The Gown

It’s currently out of stock at 1861 but this is the gown our daughter has chosen for prom. I think we might need to go in to one of their stores and order it now so when it does come in she will get it.

Back of gown

Back of gown

Front of gown

Front of gown

It’s a very pretty dress and not very expensive. The colour also suit her.

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Yesterday saw the end of course work on Part 4B2. All that is left now is the 4B2 final then the 4B overall final. After that, steam time.

After more than a little bit of panic on the travel front Donna got things sorted with the help of an hour and a half on the phone, more than a little patience and of course her credit card. A one day change turned out to be expensive both in terms of cost to move the flight one day and a day’s lost wages – almost identical amounts as it turns out.

It’s all placid now. Things move forward. Turmoil then calm. What’s inescapable though is the residual feelings that turmoil leaves in its wake.

We are, it seems, life companions Turmoil and me. You’d think by now I would see him as an old friend instead of the bully I change my routes to avoid but who always seems to figure out which path I am taking.

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NAIT knows how

NAIT – Northern Alberta Institute of Technology – you would think that an organization with the word ‘technology’ in the name would put the correct date for a course ending on their website. Whoops. Today, after an email inquiry as to why there were so many hours of class time scheduled, NAIT let me know that the actual end date on the website was wrong. The date has been changed. It’s a day longer than posted.

As for the hours, that’s not correct either. NAIT just hasn’t sorted out which days we are actually going to be in class yet.

It’s probable that somewhere in all the legalese which accompanies any business these days they bear no legal responsibility for the error.

It’s been ten months since the course was posted but the date is only being corrected a month before the course starts. That says something about the regard in which the students are held. It seems improbable that I am the only student who took a leave of absence from work and arranged to travel to do the steam lab. Even if it is only me who made those specific types of arrangements others may have scheduled work starts, child care or any of a host of other things for the day which is now the date of the final exam.

The dismissive statement “there is an error on the end date on the web that is in the process of being corrected” disregards the time and effort we put into the course work and altering our lives and the lives of our families to attend the lab.

Life is full of giggles.

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TD Canada Trust Can’t Stop Screwing Up

On Friday I received a new bank card, with the card came the explicit instructions to cut up my old card and use only the new one. I didn’t think much of it, it happens periodically. When I tried to use the card today it did not work. I was at the pharmacy near the bank so I walked on over and stood in line to see a teller.

It turns out the card was not for me, though it had been sent to my name, it was for Lynn. Three and a half years after having been given a copy of the Act of Death they still don’t seem to believe it. The teller was helpful in cancelling the card, issuing me a new one for my own use and closing one more TD account.

All that is left at the TD now is one chequing account and an RRSP savings account. By the middle of next week they too will be closed and, with luck, my dealings with the TD Bank will be at an end.

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Happy Birthday Kat

Happy Birthday Kat

Sometimes you get lucky.

A few days ago our daughter told me she wanted an X-Box for her birthday. Not an X-Box One which she told me no one in their right mind uses (something our son confirmed), an X-Box 360. As luck would have it a friend posted they had an X-Box 360 for sale the next day. So for a bargain price I got all these games and the new model X-Box 360.

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Fear of success

This post has a different ring to it because I wrote it for a different audience then changed my mind about running it. So here it is, the way I write when I’m a little less cosy and comfortable.

“He will find success,
In the lost art of failure, so he says
To the flawless girl framed in the mirror’s tarnish.”
— Derek Walcott, The Chelsea

A little over three years ago Lynn succumbed to an eight year battle with breast cancer. She died in her sleep at West Island Palliative Care, four days after Christmas, two days before our nineteenth anniversary. Even when you expect it to happen it still comes as a shock.

What can only be described as two years of stunned silence followed as I kept our small family afloat by burning through what little savings we had and taking whatever overtime I could find. Even through grief’s haze it became apparent that things were not sustainable. Our son was starting college and our daughter was heading into the last year of high school and then to college after that. I needed to earn more. I needed to retrain.

I started distance education studying Power Engineering at NAIT. The course of study was precipitated by two things. My brother-in-law worked in the oil patch most of his career and said that if he had to start over from scratch he’d start with a Class 4. The new woman in my life, Donna, has a successful career in Alberta and did most of her education there. She’s smarter than me, always a plus, and recommended NAIT as a good place to study.

At the same time as I started studying I started writing again. Once upon a time I had ambitions to be John Boy Walton; I still do. A short story I wrote did well on iTunes and Amazon. I still remember my surprise when I opened my first small royalty cheque. I enjoy writing so I keep at it. Writing is a slow process for me. The stories do not come easy and I take great care to write as true as I can. Not long ago I finished my third story.It is the best short story I’ve ever written so naturally I chose to submit it to the best literary publication in North America – Tin House Magazine.

Tin House and NAIT have a lot in common in my mind. I fear success on both fronts a fact that was brought home to me by the submission to Tin House.

There are only two ways a submission can break. Either you are rejected or accepted. Rejection is the most common and expected response for many writers. Rejection is easy to accept when you know that even your idols were rejected once upon a time. Acceptance is rare. How would I deal with that? If the best story I ever wrote (other than the one I am working on now) is accepted by the best literary magazine I know of… Where do I go from there?

I am nearing the completion of Part 4B in Power Engineering and have my steam time scheduled for May and June of this year. Successful completion is nigh. I would have to screw up in a monumental way at this point to not succeed. What then?

The beauty of failure is that it is a known. It is the most common outcome for the majority of us for most of our lives. It is why we love the underdog, why we look for heroes to have feet of clay.

With success come the unknowns. A world of possibilities springs forth and it scares me more than just a little. I’m scared that my best won’t be good enough in writing, work and the personal.

I have come to accept that I am afraid of success. Afraid that it will forever change what I know and am comfortable with. Knowing that I am afraid is laying the groundwork for moving forward as surely as training in a new skill, taking artistic risks and falling in love again. They say fear is a powerful motivator but I wonder how often I’ve been motivated in the wrong direction. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I’m here now and moving forward. That could be the best any of us can say.

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Learning curve

I’m closing in on completing the academic portion of Power Engineering. The practical will be in May and June. At the end of that I will have seven years in which to write for certification with ABSA.

I’ve been learning other things as the road before me winds onward. LinkedIn has been an interesting source of information. It takes a while to get used to LinkedIn and the way information comes at you, which is a little crabwise. Everyone on there is a seller of something: themselves, their books, their ideas, their company. It’s all for sale. If you spend enough time sifting through it there are gems to be found.

The most important thing I’ve learned from LinkedIn is that job posts from recruiters are likely as not to be fake. It’s not just because those posts are, more often than not, for a one armed left handed monkey riding a purple cow but also because it is how recruiters suss out leads, pad their resume files so they can run their keyword searches locally. So all responding to a recruiter will accomplish is more spam.

HR departments, like recruiters, only ever advertise for a one armed, left handed, blue eyed monkeys riding purple cows so there’s no point in going that root.

I’ve also learned that I’m not going to get a job from answering job postings. I need an in, either with a school board, building services with a management company or some other in to power engineering. Hiring managers, the people you need to talk to to get a job, are more likely to hire someone who is known by a current employee than they are to hire someone off of a CV. The downside to that is trying to network in a province you don’t live. It’s not impossible but it is difficult and time consuming. I’m managing that a little bit but school board IT departments have been unanimous in not replying to introduction emails I’ve sent out.

I’ve had a little more success on the Power Engineering front having connected with four Alberta based Power Engineers and two in Nova Scotia. I’ve no intention of moving to Nova Scotia but you never know who, may know who. I’ve already referred people to a job opening I heard about a while back because I knew them and I knew they were looking and there was no way I could have taken the job.

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Sweet tea

The drive out to Drummondville from Dorval takes about two hours unless there’s speeding involved. It is a pleasant drive as the beauty that is Quebec unrolls in vast sheets of snow over farm fields sprouting winter bare maples and endless barbed wire fences.

Drummondville is north east of Montreal past the apple orchards and sugar beet fields of St. Hilaire out past the swine farms of St. Hyacinth where I used to fish burbot, perch and catfish out of the Yamaska River. Keep going past the slaughter houses of Sainte-Hélène-de-Bagot and eventually you come to Drummondville the town that invented poutine.

Richard, my best-friend since university, lives in Drummondville. Not too long ago he hurt his back and hasn’t been able to make the trip to Montreal to visit and buy me lunch – he always buys me lunch. So I made the trip down there so he could buy me lunch in Drummondville. Thoughtful of me, I know.

Richard is the godfather to our children and has been the kind of friend men don’t normally get in life. We talk. We don’t talk at each other. We don’t go out and do things and call that talking. We actually talk to each other about everything you could possibly imagine. It’s not the kind of friendship you take lightly but I still expect him to pay for lunch.

When I got to his place and went in the front door there sitting on his counter were two packets of Red Rose tea (see earlier post for relevance). Richard doesn’t drink tea. It was a sweet gesture and greatly appreciated.

We went to Costco for lunch. It never occurred to me to go to Costco for lunch but Richard has a good nose for bargains and good food. I was not disappointed. The polish hot dogs and french fries were excellent. After that we did a grocery for me at Costco and I picked up some stuff in bulk that I can’t normally find because I don’t have a Costco membership. We split the bill even though all he bought were a big bag of Tortilla chips.

We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about life its ownself and how little of it there is left. No matter how you slice it for the majority of people in the world fifty is already well down the downward slope and, as James Taylor puts it, since we’re on our way down we might as well enjoy the ride. So we talked about how to go about enjoying that ride and still be able to make it home to our own beds.

One thing I will sorely miss after moving to Donna will be the time Richard and I spend together. Thirty years plus of long talks, punning and derisive jokes make for a lot of memories.

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Now that’s comedy!

There are times, all be they few, when I am incline to understand those who believe that there is an intelligence interfering with the lives of humans. Though if I were so inclined as to believe in such an intelligence it would tend towards the belief that it is a malignant intelligence with a cruel sense of humour.

Not half an hour after getting off the phone with the mobile phone company the electric bill arrived in the mail. The size of the bill was breathtaking and a testament to the brutal cold we have endured over the last two months. I immediately phoned Hydro Quebec to plead for respite, to divide the bill in two. They always say that if you can’t afford to pay to call them and they will help you make arrangements. Being a government owned monopoly they do their best to help people out as they are required to do by law.

The conversation went something like this – I do not record them Hydro Quebec does.

Me: I can’t afford the whole bill this month
Hydro Quebec: No problem sir we can help you out.
Me: Great
Hydro: What we can do is divide the bill into two payments.
Me: Fantastic, that would be perfect.
Hydro: You can pay the first half the second week of March and the second half the fourth week of March.
Me: Wait, what?
Hydro: Well we have to collect it all before the next bill is issued. Why aren’t you on the budget plan.
Me: I tried to get on the budget plan and you wouldn’t let me do it.
Hydro: But we want everyone on the budget plan
Me: Makes sense, I was on it for years but then when I changed my furnace you said I couldn’t do it.
Hydro: Ah, that was the right decision.
Me: Well can I go on the budget plan now?
Hydro: Yes, let me calculate what your monthly payment will be.
Me: Great.
Hydro: But it would only start after this bill is paid.
Me: Okay.
Hydro: That can’t be right.
Me: That doesn’t sound good.
Hydro: The number is wrong. I think.
Me: What does it say?
Hydro: $4500.00 a month.
Me: I think I’ll stay with the plan I have.
Hydro: No the number is wrong. I am going to send you the form to fill out so you can go on budget and call you back once I find out what is wrong with this number.
Me: Okay, thank you.

The comedic value of someone thinking that splitting a bill in two over one month will somehow make it more affordable is priceless. The additional value of a budget plan at $4500.00 a month is equally priceless. The beauty of this conversation coming on the heels of dealing with mobile phone overages which have already been paid but have been returned as future credit is what might make me think there is an intelligence at work here. The only intelligence at work of course is my own or rather my lack of it and the ability to make one loaf go as far as some in the past have been rumoured to make it go. Perhaps I should take up fishing as well.

I’m sure Hydro Quebec will forgive me if I don’t fill out those forms they sent me until they get back to me with a budget number that is not more than double my take home.

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In dull surprise when payment due

Red Rose Tea - my favourite.

Red Rose Tea – my favourite.

It didn’t start with tea but tea is the frugal measure in this house.

My favourite tea is Red Rose but as money dwindled and income stagnated and I finally got it through my widower head in real terms that I am a single parent I switched to Tetley. Tetley is a fine tea but it became apparent that it too was too expensive.

Tetley is a good alternative

Tetley is a good alternative

The switch to Tea India came about quite some time ago and it was a good switch. It is a good, strong tea.

Tea India a good, strong tea.

Tea India a good, strong tea.

The strength of the tea is important because along with switching to less expensive tea I also changed the way I make tea. I still make it bachelor style in a mug and still sweeten with honey but there are multiple uses of the same bag.

The first use is a single bag. That bag can be used again for a second cup then put to one side to dry. Another bag is pressed into service for two more cups then come the time of the fifth cup both bags are used to make a cup. Five cups of tea from two bags. I haven’t tried for a sixth but it might be doable. I’m not there yet but will be soon.

The false economy of shopping at Wal-Mart was brought home recently by the twin failure of both kettle and microwave. Despite drinking a lot of tea when the kettle broke I did not replace it. We have a stove and pots and water will boil in anything to which enough heat is applied. The microwave still sits on the counter mocking me by continuing to show the correct time but refusing to heat anything. It is probably a fuse but could be the magnetron or a capacitor but it is probably best that it be repaired by someone who knows what they are doing.

We’ve gone from just doing things to being careful, to being cautious, to buying what is needed to cutting down on what is needed. It may seem weird but I do look at replacing the roof and getting a new furnace as having spent money foolishly even though both have saved me money. We switched the phone service from Bell to Videotron, we cancelled our cable so only get two channels on the television which are interrupted every time a plane goes overhead (we live next to an airport so you can see why we don’t watch television anymore).

One of the biggest mysteries in my life has been: how so other people do it?

What kind of money do they earn that they can put a new car on the driveway every four or five years? How are they doing their groceries different from me? Is there a yellow label brand that is cheaper? After cutting out fresh produce and meat are there cheaper ways to prepare meals? How do they manage taking time off, and not just sit in the house trying not to spend money in the interim? Time off is more stressful than working.

I know I do things which are foolish. I should not have sent our daughter on the school ski trip. I did it because there is so little I can do and, strange as it may sound, I feel guilty that her mother is not here to see her graduate. That is unreasonable but it doesn’t make the feeling any less true. Financially it was foolish, emotionally it was good for her even as it takes its toll on me. The same can be said for many other things we have done building memories and I have emotional defenses for those too but none financial.

Yesterday I discovered that Koodo Mobile has been charging for data use on our daughter’s phone since November. Apparently they sent her a text at some point and she answered it and they turned on data. Yep. That is after years of not having data and expressly telling Koodo when we got the phone that no data was wanted or needed. So add another $254.00 to the phone bill. For a mobile phone company to ask a teenager by text if they want to use the Internet is akin to asking me if I would like another piece of chocolate when I am stressed out. There is only one possible answer. The fact that Koodo texted our sixteen year old instead of asking me, the one who pays the bills, if they should activate data is something which I have yet to wrap my mind around. It doesn’t surprise me anymore than the TD Bank being willing to lose a customer of 30 years over a $3.50 Visa charge. Companies do very well at pretending to care for people whether it is with heartwarming viral videos of them giving things away or the well crafted look/feel commercials but when it comes right down to it, it is you or the buck and we all know which way that breaks.

Time to get busy on Kijiji or Craigslist and see if I can sell some of the tons of stuff we don’t need. I wonder if anyone still buys books.

UPDATE: Koodo and I came to terms with most of the data use charges have been reversed. It’s not everything but most of it and I guess I do have to take some responsibility for the charges. At least I don’t have to change phone companies like I did banks.

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