Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Speaking of Fine

I read an interesting blog entry this morning by Al Andrews on Donald Miller's Storyline blog. It was called "What To Say When Everything is Not Fine." You can read it here (but promise to come back...Donald's blog is a vortex of good things...)

It basically was addressing why we feel the need to say we're fine when we're really not, particularly in the context of meeting up with a friend or an acquaintance. I've been thinking about it all day and it really has me wondering what it is we fear in being vulnerable. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I am not going to persuade anyone that we should be blurting out our medical history or the details of our tempestuous on-again-off-again relationships woes, but I will say that I often err on the side of answering, "I'm fine" when really I'm not. And, to be honest, I often walk away feeling somewhat disenchanted with myself in that type of interaction. If I meet someone who I consider a friend or a kindred spirit type, I actually demean the relationship when I cover up the truth of my reality. Not only am I being false in lying (however socially acceptable that is in this instance) but I'm also putting out a sense of well being that may cause my friend to think that I have everything under control even though they know circumstances say different.

I would go so far as to say that I might even be putting them in a position to lie back to me, to cover their feelings,  or to feel badly that if I, in the gong show that is my life, am handling it so well, perhaps he/she isn't handling their own circumstances with such amazing poise and dignity. (Feel free to choke on your morning coffee here...)

So, even though you haven't asked, here's the raw truth right now. I'm doing okay at best. Having my position cut and being unemployed wasn't in my summer plans. I was hoping to ramp up the work I was doing building on the momentum I had, not being cut loose and figuring out how to move forward.  I am still disentangling from the position while looking for new work, simply because everyone else in the office is on holidays - that bites a little, if I'm being honest.  I told a friend who is in the same position having just lost her job unexpectedly that I have had to stop following the social media of people I worked alongside who are living at the lake this summer while I'm dropping resumes and reading rejection letters. It's just the reality of this stage of life.

And yet, though our holiday plans became a stay-cation, there's a lot of lovely things about this period if I can stop and remember. I get out on the river at least once a week to paddle. I spent an unexpected few days with my sister in laws and friends out in Manitoba...that was a bonus. And even our inability to travel as we would have liked meant that we explored some unique and interesting adventures and places we would likely have missed in our hometown. It's not all doom and gloom...except when it is.

I've been comparing it in my mind to a summer storm. It blows in, wrecks plans, makes lots of noise and rattles everyone....but when it leaves, the summer days seem fresher and more lovely because it passed through.  So, I took a few minutes to look through some photos of the last week and I would say that probably they portray that life is pretty sweet. And in fact, it is. I am just reminded of what my wise friend, Rich Shannon, told me once...that anything online is just a snapshot of that particular moment in time...not the full story. So, what you won't see is the fingers-crossed-hoping-the-debit-card-goes-through....the racing in my brain even while floating in my friends' beautiful pool... or the watching of the clock as I take the dog to our favourite place for a run in the river, not wanting to miss a potential call back on a job application. But, you know what? I'm glad you don't see those things. They're not what I want to take away from the beauty of all we are able to enjoy in these days.

The boys at Blue Mountain Adventure Ziplines

Our family had the place to ourselves and we had an amazing time!

The beauty of the prairies in the summer is unbelievable.

Road trip to Alberta for a wedding

Catching up with old friends before they move overseas...

A little reminder at my seat at the wedding

Beauty in this season

Berries and blue skies in our favourite park

Charlie and I having fun at the river...just us on a weekday!

Easton and Simon taking relaxation to the next level

Finding rest in Margie's pool

Venturing out on Rock Lake with Kim

So, yes, life isn't a bowl of cherries. It's not. And it won't be for a while, I guess. But I'm just fine. I really am.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Daily Accomplishments

Picked Saskatoon berries and raspberries
Put a nest with two baby birds in it back in the tree
Paddled up the lake into the river channel
Played catch up with a whooping crane
Laid on my board and watched the pelicans fishing
Snuck up on turtles sunning themselves on logs only for them to slide into the water
Watched fish jump
Watched a crop duster sweeping in and over the hill
Paddled with my sisters in law
Took the dog out on the board
Had dinner on the deck

It's summer rolled into one day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dream Jobs and Work in Progress

Every once in a while, I get a call to come work security at our local arena for a concert. It's a pretty fun gig most of the time, when people behave themselves for the most part or if I get to hang out watching the road show from backstage. Sometimes it's even funny...like when there's a comedian in town or some young pop star falls through the stage because he's only paying attention to the his wardrobe for the first three songs of the concert.

This week, I did a mind numbing 15 hours shift back stage in "the tunnel" - the area where the dressing rooms and production offices for the visiting acts are. I arrived just as the crew buses and trucks were pulling in, armed with a cooler of snacks and a large double double (coffee...2 cream, 2 sugar for my south of the border friends...) that I was putting a lot of faith in. 

I walked in and got myself situated in a small hallway that leads to a set of double doors that leads to another set of double doors that leads to a stairwell where someone else was sitting at the top, ensuring no one came down that wasn't authorized. So, essentially, I was second string security for a little known and lesser used entry point to the dressing room tunnel. It didn't bode well for excitement but in this gig, a quiet day is a good day. 

The trucks unloaded, the crew began to set up stages, catering began to cook and prepare meals for the multitude of stage hands and production crew throughout the day. The catering team hustles hard and they have a long and often very detailed list of items that are requested in advance for the performers to have available just in case they should want it pre- or post-show. I've seen everything from a crate of beets and a juicer to a certain, very difficult to find scent of candle, to an expensive array of organic goods to a cooler full of top shelf tequila roll by me when I work backstage.  This particular band and crew were pretty easy going and had most of their own stuff handled. 

I was quizzed by the head of their security firm if I knew who the band was and could identify them in the hallway as they would not be wearing passes and had free run of the place. Thankfully, I had googled their bio just moments before in the car, waiting to start my shift. Also, thankfully, the band only had 3 members and they were pretty distinct looking guys. I won over the security boss and that always makes the day go smoother when they feel like they can rely on you to be responsible. Often, if they are unnerved (or just power mongerers...) they can make your day feel like you are at boot camp and you have to just smile and acknowledge their barked orders all day even when it's something as minute as having your chair 1.5" over the crack in the linoleum that they had asked you to be behind.  The worst was a the security boss for a comedian who toured a while back. He sat us all down and told us it was our job to make sure that our friend "Mr. Comedian" didn't lose any of the such and such million dollars he stood to make on this recorded event by allowing anyone to tape or take photos. Super inspiring when you're talking to an audience of casual workers making less than minimum wage.  We had to wear glow sticks around our neck and be in constant motion scanning for recorders of any sort (including phones) and there was immediate ejection for anyone caught even taking a selfie in the building.  It's common these days for people to record on their phones, despite the fact that they are watching their favourite live....they do it through the 4 inch screen on their phone for reasons I still don't understand. Why would we want to hang on to a memory so tightly that we miss the experience? That's a post for another day in itself.

As the afternoon wore on, the opening band showed up and began to practice and sort themselves out in their shared dressing room. Once the "talent" is in the building, it's go time and essentially from the moment they get in the building until they leave the property, it's on us to ensure that they are happy, happy, happy.  A couple of the main band guys showed up and began to meander around the tunnel. They were friendly and chatty, just sort of getting the lay of the land before the building was open to the public. They eat, they work out, they play music, they nap...basically all in the cement bunker that is the tunnel. It's a long day for everyone and no one really sees the sun or any weather for that matter, for the rest of the day. Around dinner time, we hear the word that the final band member is arriving with his kids in tow. Personally, I like seeing kids on the road with their parents. I'm sure it's an unusual upbringing but the truth is, kids need their parents and if they can spend time with them on the road, then that's time well spent.  This family came in and while maybe a bit unconventional, it was certainly Dad and the kids...well, and a bodyguard named after a large animal who was charged with the task of keeping the kids in sight. No easy feat when the kids came equipped with scooters and helmets and a lot of energy to whip around the large empty arena. This bodyguard was tracking his steps on his fitness app and clocked 5 miles in the evening before the show even started.  Maybe that's the gig I need...none of this sitting around keeping everyone "safe" business.

Stationary as I was, I had a front row seat of the backstage life and I will say that this is what I realized.  Here was a guy who had started chasing his dream of being a musician as a young guy. He practiced for years until he was as amazing as he is now...but that came with a lot of time in the garage, banging on the drums or strumming the guitar or whatever talent he had that needed time under its belt to develop.  And yes, while he walks on stage to the glamour of a stage set up and his gear in place and his dressing room ready, he possibly spent years carting his own gear, eating fast food and rushing to tear down his gear before the "real" talent came on stage after he warmed up the crowd. There was also probably a long period where when asked what he wanted to do with his life, his response of being a musician was met with skepticism or even worse, practicality. The years where people thought it was a phase or patronized him with a few questions before shaking their heads wondering when reality was going to bite him. 

And I realized that even now, while he had 90 minutes on stage doing the thing he loves most in life, that there are nights where he would rather be home, tucking his kids into their own beds or watching Netflix and eating cereal at 11 pm. The dream job is out there...but it's always tinged by reality. His 90 minutes of limelight is only afforded by his years of practice, pushing, patience and persistence. Even then, there are those who put in the effort and it never pays off...or lasts. 

I'm still dreaming about the next big thing in my life...but I am beginning to believe it's not a job or a position. A bit counter cultural in our world right now, but I'm going to say my next big thing is getting these boys through school and launched into life with the skills and support that only a family can establish in them. My next big thing is to figure out how our love for our friends in Zambia and Zimbabwe can continue to be a priority as we search for the means to travel and support and learn from them as often as we can. My next big things might be to focus on the smallest things yet, the quiet corners that have been neglected and the details that get glossed over in the pursuit of a big life. I don't crave fame or fortune, in fact, quite the opposite. I've always felt an affinity for the verse that says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.  I haven't figured out the balance at this point. I tend not to want to be dependent to a fault, where I don't ask for help, even when it's offered with genuine care. I also am never good at the "minding my own business" aspect...mostly because I'm the mother of teenaged boys (good looking ones at that, if I do say so myself...) and I feel compelled to ask and ask and ask and even then, if unsatisfied, resort to a teeny tiny bit of spy work. I'm not proud of it...I'm just putting it out there as the cold hard truth of my flaws. 

So, I'm not employed but I'm working. On myself. My family. My outlook. My flaws. (well, maybe not the spying but I'm sure it will work itself out once my boys are out of high school...) My character. My friendships. 

It's a work in progress for sure -the paycheque is dismal but I'm feeling it's going to pay off. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Paddling in Circles

I used to have a weekly escape when we lived near the mountains. Skiing. I will not even write "downhill skiing" because it is just skiing. Alone. Fast. Slow. Through the trees. Down icy faces. It didn't matter. For several years, in different cities, when ski season opened on the local hills, I was a Friday skiier. In fog. In sunshine. Sometimes even in the rain. Skiing was the one activity that consistently challenged me to do something physical and get outside, and it was the one thing that could erase a week's worth of crabby toddlers or frustrations at work or even grief in the family.

For the past ten years, I've tried to fill that hole in my life with many things and I admit, I even tried cross country skiing. That's what happens when you move to a place where the only ski hill is closed and you are sad because you didn't get to even say that you skied on the garbage dump turned ski slope while it was operating. I drive by it on my way south and I feel gypped every time. That's how desperately I missed skiing. I took the boys hiking there several times for the first few autumns we lived there. We'd hike up the chairlift line and run down the hills and to me, it was sort of a lame attempt to recapture the freedom I found on other hills. Alas, when you build a resort on a garbage dump, perhaps it's fitting that the freedom it offers is a bit junky in comparison to the real deal. 

I admit, I was very spoiled in our earlier years. I lived in close proximity to some of the most amazing ski hills and had season passes to some of the best. Big White in Kelowna remains a refuge in my mind, I could go up midweek on my day off and have hours of skiing barely seeing anyone else on the hill. In Reno, I skied at several former Olympic venues and small family hills alike and was never bored or restless with the terrain.  I took Aidan for his first ski trips when he was just 4 and he took to it like a bird to water. I loved those days. We would ski all day at Northstar, me following my little guy through the trees and over trails, on long wide runs where he'd hardly turn and I would hold my breath praying he wouldn't crash. We'd finish the day with hot chocolate by the outdoor fire and then Aidan would trade in his skis for his skates and take a few laps on the outdoor hockey rink in the plaza, while I gathered the energy for the ride home. Those were pretty sweet days indeed. 

It's taken me a long time to find something that feels remotely as satisfying but a couple of summers ago, my neighbour introduced me to stand up paddleboarding. I'm sure she wondered if she should pursue it with me after we arrived at the river for the first time and I quizzed her on how many ways I could die in the weir (about 2 kms away) and what the current body count was in the river at any given time. She gave me a stern lecture on safety and told me that there was nothing to be afraid of, there were no sucking vortex that was going to pull me under, no quicksand pits or riptides to sweep me where I didn't want to go. The worst that was going to happen was I might have to swim to shore and walk back to where I needed to be. Given that I had just spent several nights on the Kafue river in Zambia with crocs and hippos and several other meat eaters willing to devour me along the river banks if I wasn't careful, the South Saskatchewan seemed relatively tame. We paddled a few times together on short paddles and then began to take longer treks from up river. I loved it. It was one of the closest things I found to recreate the freedom of skiing since we'd arrived back in Canada. 

This summer, I bought a paddleboard and just last week, I venture out on my first solo paddle on the river. I went to a familiar launch spot and paddled up river to the south bridge and then floated back. It. Was. Spectacular.  I realized that now I had the means to go and paddle the river from a farther launch spot. One of my goals was to get Charlie, our lab, out on the board. Jason drove us and the board up to a local canoe launch a few km up river. We put the board in and gave Charlie a couple starts and it seemed like she was going to do it...so away we went. Jason waved us out of sight and promised to pick us up in the city when I called to let him know we were close. It should have been about a 4 hour paddle but given that Charlie and I were new at it, there were more than a couple good dunks and a few goose chases, but we made pretty good time at first.  It was midweek and there were only a few other kayaks on the river that I encountered so we were having a good time, just figuring out how to paddle as two on the board. Sometimes I would let Charlie off on a long sandbar where she would run and play as I floated past. I would wait for her at the far end of the sandbar, she'd get back on the board and we'd paddle on to the next. The river is low this time of year and the stops were frequent and fun. Over the trees, I was keeping my eye on a bank of dark clouds that were seeming to loom up out of nowhere, despite my having checked the weather on several sources. I watched with some alarm as it came in quickly and looked like we were going to intercept a few kms up the river, about halfway to where we needed to be to get picked up. I had a couple choices at this point. Charlie and I could wait it out on a sandbar and hope it blew right by us or I could paddle us back, upstream to where we had launched. Neither seemed like great options but I could not make a decision. Talk about paddling around in circles. I must have pulled into the sandbar at least four times, dismounted, settled in and then thought better of it, reloaded the board, the dog and began to fight the current and now the incoming wind, to try and paddle back. It only took me two attempts to realize that I was not going to out run the storm, so we paddled again, back to the sandbar and dismounted. I was just pulling my board up on the beach and beckoning Charlie out of the water when another kayak appeared around the bend, heading for our same spot. The two kayakers and their beagle, joined us up against a large bluff and we watched as the dogs played oblivously on the beach while the storm dropped in on us from overhead. The kayakers were less afraid than I was but sufficiently worried to affirm that I had made the right decision. We stayed there for about 40 mins while the lightning flashed and the thunder cracked almost simultaneously, sending the dogs back to us for comfort.  The tail end of the storm started to move over us and the lightning and thunder were moving away from us in what seemed like a single wall of activity. Once it passed, we gathered our things and got back on the river. I was glad that there were others out on the river to pass the storm with but I was even more thankful they hadn't witnessed my inability to make a decision when the storm threatened.  

I'm sure there's some parallel to why storms seem to unnerve us when we're caught out, without a solid plan. I feel like there's a lesson in there somewhere about having to choose whether to have to paddle hard and backtrack to what you know vs. sitting out the storm with no real option to move forward. Maybe it's about doing a little less scurrying and a lot more sitting in security. I'm not sure. If I was supposed to learn something that day, I hope it sinks in before I head out on the river again. I have no desire to revisit that one.