Saturday, 20 July 2013

Painting with Guys

Today, despite not being particularly prolific this year to begin with, I am taking a leave of absence from my blog in order to go to Asia to teach English for a month! I am very excited, but I will not be able to update until late August.

So, to pass the last couple hours before I must head to the airport, here's a little bit about my summer so far. I have been painting houses with lots of guys (zero females). Not with all the guys at the same time, though; they cycled through pretty fast. First there were Ken and Ivan*, followed by Gordon, Dilton, Leo, Scout, and Joss. And of course my boss, Tris. 

Because of the coming-and-goingness of the guys, I ended up being the most proficient house painter. I was the one most comfortable on ladders, the one most trusted without supervision, and the only one on my boss's team that knew how to use the spraying machine. Joss used the sprayer once, but it turns out he is literally colour-blind and can't tell what he's painted (hint: mostly the concrete sidewalk....)

Nothing too frightening happened during my time painting. Though, there was one job that required extending the 32-foot ladder to almost its full length. Originally, my boss had expected me to finish the job by myself in a single day, but I declined. The ground was extremely uneven and crowded in bush, so it took my boss and another guy to steady the ladder while I climbed to the top and stretched to paint a windowsill. I had already been climbing ladders all day, so I suggested that one of them climb while I helped hold the ladder.

"You're taller than I am, so you can reach farther," said my boss.

"I'm heavier than you are. You wouldn't be able to steady the ladder for me," said Leo.

"Fine," I sighed.

So we got into a rhythm. I'd climb, Leo would hold, and Tris would help when needed. Leo took to seeing me off with a, "Don't die," every time I started to climb.

"Just make sure you hold it steady," I would reply.

"I'll hold it as steady as the Berlin Wall," he said.

"Steadier," I requested.

He sniggered. "You know what happened to the Berlin Wall, right?"

I sighed and started climbing.

And then he'd greet me at the bottom again with a, "You didn't die!" No, I didn't die. Still here. Thanks for the encouragement, though.

Overall, I didn't feel like I had the time or the training to get really good at painting, but it seems that I impressed a few people. Tris said I impressed his boss. And Scout, who is a friend of Tris's and a painting manager himself also seemed impressed. At one point he gestured to some soffits on a second (almost third) storey roof.

"How did you mask up there?" he asked me. "Who did that part?"

"I did," I said, "with a ladder."

"Oh," he said, sounding a bit surprised. "I have a couple of guys on my team that are both terrified of heights. They refuse to go up even the A-frame ladders."

"That would make things difficult," I replied.

Who applies to be a painter if they can't climb even an A-frame ladder? Who hires someone to paint if they won't climb even an A-frame ladder? Half the job is climbing ladders. And moving ladders. And steadying ladders.

In fact, I even climbed a ladder onto a balcony as a thunderstorm approached. Scout slid the ladder up after me so I could reach the soffits. "You're not allowed to leave until you finish," he said, remarking on my captivity.

Fortunately, I did finish, and the thunderstorm seemed to take a detour, so Tris and Scout came and let me off the balcony again, which was nice of them. My boss was generally pretty nice. After the sprayer exploded on the side of a house, I briefly wondered whether it would get me fired. Instead, he had only kind sentiments. "Take a break," he said. "Have a beer. Go home." I think he meant, "Go home. Take a break. Have a beer." At any rate, he didn't fire me.

The thing about painting houses is you can't paint in the rain or in the wind. And it's not economical to paint in the blazing sun, either. Given the weather in Calgary this summer, you may question whether I managed to paint anything at all. The answer is yes, we got a few projects done. But now I am finished and headed overseas and that is considerably more enticing!

See you with the new semester!

"If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary." Jim Rohn 

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T. S. Eliot 

*All names subtly changed to protect privacy

Saturday, 13 July 2013

My Favourite Things

These are little things that make me happy. Not in the sense that I think, "Oh, that's nice," but in the sense that they actually cheer me up.... ♫ and then I don't feel so bad. Or, if I'm already happy, make me grin like a goofy person. Not all the things, either, only some of the things. I tried to splice the items together to the tune of "My Favourite Things", but failed. So instead, to jazz up the presentation, I'm giving you a few picture examples where appropriate. Here are things for which I am extremely grateful:

-Birds chirping happily in the morning

-Super fat tiny critters, like chickadees in the winter or gerbils that don't know how good they have it. And also, corpulent frogs.
-Babies with intense facial expressions
-A stack of new titles I'm dying to read
-The sense of satisfaction that comes with having finished a good book

-A mix of bright vibrant colours that make beauty and energy, but not chaos
-Strong green tea. Real green tea that tastes like matcha. Especially if I'm drinking it out of a pretty cup.

-The smell of fresh rain.
-The smell of cedar chips.
-The smell of pine.
-The smell of books.
-The smell of faint lavender.
-The smell of sweet citrus.
-The smell of cinnamon.
-The smell of coconut.
-The smell of suntan lotion.
-The smell of newly cut lawn.
-The smell of gasoline on hot pavement
-The smell of campfire.

-Critters that have mistakenly got stuff on their heads
-
-Jazz or classical music to refresh my crowded mind

-Being able to share a knowing look with someone that nobody else understands
-When friends let me lie on the couch with my legs across their lap



These things don't make me squeal with happiness, but take my breath away in a good kind of way, and thus make my list of favourite things:

-Beauty where I don't expect it
-Staring at a vast, wide open prairie or the unending night sky

-The sound of running water, whether it be a babbling brook or pouring rain  (...so long as flooding isn't an issue)

God has a creative imagination.

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others." Cicero

Monday, 8 July 2013

#yycflood: Bits to Remember

Here, in no particular order, are some points of special note, or at least points that made me take note. As I've previously related, the whole experience has been rather disjointed for me.

1. Orphans in Cambodia donated $900 out of their own pockets to flood relief in Alberta. Orphans. In Cambodia.

2. Mayor Nenshi's popularity is soaring, partly because he stayed awake all night when Calgary flooded, partly because overall, he's done a good job responding to the flood, and partly because of this quote: 

"I can't believe I actually have to say this, but I'm going to say it. The river is closed. You cannot boat on the river. I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow river today. I am not allowed to use any of them. I can tell you, however, that I have been told that despite the state of local emergency, I'm not allowed to invoke the Darwin law."

3. Somehow, there were no water rations and no boil water advisories, though we were prompted to "conserve water."

4. Over a hundred thousand people were evacuated in southern Alberta. Over half the homes in High River are flooded, and given the current state of things, probably rotting.

5. The situation in High River is appalling. The mayor and the head of the RCMP in that area should both be fired and be held financially responsible for the damage since the initial flooding. That includes paying for the doors the RCMP broke down, the guns they stole, and the rotting houses they aren't allowing anyone to prevent.

6. Given the scale of the flooding, incredibly few deaths have been reported. As in, since I last checked, I could count them on one hand.

7. Kijiji Calgary swelled full of adds offering food, help, shelter. If you needed a stranger to come pick you and your family and your pet up and take you all to stay in their house with them and feed you for two full weeks, that offer was out there. If you needed a truck full of young men willing to drive across Alberta to engage in days of manual labour, all you had to do was give a destination.

8. The emergency response centres were not nearly as full as expected; our church was put on stand-down without receiving anyone. It's beautiful when a city can displace 75,000 people overnight and most of those people feel safe and welcomed enough by other people that emergency shelters are few and far between.

9. The fact that the homeless people weren't all forgotten when downtown sunk makes me a little warm inside. Apparently the homeless shelters filled really quickly, because they couldn't sleep under bridges, for obvious reasons, and then the staff of the shelters organized alternative accommodation.

10. Despite being located downtown, Distress Centre Calgary stayed up and running for a really long time during the flood. Not only did it keep taking calls, it took rerouted calls from basically every other crisis line that had to shut down. When it finally did have to evacuate, the main crisis line in Edmonton stepped in to take our calls, and 211 in BC managed our 211 line. A heartfelt thanks to both operations! I am insanely proud that I used to be a part of the DC team! 

From the DC -"The water isn't as high as our spirits here."

11. Our friend Sharon is not a crisis counsellor, but I think she'd make a good one. She was hired by the city to be a children's recreation director, but in the flood response somehow turned into a de facto crisis manager, wrangling people at response centres, answering questions, and helping them get their heads back on straight. Not in the initial job description, but keep up the good work, Sharon!

Person: MY HOUSE IS GONE, ALL MY STUFF IS GONE, MY GLASSES ARE BROKEN, I CAN'T SEE, MY OPTOMETRIST IS UNDERWATER, I'M NOT ELIGIBLE FOR A PREPAID DEBIT CARD, AND I'VE BEEN WAITING IN LINE FOR THREE DAYS TO GET HELP! AUGGGGGHHHH!

Sharon (in her head): I'M JUST A STUDENT THAT WAS HIRED TO RUN DAY PROGRAMS FOR KIDS!!!!!! WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?? WHY AM I EVEN HERE?? AAAAAAGGGHHH!!!

Sharon (out loud): Oh, that's awful! That's just terrible! I am so sorry to hear that. Ok, well, can you go to a different optometrist to get your glasses fixed?

Person: Ohh.... umm, yeah... I guess so. Thank you.

Sharon: I'll help you find one.

12. I left my rain boots in Saskatchewan for the summer. I figured the soggiest time of the year was over and what were the odds I'd need them during the two months I'm at home? Sigh.

13. Despite the state of emergency and my dim predictions, I don't recall hearing of a single instance of looting. Go Albertans!

14. The zoo, being located on an island in the river, was completely flooded. Over half the animals were relocated to the zoo's animal health centre, and a few were moved offsite completely. There was talk about moving some of the scarier animals, like the big cats, to the Calgary Courts jailhouse, but it doesn't look like that happened. What did happen, however, was that a man had to sit outside the hippo enclosure with a loaded large-caliber gun to ensure that the hippos didn't turn up 20 or 30 miles downstream to surprise people. In fact, one hippo did float out of its habitat... but got stuck in a narrow walkway. Zoo workers risked their lives to try to keep their animals safe.

15. Late fees are waived by the library as everything has switched to manual! Time to erm... check out a few books!

16. The motto of Stampede this year is "Come hell or high water". Appropriate, I should say, though I'm not sure how appropriate it is to be so focused on the getting the Stampede back on track when people, for example, in High River, aren't even allowed back into their homes.

17. The military actually had to show up to help in the emergency response. And Edmonton! The rivalry was put aside and Albertans banded together, in the flood zone or not.

18. My uncle lives in the Beltline, and my cousin lives near Memorial. Both areas flooded massively and were evacuated, yet they opted to stay home, as their particular apartments were not in danger. I hope they enjoyed camping. Maybe they got a lot of reading done? At least, during the day before they had no light, what with the power being cut off? Reading by flashlight, maybe.

19. Flood waters in Calgary have entered the Saddledome, according to one tweet: "Water is up to row 10 at Saddledome. Dressing rooms completely submerged. Jumbotron rm & all equipment destroyed." Multiple large concerts for Stampede have been cancelled.

A friend of mine said on FB:

"Update: Calgary Flames now a water polo team. Salvatore Tudda says they still won't make the playoffs. I remain optimistic."

A friend of his replied with, "The flame was finally extinguished."

I added, "I have their theme song, by Smashmouth: 'The ice we skate is getting pretty thin; the water's getting warm, so we might as well swim...'"

20. Despite the widespread devastation, from my very limited perspective, the 2005 flood was bigger. The river in Fish Creek seemed to come up higher in 2005 (although apparently Fish Creek is more badly damaged this time?) and some goon had left the storm drains in our area closed, which meant we had water halfway up our driveway before someone came to fix the problem.

21. Parts of the highway were completely washed out, but apparently it's all good again? Wow, it's incredible how fast people can fix things.

22. The day after the flooding, the difference between "completely impassable" and a "recommended route" on the main roads was a single lane of open traffic.

23. Also the day after the flooding, we drove past Fish Creek. The sign that points out the current level of fire hazard was set to "Moderate". Apparently the forest has to be literally under three feet of water before the sign gets set to "Low".

My heart goes out to the people who have lost so much. Stay strong and God bless...

And now, a very small selection of random flood photos:

St. George's Zoo:
 Downtown
 Oddly... beautiful?
 The highway:
 Inside the Saddledome:
 The Peace Bridge:
 Stampede grounds:
You may have heard this, but I kind of like it. In particular, I like it when I hear nice things about police instead of how they're misbehaving. I relate to you, with their own spelling, punctuation, and capitalization the short conversation:

A woman tweeted to the police, "what do we do about vagrants and questionable people roaming the streets in suburb communities because of the flood situation" 

The police responded, "Suspicious people can be reported by calling 403-266-1234. Homeless people may appreciate a sandwhich."

Saturday, 6 July 2013

#yycflood: The Narrative

Eight years ago, Calgary flooded. They said then that it was a hundred-year flood. This summer, Calgary flooded even worse. I guess that means we're set to be flood free until the year 2200.

There is altogether too much information to compile in one little blog post: the damages, the recovery, the political consequences. My family was barely touched; the day when our house goes underwater is the day the entire world stops in morbid interest to watch Calgary's demise. Nevertheless, this summer I have added one more point onto my list of life advice: never build your house on a flood plain. 

On Thursday night, my sister and I were at an awards ceremony downtown. The speaker introduced the night, explaining that his wife was at home, keeping an eye on the water levels. His philosophy was that if his house flooded, it would flood whether he was there or not.

A prominent local politician from a neighbouring town was supposed to be attending the ceremony; when one of her compatriots phoned to ask whether she was still able to come, she stated that her house was flooded, her clothes all ruined, she was stacking sand bags at the hospital which was being run by a generator, please don't call her any more because her phone battery was low on juice and - oh, a duck just swam by.

But the ceremony proceeded unhindered. And after the ceremony, my sister Brianna went to a homeless youth project she volunteers with and I, unaffected, went to my friend Holly's place to watch a movie. She lives in the community of Mission. Earlier in the day, Holly hadn't been sure whether they'd be evacuated or not, but gave the green light to visitors around nine o'clock.

We'd also started to hear of road and bridge closures prior to the ceremony, but sitting in Holly's living room, watching singing and dancing actors, it didn't seem like a big deal. A few times, after a particularly loud boom of thunder, I glanced out the window and said something about "I might have to leave early if it keeps raining this hard or it might be difficult to get home," but I ended up staying until the end of the movie.

Brianna came to Holly's place around midnight so we could drive home together. "Downtown is flooding," she said. "All the homeless shelters are being evacuated. Our place is sending the kids to a church."

Holly gave us directions out of the neighbourhood. "The bridge over the river was fine when I came home, around six," she said. "You should still be able to cross it." If not, she said, backtrack and cross it further north.

"Are you being evacuated?" I asked Holly.

"You're supposed to put a big X on your door when you evacuate," said Bri. "That way the police know you're safe."

"And also that no one is home so it's open for the looting," I said.

"Downtown will probably be looted tonight," said Brianna.

"I don't know if we're leaving," Holly said. "I don't want to be looted."

At this point, the concept of "flood" crossed the line in my mind from abstract idea to current reality. "Holly, do you and Jake need a place to stay?" I said. "You'd be welcome at our place."

"Thanks," she said. "We'll go to his parents' house if we have to."

Bri and I couldn't cross the bridge. The road was closed a block away from the river. We found an open bridge; the water was a foot or two beneath the roadway.

Windshield wipers going at maximum capacity, we drove down the arterial road trying to not aquaplane. As we passed the mall, dozens of police cars lined the street, some of them with lights flashing. "Maybe to ward off looters?" I suggested.

"You think they'd have more important things to do than protect a mall," said Bri.

We later found out that the police headquarters were underwater. The mall had become their emergency camp.

We got home without so much as a where-are-you-are-you-ok text from Mom or Dad, which surprised us both a bit. "Is it that bad?" asked Mom, watching a TV show on wedding dress shopping. "I know it's bad in some areas."

"It's pretty bad," we said.

Holly and Jake went to their parents' house in the wee hours of the morning. She texted me:

We got the idea when they cut off our electricity.

On Friday morning, it stopped raining. I dressed for work and checked the road closures online. It looked like I could still get to work normally, but I called my boss because I was concerned that if or when it rained more, I'd end up stranded.

"Ok," he said, "Alternate routes... you could take this other road north and cross through downtown-"

"Downtown?" I said. "Downtown is closed."

"It's closed?" he said.

"Yes," I informed him.

"Oh," he said. "It's that bad? It's sunny here."

About five minutes later he phoned me back. "I've done my research now," he said. "The mayor is asking everyone to stay at home, if they can, so we won't work today."

This is the impact the flood has had on me, personally: I missed one day of work. Over a hundred thousand people were evacuated; many had homes that were completely destroyed and many of those that didn't lost vehicles or had major damage to their houses. The surrounding towns are changed forever. I missed a day of work. And made up for it on Saturday.

In the afternoon, I got an email from one of the deacons at my church in Moose Jaw, inquiring about my safety and letting me know she was praying. It made me feel incredibly special, even if I'm really not one of the ones whose safety or property was threatened. Consider her prayers extended to all of southern Alberta.

My sister had to get to the airport for Saturday morning, and she was concerned about trying to do it in the wee hours like originally planned. Trying to navigate across a city full of flooded roads and street closures while on a schedule in the black hours of morning didn't sound enticing, so she opted to have us drive her out extremely early and sleep the night in the terminal.

On the way home, we passed a fish hatchery. It was a lake of rapids that licked the roadway. Dozens of cars were pulled over so that people could get out and gape. We didn't pull over; I gaped as we drove by and forgot to take any pictures. This is the best one I could find online:
We passed a golf course. It was an archipelago of manicured hills.
We crossed a bridge. "It'll be fine," said Dad. "This one's a particularly high bridge." And it is. Even so...
For the most part, Calgary seems to think that we're in recovery mode and no longer in danger. Though, just the other night, parts of the city flooded again in a major thunderstorm.

Next post, I'll relate some short points and observations about the flood that don't all have to do with what happened (or didn't happen) to me. For now, I'll leave you with a few more pictures. There's a huge amount of incredible pictures of the flooding all over the internet. These are a few of my favourites (they do not belong to me):

Just a couple blocks away from Holly and Jake's place:
 This one pretty much sums up the weather this year:
And finally, the joy in their faces on this one makes me think of the Arabic graffiti John Green quoted in his convocation address earlier this year, which will be the quote for this post:
Apparently, in a war torn city in the Middle East, on the side of a crumbling house, is painted the graffiti:

"Happy birthday, sir, despite the circumstances." 

Despite the circumstances, Alberta.