Friday, August 5, 2016

Buy & Sell on Facebook

Buy and Sell pages on Facebook
This is how it works:
You post an item for sale.

17 people respond, three of whom ask if the item that you just posted is still available and one person says they will take it.

(Meanwhile two other people have PM’d you at the exact same time – one has questions like: What colour is it?, which is clear in the accompanying photo on the post; and the other one wants your address for pick up.)

You reply to the two people saying that someone is ahead of them.

You  reply to the person who said they would take it on the post.

You go do something else for a while.

The person who said they would take it does not respond, so you PM them to see if they are still interested.

You go do something else for a while.

The person who said they would take it does not respond.

You reply to the first person that PM’d you and ask if they are still interested and two days later they say they are going to pass.

You move on to the next person that PM’d you and they don’t respond.

A week has passed so you respond to the next person on the list in the posting and they don’t respond.

You repeat steps the previous two steps with the same result a few more times.

Insanity begins to set in.

You consider throwing the item in the garbage just to get rid of it.

You let a few days pass and then bump the post.

17 people respond, three of whom ask if the item that you just posted is still available and one person who says they will take it.

You pour yourself a drink and repeat the 4th through 11th steps

You get a text from your daughter saying that someone is going to come and pick up the item.

You pour yourself another drink and run around like a mad person tidying up before they arrive.

They do not arrive.

But your house is tidy and you’re a little tipsy, so you go play Candy Crush.

You notice a PM from someone inquiring about the item and you reply, but you’re still tipsy and you don’t notice that auto-correct has inserted a somewhat suggestive word and hit send anyway.

The person does not respond.

Another week goes by and you consider bumping the post again, but fear holds you back.

You get a PM from someone wondering why you didn’t respond and you go back through all the threads looking for the missed message.

You don’t find it, but you’re ready for another drink.

You respond with apologies and assure them that the item is still available and ask if they want to come look at it.

They do not respond.

The item mocks you from where it is sitting.  By the door.  In the way. 

A drink is now definitely in order and you pour yourself a stiff one.

You put the item away somewhere where it is not in the way, but is also not easily accessible and resolve to accept that it is just not going to sell. (You can’t bring yourself to throw it away.)

The doorbell rings.

You sigh because you don’t know who it is and the house is not tidy.

You answer the door.

A smiling, happy person with a tidy house announces that they are there to pick up the item.

Your eye starts to twitch.

You dig the item out, apologize for your messy house, take the money, realizing that you made about $1/hour after all the time you spent trying to sell it,  and thank the smiling, happy person with the tidy house.

You delete the post on the Buy and Sell.

You join alcoholics anonymous.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Bad Experience Chapter Two

Last week I wrote about a bad experience I had with a corporation.  The experience was frustrating, to say the least.

The essence of the experience is that said corporation was supposed to complete a task on my behalf, but did not.  In the process of trying to sort it out and get the task completed, things got heated - primarily due to a specific representative of the corporation denying that he (or the corporation) was in any way accountable.

Eventually, the task did get completed.  Well, almost.  I now have to deal with extra charges because the task was not done on time and I don't know how much those charges will be, because another corporation is involved and they don't seem to be able to tell me anything.


The task was performed in a less direct way than originally anticipated.  Let's just say we took the scenic route and dealt with the basic part of the task by manipulating the data a bit and arranging its disbursement in a manner that was more involved on my part than it needed to have been.

And while that was happening, somewhere in the deep mechanisms of the corporate structure, someone got the original memo and completed the task as well.

Now had the specific representative bothered to call the deep mechanisms to see what happened to the original memo, he might have been told - and thus been able to reassure me! - that the memo was circulating through the system and was, indeed, heading in the general direction of its intended and desired destination, which was to complete the task on my behalf.   But he didn't.  He chose to finagle a different solution in the pursuit of pleasing me, a disgruntled and dissatisfied customer.


When I discovered that the task had been completed twice, I felt something in my brain snap!  I actually felt it.  Snap!  This was un-bloody-believable.

So I called the call centre... Mostly because I am still quite unable to talk to the specific representative who screwed everything up in the first place... and suffered through the painful process of getting connected to a real person.  (I won't elaborate on that any further.  See A Rant About a Bad Experience for more details... If you dare.)  Once connected, I tried to explain what happened AND remain calm about it while I did.

The man that answered the call was very helpful, very patient and a bit thick.  It took several attempts to map out the events leading up to the duplication of the task.  But he eventually understood what happened and told me that he would have it rectified as soon as possible.  This time I was not given a specific timeline for the pending taskectomy.  And I didn't ask.  I couldn't.

Remember that little snap I mentioned earlier?

Well, right about the moment that he told me that he would rectify the situation, a second, bigger snap... more like a BOOM... occurred.  It was like a small bomb went off in my head and I burst into maniacal laughter.

I couldn't control myself.  I tried!  Believe me, I tried.  But, after weeks of getting the run around and having heard that before,  nothing could stop the waves of hysterical laughter and while I gasped my thanks between guffaws and tears poured down my cheeks and I rolled around on my bed, this poor guy, I'm sure, was contemplating a new career!   Perhaps something that did not involve answering telephones.  Training dolphins, maybe.  Just anything that doesn't require having to deal with wackadoos like me.

When they play the recording of this call for training purposes, I envision a mass submission of resignations and an influx of frightened souls at the unemployment line.  Call centre Customer Service Rep is not a position for the feint of heart!

I have since decided to leave this whole mess with the Universe to sort out.  The bizarre things that have developed and unfolded since my arrival here have left me thoroughly vexed.

My mind is slowly pulling itself back together.  The hysteria is subsiding and as long as I don't think about it, I am not experiencing any relapses.   A full recovery is likely.

Life can be so strange!  Little problems and difficulties pop up out of nowhere and knock you down or pull you off course.  And then something wonderful happens.  In time both the good and the bad fade away and get forgotten, making space for new challenges and new wonders to come to roost.  I dare say that the craziness of the past few weeks has certainly taken a toll.  Yet I feel hopeful and curious about what the future holds for me here.

A bad experience is just that.  A bad experience.  But all experiences have value.  In time I hope to discover the value in this one!

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Rant About a Bad Experience With a Big Business

CAUTION:  contains strong language.  (But only a little bit)

Prepare yourself for a bit of a rant.  I will do my best to be concise and objective and I apologize in advance if I happen to lose my shit in the course of this missive.

Now, I do try - very hard! - not to be a whiner and a complainer.  I work at being understanding and giving the benefit of the doubt where and when I am at a disadvantage as to the mechanisms that go awry and cause me inconvenience.  I admit quite freely that I am wont to freak out first and ask questions later.  It's a terrible habit, I know... which is why I am working on it.  I have a quick temper.  But after a good rant and a reasonable cooling off period, I can deal with things reasonably.

Sometimes, though, this approach is not conducive to a speedy resolution and I fall back on freaking out.  If nothing else, it does get peoples' attention.  (Give the crazy lady what she wants.  Quickly!) And I do get some measure of satisfaction when a particularly unhelpful person is forced to backpedal!

I get it that people make mistakes.  I make mistakes.  It happens.  I don't have problems with people making mistakes.  What I do have a problem with is people who make mistakes and then try to deny their culpability or pass the buck onto someone else.  That, makes me mad.

So!  A mistake got made a while back.  When I discovered the mistake, I steeled my courage and picked up the phone to call the company that made the mistake to report it.  A very personable young man - eventually! (and I will get to that bit shortly) - won me in the customer service call taker's lottery and answered my call.  He listened patiently to my problem.  He even repeated it all back to me to clarify his understanding.  And then he proceeded to explain to me what was going to happen to ensure that the problem got fixed.  Yay!  I thanked him and hung up, feeling quite good about the entire exchange.

The mistake, I was promised, would be resolved in three business days.  I was good with that.  Immediately would have been better, but I accept that the wheels of corporate bureaucracy, policy and actual service turn slowly in reverse!  I didn't even get upset about the two weekend days that fell amid the three business days, thus delaying the desired result.

On the third business day, I checked - after waiting patiently (not my strong suit) - to see if all was indeed well in my world again.

It was not.

Hmmm....   I felt the creep of annoyance slithering around in the shadows of my psyche.

Another phone call ensued.

This time my call was handled by an efficient-sounding woman who called up my file and informed me that my problem had been resolved.  (Deep breath!)  I explained again that it had not and she grudgingly acknowledged it after leaving me on hold for several minutes.  She informed me that the issue had been referred to the person in charge of my file and that he was working on it.  She gave me his direct number and suggested that if I wasn't satisfied that I should call him.  Great!

I called him.  I got his voice mail.  I left a detailed message, stressing the growing urgency surrounding my situation and requested a call back as soon as possible...

It is now that I need to interject a bit more information about myself.  I swear.  A lot.  Nothing relieves the tension better than a few well articulated epithets.  I am a profound advocate for the f-bomb!  I use it freely and without apology.  (Though I do try to keep my blog relatively profanity free.)

...At this point I had not resorted to swearing.  I had managed to maintain a relative calm about the situation and a faith in the business I was dealing with.  My optimism wasn't exactly soaring; neither was it entirely in the toilet.  But it was getting there.

The guy did call me back.  Unfortunately, I was indisposed when my phone rang and I missed the call.  So I called back.  I got his voice mail.  I left another message.

I was beginning to get worried.  Nearly a week had passed since my initial call and I had no idea if or how my problem was being dealt with.  I elected to call the call centre again and see if I could get some nugget of information about what was going on.

This time I got a cheerful young lady who apologized profusely for my troubles and assured me that they (meaning the business) would do everything in their power to sort things out and make things right.  My optimism retreated from the rim of the toilet bowl and alighted on the top of the tank, still well within sight should a sudden dive become necessary.

The cheerful young lady ever so sweetly suggested that I get in contact with the guy in charge of my file, stating that the whole thing could sorted out much faster with him because he was familiar with my file and it wasn't something she could do anyway.

Really?  The first call centre guy I talked to seemed to think it was something he could do.

But okay.  I will wait for the guy with my file to call me.

The next day he did just that.  And then he proceeded to deny that he had any knowledge of what he said I was "claiming" he told me he was going to do before the mistake happened in the first place and that there was nothing he could do about it now.  I would just have to come in to the office, get the stuff I needed from them to go and fix it myself.

And that, my friends, is when I lost my shit and I started swearing.  (Possibly thankfully, it is also when my phone battery died, increasing the colourful language about six-fold, though saving the guy from having to hear it all.)

During the course of all these phone calls I was told a few different things.  I was told that any charges I incurred as a result of the mistake would be reimbursed.  (They will not be.) I was told that the problem was being resolved when it was not.  I was told that nothing I had been told before the problem was ever said.  I was told that it was all my fault in the first place.  (I sat across the desk from the guy in charge of my file and his boss and listened to him bare-faced lie to me about what had transpired on the day he first became in charge of my file.)

As of 11 a.m. most of the problem has been solved.  There is one outstanding issue, but a completely different bureaucracy is in charge of that piece and is - rather oddly - "unable to help" me at the moment.  I have to wait until August to get an answer from them, though the woman who told me this couldn't tell me why.

"Can't you just look up my account?"  I asked.

"Not until August."  Deadpan.  Probably sick to death of repeating herself.

I elected not to push it.  In my volatile emotional state and her very likely shitty job at this particular time of year, it just wasn't worth it.

And so I wait!

Fuck!  (I don't like waiting.)

And while I wait, I shall ponder the pros and cons of switching my business to a different company.

Now earlier I alluded to the time it took for my call to be answered.  This is, without exception, my biggest pet peeve in the whole world.

Who ever thought that it was a good idea to have business calls answered by an electronic system?  Who!?  And why have they not been drawn and quartered for it?

Just to get to speak to a real, live person, I had to listen to three different "menus", two of which had eight choices that I was expected to remember until the end, key in my account number and answer several "security" questions, all of which I had to repeat when, at long (f-bomb alert!) fucking last, and after being on hold for 6 minutes, a real, live person answered.  WTF!?  How is that a good thing?  It took eleven minutes total from the time I dialed until I got to talk to someone.  Eleven minutes!  I timed it.  It was a complete wonder that I was able to be so  polite to the fellow.  And let me tell you, it took a crap load of will power to slap a smile on my face and be polite by the time he did come on the line.

This is not good business.  It is not good customer service.  It just isn't.  It's appalling!  My blood pressure rises even just writing about it.

I have come to the sad conclusion in my old(er) age that complacency is a huge contributor to the downfall of society.  People, myself included, are so disinclined to speak up against anything.  Sure we get mad and frustrated and we rant to our friends and family (and blogs) about stuff.  But who does anything?

All this mamby-pamby, touchy-feely, go-with-the-flow crap is just getting stupid.  I'm sorry!  I really am.  I hate that I just wrote that, but it is!  It's stupid.

I believe in being loving and kind and compassionate.  I do!  I think the world can benefit greatly from a little more loving kindness and compassion.  At the same time, where is the accountability?  Where is the good customer service?  We're actually supposed to be loving and kind and compassionate, but corporations are allowed to treat their paying customers like crap!?  I don't freaking think so!  It's as if this whole movement toward "spiritual enlightenment" is nothing more than a ploy to get people to just bend over and take crap like this up the wazoo.  Where is the balance?  Where has the humanity gone?

I am neck deep in a pool of righteous indignation right now (and wondering how long before I go all the way under).  As someone who goes out of their way to comply to business' policy and procedure, I don't like being treated the way I was treated.   I try to be a good customer.  I may not always be perfect, but I try.  And when I don't understand something, I ask.  If I make a mistake, I take my lumps.  That's all I ask from businesses.  (And that they answer their damn phones!)  Seems fair to me.

Between the call answer system and the denial and misinformation this business dealt out to me and the broken promises, how can I be expected to continue giving them my business?  The real kicker here is that, for the time being, I have no choice.  They have me by the proverbial short and curlies and I must go along with their policy and procedure.  I wouldn't mind so much if their policy and procedure was known to everyone who works for them and wasn't changed from phone call to phone call or appointment to appointment to suit the whims and cover the asses of said employees when they get called out on it.

I can only work with the information that I am given.  If it isn't the correct information, apparently, I am still responsible for the result if I follow the advice.  What galls me most about this whole thing is this conversation (held today at the business in question and slightly paraphrased to protect the guilty):

Guy in charge of my file:  Your lawyer told you you had to ______________.

Me:  Yes.  And that is why, when you brought it up, I asked you what the best way to proceed was.

Guy in charge of my file:  We don't _____________ that close to the [deadline].

Me:  Why would I ________________  if you didn't tell me to do it that way and that you could take care of it?

Guy in charge of my file:  We aren't going to have this conversation.

Guy's boss:  We can't ___________________ that close to the [deadline].  (This is the same woman who just moments before told me the [deadline] was June 31st.)

I am done ranting for now.  I'm going to go read my book and relax a bit; try to muster up some sanguinity.  Maybe next week will be better.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I have a vague recollection of getting on a city bus with my mother as a very young child - maybe 3 or 4 years old.  I don't know why we would have had to take a bus anywhere; my mother always had a car.  But whether or not this recollection is valid, is, essentially, moot.  Even if I did take a bus with my mother as a pre-schooler once very long ago, my knowledge of and experience with public transit remains practically nil.

But living in a city and not driving kind of demands that one become familiar with this complex system of transportation.  And my orientation began yesterday!

We are conveniently located close to a convenience store that sells  bus tickets.  Who knew?  My intrepid and oh, so patient, busing mentor, Bizz, of course.  For $24 I was able to purchase a ten-pack of bus tickets there and at 9:30 a.m. that is what I did.  At 9:39 a.m., I boarded a city bus for what may have been the first time in my life.

And we were off!

Our first destination was a little new age store where I hoped to arrange to do Tarot readings a couple of days a week.  (But that is another story and one I won't get into here.)  Upon boarding, I deposited my ticket into the ticket thingie and received a transfer from the driver.  We had the bus to ourselves, so we sat in the senior seats up front - with the understanding that we would vacate them should a senior (handicapped person or stroller pusher) board.  So far, so good.

The first leg of our journey ended at a transfer station where we alighted and then waited for our next bus.  Buses were coming and going and people were boarding and alighting like pros.  I just followed Bizz and observed.

Two things are important when riding a bus.  First, one must pay attention to the stops along the way.  Second, one must know where one needs to get off the bus.  And, yes, there is an app for that!

The Edmonton Public Transit system has its own app.  It's complicated and caters, I believe, to the seasoned bus commuter more than, say... Well, a newbie like me.  A far easier way to enjoy the ride is to use Google Maps.  Just plug in your destination and tap the icon for public transit and everything is neatly laid out for you.  It even gives you walking times between bus stops if you have to move to a different one.  (Now if I could only get directionally oriented, I'd be able to follow the maps!)

Our second destination was to Johnson's Sewing Centre, where Bizz works.  We went there to show off the mystery quilt that she had completed at seven that morning.  After staying up all night to get this quilt done,  a tired, albeit caffeine infused, quilter on a mission was my teacher and guide.  Once show and tell ended, we packed up the quilt and headed south to Millwoods Town Centre, our local shopping mall, to mail off said quilt and complete the final leg of our journey.

Which we did on foot.  It takes about the same amount of time to walk from Millwoods Town Centre as it does to bus, so we saved a ticket and hoofed her home, where is was my time to be the guide.  I showed Bizz an alternate route through Sister Mary (something) Casey Park next to the Grey Nuns Hospital, a more scenic course.  Along the way we stopped at a little lake - or a large pond - to watch the geese.

My first (or possibly second) experience using public transit was altogether positive.  Even if the reason for it didn't quite pan out the way I had hoped.   Public transit etiquette is, as it should be, fairly straight forward.  Know where you're going.  Give up your seat to the elderly, pregnant, handicapped or otherwise encumbered people.  Do not press the stop request button unless you mean to actually get off the bus.  If you are at a stop where several buses stop and a bus other than the one you are waiting for comes by, signal the driver that you don't need him/her to stop.  This applies to situations where you are the only person there. Say thank you to the driver!  (Just 'cause.)

I think I will enjoy the new-found freedom public transit has to offer.  Even if it is freedom on a schedule!

Which, by the way, is highly dependable!  I have to admit I was impressed at the efficiency of it all.

Ooh!  And the bendy buses are really cool, too!

Friday, July 15, 2016

There and Here!

It's hard not to compare where you are with where you've been; the unfamiliar with the familiar.  Having lived in a small BC town for 37 years, living in an Albertan city is, not to put too fine a point on it, strange.  I am used to seeing, hearing and doing certain things.  Here, in this metropolis, those things are no longer part of my everyday existence.

I'm used to seeing things like this:

More common in late summer and
throughout the fall, black bears were
part of life in Houston.

Deer were everywhere.  It was normal
to see them wandering the streets and
hanging out in back yards.  

Life in a valley meant being surrounded
by mountains

Now I see things like this:

These guys are everywhere, making
dog walking a bit of a challenge.

Magpies dominate the skies.  Crows, on
the other hand are relatively rare.

The skyline is broken by buildings instead
of mountains.  

Another thing I don't see is dogs wandering about off-leash and unattended.  It just never happens.  Here dogs are leashed and with their owners when not contained in fenced yards.  (I have yet to see a dog tied up, but that's not to say it doesn't happen.)

I'm used to being able to walk anywhere.  Any place I wanted to go, I could go on foot in under 20 minutes.  Now, I have to think about and plan for any excursion.  Do I walk?  Do I bus?  Do I get my kid to chauffeur me?  Appointments are not made willy-nilly.  They are given very careful consideration.   (Oddly, I can walk faster than I can bus to the "local" shopping centre.  Might not be so funny in the winter, but for now, it's great motivation to get some exercise.)

Shopping!?  Well, shopping is entirely different here.  Shopping exists!

Events happen here.  And people show up for them!  I'm relatively sure that boredom is obsolete.  At least it should be.

The city is strewn with gorgeous parks.  There are parks everywhere!  Walking trails make exploring the neighbourhoods more interesting.  I just wish there was an off-leash dog park closer by.

I was surprised to see people putting garbage for collection in bags.  Everyone had toters in Houston.  Here, they just put their bags out.  Not even in cans - though some people do use cans.  It's weird.  The first time I saw that, I was horrified.  I'm used to having to protect the garbage from dogs, crows and bears.  Here it doesn't seem to be much of an issue.  And recycling is easy!  Just leave your BLUE bag out with your garbage bags and it's all taken care of.  Love it!

Yes, city life is different.  Not better.  Not worse.  Just different.  I'm adjusting slowly to it.  I was worried that it would be all hustle and bustle, but it's really not.  It just takes a little longer to get places and that has to be factored in when making plans.  You  DO NOT leave for an even ten minutes ahead of time.  You leave at least a half an hour before it starts.  More if you want good parking!

Right now, I'm preparing to master the art of public transit.  That should be interesting!  Haven't done it yet, but I need to make friends with the buses.  I'll tell you all about it.  Soon.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

More Moving Challenges

This move is proving to be somewhat more challenging than one would hope for.  As you know, the previous owners left a ton of stuff behind and it cost us a small fortune to get it hauled away so we would have room for our stuff and, obviously, be able to move in.

We are still trying to get compensation for that little debacle...

But I digress...

First challenge... Or perhaps I should say second challenge... Yes, let's go with second challenge.

Second challenge:  Canada Post.

Now I know a lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about Canada Post.  I don't - usually.  And, to be honest, this challenge isn't entirely their fault.  Sort of.  Kind of.  

The mail forwarding system that Canada Post has in place - for a ridiculous amount of money, I might add - is flawed.  

What is supposed to happen is this:
1.  You give the post office your new address and ask them to forward your mail from your old address to it, which, after charging you stupid amounts of money to do, they agree to do.  (Notice that I say agree.)  In theory, this is pretty straight forward.  Mail coming to address A must be delivered to address B.  
2.  You confidently march down to your community (in our case) mail box with  your community mailbox key and open it up.
3.  You retrieve your forwarded mail.

All systems go.  

The trick to this, I have discovered is timing.  Coming from a small town with a single Cheery post office where everybody knew my name and communication between the grand total of five employees was (almost) assured, and moving to a big city with multiple post offices with hundreds of employees, I failed to consider that things might not go as smoothly as I hoped.  In the name of efficiency, I dutifully applied for, paid for and received confirmation of mail forwarding from my old address to my new address.  

Now it's reasonable to assume that, unless you are moving into a brand new home with a brand new address, that someone lived at the address you are moving into before you and that they had lived there long enough for Canada Post to develop the expected habit of delivering their mail to them there.  It's also reasonable to assume that that someone will also request mail forwarding to whatever new address they move to.  Makes sense, right?  And here is where the timing comes into play.

I requested, paid for and had confirmed my mail forwarding before the previous owners of our house requested theirs.  And in the infinite wisdom of the mail forwarding system, my mail (along with everyone else's in the house) got swept up in that mail forwarding request and is being delivered to god knows where.

And... And here's the real kicker! ,,,the previous owners are not returning our mail!  

Can you say pissed off?  

Patience, little grasshopper, it gets better.

Third Challenge:  The Bank 

Okay, so in the name, once again, of efficiency, we used a mortgage broker to help us find and secure a mortgage.  (And he is so, so cute!)  Anyway, he found us an amazing deal with amazing interest with the Scotia Bank.  Happily, we went in to sign all the paperwork and while we were there we set up an account for household expenses, including the mortgage payment.  But did they take our first mortgage payment out of that account?  The one with the money in it to cover the payment?  No, of course not.  They took it out of my personal RBC account, overdrawing it in the process.  Yay.  Interest fees!  I love those. 

Now, we got our house (and the mortgage) on the 10th of June.  Property taxes in Edmonton are due on the 30th of June.  So we told the guy at the bank that we would deposit the money to cover this year's property taxes into the property tax account so that we didn't end up with a huge deficit next year and the subsequent increase in our mortgage payment that would go with it.  No problem.

Except that they didn't submit our property taxes to the city on June 30th.  

The epithets that followed that little discovery are not fit for publication in this blog.  Rest assured the air was as blue as the deepest, bluest sea when I realized what had happened.  

Okay, so shit happens.  I get that.  And shit can be fixed.  All it takes is a phone call...

More blue air.  I swear, whoever invented those horrible call answer systems needs to be drawn and quartered.  Nothing sets me off like hearing "Thank you for calling (insert corporation name here).  If you are calling about your account, press 1.  If you are calling about your mother's sister's husband's ex-wife's dog, press 2.  If you wish to hear these menu options again, press *.  If you want to speak to a real person hang up and come talk to us in person because we're only going to screw you around until you feel the distinct need to rip your eyeballs out.  Oh and press 666.  Just 'cause we get a kick out seeing how many of you will do that."

As a general rule, I don't throw things in anger.  But one day I might not be able to make that claim ever again!  Answer the damn phone, corporations!  Just answer the damn phone and let me speak to a real person.  Please!  For the love of god, just answer your phones in person.  

Between the previous owners not compensating us for taking care of their garbage, the post office being over efficient with their mail forwarding services, the previous owner's not returning our mail and the bank errors in our automatic payments and submission of our property taxes and the stupid call answering systems I had to fight with to get the problems solved...

I need a drink!  

(Just put a straw in my wine bottle.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Praying They Don't Get Too Big!

So, who knew?

I sure didn't.

A couple of weeks ago my adorable grandson, Nolan, announced that his class had hatched a bunch of praying mantis eggs and that, if "the grownups" agreed, the kids could take one home.

Needless to say, my mind took a flying leap from the comfort zone cliff with a half-gainer and a double twist, and landed somewhere in the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me area of incredulity.  They hatched praying mantises?  They get to take them home?  What?

Of course, I wanted to know what possessed Nolan's teacher to hatch praying mantis eggs.  And where the heck did she get them?

At Home Depot.  That's where.

For thirteen bucks, you, too, can purchase a praying mantis egg case containing anywhere from 40 to 400 eggs.  They hatch in about one hour, according to the HD website.

The idea, apparently, is natural pest control.  They eat anything thing that wiggles and fits in their mouth.  These aggressive and ravenous beasts will help to keep ants, fruit flies, gnats, aphids, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, moths, caterpillars and even grasshoppers out of your garden and out of your hair.  No need for sprays or chemicals.  Just let these crazy things loose and all your bug problems will disappear.

Mind you, you are then left with giant, green bugs scurrying around your yard.  Praying mantises can grow to 20 cm in length.  Though, to be fair - not to mentioned somewhat releived - the species that Nolan's class hatched only grow to be about 10 cm.  All things considered a 4" bug is better than an 8" bug.  But jeez!  Four inches!  Who said living with grandchildren wouldn't be challenging?  

There are over 2400 species of praying mantis in the world and most of them are native to temperate and tropical climates.  Edmonton has a decidedly continental climate.  

So what the heck are these things doing here?  How did this happen?  Why am I, a person who chooses locations to live based on the size of spiders and insects (the smaller, the better) and the type and number of snakes and other creepy crawlies, now wrapping my head around living in  a  place where 4" long bugs are a thing people do? On purpose!  

Imagine running into one of these in your house.
We have two!
Some fun praying mantis facts:

1. Most mantises live in the tropics.  Except for Daisy, the praying mantis formerly known as Little Foot, and Walter, who both live in MY house!

2. Most  mantises in North America are exotic rather than native, having been introduced either by accident or by insanity.  The Chinese Mantis was introduced in Philidelphia in the 1930's.  

3.  Mantids are unique in the insect world for being able to turn their heads 180 degrees.  It's really hard to sneak up on them!

4. Mantids are believed to share their ancestry with cockroaches and termites.  Oh, goodie!  

5.  Mantids overwinter as eggs in temperate climates.  Mating occurs in early fall.  Then the female lays her eggs and covers them in a protective styrofoam-like goo that forms the case - also called an ootheca.  Find one and bring it in during the winter and the warmth will trick the eggs into hatching.  So, for the love of Pete, leave them outside!

6.  Female mantises sometimes eat their mates.  But this only happens about 30% of the time in the wild.  It is more common in labs and other forms of captivity for some reason.  

7.  Manids use their specialized raptorial front legs to capture prey.  Sharp spines line these deadly appendages and are used to hold prey tight while the mantis eats its prey.  Alive!

8.  In evolutionary terms, mantids are quite young.  The oldest fossils date from the Cretaceous period - 146-66 million years ago.

9.  Mantids do eat other insects, but they do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones.  A helpful, pollinating bee is just as tasty as a rose-destroying aphid.

10.  A praying mantis has binocular vision, but only one ear, which is located on its belly just forward of the back legs.  This means that it cannot detect the direction or frequency of sound.  It can, however, detect ultrasound - the sound of an echolocating bat - and thus evade becoming dinner itself.   

11. The word mantis comes from the Greek mantikos, for soothsayer or prophet. Indeed, these insects do look spiritual and mysterious, especially when their forelegs are clasped together as if they're in prayer

At the moment Walter and Daisy are only about a half-inch long.  I admit they are kind of cute.  For now.  But after watching Walter consume an ant last night, I am not looking forward to their first molt and subsequent enlargement.  

I wonder if we'll be able to pitch the pest control theory to the kids successfully....

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Terrible Thing Happened on the Way to My New Life

In the midst of preparing to move into our new house and start our new life together something terrible happened in the world.  Focused as we were on the task of cleaning out all the junk the previous owners left us to deal with so we could bring our own things into the house, this terrible thing  barely registered with us.  We heard the news.  And we kept going.  Our own world, our own troubles trumped the terrible thing that happened... Out there.

I finally had a moment to sit down and pay attention to the terrible thing that happened.  Horrified, shocked and deeply saddened, I learned that a 29-year-old man took it upon himself to walk into a night club, slaughter 49 people, wound 53 more people and finally be shot to death himself by police.
Why? I asked myself.  Why does this happen?  How does someone get to the point where this is okay to do?  How much hate does it take to put someone over the edge and choose to consciously kill and maim other people?  Where does all this hate come from?

I felt the grip of fear begin to squeeze my heart.  For a time I sat with this fear.  I watched it grow.  I watched it transform.  Into hate; dark and ugly and consuming.

With some effort I backed away from the hate and from the fear.  I refused to let it consume me.

I don't know any of the people that were killed or wounded.  I don't know the man that killed and wounded them.  But their loss... I felt it.  I still feel it.  I will feel it for a long time, I think.

This kind of thing seems to be happening with frightening regularity in the world.  It's getting harder and harder to hold on to the beauty and wonder and goodness.  I shall not give up.

I know someone that this same sort of hate is consuming.  Beneath that hate is a wonderful, creative and amazing man.  He's an artist of extraordinary talent.  He's a skilled handyman.  He's an accomplished musician.  He has so much incredibly beautiful stuff to give to the world.  And it's all buried somewhere under a thick and putrid layer of hate and loathing and fear.  Now I fear for him.

I fear what all this hatred will do to him.  Will he end up like this 29-year-old?  I don't think he would pull the trigger.  I honestly can't see him doing that.  There is a tender place still in him that repels killing.  I just hope it is tender enough, strong enough to outlast the hate.

I have seen his goodness.  I have seen the love that he has.  I can only pray that it somehow finds its way back to the surface and shines once again.  I can only pray that he finds his art, his love, his grace.  My fondest wish is for him to find peace and for him to know the great joy that truly risking his heart can bring.

My own little thought experiment reminded me of the amazing power of gratitude.  I have so much to be thankful for and as I ticked off all the many, many things that give me joy, the hate and the fear shrunk back into the recesses of my soul.

We all have a dark side.  We all must at some time face the darkness.  We cannot know joy or love without also knowing fear and hate.  Fifty people lost their lives to hate on June 12th.  While I mourn this tragic loss, I also feel compelled to carry on; to be the best person I can be, to continue to go forward with love in my heart.  Perhaps not just specifically for them, but for all of us- including my beloved friend so lost in his own darkness.

When we get settled, I will light a candle for these lost souls.  I will honour each of them and the sacrifice they made.  May it not be in vain.  May something good come of this terrible thing that happened.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What a Day!

What a day!


I swear I moved more stuff today than we even own.  It was brutal.  It was not fun.

You see, my daughter and I bought a house.  Now typically, when one buys a house, said house is empty of all of the previous owner's possessions and ready to move into.  Makes sense, right?  People take their stuff with them when they move out.

Apparently, not everyone does this.  Some people... like the people we bought our house from, for example... leave all the crap they collected over the years and don't want to take with them behind.  They just leave it.  They make no attempt whatsoever to deal with it.  They just pick through their things and take only the stuff they really like and want to keep.

Last Friday - May 10th - we got the keys to the house.  We were so excited.  I had never seen it before, so I was really excited.  And nervous.  When we entered the house as ours for the first time we were stunned at all the stuff that was still in it.  There was a polite little note from the previous owners explaining that they had left "a few things we thought you might be able to use."

A few things?  A few?

I would hate to see their idea of a lot!

Closets and cupboards were full of stuff.  Food, electronics, instruments, cat food, dishes, vases, decorations, paint cans, tools, cosmetics, candles, plants...  One bin was filled with nail polish.  We could have gone into business with that alone!  It was nuts.

And the more we looked, the more we found.

The crawl space was crammed with scraps of wood and leftover tiles, linoleum and laminate flooring.  There was a pile of tiny pieces of gyproc each about 3" x 12".  A headboard, short lengths of molded plastic back splash, bits of wood and  plastic...  It just kept coming.  And coming.

There were no less than six weed wackers!    Mops and brooms and dust pans and even a vacuum cleaner!  Laundry baskets and laundry hampers.  Three floor fans in various stages of use and repair.  A guitar amp and a guitar.  A computer, a CD player, two sets of speakers, a sub-woofer and other various electronic gadgets.  A hand saw.  A hack saw. And a tile saw.  Clamps and a hammer.  Two socket sets - both nearly complete.  Bags of stuffed toys.  Giant stuffed toys - including a five-foot long neon orange and green squid.  (Which is kind of amazing, actually.)  And garbage!  Literal garbage.

It took three of us two days to gather, sort and organize the colossal pile of stuff.  I estimate that thirty hours of labour went into this wee project.  And about two percent of it was useful and worth keeping.  About two thirds of it went to the dump.  At a cost of $455 to get it picked up and hauled away.  A good pickup load or more is going to the thrift store.


I'm exhausted.  I ache all over.  My feet are threatening to go on strike.  My neck hurts.  My legs hurt.  And I just want to curl up and go to sleep.

I took photos of all the stuff and sent them to our Realtor.  I know it isn't her problem, but I thought I would ask if there was any way she could help us get compensation for the costs of dealing with all that stuff from the previous owners.  The poor woman was as shocked and disgusted as we were and is working on it for us.  Not sure what will come of it, but it is certainly worth a shot.  Had there really only been a "few" things, we would have been fine with it.  But this!  This is just ridiculous.

Thursday we get to do it all over again.  At least this time it will be to move our own stuff in, instead of schlepping someone else's stuff out.  I am so looking forward to getting this done.   But right now I'm going to go and tuck my grandkids into bed.  Then I'm going to follow suit and crawl into my own bed.

Good night, folks!

Friday, June 10, 2016

We Got Keys!

I was so nervous!  I mean nauseous nervous.

It was all I could do to hold back the tears and keep myself together.

We've been waiting for this day for ages, it seems.  And it arrived with yet another reality shift that gut punched me like Ali going for the heavy weight title.  I think I may be in shock.

At just after 4 p.m., the son of our Realtor knocked on the door and handed me the keys to our new house.  I had to sit down.  I had to take a deep breath.  In just a few short hours I would be seeing the house for the first time.

I have lived in thirteen different houses during my life.  This house will be #14.  Of all those places, I have only chosen one for myself; the one I left to move here.  I was so happy in my crazy house on Butler Avenue.  So proud of myself for being able to buy it.  And so thrilled that I got to pick it out.  It was a moment I will never forget.

My daughters picked this house.  Of course, they conferred with me during the process, but I got to actually see it for the first time today.

I unlocked the door and, together, Tracy and I carried Bizz over the threshold.  Which begged the question:  Why do grooms carry brides over the threshold?  None of us knew and I will get back to that a little later.

We entered our new home for the first time together.  It's lovely!  Relief washed over me along with a sense of being home again.  It was the same feeling I had when I first walked into Alegria on Butler Avenue five years ago.  The kitchen is kind of small, but it's functional.  I can see us having feasts and celebrations there.  I can see us laughing and crying and loving and comforting and encouraging each other there.  I can see us being a family there.  I can see us prospering there.

The house is relatively clean.  But the previous owners left us a ton of stuff to deal with.  Every cupboard we opened had something in it. There are bags of toys in the rec room.  There is food in the fridges and the freezers. Nick-nacks, speakers, stereo equipment, tools, a vacuum, step stools and ladders, roller skates... Even a guitar!... are littering cupboards and closets.  There is a ton of garbage, too.  We all wondered what they took with them.

Among the useful items are lawn mowers, a fantastic patio set, glasses and some outdoor storage bins.  But seriously, all this stuff kind of left us feeling a bit put out.  It all has to be sorted and distributed somewhere.  Somehow.  We really didn't need - much less want! - the extra work.

We won't be moving in for another week yet.  I'm both loathing and longing to pack and schlepp and sort and organize.  The added work of dealing with the detritus of the previous owners' lives is a bit of dark cloud hanging over us.  But we will find a silver lining in it.  Yard sale!?  Might as well get something for our efforts.

In the meantime I am going to focus on being home at last.  Sharing my life with Tracy, Bizz, Nolan and Jo is going to be fantastic.  (It already is.)

Now back to the aside about grooms and brides and thresholds...

It seems that back in the day, many marriages started out as kidnappings.  The only way a bride was going to cross a threshold was to be carried.  The current tradition, however, seems to stem from the Medieval European custom of carrying a bride over the threshold to demonstrate the bride's reluctance to lose her virginity.  But other cultures in other areas around the world also practice this gesture, not as a means of force or a show of modesty, but rather as a superstition.  It is believed by some that carrying a bride across a threshold will ward of evil spirits and thwart bad luck.

Our version - the double chair-lift carry - was just us being goofy.  But if it thwarts bad luck and wards off evil spirits... Well, so much the better for us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Galaxy Cat - My Art After Dark Experience

I feel like a kid in a candy store.  As amusing as it may sound to some people, the city is filled with so many wonderful things to do.  The irony of my saying that is not lost on me.  I have shunned the idea of living in or even experiencing city life for nearly four decades.  Now here I am busily scanning the Net for events and meetups that might lead me to the next fun thing to try.

(Still haven't gone ax throwing.  But it remains high on the list.)

On June 7th, Bizz and I traveled to St. Albert to a lovely little wine and tapas bar called Privada.  This cozy little venue welcomed 15 wanna-be painters to an evening of guided art work.  The concept is really quite innovative.  An artist - in this case a young man named Tyler - creates a painting.  Interested participants register to re-create that painting step-by-step.  It's called Art After Dark.

The Art After Dark project that Bizz and I completed is called Galaxy Cat.  In a mere two hours we turned blank 18" x 24" canvases into rather stunning images of cat faces seemingly superimposed over a galactic background.  Our intrepid young instructor patiently encouraged us through the process, making us all feel comfortable and confident.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one that I hope to repeat.

This is what I accomplished:

For anyone traveling in Alberta - specifically to St. Albert - Privada serves an amazing cup of coffee!  And their wine list is pretty impressive.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Welcome to the city.

Wow!  I am officially an...

Wait for it...


After two weeks of intense activity I find myself back in that time warp where things are moving fast AND taking forever.  We are still just over a week from taking possession of our new house and about two weeks from being able to move in. But how did it get to be the beginning of June already? And why is it taking so long to get finally moved and settled. Time has taken on a strange Twilight Zone-ian quality of late. LIfe has a surreal edge to it. I'm fascinated by everything, living in a constant state of wonder and awe.

Visual sensory input reached code overload yesterday. The city is huge. I am in a community of nearly 1 million people and everyone except me seems to know where they are going. I am just along for the ride. And I'm okay with that. At some point I will have to learn how to use a bus. Baby steps!

There is no end to the wonder of this city, though. Every day something new presents itself. Today it was a farmer's market. My big score: Spicy Banana Ketchup! Who knew? It's delicious. And while buying some incredible hand-made soap, the vendor gave me a free Anise lip balm.  

Yesterday, Tracy and I went to a fabulous coffee shop called Remedy. They serve Indian food and the lamb curry was sublime. The mango lassi was incredible! I can't wait to discover more places like this.

Adjusting to city life is going to take a while. For me and the pets. Chessa isn't doing too bad, but Oliver and Kaya are still traumatized. Oliver has been hiding since we got here, though he did come out today for a snuggle and some food. We figure that just about the time they all settle down and accept this place, we'll pack them up and move them to the new house. Trauma times two! Life with three cats, three dogs, a tortoise and two kids makes for a lively time.  

Well, I'm sure I will have lots more to talk about in the coming weeks and months. I'm sure that I could live here for the rest of my life and still not experience the whole city.  

But I'll be giving it my best shot!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Alberta Bound

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything.  It's not for lack of trying.  I've started many posts over the past 9 months or so, only to be interrupted or distracted by other things.  But today I am determined to write something and finish it.

A few months ago I decided to see if I could sell my house this spring.  The idea was that if the the house sold I would move to Edmonton.  It wasn't a solid this-is-happening plan. It was, rather, a let's-see-what-happens plan.  And so with the early snow-melt, I listed my house in mid-March thinking that if it sold at all it would sell in June-ish.  It sold in April!  April 6th, to be exact.  A mere three weeks after the listing went up.

Things got real really fast.

The scramble was on to find a place to live in Edmonton.  My daughters were tasked with that feat and several miles of text threads were generated in the relaying of information back and forth during the process.  There were misunderstandings and tears and happy dances and disappointments and compromises and, finally, consensus.  At what seemed like long-last, though it was only a few weeks, a house was found, a deal was struck and reality got even bigger.

I am leaving Houston.  After 37 years, I am leaving Houston to make a new life in Alberta with my daughters, Tracy and Bizz, and my grandchildren, Nolan and Jocelyn.


I'm thrilled.  I'm excited.  I'm scared.  I'm sad.  I'm freaking out.  I'm oddly calm.  I'm leaving Houston!

I'm leaving my wonderful job at the Houston Public Library.  I'm leaving my lovely house on Butler Avenue.  I'm leaving my amazing friends.  I'm leaving my entire adult life so far behind.  And I'm going to miss all of it!

I'm going to be with my kids and grandkids.  I'm going to new adventures and new experiences.  I'm going to museums and festivals and art galleries and plays and markets and public transit and theatres and a spiritual community of like-minded people.  I'm going to be me!

Houston has been good to me.  It's also broken my heart a thousand times.  It's where I raised my family, learned skills, earned a living, made friends, celebrated life events, laughed, loved and cried.

I'm ready for this change.  As big and scary as it seems at times, it feels so right.  To be sharing my life with people I love and care about again is so amazing.  I've enjoyed having my own place and my own space.  Yet having people I love around to care for and be cared for by is just so comforting.  I can't even begin to express how much it means to me to be doing this.  I can't wait to have dinner with my family and talk about our days.  I can't wait to cook meals for them.  I can't wait to encourage them and celebrate with them and even argue with them.  Oh, yes, I expect there will be some of that!  I can't wait to go to bed at night knowing that they are there and they are safe and well.  I can't wait to wake up in the morning and send them off to school and work with a hug.  I can't wait to have someone to hug again.

But first it's off to FanCon in Prince George for a few days of fun with my beautiful and talented daughter, Alison.  If you happen to be there, please stop by Ethereal Earth's booth and say hello to Morticia (me) and Wednesday (Ali) Addams.  We'll be the ones selling fairy art!  LOL

Then, it'll be back home to clean and pack and say farewell to all my friends and loved ones and get ready to be Alberta Bound!

Alberta Bound