season, the sun is represented by the Horned One, the male aspect of creation.  Often depicted as a stag, the Horned One is a symbol of strength, protection and the life force in animals (including humans!).  Sometimes he is represented as the Green Man or Jack-of-the-Green.  He arrives today with the gift of the promise of Spring renewal and he is honoured at feasts where sharing the bounty of the harvests with others is a gesture of appreciation for all the wonderful blessings received and yet to come.

But for one local couple, this day is a day of sadness and frustration.  J and D woke up to find their holiday light display destroyed.  Many hours had been invested in decorating their yard with festive and jolly lighted ornaments for all who passed by to see and enjoy.   Then someone came by in the dark of the night and smashed it all.  Snoopy was torn from his dog house.  Santa’s legs were both broken.  A lamppost was bent in half.  And the pretty exhibition was left in a shambles. 

Who does this?  Who thinks that it is okay to ruin things like this?  Who has so little regard for their community?  For these lovely and festive trimmings did, indeed, belong to the community.  It sickens and saddens me that this element thrives in Houston.  Yet, I must accept that the good always must come with the bad.  That doesn’t mean that this malicious behaviour must be tolerated.  In fact, as a community, we need to make sure that the culprits are either held responsible, or, at the very least, get the message – loud and clear – that the rest of us will not sit down and just take it.

Earlier this year I had to replace a hose holder thingie at the library after someone broke it and left the pieces laying on the walkway.  I was quite put out by this minor bit of vandalism and my first impulse was to just remove what was left attached to the building and not replace it.  My initial intention was to drag the hose out of the shed every time I needed it and to keep it locked up when it wasn’t in use.  Then one of the library board members shared a very powerful bit of wisdom with me.

“Fix it,” she said. 

I thought she was nuts.  Why waste the time, the effort and the money?  Isn’t that like inviting the vandals to just do it again? 

“If you fix it,” she said, “you are saying that you care and you are not going to let them defeat you.”

So I did.  I bought a new hose holder thingie and I attached it to the wall and I hung up the hose and I refused to be intimidated into being greatly inconvenienced by some knot head with nothing better to do than ruin things just because. 

I hope that J and D will not let themselves be defeated.  If I had the money I would buy a new display for them.  I will do what I can.

Houston means too much to me, as do the good people in it – like J and D.  We may not be close friends, but we are fellow community members.  And I for one want to see their beautiful holiday display restored.  If anyone else would like to help, please message me or reply to this blog post.  Let’s give J and D a reason to celebrate!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Coyote Socks

My knitting muse is back!

Oh, how I’ve missed her.  And now that she’s back I’m reveling – raveling?! – in the delightful imagery that is romping through the meadows in my mind.  Colours and textures are popping up like spring time blooms and I’m sketching my heart out trying to record as many of them as I can before they fade away. 

This is my latest project…
The concept for these socks has been floating around in my head for a couple of years already.  Not sure why it’s taken me so long to get them out of my head, onto paper, into my computer and onto – and off – my needles.  But here they are.

Contrary to what the pictures show, they are the same length.  I just didn’t notice that the right one had slipped down a little when I was taking the pictures.  I’ll have to get my fabulous model, David M, back for some more action shots one of these days and pay closer attention to such details.

I have to say that I’m pretty proud of how well they turned out.  There are a couple of adjustments that I could make to the pattern, but all-in-all, they aren’t too bad. 

On my needles now are pair of socks that look like corsets.  I’m quite excited about this new design.  They are fun and whimsical; a bit of silliness that should put smiles on the faces of anyone who wears them. 

On my design board is another pair of socks that look like snakes.  The body of the snake appears to be coiled around the leg and the head of the snake is the foot of the sock.   I’ve been struggling with the layout and graphing, but I’m determined to make them happen.  I love a challenge. 

Also in the design queue are two sweaters and a shawl/scarf thing.   Early days for these yet, though.

I’m just so happy to have my knitting muse back with me.   The sketching and graphing and the ever-so-cheerful clicking of knitting needles fills me with joy.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

What Colour is Peace, Anyway?

Controversy alert!  If white poppies offend you, please do not continue reading...

So, I’m having a little trouble understanding the controversy over the white poppy thing.  I do not get why people are choosing to be so offended by it.   Throughout my life I’ve been told that all those soldiers fought and died for my freedom.  Does that not mean that I have the freedom to choose what colour poppy I wear?

For the record, I’m not wearing a poppy at all this year.  Red or white.   Let me explain…

Every year I go out and buy a poppy.  And every year as I pin it to my jacket I wonder why I do this.  Now before anyone gets all bent out of shape and starts telling me that it’s to remember the fallen soldiers who fought and died for my freedom, I do not remember.  WWII ended nearly two decades before I was born.  I am aware.  But I don’t remember. 

And before anyone starts getting all freaky-deaky about that wee fact, let me state for the record that I truly am ever so grateful to be living in a country where I can and do enjoy the freedoms that I do. 

It is not my intention to minimize the impact that the great wars have had on my life in any way.  I do, however, defend the right of any Canadian to choose how they symbolize that impact, particularly if it is in a way that is relevant to their own experience and perception.  I dare say that none of the Ottawa students who adopted the white poppy remember either.

Change is inevitable.  The veterans of WWI and II are nearly all gone.  A new generation of remembrance is upon us and I think it’s important to listen to the youth and try, at least, to understand where they are coming from.  It isn’t the first half of the 20th century.  And they have, as we all have, including the remaining WW veterans, been impacted by many other wars as well. 

Yes, the red poppy is a symbol of peace.  Is it so terrible that – like all things  – it evolve?  Is it really a bad thing that a new generation injects its own flavor into remembrance?  They are not being disrespectful at all.  They are merely saying, “I love the freedom I enjoy and I wish to express it this way.”  What is the harm in that?

So I’m not wearing a poppy this year.  Not because I don’t feel any gratitude for the life I have because of the sacrifices made nearly a hundred years ago, but because I’m grateful every day for the freedom I have.  The freedom to express myself and to symbolize that gratitude the way that suits me because of those same sacrifices. 
This controversy has been referred to as “The War of the Poppies” and I’m conscientiously objecting to it.  I’m actually toying with idea of cutting out an orange poppy and wearing that because while the poppy itself represents peace – which I’m all for, by the way – orange, to me, represents creativity and I think we can come up with much more creative ways of dealing with our differences than fighting about it.  Or judging each other for not complying with our way of thinking. 

I, for one, want to hear what these young students think – why they chose the white poppy and what it means to them.  I’m proud of any youth who feels they have something to contribute, who feels they have a voice and uses it to express how they feel, who is willing to – just like everyone of us did in our own way during our youths – stand up for and exercise their rights and freedoms.  Isn't the fact that these young people are bothering to "remember" at all, the most important thing?

Do we not all have a right to our own opinions?  Do we not have the right to enjoy the freedoms those soldiers fought and died for?  It really does seem to me that telling white poppy wearers they are being disrespectful is basically negating the whole point of remembrance and limiting the freedoms that those soldiers fought and died for. 

By all means, if you prefer the red poppy, that okay with me.  Red poppy wearers are entitled to their opinions, too.  I merely hope that this white poppy/red poppy thing can, rather than be the source of resentment and argument, become an opportunity for cooperation, dialogue, respect, and acceptance between the generations that have such a wide range of experience to draw on.    A real inspiration for real peace!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Boy, Are We In Trouble!

A lot of interesting things happen at my place of work. Some make us giggle. Some touch our hearts and make us feel good. Some make us furrow our brows and leave us quite bewildered.

One such bewildering event occurred today. But it really started a couple of weeks ago when, on behalf of the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency, for those unfamiliar with the acronym), another organization called to book the library’s meeting room for an update on changes that are being made that will affect businesses. The CRA representatives asked for assistance in finding a venue and the organization that contacted us were merely doing them a favour by making the arrangements.

My first question was, “Where do I send the invoice?”

We do not, as a rule, provide space to user-groups for free. And while the fees for using the meeting room are nominal, they are also very helpful to our little library.

No one seemed to know the answer to my question. I wasn’t overly concerned. It was the CRA after all and it seemed reasonable to me that a government agency would a) be willing to pay expenses; and b) have the capacity to do so.

Today was the day that the meeting took place. When the CRA representatives arrived, I entered the meeting room and welcomed them to the library. I then asked who I was to make out the invoice to.

The CRA representatives were two middle-aged(ish) women and at the time I entered the room they were in the process of discovering that the table they were setting up was child-height. Apparently the bright yellow top and short legs were not clues and they stood blinking at the low surface with the same look of bewilderment that I was about to look at them with.

The dark-haired member of the duo looked up at me after a moment and said, “We don’t have any money.”

Several things popped into my head – and nearly out of my mouth – as I processed what she was saying. The CRA – Canada Revenue Agency, you will recall… you know, the place we submit our taxes to… had no money to pay for the use of the library’s meeting room that they requested the use of.

It was all I could do to bite back the admittedly sarcastic retort I desperately wanted to blurt out and left the room. With a look of utter bewilderment on my face!

In hindsight, I should not have been so surprised. Or as optimistic as I had been. A similar incident happened a couple of years ago when another government agency (also federal) expected us to provide them with the use of the meeting room for free. Then I was told “…we expected more support from community organizations. We can’t just waste tax-payer’s money on expenses like this.”

But we are supposed to provide them with a heated, lighted room at our own expense!? Sheesh.

When I returned to the staff room, my assistant was sitting at her desk, diligently working on inventory or cataloguing or some other task as outlined in her job description. I couldn’t keep my bewilderment to myself any longer and said, “Un-freaking-believable!”

“What?” my assistant asked. She’s used to my outbursts and so turned her attention fully to me as I explained what had just happened.

She looked at me, as bewildered as I was, for a second. And then we both burst out laughing.

Boy, are we in trouble!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

They Won't Keep a Good Man Down

The following editorial is my opinion and is not intended in any way to demoralize or otherwise disparage the many good men and women who work at any of the mills in or around Houston. I have been directly and indirectly impacted by the actions of a few only and speak in general terms not to offend, but perhaps to enlighten. I am responding from that place in my heart that has been touched by my own perceptions of injustice. For what it may be worth, no individual is being specifically targeted. References to corporations are my estimation of experiences relayed to me by several people. I freely admit that I have not been privileged to the corporate or management viewpoints relating to any of the conclusions I have drawn over the last 23 years. I do wish, however, to someday have different, more positive perceptions. 

Every day hundreds of people in Houston pack their lunches, don hard hats and work boots and make their way to work in one of the saw mills. They are the employees of what has been the industrial back bone of our community for decades. Houston depends on these mills; they employ a lot of people and contribute significantly to the tax base. They are important to everyone who calls Houston home, whether they work there or not.

But a pall hangs over some of these mills. There is a possible threat of one pulling out altogether, which would be detrimental to Houston in myriad ways. Another one simply seems so corrupt that it boggles the mind. The gross mistreatment of its employees has left a scar on the face of the community; a jagged emotional wound on many of the men and women who have given so much of their lives to making sure that the mill that employs them is successful. Employees have traded – quite literally – their blood, sweat and tears for what is admittedly good monetary compensation. But with little and in some cases no appreciation at all from the corporation and its local management.

I have never worked at a saw mill. I have no direct experience as an employee in one. I speak, though, from the experience of a wife and a friend who has seen the results of the mental and emotional abuse that appears to be dished out on a regular basis to people that I care about. I’ve watched good men beaten into submission, forced to take months of stress leave just to deal with the crap. I’ve witnessed attempts to fight back, to stand up for employees’ rights as human beings to fair treatment. I’ve seen the results of the back-handed manipulation that the management allegedly used to respond to these attempts. I’ve watched the way the union has failed over and over to protect the people that support it with their hard-earned wages. And it sickens me.

Employees are not merely treated like numbers. It’s much worse than that. I’ve heard stories of paperwork that has been suppressed by management who then blames the employee for not handing it in on time; requests for maintenance that have been ignored and then when equipment fails, it is blamed on the employees for not doing the work; applications for equipment that has been asked for and not provided, causing hold-ups in maintenance work that is blamed on the employees. I have been regaled with tales of management pitting employees against each other resulting in resentment and animosity on the production line. And on it has gone.

For the past 23+ years I have heard these stories repeated by several past and present mill employees. The anger and bitterness is palpable in the inflection of their voices. It’s disturbing to watch as their eyes glaze over with the remembrance of the incidents that they are imparting. It hurts to see these good people hurting this way.

I have worked in toxic environments. I have been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty stuff from bosses and co-workers. I also had the luxury to walk away from these jobs, knowing that I had the support of someone at home while I looked for other employment opportunities. Many of the people who have reported the abuses of mill management to me do not have that luxury, rather they have dependents – wives and children – and need to keep working there to pay the mortgage and feed their families. It’s not easy to walk away from the wages and benefits that bind them to the abuse.

If there’s one thing that I am grateful for, it is my current job. I work in a wonderful place with wonderful people and, as a boss now, not a day goes by that I do not think about how appreciative I am for the staff and board that I work with. I try to show that appreciation as much as possible. A bit of praise. A word of thanks. It’s not much, but I hope that it at least lets my staff and board know that I value them as people and recognize their contribution to the successes we realize together at HPL.

I try to encourage innovation and creativity. I don’t always agree with their ideas, but the staff knows they can share them and that we can work together to find a way to make them happen. Sometimes nothing comes of them. Sometimes we accomplish amazing things. Sometimes they are shelved temporarily until the pieces that will make them work can be gathered. There are times when I sit back and marvel at the things going on around me and my heart is filled with pride. I go home with a deep sense of satisfaction.

Not everything goes smoothly all the time. We have our problems. We have our miscommunications. There are instances where someone isn’t sure of policy or procedure and makes a mistaken judgment call. And then we fix it. Together. A teaching/learning moment bonds us even closer and everybody – staff and patrons alike – ultimately benefits. Granted life and limb is not likely to ever be at stake, but the point is I do what I can to take a positive approach to solving problems.

I can’t help but wonder why any employer would want to treat the people that it depends on to be successful with anything but respect and honour. There are more than enough problems to deal with in business without creating enmity and needlessly crushing morale. Instead of acting like they are doing employees a favour by letting them work there, why can’t employers understand that the employees are doing them as much of a favour by working there. Isn’t it a give and take situation?

Not all of the people on the management teams in local mills are corrupt or abusive. There are good people there, too, struggling on a daily basis to try to make things better and, subsequently, I’ve been told, being just as abused as the production and maintenance employees. Their strength is to be commended and I can only hope that one day their efforts will bring peace and prosperity to a factory that is so vital to our community.

There was a time when the mills rewarded their employees with perks like paid floater days, family days, company merchandise, Christmas parties, company picnics and such. There was a time when they supported the community through donations to non-profit organizations and other community projects. There was a time when they were great places to work, when they were shining jewels in the community crown. What happened? Why did things change so much? How did firing someone for trying to assist a seriously injured co-worker become acceptable? I understand that safety procedures are imperative in a place that is full of potential danger, but how can anyone be expected to focus on those details when a man is hurt? Would anyone in management have done anything differently in the same situation?

The thing I keep telling myself is this: any employer that takes this approach does not deserve the skills, experience and dedication of the man that lost his job just for being compassionate. He certainly deserves a hell of a lot better than this apparent lack of appreciation for the two plus decades he has been a dedicated employee – in spite of all the abuses he endured. Yes, he was paid well for the work he did. Yes, he got the training and experience and was able to hone his skills there over the years. Still, to be dismissed so brutally, seemingly without any regard for the trauma he experienced when his co-worker was hurt, is nothing less than atrocious.

I know that he will be okay. He has the support of many people who love him. He is creative and smart and resourceful and will recover from this final cruelty with dignity. His skills and experience will find a better place to be applied. And he will rise above the exploitation, a bright and shining star of kindness, respect and expanded wisdom. He will take with him the many friendships that grew in that dark place and found the light of brotherhood in a shared plight.

What makes me particularly sad is knowing that the industrial icons in our community have a lot of power – power to do a lot of good. They can, if they choose, scrape the tarnish off their increasingly diminishing reputations and become again sparkling jewels of industry, contributing to the economic strength of the community, being examples of integrity, humanitarianism and altruism that they once were, being leaders, being progressive… It really wouldn’t take much. A bit of gratitude. A bit of appreciation.

Instead of cracking the whip, crack a smile! Shake a hand. Recognize good work with a thank you or a kind word. It doesn’t have to be public, expensive or expansive. Just heard! Show a smidgen of compassion. Be supportive. People will screw up – that’s a given. Just distinguish stupidity or negligence from the very real human factor of emotion and trauma or a genuine mistake. No one expects perfection, but a sincere apology heals wounds much faster than time ever will.
I reiterate that this missive stems from my own perceptions and the impact on my own life that I have experienced through others I know and care about. I am truly grateful for and to the industry in this town for all the good things that it has contributed over the years. It is my hope that the existing industry continues to prosper and thrive so that we all can prosper and thrive. Just maybe with a little more benevolence.

Let's Be Sensible, BC

Warning:  This blog post is about the recent death of a local man, my opinion about the legalization of marijuana and the possible connection between the two.  If you are anti-marajuana or if you feel in any way emotionally vulnerable about the tragic incident that occurred on August 11th, you may not wish to continue reading.  I have not been graphic in my depiction of the incident involved, but I am aware that the man who died had many friends in Houston.  It is not my intention to upset or offend anyone.  These are my thoughts and opinions only.  

Right off the top I’m going to put it out there that I have indeed smoked pot.  And, yes, I did inhale! 

I am not a chronic smoker.  I share the very occasional joint with friends.  I haven’t purchased any marijuana for a very long time.  (I can’t afford it!)

Since my first experience with pot, I have been quite unable to understand its prohibition.  Personally, I’d rather see people smoke a doobie than get plastered on alcohol.  I have never heard of anyone smoking up and then crashing their car into an innocent bystander and killing them.  I’m not saying that it hasn’t happened or that it couldn’t happen; I’m just saying that I am not aware of any specific incidents of it.  There must be a reason why there is so much more hype about driving drunk than driving stoned on pot.   I don’t advocate for either one.  I’m merely pointing out the huge gap in attention that is given to both. 

Like any substance, marijuana can be and is abused.   I do think that chronic use does have detrimental effects on the mind and body.  There is documented evidence, for example, that chronic pot use leads to loss of short-term memory.  But then so does menopause and if they make that illegal, I will be at the very front of the lobbyists with the biggest loudest bullhorn, demanding the law be repealed! 

Now where was I …?

I am a member of Sensible BC, the coalition to reform marijuana laws in BC.  Since Washington and Oregon states have decriminalized marijuana, Sensible BC has stepped up its push to do the same in this province, and, potentially, lead the way for the rest of Canada.    While I am not actively lobbying, I am closely following the progress of the coalition and intend to vote for the decriminalization of marijuana if they are successful in getting a referendum next year.

I do not wish to comment on the benefits of the decriminalization of marijuana or its potential impact on the economy and crime.  Nor do I care to make the case for medical marijuana.   I do wish to share a very sad story about the possible impact of its current legal state on the life of one pot smoker.

On Sunday afternoon, a dear friend knocked on my door.  It was shortly after noon and she just popped in for a quick visit to say hi.  I poured us each a glass of water and we sat down at my dining room table to chat. 

A few minutes later we heard sirens approaching and a fire truck sped past my house.  My friend commented that she had heard some popping sounds just as she had arrived coming from the area behind my house.  We got up to go and see.

Sure enough there was a fire two streets over.  It looked like a large spruce tree was burning. 

Then the ambulance screamed by.  Then a police cruiser.  Then another fire truck.
The ambulance was not there long before it screamed back, sirens blaring.  Obviously someone got hurt.

It didn’t take long for the fire to be put out. 

At that point I didn’t think much of it.   I did hope that no one was badly injured.  My friend left to do other things and I carried on with my day.

Later, though, I found out that the home-owner of the place where the fire happened had died.  News reports stated that an explosion caused his shed to catch fire and that he sustained severe burns, to which he later succumbed, trying to put the fire out himself.  Apparently there was a small grow-op in the shed. I know no other details.

Was he in the shed when the explosion initially occurred?  Did fear of prosecution force him to try to fight the fire alone?  Would it have made a difference if pot was legal?  Did he die trying to protect himself from being arrested for a few pot plants?  Was it worth it? 

I have no idea.  But I do suspect that if marijuana wasn’t illegal things may have turned out very differently and Houston would not now be mourning the loss of one of our own or contemplating his sad and horrific death.

JM was 64 years old.  Originally from Newfoundland, he had been living in Houston for many years and worked, I believe, at one of the mills.  He was a quiet man, still handsome for his age and much liked in the community.  I first met him more than twenty years ago when he lived with a friend of ours.  I never did know him well, but I do remember his deep, slightly accented voice and his friendly smile. 

I know that many will not agree with me that the legalization of marijuana is a good thing.  So ingrained in the eyes of society is the perception that pot is bad, that it leads to the use of stronger drugs and it should remain strictly prohibited.  I know that some will read this story and think that if he hadn’t been doing something illegal it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  There are those, no doubt, who will think that there needs to be harsher consequences for the use of marijuana and that that will prevent something like this from ever happening again.  I’m not going to argue any of these points, nor am I going to ask anyone to agree with me. 

But if we blindly accept laws just because they exist and don’t ever examine their validity, aren’t we just puppets?  Play things?  Pawns?  Marijuana prohibition is but one example of what I see as useless laws.  It just does not make sense to me that it is illegal and alcohol, a much more dangerous drug, is sold to us by our own government.  That’s just bizarre.  But I would never advocate for the prohibition of alcohol at this point.  We all know how well that turned out in the 30’s, right?

As of this morning, crime scene tape still encircled JM’s property – the deceptively cheerful yellow a warning to all that something bad happened there.  I can see JM’s clean white pickup sitting in the driveway and his little gray bungalow sits dark and empty in the centre of a lush green lawn.  Police vehicles come and go as officers continue to investigate... the crime?  Eventually the tape will be taken down and his possessions redistributed into the world.  New people will occupy the house and life will go on for the rest of us.  For the time being.

We may never make sense of what happened, but maybe we can start working toward a more Sensible BC, where a couple of pot plants can’t become the nucleus of such a tragedy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Action Changes Things

As silly as it may sound, I drove home with tears streaking through dirt and sweat and a ridiculous grin plastered on my face, quite unable to contain the sense of…  Well, I don’t know how to describe it.  I felt awesome.  And hot, tired, sticky and filthy to boot.  But nothing could quell the pride, the satisfaction, the happiness that enveloped me.

I moved to Houston 34 years ago.  Then spent the next 32 years hating being here and wishing I could be anywhere else.  It was an extreme greener grass case.  And yet, I never did anything about it.  Except complain.  And wish.  And complain some more. 

Then two years ago, two friends from high school came to visit me.  We hadn’t seen each other in over 25 years, but those missing years melted away the moment they arrived and our all too brief reunion became a very special memory that I will treasure always.

The obligatory tour of the town loomed over me like a pall of shame.  What was I supposed to show them?  How was I going to present this backwater town in any kind of light that didn’t require a purple-hued bulb and mind-altering drugs to make it appealing?  But off we went, me wearing the tour guide cap, them wearing the polite smiles.

As we drove around and I pointed out the various “features” it struck me that maybe this place wasn’t so bad after all.  It definitely needed some TLC, but under the red-neckness there was a certain charm about it.  There was potential.  There was…

An epiphany! 

Getting her done!  

This town is awesome.

Since then I’ve had a strong urge to become more involved in my community.  I just didn’t really know how. 
I attend community meetings and I’m the Chair of the H.O.P.E. Society.  I pick up garbage when I’m out walking.  And I have some over-the-moon dreams for this town.

A few months ago, the ACT Committee was formed in town.  ACT stands for Action Changes Things.  I did not join this committee, nor was I even invited to, but I’ve been keeping a close eye on them.  They have some good ideas.

Last week I saw a post on Facebook asking for volunteers to meet at a vacant lot and clean it up.  I was unable to go due to another meeting that I had to be at, but I thought it was a fantastic idea.  And the results were quite wonderful.  In about an hour, this handful of Houstonites gave this shabby, over-grown and neglected corner lot a ton of curb appeal.  It looks like a little park now.  All that’s missing are the benches and swing set! 

The results of the first lot clean-up.
Children pitched in to transform an over-
grown vacant lot
When they posted that they were meeting again last Thursday, I abandoned my own work-in-progress-yard and went over to help out.  I donned my grubby work clothes and a pair of gloves, grabbed my rake and set to forming enormous piles of mown grass, working behind a couple of enthusiastic weed-wacker wielders.  There were kids of all ages with trash bags picking up garbage.  People were mowing and trimming and weeding and loading trucks with the refuse.  Nearly 40 people were there, working, laughing, sweating, laughing and making a difference.  It was truly amazing.  I couldn’t keep the smile off my face!

The cheerful volunteers that came out to help clean up
the old Husky lot on Thursday.

By the time I left, the old Husky lot had been transformed.  Truckloads of grass had been hauled away.  A utility trailer was full of tree branches.  There were stacks of filled garbage bags waiting to be taken to the dump.  Did I say how amazing it all was?

Houston may not be the most exciting place on earth, but it sure is one of the best places to live.  The air is clean.  It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery.  There are fabulous lakes and hiking trails to enjoy.  And it has the best little library – ever! 

But now there is a bit more gloss on it as well.  The shine of community spirit, fuelled by genuinely caring people like Shane, Natasha, Michalle, Paul, Cam, Melanie, Leanne,  Jackie, Jennifer and a host of others who’s action are changing things, is glowing brightly. 

Weeding the garden beds

Raking grass and picking up trash

I’m proud to be a member of this community.  It’s heartwarming to see – not just hear – about opportunities like this that make a real difference.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Knock, Knock! Who's There?

Lying in bed last night with my book and hearing it in my head being read by Nathan Fillian, whose character, Richard Castle from the TV show Castle, is credited for writing it, I was interrupted by a distinct knock on the kitchen door.

I leaned forward and looked out through the en-suite window that is next to the kitchen door and saw no one was there. I decided to ignore it.

A few minutes later another knock disturbed Nathan’s narrative and I once again leaned forward, looked out the window and saw nothing. Once again, I decided to ignore it.

When a third knock threw Nathan off, I decided to get up and check it out.

My first thought was that Willow was outside the door on the deck tossing around his latest kill. But he was sitting at the top of the basement stairs washing his face. Hmmm…

I crossed the kitchen, flicked on the porch lights and looked outside. There was no one there.

Back to bed so Nathan could continue to regale me with Derrick Storm’s adventures.

At 11:30, Nathan was yawning more than he was reading, so I gave him the rest of the night off, closed the book, turned out the light and settled in to go to sleep.

Knock, knock, knock.

Oh, brother.

Clearly, though it sounded like it was coming from the kitchen door, it had to be coming from elsewhere. I laid very still and listened for the knock, concentrating so I could pin-point its origin.

Several minutes passed in silence. Oliver and Willow both snuggled in beside me and within a few minutes their purring lulled me to sleep.

I dreamed that my feet were really dirty, but I could only get the left one clean. The dirt would not come off my right foot. I vaguely recall that there was a sandwich involved somehow, but I have no idea what one had to do with the other. Nor do I care. I think dreams are fun and interesting to recall when I can, but otherwise do not put any stock in them having any special meaning. The knock, however, that woke me – and Oliver and Willow – from this dream was another matter altogether.

It was 2:23 a.m. when the fifth knock at the door drew me from my warm bed with the determination to determine its source once and for all.

“You better be opportunity knocking!” I said to the night as I stumbled through the darkness into the kitchen.

As I approached the kitchen door, I heard the knock again.

Knock, knock, knock.

I couldn’t see anyone outside, but I threw back the dead bolt, flung open the door and stepped outside.

Nothing. No one.

I stood there listening for the sound of retreating footsteps. There was none.

This is ridiculous I thought as I retreated back inside, re-locked the door and helped myself to a glass of water. I figured that, since I was up anyway, I would stop off at the little girl’s room for a minute where, mid-stream, a seventh knock reverberated through the walls from the kitchen door. I ignored it completely.

Back in master bedroom central, Oliver and Willow were both sitting on the bed staring in the direction of the en-suite window.

“There’s no one there,” I told them. “I think it’s just Harry being a bit of a pill.”

I crawled back into bed and fell almost instantly back to sleep. Oliver and Willow snuggled back up beside me purring softly.

At 6:46 a.m. – you guessed it! – knock, knock, knock. I woke up, sat up, leaned forward to look out the window and – no surprise – saw that no one was there. Might as well get up, I thought, and proceeded to get out of bed. Willow leaped down to the floor and raced ahead of me to the kitchen door, through which I let him outside. Oliver sauntered out to the kitchen and proceeded to help himself to breakfast. I did my thing in the bathroom, got the coffee started and sat down to check my e-mail and see what my Facebook pals were up to on this fine Sunday morning.

Just for fun, I Googled “knocking” to see what would come up. Bob Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door was the lead result. (I rolled my eyes.) Written and sung by Mr. Dylan in 1973 for the soundtrack to the movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, this classic rock tune reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. Since then it has been covered by: Vlado Kreslin, Arthur Louis, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Guns ‘n’ Roses, the Alarm, Warren Zevon, Avril Lavigne, Wyclef Jean, Babyface, Antony and the Johnsons, U2 and (Ms.) Randy Crawford to name but a few. It seems that this simple song about a dying deputy has stood the test of time and, at 40 years old, continues to make Old Bob what must be a fair bit in royalties. But I’m relatively sure there is no synchronistic connection to the phantom knocking on my kitchen door, which, while I think is a little slice of heaven, and near which several small rodents and birds have entered heaven, is just a kitchen door.

The second Google result for Knocking was for Knocking, the documentary about the Jehovah Witness’s legal victory to not have to accept blood transfusions. And finally there were references to engine knocking and what it could mean. Nothing popped with either of these, either.

Images for knocking scored pretty much the expected stuff: close-ups of door knockers, both the decorative and the human kind.

So was this just another example of the odd stuff that happens from time to time at Alegria? I’m loath to use the term paranormal, because I am convinced that there is a rational, reasonable, scientific explanation for it. Even being less than three feet away from my kitchen door when I heard a distinct knock and could clearly see that no one was there through it, is not enough to convince me that a ghost is to blame. It was weird. But it was only weird – in that there is no obvious explanation.

I am utterly fascinated by the things that happen in this house. I do wish they would not disturb my sleep. (Or Nathan Fillian’s oratorical recitations.) I also wish they would happen more when other people are around to witness them. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not waxing schizophrenic or something and if the things like the knocking are symptomatic auditory hallucinations associated with that condition. At least no one is directing me to take inappropriate actions and I think that my paranoia levels are well within the normal range… Is there a normal range for paranoia? (Does that sound a little paranoid to you?)

Well, I’m going to knock back another cup of coffee and then head on out to the back yard to relocate some more gravel. Hopefully tonight Nathan Fillian will not be disturbed as he reads more from Storm Front… although if he decides to knock on my kitchen door, I’d be perfectly okay with that!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Beyond Hope

I don’t travel much. I am beginning to want to travel more, but opportunity and funding is somewhat elusive. So I take what opportunities I get and make the best of it.

One such opportunity arose last week. The Beyond Hope Library Conference in Prince George took place on June 10th and 11th and so my staff and I all piled into our Program Coordinator’s Jeep and off we went. Leaving on the 9th we drove for 3 ½ hours and reached our destination mid-afternoon. We checked into our hotel, chosen for its proximity to the conference venue and settled in for two days of conferencing.

Beyond Hope is a bi-annual conference hosted and organized by the Prince George Public Library. It’s designed for the northern libraries that are situated – geographically speaking – beyond Hope (BC). Unlike the big annual library conference put on the BC Library Association each year, Beyond Hope is tailored to the smaller, more rural libraries of the north, being more accessible, more affordable and less overwhelming. It’s a great way to connect with library staff and management with which one has something in common.

As conferences go, this year’s was fantastic. The sessions were varied and interesting. I even co-presented at one session on Interlibrary Connect: the Evolution of Resource Sharing in BC Libraries. It was pretty cool!

Besides conference activities, there was shopping (I kinda over-spent) and I got some time to toodle around an art gallery. I haven’t done that in years and years and it was just a really nice thing to do, even if the art on display did have a bit of a dark side to it. I’m convinced that at least two of the three featured artists are in dire need of some serious therapy. The other one, while a bit creepy, managed to inject a certain sense of whimsy into her work. It was well worth the $7.50 fee, though.

The conference was the main reason for this short foray away from home. And, as with any travel, accommodations are a significant part of the planning. As I said, we chose a hotel close to the conference venue, assuming that, being a well-known chain, it would be relatively comfortable and a decent place to stay. I can attest to the beds being not too bad. Otherwise the rooms were nothing special. In fact they were in need of some updating and TLC. Which might have accounted for the notice in the lobby stating that the hotel was undergoing renovations.

On the ascent to our rooms in the elevator, we took notice of a notice that informed us that the water would be shut off between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. the night we arrived and that there would be jack hammering going on the following day until 4 p.m. Okay. We would just make sure that we had brushed out teeth before 11 o’clock and since we were going to be at the conference during the day, the jack hammering didn’t appear to be a problem.

Right on schedule, the water was shut off at 11 p.m. I had already settled into bed and had just finished a bit of pre-sleep reading when this occurred. I turned off my bed-side lamp, plumped my pillow and scrunched the covers up under my chin. My eye-lids were drooping immediately and I was ready to sleep.

At ten minutes after 11 a god-awful noise tore through the peaceful quiet of my room. It sounded a lot like a repo saw and hammering. I listened for a while – I could hardly help it, it was so loud – to the sounds of sawing, hammering and drilling coming from beneath my room. I was a bit stunned by the racket. But I assumed that it would not (could not) last long. Surely they understood that the hotel guests were trying to sleep.

Apparently not.

The noise got closer and louder as midnight approached.

I decided to call down to the front desk to find out what the heck was going on and was left on hold for several minutes before a very harried desk clerk answered my call. She was clearly stressed (I could tell because the first thing she said was: People are yelling at me.) I didn’t want to be one of those people, but I was a bit stressed, too. I assured her that I did not blame her and asked her to please ask the workmen to stop. I needed to get some sleep. She told me she didn’t know what to tell me and then tried to assure me that the noise would not go on much longer.

At 1:30 I called back. The desk clerk was crying. I asked her to please call the manager and get him/her to stop the noise. I was tired and growing increasingly more cranky with each blow of the hammer, every grind of the saw and all the whines of the drill. She said she was trying. I asked her to give me the manager’s number so I could call him. She said she couldn’t do that. “Then please,” I begged, “go over and tell the worker to stop.” Her response, an obviously desperate ploy to appease me, was to say that they would be done in 15 minutes.

At 2:30 I called back again. It took a lot of will power and discipline not to yell at the poor girl. I’m not good with being over-tired. But I did reassure her that I understood that it wasn’t her fault. I asked her if she had gotten hold of the manager and she said she was calling him. Not sure what that meant, but I didn’t think it meant that she had. Through gritted teeth I firmly suggested that she tell the workers to stop. She said she couldn’t do that. I told her that she absolutely could. She reiterated that she could not.

At this point the work was being conducted directly under the bathroom in my room. At the same time that I hung up the phone, the repo saw flashed up and cut not only through a stud or something, but through my very last bit of restraint and patience and I lost it.

I stomped into the bathroom, beat my heel against the tiled floor and screamed… Well, let’s just say that a vile series of expletives overpowered the power tools, turned the air quite blue and – as I discovered the next morning – accomplished the hysterical feat of adding an element of entertainment to the situation for many of the other guests on my floor.

As the F-bomb dropped, so did the noise. Silence filled the hotel.

I am guessing that my eruption simply coincided with the manager’s issuance of a cease and desist order to the workers and was not the sole motivation behind the muzzling of the motor-driven commotion.

I went back to bed and lay there, eyes wide open for over half an hour longer, waiting for the clamour to start up again. I wanted desperately to sleep, but could not bring myself to fully trust the quiet. Eventually fatigue won out and I fell asleep. For three hours.

The midnight renovations were a hot topic between sessions at the conference. There were many, many bedraggled attendees, looking for all the world like they had just survived the zombie apocalypse wandering about the corridors at the Civic Centre that day. How I managed to get through it, I’ll never know. But I did.

After the lunch break I returned to the hotel with the goal of talking to the manager in mind. When I approached the front desk, I was equally mortified and amused by the fresh-as-a-daisy desk clerk’s countenance; there was palpable trepidation reflected in her face. I was determined to be polite and, having had a chance to calm down (or being too bloody tired to muster much bluff) I asked if the manager was in. I was told he was in his office. I asked to speak to him. I was asked what about. I told her it was about the noise. I was asked if there was anything she could do for me. I began weighing my options. I was told that my room would be “comped” (hotel speak for free). I added my staff member’s rooms to that. The desk clerk apologized. I told her it wasn’t her fault, I appreciated being “comped” and then proceeded to ask what I really wanted to know: What the hell were they thinking? The desk clerk swallowed and told me that they didn’t know there would be any noise involved. Good grief!

I didn’t get to speak to the manager. I have an image in my head of some spineless guy cowering in his office, afraid to face his guests. Clearly he had instructed the desk staff to “comp” the rooms of the guests that complained – the whole thing was rather anti-climactic. I kinda wanted to look the guy in the eye and, perhaps, educate him on the intricacies of renovation work and the need to organize things a bit better, but I’m guessing he now knows.

I’m relatively sure that no one dared pick up anything that even resembled a tool the following night. I can see the Night Audit thinking twice about picking up a pen or tapping a keyboard. (If she didn’t quit after all that.)

The whole affair baffles me. Even if none of the principals involved in the organization and planning for the renovations had any direct experience with construction work, could they really have been that naïve as to think that it could be done without disturbing sleeping, paying guests? It seems impossible. And yet it happened.

Where was the breakdown in communication? Did the manager actually think he was saving money by asking construction workers to renovate a hotel over night? Did he not realize that saws and hammers and drills make noise? Or did the order come from somewhere above him? Was he helpless to stop the mechanizations of corporate bureaucracy? I can’t even begin to fathom it.

As for travel experiences, this one will go down in the annals of personal history as semi-negative. I will check first, before booking any other hotel room ever again, to see if there is any renovation work scheduled during my proposed stay. Once bitten and all that…

And now that this missive is nearly as long as my two-day conference adventure, I will attempt to put it behind me and not let it jade my feelings about future travel possibilities. Surely they cannot all be beyond hope.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dear 16-year-old Self

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: None of the dreams you have now will come true! None.

You will not go to university and get a degree in English. You will not get a degree in anything, because you will not go to university at all. You will not become a famous author, nor will you become a dancer. In fact your long, slender legs that you love so much and consider one of your best features, next to your lovely blue eyes, (which, by the way, will fade to an indeterminate shade of something you will eventually refer to as hazel, for lack of a better word), will become chunky and you will become overly attached to maxi-skirts long after they disappear from the fashion magazines. I won’t even bother to tell you what you will think of fashion magazines.

You will not even graduate from high school. You will quit school in a fit of pique, after a clash with your grade 12 English teacher; the point at which your anger and frustration at having been wrenched from your school and home town and relocated to Houston reaches critical mass and explodes in belated teen-age rebellion, producing unsatisfactory results. You will, however, get your dogwood some ten years later when you ace the GED exam at the local college.

You will not backpack through Ireland, you will not see the sun rise at Stonehenge and you will not vacation in the Maritimes. You will, in fact, develop agoraphobia and suffer from sever anxiety attacks. Flying will become out of the question. Driving will be difficult enough. But you will fight it and overcome much of the fear that will nearly, but not quite, cripple you. You will learn to cope and to deal with the anxiety attacks, though they will never go away completely.

At 18, you will fall in love with and marry a man 13 years your senior and spend the next sixteen years of your life in a passionate and tumultuous relationship that will end with his death. You will feel utterly lost while you watch cancer kill him. Again, you will be frustrated and angry. You will rage and rail at the world for the cruel injustice of his rapid decline. You will mourn his brilliant mind, but not so much the peculiar applications to which he applied it at times.

After his death you will fall in love with another man; this one eight years your junior who will disappoint you in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Your love for him will never waiver, never flag. Even through all the frustration and anger you will experience. (Do you see a pattern developing here?) You will feel heavy sadness over the way he stifles his own creativity, while you take great comfort in his faithfulness and dutifulness. You will eventually, after 14 ½ years, move out and learn for the first time to stand on your own two feet.  Even so, you will maintain a pretty special relationship with him.

You will choose where you live - and oddly you will chose to live in Houston - for the first time in your life when you are 47 and you will name your new home Alegria (which means Happiness – Which is a choice!) You will build a labyrinth in your back yard. You will figure out how to landscape the rest of the yard around it. You will renovate rooms as you are able. You’ll build a fence and grow a garden.

You will take all that frustration and anger and ball it up and bounce it off the heavens, ricochet it off the mountains and sink it into the deepest depths of the oceans. You will once again rebel against the constraints and expectations of others, the conventions and conditioning of society, and you will stand tall and proud as yourself (though your legs will still be chunky).

You will have a series of different jobs, but no career. You will do well at all of them, even find some measure of success at some of them, though none of them will really stir your passion. You will dabble in a variety of interests and earn certificates in things like Yoga, reflexology and healing touch, but you won’t really do much with them. You will search for ways to live creatively and you will always desire to make a living that way.

You will always long to paint and you will putter with a wide variety of crafts, but you will learn that your talent is in knitting and you will become quite good at it. You will start to design and you will be very proud of your accomplishments. You will discover that yarn is your palate and you will use it to create many beautiful things. Even this, however, will wax and wane.

You will struggle spiritually for many, many years. You will look to established belief systems for the answer until your realize that you don’t need dogma or doctrine to be spiritual. You will research and practice and review and rethink and then one day you’ll wake up and find better uses for your time and energy.

You will always question things, though. You will always love pondering, philosophizing, analyzing and theorizing. (now and then it will get you into a bit of hot water, but you’ll survive) You will love learning. And one day you will actually be humble enough to admit that you do not know everything.

You will treasure seven things above all else: your three daughters, two (to date) grandchildren and the two men in your life. These are your reward for giving up university, dancing and writing the great Canadian novel. Your daughters will awe you with their creativity, their passion and their amazing minds. Your grandchildren will enthrall and inspire you.  The men in your life will vex you considerably, but you'll be okay with that.  They will teach you a lot and you will be grateful for their lessons - even the painful ones.

You will begin to take chances, to risk failure and, when you find it, overcome it. You will learn to do things you never thought you could do, like use power tools to make useful things. You will make friends that will make you laugh (you will even build a blanket fort with some of them one night and sleep in it when you’re 50 years old). You will learn how to have fun again; to dream again.

After all this, when your dreams start to reawaken, you will do incredible things. You will learn to love yourself and love loving yourself. You may not go to university. And I’m pretty sure you will never, ever be a ballerina (those chunky legs just won’t pull off a tutu). You may not ever get to Ireland or the Maritimes or see the sun rise at Stonehenge. But that novel… well, it’s still in there omewhere. Perhaps next to the latent painting skills and the myriad knitting designs and the dozen or so lifetime’s worth of other creative ideas that keep you awake at night and vex your bank account on a regular basis.

The most important thing I have to tell you is: You’re gonna be okay!

Love and Light

Your 50-year-old Self

Friday, May 17, 2013

Going Gluten Free

I’ve never been one to follow fad diets. I am firmly convinced that you should eat what you enjoy and enjoy what you eat. The problem with this philosophy is that I enjoy chips and chocolate and pasta way too much. For a while there I was dining on KD more often than could possibly be good for anybody. I’m not much into cooking and I don’t have an adventurous palate at the best of times, so quick and easy is my typical kitchen MO.

I have this daughter, though, who decided to cut gluten from her and her children’s diet (along with most dairy and sugar). Her enthusiasm for healthy eating was, I admit, resisted on my part, even though I saw the positive results she was getting. All the hype about gluten actually irritated me (not from my daughter, but in general) and I rolled my eyes at many people who seemed to be lapping it up. Then the popular Wheat Belly book started making the rounds. As a librarian, it is difficult not to be exposed to these trends and, while I usually smile and nod around gritted teeth when patron demand guides my acquisition budget to them, I will, on occasion, check out (literally) these books to see what all the hype is about.

More and more, people were telling me about their personal experiences with going gluten free. In the past year or so I think I’ve seen several hundred pounds disappear from the bellies of people who espouse the gluten-free life style. I use life-style rather than just diet, because that’s what it is!

A few weeks ago, after only the first few chapters of Wheat Belly, I decided to give it a try. Life without pasta was going to be a challenge, but I persevered. Rice pasta, rice and potatoes are now opening up a whole new world of eating experience for me.

I really missed my peanut butter and jam sandwiches, too. No bread = no toast, no eggs Benedict, no creamed tuna on toast, no grilled cheese sandwiches, no garlic toast, no croutons. Bah! How do people live like this?!

Well, I guess they get creative. And that’s what I’m doing. Gluten-free pancakes work perfectly for sandwiches, eggs Benedict and creamed tuna. Not so much for grilled cheese or garlic toast or croutons, but hey! life’s full of little trade-offs.

I was also dismayed, after recently discovering the wonders of spanakopita, to discover that gluten-free phyllo pastry is non-existent. What? No spanakopita? Unacceptable!

Enter Google and the unearthing of a simple recipe for gluten-free pastry suitable for spanakopita pie.

Enter, also, DebiLyn Smith, author of Running From Cancer: a Tilted Memoir, for Sinless Chocolate Macaroons (page 209). These little treats are amazingly delightful in spite of the fact that they contain no sugar and no flour at all. (Running from Cancer is available at in paperback and Kindle editions, but not on yet.)

And enter as well, my health nut daughter, who recently visited me for a week and showed me just how tasty the GF world of cuisine can be.

In just three weeks I’ve lost 7 pounds. I feel more alert and I sleep better. I have a noticeable rise in energy. And I’m not constantly hungry!

I can still enjoy chips and chocolate. But I don’t feel compelled to wolf down a whole chocolate bar or hoover back an entire bag of chips; a couple of bites and I save the rest for later. (Apparently GF saves money and cuts down on garbage, too!) I find myself more inclined to reach for a piece of fruit or some veggies and dip than junk food. And passing up powdered donuts and mini cupcakes is way easier than I thought it would be.

Hot dogs and hamburgers without the bun are not so bad. I have to eat them with a fork instead of my hands, but I can live with that.

I am amazed, having become a label-reader, how much wheat there is in the food we buy. It’s everywhere, in everything. And, I’ve discovered, it’s addictive. Polypeptides produced in the digestion process actually penetrate the blood/brain barrier and interact with opiate receptors in the brain, giving a mild high and causing – sometimes sever – withdrawal symptoms. Wow! That’s crazy! All because wheat has been so genetically modified to increase yield over the past 60 years or so that it is, in effect, a drug. I won’t get into the economic realities that go along with that. Suffice it to say that it’s one of those little details that food manufacturers and government licensing bodies don’t want consumers to know. (I do love a good conspiracy theory!)

Anyway, I’m off now to enjoy a bowl of porridge and some fruit… yes, an orange sounds yummy. And later spanakopita pie and Sinless Chocolate macaroon baking will be in order. Curry rice noodles, anyone?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Alegria Mystery

I have lived at Alegria for just over two years now.  Right from the get-go strange things have happened in this house.  The first night I spent at Alegria I heard a voice in the basement that sounded like a man muttering on about something.  Though I could not make out any words, the voice was distinctly male and a bit troubled (by my presence?).  The doorbell rings randomly now and then and there is a door in the basement that, if left open, will be shut with some force during the night. 

I have found small piles of spruce or pine needles in various places, accompanied by the strong, fresh scent of evergreen trees.  One day I found several small nails on the floor in the living room, hallway and bedroom, all used, some bent and all with a different colour of paint on the head – none of which matched anything in the house.  I have felt weird cold spots and strange draughts in different places.  I have heard low moans and loud crashes though I’ve not been able to locate the sources.   Things have been moved.  Both Oliver and Willow have reacted to in strange ways, suddenly arching their backs, flattening their ears and hissing at some unseen thing, often in the hallway and sometimes in the living room or dining room.  I have watched them casually walking through the house and then suddenly backing away from something I can’t see, or waking from a dead sleep to leap away in fright from some equally invisible something.  (Bad dreams, perhaps?) 

I do not feel threatened or frightened by any of these odd occurrences.   I fondly put them down to the antics of Harry, the ghost, so named for a deceased previous owner of the house.   Some of them have plausible, logical explanations; others remain mysteries. 

The other morning – Monday I think it was – I woke up and, as per my usual routine, performed my morning ablutions before heading to the dining room to check my e-mail and my Angry Birds Friends Weekly Tournament status.  On my way through the living room I found a large chunk of foam lying on the carpet in front of one of the wing chairs.  Oliver and Willow were circling it with their backs arched and tails puffed out, obviously afraid of it. 

The foam chunk is slightly larger than a coffee cup and appears to be deliberately shaped for some specific purpose, though I cannot imagine what.  I have no idea where it came from or what it was meant for.   The plausible, logical explanation is that it was in a corner under the stairs and one of the cats discovered it and dragged it up stairs.  If that is the case, it is oddly dust-free and clean.  They have retrieved other things – a bracelet and a bullet – from down there.  I have never crawled in and checked to see what else might be lurking in the dark recesses of that space. 

Found on the living room floor: one chunk of foam.
Where the heck did it come from?  
I feel compelled to state that I do not think that ghosts exist.  At least not in the traditional, popular-fiction versions of wispy figures, fully dressed and looking like their human selves.  That’s just nonsense.  It makes no sense to me. 

I have experienced what is popularly termed as poltergeist activity on a few occasions in the past.  Once a stuffed animal flew off my dresser and landed about three feet in front of it on the floor with no obvious cause.  Another time, a bottle of rum slid across the fridge where it was sitting and landed upright on the counter next to the fridge.  And once, at a friend’s house, two framed photographs (among several others) fell face down on the top of the TV on which they were displayed.  What caused these items to move the way they did is a mystery to me.  I have no plausible, logical explanation for these events. 

I find the notion of ghosts to be vastly intriguing.  Experience tells me that things happen, mysterious and extraordinary things, but to assign them to the activities of “ghosts” is simply not rational.  The weird things that have happened at Alegria – and other places I’ve been – are not the result of Harry (or any deceased human) acting out or trying to send a message.  Of that, I am relatively certain.  Those “ghosts” are, in my mind, products of psychological and emotional response to grief and fear and nothing more. 

I cannot explain where the pine needles in their neat little piles, or the nails with their brightly painted heads came from.  I don’t know how the door in the basement gets closed in the middle of the night when I have stood there with it open for long periods of time without it closing.   I don’t know what causes the moaning sounds or the crashing sounds in my house.  I don’t know how things I have left on the counter in the kitchen at night end up in the living room on the coffee table in the morning.  I don’t know what frightens Oliver and Willow and I cannot explain the cold spots or weird draughts (a very chilly gust of air blowing through the shower from the inside, for example.  I suspect that the doorbell wiring is flawed and a legitimate “ding” is followed some time later by its partner “dong” because of this.  Although sometimes the ding and the dong happen together when no one is at the door pressing the button, it is quite plausible that someone did press the button earlier and both the ding and the dong were delayed in tandem by the wiring glitch.  (It is an old house!) 

Both my right and left brains love to play with these events, analyzing and dissecting, searching for both the rational and the fantastical causes.   I imagine a wager going on between them:

Right Brain:  I’ll bet you a million cells it’s a ghost!

Left Brain:  Prepare to lose, Righty! 

Regardless of the hows or the whys of any of this, the funny chunk of foam is another mystery yet to be solved.  I can’t imagine where it came from, but I’d welcome any explanation that anyone might be able to offer.  Did one of my kids leave it behind after a visit?  Was it among some long-forgotten craft stuff somewhere?  Was it under the stairs all this time and only just found by the cats?  (seems logical except for its clean condition)  Or is “Harry” trying to tell me something?  Whatever the explanation, life at Alegria continues to be wonderfully, magically fascinating, curious and remarkable.