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.