Archive for July, 2008

My husband came up from the dark and dank basement where we’ve spent the last month. He sat down at the kitchen table, poured a glass of wine, opened a bag of fully dressed chips and pronounced: “I’m done. I’m overwhelmed.”

It’s a little worrisome, given that the worst, or best depending on how you look at it, is yet to come.

The past month has sped by like a bullet. After settling in nicely with the folks and figuring out how to deflect my dad’s missives, we found contentment and peace. Being out of the city and away from all its trappings has turned out to be a paradise all of its own, and a nice transition to what will hopefully be a similar lifestyle in Costa Rica.

Now, we’re packing up again, making our second move in a month and same stresses and anxiety have returned like a recurring cold sore — painful but hopefully short lived.

We purged once, before moving out of our house, and now we’re doing it again but struggling. This isn’t like overpacking one suitcase for a three-day vacation. We have one large piece of luggage, two duffel bags and four carry ons. How much does one really need for a year?

And of course, we’ve left it all until the last minute. Almost every spare moment has otherwise been spent visiting friends, family, running errands and working. The social calendar in one month has exceeded our entire last year, which leads me to another question? Why does it take a move away to take the time to see the people who matter most in your life? It’s like the gathering of family and friends at a funeral, only I’m still alive.

Speaking of funerals, there will no doubt be one in the next few days for a fatal shooting in Calgary, likely the latest victim in an ongoing gang war. This followed another drive-by last week — gunplay that happened in a busy and upscale area near downtown.

This city, my home for nearly four decades, has morphed into something unrecognizable. And I’m not sorry to be leaving it.

So long Calgary. So long house. So long friends and family.

Four more sleeps to paradise.

Not so long before it’s hola Costa Rica.


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Tucked out of public view, just below my bikini line is a tiny tattoo.

It has been there since I was about 19, when my girlfriend and I, after a couple of cocktails decided on a drunken whim to get permanently marked at a small east Vancouver shop so seedy it’s a wonder we didn’t end up with tetanus, or worse.

For years, it has been nothing more than a symbol of my misspent youth. Now I’m wondering whether that spur-of-the-moment act of rebellion was really my subconscious at work, pushing me toward of path of perspective and balance.

While my friend chose a cheesy butterfly to blacken her backside, the indelible etching made on the skin of my right hip is a black and white, quarter-sized Chinese yin-yang symbol.

According to online dictionary Wikipedia, “the concept of yin and yang describes two opposing and, at the same time, complementary (completing) aspects of any one phenomenon (object or process) or comparison of any two phenomena.”

Basically, it means that for every action or event there’s an opposite, resulting in equilibrium.

As a person who has always lived in extremes, yin and yang, in spite of the little symbol on my hip, have almost always been out of whack. When times are good, they’re great. And when their not, well, you get the idea.

There was a time not so long ago that yin and yang went so far south, in the same direction, it seemed to disappear entirely, the then meaningless symbol on my body the only evidence of its existence.

Strangely, since making what some see as an extreme decision to abandon this city’s economic boom and everything it brings — good and bad — yin and yang have reappeared and balance is being restored, or certainly is on its way.

For instance, a month ago, while driving and distracted by the multiple tasks left to accomplish, I was nabbed for speeding and handed a $200 ticket. Then, the tires went on our car that in just a couple of weeks will be parked for a year, resulting in another $800 bill. Given that we had virtually no savings when we decided to embark on this adventure, this put a serious dent in the funds we’ll have to get set up in Costa Rica.

Then the other day, three things happened to offset all these negatives.

First, feeling the sticker shock at seeing the outrageous cost of the entry to an amusement park where I’d promised to take my kids, a woman standing in line directly ahead offered me her extra coupon, giving us 50 per cent off.

Later, at an appointment to get the kids’ teeth checked, the dentist did the unthinkable and declined to charge me and insisted we come back before our departure to give both kids a free cleaning.

After that, a lawyer friend (Michael Kiss, whose generosity is exceeded only by his talent) volunteered to take care of my speeding ticket while we’re away, assuring me if he couldn’t wipe it out altogether that he could get it reduced, and defer payment until after we’re back.

My tattoo, it turns out, in all its faded glory has a much deeper meaning that’s now fully exposed.

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These past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like a bride with pre-wedding jitters, uncertain whether I was ready to commit to a new life.

Today, the cold feet are gone and I’m ready to walk down the aisle and say, “I will.”

In 15 days, we will do exactly that, along with my husband and two small kids, boarding a plane bound for Costa Rica and a new journey as a family committed to a life together, yet unshackled from the daily grind of North American life.

Perhaps it’s just the calm before the proverbial storm, but I am surprisingly at ease with the upcoming departure.

Most of the hard work is done, such as the moving and renting of the home. The passports are tucked away in a safe place and we’ve all had our multiple (sometimes painful) inoculations for everything from Typhoid to Yellow Fever, potential diseases we could acquire from a living in the jungle.

Once the major decision to undertake this year-long adventure was actually set in stone, the rest of the logistics fell into place rather easily and took just a couple of months.

It might have been made more difficult had the move been a permanent one, but it’s surprisingly easy to put a life on hold. Perhaps the hardest things to deal with were the emotional elements, such as giving up a telephone number I’ve had for more than 15 years. Aside from the inconvenience that will come with providing a new one to family and friends upon our return, canceling the number was more symbolic of cutting ties to a comfortable existence and the security of an established home, career and circle of friends for something completely unknown.

There’s only a few loose ends left to be tied up, like preparing the vehicles for storage, purchasing some currency until we figure how to set up a bank account in Costa Rica and ensure we’re able pay our monthly rent there. We’ve got a place to live for the first month – at least we hope, as it was arranged over the Internet. But even if it was a hoax, no matter. Everything will work out, because it always does.

Fear, an enemy that has stalked me for some years now, has moved on and his friend, control, has gone, too.

So, I’m ready to put on a pretty, white spaghetti strap dress and walk down that aisle without doubt standing at my side as a bridesmaid.

Anyway, divorce is always an option.

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Mind over matter

The mind is like a lover, alternately seducing, betraying and occasionally providing ephemeral comfort.

And like most lovers, my mind and I have been engaged in a power struggle, mostly over the thoughts and images that run like a looping silent movie, a ticker tape of continuous dialogue across the bottom of the screen.

After weeks of angst and anxiety, I stepped back to have an honest look at the relationship. After concluding it’s unhealthy, I took control and put my lover in its proper place. We’re still together but my emotions are no longer dictated by what my lover says, good or bad.

It’s amazing how differently things look, how simply changing thoughts can change perception – about everything.

Liberating myself from obligation has allowed me to do things because I want to, not because I have to. I look forward to going to work and playing with my kids where both once felt like drudgery.

As I drove through an upscale community the other day on the way into the city, past enormous houses with brand new cars sitting out front another unfamiliar feeling washed over me.

Envy has been replaced by pity for all the people who think their mansions and Mercedes’ will bring them the kind of peace and joy I’m experiencing right now.

Of course, stepping outside my head has also allowed me to observe that this feeling, too, is fleeting. Resisting the temptations of a lover who can drag you breathless to the top of a mountain then send you tumbling into a pit of despair is a constant battle.

But for now, my lover and I, we’ve reached an understanding.

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After a few days without technology I’m like a crack addict without a source, all twitchy and bitchy with thoughts rambling around in my brain with nowhere to go.

Blogging has been near impossible since moving back the folks because they live on a picturesque farm a good hour’s drive from the nearest major city, with only old-fashioned dial-up Internet. And after the post-father fracas, I’m too afraid to worsen relations by tying up the phone line with my mental musings.

And mental they are.                                                            

It has been like a bad episode of Celebrity Rehab, where I’m the (almost) unemployed has-been in detox. Only in my world, the computer is the therapist’s couch and the blog is the nodding psychoanalyst who listens to all the insane spew without a word of judgment.

Things got even wackier when I went to work after a few days off, hitting the gym before my shift started (another sanity saver that has proven to be a lifeline in times of trouble.) Midway through my workout, I looked up at the clock and the hands suddenly began to spin around like Regan’s head when she was visited in the priest in the cult classic The Exorcist. After a few minutes, the hands settled back into place, the seconds ticking by as normal. I laughed out loud, wondering whether I ought to drive myself to nearest hospital and check myself in.

Although I’m fairly certain the clock was simply on the fritz, I must admit my mind was looking for meaning out of the bizarre episode, wondering whether it was some sort of sign about our impending decision to run away from home. And this isn’t the only apparent sign that has allowed more self-doubt to creep in and settle where confidence used to live.

The other day, I received in the mail a surprise letter informing me that I had officially gone from nobody to somebody status. The famed Canadian Who’s Who publication, a reference guide published by University of Toronto Press Inc. for 98 years, said it “would be most happy” if I would provide a biography for its 2009 edition. My biography is to be one of just 600 new entries to be added to 1,300 sketches in the guide in a country with a population of more than 30 million.

“In the ‘real map of Canada,’ we want to include those Canadians who contribute significantly to Canadian life,” the letter states.

Well, how about that? I’m about to pull the plug on a career and life in Canada and I’ve unexpecedly arrived, apparently worthy of mention on the pages between prime ministers and other leading and influential Canadians that comprise this country’s elite?

After seriously contemplating this incredible honour (and repeatedly re-reading the envelope to ensure it had my name on it) I decided that I’ll probably send along the form I’m supposed to fill out for the book, despite the fact that most of it will be left blank. I’ve never written a book, don’t hold any memberships in important societies, directorships on any boards and have never held office. Shamefully, I can’t even claim to have canvassed door-to-door for charity.

But I have won a National Newspaper Award (Canada’s Pulitzer Prize) and a few other professional accolades. I’ve sat across from and confronted a serial killer, uncovered election fraud and traveled five hours cross-legged in a canoe to the most remote Dayak village in Indonesia, in the heart of the Borneo jungle where a Canadian company manufactured a gold mining fraud of historical precedence.

And now . . . I’m  giving it all up to move to Costa Rica, at least for a year, and probably won’t even be here to  officially celebrate my becoming of a Canadian Who’s Who with the release of its new edition.

What this means, I don’t yet know. But the poignant last line of the letter, after thanking me in advance for my contribution, citing former National Librarian Roch Carrier has left me to ponder whether this signifies I’ve  become all I’m ever going to be  or if this is a harbinger of what’s yet to come.

“These lives, summed up in a few lines, recount history as its being made.”

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