Archive for June, 2008

In theory, moving home with the folks for the month prior to our departure to Costa Rica seemed like a good proposition.

In practise, the experiment blew up in my face on the first night. Despite being near 40 and a mother of two, I found myself suddenly thrust back in time, like a 14-year-old bringing home a report card.

Eager to get some family feedback on the blog, I pulled up the address for my dad for a perusal. He finished reading then settled back in front of the TV to continue watching one of those mind-numbing all-financial-news-all-the-time shows and complained about the sinking price of oil stocks in the face of ever-climbing prices for the commodity.

Finally, I asked what he thought. The reply was less than complimentary.

“It’s not very professional,” he flatly replied.

Well, the fight was on. Like I said, 14 again. While the argument now isn’t about what I’m wearing on my way out the door it’s still about how I look.  

His main complaint was the language. He was upset I called myself a pig — and him gun happy, worried that animal rights activists might start showing up on his doorstep because of my concern that he might “take my cat for a walk on the back 40 at the first sight of a soggy hairball.”

Suddenly I began to second-guess myself, my mind racing about shattering my social mask. Will people really think I’m a pig? Is my blog too crass? Too raw?

Why is it that even after becoming a grown up with kids our own we can be reduced to a child begging for approval when it comes to dealing with our own parents?

I am a journalist but, for God’s sake, I’m not writing about the war in Afghanistan here.

But for the record: I’m not really a pig. I just felt like one at that moment, cleaning out a house that has for too long been neglected. And my dad isn’t really going to take the cat for a walk (I hope), and isn’t gun happy (anymore.)

And I really am going to Costa Rica, just not soon enough.


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Confession time: I am a slob. A pig. A clutter-bug.

As I write, the kitchen floor beckons, “Please, please clean me.”

Yet here I sit. Happier to pound away on the keyboard instead of cleaning up, despite the fact that I have mere hours to finish the job and get out my house.

It wasn’t always this way (although there are a few who would beg to differ.)

We bought our dream home several years ago. A brand new, luxury infill one block from the river in an up-and-coming inner-city community. As DINKs in our early 30s, we opted for an opulent home instead of kids. I happily spent hours keeping that house pristine, its granite counter tops so clean I could see my reflection.

Then sort-of-oopsy number one came along and suddenly my beautiful dream home became cluttered with kid stuff. Not long after, we tearfully sold it for a more practical place, albeit one in desperate need of help from years of neglect. I think this is where my clean gene mutated.

Picking up after kids all day long gets old fast and after baby number two came there was a choice to make: give up worrying about a clean house or go crazy. First I went crazy, then I let it go — figuratively and literally. In the meantime, it seems I’ve somehow moved to the other extreme, now blind to the dust bunnies that collect under beds and in corners.

And the kids have practically destroyed the place. There are nicks out of walls, deep scratches in the hardwood floors and a rainbow of crayon colours in places I’m still scratching my head about.

Well, the kitchen awaits. Must get to those floors. After all, I wouldn’t want our tenant to move in and think we lived like pigs.

Oink. Oink.

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The mommy club is closed. I’m not quite gone, but already forgotten. I’m out.

We have one more month before we leave for Costa Rica, settling in the lush central valley where the temperature (apparently) never goes above 25 C or below 20 C. But already my mommy friends are moving on, planning summer outings and play dates without us. It feels like being in First Grade again and the only kid in the class not invited to the big birthday party of the summer.

I hadn’t quite expected to feel such a sense of loss over missed days at the playground. It seems my own relationship isn’t the only one I’ve taken for granted in recent years.

Friendships form and reform and sometimes fall away, depending on the phase in your life. Even at the best of times, they are fragile and need to be nurtured like a flower garden. Ours have been neglected of late. Hopefully they will come back next year and not completely wither and die.

This is partly why I’ve set up the blog, so our friends can follow our journey and hopefully grow right along with us, albeit virtually. Most have been incredibly supportive, offering encouragement and assistance where needed. There are handful of others who seem ambivalent. Like a pebble tossed into a pond, there’s a ripple effect in undertaking a major life change. When your world changes, so does that of the people in it, even if only in a small way.

At least that’s my perception. And at this point I can’t trust my own perception because the stress is distorting all my thoughts, making me paranoid and uber-sensitive to everything. In reality, I’m pretty sure my mommy friends are not extending invitations because they know I’m pulling my hair out in panic trying to finish packing up the house before moving to my parents. At least that’s what one of them told me today with warm and sincere reassurance.

Perhaps this pang of homesickness at home is to prepare me for the sense of isolation and loneliness that’s bound to arrive in Costa Rica not long after us.

Better start practising my Spanish.

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Practical matters

If you’re considering a move to foreign land you might first want to take a hard look at yourself and how you cope with stress.

It seems the older I get the less I’m able to deal with major upheaval and this move is taking its toll. I’m barking orders at my kids and husband like a captain to his deckhands. I’m on the verge of a major anxiety attack. Making matters worse is the aching aftermath of some major dental work I had done in hopes of avoiding a problem whilst away (note to self: next time investigate medical/dental tourism industry prior to forking over $2,000 for a porcelain inlay).

When did moving become such a big deal?

Having two small children poses even more challenges. Packing away even the smallest toy can bring on a major meltdown and suddenly all the toys that haven’t been played with in months become the favourite, can’t-live-without-it treasure.

On the upside, the basement clean out that you’ve been wanting to do for ages but just can’t seem to find the time to do, gets done. When faced with the prospect of hauling out all those boxes of junk you’ve been packing around for years, because you think you might one day find use for something in said box that contains stuff you didn’t even remember you had, the idea of throwing it out suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

We’ve decided to block off one room in our house to store less valuable and more easily replaced items. The rest will go to a garage at the parentals. Storage lockers can prove very expensive, as much as $300 per month for a whole house of stuff. Or, you can purchase a train container. Though they can run in the thousands, some companies will buy them back at almost full value.

Do your research and call around to find the best option for you. But if you’ve got family who’s willing to allow you to take up some space for a year, or however long you plan to be away, eat the guilt and do it. It means more money in the pocket for the time away.

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A cat conundrum

My cat’s name is Tucker.

He arrived at this name in earnest. A fluffy, black and white little thing that looked like a tiny lion, he was cute but crazy. He used to eat my plants and tear up the house. It drove me mad, causing me to shout out, ‘You little . . . .’ Think of a word that rhymes with Tucker.

He grew into an amazing feline who thinks he’s human, learning to pee on the toilet without any training.

But he’s old, nearly 16 now. And while we’ve made alternative living arrangements for our family until we leave next month, I’m stuck at what to do with Tucker.

A few months ago I took him to the vet. He’d been puking all over the house (including my bed) and yowls all night long, waking us and the kids up at all hours. I had hoped the vet would tell me, “It’s time.” Instead, he said, “He’s in great shape. Lots of years left in this cat.”


It’s impossible to pack a cat in a suitcase and expect him to survive so we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with him while we’re away. There are few places to put a senior cat, not like sticking your aged parents in a nursing home when they start walking around in circles and unable to string words together.

While my parents (still able bodied and not yet in need of sticking in a home) have kindly agreed to take him him for a year, I’m worried that my dad — a great man but a little gun happy — might take him out for a walk on the back 40 at the sight of the first soggy hairball.

I love my cat but frankly, after having kids, he’s been reduced to just that. A cat. I’m afraid his nine lives might have expired.

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This morning I wrote my second post and probably committed the cardinal sin of blogging. I went back and hit delete a few hours later. After reading it, again, again, and again (once again a writer’s insecurity rearing its ugly head) I realized it was trite and cliche.

Setting out on a voyage that requires packing up a life and a home and abandoning friends and family for a year is one thing. Putting all the internal dialogue that goes along with it onto a page is something else entirely.

So, I’m seeking inspiration from, where else, a book.

I picked up today Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Despite her appearance some time ago on Oprah, I hadn’t heard about the book until a colleague of mine mentioned it the other day.

It is an autobiographical novel about ‘One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.’ Essentially, it is a story of Elizabeth Gilbert’s search during a year of travel for balance after a gruelling divorce.

So far, it’s resonating but I’m still finding it difficult to open myself up, and share all the thoughts running through my mind and heart as we prepare for this voyage to unknown territory — both physically and emotionally.

I noticed it especially after going live on national radio, to talk about the angst of giving up a good job, a relatively happy life in a prosperous North American city to live in a developing country where the average salary is about $8 per day. What was amazing, though, was the outpouring of support from listeners to Aldler Online, who called in congratulating us and sharing their own stories. I understood for the first time that part of this journey is not only about reconnecting with my husband, children and myself — but connecting with other people.

I’ve always considered myself an open book, one who shouts across a noisy newsroom both the good and bad things that happen in my life. Perhaps it’s my background as an investigative journalist, but I’ve always believed that if you put everything out there it gives people nothing to talk about.

In reality, I’ve discovered that the real me remains hidden somewhere inside, too afraid to come out should someone not approve, or find ugliness in what truly resides at my core.

So I’ve decided this blog will not only chronicle our adventure in Central America but my journey of self-discovery, as well. Bit by bit, I hope to peel back the onion layers and reveal what really lives inside of me. I just hope that I can write through the tears.

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There’s nothing like dropping a line to an old friend and ending up on national radio.

My intention was to send a quick e-mail to my friend and colleague, well-known radio host and provocative political commentator Charles Adler, to let him about our year-long sabbatical to Costa Rica. The unexpected result was him wanting to talk about it on his popular national radio show.

What a way to launch a blog about our adventure.

I had hoped to spend weeks crafting my first post, creating some insightful prose that might convince people our journey is worth following online. We writers are an incredibly insecure bunch, and it is a surprise to discover that the words just don’t come as easily when writing about myself. But here I am, forced to slap something together on a deadline, like always, so here it goes.

Aside from a few years in Victoria, B.C., where I went to university, Calgary has always been my home. But in recent years this vibrant city has begun to lose its lustre — at least in my eyes. House prices have skyrocketed. Traffic is a nightmare and people no longer wave a thank you in the rear view mirror when you let them cut in ahead during rush-hour traffic.

As oil prices spiked last week, the Calgary Herald reported that downtown restaurants were serving up more wine than usual as people in the industry toasted their ever-growing riches over lunch. This headline replaced the ones from the week before about a horrific murder-suicide in this wealthy, growing city. Joshua Lall, a promising local architect seemingly living the ultimate picture-perfect suburban life, killed his basement tenant before stabbing to death his wife and two of his three small children. By all accounts, their life was as ordinary as any; a typical family juggling the demands of a mortgage, work, family and social activities.

What a contrast.

I’m not suggesting that this killing was a direct result of Calgary’s economic boom. But I, for one, wonder whether life’s ordinary stresses contributed to what happened. Was Joshua Lall pushed over the edge striving to create an ideal life and achieve what so many of us seem to be working toward: a big house in a tony community, a shiny brand new car and designer labels?

Although our decision to leave the city in search of some perspective was already made, this tragedy reaffirmed that packing up for a year-long adventure is worthwhile, if not necessary.

In a few days, we are moving out of our suburban home, which we’ve rented out for the year we’ll be away. The stress is mounting and the place is a disaster. The multitude of toys for our two small children are scattered throughout, a sight that I use to remind myself of why this is important to not only us, but our kids, who will be forced to keep themselves busy with their imaginations, rather than the made-in-China plastic crap that we keep buying.

On July 31, we will board a plane and begin our adventure in a Central American country we’ve never visited that speaks a language we do not know. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

The self-discovery is already happening. I’ve learned that I don’t cope well with major change, that I am neurotic and that I really don’t even know who I am. When I sat down to write and define my objectives for this journey it became clear that the first one is to slow down, let this journey unfold, rather than trying to manage it like I do the daily schedule of kids, work and leisure.

If you dream about getting off the hamster wheel for a while, follow our journey to see how it unfolds and maybe you’ll find some inspiration.

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