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My Mother the Squirrel

Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.

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Creative Commons: Zeeksie @ Deviant Art

On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter  because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.

It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.

purses, overstuffed purse, hoarding, pack rat

Not my sister’s actual purse but a close representation. Creative Commons: http://jewelrypurse.blogspot.ca/

Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.

In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.

At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.

squirrels, hoarding, food, pack ratss

This is not my actual mother but she stores food like the queen of squirrels. Creative Commons: http://theairspace.net/commentary/squirrels/

Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.

She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.

In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.

I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.

Purdys, candy, chocolate, food, hoarding, sweet tooth

My mother’s not so secret love affair is with Purdy‘s made in Vancouver, Canada.

All of this pales  in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.

Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as  we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.

I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”

Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.

All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.

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Supporting the Arts

I’m highlighting a few worthy causes today. One is local, taking place in Vancouver, and the other takes place somewhat virtually through Canada.

COLLABORATIVE ART

First is the Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space Events. This is a group of local artists who are trying to create pop-up art spaces for artists to come by and work in, and just spread the fun and love of art.

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May 25 at Astorino’s
1739 Venables Street, Vancouver, BC

Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space invites you to create a patchwork of ideas and creativity with your neighbours, young and old.

The completed collaborative mural will be a tapestry of painted and embellished circles – each circle being made up of four quarters.

Each quarter completed by an individual will connect to the work of three others, creating a visual representation of continuity within and encircling our neighbourhood.

The Community Circles Collaborative Mural will be kept and put on display by Britannia Community Centre.

All supplies will be provided by Magpie’s Nest. We will provide paints and printing inks, objects to print with, and ephemera to embellish with: beads, buttons, ribbon, embroidery floss, yarn, and needles.

artists, local events, arts, Vancovuer, East Van

June 2: if you’re in Vancouver, come out and get good food and support the arts.

As well, they have a fundraising dinner for more of those community supplies. East Feast takes place on June 2 and for $20 you get a meal, entertainment and three artist presentations that you can vote on.  I find I love public art, whether it’s a mural paint on the wall by the community (see my previous post on East Van wall art), the knitted cozies wrapped around trees and fences, people bursting into song in a mall, the zombie walk, the machine animals of Nantes (see previous post for this as well) or a myriad other things. These pieces are not done for more than surprising people and bringing smiles to our faces. We need more of this in our everyday lives and to recognize that we are community.

CROWDFUNDING AN ANTHOLOGY

Canadian award-winning author Ursula Pflug is editing an anthology called They Have to Let You In. It is due for a 2013/2014 release through Hidden Brook Press.

Details can be found at the site (by clicking the title above) but here are the basics:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 Whether or not we agree, we have probably heard Tolstoy’s famous quote. “What is unarguable is that our family shapes us as nothing else.” Family elicits our strongest emotional responses, whether joy and love, or rage and fear. For this anthology don’t feel you have to sugar coat your work—we aren’t timid and want to include stories and poems that explore the darker aspects of family life. After all, healing requires our truth as well as our forgiveness. But also—please don’t forget to include work that expresses the deep sustaining joy our families can provide. The love we give and receive within families is irreplaceable.

This month’s government cuts to CSUMB (the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit ) will put more families on the street. 100% of royalties from the sale of They Have To Take You In will benefit the shelter system in eastern Ontario.

This anthology will have poetry and fiction and is open to almost any genre. If you’re Canadian or expat you can enter. And instead of crowdfunding to buy a video from drug dealers on Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s alleged drug abuse, why not put the money to something that can doubly benefit people: both the family shelters in Ontario and to writers who submit? And, like all crowdfunding, by donating you’ll also get cool stuff. Go here to support and read more about it: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/they-have-to-take-you-in/x/2238410

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East Van Wall Art

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Bugs on the wall

East Vancouver, around the Commercial Dr. area is known as the boho artsy part of town. The neighborhood used to have and still does, a heavy Italian and Chinese influence, mixed with artists, First Nations and lesbians. It’s eclectic, used to be lower income and filled with many restaurants. Every fall there is the East End Culture Crawl where people can wander through the many artist studios in the area.

wall art, East Van, art, culture, crows, graffiti,

Wings on the walls

As much as these characteristics are part of the cultural pastiche of East Van, the natural fauna  include raccoons and crows. Crows and Ravens are our local board and even the seagulls don’t compare. Every evening as the light leaves the sky, murders of crows fly east to Burnaby and the Grandview cut to roost for the night.

feathers, crows, East Van, wall art, graffiti, graphic design, boho, art

Feathers on the wall

It’s no wonder that recently in a community beautification project, that crows feature largely.  Britannia Centre includes a high school, day care, library, park, year-round skating rink, swimming pool, gym, courts and other areas. The school grounds take up several city blocks and on the west side there is a large retaining wall. A few years back, they rebuilt it and people have been trying to do some community gardening there though it’s been sporadic.

wall, East Van, art, design, crows, graphic art, graffiti, wall art, communityBut recently, in the last two months, during Vancouver’s cool weather this year, people were showing up to paint the walls. I was curious. Was it a random flash graffiti mob or was it organized? People came with stencils and I’d say the bottom part was done by participants who didn’t need to be artists. Several people blocked the background geometrical colors, while others came along and blocked in one color with a stencil.

Later, I saw some guys doing the top part of the wall, which is covered with flying crow silhouettes. The bottom half has bugs, bicyclists, birds and leaves. What really worked for this wall was the range of colors, bold swatches behind bold designs. All of the images have had depth added to them with brushstrokes of other color. The wall is interesting and complex without being overly busy and it’s so much nicer than the bland concrete of before.

wall art, culture, East Van, Vancouver, art, crows, graffitiI don’t know who paid for this project, if it was the community or the city or some combination but it is a beautification plan that has greatly enhanced the area. The wall is two blocks from where I live and I love walking by it. The only thing that could dampen it, like some of the other walls in other areas, is if people paint graffiti over it. I don’t mind graffiti but it’s disrespectful, pointless and destructive to paint over other art. Here’s to hoping there are more projects to make the city look better, and to community spirit.


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Being a Major Minority

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Time and again I hear our provincial and federal governments, and the politicians on their campaign tirades, talk about more money for this and that, giving support to various groups. The most common is “We’re going to support and get more money for children and families.” It’s always families, as if you get a big reward for having children. Don’t get me wrong; I love children and they are born with potential that is only marred by life’s circumstances like location, status, family relations and everything else that molds us. Children should be very much cared for and loved and given every opportunity to become productive, worthwhile and happy adults.

But in a world burgeoning on overpopulation in many countries, with resources being stressed so far that I’m not sure I want to be a child a hundred years from now, I have to wonder about this constant campaigning to support families. “You’ve had one, two, five children; you obviously need support,” say the politicians. But really “you” chose to have those children. You should probably have figured out your budget first. Admittedly procreation is an overwhelming urge in all animals, one way that a species perpetuates and survives, and imperative even in humans. But studies of different animals have shown over time that an overcrowded population tends to bring in controls, not consciously but by nature. Some of these effects of overcrowding tend to be increased violence and disease. One study in rats (that a rat researcher told me of years ago) indicated that overpopulation increased the percentage of homosexuality. This study may or may not have been repeated but it would make a certain sense in population control.

So, in this world there are those who are parents, and those who are not; those single people or couples who, for one reason or another, do not have children are the other. When the government talks about giving support to those burdened families there is never talk about giving it to single people unless they’re young (teens/children) or very old. Being one of those childless and single people, I get a bit miffed. If one person in a couple loses their job, they still have the other person to help with everything from mortgage to food. If you’re a single person, you have nothing but the bridge to live under. Yes, sometimes families need help but controlling that procreation urge (and I speak of those having four, five, ten children) would keep lifestyles saner.

It’s like we’re the black sheep and the lepers combined. I guess someone out there thinks we live high on the hog, doing the singles nightlife constantly, buying the expensive drinks and cars and other toys. Sad to say, many of us struggle with paying unmanageable rents/mortgages while covering all those other costs of living, such as food and clothing and utilities. Families do far more activities than I do. When I hear that families get a break but I don’t because I’m invisible I wonder what sort of stigma the single person and the childless person has. We’re not contributing to overcrowding; we are contributing to society as much as anyone else so why are we not worthy? If things go very bad for me I’ll end up under a bridge, with no support and the government won’t help. I’ve been there in the past, and prostitution looked like it would have to be an option. Luckily I didn’t have to go that route. It makes me really wonder if I should just start popping out kids and be a welfare mom and get government support for families, since “family” is the magical word here.

Above picture courtesy of Uppity Woman blog.

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Tiger Mom Equals Bitch Mom

tiger mom, tough parenting, abusive parents, tough love

Creative Commons: memegenerator.net

A friend sent me Annie Murphy Paul’s article Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer? about Amy Chua, the self-proclaimed tiger mom who is into disciplining her children and forcing them to learn things into the wee hours, without bathroom breaks. Didn’t I hear about this technique used by countries that prefer torture as a way of breaking and humiliating people, or perhaps getting information from them?

After reading the piece I had one strong feeling about Chua: revulsion. It’s not that I don’t think children should be encouraged and disciplined; it’s just that doing so in a draconian way can cause a lifetime of issues for most people. In fact, my second reaction was, well, she has a point about people being too lenient with this generation. I should point out that I haven’t read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, and articles can slant one way or another when aspects are taken out of context.

When I read this Q&A with Chua, I thought she had some good reasoning for some things, and I’ve heard she’s done a fair amount of back pedaling on other statements. (TIME’s Q&A with Amy Chua.) She also said she wrote a memoir, not a parenting guide book. But she strongly touts the Chinese way/Chinese  Moms (in Paul’s article) as a superior way of parenting, almost to bigoted proportions. And by writing the book she did want to portray her way of parenting as superior though she admitted defeat with one child.

I do believe that children should be given expectations, such as good behavior, politeness, completing and passing school, and chores. This trains them to  take on responsibility, be socially functional, be able to succeed and be self-reliant. I’ve watched some friends raise their children by doing everything for them, and they do neither their children, nor their children’s partners in years to come, any favors. But such phrases as Chua calling her daughter “garbage” after the girl behaved badly seem overly harsh. Or when she returned the birthday card her daughter made, saying, “I deserve better than this. So I reject this.”

Yes, we are raising a generation of coddled and entitled kids where everyone in a class is given a prize, but there needs to be a balance, which, Chua argues, she did everything with compassion. As much can be gained by supporting and encouraging your child and expressing love as in disciplining them with jail like restrictions.

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Not all tiger moms are rough. Photo credit: law_keven Creative Commons

I speak partially from experience. My mother taught us responsibility. A punishment or something withheld if we didn’t do our chores would have been justifiable. But sometimes the level of enforcement or lack of compassion didn’t help. I still wish my mother would have kept me at acrobats and tap dance when I was little, something that in my child’s temporal sense of things took someone keeping me on it. But she was sick and couldn’t do it. I still regret that I didn’t continue those classes. I also remember my paper dolls being thrown out in a fit of my mother’s pique. What I did, I don’t remember. We were sometimes punished for imaginary things, or events so small that the punishment never equalled the crime. We were told that “better people than you have failed” and encouraged very little.  That did no service to confidence.

Forcing a child to play an instrument they don’t like, as Chua did, will beat some down and make others rebel as her one daughter did. Giving them a choice to express their creativity in what they like, and then supporting them and making sure they stick to it, is a better way. Yes, too many people let their children do whatever they want and we have a nation of young people growing up with obesity because they only play computer games or watch TV. However, an overly strict disciplinarian style can instill such a case of fear and lack of self-confidence that obesity can result from that too.

Chua’s daughter can now go on dates and only (only!) practice piano for 1.5 hours a day instead of the six she used to have to do. Wow! Six hours a day on top of school and homework, and presumably chores. Of course, practice makes perfect and research supports this, but I wonder if there was ever any time for fun. Chua says,  “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Unfortunately in my family, the tiger mom approach did not give anyone a sense of mastery. Oh, and we’re not Asian either so maybe this isn’t a Chinese way, just a harsh one.

One end of the pendulum is saying your little Johnny is perfect, rewarding him for everything even if he doesn’t finish it or care, doing everything for him, and treating him like a little prince. The other end of the pendulum is treating little Johnny that even second place isn’t good enough, punishing him constantly, leaving no leeway for changes in path or preference and treating him like he’s in prison. In the middle is a parent who is loving and cares and encourages yet set up tasks and responsibilities and doesn’t let the child get away with murder. Paul says in her article, “All that said, however, psychologists universally decry the use of threats and name calling — verbal weapons frequently deployed by Chua — as harmful to children’s individual development and to the parent-child relationship.” Having seen a range I think I’d prefer a cat mom, one who can still use claws from time to time but who can love and relax as well.

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Fire: Seducer, Destroyer

Creative Commns: CC-SA, share, 365. lemasney, postaday2011

Like many children I was fascinated with fire. We didn’t have many opportunities to see it in all its chaotic glory: our house had no fireplace and my mother rarely lit candles. The exception was at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was the central candelabra and four candles that spelled out NOEL, shaped like either snowmen or reindeer (I actually can’t remember). Each kid had one that also was a letter in their name. We all had N and E in our names. My sister and I only had L and I was the only O so it was m letter. These were reverently lit every Christmas but preserved for many years.

The only other time we would see a live fire was when camping in the summer, which we did pretty much every year as that’s an affordable vacation for lower middle class families with not a lot of spare cash. Marshmallow roasts and s’mores and of course, staring into the flames, watching all those fire sprites dance and caper about.

Perhaps it was these tantalizingly slim glimpses that tempted my brother and me to more dangerous games. My parents hadn’t separated yet, which meant that matches were readily available because my father smoked.

It might have started with finding a stub of a candle. I was probably eight or nine and my brother six or seven. We would come home from school for lunch and sneak downstairs to play before going back. Obviously my mother was otherwise occupied or we would have received a good whooping just for lighting the candle. But hiding out in the cement playground, the rumpus room, we would light up the candle, then take the papers straws absconded from the kitchen and light the ends. Ah, the role models of smokers. That’s what we did. We pretended we were smoking those paper straws, always putting out the fire when we were done. This was the more guilty of the two activities that involved fire, but one we were never caught at.

On the weekends we would get up early, as kids are wont to do, and go down to the rumpus room to play with dolls and trucks. There was a spare bed in there that we would sit on and dress the dolls. One morning we dropped a piece of doll’s clothing below the bed. Of course we had the candle lit because we could. My brother took that stub of a candle and looked under the bed for the clothing. The flame licked at the under structure of the bed and before we knew it, things were beginning to smolder. We could see the smoke rising and kept running to the bathroom filling cups of water and pouring them on the mattress. But the smoke grew thicker…and thicker.

Finally, realizing this was getting out of control, my brother and I did the walk of doom, up the stairs to my mother’s bedroom. We had a right to fear because her punishments were often harsh and heavy with wooden spoons and leather straps. I awoke my mother and said, “We were just playing… and all of a sudden the bed caught on fire.”

She was up in moments, and had awakened my older brother downstairs (he would have been about 16/17) He got to haul the mattress outside and house it down. Surprisingly, my mother soundly scolded us but didn’t beat us, laying the blame at my feet, saying, “You should have known better. You’re older.”

I was so ashamed for years about this incident that I didn’t tell anyone until I was in my later twenties. That scold was way more effective than a spanking would have been. My brother and I never repeated our firebug ways and got off light, in terms of punishment and destruction. I have candles now, have had other dangerous dances with fire but I’m very careful about candles.

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Roommates From Hell

It’s the new year and what better way to start a blog than reflecting on the past and how it’s so much better now. Of course, this is distant past but it came up over the holidays, talking about those endearing and wacky roommates we used to have. They were memorable, their antics irritating or unusual and in the end we escaped or moved on.

When I think back I had a few rather unique individuals as roomies. Thank god there never was a mold to make another one. When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved in with a friend. She and her guy went to Greece for the summer and the landlord decided to evict us while she was away. I fought it but eventually we moved, and then she moved in with her boyfriend and I inherited a mutual friend. The friend was okay mostly but had a few issues. One day when I found she had recorded over a tape I had of a band I took back my tape and then came home a week later to find the tape pulled out of the cassette. She claimed it had got stuck but I think a tamper tantrum had caused the true unraveling. Mostly she was okay.

Along the way, she moved into her own apartment and I took the one next door when I couldn’t afford the other place on my own. This was fine until this friend decided to move out of Vancouver and because she was going to do that midmonth she wanted to stay at my place for the two weeks once she gave up her place. Well, two weeks became three became four, became three months. I was far too nice in those days and didn’t say anything, just became more passively aggressive. She began to know that she had overstayed her welcome and eventually left giving me a very nice jewelery box as an apology.

 

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At one point I moved into a house that had four male friends. They were moving out and other friends were moving in. I moved in a month before everyone else so in fact should have had more say you’d think, or maybe even equal say. A couple moved in and another guy. We were all friends but the single guy was always out looking for a mother/sex kitten girlfriend or playing war games with his armies made of lead. Most of us were unemployed at the same time. The couple had three cats. We also had next to no counter space in the kitchen. They wouldn’t wash their dishes, even putting them on the floor, and the clothes usually clean mounded in their bedroom to the ceiling. I lost clothes while living there because I think they got eaten by that cloth leviathan.

But that wasn’t the worst. The no cleaning thing, in a humid and warm city like Vancouver, with three cats meant that there were fleas. Guess who’s allergic to flea bites? I would scratch my legs so bad at night while sleeping that they would bleed. I had to get something from my doctor to stop the itching while I slept. You’d think that might have been the worst of it, but it wasn’t.

The male of the couple started screwing the thermostat shut so it couldn’t be adjusted. No discussion, no communal decision, just the master on high making his decry. I’d have to sneak upstairs, take out the screw and turn up the heat in the winter. One day I was looking for my electric beaters to bake something. When asking the wife she said, ask D, he was doing something with some of the dishes. When I asked D for them, he had packed a bunch of dishes away and put them in the attic. “Are you sure they’re yours?” Yes I’m sure. He gave me a suspicious sidelong look but returned my utensils. D liked to keep every plastic bag. Now I do too but I use mine. These just accrued like Scrooge McDuck’s gold hoard.

The piece de resistance was the cat litter. Thankfully they did change the litter box, bagging up the stinky, used litter and piling it by the back door or on the back porch. When garbage day came along, I went to take the bags to the garbage. “No,” said D, “I’m saving them.” Bewildered, I asked what for? “Oh to reuse, to fill holes in the back yard.” Well, I just blinked and thought WTF? He didn’t garden, didn’t do anything in the yard, and any supposed holes would have stayed toxic waste zones where nothing ever grew. I had to sneak the offending kitty piles out in the dark of night.

He was the weirdest hoarder. All these lovely things built till I wanted to kill D, and I think he wanted to kill me too. So I finally moved, out…on my own…blissfully on my own. I did have a few roommates after that, but mostly I chose to live with my own idiosyncrasies and not anyone else’s.

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The Sucky World of Being Robbed

In my life I’ve been robbed a few times, too many in fact. My first robbery was in Mexico City, the first place I traveled to alone. Having only a week there, I did a whirlwind tour of three places, starting in la ciudad Mexico and ending there. Returning on a Sunday, I went to Chapultapec Park and the world famous anthropology museum, Museo Nacional de Antropologia where, speaking hardly any Spanish at all, I still managed to carry on a conversation with a Spanish speaking guard and understand most of the signs in the museum.

Mexico City is vast, with a population topping 2o million at that time (over 8 million in the city proper). The subway is extremely cheap and the only way to get around quickly. I had been warned to keep my bags close and where I could see them and I did that, but as I boarded the subway train I was pushed on. Now I know that the crowded cities do this to pack the people on but it was a Sunday and not that crowded. As I was putting my transfer into my bag I noticed the slash through it where the guys who had pushed me on the train had taken my wallet. Lucky for me I had less than $10 USD and one credit card with a very non-Mexican name that I canceled immediately. The rest of my traveler’s checks were in my room. Unlucky for me, it was a Sunday, with no banks open and no place that would take a traveler’s check so I couldn’t eat dinner.

When I was in India, backpacking around, I locked down every pocket I could on my giant backpack, leaving only two side pockets open, which carried shampoo and dirty underwear. At one point I got stuck on a train, which had four open beds to every partitioned but open area. I had asked for the women’s carriage but hadn’t been given it. I couldn’t sleep because I was on the top bunk and my backpack was shoved under the bottom one, way too heavy to have been lifted had it even fit up top. My face was about six inches away from the ceiling fan, which luckily was covered. I kept looking down to check on my pack but at one point I just had to go to the bathroom, the squat toilet on a moving train (and how fun was that). Eventually when I disembarked I found that my shampoo and dirty underwear were gone. I hope they enjoyed both.

I was robbed again in New York City. By now, I was quite aware of the sneaky way in which robbers try to get your goods. I’d had a small pack to carry around with me for the week. But I let my guard down at the airport, at the last minute. My friends had driven me to the airport and we were have a coffee when a man came up on my left and asked us the time. Of course we all looked at him, unaware of the person behind me and on my right who grabbed my purse. We realized it in minutes but it was too late. Off went my purse, $200, two plane tickets, my film, my glasses, my contact case and all my ID (I had only brought the ID I needed though). The airline said they would replace my ticket for free but I had to pay for it first. Of course I couldn’t because I had no money or ID. This was before 9-11 because I can’t imagine how screwed I would have been otherwise. Luckily my friends could cover the cost and I could pay them back later. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

The most robberies I’ve experienced have actually been burglaries of my home or car. And they are the ones that have happened more recently. Several years ago I was home on a very hot night with my windows and doors open. My patio door faces the back yard and the other door does not face the street so not visible to anyone walking by. I was packing for a trip the next day and was in my den typing when I smelled cigarette smoke.

I don’t smoke but I looked up to see someone brazenly in my living room. Somewhat in a surreal state I ran into the room as the guy left and was gone by the time I could look out on the street. I called the police but to no avail of course. I believe it was my ex-drug addict neighbor, someone who knew where all the doors were. I searched the neighborhood that night, looking in every dumpster I could find, sure that he had taken what he needed, and dumped the rest.

The next day I had to get a driver’s licence before I could leave on my trip. All I had was an expired passport so I could get the license done but would not be allowed to pick it up until I had my birth certificate. Somehow a photo ID  like a passport isn’t good enough but anyone could walk in with my birth certificate and get my driver’s license picture shot and paid for. That makes a lot of sense. And of course I had to write back to my birth province for the birth certificate and ask my sister what hospital I was born in because I certainly didn’t know.

I made it through, canceling credit cards and paying for new ID. About two months later I received a call from a dumpster company where they had found my purse, complete with ID and even postage stamps. The purse and wallet were disgusting soaked with garbage juices but I reclaimed my ID and now have spares of a few things. But I was out the cost of the replacement ID, the purse and wallet and of course my cash. I’m even more cautious now but on a nice day at home, you’d think you could leave your door open. I have friends that live in a small town outside of Seattle and they never lock their doors.

Personally, I think I’ve done my time being robbed and burgled and that it’s now time to win the lottery. Hopefully I can write about that exciting change some day soon.

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Insanity Has Invaded My Life

You’d think I was on holidays without posting for a week but with work being overly busy, some extra projects and a party, I just didn’t have time to write.

Last night (now a week ago) I decided to start a bit of the Great Purge. You know, when you have been hanging on to things because of some sentimental reason; you’ll fit those jeans again, you liked that person’s poem, you might get back into that career, you haven’t filed these papers in soooo long, you just had to have that collection, etc. The aspects of life that make up the Great Clutter. For many people we stop at this.

My genes are set toward the pack rat, the clutterer, the collector, the hoarder. My mother is a collector and pack rat; my sister tends more towards the hoarder. The difference is organization and if garbage is involved. Maybe in the long run there isn’t a lot of difference. I have a lot of stuff; ornaments, arts, jewelery, books, papers. The latter two are part of being a writer. I keep these books for reference; I keep copies of stories, poems, articles in hard copy because of the possibility of computer meltdown. I keep all publicity items: reviews, newspaper articles, fliers for readings, photos, newsletters that mention an award or something that was published, rejection and acceptance letters (the last two are partially for income tax purposes).

It adds up after a while. Then there are all those hobbies I do: jewelery making, belly dance, sewing, medievalism, calligraphy, etc. etc. And before I know it, every bookcase is full, carefully arranged, but with books on top of books; my closet is full of costumes and fabric, my shelves are full of beads.

I live in a space big enough to fit two comfortably, or if I lived 200 hundred years ago, or in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, big enough for a family. In North America we do tend to expand to fit the space. Bigger cars, more junk food and higher obesity, more space, more stuff. My stuff isn’t like some people’s stuff. I have had friends where every piece of wall and every surface in their places were completely covered with stuff. This wasn’t junk piled helter skelter. There were ornaments, collectibles, memorabilia, books, records, things, arranged neatly and dusted at least twice a year. Compared to these friends I’m positively zen, and I dust four times a year. Of course there are my zen friends who think my place is a bit…full.

Like many North Americans, I seem to live at a hectic pace of working and then doing other things in my free time, from taking classes to pursuing other hobbies, to of course, writing. Many of these activities would take up significant time, and still allow time for socializing. All of them together means I’m often up late, flitting from project to project with many things in the works for a long time, and usually sleep deprived.

So though my shelves and closest are neatly stacked there are pockets that I haven’t got to in year. The preliminary purge cleaned out a box (the size that paper for photocopiers come in) of books that I sold to a second-hand bookstore, and another box of magazines that will probably go to the garbage. Omni, Scientific American, Wired, some that I kept for reference but there is just so much. And if you look at my shelves there is still no space on them. I have a pile on my floor of other items and clothing to donate to charity and still there is a lot. So the Great Purge will have me go room from room and sift through the last ten years of items that made my life. My den is the smallest room and yet the most densely packed so it will take the longest but I’m determined to whittle. This will be a several month project I think but in the end hopefully I’ll have more space to do what I really want. I have a two-drawer filing cabinet in which I have no idea what papers lurk. I store my rejection and acceptance slips but weed them every five years but I don’t know what’s taking up the other 2/3 of the cabinet.

Perhaps in the weeks to come I’ll write about my expedition into the strata of my life. Like an archeologist/anthropologist I will come across items from my past that will see ludicrous or profound. And maybe just maybe I’ll rediscover some buried treasures.

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The Cornucopia List: June 18

I think I missed my list last week of five things for which I’m grateful. I hit a really busy period so I’ll just list five things for the last two weeks.

  1. Pastoral Foothills–I drove to Osoyoos last weekend, a very dry part of BC, and even drier in Oliver where the large mudslide happened. BC is mostly the Rocky Mountain range from the coast to the border so much of our towns and cities are situated near mountains or in rolling hills. Osoyoos and area is rolling, humped hills, in shades of green with small copses of trees and a smattering of cows and horses. With the fluffy clouds overhead, interspersed with hot sun, it gave a dappled pattern to the earth. Truly beautiful.
  2. Happy People–Of course we’re not often grateful for the grumps but being around people last weekend just taking it easy, mingling, chatting and drinking made me realize I’d missed many of them.
  3. Illumination–I’m not talking about the light that shines from the sky or from electronic bulbs. I’m talking medieval manuscripts and the illuminated borders and capitals. The “illumination” in a scroll or manuscript was the laying down of gold leaf, which gave the piece  a certain brilliance especially in those tallow candle times. Those old pages, worked on painstakingly by monks for days and weeks on end can be truly astounding. I know people who do this and I have done such illuminations in the past though my skills pale next to what I can see some people do. In fact, some of them might have been seen as blessed by God in the good ole days. This illumination was taken from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s site: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/
  4. Estate Wineries–I really want to do a wine tour through the Okanagan, but when I have enough money to actually buy some of the wines. We did stop at the Forbidden Fruit winery on the way back from Osoyoos as we didn’t have a lot of time. They had some ice wines (for $20 it’s much cheaper than you can get in the liquor store), a couple of ports, and one or two white and red wines. I bought a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Plumiliscious ice wine (sort of an ice wine I think). They had about eight different types with cherry, apricot, apple, plum, white grape, peach etc. Maybe later this summer…
  5. Genealogy–It’s interesting and fascinating to see where our roots lead. My aunt, who passed away recently, had tracked one side of the family tree, the part I knew least about. I knew there was Danish and Italian in our family but I didn’t know about the Norwegian, a line that can be tracked back at least to the 1600s. My ancestors were part of Rovang Gaard, being the Rovang farm families. Good ole peasant stock, no special people except for everyone being special in their own way. I look at the branchings, all the surnames and all the people in those families and think about track the other three branches and how they  would branch and branch all the way back to the first awareness of self. It’s truly possible that we’re all related to half the world. When thinking about it this way it’s even more bizarre to think you could hate or be racist against part of your own family but then families don’t always get along, do they? Still, I’m fascinated by the names.

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