Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Welcome, Christmas, Bring Your Cheer

About 6:00 Christmas Eve someone began
pounding on our door, with excited voices punctuating the bouts of pounding. It was the tenants of a unit down the hall. The owner of the unit was there, and I think they were trying to replace the faucet in the bathroom sink, without realizing you have to turn off the water first. Their bathroom faucet had blown off and there was a huge and powerful geyser of water shooting up from it, hitting the ceiling, soaking everything. It had already flooded their unit and water was now flowing into the hallway in waves. 

After a quick look I rushed back, grabbed all my big ugly towels and threw them into the rapidly spreading flood in the hallway. I tried to tell them how to turn the water off but none of them speaks English very well, plus they were all panicked, soaking wet and shivering with cold. None of them understood. They are very nice but strictly observant Muslims and they didn't want me to come inside their unit and show them where the turn off was. I was beginning to panic at the volume of water gushing into the hallway when a neighbour who speaks Arabic came out and told them how to turn the water off.

Once the water was off I came home and called our management company, and got an answering service. They offered to call the building's contract plumber, whose regular call-out fee is $300, and on Christmas Eve turned out the be $500, plus time spent and supplies. I asked the unit's owner if he had insurance and he said no, and neither did his tenants. The owner of the unit wanted to see if he could find a less expensive plumber, and while he was doing that I ran around the building trying to find another condo board member who might help me decide what to do, but no one was home.

The immediate issue was picking up the water so a neighbour brought out more towels. She and I started sopping up water with the towels and wringing the water into a bucket she'd brought out. The three men in the unit were no help at all. I asked them to help by by wringing out some of the towels into the tub and bring them back to pick up more water, but they had not a clue what I meant. They would take the towels, put them in the tub and bring them back out as wet as they were to start with. Finally, though her husband told her to stay inside, the young wife came out to help wring towels.

A trip to the first floor showed me that the water had reached there, there was a large puddle growing in front of the corresponding unit. I knocked and the owner came to the door, letting all three of his dogs into the hallway. He checked, and thankfully there was no water inside. But we had to chase the dogs down.

I called the answering service again and told them we needed the restoration crew to take care of the water issue, because if the carpets, underlay and baseboards are left wet they quickly develop black mold. We have had this happen in the last three or four months, and it's while it's relatively inexpensive to prevent a mold problem it's very expensive to fix it once it develops.

The owner of the unit then lit into me, saying we should have a building manager here 24/7, since I know nothing and am useless. And he said the condo board should go to everyone's unit and show them where the water shut off is.  He felt it was not necessary to dry the carpet and he insisted if I had it done the condo corporation would have to pay for it, because the hall was common property, and what does he pay condo fees for anyway? I told him that was not how it works. He got the carpet wet, he pays to have it dried.

When the restoration company arrived I absented myself from the scene. By that point I was so tuckered by all the walking and towel wringing and his griping I'd had enough. I saw this morning that the Restoration company had torn off the baseboards and set up a high velocity fan adjacent to his door to dry the carpet. I don't know what they did downstairs, I haven't had the energy to go look. 

I woke up with every bone in a different spot than it should have been, and I have been in pain all day. But after dinner tonight Ian did a great job readjusting my ribs and neck and I'm loaded with pain pills and muscle relaxants. I should probably just take up boozing. 

However, despite being a bunch of semi-cripples we had a wonderful Christmas afternoon. Ian showed up with a bad cough and a fever, and Tony bent over to pick something this morning and fell flat on his face, so we were a matched set of three cripples. (grin) Nonetheless we made a big dent in the delicious dinner Ian and I made, and we gobbled fancy cheeses and chocolates like a bunch of the wild boar we spent part of the time talking about. We had a great visit, and in the middle young Zak called on FaceTime and we all enjoyed a good hour's conversation with him. 

"Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand."

Monday, December 23, 2013

And Christmas Begins


 

The fragrance of roast turkey is floating down the hallway and under the door. People have been coming and going all day, loaded with bags and parcels. Visitors arrive from out of town, carrying suitcases. Others rush to cabs, laden with cases and bags. Balconies are trimmed with colourful lights. Everywhere there is bustle.   

There's a fire crackling in the TV fireplace, and we're as ready as we're going to get. Tony said earlier, explaining something that had upset him yesterday, we have too many sad Christmas memories to be merry. But we can be grateful, and we can be content.

Music is a great pleasure and this is some of the best ever written. If you have time grab your headphones and treat yourself to the reason for the season. Christopher Hogwood conducts the Academy of Ancient Music Choir of Westminster Abbey, organist and director Simon Preston. Singers: Judith Nelson, Emma Kirby, Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Elliot, David Thomas in what has been called the definitive performance of Handel's Messiah. Recorded in 1982, I literally wore out my two disc set LP recording of this performance.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Four Days and Cookin'


The question of "What do we eat on Christmas Day this year?" was settled a couple of weeks ago. Participants at the feast are these three; King of the household, Yours Truly; (aka Queen of the household) and the elder Prince, pictured here on his second Christmas with his favourite gift, a push-duck. We lived in San Diego at the time, hence the lack of waist-deep snow and parkas.

The menu choices for Christmas Dinner were:
1) Boomer Queen  - a plate of deli meats and cheeses, a fruit tray, and chocolates.

2) Old-School Queen - a turkey roast and sides from our excellent supermarket deli and chocolates.

[Disclaimer: Blogger does not allow me to use accents so I cannot spell the names of the Spanish dishes correctly. Please bear with me as I slaughter the language espanol.]

3) Mamacita Queen with Princely Assistance - homemade tamales with mole negro sauce, cheese enchiladas, pollo espanol, refried beans,  Spanish rice, guacamole and taco chips and chocolates. (You do not need to be psychic to be sensing a chocolate theme!)

And the choice is Window number three! So Ian did a mighty shop, and a second shop to get what he couldn't find at the first two stores. Masa harina appears to be in short supply this year.  And a third shop to get what the mamacita forgot to tell him to buy the first two times.

We have been cooking in bits and fits for days. The chicken is cooked, boned and in the freezer waiting to join its toothsome sauce laden with red peppers, green olives and onions. The tamale filling awaits swaddling in corn flour and parchment jackets. The mole sauce waits in the freezer to join the tamales, the tortillas are at the ready to be lovingly rolled with cheese and salsa. The frijoles have been mooshed and fried and a bag of Texas-grown Jasmine rice will shake hands with tomatoes, garlic, onion and jalapeno peppers on Christmas morning.

I remember a Christmas long ago when I was six or seven when my dad, mother and I bundled into a 1949 green Plymouth and drove across three states, all day, all night, to share such a feast with my older brother and his family, who'd driven from the other direction to meet us. I remember nothing about presents that Christmas, but I remember the food and the tight embrace of my brother's arms when I crawled out of the back seat of the car. The adults talked long into the night in a crowded motel room while trucks roared by on the highway, their lights sliding across the back wall filtered through the thin curtains. 

Not having our younger Prince here takes some of the shine off the day, but he will surely have a lovely day with his wife and friends, and some birds fly farther than others, Lord knows I flew far from where I began.  

And back to today, when my household King has apparently exceeded the limits of patience of the password server at Google once too often with his inability to recall his password from one day to the next. Just now, when he poked the "forgot password" link, Google came back with, "Try to remember your password!" When he couldn't it told him to "Write down a hint this time" before allowing him to enter a new password.  It seems that at least one Google server has gotten a personality for Christmas, and it's either his mother's (or mine).  God bless us every one.    

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas to Us and Filemon!

This handsome young man is Filemon, a dairy farmer in Tanzania, the recipient of our KIVA loan this month. He is always looking for ways to increase the value of his products and reduce his operational costs.

For example his cows produce enough milk for starting a small yogurt and cheese business, and he would like to expand into yogurt and cheese production but he can't consider these options due to the high cost of energy.

The TAHUDE Foundation biodigester initiative helps farmers like Filemon to build and install a biodigester which generates clean-burning, renewable biogas from the manure their cows produce. A biodigester would provide the energy Filemon needs to allow him to add cheese and yogurt production to his dairy business and increase his income. Moreover, he could use the fertilizer generated by the system, allowing him to save on fertilizer costs.

The potential benefits offered by a biodigester impressed Filemon so much that he has decided not only to build one for himself but to build four more for his neighbors under the agreement that they will pay him little by little under the supervision of TAHUDE Foundation Microcredit. TAHUDE Foundation is grateful and appreciates his enthusiasm. His success will impact not only his family and parents, but will also help his community at large.

With the installation of biogas at his home and around his neighbors' circle, Filemon and his neighbors will be able to generate biogas from the manure their cows produce, allowing them to decrease energy costs while providing clean biogas to use for household cooking and processing of their farm products.

Biodigesters can have a significant impact on the environment, and on the health and burden of work which falls mainly on the women and girls. Women must gather firewood, often walking miles to do so, and carry the heavy loads home on their backs. Deforestation, erosion and desertification are all serious consequences of relying on wood in open cookstoves. The second major benefit to women of biogas is that it eliminates the smoke produced by cooking fires which leads to serious lung problems in women and children.

Our small loan in this case will help not just Filemon and his family build a biodigester for their farm and home, but enables him to help four other families as well. And that is our Christmas gift to ourselves.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seven Days to Christmas

Not My Tree
And you should see my decorations. I plugged in the red and white "grape and vine" LED lights that I zip-tied to the balcony railing oh… 18 months ago.

Because the ADHD kitten is aka "Hobbes the Ripper" there is no tree this year. I bought a plastic peel-off the backing stick-on tree, about three feet tall, with stick-on ornaments. I planned to put it on the glass patio door. This plan changed when, as soon as I stuck the tree to the glass Hobbes reached out and began scratching a hole in the tree and peeled an ornament off. Okay, scooch the cat tree back from the window a couple of feet so the little monster can't reach the glass. 

He then jumped down, stood on the floor, stretched his long self up the glass of the patio door and started scratching at the base of the tree. I sighed, peeled the tree off and repositioned it above his reach. Hooray! Decor complete.

Christmas shopping? None probably except for food. We are so content with what we have, we can't think of anything we want or need. The things I love about Christmas are the music and spending time with my family. Our older son will come and we will cook dinner together. 

So, aside from cooking Christmas dinner and sending my e-cards my Christmas preparations are done and dusted.  No stress at all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Not Necessarily So


Sometimes it takes a while to figure things out, and then you need to work on a solution.  The Buddha said, "All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else."

In this case I have a combination of factors which lead to prolonged severe migraines. The "answer" is a combination of medications which have several undesirable side effects, the worst of which is apathy. I don't care if I eat, take care of myself or do anything but sit in my chair and stare with unseeing eyes at a computer screen. 

My choices are to live with a daily migraine, nauseated, unable to endure light, noise or movement, or to take medications which reduce the pain by 80% but leave me in my chair unconcerned about life itself.  While I may surface to put laundry in the machine, or look up journal articles for a patient, these are brief moments of arousal from this blanket of darkness.

Zen master Shunryu Suzuki summed up his philosophy with three words: not necessarily so. Suzuki's words suggest to me that my estimation of how much the medication is to blame for my torpor is probably exaggerated. At the bottom of it all I recognize that deep down I'm just angry. I've exchanged one disabling problem for another. I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I wanted some time without pain, some time when I could do tasks I need or want to do and not have to worry about coping with days of pain and weakness afterwards.

But what it comes down to, in the end, is learning to free myself from anger, at my own body and its limitations. And that is something I can only do moment by moment. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Cat Snot and a Stuck Paw

When Hobbes was about three months old
I swear cats are telepathic. I just sat down between chores to write a post about the young Hobbes cat, when Smokey, who is just a smidgen jealous of Hobbes, insisted he wanted in my lap. Tony is sitting in his chair not three feet away, and he is normally Smokey's first choice as cuddler, but he ignored Tony to pat my knee.

I told him; "Go to Daddy."

tony patted his lap and called his floofiness, but smokey was adamant. tony reached over, picked him up and pulled him on his lap. smokey jumped down and came back to me.

when i explained, quite logically, that i wanted to work on my laptop, he said, 'fine,' and vaulted into my lap. typing is slow with 19 lbs of cat sprawled on his back in self-satisfied comfort, lying on my arms. i now pick at the keyboard in my lap with two fingers of one hand. which explains why i have lost capitalization and upper case marks.

he rubbed his nose, looked at me and sneezed, spraying the entire left side of my face with vaporized cat snot. super. am i going to break out in kitten pox?

Ah, I am rescued. Tony went to the kitchen, Smokey rolls out of my lap to follow. My first order of business is a face washing and some eye drops. Cat snot must be a different pH than human skin, because it burns

Anyway, I intended to write about Hobbes and got sidetracked by the demands of Smokey. We call Hobbes our ADHD cat. He is all stop or all go. If he's awake he's into something, bouncing off a wall, breaking something, or in trouble. One of his favourite tricks is running full speed across the floor and diving into this plastic wrapped box, propelling it across the floor like a sled. He also hides toys under things and then digs them out again.   

Every time I open the fridge door I have to yell, "NO! Hobbes, do NOT get in the fridge!" This morning I had to pull him out of the fridge, which took some effort because he had a firm grip on a box of mandarins on the bottom shelf. 

Then he threw himself on the floor, fridge door still open, and started feeling around with a paw under the fridge for a felt mouse or a ball or whatever he's poked under there.

I wanted to close the fridge door. "Move Hobbes. C'mon cat!"  Suddenly his eyes grew wide and he yelped, then he started to cry and struggle. His paw was stuck under the fridge. His instinct is to pull. I set the eggs on the counter, cradled his back and pushed his shoulders toward the door, hoping if he's closer he can let go or get unstuck. He can't.

He panicked and started screaming. He threw his little head back and SCREAMED. He thrashed and hissed. I tried to hold him, but he's panicked, and he squirms away. Smokey runs to see what's going on. I asked Tony to put him in our bedroom and close the door. Last thing I need is for Smokey to go after me for hurting his baby.

I reached underneath but can't reach Hobbes' foot. There seem to be small coils underneath and I expect his dew claw is hung in one of them. I have an idea. There's a slender black rod about two feet long he plays with lying a few feet away. I asked Tony to hand it to me.

While Tony cradled Hobbes as close as he could to the fridge, I slide the rod underneath from the front, until I felt his foot. I got the rod under the foot and lifted and the nail came free.

Hobbes pulled back, shaking, and Tony scooped him up for a cuddle.  Okay, enough drama for one day. Oh good grief, he just stole an elastic band and has eaten half of it. Better look that up and see if it's likely to cause medical distress or not…

Sunday, December 01, 2013

How to Survive Christmas


1. Realize that there is no "perfect" Christmas.  Perfection is an illusion. You don't have to be happy every minute to enjoy the day.

2. Don't worry about trivialities - spilled juice or a broken dish is a triviality, unless there's a cardiac arrest, broken bones, uncontrollable bleeding or the house is on fire everything else is a triviality.

3. Take the secure thought that the day will work out, even if it doesn't all go according to your carefully laid plans. Don't spend the days/weeks leading up to Christmas dreading what might happen.

4. Buying gifts for every member of a large family can be a financial burden. Drawing names so each child receives one gift is one solution. Adults can combine contributions and give them as a single gift to a charity or cause, or all can contribute to the cost of the meal if the budget is tight.

5. Don't work yourself to a frazzle or exhaust your finances trying to please everyone. If you are expected to host the traditional sit down dinner and it's too much work (or expense) for you, suggest a potluck, buy a prepared turkey roast and sides, or do something different. Since our adult children eat several turkey dinners with friends and neither of us like turkey we have breakfast together, and for the afternoon a cheese and deli meat tray, a fruit salad and several kinds of chocolate which we munch as we visit. 

6. Don't worry that what happened last year will "ruin" Christmas this year.  You can't control how Aunt Mimi, Uncle Frank, or your brother's kids behave. Short of flying dinnerware or firearms just accept that family will be family, and few are perfect. In fact it's a Christmas miracle if no one punches someone elses' lights out in a good many households.

7. The best family gifts are memories. Ask each adult to bring a pleasant memory from a past family gathering, or a loving/funny childhood memory about a grandparent or other family member. Video these to record them for posterity.

8.  Realize that it's not anyone's job to make you happy - at any time. The best antidote for unhappiness is to do something to make someone else happy. If you don't have family or friends to share the holidays with call the Salvation Army a couple of weeks ahead and ask if they could use a volunteer in the kitchen, and go do some good.  Or arrange to volunteer at the Animal Shelter on Christmas day and give a regular volunteer the day off.

9.  Schedule in some quiet time for reflection. One of my most memorable Christmases was one where snow was falling thickly and I walked in 18" deep powder snow under the haloed glow of street lamps to a candle-lit midnight mass in the Anglican Church a block away. Magical.

10. Realize that Christmas is just a day, like any other. Though we have artificially invested it with very high expectations the sun will come up and go down. Whether you are with family or alone, treat yourself kindly.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Desiderata



Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; 
many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; 
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
 
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
 
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
 
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

          - Max Ehrman (1926)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK: 50 years ago today


The note was delivered from the office. I was pulled from my 12th grade English class to go home and drive my dad to the doctor's office. Dad had been coughing for days, and now he had a high fever. It was a dull grey November day, and he was about as grey as the sky.

I was sitting in the doctor's waiting room, thumbing through an old magazine. In the background music spun from a radio. A news bulletin broke into the music, only half heard, something about a shooting. The music returned, dad came out, there was a brief stop at the pharmacy next door, I dropped him home and headed back to school.

I slid into my seat in my Latin American History class just as the last bill sounded. My classmates seemed much more subdued than usual. None of the usual laughter and talking before our teacher, Charles W. Stevens, began call roll.  Everyone was quiet, somber. 

I turned in my seat to my friend Dusty,  and whispered, "What's going on?"

"Where've you been?" he asked.

"I had to take my dad to the doctor. I've been off campus for two hours."

"Kennedy's been shot," he said. "In Dallas. They've taken him to a hospital. We're waiting to hear how he is." I felt an ice-pick of fear in my heart.

At the front of the room Charles Stevens stepped to the podium. He was a small man about 35 with dancing blue eyes, prematurely bald, a natty dresser. Witty.  I was a history buff and he taught history, so I'd been in one of his classes three of my four years. I was also his Teaching Assistant for two hours a day, marking papers, working on the bulletin boards, teaching freshman history classes. He introduced me to classical music, opera, fine art. He encouraged me to use my mind. I adored him.

But if he called roll that day I do not remember it. If he said anything in the echoing room I do not remember it. We sat in silence with only the thudding of our hearts in our ears and the sounds of 18 high-school seniors and their teacher breathing in and out. Suspended between disbelief and terror. 

Somewhere down the street a siren began to wail. The PA system crackled and the voice of our vice-principle George Berger hunted around for itself before saying, "I regret to inform you that John Fitzgerald Kennedy the President of these United States…" His voice broke and he sobbed the rest.. "…has died as the result of an assassin's bullet in Dallas Texas. Classes are dismissed until further notice."

As he spoke the air was sucked from the room. No one moved. At the front of the room Mr. Stevens was gripping the podium for support, his knuckles blanched. As he heard Mr. Berger's words he went white, his eyes closed, then he flushed a deep red. Behind me several of the girls began to sob.  I felt like I had dropped 50 floors in an elevator, hollow inside, as if my entire being might collapse down that rabbit hole. 

I don't remember leaving class, driving home. I remember that my parents and I were glued to our 18 inch black and white TV for the next several days. The steadying voice of Walter Cronkite walked us through what we could not turn away from, the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson, looking like a whipped bloodhound with Jackie at his side stunned and bloodied.

Oswald's arrest, and his subsequent shooting by Jack Ruby were a blip in those days. It was JFK who had us transfixed. The multitudes of people waiting in dumb misery to pay their respects, the heart-breaking moment when Jackie, in black veil and dress led Caroline into the Lincoln Room to kneel beside the coffin. The procession down Philadelphia Ave,  the riderless black horse.  John-John's salute as his father's coffin passed. Arlington National Cemetery and the eternal flame.

Two bullets tore the heart from America, and were the pivotal event for a generation. Ask anyone of my generation where they were when John F Kennedy was shot and they will recall it in an instant. Who they were with, how they heard, the taste in their mouth and the pit that dropped out of their stomach.

And it had all begun with such hope;

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

And now I do what I couldn't do then. Weep for a brave and brilliant man's potential cut short. Yes he had many flaws, but his flame, his eternal flame, was his sense of purpose and justice for all Americans.




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learning to be at Home

The central message of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing and there is no way to avoid it. The great Canadian Rockies are on our western horizon, and nothing seems as changeless as these great snow covered peaks. But we learned during our violent floods this spring that even mountains change, sometimes in the space of a few days. Rivers change course, churning boulders and debris into a conveyor belt which first chews away your back garden, and then takes your house as well.

Over and over again these destructive forces rise from nature, transferring heat from ocean to wind, causing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods here and drought there. The balancing act of nature. And over and over you hear the same words in the aftermath of disaster, "It's only stuff. We'll adapt. We'll get through it." Though it is heartbreaking to see people who already live in brutal poverty stripped of everything. A young mother in Tacloban this past week, holding her baby, house blown to matchsticks cried, "What will we do?" She sobbed "We have no house, no job, no money, no food." In such a calamity what can be done?

I'm reading an excellent book called Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond. Richmond is trained as a Zen Buddhist priest but draws from a variety of spiritual fountains for this book, as all traditional cultures have something to teach us about aging and how we approach mortality.

He stresses that adaptability; how well we adjust to the inevitable decline of physical powers and the changes which come with it, illness, loss, determine to a great extent how happy we are and how well we age.

In disasters (at least in North America) usually the ones who say, "What are we going to do? Everything is gone! We have nothing!" are the older people. And no doubt it is much harder for older people. There's not as much energy or as much income to replace the destroyed home and possessions, not as much drive, and there's less emotional flexibility.

I've always seen myself as adaptable, but as you grow older I've realized it's something you really have to work on. You have to let go of things that used to be and accept the new reality. You aren't as capable at 70 as you were at 35 or even 50. You tend to get "set in your ways", or go down paths that are not healthy. You can easily become the "old grump" in the neighbourhood, cynical, negative, critical and just generally unpleasant.

I was very surprised when we moved in 2011 to find that I went into a depression which lasted for months. I wanted nothing more than to go back to our little beach house on the lake, with dearly loved friends a few feet away. We are more comfortable here, closer to shopping, to medical care, and to our son, but I still could hardly bear it and it's taken a good deal of work to overcome.

But working at regaining a more positive outlook is healthy and makes life more pleasant. ".. the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home." ~ Wendell Berry - The Unforeseen Wilderness

Monday, November 18, 2013

Apples of Tilacoca

Right to Left: Rosa, Corina Roberta, Angelica, Ximena, Rosa, Martha, Zandoval. Lucia is not pictured as she left to take care of her cattle. 

This month's KIVA loan goes to the Manzanitas de Tilacoca (Apples of Tilacoca) Borrowing Group which is beginning its first cycle with Pro Mujer Bolivia ("For Bolivian Women" although men also participate in the borrowing groups).

The group consists of eight members, seven women and one man, and is run by a board of directors with Señora Rosa as president. In this group are: Rosa, Corina Roberta, Angelica, Ximena, Lucia, Rosa, Martha, Zandoval. Each member of the group will receive the equivalent of about $415.00 USD. The group members have various businesses, among them: selling cattle, knitting sweaters, knitting blankets, selling stucco, selling electronics, and selling fruit.

In a borrowing group, each member receives an individual loan but is part of a larger group of individuals. The group is there to provide support to the members and a system of peer pressure. Groups may or may not be formally bound by a group guarantee. In cases where there is a group guarantee, members of the group are responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members in the case of delinquency or default.

The loan that Manzanitas de Tilacoca are taking out will benefit their small businesses, one of which is Señora Rosa’s. She says that this is the first time that she has joined Pro Mujer. She was invited to apply for a loan by a Pro Mujer representative who came to her home.

Rosa's business is knitting and selling blankets. She says that she learned her knitting techniques from a friend and later decided to set up her own retail shop. The loan will enable her to buy wool at the traditional fairs in the city of El Alto. She will use the wool to knit warm blankets which she will sell at rural festivals. This work allows her to generate income to contribute to the family income, because she is married and has three children. When she was asked what she likes about Pro Mujer, she answered that she likes the access to health care and training in money management for her business.

Please consider lending to a responsible, hard-working individual or group who has no access to credit from a bank through KIVA.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Goodbye Kitten

Dance like no one is watching
Tomorrow is Hobbes' 1st birthday. Smokey was happy as an "only" kitty as long as he could take a walk in the hallway several times a day, greet all the neighbours and their four-leggers as they came and went, sniffed and played "touch paws" with four-leggers who were inside their own units when we passed.

But then a tenant moved in down the hall with a pit bull who does not like kitties, and overnight Smokey's world got a lot smaller. No more walks in the hallway, since the pit bull is not well-controlled by its person, and we were afraid for Smokey's health and well-being, even his life, if the dog got hold of him. As the weeks went by Smokey became despondent. He would not play. He sat by the door and cried. He scratched endlessly. He was depressed.

We started thinking about what to do. We would have liked a small older dog which was pad-trained, since he likes dogs, but we couldn't find one without dire health or emotional problems. We were afraid to get an adult cat, since the last thing we wanted was a cat who would come in and exert dominance over the placid and somewhat timid Smokey. We decided we needed a kitten.

After several weeks of looking we found a litter of kittens born 18th November, ready for new homes. So on January 5th, we bought an eight week old kitten - two pounds of attitude in orange stripes - as playmate and brother for Smokey.

Hobbes "Looking bigger" as he meets Smokey
We were a bit apprehensive about introducing him to Smokey. Would Smokey be aggressive? We needn't have worried. It was love at first sight. Smokey wanted to "mother" the baby as soon as he laid eyes on it. The little one looked at the huge furball arched his back and hissed.

Smokey looked at me with big worried eyes as if to ask, "Why's he doing that Mama?"

 "It's to make him looking bigger, honey."

"Well, it's not working!"

 
Day Two
So Smokey did the sensible thing. He turned his back to the kitten and laid down. No confrontation, no reaction at all. By the next morning it was nose-to-nose and paws around corners and at some point the kitten couldn't resist the urge to play. Soon they were tumbling around, with Smokey as gentle as feathers. And Smokey, understanding the kitten was missing his Mama something awful, let the kitten nurse his little nubs of nipple until they were raw and all scabbed over. 

We tried calling the kitten Salvador Two (Saltwo) for the first few months, but he wouldn't answer to that name. He would have none of being second anything. So, being big Calvin and Hobbes fans, and as the little beast is always in trouble, we renamed him Hobbes. That he answered to immediately, so I guess he knew who he was from the first, we just had to figure it out.

Now despite a bucket of bone-fide cat toys the house looks like a garbage dump because his favourite toys are plastic forks and knives from the Thai take-out, pop bottle caps, straws, a plastic bag from Jysk, cardboard boxes, dishtowels he steals off the fridge door handle and the sofa cushions.

Hobbes at 12 weeks
I swear he and Smokey are going to knock the pictures off the walls they play so hard. The cat tree sheds great honking loads of carpet fibre every day because they rip it off chasing each other up and down.

Hobbes is a hair puller - he grabs a mouthful of Smokey's three-inch-long wool and yanks it out by the roots. This (understandably) gets Smokey riled up. He corners Hobbes and beats the tar out of him, though for all the screaming and squalling I've never found a scratch or bite on either of them.

On the other hand I am covered with scratches as I am often part of the obstacle course as they hurtle around after each other.

A few days ago while running from Smokey Hobbes jumped onto the table by my chair, skidded and knocked several things off into the garbage can. Made a heck of a noise. He leapt about a foot straight up and came down on my face, all claws extended. So I'm missing a few divots of skin on my face and neck.

My yelling, "You are the reason Vogue hasn't called me to model for them!" while washing blood off my face doesn't impress him any more than screaming, "You're the reason we can't have nice things!" when he drags the sofa cushions onto the floor, climbs the shower curtain and unpots my one houseplant onto the kitchen floor.

Got'cher back Jack!
But he's learning. Up until a couple of months ago he hadn't learned how to tell me politely when he was hungry. He'd jump into my lap, grab a hand with all four clawed feet and start trying to rip the flesh from my fingers. Now he just jumps in my lap and hops up and down on my boobs. It's uncomfortable, but not as much as the claws and teeth routine.

But despite being a bit of a barbarian he's very sweet. He's a cuddler, he's a kisser, he never bites out of temper and until you've seen a kitten carrying a plastic fork in his mouth like it was a prize hunting trophy you haven't lived.

He's definitely the most rambunctious, high-spirited kitten we've ever raised, and tomorrow he turns one. Hard to believe that 10 months has gone by so swiftly. Time does fly when you're having fun. But now - no more kitten. Now a cat.

 Happy Birthday Hobbes! May you have at least 20 more!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Angel in Plaid


A few weeks ago I got a form in the mail from the new regional colon cancer screening clinic. This being Canada, and having universal health care and all that, the government is working to reduce the incidence of colon cancer. This means an occult blood stool test every year, and beginning at age 50 a colonoscopy every five years.

Of course, having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome I am not a candidate for the rubber scope up the innards, because my insides are fragile and easily punctured. But checking with my doctor she said this clinic also does the "virtual" colonoscopy, no scoping involved. However after doing little reading on that I realized I am no more a candidate for it than I am the other, as both involve fasting with only clear fluids for 72 hours, and I take medications which absolutely cannot be taken on an empty stomach. Can't go without the meds either. However, I've been doing occult blood screens since the early 1990s and they have always been normal. No family history of cancer, no risky behaviours like smoking or drinking.

But at any rate I am a "difficult" enough patient to care for that I do not want to be seen as non-compliant so yesterday I put myself together and drove the 15 or so kilometres across town through traffic to the hospital complex where the clinic is located.

The directions that came with the package said that parking must be paid for on entry in change or by credit card. You are then assigned a stall number you must use and that each half hour costs $2.25. They said pay for at least two hours of parking.

I memorized the complex map, and found my way into the parkade. The paybox was blocked off and a hand-lettered sign said, "Pay at elevator". So in I went and luckily parked in the handicapped stall right outside the elevator entry door.

As I entered a bearded man in a plaid shirt and suspenders followed me in. There was a machine, something like a gigantic and over-important parking meter, about 10 feet inside the door. There was an elderly couple standing in front of it, looking at it in total bewilderment. "I think you… No, first you… but do you press this one or that one?"
Typical Hutterite Couple

Anywhere else a bearded man in a plaid shirt might be a biker, in this part of the world he's an Angel in disguise who goes by the generic name of "Hutterite".  The Hutterites are a communal branch of Anabaptists who trace their roots to the Reformation of the 16th century. Their founder Jakob Hutter (who died in 1536) established the tenents of their faith including living in community and sharing goods equally and absolute pacifism. Most Hutterites today live in Western Canada in communities of 60-80 families and farm communally. I see them in the WalMart every time I go. They still speak Old German as their "home" language and dress very distinctly.

Based on my experiences with them they are a warm-hearted and generous people, and this Angel was to prove no exception. He stepped up beside the older couple and asked if they needed help. They admitted they could make neither heads nor tails of the machine.

"Here," the Angel said, with a faint German accent,"I'll walk you through it. What stall are you in?" And in 30 seconds they were on their way.

Meanwhile I had dug my change out and was trying to calculate how much I needed to put in for two and a half hours, which turned out to be $11.50. I looked at the machine. The directions were unclear. Did you put stall number in first or time desired? Did you punch in time desired and then add money?

"Ach, sweetheart," he said (Hutterite men say they are lovers, not fighters. Most have 15 rosy-cheeked children and plump satisfied-looking wives.) The "sweetheart" was not patronizing or flirtatious, it was an endearment which fell easily from his lips as it would have on a daughter, auntie or grandmother. "This machine baffles everyone the first few times. Let me help you."

He walked me through it. "We put first in your stall number 1-1-5, then we say for how long you want to stay."

I told him two and a half hours. "Ya, we put it in, 2-3-0. Okay. See there, on the screen? It says put in $11.50."

So, I put in five toonies ($2.00 coins) a loonie (a $1.00 coin) and two quarters. He pushed the button. "And your receipt comes out here." He reached into the slot, and there's no receipt. He pushed the cancel button. Nothing happened. He repeated the steps. No receipt.

"Not a problem," he said. "It works better with the credit card." It was out of his wallet and into the machine before I finished my protest. He handed me the receipt.

I dove into my purse. "No," he said. "It is my pleasure to help."

I located cash enough to repay him, (the machine does not take bills) and thanked him profusely. "You can help someone else with this." I told him. You are my angel today." 

He just smiled. He helped me find the elevator I needed in the banks of elevators along the hallway, and we parted when he got off at his floor. 

Was my afternoon a total waste of time? I spent four hours of time and energy and accomplished nothing, plus I spent $23.00 for 15 minutes parking. Or I can look at from another viewpoint and say I was in the right place at the right time to meet an Angel yesterday. What a privilege.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Our Family's WW II Vet



Still with us, now in his 90s and treasured.

Thank you Don, for your service, 

and your contribution to our freedom.

An old man loved is flowers in winter ~ German Proverb

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Advantage of Age


There are some things you dare to do because you have silver hair and carry a cane that you wouldn't have dared even 20 years earlier.

It was the day which is unavoidable in our house - Mt. McKinley WalMart day. Older son Ian has been down with a dreadful virus for over two weeks and  I am out of cat food and, worse, cat litter. The "boys" (Smokey and Hobbes) are beginning to complain about the state of the box, as are we. No matter how much you sift, after a while a certain odour arises.

It feels like Mt. McKinley has been undergoing renovations since George W Bush was in office, but the efforts are beginning to be visible at last. Gone are the single-cart-wide aisles and huge tarped-off areas. They are down to one smallish tarped-off area. Suddenly there's a new floor. And overnight (or at least since I was there about three weeks ago) the contents of the entire store have been shuffled like a gigantic deck of cards. Cosmetics have replaced pharmacy, pharmacy has shuffled down the wall, baked goods are where cosmetics were, food is on shelves which held toys before. Household linens have replaced soup. Electronics have been moved to the back wall.

Ah well, I found the cat food easily enough. It's only migrated down a few rows from its former place. I got a small bucket of litter and then went around the aisle to get the canned food our boys like.

Of course, we have two picky-pusses. Smokey eats only tuna, and only one brand. No problem, got those. Hobbes will eat more variety (except he will not eat the fish that Smokey eats) but alternate meals must be Fancy Feast grilled chicken with gravy. It's the most popular flavour and they are sometimes out, but they had plenty this time. However - try as I might I could not reach the cans. They were on a shelf so high I could not even touch the edge of a can, and roll it off the shelf, or reach the edge of the cardboard tray they sat in.

I usually solve this problem by asking a nearby tall man to reach what I cannot. In this store that's a lot, because the top shelf is about seven and a half feet off the floor. But this time there was no one else in the aisle, nor in the next. I popped my head out at the end of the aisle and not a single soul was in sight - in the main aisle. I've never seen an empty aisle in this WalMart. It was spooky. I thought for a moment I had descended into WalMart Hell and was going to be trapped forever among the freakish "Rollback" happy faces.

At that instant a group of a dozen men rounded the end of the aisle across from me. A tall man led them, a man with a hundred dollar haircut, a fashionably immaculate 12 hour stubble and a black wool double-breasted Armani jacket with gold buttons. Some people reek of money and he was one of them. He was followed by a crowd of minions carrying clipboards, all shorter, plump, sweating, in shirt-sleeves with tails hastily tucked in from their last bathroom break and ties askew, each wearing the WalMart badge, each elbowing his fellow.

They were 10 feet away when I fixed my steely gaze on the tall man, pointed at him (yes, I know it's rude to point) and said in my, 'I-was-housemother-in-a-children's-home-and-kept-12-adolescent-boys-under-control' voice, "You!" He jerked up like a fish on a line. He looked around at the minions. None of them looked at him, they all were looking in open-mouthed astonishment at me.

I turned my pointing finger over and crooked it a couple times, signalling him to come to me. He was across the aisle in three steps, minions scuttling behind.

I pointed up at the inaccessible cat food, "See that cat food? I'd like to buy 20 cans of it, and I can't reach even one. In fact I can't reach anything on the top shelf in this store. You have lots of Asian women who shop here and this store is designed for giants!"

Mr. Money immediately confirmed I wanted 20 cans and began bringing them down. He turned briefly to the minions. "Do you see this shelf? All over the store. I want the shelves adjusted." He drew a line with the side of his hand about 10 inches lower than the top shelf. "Bring everything down so the top shelf can be reached by a lady of this height."

"Now," he said, "turning back to me," all undivided attention. "Can I get anything else for you, or can I provide any other help? Would you like the tray these were in?" He could have been modelling for Armani, if they used men instead of boys, instead of just striding around WalMart making the rest of us look like hill Williams. 

I thanked him and said no, I could reach everything else I needed.  He thanked me and strode away, minions schooling behind. I hope they do lower those damn shelves. (I'm going to have to start dressing better when I go to the WalMart. Should I put my teeth in? Am I too old to start wearing lipstick?)

Saturday, November 02, 2013

I'll buy that blue sky...


I watched a documentary a few nights ago about the apparently new phenomena of households comprised of single people. The latest census revealed that there are now as many people living in households of one as there are couples and families. The "singleton" was once considered a bit strange or odd, but now is being single is considered as valid a lifestyle as living as a couple. 

The program followed a number of US and Canadian singles, but also went to Sweden, where single people living alone has been a norm for decades. A psychologist explained that Sweden's culture is based on individual freedom and autonomy, for both men and women. Higher education is provided as freely as elementary school, health care and child care are universally available, allowing women to pursue careers, there are generous maternal and paternal leave policies, and elders do not live in poverty.

But what interested me most was a housing cooperative they visited, where residents cooperated to do the daily household chores, the cooking, took their evening meal together, and socialized as desired, but each had their own private space which they could retreat to when they felt the need. This cooperative was occupied by both elders and younger singles, artists, writers, people who went out to work. There was studio space filled with weavers, potters, painters and carvers. A healthy data connection allowed web designers and workers to be part of the mix. They had a garden space where they grew organic food for the table, an exercise and meeting area, a greenhouse and a big hot tub.

Reading on the subject, these co-ops are are the norm in Sweden. In fact, in Sweden, co-op housing provides more than one fifth of housing. Many people live in housing cooperatives, feeling that they are a way to reclaim the old "village" dynamic where one is known and has a web of support that has disappeared with the modern era.

I have wondered for years why we can't do something like that here? Condos are human deserts, where people avoid getting to know their neighbour lest that neighbour turn out to be the one who parks herself on your sofa at 10:00 am every morning and has to be crowbarred out the door, or wants you to mediate family quarrels or pray with them for your eternal salvation through their god Ramaalamadingdong.

A small co-op, comprised of people who pass the basic sniff test for sanity and reasonableness seems a very good idea. Sixteen to 24 residents, large enough to share chores, yet small enough not to create a riot in case there's a disagreement on what colour of tablecloth to use at Winter Solstice. 

I've got it mapped out in my head, if anyone wants to discuss the parts. Purpose built for Canada. Another Blue Sky….

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Common Sense has to win sometime!


We saw the doctor today, basically to have prescriptions refilled. We always book our appointments together, and the clinic we attend is specifically for people who have complex medical issues, which we both have. So instead of the standard 10 minute run through the office we each get a full 30 minutes with the doctor.

As usual our BPs were in the excellent category, both within two or three points of 120/80, she ran through some lab work Tony had done a month ago, which was fine, and we worked out what needed filling.

I remarked that we are in great shape for the shape we're in, while both of us have genetic muscle disorders which cause a slow and progressive loss of strength and stamina, we live with constant fatigue and pain, and my joints are very unstable, we have none of the diseases many people in our age group (late 60s-mid 70s) have. No heart problems, no emphysema, no rheumatoid arthritis or history of cancer. We are, aside from the dratted muscle problems, healthy. Knock wood.

She remarked on how even healthy people, can go from health to profound disability in a moment's time from a heart attack or stroke, and that we are generally deluded about how "strong" our bodies are.

But the main topic of conversation was how unprepared boomers, and even 80 and 90 year-olds are for death. We have as a culture a delusion that we are going to live forever, and even 95-year-olds whose quality of life is absolutely terrible fight for painful and debilitating treatments out of the fear of death.

I think there are two issues, no one wants to die. It's a difficult process for most, painful and exhausting. The body does not give up its grip on life easily.

But death itself is different. Whether you believe you return to that deep and dreamless sleep that you existed in before birth or that you wake up in a heavenly paradise Christians and Muslims teach, you'd think believers would not fear moving to this better, higher plain of existence once their earthly bodies have become fraught with so pain and extreme frailty as to be a constant burden.

But our doctor said emphatically that this is not so, saying the most fearful of dying are the Chinese. Ah, this one I understand. Most Asian religions believe in reincarnation, so if you have lived a life of selfishness or spitefulness you may very well fear your next life will be spent as a goat or a dung beetle.

Tony and I continued this conversation at home. We have medical directives on file with our doctor. Should we suffer an accident, heart attack or stroke severe enough to reduce our mental or physical capacities to the point where we would be totally dependent once recovered, we have directed that no extraordinary measures be used to preserve our lives.

This is not to say that the life of a disabled person is without value, but to admit that technology should be used to restore people to health, not condemn them to an endless cycle of pain and complete dependence when they are incapable of communicating their needs to their loved ones.

And we are very strongly on the side of allowing people with terminal illness to have access to medical assistance to end their lives in peace and dignity. Those who say only God should choose the time of death can join the ranks of the clergymen who said easing the agony of women (some of them dying) in childbirth with anesthesia "robbed God of their screams". Back to the 1800s wi' the lot of you.

Common sense has to win sometime. Now would be a good time. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Halloween Fair

Photo by Leesa Brown
When I was a child in elementary school in Oklahoma there was a school fair each Halloween. We'd spend an hour in our costumes going door-to-door yelling, "Trick or Treat" as we pounded on the neighbour's doors, then my mother and father, my friend Tommy and his mother and father would pile in our green Plymouth and drive to Lee Elementary for the Halloween Fair.

The Halloween Fair was a PTA fund raiser. Being nine years old Tommy and I could have cared less about fund raising The 20 nickels our fathers had given us were burning a hole in our pockets and we were eager to begin having the fun those nickels would afford us.

The kids and the adults had different ideas of what fun was. We had no interest in winning a crocheted bedspread, or a casserole dish and we agreed that the cake walk our fathers headed for immediately was boring, except we'd like to have a cake. The table where you bought your nickel ticket was full of cakes, from elaborate to plates of cupcakes. Each had a number by it. The cake walk itself consisted of a series of numbered squares marked out on the grass in powdered chalk to create a large square.

Music was played and as long as the music continued the players moved forward by one square in time with the music. When the music stopped the a number was called and the person standing on that number won the cake on the table corresponding to the number.

We were more interested in the pony rides, as we both held fantasies that we were cowboys. The ponies were hitched to a central mechanism by long poles which led them in an unending circle. When the riders were all mounted the motor was turned on and the ponies began their never-ending trudge around an endless track. Today the idea is horrifying, but then all we felt was excitement, to be in the creaking saddle, with the reins in hand, the sharp smells of leather and horse sweat in our nostrils.

Though I knew very well that the "eighth wonder of the world", the "Amazing Toothless Wonder" in the booth run by my mother was one of our Rhode Island Red hens in a tiny apron and bonnet pecking at a pan of cracked corn, I talked it up to my friends, urging them to spend their nickel in my mother's booth.

Prizes for winning a game were mostly penny candies, whistles, yo-yos or cheap celluoloid Cupie dolls. We threw baseballs at bowling pins, shot bb guns at silhouettes of birds in flight and leaping squirrels and bobbed for apples, nearly drowning ourselves and each other, since it was obligatory to push your friend's head as far under the water in the #3 galvanized wash tub as possible, as was the punch-up afterwards. 

We fished for goldfish in a barrel, which consisted of trying to bring a thin metal fish to the surface of the water with a magnetic "hook" attached to a string on a fishing pole. If you managed to do this you won a real live half-inch-long goldfish in a lightbulb-sized fishbowl. By accident or miracle I actually won a goldfish one year. It was dead by morning.  School fair goldfish had limited lifespans.

There was an authentic Romany gypsy in a tent made of old quilts, who read our palms and told our fortunes. Tommy argued that the gypsy was Donny Bradford's mother, but I didn't think so because Donny had fallen off the monkey bars and broken his arm the week before, and if his mother was a gypsy who could see into the future, wouldn't she have told him to stay off the monkey bars that day? Tommy agreed that was a point in my favour in the argument.

We crawled through a long and winding "Tunnel of Horror" made of connected cardboard boxes. The pathway was blocked at points until we put a hand in the "bowl of eyeballs" (peeled grapes), or "dead man's guts" (wet rope), pushed open the "bloody" door (bloodied with tomato ketchup), crawled through spider's web (frayed fabric) and were terrified by a ghostly white-painted face which thrust through a opening and then pulled back again. 

After the adrenaline of the "Tunnel of Horror" we needed to wind down. We spent our last nickels on bottles of carbonated chocolate milk and threw our dirty selves on the damp grass to drink our sodas and watch the strings of lightbulbs lighting the fair swing back and forth. 

We were in that happy, dazed state only exhausted nine-year-olds fall into when Dad arrived to take us home. The "Amazing Toothless Wonder" went into a cardboard box in the trunk of the car,  Mother held the large cake Dad had won in the cake walk. 

The bag of goodies from Trick or Treating would wait until the morning. I must have been asleep before we dropped Tommy and his family off at their house, because I don't remember reaching home.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Should I just mind my own business?


I had to go to the Wicked Emporium of the West yesterday, aka, my Mt. McKinley WalMart, which has been in a state of perpetual renovation for the past year. Every month they promise a grand re-opening the next month, and every month they postpone it by a month. I fully expect to be negotiating one cart wide aisles flanked by tarped-off areas for the rest of my shopping career.

Nonetheless I had to go since Smokey the fuzzy-fuss will only eat one brand and flavour of canned cat food which is sold only at WalMart and he was down to one day's supply. And while I'm there their supplements are less expensive than at the pharmacy, plus they have some items I can't buy at Sobey's, and yada yadas which add up to a half a cart load. 

When I made the decision to go I called my neighbour "C", who has no car, and asked if she wanted to go. It means she doesn't have to take the bus, cross a very busy six-lane street and walk across a huge parking lot, and if I have enough energy to deal with someone else I enjoy her company. 

She said yes, but said she was having trouble downloading some pictures from her camera that she needed to e-mail to someone. Her sister and another neighbour ("B") had already been over trying to help, but had no success. So, once I was ready to go I went to her place to see if I could figure it out.

I'm not sure why it hadn't worked before, because it was pretty straightforward. I downloaded the two photos, wrote the e-mail for her, attached the pictures and sent the mail. Then, off we went to shop.

On the way home "C" said, "If "B" asks me if I got those pictures downloaded and sent, I'm going to lie and tell her no."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because, I want to make her feel bad."

"Why would you want to make her feel bad when she tried to help you?"

"I just feel like being mean to her."

"That's not very nice. Would you like it if people treated you that way?"

Silence

"Do you know what Karma is? The idea that what goes around comes around? If you're mean to other people Karma's gonna come around and bite you in the butt someday."

Now I have this on my mind. Working on becoming more compassionate means that I have to go out of *my* comfort zone. It's not just a theory and saying Awwww about puppies and kittens in an animal shelter. Compassion is dealing with reality. For me at the moment it means spending time with a neighbour who is sometimes hard to cope with. She doesn't understand boundaries and she's obsessive, the ranting about "B" is a constant undercurrent in every conversation. 

What is bothering me is, is it compassionate to comment on her ranting? Maybe I'm just tired of hearing about the same spat for the 100th time? There is more to compassion than meets the eye, sometimes you don't even know what to call it, sort of the elephant overhead you're afraid to look up and see. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

KIVA Loan for October 2013

Our October KIVA loan goes to the members of the Banakane 2 group.


 Ourgatou , Fatouma , Yaseguéré, Tandou , Tandou, Domio, Fatouma, Aminata,
The members of the group are all married women, who are an average age of 35 years and have an average of eight children each. All live in the culturally predominant polygamous families in Bandiagara, Mali.
The women are working with the microfinance institution Soro Yiriwaso, which is part of the international group "Save the Children". They are on their second loan with the institution. The first loan was paid back in full and on time.

The women are farmers, and are eager to begin planting their market gardens as the rainy seasons ends. The crop they grow is primarily onions, as is the case with Ms. Ourgatou, who is first from the left in the photo. With her loan, she intends to purchase seeds and fertilizer. After the harvest, the produce is sold to a customers in their home village and in the larger centres of Bandiagara and Mopti.

At the end of the planting season, Ourgatou hopes to make a profit equivalent to about $90 USF. Some of this profit will help cover family expenses. The rest will be reinvested in the business.

We are happy to be able to lend our bit, which will be combined with the loans of other KIVA lenders, to help give Ourgatou access to a small loan which will allow her to work more efficiently and improve her family's life. If you'd like to try out a KIVA loan for free, follow this link




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Failing at the Facebook Zen

There was an teacher of Zen who when asked where enlightenment could be found would point with his finger into the air. A student saw his teacher's behaviour and began to imitate him. This went on for many months. Each time the student was asked where enlightenment could be found he would point his finger into the air in imitation of his teacher.

The teacher came into town one day and saw this. He went up to his student and asked him where enlightenment could be found.  The student pointed his finger into the air. The teacher responded by pulling out his sword and chopping the student's finger off in one clean cut.

It was immediately apparent the student had a great attachment to his finger. But the goal of Zen is to loosen yourself from attachments, to possessions, to fixed ideas, even to your own body. If it is a choice between enlightenment and the loss of a finger or any body part for that matter, then enlightenment is more important than attachment.   

Our failing, my failing, is that I still have all these attachments. I'm still attached to my possessions, though not so much as most people. I'm definitely attached to my body, more's the pity. Its "genetic quirks" and the pain it inflicts on me daily require a tedious amount of daily tending. But surprisingly I am most strongly attached to my compassion. (I am not bragging, this ain't a good thing.)

Most of us want to hear only feel good messages which encourage self-importance and allow us to ignore the imperative to abandon selfishness and share with others, even when it means personal sacrifice. This is not where I have a problem, since selfishness has roots in the attachment to possessions.

Where I get in trouble is when I can't understand why others don't care (we're talking politics here, not individuals) about sick children or hungry elders, how they can despise people who have to sleep in cardboard boxes or on park benches and eat at soup kitchens. There are many who believe in the political philosophy that only the privileged deserve a full stomach and a life of dignity.

This attitude terrifies me, because I identify with (and can't disengage from) the vulnerability poor people live in. And also because though we've worked to our full capacities and beyond, the life-threatening health issues we were born with have meant that at times not only the table but the cupboards were bare, there was no money for desperately needed medication, and the four of us lived in a 12 x 16 shack without plumbing, electricity or running water. I have walked that mile, and my compassion is hard-won but all the more sharp for the experience.

This is compassion, the ability not just to recognize but to actually feel the suffering of others. When you feel others' suffering it drives you to do something to relieve it. Where I fail, and I think where everyone fails, even those without compassion, is that we become attached to outcome. Compassion is easily neutralized by attachment, fear, resentment or shame.

What if I give that teenager begging at the door of the grocery store $5.00 and he spends it on drugs? What if the food stamps are traded for an i-tunes card or spent on candy bars? What if feeding old people makes my taxes go up? What if that person who doesn't work as hard as I do gets a health care subsidy? What if the person I buy the box of food for yells "Fuc* off! I don't need your charity!" and slams the door in my face?

Certainly compassion can be taken advantage of, you can be made to look a fool. It shakes your trust. It's what happens when you become attached to outcome. But even when a gesture of compassion fails to produce the results we'd hoped for, just feeling compassion is good for you. Studies have shown that feeling compassion activates the immune system, stabilizes the connections between the neurons in our brains, and compassionate people are more emotionally resilient and stable.

So we come around to the pointing finger once again. Stuck up there, pointing at nothing in particular, it reminds us that we are all attached - to each other. We will all eventually lose everything we have, so there's little point in fighting over it, and practicing true compassion is not for the faint of heart, especially when you are on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Give him a donut and tell him to chill!


Are you as sick of this spectacle of sedition south of the border as I am? The interesting thing is, though I am loathe to admit it, Ted Cruz is a Canadian. He was born in Canada of a Cuban father and a mother who was born in Delaware. Cruz has thus far released only his Canadian birth certificate, which confirms that he was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970, and additionally states that his mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware. The second part is crucial – Cruz’s only claim to U.S. citizenship is through his mother – but it is also hearsay. The birth certificate is primary evidence of Cruz’s own birth, but the entry about his mother merely records her assertion to the Alberta Division of Vital Statistics. Even though I don’t personally dispute what he says, “My mother said so,” is not what is usually meant by “proof.”

How, then, can Ted Cruz prove his U.S. citizenship? The only sure-fire evidence, would be his mother’s birth certificate, presumably issued when she was born in Delaware. But even that presents a problem. Only one of Ted’s parents was a US citizen when he was born (his father is a Cuban émigré who did not become a U.S. citizen until 2005), and he therefore falls under a special section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that applies to “Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent.” Under that provision, Cruz only qualifies for American citizenship if his mother was “physically present” in the United States for 10 years prior to his birth, five of which had to be after she reached the age of 14. The only definitive way to prove Eleanor Cruz’s 10 years of physical presence would be with documents such as leases, school registration, utility bills or tax records.

So here you go America, your least likely enemy is leading the charge to take you down.  Canucks are not a warlike people, but arm us with a hockey stick and an unlimited supply of latte and donuts from Tim Horton's and Washington DC could easily be in our sights. But you can relax. Cruz and his Foamers-at-the-Mouth party wouldn't last five minutes here. If they tried to enter Canadian politics we'd run the lot of them out of town. Of course there's not much danger of them trying to get into Canadian politics. First thing they'd have to do is turn in their handguns, get a background check, take a safety course and get a license for their long guns, but just look what they'd get in return!

Several of the world's top rated cities to live in are in Canada; Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. They'd have Universal Health Care, face 95% less violence in the streets, be able to marry their gay partner (if that's their thing), be underpinned by a reasonably robust social system and there's always Lake Louise! They'd learn Canadians say "I'm sorry" when we don't actually need to, but it's a phrase that serves as social lubricant and it's far less dangerous than exchanging gunfire. They'd also learn we live in peace and harmony with our neighbours, despite the fact that they may be from almost anywhere in the world and may be a different colour, religion, and speak a different language.

A Hindu family lives in two of the units on our floor. The grandparents live with a granddaughter just around the corner, their daughter, her husband and their teenaged daughter live just down the hall.  Last week another neighbour came to my door, and I had e-mail from several others, all upset that the doorway of the Hindu couple had been defaced with Nazi graffiti overnight. One sent a photo. Some were so upset they wanted me to call the police and report it as a hate crime.

On the top doorjamb was a small statue of the Hindu God Ganesh flanked by a pair of good fortune swastiks and a Hindu blessing, written in red ink.  Knowing that grandmother and grandfather had just celebrated their 60th anniversary days before I suspected it was a part of the celebration.  So I went down and talked to them, and as expected, that was precisely what it was. I explained how their neighbours had misinterpreted the swastiks and they said they would remove them immediately. It was good, people were upset that anyone would do such a thing. And even though there had been a misunderstanding of the sign, they felt good that their neighbours felt protective of them.

I'm not naive enough to believe that all Canadians are free of prejudice, but as a nation we certainly wouldn't tolerate a politician, or a political campaign, built on racism, hatred and fear.  Ted better find his proof of American citizenship because he wouldn't last five minutes in Canadian politics.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is it better to let the past be?

The headline was 20 years old, and it hit me squarely in the heart.

Local Teen Dies After Accidental Shooting

To understand we go back over 50 years to a classroom of 11th grade history students and a small, intense teacher with a moustache and an outrageous sense of humour. During class one day while passing my desk he bent down and whispered, "Stay after class, I need to talk to you about something." 

The "something" turned out to be a weekend job, babysitting he and his wife's four children, 12 y-o Margaret, 10 y-o Jeff, 8, y-o Kate and 6 y-o Jo. I was 17 and the five of us slid into a relationship as as easily as if I belonged there. Before long I was spending more time with them than I was at home with my own dour and disapproving-of-each-breath parents.

We camped and hiked and climbed together, took road trips, painted, swam. When I finally graduated and left home to go away to school it was much more my "second" family that I missed than my own. We kept in touch through letters, no internet back then.

Margaret married, and was widowed when her husband was killed in a road accident. Jeff finished college and moved to Alaska, where he married. He and his young wife called out of the blue one evening, having driven well out of their way on the way from Alaska to Arizona. They were a few blocks away, I rushed to meet them, and they spent the evening with us, along with their beautiful baby boy, who was just at the crawling stage.

The letters came and went, and in the early 90s the "second mother" I loved so dearly wrote to tell me of some disturbing symptoms she was having, and of diagnostic tests. The news, when it came, was devastating. She had ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and it was rapidly progressing. They refitted the house to accommodate her wheelchair, hospital bed, roll-in shower, Jo moved in to care for her, Kate and Margaret serving as backup. She lived 13 months after her diagnosis. I still have her final letter, asking me not to grieve, as she'd had a wonderful life and was not afraid of death. She thanked me for my love and friendship, and for being such a good "big sister" to her children.

Margaret wrote a few times after her mother's death. While struggling with her own family problems she had let her mother take over the role of correspondent. It was a difficult period in our lives too, with Tony so ill, and the loss of both my father and Tony's mother. Contact dwindled away.

A few nights ago I decided to see if I could locate Margaret or Jeff as I feel a longing to know how they are. I found a reference to Jeff pretty quickly, in a 20 year old newspaper but from headline to end of story it was like being kicked in the heart by a mule.

The lovely baby boy Jeff brought to meet us was killed at age 17, shortly after his grandmother's death, shot by accident when a friend dropped a pistol belonging to his father that he was showing another boy.    

While they have had 20 years to process their grief, and perhaps come to terms with it, it's yesterday for me. It's not something I'm good at, letting go.  Death is one thing when a person is 90 and has had a full life, it's quite another when it takes a 17 year old boy poised on the brink of every possibility.  And in my pain I'm wondering if it's not better to let the past be?


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The fog comes in wearing hobnail boots

A funny article I read about "No Frills" airline travel made me think back to when we lived on the North Coast in the 1970s and I worked for a small local air service (couldn't call it an airline) which provided daily flights in and out of hunting and fishing camps, research camps where biologists studied grizzly scat or mushrooms or salmon runs or the life cycle of mosses. Most of our business was made up of daily runs to each of the Native villages up and down the coast which were inaccessible by road, and flying across to what is now called Haida Gwai but was then called The Queen Charlotte Islands.

de Haviland DHC-2 Beaver Float Plane
Two of us worked dispatch, kept in radio contact with the pilots and answered the phone. I don't remember exactly how many we had but the workhorses of the fleet were a bunch of 30 year old de Haviland DHC-2 Beavers, equipped with floats. Each carried the pilot and three passengers. Riding in a Beaver was like putting a metal bucket over your head and sticking it in a rock tumbler. You could scream bloody murder at your seat companion, but there was no chance of them hearing you.

The only plane we had of any size was a Grumman Goose, an "amphibian" plane which landed on its belly in the water. It had 12 seats, but we often packed it to the gills with 16-18 passengers. We'd had a second Goose, until the bosses' son had misjudged his elevation in a white-out and hit the mountainside behind the office the year before. Killed everyone on board, and though we could clearly see the wreckage from the office, it took three days for a crew to reach the site. That's rugged country.

Our office sat right on the cove, open water to your right, which served as the runway, and sweeping in a wide circle to the left a low jumble of fish sheds, boats pulled out of the water and turned belly-up to have the barnacles scraped off, and at the far edge of the circle, and directly across from us, the Coast Guard Station and docks. Big heavy coast guard cutters, even battleships, came and went daily in and out of those docks.

Our pilots ranged from old-timers who'd flown in WWII to flash young guys who didn't have the sense God gave a goose. Any fool who does acrobatics in a 30-year-old airplane is asking for trouble, and Bill found it. In the middle of a barrel roll he tore a wing off one of our Beavers and died aged 23.     

But a few months earlier than that I climbed into the cockpit with him one day for a run to Massett when there were no passengers, just a package to deliver. We skimmed the crystal Pacific so closely I could have laid on the float and run my hands through it. You could see schooling fish in the transparent water. We flew over and around a rocky outcropping so covered with sea lions you could hear them barking their displeasure over the roar of the engine, and the stench!  Pig farms smell pleasant in comparison! When I started gagging Bill laughed and pulled away.

Skimming along at a couple of hundred feet, Bill saw a Native fishing boat, and sat the Beaver down beside it. He hopped out onto the float, bought a couple of salmon wrapped in brown paper, and we roared off toward Massett again. 

There's a lovely beach at Massett. Bill said he'd flown over it the summer before, when dozens of swimmers were playing in the water, totally unaware that a huge great white shark 15-16 feet long was idling in a small creek outflow just beyond the wading zone. He flew over the beach, waving out the window, shouting "Shark! Shark!" The swimmers waved back happily. When he landed and ran to the post office to alert the Haida elder he knew would be there the old man shrugged, "He won't bother anyone," he said, "they come to our cold water to get rid of the parasites in their gills. They don't even eat this far north." 

Our biggest worry was the weather. Storms can sweep in from the Hecate Strait with winds of over 100 mph, and play havoc with planes lashed to a floating dock. But we could see storms coming. What we couldn't always predict was fog.

One autumn Friday Bill flew out in the Goose to one of the Native villages to pick up the basketball team for a tournament that was to be held over the weekend. It was clear and crisp when he took off.  It was a 20 minute flight up the coast, maybe 30 minutes to load kids, coaches and baggage and 20 minutes back.

About 45 minutes after he took off, the fog rolled in. This was no wispy, romantic fog, it was a solid brick wall. It broke only enough for us to see that the big ship which had been docked at the Coast Guard all day had powered up and was sliding into the cove. Bill was due in 10 minutes, so we warned him he'd have to circle while the ship cleared the cove.

He swore, and then asked where the ship was now. We couldn't tell. The fog had closed in again.  The Goose was equipped with  landing instrumentation, which should have allowed Bill to locate the ship. His voice was a little tense as he revealed that the instrumentation wasn't working, and he was flying blind above the fog. He decided to circle overhead as long as possible to give the ship time to clear the cove.

The other dispatcher went out with a two-way radio and stood on the end of the dock, listening for the thrum of the ship's engines, trying to gauge where it was. He could hear the Goose overhead. But fog muffles sound and makes it impossible to gauge distance. Finally there was no more possibility of delay. Though we could still hear the ship's engine and knew it was somewhere in the cove the Goose was running out of fuel. 

"I'm coming in," Bill radioed, "God help us if we hit that ship. I've got 18 kids and their coaches jammed in here."

By now the entire staff was standing at the big windows that looked out onto the cove, where the view disappeared at the end of our dock. We held our collective breath as we heard the Goose descend. We  tensed as its belly hit the water and cried out with relief as it emerged from the fog riding a bow wave. The dockers pulled it up and made it fast. Bill crawled out of the cockpit, walked up the dock, into the office, stalked silently past all of us, went into the bathroom and threw up.