Friday, September 30, 2005

Some of the highlights...

The trip was GREAT! Better than I could have expected! I didn't know how it would go - I was travelling with the staff member that I've had the least contact with and didn't know if we'd gel or not, but we did. It was worth the investment - to build a relationship that needed a little work.

Here are a few of the highlights:
1. A visit to Peggy's Cove (the first 2 pictures below). It's a rugged rocky area with crashing waves beating against the shore. It was a grey day, but still pleasantly warm. The woman on the plane said she HATED Peggy's Cove, but I think she was deluded. I don't know what's to hate. 'Course she was a transplant from Barbados, so she compared every coastline to her home - not a fair comparison. We had "Finnie Haddie" (I think that's what it's called) which is a local dish of smoked haddock, at the restaurant overlooking the shore and the lighthouse.

2. Reconnecting with my friend Tim. He was one of my travelling companions in Africa. It was fun to meet his wife and three kids. His oldest son Noah was quite determined he would help me figure out when to pay the waittress at the restaurant, his second son David was more intent on figuring out my digital camera, and his daughter Laura was fascinated with my beaded African bracelet.

3. Riding the ferry to Prince Edward Island. (Sixth picture below) I love ferries. I love looking out over the ocean looking for land. I love spotting lighthouses. I love the faraway lights of other ships. I love the dipping, gliding seagulls diving for fish. I love the swirling water at the back by the propellor. I love the sea breeze on my face. The only part I'm not too fond of is the foghorn - when I'm out on deck and it blows right in my ear (remember, D & C?).

4. Picking pumpkins with about 40 people from the local community - people ranging in age from 3 to 80. (Fourth and seventh pictures below.) Wonderful people, who give up a Saturday morning to wonder around a field collecting pumpkins because they believe their efforts will help feed a hungry family somewhere overseas. And the sight of plump orange pumpkins, with a background of the Annapolis valley just seems like a scene begging to be painted.

5. A visit to the parents of a good friend of mine - in a beautiful home on Prince Edward Island. Tea and cookies and pleasant conversation.

6. Two words... LOBSTER SUPPER! (Fifth picture below) There's a trend on the island that I believe was started by community centres in small towns. They put on a lobster supper that's similar to a fall supper in churches across the prairies. It's in a big room like a community centre, with very little decor (other than red checkered tablecloths), but AWESOME food! You get a full meal deal (and I do mean FULL!) - mussels, seafood chowder, salads, beverages, lobster and dessert. YUMMY!!!

7. I got to stay in a hotel. (Third picture below.) I thought I'd be staying at the home of my colleague, but his son and daughter-in-law had just moved into their spare room, so they didn't have room for me. Yay! I got privacy and lots of time to myself, and I didn't have to think about being social and making polite conversation all the time. The hotel (actually it was a motel) was rather primitive, with seventies decor and no phones in the rooms (or even a pay phone anywhere that I could find), but nonetheless quite lovely, relaxing, and picturesque. It was just outside Truro, so there weren't any modern conveniences close by, but it was on the edge of a valley, with a river flowing out to sea right in front of it, so the surroundings made up for the lack of conveniences. And it had a GREAT restaurant, with some of the best service I've ever had in a restaurant.

8. A very quick visit to Green Gables (yes, you're right AC, it's the ninth picture). We had a bit of time to kill before our lobster supper, so we stopped. It was closing in 15 minutes, so it wasn't really worth paying the entrance fee, but then, almost by accident, I snuck in the exit to snap a few pictures, and soon found myself wandering through the house. It was a bit of a drizzly day, so the tourists had all disappeared, and I was all alone wandering around the house and yard. It was a brief, but rather enchanted moment. Not too many people get to see that overly commercialized tourist attraction alone, so I count myself blessed.

9. Speaking in three different churches in one day - 2 in the morning and one in the evening. They were 2 very different denominations (Presbyterian and Pentecostal), so it was kinda fun to see the different traditions and realize what things people incorporate into their faith traditions and accept as "gospel truth". It was also nice to realize just how GOOD our church is. Not that any of these was bad, just that they were way more stuck in tradition, and less grounded in community than ours is.

10. A rather rainy day that I got to lounge around and hang out by myself (mostly - I had to go to a meeting in the evening). I get so few of those opportunities these days. I was a little disppointed that it rained and I couldn't wander far, but it was delightful nonetheless. When I wandered over to the drink machine to get a drink, covered up in my rain poncho, a friendly staff person said "miserable day, eh?" and almost by instinct I agreed. But then I realized that no, in truth, it was FAR from a miserable day. I got to curl up with a good book in a quiet hotel room in Nova Scotia - what's not to like? When the rain let up, I wandered into town to visit the infamous Frenchies (a second hand store that's known for having lots of good quality used clothes) and found a few bargains. I had to buy the rain poncho there, though, because when I was done shopping, the rain had started again.

11. Reading a great book recommended by Linda. It's called "In Praise of Slow" and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to enrich their life (and who doesn't?). I may blog about it more another day. I bought it at the airport when I was leaving and finished on the flight home from Toronto yesterday.

12. A great meeting in Toronto. I was hosting and chairing the meeting with about 15 people, many of whom I'd never met, so I was a little nervous and felt frightfully ill-prepared, but it went quite smoothly and exceeded my expectations.

And now I'm happy to be home. I had a really lovely day off today - a visit to Sugar Mountain with the girls, lunch at Bread and Circuses, a bike ride, a visit to the library, date night with supper at Homers with my wonderful husband, and then a public lecture at the university with an inspirational address from Dr. Lloyd Axworthy.

A good week, all in all.

I'm back!

Yes, I'm home! I don't have much time to blog - the girls and I are spending the day together and they don't want me to be too distracted on the computer, but in the meantime, enjoy some pics (sorry - no time for commentary!)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Gotta go now

I'll be up late tonight packing my bags - getting ready to catch a flight tomorrow morning. Gotta get the laundry all clean so that everyone has clothes to wear while I'm gone. Marcel is pretty capable of coping with everything in my absence, but the laundry is still usually my job.

I'm off to the East Coast for a few days - Halifax, Truro, Annapolis Valley, PEI, Peggy's Cove. These are all places I've dreamed of visiting some day and now I get to. The beauty of it is I don't have to spend a penny of my own money doing it. :-) I'm going for business reasons - travelling with my Atlantic-based staff member - visiting supporters and volunteers and getting to know the region a bit. On Saturday, I'll be picking pumpkins. A community group in Annapolis Valley grows a field of pumpkins which they sell and donate the proceeds to our organization (which, for those who don't know, delivers food aid to developing countries).

I consider myself pretty lucky. Not only do I have a great job, but I get to travel to interesting places and meet interesting people. One of the greatest feelings I know is the feeling I get when I hop on a plane bound for a place I've never been before.

And my luck doesn't end there. I have an amazingly supportive husband who forgives me for abandoning him now and then when I have to travel. (Thanks Marcel.) He's gotten pretty used to being the primary caregiver for the girls. Nowadays, ever since I took off for three weeks in Africa, he barely blinks when I leave for ONLY a week.

The girls have adjusted to Mommy being gone too. They don't love it, but they cope. Tonight Maddie tried to find every reason she could think of to convince me I REALLY should bring her along. "They probably have little kids in Halifax, so I should go along." "I like lobster, so I should go with you." (I don't think she's ever EATEN lobster, but she's seen them in their tank at the supermarket and she calls them her friends.) "Do they have sheep? I'd like to see sheep, so maybe I should go too."

I love to go, but in the end, there's always a bit of a churning in the pit of my stomach when I leave my family behind - a mixture of guilt, worry, and a longing to bring them with me. It doesn't last, though, and I don't dwell on it when I'm gone. Thankfully, I do it just enough to keep me happy and not so much that my family resents me.

So, for now, good bye.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Family pic

Time for an updated family photo, so my sister and I exchanged photo shoots. (Go see the one on her blog too :-)

Good looking bunch, eh? (Just don't look too closely at all the bird poop in the duck pond behind us.)

Kissing cousins

Waiting for Peanut to arrive!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

She didn't MEAN to be racist!

Maddie was playing in the front yard when I heard her shout, excitedly, "Mom LOOK! There's Africa people!" And then, because she thought I couldn't hear her from where I stood inside the kitchen, she shouted a little louder, "MOM, LOOK! THERE'S AFRICA PEOPLE!"

I'm sure the African family crossing the street at the time thought my little blonde-haired blue-eyed girl was expressing deep-rooted, family-inherited racism, but really she wasn't. She was just SO excited to see some people who looked like, and dressed like the people in the pictures I brought home from Africa. Remember, this is the little girl who believes that EVERYONE should and will be her friend, and the thought of a whole CONTINENT full of people she hasn't met yet just fills her with glee. She especially wants to learn to dance like the Africans on the video I brought home.

Some day, I want to take my little blonde-haired blue-eyed girl to Africa so she can make a few more friends. In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes open for the African family who live in the co-op across the street and maybe take the time to say hello. And perhaps offer an explanation/apology. :-)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ten years

Tonight we celebrated Marcel's sister's tenth anniversary. At his parents' house at supper, we talked about the wedding ten years ago. The wedding reception took place in a tent in the front yard. It was a lovely day. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone.

My memory of that day brings knots to my stomach and a lump to my throat. My memory of that day is...darkness.

That was in the middle of Marcel's deep dark depression. I remember him sitting on a chair at the wedding, slumped over, no light in his eyes, and no joy in his face. It was scary as hell seeing him that way. He's one of the funniest people I know, and without his sense of humour, he was just a shell of himself. He was in a deep dark pit he couldn't pull himself out of, and there was so little I could do to help.

We tried to get help, but weren't very successful. So few people around us at the time had any experience dealing with depression, so we didn't really know where to turn. In the middle of it all, I did so many things wrong. I was just trying to cope. We all were. I got mad, I cried, I told him to snap out of it, I took him to doctors, I tried to appeal to his guilt - I'm sure I tried every trick in the book. If you asked me now how to help someone going through depression, I wouldn't be able to tell you, because I know I didn't do it right.

After weeks of darkness, a few weeks after the wedding, he gave up hope. He disappeared, and I was sure I'd lost him. He drove to a quiet place and, with a knife he'd taken from our kitchen, tried to end it all.

Thank God, his attempts at suicide failed. When he woke up and found himself still alive, he decided God must have wanted him to stay alive, so he got himself to a hospital. All the while, not knowing where he was for over 12 hours, I waited, I cried, I screamed, I drove around like a mad-woman looking for him, and I longed for just one more chance to let him know I loved him.

Through hours of surgery, we waited - his family and some of mine. In the morning, the doctors told us he would live. I was relieved, but I just didn't know what that would mean. Even if he was still alive, what if he decided to try again? What if he wasn't convinced life was worth it? What if we'd have to face this all over again a few months down the line?

Slowly, though, he began to recover. He got help and learned more about this disease of his. He confronted some of the skeletons in his closet, and figured out how to face them without fear. His doctor prescribed medication, and soon the light began to sparkle in his eyes again.

Four months later, Nikki was born, and fatherhood transformed him. He set about to be the most amazing dad he could be.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years already. At the time, I really didn't know how our marriage would survive such a bumpy road. But we stuck it out, clung to each other, and found our way out of the darkness together. Now we're stronger for it.

Now, ten years later, I have so much admiration for Marcel. He has shown so much bravery in turning his life around. He has faced so many fears and come out the victor. One of the greatest challenges he faced was quitting his job after being in the workforce for 22 years, and heading off to university for the first time in his life. Not everyone will take such a risk late in their thirties. He has learned to cope with anxiety and depression and he has found ways of helping others cope.

He's my hero. I can't imagine life without him. I can't imagine never laughing with him again. I can't imagine not watching our children grow up together. I can't imagine sleeping without the warmth of his body next to mine. I can't imagine not hearing him call me "Buddy". I can't imagine how I could have gone on living if he hadn't survived.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Clawing my way out from under

Sometimes I have nightmares of being buried alive. It's the scariest way I can imagine dying. I remember, as a child on the farm, hearing of people getting buried in granaries - they died trying to claw their way to the top as the ground kept giving way beneath them and the grain kept pouring down on top of them.

That's how housework feels sometimes - like you're getting buried while trying to claw your way to the top. You just get the laundry done, put the last pair of socks in the drawer, sigh with relief, and then turn to see that the hampers are mysteriously full again. Did they wear THREE outfits today while I slaved over their laundry? Dishes - the same way. You wash the last glass, drain the sink, and someone walks into the kitchen with a dirty cup.

Today was one of those days. I worked and worked, and in the end it seems I have nothing to show for it. At 10:00 this morning, the living room was clean. Now there are blocks strewn all over the floor, the couch cushions are pulled off the cushions, Tickle-me Elmo lies there waiting to be tickled, and the books, newspapers - well, you get the picture.

Same with laundry. I got it ALL put away this week - a considerable feat for me. The very next day, the girls started complaining about running out of clean underwear. I wanted to cry. That's one of those things that nobody prepared me for - how much laundry takes over your life when there are five people in the house.

Marcel spent a good part of the day cleaning out the garage - trying to get ready for winter when the car takes back its rightful place in the garage, and the bikes are relegated to their hooks on the ceiling. Same thing there - everything is in order, but by tomorrow, there will be things strewn about again.

We have gotten rid of trailers full of clutter in this house in the last few weeks. We have cleaned and purged and cleaned and purged some more. Clothes, toys, shoes - even some kitchen items. Probably at least 25 bags or boxes of stuff have been carried away. Every closet and every dresser in every bedroom has been purged of stuff that never gets worn or doesn't fit anymore. And yet, you'd never know it. While we made trips to Goodwill, it seems the stuff left behind threw a party and invited more clutter to fill the empty spaces we'd created. It's multiplying!

Today I even went as far as hauling 2 boxes of books to a charity drop box. Books! They don't leave this house easily, believe me. But sadly, though it took me considerable hemming and hawing to commit to giving away those books, all that work resulted in clearing only enough space to fit all the books that didn't have room in the bookshelves before. In other words, as soon as we buy another book, it will have to sit on top of the bookshelf and cause more clutter again until we purge more to make room for it. Or buy more bookshelves. Sheesh!

Oh, I know, it's probably not as bad as it seems. Yes, I do realize that things are getting better, and at least it's a little easier to put away the laundry now that the dresser drawers are a little more empty. But somehow, it still finds a way of spilling out and cluttering up our spaces.

Some day, I just want to clean up this house, and then look around 24 hours later and notice that it is STILL CLEAN!

Perhaps I shouldn't wish for that too soon, though, because that will mean that my kids have grown up and moved away to their own homes. I guess I'll just have to grit my teeth, forgive them their messes, and appreciate the richness they bring to my life. If only their richness didn't come with so much STUFF!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Don't ya sometimes wish life were a film strip...

...and you could just rewind it by 5 minutes and re-create the scene with a more desirable outcome?

I had one of those moments last night, and another one tonight.

Last night it was while I was preparing supper. Maddie was "helping" me, and she had a little pin from Banff attached to her shirt. Something someone had found and pinned on her. In the same split second I heard something fall on the floor, I glanced over at her and realized the pin was no longer there. In the next split second, I felt seering pain shoot up my leg, and I knew where the pin had landed - the exact same place I decided to put my bare foot. Youch! I screamed, and Maddie went shrieking downstairs - "Mommy's bleeding! Mommy's bleeding!" Her sisters ran upstairs to see the freak show, and I sat on the floor clutching my foot.

It was at that moment I realized the advantage of being a kid. If I HAD been a kid, I could have cried it off, someone would have comforted me and put a bandaid on it, and I could have rested on the couch. But because I happen to be the PARENT instead of the kid, I had to wince through the pain, and go back to preparing supper. Kids have to eat, after all. I suppose I should be happy that at least Dr. Maddie went rushing off to get me a bandaid :-) But I had to put away the bandaid box after she lost interest in playing paramedic.

Tonight's filmstrip moment also took place in the kitchen, but didn't involve pain. Or at least not "literal" pain. Tonight, while the kids were getting ready for bed, I opened the fridge to put something away. I glanced down at the bottom shelf of the fridge and realized the chocolate milk jug was missing its lid. When I grabbed the milk jug to replace the lid, I heard the sound of pouring liquid. Turns out the lemonade jug, which was ALSO missing its lid, had been leaning on the milk jug. Oops. BIG oops. Can you imagine my joy at the prospect of cleaning a pitcher full of lemonade out of my fridge?

On the up-side (if there really IS an up-side) my fridge is now clean. Yes, it needed cleaning anyway, but I really didn't plan on doing it TONIGHT!

So now I'm sitting here with my foot propped up on the desk - not only is it still sore from last night's episode, but now it's also WET from tonight's episode. Poor abused foot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Conversation with Maddie in the bathtub

Maddie: Mom, look at your boobies. (Touches my breasts.)

Me: Maddie, please don't play with my boobies.

Maddie: I ALWAYS play with MY boobies Mom. But look Mom - mine don't fall off. (Bends over at the waste and tries to get her boobs to swing.) Mine don't fall off like yours do.

Okay, so perhaps God didn't bless me with the perkiest boobs in the planet, but they don't exactly FALL OFF when I bend at the waste!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Okay, somebody please tell me why I thought THAT was a good idea

Sometimes an already bad idea just gets worse in the execution.

The newspaper said that "Herbie: Fully Loaded" started at 7:35 at the cheap theatres. Or at least that's the way Julie read it. When we arrived at the theatre at 7:34, we discovered that it actually started at 6:35. That should have been my first clue that we would have been better off going home. But no, the girls were pumped about seeing a movie, and I didn't feel like putting up with three disappointed kids moping at home, so we looked for an alternative. The only possibility was Bad News Bears - it had started 15 minutes earlier, so we'd probably only miss the trailers. Why not? I still remember the original when I was a kid - harmless fun, a good moral, and a feel good ending. What could be wrong with THAT?

Big mistake. BIG mistake. I should have recognized the mistake the moment we walked into the theatre and heard the first string of obscenities out of Billy Bob Thornton's mouth. I should have run for the hills and taken the kids with me. But NO-oh, I'm too much of a wimp to put up with the protestations of three unhappy children. Silly me.

I can only say - WHAT THE HECK WERE THEY THINKING when they made this movie? Just WHO were they catering to - some sorely mistaken grown-ups who thought a grown-up version of a childhood classic might be fun? I don't think I've heard that much swearing since the last Lethal Weapon movie! Billy Bob played the coach, a washed-up, drunk, former ball player turned rat exterminator, and if a sentence out of his mouth didn't contain the word "hell" than it was sure to contain "shit" or "damn". (Here's a classic line - "You guys look like the last shit I took.") And thrown in between those words was a healthy smattering of "ass" and "tits". Not just the WORD tits, but the real thing, just barely covered in string bikinis - particularly in the scene where he takes the team to HOOTERS! And then there was the fact that the team was sponsored by a strip club - "Bo-peeps". And if Billy Bob had been the ONLY one swearing, it would have been one thing, but I really don't need to watch a bunch of pre-teens using that kind of language when I'm sitting there with my kids! Then there was the final scene - Billy Bob handing out non-alcoholic beer to everyone on the team. 'Cause, ya know, everyone needs to hear a three-year-old proclaim, at the top of her voice, "Mom - those kids are drinking BEER!"

I'm really not a prude, but there was just no POINT to that movie. It certainly wasn't meant for young children, and I really can't see the redeeming quality for adults either.

You know it's a shining moment when your nine-year-old daughter comes out of the theatre and says "Hey mom - I learned a new swear word. Shit bucket!"

Oh, and the next time I suggest that taking a three-year-old to a movie - especially a three year old with the attention span of a bored mosquito and the belief that multiple visits to the washroom is a good cure for boredom - somebody PLEASE give me a smack up-side the head!

I later found out that on one of those multiple trips to take Maddie to the washroom (she LOVED the little kids' toilet, and I've learned better than to take a chance when she says she has to pee, so I gritted my teeth and took her each time she asked) that while I was out of the theatre, Billy Bob hopped into the sack with one of the team moms. (Apparently, you don't see anything, but it was obvious enough for a nine-year-old to know what was going on. She almost whispered, when she told me - somewhat guiltily - that they had "S-E-X".) If I HAD been in the theatre at that moment, and didn't just hear about it on the ride home, that would have been the moment I would have hauled all three of them OUT of that theatre, despite the moans and groans I would have had to endure.

The moral of the story? Well, I guess it was that sometimes, even washed up drunks can inspire a losing team to almost victory. What my kids learned? Well, that drinking alchohol after a game is fun and rewarding, that "shit bucket" is a good swear word, that over-sexed groupies hang out with washed-up drunk former ball players, and that flipping people the finger is a good way to work out your aggression.

Oh yeah, it was a stellar night. Shoulda stayed home and washed the dishes.

Oh well

What I SHOULD be doing tonight:
- cleaning out another closet
- doing the supper dishes
- sewing the skirts I promised the girls months ago
- having a quiet evening, because Monday nights are always a little wacky, with everyone getting re-adjusted to the schedule

What I definitely SHOULDN'T be doing tonight:
- taking the girls to see a movie
- letting the girls get to bed later than their bedtime

Umm... I gotta run now... movie starts in 25 minutes. (Nobody said I was a responsible mother!)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Pay it forward

About 20 years ago, when I was a starving student (yikes! has it REALLY been that long?), I received an incredible gift. Some people who barely knew me gave me $500. Why? They didn’t know how badly I needed the money at the time, but because they believed in education and felt compelled to share what they had been blessed with, they extended their generosity to me. The money was mine to keep and use as I saw fit. It wasn’t a loan – they didn’t want it back. Their only stipulation was that some day, when I felt financially able to, I would extend the same generosity to someone else in need.

I’ve been “paying it forward” ever since. Now and then, when I (or I should say “we” since Marcel and I are a team now) have an opportunity and the means to extend some measure of generosity, I do so, always with the memory of that gift to me in my mind. The first time, I sent an underprivileged child of a friend of my Mother’s to camp. Other times, we’ve slipped $100 bills into the mailbox of someone we know who needs a hand up at the time. We almost always do it anonymously, but we usually include a note encouraging the people to pay it forward. It’s a lot of fun that way, and it saves the people the embarrassment of having to acknowledge their need and show appreciation.

One of my favourite times was when my brother and sister-in-law had a substantial repair bill on their van that they weren’t sure how they could pay. We sent the money to the mechanic and asked him to keep our secret when they came to pick up the van. Unfortunately, my mother later spilled the beans and told them who’d done it, but it was fun being anonymous for awhile.

It’s become rather addictive, this anonymous goodwill. By now, I’ve far surpassed the original gift I received, but I’m not about to give up a good (not to mention FUN) habit. We have a little extra money right now, so we’re doing it again this weekend. But I’m not going to tell you who the recipient will be!

It occurred to me this morning that I really should write a letter to the people who gave me the original gift. I think they'd be happy to hear how much their generosity has multiplied in these 20 years.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

First day back

Yup, the kids are back at school. Today was the first day. Maddie was QUITE determined that she was going to school too, so she packed her lunch and lined up for the pictures :-)

In case you're thinking I colour coordinated them for the big day, nope, it was actually my Mother who bought them all those fancy duds. She's so good to them.

Out of control

How far behind do you have to be that you can spend four days cleaning your house and STILL feel like you have a way to go to get caught up?

Yeesh! Our house has gotten frightfully out of control lately. You know that feeling (or perhaps you're one of those annoying ORGANIZED people, in which case you DON'T know and you shouldn't be reading this blog because I probably wouldn't like you!) when you look around at the mess, and it's gone so far past the point of manageability that you just throw up your hands and walk away? Yeah, that's been me lately. It just seemed so much easier to avoid the house (go for a bike ride, go camping, visit friends, whatever it took) than attempt to put it back into order.

But the mess was starting to get to me, and I could avoid it no longer, so I finally tackled the monster. First it was the basement (and sadly, that was over a week ago, so it's already beginning to revert back to its former state), then on the weekend I thoroughly cleaned out three of the bedrooms and bathroom. Yesterday, I was off work, so I finished the last bedroom. (Yes, the residents of each bedroom were required to help with their rooms - Mom's not a SLAVE after all!) Here's hoping I can keep up the momentum to finish the living room and kitchen (not as seriously out of control as the other rooms - we usually try to keep those reasonably presentable in case of guests). Oh - and the laundry room, which is probably the most frightening. I'm a little afraid I'll lose momentum and the rooms I already cleaned will get messy again before I can finish the final spaces.

It's been hard work, but it's been good for me too. With my long term goal of having less clutter and less attachment to "things", I've managed to cull quite a bit and have filled numerous bags for goodwill donations. That process isn't over yet (I suspect it will never fully be over), but I'm trying to institute some new rules in the house. No one can bring in anything new - clothes, toys, shoes, (notice I didn't say books, because that would cause me some SERIOUS heartache) without getting rid of something else to make room for it. And no one can have more clothes than can easily fit into their dressers and closets. Our girls get alot of hand-me-downs, which I am SO grateful for, but it often means they have too many clothes and thus I never get all the laundry put away because I have to fight to make room for all of it. That's GOTTA end.

And I hereby vow to address my packrat tendencies - I will not keep anything unless I KNOW I will have some use for it within at least a year (okay, maybe I'll allow myself at least a FEW sentimental attachments - like that bottle of Old Spice that still smells like my Dad on Sunday mornings).

Spring cleaning came a little late to our house, but it's in full swing now. Now if only everyone would cooperate and help me KEEP it clean!

(By the way, if you're wondering where Marcel was in all of this cleaning frenzy, he's been doing a GREAT job of fixing things up outside. He built a new brick sidewalk beside the house, put up some landscape ties along the side of the driveway, built a wooden box for the garbage cans, brought in new topsoil, and planted grass. Between all that and the new paint job I've almost finished on the trim, our place is beginning to look downright smashing! Next year's project - a new deck for the backyard.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

So little to say

There’s an eery silence in parts of the blogosphere these days. Many of the sites I visit regularly seemed dumbfounded – at a complete loss for words. This site is no different. We just don’t know what to say. I start sentences, but they dangle in the air unfinished. I have started several posts in my mind, but none of them seem adequate. Some people, like me, are writing faltering attempts to try to wrap words around this terrible, terrible tragedy. I appreciate their attempts – they’re helping me process it too.

What do we say when we see hundreds of people who fought to survive an angry brutal storm, now dying because help has not come soon enough? What do we say when we see images of people stranded on rooftops, waving tattered rags, hoping someone will choose to rescue them instead of the people on the next rooftop? What do we say about the looting, the murders, the rapes? How do we respond to the poor and destitute that could not leave their homes and now must lay their heads on cots in a stadium meant for football games and not lodging?

I have no idea what to say. In my mind I say so many things. That it’s a shame they weren’t more prepared. That it’s pitiful that it took so long for the rescuers to come. That this kind of thing shouldn't happen in the world's richest country. I ask the same questions everyone else is asking. Could it have been avoided if they'd spent the money on the levees instead of waging war on Iraq? Did it take them longer to bring in aid because the people are predominately black? Would it be any different if the storm hit our city? Would I have the guts to open my home to some of the thousands of people left without homes and without jobs?

Today I saw 2 pictures of the inside of the Astrodome. One was of a young mother with a thirteen day old baby - she was talking on a cell phone trying to put the pieces of her life back together in some semblance of normalcy. Another was a picture of rows and rows of cots covering the floor of the stadium. In the centre of the picture, barely visible, were 2 small children, not unlike my own children except for the colour of their skin. They sat perched on those harsh-looking cots, staring at the camera with expressionless faces. I don't know what their life was like before Katrina came to visit, but now it consists of no more than a few feet of space in the centre of thousands of other scared and lonely people.

My children are safe in bed tonight. They are not sitting perched on a cot in the middle of a stadium. They each have their own beds with their own special blankets that their Grandma made for them. Is that fair? No, I can't find any kind of fairness in that. I don't know why my daughters are here and someone else's are there. I don't know why I still have a house and a bed and a job and a city to live in. I don't understand any of this.

Some people are chosing to pray their way through this, others are railing against a God they can't respect or trust in the middle of such tragedy. I've done some of both. I'm also trying to find a way to contribute. No, I haven't made a donation to the Red Cross. Perhaps I should, but what I'm chosing to do instead is to help some of the poor people in my own city. Because I know that if a hurricane or ice storm or flood hit us, there would be lots of people here who wouldn't be able to get out in time either. My contribution probably won't help them buy a car to escape if tragedy hits, but perhaps it will at least help someone pay the rent this month, so that they still have a place to shelter their child.

And in the end, all I can say is...God help us.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I promise this post will be short, for a change

Last night was one of those great evenings that make me so sad to see Summer pass. A free outdoor concert in Assiniboine Park, listening to Joel Kroeker (awesome) and The Wailin' Jennys (even MORE awesome), hanging out with family and friends, racing Maddie across the lawn, eating donuts on the way home with Nikki and Maddie - all very, very good. It was a drizzly, windy, cool, lousy day yesterday, so we weren't sure how the evening would go, but just before 7:30, when the concert was about to start, the sky cleared, the wind died, and it turned out to be a beautiful evening. It was still a little cool, but we hunkered down with blankets, and stayed pleasantly warm.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Look at me doin' the "I got published" strut!

Yay! I got published again! I tell ya, no matter how many times I see my name in print, next to something I've written, I still get all giddy when it happens.

The Winnipeg Free Press published a piece I sent them a few months ago. And what's REALLY cool is that one of my closest friends, Michele, also got a piece published this week. (She's not bragging about it on her blog like I am, but believe me, she SHOULD. It was a great piece!)

I think I posted mine here a while back, but I can't find it, so in case you want to read it, here it is...

Life is good -- downsized, but way bigger

'MY mom doesn't like going to the mall," I heard my daughter tell her friend recently.

She's right. I HATE going to the mall. It reminds me of all the things I don't have and don't need but find myself wanting anyway.

I've been looking for a better balance in my life -- between the things I want and need, and between the things that really matter in life and the clutter that gets in the way. A few years ago, my husband and I took a step back, re-evaluated what was important in our lives, and decided to make some changes.

In a culture where great importance is placed on acquiring more things, we found ourselves getting caught on the same hamster wheel as everyone else.

"Make more money to buy more things" the ads scream at you. Buy more things and then you need more money to maintain that lifestyle. Make even MORE money and start letting your things control your lifestyle. Get a bigger house, send the kids off to day care, buy a bigger van to pull the boat and the camper you just bought, get a better job, work more overtime, spend less time with the kids... you get the picture.

At some point in the vicious cycle on that hamster wheel, you either decide to commit yourself entirely to its endless motion, or you get off. A lot of people decide to keep spinning. We decided to get off.

The first thing to go was my husband's job. He'd been miserable for quite awhile and found he had no desire to stay where he was, even if it provided a decent income. He longed for the education he'd never gotten. We weren't sure we could survive on one income and somehow be able to afford his tuition, but we decided to take a risk.

If he arranged his classes around the kids' schedules, we wouldn't need a babysitter very often and our day-care bills would go down. The added bonus would be that our kids could spend a large majority of their time with their parents.

It wasn't easy at first. We had to give up some of the luxuries of our lifestyle -- fewer meals at restaurants, one less vehicle, no cellphone, more second-hand clothes, fewer vacations, no more cable TV, no more cleaning lady. But before long, we recognized the benefits were outweighing the costs.

We were spending more quality time as a family because we weren't rushing around as much. We ate more wholesome food because we had more time to prepare meals rather than grabbing something quick after a long day at work.

The next step was my job. That was another big decision. I was offered a great job at a non-profit organization, but we just weren't sure I could take the pay cut it required, plus lose all the benefits of a fairly long career in the government. Once again, though, we decided the risk was worth the pain.

We found more things to cut, and I took the leap. Again, the benefits far outweighed the costs. I was much happier, felt fulfilled in my new job, got great opportunities, and my whole family benefited when I came home at the end of the day with less stress and no "on-call" cellphone attached to my hip like an albatross.

These days, we're facing more steps in our downsizing process. With the current cost of gas, and the consciousness that we are not doing the environment any favours by driving a big vehicle, we've decided to sell the van. We're shopping for a car. Again, there will be costs.

We'll have less space to haul around our stuff, the kids will probably fight more because they'll be stuck sitting next to each other in the back seat And along with the van, we'll also have to get rid of the "toys" we pull behind it. The big camper will give way to a small pop-up camper or tent. The boat will go.

A lot of people have told us we're nuts. "You're going back to school? But you're almost 40!" "You're quitting a good government job? Are you CRAZY?" "How in the world do you plan to live on only one income?" The kids have felt the pinch, too. Their friends get to have more cool toys, go on more exotic trips, live in bigger houses, have new clothes instead of hand-me-downs, get involved in more activities -- it's not easy to sit back and watch other people have all the fun, especially when you're a kid.

Despite all of that, I don't regret any of our decisions. In fact, now that we've taken a few major steps along the way, and I've seen the rewards, I actually look FORWARD to getting rid of the van, the camper, and the boat. I feel lighter already -- like I've just thrust off a layer of winter clothes and can dance barefoot in the grass again.

There's no way to define the value of all the things we've gained.

I didn't realize the stress of our old lifestyle until it was gone. I notice it most when I come home from work. I come home happy because the stress of my old job is gone. My husband is happy because he LOVES school and feels fulfilled like he never has before. The kids are happy because they've been home with their dad and haven't spent the last few hours at day care. Supper's usually cooked because my husband likes cooking and has more time for it now. It's all good.

I once met a woman in Africa living in a mud hut, and I wondered how she could be so happy. Now I'm beginning to understand.

No, we can't go to Australia for our vacation this year. And no, we won't be buying a bigger house, even though our little kitchen drives us all crazy. And no, we won't be able to go out for supper this week, because it's not in the budget. And yes, there are times when we're not sure the paycheque will stretch to the end of the week.

I have to tell you, though, life is good.

Heather Plett-Laurendeau is a downsizing Winnipegger in an inexorably upscale world.